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Despite Economy, Prospects For Green Energy Remain Strong

Jackson Robinson and Elizabeth Levy, Yale Environment 360
The economic downturn need not halt the development of green energy. In fact, with renewable technologies improving dramatically and new U.S. policies emerging, continued progress toward an energy revolution is inevitable.

Less than a year ago, the dawn of a new age of green energy seemed to be at hand. Oil prices were climbing to a peak of $140 a barrel. Climate change was embedded deeply in the popular consciousness, and companies and countries all over the world were accelerating efforts to create a lower-carbon society. In the U.S., consumption of solar energy had grown by more than 11 percent in 2007 and wind by more than 20 percent.

In the ensuing months, however, the world has suffered one of the great financial collapses in modern history, and oil prices have plummeted from their dizzying heights to as low as $35 a barrel. Stocks of green energy companies have been severely battered, as the widely-followed WilderHill Clean Energy Index fell by a whopping 70 percent in 2008, terrible even when compared to the dismal 38.5 percent fall of the bellwether S&P 500 index. Funding for some renewable energy projects has dried up, and some people now question green energy’s staying power.

But despite this economic gloom, 2008 was one of the best years on record for renewable energy — in terms of policy progress in the U.S. — and 2009

As the costs of traditional and renewable electricity are converging, we are nearing the holy grail of renewable energy — grid parity.

has continued that trend. Barack Obama was elected on a platform promising a transformation of the nation’s environmental and energy policies. The stimulus bill passed in 2008 provided support to the growth of clean and efficient energy for years to come, and introduced the concept of improving building efficiency as a source of green jobs, both themes continued and expanded in 2009’s stimulus plan. Obama and Congress are committed to devoting more than $150 billion in the coming decade to developing alternative energy sources and vastly improving energy efficiency.

Incredible growth opportunities. Unprecedented economic misfortune. In the face of such powerful and conflicting forces, the question remains: Can the growth in green energy continue?

To answer this question, we started by looking backwards, and challenging some core beliefs and assumptions that we have long held about the growth of green energy. And despite the current economic morass, we find our bullish assumptions on green energy unchanged — indeed, even strengthened. Our conviction is based, in part, on five basic trends that have been building in recent years.
(30 March 2009)

Coming soon: Your personal electric-use tracker

Jennifer Alsever, Small Business, Fortune
A Colorado startup hopes to revolutionize the staid electricity business.

Adrian Tuck wants to help America change the way it shops for energy. If the power companies ran grocery stores, he says, “you would walk down the aisle and there would be no prices on anything. You’d fill your cart, get home, and 45 days later you’d get a bill that had one single number on it.”

Corollary: Many of us would cut back on our monthly kilowatt spending spree if we could see our money draining away minute by minute. That’s why the startup Tuck co-founded with entrepreneur Tim Enwall, called Tendril, has spent four years and $20 million developing a computerized system that helps consumers track their electricity use.
(26 March 2009)

Biochar Institute responds to Monbiot criticism

International Biochar Initiative (IBI)
IBI has taken note of an article by George Monbiot in the UK Guardian on March 24, 2009 that questioned the validity of biochar as a climate mitigation tool and the scientists and others who support the development of biochar.

The Guardian has published responses from several of those biochar supporters mentioned by Mr. Monbiot, including James Hansen, Chris Goodall, and James Lovelock.

IBI sent The Guardian the response below written by IBI staff members Stephen Brick and Debbie Reed.

George Monbiot is right on the mark about our seemingly irresistible tendency for embracing miracle cures. And it is refreshing to have the press remind us that the laws of thermodynamics will continue to apply in our quest to reduce global carbon emissions. But his diatribe against biochar-like most such screeds-would have us throw the baby out with the bathwater.

This has been said often, but it needs to be said again: there is no magical pathway for cutting global carbon emissions. There is only a collection of steps-complex, costly, and, politically challenging. Put another way, there is no single remedy for the whole problem; but there are, very likely, one hundred different actions that can each bear one percent of the burden. Serious people have understood this for some time, and this would include, we believe, a large fraction of the general public that Mr. Monbiot presumably wishes to warn.

Biochar, produced and used appropriately, should be considered amongst the hundred. Done right, biochar produces four value streams: waste reduction, energy production, soil fertilization and carbon sequestration. Biochar can be made from animal manures and food processing wastes. These residuals are costly to those who produce them, and create greenhouse gas emissions if left untreated. Bio-gas and oil can be used for heating, generating electricity and transportation. Biochar can reduce the need for conventional, fossil-fuel based fertilizers. Finally, biochar can lock up carbon in the soils for extended time periods.

We don’t have all the answers on biochar production and utilization; indeed, the mission of the International Biochar Initiative is to seek these answers, objectively and quickly. We know that there are bad ways to make biochar, that crop monoculture for producing feedstock is not a good idea, and that biochar does not affect all soils equally. None of this should rule biochar out of court, however, as we also are assembling a body of knowledge on how to produce and use biochars that are beneficial. In this way, biochar resembles many other carbon-cutting technologies that face uncertainties. In our case, all we seek is an opportunity to be heard fairly as we move towards Copenhagen.

We have no doubt that exaggerating the benefits of biochar is not helpful. On the other hand, the potential of biochar deserves serious consideration.. Mr Monbiot’s glib dismissal of this potential is unwarranted.

Stephen Brick is the Executive Director of the International Biochar Initiative

Debbie Reed is the Policy Director of the International Biochar Initiative
(25 March 2009)

Cellulosic ethanol suffers in down economy

Philip Brasher, Des Moines Register
The economic downturn that has slowed the ethanol industry also is putting the brakes on the next generation of biofuels.

Making ethanol from plant cellulose – such as crop residue and wood chips – could help reduce the nation’s use of gasoline.

Refiners are required by law next year to start using at least 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol. But industry officials acknowledge they will not come close to providing enough of the fuel to meet that target or the targets for subsequent years.

Companies that are trying to commercialize cellulosic ethanol are struggling to find investors and lenders.
(25 March 2009)