Thursday, September 25, 2008

Google and General Electric Team Up on Energy Initiatives

NY Times

September 17, 2008, 10:09 pm

By Miguel Helft

Google and General Electric said on Wednesday that they would work together on technology and policy initiatives to promote the development of additional capacity in the electricity grid and of “smart grid” technologies to enable plug-in hybrids and to manage energy more efficiently. The companies said their goal was to make renewable energy more accessible and useful.

Google’s chief executive, Eric E. Schmidt, and G.E.’s chief executive, Jeffrey R. Immelt, alluded briefly to the partnership in a joint appearance at Google’s Zeitgeist conference, which is taking place at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

The two executives gave few details of their planned collaboration. In an interview after their presentation, Dan Reicher, director of climate change and energy initiatives at Google.org, an operating unit of Google, said the effort was in its planning stages and did not have a set budget.

“All this talk about renewable energy will not be realized if we do not build substantial additional transmission capacity,” Mr. Reicher said.

Without additional capacity, Mr. Reicher said, it would not be possible, for example, to get power from a solar plant in the Mojave Desert to Los Angeles, or from a wind farm in the Dakotas to Chicago. Mr. Reicher said that environmental standards, overlapping state and federal regulations and other policy issues were among the biggest impediments to building additional transmission capacity.

Google and G.E. are also discussing how to combine their respective software and hardware expertise to enable technologies like plug-in hybrids on a large scale and to accelerate the development of geothermal energy.

For Google, the partnership with G.E. is part of larger set of energy initiatives, including direct investments in green technology to help develop renewable energy that is cheaper to produce than coal-generated power. For its part, G.E. has made a large bet on green energy technologies, an initiative the company calls Ecomagination.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Work begins on Maine's largest wind farm

Portland Press Herald

The Kibby project's 44 turbines may be powering 50,000 homes by 2010.

The Associated Press
September 3, 2008

KIBBY TOWNSHIP — Land clearing is under way for Maine's third major wind farm, a 44-turbine project in the western mountains that is projected to generate enough electricity to power 50,000 homes after its planned completion in 2010.

TransCanada's 132-megawatt project stands to become New England's largest.

The energy company, based in Calgary, Alberta, has received all permits to move forward with its project in Kibby and Skinner townships in northern Franklin County. Clearing for roughly 17 miles of roads has begun, as has other procurement and engineering work. Contractors are expected to start work on roads to the planned turbines this week.

Project Manager Wolfgang Neuhoff said plans call for having the first set of 22 turbines built and on line in December 2009, and the second set running in 2010.

A 28-unit wind farm in Mars Hill started producing power in 2007, and the 38-turbine Stetson Mountain project is well under way in eastern Maine. Mars Hill in northern Maine is by far New England's largest operating utility-grade wind farm.

An estimated 250 workers will be involved during construction of the $320 million Kibby project, and about a dozen will work during its operational phase.

Maine has adopted a friendly stance toward wind power, which is seen as a way to help wean the state from its heavy dependence on oil. Earlier this year, the Governor's Task Force on Wind Power recommended streamlined regulatory reviews for wind projects.

Its report envisioned at least 2,000 megawatts of wind power generated in the state by 2015, and 3,000 megawatts by 2020. It would take 1,000 to 2,000 turbines to create that much power.

Energy companies have come to Maine to test the terrain for large-scale projects.

Earlier this year, a scaled-down version of a wind farm proposed in western Maine was rejected by regulators, who cited concerns about its effect on scenery and its financial viability.

And Then There Was One

NY Times

September 3, 2008
OP-ED COLUMNIST

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

As we emerge from Labor Day, college students are gathering back on campuses not only to start the fall semester, but also, in some cases, to vote for the first time in a presidential election. There is no bigger issue on campuses these days than environment/energy. Going into this election, I thought that — for the first time — we would have a choice between two “green” candidates. That view is no longer operative — and college students (and everyone else) need to understand that.

With his choice of Sarah Palin — the Alaska governor who has advocated drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and does not believe mankind is playing any role in climate change — for vice president, John McCain has completed his makeover from the greenest Republican to run for president to just another representative of big oil.

Given the fact that Senator McCain deliberately avoided voting on all eight attempts to pass a bill extending the vital tax credits and production subsidies to expand our wind and solar industries, and given his support for lowering the gasoline tax in a reckless giveaway that would only promote more gasoline consumption and intensify our addiction to oil, and given his desire to make more oil-drilling, not innovation around renewable energy, the centerpiece of his energy policy — in an effort to mislead voters that support for drilling today would translate into lower prices at the pump today — McCain has forfeited any claim to be a green candidate.

So please, students, when McCain comes to your campus and flashes a few posters of wind turbines and solar panels, ask him why he has been AWOL when it came to Congress supporting these new technologies.

“Back in June, the Republican Party had a round-up,” said Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club. “One of the unbranded cattle — a wizened old maverick name John McCain — finally got roped. Then they branded him with a big ‘Lazy O’ — George Bush’s brand, where the O stands for oil. No more maverick.

“One of McCain’s last independent policies putting him at odds with Bush was his opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” added Pope, “yet he has now picked a running mate who has opposed holding big oil accountable and been dismissive of alternative energy while focusing her work on more oil drilling in a wildlife refuge and off of our coasts. While the northern edge of her state literally falls into the rising Arctic Ocean, Sarah Palin says, ‘The jury is still out on global warming.’ She’s the one hanging the jury — and John McCain is going to let her.”

Indeed, Palin’s much ballyhooed confrontations with the oil industry have all been about who should get more of the windfall profits, not how to end our addiction.

Barack Obama should be doing more to promote his green agenda, but at least he had the courage, in the heat of a Democratic primary, not to pander to voters by calling for a lifting of the gasoline tax. And while he has come out for a limited expansion of offshore drilling, he has refrained from misleading voters that this is in any way a solution to our energy problems.

I am not against a limited expansion of off-shore drilling now. But it is a complete sideshow. By constantly pounding into voters that his energy focus is to “drill, drill, drill,” McCain is diverting attention from what should be one of the central issues in this election: who has the better plan to promote massive innovation around clean power technologies and energy efficiency.

Why? Because renewable energy technologies — what I call “E.T.” — are going to constitute the next great global industry. They will rival and probably surpass “I.T.” — information technology. The country that spawns the most E.T. companies will enjoy more economic power, strategic advantage and rising standards of living. We need to make sure that is America. Big oil and OPEC want to make sure it is not.

Palin’s nomination for vice president and her desire to allow drilling in the Alaskan wilderness “reminded me of a lunch I had three and half years ago with one of the Russian trade attach├ęs,” global trade consultant Edward Goldberg said to me. “After much wine, this gentleman told me that his country was very pleased that the Bush administration wanted to drill in the Alaskan wilderness. In his opinion, the amount of product one could actually derive from there was negligible in terms of needs. However, it signified that the Bush administration was not planning to do anything to create alternative energy, which of course would threaten the economic growth of Russia.”

So, college students, don’t let anyone tell you that on the issue of green, this election is not important. It is vitally important, and the alternatives could not be more black and white.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

For the first time in human history, the North Pole can be circumnavigated

Melting ice opens up North-west and North-east passages simultaneously. Scientists warn Arctic icecap is entering a 'death spiral'

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
Sunday, 31 August 2008

Open water now stretches all the way round the Arctic, making it possible for the first time in human history to circumnavigate the North Pole, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. New satellite images, taken only two days ago, show that melting ice last week opened up both the fabled North-west and North-east passages, in the most important geographical landmark to date to signal the unexpectedly rapid progress of global warming.

Last night Professor Mark Serreze, a sea ice specialist at the official US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), hailed the publication of the images – on an obscure website by scientists at the University of Bremen, Germany – as "a historic event", and said that it provided further evidence that the Arctic icecap may now have entered a "death spiral". Some scientists predict that it could vanish altogether in summer within five years, a process that would, in itself, greatly accelerate.

The opening of the passages – eagerly awaited by shipping companies who hope to cut thousands of miles off their routes by sailing round the north of Canada and Russia – is only the greatest of a host of ominous signs this month of a gathering crisis in the Arctic. Early last week the NSDIC warned that, over the next few weeks, the total extent of sea ice in the Arctic may shrink to below the record low reached last year – itself a massive 200,000 square miles less than the previous worst year, 2005.

Four weeks ago, tourists had to be evacuated from Baffin Island's Auyuittuq National Park because of flooding from thawing glaciers. Auyuittuq means "land that never melts".

Two weeks later, in an unprecedented sighting, nine stranded polar bears were seen off Alaska trying to swim 400 miles north to the retreating icecap edge. Ten days ago massive cracking was reported in the Petermann glacier in the far north of Greenland, an area apparently previously unaffected by global warming.

But it is the simultaneous opening – for the first time in at least 125,000 years – of the North-west passage around Canada and the North-east passage around Russia that promises to deliver much the greatest shock. Until recently both had been blocked by ice since the beginning of the last Ice Age.

In 2005, the North-east passage opened, while the western one remained closed, and last year their positions were reversed. But the images, gathered by Nasa using microwave sensors that penetrate clouds, show that the North-west passage opened last weekend and that the last blockage on the north- eastern one – a tongue of ice stretching down to Russia across Siberia's Laptev Sea – dissolved a few days later.
"The passages are open," said Professor Serreze, though he cautioned that official bodies would be reluctant to confirm this for fear of lawsuits if ships encountered ice after being encouraged to enter them. "It's a historic event. We are going to see this more and more as the years go by."

Shipping companies are already getting ready to exploit the new routes. The Bremen-based Beluga Group says it will send the first ship through the North-east passage – cutting 4,000 nautical miles off the voyage from Germany to Japan – next year. And Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, last week announced that all foreign ships entering the North-west passage should report to his government – a move bound to be resisted by the US, which regards it as an international waterway.

But scientists say that such disputes will soon become irrelevant if the ice continues to melt at present rates, making it possible to sail right across the North Pole. They have long regarded the disappearance of the icecap as inevitable as global warming takes hold, though until recently it was not expected until around 2070.

Many scientists now predict that the Arctic ocean will be ice-free in summer by 2030 – and a landmark study this year by Professor Wieslaw Maslowski at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, concluded that there will be no ice between mid-July and mid-September as early as 2013.

The tipping point, experts believe, was the record loss of ice last year, reaching a level not expected to occur until 2050. Sceptics then dismissed the unprecedented melting as a freak event, and it was indeed made worse by wind currents and other natural weather patterns.

Conditions were better this year – it has been cooler, particularly last winter – and for a while it looked as if the ice loss would not be so bad. But this month the melting accelerated. Last week it shrank to below the 2005 level and the European Space Agency said: "A new record low could be reached in a matter of weeks."

Four weeks ago, a seven-year study at the University of Alberta reported that – besides shrinking in area – the thickness of the ice had dropped by half in just six years. It suggested that the region had "transitioned into a different climatic state where completely ice-free summers would soon become normal".

The process feeds on itself. As white ice is replaced by sea, the dark surface absorbs more heat, warming the ocean and melting more ice.

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/for-the-first-time-in-human-history-the-north-pole-can-be-circumnavigated-913924.html?service=Print