Monday, January 25, 2010

Tesla Gears Up to Manufacture the Model S


With a USD 465-million loan finalized, Tesla is setting up manufacturing lines for the world's first mass-produced electric vehicle, the Model S. An article in Ecoseed notes that this loan from the United States Department of Energy is one of a series intended to stimulate growth of this sector of the transportation industry.

The loan is the second agreed by the Energy Department with an advanced technology vehicle manufacturer. The department signed its first loan agreement for $5.9 billion to Ford Motor Company in September last year.

The department has also signed conditional commitments with Nissan North America Inc. and Fisker Automotive. Nissan plans to build electric cars and battery packs at the company’s Smyrna, Tennessee manufacturing complex, while Fisker recently announced that it will re-open a General Motors plant in Wilmington, Delaware to build plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

The price tag for the Model S is daunting ($49,900), but the technology offers promises to change the nature of the auto industry.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Future of E-bikes


Adam Stein in this article on The TerraPass Footprint points out that e-bikes (electric hybrids) occupy an odd place in the American landspace. People don't know what to make of them. Dedicated bicycylists think they're a cheat. Auto drivers see them as an annoying poor-man's transportation they'd rather not share the road with. Motorcyclists see them as a joke. With a slightly different mindset, the e-bike could be a very useful and practical mode of transportation that could effectively take scores of automobiles off the road over the long term.

Stein asks:

Could this change? Maybe. In China, where bicycles are a major mode of transportation, people love them. In Copenhagen, also a cycling hotbed, people are indifferent. I’m not entirely sure what accounts for the difference, but I’m guessing culture plays a big role.

Developing more acceptance of two-wheeled transportation might not be a bad idea. Bike paths, anyone?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Jellyfish Populations and Global Warming

false twins -jellyfishes
Originally uploaded by marfis75

"They just make these things up," climate modeler Mojib Latif observed after seeing an article in the London Daily Mail that identified Latif as projecting a 30-year span of global cooling. This Truthout article, written by Michael Winship, offers other examples of climate change deniers misinterpreting and misrepresenting scientific studies, often attributing statements to researchers that are essentially bald lies.

In fact, as Latif told the British newspaper the Guardian, "I believe in manmade global warming... There is no doubt within the scientific community that we are affecting the climate, that the climate is changing and responding to our emissions of greenhouse gases."

Winship than points to one of the bizarre and harrowing consequences of global warming: massive increases in jellyfish populations that are causing havoc with the fishing industry and jamming desalination plants.

This has led to all manner of consequences, some you would expect, others not. A 2008 National Science Foundation study found populations growing along the East Coast -- in the Chesapeake Bay area, people are stung about half a million times a year. In the Middle East and Africa, swarms have jammed hydroelectric and desalination plants, forcing them to shut down. In Japan, the fishing industry is losing up to $332 million a year because jellyfish swarms fill the nets, crowding out mackerel, sea bass and other fish.

The AP reports that in October, off the eastern coast of Japan, "Jelly-filled nets capsized a 10-ton trawler as its crew tried to pull them up. The three fishermen were rescued."

This is the stuff of science fiction, but in this case it's entirely real.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Accelerating Wind Power in the UK


While the US effectively twiddles its collective thumbs on the issue of offshore wind power (with installations such as Cape Wind Project in Nantucket Sound endlessly delayed), the UK is forging ahead with a massive investment in offshore wind farms. The British government has approved the building of wind farms in nine development zones capable of generating more than 32 gigawatts of power, as detailed in this article from the Environment News Service.

Justin Wilkes, policy director of the European Wind Energy Association, said the projects announced today, once built, "will multiply by 10 Europe's offshore wind energy capacity."

"These are European companies building a European industry and generating some 45,000 European jobs. It takes Europe closer to exploiting the power of our seas and developing a brand new European offshore wind industry," said Wilkes. "Offshore wind is Europe's largest untapped energy source. There is enough wind across Europe's seas to power Europe seven times over."

The power that will be generated by the developments announced today is part of the more than 100 GW of offshore wind power currently being planned by European utilities, developers, and governments, mostly in the North Sea.

Proposed projects in the US, as shown by this map created by, show potential, but we lag significantly behind the European countries that have installed wind turbines offshore.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Derailing Wind Energy Progress


The basis of our American experiment in democracy has always been predicated on following the will of the majority while respecting the positions of the minority. As a recent Mother Jones article (Cape Wind Delay a Big Win for Dirty Energy Interests) points out, the democractic process has been turned on its ear by an unlikely alliance of oil and gas interests with a group of Native Americans who are looking to define an entire body of water as a national historic site, blocking the construction of the Cape Wind Project on Nanucket Sound.

Journalist Kate Sheppard notes:

The tribes surely have perfectly sound reasons of their own for opposing the project. "We are hoping...that we can protect the sound and our religious right to worship the rising sun and be able to pass that tradition on to our grandchildren," Green said. "The government has not honored many of the things it has promised to the Native American people...All we have is the process, and all we've asked for is due process."

That's clearly a consideration for the Department of Interior, which oversees NPS. To that end, the Interior Department recently issued a new tribal consultation policy, a long overdue effort to improve the agency's relationship with tribes.

But in the case of this particular decision on Cape Wind, granting this level of preservation to an entire body of water could be a bad omen for all future offshore wind development. Barring development here, Cape Wind president Jim Gordon told Mother Jones recently, "would have a chilling effect on what could possibly be one of the most promising sources for energy independence and creating a new green economy."

The forces aligned against renewable energy use every tactic imagineable to derail progress on the alternative energy front. In this case, the majority of the residents of Massachusetts, the state legislature, the state's congressional delegation, and the Governor, Deval Patrick, are solidly behind the Cape Wind project. The opposition is small, well-funded, and determined--undettered by what their opposition means to the future of energy development or the absolute necessity to reverse global warming. In this particular scenario, democracy isn't working very well at all.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Stopping Major Climate Distruption


In his new book, Storms of My Grandchildren, climate scientist James Hansen offers a pragmatic solution, perhaps our last chance, for reversing the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere and restoring equilibrium to global weather patterns. In an excerpt published in The Nation, Hansen spells out the essential tenets of his plan:

Let's define what a workable backbone and framework should look like. The essential backbone is a rising price on carbon applied at the source (the mine, wellhead, or port of entry), such that it would affect all activities that use fossil fuels, directly or indirectly.

Our goal is a global phaseout of fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions. We have shown, quantitatively, that the only practical way to achieve an acceptable carbon dioxide level is to disallow the use of coal and unconventional fossil fuels (such as tar sands and oil shale) unless the resulting carbon is captured and stored. We realize that remaining, readily available pools of oil and gas will be used during the transition to a post-fossil-fuel world. But a rising carbon price surely will make it economically senseless to go after every last drop of oil and gas--even though use of those fuels with carbon capture and storage may be technically feasible and permissible.

Global phaseout of fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions is a stringent requirement. Proposed government policies, consisting of an improved Kyoto Protocol approach with more ambitious targets, do not have a prayer of achieving that result. Our governments are deceiving us, and perhaps conveniently deceiving themselves, when they say that it is possible to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050 with such an approach.

Hansen then goes into a discussion about why cap-and-trade solutions are doomed to failure and what our best bets are for preserving the planet for our grandchildren. As arguably the foremost authority on the issue of global warming, Hansen's words carry a strong degree of credibility.