CLEAN ENERGY TRENDS - by Ron Pernick and Joel Makower, from an article posted at
It is, at once, an exciting and confounding time for clean energy. In a world buffeted by the challenges of national security, global climate change, and depressed economies, clean-energy technologies such as solar, wind, and hydrogen-based fuel cells offer a compelling array of benefits to individuals and nations alike—including energy security, stabilized energy costs, reduced emissions and public health risks, and the creation of millions of jobs. But building a clean energy future is filled with promise and pitfalls, particularly in the United States, where government commitments to clean energy development has been tepid at best. Many early-stage companies offer breakthrough technologies that can dramatically lower the cost of clean energy, but they’ve been stymied by the recent economic downturn.
Such gloom notwithstanding, market indicators demonstrate that many clean-energy technologies are on the rise, and a confluence of forces is making clean energy one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak economy. We believe that solar power, wind power and fuel cells will continue to exhibit aggressive annual growth for the foreseeable future. Clean energy is growing in both size and scale.
Interestingly, governments around the world are recognizing that their global competitiveness and future economic growth rest in large part on their investments in clean energy technology. For many, it has as much to do with economic vitality and job creation as with energy production and security. Another side benefit is escaping the pitfalls of pollution and land degradation from typical utility plants, or concerns about nuclear waste disposal and maintenance.
Japan and the European Union have been among the most aggressive players, implementing many policies and initiatives to grow their burgeoning clean technology industries. Unfortunately, while PV and wind power were first commercialized in the U.S., they are now clearly the domains of other countries. Japan has become the leading producer of PV modules, while Denmark and Germany rule the wind turbine world (and Denmark now receives more than 20% of its electricity from renewable sources—as much as 50% on windy winter days).
In the U.S., government leadership on clean energy has not come from the White House or Congress but at the state and local levels. Several states, notable California, Illinois, New York, Michigan and New Jersey have a variety of innovative incentives and rebate programs. More than a dozen states now have renewable portfolio standards (RPS) mandating that a certain portion of the state’s overall electricity purchases come from renewable sources such as geothermal, solar and wind. Such policies are having a salutary impact on the growth of clean energy in the U.S. And RPS are not limited to the states: several nations are implementing similar policies, including Japan (targeting 3% renewable energy by 2010), and the entire European Union (targeting 20% renewables by 2010).
The United States does not yet have a national RPS.
REAL COST OF POLLUTION KEPT HIDDEN— Oped on the externalities of pollution by Curt Andersen of the Green Bay News-Chronicle. The price we pay for some things is actually much less than their actual costs. There are numerous examples of such ‘external costs’ or ‘externalities’.
The example to most Fox River Valley residents is the cost of papermaking. The price of paper is lower because instead of treating pollution, or not polluting in the first place, mills pass pollution costs to the consumer. This immoral shortcut has led to the pollution of the Fox River and the ruination of fishing and tourism industries in northeast Wisconsin.
Operating a mine in Crandon would have external costs. The ore is contained in sulfurous rock—and sulfuric acid is created when the rock comes in contact with oxygen and water. The mining companies have not proposed building a wastewater treatment plant, so the external costs of mining will include destruction of the fish habitat in the Wolf and Fox rivers, leading to the thumping of the tourism industry and reduction of property values. Those externalities will be borne by the public, not the mining company. The use of cyanide in the mining operation will add to the trouble for local citizens. Burning coal to make electric power leads to methyl mercury contamination; the molecules of methyl mercury travel on the wind and fall in our lakes, where they end up in various forms of marine life, eventually eaten by people. Mercury accumulates in the body and can lead to learning disabilities in the young, paralysis, and brain and nerve damage. These costs are not borne by the power companies, but are borne by the families of children who have difficulty in school, by insurance companies who have to cover the cost of treatment, and by the victims, who lose time at work. The cost of storing spent nuclear fuel and keeping it out of the hands of terrorists for 10,000 years will be externalized and very high. The cost will be borne by the public through tax dollars; it will not show up on our utility bills where it should. Another cost from radioactive materials is the use of ‘depleted uranium’ (U-238) for ammunition. We already have veterans who suffer from chronic conditions due to its use. How many babies of veterans will be born deformed?
How different our lives would be if we had to consider the real costs. Maybe it’s time we figure that out.