Last week a delegation of British companies supported by U.K. Trade and Investment attended the sustainable-development advocacy conference Globe 2014, in Vancouver, British Columbia, to showcase the country’s expertise in low-carbon solutions and sustainability innovations. U.K. Trade and Investment (UKTI) is the British Foreign Offices’ business development arm which aims to promote U.K. businesses abroad, as well as attract foreign investment in the country, with an overarching aim of creating job growth.
Despite the fact that the U.K. is a small country and is not a huge emitter of carbon in the global context, it has nonetheless set ambitious environmental policies, like reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. In addition, since the U.K. operates under the European Emissions Trading Scheme, regulatory incentives exist for companies to develop innovations that will help meet emissions targets.
I had the opportunity to speak with Mike Rosenfeld, Vice Consul – USA Clean Technology Sector Lead for UKTI, about the strengths of the U.K. clean tech industry and how its businesses are poised to be competitive players on the global stage.
Despite some early March rain in California, and a few storm systems moving in this week, the late season moisture will sadly fall far short of that which is needed to pull the state out of its four-year drought. Attention has consequently turned towards how California will ensure reliable water supplies in years ahead, should precipitation levels remain below average.
One source that will grow in importance is desalination, and it could end up being a pretty big business. Environmental Leader reported earlier this month that the components alone for desalination activity will constitute a $5 billion industry by 2015, and while this spend would not be confined to California, the report, conducted by the McIlvaine Co., describes the state as being at the epicenter of global desalination activity.
According to SFGate, the San Francisco Chronicle’s online news outlet, 17 desalination plants are in the planning stages in the state of California, and of these, the largest one in Carlsbad, near San Diego, is two years away from completion. When the plant is switched on, it will be the biggest desalination facility in the Western Hemisphere, taking water from the Pacific Ocean and turning it into around 50 million gallons of potable water daily — serving 110,000 customers in San Diego County.
A new survey of American consumers provides some potentially surprising findings that indicate American food shoppers are very mindful about what they place into their shopping carts, and it’s not just about price and taste.
While food commercials on television constantly bombard Americans with offerings that focus on price-point and convenience, a 2014 survey by Cone Communications found that people care about where their food comes from and how it is produced. In a poll of more than 1,000 people from a broad cross-section of the shopping public, 77 percent of respondents said sustainability was an important factor in deciding what to buy, while 74 percent said buying locally was a significant factor.
According to the EPA, buildings in the U.S. account for 36 percent of total energy used in the country and 65 percent of all electricity consumption, so any improvements in building energy efficiency that can be made provide a tremendous opportunity for huge benefits. That said, when it comes to energy, funding has tended to flow more freely towards renewable energy generation projects than towards energy efficiency projects — effectively creating a barrier to necessary work, which would otherwise make the country’s buildings far greener.
One energy efficiency and demand response financier is seeking to address this problem. “What is missing in the energy efficiency industry is akin to what is allowing solar to take off now,” says Mike Gordon, CEO of Joule Assets Inc, “There has been no ability to create investments, which can be re-bundled and sold to investors down the line.”
By doing just this, Joule Assets plans to correct the shortfall in energy efficiency projects by providing access to the necessary financing that will allow small- and medium-size contractors to unlock the potential in the market for energy efficiency work.
At the end of January, environmental science and conservation news site Mongabay, reported that Indonesian Paper giant, Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Ltd (APRIL) had announced a new environmental policy aimed to stem criticism about its forestry practices, which continue to be deleterious to Indonesia’s natural rain forests.
APRIL is Indonesia’s second largest pulp and paper producer after Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), and the two account for about 80 percent of the country’s total pulp and paper output. In recent months we have written extensively about APP’s ongoing commitment to their forest clearing moratorium and increasing transparency under their Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) – so APRIL’s announcement at face value is a welcome one; However it’s also one, as Mongabay says, that has been “immediately blasted” by activist groups.
Last week, Tesla announced that it would build a new “Gigafactory” to produce lithium-ion batteries at a rate able to support the manufacture of 500,000 electric cars per year. By 2020, the plant will be capable of producing as many lithium-ion batteries as the entire world produced in 2013.
The Gigafactory, Tesla says, will support 6,500 jobs directly, and according to a post on the company’s blog, the company expects that volume manufacturing of its mass-market vehicle will drive down the cost-per-kWh of its batteries by 30 percent in the first year.
The mass-market vehicle, yet to be released, will be designated the Model E. According to a report in TechCrunch, it will be 20 percent smaller than the current Model S, with a target range of 200 miles. While that’s fewer than the maximum range of the Model S, it’s ahead of any other pure EV currently on the market. Cheaper batteries may be crucial in cutting costs sufficiently to allow the company to produce the more affordable car, but the new factory also plays into more diverse plans for the company.
Natural gas has frequently been described as a bridge fuel to a low-carbon energy future for at least a couple of promising reasons. Firstly, there’s an abundance of the stuff, and secondly burning natural gas produces only about half the CO2 emissions as coal. In theory, at least, replacing coal-fired power stations with natural gas ones, and converting large trucks from diesel to natural gas, are ways to reap significant real-time climate benefits.
That said, however, there is a general Achilles-heel in the whole natural gas energy system, which is that it’s leaky. Leaks occur not only in production of natural gas, but also in storage and transmission of it, and because natural gas is 80 percent methane (CH4), which is around 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, when it leaks, it’s a big deal.
And it turns out, it’s a bigger deal than previously thought. A new report by Stanford University finds that America’s natural gas system is much more leaky than previously estimated, and maybe up to 50 percent more so than the EPA estimates. Of course, this is pretty significant because the benefits of burning lower-CO2 natural gas as an alternative to coal and oil, must be weighed against the deleterious effects of extensive methane leakage–but how bad is it? And is it bad enough that natural gas cannot be considered a viable bridge fuel to a lower carbon future?
Last fall we reported extensively on Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and its Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), which since February 2013 placed a moratorium on any further clearing of natural forest across the company’s 38 supplier concessions in Indonesia and subsequently put an end to the use of natural wood fibers in its paper mills.
In October, we also reported on Greenpeace’s assessment of how APP’s moratorium was holding up. In a comprehensive report published by the organization–who up until the implementation of FCP had been one of APP’s harshest critics–its assessment was generally favorable. In essence, Greenpeace’s position was that while some concerns remain, the company is doing what it said it would do.
Feb. 5 marked the anniversary of APP’s announcement by company Chairman Teguh Ganda Wijaya that it had stopped the destruction of natural forest lands in Indonesia, and in marking this milestone, the company has announced further areas of focus going forward. APP also hosted a debate in Jakarta to discuss their progress to-date; the debate panel involving company officials, the NGOs assisting them in their FCP implementation, and importantly, members from both WWF and the Rainforest Action Network, who remain skeptical critics of APP. More on this later–but, first, a quick recap of what APP has been doing in the last 12 months.
Though you’ll continue to read that electric vehicles have been slow to catch on, the fact is, they are catching on, and they will continue to do so. Whether it be sales of pure electric vehicles, or plug-in hybrid vehicles, the growth of electrified vehicles is necessitating the build-out of public charging infrastructure in cities, workplaces and homes.
We are familiar with the tangible parts of such infrastructure — the electric vehicles themselves, and the physical charging stations they plug into. But to make the whole system work, you need an information technology network to connect the hardware together and manage things such as payments and connectivity to the grid, and for charging site owners, the ability to manage the infrastructure deployed.
That’s where companies like Greenlots come in; a San Francisco-based global provider of open standards-based technology solutions for electric vehicle networks. On Feb. 10, the company introduced its SKY Smart Charging system, which is designed to address the needs of the utilities and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) sectors. It’s a pretty esoteric part of the EV world, so I’ll attempt to explain how it fits together and why it’s significant.
Back in October 2012, we reported on a new urban mobility service operated by Scoot Networks, which at the time had just beta-launched in San Francisco. While similar to the numerous bike-share operations that have sprung up in hundreds of cities around the world, Scoot modified that model; from its website, “Scoots are shared, electric, smartphone-activated motor-scooters you can ride in the city.”
As a membership-based service, riders can use Scoot’s app to locate available scooters from numerous locations around the city, check the state of charge of any given vehicle, and by docking their smartphone, unlock a ride to go about their business.
Sixteen months on, this week I spoke with Michael Keating, Scoot’s CEO, to hear how their business is developing. Things appear to be on the up.
At the North American International Auto Show’s opening day in Detroit this week, Ford’s affable CEO and President, Alan Mulally, held a Q&A session for invited bloggers — who were given an open forum to ask questions about Ford and the auto industry in general.
The discussion ranged from what distinguishes the company from others to what strategies the company will deploy in order to continue their success in an increasingly competitive industry going forward. Along the way, Mulally was asked about the role of new technologies and how they will shape the future of transportation.
The following is a quick digest highlighting some of the key points from the discussion.
The adoption of plug-in vehicles, both gasoline-electric hybrids as well as full battery electric vehicles, continues to gain pace. At the end of August this year, 59,000 such vehicles had been sold in the USA, surpassing sales of plug-in vehicles for the whole of 2012. This trend will likely continue as manufacturers increasingly roll out new product offerings.
Next year, VW will launch an electric version of the Golf, Mercedes will offer U.S. buyers an electric version of their European B-Class, while BMW will launch the i3, the first of their electric-drive “i” sub-branded vehicles.
Legitimately, the increasing sales volume of electric vehicles has raised concerns regarding the ability of the nation’s utilities to manage the additional load they will bring to bear on the grid. But the Texas-based, Pecan Street Research Institute has been studying the impact of EVs in the most electric vehicle-dense residential area in the country, and has discovered some comforting findings which suggest EVs won’t crash the grid after all.
PlugInsights, a plug-in electric vehicle research firm, released their first report last week addressing the experiences, behaviors and opinions of drivers with regard to charging plug-in electric vehicles in the USA. The firm, part of Recargo Inc. – a leading provider of “chargefinder” smart phone apps – crunched the data after surveying over three thousand individuals, 91 percent of whom either own or lease a plug-in electric vehicle, with the remainder of respondents considering a move to an electric car.
The study collected information from geographically dispersed drivers of every commercially available plug-in vehicle available in the U.S. and the results were appropriately weighted to reflect the plug-in vehicle share in the U.S. population.
As PlugInsights’ goal is to identify barriers to broad EV adoption, their inaugural report on vehicle charging goes a long way towards highlighting the pain points plug-in drivers experience while offering solutions to alleviate them. Here are some of the key findings of the study.
Earlier this month, Coca-Cola released their 2012/13 sustainability report, the company’s third GRI report, reporting against 35 key performance indicators which they say is the most comprehensive one so far.
The new report outlines Coke’s 2020 Sustainability Commitments, under their “Me, We, World” framework. These respectively represent a focus on enhancing personal well-being, building stronger communities, and protecting the environment.
The chairman of the board, Muhtar Kent, outlines in his letter accompanying the report that, “there are no issues that will more shape or define the 21st century than the global empowerment of women, the management of the world’s precious water resources, and the well-being of the world’s growing population.” Here are some of the key highlights from the report in line with these issues.
TriplePundit’s Phil Covington has just returned from a trip to Indonesia to look at deforestation issues and the sustainable turnaround of Asia Pulp and Paper, one of the world’s largest paper and pulp companies. Follow along here.
Over the last several weeks, I have written a short series of stories regarding my trip to Indonesia to meet with Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), investigating their Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), which most significantly includes an ongoing commitment to stop natural forest clearing and end the use of natural forest pulp in their Indonesian paper mills.
Rounding off this series, this piece focuses on a timely progress report by Greenpeace, which was issued on October 29th, 2013, addressing APP’s progress against their FCP over the last nine months (since the policy was introduced) as well as detailing remaining concerns and the steps that still need to be taken.
As my trip to Indonesia focused on FCP and included the chance to meet briefly with a representative from Greenpeace, the progress report tracks closely with what I learned on the ground and covers some of the material reported in my previous articles. The following summarizes the key points of the progress report.