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It’s clean air vs. TV in poor India village

Keith Bradsher
Electricity demand worsens pollution
BAHARBARI, India: A toxic purple haze of diesel exhaust hangs over the rice and jute fields here in northern India, and bird songs are frequently drowned out by the chug-a-chug-a- chug of diesel generators.

Across the developing world, cheap diesel generators from China and elsewhere have become a favorite way to make electricity. They power everything from irrigation pumps to television sets, allowing growing numbers of rural villages in many poor countries to grow more crops and connect to the wider world.

But as the demand increases for the electricity that makes those advances possible, it is often being met through the dirtiest, most inefficient means, creating pollution problems in many remote areas that used to have pristine air and negligible emissions of carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas.

“There has been a mushrooming of these decentralized diesel generators,” said Ibrahim Rehman, a rural energy expert at the Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi. While many generators are purchased initially to power irrigation pumps, they have also opened up a huge new market for television sets, which in turn creates demand for even more diesel generators.

“You either want clean air or television” in many villages, said Nandita Mongia, the chief of the United Nations Development Program’s regional energy program for Asia and the Pacific. In nearly all cases, television wins.

The rising cost of diesel fuel has improved the commercial potential of alternatives, but renewable energy sources have been in an often-losing race against smoke-spewing backyard diesel generators, and occasionally coal, to become the energy source of choice in outlying areas.

Lavish government subsidies for diesel, kerosene and other fossil fuels have held down prices in many developing countries and made it harder to introduce renewable energy technologies
(8 Jan 2007)

The Land of Rising Conservation

Martin Fackler, NY Times
…Energy-efficient appliances abound in the many corners of his cramped home. There is the refrigerator that beeps when left open and the dishwasher that is compact enough to sit on the kitchen counter. In some homes, room heaters have a sensor that directs heat only toward occupants; there are “energy navigators” that track a home’s energy use.

And then Mr. Kimura, 48, says there are the little things that his family of four does to squeeze fuel bills, like reusing warm bath water to wash laundry and bicycling to buy groceries.

“It’s not just technology, it’s a whole mind-set,” said Hitoshi Ikuma, a specialist in energy issues at the Japan Research Institute. “Energy conservation is almost an obsession here among government, companies, regular citizens, everyone.”

Japan is the most energy-efficient developed country on earth, according to most specialists, who say it is much better prepared than the United States to prosper in an era of higher global energy prices. And if there is any lesson that Japan can offer to Americans, they say, it is that there is no one fix-all solution to living with oil above $50 a barrel.

Rather, as Mr. Kimura shows, it is a combination of many things, from the most advanced technologies to the simplest frugality in everyday life – and an obsession with saving energy that keeps his family huddled in a single heated room during winter.

Japan tops most global comparisons of energy efficiency in wealthy nations
(7 Jan 2007)

Taking Control of Electric Bill, Hour by Hour

David Kay Johnston, NY Times
Ten times last year, Judi Kinch, a geologist, got e-mail messages telling her that the next afternoon any electricity used at her Chicago apartment would be particularly expensive because hot, steamy weather was increasing demand for power.

Each time, she and her husband would turn down the air-conditioners – sometimes shutting one of them off – and let the dinner dishes sit in the washer until prices fell back late at night.

Most people are not aware that electricity prices fluctuate widely throughout the day, let alone exactly how much they pay at the moment they flip a switch. But Ms. Kinch and her husband are among the 1,100 Chicago residents who belong to the Community Energy Cooperative, a pilot project to encourage energy conservation, and this puts them among the rare few who are able to save money by shifting their use of power.

Just as cellphone customers delay personal calls until they become free at night and on weekends, and just as millions of people fly at less popular times because air fares are lower, people who know the price of electricity at any given moment can cut back when prices are high and use more when prices are low.

…If just a fraction of all Americans had this information and could adjust their power use accordingly, the savings would be huge. Consumers would save nearly $23 billion a year if they shifted just 7 percent of their usage during peak periods to less costly times, research at Carnegie Mellon University indicates. That is the equivalent of the entire nation getting a free month of power every year.
(8 Jan 2007)

Letter From Germany: Out of habit from when energy was cheap, open windows in winter

Judy Dempsey, International Herald Tribune
If you ever visit countries like Ukraine, Moldova or Georgia during the winter months, try to avoid spending much time in government buildings. They are sweltering. Ask that the temperature be turned down and your host will immediately oblige – by opening the window. Thermostats are nonexistent.

Once I asked an official why the buildings are overheated and why so much energy is wasted. Professor Igor Burakovsky, director of the Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting in Kiev, rolled his eyes. “We became used to cheap energy,” he said. “Times are changing as Russia charges more for its gas. We need to introduce reforms to save energy and modernize the sector’s infrastructure.”

Reform, however slowly, is on the way, thanks, ironically, to Gazprom, Russia’s giant state-owned energy monopoly. After all, this is the company identified with the Kremlin, which, under President Vladimir Putin, has used energy as one of its main political instruments to increase the power of the new Russia. During a speech marking the 10th anniversary of Gazprom in 2003, Putin said that Gazprom was a strategically important company. “Gazprom,” he said, “is a powerful and economic lever of influence over the rest of the world.”
(5 Jan 2007)

Power gridlock
Colorado’s electricity infrastructure needs jump-start on expansions

Ray Gifford And Adam Peters, Rocky Mountain News
…Electricity is increasingly the fuel of choice for the nation’s economy in general and is the main driver of the information technology sector in particular. It has been estimated that electric-powered information technology accounts for 60 percent of new capital spending.

Standing alone, the five leading Internet search engines will consume 5 gigawatts of electricity in 2006. That equates to the amount of electricity needed to run the city of Las Vegas.

Meeting the insatiable energy needs of technology firms and creating adequate power supplies for the new economy is, therefore, an issue of national and state import – both for international competitiveness and Colorado’s comparative advantage in the national economy. Put simply, proximity to reliable, cheap power and adequate transmission is a critical factor driving companies’ decisions on where to locate and grow.

Colorado faces severe challenges on both the supply and transmission fronts if it wants to keep apace with the new economy.

Ray Gifford and Adam Peters are attorneys at Kamlet Shepherd Reichert LLP in Denver. Gifford is past chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
(30 Dec 2006)
Emphasis added.