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News & Views Curation

December 31, 2008

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

Ruckelshaus Speaks

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

December 30, 2008

Study At Harvard, Save On Gas

Harvard University launches a global remote-learning course on strategies for environmental management. Learn more

California Leadin"

In the new White House and Congress, California Democrats will have environmental clout. Stay tuned

What's Red & Green?

London's iconic double decker bus will return, this time with zero or ultra low emissions. Board here

Needed: A 21st Century Energy Sector

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]

December 29, 2008

Indexing Innovation

Now's the time to track economic and environmental progress on combating climate chaos. California can [1.5MB]

It's Counterintuitive!

Economic analysis reveals that 'energy efficiency gets cheaper the more you spend on it.' Think again

Bulb Alert

Some compact fluorescent bulbs are better than others, but an Energy Star label may not help consumers choose. See here

Strains In China's Coal Sector

With demand for electricity dropping, China's power industry rejects a coal industry demand for higher prices. Stay tuned

Coal's Hot

The sale of coal for home heating is rising in Pennsylvania. How 19th century!

SBC-It Adds Up

SBC, the small charge tacked onto New Yorkers' electric power bills, adds to to a big State fund that energizes energy savings programs, mostly upstate. Plug in & Audits too

December 27, 2008

Make Music WIth The Sun

Steinway & Sons is installing rooftop parabolic solar panels that will generate cool air to dehumidfy small moving parts of the pianos it manufactures. Celestial!

Say It Ain't So Mike

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?

December 24, 2008

China's Green Glow Fades

Plans in China for eco-cities and town are stalling - or worse. Peer inside

Earth & Xmas

Astronauts first saw an Earthrise on December 24, 1968. Forty years later, pause and reflect. Best wishes from Sallan

Shovel Ready Or Not

How will Obama's economic recovery plan address the struggle between supporting green projects and shovel ready ones? Dig in

Road Kill

States are lining up to spend federal economic recovery funds on roads and highways, not mass transit. Same-o

Moving Atoms Around

Nuclear-reliant France has plans to export more electricity while increasing power production at home. Stay tuned

December 23, 2008


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]

Building A High-Performance Congress

Coming in 2009, a bi-partisan High Performance Buildings Congressional Caucus. Look ahead

Another Way To Eat Out In NYC

There's a "Wildman" giving foraging tours in Central Park. Chow wow!

Nuclear Fusion

Japan's Mitsubishi and France's Areva create a joint venture to design and manufacture nuclear fuel assemblies. Learn more

December 22, 2008

EJ On The Way

The Obama administration seems poised to deliver on the promise of environmental justice. Stay tuned

Will The Atom Make A Comeback?

Peer into the future of nuclear power development in the US. Come on

Decoupling In Idaho

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

UK: Coal's OK

The British government will not block construction of new coal-fired power plants. Take your lumps

Room On The Grid

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

December 19, 2008

Stay Put & Shine

This New Year's Eve, the Times Square ball will be lit up by pedal power from folks on stationary bikes. 10, 9,8...

RGGI Auction Results

The December RGGI auction of 31,505,898 CO2 allowances cleared the market at $3.38 a ton. Sold! NY reaps $42 million

Uranium Futures

With renewed global interest in nuclear power, utilities seeks to secure their uranium supplies. WSJ

Beyond The Oil Horizon

Saudi Arabia would seek development of alternative power sources if oil hits $75 a barrel. Drill down

An Infrastructure Agenda For Obama

Catch up with best bets for reviving the economy by greening the infrastructure. Start here

Green Labor

Hilda Solis, the incoming Secretary of Labor, is a green collar jobs advocate. Dig in

December 18, 2008

A Green Building Agenda Fo Obama

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

A Green Agenda For Obama

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 Nuclear Utility Wins

French utility EDF acquires 50% of Constellation Energy's nuclear power business by beating Buffet's bid. Plug in

Energizing Electric Cars

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

CO2 Under The Cap

In 2008, CO2 emissions are 16% under the RGGI cap in the ten state cap and trade zone. What's up?

December 17, 2008

EU: Aggressive CO2 Capping

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

Green Check Or Blank Check?

The Obama economic stimulus deal could pump billions of federal dollars to local and state decision makers. Stay tuned

December 16, 2008

Gimme a G!

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

In Praise Of Taxes

The Washington Post editorializes for a "gas" tax. Does the WP mean a "carbon" tax? Cap that

If Green Tech's The Answer

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

Energy Out Of Reach

Estimates of global oil and gas reserves are likely to plunge because development will be too costly. WSJ

Cooled By La Nina

This year's global temperatures are down, thanks to La Nina. UK data and NASA data

Either/Or Or Other?

Andy Revkin gets a blizzard of replies to his questions about the right paths toward climate and energy solutions. Read them, add your own

December 15, 2008

Australia: 5-15x20

Australia, with a growing population, pledges to cut its GHG emissions between 5-15% by 2020. Oh

Measured Goverment

Chances for an economic recovery will grow if the new Administration devises and then uses a green project scorecard. Get the facts

$2.2 Billion For Solar Power

A manufacturer of crystalline silicon for pv cells sees strong demand and will spend $2.2. billion to expand production. Sunny news

Greece: New Solar Tech

20 MW of concentrated photovoltaic power will be installed in Greece with US venture capital support. WSJ

December 12, 2008

California Changin'

Scope out what's behind the headlines on California's new climate action plan. Think large [2 MB]

Cizik Ousted

Christian evangelical Richard Cizik, an advocate of climate action, lost his leadership spot after publicly supporting gay unions. Learn more

EU: 30% Or More Free Permits

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

Still Says No

The Governor of Texas sees required CO2 emissions cuts as 'disastrous' for his state but will a shifting public go along? WSJ

December 11, 2008

Berlusconi-Bad Guy

A new EU agreement on GHG emissions might be blocked by Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi. Stay tuned

Jackson From Jersey

What's the word from New Jersey on Lisa Jackson, Obama's pick for the EPA? Read up

France: Infrastructure Investment

Investment in the French-owned electric power grid is set to rise 20% in 2009. Plug in

Who Is Steven Chu?

Here's some background material on the new head of the federal Department of Energy, Steven Chu. Click

December 10, 2008

We Won't Get There From Here

The EU-ETS has failed to cut greenhouse gas levels. Only big polluters have benefited. Very inconvenient

Don't Discount It

The climate policy debate could be resolved by economics and how to calculate the discount rate. Start here

Defined Benefits

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?

H2O's Critical Infrastructure

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

Hope They're Wrong

A scholars' conference concludes that that battle against climate change is already lost. Grim news

Time For Delay Is Over

President-elect Obama ties jobs and national security to combating climate change. Stay tuned

Yes They Can

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!

December 09, 2008

Scotland: Invest In Power

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

Super-Smart Grid

Catch up with the latest thinking about smart electric grids and the role of high temperature superconductivity. Fine print

Failure Is Possible

The UN's climate chief says that US inaction on setting C02 limits, global climate negotiations could fail. Feel anxious?

December 08, 2008

Stop Adapting

The UN's climate Adaptation Fund is going broke, although it hasn't paid for any projects. Learn more

From Poznan To Copenhagen

"Some progress is still possible." What will China and the US do? And the EU?

Media Bubble

NYT Dot Earth Blog

Nancy answers Andy Revkin's question about whether the world is poised to enter an Obama-style "trance" on climate policy given that the media focus is elswhere. Read Nancy's response...

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.

Rising Sun

Q: After rebates, what costs $10K to install and has a six year payback? A: Solar pv on Brooklyn rooftops

Portland Retreats On Green Feebates

Portland Oregon's new energy efficiency feebate program faces stiff opposition from homebuilders and aims lower. Look into it

Germany: Carbon Fees Not Fair

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?

Clean Energy Freeze-Out

The tax-equity market, a prime mechanism to fund clean energy projects in the US, has stopped working. Brrr

December 05, 2008

Go For 60

EDF, a French nuclear power firm, seeks to extend the useful life of its reactors from 40 to 60 years. Plug in

SA Pulls The Plug On New Nuke

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

Watch What They Do

The Big-Three are pledging to produce clean, energy-efficient vehicles, but have spent millions to do nothing of the kind. Watch closely

Stalled Solar Seeks Support

Struggling solar power companies look for federal support. Plug in

Alternative Energy-A Bargain!

Cash-strapped companies that generate renewable power may be a bargain now. Who's buying?

EU's Climate Plan In Peril

Poland, Italy and other EU member could derail the Union's climate policy aspirations. WSJ

EU's Climate Plan In Peril

Poland, Italy and other EU member could derail the Union's climate policy aspirations. WSJ

December 04, 2008

Stop Fiddling

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

Can You Dry Clean Green?

With eco-dry cleaners popping up everywhere, it's time to separate the green from the hype. WSJ

Will EU Pay For Home Energy Efficiency?

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

Transition Energy

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?

Salt Water Power

Catch up with the latest developments in making electricity from never-intermittent tide and wave power. Dive in

December 03, 2008

Here Comes Big Solar

As solar thermal power plants appear in California not everyone is happy. Look into it

Russian Hold 'Em

Russia will not allow the sale GHG emissions allowances to others pulling out a major source of permits to other polluters. You bet

EDF v Buffet

Electricite de France is still trying to outbid Warren Buffet for a 50% share of US nuclear power utility Constellation Energy. Plug in

Fighting Green

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

December 02, 2008

Spend, Not Tax, Is The Answer

Nordhouse & Shellenberger launch their latest attack on their version of conventional climate change thinking and prescribe deficit spending as the solution. Either/or?

Obama's Green Rx

A green-facing economic recovery plan is under consideration by President-elect Obama. Who's interested?

China Could Cap Carbon

According to Citigroup, if China can sell emissions credits through the CDM, it may cap its CO2 emissions. Learn more while Chinese foreign minister weighs in. Stay tuned

EU: Free Pollution

Industry is poised to retrain its free GHG emissions permits under the EU-ETS. Surprised?

Ford Shifts To Green

Ford Motor will tell Congress that its gearing up to launch a line of hybrid and electric vehicles. WSJ

December 01, 2008

Connect The Dots

Transportation revolutions are embedded in larger infrastructure revolutions. Track the implications. Start here

What Would Keynes Do?

The best driver of growth should be investments in solutions to the global climate crisis. Lord Stern says

Jet Powered Wind

Jet engine technology could be the key to cheap wind power. Catch it

A Common Climate Vision?

UN climate treaty talks begin in Poznan, Poland with 190 nations at the table. Begin here

A Common Climate Vision?

UN climate treaty talks begin in Poznan, Poland with 190 nations at the table. Begin here but beware the 'cheap and dirty' fix warns UN official

Taming the Concrete Dragon?

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 Elizabeth Balkan was formerly a researcher at CEMTPP; she currently consults on a range of China energy sector-related initiatives.