The Colour Of The Year: Green  

Posted by Big Gav

Tom Friedman has declared that the colour of 2006 was Green.

had I been editing Time magazine I would not have opted for the "you" in YouTube as Person of the Year - although that was very clever. No, I'd have run an all-green Time cover under the headline, "Color of the Year." Because I think that the most important thing to happen this past year was that living and thinking "green" - that is, mobilizing for the environmental/energy challenge we now face - hit Main Street.

For so many years, the term "green" could never scale. It was trapped in a corner by its opponents, who defined it as "liberal," "tree-hugging," "girly-man," "unpatriotic," "vaguely French."

No more. We reached a tipping point this year - where living, acting, designing, investing and manufacturing green came to be understood by a critical mass of citizens, entrepreneurs and officials as the most patriotic, capitalistic, geopolitical, healthy and competitive thing they could do. Hence my own motto: "Green is the new red, white and blue."

Celsias has a great article on the electric car, revisited which looks at pretty much all the issues surrounding the electric car / clean energy grid.
A few years ago electric cars were looking hot on-screen (think Minority Report) but downright discouraging off-screen. The few manufacturers that had given it a shot were getting despondent and giving up. After pouring significant funds into development, and despite big pushes from environmental groups, consumers just weren’t going for it. The business side of production wasn’t making cents, let alone dollars. The closing statement of this BBC article, circa 2002, was “So while Tom Cruise’s lightning-fast Lexus could be the car of the future, it’s definitely not the car of tomorrow.”

I’m not sure of his exact definitions of ‘tomorrow’ and ‘the future’, but perhaps Mr. Duffy shouldn’t have been quite so sure of himself?
The biggest problems back then were lack of demand, and issues of battery performance. Fast-forward five years to today, and some would say both of these issues have been well and truly dealt with.

I don’t need to tell you demand for fossil-fuel alternatives has skyrocketed through 2005 and 2006, and consumer demand for longer lasting batteries in devices like cell-phones and digital cameras has financed significant advances in battery performance with the development of fast-charging and long-lasting lithium ion batteries - proving yet again that where there’s a will, there’s a way. If consumer dollars are available, the vacuum will be filled.

What about other design aspects? Are people going to be happy giving up their prized polluter in favour of slipping into the cockpit of an electric car? Does it mean squeezing into a non-descript sardine-can that, despite it’s small dimensions, still can’t pull itself up a five degree incline?
Okay, reality check - have a look at Ian Wright’s 750bhp Wrightspeed X-1, and then convince me you wouldn’t want to take it for a spin. ...
As Alan from IWantCleanAir.com shares, electricity companies are doing the same kind of plugging. Pacific Gas and Electric, California’s largest utility company, is asking consumers to visit Plug-in Partners - a grass-roots organisation that are promoting electric/fuel hybrid technology - to sign their petition, and show the kind of interest that will get politicians noticing.

The X-1, as Ian Wright’s website is quick to state, is not intended for ‘public consumption’ in its present state. It is a proof-of-concept car only, intended to knock the socks off investors, industry execs, and consumers - proving that electric cars are a new force to be reckoned with. The website continues to say the ” X1 production car will be better… much better”. The prototype already has an urban operating range of above 100 miles, making it an entirely feasible commuter even in it’s present state - especially considering the following quote from IWantCleanAir.com:
According to EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute), half the cars on U.S. roads are driven 25 miles a day or less. Consequently, a plug-in hybrid with a 25-mile all electric range could eliminate gasoline use in the daily commute of tens of millions of Americans.

Add to this the prospect of instant charge batteries, and sci-fi-like visualisations of zipping into a ‘gas’ station to plug in for a rapid power-dump start to become entirely imaginable.
But wait - where is all this electricity going to come from? The bulk of our ‘clean’ electrical power is generated from fossil-fuels, coal in particular, so how does going electric help? Well, according to the promoters, it’s all about energy conversion ratios - in effect, how many miles per coal chunk. The Wrightspeed X-1, for example, is stated as giving an equivalent consumption of 170mpg of fuel, roughly three times more efficient than a Prius - and, on top of that, doing it with zero exhaust.
Also, it is less difficult to control emissions from a relatively few number of smokestacks rather than millions of vehicle tail pipes. And, efforts to clean up coal plants and other emissions will continue.

In fact, over the last 25 years emissions from U.S. power plants have decreased by 25%. This has been done through retiring old power plants and incorporating cleaner generation technologies. This trend is expected to continue so emissions will continue to get cleaner over time, meaning emissions generated from electric transportation will get cleaner over time. - Plug-in Partners

The thought of millions of cars commuting to work without making a puff of smoke does seem attractive, in more ways than one, as does zero-consumption when you’re stuck in traffic, or sitting at the lights - as opposed to today’s idling engines. ...

Energy Bulletin points to a pair of articles from the Washington Post and Grist, with Robert Novak in the former ("Losing to the greens") bemoaning the "well financed green propaganda campaign" about global warming and the latter offering to swap green supporter funds with those from the oil, coal, utility and auto lobbies (they should have added in tobacco as well really) if Novak thinks they are so underfunded.
"I've never seen industry so deathly afraid of the current politics surrounding climate change policy," a Bush administration environmental official told me. With good reason. As Democrats take control of Congress, once-firm opposition to the green lobby's campaign of imposing carbon emission controls is weak.

Panicky captains of industry have themselves largely to blame for failing to respond to the environmentalists' well-financed propaganda operation. One government official says "industry appears utterly helpless and utterly clueless as to how to respond." But the Bush administration itself is a house divided with support for greens and severe carbon regulation inside the Energy Department, reaching up to the secretary himself.

None of this necessarily means climate change will become law during the next two years, with President Bush wielding his veto pen if any bill escapes the Senate's gridlock. Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, reassuming chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee after a dozen years' absence, will try to protect the automotive industry from draconian regulation. But over the long term, industry is losing to the greens.

From Grist:
Apparently, thanks to "environmentalists' well-financed propaganda operation," there are supporters for carbon legislation in even the Bush administration, and industry is "utterly helpless" and "utterly clueless as to how to respond."

So unfair, with all the cards stacked up against industry that way. Tell you what, Mr. Novak, environmentalists are nothing if not fair -- and what the hell, it's Christmas -- so here's what we'll do.

We'll swap budgets with your industry pals.

Yes, I know, it seems almost suicidally generous, but we wouldn't want to win unfairly. We'll take Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Utility, and Big Auto's dough, and you and your friends can laugh all the way to the bank on Sierra Club's famous riches. I'll even throw in Vote Solar's private island as a personal gesture of apology.

Paul Hawken has column in WorldChanging's "Whats Next" feature.
Because of increased intensity of feedback loops from climate change, resource conflicts, and failed economic paradigms, we will see an exponential rise in every aspect of transformation detailed in WorldChanging. It will be a hold-onto-your-hat decade and beyond. Increases in innovation and possibilities (along with green- and poorwashing) will occur along with tragic damage to the earth and its carrying capacity, which in turn will further accelerate change and adaptation. From biological farming to corporate rights, from fisheries to localization, traditional institutions will be make about faces and embrace ideas that they scorned not long ago.

This sounds like good news and it is. However, the only thing harder than failure is success. The rapid growth in interest and adoption of green practices worldwide will place great stress on organizations and people. Although it is a time to plan for success, not failure, this doesn’t mean becoming a charismatic organization or a media hero. And it does not mean we will succeed. It will be the stroke of midnight for the rest of our lives. Rapid growth in this movement requires cooperation, collaboration, and sublimation. It is too late for heroes. We need an accelerated intertwining of the over one million non-profits and 100 million people who daily work for the preservation and restoration of life on earth. TV, magazines, and Hollywood must join in but cannot set the tone for what is the most crucial period in the history of humanity. The movement is fundamentally a bottom up movement. It arose from people, communities, the oppressed, biologists, and activists. We are experiencing something greater than “greening.” A community created world is replacing a world fostered by wealth and privilege. That can only happen if we stay in community and embody kindness and inclusivity in everything we do. The language of sustainability is about ideas that never end: growth without inequality, wealth without plunder, work without exploitation, a future without fear.

Neal Dikeman at Cleantech blog has a post on the sad news that Amory Lovins is stepping down at RMI from the CEO role (although he will remain as chief scientist).
The big news, that I found reported earlier in the Aspen Times: Amory Lovins is stepping down as CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute, which he co-founded over 30 years ago. He will step aside to become RMI's Chief Scientist, and RMI is looking for a new CEO. For those of you that don't know, Lovins is one of the most recognized names in energy efficiency in America. If you think you can follow in his footsteps, take a chance and apply for the job!

Then while taking a brief time out from skiing (I am not actually very good) I went in to drink coffee in the sunny lodge of the Sundeck Restaurant on Aspen Mountain. The first thing you notice walking through the front door (besides the massage chair, which I really needed after a day of skiing) is the plaque which bills the Sundeck as one of the first 10 LEEDs buildings in America. Details of the Sundeck Restaurant project here. The total cost was $9.8 mm, or an eye-popping $425/square foot (I assume driven partly by LEEDs requirements, and partly by the top of a ski resort location!). But the part I liked the most was the re-use of 86% of the materials from the previous Sundeck building. Because at the end of the day, despite all the advances in cleantech - the real answer to our energy issues is still the same - Reduce, Recycle, Reuse.

This got me interested in what else Aspen was doing in its environmental program. Aspen Skiing Company joined the fight for climate change this year and among other parts of its environmental program, is now 100% wind powered, through the purchase of wind energy credits.

Aspen also fuels its snowcats with biodiesel, from Blue Sun Biodiesel. The best part is they actually publish on their website an interesting description of the impact of the biodiesel use: "In the winter of 2002, ASC experimented with an 80% diesel/20% biodiesel blend. Mechanics noticed that the fuel, which makes snowcat exhaust smell like french fries, radically reduced black tailpipe smoke and that the snowcats ran smoother, a result of biodiesel’s higher lubricity, a quality that also extends the life of mechanical components. Based on our testing, ASC has now switched its entire fleet of snowcats to biodiesel. The cost is about 20 cents more per gallon, a small cost to pay for benefits that include hydrocarbon emissions reductions of 20% and CO and particulate reductions of 10%. The one drawback is that biodiesel typically increases NOx emissions by 2%.

TechEBlog has a post on the Phoenix Motorcars electric "sports utility truck".
Phoenix Motorcars has developed what could possibly be the perfect electric car. Classified as a Sport Utility Truck (SUT), this vehicle “can cruise on the freeway at up to 95 m.p.h. while carrying five passengers and a full payload.” .
The Phoenix Motorcars SUV will be introduced in late 2007, having a range of 130 miles, and can be recharged in less than 10 minutes with an off-board charging unit or trickle-charged overnight when plugged into a 220V power source, similar to the SUT. The estimated cost to recharge the battery pack is a small fraction of equivalent gasoline costs

Phoenix is currently working on an expanded battery pack that will allow a 250 mile range, still permitting a 10 minute charge and available in late 2007.

TreeHugger also commented on this company recently.
Electric cars like the Tesla, Tango and smart's EV have all made a big splash around here, with good reason: their sleek, fast and future-looking designs turn heads and have given notice that electric cars can be a viable transportation alternative. No one has moved beyond this archetype, until now. California-based Phoenix Motorcars is in the game to mass produce full-function, freeway-speed electric automobiles; they're first model was a reproduction of a 1937 Ford Cabriolet (pictured), but they've moved on to light pickups, small vans and a mid-size SUV coming in mid-2007. With a minimum range of 120 miles per charge and max speed of 95 mph, the vehicles compare favorably with most other electric vehicles in production, making the light-duty Phoenix vehicles ideal for messenger, service and light delivery fleets in addition to everday use for the general public.

Wired has an article on CIGS thin film solar and the potential for this material to become embedded in building materials.
A new solar panel is 100 times thinner and could be significantly cheaper than traditional photovoltaic materials, making it a possible competitor to the silicon-dominated world of solar energy.

Building materials such as steel, glass and roofing may soon have embedded solar cells thanks to a thin-film technology that uses copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS, instead of silicon.

Several companies, including Nanosolar, Miasolé, Global Solar and HelioVolt are developing CIGS systems. Several investors and industry experts say HelioVolt leads the pack. "What sets HelioVolt apart is that its technology allows them to deposit thin-film materials more quickly, efficiently and at a potentially lower cost than conventional process technologies," said Joel Serface, director of the Clean Energy Incubator in Austin, Texas.

HelioVolt's manufacturing process is between 80 percent and 98 percent faster than other thin-film manufacturing processes, according to Serface. The company's efficient system has recently translated into venture capital, as well as accolades from Time magazine and The Wall Street Journal.

Resource Investor has a look at the bright future for silicon and solar PV.
Surpluses and shortages of processed and refined silicon products affect supply chains, profitability and employment across a myriad range of large and small businesses around the world. Amid recent actual and forecast double digit industry growth rates, 2005 saw shortages of electronic and solar grade polysilicon that raised costs and constrained growth in the multi-billion dollar consumer electronics, semiconductor and fast-growing solar PV markets.

Producers and consumers have been quick to adapt. The main suppliers of electronic and solar PV grade polysilicon have all announced expansion plans. These include Dow Corning’s majority-owned Hemlock Semiconductor Corp., the Monsanto Electronic Materials Company (MEMC), Japan’s Mitsubishi Materials and Sumitomo Titanium and Tokuyama, Germany’s Wacker AG and Norway’s Renewable Energy Corp.

“Our research shows that the availability of polysilicon will double between 2006 and 2008, and triple between 2006 and 2010, which means that the amount available for solar will quadruple by 2010. Given that producers are also using it more efficiently, we can expect an effective quintupling in the amount of PV (photovoltaics) that can be produced by the end of the decade,” Travis Bradford, a former hedge fund executive, now founder and director of the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development, told Resource Investor.

Further on up the supply chain, recent shortages of silicon grade polysilicon have led solar PV cell manufacturers, sales and installation companies to lock-in supplies via long-term, privately negotiated contracts, reported California-based Power Light’s Susan DeVico.

With its business focused on large-scale commercial and residential solar systems installations, often in partnership with utilities, property developers and builders, Power Light has concluded several long-term polysilicon supply contracts in the past twelve months or so. Last November, the company announced a definitive agreement for guaranteed delivery of a minimum $70 million worth of Evergreen Solar’s proprietary StringRibbon solar PV cells over four years. Defined options could increase the value of the contract to around $170 million.

A second, similar agreement was announced last December with SunPower Corp. [NASDAQ:SPWR], a Silicon Valley-based manufacturer of the solar cells and solar panels. Their guaranteed contract calls for the delivery of $330 million of solar panels from 2005 through 2009. SunPower is a majority-owned subsidiary of Cypress.

More recently, Power Light announced a five-year, $150 million supply contract with Germany’s Q-Cells AG with an option to add an additional $60 million worth of Q-Cells’ crystalline silicon solar PV cells.

Taking into consideration and anticipating continued improvements in solar cell design and manufacturing processes, as well as polysilicon production capacity, Prometheus’s Bradford and PV Energy Systems’ Paul Maycock of PV Energy Systems in a research report released this week and entitled, “PV Technology, Performance, and Manufacturing Cost – 2006,” forecast that module manufacturing costs will drop in cost to $1.40 by 2015 from last year’s $2.50 level. Comparable reductions are expected for silicon ribbon and sheet, concentrators, amorphous silicon and alternative mineral inputs (see chart).



Dave Roberts at Grist has a list of his top ten stories of the year.
5. Hi. My name is the United States of America, and I'm an addict.

A little more than halfway through his January State of the Union speech, otherwise filled with the familiar ham-handed bromides, President Bush said something that had the nation doing a collective double take, rubbing its collective eyes in collective bafflement: "America is addicted to oil."

OK, when he delivered the line, he probably didn't know the impact it would have. The oil-reduction goal he offered alongside it was flaccid, and not a week later his energy secretary said even that goal wasn't meant "literally." He's spent his time since cutting spending on conservation, energy efficiency, and alternative energy, pushing to drill every-damn-where, and hyping biofuels and hydrogen, which don't exactly have Big Oil quaking in its boots. And he's still BFF with Saudi Arabia.

But still. His words almost instantaneously made conventional bipartisan wisdom out of what had long been a predominately progressive critique. It is now "official," as evidenced by the quote being cited in approximately 14 quadrillion news stories, op-eds, and press releases since then.

Perhaps next year he'll mention peak oil, and we can start talking about that too.

4. God v. Dobson

In April, support for the cause of fighting global warming came from a surprising source: conservative evangelical Christians. In February, a group of 86 prominent leaders in the movement signed the Evangelical Climate Initiative, which called on the federal government to take urgent action against the threat of global warming.

It was the most public episode in what's been a building drama among evangelicals, pitting the old guard, which plans to keep flogging gay marriage until the checks stop coming, against the new guard, which is pushing to broaden the agenda to issues that involve fewer clear villains but actual, widespread suffering: global warming, poverty, and AIDS.

The old guard includes such veterans as Chuck Colson and James Dobson, who called global warming a "distraction." The new guard includes Jim Wallis, Rich Cizik, and kajillion-selling author and mega-church pastor Rick Warren. The old guard is losing members, while the new guard snagged Pat Robertson. Who do you think is winning?

3. America takes Dick out of resources committee

The 2006 mid-term elections were, in the memorable terminology of our Electoral Poison in Chief, a "thumpin'." Democrats picked up 31 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate, while Republican gains can be expressed in the following equation:

Republican gains in House + Republican gains in Senate x 1 bazillion = zilch.

Enviros lost a few long-time allies on the right side of the aisle, mostly from the endangered species known as Northeastern Republican Moderate (sorry Linc!). But they lost many more nettlesome pains in the ass.

Perhaps the greatest source of green schadenfreude in a decade came with the defeat of Rep. Richard "Dick" Pombo, who used his perch atop the House Resources Committee to wage unremitting war on environmental regulation, all with a smug grin and a thoroughly unforgivable mustache. Adding to the delight: Pombo was beaten by Jerry McNerney, a wind-turbine engineer.

After six years of bleak news on the environmental front, Democratic committee control in both houses of Congress now opens the way for serious action on global warming and energy security. Will they fight like Boxers or prove themselves Dingell-berries?

2. Wal-Mart: America's leading source of cognitive dissonance

Wal-Mart's astonishing, almost comically ambitious goal -- to produce zero net waste and run entirely on renewable energy -- was announced late last year, causing progressive heads to explode across the land. Although the company has continued to suck eggs on labor practices, particularly health-care benefits, it has been plodding steadily toward its sustainability goals, improving the fuel efficiency of its truck fleet, pressuring suppliers to reduce packaging, and filling its shelves with organic food (or at least food labeled organic).

Of course, Wal-Mart's core business model -- importing cheap plastic widgets from overseas to sell in massive stores plonked down in the middle of Nowhere, Suburbia -- is inherently unsustainable in an energy-constrained future. But its open embrace of sustainability was just the latest in a string of ambitious corporate initiatives from biggies like Dupont and GE. And that's to say nothing of the astonishing infusion of private venture capital in green industries like clean energy.

Despite the braying of dinosaur corporations and think-tank nitwits to the contrary, going green is not a drag on the economy. It's the 21st century's biggest moneymaker.

1. An inconvenient yet bizarrely popular truth

Environmental issues, particularly global warming, have enjoyed a historically high profile this year, and it's difficult to overstate the amount of credit that goes to one man: Al Gore.

His improbable documentary An Inconvenient Truth -- one quarter biography, three quarters, um, slide show -- has become the third-highest grossing documentary of all time, with the highest per-screen average of any documentary ever. It looks likely to win an Academy Award.

Again: a slide show.

The movie, and subsequently the book, opened the floodgates. There were news specials, congressional hearings, Jay Leno appearances, Oprah appearances, Daily Show appearances, public debates, and kitchen-table conversations. So-called "skepticism" about climate change retreated to rear-guard battles, and the debate over what to do about it got started.

In 2006, green (to use a cliché I hope does not survive into 2007) became the new black.

Thanks, Al.

Russia and Gazprom continue to throw their weight around, with Belarus being the latest ex Soviet republic told its time to start paying market price for gas.
Residents of Belarus' capital stocked up on warm clothes and electric heaters as fears rose Tuesday that Russia is about to cut off the natural gas on which the country depends. Russia says Belarus must pay more than twice as much for gas next year — and even more later — and turn over a half-share in its pipeline system, a major transit route to Europe, if it wants to avoid a New Year's gas shut-off.

The dispute bears strong echoes of last year's crisis between Russia and Ukraine, which caused ripples of concern in Western Europe, whose supplies of Russian gas were briefly disrupted. But in that case, Russia's price demand was seen as political pressure against a Western-leaning government; this time it is against a country whose longtime leader has close ties with Moscow.

Belarusian opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich suggested Gazprom's demands are aimed at forcing President Alexander Lukashenko to cede control over the pipeline network and other attributes of sovereignty in exchange for continued Russian support for his authoritarian regime. "Through energy pressure, the Kremlin is trying to force Lukashenko to integrate according to the Russian scenario, which is extremely dangerous for Belarus," Milinkevich told The Associated Press.

Anna Kuprilko, a 48-year-old tractor factory worker whose sister lives in Ukraine, was among those shopping for a heater Tuesday. "My sister told me about Ukraine's experience, and I want to keep myself secure," she said. "My family is prepared for the worst."

Talks Tuesday between Belarus and Russia failed to resolve the issue and a senior official of Russia's natural gas monopoly Gazprom said a cutoff was certain without an agreement. "In the absence of a contract, there is not and cannot be a basis for the delivery of gas to any country or any consumer in the world," Gazprom's export division chief Alexander Medvedev said.

Lukashenko said the talks on Russian supplies were "very difficult" and urged energy saving. "In the conditions of pressure on Belarus one must know how to live within one's means and economize, especially on energy," he said.

Medvedev said a shut-off would not affect the 30 percent of Russian gas deliveries to Europe that transit Belarus. Russian gas provides a quarter of Europe's consumption.

The Energy Blog has some comments on Technology Review's recent article on using Plug-in Hybrids to stabilise the electric grid.
Technology Review has a nice roundup on the advantages of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), pointing out how the vehicles could help stabilize the grid if they were charged during low demand periods. Some key excerpts:
Such a system could be further optimized by using smart chargers and other electronics. This system would include a charger that runs on a timer, charging cars only during off-peak hours. Researchers at Pacific Northwestern National Laboratory (PNNL) are taking this a step further with smart chargers that use the Internet to gather information about electricity demand. Utilities could then temporarily turn off chargers in thousands of homes or businesses to keep the grid from crashing after a spike in demand.

The next step would be to add smart meters that would track electricity use in real time and allow utilities to charge more for power used during times of peak demand, and less at off-peak hours. Coupled with such a system, the PNNL smart charger could ensure that the plug-in batteries are charged only when the electricity is at its cheapest, saving consumers money.
But what many experts are excited about now is a concept called "vehicle-to-grid," often abbreviated V2G. ... In this kind of system, each vehicle would have its own IP address so that wherever it is plugged in, the cost of the energy it uses to recharge would be billed to the owner. With the right equipment, the car could also return energy to the grid, giving the owner credit. Mock-ups of such systems have already been tested ...

I know some of this information is repetitive to some of my regular readers, but the importance of plug-in vehicles (and electric vehicles) to relieving our dependence on increasingly expensive liquid fuels is so crucial and the word must be spread to as many as possible. While I have said many times that conservation and use of renewables are very important this technology remains the cornerstone of The Energy Revolution.

Commenter Marcus reinforces how important V2G and energy storage is for a clean energy grid.
Overall I would agree with Jim to say that V2G is potentially extremely important for clean energy. Its been calculated that by using V2G storage intermittent wind power could account for over 50% of total energy in the USA. Combine that with solar and other renewables and you start to get much closer to an ideal energy solution.

http://www.udel.edu/V2G/docs/KemptonDhanju06-V2G-Wind.pdf

Jim also has a post on Toyota becoming the world's largest car company (courtesy of an obsession with design and quality rather than politics and cosy relationships with oil companies).
Toyota becoming number one in the auto industry is not only a blow to GM but to America who has been the leader in car sales for 81 years according to one source. The two rival car giants are now going in opposite directions, with Toyota expecting to add a half million in vehicle sales in 2007, while GM and other American car companies are closing plants and laying off workers. Toyota's rise would also be a victory for its unique corporate culture, the so-called Toyota Way, which is based on an obsession with craftsmanship and constant improvement. It is also a victory for keeping in touch with consumer demands, especially more energy efficient cars, which until this year, perhaps too late, American car companies have chose to ignore, instead offering its gas guzzling models.

More from The Energy Blog - China takes the lead in electric cars.
Tianjin Qingyuan Electric Vehicle Co. Ltd. is building a 165 million yuan (US$21 million) factory capable of producing 20,000 electric powered vehicles a year in the northern port city of Tianjin. The plant will produce cars powered by battery, hybrid power and fuel cells. It is expected to be completed at the end of 2007.

According to an earlier press release: This car, named “Happy Messenger,” can be used for many purposes, such as a police wagon to patrol urban areas or used to carry goods. It also can be used as a business purpose vehicle, or at scenic sites, sports centers, residences or environment protection areas. People in US will use it in urban areas, military bases, ports and some large research institutions.

They exported 112 battery-powered minibuses to the United States in 2005 and is expected to export more than 500 to the United States in 2006. The company predicts its annual exports will reach 5,000 electric cars to the U.S and another 5,000 to European and Asian markets within three to five years.

And one last post from Jim - this one on geothermal power taking hold in Nevada.
A new report from the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) concludes that Nevada is now on-track to be producing over 1000 MW of geothermal power -- quadrupling its current geothermal output -- over the next 3 to 5 years. This level of geothermal production would meet roughly 25% of the state's total power needs.

In an earlier press release GEA reported that a total of 58 new geothermal energy projects are now under development in the US. These projects, when developed, would provide up to 2,250 megawatts of electric power capacity This would almost double installed US geothermal power capacity to over 5,000 MW.
The new report identifies up to 29 new geothermal power projects now under development in Nevada. The report finds that new power plants would produce as much as 853 MW. When completed, these new plants will quadruple the existing 276.4 MW capacity from Nevada's currently operating 15 power plants. With over 1100 MW, Nevada would be generating more power than most of the 25 countries producing geothermal energy today. Only the US and the Philippines produce more.

Dan Fleischmann,author of this new report, entitled "Geothermal Resource Development in Nevada -- 2006." concludes that this dramatic success is due to four major factors:

(1) the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS);
(2) the extension of the federal production tax credit (PTC) to include geothermal energy;
(3) the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) efforts to
reduce its leasing backlog; and
(4) the Department of Energy's (DOE)support for cost- shared drilling, technical assistance, and the work of the Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy at the University of Nevada Reno.

It appears that geothermal power is alive and doing well. It is a vast resource that could supply much more emission free power to the grid using existing technology. This previous post refers to a new technology being developed by MIT that would allow geothermal energy to be produced in even more areas.

The Independent reports that, for the first time, an inhabited island has disappeared beneath rising seas.
Rising seas, caused by global warming, have for the first time washed an inhabited island off the face of the Earth. The obliteration of Lohachara island, in India's part of the Sundarbans where the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, marks the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists has started coming true.

As the seas continue to swell, they will swallow whole island nations, from the Maldives to the Marshall Islands, inundate vast areas of countries from Bangladesh to Egypt, and submerge parts of scores of coastal cities.

Eight years ago, as exclusively reported in The Independent on Sunday, the first uninhabited islands - in the Pacific atoll nation of Kiribati - vanished beneath the waves. The people of low-lying islands in Vanuatu, also in the Pacific, have been evacuated as a precaution, but the land still juts above the sea. The disappearance of Lohachara, once home to 10,000 people, is unprecedented.

It has been officially recorded in a six-year study of the Sunderbans by researchers at Calcutta's Jadavpur University. So remote is the island that the researchers first learned of its submergence, and that of an uninhabited neighbouring island, Suparibhanga, when they saw they had vanished from satellite pictures.

Two-thirds of nearby populated island Ghoramara has also been permanently inundated. Dr Sugata Hazra, director of the university's School of Oceanographic Studies, says "it is only a matter of some years" before it is swallowed up too. Dr Hazra says there are now a dozen "vanishing islands" in India's part of the delta. The area's 400 tigers are also in danger.

Until now the Carteret Islands off Papua New Guinea were expected to be the first populated ones to disappear, in about eight years' time, but Lohachara has beaten them to the dubious distinction.

Refugees from the vanished Lohachara island and the disappearing Ghoramara island have fled to Sagar, but this island has already lost 7,500 acres of land to the sea. In all, a dozen islands, home to 70,000 people, are in danger of being submerged by the rising seas.

People aren't the only climate change refugees starting to appear. The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the difficult life facing aquatic refugees from dying coral reefs.
Fish species on the Great Barrier Reef are starving to death because climate change is killing off their food source, an environmental study has found. Rising sea temperatures have bleached more than 30 per cent of the world's coral reefs, a five-year study by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) has found.

As a result, smaller fish which would normally feed on live coral are dying off, which could throw the fish food chain out of balance, and consequently hinder local fishing and tourism operations. The coral damage is predicted to double by 2030 if sea temperatures continue their warming patterns, CoECRS senior researcher Morgan Pratchett said.

The starving fish fail to breed and fail to migrate to thriving reefs. "Fish can be very territorial and it may be hard for refugee fish, which have lost their reef, to relocate elsewhere because the locals will try to keep them out," Dr Pratchett said.

Tom Paine has an article on the rush to accelerate global warming in the US, with a look at the coal fired power station building boom called "coal in your stocking".
At this moment, U.S. electric utilities are racing to build at least 150 coal-fired power plants, while hundreds more are planned or under construction elsewhere in the world, including as many as 550 in China. Especially in places like China and India, the coal rush is a response to frenzied growth in energy demand, but in the United States it’s also due to the rapidly advancing prospects of statutory limits on carbon emissions. Washington—at least the bits at the Capitol end of Pennsylvania Avenue—may finally have gotten the message about climate change.

But not TXU Energy, American Electric Power, Xcel Energy and the other utilities now hunting up the capital to build these “new” plants. I say “new,” because the pulverized coal technology they intend to use is 80 years old and hardly more advanced than a log fire. Pulverized coal is just what it sounds like: Coal is crushed into a powder and shot into a huge furnace, where it burns to make steam to drive a turbine that turns electric generators. Such plants must now be equipped to reduce many pollutants, but they still emit huge quantities of carbon. The utilities could build advanced "clean coal" plants—called integrated gasification combined cycle, or IGCC—but even these are only a bit more efficient than pulverized coal plants and are substantially more expensive. And while they produce a stream of carbon dioxide gas that could, in theory, be captured and stored underground in old oil fields or other geologic structures, there’s no guarantee it would be, or that it would stay put as long as needed (essentially forever). As for pulverized coal plants, they are almost impossible to refit later for carbon capture and storage.

NASA’s top climate scientist, James Hansen, has said we have perhaps 10 years to get a grip on our carbon emissions or else face a tipping point beyond which climate warming will spiral irreversibly out of control. Building and running these plants will accelerate the arrival of Hansen’s tipping point. His 10 years may be a rough estimate, but time is clearly short.

Which is what makes the coal rush such an outrage.

Many things need to happen worldwide to get a grip on this problem. Not least is a serious successor to the Kyoto protocol, one that puts teeth into climate change agreements and draws in China, India and the other fast-developing nations whose growth pose the second-most significant threat to the climate. (Absent a change in course, China will surpass the United States to become the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases by 2010, according to the International Energy Agency.)

But the chances of achieving such an agreement without the participation and leadership of the most significant threat to the climate—the United States—are slim to none. With the Bush administration missing in action on this issue, the baton has passed to local and state governments in the U.S., and to private firms here and abroad working to restructure their operations and to develop renewable technologies. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently pointed out the astonishing fact that the seventh-richest man in China has made his fortune in solar cells; here at home, wind generating capacity is growing faster than any other kind of generation, thanks to entrepreneurial utilities with an eye wide open to the future.

So what’s wrong with TXU and the rest of the domestic coal rush crowd? Do we need to criminalize this irresponsibility to get their attention? A new type of felony: the carbon crime—“knowingly and willfully acting to sharply increase the atmosphere’s carbon content, without provision for redress, for short term financial benefit, thus inflicting on the entire planet and its billions of inhabitants a dangerously unstable climate.”

Some progressive utility executives—James Rogers of Duke Energy, for instance—are actually calling for carbon limits, but those who are leading their firms down into the coal pit perhaps ought to be sentenced to lengthy prison terms in gloomy unairconditioned cells, let out daily to work as tree planters, sweating under the hot sun to undo some small part of the harm they will cause.

Because committing the United States to a further half-century of heavy coal use is simply unconscionable, and the offending execs really have no cover. They can’t claim ignorance: the science of climate change is unavoidable. They can’t claim it’s harmless, or that the harm is uncertain: the expanding hazards of climate change are already making themselves felt all around the globe. They can’t claim they had no choice: Energy efficiency and renewables have barely begun to be tapped and have enormous potential. And they cannot argue it’s “strictly business.” There is no room on Earth anymore for executives who fail to grasp that business has both the power to shape the world and the responsibility for using it in ways that are not lethal—to itself and everyone else.

Mother Jones is taking a dim view of the Australian colonisation of the US freeway system, with an article called "The Highwaymen" examining Macquarie Infrastructure Group and Transurban taking their act overseas. Just wait until they've bought up your ports and airports as well as your roads...
"The road is one succession of dust, ruts, pits, and holes." So wrote Dwight D. Eisenhower, then a young lieutenant colonel, in November 1919, after heading out on a cross-country trip with a convoy of Army vehicles in order to test the viability of the nation's highways in case of a military emergency. To this description of one major road across the west, Eisenhower added reports of impassable mud, unstable sand, and wooden bridges that cracked beneath the weight of the trucks. In Illinois, the convoy "started on dirt roads, and practically no more pavement was encountered until reaching California."

It took 62 days for the trucks to make the trip from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco, and another 37 years for Ike to complete a quest, inspired by this youthful journey and by his World War II observations of Germany's autobahns, to build a national road system for the United States. In 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which called for the federal and state governments to build 41,000 miles of high-quality roads across the nation, over rivers and gorges, swamps and deserts, over and through vast mountain ranges, in what would later be called the "greatest public works project in human history." So vital to the public interest did Eisenhower, an old-style fiscal conservative, consider the interstate highway system, he even authorized the federal government to assume 90 percent of the massive cost.

Fifty years to the day after Ike put his pen to the Highway Act, another Republican signed off on another historic highway project. On June 29, 2006, Mitch Daniels, the former Bush administration official turned governor of Indiana, was greeted with a round of applause as he stepped into a conference room packed with reporters and state lawmakers. The last of eight wire transfers had landed in the state's account, making it official: Indiana had received $3.8 billion from a foreign consortium made up of the Spanish construction firm Cintra and the Macquarie Infrastructure Group (mig) of Australia, and in exchange the state would hand over operation of the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road for the next 75 years. The arrangement would yield hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks for the consortium, which also received immunity from most local and state taxes in its contract with Indiana. And, of course, the consortium would collect all the tolls, which it was allowed to raise to levels far beyond what Hoosiers had been used to. By one calculation, the Toll Road would generate more than $11 billion over the 75-year life of the contract, a nice return on mig-Cintra's $3.8 billion investment.

The deal to privatize the Toll Road had been almost a year in the making. Proponents celebrated it as a no-pain, all-gain way to off-load maintenance expenses and mobilize new highway-building funds without raising taxes. Opponents lambasted it as a major turn toward handing the nation's common property over to private firms, and at fire-sale prices to boot.

The one thing everyone agreed on was that the Indiana deal was just a prelude to a host of such efforts to come. Across the nation, there is now talk of privatizing everything from the New York Thruway to the Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey turnpikes, as well as of inviting the private sector to build and operate highways and bridges from Alabama to Alaska. More than 20 states have enacted legislation allowing public-private partnerships, or P3s, to run highways. Robert Poole, the founder of the libertarian Reason Foundation and a longtime privatization advocate, estimates that some $25 billion in public-private highway deals are in the works—a remarkable figure given that as of 1991, the total cost of the interstate highway system was estimated at $128.9 billion.

On the same day the Indiana Toll Road deal closed, another Australian toll road operator, Transurban, paid more than half a billion dollars for a 99-year lease on Virginia's Pocahontas Parkway, and the Texas Transportation Commission green-lighted a $1.3 billion bid by Cintra and construction behemoth Zachry Construction to build and operate a 40-mile toll road out of Austin. Many similar deals are now on the horizon, and mig and Cintra are often part of them. So is Goldman Sachs, the huge Wall Street firm that has played a remarkable role advising states on how to structure privatization deals—even while positioning itself to invest in the toll road market.

Bruce's latest Viridian rant is on the emergence of the green plutocracy (as usual Bruce's interjections in the main article are merked with ((())) )..
Key concepts:
Michael Bloomberg, New York City, urban policy, New York sustainability, futurist planning, political rhetoric, infrastructure, technocratic initiatives by the extremely wealthy

Attention Conservation Notice:
Imagine yourself spending Christmas websurfing for eco-doom, and sitting through a long speech by Michael R. Bloomberg, the Republican media tycoon who bought himself the mayorship of New York.

Links:
http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/2006/12/architectural-sci-fi.html
A primal dose of BLDGLBLOG's ultra way out-there architecture-fiction. Man, that guy kills me.

Creepy little nanobacteria. Are they already seething in the interiors of Earth and Mars?
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/300949.stm

They're ancient, super-tiny and they eat iron. Yike.
http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.rss.html?pid=21532

Might be time for a fresh look at those Martian meteor lumps that were such a nine-days wonder in 1999.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/277674.stm

Algae versus straw in the biofuels sweepstakes.
http://www.insidegreentech.com/node/459

Newfangled "liquid chimneys" slurp CO2 out of fossil-fuel smokestacks. Okay, sure, show me.
http://www.seventhgeneration.com/making_difference/newsletter_article.php?article=518&issue=79

You're gonna sell me a "clean" liquid coal CAR? Try harder, man. How do you "sequester" a tailpipe?
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16299632/site/newsweek/

I never realized that James Howard Kunstler, prophet of suburban oil-peak doom, is a painter. The guy is a pretty darn good painter, actually.
http://www.mungbeing.com/issue_11.html?page=30#870

Might be a big renaissance in paintings of dramatic sunsets, now that Australia is so lavishly on fire.
http://www.news.com.au/story//0,23599,20964239-2,00.html

The severe Australian drought is already five years old. I don't wanna wax all Mad Max Scenario here, but there doesn't seem to be any particular reason for that drought to stop in our lifetime. Look: people are always moaning about how the poor and the meek and the backward are gonna especially catch it from climate change.

Well, Australia is a continent featuring rich, advanced, highly educated white guys.

And man, are they ever in for it.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6204141.stm
http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/node/927

Makes you wonder: who's gonna deny climate change in Australia, and mine coal in Australia, when there isn't any Australia? Will they move to some other coal-rich area, say Appalachia, and deny the climate change there? Who will pay them?
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6212608.stm
http://www.warwickhughes.com/blog/

Australia's first green lifestyle magazine. Well, better really, really late than never.
http://www.gmagazine.com.au/about

"I'm a dark kind of guy," opines Viridian Pope-Emperor on a cheery video from Worldchanging HQ in Seattle.
http://www.goodmagazine.com/fieldwork/brucesterlingonclimatechange
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Bloomberg

So: who's Bloomberg? He's a technocrat, a meritocrat, a former Eagle Scout and Phi Beta Kappa scholar, one of the five hundred richest people in the world, a former Democrat, and current Republican (who cares? They're both for sale).

Bloomberg's self-set salary as mayor of New York is one dollar. He's hugely popular. "Hey, rich people: you bought the world, you fix it." Bloomberg is the kind of guy who would take a wisecrack like that quite seriously. Yeah, we're in an epoch of All Katrina All the Time, and we've also entered a Gilded Age where the ultra-wealthy can buy power over world capitals the way they used to buy a stable full of racehorses.
But, you know, what if this apolitical market mogul was greener than grass and actually did a great job? Not that that's necessarily so. I'm just asking.

Long Term Planning in New York City – Challenges and Goals
by Michael Bloomberg
Gotham Gazette, December 12, 2006

Mayor Michael Bloomberg outlined the major challenges facing New York City as it tries to develop a 25-year sustainability plan, and its goals in forming such a plan, in a speech at the Queens Museum of Art on December 12, 2006. (((I have to like it that he chose to do this in a Museum of Art. Very Medici-like.)))

The speech was followed by a video presentation and panel discussion about these challenges. The text of the speech is below; you can also watch a video of the entire event by clicking here:

Link:
http://www.nyc.gov/html/om/html/2006b/media/pc121206-2030_300k.asx
(((Can't beat it for net-centric politics.)))

"New York City 2030: Accepting the Challenge"

Thank you to the League of Conservation Voters for hosting us today as we look ahead to the year 2030, and to the immense challenges facing our city.

Some might think that whatever happens by then won't be our problem. But, speaking for myself, I'm going to be 88 years old, and the kind of city we have will certainly matter to me. (What's more, my mother will be 121, and she might come for a visit some time.) (((Hey look! The zillionaire's got a mom, just like an everyday guy!)))
And that's why we've come together today at the Queens Museum, which plays such a vital role in the cultural and civic life of Queens, and which I also want to thank for their hospitality.

Because it's here in Flushing Meadows, in the heart of Helen Marshall's borough, (((it's kind of awesome, the way city politicians learn to name-check minor players the rest of us have never heard of))) that more than once, New Yorkers have looked beyond the present, to see the promise of the future.

Whether it was at the 1939 World's Fair, when men and women still feeling the effects of the Great Depression dared to imagine a dazzling "World of Tomorrow," (((actually, that was mostly designers like Loewy and Bel Geddes imagining a world-tomorrow, whilst the American public gaped at New York in vague incomprehension))) or at the 1964 World's Fair, whose glorious panorama you just walked through, and which featured the futuristic wonders of what people were starting to call 'the global village.' (((Kinda liking the nostalgic sci-fi pitch here, Mr. Mayor!)))
LONG TERM PLANNING: WHAT'S BEEN DONE IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS

Only five years ago, looking 25 years into the future might have seemed unimaginable. After 9/11, we weren't sure what even the next day would hold. Instead of looking ahead, many people were looking back, fearful of seeing a return to the days when New York's dangerous streets, graffitied subways, and abandoned housing were national symbols of urban decay. (((I used to visit New York in those days, and yeah, New York was much, much scarier than it is during the "War on Terror.")))

We recalled seeing our city's population plummet by nearly one million people in just ten year's time. Many of us remember that era all too well.

And many of us have worked hard over the years to bring New York – and new New Yorkers – back – and then some. (((I hope you've got room for millions of Australians yearning to breathe free of airborne soot.)))

The past five years have truly rewarded our efforts. Building on the successes of our predecessors, we've driven crime down to levels last seen when the '64 World's Fair opened. Our welfare rolls are lower than they were in 1964, as well. Today, our streets are cleaner than they've been in 30 years. We've increased high school graduation rates to a 20-year high. Our bond rating is the best ever. Unemployment is at an all-time record low. New Yorkers are living longer than the average American for the first time since World War II.

(((That's a lot of mayoral bragging, but it must be pleasant to have so much to brag about. Record low unemployment and expanding lifespans? Sounds like Sweden.))) ...

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