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New Pressure on U.S. EPA to Delay Final Mercury Rule

A proposed rule to limit mercury from coal-fired power plants took center stage at a divisive Congressional hearing this week

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jun 17, 2011
Lisa Jackson

WASHINGTON—These days, it would be understandable if EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson began channeling the spirit of former Minnesota Democratic Sen. Ed Muskie.

Frustrated with the automobile industry's vehement pushback on compliance with emissions standards in 1977, the chief author of the Clean Air Act told colleagues on the Senate floor: "Give them an inch and they'll take 100,000 miles."

Thirty-four years later, the debate features power companies' emissions, but the sentiments of the continuing federal government vs. private sector tug-of-war remain the same. In a nutshell, utilities resent the Environmental Protection Agency's recent efforts to fashion a host of Clean Air Act updates that dictate when and how to curb a lengthy list of pollutants.

A proposed rule to limit mercury and other air toxics from coal-burning electricity generators took center stage at a divisive hearing Wednesday.

Bonn Climate Talks End with No Agreement on Kyoto, Finance

The United Nations climate chief defended the UN on Friday against charges that the Bonn talks were painfully slow and convoluted

By John Vidal,

Jun 17, 2011
Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC

Two weeks of tense global climate talks wrapped up on Friday, with countries insisting they had made progress on technical issues but accepting they were still nowhere near agreement in the three key areas of finance, greenhouse gas emission cuts and the future of the Kyoto protocol.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN climate secretariat, defended the UN against charges by non-governmental groups that the talks were painfully slow and convoluted, saying the economic crisis in Europe and elsewhere was making it harder to make progress.

"Climate [change talks] are the most important negotiations the world has ever seen, but governments, business and civil society cannot solve it [climate] in one meeting. Countries are being very creative, exploring all options," she said at the close of the conference in Bonn.

Figueres warned that there could a gap between commitment periods for the Kyoto Protocol, the only global treaty legally binding rich countries to cut emissions — the first phase of which ends in 2012. "Governments can double their efforts and come forward with middle ground solutions and options which are acceptable to all sides," she said.

Obama's Smart Grid Stimulus Creates a Global Player in Colorado

Since entering the smart grid space in 2009, Colorado-based Tendril has quadrupled its workforce and revenues. Now it's landing major deals in Australia

By Maria Galluci, SolveClimate News

Jun 16, 2011
Worker installing a smart meter

Washington's smart grid stimulus campaign is paying off for many U.S. software companies.

Having flourished on the back of federal support, firms are finding growing demand for their services worldwide, as grid operators grapple with upgrading meters and adding variable renewable power to their systems.

Perhaps none has seen a bigger payoff than Boulder, Colo.-based .

The energy management software start-up has quadrupled both its workforce and revenues since tapping into the market several years ago, allowing it to expand overseas.

Tendril provides applications that help customers understand how much electricity they consume and at what times of day, and to set personal goals to conserve energy. Users can monitor and control consumption via smartphones, tablets, computers and flat-screen televisions, or opt for a separate in-home display.

In May, the firm a major partnership with , Australia's largest energy retailer. Origin will deploy a pilot service of Tendril's Energize application suite in thousands of Australian homes later this year, with the potential for mass distribution to nearly 5 million households.

New York City Is Latest to Launch Solar Mapping Tool for Building Owners

The 3-D maps enable any building owner to go online and find out how much sunlight hits their roofs

By Brian Kell, SolveClimate News

Jun 15, 2011
NYC Solar Mapping

Successful marketing often involves putting a product's facts — literally — at customers' fingertips.

That seems to be the philosophy that city officials have brought to their online solar mapping services — and the results have been far reaching, they say.

Since March 2008, when San Francisco first put its from interested citizens, solar photovoltaic (PV) installations in the city have tripled, from 700 to 2,100 this year.

"[It] is the main solar outreach tool used in San Francisco," said Danielle Murray, the city's renewable energy program manager.

That may be so, but many observers say the City by the Bay's rooftop solar boom has been largely driven by California's tiered rate system, in which electricity bills rise as people use more power. And, according to Murray, the solar map has averaged a less-than-arresting 70 hits a day since debuting — though she insists this figure belies the project's impact.

Seventeen other U.S. cities and the German city of Osnabrük have published solar maps on the Web since San Francisco's site went live, enabling home and building owners to assess the potential of their roofs to generate clean electricity.

The map combines aerial images with calculators and other features to provide owners with facts and figures needed when considering whether to purchase a PV system, such as the pitch of the roof and the amount of shade cast by neighboring buildings.

Most of the maps were developed by Critigen, a technology consultancy based in Greenwood Village, Co., and were partly funded by the Department of Energy's .

NYC Map Will Be the Biggest

The map of New York City, the biggest so far in terms of quantity of data and geographic area surveyed, is scheduled to go live on June 16, during the fifth annual .

Nebraska Water Scientists Warn of Oil Pipeline's Risk, Call for More Study

A single study by the U.S. Geological Survey in Minnesota is the sole source for what scientists know about crude oil behavior in aquifers

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jun 15, 2011

WASHINGTON—Great Plains states are risking an unknown level of environmental and economic hurt if the U.S. State Department persists in routing a controversial tar sands pipeline atop the Ogallala Aquifer without further study.

That is the scientific warning coming from a pair of University of Nebraska professors with expertise in groundwater flow and contamination.

In a June 6 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (attached below), the two scientists laid out how their state’s fragile sandhills region is particularly vulnerable to crude oil pollution from a pipeline spill and why a research information gap needs to be closed.

Nuclear Retreat to Add 30 Percent to CO2 Growth: IEA

Germany last month announced plans to shut all its nuclear reactors by 2022. Italians voted on Monday to ban nuclear energy for decades

Jun 15, 2011
A nuclear plant in Germany

(Reuters) - A halving of a global nuclear power expansion after Japan's Fukushima disaster would increase global growth in carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent through 2035, the IEA said on Wednesday.

The International Energy Agency warned last month that a political goal to limit climate change to safer levels was barely achievable after global emissions rose by near 6 percent in 2010.

Governments agreed last year to limit warming to less than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, but the world was poised to surpass that level of carbon emissions, said the energy adviser to 28 industrialized economies.

A halving of nuclear power growth would make the task even more difficult, said IEA chief economist Fatih Birol.

"We believe this huge emissions increase plus the rather bleaker perspective for nuclear power put together make the 2 degrees target very, very difficult to achieve."

Gov. Christie's Energy Plan Draws Fire from Clean Power Advocates

The plan would reduce renewable energy goals to 22.5 percent of electricity generation by 2020, down from the 30 percent of his predecessor

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Jun 14, 2011
Gov. Christie

Gov. Chris Christie's vision for New Jersey's energy future has come under fire from green industry groups who say his blueprint would undermine the state’s national leadership in clean energy development.

The governor announced the much-anticipated draft of his 2011 (EMP) last Tuesday, just two weeks after vowing to withdraw New Jersey from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a regional carbon trading program.

"The EMP supports the development of new energy-related technologies such as fuel cells, offshore wind, and alternatively fueled vehicles while encouraging the developers, providers and support businesses related to these technologies, to locate here in New Jersey," Christie said in a .

But critics of the plan say that Christie sends a conflicting message: he avows to place a broader emphasis on energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, yet proposes to eliminate certain solar energy incentive programs and lower the bar on statewide renewables goals.

For the Ethanol Industry, a Delicate Political Balance

An ethanol tax credit costs about $5 billion annually and is set to expire this year if Congress does not extend it

Kevin Dobbs, Midwest Energy News

Jun 14, 2011
corn field with tractor

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota — Jeff Broin, the chief executive of ethanol production giant Poet LLC, says that if one looks out 20 years and envisions a U.S. market permeated with ethanol-blended fuel products, the country's dependence on imported oil "could easily go away."

And while the ethanol industry is moving toward a position that seems to accept an inevitable end to direct tax credits, government support in other forms, Broin and others say, remains necessary to foster that vision of the future.

Decommissioning a Nuclear Plant Can Cost $1 Billion and Take Decades

Spent fuel also creates new stockpiles of radioactive waste in need of disposal, with few options available

By Lisa Song, SolveClimate News

Jun 13, 2011
Zion nuclear power station

When the Zion Nuclear Power Station in Illinois closed its doors in 1998, plant owner Commonwealth Edison, now part of , thought it would take more than two decades to clean up the site.

At the time, Zion needed repairs that exceeded the value of the 2,080-megawatt plant, and dismantling it was the better financial option, said Craig Nesbit, vice president of communications at Exelon. But when operations ceased, the flow of money from utility ratepayers also stopped, drying up the source of Zion's decommissioning funds.

The company opted to delay its cleanup plan. Aside from removing the main reactor components, Exelon would not begin the rest of the work until the 2020s, by which time the funds would have accumulated enough interest to cover the full decommissioning process.

Luckily for Exelon, though, another option presented itself when , a nuclear waste managment company based in Salt Lake City, offered to take over the decommissioning plan. The company acquired the Zion plant in September 2010. According to EnergySolutions CEO Val Christensen, full decommissioning will cost about $1 billion dollars over the next 10 years.

EnergySolutions can expedite the cleanup because of its technical capacity, said Christensen. His company is currently decommissioning 18 reactors in England. They also own a low-level nuclear waste storage facility in Clive, Utah, which will speed up the waste disposal process.

The move has saved Exelon considerable headache and illuminates some of the unseen challenges of nuclear energy operation. Indeed, other plant operators haven't been as lucky when it came to decontaminating their nuclear reactor sites.

Insurance-like Product Protects Power Developers from Windless Days

Thanks to new technology, risk management firm Galileo is able to offer wind developers an insurance-like product that helps cover losses on windless days

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Jun 12, 2011
Estimated price of Windlock protection, from low (blue) to high (red)

When wind power developers began knocking on the door of New York-based , the firm spotted a chance to help the industry sidestep its biggest hurdle to financial success: windless days.

By offering developers, power purchasers and financiers an insurance-like product that would cover a percentage of losses incurred by spotty wind production, Galileo believed it could soften the risk of wind variability and speed up clean energy development worldwide.

"There is a lot of financing going on in this sector, and people have been contacting us ... about trying to develop products that would be meaningful for the industry and facilitate financing," Galileo CEO Martin Malinow told SolveClimate News.

Galileo, which also has offices in London and Bermuda, formed in 2005 and sells weather risk management protection plans for traditional power, gas, wind, solar and hydropower in North America, Europe and Australia.