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Archive for August, 2009

58591531_4151b1b2edNo – this is not an obscure Ghostbusters reference. According to the Financial Times, geo-engineering experts at the UK-based Institution of Mechanical Engineering (IME) have deemed “slime-covered buildings”, along with artificial trees and reflective buildings, viable options for removing carbon from the atmosphere.

Although “slime” is a slightly hyperbolic reference to strips of carbon-consuming algae, a recent report by IME says the substance can be installed via bio-reactors on building walls to absorb carbon from the air. Before it decomposes (and really gets slimy) the algae is collected and either decarbonized or reprocessed as fuel. While “slime” carbon capture is still in the planning stages, it is an extremely attractive geo-engineering option because its waste could be used as a biofuel and it would require no additional land to deploy.

The report, entitled “Geo-engineering: Giving us Time to Act,” is intended to advance acceptance of geo-engineering as a potential climate change mitigator and proposes a 75-100 year roadmap for countering climate that includes geo-engineering as part, not all, of the solution. According to the IME:

Geo-engineering is not an encompassing solution to global warming. It is however, another potential component in our approach to climate change that could prove the world with extra time to decarbonise the global economy, a task which has yet to begin in earnest.

Much of the resistance to geo-engineering innovations – such as faux-trees that capture carbon more effectively than the real thing – is based on the fear that these technologies will replace clean energy technology as the preferred solution to reducing carbon intensity. The report emphasizes, however, that geo-engineering is not the so-called silver bullet solution, it’s a stop-gap measure that will help manage the world’s carbon overstock while clean energy is being developed and deployed. (more…)

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AfricaRecognizing the need for a united stance on climate change in preparation for international negotiations in Copenhagen in December, ten African nations issued a joint draft resolution calling for “rich countries” to commit $67 billion per year in compensation for the deleterious effects of unmitigated climate change, according to a report in Reuters.

Africa, which houses 15 of the 20 most climate-change vulnerable countries, will almost certainly endure the most severe negative consequences of climate change, yet it contributes relatively little to the problem.

This new proposal arrives on the heels of a flurry of Copenhagen related news. The Financial Times reported yesterday that both China and India blame developed nations, such as the U.S., for impeding the progress of a climate treaty. As developing nations, they are demanding financial and technological assistance from the major historic contributors to climate change in order to mitigate the effects of a problem they are not primarily responsible for causing. (more…)

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vestasIt’s strange to hear of “insourcing”–the transfer of manufacturing jobs into the United States instead of out–but that’s exactly what’s happening with Denmark’s wind giant Vestas, according to a New York Times article yesterday.

According to the report, a combination of global recession and domestic stimulus spending on clean energy is adding up to a boon for the American clean energy manufacturing industry.

In Europe, Vestas has seen several nations slow down their rates of added wind capacity, and flagging government support combined with financial difficulties has impeded the construction of new projects. By contrast, the United States built 8,500 megawatts of wind capacity in 2008 to Britain’s 500, and demand for turbine technology is high. So for opportunities in a more robust wind market, Vestas has begun to look across the Atlantic. (more…)

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Solar_05.14093807_stdTo some, recent discussion of the “clean energy race” is just the latest iteration of flashy climate change rhetoric, refurbished and repackaged as a do-or-die clean technology race between the U.S. and Asia. Yet, as a New York Times piece entitled “China Racing Ahead of U.S. in the Drive to Go Solar,” testifies, the clean energy challenge is more than just verbal tap dancing, it’s a dynamic economic competition – and China is earning its racing stripes.

While the U.S. is still floundering with ad-hoc investments in clean energy, China has developed a straight-forward, no-nonsense approach to achieving its 2GW solar capacity target by 2011 and gaining leadership in the solar industry: build market share. With the help of serious government investment, China is on the path to achieving that goal. Chinese companies like, Suntech Power Holdings, have succeeded in driving solar panel price reductions over the last six months by selling panels on the U.S. market below the marginal cost. Furthermore, China is circumventing protectionist legislation by constructing assembly plants in the U.S.

According to Steven Chan, Suntech president for global sales and marketing, the first plant will be located in Phoenix, Arizona and will allow China to tap into the portion of the market that wants to “‘buy American’ and things like that.” The catch, however, is that even though the panels will be constructed in America, by Americans, the components will, of course, be made in China. (more…)

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manmohan_singhPixIn New Delhi today, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that India must invest in both new and existing clean energy technologies in order to develop sustainably over the coming decades. This comes as the latest indication of India’s progress on building a domestic clean energy economy through investment–a strategy that could also serve as a new approach to international climate policy. Unfortunately, Western nations that stall climate negotiations with their insistence on setting carbon caps continue to miss the world’s best chance at forging a global agreement.

Speaking at a national conference on environment, Singh emphasized the importance of clean energy investment for India’s development:

“…We need access to new technologies that are already available with developed countries. We must also make our own investments in new environment-friendly technologies,” he said.

(more…)

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wind energyLike any savvy tourist trap that knows the President of the United States will be dropping in, Martha’s Vineyard is prepared to play the gracious host to the Obama family this week. But a recent article in the National Journal highlights how local Cape Wind activists, including Breakthrough Senior Fellow Barbara Hill, the executive director of Clean Power Now, are intent on making sure President Obama addresses the offshore wind debate before he relaxes on the Cape Cod sand.

A proposed 130-turbine offshore wind farm located in the Nantucket Sound has been mired in the planning phase due to NIMBY-induced controversy since 2001. Both Clean Power Now, who is advocating for the wind farm, and its adversary, The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, are tapping grassroots support in an effort to convince the President to endorse their position.

At stake is not just the future of Cape Wind, but numerous other proposals slated for locations up and down the east coast, not to mention far-reaching impacts on the future of renewables in the United States. Cape Wind has become the designated representative of offshore wind projects as it is the farthest along in the permit process. According to Barbara Hill:

We are hoping for him [President Obama] to speak out about this issue specifically because of the national significance of this… [the project] could literally jump-start a new industry in this country. Once we get the first one out there, it’s going to open up the gates.

Political opposition to the project is coming from some unexpected sources. Both democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Bill Delahunt have spoken out against Cape Wind despite its potential to be a national example of successful renewable energy deployment. Opponents like the The Alliance, who are concerned the wind farm will damage the quality of the environment (read: their scenic beach front views), would like the President to delay the decision until a new ocean zoning policy is enacted in December. Their hope is that Cape Wind will be replaced by projects proposed in other locations – not their backyards. (more…)

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US ChinaA second piece on nationalism in the context of the clean energy race was published on Mother Jones’ blog MoJo, and is evidence that the growing body of discourse around this issue has struck a very resonant chord. In the post, entitled “Harnessing Nationalism,” Kevin Drum offers poignant, if somewhat veiled, criticism of the rhetoric behind the “clean energy race” narrative.

Inspired by The New Republic’s Bradford Plumer, the post starts with a lengthy quote whose primary point is this: the clean energy race is not a zero-sum competition because everyone stands to benefit if China makes a significant effort to reduce emissions by investing in clean technology.

First, as Drum puts it, Plumer’s commentary may be an attempt at “intellectual honesty,” but honesty doesn’t make it completely accurate. True, the whole world will benefit from advancements in clean energy no matter where it comes from, but China is not motivated to compete in the clean tech industry by emissions reductions – it is driven by the potential for economic gain.

As a (rapidly) developing nation, economic development, not emissions targets, is the highest priority. Thus, the race is not about emissions, it is about whose economy stands to benefit from leadership in clean technology.

Drum views the clean energy race through “green” tinted glasses, as well, preferring the “race” rhetoric to the alternative: the apocalyptic narrative that has clearly failed to motivate effective climate change action. Rhetorically speaking, framing the need to reduce carbon emissions as a clean energy race is both more engaging and more productive. As he aptly declares:

If this kind of thing got us to the moon, maybe it can save the planet as well. I say we go along.

The clean energy race, however, is more than just a new and improved framing mechanism or encouragement of America’s honed nationalistic tendencies – it is an economic truth. What Drum misses when he writes off the recent proliferation of clean energy articles as hype, is that this issue could both be an effective rhetorical tool as well as a humbling reality. (more…)

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