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Articles by Peter B. Meyer

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Business Week‘s September 14 issue reports:

Second-Class Solar Panels?

Sun-soaked New Orleans should be a great place for solar power. Yet according to TÜV Rheinland PTL, a testing lab, up to 30 percent of photovoltaic panels installed in such steamy areas of the U.S. are likely to fail in less time than the 25 years manufacturers typically specify in their warranties. Homeowners will be covered, of course, but it will still be a hassle. Even in hot, dry areas failure rates could hit 12 percent.

The same producers’ panels probably won’t fail as quickly in Europe, where vendors agreed to performance and quality standards back in 1999. In the U.S., only the state of Florida has followed suit. As a result, “manufacturers make two grades of panels: one for the U.S. and another for Europe,” says Mani Tamizhmani, TÜV’s president. Panels do have to pass federal tests for safety in the U.S. but “consumers here don’t yet know to ask for quality certifications,” he says.

 

In other words, contrary to all that we’ve been told by the economic pundits for decades, it is the ABSENCE of reg... Read more

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  • Fighting economic decline and climate change simultaneously

    As a new administration took over in Washington in the midst of a massive economic decline, the media kept asking members of the new energy and environment team if the U.S. could "afford" their agenda in light of the economic condition of the nation. (Witness the Washington Post interview with Carol Browner.) The New York Times reported on Jan. 18:

    Given a choice between stimulating the economy and protecting the environment, 58 percent of Americans said it was more important to stimulate the economy, compared with 33 percent who chose protecting the environment. In April 2007, 36 percent said it was more important to stimulate the economy, compared with 52 percent who chose the environment.

    No doubt the priority given the economy today would be greater, given Friday's numbers on job losses and unemployment.

    But it's a silly question and a false, unnecessary choice. It hides the most rational course of action: doing both simultaneously.

    The question ignores the fact that a public dollar -- or $1 trillion such dollars -- can be spent in ways that simultaneously:

    • produce new jobs and incomes,
    • help fight global warming, and
    • save money for people on tight budgets.

    Public investment in the energy efficiency of homes and other buildings can do all of that -- and might even make it easier for budget-strapped homeowners to pay their mortgages, so it could stabilize neighborhoods and help unfreeze the lending system as well. That's a pretty powerful answer to those who say we can't afford green concerns because of economic problems.

    A dollar can accomplish more than one objective at a time. The problem is that we have come to think of "efficiency" as pursuing a single objective at the expense of all others, even those that might logically be complementary. Environmental advocates see industry only as sacrificing the environment to the efficient pursuit of profit maximizing. Industry for too long has seen environmentalists only as regulating and constraining their pursuit of profits. Of course, it is difficult for private parties -- businesses pursuing profits, or neighborhood residents protecting their air or well water quality -- to pursue multiple objectives at once. That's a role for government. It's a role government plays exceptionally well.

    This brings us to the U.S. in 2009: facing huge government deficits, uncertain energy costs, rising unemployment and growing poverty, and a threat from global warming that requires action sooner rather than later. The spending legacy from 2008 includes a $700 Billion "Toxic Assets Relief Fund," of which half has been spent in ways that seem to have had no effect, and plans going forward include spending the other $350 Billion of TARF money and implementing a massive, ~$800 billion stimulus plan.

    If there was ever a time we needed efficiency in pursuit of multiple goals, it's now.

  • EPA Administrator Jackson's first public appearance

    Those of you who did not make it to New York on Jan. 29-30 for the 20th anniversary celebration of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, a national conference on Advancing Climate Justice: Transforming the Economy, Public Health and Our Environment, missed an inspirational high. You also missed a political milestone.

    The event marked the first public speech by new EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who laid out the nation's new environmental-justice and climate-change priorities. President Obama echoed Jackson's sentiments and made a statement to the Muslim world by giving his first TV interview to Al Arabiya television.

    Civilized, reasoned discussion and debate on environmental health and inequality, on the complexities of climate change economics, on cap-and-trade, cap-and-dividend, carbon charges, and on greening the economy as we invest in new infrastructure framed the formal content. But those substantive sessions were just the subtext.

  • Will state emission standards kill the U.S. car industry?

    Sunday night The New York Times published, "Obama to Let States Restrict Emissions Standards." First reaction of those concerned only with a so-called economic recovery: "this will kill what's left of the U.S. car industry!"

    Wrong! This is exactly what the domestic car industry needs. No "car czar" or other federal regulator would be able to push as hard to get more fuel-efficient and lower-emissions vehicles produced in the U.S. faster than regulation-constrained market demand.

    That $17 billion provided as emergency support to GM and Chrysler had no real strings on fuel efficiency and emissions attached. Anyone who thinks the U.S. manufacturers could continue to compete with European and Asian car makers whose products are more energy efficient and less polluting -- and who are ahead of the domestic producers in their command of the new technologies -- is dreaming.

    We needed something to shake them up fast. This action by the Obama administration will do just that, without having to spend any of the new White House political capital on working new regulations through Congress.

  • Efficiency in the Obama economic revitalization plan

    The long green? That's money -- and you all know what "going green" is about ...

    Everyone keeps asking the members of President Barack Obama's energy and environment team if the U.S. can "afford" their agenda in light of the economic condition of the nation. (Witness the Washington Post interview with Carol Browner as one example.)

    Silly question ... and they get simplistic answers, such as "we will." It's a silly question because it assumes a conflict that isn't there, as do the typical mainstream surveys of public opinion. The New York Times reports on Jan. 18:

    Given a choice between stimulating the economy and protecting the environment, 58 percent of Americans said it was more important to stimulate the economy, compared with 33 percent who chose protecting the environment. In April 2007, 36 percent said it was more important to stimulate the economy, compared with 52 percent who chose the environment.

    That's a false, unnecessary choice; and simply posing the proposition may generate opposition to the most rational course of action, which is not making the choice.

    The way out lies through applying a little concept in economics that many in the environmental community have tended to abhor, at least until attention became focused on energy consumption: efficiency.

    Pursuit of efficiency came to be associated with exploitation of workers, despoliation of landscapes and environments, abandonment of community roots and commitments, and many abusive actions of companies large and small in the 20th century.

    But most climate change agendas today start with the pursuit of what everyone seems to agree is the low-hanging fruit of efforts to lower emissions: energy efficiency. Many who challenged the necessity of efficiency in the past are now trying to increase it today and into the future.

    What gives?