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Posts Tagged ‘global warming’

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photo: CEMEX

The cement industry’s contribution to global warming is pretty concrete – it’s responsible for 5% of greenhouse gas emissions, fueled by demand from the rapidly industrializing economies of China and India.

Now CEMEX, the Mexican building materials giant, has taken steps to green up its operation. Not by changing the way it makes cement but how it powers the process. Late last week, Mexican President Felipe Calderón inaugurated the first phase of what will be a $550 million, 250-megawatt Oaxaca wind farm – Latin America’s largest – that will generate the equivalent of a quarter of the electricity CEMEX consumes in Mexico.

The EURUS wind farm is a joint development between CEMEX (CX) and Acciona, the Spanish renewable energy powerhouse. The first 25 turbines will go online by March and the final phase will be completed by the end of 2009. A CEMEX spokesman said Acciona will retain ownership of the wind farm and sell the electricity to CEMEX under a 20-year contract.  The electricity from EURUS will go into the power grid and CEMEX will receive “electricity credits” for the power produced.

Mexico has become the next frontier for the wind industry. The same day Calderón presided over the opening of EURUS he also dedicated a nearby 80-megawatt wind farm built by Spanish company Iberdrola Renewables.

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The risky nature of Big Solar projects has been driven home with California regulators’ move to kill a controversial $1.3 billion transmission line that would have connected massive solar power stations in the desert to coastal cities.

“These projects are unlikely to proceed,” wrote Jean Vieth, an administrative law judge with the California Public Utilities Commission, in a ruling rejecting San Diego Gas & Electric’s Sunrise Powerlink transmission line.

Phoenix-based Stirling Energy Systems in 2005 scored a contract to provide SDG&E (SRE) with up to 900 megawatts of electricity to be generated by as many as 36,000 solar dishes. A few months later, the utility filed an application to build the Sunrise Powerlink, a new transmission line to connect the Stirling power plants and other renewable energy projects to the coast.

But the utility’s proposal to build 150-foot-high transmission towers right through wilderness areas of Anza-Borrego State Park, home to a host of protected species, triggered a long-running fight with green groups that generated an 11,000-page environmental impact report. On Halloween, Vieth issued a ruling that found that despite state mandates to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the environmental impact of the transmission project was frightening.

“The potentially high economic costs to ratepayers and the potential implications for our [greenhouse gas] policy objectives do not justify the severe environmental damage that any of the transmission proposals would cause,” concluded Vieth in a 265-page decision.

The battle isn’t over — the public utilities commission will vote in December whether to accept the judge’s ruling. They will also consider an alternative decision issued by a commissioner assigned to review the case. That decision would let SDG&E build a transmission line along a different route under certain conditions.

But the case highlights the conflicting environmental values that will dog solar power projects. In other words, just what trade-offs are we willing to make to secure a planet-friendly source of energy? In this case, the judge ruled that to avoid the environmental damage of a massive new transmission line, the preferred alternative is to build more fossil-fuel plants close to San Diego along with a smaller-scale solar power station and a huge increase in rooftop solar arrays. The judge acknowledged that such an alternative “would cause substantially more GHG emissions than the proposed project and other transmission proposals.”

The judge’s second preferred alternative was to build only renewable-energy projects near San Diego that would not require big new transmission lines. Some Sunrise Powerlink opponents argue that San Diego has enough roof space to generative massive amounts of electricity from photovoltaic solar panels. (The cost of such an undertaking was left unsaid.)

Public Utilities Commissioner Dian Grueneich’s alternative decision would allow San Diego Gas & Electric to build Sunrise Powerlink along a more environmentally-benign route if the utility could prove that most of the transmission line would carry renewable energy so as to offset the 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases emitted during its construction. “Reliance on a single 900-megawatt contract (the Stirling Energy Systems contract) is too risky,” she wrote.

So where does this leave Stirling? COO Bruce Osborn didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But earlier this year, he told Green Wombat that even if Sunrise Powerlink was killed, there’s enough existing transmission capacity to carry electricity from the power plant’s first 300-megawatt phase. Stirling also has a 20-year contract to supply up to 850 megawatts of electricity to utility Southern California Edison (EIX), a deal not contingent on Sunrise Powerlink.

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Green Wombat often highlights high tech when it comes to tackling global warming and energy independence. But a new study from the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shows that simply installing white roofs on homes and commercial buildings – to reflect the sun’s rays rather than absorb them – can reduce air-conditioning costs by 20% and could save $1 billion a year in energy outlays in the United States.

Switch to cool sidewalks and roads and the savings rise to $2 billion annually, according to the study by scientists Hashem Akbari and Surabi Menon and California Energy Commissioner Art Rosenfeld to be published in the journal Climate Change.

The scientists calculated that a global white roofs and roads effort would offset 44 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, or more than a year’s worth of carbon, and help stablize future C02 emission increases.

“The 44 Gt CO2-equivalent offset potential for cool roofs and cool pavements would counteract
the effect of the growth in CO2-equivalent emission rates for 11 years,” according to the authors.

Such emission reductions, of course, can be securitized into tradable carbon credits, which the study estimates would be worth $1.1 trillion. Regulated carbon market exist in places like Europe but securities based on cool roofs have not yet been created.

A global cool roofs agreement could avoid the pitfalls of Kyoto-style accords, the scientists note.  “Installing cool roofs and cool pavements in cities worldwide does not need delicate negotiations between nations in terms of curbing each country’s CO2 emission rates.”

It’s one of those low-tech, commonsense solutions to both energy use and global warming – one used for thousands of years in the regions like the Mediterranean; those picturesque villages overlooking the sea are white-washed for a reason.

In California, commercial buildings with flat roofs have been required to cool it since 2005. But one of the biggest hurdles in the U.S. to doing the white thing may be homeowner associations that dictate everything from the color of your mailbox to where you place your rubbish bin. The vast majority of homes in California either have standard black shingle roofs or Spanish-style red tiles. A proposal to paint those roofs white will likely incite architectural outrage.

But there’s another, albeit much more expensive solution, to hot roofs: Cover them with solar panels.

photo: California Energy Commission

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PASADENA, Calif. — Green tech guru Vinod Khosla probably didn’t win many friends among the chardonnay-and-carbon-offsets crowd Tuesday during an appearance at Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference, where he castigated well-heeled enviros for thinking that driving a Toyota (TM) Prius and other “feel-good solutions” will save the planet

“The Prius is more greenwash than green,” the venture capitalist said on stage during a conversation with Fortune senior writer Adam Lashinsky. “Priuses sell a lot but so do Gucci bags. The hybridization of cars is the most expensive way to reduce carbon.”

“We do a lot of feel-good things like put solar panels up in foggy San Francisco so a few middle-class and upper-middle-class people feel good about themselves,” he added.

Ouch.

If Khosla was typically on the offensive, he’s been on the defensive a bit of late over early investments in corn-based biofuels. Alarm has escalated over the past year about the impact of taking food crops out of production to grow a gasoline substitute.

After Lashinsky read a recent quote from the Indian finance minister – “food-based biofuels are a crime against humanity,” Khosla agreed that “food-based biofuels are the wrong way to go. We have much better alternatives.” He has long championed cellulosic biofuels that can be produced from non-food plants like switchgrass or from wood waste and characterized his ethanol investments as a way to get the lay of the biofuels landscape.

Never shy about stirring the pot, he declared that, “People’s views on green are obsolete.” The way to fight climate, according to Khosla, is not to focus on putting solar panels on roofs or building electric cars but increasing the efficiency of things like engines and the operations of mainstream businesses.

Worried about the high price of oil? Don’t. “My forecast for 2030 is that price of oil will be below $25 a barrel,” Khosla said. No matter, he added, because by then biofuels will be cheaper.

So stick that in your Prius.

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