Fear & greed: The real energy challenge
US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu is fighting a
rear-guard action to save a new generation of clean technologies – such as
thin-film solar PV and new forms of solar thermal technologies. It’s curious to
see how left wing and right wing politics have fallen on either side of the
clean-tech divide, particularly in the US and Australia, says Climate
Spectator’s Giles Parkinson. It’s obviously different in the UK, where more than
90% of firms have met the first reporting deadline imposed by the Government’s Carbon
Reduction Commitment (CRC) scheme, providing detailed data on their carbon
footprint to the Environment Agency.
17 Aug 2011
Parkinson in Climate Spectator
At the end of the PBS documentary Power
Surge, there is a poignant moment when the camera crew visits the solar energy
museum in Dezhou, a former crumbling transport hub that is now known as China’s
One of the more popular displays at the
museum is a solar panel that had been installed by President Jimmy Carter on
the roof of the White House in 1979, just after he promised that the US would
source 20 per cent of its energy needs from renewables by the end of the
The panels were torn down a few years later,
along with the rest of Carter’s renewables vision, by his successor Ronald
Reagan, with the vocal approval of the new president’s oil and coal industry
backers. The panel, along with a $100 billion solar PV industry that the US had
once hoped would be its own, ended up in Dezhou, at the heart of China’s Solar
Valley, the local cleantech equivalent of California’s Silicon Valley.
The Chinese can’t quite believe their luck –
and the display appears to be designed to be a potent symbol of lost
opportunity from its biggest economic rival, and one that Carter himself had
foreshadowed. “This solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an
example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one of the
greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people:
harnessing the power from the Sun,” he said at the time.
The Obama administration, and particularly
Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, is fighting another rear-guard action to save a
new generation of clean technologies – such as thin-film solar PV and new forms
of solar thermal technologies such as solar towers, along with a host of other
emerging cleantech options – from a similar fate.
Having lost the fight to introduce a carbon
price to the Republicans and its fossil fuel backers, the government is trying
to support those technologies with other mechanisms, such as loan guarantees
and tax credits. But these, too, are now under attack from the Tea
Party-controlled Congress and newly elected Republican governors.
It’s curious to see how left wing and right
wing politics have fallen on either side of the cleantech divide, particularly
in the US and Australia. In NSW, the Premier Barry O’Farrell has renewed his
distaste for wind farms. There has been virtually no new investment in electricity
generation in the state for years, but there is possibly $10 billion of wind
turbines in the pipeline. O’Farrell, who has also managed to bring the local
rooftop solar PV market to a crashing halt, said he hoped the wind farms would
never be built.
“None of this would be necessary if the
federal government hadn’t signed up to a 20 per cent renewable energy
target,” he told Macquarie Radio, before trying to pass off the comments
as his “personal views.” It even made the daily global wrap of France
broking house Mirabaud Securities, which among its headlines of solar, wind,
fuel cell and other cleantech investments across the globe, noted: “Australia’s
NSW premier Barry O’Farrell states he hopes the state does not give approval
for any more wind farms.” That must be what marketing people call positioning.
The fear of cleantech seems to have several
origins. Part of it is from the belief that there is no problem to solve in the
first place – no climate change, no limit on natural resources. Part of it
comes from the belief that, if there is a problem, then it is either too hard
or too costly to overcome. Part of it comes simply from the fear of change.
The Power Surge documentary that was
broadcast on SBS TV on Tuesday night had an interesting approach to the “too
hard, too costly” fear, and how to break down the energy task – to arrest the
emissions growth from soaring energy needs.
“It is easy to say, ‘Oh, the energy problem
is so big that we can’t possibly build enough wind turbines to solve it, we
can’t possibly do enough conservation to solve it,’ says Princeton University’s
Stephen Pacala. “So you break the problem into pieces and say, ‘What are the
technological options across the board that we have to throw at it?’”
Pacala has addressed the problem by creating
a triangle formed by the gap between what the world was going to do in terms of
emissions (business as usual) and what we must do, and split the challenge –
the carbon emissions that must be kept out of the atmosphere – into a series of
wedges. Instead of relying on one technology to avoid, say, seven billion
tonnes of emissions per year, maybe it could develop seven that could each
account for one billion.
Pacala estimates there are actually 15
technologies already in the marketplace at an industrial scale that could meet
the billion-tonne target, grouped around efficiency, renewables, carbon capture
and nuclear. Which of those were deployed, and to what extent, would be the
subject of individual country choice and opportunity: some may go more for
solar, some more for efficiency. The likelihood is that if one of the options
emerges as the “killer solution,” then it will dominate the other
technologies, as coal has done for the last century on the simple metric of
Dan Kammen, from the University of
California, Berkeley, tells the program that the carbon problem is actually
easily solvable. “What’s hard is that we need to make a lot of change in a
hurry,” he says. “We, more or less, have the coming four decades to recreate a
green version of the industrial revolution that’s taken us 150 years.” But as
Paul Alivisatos, the director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory says:
“Technology save us from climate change?
I’m very convinced that it can. And, in fact, beyond that, what I would
say is that it’s an incredible opportunity for us to create all kinds of new
By James Murray
Published August 16, 2011
More than 90 percent of firms have met the
first reporting deadline imposed by the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC)
scheme, providing detailed data on their carbon footprint to the Environment
According to figures released yesterday by
the watchdog, 4,295 reports were lodged with the agency ahead of last month’s
deadline, out of an anticipated 4,549 organizations that are thought to face
CRC reporting obligations.
The result means that around 95 percent of
the companies and public sector bodies required to file official CRC carbon
reports have met the first reporting deadline.
The Environment Agency said that the reports
cover over 60 million tonnes of carbon emissions, equivalent to more than 10
percent of the U.K.’s total carbon footprint.
The high level of compliance was arguably
greater than had been anticipated given earlier reports that large numbers of
organizations were either unaware of the new rules or ill-prepared to report on
their carbon emissions.
“This is a new scheme for the UK, so we
are pleased that the vast majority of organizations required to submit a report
have done so by the deadline,” said Tony Grayling, head of climate change
and communities at the Environment Agency, in a statement.
He added that the high level of compliance
meant the agency was now well positioned to produce the first public CRC league
table in the autumn, which will rank companies based on their energy efficiency
A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency told
BusinessGreen that those organizations that failed to lodge an official report
detailing their energy use and carbon emissions ahead of the deadline would be
called on to comply with the rules as soon as possible or risk potential fines.
“We have sent warning letters to
non-compliant participants that they have failed to comply with the reporting
deadline and civil penalties may apply,” she said. “We will keep
under review and may decide to impose these penalties if they remain in breach
of the CRC Order.”
The CRC remains highly controversial, with a
number of business groups, including the CBI, leading calls for the government
to reverse its decision to scrap the original revenue recycling element of the
scheme, which was axed last autumn effectively turning the scheme into a carbon
Meanwhile, some green groups have also
criticised the scheme’s complexity, arguing that a simple carbon tax would
represent a less onerous means of driving investment in energy efficiency.
The government and the Environment Agency are
currently seeking feedback on the costs of complying with the CRC with a view
to simplifying the scheme, and are inviting participants to provide information
on their experiences through an online survey.
The deadline for registering responses to the
survey is the end of August.
This article originally appeared on
BusinessGreen and is reprinted with permission.