Car Sharing and Saving in a Tough Economy

By John Addison. American’s rise to tough challenges. This recession is hitting people hard. Transportation is 20 percent, or more, of many people’s expenses. American’s are finding smart ways to save. Public transportation use is at its highest in over 50 years. Commute program participation is breaking records. Americans drove 100 billion fewer miles in 2008 than the previous year.

A study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) shows that the average cost of owning and operating a passenger vehicle is 54.1 cents per mile. This is over $8,000 per year per vehicle, based on 15,000 miles of driving. Depreciation is part of that cost. Anyone who has bought a car for $20,000 and later sold it for $5,000 understands depreciation. Fuel, maintenance, tolls, parking, financing, and insurance add up. Most U.S. households have two vehicles, costing them over $16,000 per year.

The opportunity to save on transportation costs depends on many factors: living in the city or suburbs, household size, number of kids, type of work, and feasibility of car sharing.

A friend of mine is getting hit hard with vehicle costs and by being in an industry that is in a downward spiral. He and his wife are refinancing the home to stay above water. Their family of five includes four vehicles – primarily SUVs and a pick-up truck. When their youngest turns 16 this year, my friend is planning to get his son his own car. Vehicle number 5. At first glance, it looks like they have no other choice. Like most suburbs, frequent public transit is not in walking distance. Everyone is busy with work, school, sports, and community activity.

A closer look shows that this family could save over $10,000 per year. The three teenagers/young adults could share one or two vehicles. They live two-miles from a main street where public transit is reasonably frequent. All are great athletes who could bike to and from transit. Transit includes express buses during morning and evening commute hours that connect to a major downtown, other transit systems, rail, colleges, and more.

No one likes to deal with conflicts with teenagers and vehicle sharing is sure to create some conflict, yet communication and conflict resolution are important lessons for teenagers to learn. Family members might surprise you in creating sharing solutions that work, especially when bike and transit options are there. Taking the bus or biking to and from high school is not the end of the world. A young adult that insists on having their own vehicle can take the responsibility of working part time to pay for the vehicle, insurance, and fuel.

For years, Mark and Lisa Williams shared one vehicle. Both Mark and Lisa commuted during similar work hours from Elk Groove to Sacramento. They rode to work together. By riding together they saved up to an hour daily by using the HOV lane for vehicles with two or more passengers.

They also saved the $1,740 per year that would be necessary to pay for two Sacramento parking spaces instead of one. Mark and Lisa were not always able to commute together. When their jobs were miles apart, Lisa would take Mark to the nearby light rail that transported him to Sacramento. The Williams, including their son, never ceased to find irony as the three of them in one vehicle drove past the three vehicles parked in the driveway of a single neighbor.

When their teenage son approached driving age, the Williams bought a second vehicle, a Toyota Prius. Most of the time, the three rode together, leaving their SUV in the garage. When someone was going in an opposite direction, then the second vehicle is used. After seven months, they we’re using the SUV so little that they could not justify the cost of keeping it. They are back to a one-car family which works for the three of them. On rare occasions, the SUV is missed. Mark says, “It does require some compromises, like borrowing a vehicle when we want to use our kayaks, but it is well worth it, and will only become more so as gas prices slowly start climbing again.”

When I talk with people aged 14 to 30, I am surprised by how many do not want a car. My niece Lindsay Short was given the family’s 2001 Prius when she graduated high school with honors. She leaves the car with her parents and lives car free at the university. Like many universities, anything is faster going from class to class than trying to drive and search for the impossible parking space. On campus transit, bicycling, and walking work best. When cars are needed, car sharing services such as Zipcar, offer qualified students aged 18 and older, vehicles by the hour. What many students need is a monthly allowance that is a fraction of the cost of car ownership, so that they can pay for car sharing, public transportation, and trips home to see family. As an environmentalist, Lindsay wants to be true to her values.

You do not need to be in school to make a difference. For everyone, from those who live alone, to roommates, to families, transportation costs can be cut with flexwork, commute programs, public transit, and car sharing.

During his February 24 Address to Joint Session of Congress, President Obama stated, “The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil… That is our responsibility.”

Millions of Americans are responding to the current challenge of being financially secure; they are also addressing the need to provide their children with a future that is energy secure and climate secure. People are riding clean, riding together, and riding less.

John Addison is the author of Save Gas, Save the Planet.

Throwing down the gauntlet to Secretary Clinton

By Marc Stuart

Secretary Clinton’s weeklong trip to Asia was notable for a number of firsts. The first time a new Secretary of State of a new administration has opened her tenure by flying west, rather than east. Well, George Schultz apparently went south, as the exception that proves the rule. It’s also the first time that these kinds of “nice to meet you” meetings have happened in the eyewall of an global economic meltdown, at least since Cordell Hull got on the boat for FDR. And it’s clearly the first time that climate change was generally at or near the top of any agenda for any Secretary of State at any time.

Secretary Clinton stopped in four countries – Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China – who for various reasons are each a keystone to a future climate accord. Including the US, the four industrial countries are all among the world’s top ten emitters and roughly account for just about half of the world’s direct emissions from fossil fuels, while Indonesia is generally regarded as the largest emitter from land-use change – i.e. deforestation. So, to paraphrase the bank robber Willie Sutton on why he robbed banks, if we’ve looking for emission reductions, you could do a whole lot worse than starting with these five countries.

And, to briefly get into the odd position of praising the Bush administration on climate policy, its recognition of efficiencies in getting the world’s biggest emitters around a far smaller table – and thereby launching the Major Economies Meeting – was really not a bad one. The UN process of embedding 200 countries into a highly complex stream of multifaceted negotiations is, if nothing else, a giant time suck at a moment when alacrity is of the essence. And to be blunt, it really doesn’t matter what Togo, Paraguay and Laos do when it comes to emissions. Emit to your heart’s content – go nuts. By and large, the decisions and agreement of those 17 countries are what matters – some 85% of the world’s emissions – even if the MEM itself was quite deliberately impotent. And Secretary Clinton’s itinerary went straight to the heart of both the MEM and, more importantly, APEC, a international configuration that indeed might have some teeth going forward, as trade, environment and social issues begin to bubble together around the Pacific Rim.

Leaving aside Indonesia ‘s annual half billion tons of forest clearing CO2 emissions for the moment, Japan, South Korea, China and the US represent not just massive emitters, but the foremost inventors, disseminators and consumers of technology. But beyond that, their status differs quite radically. Despite being the symbolic birthplace of the Kyoto Accord, Japan has consistently argued that its namesake agreement treats it unfairly, giving no credit for its impressive embedded efficiency (catalyzed by the 1970’s oil shocks), as well as the direct impact of its technologies around the world. In other words, Japan thinks should get some kind of credit (beyond a pat on the shoulder) for all the Prius’s and other superefficienct gizmos’s that develops and exports around the world. For South Korea, despite being the world’s 9th largest emitter and having per capita GDP roughly comparable to places like Spain, Portugul and Belgium, it has been classified under Kyoto as a developing country without emission caps. They recognize that this is certain to change and today Seoul is gripped with a mini-carbon fever, as they get ready to become a major importer of emission credits after 2012, if indeed the current architecture is continued.

But it is undoubtedly China where the State Department and others should be putting their focus. China and the US have such an integrated economic relationship that it is foolhardy to think that global emission policy derives from anything else but the power politics that characterize their “coopetition” rivalry. China and the US account for some 40% of the world’s emissions and are definitely each others largest potential markets for the GHG friendly technologies that both Beijing and Washington trumpet commitment to. China has also easily been the largest beneficiary of Kyoto’s Clean Development mechanism with some 60% plus of all forthcoming emissions reductions. Yet despite this, at the last global climate meeting in Poznan, China fired off critiques of the CDM’s woeful inefficiencies that would have made industry blush. All in all, this represents a market and policy gap that is waiting to be filled

So, Secretary Clinton, how about something like this the next time you head over for banquets in Forbidden City? We negotiate a permanent free trade agreement between China and the US for all low emission technologies. That’s all of them – wind turbines, fuel cells and solar panels, smart meters, microturbines, cellulosic ethanol and nuclear reactors and everything else that comes out of the skunk works of either Silicon Valley or Shanghai. We seek a bilateral emissions trading regime between our two countries that starts with sectoral benchmarks and caps on key output areas of China, combined with a hard aggregate cap on the US. We develop a constant stream of exchange on green technology development, finance and execution via channels such as the Energy Foundation, Tsinghua University, World Resources Institute. etc We start a serious dialogue about how to embed carbon issues into the WTO negotiations, so that countries can actually have leverage on each other for emissions underperformance, malfeasance and fraud.

And last, but not least, we agree to use our collective bully pulpit to drag the rest of the world towards a real half century policy trajectory that mirrors the aims of the IPCC and President Obama’s campaign commitments. We’ll bring in the Europeans, Canada the Australians and Japan. China can use carrots and sticks with rest of the developing world. Maybe it’s the other way around – who knows. We can split Korea, since they are still on both side of the fence. But a united front from China and the US on this key issue of our time would be difficult to object to

We can only hope that President Obama and Secretary Clinton realize as well that the world’s two largest emitters have gone without any kind of serious comprehensive emissions policy for at least a decade too long. The world is subsequently much closer to an environmental tipping point than anybody should feel comfortable with. The economic dislocation is giving us a profound and unique opportunity to hit a bit of a reset button on a whole lot of levels. The opportunities from developing a technology and trade partnership for greenhouse gases with China are extremely compelling, whereas the risks of keeping to the old modalities are unacceptable.

Marc Stuart is the Co-Founder and Director of New Business Development for EcoSecurities, a global carbon trading firm. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the view of EcoSecurities.

Weather Does Not Equal Climate

by Richard T. Stuebi

as posted to Huffington Post

For most of us in the Eastern U.S., January was a really tough month to endure. In Cleveland, it was almost ceaselessly cloudy, snowy and cold. It was really easy to get into a funk.

So, I have an iota of sympathy for Kevin O’Brien, a columnist in The Plain-Dealer, in regards to his February 5th editorial “Another Disappointing Year for Global Warming Hopefuls”.

You see, I too was grumpy, and I too was damn tired of the bitter weather. As O’Brien rightly notes, it was the second-snowiest on record for Cleveland. According to National Weather Service data for Cleveland for January, there were two stretches of at least seven days when the temperature didn’t rise above freezing, and twelve morning lows below 10F. Thus, at one level, O’Brien’s rant was somewhat understandable.

But I can’t cut O’Brien much slack. Unlike O’Brien and others in the blogosphere (such as this February 4 oped in the Washington Times by Deroy Murdock entitled “Warming Up the Laughs”, I don’t wildly extrapolate from one month’s worth of weather to claim not only that climate change is bunk, but that the “global warming panic machine is quite detectably losing steam” or that “both troglodyte right-wingers and lachrymose left-wingers find Albert Gore’s simmering planet hypothesis increasingly hilarious.”

I concede that Al Gore and others have been guilty at times of overpromoting the cause: being a bit too flippant in describing the state of climate science as bullet-proof, and a bit too hyperbolic in suggesting impending ecological disasters as certain and imminent.

That being said, that doesn’t mean that Gore et al don’t have the story directionally-correct.

If you strip away the hype and review the sober assessments of the vast majority of highly-clinical climate experts who have weighed the enormous body of scientific evidence, there is little doubt remaining that human-induced climate change almost certainly is actually occurring, with the net effect of driving a trend of higher average temperatures across the planet. Legitimate questions certainly do remain about pace and impact, but the basic phenomenon is within the realm of little doubt. All one has to do is spend a few minutes reading the work, and the bona-fides, of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to get pretty comfortable with that conclusion.

For the skeptic crowd including O’Brien and Murdock, there seems to be one misapprehension that tends to underlie their often-angry dismissals of the entire climate change movement. It is a simple logical defect, no doubt stemming from a poor understanding of statistical principles, leading such critics to completely ignore (when convenient to do so) the difference between the concept of weather and the concept of climate.

I’ve been thinking up an analogy that better illustrates the distinction between weather and climate to deniers who pooh-pooh climate change on the basis of one cold month such as January 2009 in the Eastern U.S. I’ve been working on telling the following story, one that’s a little more accessible for the typical layman (and this interview with Professor Daniel Esty of Yale University discusses polling data indicating that many fewer men than women are concerned about climate change):

Consider the 1998 New York Yankees, clearly one of the best teams in baseball history, with an astounding final regular season record of 114-48, and a post-season record of 11-2, culminating in a four-game sweep of the San Diego Padres in the World Series.

As great as this team proved itself over the course of a very long season, there were several multi-game stretches in which these 1998 Yankees compiled losing records. For instance, from August 19 to September 21 — more than a whole month — the Yankees were downright mediocre, with a record of 14 -18. From almost any vantage-point within that stretch, and only considering the games during that stretch, it would be easy for an observer to declare that group of Yankees a so-so team. However, over the much broader season, the verdict is unambiguously and incontestably the opposite: that the 1998 Yankees were an outstanding team.

Weather is to climate what one pitch is to an entire baseball season: an instantaneous reading of conditions, an infinitesimal snapshot, in the midst of something incredibly larger and broader.

Sure, we can have a record cold day, week or month – while at the same time being in the midst of a long-term upward trend of temperatures. This doesn’t seem so hard to understand, really.

(By the way, many believers of climate change are often guilty of snidely commenting about a brutally hot summer day by saying something like “Enjoying the climate change?” while wearing a knowing grin. These are cheap shots that I wish would cease, because they too are inappropriate extrapolations from a small-sample, just like the practice I’m decrying above.)

Not only is climate an assimilation over time of local weather conditions, it is also an assimilation across geography of weather conditions. For instance, while those of us in Cleveland and the Eastern U.S. were shivering in January, places elsewhere like Southern California experienced the warmest January on record, as documented in this article. If Kevin O’Brien had spent January in Los Angeles instead of Cleveland, maybe he wouldn’t have written the same essay. (Well, he probably would have just waited for the next cold snap to trot out his faulty arguments: O’Brien tends to retread this “global warming is nonsense” column every time Cleveland experiences a longish spell of below-average temperatures.)

From a mathematical standpoint, one can intellectually consider the concept of climate as essentially the integral of weather over time and over space. Alas, I suspect that many of those who don’t believe in climate change are probably not too well-versed in the principles of calculus.

Ultimately, I feel sorry for the most strident climate change deniers. People who speak with a conviction masking their lack of understanding often do so from an entrenched position of fear and ignorance, which is a terrible way to live.

As for the pitiful O’Brien, I thought about writing a letter to The Plain-Dealer in response to his February 5th oped, but I doubted that the editors – worried about reader attention span and comprehension – would print something of sufficient length and depth to present a reasoned argument.

So, I wrote this piece instead, but as a concession to brevity, I’ll close by stating something simple, in the hope that he and others of his ilk will soon get it: “Weather does not equal climate.”

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. Later in 2009, he will also become a Managing Director at Early Stage Partners.

The Hub Lab Seeks Revolutionary New Energy Science

Last Spring, our friend and colleague Dr. Ed Beardsworth undertook a new assignment as the Technology Director of the Hub Lab (in parallel with his continuing role at Jane Capital). Given the Hub Lab’s mission, and Ed’s role in the cleantech industry as the consummate technology scout since the mid 1990s before cleantech was cleantech, it’s probably a perfect fit. I sat down with Ed recently to get the background and an update about “Hub Lab”. And had a chance to wrap up our discussion into a brief interview.

Ed, Can you share some of your background? You’ve probably seen as much of the cleantech sector as anyone.

I have a PhD in physics from Rutgers and started at Brookhaven National Labs, eventually moving into energy systems modeling. I have consulted for Nth Power, Jane Capital, and the Cleantech Group, among others. For about 10 years I ran a multi-client energy technology study reporting on new technologies at universities, national labs and later venture backed startups. For that UFTO study (which is about 600 research notes now available on Cleantech.org), I had a who’s who of the top 20 or 30 US and global utilities as clients mainly in their R&D and venture capital groups. Before that I spent a number of years at EPRI in a variety of roles.

What is the Hub Lab all about?

Hub Lab’s express purpose is to find and support very early stage – revolutionary – energy science and technology that has the potential to make a huge game-changing difference. It is motivated by a strong belief that the planet is headed for serious trouble, and that we need to look for dramatic and wholesale changes in ways to meet rapidly growing worldwide demand for energy and resources.

How revolutionary is revolutionary?

We mean really revolutionary. We have a very specific focus to find and support true breakthroughs. The great preponderance of investment and RD&D addresses incremental or evolutionary innovation. We look for opportunities to improve the chances of finding “new physics”. We sometimes talk about looking for “the next nuclear”. Imagine, in the year 1900, someone talking about a nuclear power plant. We haven’t reached the “end of physics”, so it’s practically a given that there are big new things around the corner, whether it’s in 5 years or 50. Hub Lab simply wants to speed up the search. And we’re comfortable looking outside currently accepted thinking in science and engineering.

There can’t be much hope of a return on investment, at least in a traditional sense. What’s the thinking?

Hub Lab’s backers have extensive holdings in energy and cleantech through standard investment vehicles. Hub Lab is a special set-aside, not focused on financial return, but on trying to make a difference. We look for situations where some initial funding has the potential to advance work on a new idea to a point where a better decision can be made about further support. The only strings attached to our initial grants are there to give us a fair shot at participating in those later stages if we want to.

So who exactly is the funding behind Hub Lab, and what sizes of investments are you making?

We’re discreet about identifying Hub Lab’s backers until we start the conversation with someone we’d consider funding. It’s a high net worth /family office in Asia. Our approach is to start with a small R&D grant. This gives us a chance to get to know our grantee, and for them to make some technical progress.

What areas are you considering, or not considering?

As long as an idea addresses primary, base-load, power or electricity generation, we’re ready to listen. We’re open to cold fusion, ‘over-unity’ devices, vacuum or zero-point energy — I can see your eyes rolling — but we did say “new physics”. I should clarify that the term ‘over-unity’ is a misnomer. Any extra energy has to come from somewhere, but it may be from a process we weren’t previously aware of or taking into account.

A bit less far out, we also look at what we’re calling “warm” fusion. Note that there are already two venture backed companies in that category. The problem here is that the hot fusion establishment has been far too good at blocking competition for research funding. But I digress.

OK, I’ll bite – digress.

Well, we could have a whole separate discussion about fusion. “Warm” fusion is reasonably respectable in scientific circles but it just hasn’t been able to get support. As for cold fusion, just about everyone snickers at the mention of it, but they shouldn’t. Something very real is going on, even though is still unexplained and still hard to replicate. It should’ve gotten a much better reception from the scientific and government community than it did, and we’ll see who has the last word. Watch for some new developments very soon.

What other areas are fair game for Hub Lab?

A bit closer to the ground, we like storage, but it has to be “something completely different”, where the cost and performance can leapfrog existing or near term technology. Likewise, any kind of solid state heat to power technology, but again, it would have to promise of an order of magnitude improvement over existing thermoelectric devices.

I understand you’ve also identified areas that aren’t of interest?

We’re leaving all things biological (biomass, biofuels, etc.) to others. Also solar and wind — the intermittency issue– unless it’s an amazing breakthrough. Most things fossil are not for us, nor CO2 separation, unless it ends up other than as a gas to be piped underground.

What kind of deal flow are you seeing?

It’s been amazing. Just by putting out the word and networking quietly with the research and cleantech investor community, we’re seeing a great many opportunities. We ask VCs to send us those deals they wish they could pursue but can’t. Our quick introduction often includes the comment that we’re one group you can talk to about your perpetual motion story. (“We will listen!”) At the same time, there’s a sizable fringe population of folks with grandiose ideas, visions and paranoid delusions, and we try to avoid them by keeping a low profile (no web presence, for example). Separating wheat from chaff is the main challenge. We are finding serious established scientists who are pushing the boundaries–those are our best candidates. We’d also like to broaden our reach around the world, particularly in Eastern Europe.

You’ve funded several deals already. What can you tell us about them?

Our first one is a challenge to the second law of thermodynamics. It turns out, that while no violations have ever been observed (such claims thus far aren’t generally accepted), the second law is a bit murky theoretically, and one can imagine situations where it might not hold. Our scientists think they may be able to demonstrate the harvesting of useful work from ambient heat, but without a temperature difference. An experimental observation like that would be truly revolutionary.

Another project takes as a starting point the well established concepts of the energy in the vacuum, aka zero point energy, and the Casimir effect. An alternative formulation of quantum mechanics predicts that an atom placed in a nano-cavity will have its atomic properties altered, which further suggests a possible way to harvest zero point energy.

We can’t say much about two more projects. They both are completely different ways to do solar power conversion — with no semiconductors.

Are you having fun yet?

Nobody should be allowed to have this much fun, but I’m OK with it.

You can contact Ed at beardsworth@janecapital.com.

Neal Dikeman is Chairman & CEO of Carbonflow, a Partner at Jane Capital Partners, and Chairman of Cleantech.org. He is an Aggie, and resides in California.

Intelligent Charging Infrastructure for New Electric Vehicles

By John Addison. Momentum continues for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. BMW is already leasing its freeway speed MiniE. Sports car lovers navigate curving mountain roads in their Tesla Roadsters. Toyota is putting 500 plug-in Priuses into fleet tests this year. Next year, Nissan, Chrysler, BYD, and Ford plan to start taking consumer orders for electric vehicles from cars to vans. Toyota and GM will be fighting for plug-in hybrid market leadership. Over 100 EV players will be competing for your business. Electric Cars for 2010

Forty-thousand electric vehicles are now on the road in the United States; 99 percent max out at 25 miles per hour. These light-electric vehicles (LEV) are surprisingly popular in college towns, retirement communities, and in a variety of practical fleet applications from maintenance crews to parking meter attendants. Most of these electric vehicles are in California.

Will consumers buy or lease EVs in large numbers? Yes, if a few problems are overcome. Most will want freeway speed. Customers want an affordable vehicle. Many will want the types of vehicles planned by Toyota, Nissan, and GM – four door sedans and larger vehicles that can carry several people and lots of stuff. The vehicles will need greater range than today’s LEVs. Although the average household in the U.S. has two vehicles, with one rarely going over 40 miles in a day, many people will insist on EVs and PHEVs with much greater range. Consumers fear getting stuck.

“There are 247 million cars in the U.S., but only 53 million garages,” observes Richard Lowenthal, CEO of Coulomb Technologies. Because they need less range, urban dweelers are most likely to benefit from owning an EV, but least likely to own a garage. One U.C. Davis study determined that 80 percent of plug-in car owners want to charge more than once a day. That means we only have 12 percent of the charging stations that we need.

Yesterday, the City of San Francisco demonstrated its installed Coulomb Smartlet Networked Charging Stations by charging a city-owned plug-in hybrid Prius. San Francisco is an ideal city to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Every year over 100 million rides are taken on the city’s fleet of electric trolley buses and BART rail/subway system. The city already has electric and plug-in vehicles in its fleet. San Francisco is recognized as one of the greenest cities in the United States, if not the world. Citizens have been early adopters of electric vehicles, e-bikes, and plug-in hybrid conversions.

San Francisco, like most cities, needs a charging infrastructure. Only 16 percent of vehicles in SF have access to a garage with an electric outlet. Most vehicles are parked on streets, apartment buildings, co-ops, and public garages without charging infrastructure.

“Our goal is to transform the Bay Area into the EV Capital of the United States, and a networked infrastructure is essential for the adoption of electric vehicles,” said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. “San Francisco is proud to be the first city to feature charging stations with technology to support our city’s clean electric fleet vehicles and car-share fleets.”

“Electric vehicles are the future of transportation and the Bay Area is the testing ground for the technology,” said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. “We began using plug-in hybrids in the city’s fleet last year. Now, for the first time the public can plug-in to the next generation of cars through car sharing organizations and take them for a drive in San Francisco.”

San Francisco is taking an important step forward by implementing a smart charging infrastructure that can be centrally managed and supported. The intelligent system can send text messages to drivers when their vehicle is charged, or that their hours of free parking are ending. The charging adheres to new SAE standards agreed upon by automakers and charging infrastructure providers. By making EVs a reality in a city with excellent transit and a future hub of high-speed rail, EVs will solve last-mile issues, and car sharing partnerships will allow long journeys to be zero-emission end-to-end.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. On March 25 his new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – will be available at Amazon and other booksellers.

Tree Planting as Carbon Offsets – Does Latitude Matter?

By David Niebauer

It’s hard to argue against any program that advocates the replanting of forests, or the avoidance of destroying forests in the first place. We all know from grade school science that, through a process called photosynthesis, trees “breathe in” carbon dioxide and “exhale” oxygen, generating the energy they need to grow from the sun. It is almost a miracle of symbiosis that human beings do just the opposite – we breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Humans and trees have evolved together since the dawn of man. We are inextricably linked in the web of life on earth.

As it turns out, though, we humans do more than just breathe. We excavate the compressed and fossilized remains of early carbon life forms and burn it for fuel and for other purposes, we domesticate large numbers of animals for food who expel tremendous amounts of methane gas, a potent hydrocarbon, and we manufacture other carbon-based gasses – all of which throw the earth’s carbon balance out of whack, causing our planet to warm “unnaturally”.

Carbon offsets are one way to begin to reverse this process, with the intent of gradually bringing the carbon cycle back into balance. A reduced carbon emission on one end of the scale “offsets” a continued carbon emission on the other end of the scale. It’s a little crude, and will certainly take time, but I believe it is a step in the right direction.

But should trees be eligible for this carbon-offsetting scheme? And in particular, should planting new trees (called reforestation or afforestation) be accounted for to offset global carbon emissions?

A study published some time ago by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory suggests that trees may not make the best offsets, or at least planting trees in certain locations on the planet may not achieve the desired global cooling. See Climate Effects of Global Land Cover Change, published September 6, 2005.

In the study, researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Carnegie Institution Department of Global Ecology show that a phenomenon known as “albedo” will actually result in the warming of the planet if more trees are planted in non-equatorial latitudes. Albedo is a term used to describe the reflection of light (and heat) from the sun. As it turns out, the difference between open grassland and forest cover is significant when taking albedo into account. This difference is magnified when snow-cover is considered. A snowy field reflects the sun’s heat while a forest absorbs the heat. Planting trees in mid to high latitudes may actually speed up global warming.

As stated by the report’s authors in its conclusion: “ In terms of the absolute potential for temperature modification by land cover change, there appears to be much more potential for heating by reforestation (planting new trees) than cooling by carbon storage. This has important policy implications, since incentives for tree plantations in non-equatorial regions may produce the opposite effect to that desired.” [Emphasis added].

A more recent study by the same authors published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (April 2007) analyzes the impact of their earlier findings on three latitude bands: 20 degrees South to 20 degrees North (“Tropical”); 20 – 50 degrees in both Northern and Southern Hemispheres (“Temperate”) and 50 – 90 degrees in the Northern Hemisphere (“Boreal”). Their conclusions are consistent with the earlier study: “Latitude-specific deforestation experiments indicate that afforestation projects in the tropics would be clearly beneficial in mitigating global-scale warming, but would be counterproductive if implemented at high latitudes and would offer only marginal benefits in temperate regions.”

Why do the voluntary forestry standards currently under development ignore this important research? I have reviewed the four most prominent voluntary forestry standards (Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standard (CCBS), CarbonFix Standard (CFS), Plan Vivo Systems and Standard, and the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS) Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU)), as well as the California Climate Action Registry’s Forest Project Protocol and, as best as I can tell, none makes a distinction for latitude zones. Am I missing something?

More on this later.

David Niebauer is a corporate and transaction attorney, located in San Francisco, whose practice is focused on clean energy and environmental technologies. www.niebauer.net.

Here we go again . . .or not. Carbon trading vs taxes in economic dislocation

By Marc Stuart

One of my favorite quotes of all time I heard attributed to Barry Diller, the guy who worked for Rupert Murdoch long enough to get the Fox Network up and running, thereby kick starting The Simpson’s and many family moments of mirth in the Stuart household. At some point, Barry purportedly said “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly”. Which Fox undoubtedly proved at its outset. But what Barry meant is that you can spend all your time passing around memos and white papers and studies on what to do and bureaucratize something to death. Or you can just do it and figure things out on the fly.

I think a lot about that when I think about emissions trading and the way these first couple years have fared. We’re now in the 5th year of trading emissions in Europe and there is plenty of evidence that while “badly” may be a bit strong, there are at some serious ambiguities regarding its success. The first three year phase (2005-2007) saw the emissions commodity take a 99% price dive, from over €30 to less than 30 eurocents, in a period of a year or so. Clearly, if it only costs 30 cents to toss a ton of CO2 into the atmosphere – hey, my kids could do it with the spare change they find in the couch while watching The Simpsons.

As the second Phase of the European market begins its second year, it’s starting to have the same familiar smell of Phase 1. Ok, today we’re not that far along – the European carbon allowance is down only some 65% from its peak, and what was €30 is now meandering under €10. What does it mean? Coal to gas switches will go the other way – buy cheap coal and cheap allowances and you’ve got an economic winner that doesn’t put money in Putin’s pocket. Wind development in Europe will finally slow. Carbon capture and storage plans are being shelved. Emission credits from developing countries – the kinds that EcoSecurities specialize in, have followed the same price trajectory. With the prices so low, people are reconsidering the financial viability of investments to lower emissions and in some cases, stopping projects altogether and tearing up contracts. Banks who bought forward emission rights at €15 are deeply underwater in yet another new and inexplicable market. The net result is that certain hydro projects in China are unlikely to get financed, smelter efficiency upgrades in South Africa will go back to the drawing board and landfills in Brazil will keep bleeding uncontrolled methane into the atmosphere.

Bottom line is if you want any kind of emissions mitigation in the developing world, you better hope for some kind of price recovery in the carbon market. And soon.“Cratering the Carbon Market – The Sequel “- will of course give critics of emission trading another opportunity to trot out their arguments that trading doesn’t work and the only way to control emissions properly is via a tax. I might give some credence to that argument – if the price crash in the two periods was created by remotely the same thing. Well, on a macro level, of course it was – imbalance of supply and demand – but here’s where it gets tricky. Phase 1 was caused by too much supply, when EU governments failed to set individual emission caps at the right level, having been convinced by their industries that “just a little more” wouldn’t hurt anybody. Conversely, the Phase 2 retreat has been caused by an unprecedented free fall in demand, when European industry followed Wall Street and the rest of the world into economic strangulation and basically went on vacation, just waiting for somebody, somewhere to order something. In latter 2008, steel production in Germany dropped 30%, thermal electricity in Spain more than 20%, auto production in the UK virtually ground to a halt. Hey, if China’s industrial production dropped double digits in response to the crisis, what the heck do you think Europe – not exactly known as the most cost effective place to do business in the first place – is going to do?

Same thing, some will say – it shows that the market that emissions trading can’t work, that it’s just a shell game foisted upon public policy by a financial sector always looking to create new markets and products. Carbon tax , they say, that’s far more transparent, fairer, effective, can’t be gamed. Just one problem – it simply doesn’t reduce emissions. Unless you get so draconian as to be politically suicidal – not a common condition among our elected leaders. Sweden has had $100 plus carbon taxes for nearly two decades and emissions are down just a tiny fraction in that time. Other carbon taxes in Europe at best have managed to halt emissions rise. And here in the US, you can consider the de facto carbon tax of $200 a ton we managed to layer into the gasoline supply system in 2007 and 2008 while oil climbed to nearly $150 bucks a barrel. Yep, a hundred gallons of gas emit a ton of CO2 – so when you move a gallon of gas a buck, it’s costing you another hundred dollars to emit a ton of CO2. And we barely moved the needle on consumption when all of a sudden we were paying $4-5 a gallon. If ExxonMobil is out there advocating a carbon tax – as they reportedly are – my bet is that their research shows that this is the best way to not impact their sales. Plus they know that in American politics, asking for a tax is about the best way to make sure that nothing happens If you want to reduce emissions, you simply have to cap emissions on as big a part of the economy as you can swallow, stick to the cap and keep ratcheting the cap down. Over decades, not years.

What the small EU experiment has shown – and yes, covering some 6% of global emissions means it’s small – is that there probably is a role for a central emissions bank to tweak emissions rights supply during extreme economic dislocation. Probably not quite as needed on the top end of the market (where emission credits and domestic abatement can mitigate price spikes), but there could be a role there as well, particularly if the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) continues to underdeliver because of bureaucratic morass, even in bullish economic periods when emission reductions are highly valued.

Despite the initial snickering of being on Fox, The Simpson’s are now among both the longest running and most profitable shows in the history of global television. The network that Barry Diller started with entertainment equivalent of baling wire and scotch tape has gone from being a running joke to televising Super Bowls and having the highest rated shows on the air. Perseverance with emissions trading will similarly pay off in the end far better than any carbon tax. Doing it comparatively “badly” in a first half decade of experimentation has taught us well how to improve the system to achieve the necessary sustainable downward ratchet of carbon emissions over the next 100 years.

Marc Stuart is the Co-Founder and Director of New Business Development for EcoSecurities, a global carbon trading firm. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the view of EcoSecurities

Early Days in the Obama Administration

by Richard T. Stuebi

A few weeks into the Obama era, most of the attention has been focused on the raging economic stimulus bill debates. Of course, the economic stimulus package includes significant provisions related to energy and environmental issues, and these will be dissected in great detail as the final bill becomes more widely distributed and better understood.

In this column, I’m choosing to look past the economic stimulus package and examine some of the other actions taken so far by the Administration, as a leading indicator of other shoes to drop in the coming months and years.

(I’m not the only one crystal-ball-gazing: in the January 2009 Project Finance Newswire, a publication by the law firm Chadbourne & Parke, there’s a nice Q&A roundtable entitled “A Look Forward Into 2009” involving industry pundits who discuss their prognostications for Federal energy policy.)

On January 26, Obama signed two executive orders. The first mandates the establishment of Federal fuel economy targets for 2011, to implement the CAFE tightening enacted by law in 2007 but subsequently largely ignored. The second instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its March 6, 2008 decision barring California from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from cars.

On another front, over at the Department of Interior, Secretary Ken Salazar reinvigorated and broadened the effort to implement a more comprehensive and far-reaching offshore energy strategy. Salazar’s February 10 press statement pulled no punches: “I intend to do what the Bush Administration refused to do: build a framework for offshore renewable energy development…The Bush Administration was so intent on opening new areas for oil and gas offshore that it torpedoed offshore renewable energy efforts…For them, it was oil and gas or nothing.”

Up on Capitol Hill, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) released six carbon legislation principles for consideration, launching what is sure to be an increasing frenzy in D.C. on climate change. Much more on that, for sure, in coming months.

By this early flurry of actions, even when the capital is consumed with the economic crisis, it’s clear that the days of the Bush Administration are truly over. And, it’s clear that Obama isn’t buying the argument that the poor economy doesn’t allow us to afford to tighten environmental restrictions, and thus won’t be using the economic crisis as an excuse for inaction on toughening environmental standards.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. Later in 2009, he will also become a Managing Director at Early Stage Partners.

An Address I’d Like to Hear

The Address on Climate Policy I’d Like from President Obama
July 2009

My fellow Americans:

When I took office six months ago, I made it clear that my highest priority would be addressing the financial crisis that overcame us in 2008. As you well know, all indicators now point to the beginning of a slow—but hopefully steady—return to a solid growth economy.

As complex as it has been to unravel the financial crisis, global climate and energy issues present an equal, if not greater challenge. For more than a century, our economy—like most economies around the world—has relied on fossil fuels to power our homes, our cars, and our livelihoods. Remember that our awareness of the issue has only truly crystallized over the past two decades, as scientists began to suspect that these activities might have long-term ramifications for our climate system here on Planet Earth. And after decades of intensive scientific research using increasingly sophisticated climate metrics, models, monitoring systems, and computing power, we know that there is a scientific consensus about our warming world, and we know that the debate is over.

We also know that we run a grave risk of making our planet a very different place from the one we know today, and in the worst of scenarios, one that is virtually uninhabitable by our children, and our children’s children. This is not something we can continue to speak about in the future tense—it is a present tense problem with immediate impacts that are already being felt by a growing percentage of species, including our own. Humankind, because of our remarkable ability to adapt and control our environment, may be able to stave off the worst of these impacts for some time. But some day in the not too distant future, we will inevitably begin to witness those changes already being felt by our fellow Americans in extreme environments like Alaska, at an unprecedented scope, scale, and speed.

This is an issue of staggering moral, political, technical and economic complexity. Our economy is predicated upon trillions of dollars of assets that emit fossil fuels—our cars, our power plants, our factories, and our homes. It will take decades to transform these carbon-based assets to the low and zero carbon equivalents that science tells us we need. My predecessors in the White House who faced this web of complexities appeared to hope that either a change in scientific consensus, or the emergence of miraculous technological solutions, would solve the problem. Unfortunately, the path will not be that easy.

That is why in the early days of my presidency, I ordered a full interagency review of what we could do as a country and a world leader to stabilize the global climate as a matter a national urgency. I am here to give the American people my first report on the direction I will set as President for the future, based on the results of that review.

For far too long, we have treated the atmosphere as an unlimited dumping ground for global warming pollution. Carbon dioxide from the use of fossil fuels—oil, coal and natural gas—has increased in the atmosphere more than 70% since the beginning of the industrial age and the growth is accelerating, not slowing. Therefore, as a first step, we need to find ways to limit this dumping. A strong first step is assigning a cost on this activity.

The two ways of doing that are to tax fuel according to its carbon content, or creating a market whereby companies must obtain a permit to emit and therefore have incentives to make reductions. We will use both taxes and markets, but we will do so in ways that are revenue neutral to the country. What people and companies pay to emit carbon will be adjusted for in incomes, taxes, and other costs. However, as we tighten our overall emission cap over the decades to come, it will be those that are the most carbon efficient who will flourish.

For markets, I propose a comprehensive cap-and-trade system on large scale emitters. At the program’s outset, we will distribute allowances to industry based on average historical emissions. Each year through 2030, the total amount of allowances provided by the program will decrease by one percent. After three years, we will begin auctioning a portion of the allowances each year—with that portion ratcheting up every year until we reach 100% auctioning in 2025.

Because we must also start pushing the technology curve of what is possible, the government will be supporting the development of a series of new climate friendly technologies. Just as the government helped incubate the internet for more than 20 years before it became a fixture of the American household, so must the government lead the charge in supporting clean coal technology, whereby the greenhouse gas pollutants are captured and piped back underground. The Department of Energy will also be ordered to fast-track approval for so-called small-scale “pebble” nuclear reactors, which can provide bountiful clean energy while avoiding the safety and waste disposal issues that plague our current nuclear fleet which was designed more than half a century ago. For our renewable energy development efforts, I am proposing to make the production tax credit for clean energy refundable, and to extend it for 20 years, so that manufacturers and developers can feel safe that this vital support is not going to be cut back at the whim of some future Congress.

And because the solutions are not “one-size-fits-all,” we must create incentives for small scale, distributed renewable energy resources that will make energy self-sufficiency and independence accessible for every American. Therefore, I propose a federal net metering law that would ensure small scale renewables like residential solar installations under 1MW receive retail prices from utilities for all the excess electricity they generate. Doing so will transform our rooftops from empty space to a useful source of power generation, and in so doing will alleviate the potential pressure being put on desert and other expansive landscapes from utility scale solar and wind installations.

As the transport of the future will be plug-in electric hybrids, we will need much more electricity—not less. This means that all our new electricity will need an electric grid that is built for the 21st century, not the 19th. My administration will build out new transmission lines that will bring the great wind resources of the upper Midwest and the tremendous solar power of the Southwest to markets where demand for energy is the greatest.I am ordering the Federal Electrical Regulatory Commission to work expediently to fast track smart grid development for zero-carbon energy resources – whether they are renewable, nuclear or clean coal.

Even with these changes, the process of progress will be a long one. Changing over the US infrastructure to a low carbon economy will take decades, not years. Understanding this, I am committed to taking those decades and to doing it right. Along the way, there are opportunities to reduce emissions beyond our borders that are comparatively cost-effective and which in many cases provide local benefits and export opportunities for our American products and technologies. Over the past five years, other countries have picked up on an idea pioneered by the United States, and created an investment process—the Clean Development Mechanism—to generate emission reductions in developing countries. It is possible to reduce emissions in certain developing countries for just a fraction of what it might cost in the United States, Europe or Japan, and these emissions have no different impact on the climate whether they are emitted in my father’s home country of Kenya, or my mother’s home state of Kansas.

Six months ago, I asked Secretary Clinton and Secretary Geithner to co-chair a task force on how the Clean Development Mechanism has worked, both for the environment and for business. Based on their findings, I am endorsing the use of this system to supplement our country’s emissions reduction commitment. Our endorsement is not a blank check – we believe that the system can be improved, and our negotiators to the global climate conference in Copenhagen in 6 months will be tasked to agree to its continuation on the condition that several significant reforms are agreed upon.

However, to support our position in the global discussions, I am pleased to announce today that we have reached a framework agreement with the government of China in this regard. China, as we all know, has become the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, though on a per capita basis, it still take four Chinese to emit as much as a single American.

As part of this accord – negotiated by Secretary of State Clinton – the US and China will work together to jointly manage our future emissions trajectories. We will jointly remove all tariffs on greenhouse friendly technologies between our countries and China has agreed to protect American intellectual property on key technology developments that we export. China and the US will then jointly promote a global regime of zero tariffs of greenhouse friendly technologies, working through the WTO. China has agreed to take on initial caps in certain heavy emitting sectors in the next several years, while the US and China will jointly develop efficient protocols for creating large scale emission reductions though a revamped Clean Development Mechanism.

Deforestation in tropical countries contributes 20% of the carbon to the atmosphere that is currently contributing to global warming. Around the world, 36 football fields of untouched tropical forest are chopped down or burned every minute of the day. Many of these forests are felled for reasons that are economically irrational, particularly in light of the devastating amounts of carbon their destruction puts into the atmosphere. I am therefore supporting the protection of threatened tropical forests as a mechanism for the United States and other industrial countries to help meet aggressive emission reduction targets.

As a first step in this regard, I am pleased to announce that the United States has signed an agreement with the Government of Indonesia to try out some initial solutions to this problem. We are also actively engaging other governments in Asia, Latin America and Africa to make similar agreements. While these types of arrangements are not a substitute for transitioning to a low carbon economy, they can help buy us more time for the changeover and accomplish another enormous good at the same time. We are therefore strongly encouraging our counterparts in Europe, Japan, Canada, Korea and Australia to do the same.

The climate question is the defining challenge of not just our generation, but that of our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. It is my hope that when my daughters Sasha and Malia are grandparents, they will be able to look around and realize that the thousands of changes that seemed so challenging today – both large and small – have built the engine of a new economy that put our species in greater harmony with God’s greatest creation.

Former Vice President Gore has often called the climate crisis a planetary emergency. America has never shied from a challenge and had always been best when leading the world with ideals behind which all countries rally. This is more than an ideal – it is an opportunity to create new businesses, to innovate around brilliant new ideas and to reorder the way that we do nearly everything. It will again be a time that we will be proud to say that we are Americans and we indeed changed the world for the better yet again.

Thank you, and God Bless America.

Marc Stuart is the Co-Founder and Director of New Business Development for EcoSecurities, a global carbon trading firm. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the view of EcoSecurities

Global Warming Solutions Included in Transportation 2035

By John Addison. Last year, Americans drove 100 billion miles less than the year before. They also used public transit and participated in commute programs in record numbers. Regional transportation plans have the opportunity to accelerate these trends, help people cost-effectively meet their transportation needs, and be part of the global warming solutions now needed.

In 2035, 9 million people will be more efficient and less stressed in traveling the San Francisco Bay Area if all goes according to plan. Transportation 2035 is one of the nation’s first regional transportation plans to make reducing carbon emissions integral to such a plan. This regional plan will accommodate a 26 percent population increase compared to 1990, improve their transportation, while reducing CO2 emissions by 14 percent compared to 1990.

Most of the transportation budget will go to public transit which is forecasted to increase 75 percent over the 30 years. Clean Fleet Public Transportation Reports

The $226 billion of transportation funding over 30 years is primarily from local sources including transit fares, sales tax, and gasoline tax. Local, federal and state support is part of the funding, as it is throughout the nation.

In part, it is a demographic shift that will make the feasible the growth of public transportation. Although most people in the Bay Area now live in the suburbs, the Bay Area Governments forecast almost 70 percent growth in urban living and little growth in suburban living in the 30 years to 2035. Part of the shift to urban living is in the 25 percent of the Bay Area’s population that will be 65 and older in 2035. Similar percentages will be seen throughout the nation as 78 million U.S. Boomers are increasingly free from raising children and discover new priorities.

To speed suburban travel, an 800-mile Regional High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) Network on Bay Area freeways is mapped. The Plan states, “High-occupancy toll lanes, or HOT lanes for short, are carpool lanes with a twist: buses and carpools use the lanes free of charge, but solo drivers are allowed to use available capacity in the lanes, too — for a price.”

The estimated $3.7 billion construction cost of the network would be paid for with HOT toll revenues that are estimated at $6 billion. These lanes also allow commuter buses, vans, and carpools to get people to and from work much faster than driving solo. HOT lanes are effectively deployed in Houston, Seattle, Denver, Miami, Minneapolis, and Salt Lake City.

Although 30 percent of travel by bicycle is common in European cities from Copenhagen to Groningen. In the United States, however, Portland is the only city to even approach 3 percent. Transportation 2035 details a regional bicycle network to expand the carbon-free use of bicycles and improve the “last miles” solutions.

Better transportation for all of us certainly includes better expressways and bridges to somewhere, especially if they are significantly funded with tolls, HOT fees, and revenue tied to usage such as gasoline taxes. Ideally, better transportation is the result of a process that involves many employers, commuters, travelers, and governments throughout a region to plan effective multi-modal solutions. Transportation 2035 Complete Article

John Addison’s new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – will be available at Amazon and other booksellers on March 25.

Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

by Richard T. Stuebi

“Think Globally, Act Locally” has long been one of the most widely-used slogans in the sustainability movement. But in a highly-interlinked global economy, it’s not always so easy to do.

Here in Cleveland, a number of major institutions — including the City of Cleveland, the Cleveland Clinic, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Cleveland Foundation, and the George Gund Foundation — have launched the Cleveland Carbon Fund to address this very issue.

There are already several options in the marketplace for interested parties to acquire emissions offsets to mitigate their carbon footprint. However, customers of these services usually do not know where the emission reductions will occur. For instance, if I use a service like TerraPass to offset the emissions from my next airline flight, I don’t know exactly where the emission reductions will occur. Looking at the emission reduction projects sponsored by TerraPass, they span the width of the entire U.S.

This is not a criticism of TerraPass and their competitors. Since carbon dioxide emissions are a global (not local) environmental issue, from a climate change perspective, it doesn’t matter if the emission reductions are achieved in Cleveland or Kuala Lumpur. TerraPass et. al. merely select the emission reduction projects with the most bang for the least buck, whereever they might be.

But, why can’t we aim to reduce emissions while also spurring employment in our own backyard? That’s the impetus underlying the creation of the Cleveland Carbon Fund.

Those of us involved in the founding of the Cleveland Carbon Fund believe that it’s the first carbon emission reduction program that is community-focused — using funds to sponsor emission reduction projects in our particular geographic region in order to stimulate local economic activity.

The Cleveland Carbon Fund is now open for business. For those of you committed to mitigating climate change, and to the economic health of the Cleveland area, check it out at www.clevelandcarbonfund.org. Donations are welcome.


Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. Later in 2009, he will also become a Managing Director at Early Stage Partners.

San Francisco City Carbon Collobarative 18th and 19th February

Written by Karla BellgravatarcloseAuthor: Karla Bell Name: Karla Bell
Site: http://www.carbonflow.com
About: Pragmatic Environmentalist and Entrepreneur

A long time pragmatic environmentalist, Karla is probably best known as the driving force behind developing the Green aspect of the Olympics starting with the first Green Olympic Games in Sydney, while working for Greenpeace in the Atmosphere and Energy campaign. She has since been an advisor to both the public and private sector on green infrastructure and emissions trading, and has been a proponent of the need to bring transparency and automation to help scale emissions trading markets.

Born in Fiji, Karla holds an undergraduate degree from Macquarie University in Sydney and is a Senior Research Fellow at the Royal College of Art in London on Sustainable Development. Karla is a co-founder of Carbonflow, Inc dedicated to reducing the transaction costs and ensuring the transparency and environmental integrity of the global carbon credit market. Karla Bell is the Opinion writer and editor of The Greenhouse Gas Blog on GHGblog.com.See Authors Posts (57) on Sunday, 8 February 2009

The Office of Economic and Workforce Development for the city of San Francisco is sponsoring a Carbon Collaborative on February 18/19th 2009. The Carbon Collaborative will explore opportunities to accelerate local economic activity within emerging environmental markets. Key areas of focus for this initiative include
emissions trading, emissions reduction project development, project verification and certification, and climate policy. The purpose of this exploration is to identify opportunities that will further establish San Francisco as a dominant center of activity within the coming low-carbon economy.

For Further Information contact the City of San Francisco,

Office of Economic & Workforce
Development
City Hall, Room 436
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco CA 94102

Review of Forestry Carbon Standards 2008

By David Niebauer

In an earlier article, I reviewed the issues and obstacles to generating carbon offsets through reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) in a post 2012 global climate regime.

A recently published research paper written by Eduard Merger titled Forestry Carbon Standards 2008 (November 2008) reviews standards for forestry projects in the voluntary carbon market.

Merger compares four voluntary carbon offset standards for forestry projects that have emerged in the last few years and provides valuable information for both project developers and CO2 offset purchasers on the variations in the four standards. The standards compared are Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standard (CCBS), CarbonFix Standard (CFS), Plan Vivo Systems and Standard, and the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS) Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU).

As with the controversy surrounding REDD, significant issues exist affecting the forestry sector in general relating to the complexity of conducting carbon sink or sequestration activities on the land. The entire program has been beset with doubts over the integrity of carbon emissions reductions being generated, particularly over permanence, additionality and adverse non-carbon environmental impacts.

And while forestry projects have been met with skepticism in the European Union, legislators in the US appear to be more favorably disposed. The reason for this may be that, being the world’s largest polluter, the US will need a substantial supply of cheap credits – and forestry credits may be one of the few options available. See US Open to Forestry Offsets in Climate Fight.

Be that as it may, offsets from forestry projects appear likely to be included in any future global warming agreement. The voluntary standards being developed provide some guidance for legislators grappling with the complexities of making such a system work.

The Standards and What They Apply

Any buyer of CO2 offsets from a forestry project will want assurances that the project generating the offsets is additional (it goes beyond “business as usual”), that it is verified and monitored by an independent third party, that it is permanent and that the methodologies applied to the project are transparent. In addition, many buyers want to know that the project provides significant socio-economic and environmental benefits. Finally, a buyer will want the offset credits accounted for on a recognized registry and will want to pay a fair price. We will review these criteria by comparing how the various new voluntary standards address them.

Additionality

Additionality is a fundamental concept in all carbon offset projects. Essentially, for a project to be additional, funds from the sale of offsets generated by the project must be essential for the project to move forward. If this is not the case, the sale of offsets is merely providing enhanced financial return to the project developer.

All of the standards reviewed by Merger accept the A/R CDM additionality tool, a methodology adopted by the UNFCCC’s Clean Development Mechanism for afforestation and reforestation projects. Each standard also permits other methodologies developed by the standard body itself. Due to the importance of additionality, the methodology applied if not the A/R CDM additionality tool should be scrutinized carefully.

Verification

Verification actually encompasses a range of functions including validating the project (review of essential documents), validation, monitoring, accreditation of validating parties, issuance of carbon credits and registration. All of the standards apply a verification process that includes independent third-party verifiers. Such verifiers generally need to be approved, or accredited, by the standard body itself. Verifications also need to be conducted at regular intervals, usually between two and five years. The entire verification process through issuance of a carbon offset certificate can take anywhere from two to eighteen months.

The cost of verification ranges from $5,000 to $40,000, depending on the standard and the project being verified. In addition, most of the standards apply a charge per ton in the $0.30 – $0.50 range.

Socio-economic and Environmental Benefits

A claim made by forestry project developers is that forestry projects are able to generate carbon offsets with far more socio-economic and environmental co-benefits than other types of offset projects. This may well be the case. A project that regenerates a forest will provide jobs, biodiversity, recreational use and other benefits associated with living, growing trees. The same cannot be said for a methane capture project, for example, or the destruction of industrial gases – projects that also generate carbon offsets.

Of the four standards reviewed by Merger, only the VCS did not require a strong showing of socio-economic and environmental benefits. The VCS does require that project developers demonstrate that the project will not have negative impacts. The CCBS provides the highest co-benefit standard of the four standards reviewed.

Permanence

A forestry project’s permanence is arguably the most important factor in determining the climate potential of the project. Should a forest be damaged or destroyed, either by natural or human causes, not only does the forest cease to act as a carbon sink, it actually becomes a carbon source. Fire and tree rotting release CO2 into the atmosphere. A failure to ensure that a forest is permanent turns a climate change positive into a serious negative.

The primary means to address the risk of impermanence of all four standards is to mandate a risk buffer – a certain percentage of the offsets generated that are held back and subsequently retired in the event that a portion of the forest is damaged or destroyed. The percentage of offsets from a project that are required to be “held back” in a risk buffer vary from up to 60%, depending on the standard. The credits held in the risk buffer would be retired in the event the forest is damaged or destroyed.

None of the standards require insurance, per se, although the insurance industry has been reviewing forestry projects for some time. See Insurance industry on carbon stored in forests: “It’s a regulatory asset.” In the REDD Monitor. At least one insurance broker in London, ForestRE, formed in early 2008, will sell Lloyd’s policies insuring the permanence of forest projects. Should the number of credits generated from forestry projects increase, and especially if (when) they move into the regulated market, you can be sure a large percentage will carry financial insurance of some form.

Price Forecasts

Each standard provided Merger with 2009 price forecasts. The results are interesting (although certainly these estimates were provided prior to the global financial meltdown). The CCBS reported an expectation of “premium prices”; CFS, $14-27; Plan Vivo, $8-30 and VCS AFOLU $12-18 (per ton of carbon).

These prices look wildly optimistic given the battering taken by the European carbon markets of late. The price of a certified emission reduction (CER) credit dropped below 10 euros per ton in early February 2009. Voluntary credits tend to cost significantly less, although VERs generally seem to be fairing well, perhaps due to the new Obama presidency. See Global downturn hits carbon credits.

Conclusion

My prediction is that forestry projects will increase in number and significance in the coming years and will be included in a post 2012 climate regime. Although ensuring carbon sequestration in trees posses a number of significant issues, the importance of saving forests, especially in tropical jungles, combined with the large number of projects and credits that can be generated, point to increased attention on forestry projects. The voluntary forestry standards being promulgated will provide “best practices” guidance for regulators in a future global cap and trade scheme.

David Niebauer is a corporate and transaction attorney, located in San Francisco, whose practice is focused on clean energy and environmental technologies. www.niebauer.net.

Ford Partners to Commercialize Electric Vehicles

By John Addison. Ford will introduce a battery-only commercial van in 2010, followed by a passenger car built on the same technology in 2011, and exciting plug-in vehicles by 2012. To accelerate commercialization, Ford will partner with leaders in drive systems, lithium batteries, specialty electric vehicles, and electric utilities.

Ford will build on its existing success with the Ford Escape Hybrid, the most fuel-efficient SUV on the market, and the Ford Fusion Hybrid, an impressive mid-sized sedan that ranks in the Clean Fleet Report’s Top 10 Sedans.

Last summer, I met with Ford’s Nancy Gioia, Director, Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid Vehicle Programs, and Greg Frenette, Chief engineer for research and advanced technologies. They discussed Ford’s commitment to continued improvements in fuel economy with gas turbo direct injection (GTDI), lighter vehicle weight without any sacrifice in safety, transmission efficiency, and increased use of electric drive systems. Electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are definitely in Ford’s future. In fact, Nancy Gioia, has been driving her own Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid.

The Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid has been successfully in a number of fleet and research environments. One is Boulder, Colorado, which is becoming Smart Grid City. Working with a major utility, Xcel Energy, residents hope to lower their utility bills, improve energy efficiency, and develop city-wide support for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

University of Colorado Chancellor Bud Peterson and his wife, Val, were the first to let Xcel transform their home to be part of Smart Grid City. Xcel put solar panels on the house, gave them a new smart meter for vehicle charging, and a Ford Escape Hybrid which is converted to have vehicle-to-grid capability. Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology is a bi-directional electric grid interface that allows an electric vehicle to take energy from the grid or put it back on the grid. When fully charged, their car plug-in hybrid batteries have enough power to keep their home running for days by using V2G.

Seven more electric utility providers are joining the Ford and Electric Power Research Institute to expand real world testing with Ford Escape PHEVs. Utility partnerships and industry standards will be critical to the expansion of a smart-charging infrastructure and to the long-term viability of V2G.

Ford will have Johnson Controls-Saft develop an advanced lithium-ion battery system to power Ford’s first commercial plug-in hybrid (PHEV). The lithium-ion battery system that Johnson Controls-Saft is designing and manufacturing for Ford includes cells, mechanical, electrical, electronic, and thermal components. Initially the cells will be produced at the supplier’s production facility in France, but the system will be assembled in the United States. The five-year supply agreement includes delivery for committed production in 2012 with a target of at least 5,000 units per year.

Commercial sales of the Ford Escape PHEV are planned for 2012. A fully charged Ford Escape PHEV operates in two modes, electric drive and blended electric/engine drive. It uses common household current (120 volts) for charging, with a full charge of the lithium-ion battery completed within 6 to 8 hours. When driven on surface streets for the first 30 miles following a full charge, the Ford Escape PHEV can achieve up to 120 mpg. This 30-mile range fits the average daily needs of most U.S. drivers.

In 2010, Ford also plans to begin sales of zero-emission battery-electric vans. To speed time to market, Ford will be collaborating with Tanfield to offer battery-electric versions of the Ford Transit and Transit Connect commercial vehicles for fleet customers in the UK and European markets. Tanfield’s Smith has over 100 electric trucks and delivery vans in service with customers today. More details may be announced at the Chicago Auto Show this month.

Battery-electric vans are well suited for many applications where ranges are limited and frequent stopping provides for regenerative braking. USPS has used electric postal vehicles for years. FedEx Express has ordered 10 Modec electric commercial vehicles for use in the United Kingdom.

At the Detroit Auto Show, Ford was showing a new battery-electric sedan developed jointly with Magna International with a 23kWh lithium battery pack. Commercial sales are planned for 2011 for a vehicle similar in size to the Ford Focus. Ford will compete with hundreds of battery-electric vehicle competitors including smaller specialty vehicle makers and Nissan, which is determined to be the early volume leader in freeway-speed electric vehicles. Ford will also be competiting with the plug-in Prius and Chevy Volt.

Given the success of Ford and Mercury hybrids, Ford is positioned to do well as it expands into these plug-in hybrid and battery-electric offerings. Success will lead to success, with larger and smaller Ford EVs being likely past 2012.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. His new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – will be available in paperback and ebook on March 25 at Amazon and other booksellers.

A New "Green" Deal…Direction for the economic recovery plan

By Lisa Jacobson

President Barack Obama took office in January amid the worst economic crisis this nation has faced since the Great Depression. As unemployment rises and businesses struggle, Congress and the Administration must enact bold solutions suited to our times—not a New Deal, but a Green Deal.

A Green Deal would revive the economy by directing massive new investment into cleaner, more efficient and reliable energy infrastructure. It would call for the rapid and aggressive deployment of renewable energy, energy efficiency investments, a smarter energy grid and effective use of clean fossil fuels, such as natural gas.

In the short run, such investments would generate large numbers of high quality jobs in the clean energy sector, bolstering business suppliers, boosting consumer spending and lifting consumer confidence. Research conducted by the Apollo Alliance in conjunction with the non-partisan Perryman Group confirms that large but feasible investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency would add several million jobs over the next decade.

Long term, a Green Deal would help our nation meet growing demands for energy, reduce energy costs, and address the challenge of global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Their analysis found that investments of $50 billion in renewable energy technologies could result in nearly 1 million new jobs; $76 billion invested in manufacturing of energy efficient durable goods would create over 900,000 new jobs; $90 billion directed to building energy efficiency would yield over 800,000 jobs; and $100 billion invested in public transit and transportation infrastructure would create over 650,000 new jobs.

In order to spawn additional jobs and stabilize the economy, Congress must support funding and incentives for:

· Building and business owners to invest in energy efficiency, renewable energy and efficient distributed generation systems
· Manufacturing facilities to re-tool using clean energy products and components
· States to invest in clean energy infrastructure and efficient transportation
· Investment in an improved, expanded and “smart” electricity transmission system
· Greater use of low emission vehicles, more efficient temperature control equipment and auxiliary power technologies to reduce idling in the transportation sector
· Workforce training and education relating to clean energy industries
· Improvements to the renewable energy tax incentives so they are able drive new renewable energy generation, given current economic conditions

In ordinary times, such a dramatic program to shift national priorities in favor of cleaner energy and a sustainable environment would face legitimate complaints about budget constraints and unwelcome deficits. But economists of almost every persuasion agree that now is the time to get the economy moving. Let’s turn this economic crisis into an opportunity to make a Green Deal with sustainable investments in a healthier, energy independent and more competitive nation.


Lisa Jacobson is the Executive Director of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, a coalition of clean energy business and trade associations representing the energy efficiency, renewable energy and natural gas industries in the United States.

Renewables That Even Coal-Based Utilities Can Love

by Richard T. Stuebi

Generalizations are always tricky, but it’s safe to say that many employees of many electric utilities whose generation plants are mainly coal-fired have a hard time feeling very enthusiastic about renewable energy. You can imagine the rants: renewables are tiny and negligible, renewables aren’t baseload, renewables are for wimps.

So, it’s interesting to me when coal-based utilities can find something nice to say about renewables. Last week, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) — the U.S. R&D organization funded by companies in the electricity industry — announced its efforts to test the addition of solar thermal collectors to fossil-fueled powerplants, in an effort to reduce the amount of fuel that these plants need to burn for generating electricity.

The test project involves powerplants operated by Progress Energy (NYSE: PGN) and Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, and is co-sponsored by The Southern Company (NYSE: SO) — all sizable coal-based utilities.

Of course, these utilities are motivated by practical considerations more than they are by being viewed as “green”. For them, the important green is money: the use of solar thermal can reduce per-kilowatt-hour variable costs, which can increase plant profitability in wholesale power markets. And, the use of solar thermal will reduce the per-kilowatt-hour emission rates of fossil powerplants, which will reduce compliance costs under a likely future cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions.

Not to mention, the installation of solar thermal at existing fossil powerplants may qualify for compliance with renewable portfolio standards that now exist in many states — and that may come into law nationally under the Obama Administration.

It may not be as sexy as photovoltaics or wind turbines, but the economics of solar/fossil hybrid power generation should be pretty compelling. If so, solar thermal augmentation at fossil powerplants may become very widespread, perhaps unseen and out-of-mind, but nonetheless making sizable dents in the energy industry’s emissions footprint.

Thanks to Keith Johnson of the Wall Street Journal for making me aware of this EPRI study, and for quoting me in his post to the WSJ‘s Environmental Capital blog last Friday.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. Later in 2009, he will also become a Managing Director of Early Stage Partners.