The International Herald Tribune in its April 23 edition reports on two contrasting developments that are likely to have significant ramifications when it comes to efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and facilitate a transition to low carbon societies while at the same time meeting forecasted growth in energy demand in Europe and the US.
A front page article by Elizabeth Rosenthal, reporting from Civitavecchia, reports on Italian electric utility Enel’s plans to convert one of the country’s largest power plants from oil to coal, one instance of a broader shift to coal by electricity producers across the EU, and the alarm these plans have raised among environmental scientists.
A mid-page 13 article by Reuters’ Anupreeta Das, meanwhile, reports on plans being hatched by two of leading US VCs and Norwegian electric carmaker ThinkGlobal to put as many as 50,000 recyclable, emissions free plug-in electric vehicles a year on US roads.
Little or No Choice?: EU to Rely More on Coal for Electricity
The EU is once again turning to coal to meet its electricity needs at the same time EU members’ Kyoto Protocol Phase I national emissions reduction registries are being put into place. Italy plans to increase its use of coal for electricity generation from 14% to 33% over the next five years, according to the International Herald Tribune article.
Italian energy bills are the highest in Europe and Enel’s fuel costs – driven primarily by the prices of oil and natural gas – have shot up 151% since 1996. Italy prohibits the use of nuclear power, which leaves the utility with no real options other than coal to meet immediate and anticipated electricity demand.
Coal comes out to be cheaper and more secure than oil or natural gas – the only other two viable and legal options – even after adding in the costs of purchasing emissions reduction credits in the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
Italy isn’t the only EU country where electricity producers are shifting from oil to coal however. Some 50 coal-fired plants are planned in EU countries during the next five years and expected to run for 50 years once in operation.
Taken together with ongoing construction of coal-fired plants in China and India, where one new plant has been going up every week on average means that all the money, legislation and effort being put into reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change will go up in so much smoke, according to environmental experts quoted in the article, highlighting the conflicting demands being placed on governments and electric power providers.
“We need a moratorium on coal now, with phase out of existing plants over the next two decades,” asserted James Hansen, one of the world’s most prominent climatologists, who works out of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
Kleiner Perkins, Rockport and ThinkGlobal Aim to Manufacture Plug-Ins in Menlo Park
On the other side of the globe, two of the most prominent venture capital firms in the US are teaming up with Norway’s ThinkGlobal to manufacture the latter’s ThinkCity 95% recyclable, emissions-free electric vehicle out of a planned Think North America manufacturing facility in Menlo Park, California.
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Rockport Capital Management and ThinkGlobal anticipate manufacturing anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 of ThinkCity electric cars per year beginning in around two years, Kleiner Perkins’ managing director and Think North America chairman Ray Lane was quoted as saying in the International Herald Tribune article.
“The TH!NK city is the world’s only crash-tested and highway-certified electric vehicle and is ideal for markets such as California where we will initiate demonstration projects offering an exceptionally safe and fun car to drive,” said Jan-Olaf Willums, CEO of Think Global. “We are proud to partner with the two pioneering investors in the clean tech field and to launch TH!NK city in North America with them.”
“The transportation industry is undergoing its largest transformation since Henry Ford built the Model T. Today we are witnessing a seminal event – the first highway-capable electric vehicle intended for mass production, representing a big step toward a zero emission transportation industry,” Lane added in a media release.
ThinkCity electric cars are already being manufactured by ThinkGlobal in Norway. The mini economy-sized vehicle runs on sodium or lithium batteries and gets up to 110 (177 kilometers) miles on a single charge. The batteries require three hours of daily charging or eight hours if the batteries are completely drained.
ThinkCity is negotiating with electric utilities in the US to set up charging stations, according to the report.
Expected to be priced under US$25,000, Lane said will compete with Toyota’s Prius plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.