Clean energy

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Trendspotting: Shrinking the Carbon Footprint of the Cloud

Did the Greenpeace “Clean our Cloud” campaign nudge Apple toward a stronger environmental stance?

Greenpeace

Greenpeace demands a cleaner iCloud at Apple's corporate campus.

Since April, the environmental organization Greenpeace has had a bull’s-eye on Apple in its campaign to clean up the Internet “Cloud” that stores our music, apps, and photos. It’s accused Apple of using high-carbon “dirty fuels” like coal to power its new data center in North Carolina and has used dramatic pranks and slick videos to get consumers involved.

Last week, members of Greenpeace barricaded themselves in a giant iPod at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters and dressed as giant iPhones to demand a cleaner iCloud. Two days later, in a rare demonstration of transparency, Apple released a detailed statement explaining how its new data center would be 100% green. The whole drama made me curious to learn how the Cloud’s power source and growth could impact the environment.

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Why Shell Oil Supports California’s Climate Change Legislation

Shell CEO is pro-AB 32, but stands by taking legal action against environmentalists in Alaska

Shell, US

Shell has partnered with MIT to explore carbon sequestration.

Royal Dutch Shell CEO, Peter Voser affirmed his company’s commitment to AB 32, California’s climate change legislation, and also explained why a carbon trading system is crucial to the development of alternative energy sources.

“We are clearly in favor of cap and trade systems,” he said to an audience of Silicon Valley business people and climate experts Wednesday in Burlingame. “We’d like to have it globally, to level the playing field.”

This statement from Shell, the global oil and gas company headquartered in the Netherlands and one of the world’s largest companies, is notable when you consider the strong opposition to AB 32 from the oil industry at large. In 2010, Proposition 23 attempted to derail the imposition of AB 32 provisions and was largely bankrolled by Tesoro and Valero, two Texas oil companies.

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Officials Call for Federal Clean Energy Standards

In Las Vegas, politicians and industry leaders point to California’s lead

Gretchen Weber

Gov. Jerry Brown with Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas.

In his keynote address at this week’s National Clean Energy Summit, Vice President Joe Biden said America is at a crossroads when it comes to energy, and that the choice is clear.

“If we shrink from deciding that we’re going to lead in the area of alternative energy, renewable energy, then we will be making the biggest mistake this nation has made in its entire history,” he said.

The Vice President was joined by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, California Governor Jerry Brown, and other political and industry leaders at the summit, which is in its fourth year and is sponsored by several entities, including the Center for American Progress and Nevada Senator Harry Reid.

“If we don’t lead in this new energy technology, we’re going to follow, and I’d hate like hell to be trading the importation of oil, for the importation of new technologies,” said Biden. “Neither is very acceptable.” Continue reading

California Fails to Pass Renewable Energy Bill

California wrestles with its clean energy goals. (Photo: Lauren Sommer)

It came down to the final minutes before midnight last night for SB 722, the bill that would make law California’s 33% renewable energy goal by 2020. But as the bill’s author State Senator Joe Simitian says, “The clock just ran out. It’s as simple and painful as that.” Continue reading

Chu: Time to End “Paralysis”

Gretchen Weber

Photo: Gretchen Weber

Energy Secretary Steven Chu returned to his old stomping grounds at Stanford University yesterday with a broad outline for jump-starting “a clean energy industrial revolution.”  Speaking to a packed auditorium of students and faculty, Chu advocated the passage of a comprehensive energy bill, saying that increased innovation and investment in “clean tech” is essential for American competitiveness, as well as for reducing dependence on foreign oil and mitigating climate change:

“We are right now in a state of paralysis. There are many businesses who say ‘No, no, we can’t do this, this country was founded on cheap energy, that’s what I want.’  That’s just holding off the inevitable.  So if we hold off the inevitable for another 5 or 10 years, I think we will lose.  Because the other countries are moving.  And then we play catch up.  And then we import their stuff.  That’s what’s at risk.  The future of the prosperity of the US is at risk.  Energy touches everything.”

Chu said the United States is “not doing so well” in terms of clean energy innovation and cited the drop in US market share in photovoltaics  from 44% in 1996 to less than 10% today.

“The US innovation machine is the best in the world,” he said, and then recited a dismal laundry list of fields in which the US is no longer leading the way, including auto fuel efficiency, hybrid car batteries, energy transmission, energy transmission equipment, and nuclear technology.

When asked by an audience member why the US doesn’t commit to a Manhattan Project-style endeavor to solve the energy issue, Chu explained that a project at that scale would have an annual cost in the tens of billions.  In comparison, the current base budget of the DOE is $3 billion per year.

“I agree.  We should do that,” he said. “Tell people in Congress how important it is.”

Key to America’s success, he said is an energy bill that sends signals to the private sector that clean energy is a profitable venture, through incentives and tax breaks.  He said that the federal government plays a role in grants and loan guarantees, but to scale technologies from the idea stage to the factory floor, private investors must play a role.

“America has an opportunity to seize the day and to lead in what has to be a new industrial revolution,” said Chu.  “It’s our choice. Do we want to be leaders or followers?”

As if on cue, it looks like Los Angeles is about to crush one plan that might have helped put southern California at the forefront of clean energy generation and transmission. The Riverside Press-Enterprise reports today that Los Angeles officials will likely announce tomorrow that they’re pulling the plug on the contentious project known as Green Path North.   The project would have installed 80 miles of high-voltage lines and towers to carry geothermal, wind and solar energy from Imperial County to Los Angeles and some Inland cities.  The plans have met with opposition from environmental groups and communities along the proposed corridors.

The project was featured last year in a radio series for Climate Watch by KQED’s Rob Schmitz, on plans to get clean energy from southern California’s deserts to its cities.

Seizing the Moment

All the hand-wringing about seized-up capital markets hasn’t stopped environmental visionaries from promoting their scenarios for a clean, green–and robust–economy. Indeed, many have seized  the moment to suggest that an all-out attack on climate change and pollution could be just what the doctor ordered.

They’re being egged on by the President-elect, who offered this nugget in a recent pre-election interview with Time magazine:

“…we are just going to completely revamp how we use energy in a way that deals with climate change, deals with national security and drives our economy, that’s going to be my number one priority when I get into office, assuming, obviously, that we have done enough to just stabilize the immediate economic situation.”

That’s a whopping assumption. Nevertheless the advocacy group Environment California has released its own vision, asserting that clean energy is “the foundation of America’s economic future.” The group’s Blueprint for Economic Recovery and Environmental Protection Through Clean Energy Solutions is not groundbreaking but rather an aggregation of ideas and studies that have been put forth already, leading to the same general conclusion.

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The report attempts to bundle the potential of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal, coupled with aggressive conservation measures, which it says could alone cut the nation’s electric use by a quarter.

For example, Environment California suggests that we might set aside 9% of Nevada (that’s about 10,000 square miles–imagine Massachusetts covered border-to-border with solar panels) for solar-thermal installations or harness the wind potential of five interior states (the Dakotas, Kansas, Montana and Texas), either one could cover the nation’s entire electric bill. Of course, either of these approaches would require massive, intrusive distribution networks to get the power where it’s needed, so I these ideas may be intended as inspirational, not literal.

Another idea, which requires very little distribution infrastructure, is carpeting the nation’s rooftops with photovoltaic solar panels. The group says that would provide about 70% of our energy needs.

The report also advocates for cutting our oil consumption in half, though it does not specify by when.

How does all this translate to economic redemption? By creating “millions of jobs.” According to the report:

“…repowering America will plant the seeds of economic growth and revitalization across the country. And by creating the world’s largest market for renewable energy and energy efficient technology, we will give American companies a leg up in the most important economic competition of the 21st century – the race to supply environmentally sound technologies to the rest of the world.”

The report cites several studies to support this conclusion. Some were done several years ago and may contain assumptions that don’t quite hold up in today’s recessionary, capital-constrained environment. The more recent work includes a University of Tennessee study from 2006, which projected that converting a quarter of U.S. electric production and transportation fuels would, over about 20 years, yield more than five million jobs.

You are guaranteed to hear a great deal more on this theme, as a new administration takes charge with it’s “number one priority.” Still unanswered is who will provide the capital–and the incentives to steer capital–into the clean, green economy of our dreams.

Photo: Installing solar panels on the roof at KQED.