Solar power installations appear to be taking off in US

A new quarterly update from the Solar Energy Industries Association in the US suggests that solar photovoltaics are booming in the US. “Boom” is a relative term: windpower still greatly exceeds photovoltaics but the gap is predicted by SEIA to begin to close as windpower subsidies end and prices of solar panels fall.

It is dropping solar panel prices that is perhaps the most significant factor. The US  government put increased import duties on solar panels from China as a result of a finding of dumping (selling below the cost of production and/or the price in the home country). Even so, as imports from China disappeared from the market, prices in the US for solar panels continued to fall. Similar price reductions are now appearing in the Canadian market.

The report found that, in the photovoltaic subsector of the solar power industry:

  • Annual U.S. PV installations grew 76% in 2012 to reach 3,313 MW.
  • The U.S. accounted for 11% of all global PV installations in 2012, its highest market share in at least fifteen years.
  • Cumulative PV capacity operating in the U.S. as of the end of 2012 stood at 7,221 MW.
  • Eight of the ten largest PV projects currently in operation in the U.S. were completed in 2012.
  • Eleven states installed over 50 MW each in 2012, up from eight in 2011.
  • There were over 90,000 PV installations in 2012 in the U.S., including 83,000 in the residential market alone.
  • The blended average sales price for PV modules for Q4 2012 was $0.68/W, a staggering 41% below the Q4 2011 price of $1.15/W.
  • Weighted average U.S. PV system prices fell 27% in 2012, to $5.04/W in the residential market, $4.27/W in the non-residential market, and $2.27/W in the utility market by the end of 2012.
  • The U.S. market is forecast to grow 30% in 2013 with 4.3 GW of new PV installations anticipated during 2013 across all market segments.

A summary of the report and a link to more information is available at http://www.seia.org/research-resources/us-solar-market-insight-2012-year-review

Greener newspaper seeks support from greener industry

The New York times has closed its environment desk and its environment blogs. Journalists who focus on the environment are understandably dismayed. However, in report of a speech given in Israel, Joe Confino, Executive Editor of the UK newspaper The Guardian, indicates that his newspaper may be gearing up to fill the gap left by the NY Times apparent withdrawal from the green newspaper space.

According to the report, The Guardian has  begun a dialogue with executives at the world’s largest corporations with the goal of creating a conversation about environmental protection and sustainability. The Guardian has also begun the development of web sites and ventures that are actually funded by industry and that are intended to move corporations towards sustainability. Of course, this opens the possibility of claims of greenwashing and conflict of interest but Confino seems confident that The Guardian can properly manage these aspects.

GallonDaily and Gallon Environment Letter will be watching the outcomes of these relationships with great interest. If The Guardian can make a go of it, the model may be an interesting one for advancing communication between industry and the public on environment and sustainability matters.

You can find a report of the Confino presentation at http://www.haaretz.com/news/features/is-green-reporting-facing-a-hostile-business-environment-1.509176

Haaretz is an Israeli English-language newspaper. While GallonDaily does not normally cite newspapers as sources, an article about sustainability journalism with a report of a speech that does not appear to be available elsewhere seemed worthy of an exception.

The Guardian’s green pages are available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/series/guardian-environment-network

 

US insurance industry not yet well prepared for climate change

A newly published US study has found that only one in eight of US property & casualty, life & annuity, and health insurance companies have put in place comprehensive strategies for increased claims resulting from climate change. The result is that many insurance companies, the unprepared,  may sooner or later pull out of high risk markets or increase rates.

Ceres recommends that insurers:

  • Treat climate change as a corporate-wide strategic issue, affecting all functions, at all levels, and formalize this in a public corporate policy statement.
  • Evaluate the potential for changes in future risk exposure due to climate change.
  • Provide transparent, useful disclosure.
  • Inform public policy.

Insurance regulators are urged to:

  • Continue to mandate annual, public disclosure to foster more active engagement by insurers on the issue of climate change.
  • Clarify disclosure expectations.
  • Build climate risk considerations into the financial oversight process
  • Create more shared resources to help insurers analyze and respond to climate-related risks and opportunities, including investment risks and opportunities.
  • Engage with insurers, consumers and other policymakers to better understand the nature of climate change risks.

Ceres is a network of investors, companies and public interest groups which aims to accelerate and expand the adoption of sustainable business practices and solutions to build a healthy global economy.

Similar data does not appear to be available for Canadian insurers but a June 2012 report on regional climate trends from the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction for The Insurance Bureau of Canada concludes that there are “overall concerns about the needs for strategies to reduce vulnerability and exposure in view of the increasing risks of more extreme hazards.”

A summary and link to the full 61 page Insurer Climate Risk Disclosure Survey (free but registration required)  are available at http://www.ceres.org/press/press-releases/is-the-u.s.-insurance-industry-prepared-for-climate-change

The Insurance Bureau of Canada report Telling the Weather Story is available at http://www.ibc.ca/en/natural_disasters/documents/mcbean_report.pdf

Manning and Harper are not aligned on the environment

Over the weekend former Reform Party leader Preston Manning spoke at some length to his Manning Networking Conference, a predominantly conservative crowd, on the topic of green conservatism and the need for the Conservative Government to change its strategy on the environment. GallonDaily is quite certain that Prime Minister Harper is not listening to the former Reform Party leader on this topic.

Manning made the compelling point that ‘conservatives are generally considered (and this by our friends) to be weak or disinterested on the environment’. So far so good. But then he went on to discuss the “the eastern slope ranchers” which he described as a remarkable breed of Canadians.. On the one hand, he said, they are rock-ribbed fiscal conservatives who want minimal government intervention in their businesses and the economy. But at the same time, embodied in the same individuals and their enterprises is a deep commitment to conserving the landscapes, grasslands, and aquifers of that part of the world.

We have never met an ‘eastern slope rancher’ and even if we had we imagine they are a pretty small population with little interest in the environmental problems of air and water pollution or climate change! They are certainly not a constituency which will decide the future of the Conservative government beyond the next election in 2015. These folks already vote Conservative and are very unlikely to change their vote. Much more important to PM Harper are the folks who live in Quebec and the 905 territory of Ontario, many of whom are in fact supporters of action on the environment but who are also most unlikely to switch their vote in either direction because of the environmental issue.

Manning has always been a politician with at least a small modicum of green credentials. He stated that these ‘eastern slope ranchers’ may rightly be called Green Conservatives or grassroots conservationists. He said that they recognize that conservation and conservatism come from the same root and can peacefully co-exist intellectually and politically. So far we agree. But we surmise that they are not people who wish for strong environmental regulations on Alberta industry or who want to see large government grants or subsidies for environmental initiatives. That is where they split from the much larger green movement.

Manning presented some good ideas that, if implemented by environmental groups, might bring them closer to the Federal Government. The ideas involve winning over popular opinion and populist action, rather than expecting government to use regulations or economic instrument to encourage pro-environment activity by big business and big polluters. Manning’s ideas have some merit but they will not by themselves win over a Prime Minister who equates environmentalism with terrorism or anti-jobs, anti-economy activities.

Environmental groups and green entrepreneurs should read Manning’s speech and give thought to implementing its recommendations. If they don’t, no one will.

The Manning speech is available at http://manningcentre.ca/2013/03/mnc-2013-keynote-address-state-of-the-conservative-movement-preston-manning-mar-9-2013/

Whole Foods to label GMO foods

Whole Foods, the organic-oriented but not exclusively organic supermarket chain with 8 stores in Canada and more than 325 in the United States, has announced last week that all products in its stores that contain Genetically Modified Organisms will be labeled as such by 2018.

The Company indicates that this move will help make it easier for food processors and suppliers to source non-GMO ingredients.  The Company has committed to issue progress reports as the program is implemented and states that the initiative is a response to customer requests for transparency on GMOs. GMOs are already not allowed in organic food in both Canada and the US.

The announcement does not affect UK stores where GMO labels are already in use.

Whole Foods’ announcement is likely to spur other retailers, especially smaller stores,  to follow suit and may reopen the North American debate about use of GMOs in agriculture. Farmers and processors who wish to retain Whole Foods and its suppliers as customers will feel pressure to move to non-GMO varieties of foodstuffs.

The Whole Foods announcement is at http://media.wholefoodsmarket.com/news/whole-foods-market-commits-to-full-gmo-transparency

US beats China in clean energy trade

Clean energy industry analysts have been surprised by a study released this week by The Pew Charitable Trusts, based in Washington DC,  indicates that, in 2011, the US had an advantage over China in trade of solar, wind and energy smart technologies. The minimum trade advantage, expressed as a percentage, was in solar technologies(32%) and the highest was in energy smart technologies (214%), which includes electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries, advanced metering equipment, and LEDs. Total US trade surplus over China in the clean energy sector was $1.63 billion. Of this, solar technol0gies contributed the mopst in absolute terms.

The data for the report were compiled for Pew by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The ngo drew a number of conclusions from the data, among which the following caught GallonDaily’s eye:

  • U.S. firms have an advantage resulting from national leadership in innovation and entrepreneurship.
  • U.S. companies are more active overseas than are there Chinese counterparts.
  • China’s strength is more narrowly based on assembly and high-volume manufacturing
  • Uncertainties surrounding U.S. clean energy policies are likely to have the greatest impact on domestic manufacturing in the clean energy industry.

In other words, government policies can play a major role in facilitating positive growth and trade balances in North America’s clean energy sector.

A summary and a link to the full 31 page report can be found at http://www.pewenvironment.org/news-room/other-resources/surprising-findings-reveal-us-advantage-in-clean-energy-trade-85899457099

Ontario may introduce cap and trade

The Ontario government has announced on its Environmental Registry a proposed framework for a GHG cap and trade program. It is impossible to tell at this point how serious the government might be about such a program but the proposal is at least interesting.

The idea is to put the program in place one year before federal regulations, which are themselves expected to be enacted in 2016, though this date is unlikely to be reliable. The proposed program elements include

  • Achieving absolute reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in a cost‐effective way that considers competitiveness and supports achieving equivalency with the federal government
  • Simplicity, consistency, transparency and administrative efficiency
  • Striving to treat sectors and facilities equitably
  • Taking into account early action by industry leaders
  • Using accurate and verified emissions data to support policy development
  • Promoting evelopment and deployment of clean technologies
  • Considering broad alignment with other emissions reduction programs of similar rigour that provides opportunity for linking in the future
  • Considering integration with other provincial environmental policies

The ministry is considering applying the program, at a minimum, to the same industrial sectors as to be regulated by the federal government. At this time, this includes fossil fuel‐fired electricity generation and large emitters from petroleum refining, chemicals (including fertilizer manufacturing), steel, cement and pulp and paper sectors.

The detailed proposal is at http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/displaynoticecontent.do?noticeId=MTE4MzMy&statusId=MTc3MDg5&language=en with comments due by April 21st.

Palm oil issue back in the news

In 2004 WWF and Unilever, along with a larger group of palm oil producers, industry associations, and ngos set up the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil to move the producing industry towards more sustainable practices, including the protection of orangutan habitat in palm oil producing countries. A recent evaluation by WWF indicates that progress has been very slow.

Even though adequate Certified Sustainable Palm Oil is available, companies that use palm oil in their products are not buying the CSPO product in sufficient quantities. Many producers that committed to the Roundtable principles for sustainable palm oil are not meeting the full standard or have effectively dropped out of the program. Even the eternally optimistic WWF states that “the majority [of palm oil producers] need to move much faster if the RSPO is to reach its goal of transforming the palm oil sector toward 100% sustainability”. Other environmental groups are much more critical of the RSPO, with some labeling it as “greenwash”.

Palm oil is one of the most widely used vegetable oils in the world, being a raw material for all kinds of foods including baked goods and margarines, cosmetics, and biofuels. The certification process established by the RSPO allows users of certified sustainable palm oil to use a trademarked logo on their products but during our regular work GallonDaily has not found the logo on any products in Canadian retailers. Trademarking of the logo is apparently not yet complete in Canada, suggesting that interest among Canadian brandowners is very low. The only company that RSPO reports as having committed to use only certified sustainable palm oil in Canada is The Body Shop. Starbucks has announced that all of its products worldwide will use only certified sustainable palm oil by 2015.

The palm oil issue is one that resonates with consumers – it is easy to understand the concept of producers cutting down tropical forests in order to plant oil palms – and the orangutan is a very attractive symbol for the misdeeds of palm oil producers.

With at least a partial solution already in place it is not unreasonable to expect that campaigners will soon target Canadian brandowners who are using palm oil that is not sustainably produced.

The WWF Global 2013 assessment of palm oil producers is available at http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/footprint/agriculture/palm_oil/solutions/responsible_purchasing/wwf_assessment_of_rspo_member_palm_oil_producers_2013/

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and its shopping guide (not very relevant to Canada) can be found at http://www.rspo.org/

Conference scam targets climate scientists

It is far from the first time but a current conference invitation appears to be one of the best yet efforts of the scammer community when targeting environmental folks. An email circulating this week with the subject line Call For Papers/CCWG 2013 is a scam. The invitation is to submit papers for a Climate Change Working Group Conference 13 (CCWG Conference 13), 20th – 24th May 2013 at Hilton Hotels and Resorts London, United Kingdom.

Some may recall seeing very similar conference announcements in past years. That is one of the things that gives this scam extra credibility – it sounds like one in a series of technical conferences on climate change. The theme of this year’s scam event, announced as “Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change” also sounds credible. However, some aspects of the letter set GallonDaily’s scam alert bells ringing:

  • the letter claims that the organizers will cover air ticket, visa fees and per diem to be covered for all qualified delegates. They claim over 900 delegates have attended previous conferences. No organization covers air fares for 900 delegates.
  • papers have to be submitted by 6th May 2013 with a response on whether they are accepted by 13th May. The conference is announced for 20th May. No reputable scientific organization works on such a tight timeline.
  • you have to register for the conference before submitting a paper, something that few reputable organizations require.
  • the Climate Change Working Group does not exist, at least not as an international organization.
  • the organizer of the conference claims to operate out of a location shown by Google Earth to be a retailer storefront in a suburb of London, hardly the kind of place from which a major international conference is organized. In addition, the email contact is a Gmail address, not a business, university or government email address. 
  • the hotel address is so incomplete as to make it impossible to determine where the event is being held.
  • the list of agenda topics has little or nothing to do with agriculture or food security.
  • other email scam investigators have contacted the name mentioned on this letter and have verified that the email is a scam.

Those investigators have told  GallonDaily that if a person tries to register for the event they will be asked to send a hotel deposit and/or a security deposit (‘to ensure that the registrant attends’) by Western Union money transfer and that these amounts will be refunded subsequently, which of course will never happen.

Note also that this is not the only environmental conference scam in circulation. You have been warned!

You can see the conference invitation at http://ccwgroup.blogspot.ca/2013/02/conference.html The link appears to be harmless, as long as you do not register for the conference, but GallonDaily makes no guarantees.

An interesting proposal for GHG management in the US

With Canada’s Environment Minister Peter Kent reiterating that Canada continues to align greenhouse gas emissions measures with the United States, Canadians interested in what Canada might do need to pay close attention to developments in the US.

One of the more interesting proposals comes from the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. E&EI was launched last June by Bob Inglis, Republican member of Congress from South Carolina from 1993 to 1999 and again from 2005 until 2011. Inglis has been described as the “Republican who believes in climate change”.

E&EI responded to the climate change content of President Obama’s recent State of the Union Address by stating:

Getting a legislative solution is essential because regulating CO2 is precisely the wrong solution. Unilateral EPA action will spawn litigation and protracted fights over EPA funding. Meanwhile, regulating power plants would do nothing – absolutely nothing – to move China and India toward action. In fact, CO2 regulations may lead to outsourcing that increases emissions just when we’re starting to see a trend toward emission-reducing  ‘onsourcing’.

E&EI made the following recommendations for a US government climate change program:

Rather than capping, regulating and growing government, we should be talking about a ‘true cost’ comparison between competing fuels –eliminating all subsidies for all fuels, attaching all costs to all fuels through an upstream application of a carbon tax, pairing that tax with a dollar-for-dollar cut in other taxes, and making it border adjustable so it’s removed on exports and imposed on imports.

Not a bad set of proposals, in GallonDaily’s opinion.

It is doubtful that Bob Inglis will have much success with the majority of his former Congressional colleagues in the Republican Party but, with rising public opinion in support of action on climate change, maybe enough Republicans will get on side with Inglis to allow passage of legislation containing some of the proposals. Canada could help its own economy, and help encourage Congress, by moving in a similar direction ahead of any US initiative.

The Energy and Enterprise Initiative can be found at http://energyandenterprise.com/eei-responds-to-president-obamas-state-of-the-union-address/

Minister Kent’s reannouncement of Canada’s continued alignment with the US on climate change initiatives, including a recommitment to regulate power plants, can be found at http://www.ec.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=714D9AAE-1&news=3FC39747-ABF2-470A-A99E-48CA2B881E97