EU: Carbon Down in 2009
The EU's carbon market faces lower prices and fewer emissions permits in 2009. [Note: like any commodity, lower prices are good news for some.] Look ahead
The EU's carbon market faces lower prices and fewer emissions permits in 2009. [Note: like any commodity, lower prices are good news for some.] Look ahead
William Ruckelshaus, the EPA's first Administrator, favors a carbon tax over cap and trade, but doesn't underestimate the complexity of drafting and passing a good climate bill. Listen up
Harvard University launches a global remote-learning course on strategies for environmental management. Learn more
In the new White House and Congress, California Democrats will have environmental clout. Stay tuned
London's iconic double decker bus will return, this time with zero or ultra low emissions. Board here
The failed climate, financial and reliability legacy of the 20th Century's fractured electricity sector must be overhauled to meet 21st Century demands. Listen here [MP3]
Now's the time to track economic and environmental progress on combating climate chaos. California can [1.5MB]
Economic analysis reveals that 'energy efficiency gets cheaper the more you spend on it.' Think again
Some compact fluorescent bulbs are better than others, but an Energy Star label may not help consumers choose. See here
With demand for electricity dropping, China's power industry rejects a coal industry demand for higher prices. Stay tuned
The sale of coal for home heating is rising in Pennsylvania. How 19th century!
Steinway & Sons is installing rooftop parabolic solar panels that will generate cool air to dehumidfy small moving parts of the pianos it manufactures. Celestial!
A NYC taxi driver at the wheel of a hybrid vehicle told me he has to pay the cab company more to use an energy efficient vehicle than an energy hog. The company's logic, he says, is since hybrids save drivers money on fuel, the extra rental cost is justified. Doesn't seem right to me. Comments?
Plans in China for eco-cities and town are stalling - or worse. Peer inside
Astronauts first saw an Earthrise on December 24, 1968. Forty years later, pause and reflect. Best wishes from Sallan
How will Obama's economic recovery plan address the struggle between supporting green projects and shovel ready ones? Dig in
States are lining up to spend federal economic recovery funds on roads and highways, not mass transit. Same-o
Nuclear-reliant France has plans to export more electricity while increasing power production at home. Stay tuned
In California, RETI's goal is to supply answers about how to upgrade the power grid to serve renewable energy suppliers. Fine print [4.5 MB]
Coming in 2009, a bi-partisan High Performance Buildings Congressional Caucus. Look ahead
There's a "Wildman" giving foraging tours in Central Park. Chow wow!
Japan's Mitsubishi and France's Areva create a joint venture to design and manufacture nuclear fuel assemblies. Learn more
The Obama administration seems poised to deliver on the promise of environmental justice. Stay tuned
Peer into the future of nuclear power development in the US. Come on
Decoupling, it's not red or blue, and Idaho's joined a short list of states like California that regulate their electric utilities to encourage investment in energy efficiency. Get energized
The British government will not block construction of new coal-fired power plants. Take your lumps
A new study estimates that the existing electric power grid might be able to transmit three times more renewable energy than current models allow. Connect here
This New Year's Eve, the Times Square ball will be lit up by pedal power from folks on stationary bikes. 10, 9,8...
With renewed global interest in nuclear power, utilities seeks to secure their uranium supplies. WSJ
Saudi Arabia would seek development of alternative power sources if oil hits $75 a barrel. Drill down
Catch up with best bets for reviving the economy by greening the infrastructure. Start here
Hilda Solis, the incoming Secretary of Labor, is a green collar jobs advocate. Dig in
Eco-architect offers a program of green residential mortgage write-downs and accelerated depreciation allowances for commercial buildings to combat climate change and pay for it with taxes linked to a booming jobs market. Keep reading
Eco-advocates and analysts agree that a massive move to renewable energy should top Obama's climate and economic recovery to-do list. Learn more
French utility EDF acquires 50% of Constellation Energy's nuclear power business by beating Buffet's bid. Plug in
The future of electric car batteries will get a boost if fourteen US hi-tech companies can raise $1 billion in federal funds to build a manufacturing plant. WSJ
In 2008, CO2 emissions are 16% under the RGGI cap in the ten state cap and trade zone. What's up?
The EU will shrink the available pool of CO2 emissions permits. In 2013 all utility permits will be auctioned and extend to manufacturers in 2020. Clap for caps
The Obama economic stimulus deal could pump billions of federal dollars to local and state decision makers. Stay tuned
The big green advocacy groups have teamed up to raise a climate and environmental protection agenda up the to-do list for the Obama administration. Read up
The Washington Post editorializes for a "gas" tax. Does the WP mean a "carbon" tax? Cap that
For some, government policy that favors investment in green technology R&D is the best strategy for combating climate change. Here's a chance to learn more about it. Lots of links
Estimates of global oil and gas reserves are likely to plunge because development will be too costly. WSJ
Andy Revkin gets a blizzard of replies to his questions about the right paths toward climate and energy solutions. Read them, add your own
Australia, with a growing population, pledges to cut its GHG emissions between 5-15% by 2020. Oh
Chances for an economic recovery will grow if the new Administration devises and then uses a green project scorecard. Get the facts
A manufacturer of crystalline silicon for pv cells sees strong demand and will spend $2.2. billion to expand production. Sunny news
20 MW of concentrated photovoltaic power will be installed in Greece with US venture capital support. WSJ
Scope out what's behind the headlines on California's new climate action plan. Think large [2 MB]
Christian evangelical Richard Cizik, an advocate of climate action, lost his leadership spot after publicly supporting gay unions. Learn more
EU negotiators are tilting toward German and Polish demands for the free allocation of GHG permits in the next round of the EU-ETS. Come on down
The Governor of Texas sees required CO2 emissions cuts as 'disastrous' for his state but will a shifting public go along? WSJ
A new EU agreement on GHG emissions might be blocked by Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi. Stay tuned
What's the word from New Jersey on Lisa Jackson, Obama's pick for the EPA? Read up
Investment in the French-owned electric power grid is set to rise 20% in 2009. Plug in
Here's some background material on the new head of the federal Department of Energy, Steven Chu. Click
The EU-ETS has failed to cut greenhouse gas levels. Only big polluters have benefited. Very inconvenient
The climate policy debate could be resolved by economics and how to calculate the discount rate. Start here
In 2007, "renewable" energy got $4.9 billion, the lion's share of federal energy subsidies. Of that sum, $3 billion went to the ethanol industry. What's in a name?
Supplying clean drinking water and treating sewage are essential to the nation. It's important to make sustainable infrastructure investments and to keep climate impacts in view. Liquid assets
A scholars' conference concludes that that battle against climate change is already lost. Grim news
President-elect Obama ties jobs and national security to combating climate change. Stay tuned
An NRDC report on the auto industry finds that GM and Ford vehicles could meet California GHG emissions standards nationwide by 2012. That's efficient!
It would take a big investment, but by 2020 Scotland could get half of its power from renewable resources while having enough to export to England and Northern Ireland. Plug in
Catch up with the latest thinking about smart electric grids and the role of high temperature superconductivity. Fine print
The UN's climate chief says that US inaction on setting C02 limits, global climate negotiations could fail. Feel anxious?
The UN's climate Adaptation Fund is going broke, although it hasn't paid for any projects. Learn more
NYT Dot Earth Blog
This drop off could be an American media phenomenon. When I read the Financial Times, the UK Guardian or look at Reuters on line there's plenty of news about climate and energy topics. As well, some of the specialized business media in the US, say in real estate, is quite interested in "green" high performance building.
Q: After rebates, what costs $10K to install and has a six year payback? A: Solar pv on Brooklyn rooftops
Portland Oregon's new energy efficiency feebate program faces stiff opposition from homebuilders and aims lower. Look into it
A German power company that relies on coal complains the EU plan to impose GHG emissions fees will ruin utility market competitiveness. Fair or foul?
The tax-equity market, a prime mechanism to fund clean energy projects in the US, has stopped working. Brrr
EDF, a French nuclear power firm, seeks to extend the useful life of its reactors from 40 to 60 years. Plug in
South Africa's publicly-owned electric utility opts out of building a new nuclear power plant. Good news?
Building underwriters are turning their attention to green and like what they see. Takes a village
The Big-Three are pledging to produce clean, energy-efficient vehicles, but have spent millions to do nothing of the kind. Watch closely
Struggling solar power companies look for federal support. Plug in
Cash-strapped companies that generate renewable power may be a bargain now. Who's buying?
The EIA reports that US GHG emissions increased another 1.4% in 2007. GHG intensiveness declined 0.6%, the smalled decrease since 2002. Learn more
With eco-dry cleaners popping up everywhere, it's time to separate the green from the hype. WSJ
Expect an EU vote on whether local governments may use existing funds to install solar panels and energy efficient windows in more low-income homes. Stay tuned
Delivering on the Obama promise to revive the economy by supporting systemic energy efficiency and growing green-collar jobs is a work in progress. What's in store?
Catch up with the latest developments in making electricity from never-intermittent tide and wave power. Dive in
As solar thermal power plants appear in California not everyone is happy. Look into it
Russia will not allow the sale GHG emissions allowances to others pulling out a major source of permits to other polluters. You bet
Electricite de France is still trying to outbid Warren Buffet for a 50% share of US nuclear power utility Constellation Energy. Plug in
It's not War and Peace, but the Army's got a progress report on what the military is doing to go green. Get mobilized
Nordhouse & Shellenberger launch their latest attack on their version of conventional climate change thinking and prescribe deficit spending as the solution. Either/or?
A green-facing economic recovery plan is under consideration by President-elect Obama. Who's interested?
Industry is poised to retrain its free GHG emissions permits under the EU-ETS. Surprised?
Ford Motor will tell Congress that its gearing up to launch a line of hybrid and electric vehicles. WSJ
Transportation revolutions are embedded in larger infrastructure revolutions. Track the implications. Start here
The best driver of growth should be investments in solutions to the global climate crisis. Lord Stern says
Jet engine technology could be the key to cheap wind power. Catch it
UN climate treaty talks begin in Poznan, Poland with 190 nations at the table. Begin here
According to the recently published World Energy Outlook, 80% of China’s energy use occurs in cities, reflecting the dramatic population and economic shifts that have occurred in that country in recent decades.
China’s growing urban energy use has global price impacts. The country’s heavy reliance on coal to fuel urban power demand also has major environmental consequences both directly in these cities and in rural communities where the coal is mined or turned into electricity. Recently, emissions from China’s coal power plants have been blamed for degraded air quality in American and Canadian cities, as the plume of emissions blows across the Pacific Ocean.
There are many ways to explain growing urban energy demand in China. Automobile ownership rates in Chinese cities have increased dramatically, reflecting rising personal income levels. The country where bicycle usage was until recently ubiquitous now faces significant motor vehicle traffic jams, forcing some local authorities to grapple with the question of whether to continue to assign separate traffic lanes to bicycles. Should car ownership rates begin to approach levels common in American cities, China’s cities could literally become huge parking lots.
Rising household income also manifests itself in growing ownership rates of consumer appliances. Between 2000 and 2007, air conditioner ownership around Shanghai nearly doubled, with the average household now owning two air conditioning units, making that city’s steamy summers more bearable. Similar stories can be told in other municipalities.
Air conditioning use and the increased ownership of other consumer appliances like computers and mobile phones, have helped drive per capita electricity use in the urbanized core of Shanghai from 113 kWh in 1990 to 803 kWh in 2005. Just to put this in perspective, New York City’s per capita residential electricity demand was 1662 kWh in 2005.
Local Energy Policy Trends
Will urban energy demand growth continue unabated, or are local authorities on the case? While most cities in China lack formal energy policies or comprehensive sustainability plans along the lines of New York’s PlaNYC, that’s not to say they’re not thinking about these issues. Much of the energy policy focus in China’s cities has emphasized reducing the energy intensity of local activities, as a response to a national mandate outlined in central government’s 11th Five-Year Plan. Under the plan, provinces and cities must reduce by 20% the amount of energy required to produce one unit of gross domestic product.
Energy security challenges – in the form of periodic blackouts or brownouts – were one of the driving forces behind this mandate, as demand growth has outstripped the national power system’s ability to deliver electricity to cities on peak summer demand days several times over the past few years. As recently as 2004, local authorities forced the Volkswagen and General Motors vehicle production facilities in Shanghai to shutter operations for several days because of the dire local electricity situation.
Cities have responded to the energy intensity mandate in different ways. Some have established limits on the coldest allowable air conditioner settings. The city of Rizhao in south China has aggressively touted the benefits of solar hot water systems, promoting them so thoroughly that 99% of residential households reportedly have one or more units on their rooftops, balconies, or exterior walls. Other cities in China are focusing heavily on transport-related energy use, developing new bus rapid transit schemes and subways to keep people out of their cars and reduce local pollution levels. A few have taken more dramatic steps, forcing large privately owned energy-consuming businesses to shut down altogether or encouraging them to relocate outside of the city.
Shanghai has pursued an aggressive energy strategy, reducing local energy intensity by 84% since 1985. Rapid growth in the less energy-intensive service and financial sectors is one explanation for this dramatic drop, as is a concerted effort to shut down the most inefficient factories located around the city. Given that Shanghai’s economy has slowly been transitioning away from heavy manufacturing, the amount of energy consumed in commercial businesses and residential buildings is becoming a much more prominent part of Shanghai’s energy picture. One recent study estimates that these buildings consumed approximately 32% of electricity used in the city in 2004, but given the phenomenal level of construction occurring in Shanghai each year, this number must be rising rapidly.
Building Energy Policymaking a Challenge at the Local Level
For a variety of reasons, reducing building-related energy consumption is a challenging proposition,. From an institutional perspective, central government’s energy policies have been written in a deliberately vague manner, allowing for implementation flexibility across provinces and cities in dramatically different socio-economic or geographic circumstances. This can impede local authority action to promote green buildings, however, out of fear that local policies may leapfrog central government’s actual intent. For municipal officials seeking to advance within provincial or central government, overstepping one’s bounds can be a real career killer.
Within local government, planning and development responsibilities tend to be split among several different agencies, each of which reports to different Vice Mayors and gauges success in different ways (e.g., Plan, Plan, Plan! vs. Build, Build, Build!). The planning permit approval process can be convoluted, involving much back and forth negotiations between the developer and the local authority. Several developers we interviewed in Shanghai last summer suggest it is possible to negotiate alternative zoning rules for an individual parcel of land. Unfortunately, this can lead to a patchwork of development across the city, making energy system master planning more difficult at the city level.
Market impediments also slow the push for green buildings. China has a long history of artificially depressing energy prices to facilitate economic development. Local authorities do have the ability to modestly raise rates above national levels – a step Shanghai Municipal Government took just a few months ago – but these prices are still a bargain compared to what market prices would otherwise dictate, making it difficult to promote voluntary action by real estate developers.
Building energy efficiency advances can also be contingent upon local building practices. Although it is commonplace to install large HVAC systems capable of serving all building tenants in commercial properties, residential properties in Chinese cities south of the Yangtze River are generally built as a shell, without any centralized heating or cooling system. The owners of each unit are instead expected to outfit their unit according to their own needs, desires, and budget. Large residential buildings are easily identifiable because of the number of small, less efficient heating and cooling units affixed to the exterior of the building.
Cultural factors may also explain local government’s hesitancy to be more proactive on green building efforts. After decades of forced limits on consumer product availability, households are now exercising their buying power from fully-stocked shelves. Some commentators argue that it has become culturally unacceptable for local authorities to reinstate command-and-control policies telling the public which energy-using technologies they can and cannot buy when outfitting their homes.
Cause for Optimism?
The green building news is not all bad, however. Shanghai Municipal Government has been instrumental in pushing for the design and development of the Dongtan Eco-City on nearby Chongming Island in the middle of the Yangtze. The plans are impressive, with buildings in the new development anticipated to use but a fraction of the energy consumed by other buildings around the city. While there are concerns that shovels have yet to break ground despite three years of planning, China has clearly proven its ability to move amazingly quickly on large construction projects when it so chooses. Ask any recent visitor to a downtown Shanghai hotel, and they’ll tell you stories about waking up in the middle of the night from noise associated with the 24-hour work schedule on a new skyscraper under construction next door. Tianjin Eco-City outside of Beijing actually did break ground in October; it too calls for highly efficient residential housing and commercial properties and a green power supply for these buildings.
More good news appeared in early November, when China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development signed a commitment with a Shanghai-based NGO known as JUCCCE (the Joint US-China Cooperation on Clean Energy) to develop a new energy policy training program for the mayors and vice-mayors of Chinese cities. Columbia University’s Urban Energy Program is playing a central role in that program, aiding with the development of the curriculum and developing case studies profiling China-relevant energy efficiency initiatives implemented in cities around the world. Building-related topics will be an important focus of the training, which over the next three years will introduce more than 300 mayors and vice-mayors (representing hundreds of millions of people) to proven urban energy policy and program strategies. Vendors and policy experts involved in these programs will travel to China to participate in the training, so they can directly answer the questions of local officials concerned about how to implement these ideas within China’s unique regulatory, cultural, technology, and market context.
Given China’s voracious energy appetite, getting urban energy planning “right” is of critical importance to all of us. The new mayoral training program will help bring some of the best ideas from around the world to the table, and we’re excited to help support this important initiative. However success will also require profound change in how decisions are made at different levels of government, , and the current economic downturn will provide us with important new insights about where energy ranks on the country’s priority list during hard-times. The news so far indicates that energy efficiency projects will be a priority of central government’s giant economic stimulus package. If true, this bodes well for those who want to see China’s “concrete” dragon cut its energy appetite to a more manageable and environmentally sustainable level.
We’ll report back next year with some observations from the first round of the mayoral training program, and with other energy news that we’re seeing on the ground in other Chinese cities.
Dr. Stephen Hammer is Director of the Urban Energy Program at Columbia University’s Center for Energy, Marine Transportation and Public Policy (CEMTPP). He can be contacted at email@example.com. Elizabeth Balkan was formerly a researcher at CEMTPP; she currently consults on a range of China energy sector-related initiatives.