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Energy and Global Warming News for November 17th: Interior Department OKs second large solar project in Nevada; Public EV charging program expands; Global warming to bring more intense storms

Interior Department OKs Second Large Solar Project on Nevada Public Lands

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) on November 15 approved the second large-scale solar energy project on U.S. public lands in Nevada. The Amargosa Farm Road Solar Project, a 500-megawatt (MW) facility, will provide electricity to about 150,000 homes. The project, an initiative of Solar Millennium LLC, is expected to create 1,300 construction jobs and up to 200 permanent operation jobs. Last month, DOI green lighted the first solar energy project on U.S. public lands in Nevada, First Solar’s Silver State North Solar Project, a 50-megawatt facility to be built in the Ivanpah Valley, 40 miles south of Las Vegas.

The Amargosa Farm Road Solar Project will employ concentrating solar power technology that will include two 250-megawatt parabolic trough power plants equipped with thermal energy storage capability. The project will be located in the Amargosa Valley on 4,350 acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The project has undergone extensive environmental review, officials said. BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service worked closely with Solar Millennium to develop an innovative mitigation plan for water use that can serve as a model for future solar projects.

The project will have a net-neutral benefit on the plant and animal species found at nearby Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and the Devils Hole, a cavern located within the refuge. BLM also worked with the developer to reduce the approved project’s footprint from 7,630 acres to 6,320 acres. The BLM will require a natural color palette and minimum night lighting measures to reduce visual impacts on the local community.

Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s incentives for specified energy programs, Solar Millennium would be eligible for approximately $ 1 billion in investment tax credits. The company is also eligible to apply for financing through the DOE Title 17 Loan Guarantee Program. The project is negotiating to sell electricity to NV Energy under the terms of a power purchase agreement.

DOE-Backed Public EV Charging Program Expands to Washington, D.C.

The first public electric vehicle (EV) charging station in Washington, D.C., was unveiled on November 16. Installation under Coulomb Technologies’ ChargePoint America program was supported in part by a $ 15 million DOE grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The program will install more than 500 charging stations in the District of Columbia area as part of nationwide effort that will add 4,600 charging stations during the next two years.

Noting that such advanced vehicle technologies are creating jobs and promoting the use of fuel-efficient cars in the United States, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu issued a statement saying, “the hundreds of electric vehicle charging stations coming to Washington, D.C. highlight the important role our nation’s capital will have in the clean energy economy of the future.”

Coulomb Technologies is now installing 240-v electric vehicle chargers for commercial and public use across the country. These Level II charging stations in nine regions will support the deployment of 2,600 electric-drive vehicles, including vehicles by Ford, Chevrolet, and smart USA. The nine pilot regions include Austin, Texas; Detroit, Michigan; Los Angeles; New York; Orlando, Florida; Sacramento, California; the San Jose and San Francisco Bay Area; the Bellevue and Redmond, Washington area; and now Washington, D.C.

As the public begins to use these devices, DOE will collect data on travel patterns and about how drivers use their electric vehicles; where and when people charge their cars; and what impacts the chargers might have on the grid.

Global Warming to Bring More Intense Storms to Northern Hemisphere in Winter and Southern Hemisphere Year Round

Weather systems in the Southern and Northern hemispheres will respond differently to global warming, according to an MIT atmospheric scientist’s analysis that suggests the warming of the planet will affect the availability of energy to fuel extratropical storms, or large-scale weather systems that occur at Earth’s middle latitudes. The resulting changes will depend on the hemisphere and season, the study found.

More intense storms will occur in the Southern Hemisphere throughout the year, whereas in the Northern Hemisphere, the change in storminess will depend on the season — with more intense storms occurring in the winter and weaker storms in the summer. The responses are different because even though the atmosphere will get warmer and more humid due to global warming, not all of the increased energy of the atmosphere will be available to power extratropical storms. It turns out that the changes in available energy depend on the hemisphere and season, according to the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Fewer extratropical storms during the summer in the Northern Hemisphere could lead to increased air pollution, as “there would be less movement of air to prevent the buildup of pollutants in the atmosphere,” says author Paul O’Gorman, the Victor P. Starr Career Development Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Science in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. Likewise, stronger storms year-round in the Southern Hemisphere would lead to stronger winds over the Antarctic Ocean, which would impact ocean circulation. Because the ocean circulation redistributes heat throughout the world’s oceans, any change could impact the global climate.

O’Gorman’s analysis examined the relationship between storm intensity and the amount of energy available to create the strong winds that fuel extratropical storms. After analyzing data compiled between 1981 and 2000 on winds in the atmosphere, he noticed that the energy available for storms depended on the season. Specifically, it increased during the winter, when extratropical storms are strong, and decreased during the summer, when they are weak.

Because this relationship could be observed in the current climate, O’Gorman was confident that available energy would be useful in relating temperature and storminess changes in global-warming simulations for the 21st century. After analyzing these simulations, he observed that changes in the energy available for storms were linked to changes in temperature and storm intensity, which depended on the season and hemisphere. He found that available energy increased throughout the year for the Southern Hemisphere, which led to more intense storms. But for the Northern Hemisphere, O’Gorman observed that available energy increased during the winter and decreased during the summer.

This makes sense, O’Gorman says, because the changes in the strength of extratropical storms depend on where in the atmosphere the greatest warming occurs; if the warming is greatest in the lower part of the atmosphere, this tends to create stronger storms, but if it is greatest higher up, this leads to weaker storms. During the Northern Hemisphere summer, the warming is greatest at higher altitudes, which stabilizes the atmosphere and leads to less intense storms.

Although the analysis suggests that global warming will result in weaker Northern Hemisphere storms during the summer, O’Gorman says that it’s difficult to determine the degree to which those storms will weaken. That depends on the interaction between the atmosphere and the oceans, and for the Northern Hemisphere, this interaction is linked to how quickly the Arctic Ocean ice disappears. Unfortunately, climate scientists don’t yet know the long-term rate of melting.

IBM to offer smart grid solutions to India

IBM, one of the world’s leading IT companies and smart grid solutions leaders is planning to offer its services to Indian utilities over the next few years. IBM’s General Manager of Global Energy and Utilities told an Indian business daily that his company sees tremendous potential for growth in the Indian market as it expands to provide electricity to more consumers.

India suffers from grave power shortage which is likely to worsen over the next few decades. On one hand, there are problems with the lack of adequate generation capacity with power cuts ranging to several hours still prevalent in many cities. On the other hand, there are problems with the lack of transmission infrastructure with several thousand villages still not connected to the national grid.

A third of the power transmitted is lost in the transmission network while a tenth is lost to theft. While these losses have been coming down slowly over the recent years, there is still a long way to go for the utilities to achieve the desired state of operations. India has also been missing its generation infrastructure expansion plans for the last several decades.

Last year the Indian government announced the National Mission on Enhanced Energy Efficiency which aims at improving energy efficiency in industrial as well as commercial and residential sectors. While for the industrial sector a scheme similar to the carbon trading, called the energy efficiency certificate scheme is in works, the case with the commercial and residential sector is slightly complicated. The industries can take care of themselves once the binding efficiency targets have been stipulated to them but the government needs to put in more effort for improving efficiency in the commercial/residential sector.

Therefore, such a situation calls for the implementation of the smart grid. A smart grid would help the utilities get information about the electricity use by the consumers and can potentially adapt it distribution process with respect to the time and quantum of power demand. The smart grid which uses smart meters could potentially be used for detecting power theft. In addition, the info that the consumers would have access through the smart meters would possibly help them manage their energy use in a better and more efficient way.

Clean energy: Economic key to 21st century

$ 2 trillion. That’s the amount that the global clean energy market is expected to grow in the next decade. China and Germany, two of the world’s largest economies that have best weathered the storms of recession, both see the potential of clean energy. China has created a massive domestic market to drive up demand and spur innovations. It is now poised to sell its clean technologies to the rest of the world. Germany, already world leader in solar power, made domestic clean tech development a key part of its strategy to export its way out of recession.

Beyond recovery from the current economic crisis, the country that first develops and integrates affordable clean energy technologies is likely to dominate the 21st century global economy — and create the jobs that go along with it.

The United States is a nation of innovators. Our creativity, productivity and entrepreneurial spirit led to our economic dominance throughout the 20th century. This ingenuity can drive our success in the 21st century. But we need a commitment from the private sector – coupled with strong support from the government – to develop, manufacture and use new clean energy technologies. The innovations we need to dominate this market include major, game-changing breakthroughs, like next-generation nuclear power and long-distance electric cars. But they also include incremental progress — like expanded battery storage, upgrades to our transmission system and improvements in solar panels.

But large or small, innovations don’t just happen. With slower capital returns than usually seen with IT and biotech investments, we need to encourage private sector involvement in clean energy. Lack of demand — since new energy sources have been more costly than fossil fuels — can deter development of promising technologies.

India Floods, Droughts to Worsen by 2030 as Climate Changes, Report Says

India may endure floods 30 percent more severe in magnitude and heightened drought conditions by 2030 due to climate change, which could affect crop yields, damage dams and harm infrastructure, the government said today. “There is no country in the world that is as vulnerable on so many dimensions to climate change as India is,” Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said in a climate-change report prepared by 220 scientists in the country.

Every India region is expected to see more rainfall by the 2030s, each with 5 to 10 more days annually of “extreme precipitation,” the report said. Flooding will have a “very severe implication for existing infrastructure such as dams, bridges, roads.”

Rising greenhouse-gas levels are projected to raise the average annual temperature across India, which with 1.2 billion people is the second-most populous nation after China, by as much as 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by the 2030s, it said. The changing conditions may boost yields of irrigated rice and coconuts while depressing those of corn and sorghum, reduce milk productivity from livestock and cause malaria to spread to new areas, the report said.

The frequency of droughts is already increasing, especially in the Himalayan region where the degree of severity has increased by more than 20 percent since the 1970s, it said. The report is the government’s first attempt to assess the impact of climate change by the 2030s, it said. Previous assessments made projections for the 2070s and beyond.

U.S. Solar Industry Fights to Save Clean Energy Grants

The solar industry called on Congress on Tuesday to extend a contentious grant program in the lame-duck session that it says produced 20,000 solar jobs in a year and half and helped to jump-start the U.S. clean energy economy. The U.S. Treasury’s “Section 1603″ Renewable Energy Grant Program, part of the $ 787 billion anti-recession stimulus of 2009, is slated to run out at year’s end.

Under the program, green energy developers earn almost immediate grants of 30 percent of project costs, unleashing funds quickly, in lieu of longstanding tax credits. As of late October, the money supported roughly 1,100 solar energy systems in 42 states, including 97 solar thermal installations, according to figures from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the top trade group.

“It is absolutely critical that during the lame-duck session … Congress extend this program and give support and consistency to those companies who are investing in the solar industry,” Rhone Resch, chief executive of SEIA, said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

Resch said relying on the tax credit would be a mistake because it depends on tax equity markets that froze up amid the 2008 financial crisis and may not recover until 2012. “We still have a massive gap between the tax equity appetite of the marketplace and what’s available from the lending institutions,” Resch said. He and his colleagues at solar companies are pushing for two more years of grants.

Bloomberg calls for carbon tax

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday that he’s in favor of a carbon tax –- a view not shared by many political leaders of either party in Washington. Bloomberg, speaking to a group of chief executives at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council, said the U.S. needs to reduce its dependence on foreign oil if “you want to stop sending your money to…terrorists.” The answer: “We need a carbon tax,” he said.

Bloomberg, an independent, criticized the now-moribund Democratic proposal to develop a nationwide “cap and trade” system for limiting U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by requiring companies to buy tradeable permits for the right to emit greenhouse gases under a steadily declining economy wide cap. “Cap and trade is filled with so many special interests,” he said.

The mayor downplayed speculation that he may consider a run for president, saying he had a great job already. He more forcefully dismissed the idea of an independent candidacy. “The Republicans and Democrats, no matter who their candidates are, no matter who,” would have the advantage, he said. An independent couldn’t get a majority, Bloomberg explained, and if the electoral collage produced no winner the election would go to the House of Representatives. “And in the next election, the Republicans would pick the president,” he said.

Kiribati climate change conference calls for urgent cash and action

The Tarawa climate change conference in Kiribati, a chain of low-lying islands in the South Pacific, ended with the signing of an 18-point declaration, recording concerns over the impact of climate change on some of the most vulnerable countries and calling for immediate access to adaptation funds. Signed by 12 countries (Kiribati, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, the Maldives, Cuba, Brazil, Fiji, Japan, China, the Marshall Islands, New Zealand and Australia - the US, UK and Canada chose to act as observers and not sign).

The Ambo declaration expressed “deep concerns” over the slow pace of international negotiations to reach a legally binding agreement to tackle climate change and called for an “urgent package” to be agreed at Cancun later this month to help the most vulnerable states respond to the impact. Anote Tong, the president of Kiribati, said: “I am realistic enough to understand that the process will go on for quite some time, the negotiations will carry on, but I also believe that there is sufficient conscience and goodwill existing in this global community at least to address the urgent issues now.”

Many of the representatives of the most vulnerable countries watched on quietly as the lengthy negotiations revealed the deep divisions between the world’s most powerful nations about what shape a legally binding climate agreement should take. The conference didn’t make any progress in that regard, which may be a warm up for the kind of disagreements and weak commitments we can expect from Cancun. The call for urgent adaptation finance will appeal to wealthy states who may find it easier to hand over more aid money than reduce emissions.

South Korea Planning Massive Off Shore Wind Farm

Wind energy currently meets a mere 1.5% of global electricity generation. But scientists foresee a lot of potential in this alternative energy source. Asian countries are also trying to embrace clean and green energy. South Korea is going for an ambitious off-shore wind farm amounting to $ 8.3 billion. This project will be executed at the western coast of the Korean peninsula taking a time period of ten years.

Currently South Korean companies such as Hyundai Heavy Industries, Samsung Heavy Industries, Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction, and Hyosung Corp. are taking keen interest in the production of wind turbines.

According to the Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE) this project will erect 500 wind turbines in the West Sea off the Jeolla province. All these turbines are supposed to produce 2,500 megawatts of energy a year. This amount of electricity will be sufficient for 3.5 million Busan residents for a full month. MKE director general Kang Nam-hoon says, “Basically, the scheme is composed of three phases. By 2013, we will have raised 20 5-megawatt turbines and add 180 by 2016 and 300 more by 2019.”

Kang Nam-hoon is quite hopeful that South Korea will register its entry into clean and green fuel with the completion of this project. He states, “On the back of the mega-sized project, we strive to preempt the ever-growing global green market and become one of the three powerhouses in the offshore wind power generation.”

Climate Progress