Ask the Experts: 1 Million EVs by 2015?

The US already has more than a million hybrid-electric vehicles on the road. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Continuing an exercise I started in yesterday’s post, I’ve asked a few experts to weigh in on two national goals laid out by President Obama in this week’s State of the Union address. The experts seemed split on the viability of getting 80% of the nation’s electricity from “clean energy” by 2035. Today they address Obama’s call for one million electric vehicles “on the road” by 2015 (less than five years from now): Continue reading

Feds Float Future Fuel Efficiency Plan

Photo: Craig Miller

If, fifteen years from now, new cars across the country are getting twice the miles per gallon that they do today, California can rightly claim some of the credit.

On Friday the Obama Administration released plans for improving fuel efficiency in cars and light trucks for model years 2017 through 2025, with a final standard somewhere between 47 and 62 miles per gallon. The move builds on the new federal fuel standard, based on California’s, for model years 2012 through 2016.

California is scheduled to adopt its own fuel efficiency standards for 2017-2025 vehicles in January, said California Air Resources Board (CARB) member Dan Sperling, which is well before federal agencies expect to set a national standard.   CARB staff will release the proposed state standard later this year, he said.

“Presumably what California does will have a strong impact on what the U.S. EPA decides,” said Sperling, adding that there is a “a lot” of communication between the state and federal agencies. Continue reading

The Solar Jobs Solution: Some Perspective

As anyone who got stuck in the traffic knows, President Obama made a call at one of the Bay Area’s new darlings of green tech, Fremont-based Solyndra Inc., which he called a “testament to American ingenuity and dynamism.”

The firm is tapping more than a half-billion dollars in federal loan guarantees to build a manufacturing plant for its photovoltaic (PV) technology. Governor Schwarzenegger and Energy Secretary Steven Chu have also used Solyndra as a backdrop for showcasing California’s burgeoning clean tech sector. The company has developed a new type of PV technology designed for commercial rooftops.

Solyndra's rooftop solar panels use a new type of cylindrical module. Image: Solyndra, Inc.

Solyndra's rooftop solar panels use a new type of cylindrical module. Image: Solyndra, Inc.

Today in Silicon Valley, the big, green hype machine was running at full tilt. Solyndra’s CEO, Chris Gronet, talked up the California location. “If our factory was someplace else (outside the US), we probably would not have the supply chain across 29 US states,” he told KQED’s Cy Musiker today.

Mike Mielke of Silicon Valley Leadership Group added to the frenzy: “Clearly California’s leadership in the emerging trillion-dollar clean energy technology market has put us in an ideal investment position,” he said in a statement issued after the Presidential appearance.  “We would not be as competitive without the state’s landmark clean energy policies like AB 32.”

But some temperance was injected into the festivities by Severin Borenstein, co-director of the Energy Institute at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Asked if investments in solar panel production necessarily translate to permanent job growth, he told Musiker: “The evidence from a longer-run perspective really doesn’t support that.”

Borenstein says what history does demonstrate is that dominance in a given technology lasts just about as long as the government subsidies supporting it. He pointed to both Germany and Spain, both of which have recently lost some of their edge in production of solar components. Much production of solar and wind energy products has already moved to China.

“This idea that you’re going to create a permanent competitive advantage in producing green technology by subsidizing it now is really not very well born out in the data,” said Borenstein, who doesn’t deny that federal stimulus funding has “helped push forward” some key technologies. In the absence of a meaningful price mechanism for carbon emissions, Borenstein says that “pushing forward on some of these alternative technologies is the best thing we can do.”

Regarding California’s landmark climate law, the aforementioned AB 32, Borenstein agrees with the state’s Legislative Analyst that implementation would not have a significant impact on California’s overall economy, in either direction. But Borenstein doesn’t see the point in abandoning the state’s primary comprehensive climate strategy to save jobs, as some have suggested it would. “Climate change is real and it is potentially catastrophic,” said Borenstein. “If every time we have an economic setback, we put the environment second, we’re never going to make any progress.”

After All That, Disappointment in “Hopenhagen”

Delegates to the UN climate conference in Copenhagen have officially “taken note” of the deal squeezed out on Friday by major carbon-emitting nations, an action that seems to fall short of a ringing endorsement.

President Obama’s own summary of the climate deal reached at–almost literally–the eleventh hour in Copenhagen, was laden with the language of muted disappointment. While describing the arrangement hammered out by the US, China, India and Brazil as “meaningful and unprecedented” and stressing that for the first time, “All major economies have come together,” he also used terms like “first step” and “not enough.”

Some bullet points from the President’s news conference, right before be bolted for the airport:

– Accord contains the three key elements: transparency, mitigation and finance

– Mitigation goal to stop warming at 2 degrees (C) “…by action consistent with science.”

– Nations have “much farther to go.”

– Accord is “not legally binding” and sets no deadline to achieve one that is*

– A legally binding pact was “not achievable at this conference.”

– Getting to a legally binding agreement will be “very hard and is going to take some time.”

– “This is hard within countries. It’s going to be even harder between countries.”

And here’s one to set a cheery tone for the coming year:

– “Kyoto was legally binding but everybody fell short, anyway.”

*Earlier drafts of the agreement reportedly set the end of 2010 as a deadline for signing something binding.

The US President and other heads of state left the Bella conference center before the agreement was actually signed. He said negotiators will remain in Copenhagen and attach many of the details to the deal in an “appendix,” before signing. President Obama said he was confident that as he departed, delegates were “moving in the direction of a significant accord.”

Here’s an early reaction from a major environmental group, in this case Friends of the Earth:

– “Sham Deal Requires Nothing, Accomplishes Nothing.”

Prepare for more of that.

The outcome of the fifteenth “Conference of Parties” in Copenhagen would seem to lend prescience to the speech given there by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday, the theme of which was: Don’t wait for national and international bodies to solve this problem. They haven’t–and may not.

Al Gore’s Plea to Congress for a Green Overhaul

Former Vice President Al Gore appeared before a Senate committee this morning, urging passage of the Obama recovery plan. “We have arrived at a moment of decision,” he said. Here’s a transcript of his prepared remarks. Boldface and outsized text are from his original text. I’ve added the links.

Statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (as prepared)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

We are here today to talk about how we as Americans and how the United States of America as part of the global community should address the dangerous and growing threat of the climate crisis.

We have arrived at a moment of decision. Our home – Earth – is in grave danger.  What is at risk of being destroyed is not the planet itself, of course, but the conditions that have made it hospitable for human beings.

Moreover, we must face up to this urgent and unprecedented threat to the existence of our civilization at a time when our country must simultaneously solve two other worsening crises.  Our economy is in its deepest recession since the 1930s.  And our national security is endangered by a vicious terrorist network and the complex challenge of ending the war in Iraq honorably while winning the military and political struggle in Afghanistan.

As we search for solutions to all three of these challenges, it is becoming clearer that they are linked by a common thread – our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels.

As long as we continue to send hundreds of billions of dollars for foreign oil – year after year – to the most dangerous and unstable regions of the world, our national security will continue to be at risk.

As long as we continue to allow our economy to remain shackled to the OPEC roller-coaster of rising and falling oil prices, our jobs and our way of life will remain at risk. Moreover, as the demand for oil worldwide grows rapidly over the longer term, even as the rate of new discoveries is falling, it is increasingly obvious that the roller coaster is headed for a crash.  And we’re in the front car.

Most importantly, as long as we continue to depend on dirty fossil fuels like coal and oil to meet our energy needs, and dump 70 million tons of global warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, we move closer and closer to several dangerous tipping points which scientists have repeatedly warned – again just yesterday – will threaten to make it impossible for us to avoid irretrievable destruction of the conditions that make human civilization possible on this planet.

We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that’s got to change.

For years our efforts to address the growing climate crisis have been undermined by the idea that we must choose between our planet and our way of life; between our moral duty and our economic well being.  These are false choices.  In fact, the solutions to the climate crisis are the very same solutions that will address our economic and national security crises as well. 

In order to repower our economy, restore American economic and moral leadership in the world and regain control of our destiny, we must take bold action now.

The first step is already before us.  I urge this Congress to quickly pass the entirety of President Obama’s Recovery package. The plan’s unprecedented and critical investments in four key areas – energy efficiency, renewables, a unified national energy grid and the move to clean cars – represent an important down payment and are long overdue.  These crucial investments will create millions of new jobs and hasten our economic recovery – while strengthening our national security and beginning to solve the climate crisis.

Quickly building our capacity to generate clean electricity will lay the groundwork for the next major step needed: placing a price on carbon. If Congress acts right away to pass President Obama’s Recovery package and then takes decisive action this year to institute a cap-and-trade system for CO2 emissions – as many of our states and many other countries have already done – the United States will regain its credibility and enter the Copenhagen treaty talks with a renewed authority to lead the world in shaping a fair and effective treaty.  And this treaty must be negotiated this year. 

Not next year.  This year.

A fair, effective and balanced treaty will put in place the global architecture that will place the world – at long last and in the nick of time – on a path toward solving the climate crisis and securing the future of human civilization.

I am hopeful that this can be achieved.  Let me outline for you the basis for the hope and optimism that I feel.

The Obama Administration has already signaled a strong willingness to regain U.S. leadership on the global stage in the treaty talks, reversing years of inaction.  This is critical to success in Copenhagen and is clearly a top priority of the administration.

Developing countries that were once reluctant to join in the first phases of a global response to the climate crisis have themselves now become leaders in demanding action and in taking bold steps on their own initiatives.  Brazil has proposed an impressive new plan to halt the destructive deforestation in that nation.  Indonesia has emerged as a new constructive force in the talks.  And China’s leaders have gained a strong understanding of the need for action and have already begun important new initiatives.

Heads of state from around the world have begun to personally engage on this issue and forward-thinking corporate leaders have made this a top priority.

More and more Americans are paying attention to the new evidence and fresh warnings from scientists.  There is a much broader consensus on the need for action than there was when President George H.W. Bush negotiated – and the Senate ratified – the Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 and much stronger support for action than when we completed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

The elements that I believe are key to a successful agreement in Copenhagen include:

  • Strong targets and timetables from industrialized countries and differentiated but binding commitments from developing countries that put the entire world under a system with one commitment: to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants that cause the climate crisis;

  • The inclusion of deforestation, which alone accounts for twenty percent of the emissions that cause global warming;

  • The addition of sinks including those from soils, principally from farmlands and grazing lands with appropriate methodologies and accounting. Farmers and ranchers in the U.S. and around the world need to know that they can be part of the solution;

  • The assurance that developing countries will have access to mechanisms and resources that will help them adapt to the worst impacts of the climate crisis and technologies to solve the problem; and,

  • A strong compliance and verification regime.

The road to Copenhagen is not easy, but we have traversed this ground before.  We have negotiated the Montreal Protocol, a treaty to protect the ozone layer, and strengthened it to the point where we have banned most of the major substances that create the ozone hole over Antarctica.  And we did it with bipartisan support. President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill joined hands to lead the way.

Let me now briefly discuss in more detail why we must do all of this within the next year, and with your permission, Mr. Chairman, I would like to show a few new pictures that illustrate the unprecedented need for bold and speedy action this year.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am eager to respond to any questions that you and the members of the committee have.


Pelosi Agenda: Science, Science, Science (and Science)

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says she hopes to have “the makings of global warming legislation” by June.

The San Francisco Democrat was interviewed by Scott Shafer, as part of his pre-inauguration coverage from Washington for The California Report.

“If you want to see what our agenda is,” Pelosi told Shafer, “think of four words: science, science, science and science.”

Golly, even the Prime Rule of Real Estate only has three “locations.” But Pelosi was merely adding some reverb to the words of President-elect Barack Obama, who said when introducing his energy-and-environment team that he hoped it would “send a signal to all that my administration will value science. We will make decisions based on the facts, and we understand that the facts demand bold action.”

I can’t help recalling one of comedian Dennis Miller’s “rants.” The issue was school prayer but when it came to whether students should be allowed a “minute of silence” as a compromise, Miller said “A minute of silence…how about a minute of science?

It’s clear that after eight years of an administration often accused of ignoring–or worse–stifling its own scientists, many are saying it’s time for more than a minute of science in Washington.

As for “the makings of global warming legislation,” it’s likely to be dominated by a cap-and-trade sytem for carbon emissions, similar to what was rolled out last week by a 31-member coalition called USCAP. The plan is the outcome of two years of negotiation among major corporations and environmental groups.

Pelosi’s June target was also set out in a news release from her office late last week.

CNN: Berkeley Lab’s Chu to Head DOE

xbd200805-00226-24.jpgReuters news agency is quoting CNN today in reporting that Steve Chu will get the nod from President-elect Obama to head the U.S. Dept. of Energy.

Since 2004, the Nobel laureate physicist has been the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). Lab spokesman Lynn Yarris said he could not confirm the report. In an email to KQED’s Cy Musiker, he wrote that Chu is traveling until next week, adding that right now the report is “all still speculation.”

Chu has maintained a fairly high profile, writing op-ed pieces on America’s energy future and lecturing on potential solutions to climate change (note that this link is to an hour-long video).

He’s also been a vocal supporter of California’s comprehensive plan to attack climate change, known by the shorthand AB-32. From an opinion piece for the San Francisco Chronicle last year, co-written with U.C. Berkeley’s chancellor, Robert Birgeneau:

“The development of new, carbon-neutral energy sources are needed to avert the predictions of disastrous climate change. The landmark global warming legislation signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year committing our state to ambitious reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020 is a strong and encouraging step. California is a national and global leader moving toward a sustainable energy future, and it is in the public mission of the University of California to help find ways to meet these goals.”

LBNL has been a leader in developing energy-saving technology, from lighting to windows, to “cool-roof” coatings.

In 2006 Chu was interviewed on KQED’s Pacific Time.

The California Air Resources Board is expected to vote on final acceptance of an implementation plan for AB-32 tomorrow. Speaking of which, published reports indicate that Mary Nichols, who heads California’s air board, will be passed over for the top spot at the Environmental Protection Agency, and that the nod will go to Lisa Jackson, a former state environmental regulator in New Jersey.

Photo: LBNL.

Postcard to Poznan

3088850070_5a89257718_m.jpgThe United States might not have an international reputation as a leader in the fight against climate change, but on Saturday a few hundred San Franciscans came out to Crissy Field to tell the world that times are changing.

Environmental groups declared December 6th the Global Day of Action, selected, as it has been for the last three years, to coincide with the United Nations climate talks. This year’s talks are currently taking place in Poznan, Poland.

Organized by Greenpeace, the crowd in San Francisco held up a 50 x 30 ft “postcard” that read: “Dear World Leaders, We are ready to save the climate! Yes we can!” against the backdrop of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

A helicopter flew overhead at 1 p.m., taking photos of the banner and the crowd. Ben Smith, Greenpeace’s National Organizer for Global Warming, said that the group plans to send the photos to delegates at the talks in Poznan (it’s gotta be cheaper than sending the postcard) as a symbol that despite the last eight years of inaction, Americans are serious about finding solutions for climate change.

“We are at a really significant point in history now, after eight years of the Bush Administration denying global warming and dismantling the UN process for stopping it,” said Smith. “The door has swung wide open, and we have the opportunity to solve the problem.”

Boston, Chicago, San Diego, Palm Beach, and several other cities across the country held similar demonstrations, said Anna Wagner, Greenpeace Global Warming Senior Organizer.

“We are trying to put pressure on our leaders to pass strong science-based solutions to global warming,” said Wagner. “The United States is key to stopping global warming, and we are sending a message to the Obama Administration that this is a number one priority for Americans.”

Many environmentalists are optimistic about Obama’s plans to invest billions in alternative energy and to place mandatory caps on greenhouse gases across the country similar to those already mandated in California. As we have reported here, Obama recently said in his video address to the Governors’ Climate Summit that he will work for “a new era of global cooperation on climate change.”

But some are raising questions about whether Obama’s plans go far enough. A recent article in Time Magazine cites a November 12th International Energy Agency (IAE) report projecting that a $26 trillion investment in power-supply needs will be needed to address a 45 percent increase in the demand for energy between 2006 and 2030, if no new government policies are enacted.

It appears that Obama will promote new policies that may mitigate this scenario but the challenge may be greater than it was a few months ago. With half a million jobs lost last month and regular gasoline at $1.69 a gallon in San Francisco, large scale investment in new low-carbon industries might be a harder sell.


Pipeline to Poznan

Map courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica OnlineAs a general rule, I’d say anything that already has 789 credentialed media members covering it doesn’t need me there. That’s the announced size of the press contingent at the UN climate talks going on this week in Poznan, Poland. All those reporters should find something to write about, among the 10,696 reps from 187 countries.

And yet, expectations are not high for this round, which is described by the U.N.’s Yvo deBoer as “the halfway point” to a successor agreement for the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. DeBoer says he is hoping for substantive progress on matters like deforestation and technology transfer.

So far it’s sounding a lot like the recent Governors’ Global Climate Summit in Beverly Hills–at least until President-elect Barack Obama seized the crowd by laying out his aggressive plans for climate policy. His four-minute video greeting effectively let the air out of Poznan, which is being staffed, of course, by a U.S. delegation from the outgoing Bush administration.

Recently I had a chance to get a Poznan preview from Jonathan Pershing, a former science and climate advisor in the Clinton Administration, now at the non-profit World Resources Institute.  You can hear my radio report about California’s influence on the tone of the UN climate talks on The California Report.

Use the audio player below to hear a one-minute excerpt from my interview with Pershing.

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Obama Steals the Show

news-obama2-140x140.jpgIt was one of those rare occasions when a video gets a standing ovation.

But President-elect Barack Obama’s video greeting to 800-plus attendees at the Governors’ Climate Summit in LA had quite a few of them on their feet.

Obama lauded the conference and promised that once he takes office, “Any Governor who works toward clean energy will have a partner in the White House.” So, he said, would any company working to develop clean energy, projecting that five million new “green jobs” will be created in the process.

While he did not say anything he hasn’t said before, Obama bundled most of his previously articulated thoughts on climate response into his brief video comments. He restated his commitment to a federal cap-and-trade program that would help return U.S.-based greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, with an 80% reduction by 2050.

Obama again left the door open to an expansion of nuclear power, saying that the nation would “tap” it, “while making sure it’s safe.”

Referring to the ongoing UN climate talks, the President-elect got one of his biggest ovations when he said “You can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations, and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change.”

“Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response,” he said.

The first panel discussion of the two-day summit involved the problem of tallying and reporting greenhouse gas emissions. Representatives of Mexico and China pledged renewed efforts on that front.

Watch the video greeting below.