Tuesday, September 30

Lloyds Warns Of Climate Change Risk

Insurers predict losses as high as $150 Billion for Australian coastal properties

A new report published by Lloyd's and Risk Management Solutions warns that without adaptation, insurance losses from coastal flooding for high-risk properties could double by 2030.

Lloyd's chief executive Richard Ward says: ''With over half the world's population expected to live within 100 kilometres of the coastline in 25 years' time, it is imperative that we address this risk now by starting to adapt.

''The world cannot insure its way out of climate change, but the insurance industry can play a key role in the fight against it by encouraging adaptation. ''If this doesn't happen, insurance will become more expensive and less available.''

Because rising sea levels threaten all coasts, insurers can't diversify risk.

The insurance sector has hundreds of thousands of coastal property and other key infrastructure on its general insurance books, but developers, insurers and governments are all grappling with the impact of predicted rising sea levels on homes in low-lying areas close to the sea.

In Australia, insurers are suggesting a fund into which owners of low-lying land would pay a regular levy for compensation when sea levels cause their land to become permanently unusable.

The Insurance Council of Australia has estimated that over the past 12 months, severe weather has already cost about $2.2 billion in insured losses. One general insurer has estimated that the value of Australian coastal property at risk to rising sea levels and erosion is between $50 billion and $150 billion.

Detailed vulnerability mapping would be available there in 2010, yet it would not ban development or predict sea level rise precisely.

That is partly because mapping likely sea level rise could greatly diminish coastal property values, the cornerstone of the wealth of thousands of families.

Related stories:
Investors Demand Climate Risk Disclosures
Who Will Pay The Costs Of Climate Change?

For Matter Network

Bailout Failure Brings Last Chance For Renewables

In Wall Street woes, a ray of hope for renewable energy

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, offered new hope this morning that House Democrats might now be more open to compromise in the wake of the defeat of a $700 billion Wall Street bailout package, which sent the stock market plummeting more than 700 points.

Economic experts warn that millions of Americans could lose their jobs if a rescue plan doesn’t pass.

Clean energy "green-collar" employment studies have shown that somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 U.S. jobs are at stake at a time when the economy is in a meltdown.

SolarCity's CEO Lyndon Rive said today “This is something that could create tens of thousands of jobs. The financial industry has collapsed, the construction industry has collapsed. The housing industry has collapsed. And solar is still growing. This will cause it to collapse … And if political leaders can’t see this, I can’t understand what they’re thinking.”

Most painfully for Democratic leaders, they hoped to count the renewable-energy tax breaks as a significant achievement of the 110th Congress, one that had passed the House in the "the first hundred hours" in January of 2007.

The four national renewable energy trade associations representing the geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind industries weighed in yesterday with a joint statement to Congress saying, "with hundreds of thousands of American jobs and billions of dollars in clean energy investment at risk, we urge Congressional Leaders not to leave for the election recess until a House-Senate agreement is reached on the pending tax extender package."

Leading Senate tax writer Baucus (D-Mont.) predicted that House Democrats might now be more amenable to compromise with Senate Republicans on funding, faced with the prospect of letting renewable energy tax breaks expire while the nation’s economy teeters on the brink of recession. There is no possible Senate Republican compromise, so it is entirely up to House Leader Steny Hoyer to move House Democrats in the direction of the successful Senate version passed last week with a 93-2 veto-proof majority.

“There are more dynamics in play now,” he said, speaking of how the bailout would affect negotiations on tax cuts. “Things are related.”

Indeed, by days end Tuesday the Wall Street Journal reported that on Wednesday night the new Wall Street omnibus bailout vote will include the Senate version of the renewable energy and other business tax credits extension.

Related stories:
Renewable Energy Bill Endangered As Congress Ends
House Fully Funds Renewable Energy Act, Possibly Sinking It
On 9th Attempt, Senate Passes Clean Energy Provisions

Via The Hill
Photo by Flikr user Visschman
For Matter Network

Renewable Energy Endangered As Congress Ends

House-Senate impasse jeopardizes extension of expiring renewable energy tax credits in final four days.

Last week the Senate passed the first ever clean energy bill with a presidential veto-proof majority, a well constructed renewable energy bill that ensured the stable growth of the wind industry and solar power and other renewable energy sources.

They were able to bypass the Republican clean energy filibuster only by attaching it to essential must-pass bills on disaster relief and an AMT extension, allowing some dirty energy breaks along with the clean energy provisions, and by not hitting up oil companies to fund it.

But Friday, against dire warnings from Senate leaders not to mess with even a word of the bill's fragile construction, the House disentangled the must-pass AMT and disaster relief provisions from the renewable energy extensions, and removed the dirty energy provisions (which could have been stripped out later under carbon legislation) and passed the bills separately.

Even though the House approved a stand-alone package of renewable energy tax incentives extensions by a vote of 257-166 it was obvious that this stand-alone, fully paid for strategy (the solar credits alone have been tried 5 times now) would die in the Senate.

The House plan was fully offset at the insistence of House Democrats, and the Senate package was only partially paid for as part of a delicate bipartisan compromise that allowed the bill to advance after months of stalemate.

By rearranging the renewables and the essential must-pass bills into completely separate votes, while these all passed the House easily, the House destroyed the chances of passage for the renewable provisions apon return to the Senate for the final version.

Now, over a weekend session primarily to deal with Wall Street woes, both Houses worked on finding a new combination that might work. House Democrats last night added the lure of funding for rural counties to try to end the impasse, but Senate tax leaders quickly called the House proposal inadequate.

While some lawmakers have pushed the House to include the county funding, this and other changes to the House plan do not appear to have appeased senators who say, with some experience in their multiple previous attempts, that their year-end tax package is the only one that could have won the needed 60 Senate votes.

The two versions of the energy bill, HR 6049 and HR7060 will have their final chance this week, but there is little chance of resolution of these essentially irreconcilable differences. With just four days left, the 110th congress, which began on such high hopes for clean energy, could end leaving unresolved a standoff that has delayed billions of dollars in incentives for alternative power, energy-efficient buildings and other technologies.

Related stories:
House Fully Funds Renewable Energy Act, Possibly Sinking It
On 9th Attempt, Senate Passes Clean Energy Provisions

Graph showing effect of expiring PTC

For Matter Network

Friday, September 26

House Fully Funds Renewable Energy Act, Possibly Sinks It

Clean energy has high peaks to scale to bypass Republican resistance back in the filibuster-prone Senate

This afternoon, the House with its large majority of Democrats easily passed H.R. 7060, the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Tax Act of 2008, that had passed the Senate last week as The Renewable Energy and Extension Act of 2008.

Yippee ! right? Sadly, no.

No, now it goes back to the Senate again with a small change. Because the House fully funded it under return to Pay-as-you-go rules that Pelosi demanded the House adhere to at the beginning of the Democrats taking the House majority in 2007.

It is one thing to be so high minded in the House, where support for clean energy rules. But the Senate has enough Republicans to prevent passage. There are never enough votes to get clean energy past the 60 vote Republican filibuster otherwise with an almost evenly split 51/49 Senate.

And as each part must be agreed to, this fiscal decency on Pelosi's part could sink the bill back in the Senate. To say nothing of a Bush veto. He has repeatedly said he would veto any energy bill funded by taxes on oil profits.

Without the veto-proof vote of last weeks Senate version 93-2, Bush would have veto power again over the bill. The Senate version had cleverly bypassed the filibuster by wrapping the bill together with disaster relief for disaster victims of Hurricane Ike, who are predominantly the constituents of Republican Senators in the South, and the AMT fix, making it almost impossible to fail passage.

But the House separated these out into a separate bills, a fatal move. It also stripped the bill of concessions on high carbon energy provisions, again, needed to secure passage in the Senate, and that could have been easily overturned in later legislation on carbon emissions under a new administration.

“We are in peril if the House does not take up and pass this legislation (as is),” Cantwell (D) said: "that Senate bill was massaged as much as it can be.”

Quoting Nancy Pelosi's office press release this afternoon, these differences included:
"This bill offers the Senate a chance to support a two year extension of tax relief to create jobs and strengthen the American economy, paid for by offsets Senators have already supported in other legislation.

Unlike the Senate’s proposal, it is does not add to the national debt -- using provisions that passed the Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 93 to 2 and another already passed by the Senate and signed into law by the President to fully offset the cost of extending this critical tax relief.

The offsets close loopholes allowing corporations and executives to avoid U.S. taxes by shipping jobs and investment overseas, curtail unnecessary tax subsidies for big, multinational oil and gas companies, and provide for broker reporting of customer’s basis in securities.

It is time for Senate Republicans to join us in extending important energy, business and individual tax incentives in a fiscally responsible way that does not require America to borrow additional tens of billions of dollars from foreign countries. Now more than ever, it is critical that we do not continue to add unnecessarily to the national debt, which has surged to nearly $10 trillion due to the fiscal irresponsibility of the Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans.

Tax Incentives for Renewable Energy to Spur Green Jobs and American Energy Independence ($15 billion; similar to Senate)

  • Eight-year extension of the investment tax credit (ITC) for solar energy.
  • Multi-year extension of the production tax credit (PTC) for energy derived from biomass, geothermal, hydropower, waves and tides, landfill gas and solid waste (through September 30, 2011).
  • One-year extension of the PTC for energy derived from wind.
  • Incentives for carbon capture and sequestration demonstration projects.
  • Incentives for the production of homegrown renewable fuels, such as biodiesel and renewable diesel, and for the installation of E-85 pumps for consumers to fill up flex-fuel vehicles.
  • Tax credits of $3,000 or more toward the purchase of fuel-efficient, plug-in hybrid vehicles.
  • Incentives for energy conservation in commercial buildings, residential structures, and energy efficient appliances."

The renewable energy provisions themselves are unchanged. (The EV credits still do go up to $5,000.) So now the ball is back in the Senate court.

Possibly Pelosi and Reid are playing a clever game of chicken that they know they can win. After all, back when this bill was the Baucus amendment in December, and fully funded, just like Pelosi's version today, and not tied to disaster relief or the AMT, it did get 59 votes - only 1 vote short -- McCain did not vote, securing failure for the Energy Bill of 2007.

Related stories:
On Ninth Attempt, Democrats Pass Clean Energy Provisions
McCain's 50 Votes Against Clean Energy
How Obama Has Voted On Clean Energy

Graph from opensecrets.org

For Matternetwork

Computers Go Anywhere, So You Don't Have To

Cisco and Amsterdam start a satellite system of multiple Smart Work Centers near home for computer workers

If you're like me ---and probably half the American work force, a computer is your workspace.

So imagine, if instead of driving 20 miles to get to that computer you did the same job but telecommuted from a fully equipped communal office set up a mere 15 minute walk from your home?

Currently, we all commute great distances just to wind up parked in front of a computer somewhere.

We have computers at home, but telecommuting doesn't work for everyone. Maybe your home computer won't run the fancy math necessary to engineer those molecular chemical bonds you build, or maybe your boss just isn't comfortable with the idea of you working in your jammies.

Still, we're doing a ridiculous amount of driving, just to do something that can be done just as efficiently much closer to home. The solution? How about a network of well-equipped work spaces only a 15-minute walk from home? What would it take? Well:

* Office space (that someone cleans at night)
* Computers (good ones with high speed internet etc)
* Virtual meeting video conferencing (like TV pundits use)
* Power supplied using clean energy (to lower your carbon footprint even more)
* High-end catering services (in case you are too pooped to walk home for lunch)
* Proximity to public transportation, and a freeway (for now)
* Quiet private work spaces (if you really need to focus)
* Open work spaces (illustrated above)
* Public area for companionship (to replace the office cooler)
* On-site daycare (so you don't have to drive anywhere else before work)

Give it snappy name; something like the Smart Work Center, and then build more of them only 15 minutes apart. Maybe every new apartment building should have its own Smart Work Center.

Say you're an escrow writer. Instead of driving 20 miles to an office full of escrow people, you'd walk your 15 minutes and share space with, say, a sitcom script writer, three stockbrokers and four telemarketers. (Uh-oh... there's the reason for those private cubicles.) Throw in a couple of drug rehab grant writers, a shoe designer and a repo man, and wouldn't that be an interesting place to work?

Since you all live in the same neighborhood, this would cut down on the play-date driving for your kiddies, too, because the friends they make at daycare would live nearby. We'd be close enough to walk home for lunch. And if we are on a 10,000-step weight-loss program, why, there's the lion's share of all the walking already. Another walk around the supermarket at night to get dinner, and you're at 10,000.

Meanwhile, you'd stay abreast of things at work by sharing virtual space with your fellow escrow writers. Heck, we're half way to living in the virtual world as it is. I know more environmental activists online than I do my neighbors two blocks away.

This system would be better for the jammies media too. My commute is only 17 stairs down to my computer. While that's an admirable carbon-footprint on my part, that leaves almost 9, 800 steps in my 10,000 steps for my day. I have never seen my editor or my boss, or the writers I share this page with. If I could check in with everyone else at the video story meeting, wouldn't that be great?

Well, the day may be getting closer when I can.

Cisco has taken the first step in creating the first of these Smart Work Centers, incorporating every amenity on my wish-list at a test site in Almere, Holland, near Amsterdam. From there, it's on to San Francisco, Seoul, Madrid, Lisbon, Hamburg and Birmingham, England. But Almere is the perfect site to test out the Smart Work Center, because the town expects to double its number of inhabitants by 2030. It will need 60,000 new houses and 100,000 new jobs, making it a good candidate for a network of work centers.

It also has a mayor who gets it.

"We want to invest in modern employer practice and make lifestyle changes in order to preserve the environment," says Annemarie Jorritsma, Almere's mayor. "We need new knowledge to help us make our lifestyles and production processes as energy-neutral and CO2-neutral as possible.

"Almere is an innovative city. We have a new citywide fiber-optic network, (and) an innovative broadband solution for high-quality visual communication that enables companies to maintain visual contact with their head offices elsewhere – both within and outside the Netherlands. This is the epitome of globalization."

As a sponsor of the Clinton Global Initiative, Cisco had to commit to creating a sustainable solution to climate change. Cisco has picked a sensible option.

For Matter Network

Investors Demand Climate Risk Disclosure

Investors are becoming increasingly concerned about potential regulatory risks and economic dangers in a carbon-constrained world

A group of 65 leading US investors with collective assets totaling $7 trillion has teamed up with the European investment management firm, F&C Investment to put a halt to Wall Street financial regulators softening of the rules on tar sands reserves disclosed by oil and gas companies.

The Investor Network on Climate Risk and F&C Investment are concerned that the escalating risks posed by climate change have broad implications for oil and gas companies which could impact their future earnings, and that these risks fall into the category of known trends requiring company disclosure.

At a time when governments around the world are taking an increasingly hard line on carbon pollution, these investor groups feel it is essential that investors be able to assess accurately the risk profile of reported reserves.

As quoted in the UK Guardian, Elizabeth McGeveran, senior vice-president of F&C's governance and sustainable investment team said"Understanding climate risk will assist investors in understanding and evaluating reserves. Regulations already require the disclosure of known trends that companies can reasonably expect will have a material impact on net sales, revenues or income from continuing operations, and we believe that the disclosure of any estimated additional risks posed by the extraction and development of additional reserves will be important."

The SEC had been reviewing the regulations on the way reserves are calculated since 2004, when Shell fell foul of SEC rules and was forced to reallocate a quarter of the assets on its books. The move led to steep fines, the ouster of its chairman and a plunging share price.

Three months ago the SEC changed the rules to allow previously excluded resources such as tar sands to be classified as oil and gas reserves that, as with oil or gas, could be listed as probable, possible and proven reserves.

Previously, tar sands were defined as mining materials, and literally speaking they actually contain no oil in their natural state. Only by heating up the rock to boiling point, can any liquid be extracted. However, such large quantities of heat are required to obtain a usable fuel from the rock means that this is a far less efficient source of energy than conventional oil.

"The energy consumption required to extract a barrel from Canadian tar sands is very different to a barrel of crude from the Gulf of Mexico."said McGeveran. As oil prices rise, companies that use a lot of oil in ratio to the product they sell are obviously far more impacted by price rises. Tar sands mining has an input of 1 unit of fossil energy in for every 3.5 units of energy (their product) out. The lower this ratio, the more the cost of producing oil from shale will rise as fossil energy prices go up.

But mostly, this unusually high carbon method of extraction means that the climate impact of tar sands mining is much worse than that of regular oil and gas. So the move reflects changing attitudes among a very large group of mainstream investors about the impact of commercial activities that could worsen global warming. This group of institutional investors, among them the California Public Employees' Retirement System, Ceres and Parnassus Investments have signed a letter of concern about the tar sands proposals and called for the new carbon implications to be taken into account.

Ceres president Mindy Lubber says that there is a need for financial institutions to evaluate these kind of projects with carbon prices that reflect their true long-term costs once carbon-reducing regulations take hold around the world.

"Much of the problem is our reliance on outdated accounting systems. Our economy uses accounting systems that are precise in measuring capital goods and profits, but weak in measuring natural and human resource impacts. This narrowly-defined accounting system means that companies are often able to "externalize" natural resource costs. In other words, they can emit global warming pollution for free without paying for environmental damage. Society and taxpayers shoulders these costs instead."

We're now seeing the capital markets begin to incorporate the external costs of global warming, especially in Europe where government-supported trading systems and pricing mechanisms for every ton of carbon dioxide emitted have fostered a $30 billion a year carbon emissions trading program. "

Therefore, filers of reserves should be required to provide investors with information about the carbon content of proven, probable and potential oil reserves in their portfolio as well as the potential liabilities posed by their continued extraction and use.

Photo S. Jocz

For Matternetwork

McCain's Green Talk Contradicts His Actions

At a Clinton Global Initiative event, McCain again convinces the media to report a green-friendly position.

On Thursday, Senator John McCain participated in an event sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. He used the event to present himself as someone who is allied with Democrats like Gore and Clinton and other movers and shakers on clean energy.

"McCain declared his support for efforts to combat global warming," according to the Washington Post, "dropping his stump speech demands to 'drill here, drill now' in favor of more 'green' rhetoric that would appeal to the crowd at the conference."

McCain said, as quoted by the Post, said "To make the great turn away from carbon-emitting fuels, we will need all the inventive genius of which America is capable," he said. "We will need as well an economy strong enough to support our nation's great shift toward clean energy."

The Boston Globe reported: "While some in his own party, including running mate Sarah Palin, have expressed doubts about how much human activity is fueling climate change, McCain expressed no such doubts."

"We now know that fossil fuel emissions, by retaining heat within the atmosphere, threaten disastrous changes in climate," said McCain. "Over time, we must shift our entire energy economy toward a sustainable mix of new and cleaner power sources."

McCain was one of the first Republican senators to press for action on climate change, but he strongly supports nuclear power as the most effective "clean" energy source. His campaign and public appearances continue to contradict his voting record.

As previously reported, a look at McCain's Senate energy votes reveals that he aligns almost vote for vote with those of Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, the member of Congress who has most strongly opposed implementing clean energy. McCain has had 50 opportunities to support the very clean energy agenda he describes, and he has taken all 50 legislative opportunities to vote against it. McCain has voted, like the majority of Republicans, against this clean energy vision.

Participants at the Clinton Global Initiative are asked to take concrete steps to tackle specific global problems before participating in the events. What commitment has McCain made to warrant his use of the Clinton Global Initiative as a backdrop for greenwashing his true record on global warming?

The next American president will be an important player in determining whether this nation can transition to a new carbon-constrained world, or will be left behind in a fossil-based economy.

Perhaps McCain's Clinton Global Initiative commitment should be to let the world know his real energy position.

For Matternetwork

Tuesday, September 23

On Ninth Attempt Democrats Pass Clean Energy Provisions

Only one third of the 2007 Energy Bill made it through the split Senate last December. Tonight, a good part of the remainder flopped across the finish line.
After multiple attempts, last night the Senate succeeded in passing the Baucus-Grassley Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 on the ninth attempt for most of its renewable energy provisions. The difficulty of passing these provisions stems from the fact that too few Senate Republicans support clean energy or believe that climate change is a concern. A glance through these 50 times that McCain voted against clean energy other than nuclear power shows that for the most part the Republicans voted 50 times against clean energy too: for coal and oil, against solar and wind, waves and geothermal.

Although the Senate currently has a 51/49 Democratic "majority", it is still almost impossible to pass any legislation that the Republicans don't support because before the Senate can vote, first they must vote to vote: 60 must agree to have that vote-to-vote: the cloture vote. As a result, contrary to what most people believe, the Democrats don't need a mere 51 votes to pass legislation, they actually need 60 to hurdle the initial cloture-vote.

This 60 cloture-vote problem leads to a great deal of frustration. Voters become disgusted with the apparent ineffectiveness of "the congress" while not understanding the reason, and become apathetic and cynical. But it would be better if we just faced the reason for the difficulty, realizing that only by our succeeding in voting in a 60-40 majority Senate (either way), will the Senate be able to achieve whatever we sent them there for.

But this Baucus amendment was different. It had come within a hairs breadth of passage last December with a 59 cloture-vote. It had bipartisan support. You need 66 votes to prevent a White House veto, and typically, the Bush White House has also not supported Democratic energy bills. But this time around the Baucus/Grassley bill has not only easily hurdled its cloture of 60, but Baucus-Grassley has passed tonight with a decidedly veto-proof 93-2.

The extension for production tax credits for wind and solar had failed repeatedly: the Republicans fillibustered the cloture-vote eight times to prevent it.The funding mechanism had also failed previously because the Senate Republicans did not support reducing oil company subsidies.

Nevertheless, this bill funds renewable provisions by freezing a tax break for oil and gas companies at the current rate and tightening the rules on the taxes that oil and gas companies pay on income earned overseas, creating the $17 billion in funding needed. It was also partly offset with new limits on hedge-fund managers' ability to defer taxes on compensation they hold overseas.

Republicans gave up on preventing taxes on fossil fuels, but gained supports for tar-sands and oil shale development: refiners would be able to write off investments faster. Democrats also made concessions that weakened the clean energy aspects. But it passed. Until we have 60 Democrats in the Senate, we will not pass the meaningful renewable energy legislation our country needs to prevent climate change. But for now, this is what we got:

  • An extension of the production tax credit (PTC) for wind for one year, and the PTC for solar, biomass, and wave and ocean tide projects for two years. Less than Democrats wanted (ten years was the original bill) but at least enough to save the much feared expiration at the end of this year. It includes an extension of the research and development tax credit totaling some $19 billion over 10 years that will help in inventing new energy sources such as such as algae development.

  • Buyers of plug-in electric cars and plug-in hybrids will get a tax break of up to $7,500, depending on battery capacity of the vehicle: with a Volt or similar EV at the higher end. (Again, less than the original bill which encouraged the development of commercial delivery van PHEVs and EVs with a subsidy of up to $15,000.)

  • Businesses would get a 30 percent tax credit for investing in solar, wind, geothermal and ocean energy equipment for eight more years. (And this includes home-based businesses)

  • Homeowners could claim a tax credit of up to 10 percent of the cost of all qualified energy efficiency improvements, such as insulation, replacement windows, water heaters and heating and cooling equipment (which essentially reinstates identical LIHEAP legislation that Bush and the Republicans have repeatedly opposed) There are also incentives to use smart meters for more efficient home energy use.

  • Under the Senate bill, solar tax credits will be extended for eight years, for both commercial and residential consumers. It includes a complete elimination of the $2000 cap for residential systems, allowing residential credits to rise to the 30% credit that commercial buildings get, and includes an allowance for utilities to make use of the commercial credit.

  • Residential energy-efficient property credit would be extended through 2016, and the definition of the systems that qualify for that credit would be expanded to include wind investment and also home geothermal heat pumps, which would get 30% off, with a cap of
Given this long and frustrating journey to pass clean energy legislation of any sort, I can perfectly understand Senator Reid's sentiments tonight as he says -- and probably through clenched teeth! -- as he hands it back to the House, where it had begun as Rangel's HR6049:

"If they try to mess with our package, it will come back here, it will die, and we... will have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory."

Indeed, the House with its abundance of Democrats should not assume anything else can pass the Senate with that 60 cloture-vote hurdle. As Senator Reid says--"Don't send us back something else. We can't get it passed."

Related stories:
McCain's 50 Votes Against Clean Energy
Obama's Clean Energy Voting Record

For Matternetwork

Want 48 MPG In Your Ford F-150? You Got It!

If you own a fleet of F-150's now you can get them souped up to plug-in hybrids
This week Canadian conversion company Envia announced another first: their plug-in hybrid conversion of the Ford F-150. They already convert these into all-electric vehicles, as I noted last month.

Now they also offer a plug-in hybrid conversion alternative to their fully electrified Fords, tuning up the world's most popular pickup from a 15 MPG toad into a 48 MPG prince! And all the while, reducing carbon emissions by 63 percent.

CEO Jay Giraud explains why he specializes in conversions of vehicles on the road now, this way"Many people think the problem will be solved when the big auto makers finally launch their plug-in hybrids." he says, "but that will fix only a small number of new cars. ”

He sees the much larger opportunity to reduce carbon in the 275 million cars already on the road in North America than the mere 17 million or so new vehicles that are bought each year.

Envia's conversion of the Ford F-150 gets an all-electric range of 38 miles or speed of 37 miles per hour, before the gas kicks in. The conversion costs $25,000, which would have a payback time of five years at 48 miles per gallon.

Or, hey, if you are not a fleet owner and in the market for a brand new truck, Ford itself does have have plans to take care of this 15 MPG problem themselves: they will be improving the mileage on their F-150 from 15 to a humungous 22 MPG. Eventually, that is. But first we must use up all the oil.

Via the EV Podcast
Street Art by Peter Gibson - Roadsworth: all rights reserved

For Matternetwork

Can A Mining Truck Be Carbon Neutral?

A dumptruck-load of iron for a wind turbine will provide energy for more than 100 years: now Caterpillar will dig it up with a giant EV

While it's not the pleasantest prospect for a treehugger like me to dwell on, there is stuff we need to dig out of the earth, even to build the clean power economy.

I am not thinking here of tar-sands, oil or coal, because we can substitute clean power for these environmental disasters.

But to put solar panels on more roofs, we need to mine silicon. To build the batteries to run an electric vehicle nation we will need to mine lithium. To build more wind turbines we need...you get the picture.

Initially at least, to build turbines and solar panels, the raw materials like steel and silicon needed to make clean energy are dug out of the earth, just like the dirty energy supplies of fossil fuels like oil and coal.

The huge difference is that a dumptruck-load of steel for a wind turbine will provide energy for more than 100 years, but a dumptruck-load of tar-sand, coal or oil will just goes up in smoke in a few hours.

Making mining eco-friendlier is going to be part of a carbon-neutral world. In response to this need, this week at the Nevada mining truck expo, Caterpillar is unveiling a 345 ton all-electric-power mining truck, the worlds largest EV to date.

It will go into production in 2010. They will also display another one at a mere 250 tons, presumably for moving smaller vast piles of dirt, that one will be available in either electric or combustion engine options. 80 year old Caterpillar has a corner on this market: no other manufacturer is attempting to build mining trucks over 200 tons with an electric motor rather than using the 100 year old internal combustion engine. That may have something to do with Caterpillar joining the carbon-responsible industry group USCAP.

In the late 1960s Caterpillar was one of the first manufacturers to try electric-drive trucks but abandoned that line of vehicles with the end of the Age Of Aquarius, but now that we are counting our carbon emissions, Caterpillar has opted for a building a climate friendlier mining industry.

To be environmentally friendlier, electric powered mining trucks would need to be charged using clean power, say from wind, solar, geothermal etc. Currently, mining silicon is dirty because of mining truck diesel emissions.

Frequently wind's greatest potential is out where people don't live (they don't live there because it's too windy) but there is still mining to be done there. Solar is best where the solar radiation is so intense that there's now evaporated seas-full of lithium that will need to be mined there to run all our EVs. Think of the salt deposits of Nevada.

But what if an industrial scale solar or wind farm in those areas supplied the charging power for electric mining trucks. I wonder how much this would reduce at least the carbon costs of mining?

For Matter Network

Photo By Philip Greenspun

Monday, September 22

Recycled Plastic Dutch EV Wins Econcern Award

Cradle-to-cradle featherweight Dutch EV van gets 90 miles per charge and goes to 75 MPH

Here's another European EV we should be watching, now that GM's chairman has tipped us off on the inside dope (I'm hoping) on government plans to tear down the NHTSA wall that prevents us from having access to all the carbon neutral driving options popping up under ECE rules.

The QUICC! DiVa (which started life as the much easier to remember InnoVan) makes its debut at the Paris show in October.

This featherweight utility van EV meets cradle-to-cradle sustainability requirements, and being made of lightweight recycled plastic, weighs in at under 1,900 pounds, including its batteries. It has a range of 90 miles on a charge and is able to reach 75 mph. It can carry 1,300 lbs in addition to two passengers.

So its no wonder that the sustainable InnoVan (sorry: the Quicc! DiVa) just won the "Most Promising Technology" award with millions of euros in investment capital from Econcern. There are already customers lined up for the limited edition next Spring, and it has attracted the attention of Johann Tomforde, the designer who made the Smart so clever, who will help sharpen up the design a bit before it goes into mass production in 2010. I'm hoping he'll take care of those dorky looking lights.

DuraCar's Guido Boosten says that they want to test even lighterweight cradle-to-cradle plastic options and different batteries in this test run including the safer and more durable LiFePO4, saying that the most important thing right now was to get the vehicles on the road and experience what happens in real life, rather than just do lab testing.

LiFePo4 batteries provide full power until they are completely discharged. The batteries recharge in less time and the chemistry is also more environmentally friendly. In electric vehicles and plug-in electric cars, they will typically last for 6 to 7 years, will not catch fire or explode with overcharging, and can safely be fully recharged in 15 minutes.

A123 Systems has teamed up with GM to develop these batteries for the Chevy Volt, and Lithium Technology Corporation has been working with GM, Toyota and U. C. Davis to develop them for all-electric and hybrid vehicles.

Via AutoblogGreen and MetaEfficient
For Matternetwork

Friday, September 19

The Other Sub-Prime Investment - Tar Sands

With 3 times the CO2 of gasoline how can tar sands pan out in the carbon constrained world of tomorrow?

Products derived from tar sands, which have three times the carbon emissions of traditional gasoline, are a risky investment, because new low carbon fuel standards will increasingly close off sections of the American market.

Requirements that alternative fuels must be at least 20% lower in carbon emissions than oil have already been implemented in California, where Democrats predominate in the legislature.

Clean fuel standards are supported by Obama and Senate Democrats who could gain a fillibuster-proof 60 vote majority in November. Given the Democrats' votes to implement the 20% low carbon fuels rule, a majority in 2009 would likely put an end to tar sands oil.

McCain stopped this bill from becoming law by his "veto" of the 2007 energy bill cloture-vote in December, killing the clean fuels requirement and many other clean energy requirements, but it will come up for a vote again, and in the meantime, voters are becoming more aware of the dangers of scraping the bottom of this barrel while climate catastrophe looms.

The Guardian quotes Mark Hoskin, senior partner at investment advisors Holden & Partners as saying, “There is a good chance that tar sands could be to the oil industry what sub-prime lending was to the banking sector.

The recent banking crisis has shown how the financial markets can totally misjudge both the risks and values inherent in company balance sheets. Oil companies depend on oil reserves for their market values. "

DesmogBlog lists the sub prime aspects of this ghoulish bet against the environment:

Oil sands mining is licensed to use twice the amount of fresh water that the entire city of Calgary uses in a year.
At least 90% of the fresh water used in the oil sands ends up in ends up in tailing ponds so toxic that propane cannons are used to keep ducks from landing.
Processing the oil sands uses enough natural gas in a day to heat 3 million homes.
The toxic tailing ponds are considered one of the largest human-made structures in the world. The ponds span 50 square kilometers and can be seen from space.
Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil.

So, why would you invest in a fuel that is likely not going to even be legal within a decade? I guess you would be counting on a McCain/Palin victory.

Related stories:

McCain's 50 Votes Against Clean Energy
Obama's Clean Energy Voting Record
Queensland Premier Follows In Rudd's Carbon Footsteps

Via Mathew McDermott

For Matternetwork

Why Move Your Green Business To A Brown State

Miles expands to Montana and ZAP moves to Kentucky: NEV sales surge, and better yet...

Like most new startup companies, Miles EV is headquartered in a "Green" state: one that promotes innovation in the new green economy.

Miles is one of several EV startups in California. It builds neighborhood electric vehicles: speed-limited to 25 mph, for customers like NASA, UCLA and CalState Polytech.

But recently, a resort in Montana just bought a bunch of them.

With $4 a gallon gas, even in "Brown" states, people are more open to the idea of EVs, even if just for economic motivations. One guy got local laws changed so he could drive an actual golf-cart on city streets. The one he bought 20 years ago for $300 can get 20 miles on an overnight charge.

When ZAP moved to Kentucky their sales doubled: to $737,000 for August. Kentucky was a "Brown" state. There's plenty of little NEVs already zapping around my neighborhood Berkeley in "Green" California. Small eco businesses like flower deliveries and solar installers seem to like their ZAP truck.

And when eco businesses locate in "Brown" States, it expands eco-awareness beyond the few Berkeleys of the nation. This expands their markets.

But it also has another even more important effect. It adds "Green" Senators in "Brown" states. It is natural that congress members represent the business interests of their constituents.

Until we change the interests of the "Brown" state Senators who prevent all green legislation from passing, we will not make any headway with extending production tax credits for solar and wind power or promoting EV development. The fewer fossil-fueled Senators we have, the better our eco-legislation will be.

So. Got a green business? Move it to a "Brown" State. A state run by fossil fuel businesses.

For Matter Network

Who Will Pay The Costs Of Climate Change?

Coastal regions worldwide facing rising sea-levels are beginning to practice triage


It's easy to think that sea-level rise is some remote and distant threat only faced by far away people who live in places like the Tuvalu Islands in the South Pacific which is having to evacuate to New Zealand as tidal floods increasingly cover their crops in seawater.

But right in the Bay Area, the Sacramento Delta has just joined those low-lying coastal regions that are the early victims of sea level rise. It's a typical suburban American area with some great salmon fishing and home to one of the stars of the UC system, CalDavis, renowned for its environmental study programs.

A CalDavis Public Policy Institute of California study has found that it will become increasingly beyond the ability of California taxpayers to keep shoring up levies to save parts of it next time it floods, and that these areas should just be abandoned.

While conceding that this is a very difficult and controversial conclusion for property owners who have been helped previously, study spokesman Professor Jay Lund says "I don't see any way they are not going to be losers, so the state policy should be that we all quit losing." Land owners would lose their property under the plan.

When a delta levee collapsed in 2004, the State and the Federal government spent a combined $75 million to repair land worth only $22 million. Richard Howitt, a UC Davis economist who helped put together the study felt that this was an irresponsible use of taxpayer money:

"We wanted to put a lot of work into what really amounts to a triage list - and say which islands, if they collapse, we say, "Sorry about that" but you don't repair them or pump them. You adjust to a new ecology." The participants making this tough collective decision were from diverse disciplines: civil engineering, climate science, economics, hydrology and biology. They established the boundary between the areas that should be saved and the places that would be left to go under.

Triage decisions like this one are already being practiced by other coastal low-lying coastal regions facing rising sea levels and costly climate change defenses. Seaside resorts on the coast of the UK are made an almost identical cost/benefit analysis. The whole town moved.

The financial issue is coming to the fore. Who will pay? Who should pay relocation costs? The Brazilian town of Atafono has been swallowed by the ocean. In Alaska, Kivalina is filing a lawsuit against oil companies for redress. The Sundurbans were already a lost cause in 2003, but little financial assistance has been forthcoming.

Ten percent of the world's population (600 million people) live in coastal areas that are less than 33 feet above sea level. These people are being being bandoned by their insurers, even when they live in the nice upscale coastal suburbs in America, from Florida and the Louisiana Gulf, and up to New York.

Furthermore, these direct climate change costs are in addition to the heavy costs we already collectively bear, as nation, of the damage caused by natural disasters like hurricanes and floods.

Disasters have increased four-fold in the last two decades, as worldwide temperature averages have increased.

Artwork by Dutch Artist Jaap Vliegenthart

From MIT Tech Review

For Matternetwork

12 Year-Old Invents Better Solar Cell

Able to harness 500 times the light of current technology!

While inventors three times his age are struggling with the constant effort to improve solar cell efficiency, one 12-year-old boy may have found the holy grail. Others improve current solar cell efficiency by 30 percent or forty percent, but young William Yuan, 12, has blasted that away with an efficiency improvement of an astounding 500 percent!

This seventh grader in Oregon titled his project: "A Highly-Efficient 3-Dimensional Nanotube Solar Cell for Visible and UV Light," and it may well change the energy industry by making solar energy far easier to harness and distribute.

At the heart of Yuan's project is a special solar cell that can harness both visible and ultraviolet light. Most solar cells in use today are either photovoltaic, meaning they harness only visible light, or thermal. While visible, infrared, and ultraviolet light are all heavily scattered or absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere, ultraviolet light comes in at shorter wavelengths and with higher energy than both visible and infrared light. Ultraviolet light can provide more energy to a collector than other, longer-wavelength members of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The two keys to Yuan's solar cells' efficiency are that they're engineered to stand freely in three dimensions which allows them to collect more light, and secondly, that they make use of carbon nanotubes, allowing the cell to distribute the energy it collects without dissipating as much as traditional cells do.

Yuan is looking for a manufacturer to invest in building his new solar cell, and likely won't have any problem finding a partner. Though he was encouraged in his research from his middle school science teacher, this is no mere school science experiment: the Davidson Institute For Talent Development has awarded Yuan a $25,000 scholarship for his research.

Via Treehugger

For Matternetwork

Thursday, September 18

Tesla Mulling SUV At $20,000?

Elon Musk, Tesla's Guru mulls the next move: lots of tree-huggers will be very happy to hear of his EV plans!

AutoblogGreen brings exciting news today about the next step for the California startup that shook up the auto industry with its successful launch this Spring of the all electric Tesla Roadster. But since none of us can actually afford that, we wait with baited breath to hear of the possible next steps for the company. Here it is.

Elon Musk, Tesla's founder, who also funded the beginning of SolarCity was musing about a possible SUV, for possibly as little as $20,000, to be built in conjunction with a major automaker, or as he put it: "confident in being able to get to a $30,000 car, or perhaps a $20,000 car, in partnership with a major car company," which may or may not be Daimler: after all Tesla is supplying the batteries for Daimlers EV, the Smart.

Their next-generation WhiteStar, now called the Model-S, was to be around $50,000. Musk said:"Tesla's partnership with Daimler won't focus on its Model S". Tesla always said that they were planning on a $50,000 vehicle next after the Roadster, that would be able to get into the $20,000 - $30,000 range.

It appears that Musk is thinking ahead, talking about this third iteration.

Interestingly, he mentioned the possibility of swappable batteries, a la Better Place. This is not the mainstream direction being taken in the budding EV industry. FastCharge technologies, (where consumers could slow charge at home while they sleep, like with a cell phone, but have the option to go to the FastCharge station for a quick top-up) is favored by more companies, for instance Mitsubishi and Subaru for their iMiEV and R4e and Daimler, for their Smart.

The third charging option EV companies are considering is GM's innovative onboard recharging that they are pioneering with their Volt - and previously Tesla had floated that idea for their WhiteStar Model-S. So the meaning of this Better Place battery-swap idea is very interesting to consider: maybe GM is struggling with the recharger? Maybe last month's huge Smart FastCharging test in Berlin didn't pan out? In any totally new technology there will be gremlins. We may be surprised by which technology becomes the standard.

While AutoblogGreen rather sneers at this idea of an SUV as an EV, I found when I hosted the SFEVA booth at the Marin Ecofest last year, that it was, surprisingly, precisely the very eco minded moms with their wet sandy-footed tousle-haired kids returning from the beach with two giant wet dogs in the back that most adored the saved RAV4 SUV EV we had showing at our booth.

Via AutoblogGreen
Photo by Michael Kelley
For Matternetwork

Uh-Oh: Heat Waves Reduce Carbon Uptake

Turns out carbon sinks don't work so well in hotter weather, and woops: isn't that just what's in our planetary forecast?


In research published in Nature on Wednesday, scientists have found that plants and soil can take up to two years to recover from heat-waves, greatly reducing their carbon uptake.

The scientists carved out miniature eco systems in chambers about 8 feet by four feet with their plant communities and soil intact,in such a way that light, darkness, temperature and rainfall could be carefully controlled and levels of CO2 monitored.

They based the experiment on data from 150 years of weather history at the site, to duplicate heat-wave years, when temperatures had been between 2 and 7 degrees hotter, but without drought.

Over the next four years, two of the four plots were exposed to a sudden rise in temperature during the second year of the experiment, a hike of almost 8 degrees Fahrenheit. The other two were the control group, and programmed to reproduce the weather conditions of the original site based on data recorded over the previous seven years.

Arnone's team found that during this anomalously warm year and the year that followed, the two plots in the simulated heatwave conditions sucked up two-thirds less carbon than the ones that had been exposed to normal temperatures.

This is bad news for us, coming on the heels of related study published last year, one finding that carbon is no longer being stored by soil and the other, finding that the ocean's carbon sink is in decline.

This study reverses earlier findings published in 1999, that warming stimulates carbon storage at the ecosystem level, that were the basis for international carbon offset projects.

As a result, these findings throw in a new factor for calculating the value of natural sinks, which play a critical role in offsetting carbon emissions.

This is critical information, as this kind of calculation is used in deciding whether to fund forestry projects for use as carbon offsets rather than new clean energy projects such as wind farms. It is good news for wind farm funding, and that's great, but still, it is more scary news for our species overall.

Photo by TexasFinn
Via Terra Daily

For Matternetwork

Wednesday, September 17

How Obama Has Voted On Clean Energy

There is a real choice this year between these two presidential candidates on clean energy. This year, as we are now at 7 years to tipping point on climate change, the color of your president matters for the first time. There is only one candidate who is green.

As the companion piece to McCain's 50 votes against clean energy, by comparison, I list below how Obama voted on the same bills. I will begin Obama's vote list at McCain vote number (27) when Obama first began in the Senate in 2005.

Obama was not present for the last three clean energy votes, so I contacted his Senate office to find out how he would have voted, and was told by his energy staffer that he would have voted yes on all three, which is consistent with his record, as these were repeat attempts to pass legislation that he had previously voted yes on multiple times.

I counted these three absences as yes, and had counted McCain's thirteen absences the same way, as no, because McCain's staff had told the Forbes reporter that McCain would have voted no on these bills. As he had done previously, the staffer said he would have supported the Republican fillibuster again.

Beginning in 2005, with his first vote (27) when he started in the Senate, till vote (50), Obama had 24 opportunities to vote for clean energy. He chose clean energy 23 times out of 24. On the Boxer/Inhofe scale, by contrast with McCain, who scored at the Inhofe end of the Inhofe scale: Obama is almost completely allied with Boxer on clean energy: only one single vote apart.

Obama voted with Boxer except on McCain-Lieberman - vote (33)
Obama voted against Inhofe except on the all-of-the-above energy bill (34)
Inhofe crossed over to vote with Boxer and Obama to prevent wind NIMBYism (35)

1-(27) '05 (D) Increase clean energy R&D funding
Boxer Yes
Obama Yes

Inhofe No
McCain No

passed 53-46

2-(28) '05 (R) Appoint Stephen L. Johnson to head of EPA
Boxer No
Obama No

Inhofe Yes
McCain Yes

passed 61-37

3-(29) '05 (D) Clean energy incentives
Boxer Yes
Obama Yes

Inhofe No
McCain No

failed 47-53

4-(30) '05 (D) Try again to establish a RPS
Boxer Yes
Obama Yes
Inhofe No
McCain No

passed 52-48

5-(31) '05
(D) Tax oil company windfall profits rebates to consumer
Boxer Yes
Obama Yes
Inhofe No
McCain No
failed 35-64

6-(32) '05 (D) Tax oil companies windfall profits to fund clean energy
Boxer Yes
Obama Yes
Inhofe No
McCain No

failed 41-65

7-(33) '05 (R) Cap and trade funded nuclear subsidies McCain-Lieberman
Boxer No
Obama Yes

Inhofe No
McCain Yes
failed 38-60

8-(34) '05 (R) Let wind NIMBYs prevent wind development
Boxer No
Obama No

Inhofe No
McCain Yes

failed 32-63

9-(35) '05 (R-D) Energy funding: both fossil and clean energy
Boxer Yes
Obama Yes

Inhofe Yes
McCain No

passed 85-

10-(36) '05 (D) Tax oil to fund energy efficiency assistance
Boxer Yes
Obama Yes

Inhofe No
McCain No

failed 48-50
11-(37) '07 (D) Cloture vote tax incentives for clean energy
Boxer Not present
Obama Yes
Inhofe No
McCain Not present

failed 57-36

12-(38) '07 (D) Increase science and new technology funding
Boxer Yes
Obama Yes
Inhofe No
McCain Not present

13-(39) '07 (D) Cloture vote tax incentives for clean energy
Boxer Not present
Obama Yes
Inhofe No
McCain Not present

passed 62-32

14-(40) '07 (D) Tax incentives for clean energy
Boxer Not present
Obama Yes
Inhofe No
McCain Not present

passed 65-27

15-(41) '07 (D) To expand liquid natural gas development
Boxer Yes
Obama Yes

Inhofe No
McCain Not present

failed 37-56

16-(42) '07 (R) Inhofe's coal-to-liquids fuel
Boxer No
Obama No

Inhofe Yes
McCain Not present

failed 43-52

17-(43) '07 (D) Ensure that "renewable fuels" are green
Boxer Yes
Obama Yes

Inhofe No
McCain Not present

passed 58-34

18-(44) '07 (D) Include RPS in final energy bill
Boxer Yes
Obama Yes

Inhofe No
McCain Not present

passed 56-39

19-(45) '07 (D) Cloture to vote on bioenergy funding
Boxer Yes
Obama Yes

Inhofe No
McCain Not present

failed cloture 55-42 (cloture needs 60)

20-(46) '07 (D) Cloture to vote on 2007 Energy Bill included PTC
Boxer Yes
Obama Yes
Inhofe No
McCain Not present

failed 53-42 (cloture needs 60)

21-(47) '07
(D) Cloture Full 2007 Energy Bill still including production tax credits
Boxer Yes
Obama Yes

Inhofe No
McCain Not present

failed by one vote* 59-41 (cloture needs 60)

22-(48) '07
(D) 2/3 stripped down 2007 Energy Bill: only CAFE
Boxer Yes
Obama Not present
(staff said: Yes)
Inhofe No
McCain Not present

passed 86-8

23-(49) '07 (D) Cloture to extend the PTC solar and wind incentives
Boxer Yes
Obama Not present (staff said: Yes)
Inhofe No
McCain Not present
failed 52-44 (need 60)

24-(50) '08 (D) Cloture to extend the PTC solar and wind incentives
Boxer Yes
Obama Not present (staff said: Yes)
Inhofe No
McCain Not present

failed cloture 53-43 (need 60)

Obama was not the first choice of half of the Democratic voters. Compared with Hillary, his support for nuclear power, shown by his vote for McCain-Lieberman (35) was troublesome for many Democrats. Before he voted with most of the Democrats against Inhofe's bill to fund coal to liquids fuels (42) he let Inhofe think that he would support it.

As a result a roar of disapproval went up in the environmental activist community, and Obama (along with eight others) disappointed Inhofe with a change of heart, as CNS newsman, now Inhofe staffer Marc Morano bitterly noted on the Environment Committee website at the time.

Senator Bingaman then inserted an amendment (43) that only low carbon synthetic fuels (such as genetically engineered algae biodiesel) could qualify for subsidy, which Obama supported. While this has made for good strong policy, many Clinton supporters felt that a truly green president should have been already aware of this problem, even though Obama ultimately voted no to coal-to-liquids fuel.

However, based on Obama's consistently very green voting record, he is apparently far from the wolf in sheep's clothing that Hillary-voters feared: there is virtually no discrepancy between Obama's frequently voiced concern with climate change, and his record of votes to deal with it.

Photos: Hillary campaigning for Obama this month
By dailykos blogger Al Rodgers

Related stories:
McCain's 50 Votes Against Clean Energy
Obama Plans Zero Energy Buildings Nationwide By 2030

For Matternetwork

The Safest Investment: Natures Utilities


We see what happens when financial markets make poor investments. "What investors thought was safe as houses has turned out to be nothing more than the property of the poor disguised in a silver wrapper, enabling bankers to pocket billions."

The BBC's Green Room this morning has a better idea: Why don't we invest in "Natures Capital"?

Forests are a giant planetary utility, performing a service essential for billions of dollars worth of industrial energy and food production: "The Amazon releases 20 billion tonnes of water into the atmosphere each day. This air-conditions the atmosphere, waters agri-business and underpins energy security from hydro to biofuels."

To replicate what the Amazon does would be a $50 billion a year investment.

"Were it possible to build a machine to do this, every day it would consume the energy equivalent to the world's largest hydro dam running on full power for 135 years"

But since nobody is reinvesting in this giant utility, "depreciation" is setting in. By doing nothing, allowing the deforestation to continue, we are literally eroding our capital. None of us is investing in the natural utility to keep it going. And what is more, nobody is even required to pay that utility bill.

Utilities get turned off if we cannot pay the utility bill. Even natures utility, the Amazon, needs our capital investment to prevent depreciation. It is getting to the point where this capital is no longer generating any "income".

So could preventing "depreciation" in our forests one day be a safer investment than houses? What if we invested in this giant utility, just like an investment in any other utility? Letting it burn is endangering the foundation of our existence, far more than the global financial meltdown.

"Just one day of emissions from deforestation equates to 36 million people flying from London to New York. Seven billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually places rainforests just second to energy as a source of global emissions and is more than the entire world's transport sector put together."

Natural capital investments may turn out to be as safe as any other public utilities. We need the equivalent of an ecosystem services market with an environmental regulatory body that forces us to value the common goods that we continue to plunder at our peril.

This is why we need a carbon "market". Funds are needed to protect our assets.

Crossposted at Treehugger Forum
Photo from flikr user wildimagephoto

Tuesday, September 16

Nanotech Boost For Lithium Batteries

Five-fold increase in battery capacity from six year old firm

The Santa Ana based startup nano-tech firm QuantumSphere Inc said today it has filed for a patent on a technology that can increase the capacity of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries as much as fivefold.

Laptops with a single charge could last up to 12 hours, rather than the few hours a charge gets now. Electric vehicles are limited only by current battery technology.

Their work has applications beyond batteries, in other renewable energy production or storage technologies such as hydrogen electrolysis and solar technologies. They recently began producing a high purity copper- indium- gallium alloy for application in low cost thin film solar cell production.

Their focus is on making nano metals for green energy applications. QuantumSphere has manufactured a number of metal and metal alloy nanoparticles including iron, silver, copper, nickel, cobalt and manganese.

Nano metals present a clear opportunity to provide more energy and power density in zinc-air and lithium ion batteries when used as catalysts. Catalyst materials are the main ingredients facilitating chemical reactions within the battery and play a key role at setting the energy and power densities of these devices.

This video shows evidence of the much greater catalytic activity in their nano aluminum, compared with the inert aluminum on the right which would not catch light at all. In this case you would need a lot less nano material than the micron sized particles to do the same work.

Their nano metals are achieving phenomenal results: recently they published data showing that using their nano materials as the catalyst in the zinc air battery resulted in a 320% increase in power density. Compared to the metal particles used as catalysts today, nanoscale materials have 2000% greater surface area, which greatly increases reactivity, catalysis, energy density and power density. As a result, much more power can be stored in a lithium ion battery without the potential for the overheating and runaway chemical reactions plaguing this technology today.

GM, which says it is working on a battery with 3 times the capacity of current batteries, and today is hunting for a talented battery expert on staff, surely will find today's news of interest.

Via EdmondsGreenCarAdvisor

For Matternetwork


Google Floats Wave-Powered Data-Center Idea

Pelamis/Google combination will use the ocean to cool data

Google has filed a patent for the rather brilliant idea of a deep-water cooled data center, and describes it, here.

"A system that includes a floating platform-mounted computer data center comprising a plurality of computing units, a sea-based electrical generator in electrical connection with the plurality of computing units, and one or more sea-water cooling units for providing cooling to the plurality of units."

The platforms, to be positioned between three to seven miles offshore in water ranging from 50 feet to 250 feet deep, are designed to use renewable power created by Pelamis wave energy converters connected to a floating platform holding Google's data centers. Standard shipping containers would house racks of computers that could be transported by truck and placed onto a boat, and transferred to the floating center by crane.

PhotobucketEach joint of the floating Pelamis unit has a 2.25 megawatt capacity, and each data center would have enough to supply 40 megawatts. Google also has plans to use direct current electricity to run DC-capable computers, so no energy would be lost in transmission.

In addition, pipes will circulate cold deep water throughout to cool all the hardware inside the containers, preventing overheating.

The ocean thus supplies Google with the two critical needs of data centers, cooling and power. (Not to mention that the ocean is a vast rent-free space. Data centers can be as large as 100,000 square feet which takes lots of electricity and costly real estate.)

Google mentions an additional important advantage of basing data centers such as this patent envisions on the open seas: when critical infrastructure has been taken out, for instance by earthquakes or hurricanes, the data centers could be towed back in close to land to re-establish local computing power and telecommunications.

Next, Google Brings Cheap Energy From The Earth

Via Good Clean Tech

For Matternetwork

Big Oil Not So Big Any More

International oil companies' share has dropped from over half of all world resources, to just 7 percent.

Most people are familiar with the figures on US share of world oil consumption versus world oil production: that we produce a mere 3 percent, but consume 25 percent of world oil supplies.

However, there is an even more startling figure, in light of this. Since 2005, the share of world oil resources owned by the various national oil companies has grown by a healthy 15 percent, according to figures from the International Monetary Fund.

Control by Western oil companies such as ExxonMobil, BP Amoco, or Royal Dutch/Shell of the world's oil has plummeted from well over 50 percent 30 years ago down to a mere 7 percent of the world's oil resource base. National oil companies (fully or in the majority owned by a national government) now control the lions share of world oil supplies, and they are also increasingly investing outside their national borders.

Due to this increasing dominance over global reserves, the importance of nationally owned companies relative to international oil companies such as ExxonMobil, BP Amoco, or Royal Dutch/Shell, has risen dramatically in recent years.


Proven reserves are the main asset of an oil company, and to be counted in asset valuation, they only need leases: oil companies don't have to actually drill on them to boost their bottom line on paper.

Perhaps opening up new oil leases is more about being able to increase profits to compete with much larger entities in the new world oil market than about creating a vast new gushing hose of oil to supply the American consumer!

For Matternetwork

Obama Plans Zero Energy Buildings Nationwide By 2030

Obama's energy plan includes zero energy building codes nationwide for all new buildings starting by 2030, when buildings must then produce all their own energy.

California has already legislated this starting by 2020.

Architects already meet energy efficiency standards like title 24 in California: zero energy buildings are an easy next step for them.

Laws like Title 24 work to save money in the long run. Even if it costs a little more initially, it pays off in energy savings later.

Currently, LEED certified buildings generate a 6.6 percent improved return on investment. Zero energy buildings will do even better, because their energy costs are not just reduced. In the end they will have no energy costs at all.

Solar panels can be incorporated into the roof design in lieu of traditional roofing. Ground heat pumps can warm and cool buildings. Building from scratch already entails digging deep enough to build the earthquake-proof foundations that California building codes demand. Next time, we can pop a geothermal heat pump in there as well.

Zero energy laws won't meet resistance from the architectural design community, as we see with the auto industry. Architects and designers can brush up on new design innovation. They don't have to retool factories. Just mindsets.

So mandating zero energy building is an easier way to reduce carbon emissions, than car efficiency mandates like CAFE. Architecture is driven by individual designers who thrive on innovation, and seek out solutions to problems. And there is an industrial revolution happening in sustainable design and green building.

Design to prevent climate change is a technological and economic challenge, but it is not beyond us. Obama could even move the date up to 2020, like California.

Rolf Disch's solar village: Solarsiedlung

For Matternetwork