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Throwing the Race for Green Energy

Joan Melcher, Miller-McCune
A few years ago, the news was that China was adding two new coal plants a week to its energy grid. Last year the narrative shifted: China was erecting wind turbines at the rate of one turbine a week.

In 2010, yet another narrative is at work: China, Japan and South Korea are pouring lots of money into research and development of green technologies (not that China has abandoned coal, which provides about 80 percent of its electricity). Because of these strategic investments, China is positioned to emerge as a global green tech leader, gaining first-mover advantage and diminishing the United States’ chances of capitalizing on green manufacturing jobs and the fruits of technological innovation.

Among those who have addressed this concern is Teryn Norris, one of the authors of a paper titled “Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant” released late last year by the Breakthrough Institute and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. The authors conclude that the Chinese, Japanese and Korean governments will spend $509 billion on developing green energy from 2009 to 2013. The U.S. government will invest $172 billion over that same period — if the American Clean Energy and Security Act is fully implemented.

Increasingly, proponents of more aggressive U.S. funding for green tech are framing the issue in competitive terms, some referring to it as the “Earth Race.” With the topic getting broad coverage, including articles in The New York Times, the Guardian and Newsweek, and think tanks like the Center for American Progress weighing in, Miller-McCune asked Norris directly about his findings.

Teryn Norris is an energy policy analyst and former project director at the Breakthrough Institute. As director of Americans for Energy Leadership, he has developed and advanced clean energy policy at the federal and state levels. He co-authored the National Energy Education Act proposal, which helped create the Obama administration’s RE-ENERGYSE initiative. His writing has appeared in several publications, including the Harvard Law & Policy Review and Yale Environment 360. Currently he is a public policy major at Stanford University. In ” Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant” you make the case that Asian countries, notably China, are out-investing the United States by a margin of 3 to 1 in green tech and attracting much of the future private investment in the field. Can you tell me how you and your co-authors came to that conclusion?

Teryn Norris: We started this project in the summer of 2009. What was happening at that point was a lot of reports were coming out about how heavily China was moving into this sector — particularly with the major stimulus package that it was using to react to the global recession. This was also taking place in South Korea and Japan. We saw that these countries are making a very concerted effort to try to gain market share as quickly as possible. One of their main strategies to accomplish this is through massive investment in technology and deployment. So we looked at the numbers compared to what the United States is investing in the sector and would be invested if the American Clean Energy and Security Act were actually implemented … and we realized that they were going to massively out-invest us. They’re already out-producing us in virtually all of these technologies, even if the act passes, so they’re setting themselves up to dominate this industry over the next couple of decades…
(18 March 2010)

And in another take on this issue…

A Rising Green-Tech Tide Will Lift All Boats

Joan Melcher, Miller-McCune
As energy legislation stacks up in the U.S. Congress, those who would limit carbon emissions and boost green technology see a new line of attack. It’s time to think in terms of an “Earth Race,” they say, pointing to reports of large, targeted investments in green-tech by several Asian countries.

Advocates of green-tech funding, including the Breakthrough Institute (see Q&A with Teryn Norris), see a Chinese ascendancy in green tech. Losing confidence in the United Nations’ efforts to curb carbon emissions on a global scale, these proponents frame the debate in competitive and technological terms reminiscent of the Cold War, suggesting the U.S. needs to give the effort attention similar to the 1960s drive to put a man on the moon.

Others, among them Christina Larson, a journalist and fellow with the New America Foundation who has written extensively on China and Southeast Asia, say framing green-tech innovation as a race is not only simplistic but ultimately counterproductive.

Larson is a contributing editor at Foreign Policy and The Washington Monthly. Her articles also have appeared in The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Boston Globe and The New Republic. She is a Swartz fellow with the New America Foundation. caught up with her between trips. You’ve taken issue with people who have suggested the United States should worry about recent increases in investment by Asian countries in developing a green-tech industry. Why do you think framing it as a “race” is a bad idea?

Christina Larson: I take issue partly with framing it as a race and partly with the assertion that China is winning the race. I think as context, there was a great article in The Washington Post by two veteran China reporters that looks at the way in which China is being used as an all-purpose boogeyman. It’s very politicized. I think when we talk about clean and green technology, there are so many facets of the industry that it’s really difficult to say one country could be winning.

China has certain advantages in terms of relatively low labor costs and other advantages that have made it the world’s factory. The fact that that is also happening with equipment that we’ve recently labeled green tech shouldn’t be that surprising. It doesn’t represent anything new, per se. It does represent the fact that Beijing has been smart in investing and building up the infrastructure to take advantage of a new kind of product that there’s a global market for. It’s not like the U.S. is losing something by that.

The New York Times has run a series of articles by a reporter out of Shanghai named Keith Bradsher that’s documented China’s progress in terms of green-tech manufacturing. It’s now the top manufacturer of certain kinds of solar panels and wind turbines. I suppose you could say it’s winning in that respect…
(19 March 2010)

The war of words over home-produced electricity feed-in tariffs could cost dearly

Jonathan Porrit blog
On March 2nd, Guardian columnist George Monbiot launched an extraordinary attack on feed-in tariffs and on solar photovoltaics (PV) in particular. Even for George, who has honed his invective skills to a fine point over the years, his language was remarkably intemperate: “pricey conceit … great green rip-off… scam…comically inefficient…squandering the public’s money…perfectly useless… a swindle…blinded by sentiment” etc, etc.

A lot of this seemed to be aimed, very personally, at Jeremy Leggett, Executive Chairman of Solarcentury. For years, Jeremy has been flying the flag for the UK solar industry and for the benefits for introducing the kind of feed-in tariffs that have transformed the renewable energy scene in many other countries.

Within a couple of days, Jeremy had mounted a robust defence of PV, feed-in tariffs and the importance of maintaining a long-term perspective. Citing 13 examples of inaccuracy, misrepresentation and hyperbole (reinforced by a further 12 points following up on a response from George), he has set out to set the record straight.

Over the weekend I spent a happy hour reading through this four-phase battle, point by point. It matters. There’s a lot resting on the success of these feed-in tariffs, and that in turn depends on trust on the part of the general public. A George Monbiot polemic is purpose-built to undermine that trust…
(18 March 2010)
and here is Monbiot’s answer, and may this be the end of it! -KS

Wind resistance

Morgan Bettex, MIT News
Wind power has emerged as a viable renewable energy source in recent years — one that proponents say could lessen the threat of global warming. Although the American Wind Energy Association estimates that only about 2 percent of U.S. electricity is currently generated from wind turbines, the U.S. Department of Energy has said that wind power could account for a fifth of the nation’s electricity supply by 2030.

But a new MIT analysis may serve to temper enthusiasm about wind power, at least at very large scales. Ron Prinn, TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Science, and principal research scientist Chien Wang of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, used a climate model to analyze the effects of millions of wind turbines that would need to be installed across vast stretches of land and ocean to generate wind power on a global scale. Such a massive deployment could indeed impact the climate, they found, though not necessarily with the desired outcome.

In a paper published online Feb. 22 in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, Wang and Prinn suggest that using wind turbines to meet 10 percent of global energy demand in 2100 could cause temperatures to rise by one degree Celsius in the regions on land where the wind farms are installed, including a smaller increase in areas beyond those regions. Their analysis indicates the opposite result for wind turbines installed in water: a drop in temperatures by one degree Celsius over those regions. The researchers also suggest that the intermittency of wind power could require significant and costly backup options, such as natural gas-fired power plants.

Prinn cautioned against interpreting the study as an argument against wind power, urging that it be used to guide future research that explores the downsides of large-scale wind power before significant resources are invested to build vast wind farms. “We’re not pessimistic about wind,” he said. “We haven’t absolutely proven this effect, and we’d rather see that people do further research.”..
(12 March 2010)

Marine energy projects approved for Scotland

Kunal Dutta, The Independent
The seabed off the north coast of Scotland could be transformed into the “Saudi Arabia of marine energy” after seven power firms were awarded contracts for a landmark project designed to harness the area’s potential for tidal energy and power up to 750,000 homes by 2020.

More than 20 firms were originally in the running for the project, billed as the world’s first commercial wave and tidal scheme, in the Pentland Firth between northern Scotland and the Orkney Islands.

Yesterday, the seven successful bidders were informed by the Crown Estate, which owns much of the UK seabed and is funding the project alongside the Scottish government and local partners.

The tender, the largest of its kind, is a landmark step in British efforts to develop wave and tidal stream technology, helping to meet climate-change targets and reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels. Ten sites have been earmarked for the project, which aims to generate 1.2 gigawatts of electricity from the sites off the Orkney, and the Caithness and Sutherland coasts.

Successful bidders include Aquamarine Power and E.ON, whose plans for a controversial coal-based power station at Kingsnorth were shelved last October after pressure from protesters. E.ON has won leases for wave projects designated in West Orkney South and West Orkney Middle South.

Tidal schemes will be developed by SSE Renewables Developments off Westray South and jointly with OpenHydro Site Developments off Cantick Head, both on Orkney. Pelamis Wave Power will manage the Armadale site in the Pentland Firth off Sutherland.

Wave schemes will be developed by SSE Renewables Developments off Costa Head and also jointly with Aquamarine Power off Brough Head, both on Orkney. ScottishPower Renewables has the lease for Marwick Head, Orkney…
(17 March 2010)