Clean Energy and Climate Protection Bill Accelerates Electric Vehicles and Renewable Energy

For the first time, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation regulating greenhouse gases. Due to intense lobbying by industries that would incur added cost, such as coal powered utilities, HR 2454 barely was approved by a vote of 219 to 212. New battles are ahead in the Senate for the Waxman-Markey Bill.

HR 2454 encourages more electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and advanced batteries to be developed and commercialized in the United States. Should HR 2454 become law, cities will more rapidly roll-out convenient electric charging stations. If you want to buy a car with better mileage you will even get more cash for your clunker – $3,500 to $4,500 until March 31, 2010.

The bill is also a win for United States energy security. HR 2454 explicitly states, “The status of oil as a strategic commodity, which derives from its domination of the transportation sector, presents a clear and present danger to the United States…Fuel competition and consumer choice would similarly serve to end oil’s monopoly in the transportation sector.”

The bill has something for everyone. Cleantech innovators get the free luxury health spa; while fossil fuel curmudgeons, a free colonoscopy.

The Waxman-Market Bill puts a limit (“cap”) on greenhouse gas emissions. Overtime industry must pay for permits to pollution. Innovation will be rewarded because clean organizations can sell their carbon credits to help polluters meet their limits.

The market place will work with cap-and-trade. Some of the pollution permit fees will be reinvested in our future. Clean innovators will flourish and create more green jobs. To help automakers retool plants for these advanced vehicles and/or drive system components, the $25 billion of funding in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will double in HR 2454 to $50 billion.

Automakers are more likely to succeed with their electric vehicle and plug-in plans for 2010 through 2012. For example, Ford (F) will start selling electric cars, vans, and a plug-in Escape. GM will start selling the plug-in Volt and now has 80 to demonstrate; Toyota (TM) will start selling its plug-in Prius and is putting 500 into fleet demonstration; Chrysler with Fiat as a key partner will sell everything from plug-in Jeeps to minivans; Nissan is partnering with electric utilities to sell more electric vehicles than the rest of the automakers put together.

Electric utilities are asked in HR 2454 to develop infrastructure plans that can optionally include fast charging, a nice win for companies such as AeroVironment (AVAV) and Better Place. Smart charging and smart grid infrastructure plans are requested from state regulators. An intelligent network will develop so that you can plug-in anywhere, be able to remotely view your state of charge and check your billing – a nice win for firms such as Coulomb Technologies. If the bill becomes law, look for utility-local government-NGO consortiums to apply for funding to implement smart-grid solutions that include smart charging stations.

Financial incentives are envisioned for commercial and federal fleets, car sharing firms, and others who can accelerate the deployment of these electric zero-emission and ultra low emission vehicles.

From cars to electric-rail in public transportation, we are beginning to shift from running on engines that burn petroleum fuels to running on efficient electric motors. Thanks to HR 2454, that electricity will be increasingly renewable. Wind, solar, geothermal, small hydro, renewable biomass, and other renewable energy produced in the United States will all be encouraged by the incentives inherent in carbon cap-and-trade.

The Waxman-Markey Bill, of course, is about much more than electric vehicles and renewable energy. It provides a major step towards greater energy security, energy efficiency, and climate solutions of which clean transportation is a component.

The close vote shows that the bill has opponents. Many question whether we even have an environmental problem. As Dan Quayle once observed, “”It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.” Others are opposed to putting a cap on emissions. As George W. Bush put it, “What I am against is quotas. I am against hard quotas, quotas they basically delineate based upon whatever. However they delineate, quotas, I think, vulcanize society. So I don’t know how that fits into what everybody else is saying, their relative positions, but that’s my position.”

Environmental groups offered a mixed reaction due to the many compromises and addendums that were necessary to secure a majority vote. The Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp stated, “”The bill that emerged from the House has the fundamental structure we need to significantly reduce carbon pollution while growing the economy. It puts a strong cap on emissions and reorients our energy market to make low-carbon power the goal. It ensures that utility rates will stay affordable and a competitive playing field for U.S. companies.”

Greenpeace opposes the compromised bill, “President Obama vowed to ‘restore science to its rightful place’ in his inaugural address….The Waxman-Markey climate legislation, however, will not do what the science says is necessary to avert the worst effects of climate change. In fact, House Democrats have worked extensively with the coal industry to edit the bill, which has translated into weakened emissions targets.”

Other groups supported the bill in the hopes that it would be strengthened. Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council stated, “But the work is far from over. Now, the bill will move to the Senate where it needs to be strengthened, so we can reach the full potential of our clean energy future and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. We can achieve this by strengthening the targets for carbon pollution.”

What all nations put in the sky and the oceans affects all of us and all of our children. Given the United States long history of being the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, nations have hoped that we would reduce emissions 40 percent by 2020. They will be lucky to see 17 percent. The new bill puts us in a weak position as we pursue a global climate solution treaty that involves all nations, but it takes us out of the category of obstruction as Copenhagen meetings continue.

Yet, reality is that with all the competing interests in our nation of 300 million people, we will not go directly to the energy and climate solution that is needed. We cannot kill the good in search of the perfect. As Jane Goodall observed, “Lasting change is a series of compromises. And compromise is all right, as long your values don’t change.”

When we get past all industry scare tactics, we may end up spending an extra $20 per month for cleaner electricity until we finally replace those old light bulbs. We may also save $200 per month by running cleaner cars and save another $200 per month avoiding doctor and hospital bills to deal with damaged lungs. Clean Energy and Climate Protection are not expenses, they are investment in our future – a future that includes our riding on sunlight.

<!– By John Addison, Jun 29th, 2009. Learn about the future of cars and transportation in John’s new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet.–> By John Addison. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at conferences. He is the author of the new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – now selling at Amazon and other booksellers.

Talking Trash

by Richard T. Stuebi

Ever wonder whether recycling really works? Or, how it’s done? Last week, I found out — by touring a material recovery facility (MRF) operated by Waste Management (NYSE: WMI).

The process in an MRF is pretty straightforward. The recyclable materials accumulated from various end-user disposal points — for households, this would be curbside bins — are trucked into the facility and then dumped. The materials travel along a maze of conveyor belts, along the way being sorted by various means — mechanical shaking, blowers, magnets, and even some manual labor — into an increasing number of streams: paper, cardboard, clear plastics (e.g., water bottles), colored plastics (e.g., milk bottles), clear glass, colored glass, aluminum, other metals, and general refuse.

General refuse is then trucked to landfill (f.k.a. dump) for disposal. The other items are each quality-checked checked (97+% purity) and then compressed, for sale and delivery to processors to convert the material back to a state in which it can be reused.

I always wondered why phone books aren’t usually recycled, and now I know why: their bindings often jam the machinery, which causes lots of downtime and equipment repair expense. Apparently, newer equipment is being made today that can handle phone books. (A better answer is for phone books to stop being printed. Tell me, when you need to find a company to buy a product or service, would you rather use the Yellow Pages, or the Internet?)

The important point here is that, with an MRF of this type, the citizen isn’t required to separate out recyclable materials into different baskets depending on the material. All recyclables can be dumped into one bucket, and the recycler will take care of sorting it out. To me, this eliminates one of the key obstacles to recycling: the burden/hassle of having to maintain and manage multiple containers of recyclable material.

Something in excess of 40% of all disposed material can be recycled, so if you or your community isn’t recycling, this is unnecessarily contributing to landfills, while also taking prime resources out of the pool of future supplies, needlessly accelerating depletion rates.

The tour I took is one that every citizen, and especially every schoolchild, should take. Upon entering the MRF, I was greeted with an odor I hadn’t encountered since handling weekend trash duty in my college dormitory. By no means is it a pleasant smell. And, it’s not very pretty to see the incredible volumes of refuse being sorted.

But, I think it’s important that responsible citizens know what happens to the stuff they buy, consume and dispose. To paraphrase one of Bill McDonough‘s zingers in his speeches, “When you throw something out, where is the ‘out’? It’s gotta end up here, on the planet, somewhere.”

Well, an MRF or a landfill is the “out”. The sights and smells are powerful reminders of the hidden but very real costs of a materialistic lifestyle.

Richard T. Stuebi is the 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 Managing Director at Early Stage Partners.

Biomethane for Energy and Fuel

OK. I admit it. I am writing this article from a Summit about cow poop. No, this isn’t a joke to get 8-year olds rolling on the floor with laughter. This is serious.

I am reporting from the inaugural National Biomethane Summit, in Sacramento, California, where over 300 attendees including elected officials, government agencies, farmers, ranchers, landfill owners, facility owners and operators, technology leaders, researchers, regional planners, and carbon trading experts.

Biomethane is renewable natural gas because it is from biological sources. In some areas, biomethane is called renewable gas. Biomethane is a low carbon fuel – CH4. John Boesel, President of CALSTART, calls biomethane “Our lowest carbon fuel.” Just like the fossil fuel version of natural gas, biomethane can be converted into electricity or fuel.

Making money from meadow muffins is helping dairy farmers stay in business. Among the Western United Dairymen, 18 projects that capture biomethane from manure are generating 4.425 MW of electricity. Hilarides Dairy also converts enough biomethane into fuel to power two of its heavy-duty and five pick-up trucks. Michael Marsh, CEO of the Western United Dairymen quipped, “This smells like an opportunity.”

Dallas Tonsager, Undersecretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is a former dairyman who sees big economic opportunity in methane from manure. Since 2003, USDA has helped 121 projects with co-funding and/or loan guarantees. These projects have generated 449 GW hours/year of electricity, reducing emissions 384,664 metric tons of CO2e and displacing 8 million gallons of oil.

The 121 projects include WI 24, PA 18, CA 14, NY 14, and VT 7. There are opportunities in every state. USDA is encouraging the growth of biomethane for energy and fuel. This is definitely a “shovel ready” opportunity to create green jobs.

Across the nation, ranchers, farmers, landfill operators, and all that generate agricultural waste, forest residue, and municipal waste can increasingly become energy independent. Through anaerobic digestion much of their biological waste can be converted into biogas which can run electrical generators, turbines, or fuel cells to generate electricity. Biogas can also be converted to cleaner biomethane for cleaner electricity and renewable fuel. These operations can generate their own electricity and fuel their own vehicles. Increasingly, excess electricity and fuel can be sold as added revenue streams.

A growing number of our nation’s buses, refuse trucks, delivery vans, airport and port equipment has been converted from diesel to natural gas. Michael Gallagher, CEO of Westport Innovations (WPRT), has already sold 20,000 engines for such applications. He estimates that 20 percent of our nation’s diesel vehicles could be running on biomethane produced in the United States.

Nations like Russia and Iran that control the largest reserves of natural gas may not like this trend of making our own natural gas, but if we want energy independence then we need to follow W.C. Field’s advice, “Take the bull by the tail and face the situation.”

Before our growing population with its output of waste puts us hip deep in this slop, we want to do something useful like make money converting all this waste into energy and fuel. Currently, as the waste decomposes, a greenhouse gas twenty times more destructive than carbon dioxide – methane – goes into the stratosphere, putting our future in a pressure cooker. The whole thing stinks.

There is a climate payoff as well as help with energy independence. California with its Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) has put teams of scientists to work calculating well-to-wheels, or in this case waste-to-wheels, lifecycle emissions using the newly developed GREET 1.8 model. Biomethane has 4 times less lifecycle emissions than gasoline in the LCFS analysis. Because biomethane avoids release of the destructive greenhouse gas, biomethane into an internal combustion engine vehicle shows fewer emissions than electricity into a far more efficient electric vehicle.

In transportation, we will see the growing use of renewable electricity powering everything from city light-rail to city cars. We will also see the growing use of biomethane powering buses and the vehicles used by the biomethane producers. In Orange Country, California, where thousands of electric vehicles are used, there are also several hundred refuse trucks and public transit buses using biomethane from the nearby Bowerman Landfill where biogas is converted into liquid natural gas (LNG).

The Orange County Sanitation District is bringing online a combined heat and power plant developed by Air Products (APD) and Fuel Cell Energy (FCEL) that converts municipal waste into electricity, heat, and hydrogen fuel. In the county, hydrogen vehicles are in use by city fleets such as Santa Ana, the University of California, Irvine, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, and even individuals that drive Honda (HMC) Clarities and GM Fuel Cell Equinoxes. This breakthrough innovation results in record toilet-to-tank efficiency. Orange County Register Article

Texas, of course, thinks bigger than California. In Dallas, the McCommas Bluff Landfill will achieve 95 percent methane recovery from 30 million tons of waste. Output will scale from 35,000 gasoline gallon equivalents (GGE) per day to 122,500 GGE. Using a novel leachate recirculation process for early capture of biomethane would shrink the landfill growth by 3 feet per day, adding years of life to the landfill.

Summit attendees had mixed reactions about the idea of using biomethane as a vehicle fuel instead of the more common approach of making electricity by running biogas in large ICE gensets. Renewable electricity is in big demand as utilities across the nation struggle to meet renewable portfolio standards (RPS). Natural gas prices, however, are down 70 percent from their peak, making biomethane for fuel a losing proposition unless there is government funding or carbon credits to sell at a significant price.

But new ICE gensets increasingly cannot be permitted. Regulators have greatly tightened standards on emission of health damaging criteria pollutants and greenhouse gases. In California, air quality regulations are forcing farmers, landfill, and waste operators to spend more on clean-up of biogas. Turbines, fuel cells, and conversion to fuel are becoming more promising options. Regulators are also helping with selective co-funding of some projects.

Biofuels have gathered significant opposition in much of the world. Biomethane has avoided the food for fuels controversy associated with ethanol from corn and biodiesel from soy and palm oil. Biomethane is normally processed from waste. Biomethane has over four times the energy production than corn ethanol from an acre of land. Clean Fleet Biofuels Reports

These challenges are also opportunities for Waste Management Inc (WMI). Of their 370 landfills, 33 percent already produce methane for energy, the rest flare the gas due to economics or regulatory difficulty in using ICE gensets to produce electricity. About 1,000 of Waste Management’s fleet of trucks run on either LNG or CNG creating the opportunity to produce their own fuel. 2,500 trucks run on diesel with WMI plans to hybridize.

Waste Management landfills contain significant organic waste which is suited for anaerobic digestion. WMI also captures significant waste that is lignin which is appropriate for its waste-to-energy plants. In the long-term it may be economical to convert the lignin to biofuel in a gasification process.

Can biomethane scale to a size that will impact United States needs for energy and fuel? Yes. Sweden has been an early leader in using biomethane. Over half of their natural gas for transportation vehicles such as buses and cars comes from biomethane sources such as municipal waste and agricultural waste. Biomethane is part of Sweden’s strategy to be petroleum free.

In 1970, 77 percent of Sweden’s energy came from oil, but by 2003 that figure had fallen to 32 percent. In 2006, about 40 million cubic meters of renewable biomethane, “enough to support 1,000 buses and refuse trucks and 9,000 light duty vehicles.” In Sweden, light-duty vehicles cost an average of 70 percent of the cost of a petrol fueled vehicle. The opposite occurs in the United States, with the Honda Civic CNG being the only available CNG passenger car.

Biomethane is also important to Sweden being energy independent. Russia has famously flexed its political muscle by temporarily cutting-off the natural gas pipeline supply that is critical to Europe’s energy and heating. Sweden already has 230 biomethane plants build including 138 from sewage waste water and 60 from landfills. Some Swedish dairy farmers are making more money from manure than from milk.

A decade from now, cost effective large-scale plants have the potential to produce multiple outputs include electricity, heat, natural gas transportation fuel, algal fuel utilizing CO2, biofuels from lignin, biomaterials, and fertilizer. Production could be accelerated if cap-and-trade carbon credits are produced.

This potential is part of the reason that Summit attendance is double what was expected and that this became an international summit with delegates from Sweden, UK, Spain, Canada and other countries. We do not need to dispose ever increasing quantities of waste. We do not need bigger landfills. The vision is a zero-waste society where anything no longer used is converted into something valuable, be it recycled paper, building materials, electricity, heat, fuel, etc.

We can achieve energy independence and avoid a climate crisis with a portfolio of solutions leading us to a near zero-emission future. Yes, the Prius, solar power, and eating tofu make a difference. Energy efficient buildings, transportation, and sustainable living make bigger differences. Now, we must put on our boots and roll-up our sleeves and give a whole new meaning to the mantra “reduce, reuse, and recycle.”

<!– By John Addison, Jun 24th, 2009. Learn about the future of cars and transportation in John’s new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet.–> By John Addison. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at conferences. He is the author of the new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – now selling at Amazon and other booksellers.

Announcing Our Cleantech Blog Space Biodiesel Project

After the recent announcements about space solar projects, Cleantech Blog is announcing our Space Biodiesel project. “We are excited about space solar, it’s like a moon shot – huge and available. Suprisingly enough, the near earth orbit biodiesel development rights have not yet been locked up.” – SBP cofounder Alexandra Tesla, great granddaughter of the famed inventor of the same name.

So we are launching Space Biodiesel Project, Inc. The program will use solar thermal collectors in orbit and the massive heat sink of space to drive our heat engine providing electricity and processing biodiesel. “The heat differential is so great the cost difference will be game changing and allow us to produce electricity to supply wholesale to other space solar programs as a co-product of producing our all-renewable, carbon negative biodiesel products. To us, “spacepower” is just a matter of scaling up engineering and procuring equipment launch slots.” – SBP CEO, Jimmy Watt, great great great grandson of the coiner of the term “horsepower”.

The SBP is still evaluating feedstocks, and whether a closed loop anaerobic algal process scavenging CO2 from the upper atmosphere can be effective. We are also evaluating whether coproduction of H2 from the algal growth waste O2 through an electrolysis process can provide a space based fuel source to offset the costs of shipping.

Patents filings are in process. Tests to begin in our lab soon. Looking for CEO, engineers, investors, and technology and engineering partners. Pre-money valuation to be based on a DCF of our 1,150 MW PPA and 85,000 bopd fuel offtake agreement with Sealand, which we believe is the largest solar PPA and largest take or pay biodiesel offtake on record. This agreement is expected to make our Series A the largest Series A venture capital deal in the cleantech sector to date. We anticipate, based on the numbers, our Series A pre-money will surpass the Series C and D valuations of even the 3 biggest thin film solar investments of 2008 combined. “Sealand is fully on board, though they have committed they will only pay for MWH and gallons delivered, as they are constrained by a need to protect their ratepayers, that’s why we’re looking to the venture capital markets to finance the first project, now that the technology is proven.” – Alexandra Madoff, SBP VP of Finance, and long time money manager.

– The Management

Water & Energy – crisis and opportunity

Any plan to switch from gasoline to electricity or biofuels is a strategic decision to switch our dependence from foreign oil to domestic water’.

So says Dr. Michael Webber of the University of Texas at Austin in an interview with Steven Lacey on the Inside Renewable Energy Podcast this week. Webber comments on the links between water and energy, the potential conflicts, but also about the potential opportunities which arise when you start to understand these links and realize that saving water, saves energy, and saving energy saves water.

The Podcast picks up on some of the issues I wrote about in ‘Energy Vs Water’. Ironically the water footprint of driving your electric car, if the electricity is generated at a thermal power plant, is much greater than the water footprint if you were using conventional gasoline.
Wind and photo-voltaic generated electricity has a far lower water footprint than either fossil fuel of nuclear generated electricity. Biofuels such as corn ethanol and sugar cane, require an inordinate amount of water to produce a litre of fuel. (Check out Water Implications of Biofuels Production in the United States)

Brazil happens to get a lot of rain, so they have an ideal climate for growing a thirsty crop like sugar cane. Jatropha, which has been heralded as a ‘super biofuel’ – high yield and capable of growing on marginal land, recently came under fire as it came to light that it is a very thirsty plant. There are on-going efforts to genetically engineer it to use less water.

A few months ago, I wrote a piece on lawns and how in California, certain municipalities are now ‘buying back’ lawns from homeowners to try and reduce water use. Michael Webber describes the water-energy paradox excellently when he says we are ‘using blue gold (water) to grow the grass, and then using black gold (oil) as a fuel to cut it back down again, with a zero net gain in many cases for society’.

There is however an opportunity in all of this. Saved water equals saved energy, and saved energy equals saved water. I have been looking at this closely in a new book on water technologies, “Water Technology Markets – key opportunities and emerging trends“. I looked at a range of technologies which can generate energy from wastewater and also at technologies which can reduce the energy required to desalinate seawater. Microbial Fuel cells are a very good example of this. A microbial fuel cell can purify wastewater and, at the same time, generate electricity. Its early days for this, but if successful could turn wastewater treatment plants, which are currently power hungry, into net producers of power. The company EMEFCY, came 4th in the Artemis Project Water Top 50 competition for its MEGAWATTER™ microbial fuel cell technology. There is a vision emerging for a smarter, more efficient, water system and creating the technologies which can make that system a reality, is where the BlueTech opportunity lies.

Paul O’ Callaghan is the founding CEO of the Clean Tech development consultancy O2 Environmental. Paul lectures on Sustainable Energy at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, is a Director with Ionic Water Technologies and an industry expert reviewer for Sustainable Development Technology Canada.

Just Say No: Climate Skeptics and Deniers

by Richard T. Stuebi

The community against taking action on climate change — skeptics who honestly or otherwise question the science, and deniers who have already concluded it’s all a bunch of bunk — seems particularly strident these days. For instance, check out the harsh comments underneath this blog post reviewing the recent release of a report from the U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program detailing the climatic changes that are already in evidence.

I’m somewhat knowledgeable about technologies to address climate change, but I’m less knowledgeable about climate science per se, and therefore less able to separate the wheat from the chaff in the climate debates. So, I was very pleased to when the Cleveland office of URS Corporation (NYSE: URS) and Ideastream recently hosted a presentation by someone who understands the issues very well: Peter Adams, Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

Prof. Adams offered a very cogent and non-hyperbolic synopsis of what is known and what is unknown about climate science. In his view, it can be stated with confidence that climate change is happening, and is being at least somewhat driven by human activities, though the degree/pace of future changes are highly uncertain.

I particularly appreciated the way he carefully and non-disparagingly handled the issue of climate skeptics and deniers. Prof. Adams noted that some of the skeptics have seemingly impressive credentials, but illustrated how nefarious their tactics can be by using a powerful analogy involving the statue of Venus de Milo:

“The scientist would say that the Venus de Milo is a statue of a woman, whereas the skeptic would say ‘A woman has arms, and this statue has no arms; therefore, it’s not certain that this is a statue of a woman, and it can’t be proven as such until the arms are found.'”

In other words, skeptics are having some successes undermining the consensus on climate science and reinforcing the vigor of the denier blogosphere by weaving intricate arguments in which each of their statements is factually or technically correct but completely lacking in context. Unfortunately, because much of the public is so poorly-informed on energy and environmental issues, and on technical matters generally, many of our masses are unable to see how the “true” statements made by credentialed skeptics lead to a “false” (or at best, highly misleading) conclusion.

One such misled soul was in the audience for Prof. Adams’ talk: a member of the public who was apparently quite certain that climate change wasn’t happening, based presumably on readings of skeptic publications and web-sites. In the post-presentation Q&A session, our in-audience denier was sufficiently bold to offer a sequence of rebuttals to Prof. Adams’ talk, disguised in the form of awkwardly-phrased questions to Prof. Adams. It was actually a bit humorous to watch Prof. Adams cordially but definitively dissect the denier’s parries — kinda like the scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” in which the Black Knight stubbornly fights King Arthur and is sequentially severed of all his limbs, until as a bloody stump he cheerfully announces from the ground “OK, we’ll call it a draw.”

If I were a denier such as our misguided fellow audience member, I wouldn’t have been so stupid to take on Prof. Adams — an obviously intelligent researcher who studies this stuff every day for hours, and who is clearly not an extremist prone to overstatement. Actually, because he seemed to be such a thoughtful observer of the skeptic/denier universe, I asked Prof. Adams two questions related to climate skepticism that were puzzling me of late. While he responded verbally at the presentation, he did some follow-up research and subsequently emailed me more detailed commentary, which I’ve included below (with his permission):

1. Given that climate science and meterology are related in some important ways, why do some meterologists (such as ours here in Cleveland) have the opinion that climate change is NOT happening?

Adams’ response:

“[Reporters] interviewed the head of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and asked him why so many meteorologists do publicly disagree with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) consensus. His comments are insightful, and he even admits to being a former skeptic. He personally accepts the IPCC position now as does the AMS as an institution. Basically, he points to some cultural factors in [the meteorologist] community: they have an inherent distrust of models, natural variability is their major focus, and long-term drivers of climate such as CO2 levels are not part of their world view (they are completely irrelevant to tomorrow’s forecast)….The danger is that [meteorologists] are not really climate experts although the average person perceives them to be. They are Bachelor’s level scientists, not researchers. Most probably have not read much of the climate change literature and, as even the AMS head points out, weather forecasting is different than climate science in significant ways.”

2. What has changed since the 1970’s, when many scientists were concerned about “global cooling”, not global warming?

Adams’ response:

“[It appears that] the discussion of ‘global cooling’ was exaggerated in the popular press [in the 1970s] compared to scientific circles and the scientists were much more tentative about it than they are today about global warming. Moreover, the ‘global cooling’ vs. ‘global warming’ apparent contradiction really is not a contradiction at all. Global cooling scientists were mostly concerned about the cooling effects of atmospheric haze particles, but there were already concerns about global warming from CO2. Of course, today, climate scientists still recognize the important cooling effects of haze particles that have partly offset global warming (the ‘air pollution that has saved us from global warming’ that I mentioned [in my talk]). So, the major change between now and then is not a different physical understanding per se but rather a reappraisal of the relative importance of these two factors. Moreover, there are very good reasons why this shift/reappraisal has taken place. First, with the advent of the Clean Air Act [of 1970], our greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase at the same time that we have reduced haze significantly. It is probably not a coincidence that the post-WWII cooling ended in the 70s (circa Clean Air Act). In fact, climate models that include greenhouse gases and haze particles tend to predict the observed flat temperatures or cooling from 1945 to the 70s and then accelerated warming thereafter. Second, science tells us that greenhouse gases will always tend to win in the end. This is because haze particles are short-lived (atmospheric lifetime is about one week) whereas CO2 is long-lived (about 100 years). So, even if your mix of CO2 and haze emissions cancel each other out in the short term, the haze goes away and the greenhouse gases continue to build up. We would eventually have flipped from cooling to warming even without the Clean Air Act.”

Prof. Adams closed his email to me with the final thought about climate skepticism/denial among the public:

“As long as enough of the public is predisposed towards believing in climate change, trusts the IPCC and/or simply acquiesces when CO2 caps come along, we can solve the problem. Witness how many areas of public policy there are (e.g., some subsidy) where the majority of people think it’s a bad idea but don’t care enough to override the efforts of a determined special interest group. Climate change policy may end up being like that, except in this case, [the special interest] helps to save the world. The idealist in me would prefer for everyone to buy into the science and the need for CO2 regulation. But acquiescence might be the ‘least bad’ of the possible solutions.”

I’d accept acquiescence too — if we could even achieve that. But it’s hard to make progress on responsible climate legislation when the deniers are shouting so loudly, absolutely unwilling to entertain any views other than what they positively know to be the case, and drowning out discussion on the items where reasonable people can disagree reasonably.

I see this as a highly unfortunate development: climate science has become a “hot button” moral issue, akin to abortion, wherein parties hold non-negotiable positions based on fundamental beliefs rather than any set of facts.

At least a little bit of the blame for this must accrue to Al Gore and others of his ilk who make claims that are likely to be overly dramatic, from a lecturing and too-certain stance, that the planet is heading to certain/imminent climate disaster.

But the problem is more fundamental across our society. As long as we live in a point/counterpoint world of people convinced of their rectitude and shouting past each other in insulting fashion — “Jane, you ignorant slut” — constructive dialogue will be near-impossible, and progress (much less resolution) on any important and complex social problem like the climate issue seems beyond grasp.

Richard T. Stuebi is the 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 Managing Director of Early Stage Partners.

Bela Legosi in the House

by Richard T. Stuebi

In a world where people are both tightening their fiscal belts and aiming to reduce their environmental footprint, the topic of standby power — sometimes called “vampire loads” — has gained increasing attention.

Vampire loads surround you all the time, from just about anything with digital intelligence. These appliances suck surprising amounts of power all the time they are plugged in, even when they’re not actually being used.

A recent post on the Yahoo! Green blog provided some very interesting statistics, developed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. For someone paying 11 cents/kwh (pretty typical for the average American), a household can easily blow hundreds of dollars per year on vampire loads. The big culprits are computers, cable boxes and video game players.

According to the post, on a national basis, these silent killers could account for perhaps $4 billion of wasted money in aggregate. Ouch! A sizable market opportunity for entrepreneurs to develop products or services that can put a stake through the heart of these vampires.

Richard T. Stuebi is the 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 Managing Director at Early Stage Partners.

Addressing Cost Concerns in the Climate Debate — Focus on Offsets

By Lisa Jacobson

After hundreds of Congressional hearings and over a dozen legislative proposals, the House of Representatives took historic and concrete action last month to advance federal climate change legislation. Through a largely collegial and efficient committee “mark-up” of the American Climate and Security Act of 2009 (ACES), a deal was reached that earned the support of several conservative Democrats and one Republican. The bill establishes a national cap-and-trade program — with opportunities for domestic and international offsets to help meet compliance obligations while containing costs — as well as incorporating critical complementary energy policies.

The House is now poised to move the bill through other key committees with jurisdiction in June and could take floor action on the legislation as early as July.

Given the current state of the economy, the issue of cost was understandably central to the committee’s debate. Concerns were raised that businesses and consumers would face higher electricity bills or incur other costs associated with the cap-and-trade program. In rebuttal, proponents of the bill spoke about of the economic opportunities presented by transitioning towards a low-carbon and clean energy economy. Clear and sustained market signals that result from the cap on emissions will drive capital investments into existing technology solutions – such as renewable energy, energy efficiency and other clean generation options. This new investment will make our economy more efficient and secure, while creating high-quality jobs in the US. As this transition takes time, offsets provide an important balancing mechanism in the face of economic downturn, for containing program costs while new technologies are developed and implemented.

Another refute to this argument was the flexibility at the heart of the cap-and-trade model. The bill’s cap sets emissions limits that ramp down over time, and the ability to trade results in lower cost compliance costs. The cost-containment benefit of this market-based approach is further enhanced with the inclusion of a robust and high integrity offset program.

Offsets have an important role to play in the coming debates over ACES, both because they provide one of the best rebuttals to anti-cap and trade arguments about cost concerns, but also because they truly have a role to play in moderating the blow of energy cost increases in the short term while still promoting emission reductions outside of the cap. Furthermore, the combination of emissions trading and offsets drives over-performance and technology innovation and deployment, especially when a broad set of offset projects are eligible.

Ensuring the environmental integrity of offset credits is essential to meet desired emission reduction levels and ensure a well functioning cap and trade system. Real and additional offsets must be the standard for program integrity, and independent, third-party monitoring and verification requirements are essential to ensuring that greenhouse gas emission reductions are delivered. The offset provisions in ACES provide a foundation for quality domestic and international offsets to help achieve the proposed US emission reduction targets more cost-effectively. However, leading up to possible floor action, improvements to the bill should be considered that expand opportunities for both domestic and international offsets.

Currently, ACES allows up to 2 billion tons of offsets to be used for compliance purposes. Of this, 50 percent can be offsets generated in the United States and 50 percent can be generated outside the U.S. If, in any given year, the EPA determines that the domestic limit will not be reached, the international limit can be increased to 1.5 billion tons per year, which offers important added cost savings.

A key change from previous draft proposals is the removal of a 25 percent discount on domestic offsets. According to a preliminary analysis by US EPA, this change will result in an 11 percent increase in the use of offsets and lowers allowance prices by 7 percent in each year.

International offsets are subject to discounting starting in 2018, however, which dampens their cost containment benefits. In addition to discounting provisions, international offsets face additional limitations, such as restrictions on the countries where offsets can be generated. Under ACES, only offsets that are generated in a country that has entered into an agreement with the US can qualify. US EPA has the ability to accept offsets issued under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, such as the Clean Development Mechanism, but the current language leaves considerable uncertainty. Because a domestic offsets program will likely take a few years to operationalize, international offsets will be critical bridge to filling the supply gap left by domestic offsets, and providing cost containment in the early years of the program.

As a start, discounting of international offsets should be removed, and clarity is needed on the role of international offset eligibility, especially for CDM projects. Increasing the eligibility of high quality offsets – inside and outside the US — reduces the cost of the program to consumers and businesses, while advancing the objectives of the program – greenhouse gas emission reductions. If the political opposition continues to raise cost concerns in order to question the legitimacy of climate change legislation, offsets certainly provide one crucial component of the answer.

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

Peter Huber: Low-Confidence in Low-Carbon

by Richard T. Stuebi

A few weeks ago, I wrote here that it is often a good thing to read and reflect upon intelligently-crafted opinions that differ from those you hold.

A good example is offered by the essay “Bound to Burn” by Peter Huber, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. In this thought-provoking piece, Huber makes the following interesting statements about the challenges to be faced in moving to a lower-carbon economy:

· “We rich people can’t stop the world’s 5 billion poor people from burning the couple of trillion tons of cheap carbon that they have within easy reach….We don’t control the global supply of carbon.”

· “We no longer control the demand for carbon, either. The 5 billion poor – the other 80 percent – are already the main problem, no us. Collectively, they emit 20 percent more greenhouse gas than we do. We burn a lot more carbon individually, but they have a lot more children. Their fecundity has eclipsed our gluttony, and the gap is now widening fast.”

· “Might we instead manage to give the world something cheaper than carbon?….For the very poorest, this would mean beating the price of the free rain forest that they burn down to clear land to plant a subsistence crop. For the slightly less poor, it would mean beating the price of coal used to generate electricity at under 3 cents per kilowatt-hour.”

· “Fossil fuels are extremely cheap because geological forces happen to have created large deposits of these dense forms of energy in accessible places. Find a mountain of coal, and you can just shovel gargantuan amounts of energy into the boxcars. Shoveling wind and sun is much, much harder.”

· “Another argument commonly advanced is that getting over carbon will, nevertheless, be comparatively cheap, because it will get us over oil, too….But uranium aside, the most economical substitute for oil is, in fact, electricity generated with coal….By sharply boosting the cost of coal electricity, the war on carbon will make us more dependent on oil, not less.”

· “By pouring money into anything-but-carbon fuels, we will lower demand for carbon, making it even cheaper for the rest of the world to buy and burn. The rest will use cheaper energy to accelerate their own economic growth. Jobs will go where energy is cheap, just as they go where labor is cheap.”

· “If we’re truly worried about carbon, we must instead approach it as if the emissions originated in an annual eruption of Mount Krakatoa. Don’t try to persuade the volcano to sign a treaty promising to stop. Focus instead on what might be done to protect and promote the planet’s carbon sinks.”

· “Carbon zealots despise carbon-sinking schemes because, they insist, nobody can be sure that the sunk carbon will stay sunk. Yet everything they propose hinges on the assumption that carbon already sunk by nature in what are now hugely valuable deposits of oil and coal can be kept sunk by treaty and imaginary cheaper-than-carbon alternatives.”

By no means is Huber’s writing perfect: the essay is too long by half, runs a too-circuitous path with considerable redundancies, and doesn’t lead to a very satisfying or forceful conclusion.

Along the way, some of Huber’s snide asides are too pessimistic. As an example, he claims “there is no serious prospect of costs plummeting and performance soaring” for solar and wind energy, but there is ample evidence (and lots of activity funded by prominent venture capitalists) to dispute this assertion.

And, Huber’s clearly got some facts wrong. For instance, he talks of $500/ton carbon offsets and 15 cent/kwh wind energy. If you believe these far-too-high numbers, no wonder you reach conclusions that aren’t very favorable to low-carbon energy sources.

Huber has been wrong before. About ten years ago, he and Mark Mills launched the Digital Power Report, which was touting the emergence of advanced technologies in distributed generation and energy storage to revolutionize electricity supply. Although quite compelling and seemingly well-supported, the perspectives they put forth in their periodical were at best far premature – and less charitably, inaccurate or incorrect. After a run of a few years, Huber and Mills wound down the Digital Power Report, presumably because the world wasn’t turning out the way they were predicting.

But, I still think this latest work by Huber is a worthy contribution to the discussion. Most notably, Huber’s concluding call for much more focus on carbon sinks as a no-regrets approach is hard to dispute.

Huber is no dummy. Many of the points he makes along the way are logically sound, and ought to be factored into any strategy for moving towards a lower-carbon economy. As unpleasant as some of the concerns raised by Huber may be, they are nevertheless important to hear to develop a more compelling story that overcomes the objections to thereby mobilize more real movement (rather than just talk) towards a low-carbon world.

Richard T. Stuebi is the 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 Managing Director of Early Stage Partners.

Fusion, Lasers, and Cleantech Research on a Grand Scale

Thanks to a friend who is an engineer at Livermore, last weekend I had a chance to visit Livermore Labs and the National Ignition Facility when LLNL had a once in 7 years family and friends day. All in all and amazing experience.

The highlight of the show was a tour of NIF, “the world’s largest and highest energy laser“. As far as I can wrap my head around, it’s a massive building consisting of one single, tremendous piece of test equipment, hereby known as “that big fusion tester in Livermore”. Which of course has its own mascot, Niffy, a replica of the baby mammoth whose remains were unearthed during the construction.

Essentially the entirety of NIF exists to hold and direct 192 lasers that after being pumped to full power can be directed at a single millimeter sized target (holding deuterium and tritium) triggering a tiny fusion reaction inside a 30 foot chamber, consisting of the target and a set of extremely intense cameras.

The basic goals of the facility, which is many times larger than Livermore’s previous largest laser, are to enable testing and simulations for fusion bombs with out having to conduct underground tests, and provide a platform for basic research on inertial fusion energy for power, which they are set to begin experiments on in 2010. The construction on the facility is now complete, and they are taking it through full commissioning this year and next.

And speaking of swords to plowshares, who says basic research in the US is dead?

Neal Dikeman is a partner at merchant bank Jane Capital Partners LLC, and Chairman of Carbonflow and Cleantech.org, and a the founding blogger of Cleantech Blog.com. He previously cofounded superconductor firm Zenergy Power, and is a Texas Aggie.

Auto-psy

by Richard T. Stuebi

as published to Huffington Post

Lately, I’ve been listening a lot on my iPod to a number of pop songs from the late 1960’s: “Wichita Lineman”, “Love Is Blue”, “Everybody’s Talkin’”, “To Sir With Love”, “Classical Gas” and so on. These are some of the AM radio songs of my youth, sitting in the back seat of the car while watching the scenery go by.

My parents’ cars were always big and always American – Detroit steel. Although we did own a few Ford cars, my dad generally favored General Motors products: typically Chevy Impalas in my earliest memories, escalating to Cadillacs by the end of his too-short life.

In addition to the music from forty years ago, I remember most of those long-ago cars very well. For some reason, circa 1968, I vividly recall the first time I saw a seat belt, whose buckle was ornamented with the blue rectagonal GM logo, and its motto “Mark of Excellence”.

At the time, partly because of my dad’s loyalty to their cars (how could he be wrong?), I assumed that GM indeed did make superior automobiles. But as the 1960’s gave way to the 1970’s, as I grew from child to adolescence, it became clear to me that Detroit autos – and GM cars in particular – were generally of very poor quality and design.

During that lamentable decade (remember leisure suits, everyone?), between the cars my family owned and the cars we rented on trips, we experienced innumerable lemons during the 1970’s. These cars sometimes didn’t start, they would often sputter and stall, their bodies would rust through, trim pieces would be mismatched or fall off, and electronics wouldn’t work. My brother’s 1971 Chevy Vega was particularly laughable: it died an early death after but a couple of years and maybe 30,000 miles – the cylinder head blowing up one morning when he tried to start the engine.

As a senior in high school in 1979, my parents gifted me with a rust-colored 1975 Toyota Corolla with 75,000 miles on it (a lot of miles for a car in those days). It was butt ugly, and had no carpeting. It couldn’t outrun a tortoise off the line, nor outcorner a garbage truck. It was by no means a chick-magnet (or perhaps that was my problem?).

But, that car didn’t pretend to be anything it wasn’t. It had no stupid gimmicks or features. It got pretty good gas mileage (~25 mpg), was cheap to keep running, and it was damned reliable – as hard as I tried to make it unreliable, with misguided attempts to do my own maintenance (why did I even think about rebuilding the carburetor?)

As utterly unexciting as even that old beater Toyota Corolla was, I much preferred driving it to my parents’ 1979 Cadillac Sedan DeVille, which had the most god-awful bordello velour bench seats and a hideous vinyl roof that started peeling off within months. That awful land yacht clinched it: I had come to intensely dislike GM products, and vowed never to own one. And, I never have, and probably never will. I even avoid renting cars from Avis and National, because their fleets are heavily populated by GM vehicles.

I speak of my personal experience, but I think it is the experience of a significant segment of my generation: we walked away — no, ran away — from Detroit, by our choice. And even though American cars have improved dramatically, imported cars seized the opportunity of the 1970’s and have consistently stolen market share for decades. The brands were broken; Detroit couldn’t win us back.

A radical rethink is happening now across the U.S. auto industry, pushed in large part by the Obama Administration’s policy proposals, but it seems to be all too late for GM. The day of reckoning is now at hand.

The talk today is of the imminent bankruptcy of GM, with outpourings of grief throughout the Midwest, as if the company were dying just now. But, in my view, the company became terminal long ago, when a whole chunk of the U.S. population turned away from American to imported cars. And, the autopsy offers interesting lessons for the future industrial economy of the U.S.

Management was at fault, for designing and offering lousy products in which style trumped substance, and for dragging their feet on advancements in safety and efficiency. Labor was at fault too, for setting unreasonable wage rates, benefits packages and work rules, and for being so inattentive to the quality of the product coming off the line.

It’s impossible to date exactly when both management and labor started travelling down the slippery slopes, and when the decline became irreversible. However, something tells me that the late 1960’s represents something of a turning point — when U.S. industrial hegemony was seemingly permanent, and big American beasts powered by thirsty V-8’s roamed the newly-opened highways across our seemingly endless landscapes.

And while it’s embarrassing to reflect on the outright arrogance of thinking and feeling as if we ruled the world, it’s nevertheless still seductive to remember those sepia-toned days. Today’s economic difficulties, and the possible death (and certain major restructuring) of GM, intensify the bittersweetness of those 1960’s tunes, as we look backward in the rearview mirror to naively happier – though patently unsustainable – days.

In life, I have learned to find more satisfaction when looking through the windshield, to the future. In moving forward – rebuilding the U.S. auto industry, and growing the cleantech and green energy industry at large – we need to bear in mind the sobering lessons of the demise of GM, so as not to plant the seeds of future collapse.

Management teams cannot consistently insult the intelligence of their customers by offering crappy products with poor value. Labor must also keep the customer in mind, by not demanding unreasonable agreements that inflate prices or by producing inferior products. Management and labor must work together in much better harmony – and the unifying theme must be technological leadership to produce customer satisfaction.

If we want to build a sustainable economy, it means we need both economic and environmental sustainability. We need sustainable businesses, producing environmentally sustainable products with an economically sustainable business model – and economic sustainability only comes when management and labor work together to serve the customer well by superior product innovation.

Interestingly, many of today’s behemoth energy corporations – electric utilities and oil companies – are in a situation similar to GM’s 40 years ago. With little competition from alternative supply sources, token efforts to portray their meager technological diversification as leadership, and sometimes haughty disdain for their customers, their brands are weak: customers can’t wait to leave once a compelling option is presented to them.

When that day comes, many of today’s gargantuan energy companies may follow the same fate as we’re seeing now with GM.

Will the U.S. public care then? Will Houston follow Detroit? Will today’s kids be yearning for the songs of “American Idol”?

Richard T. Stuebi is the 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 Managing Director of Early Stage Partners.