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CDM Baby, CDM

By Guest Columnist Sonia Medina, US Country Manager, Ecosecurities

At 24, a recent graduate from Oxford, I thought the idea of joining a tiny consultancy firm doing carbon reduction projects was something very cool. At the time, I did not mind that I had to cycle 5 miles across town to work at a country house in the outskirts of Oxford. That did not have heating during the winter. Not the kind of job expectation one may have when you have graduated from a so-called good university. But five years later, I have travelled a million miles, visited more than 50 countries across five continents, negotiated contracts to build a portfolio of hundreds of carbon-abatement projects and spent an enormous amount of time learning about other cultures. What a ride!

After that fantastic experience, I thought that the next frontier for climate change is the sleeping giant of the United States and I found myself buying a one-way ticket to JFK to ‘try to figure out how to make it here’ as the new US Country Director for that same firm I joined five years ago (and which now has nearly 300 employees, plus heating). In my first three months, it already feels like going back to that small cold country house in Oxford when it comes to the debates about the science of climate change or the rationale of a carbon market that I hear in NY, DC and Sacramento, but with a twist – I have to facebook people the information about my company – something people in the developing world prefer to do over a beer, rice wine or green tea!
Four years ago, our work really picked up when the Kyoto Protocol was finally ratified by Russia, after years of back and forth. It was almost an anti-climax when they finally decided to go ahead after so much playing around. I guess Putin has always like intrigue games from his days at KGB. It was at that point when the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) – a project-based mechanism to generate offsets regulated by the United Nations and part of the Kyoto Protocol – found itself flooded with real demand.

Most of my work these five years has been in building a portfolio of CDM projects worldwide ranging from landfills in Latin America and biomass-to-energy projects in India to industrial energy efficiency in South Africa and China, to name a few. During that time, my relationship with CDM has been of love and hate. There have been days that I thought it was the most fantastic mechanism of the world, that allows people to align themselves to do good, channels foreign investment to clean projects in the developing world and truly promotes sustainable development. Other days I’m convinced that the bureaucracy that the UN has built around the system will make it collapse under its own weight, and I put my hands up in desperation and I think. ”we will never go anywhere!”

But to be fair, even though the process to get an offset certified through the UN system can be onerous, it is also true that the mechanism does preserve environmental integrity, has helped built enormous awareness around the issue of climate change across continents, has created a pipeline of over 4,000 projects across five continents and has issued over 250 million of high-quality offsets in the last three years. Accomplishments other carbon standards cannot even dream of.

That is why knowing the good and the bad on the CDM, it is quite shocking that policy-makers and industry groups in the US totally ignore the work done and lessons learned from this incredible period of growth. It’s especially ironic when funnily enough, the CDM was actually created by the Clinton Administration back in 1997 when negotiating Kyoto. It is important that knowledge builds rapidly because there is no time to reinvent the wheel. When the Obama administration enacts a cap and trade bill, industry groups know very well that environmentally sound offsets are a key price control mechanism. The US could do a double-service to the world and to itself by fixing the procedural issues of the CDM, and adopting an already-created high-quality pipeline of projects seeking to make real emission reductions.

Next Week: The rights and wrongs of CDM criticisms and why knowing the difference should matter to the US

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.

Carbon Offsetting Trends Survey 2008

EcoSecurities and ClimateBiz have just released their survey on carbon offsetting. For those who are members on our sister site CleanTech.Org, we are proud to have supported this project. Thank you to those of you who participated in this survey.

The Executive Summary is as follows:

The voluntary carbon markets continue to welcome new participants on both the supply and demand sides. Companies that previously committed to become carbon neutral appear to be continuing with their offset initiatives in 2008. In Europe, the emergence of the Gold Standard and Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS) as the market leading standards is a notable development. The former is facing some minor supply issues which have in our view pushed up its issued price whilst the latter is working with several parties to establish central registries by year end for transfer of ownership and guaranteed retirement.

The primary markets on the development side are very active with new projects coming on line around the world to meet an increase in real demand for VERs and the expected increase in corporate’s looking to balance their unavoidable emissions. In the US, the rapid expansion in demand appears to favour US-located emission reductions, and this same force is shaping the types of offsets most in demand. Forestry remains a standalone sector, which has a real mix in sentiment from buyers. You either love it or you hate it. Whether the projects are reforestation or avoided deforestation, they appear to have mixed feedback in part owing to the lingering questions about effectiveness, immediacy and risk in investing in said projects. Conversely, the types of projects most favoured by this survey’s respondents are well-known projects which have an immediate impact, projects of the ‘charismatic carbon” variety: energy efficiency and wind power. Landfill and agricultural methane collection projects also scored highly in this study.

Reputation is pushing demand not only in types of offset projects in which companies most want to invest, but also in whom they purchase offsets from. When seeking out carbon brokers or retailers, experience and reputation were the top-rated factors, while project types, locations and price rounded out the top five requirements for offset projects.

Interestingly, despite the growth in project development the market has witnessed increases in primary market prices. On the other hand, global economic difficulties do seem to be pushing secondary market prices downwards, thus squeezing the difference between primary and secondary pricing. This perhaps reflects the reduced risk of developing projects as the markets grow and also an increased confidence among larger organizations in originating their own offset projects in the primary markets, a result that surprised us from our survey responses.

Carbon Offsets Work – Will the Mainstream Media Ever Get It?

The carbon markets are an area of keen interest for me personally and professionally, so it is always frustrating that the mainstream media largely refuses to learn the details.

In general, layman and media who don’t understand the details of the carbon markets attack carbon offsets in two areas, first, questioning whether the credits are for a project that would have occurred anyway (a concept known in carbon as “additionality”), and second questioning whether there are checks and balances to ensure the environmental standards are adhered to and the abatement actually happens (in carbon known as the validation and verification processes). The frustrating part for anyone in the industry is that the entire of the carbon credit process set up under Kyoto is all about ensuring the answers to those two questions. Leading certification firms and carbon project developers have been dealing with the details behind those questions for years.

The biggest weakness of the carbon offset process to date has been that the high level of oversight and protection, while working, has led to higher costs and fewer projects getting done, rather than too many. Bottom line, the carbon markets ARE working, and are pouring billions of dollars into fighting global warming, just like the NOx and SOx trading markets helped reduce air pollution faster and cheaper than anyone expected. Now it’s time to figure out how to make them REALLY scale.

I caught up with a friend of mine, Marc Stuart, to give us a little teach in about the real story in carbon offsets, what matters, what does not, what works, and what still needs to be tweaked. Marc should know, he’s one of the founders of EcoSecurities plc (AIM:ECO.L), one of the first, and still the leader in generating and monetizing carbon credits. Marc, thanks for joining us, we appreciate the time and the teach in.

1. Even for those who don’t know much about carbon offsets, many people have heard about the concept of additionality, and almost everyone intuitively understands it at some level. But it is devilishly complicated in practice. I’ve always described it to people as “beyond business as usual”. Can you explain additionality and give us some insight into the details?

Additionality is the core concept of the project-based emissions market. In a nutshell, it means that a developer cannot receive credits for a project that represents “business as usual” (BAU) practices. A classic and often cited example is that industrial forest companies should not be able to get credits simply for replanting the trees that they harvest from their plantations each year, since that is already part of their business model. A utility changing out a 30 year old, fully depreciated turbine would not be able to claim the efficiency benefits, though a utility that swapped out something only five years old might be able to under certain circumstances.

Additionality is easy to definitively prove in cases where there is zero normal economic reason to make an investment, such as reducing HFC-23 from the refrigeration plants or N2O from fertilizer plants. Such projects easily pass a “financial additionality” test, since it’s clear that as a cost without a benefit, they wouldn’t have been economically feasible under a BAU scenario. It gets far more complex though, with assets that contribute to both normal economic outputs and the development of carbon credits, in particular in renewables and energy efficiency. Sometimes these projects are profitable without carbon finance, but there may be other barriers preventing their execution that make them additional.

The UN has developed a very structured and rigorous process that projects must undergo to prove additionality. It is essentially a regulatory process with multiple levels of oversight, in which a body called the Executive Board to the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (The CDM is the international system for creating carbon offsets called CERs) ultimately makes a binary decision about whether a project is eligible to participate or not. Anchored in the middle of that oversight is an audit process run by independent, licensed auditors, the largest of which is actually a multi-national nonprofit called Det Norske Veritas (DNV). However, many projects don’t even make it to that decision point before they are dropped in the process.

2. One of the benefits of carbon offsets often touted by those who support them is the idea that they provide compliance flexibility and liquidity in the early years of a compliance cap and trade system. What are your thoughts on how that works?

The simple reality is that many assets that emit carbon have a long lifetimes and that legitimate investment decisions have been taken in the past that rightfully did not take into account the negative impact of carbon emissions. For an easy example, think about somebody who is a couple of years into a six-year auto loan on a gas guzzler—can policy just force that person to immediately switch to a hybrid, especially since the used car market for his guzzler has now completely disappeared? Even if society says yes, how long would it take for the auto industry to ramp up its production of hybrids? Now look at infrastructure—for example, most power plants and heavy industry facilities have lifetimes of thirty years plus. Even if we were economically and politically able to affect a radical changeover, simply put, the physical capacity for building out new technology is limited, even in a highly accelerated scenario. So, like it or not, GHG emissions from the industrial world are going to take quite a while to stabilize and reduce.

The point of offsets is that, in fairly carbon efficient places like California or Japan, availability of low cost reductions within a cap-and-trade system is quite limited, meaning there is an incentive to look beyond the cap for other, credible, quantifiable, emissions reductions. Reductions in GHGs that are uncapped (either by sector, activity, or geography), such as are found in the CDM, are thus a logical way to achieve real GHG reductions and accelerate dissemination of low carbon technologies. In effect, the past helps subsidize changeover to the future as buyers of emission rights subsidize other, cheaper, GHG mitigation activities. As caps get more restrictive over time, capital changeover occurs. Offsets allow this to occur in an orderly and cost-effective manner.

3. There have been a number of studies questioning whether offsets are just “hot air” and whether carbon offset projects actually achieve real emission reductions. What is your response to these accusations?

As noted in the first question, the CDM in particular is a market that is completely regulated by an international body of experts supported by extensive bureaucracy to ensure that real emission reductions and sustainable development are occurring. The first and foremost requirement of that body is to rule on whether each individual project is additional. Each project is reviewed by qualified Operational Entity, the Executive Board Registration and Issuance Team, the UNFCCC CDM Secretariat and the CDM Executive Board itself. Plus, there are multiple occasions for external observers to make specific comments, which are given significant weight. So, while there is always the chance something could get through, there are a lot of checks and balances in the system to prevent that.

That said, determining an individual emission baseline for a project – the metric against which emission reductions are measured – is a challenging process. The system adjusts to those challenges by trying to be as conservative as possible. In other words, I would argue that in most CDM projects, there are fewer emission reductions being credited than are actually occurring. It is impossible for a hypothetical baseline to be absolutely exact, but it is eminently possible to be conservative. Is it inconceivable that the opposite occasionally occurs and that more emission reductions are credited to a project than are real? We’ve never seen it in the more than 117 projects we’ve registered with the CDM, but I suppose it’s possible.

4. What about the voluntary carbon market in the US, where there have been accusations that many projects would have happened anyway? How is this voluntary market different from what EcoSecurities does under the Clean Development Mechanism?

The voluntary market has had more of a “wild west” reputation compared to the compliance market. In some ways, that is deserved, but in some ways it is unfair. For a number of years, the voluntary market was the only outlet for project developers in places like the United States and in sectors like avoided deforestation that were not recognized by the CDM. However, because there were virtually no barriers to entry and no functional regulation other than what providers would voluntarily undertake, it was difficult for consumers and companies to differentiate between legitimate providers and charlatans. For EcoSecurities, while the voluntary market has been a very small part of our overall efforts, we always qualified projects according to vetted additionality standards such as the CDM and the California Climate Action Registry, and always used independent accredited auditors. With the emergence of stand-alone systems like the Voluntary Carbon Standard (Editors note: Marc Stuart sits on the board of the VCS), and the growing demand for offsets from the corporate sector, I believe the “wild west” frontier is drawing to a close. [Editors note: Other voluntary carbon standards we watch closely include Green-e Climate, put out by the people who certify most of the renewable energy credits (RECs) in the US]

It is also important to note that while the voluntary market has recorded very explosive growth, it is still a very small fraction of the regulatory market, comprising a few tens of millions of dollars of transactions, versus the potential tens of billions of dollars of value embedded in the highly regulated and supervised CDM. The fact that many observers still equate the occasional problems in the fringes of the voluntary market (which are increasingly history) with the real benefits being created in the Kyoto compliance market is a misperception we’d like to correct.

5. What about these projects we’ve heard about in China, where the sale of carbon credits generated from HFC-23 capture is far more valuable than production of the refrigerant gas that leads to its creation in the first place? How is this being addressed in the CDM and how can future systems ensure that there are not perverse incentives created like this?

HFC-23 projects are the epitome of what is often referred to as “low hanging fruit.” In this case, most of the fruit might have actually been sitting on the ground. While there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that the market drove the mitigation of HFC-23 globally, the extreme disparity between the costs of reducing those gases and the market value those reductions commanded invariably led to questions whether there were more socially efficient ways to have reduced those emissions. In all likelihood, there were. But to catalyze an overall market like this, it is probably important to get some easy wins at the outset to create broader investment interest and this certainly accomplished that. Moreover, Kyoto created a mechanism for engaging these kinds of activities. It would have sent a much worse signal to the market to have changed the rules in the middle of the game. The CDM has subsequently adjusted the rules to make sure that no one can put new factories in place simply for the purposes of mitigating their emissions. I don’t see too many other situations like HFCs in the future, simply because there are no other gases where the disparity of mitigation costs and market value is so severe.

5. Given that the majority of CDM projects currently under development are located in China and India, how can we ensure that these countries eventually take on the binding targets we will need to reach the scientifically determined reductions in GHGs? Doesn’t the CDM simple create an incentive for these countries to avoid binding targets as long as possible?

It is clearly in the world’s interest to get as much of the global economy into a low carbon trajectory as quickly as possible. However, it is politically unrealistic to expect these countries—whose emissions per capita are between one fifth and one tenth the per capita of the United States—to make an equivalent commitment at this juncture, particularly considering that they are in the midst of an aggressive development trajectory. The CDM provides a way for ongoing engagement with these countries, developing the basic architecture of a lower carbon economy. And there is no doubt that China’s emissions in 2012, 2015 or 2020 will be measurably lower than they otherwise would have been, simply because of the current accomplishments of the CDM. Over time, the use of project based mechanisms will contribute to accelerating the development and dissemination of low carbon technologies, which will make those negotiations for binding caps from all major economies far more tenable.

6. It is widely believed that to address the climate crisis on the scale necessary to avert dangerous global warming, significant infrastructural and paradigm shifts must occur at an unprecedented scale. Some people are concerned that offsets provide a disincentive for making these shifts, since companies can just offset their emissions instead of making the changes themselves. Is this something you saw under the EU ETS at all, and if so, how can it be addressed in a US system?

Virtually all of the macroeconomic analysis that has been done of Phase I of the ETS shows that there were real emission reductions undertaken within the system, despite the fact that many companies were also actively seeking CDM CERs. Clearly the fact that both Kyoto and the EU ETS system place quantifiable limits on the use of CDM and Joint Implementation (JI) credits guarantees that emission reductions will also be made in-country as well, so pure “outsourcing” of emissions compliance is not possible. This also appears to be the model being pursued in most US legislation.

7. Many have complained that the CDM system is too administratively complex, unpredictable, and that the transaction costs of the system are so significant that they could almost negate any possible benefits. What lessons can be learned about structuring an offset system in a simpler, but still environmentally rigorous way? What steps is the CDM EB taking to address these issues?

The CDM treads a very fine line between ensuring environmental integrity of the offsets that it certifies and the need to have some kind of efficient process within an enormous global regulatory enterprise. To date, one has to think that they have gotten it about right, as business has complained about inefficiency and environmentalists have complained about environmental integrity. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the project by project approval approach is creating logistical challenges as the system graduates from managing dozens, to hundreds, to now, quite literally, thousands of projects in all corners of the world. Ironically, it is the success of the CDM in terms of its very broad uptake by carbon entrepreneurs that is causing problems for the current model.

We believe the benefits of the CDM can be maintained by moving many project types into a more standardized approach, whereby emission reduction coefficients are determined “top-down” by a regulatory body, as opposed to being undertaken individually for every project by project proponents. For example, there are dozens of highly similar wind energy projects in China that all have microscopically different emission baselines. A conservative top down baseline set by the regulator (in this case, the CDM Executive Board) would enable projects to get qualified by the system in an efficient manner with far less bureaucratic overhang. This is how California’s Climate Action Reserve deals with project based reductions and we think that it could work well for many sectors.

8. Is there any difference between a renewable energy certificate (REC) and a carbon offset? Does EcoSecurities support the concept of selling RECs to offset carbon emissions?

While renewable energy clearly helps lower the carbon intensity of the electrical grid, there are a great number of other incentives for development of renewables in the US, including significant Production Tax Credits, and in most states, RECs or Green Tags. For EcoSecurities, this makes it extremely problematic to claim that these assets are additional, despite their obvious benefits to the global environment and decarbonization of the economy. Acknowledging this, EcoSecurities—along with many other companies—has steered clear of developing REC projects for VERs in the voluntary market. There are other firms that have chosen other approaches, which again highlights the need for standardized approaches like the VCS. That said, we are very active in helping create carbon value for RE projects throughout the developing world via the CDM, where incentives such as RECs are almost universally non-existent.

9. There has been a lot of concern about “carbon market millionaires” profiting from selling offsets, and that the only “greening” going on is in the lining of peoples’ pockets. As a carbon market millionaire yourself, what do you think about this concern?

Capital markets exist to reward innovation and punish underperformance. EcoSecurities has existed for more than 11 years and the founders – of which I am one – have devoted more than 15 years to building up various aspects of the carbon market. For many of those years, as we watched friends and colleagues flourish in other markets like internet and biotech, our decision to stay in this seemed fairly quixotic. But we understood enough of the science of climate change to recognize that a fundamental policy response had to be forthcoming, or we would be heading to a global catastrophe. Now those policies have come into focus and the overriding recognition is that society will need to mobilize trillions of dollars of capital to decarbonize the global economy. As part of the proverbial “bleeding edge” for many years, we were ironically well positioned to take advantage when early movers in the capital markets recognized the capabilities and brand that we had built up over a decade. As for whether that is the only greening – well, I can tell you that given the very conservative and difficult aspects of qualifying projects for the CDM, I am 100% certain that our activities contribute solidly to that decarbonization trajectory and that real emission reductions have occurred all over the world because of our efforts.

10) What lessons have you learned personally about the market as a cofounder of the leading CDM project developer in the world? You must have some interesting lessons learned for the US as you are probably unique amongst your competitors in having been based here in the US for over 10 years.

Thanks for the compliment but actually, I’m not that unique. I started in the market in the early 1990’s when the US was the epicenter of a future carbon trading regime, and Europe and Japan looked at it with suspicion and distaste. Quite a number of us from that era did not give up, but instead spent a fair bit of time since then getting our US passports stamped regularly to search the world for projects. It’s nice to see that we may finally be getting back to where we thought we would be a decade ago—with the US as a driving force for innovation in decarbonizing the world’s economy (coincidentally in a recent report produced by the UNFCCC, the US along with Germany, the UK and France provided over 70% of the clean technology currently being utilized in CDM projects). The US is in a perfect position to learn from the both the successes and mistakes within the first Kyoto iteration and I am looking forward to being part of that next stage as well.

11) What do you say to popular press who don’t seem to believe that Kyoto works?

Honestly, you haven’t seen what I have seen. I’ve traveled all over the world and seen the results of Kyoto, where “carbon entrepreneurs” – ranging from divisions within multinationals to garage inventors on their own—are seeking ways to cost effectively reduce GHG emissions. That simply would not have happened without the market signal that Kyoto created. The fact that the CDM has registered more than 1000 projects and has a backlog of several times that – despite the incredible bureaucratic requirements – shows an uptake several magnitudes beyond what anybody predicted when Kyoto was negotiated. When the managing director of a West African oil refinery is proudly detailing to you the steps he’ll be ordering his engineers to take to help save some 250,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere, that’s when you realize that you’ve tapped into something significant. And having had the same basic conversation in Mumbai, Jakarta, Sao Paulo and Beijing, you realize that people really want to do something, but that you need a little push from a market. That said, we are still in the first tentative moments of what is probably a century long issue and there are doubtless many improvements that can and will be made. But we have undoubtedly proven that the basic premise works.

Thanks Marc. A pleasure to chat as always. Keep up the good fight.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, Chairman of Cleantech.org, and a blogger for CNET’s Greentech blog. He is also the founder of Carbonflow, a provider of software solutions for the carbon markets.

Green Ratings

Food prices have rocketed 83% in the past three years. The World Bank just released the figures. If you are trying to raise a family in much of the world, you are already painfully aware of the crisis. There are a number of causes that are likely to be linked to a climate crisis caused by increased greenhouse gases: draught, groundwater scarcity, eroded soil, disease, and food being used to make biofuel.

People ask if I could provide guidelines on green ratings. There are a number of wonderful organizations with helpful guides to reduce our emissions, often saving money in the process. The following are excellent:

Carbon Calculator & Going Carbon Neutral

www.carbonfund.org

Green Guides

http://www.treehugger.com/gogreen.php

Energy Efficient Homes, Appliances, Lights

http://www.energystar.gov/

Buildings and Communities

http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=222

Fuel Efficient Cars and Transportation

www.Fueleconomy.gov

www.cleanfleetreport.com

Consumer Products

http://www.greenerchoices.org/

Food and Water

http://www.localharvest.org/

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/12/how_to_green_your_water.php

http://edf.org/page.cfm?tagID=1521

Corporations

http://www.innovestgroup.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=169&Itemid=61

http://www.cleanedge.com/

U.S. Cities

http://www.sustainlane.com/us-city-rankings/

Enjoy Earth Day,

John Addison

Bringing Seapower to the Fight Against Global Warming

The cleantech sector has developed as a major player in the fight against climate change. One of my friends, Dan Whaley, has founded a company called Climos to attack global warming in a new way, sinking massive amounts of carbon into the ocean depths using ocean iron fertilization. The approach has seen significant scientific study, but as he acknowledges, still has a ways to go to prove its effectiveness. That is where Climos comes in. The exciting part is the sheer scale of the potential carbon sequestration (on the order of a billion tons) and the low cost (possibly on the order of $5 to 7 per ton, according to Dan). Dan and Climos believe that they can use iron fertilization to sequester tremendous amounts of carbon, play a big part in reducing global warming, and use the carbon trading markets to finance the projects. I was also intrigued to learn more from Dan given the quality of the companies, like DNV and Ecosecurities (LSE:ECO.L), that Climos is working with to help design the carbon abatement methodology, and the care that Climos is taking to understand the environmental science. Like our own efforts in carbon, Dan believes in science and standards first. (On a personal note, I do not have a lot of choice in that matter, as my wife is an environmental scientist and statistician.) As a result, we asked Dan to do an interview with Cleantech Blog and tell us how they believe harnessing the power of the sea can play a big role in the fight against climate change.

Dan, you are one of the new class of technology entrepreneurs who is moving into cleantech. Can you share some of your background, and why you chose carbon?

In 1995 I founded the first company to commercialize travel reservations over the net, GetThere.com. We went public in 1999 and sold to Sabre in 2000. If you’ve booked a ticket on United Airlines’ website, you’ve used an example of the infrastructure we built.

I think that entrepreneurs by nature love big challenges. We like to find opportunities where key technologies, services or business transformations can make a profound difference to the world. We understand that the missing ingredient we provide is the vision and the sheer will to make those transformations happen. We are perhaps at our best when the odds are against us, and when most people say we’re crazy.

A few years ago, I drove from here down to Buenos Aires. Somewhere along the way, I think I woke up and really fully realized that there were some extraordinary challenges out there facing us that were much more pressing than most people had been giving them credit for. Challenges that were much more important than whether people could book their travel online, for instance. GetThere was a powerful lesson to me that I could set my mind to something and achieve it, but it was also a little numbing at times too—sometimes I wondered just exactly what I was really contributing to the world.

By contrast, the energy and environmental challenges we face as a species are exactly the kind of thing an entrepreneur likes to tackle head on. Plus it actually makes a difference whether we succeed or not.

Tell me a bit more about the concept of ocean fertilization and how it could abate C02? Why iron?

Ocean Iron Fertilization (OIF) was first proposed nearly 20 years ago by an oceanographer here in California named John Martin, at the time he was the Director of Moss Landing Marine Labs. He was the first to discover that iron was the trace nutrient limiting photosynthesis, and hence primary production, in most of the world’s oceans.

Photosynthesis uses freely available sunlight to convert CO2 to organic material, which higher level organisms consume directly or which sinks into deep waters of the ocean to be sequestered for up to 1000 years. Clearly we need to lower our emissions dramatically, and immediately, but if atmospheric CO2 that we have already put into the atmosphere is ever to decline, it will be photosynthesis that eventually does the work.

Over the last billion years, phytoplankton (the micro algae that grows ubiquitously in the ocean) have helped to concentrate over 80% of all mobile carbon on the planet into the deep ocean. This process is referred to as the Biological Pump, where after plankton bloom, mature and die, they sink to the deep ocean, carrying carbon along with them. The deep ocean recirculates over very long time periods. The lag between downward flux and eventual recirculation creates an extremely effective trap. This process is probably easily 20-30x more effective at storing carbon than plant growth on land, which returns most carbon back to the atmosphere on short time scales (10-100 years).

A tiny amount of iron can stimulate a lot of phytoplankton growth. 12 publicly-funded, open ocean experiments over 15 years have shown this. The science community is now proposing the next generation of experiments, at moderate as opposed to small scale and potentially funded by private sources. We hope to answer the question just how much carbon is sequestered (not just grown), at what scale can this be done safely, and whether this can fit in to the market mechanisms that have evolved worldwide to fund the mitigation of carbon dioxide.

Who else is doing this and what exactly do you do differently as far as ocean fertilization goes?

Up until now, it has been purely been a research effort, with cruises funded by public agencies such as the National Science Foundation. There are now a few companies proposing to do this, though the primary competitor, Planktos, appears to be winding down operations due to problems fundraising. We decided to pursue this because we feel like this is one of the largest potential tools mankind might have to address global warming. Perhaps our primary differentiator is that we want to make sure that if this is done, it is done credibly and scientifically.

Our Chief Science Officer, Dr. Margaret Leinen left NSF in January. She was the head of Geosciences there and managed a $700M research budget. Her research career was in paleoceanography and biogeochemistry. Our Science Advisory Panel includes people such as Dr. Rita Colwell, the former Director of NSF, Dr. Tim Killeen, the Director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the recent President of the American Geophysical Union, Dr. Bob Gagosian, the former President of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Dr. Tom Lovejoy, the President of the Heinz Center, and so forth.

What is different about what is happening now is that the demonstrations of OIF will be larger, focused on different questions and also funded in part by the private sector. The carbon market is the mechanism that the world has chosen to fund emissions reductions and carbon mitigation, and so if OIF can be an effective way to safely remove CO2 from the atmosphere, that will probably be financed via the carbon market.

How will you verify that the abatement is happening?

To quantify the carbon removed, we deploy a range of sensors, the most important of which are called “Neutrally Bouyant Sediment Traps” to measure the amount of carbon falling past a certain depth in the ocean. Identical measurements are taken both inside the project area as well as outside the project area—this gives us an idea of what would have happened if we hadn’t been there.

There are further nuances which are important to account for, such as how much carbon really ends up coming out of the atmosphere to replace that which is being used at the ocean’s surface. Also, we will need to model the impact on nutrient stocks before they are replenished via deep winter mixing, etc. There many important other details, but this probably illustrates the basic concept.

Can you go into some more detail on the questions of permanence, always a major concern in new carbon reduction methodologies.

The permanence of storage is measured in choosing the depth we place the sensors at. This depth is determined by looking at what is called the ventilation or residence time of water at difference depths in the project area. Because the oceans circulate so slowly, most of the world’s water mass, in fact the majority, has not seen the surface since before fossil fuels began being combusted in the late 1800s. I think that is a fairly surprising fact to most people. By sampling water at depth for signs of human activity which also have a known history, such as tritium from bomb testing in the 1950s or from CFCs that began being released in the 1920s, oceanographers can tell how long any cubic meter of water has been away from the surface.

Putting this to practice, if you sink carbon past water that hasn’t seen the surface for 300 years, and if you know the directionality of circulation in that place in the ocean, you can be fairly sure that this carbon won’t see the surface for at least 300 years moving forwards. This is how we understand permanence in addition to quantity.

The IPCC defines permanence as at least 100 years, so we will likely use this definition—but ultimately the carbon market will decide what that number is, not us. Keep in mind that significant amounts of carbon are stored for timeframes which are shorter as well, i.e. 75 years, 50 years, etc. This timeshifting of carbon is meaningful and helpful as well, but we won’t claim credit for this. Also, the minimum (i.e. 100 years) is just that, the minimum. Much of the carbon will be stored for much longer—hundreds to even thousands of years.

Many people question the value of ‘timeshifting’ carbon. They wonder if we’re creating a problem for ourselves later when this carbon comes back. There are several important things to consider here. First, we really have no other options—other than emissions reductions, which are important—but really separate. There is no other way to ‘dispose’ of the carbon that we’ve put up in the atmosphere already. Nature timeshifts carbon—at some point, nearly all carbon will see the atmosphere again, the question is on what timeframe. The effectiveness of sequestration in the ocean is the reason that the majority of ‘mobile’ carbon has ended up there over time. Second, this approach gives us time to address our emissions problem. People have likened this to a concept called ‘oscillation damping’, where if you have a pulse that takes time X (as in the number of years we have been adding too much CO2 to the atmosphere) then it may take you 2X or 3X or 4X to ‘dampen’ that pulse, depending on its amplitude. So if we’ve been creating this problem for 100 years, and it takes us another 25 years to solve, then we may have to mitigate for several multiples of that. This is an unscientific quantification, but perhaps a useful illustration—and I think it also serves to highlight what a huge challenge we have ahead of us.

Aren’t you worried about the impact on the environment on “adjusting” ocean nutrients? I know that has been a concern of some environmental groups.

I think there are a number of distinct concerns rolled up in your statement. One is the fear that OIF is ‘messing with mother nature.’ Many people feel that humans simply can’t get anything right, and that we if we try to fix what we’ve already broken, we’re likely to make it worse. This is an unscientific attitude, and one that I think also fails to appreciate some of the unique aspects of this concept.

Other concerns are whether a change in the level of iron is potentially harmful, or whether the drawdown of existing macronutrients such as nitrates, phosphates and silicates (which is what the addition of iron triggers) could result in permanent shifts, or deplete productivity elsewhere—i.e. no net benefit. There are a number of answers for this.

First, this is already happening. Iron naturally fertilizes phytoplankton blooms—and these are the largest source of carbon sequestration happening as we speak. About three billion tons of CO2 is stored safely at depth in the ocean every year, and has been for a long time. Iron is a benign mineral. It in and of itself is simply not harmful.

Second, nature has already done more aggressive iron fertilization at scales much larger and for periods much longer than we are contemplating. During the last million years on at least five or six separate occasions between the major ice ages, natural iron inputs to the ocean increased by many times what they are now for thousands of years at a time. Productivity (i.e. plankton) increases appear strongly correlated with these times of increased iron. A recent paper by Cassar, et al this year has linked nearly 40ppm of the 80-100ppm swing of carbon in the last interglacial to increased iron enrichment of ocean waters by aerosol and other transport mechanisms. If iron fertilization simply removes nutrients that would have eventually been used elsewhere, then you would not have seen sustained productivity increases in the paleo record. Where we are now is a result of all of these previous episodes—and more than likely this will happen naturally again in the future, whether humans do it on purpose or not.

Lastly, OIF will be done gradually, over decades. It can be stopped at any time.

The key is to continue to explore this as a potential mitigation mechanism and to see whether it can be both effective and safe. Demonstrations run by scientists, and funded by the private sector which can deploy the capital required for the larger projects, are probably our best chance of this.

You intend to sell carbon credits based on this process. What standard will you use, and who do you expect will be the likely buyers?

Long term if this is to be meaningful it will need to be accepted in regulated markets, in the short term the voluntary market can help provide the bridge financing to get us there. We think the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS) is probably the best current standard, but there are others as well. We’ll target as many standards as appropriate. The methodology we are currently developing is designed around the UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) specification—though since it takes place in the middle of the ocean it will never qualify for those credits without changes to the regulatory framework.

You mentioned you approached the problem from the science, standards and measurement & verification end first. That’s an approach I definitely agree with. Can you go into some more detail? I know you had mentioned working with DNV, among others.

A number of things need to be done before larger demonstrations like the one we propose.

First, the key science questions that will to be asked of this next generation of experiments need to be asked. We will be proposing a series of science workshops with the community this year to help facilitate that. One of the conferences will be on long term modeling. Another will be on measurement and verification techniques. We will be announcing these over the next several months.

Second, a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment needs to be performed by an outside party that reviews concerns in detail and against the peer-reviewed literature, identifying which are likely not an issue, which are questions of appropriate project design, and which need more study. We will be initiating this process over the next several months.

After these processes are complete we will begin to structure our proposed cruise, and publish this ahead of time. This also involves applying for appropriate international permits, etc.

DNV, or a company like that, will be involved in validating the Project Design Document (PDD) after we select a specific operating site, and before we actually go to sea. They will also come on the cruise to provide direct verification of the results.

Many of these general activities are called for by a document we produced last year which we call a Code of Conduct. We think that it is vital that companies like ours operate in a scientific, responsible and transparent manner.

So this process is kind of like planting trees, except in the ocean?

Yes, except it happens faster and the storage is more permanent. Forests store carbon in the form of standing biomass—in other words, you get storage for as long as the forest is managed and preserved. If it burns down, or gets harvested, a large part of that carbon is returned to the atmosphere. Also, if the tree dies and is not replaced, nearly all of that carbon is returned on short time scales (< 100 years). This is not to say that we shouldn’t be planting trees. We should, and we are—the UN just finished planting a billion trees the week before the recent Bali conference. We need to be doing a lot more of that.

Two of the most attractive aspects of ocean fertilization are low cost and large scale. Can you give us some insight into where ocean fertilization fits on the spectrum of cost and potential abatement levels?

We think credits from OIF can be delivered for about $5-7 a ton long term. No one knows what the annual global capacity might be. Certainly three billion tons a year (CO2) are already being done naturally. It is possible that another billion tons annually might be able to be added to this number, but that is pure speculation. Some people have quoted numbers that are much higher than this, but I think that’s probably not a constructive exercise right now.

And of course, when do you expect to be able to offer credits off of this platform, now that the VCS has been released?

We have just received the first draft of the methodology back from Ecosecurities and DNV (Det Norske Veritas) is in the process of a formal assessment. After their comments, and possible revisions, we will submit the methodology to the VCS steering committee. They have told us they will require a 2nd formal review by a qualified verifier, after which it would qualify to be accepted as a VCS methodology.

We will also be asking other peers in the science community to help us evaluate and refine the methodology. They will certainly be the most important check. We expect it will be refined many times as measurement and modeling approaches improve.

The credits of course will be dependent on the successful completion of our first cruise. We expect this in 2009.

Dan, your OIF approach is certainly exciting given the scale and low cost of the potential CO2 abatement, and I wish you the best. It is certainly not a easy task.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, Chairs Cleantech.org, and a blogger for the CNET Cleantech Blog.

"Buy Wind Power, It’s a Breeze"

by Heather Rae (8/1/07)

The Natural Resource Council of Maine (NRCM) sponsored a tour of the Mars Hill wind farm this past Saturday. I went along to represent Maine Interfaith Power & Light (MeIPL) and to talk about Wind Watts, the renewable energy certificates (RECs) generated by the 28 turbine, 42MW project. MeIPL is the primary reseller of RECs from Mars Hill.

A group of about 30 made the trek by bus to the Big Rock Ski Area which sits below the project at the Canadian border. (The Boston Globe covered the trip.) We heard from a number of people involved in bringing the project to life. Dave Cowan, VP of Environmental Affairs for UPC Wind Management, the developer of Mars Hill, answered questions including the usual ones about bird kill and noise. Pat DeFillip, Project Manager for Reed & Reed which constructed the project — with Maine labor — showed pictures of the construction in all its phases. Ryan Fonbuena, a UPC technical manager originally from California, enlivened the crowd with a broad youthful smile, considerable technical knowledge, and a necklace of white shells (he’s been working on a Hawaii project as well).

The Mars Hill 1.5MW GE wind turbines are awesome by its most positive definition: breathtaking, formidable, stunning, wondrous, majestic. Try as I might, I cannot see them in any other way.

We heard from people in the community: a landowner who has multiple turbines on his property and wants to retail products oriented around the wind farm; a real estate agent who sees no decline in property values as a result of the wind farm; proprietors of a hotel; the town manager; the manager of Big Rock Ski Area. All were open and frank about the reasons for the complaints from a few vocal members of the community. Our group repeatedly asked, “is that the noise they don’t like?” expressing concern for the community and trying to get their heads around the complaints. One resident said he believes the opposition to the turbines is one of aesthetics and that leads to all the other complaints…which, he believes, are dying down. He also noted that he received his property tax bill; it’s $200 lower because of the money put into the town by the project.

At the end of a long day, as a thunderstorm moved in, I spoke about Wind Watts. I’m not fully comfortable with RECs for the many reasons that others like Richard Stuebi have written in this blog. However, Wind Watts I can pitch with equanimity, particularly after talking about how the Interfaith Power & Light organization came into being and why it exists: it’s a moral calling to support the planet and people with clean energy. It’s a faith-based response to climate change. Here’s this wondrous project, I could say with a swoop of the arm across the ridgeline and slowly spinning turbines. You’ve met the construction company and the developers, I could say, looking right at Ryan Fonbuena of UPC. You’ve heard what it means to the community, catching the sparkling and proud eye of the Big Rock Ski Area manager. Buy these RECs and you will support this project and encourage others like it.

I stumble in talking about RECs when they become entangled with carbon offsets, as if buying RECs to offset carbon emissions is the only reason to buy them. So I didn’t go there. I didn’t have to. The first question from the group was, ‘isn’t buying RECs simply a way for some people to go about their lives without making any changes, so they don’t have to feel guilty?’ This business of assuaging climate change guilt with RECS (like the business of bird kill and noise) is mass media at work. After a brief group chuckle around guilt, Dylan Voorhees, Energy Project Director for NRCM, explained the whole black electron, green electron, green attribute/REC thinking. I’ve been hearing this explanation for years and I’ll buy into it — so long as new wind is more expensive to build than the alternatives. Before carbon became all the rage, I could talk about RECs for what they are: financial mechanisms to encourage development of clean energy. To jump on the carbon offset marketing bandwagon for RECs is, I believe, limiting. And darn confusing.

Heather Rae, a contributor to cleantechblog.com, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she begins renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

Australian voluntary carbon market Opened

by Nick Bruse

Australia’s first carbon trading exchange opened last week and its now one week on. The initial prices for carbon was set at A$8.50 (US$7.50) per metric ton under the voluntary scheme. Current price isA$8.55 per metric ton. I’ve pieced together my research on the ACX from a variety of stories run after its opening.

Australian Climate Exchange (ACX) established the joint venture aimed at cutting the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and bracing firms for possible pollution limits five years ahead of the introduction of a government-backed scheme.

About 1,600 tonnes of Voluntary Emission Reductions (VERs) changed hands, opening at A$8.50 per tonne for 2007 and closing at A$8.60. The total value of the trades was A$13,610, according to data on ACX’s Web site http://www.climateexchange.com.au/

This compared with prices of 19.50 euros ($26.96) for European Union carbon emissions on the ECX exchange for delivery in December 2008, the first year of commitments under the U.N. Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

Australia has not ratified Kyoto, which sets binding limits on emissions and envisages global emissions trading, but Prime Minister John Howard has pledged to establish a national carbon trading scheme by 2012.

The ACX exchange is the fourth voluntary market, following schemes in the United States, UK and Japan.

ACX Limited Managing Director Tim Hanlin said businesses wanted an opportunity to sponsor clean technology now.

“This is a voluntary emissions trading market and it’s business to business trading of greenhouse gas emissions,” Hanlin told Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) radio.

Carbon trading involves putting a price and limits on pollution, allowing companies that clean up their operations to sell any savings below their allocated level to other companies. ACX is a joint venture with companies trader Australia Pacific Exchange
Reuters

“Under the ACX system, buyers and sellers trade the VERS in minimum lots of 100 tonnes. Each offset unit is certified by the government greenhouse watchdog and must be lodged with the ACX registry first before it can be traded. The registry tracks the traded offsets until they are extinguished – that is when an owner acquits the offset against emissions.”The Australian

The ACX is the first cab off the rank with further initiatives to be launched by the National Stock Exchange (NSX) and the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX)

The NSX, which recently bought a water trading exchange used by farmers, has said it wanted to launch a carbon emissions trading platform next month. The ASX has said it would proceed with its scheme after the federal government’s pricing details were known. The Australian

Whilst presenting an opportunity for companies to begin mitigating their carbon emissions, and also providing a market to source credits for voluntary offset retailes, not everyone is so sure that these voluntary schemes are a positive step. The world bank was quoted in a May 2007 article in the UK paper the Guardian.

The World Bank cautioned that moves in carbon offsets outside the regulated “cap and trade” systems could pose a threat to the development of the overall market. There has been growing criticism that schemes where companies or individuals seek to offset their emissions by investing in projects to cut emissions elsewhere, are either not delivering or funding developments that would have been financed anyway. Critics say that the system needs a greater degree of standardisation.

The World Bank said that on some estimates voluntary carbon offset schemes could rise to 400m tonnes by 2010. It added: “This high potential voluntary sector, however, lacks a generally acceptable standard, which remains a significant reputation risk not only to its own prospects, but also to the rest of the market, including segments of regulated emissions trading and project offsets.” The Guardian

If you would like some more dialogue with the Managing Director of the ACX, Tim Hanlin you can find it here, in an ABC radio interview transcript. There is a conference, Voluntary Carbon Markets, set to be held in London in a few months to address some of these questions regarding voluntary carbon markets as well.

If your interested in understanding the detail of carbon emissions trading schemes, you can listed to an interview I conducted with Rob Fowler from Abatement Solutions Asia Pacific on The Cleantech Show. Rob is heavily involved in helping the Australian Greenhouse Office with the development of the Australian Emissions Trading Scheme. On the show he provides a significant amount of insight into the trading schemes and the process of setting them up. You can listed to the show here.


Nick Bruse runs Strike Consulting, a growth venture consultancy specialising in the cleantech sector and hosts the cleantech show, a weekly podcast of interviews with leaders involved in clean technology research, entrepreneurship, commentary and investment.

Blogroll Review: Credits, Charging, Coffee

by Frank Ling

Don’t Leave Home Without It

Many of us use credit cards to collect mileage point and other non-monetary credits. Now, we can use it to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

GE is introducing the Earth Rewards Credit Card, which will invest 1% of customer purchases into carbon off-setting.

Joel Makower says developing the system was not straightforward. Initially, GE thought of creating credits, which customers could use to buy eco-friendly products. However, it was found that very few people would actually do that.

It remains to be seen whether this current scheme will work but GE is optimistic.

“It’s too early to tell, of course, but Earth Rewards has the potential to catch on with the large middle market increasingly concerned about climate change but willing to make only small, incremental changes, if that. (GE envisions a potential market of 25 million Americans.)”

Priceless! 😉

Charge It

Plug-In hybrids are no longer a hobbyist’s contraption. Toyota has released the first certified PHEV for public road use.

Though it is only limited to Japan, the PHEV can run on household power and uses NiMH battery technology. Jim Fraser at the Energy Blog notes:

“The PHEV is a 5 passenger vehicle with a cruising range of 8 miles (13 km) in the all electric mode with a top speed of 60 mph (100 km/hr). It is equipped with 2 – 6.5Ah nickel-metal hydride batteries powering a 67hp (50kW)/1,200-1,540 rpm synchronous electric motor with a maximum torque of 400N-m(40.8kg-m) @ 0-1,200rpm….Charging time for the battery is 1-1.5hrs @ 200V and 3-4hrs @ 100V.”

Maybe this time, the electric car won’t be killed. :)

Sunbucks

Back a couple years ago when I wandered around China, there were many Starbucks ripoffs. One of them was called Sunbucks. If that trademark hasn’t been taken, then this company may still have a chance to take it.

In this week’s EcoGeek, Philip Proefrock writes about a Pueblo, Colorado company that is roasting their coffee with the power of the sun.

“The Solar Roast company uses a 10 foot (3 meter) diameter reflector array to heat its roaster to 600 degrees F (315 degrees C) with nothing more than sunlight.”

Frank Ling is a postdoctoral fellow at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at UC Berkeley. He is also a producer of the Berkeley Groks Science Show.

Big, Green Power is Flowing – But Where Are the Power Lines?

I had the opportunity recently to speak with Stuart Hemphill, the Director of Renewable and Alternative Power for Southern California Edison (SCE), the power company for Los Angeles and Southern California, on SCE’s activities and views of renewable and green power. SoCal Edison is a subsidiary of Edison International (NYSE:EIX). Stuart has a direct team of 40 staff working entirely on developing and managing new renewable generation, not including the teams across the company that support from legal, operations, transmission, and marketing.

One of big challenges for SCE in building its renewables portfolio is that even though they already stand at 17% of total generation from renewables (which Stuart touted as placing SCE the farthest ahead of any US utility), customer demand in SoCal is growing rapidly – 4 of the top 10 fastest growing counties in the country are in SCE service territory.

But SCE is working to do its part. They have been the leading purchaser of renewable power for the last 20 years and don’t intend to relinquish the crown any time soon. In 2006 they purchased 13 Billion kwh of electricity, about 17% of their needs. More than half of this green power is geothermal, with solar and wind making up the rest. 50% of the power was produced locally in Southern California itself, with most of the rest from Northern California, and the remainder from surrounding states.

The geothermal resources that make up the bulk of their green power come from three regions: The Geysers in Northern California – primarily developed by Calpine; The Salton Sea (better known for its status as a massive migratory bird stopping place and an environmental headache) – primarily developed by Ormat (NYSE:ORA) and CalEnergy; and Eastern California/Western Nevada in the Mammoth Lakes region – primarily developed by Caithness Energy. The wind power comes from all over the state.

In Stuart’s mind, the biggest issue is not supply of green power but transmission. He says they have plenty of contracts in the pipeline. But it takes roughly 7 years to permit and build major transmission lines, and the California RPS itself is less than 7 years old.

So even though SCE has several big lines proposed and under review, he considers it a major limitation to rolling out green power plants. This makes sense, as by their nature renewable power plants have to be built where the ground is hot, the wind blows, or the sun shines, not where the people and the transmission lines are. He reiterated, permitting is a real challenge.

As an example, SCE has a $1.8 billion transmission project to Tehachapi just north of L.A. which has finally received initial approval. They have a 1,500 MW wind contract in place in the region with Alta Wind Power, waiting on getting the transmission built. This is the single largest wind power contract ever developed (it was signed in December of 2006). The Tehachapi region already has 800 MW of wind generation (I drove through the pass just a few months ago – and am always awed by the site of spinning wind turbines), but Stuart says SCE believes there is the potential to get 4,500 MW more, if the transmission is built to bring it down to L.A.

He also took pains to mention a recently signed contract with Sempra Energy (NYSE:SRE) for a wind project which Sempra is developing in Baja, Mexico – I believe one of the only, if not the first cross-border Mexico – US wind farm projects.

They are also active in large scale solar – SCE buys 90% of the country’s solar energy now, according to Stuart, and has signed two recent agreements (2005) with Stirling Energy Systems and (2007) with California Sunrise to buy more solar power – both also waiting on transmission according to Stuart.

Stuart told me that SCE has $17 Billion in capital to be spent over the next 5 years in transmission and distribution to address these issues, but much of the solution lies in the hands of more aggressive stances by regulators and environmental groups, not just SCE. This isn’t just an SCE problem. The US has invested heavily in generation capacity in recent years, but our T&D investment has lagged – and the regulatory, environmental and political hurdles to get new power lines built may be even steeper than those for new power plants.

I asked why they weren’t building the new renewable power plants themselves. He indicated that they were prepared to, but currently saw no need because developers are really active these days – in the last 5 competitive solicitations they have received excellent response (including the 2007 solicitation). In short, there is plenty of interest and capital to build green power plants for SCE, and they have their hands full getting it to market.

When we got to talking about the future of energy in California, Renewable Portfolio Standards, greenhouse gas emissions and upcoming issues that concerned them, Stuart highlighted a few. SCE feels that while it is working hard to do its part, Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) as a group currently produce virtually zero percent of their eligible power from green sources as defined in the California RPS – but like the major investor owned utilities (SCE, PG&E (NYSE:PCG), and Sempra) ESCOs are also supposed to be generating 20% of their power of renewable sources by 2010. Stuart wasn’t sure where that supply was going to come from given long lead times to develop projects. We did discuss whether Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), which don’t currently qualify under California RPS standards, could play a role. Both he and I are personally fans of RECs and view this as an emerging area for opportunity and debate. If the free market is going to help meet our green power objectives, it needs more regulatory permitted tools to do so (the paradox of that statement notwithstanding).

We both also clearly see renewables as part of the overall solution for reducing greenhouse gases. Stuart quickly highlighted carbon credits, energy efficiency and reforestation as the other legs of that broader solution from a utilities’ perspective. But when I put to him the question of what should we be doing first on greenhouse gas emissions, he stated flat out that energy efficiency is the first area in his mind. “Energy not consumed is the best way of reducing any source of emissions.” Of course, SCE is a leader in energy efficiency, too. They don’t intend to be left behind there either.

I must admit, throughout the conversation I was struck by their insistence on maintaining a leadership position in clean energy for SCE. I guess this is just part of the California ethos about leading the nation in environmental issues.

And before I let him go, Stuart asked me to make sure to mention that they are always looking for new renewable power suppliers, and always looking to hire in renewables, so come find him. Their information is located at www.sce.com/renewables, and he can be reached at stuart.hemphill@sce.com.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.

Blogroll Review: Grease, Weddings, & Ethanol

Grease Power
Looks like folks collecting used vegetable oil for their biodiesel vehicles will be getting competition from….big oil! On the Energy Blog, oil wastes and sludge can be recycled into electricity:

“Chevron Energy Solutions, a Chevron (NYSE: CVX) subsidiary, today announced that it has begun engineering and construction of a system at the City of Rialto’s (California) wastewater treatment facility that will transform wastewater sludge and kitchen grease from local restaurants into clean, renewable power.”

Do you want fries with that? :)

Green Wedding
Are you worried your wedding is bad for the planet? Fear not, Wedding TerraPass is now here (at least the beta version). Adam at Terrablog says:

“With your Wedding TerraPass comes a fancy certificate of offset for display at the reception (if so desired), including a nice frame to display it in. The frame is handmade from salvaged Douglas fir, and will continue to serve your framing needs long after the blessed event.”

Did you hear about the wedding rings made of recycled gold?

Ethanol Hyped?
Could these warnings be true? Are we getting too excited about bio-ethanol for fuels? While the debate goes on over the energy and environmental impacts of an ethanol economy, oil execs do not believe ethanol is viable for the near term. Dana Childs at Inside Greentech
writes:

While the petroleum company leaders said they’re keen to see renewable energy sources becoming a mass produced reality, 60 percent said it will not be possible by 2010. Of those that believe it will, 18 percent identified ethanol is the most viable for mass production by then, 13 percent said biodiesel and only 3 percent said cellulosic ethanol.”

Dana adds that in an interview with KPMG “forty-four percent [of the executives] identified their biggest risks as financial.”

Any risks to the beer industry? :)


Frank Ling is a postdoctoral fellow at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at UC Berkeley. He is also a producer of the Berkeley Groks Science Show.

Gambling on Global Warming

Gambling on global warming? It sounds like a really bad made-for-the-internet soap opera. But apparently at one online betting site, you actually can. So move over carbon trading and Sir Nicholas Stern – Vegas is weighing in on the true likelihood of damages from climate change.

I figured that rated a column on a lazy Friday the 13th afternoon. And while not for the not for faint of heart – here are the bets and the odds listed on their website:

“Will any of the following occur?
Hollywood will be under water before 2015 +10000
A major motion picture studio will be under water +5000
A celebrity sea-side will be under water bef 2015 +500
“Water World” becoming a reality +30000

Which will cause more damage in California?
Global warming +5000
Earthquakes -9999″

You can look it up at BetUs.com under their sportsbook “other”. According to one news story on the subject, they have received over 3,000 bets.

My preference, let’s just invest in cleantech and next generation energy technologies and actually try to solve the problem, but if you happen to prefer to spend your money in casinos, be my guest.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.

Goring Gore

by Richard T. Stuebi

In the past few weeks, not even March Madness has matched the competitive intensity with which climate skeptics have piled on Al Gore for his personal energy consumption patterns.

In the unlikely event that you’ve missed this story, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research (TCPR) reviewed Gore’s electricity bills from his Nashville mansion and calculated his energy consumption levels at 20 times the national norm.

Clearly, TCPR had been awaiting the right time to release their findings for maximum embarrassment to Gore, seeking to undermine his credibility on the issue of climate change, as they just happened to announce their findings on February 27: the day after Gore and his colleagues had won the Academy Award for Best Documentary for An Inconvenient Truth.

TCPR release

TCPR didn’t even try to appear unbiased: instead of just laying out the facts, they revealed their open contempt for Gore in the first sentence by opining that he “deserves a gold statue for hypocracy.”

The story tapped a groundswell of public opinion, and seems to have legs: last week, Gore testified on climate change at the U.S. Senate, and had to endure the humiliating fate of being chastised for his energy use by the infamous Senator James Imhofe, who stands by his claim that climate change is the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on Americans.

MSNBC story

Gore pointed out in his testimony that he purchases carbon offsets to neutralize the emissions impact of his energy comsumption. That set in motion another investigative feeding frenzy, which surfaced that these offsets were purchased from a company in which Gore had an interest.

WorldNetDaily posting

I continue to be annoyed and frustrated with the novel ways in which the climate change debate gets sidetracked due to red herrings. Whatever Gore’s personal decisions, it doesn’t change the bigger picture: the scientific basis for climate change is getting increasingly clear, the prospects for accelerating climate change are increasingly becoming locked in, and the mandate for taking actions to combat climate change are thus increasingly urgent.

But, I’m also very disappointed in Al Gore. In my view, there really is no excuse for the excessive energy consumption at his Nashville home. With this irresponsibility, he opened himself — and his cause, an extremely critical cause — to ridicule and doubt.

In my view, Gore’s rebuttal that he neutralizes his energy consumption with carbon offsets doesn’t fully wash. It is hypocritical to completely shun personal responsibility for energy conservation, and then ease one’s conscience by spending a few dollars of one’s enormous wealth to mitigate the waste. And, this practice imposes an economic cost to society: if everyone were to wastefully consume energy and buy offsets as Gore does, the market prices for offsets would rise far more than otherwise would have been the case than if everyone were prudent consumers of energy.

Further, if it’s true that Gore buys his carbon offsets from a company in which he has a stake….well, there’s nothing illegal about that, but the optics sure don’t look good. Gore’s too smart to be this stupid. But then again, let’s not forget that Gore was somehow able to lose an election to George W. Bush — George W. Bush! — even when Gore held the massive advantages of incumbency and the strong tailwinds of 8 years of peace and economic health in the U.S.

The spate of recent bad press about Gore serves to impede the growth of a vibrant carbon offset market. Most Americans haven’t heard of or don’t understand carbon offsets, and they will have a “bad taste in their mouth” about them as a result of this high-visibility exposure.

More significantly, the TCPR findings have created a new tactic for climate change deniers to pursue. Their message: even Al Gore can’t “walk the talk”, therefore, we don’t have to do anything about climate change. Hopefully, the lack of logic in this argument will reveal itself quickly to the American public. As Abraham Lincoln said, “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

However, shame on Gore for putting us all through this by his ill-advised energy choices. With his Oscar win, it seems as if he’s truly joined the Hollywood “limousine liberals” who are viewed with contempt — and whose positions are therefore summarily dismissed — by many due to their perceived “out-of-touchness” with common Americans.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.