The Weekly Carboholic

Posted on January 23, 2008

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WFES title imageThe World Future Energy Summit is taking place this week in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Conference topics include solar and wind power, clean transportation, carbon, waste-to-fuel conversion, biofuels, geothermal and other energy sources. There’s also an exhibition where 214 corporations, NGOs, media groups, financial institutions, and government organizations are showing off their latest “future energy” options. Included are five national pavilions where national governments are hosting even more of their local companies, and exhibitions range from new energy generation techniques to energy efficiency technologies to carbon offsets (the conference itself is being billed as carbon neutral, via the CarbonNeutral Company). This conference and exhibition is being paid for and hosted by Abu Dhabi, an emirate that is wealthy precisely because of the vast reserves of carbon – in the form of oil – beneath its desert and coast. Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced that his government would offer a $2.2 million prize “to three individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions in the global response to the future of energy”, to be judged by an international panel of environmental and energy experts. Other information to come out of the conference already include and agreement between Iceland and Djibouti to supply Djibouti with geothermal energy and subsequently displace of the diesel generators that currently power most of the small nation’s electricity.

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In related news, Crown Prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced during the World Future Energy Summit’s opening address that Abu Dhabi was investing $15 billion in renewable energy research and development to be funneled through the Masdar Corporation, a company that exists to build the world’s first completely green city. Masdar City will be low-rising buildings housing 50,000 people with solar panels on the roof of each building. It will rely exclusively on solar power and is envisioned as being zero-emissions and car-free, using publicly available electric transportation. The city itself will be a blend of old and new, relying on cool sea breezes funneled into buildings via towers atop buildings and a wall around the city to keep the desert heat out. Crops to feed the city will be grown nearby using reclaimed and treated wastewater. It will also incorporate the world’s largest hydrogen plant, and the UAE may also choose to use nuclear energy to help power the city – and the rest of the United Arab Emirates.

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This past week also saw U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman tell the world that there had to be a global push for improved energy efficiency. This is excellent, although hearing it come from a representative of the U.S. is a bit odd. After all, Secretary Bodman did also call for OPEC to increase output this week (earning a big fat “NO!” from Venezuela), and his underlings worked hard to torpedo the Bali Climate Change Conference last month. To be fair, it is Secretary Bodman’s job to demand more oil, cheaper coal, and to toe the loyalty line with his employer, President Bush, but I still don’t envy any person who has to stand up and say “cut energy consumption – give me more oil!” (It reminds me of a hilarious Bloom County cartoon with Farmer Opus screaming “Keep them flat-footed goombahs in Washington outta my business. Hurry up with my federal bailout check”….)

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One of the aforementioned Bali conference spoilersdelegates, US Trade Representative Susan Schwab, has warned the European Union not to use global heating as a pretense to implement protectionist tariffs against non-EU manufactured products and services. The warning came about as a direct result of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso’s comments that the EU might have to “either protect Europe’s industries by giving them all their carbon allowances in the European Trading System (ETS) free of charge, or charge importers at the same rate for the allowances.” Conveniently ignored by Mr. Schwab is the fact that President Barroso’s preferred solution would be a comprehensive global treaty on carbon emissions and/or applying “uniform standards on energy-intensive export industries.” Unfortunately for the rest of the EU, the United Kingdom has already indicated that it will stand with emission-heavy nations like the U.S. and China in resisting trade sanctions if another solution is not forthcoming. There’s concern that any tariffs wouldn’t stand up to World Trade Organization review, but given that the tariffs would exist exclusively to equalize costs between an economy with environmental restrictions that other nations wouldn’t have, the WTO might approve the tariffs. According to the BBC article, the WTO has permitted environmentally-based tariffs in the past, and so Ms. Schwab’s comments sound more shrill than serious.

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In yet another bit of U.S. news, Money Magazine is reporting that the tax credits for renewable energy research and development are set to expire at the end of 2007. The National Hydropower Association, Geothermal Energy Association, Solar Energy Industries Association, and American Wind Energy Association have warned that an extension of the tax credits and the requirement that investor-owned utilities produce 15% of their electricity via renewable sources is necessary for long-term planning, and that the impacts to the renewable energy industry could be broad and cause long-term problems. Nearly all sources of electricity require years of planning, and barring a carbon tax or similar national movement on reducing carbon emissions, renewable energy simply won’t be cost-competitive without mandates and credits. I’m not one to support tax credits and other forms of subsidies for mature industries, but immature industries like geothermal, solar, and to a lesser extent wind will need subsides for some time yet, especially barring action on making carbon dioxide emissions from coal and oil cost money.

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Last week also saw yet more science tying the melting of Greenland’s glaciers to global heating, this time using a statistical analysis to correlate melting to regional vs. global heating. The paper, to be published in the Journal of Climate, reports that there is a statistical correlation over the last 15 years between Greenland melting and global heating vs. a correlation between melting and regional heating between 1960 and 1990. Dr Edward Hanna of the University of Sheffield was quoted by Cordis as saying “the Greenland ice sheet which, as a relict feature of the last Ice Age, has already been living on borrowed time and seems now to be in inexorable decline.” I haven’t seen the actual paper, and I’m not sure I have a sufficiently advanced statistics background to understand it all anyway, but keep in mind that statistics are notorious for being easily misconstrued. That being said, however, this is yet another piece of evidence that the Greenland ice cap is very likely being affected by global heating, and yet another nail in coffin of the Greenland melt “debunker” myth.

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Giant’s Causeway
Image from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board

And finally for this week, news that another World Heritage Site will be under threat from rising sea levels associated with global heating. According to the BBC, the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is at increased risk of erosion from storms and submersion due to sea level rise. This is added to a number of other sites around the world whose natural beauty is under threat from global heating, such as the glaciers in Glacier National Park in the U.S. and Canada, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Australia.

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