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February 25 2014


February 14 2014


Refuting the 9 Reasons Why the Keystone XL will be Approved

Despite all of the efforts being made to resist the construction of the Keystone XL, it will likely gain the approval of U.S. President Barack Obama. Supporting evidence for the notion that we will move ahead with the Keystone XL comes from the corporate sector. Powerful corporate interests have considerable resources that often enable them to ascertain the outcome of political decisions well ahead of the general public. Berkshire Hathaway has made a move that indicates that they believe the pipeline will be approved. Berkshire controls BNSF which is comprised of nearly 400 different railroad lines that merged or were acquired. Despite its rail holdings, since the end of 2013, Berkshire has been greedily buying shares of Phillips 66 Pipeline Flow Improver in a stock deal valued at about $1.4 billion.

Will the Keystone XL pipeline be approved? If so, it's for all the wrong reasonsThe logic to move forward will be based primarily on nine major points:

First is the way the question was framed in the State Department’s most recent report. When faced with the choice between pipe and rail, the former is the better option from a total carbon emission point of view. Rail takes far more energy to move oil compared to a pipeline. Oil moved by rail increases greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 27.8 – 39 percent and if the oil is transported to the Gulf of Mexico, GHG emissions would rise to about 41.2 percent. What this assessment does not factor is the issue associated with the increasing exploitation of tar sands oil, which has a far worse emissions profile than conventional crude.

The second issue concerns safety and when presented with the false dichotomy between pipe and rail, the former is once again the better option. As explained by the Manhattan Institute, pipe is the safest way to move oil. While pipe is superior from an environmental safety point of view, this is another false choice, as moving oil by any means is not safe.

Third is the economic argument, moving oil through a pipeline is more cost effective than rail. The State Department has indicated that there will be as many as 42,100 (direct, indirect and induced) jobs from the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. However, a number of independent analysis, including one from Cornell University, have refuted this number. The President himself has rebuffed the economic and jobs benefits of the Keystone XL and he stated that very few permanent jobs would be created. Some have even suggested that the pipeline will have a harmful economic impact due to increased fuel costs. In the final analysis, the costs of climate change will utterly eclipse any short term economic gain.

The fourth rational has to do with political considerations. The Keystone has been a fund raising bonanza for pro-oil Republicans and some Democrats, so this issue is at the forefront of their midterm campaign strategies. As we head into the 2014 midterms, denying the Keystone would be political suicide for many Democrats up for reelection. Despite the President’s go it alone strategy, there is only so much he can do with Executive Orders. He cannot afford to lose control of the Senate or lose ground in the House. However, there are times when a President must lead rather than succumb to the the short-sighted math of political equations.

A fifth reason is President Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy which he reiterated in his most recent State of the Union address. The President has repeatedly stated that he seeks energy independence and the Keystone XL may be construed as a means of achieving this objective. Climate activists would prefer that he abandoned his all of the above strategy and adopt a “best of the above” approach.

The sixth reason is the demand for oil and heavy bituminous oil in particular. Heavy bituminous oil is critical for operations at U.S. refineries because light crude does not have the carbon content to make anything other than diesel and gasoline. Bituminous oil is used to make a far larger number of products. Currently, heavy oil is being shipped to the U.S. from Venezuela, but those reserves are expected to be depleted in the next five years. What this argument does not factor is that tar sands oil is far more environmentally destructive and demand needs to be curtailed rather than expanded.

A seventh reason arises from the claims that suggest if this oil is not used by the U.S. it will be shipped to China. The fact is that this is not accurate. The Canadian government has not been able to gain approval for the Northern Gateway pipeline which would ferry the bitumen to the west coast for transport to China. Further, the U.S. should not be phased by investment groups invovled in Alberta’s tar sands as they are driven by profits that will be generated from shipping the oil to the U.S, not moving tar sands oil to China.

An eighth reason involves the fact that because oil is already being moved by pipelines across the country, one more will not make a difference, even if it traverses the Ogallala aquifer. Proponents of the Keystone point to the pipelines, gas stations and chemical plants that are already on top of the aquifer. What this assessment ignores is the vast number of massive oil spills that have occurred and the fact that pipelines inevitably spill oil. A pipeline as large and as dangerous as the Keystone XL represents an unacceptable level of risk. At a time when we should be scaling back fossil fuel pipelines, we should not build another simply because this is what we have done in the past.

A ninth factor and perhaps the most salient issue involves the fact that shutting down the Keystone XL would be a blow to the fossil fuel industry, the most powerful and lucrative industry on earth. The fact remains that we cannot be held hostage to an industry that threatens to destroy our civilization. If we are not be able to curb our consumption of petrochemicals, we will not be able to reduce our GHGs. The result will be runaway climate change. Simply put, we cannot afford to ramp up oil production, particularly oil as destructive as that which comes from the tar sands.

As Bill McKibben pointed out early last year,

“Physics…takes the carbon dioxide we produce and translates it into heat, which means into melting ice and rising oceans and gathering storms. And unlike other problems, the less you do, the worse it gets.  Do nothing and you soon have a nightmare on your hands. With climate change, unless we act fairly soon in response to the timetable set by physics, there’s not much reason to act at all.”

McKibben concludes by saying that we cannot afford to wait for President to reign in the fossil fuel industry, “we’re not waiting for him. We can’t.”

While it may be tragically unfortunate, the Keystone will likely win the approval of the President, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Those who understand the environmentally perilous course of expanding Alberta’s tar sands know that the Keystone XL pipeline fails the President’s own climate test, which he outlined in his speech at Georgetown last year.

The large body of climate science clearly tells us that we cannot continue to burn fossil fuels, particularly not oil as destructive as that which comes from the tar sands. It would be far better to shut down the Keystone XL and allow the combination of government regulations and market forces to wean America off of fossil fuels. This could in turn drive massive investment in renewable energy which is both clean and abundant.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Shannon Ramos, courtesy flickr

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February 11 2014


EPA Leader McCarthy Talks Good Jobs, Green Jobs at D.C. Conference

Global warming, job creation and the growing divide in incomes and wealth – three controversial, divisive issues that have come to take center stage in U.S politics and society since the dawn of the new millennium. Though his efforts have wholly pleased neither left nor right, Democrat or Republican, oil industry executive or environmentalist, President Obama and his administration have sought to address all three, and in an integrated manner, to a greater degree than any of his predecessors.

Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference highlights the benefits of the green economyHeard, read about and seen in various guises – sustainable development, the green economy or low-carbon society – the President has been assembling the elements of a new self-organizing paradigm for the U.S. economy and society in the 21st century, one that recognizes that while economic development and growth are vital to the health and well-being of society, so is a fair, equitable and inclusive distribution of income and wealth, and so are clean air, clean waters, biodiversity and healthy ecosystems.

Taking this green economy platform out to the public, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is one of a host of prominent Americans speaking today and tomorrow at the eighth Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference in Washington, D.C.

Environment, economy, ethics

In the Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference’s first plenary session, a panel that included United Steelworkers International president Leo W. Gerard, BlueGreen Alliance Foundation President David Foster, and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar discussed U.S. infrastructure needs.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was the featured speaker in an afternoon panel session that also included Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards. Ms. McCarthy opened with a strong statement of values and environmental ethics:

“Whether it’s the teachers union or the steelworkers, the moral of the story is the same, our work and our family values have little value without fair protections that keep us all safe and healthy. At the end of the day, what is economic productivity worth if our water is too dirty to drink and our air is too dirty to breathe?”

The terrible, and rising, costs of climate change inaction

Times they are a’changing, the EPA Administrator continued, highlighting the emergence of a new, clean energy economy and the growing costs and threats posed by climate change. “Climate impacts are not only hurting our people and our planet, they are a threat to our economy.”

By how much exactly?  Emergency and disaster relief cost the U.S. government and taxpayer $110 billion in 2012, the second highest price tag in American history, “all off budget,” Ms. McCarthy highlighted.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka earlier this month talked about the already high and terrible costs of climate change inaction, Ms. McCarthy noted. Repeating Trumka for emphasis, “The nation that goes all in on innovation today will own the global energy [of] tomorrow,” she stated.

“That’s what this president, President Obama, said in his State of the Union. President Trumka, President Obama know what they’re talking about. They agree on these issues. That’s why we need to work together to explore creative approaches to meet our energy demands.

Making lemonade

“That’s why President Obama reiterated his commitment to climate action in the State of the Union. And we need to take action without sacrificing the health protections, without sacrificing jobs in our communities, and without sacrificing a reliable, affordable energy system. And we need to do it with every sensitivity to the workers who have brought energy to American families for decades.

“It’s not just about jobs, it is about fairness, it is about communities, communities where those workers live, and we need to be sensitive to those issues as we struggle to find the right solutions moving forward.”

Strong words. Good words. Positive words, delivered with what sure looks like hones belief and genuine commitment. Tune in and listen to Ms. McCarthy’s entire speech

*Image credit: Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference

The post EPA Leader McCarthy Talks Good Jobs, Green Jobs at D.C. Conference appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

February 04 2014


Big Returns for Utility Customers Using New Power Efficiency-Battery Storage Platform

Commercial and utility-scale battery storage and systems providers are getting a boost from state government initiatives in California, and, if a new proposal passes legislative muster, in New York. Integrated as part of intelligent demand response/reduction systems, and you may have the missing link that could drive the decarbonization, and decentralization, of US power infrastructure to new heights.

A new breed of smart grid, demand response and energy management systems is emerging in the US, spurred on by, and in turn spurring, fundamental change in the way electricity is produced, distributed, used and priced in US markets. Thanks in large part to financing provided by the Department of Energy via President Obama’s 2009 American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Santa Clara’s Green Charge Networks (GCN) is emerging from the margins into the commercial mainstream.

Already boosting power, as opposed to energy, efficiency and smoothing out load profiles among commercial customers including 7-Eleven, Avis and Walgreens, management anticipates demand for its flagship GreenStation intelligent demand reduction system scaling up another notch thanks to new state government grid and battery storage mandates and energy efficiency incentives.

GreenStation power efficiency dashboardA new energy infrastructure emerges

Coupled with a diversified mix of local renewable energy resources and electric vehicles (EVs), smart grid and intelligent demand response systems, a new, clean energy infrastructure is taking shape in the US, one that not only would be the most effective means of mitigating and adapting to a changing climate, but also enhancing the performance and resiliency of US grid infrastructure and providing a green economic boost that would generate good green jobs and boost local and the national economy.

Smart grid and intelligent demand response/reduction systems are an integral part of this emerging new energy infrastructure, and Green Charge Networks (GCN) looks to be very well situated to capitalize on this fundamental shift at the base of the US economy and society.

Formed in 2009 in the wake of the housing crisis and financial industry debacle with a $12 million Department of Energy (DOE) grant that came courtesy of the 2009 ARRA, GCN subsequently landed a partnership role in a $93 million DOE Smart Grid Demonstration Program project.

As a result, GCN, working in collaboration with New York City and Westchester County utility Con Edison, was able to develop its flagship products: the GreenStation intelligent demand reduction system and GCN GridSynergy smart grid energy management system for utilities.

Marking a first in the US, 7-Eleven had a pilot GreenStation system installed in New York in July 2011. GreenStation’s ability to reduce peak power demand, boost power efficiency and deliver savings month after month has since been driving GCN’s transition from bleeding to leading edge, and from pilot stage to commercial scale.

GCN today announced that it had reached a milestone, having signed 1 megawatt (MW) worth of 10-year Power Effiency Agreements (PEA) with customers including 7-Eleven, Avis, Walgreens. The start-up’s client roster is expanding rapidly to include municipalities and universities, as well as other commercial businesses across California as well as New York, GCN founder and CEO Vic Shao stated in an interview.

A Bayesian decision making process

Lying at GreenStation’s core are proprietary, patent-pending software algorithms and service-delivery features, the former Shao likened to stock trading algorithms. Monitoring a client site’s power usage in real-time, GreenStation’s predictive analytics are then able to make forecasts that optimize power efficiency, smooth out load profiles and reduce electricity bills.

The other key aspect of GreenStation is energy storage side. In addition to the client’s electrical system, GreenStation is linked to the latest in Li-ion battery storage packs. Supplied by SAFT, these battery packs discharge and recharge on a second-by-second basis based on instructions from GreenStation’s controller.

“Building loads change minute to minute. We employ stochastic decision-making based on imperfect information to charge or discharge the battery pack on a second-by-second basis to even out demand and flatten out the load profile,” Shao elaborated.

By accumulating and analyzing an increasingly large amount of real-time data on clients’ energy usage and other real-world operating conditions, GCN has been able to realize drastic improvements on the ability of its system to predict power usage and minimize peak power demand charges. GreenStation’s primary cost driver, GCN has been able to reduce the battery storage capacity required installations by one-third.

Reducing peak power demand charges, and costs

The peak demand rates utilities charge large, non-residential customers are based on power – and charged by the kilowatt (kW), as opposed to energy usage, which is based on kilowatt-hours (kWh). The latter have been falling, while the former have been rising at 7-10 percent a year. Hence, commercial, industrial and other non-residential utility customers are seeing peak demand charges growing to account for larger shares of their electricity bills, as high as 70 percent, Shao related.

That makes GreenStation’s ability to boost power efficiency and reduce peak power usage increasingly valuable. Utility peak demand charges during California summers are around $37/kW, Shao continued. “New York, it so happens, has the highest demand charges in the US, at $43/kW in peak summer.”

As a result, GCN and its customers are finding that the capital outlays for GreenStations are attractive even without federal and state subsidies. Electricity bill savings realized by customers in Con Ed territory in New York pay back their GreenStation investments in as little as 1.5 – 2.5 years. The story is similar in California.

Ninety percent of the proposals GCN is sending out to prospective customers in the Golden State have ROIs, or payback periods, of 5 years or less. The average is in the 3.5- 4 year range. “The returns are absolutely incredible when you factor in all these rebates and tax credits and so forth. Some really super attractive situations have ROIs in the 1.5-2.5 yr range, about 25 percent of our deal flow,” Shao stated.

Image Credit: Green Charge Networks

The post Big Returns for Utility Customers Using New Power Efficiency-Battery Storage Platform appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

January 21 2014


U.S. Solar Trade Group Protests China’s Polysilicon Tariffs

chinawtoChina’s Ministry of Commerce on January 20 imposed punitive five-year duties as high as 57 percent on imports of polysilicon – the raw material for solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules – from U.S. and South Korean manufacturers.

An association of U.S. solar energy installers, producers and other businesses that employs some 25,000 Americans, the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) is protesting China’s trade action, asserting that the Chinese government’s action is in retaliation for the U.S. imposing illegal subsidies and anti-dumping tariffs on imports of PV modules made in China, a complaint that was initially filed by CASM’s founding and lead member, SolarWorld Americas in October 2011.

Trade disputes erupt amid booming solar energy growth

Growing at above-average rates, international trade in solar energy technology and equipment has been booming for well over a decade, supported by a variety of incentives and subsidies offered by governments, including the European Union, the U.S., China and India.

Those subsidies have been the source of a growing number of international trade disputes in recent years, particularly between China, the world’s predominant manufacturer and exporter of solar PV cells and modules, the E.U. and U.S., the two largest importers of Chinese PV cells and modules.

According to CASM, the Chinese government has imposed the tariff on U.S. polysilicon imports “to divide U.S. finished-products manufacturers against polysilicon manufacturing suppliers, punish the U.S. government’s adjudication of SolarWorld’s cases in favor of the domestic industry and increase leverage for all manner of trade issues with the U.S. government.”

In addition, the Chinese government not only continues to illegally subsidize Chinese solar manufacturers, CASM says, it has stepped up its financial support in order to stave off defaults and failures and save jobs in companies that, up until recently, have been among the world’s largest manufacturers of PV cells and modules. According to a CASM press release,

“U.S. solar-panel manufacturers continue to suffer layoffs, bankruptcies and other harms and China keeps propping up its own producers as both industries suffer from China’s steps to designate the industry as a strategic target within its Five-Year Planning Process, support its industry with export-directed subsidies, trigger enormous factory overcapacity, price products below production costs in the U.S. market, harvest U.S.- taxpayer-funded solar incentives and enjoy access to the U.S. market, including military bases, while keeping its borders closed to foreign competitors.”

China’s solar trade action violates international law, according to CASM. “China keeps flooding the U.S. market with state-underwritten solar products that increasingly are cited as the source of sharply higher defect rates,” CASM states. “China’s precipitous industry entry and the ensuing rise in faulty panels came in the wake of America’s decades of pioneering and optimizing the industry.

“China’s retaliation against the U.S. industry violates international trade rules,” Mukesh Dulani, SolarWorld Industries America’s president was quoted as saying. The company, a subsidiary of Germany’s SolarWorld AG, has been the largest manufacturer of PV cells and modules in the U.S. for over 35 years. “Time and time again, these retaliatory cases have been found to be without merit.”

The post U.S. Solar Trade Group Protests China’s Polysilicon Tariffs appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

January 06 2014


Reduce Your Small Business’s Environmental Footprint

No business is too small to contribute to making a difference in the state of our environment by lowering its resource consumption. A series of little changes add up to big change, both at the micro and macro level. If enough small businesses take steps to curb their water and energy usage, not only will it have a practical impact on the world around us, but it will also help pressure larger corporations to do the same.

Although there are justifiable concerns about the expense or inconvenience of such actions, in fact, a few DIY updates and minimal investments in the short-term can actually help you save money as time goes on.

There are two major areas businesses should be concerned about: energy usage and water consumption. Here are some tips to help you reduce your environmental footprint by making a few small adjustments.

Reducing the environmental footprint for your small business starts with simple things like switching to LED lightbulbs Energy Usage

1) Replace incandescent lights with LEDs

Notice that I said ‘LED’ instead of ‘CFL’? Although CFLs are still an improvement over incandescents, LED lights last far longer than traditional lightbulbs and also use significantly less energy. This means that although there might be some expense associated with making the original change, in the long run your small business may actually save money. In addition, the cost of LEDs is dropping as the technology develops and grows more popular.

2) Increase Awareness of Energy Usage

In a business setting, because employees do not directly pay the power bill themselves, they are often not as aware and conscientious of their energy usage as they might be in their own home. Develop programs that raise employees’ consciousness of behaviors that contribute to high energy usage and that reward them for lowering costs by turning off lights and equipment when they are not in use, particularly overnight and on weekends. Additionally, keep thermostats on low settings, use natural light, and keep doors and windows closed to prevent heat or air conditioning loss when the above are in use.

3) Avoid Waste

You can avoid wasting energy by performing routine maintenance. For example, clean all filters in the heating or air conditioning systems regularly, as well as in any exhaust fans. Check periodically on any automatic settings in lighting systems or the thermostat to ensure that they are at the most energy-efficient levels. Remove any unneeded light bulbs or replace them with more energy-efficient models where possible.

4) Look into Energy-Efficiency Programs for Small Businesses

Some state or local municipalities may have energy-efficiency programs (like this one) that offer discounts and assistance to businesses trying to make the switch to energy-efficient appliances or other energy saving improvements. These could include programmable thermostats, furnace replacements, boiler optimization controls and others. In addition, such programs can include a free energy assessment to offer you advice about which specific steps will be most effective for your business.

Water Consumption

1) Install Low-Flow Plumbing Fixtures

One very simple and inexpensive change is to change the aerators on your faucets. By putting in new low-flow aerators that reducing the flow of water from the faucets in your bathroom sinks and any other areas in the office that use water, you can reduce your bill every month and also stop waste. Buying new aerators is relatively inexpensive – just make sure to get the right fit from your local hardware store.

2) Look for the EPA’s WaterSense Label for New Fixtures

Another slightly more elaborate investment that might work best for new businesses or businesses with aging fixtures is to look for the EPA’s WaterSense Label when selecting a faucet, urinal or toilet. These labels show that the fixtures are “water-efficient,” meaning that they use a significantly lower flow of water than comparable models. This could save businesses the cost of thousands of gallons of water a year. More information about the WaterSense labeling program and the advantages of using products bearing the label can be found at the EPA’s website.

3) Fix Leaks

Another way of potentially saving money is to look for leaks in your faucets, pipes, or hot water heaters. Water leaks can cost you money every month and also mean wasting water that isn’t really needed. Many leaks can be fixed yourself with some simple supplies. Just be sure to invest in a professional if the leak looks more complicated to repair.

Have you taken any steps toward lowering your resource consumption that you think other small businesses should know about?


Angelo DiGangi has been a Home Depot sales associate in the Chicago suburbs since 1994. Angelo is also a regular contributor to the Home Depot website on electrical and plumbing topics, on everything from LED lighting to kitchen sinks.

Image credit: Stephan Ridgway, courtesy flickr

The post Reduce Your Small Business’s Environmental Footprint appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

January 03 2014


Top U.S. Green Economy Trends and Predictions for 2014

While the overall outlook is good, there is a mixed bag of trends, predictions and problems that will directly impact sustainability, renewable energy, greenbuilding and cleantech in 2014.

Many feel we've turned a corner in cleantech. What are the trends for the green economy in 2014?Sustainability

The year to come may prove a challenging one for sustainability. According to an Ecova report, the growth of sustainability in 2014 will be complicated by increased energy and resource prices. The report titled 2014 Energy and Sustainability Predictions: Findings from Leading Professionals is based on a survey of 500 energy and sustainability professionals.

The combination of cost cutting pressures and environmental disclosure will push firms to develop a total energy and sustainability management strategy to remain competitive and meet resource management needs, says Jeff Heggedahl, Ecova president and CEO.

A total of 70 percent of respondents predicted that water will emerge as the top sustainability initiative in 2014. The report indicates that water is percieved as a significant opportunity for savings and improvement. The survey states that water concerns are second only to energy. Ford’s 2014 Trend’s Report concurs with the Ecova assessment that water will be the priority issue this year as does a Credit Suisse report titled Water: The Next Challenge.

The Ecova report also states that benchmarking regulations will contribute to an increasingly complex environment. However, it further indicates that peer benchmarking is another area where there are opportunities to capture additional costs and energy savings.

Renewable energy

While there is both good and bad news for the U.S. renewable energy industry in 2014, overall, the skyward trend continues. As reported in Renewable Energy World, on December 20 Credit Suisse released a highly favorable report that predicted unprecedented growth for renewable energy in the US.

They attribute their bullish forecasts to a combination of state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and cost competitiveness of renewables when compared to conventional power generation including natural gas. Their report predicts that renewable energy will meet 85 percent of future power demand growth through 2025. This translates to a forecast of 100 GW of new renewable capacity with wind and solar market share more than doubling from 2012 to 2025, accounting for approximately 12 percent of US electricity generation.

Despite these positive predictions for renewable energy, a new report called America’s Power Plan points to problems associated with outdated utility business models in the U.S. As it stands now, utilities are being rewarded for building and maintaining fossil-fuel plants and this is having a deleterious effect on U.S. renewable energy. The report suggests that these problems can be addressed with the right shift in policy.

Kevin Wedman, Vice President of Power and Utilities, Bureau Veritas North America, believes that the biggest obstacle to the development of utility scale renewable energy comes from the absence of adequate transmission infrastructure to support renewable energy projects.

George Danner of the Business Laboratory indicated that he is concerned about the fact that electric utility companies use dated models to predict demand. While Brian MacCleery, Principal Product Manager, Clean Energy Technology, National Instruments, believes it’s time to reward utilities for switching to renewable energy.


At utility scale power levels, economies of scale have driven down the cost of solar. Due in part to these price declines, the Credit Suisse report anticipates that U.S. solar will increase 11 times and account for 20 percent of the growth in renewable energy between 2012 and 2025. Higher efficiency and the declining price of technology has brought solar into the range of price parity with natural gas. The costs of solar are expected to continue falling for the next several years.

Mercom Capital Group, an Austin, TX-based clean energy communications and consulting firm, released its solar industry outlook for 2014. Their report predicts that new U.S. installations will total 6 GW in 2014 adding to the country’s current total of 10.25 GW.

The report says utility-scale projects and leased residential projects have been the main drivers of U.S. growth. With more than $3 billion in solar lease funds to finance installations, third party-financed residential installations have been the catalysts of growth in 2013.

Mercom predicts that in 2014, the U.S. will install more solar power than Germany, India, Italy and the UK. Only China and Japan are expected to install more solar energy than the U.S. in 2014.


The Credit Suisse report projects that wind power will double and account for about 80 percent of U.S. renewable energy growth from 2012 to 2025. Wind energy is becoming much less expensive and much more effective at harnessing power and making electricity.

One of the unknowns that will directly impact the future of renewables in the U.S. is the fate of the Production Tax Credit (PTC), which expired at the end of 2013. It remains to be seen what Congress will do when it resumes in January. It is important to note that the PTC has been allowed to expire only to be subsequently resurrected many times in the past.

Green Building

Green building in North America will continue its strong growth in 2014. This is but one of a number of predictions made by Jerry Yudelson, an author and leading green building consultant. He attributes this growth to the confluence of commercial real estate construction along with government, university, nonprofit and school construction.

In 2014, the focus will increasingly be on the greening of existing buildings. He anticipates that we will see growing interest in energy efficiency in all types of buildings involving automation for energy efficiency using cloud-based systems. He calls 2014, “The Year of the Cloud.”

He sees zero-net-energy buildings as the next logical step for building design and development. He further predicts that there will be much more competition for LEED, including the Green Globes rating system offered by the Green Building Initiative.

Other trends that he predicts will continue are Green Building performance and disclosure, healthy building products, disclosures and declarations as well as “Red Lists” of chemicals of concern. Solar power use in buildings will also continue to grow alongside water awareness and conservation.


Cleantech is expected to do well in 2014. This is due to a broad cleantech recovery and the rise of crowdfunding. However, electric vehicles may not perform as well as many had hoped and there are some surprises in store for the rare earth elements (REEs) industry. These are some of the salient predictions from cleantech guru Dallas Kachan, managing partner of Kachan & Co., a cleantech research and advisory firm.

Despite some speculation to the contrary, Kachan believes the term “cleantech” will remain through 2013. He succinctly defines cleantech as shorthand for environmental and efficiency-related technology innovation.

The forecasts offered by Kachan & Co.’s 2014 cleantech predictions are far more optimistic than last year’s assessment or the year before. In 2014, they see an overall upward trend in metrics like corporate, private equity and family office investment, venture debt, project finance, mergers and acquisitions, and new innovation.

While Kachan is bullish about cleantech, he is downright negative about electric vehicles (EVs) for 2014. He anticipates slower-than-expected growth of EVs due to improving efficiency innovations for the internal combustion engine and fuel cell vehicles.

Kachan further predicts that REEs will not generate the huge returns that some had anticipated. He also suggests that this will be due to growth in REEs recycling in 2014.

Kachan’s optimistic assessment is in part derived from an earlier report which compares investments in cleantech with other technology booms. Whether we are talking about dot coms, networking, biotech or the PC, there are parrallels that bode well for the future of cleantech. In all of these technological revolutions there were periods of rapid growth that ultimately gave way to corrections, after which we saw more stable growth. This appears to be where cleantech is at in 2014.

As explained by the Kachen report, “we believe the world turned an important corner in cleantech in 2013.”
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Artis Rams, courtesy flickr

The post Top U.S. Green Economy Trends and Predictions for 2014 appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

December 31 2013


2013 A Promising Start for California’s Carbon Cap-and-Trade Program

If California were a nation, its economy would be the twelfth largest in the world. Not only does the Golden State have the largest and one of the most diverse economies in the U.S., it has been at the leading, even cutting, edge of efforts aimed at forging a leaner, cleaner, low-carbon society for the 21st century.

When it comes to government-led efforts to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate and adapt to the potentially devastating effects of rapid climate change, 2013 marked another path-setting year for California. In 2013, its first full year of operation, the value of carbon allowances traded under the state’s pioneering carbon emissions Cap-and-Trade Program totaled $1.1 billion and brought nearly $500 million in much needed revenue to a fiscally challenged state government.

California's first year of its cap-and-trade program is a successSetting a price on carbon pollution

As  News10 ABC reported, California’s climate change law sets annual caps on greenhouse gas emissions for heavy polluters, such as coal-fired power plants, oil refineries, and industrial companies. The carbon/greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions pollution cap will slide lower 3 percent each year beginning in 2013.

Those that cannot reduce their GHG emissions to the cap level or below are required to offset their emissions by investing in cleaner, less polluting operations, such as reforestation projects, or purchase carbon emission offset allowances on the cap-and-trade market. These are offered by companies whose emissions fall below the cap or issuers that have developed projects that effectively offset quantifiable amounts of carbon and GHG emissions.

Auctions of carbon cap-and-trade allowances brought in nearly $477 million for the California treasury in 2013, News10 ABC reported. “Those pollution allowances are selling like hotcakes,” commented political editor John Myers.

California’s carbon cap-and-trade program “brings together the best aspects of regulation and using the market to drive flexible mechanisms,” added Stanley Young of the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board (CARB).

Making polluters pay for pollution

As CARB explains on its website,

“Market forces spur technological innovation and investments in clean energy. Cap-and-trade is an environmentally effective and economically efficient response to climate change.”

As originally enacted, California’s cap-and-trade auction revenues were earmarked to be invested in efforts to combat climate change. Struggling to balance the state’s budget, the governor and state congress suspended that aspect of the legislation and used them to help balance the state’s budget, however.

With huge budget surpluses projected in coming years, proponents and supporters of the cap-and-trade bill are now urging Governor Jerry Brown and state legislators to repay that money and invest it in the type of projects for which it was originally intended.

“Let’s spend the climate change revenues to reduce the pollution that causes climate change,” Bill Magavern of the Coalition for Clean Air stated in an News10 interview, such as home weatherization or subsidizing solar panel installations for low-income households.

Moreover, even more in the way of cap-and-trade revenue would have come the state’s way had oil companies and other big polluters not been given carbon emissions allowances for free, Magavern noted.

“The oil companies are essentially getting off the hook…I think politics has everything to do with it,” he commented.

Other governments are now looking to emulate and/or link to California’s carbon cap-and-trade market. Quebec looks like it will be the first. An announcement was made back in October that representatives from the respective U.S. state and Canadian provincial governments had signed “an agreement outlining steps and procedures to fully harmonize and integrate the two programs.”

With some luck, opposition legislators in Washington D.C. may finally see the light and hold polluters responsible for the pollution they create and the health and environmental damage that results. Enacting a national carbon emissions cap-and-trade program, or perhaps even a national carbon emissions tax, would be a historic step in that direction.

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December 27 2013


Roundup of U.S. Environmental Achievements in 2013

In 2013, concerned people, organizations and companies in the U.S. and around the world helped move environmental causes forward. From new legislation to the protection of habitats and ecosystems, here is a sampling of U.S. environmental achievements in 2013.

The environmental achievements  of 2013 show that we can act as good stewards of the planetEnvironmental success stories

A new study showed that a solid majority of Americans accept the reality of global warming and are calling for action on climate change.

U.S. President Obama launched the most ambitious government wide climate action plan in the history of the nation. In the summer of 2013, Obama said, “As a president, as a father, and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act.” The President’s Climate Action Plan includes limiting pollution from power plants, new standards for energy efficiency on public lands, doubling renewable energy, and working on leading efforts to forge international action.

The EPA’s new standards to reduce emissions from U.S. power plants are of great importance as these plants produce approximately 40 percent of American greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The U.S. joined the U.K. and the World Bank in a decision to limit financing to coal power plants around the world. The U.S. Treasury Department indicated that except for some rare circumstances, it will not finance any new coal projects.

A study published this summer suggested that global warming may have slowed somewhat over the past 15 years. The observed slow down may be at least partly attributable to a global phase out of potent greenhouse-trapping gases called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The eradication of CFCs is attributable to the Montreal Protocol. This finding can be interpreted as evidence that international agreements can be effective at reducing climate change causing GHGs.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), another GHG have largely replaced CFCs and these are also being phased out. President Obama and his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, forged a new historic agreement that outlines critical steps both nations will take to end the use of HFCs. Other world leaders are following suit.

The WWF highlighted a dozen environmental success stories in 2013. Here is a their summary of U.S. achievements:

  • People are getting involved with events designed to raise awareness and increase actions that will help reduce our environmental impacts. One such event was Earth Hour. On March 23, 2013, Americans joined hundreds of millions of people around the world who switched off their lights for one hour to show their commitment to the planet. American cities are among the 60 cities worldwide that are participating in the 2013 Earth Hour City Challenge. This challenge involves quantifiable actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, expand renewable energy, and/or increase energy efficiency.
  • The U.S. is also taking action in support of native people’s land and animal stewardship. One such initiative is the first tribal national park for Oglala Sioux in South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This park will more than double the number of Bison stewarded by the tribe.
  • Responsible forest management and trade practices were adopted by International Paper. This brings the number of companies and communities involved in the WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network to 200 worldwide.
  • In Alaska, Royal Dutch Shell shelved a plan to drill for oil and gas in mammal-rich Beaufort and Chukchi seas in 2013.
  • In July, U.S.-based multinational Coca-Cola renewed an agreement with the WWF through 2020 that will help to conserve the world’s freshwater resources and measurably improve Coca-Cola’s environmental performance across the company’s value chain. This includes agriculture, climate, packaging and water efficiency impacts.
  • President Obama is working to address wildlife crime including poaching and trafficking around the world and in Africa in particular.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services in Denver crushed six tons of illegal elephant ivory tusks, trinkets and souvenirs. This event highlighted U.S. intolerance to ivory trafficking and wildlife crime.

Here is a summary of the Sierra Club’s list of 10 clean energy success stories in 2013.

  • The American Electric Power announced it would add enough wind energy to power 200,000 homes in Oklahoma while providing substantial savings to customers.
  • Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado signed into law new legislation that will double the state’s renewable energy standard. Under the new law, 20 percent of the state’s energy will from clean sources.
  • In Minnesota, comprehensive legislation passed the state legislature that will boost the state’s solar electricity from 13 megawatts (MW) to 450 MW by 2020. This represents an increase of more than 1,200 percent.
  • Facebook announced that its Altoona, Iowa data center will be fully powered by wind by early 2015 due to a 138 megawatt wind farm in Wellsburg.
  • Nebraska’s huge wind potential is being tapped after Governor Dave Heineman signed progressive wind energy legislation.
  • The Nevada state legislature passed legislation to retire the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant and bring an end to the importing of coal power from Arizona. The state will also expand local clean energy development.
  • California’s growing solar industry reached a major milestone with more than 150,000 homes and businesses with rooftop solar installations.
  • Environmental groups and Georgia’s Tea Party teamed up to create the Green Tea Coalition. The group pushed for the Georgia Public Service Commission to approve Georgia Power’s proposal to retire 20 percent of its coal plants and add 525 MW of solar power to Georgia by 2016.
  • The Long Island Power Authority is investing in 100 MW of new solar power on the island, and they have plans to add an additional 280 MW of renewable energy. This is the single largest investment in renewable energy in New York history. New York City also announced a 10 MW project at Staten Island’s Freshkills Park, once known as the world’s largest landfill.
  • Maryland is moving forward with clean energy legislation known as the Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 and Prince George’s County Council voted to require renewable energy in all new and renovated governmental facilities.

The Wilderness Society is at the forefront of efforts to protect forests, parks, refuges and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. Here is thier summary of their environmental success stories for 2013.

  • President Obama designated 5 new national monuments in March.
  • California’s Pinacles National Park, was upgraded from national monument status.
  • Washington state legislature passed a bill that protects 50,000 acres of land in the Teanaway River Valley, east of Seattle.
  • Sensitive areas in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska gained protection from oil and gas drilling when the Department of the Interior issued a final management plan that will protect 11 million acres of “Special Areas.” The BLM also announced a strategic plan to clean up more than 130 abandoned oil and gas well sites.
  • Utah’s red rock lands were protected by a federal judge who struck down a management plan that prioritized off-roading over Utah’s wildlands.
  • Yosemite National Park was removed from a logging bill after a public outcry.
  • A ban on new uranium mining was upheld by the court’s ruling on the Greater Grand Canyon
  • In Montana a bill introduced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) is moving forward. The bill will add 67,000 acres to protected areas in that state’s eastern fringe of the existing Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wilderness Areas.
  • The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is safe for another year despite repeated efforts by Governor  Parnell (R-AK) to launch seismic testing to search for oil and gas in the refuge. All three of Parnell’s attempts were rejected by the Interior Department.

Taken together, these victories give us reason to hope that we are capable of acting more responsibly to defend the planet for future generations.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Chauncey Davis, courtesy flickr

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December 19 2013


All I Want for Christmas is a Price on Carbon

As 2013 winds down, there are promising signs that we may actually see a price on carbon in the U.S. In 2010, the cap-and-trade bill was killed in the Senate by the fossil fuel industry’s ubiquitous misinformation campaigns. However, a confluence of events have renewed hopes that we may yet see carbon pricing legislation that could significantly reduce U.S. carbon emissions.

Implementing a carbon tax is no longer a pipe dream but understood as a coming - and much needed - realityWhy we need a carbon tax

Paying for carbon pollution is the best way to put free markets to work to reign in emissions that cause global warming. There is a virtual consensus among economists who say that putting a price on carbon is the most effective way to fight global warming. The case for carbon pricing is strong, this point has been repeatedly made by the World Bank and a number of economists including a team from the London School of Economics.

According to most analyses, carbon pricing is the most powerful regulatory mechanism we have to bring down emissions without wreaking havoc on the economy. Putting a price on carbon will allow market forces to drive down demand for carbon rich industries like fossil fuels and help to buoy cleaner low carbon technologies like renewable energy.

On a very pragmatic level, carbon pricing could enable the U.S. to achieve the pledges it has made at UN climate talks. This includes carbon emissions cuts of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050.

Corporate juggernauts are onboard for putting a price on carbon

One of the reasons to be hopeful comes from a Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) report which indicates that at least 29 big American corporations are actively preparing for a carbon tax. The companies in the CDP report include powerhouses like American Electric Power, ConAgra Foods, Delta Air Lines, Duke Energy, DuPont, Google, General Electric, Microsoft, Walmart, Walt Disney and Wells Fargo.

What is most surprising is that this list also includes five major oil companies (BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell). While they can hardly be called champions of a low carbon economy, they are, if nothing else, economic realists. They see the writing on the wall, and their actions are a strong indication that they see some form of carbon tax as inevitable.

Make no mistake about it, fossil fuel companies are not embracing the common good, they are acting in their own best interest. Preparing for the expense of a carbon tax is simply good business and for many, it represents a great opportunity. To illustrate the point, ExxonMobil, America’s wealthiest corporation supports a carbon tax because it has a vested interest. As the nation’s biggest producer of natural gas, it would profit from carbon pricing. Such a scheme would inflate the costs to the coal and crude oil industries far more than natural gas.

Republicans may be left out in the cold

Support for a carbon tax from corporate interests including fossil fuel companies could be a real problem for the GOP’s political future. Republican opposition is a salient reason for the failure of cap-and-trade legislation in 2010. The GOP’s climate denial was underscored during the 2012 presidential elections and they continue to beat the climate denial drum to this day. As recently as Wednesday December 11, their ignorance was on display for all America to see. On this day, Republicans in the House of Representatives held sham hearings that called upon climate change denying scientists to reinforce their subterfuge.

Corporate interests are the traditional support base for Republicans, but as they embrace a carbon tax, Republicans will be left out of the cold if the companies responsible for global warming are seeking a carbon tax.

The Koch brothers may be the only friends that the GOP has left. The only U.S. supporters from big oil still onside with climate denial is Koch Industries, who continues to pressure Republicans to stay onboard the denial train. In 2012, all of the GOP’s presidential candidates had ties to the owners of Koch industries. Koch continues to use its various front groups to oppose science and resist any form of carbon tax. However, this oil company has repeatedly been exposed as the nation’s biggest purveyor of misinformation. Koch industries is a pariah even in the dirty and destructive fossil fuel industry. Republicans who embrace Koch may undermine their own election hopes and further tarnish the GOP’s already badly battered brand.

According to the latest research, Americans, including supporters of the Republican party, embrace the veracity of climate change and want government to do something about it. A Stanford University study showed that all states, even traditionally Republican states, acknowledge global warming and would like government to find ways to reduce climate change causing emissions. Recent election and ballot initiatives may also signal a change in American attitudes.

Republicans have effectively painted themselves into a corner. Changing public and corporate attitudes are stranding GOP policy positions. If Republican support is eroded they may not have enough political representation to thwart progress and this could in turn pave the way for carbon pricing.

Carbon trading in place and calls for emissions reduction from U.S. state governments

Carbon trading is increasing around the world with emissions trading schemes now operating in 35 countries, 13 states, provinces and cities. Europe already has the world’s biggest emissions market and China is launching its own schemes. In North America, new additions to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) doubled carbon trading in 2012. There are now 48 schemes internationally and when added to the 7 in China, a total of 880 million people, representing about 20 percent of global emissions will be part of some form of carbon pricing.

As reported by Reuters on December 16, fifteen U.S. states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington) are asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adopt their carbon-cutting policies.

As part of President Barack Obama’s climate change strategy announced in June, the EPA has been directed to develop federal emissions standards for existing power plants. Now a coalition of states have told the EPA that they would like to see a “system-wide” approach to cutting emissions rather than working on individual power plants.

The Clean Air Act has stipulated that states must develop their own plans to meet EPA standards. States have been asked to provide feedback ahead of a planned June 2014 proposal which is scheduled to be finalized a year later. States that are part of carbon pricing schemes want to make sure that the EPA gives them credit for being early adopters.

Benefits of price on carbon far outweigh cost

The most frequently cited argument against carbon pricing and carbon taxes is the cost. According to the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the introduction of a carbon tax could cause fossil fuel companies to lose between $9 trillion an $12 trillion in profits by the end of the century. That is because a carbon tax would drive up costs and decrease demand, as the demand was reduced the prices would fall.

However, the Potsdam Research indicates that the cost to fossil fuel companies would be more than compensated for by carbon taxes (or carbon auction revenues). Their analysis reveals that such taxes would generate revenues equaling $21 trillion to $32 trillion by the end of the century. That translates to a net economic benefit of around $20 trillion, in addition to potentially staving off the worse impacts of climate change and providing citizens with cleaner air and water. The profits from carbon taxes could be used for green-energy projects and climate adaptation efforts.

There was a time in the recent past when putting a price on carbon was dismissed as a utopian dream, however, the overwhelming logic is becoming increasingly undeniable, even in the most unlikely places.

The introduction of a carbon tax is unlikely to occur without a political fight, but the weight of the evidence will inevitably triumph over ignorance.

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Gustavo Madico, courtesy flickr

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December 12 2013


General Motors’ Sustainability Journey

On Monday December 9, the US government sold its remaining stake in General Motors Co. (GM). While the automaker is doing well financially, it is also making progress in terms of sustainability.

By most accounts the government bailout of the U.S. auto industry was a success. This view is convincingly communicated in a new study by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) called ”The Effect on the U.S. Economy of the Successful Restructuring of General Motors.”

The U.S. government was repaid the $39.5 billion it lent to GM as part of the 2008-2009 auto bailout, which forced GM and its Chevrolet division into a government-backed bankruptcy. According to the CAR study, in addition to saving 2.6 million jobs in 2009, the bailout preserved $284.4 billion in personal income between 2009 and 2010. In less than five years GM and other American automakers have become profitable and they have added more than 372,000 new jobs. However, the bailout was not only an economic success, it bought GM time to improve its environmentally destructive trajectory.

Back from bankruptcy, General Motors is now a leader in innovation and sustainable development for transportationOne of these improvements involves a new labeling system that Chevrolet is now posting on its vehicles. The label summarize fuel-efficiency technologies and environmental progress. This first-of-its-kind EcologicTM Label lets consumers see some of the environmental features of the vehicle relating to manufacturing, driving and recycling. The claims on these labels are independently audited by Two Tomorrows, a third-party sustainability agency.

GM is now moving forward with the production of vehicles that have better fuel efficiency and lower emissions. GM has also adopted manufacturing processes that have a smaller footprint.

Fuel efficiency of US auto fleet

GM is at the forefront of the dawn of a more responsible American auto industry.  According to the EPA, from 2007 to 2012, U.S. fuel economy values have increased by 16 percent. Between 2011 and 2012 there was a 1.4 mile per gallon (mpg) increase in fuel efficiency for the 2012 lineup of American cars and trucks. In 2012 the average fuel economy among American automakers increased to 23.8 mpg. This is among the largest annual improvements since EPA began reporting on fuel economy. The average fuel economy of new vehicles sold in August 2013 reached an all-time high of 24.9 miles per gallon. That’s up almost five miles per gallon since researchers began tracking the number in October, 2007.

Both projected and actual US fuel economy figures from the EPA show that there has been a reversal of the long-term trend towards worsening fuel efficiency. There was a rapid increase in average fuel consumption from 1975 through 1981 and a slower increase with an efficiency peak in 1987. This was followed by a gradual decrease in fuel efficiency until 2004 when the average fuel economy numbers for American cars was just 19.3 mpg. Since then there has been a steady increase in fuel economy ratings.

GM is leading domestic automakers in making large gains in fuel efficiency. GM now has 20 models that get 30 mpg hwy or better, including the car with the best highway mileage of any gas engine in America, the 42 mpg-hwy Chevrolet Cruze Eco.

GM has improved its fuel economy ratings between 2009 and 2012. According to EPA figures, in 2009 GM vehicles averaged only 19.9 mpg as of 2012 the average mpg for GM vehicles rose to 21.4 mpg. Part of the reason GM is generating better efficiency numbers is due to the fact that they are manufacturing less big vehicles and more smaller fuel efficient cars including hybrids and fully electric vehicles.

The overarching context for these improvements is the Obama administration’s fuel efficiency standards which will require that automakers double their economy ratings by 2025. The Corporate Average Fuel Economy or CAFE standards will raise industry-wide fuel economy to 54.5 mpg by 2025, (it should be noted that CAFE standards are not the same as mpg ratings). As of 2012, GM got a CAFE fuel economy rating of 32.9 MPG for domestic passenger cars and 23.5 for light trucks.

Vehicular carbon emissions

According to the EPA, 2012 cars and trucks continued to decrease their carbon pollution. The research shows that vehicle emissions as measured by what is known as the Eco Driving Index has also improved.

EPA data indicates that in 2009 the average CO2 vehicle emissions were 8 percent lower than in 2004 which had a rating of 461 grams per mile (g/mi). In 2012, EPA figures show that American auto makers reduced their CO2 emissions to 374 (g/mi). From 2007 to 2012, EPA estimates that CO2 emissions have decreased by 13 percent.

In 2009 GM had an average carbon emissions rating of 447 (g/mi). In 2012 GM saw its CO2 emissions decline to 418 (g/mi). GM is also a global biofuel leader including ethanol which in comparison to gas, emits 21 percent less CO2.

Waste and recycling at GM

GM is also decreasing its waste through its landfill-free program. As reported by GM, the company boasts an industry-leading total of 105 facilities that recycle, reuse or convert to energy all waste from daily operations. GM is recycling and reusing 90 percent of its manufacturing waste worldwide and in the process the company generates about $1 billion in revenue annually. GM has reduced its total waste 25 kilograms, or 55 pounds, per vehicle since 2010.

Hybrid and electric vehicles

chevy-volt-dashboardGM sees electrically driven vehicles as the best long-term solution for energy-efficient transportation. GM is the leader in domestically produced hybrid and electric vehicle components. GM produces their own batteries in the largest and most technologically advanced battery development facility in the U.S. They are the first major U.S. automaker to design and manufacture electric motors for their hybrid and electric vehicles.

GM is also a leader in extended range electric with vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt and Opel Ampera. The Chevrolet Volt has an estimated 94 MPGe electric, and when using the gas engine it generates ratings of 35 mpg city, and 40 mpg hwy. The range for the Volt is 35 miles of electric driving. Once the electric charge is depleted, a gas-powered engine generator provides an additional 340 miles of range.

GM’s hybrid Silverado pickup has an EPA estimated 20 mpg city and 23 mpg hwy. The Buick LaCrosse and Regal have what is known as eAssist technology which get an EPA estimated 25 mpg 25 city and 36 hwy. The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco also uses eAssist and gets an EPA estimated 25 mpg 25 city and 37 hwy.

The new eAssist technology is an electrification solution that enhances fuel efficiency up to 25 percent when paired with existing engines. The electric motor recaptures energy and shuts off fuel during braking. To further increase efficiency, it stops and restarts the engine in stop-and-go city driving. An onboard lithium-ion battery provides an electric boost in certain conditions to improve efficiency.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

GM engineers are at the forefront of hydrogen fuel cell technology which have no CO2 emissions. They have been working on FCVs for more than 16 years and they are the country’s leading innovators in this technology of the future. Fuel cells have 2.3 times the efficiency of conventional powertrains and take around three minutes to refuel.

To date GM fuel cell vehicles (FCV) have driven more than 3 million miles as part of their test fleet of 100 Chevrolet Equinox SUVs undergoing real-world testing by families and commercial users.

GM is expanding a research project with the U.S. Army to accelerate the development of hydrogen fuel cells. GM is working on hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles with the military’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC).

In 2013, GM teamed up with Honda to bring affordable hydrogen-powered vehicles onto the market by the end of the decade. GM hopes to have as many as one million affordable FCVs by 2020.

Technological innovation

In 2012, GM invested more than $7.3 billion in the research and development of “next-generation” technologies. During 2011 and 2012 GM received more clean energy patents than any other organization, according to the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index of US patents.

The company continues to improve fuel economy and decrease mobile emissions through advanced engine and transmission technology, next-generation batteries and electric motors, and power electronics.

They are also working on vehicles with better aerodynamics as well as reduced weight and mass which makes them up to 15 percent lighter than comparable vehicles on the road today. In 2012 General Motors was among several recipients that received $54 million in Energy Department grants aimed at improving the energy efficiency of advanced manufacturing technologies. GM received $2.7 million to develop an integrated die-casting process for a thin-walled magnesium application used to manufacture car doors. The manufacturing process is expected to cut energy use by 50 percent. The reduced weight in the doors also will improve fuel economy and reduce carbon emissions.

GM’s lineup of gasoline-powered vehicles are increasingly efficient due technological innovations including direct fuel injection, active fuel management, variable valve timing and turbocharging. They are also focusing on tire construction to make their vehicles more efficient.

In 2013 GM began using a new refrigerant that has a global warming potential (GWP) that is a tiny fraction of previous refrigerants. Developed in 2010 GM was the first company to introduce a climate-friendly refrigerant to replace the super greenhouse gas used in auto air conditioning. The new refrigerant, called an HFO, has a global warming potential of just 4 compared to over 1,400 for HFC-134a. The new refrigerant remains in the atmosphere for just 11 days, according to Honeywell, its producer. Honeywell calculates that the low GWP and the short lifetime of its HFO represents a 99.7 percent improvement over HFC-134a.

GM is also a biofuel leader and according to their own reports, they are developing technologies that turn agricultural and municipal solid waste into ethanol.

Renewable energy

In 2012 General Motors installed an 8.15 MW solar array on the rooftop of one of its Opel plants in Germany. The array at Rüsselsheim is one of the largest solar installations in Europe with an area equivalent to 32 soccer fields. It generates about 7.3 million kWh per year of energy. This represents a CO2 reduction of about 3,150 tons a year, equal to the amount of carbon isolated annually. The latest installation, together with GM’s other solar arrays in Kaiserslautern, Germany, and Zaragoza, Spain, will allow the company to produce 19.1 million kWh of electricity a year which reduces CO2 emissions by 8,200 tons annually.

According to their 2013 Sustainability Report, by 2015 GM will have a solar output of 60 MW by 2015 and the company plans to have a renewable energy output of 125 MW by 2020.

GM also has a few LEED-certified buildings including an engine plant in southern Brazil, equipped with numerous sustainability features including solar energy and water recycling systems. Another innovative program harvests energy from test benches its Powertrain Engineering Center in Turin, Italy. The amount of energy harvested is equal to 300,000 kWh of energy.

Manufacturing facilities: energy and carbon

GM’s manufacturing technologies decrease the use of energy, resources and materials. As reviewed in their 2013 Sustainability Report, GM is committed to reducing energy and carbon intensity in their global manufacturing operations. The EPA has recognized GM with its Energy Star partner of the year for Sustained Excellence award and the company has a total of 54 facilities that meet the Energy Star Challenge for industry.

According to Green Car Congress, in 2012, the company realized energy-efficiency improvements of 2 percent over 2011, and similar decrements in carbon emissions intensity. GM also reduced the amount of energy required to build each vehicle by 7 percent since 2010. In 2012, GM’s energy intensity per vehicle manufactured was 2.30 MWh per vehicle, down from 2.47 MWh/vehicle in 2010. The 2020 target is 1.97 MWh/vehicle.

GM’s carbon intensity per vehicle in 2012 was 0.88 metric tons CO2e, which is down from 0.92 in 2010. The latest data shows that average total energy usage for GM’s international operations is 1.14 MWh per vehicle, less than half the industry average of 2.37 MWh per vehicle.

GM’s energy management and renewable energy programs have helped reduce carbon intensity of manufacturing by 5.3 percent since 2010 and they are targeting a 20 percent reduction by 2020. The 2020 target is 0.75 tonnes/vehicle.

The future

According to GM’s 2012 Sustainability Report, by 2017 the company expects to double models with a rating of 40 mpg (highway) or better, further reduce the energy used in production as well as diminish the environmental impacts from its buildings and vehicle operations.

By 2017, GM has pledged to have 500,000 vehicles on the road in the US with some form of electrification and to reduce the average CO2 tailpipe emissions of its US fleet by 15 percent. GM subsidiary Opel estimates will reduce the average carbon tailpipe emissions by 27 percent by 2020.

GM will also continue to reduce vehicle mass and aggressively invest in advanced materials, such as high-strength steel, carbon fiber and aluminum as well as an industry-first lightweight aluminum welding technology. Other ongoing efficiency oriented innovation includes downsizing, turbocharging, direct injection, variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation.

According to GM’s 2012 Sustainability Report, “The rollout of these technologies in new GM US models between 2011 and 2016 is expected to improve the fuel economy of our fleet by more than 18 percent.”

Five years ago GM was on the brink of closing its doors forever, now they are making more fuel efficient cars with less emissions. They have also reduced the impacts of their manufacturing processes, minimized waste and decreased their use of energy and other materials. As suggested by GM’s commitments for the future, this is only the beginning of a sustainability journey that will help lead America into the new automotive reality.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Main image credit: Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions, courtesy flickr

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December 10 2013


Shrimp Fishery Collapse in Gulf of Maine

Shrimp moratorium

A moratorium for the 2014 shrimp fishing season was announced for the US Northeastern Gulf of Maine shrimp fishery last week as stocks of shrimp for 2012 hit record lows. The last time the shrimp catch was halted was 35 years ago in 1977.

“The Northern Shrimp Technical Committee has considered the Gulf of Maine northern shrimp stock to have collapsed with very little hope for recovery in the near future,” Kelly Whitmore, chairwoman of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission told members of a section advisory panel on December 3rd, effectively halting all shrimping activities for the 2014 season, usually lasting from December through May. “There are no small shrimp around right now,” added Whitmore, “it doesn’t bode well for the future.”

shrimp-fishery-collapseDeclining shrimp stocks became strikingly apparent in 2012, with the annual survey last year showing the lowest number of adult shrimp ever recorded in the survey’s 30 year history.  Despite pressure to halt the 2013 season, fishing went ahead with a reduced catch limit of  625 tons, or a 72 percent decrease from the allowable catch set for 2012. Even then, shrimpers only caught 307 tons for the 2013 season.

“I think everyone was startled by what we saw in 2012, and there was a lot of pressure to close down the fishery for the 2013 season,” said Chief Scientific Officer John Annala of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. “The survey this summer found just 20 percent of the 2012 record low, so it has fallen off incredibly sharply.”

Of particular concern is the fact that no juvenile shrimp have shown up in any of of the surveys since 2010. Shrimp in the Gulf of Maine live for only about five years so the lack of any young shrimp for the past three years portends trouble for the future of the fishery for many years to come.

Overfishing, warming ocean waters

The sharp decline in shrimp in the region is largely attributed to overfishing and warming ocean waters.

“During the last ten years the water temperature in the Gulf of Maine has been running about 2.5 degrees Celsius or about 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the previous one hundred year average,” Annala said. “We don’t know what the thermal threshold of this species is, but the Gulf of Maine has always been the southernmost extreme of their range, so we probably don’t have much wiggle room.”

Even if shrimp prove  heat tolerant, which shouldn’t be assumed, the warming oceans of the Gulf of Maine are deadly to tiny zooplankton, the shrimp’s principal food supply. Warmer water also make the region more hospitable to predators of shrimp like dogfish and red hake.

Other species upon which the northeastern fisherman depend are also feeling the heat. The iconic lobster has been heading steadily northward in recent years in search of colder waters.

For the shrimp, the future remains tenuous. At this point, nobody is confident that 2014 will be the end of the moratorium.

“Decisions like this one show how fishermen are on the front lines of the battle against climate change,” said Michael Conathan, Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress. “This is not a nebulous, maybe-someday-in-the-future problem. This is unchecked carbon pollution affecting livelihoods here in Maine today.”


Image credit: Doug DuCap, courtesy flickr


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November 19 2013


Energy, Climate Scientists Call for a Moratorium on Coal-Fired Power Plants

Energy and climate scientists call for a coal moratorium, saying unabated coal is the road to climate catastrophe

Coal Sunrise over Beijing

An international group of 27 prominent energy and climate scientists are calling for a moratorium on construction of new coal-fired power plants, a policy they say has become a global imperative if “climate catastrophe” is to be avoided this century.

Their call comes amid renewed efforts by coal and power utility lobbies “to portray ‘high efficiency low emissions coal combustion’ as a climate solution.” Global carbon emissions are set to hit another new record high this year, according to a report released earlier this week as UN climate treaty negotiators meet in Warsaw. Ironically, taking place at the same time in the Polish capital is the Coal and Climate Summit.

The assertion that coal combustion to produce electricity should be considered a “climate-friendly” power technology flies in the face of the facts, all good judgment, and, needless to say, any semblance of adhering to the “precautionary principle.” Agreeing to it would set humanity and ecosystems around the world firmly on course for global warming of 6°C (10.8°F) , according to the scientists.

That’s three to four times the 1.5-2°C cap (compared to pre-industrial era levels) and climate warming threshold world leaders agreed to at the UN’s climate treaty negotiations in Cancun in 2010.

On the road to climate catastrophe

The world’s known coal reserves contain more than 2,000 gigatons (Gt) of CO2. Burning or combusting these reserves “would dramatically overshoot the remaining global carbon budget of about 1,000 gigatons CO2. This comes on top of oil and gas reserves accounting for more than 1600 gigatons,” the scientists highlight in a press release.

“The current global trend of coal use is consistent with an emissions pathway above the IEA’s 6°C scenario. That risks an outcome that can only be described as catastrophic, beyond anything that mankind has experienced during its entire existence on earth,” the scientists state.


Source: “New Unabated coal is not compatible with keeping
global warming below 2°C”

“The IEA’s medium-term coal market report (IEA, 2012) projects a further expansion of coal use that is even higher than IEA’s own 6DS scenario for 6°C warming in the long-term,” they elaborate.

“The 6DS scenario assumes around 4°C warming by 2100 (Schaeffer and Van Vuuren, 2012). As the Secretary General of the OECD warns: ‘Without CCS, continued reliance on coal-fired power is a road to disaster. (OECD, 2013)”


Source: “New unabated1 coal is not
compatible with keeping
global warming below 2°C”

“We are not saying there is no future for coal”, added Professor P.R. Shukla of the Indian Institute of Management, “but that unabated coal combustion is not compatible with staying below the 2°C limit, if we like it or not.”

Following is a short list of the main points of the climate and energy scientists’ statement:

  • Unabated coal is not a low carbon technology
  • Avoiding dangerous climate change requires about 3/4 of known fossil fuel reserves to stay underground
  • Current trends in coal use are harbouring catastrophic climate change
  • To keep global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial, use of unabated coal has to go down in absolute terms from now on
  • Alternatives are available and affordable
  • Public financing institutions and regulatory agencies are reining in unabated coal, but more is needed to prevent new unabated coal to be built

False claims, Sustainable energy scenarios

The group of scientists also noted that “false claims about ‘high-efficiency coal’ as a low-emissions technology” were made by the World Coal Association (WCA) in their recently released Warsaw Communiqué. In it the WCA “calls for ‘the immediate use of high-efficiency low-emissions coal combustion technologies as an immediate step in lowering greenhouse gas emissions.”

Contrary to such assertions, Dr Bert Metz, former Co-Chair of the IPCC’s Working Group on Climate Change Mitigation, stated,

“New or retrofitted coal plants without CO2 capture and storage will have a life time of 40-50 years. We need to dramatically reduce emissions over the next 40 years. That is not possible with unabated coal.”

“Alternatives to fossil fuels are already available and affordable. It is therefore up to the coal industry to show that coal-fired plants with CCS can compete with other zero carbon options.”

The scientists welcomed the growing number of prominent multilateral and international financing institutions and regulatory agencies, including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the U.S. Ex-Im Bank, to curtail or “rein in unabated coal.” Much more action is needed, and now, however, they added.

As Professor William Moomaw of the Fletcher School, Tufts University, USA pointed out:

“The trend of future coal use is changing rapidly. The World Bank, US development assistance and the US Import-Export Bank will no longer finance or support new unabated coal power plants internationally, except in rare cases.

“The United States Environmental Protection Agency has proposed carbon dioxide emission standards that rule out unabated coal power plants altogether. The European Investment Bank and Scandinavian countries have taken similar steps.”

Genuinely low-emissions alternative, renewable energy technology are readily available, competitive with fossil fuels, and continue to decline in cost, the scientists highlight. This stands out in stark contrast to trends in fossil fuels, which are increasingly costly in narrowly defined dollars-and-cents terms, and much more expensive over the long-term when their environmental, health and other socioeconomic costs, such as military interventions, are factored into the equation.

In their statement, the scientists lay out a range of alternative energy and emissions scenarios:


Source: “New unabated1 coal is not
compatible with keeping
global warming below 2°C”

For more on this topic, check out the scientists’ full statement on coal


Main and featured image credit: Shel Israel, courtesy flickr 

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November 12 2013


Is Phasing Out Fossil Fuel Subsidies Even on the Agenda in Warsaw?

A sunny day in Beijing

A sunny day in Beijing

For all their potential promise, apparent earnestness and gravity – not to mention their possible effects and potential ramifications – it’s hard at times not to be cynical about high-level political negotiations. Such might be felt of the United Nations (UN) climate treaty negotiations which got under way this week in Warsaw, Poland.

People have good reason to be skeptical of the climate treaty process, not because global warming and climate change are based on faulty science or because viable options aren’t in hand, but because governments and societies around the world are so invested in fossil fuels that the thought that political leaders would collectively take aggressive action to phase out carbon and greenhouse gas emissions is nigh unthinkable.

Take, for example, that even as representatives from the 195 UN member nations party to the UN Framework on Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meet to establish the framework of an agreement to reduce global carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that G20 governments doled out $523 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel producers in 2011, the latest year such figures are available. What’s more, fossil fuel subsidies are rising, even as the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) just last week reported that global greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high in 2012.

To say such subsidies are counterproductive would be gross understatement. Perverse would be a better modifier. Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies would remove a perverse incentive that stands in the way of leveling the energy markets “playing field,” putting a true cost on carbon in an attempt to address global warming and climate change.

Releasing a report entitled Time to change the game: Fossil fuel subsidies and climate, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) documents “the scale of fossil fuel subsidies and sets out a practical agenda for their elimination in the context of the global goal of tackling climate change.”

Climate treaty negotiators convene in Warsaw

Against the backdrop of devastation in the Philippines caused by Typhoon Haiyan – reportedly one of, if not the largest and strongest, typhoon ever recorded – the 19th Conference of Parties (COP 19) to the UNFCCC is convening November 11-22 in (ironically enough) Warsaw, Poland, a nation with a government that has steadfastly resisted efforts to shift off coal and fossil fuels toward a more diversified energy mix centered on cleaner, renewable alternatives.

Convening at COP 19 in Warsaw over the next 11 days, representatives from the 195 UN member nations that are parties to the international climate treaty (the U.S. included) and the 192 that have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol (the U.S. excluded) will attempt to hammer out the framework of a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Full details of a new accord to reduce global carbon and greenhouse gas emissions are to be ready for signing by 2015 to go into effect in 2020.

Trying to make the negotiations as inclusive as possible, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) has become a major public event. At COP 19 in Warsaw, representatives of 195 UN member nations will be joined by a host of NGOs, civic groups, other public and private sector organizations, the press, and, more than likely, large numbers of demonstrators.

Enhancing the efficacy and credibility of global climate change action

The UNFCCC’s public credibility – not to mention its efficacy – would be greatly enhanced if the national governments party to the international treaty were to take one expedient, cost-effective step: eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, ODI asserts, and they are by no means the first to advocate taking such a step.


Source: “Time to change the game,” ODI, 11/2013

Straight from the executive summary of “Time to change the game: Fossil fuel subsidies and climate,” here are ODI’s key points:

  • Fossil fuel subsidies are expensive. They were at over $500 billion globally in 2011, and up to $90 billion in the OECD alone.
  • These subsidies are increasing and are a major obstacle to green investment, and seriously undermine attempts to put a price on carbon.
  • In developing countries the majority of benefits from fossil fuel subsidies go to the richest 20 percent of households.
  • Domestic and international support for fossil fuels dwarfs spending on health and education in a number of countries, and outstrips climate finance and aid.
  • Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies in G20 countries by 2020 (and globally by 2025), with proper safeguards for the poor, would enable the triple win of inclusive green growth.

Perverse incentives indeed, and the above is only a short list. According to ODI’s study, “international financial institutions (IFIs) also support carbon-intensive energy systems.

“Over 75 percent of energy-project support from IFIs to 12 of the top developing-country emitters went to fossil fuel projects. There has been no significant shift in this trend: in the last financial year alone (2012-13), the World Bank Group increased its lending for fossil fuel projects to $2.7 billion, including continued lending for oil and gas exploration (Oil Change International, 2013).”

As ODI goes on to state:

“If their aim is to avoid dangerous climate change, governments are shooting themselves in both feet. They are subsidizing the very activities that are pushing the world towards dangerous climate change, and creating barriers to investment in low-carbon development and subsidy incentives that encourage investment in carbon-intensive energy.

“Coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel of all, is taxed less than any other source of energy and is, in some countries, actively subsidized (OECD, 2013a). For every $1 spent to support renewable energy, another $6 are spent on fossil fuel subsidies (IEA, 2013).”

Following, in summary form, are the key actions ODI is urging G20 UNFCCC climate treaty delegates take in Warsaw:

  •  G20 countries use the Warsaw CoP meeting to agree a broad timeline for action
  • G20 governments call on technical agencies to agree a common definition of fossil fuel subsidies
  • G20 governments commit to phasing out all fossil fuel subsidies by 2020, with early action by rich-country members on subsidies to coal and to oil and gas exploration by 2015
  • that governments and donors work together to ensure that measures are put in place to protect vulnerable groups from the impact of subsidy removal.

Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies would be one of the most straightforward, cost-effective and effective steps world governments could take to address the profound threats and rising costs of addressing global warming and climate change. Will they muster the will and toughness to do so? Not likely, but one can at least hope for the best.

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October 29 2013


Phase-Out of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050 Technically, Economically Feasible

rosietheriveterCompletely phasing out net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 is not only technically feasible, but could be done at very manageable cost, according to a comprehensive study by Ecofys for the Global Call for Climate Action.

“It is technically and economically feasible to reduce emissions to zero for roughly 90% of current sources of GHG emissions with technological options that are available today and in the near future.” The remaining 10% of GHG emissions could be offset by enhancing carbon sinks, the Ecofys’ report authors conclude. The cost of doing so: around 5% of GDP per year.

Realizing this goal would effectively assure that mean global temperature would not exceed the 2ºC climate change tipping point theorized by the world’s leading climate scientists and agreed to by world leaders in the Copenhagen Accord of 2009. It would also improve the odds of keeping global mean temperature increase to 1.5ºC by the end of the century to 50%.

Phasing out GHG emissions by mid-century

Affecting the changes required to phase out net GHG emissions by 2050 would require globally coordinated action of unprecedented speed, scope and scale, the report authors rightly point out:

“Reducing net emissions close to zero by mid-century means fundamentally restructuring all of our economic sectors in the coming decades.”

“The energy system presents the greatest potential for emission reductions through efficiency savings and fuel shift,” the Ecofys report authors found. Use of fossil fuels for energy, transport, buildings and industry accounts for some 2/3 of global GHG emissions. The other 1/3 results from land use, raising livestock and industrial processes, they explain.


In their study, “Feasibility of GHG emissions phase-out by mid-century,” Ecofys modelled “several low emissions scenarios that result in (nearly) zero net GHG emissions by 2050…Thse are categorized as one of two types, reflecting two slightly different modelling approaches and resulting strategies:

  • Scenarios with (near) 100% renewable energy by 2050: These scenarios aim, at the outset, at a certain emissions target as well as a certain contribution of renewables. They find that 100% renewable energy by 2050 is possible. Saving energy is a key strategy in these scenarios because high efficiency facilitates an energy supply based almost entirely on renewable sources.
  • Scenarios with less than 100% renewable energy but carbon capture and storage (CCS): So-called integrated assessment models are commonly used to choose from different technological options to achieve a cost optimal global energy system within certain economic boundary conditions, e.g. very low emissions. Energy efficiency is modelled on a more generic level. Consequently, these scenarios result in a higher use of energy and a lower share of renewables. To still meet certain emissions targets, the models assume that carbon capture and storage (CCS), and possibly also nuclear power, are deployed on a large scale. The use of biomass with CCS enables these scenarios to sometimes reach net negative emissions in the second half of the century.”

The possible and the probable

While technically and economically feasible, the likelihood of such fundamental, globally coordinated change occurring is remote given current political, economic and social conditions and trends. While GHG emissions are on the wane in the world’s largest industrialized countries, including the EU and US, responsible for the bulk of anthropogenic GHG emissions in the atmosphere, they’re increasing by greater amounts in rapidly industrializing countries such as China and India.

Barring a series of climate-linked disasters, it seems clear that enacting anything remotely akin to a national strategic plan to phase out GHG emissions in the US would continue to be stymied in a Congressional quagmire of opposition and debate. For their parts, China, India and other large, emerging market economies are clearly unwilling to accept the uncertainty and take the risks of seeking to develop their economies and societies in ways that don’t require locking in their own dependence on fossil fuels.

In their report, Ecofys’ authors echo calls by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the conclusions reached in groundbreaking, comprehensive studies such as the “2010 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.” As the Ecofys report authors state,

“Initial steps taken to decarbonise need to be amplified drastically. The longer we wait to act, the more expensive change becomes. Whether a phase-out is politically feasible will be determined in the coming years.”

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October 24 2013


Recognizing Sustainability Leadership in Business

Accessing the triple bottom lineThe horrendously irresponsible behavior of some corporations generates well-warranted public mistrust, however, tarring all companies with the same brush is a gross injustice to the sustainability leadership shown by many firms.

For more than a decade, early adopters have been leading the charge to craft a more ecologically friendly world. Now those who led the way have helped that approach morph into a key success factor that adds value and provides a competitive advantage.

There are a number of companies who are assuming a leadership role in efforts to protect the environment, mitigate against climate change and educate the public. While it is easy to understand why some fall prey to the mistaken belief that the bigger the corporation, the greater the level of corporate irresponsibility, this is simply not so.  Some corporate giants like Unilever demonstrate that you can be a global corporate force and be responsible  at the same time. Another well known company that is a global leader in sustainability is Patagonia. Their corporate conduct is exemplary.

There are many other companies that do not get the public recognition they deserve. Here is a review of some of the recent efforts being taking by ten diverse businesses in defense of a healthy planet. Some are well known while others, less so. This broad cross section of initiatives samples the responsible conduct of ten different companies.


AECOM is a global company that is making a positive impact in a broad range of market segments. They have incorporated sustainability into their operations and community activities. They were named one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute for the third-consecutive year and they are a signatory and participant in the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate responsibility initiative. AECOM’s 2012 employees are leaders in volunteerism and along with the company, they have contributed $3.5 million in charitable donations last year.


Ceres is a company that has not only incorporates sustainability into all of their activities, they are actively helping others to do the same. Their Roadmap for Sustainability and Interactive Website educates people and companies about the different elements of sustainability.


Renewable energy pioneer Ecotricity is a maverick company that has launched an effective approach aimed at raising awareness about the need for clean energy.  They are driving renewable energy awareness through an animated video, which has received more than 2.6 million views. This video addresses the pressing need to replace traditional power stations with green technology. This humorous and touching short film deals with the end of the fossil fuel industry and the rise of renewable (wind) energy.


IBM has been a green leader for more than three decades. During this time they have been recognized for their environmental efforts and in 2012, they received the European Union Code of Conduct for Data Centers Award in recognition of their long term efforts. IBM’s innovation in the corporate world includes some stellar examples of consumer education. The firm’s Smarter Planet Initiative encourages consumers to live a more sustainable life.


Samsung Electronics is actively involved in greening their management, products, processes, workplace, and communities. Their take-back and recycle program is a model that keeps e-waste out of landfills. Through the program, old products can be given back in stores and efficiently recycled. This is a critical initiative as the problem of e-waste is an every growing concern.


This energy efficiency giant is also a leader in social responsibility and sustainability. They are a model for their efforts to encourage employee volunteerism with over 20,000 Sony staff members involved in efforts to feed the hungry, build homes for the needy and clean waterways.

Vestergaard Frandsen

As reviewed in the film Carbon for Water (2012), Vestergaard Fandsen shows the life-changing effect of disease control with water filters in rural Western Kenya. The firm’s Carbon for Water project, which is funded by carbon credits, delivers safe water to 4.5m people in the region, improving the health and well-being of 900,000 families, slowing deforestation and cutting 2.4m tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.


Some companies like Veja are changing the traditional business paradigm altogether. Veja is an ethical footwear brand that has a ‘no advertising’ policy, the company communicates the environmental and social benefits of its products through a mix of PR, social media and events. The brand rewards workers fairly for their work, and uses sustainable materials and methods like real rubber, natural dyes and organically farmed cotton. Even their shipping is more sustainable as they emply boats rather than air freight. The company’s ethical values have succeeded in increasing sales more than 10 fold.


The German automaker is behind some of the greener cars on the market. Volkswagen’s holistic approach drives their concept of “thinking blue,” which is about both saving energy and living more efficiently. They offer the public a number of green tips in their‘ Think Blue Blog.”

Walt Disney

Walt Disney has more influence on children than any other company on earth. They are a sustainability leader through three core values: Act, Champion and Inspire. Act ethically and consider the consequences of your decisions on people and the planet. Champion happiness and well-being of kids and families. Inspire kids and families to make positive changes in the world that last.

Even some corporate citizens that have questionable records are getting serious about increasing their sustainability efforts. One such company is Apple. While they were previously the subject of widespread criticism, they are making significant inroads in their sustainability efforts which include going 100 percent renewable. With the hiring of former EPA chief Lisa Jackson in May, the company appears to be committed to improving its environmental record, “I wasn’t going to go anywhere that didn’t espouse those values,” Jackson recently told a crowd at GreenBiz.com’s VERGE conference in San Francisco.

Businesses worldwide are improving their environmental and social performances and educating people about sustainability in ways that inspire behavior change. Minimizing environmental impacts and being more socially responsible is also a matter of reducing costs and increasing profits. Such activities benefit a firm’s reputation and positions them to thrive as we become increasingly concerned about social and environmentally issues. Most importantly, such businesses are reducing their adverse impacts and providing a model for the world. It takes time and effort to become a green leader, but smart companies are making the investment and reaping lucrative dividends.

In a world where some corporations continue to ignore their social and environmental responsibilities, it is important to recognize responsible businesses for their groundbreaking leadership.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

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October 09 2013


Businesses Still Need to Stop Wasting Energy and Improve Efficiency

Businesses can do more to improve energy efficiency By Abbie Clarke

It wasn’t long ago that Forbes was reporting America as the worldwide leader in wasting energy. But that’s not to say other countries are doing much better in energy efficiency. We all play a part in this process; homeowners, business owners and corporations. Governments are working for change; in the US, there is the Alliance to Save Energy that recently released the Energy 2030 plan which aims to double US energy productivity, while in the UK there has been set energy efficiency targets  that have now been extended for energy intensive industries to 2023. But is enough being done for change? What role do businesses play in energy efficiency, and where can they still make improvements?

Where is energy still being wasted by businesses?

There has been a significant call for businesses to make changes in order to improve their energy efficiency and stop waste. The same issues are being raised: many businesses continue to leave computers and appliances on overnight; lights are being left on when not in use; heating and air-conditioning are still being improperly utilized; recycling of print cartridges and paper is still done through wasteful methods; and so on. To further emphasize this pint, half of energy used by UK businesses is wasted when employees aren’t working. Business energy efficiency should be an issue that relates to individuals from the top to the bottom, and yet it is an issue that continues to go round in circles. So, what needs to change?

Attitudes need to change

According to the DECC Public Attitudes Tracker quarterly survey, the number of people supporting renewable energy in the UK has risen to 82 percent. However, energy-wasting behaviors such as excessive water usage and not switching off lights continue, with only 26 percent saying that they give much thought to saving energy. Then again, this is not just homeowners; this is employees and businesses too. One way that attitudes can be changed is by setting an example; an example of how energy efficiency can work, an example of how stopping the waste of energy can actually save money. What seems to be missing is confidence that these targets set by government and these promises of improving the environment will make any difference for a business owner, or an employee, or a homeowner. But it rests on all our shoulders to inspire this confidence if we are going to stop wasting energy.

Business savings through energy efficiency

As mentioned above, confidence is important if energy efficiency targets are going to be met and actually have any effect. And even though many employers and employees remain unconvinced, there is the case for business energy efficiency. According to Energy Star, many organizations can make energy savings of around 2-10 percent through improved management. But, what many organizations fail to consider is that being energy efficient can actually save them money. Like most things in business once you take a closer look and start asking where improvements can be made, processes are able to be improved and the result is improved efficiency. This is no different for business energy efficiency, where it is often chances in outlook, behavior and procedures that make the difference.

In the long run, a business should aim to keep saving, to stop waste and to keep improving. Only then will we start to see real changes in energy efficiency.


This guest article is provided by Abbie Clarke who works with Find Energy Savings where you can find out more about the prevention of wasting energy and improving efficiency.

Image credit: Nkululeko Masondo, courtesy flickr


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October 02 2013


Army, Navy & Air Force Tap Mosaic’s Solar Crowdfunding Platform for Joint Base Residential Rooftops

Credit: Mosaic, US DOD

Credit: Mosaic, US DOD

The US Department of Defense (DOD), the single largest consumer of energy in the US, has been at the forefront of federal government efforts to make use of renewable energy resources. In the midst of a $7 billion Renewable Energy and Alternative Energy Power for DOD Installations Multiple Award Task Order Contracts (MATOC) award process, ongoing budget battles in Congress – now compounded by the federal government shutdown – has spurred US Armed Forces leadership to try and make greater use of private sector financing to realize its 2025 goal of deploying 3 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power capacity, enough clean, emissions-free power for some ¾ of a million homes. That now includes tapping into the crowd funding phenomenon.

Crowdfunding solar for military residential rooftops in NJ

Joining with solar project crowd funding pioneer Mosaic, the US Army, Navy and Air Force aim to fund 12.3 megawatts (MW) of residential rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) power across 547 homes at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, the first joint Army, Navy and Air Force base in the country.

Installed across all 547 homes, the solar panels will generate enough clean, renewable electricity to meet 30% of residents’ power needs while saving base housing developer United Communities a projected $1.3 million per year in energy costs.

More than three million Americans have invested some $3.8 million in solar energy projects via Mosaic’s online solar investment platform. They’re earning attractive rates of return. So far, 100% of payments have been made on time.

“The US military knows better than anyone the importance of energy independence,” Mosaic presdient Billy Parish was quoted in a company press release. “Mosaic is pleased to offer more Americans the opportunity to tangibly support this by investing in rooftop solar energy for military families. As a father, I’m working everyday to create a secure home, nation, and planet for my children.”

Mosaic is partnering with True Green Capital Management and CIT to finance the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst residential rooftop solar installations. Those investing in the project via Mosaic’s crowd funding platform will be paid through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with United Communities, which has a credit rating of AA- from S&P.

Investing as little as $25, eligible investors stand to earn a healthy variable rate of 1-month LIBOR + 2.25% annually for the first four years of the seven-year investment’s term and LIBOR + 2.5% thereafter.

Tonya Johnson, who lives with her family on the base, commented on Mosaic’s partnership with the US Armed Forces:

“Our nation’s energy sources and our national security go hand in hand. The military is at the forefront of developing and deploying clean energy technologies that support troop readiness and energy independence. I love having solar on my rooftop.”

Credit: Mosaic, US DOD

Credit: Mosaic, US DOD

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September 24 2013


More Wind & Solar Can Reduce Utility Costs and Emissions

renewable-energy-girlThose opposed to spurring development and adoption of renewable solar and wind energy resources continually assert that their intermittent nature not only reduces grid reliability and raises the cost of electricity, but negates the carbon and greenhouse gas emissions reductions that contribute so greatly to their rapid adoption in the first place.

While it’s true that bringing greater amounts of solar and wind-generated electricity on grids means utilities have to cycle more frequently – ramp down and ramp up or stop and start – fossil fuel generators to ensure a smooth, reliable flow of electricity, a study by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shows that the carbon emissions that result from cycling are negligible – less than 0.2% – of the carbon reductions realized by generating electricity from the sun and winds.

Not only that, but the research revealed that bringing “high levels of wind and solar power [on to the grid] would reduce fossil fuel costs by approximately $7 billion per year across the West, while incurring cycling costs of $35 million to $157 million per year.” That amounts to an increase in operations and maintenance costs of only $0.47-$1.28 per megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generation for the average fossil fuel power plant, according to a September 24 NREL press release.

How can this be?  The explanation lies in the fossil fuel costs utilities avoid by making greater use of solar and wind energy generation.

Avoiding fossil fuel costs, and pollution

According to Debra Law, the project manager for NREL’s study,

“Grid operators have always cycled power plants to accommodate fluctuations in electricity demand as well as abrupt outages at conventional power plants, and grid operators use the same tool to accommodate high levels of wind and solar generation.

“Increased cycling to accommodate high levels of wind and solar generation increases operating costs by 2% to 5% for the average fossil-fueled plant. However, our simulations show that from a system perspective, avoided fuel costs are far greater than the increased cycling costs for fossil-fueled plants.”

Besides determining that the carbon emissions associated with greater cycling of fossil fuel generating capacity is negligible (<0.2%) compared to the reductions from bringing wind and solar energy generation on to the grid, the NREL project team found that sulfur dioxide emissions reductions from wind and solar are 5% less than expected due to greater cycling of fossil fuel generators. Nitrogen oxide emissions reductions were 2% greater than expected.

This latest study, entitled “Phase 2 of the Western Wind and Solar Integration Study” (WWSIS-2), is a follow-up to NREL’s initial, May 2010 research into “the viability, benefits, and challenges of integrating high levels of wind and solar power into the western electricity grid.”

Source: Western Wind and Solar Integration Study, Phase 2; NREL

Source: Western Wind and Solar Integration Study, Phase 2; NREL


Impacts of 33% renewable energy on the Western Interconnection grid

To calculate the emissions and cost of wear-and-tear, the NREL research team designed five hypothetical scenarios to examine generating as much as 33% of the U.S. portion of the Western Interconnection power system for the year 2020 from wind and solar energy. “This is equivalent to a quarter of the power in the Western Interconnection (including Canada and Mexico) coming from wind and solar energy on an annual basis,” the report authors explain.

The researchers’ model also assumes a future average natural gas price of $4.60/MMBtu – an optimistic assumption given the volatility and uncertainty inherent in natural gas prices – as well as “significant cooperation between balancing authorities, and optimal usage of transmission capacity (i.e., not reserving transmission for contractual obligations).”

Modeling the entire Western Interconnection power system at five-minute intervals for each year, the researchers found “that high wind and solar scenarios reduce CO2 emissions by 29%-34% across the Western Interconnection, with cycling having a negligible impact.”

The modeled reductions in sulfur dioxide (SO2) were 5% less than anticipated due to greater cycling, yet SO2 emissions would nonetheless be reduced by 14%-24% in the high solar and wind scenarios. Nitrogen oxide emissions would be reduced by 16%-22%, 1%-2% greater than expected. Added Lew,

“Adding wind and solar to the grid greatly reduces the amount of fossil fuel — and associated emissions — that would have been burned to provide power. Our high wind and solar scenarios, in which one-fourth of the energy in the entire western grid would come from these sources, reduced the carbon footprint of the western grid by about one-third. Cycling induces some inefficiencies, but the carbon emission reduction is impacted by much less than 1%.”

On average, it takes 4 MWh or renewables to displace 1 MWh of coal generation and 3 MWh of natural gas, according to the researchers, with the ramping up and down of coal-fired power plants having the biggest potential increase in terms of cycling.

Other key takeaways from the report include:

  • Because of sunset and sunrise, solar power creates the biggest ramping needs on the grid in this study. However, because we know the path of the sun through the sky every day of the year, system operators can predict these large ramping needs and plan accordingly. Solar variability due to fast-moving clouds is much less predictable, but it creates relatively smaller ramping needs.
  • Errors in day-ahead wind forecasts can make it challenging for operators to decide which power plants need to be online the next day. However, because forecast accuracy increases four hours ahead compared with 24 hours ahead, a four-hour-ahead decision on whether to start up those power plants that can be ramped up relatively quickly can help to mitigate these forecast errors.
  • Despite the differences between wind and solar in terms of grid operations, the study finds their impacts on system-wide operational costs are remarkably similar.

The post More Wind & Solar Can Reduce Utility Costs and Emissions appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

September 17 2013


Scotland Gives the Go Ahead to Europe’s Largest Marine Tidal Energy Project

Scotland approves the largest tidal energy project in Europe

Europe’s largest marine tidal energy project is moving forward following a four-year assessment of its environmental and social impacts. Scottish government regulator Marine Scotland on September 16 granted final approval of MeyGen Ltd.’s proposal to build a carbon emissions-free 86-megawatt (MW) tidal energy system in Pentland Firth’s Inner Sound between the north coast of Caithness and the Orkneys island of Stroma.

Given its tidal current profile, the 3.5 square kilometer (km2) Pentland Firth site is considered to be the “crown jewel” of Scotland’s substantial marine tidal energy resources. Groundbreaking as it is, MeyGen – a joint venture between independent power producer GDF Suez (45%), investment bank Morgan Stanley(45%), and tidal energy technology provider Atlantis Resources (10%) – intends to proceed in phases in developing the project, which may ultimately expand to 398 MW of clean, renewable power capacity.

Tapping Scotland’s tidal flows for clean, sustainable energy

The MeyGen group intends to start the 86-MW first phase of the project in early 2014 by installing an initial set of up to six tidal turbines with a rated capacity of 9 MW. Commissioning is expected 2015, according to a company press release.

The regular nature of tidal flows make them particularly attractive sources of renewable energy. Reaching 86 MW would yield enough clean, renewable power to supply 40% of Scotland’s Highlands homes, Scotland’s Energy Minister Fergus Ewing was quoted in a report in The Guardian.

“This is a major step forward for Scotland’s marine renewable energy industry. When fully operational, the 86 megawatt array could generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 42,000 homes – around 40 percent of homes in the Highlands. This … is just the first phase for a site that could eventually yield up to 398 megawatts.”

Tidal energy: Social and environmental impacts

Assessing the environmental impacts of the MeyGen project plays a principal role in the phased approach to development, as does its social impacts on the local and broader community. In addition to protecting local ecosystems, Scotland’s government is looking at developing its vast tidal and ocean energy resources potential as a means of boosting local employment, incomes and overall quality of life.

It’s estimated that Scotland can produce 12 gigawatts (GW) of energy from sustainable marine renewable and offshore wind resources. Scotland’s tidal and wave energy resources’ potential represents as much as 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively, of Europe’s estimated total. In addition, studies indicate that Scotland holds some 25% of total European offshore wind resource potential.

Recognizing the ecological value and uniqueness of the area and the pioneering nature of the project, MeyGen has spent the past four years carrying out an environmental impact assessment (EIA), as well as engaging in “extensive consultation with stakeholders and the local community in Caithness.”

Such efforts will continue as the initial installation phases of the project proceed. Elaborated MeyGen’s environment and consents manager Ed Rollings,

“The Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters region is an internationally important area for wildlife and we are committed to continuing research with interested parties to ensure that the exploitation of this clean, predictable and sustainable energy resource is done so in a manner that does not have a detrimental effect on the species and habitats in the area.”

Xodus Group served as lead consultant for MeyGen Phase 1′s EIA, which “considered the possible positive or negative impacts of the project on the local environment as well as potential social and economic aspects.”

Image Credit: MeyGen Ltd.

The post Scotland Gives the Go Ahead to Europe’s Largest Marine Tidal Energy Project appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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