China is putting effort into developing its electric vehicle industry, but industry reports say it is falling behind other countries in terms of "EV readiness." (Source: Treehugger.com)

In 2010, A123 Systems, a leading advanced lithium-ion battery manufacturer, opened the first and largest U.S. manufacturing facility to produce batteries for electric vehicles (EVs). The project was supported by a $249 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. But when President Barack Obama called to congratulate A123 Systems on the milestone, which he said foreshadowed “the birth of an entire new industry in America,” he never would have imagined the subsequent bankruptcy of this rising star and its acquisition by China’s Wanxiang Group in 2012.

Although this overseas acquisition is one of Wanxiang Group’s highest profile actions, the company has long been quietly acquiring and investing in dozens of auto parts manufacturers. Wanxiang has expressed interest in supporting the struggling Fisker Automotive, a manufacturer of luxury plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) and a previous client of A123 Systems. Wanxiang chairman Guanqiu Lu’s strategic ambitions to be an electric vehicle manufacturer are becoming closer to reality than ever before. According to the global consulting firm McKinsey, in 2010 China ranked third (together with Germany) in financial support for clean-vehicle technology development, just behind the United States and France.

As early as 2001, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) had included electric vehicle technologies as a key project in the National High Technology Research and Development Program (863 Program). In order to reduce dependence on oil, compete with more developed foreign automobile industries, and reduce air pollutants, MOST proposed focusing on three types of vehicles: hybrid-electric vehicles (HEV), electric vehicles, and fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), as well as three key components: battery/fuel cells, electric motors, and power controls, with an investment of 880 million RMB (US$106 million) within five years.

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automobiles, China, electric vehicles, Green Technology, hybrid vehicles, low-carbon, transportation

Across the developing world, retailers are selling solar-powered portable lamps that can meet basic lighting demands, reduce dependence on expensive and inefficient kerosene lighting, and contribute to important development goals like energy access and improved literacy rates.

Solar portable lamp companies must find innovative ways of restoring consumer confidence in their products after a flood of cheap, faulty models created a distrust of the technology (Source: OneDegreeSolar).

Small solar portable lamp companies are learning how to navigate the relatively unstructured business environments of developing countries, but a lack of consumer confidence in the unfamiliar technology is a serious deterrent to scalability. Confidence has been eroded further by the presence of low-quality lamps that mimic higher-quality products. To increase sales and improve both the social and environmental impact of solar portable lamps, companies must develop a dependable product and brand that is appealing to customers both familiar and unfamiliar with solar technology.

Gaurav Manchanda, an Indian-born entrepreneur and founder of One Degree Solar, found a new way to restore consumer confidence in a low-cost lamp that meets the standards of the Lighting Africa project. He developed a short messaging service (SMS) technology that both provides customer service and allows the company to monitor the social and environmental impacts of every lamp sold.

The use of mobile phone technology has skyrocketed in East Africa, and Manchanda’s development of a customer service practice that utilizes this unique market characteristic allows his product to penetrate markets previously characterized by uncertainty. Manchanda’s interest in tracking the social and environmental impact is based on his background in development work, but is also reflective of this market as a whole. Companies that operate in the solar portable lamp market are typically social enterprises interested in the triple bottom line of economic profit, social impact, and environmental health.

Manchanda realized that high-quality customer service is a competitive advantage and a way to generate confidence in relatively new and unfamiliar products among customers with very little purchasing power. With the help of an in-country partner, he developed an SMS platform hosted by Safaricom and Airtel that allows his company to send bulk text messages to purchasers of One Degree Solar products.

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developing countries, east Africa, energy, Energy Access, Green Technology, Innovation, rural electrification, solar portable lamps

Schematic of Phase 1 of ContourGlobal’s Project KivuWatt (source: BBC)

Along the western border of Rwanda, an innovative energy project on Africa’s 2,700 square kilometer Lake Kivu is generating electricity in a region beset by both geochemical and geopolitical instability.

Lake Kivu is one of the world’s three known “exploding lakes,” presenting a threat as well as an opportunity for local communities. Volcanic and bacterial activity in the lake generates substantial methane deposits that, if untapped, could erupt violently with disastrous effects on local lives, wildlife, and the environment. If safely extracted, however, the methane could provide a source of electricity and reduce the geochemical risks associated with the untapped gas.

To harness the lake’s energy potential, private sector investors are financing Project KivuWatt, a unique technological solution that translates potential risks into both socioeconomic development and geochemical stability. The initiative offers a model for successful power-producing projects in Rwanda and other developing countries.

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developing countries, electricity, Green Technology, Innovation, Lake Kivu, Methane, natural disasters, Project KivuWatt, Rwanda

The full text of this Vital Signs Online article can be found here.

Smart meters are just one component involved in emerging smart grid networks. Smart meter deployments are increasing, with many nationwide installations planned worldwide. (Source: Wired)

Global investment in smart grid technologies rose 7 percent in 2012 from the previous year. On top of direct investments, numerous countries around the world are making headway on smart grid regulatory policies, development plans, and frameworks to support future grid infrastructure upgrades.  Smart grids consist of many different technologies serving different functions. Smart grids are commonly defined as an electricity network that uses digital information and communications technology to improve the efficiency and reliability of electricity transport. Such modernized grids are becoming more important as current grid infrastructure ages and regions begin connecting more variable generation from renewable energy sources into the electricity network.

The United States had the highest investment of all countries in 2012 despite seeing a 19 percent decrease in smart grid spending from 2011. While the U.S. federal government has funded smart grid development and supported deployment projects throughout the country, many individual utilities are contributing their own efforts to update grid infrastructure. At the beginning of 2012, U.S. smart grid development efforts had installed 37 million smart meters, covering 33 percent of American households. Continued efforts by utilities to deploy smart grid solutions will become increasingly important in the U.S. as federal funding initiatives enacted under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 begin to expire.

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electricity, energy, energy storage, Green Technology, smart grid, smart meters, Vital Signs Online

Following up on the recent blog I wrote about low-lying island nations, I spent part of last week getting a more direct experience with one of these countries. The United States Institute of Peace welcomed former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed for a conference on Monday, June 25th in Washington, D.C. Nasheed was ousted last February by a coup under controversial circumstances. Though he expressed regret over losing the unique stature and influence he had as head of state, Nasheed is still extremely active in the country, pushing for new democratic elections and actively promoting “The Island President”, a documentary narrating his story and seeking to cast light on his unique fight for the survival of his country and the establishment of a functioning democracy after centuries of authoritarian rule.

“Anni”, as he is better known by people of the archipelago, has not left behind his ideals in the presidential office, particularly with regard to climate change. When he touched on the topic of climate change at last week’s conference, the former President called it, as he very often does, “a very serious issue happening right now.” With an average elevation of 1.5 meters above sea level, and the world’s lowest natural peak at an astounding 2.4 meters, the archipelago is indeed at the forefront of climate disruption and sea-level rise. Attempting to shame the rest of the world into taking action to mitigate carbon emissions, in 2008 Nasheed launched an ambitious plan for carbon neutrality. The plan seemed achievable: it tapped into the archipelago’s ample wind and solar energy resources, completing the mix with biomass to meet the modest energy needs of this country of 400,000 people, which has a low reliance on electricity and (understandably) almost no cars. Even the country’s most prominent and energy-consuming economic sector, high-end tourism, started bringing itself up to speed. Nasheed’s government planned to offset aviation emissions, which make up the lion’s share of the archipelago’s carbon footprint,  by using the European Union’s Emission Trading Scheme. Finally, as “The Island President” abundantly documents, the Maldives also took the lead in making the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) a force to reckon with in international climate summits.

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climate, Climate Change, COP15, developing countries, emissions reductions, energy, energy policy, Green Technology, low-carbon, low-lying island nations, Maldives, Nasheed, renewable energy, sustainable development, sustainable prosperity, UNFCCC

LEED Platinum Manitoba Hydro Place had its performance meticulously tracked for two years to determine whether it was living up to its ambitious goals. In fall 2012, Manitoba Hydro is expected to publicly release the full schedule of performance results. (Source: Flickr user stevecoutts)

Data collection is increasingly recognized as a priority in the evaluation and evolution of green buildings. Though the importance of green building design and its impact on climate change have been well documented, the actual performance of many green buildings often fails to meet expectations. There are several factors that contribute to this phenomenon, and the ability to accurately measure the energy efficiency of buildings is crucial to improving performance and standards. Performance data makes it possible to evaluate the effectiveness of different building strategies and technologies. This information is instrumental in the advancement of codes, standards, and best practices. Below, I will highlight a few initiatives that are attempting to gather and process performance data from buildings.

Data Collection Initiatives CBECS

One such effort to gather building energy information is a survey conducted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Office of Energy Consumption and Efficiency Statistics. Through the use of a national sample survey called the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), the EIA provides data that supports the development of energy standards and codes. The latest iteration of the survey is set to include information from approximately 8,500 commercial buildings. The two previous attempts to deliver survey results were derailed by funding issues: in 2007, a less exhaustive data gathering technique was used due to a lack of funding; more recently, poor implementation of the new technique led to faulty data that could not be used. In 2011, the survey was suspended as a result of budgetary cuts by Congress.  Due to these setbacks, the latest available data dates back to 2003. Despite resuming work on a 2012 CBECS, there are still budgetary issues that might sidetrack the program.

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Climate Change, development, energy efficiency, Green Technology, Innovation, United States

As I discussed in a previous blog, renewable energy trade disputes are becoming a particularly contentious issue between many nations. The United States and China are facing off in one of the most publicized of these disagreements. Further action was taken last week as the U.S. Department of Commerce made its second ruling of the year on this issue, placing tariffs on solar photovoltaic (PV) imports from China.

A Suntech Power Holdings employee at a Chinese solar PV manufacturing facility. The Commerce Department ruling placed a 31.22% tariff on Suntech products. (source: China Daily)

The previous Department of Commerce ruling from March 2012 placed countervailing duties on solar PV imports in order to balance what the department determined to be illegal subsidies to solar PV manufacturers from the Chinese government. The initial tariff rates, which were set between 2.9 and 4.73 percent, came in much lower than what was expected by most experts.

The new preliminary ruling comes in response to the second set of claims by the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) that Chinese solar companies have been dumping their products in the U.S. market at below market value. The coalition, led by SolarWorld USA, looks to level the playing field for U.S. solar manufacturers against what they see as artificially cheap imports coming from China.

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China, energy, energy policy, green economy, green jobs, Green Technology, Innovation, renewable energy, solar power, United States

Worldwide, the total square footage of green buildings (defined here as LEED certified buildings) is doubling every year, and 85 countries now have their own green building standards. But are we doing enough to harness the overwhelming benefits that come from boosting energy efficiency in buildings?

On January 25, Greg Kats, President of Capital E and the author of Greening Our Built World, presented on “Sustainable Solutions for the Planet’s Energy Challenge” as part of a new series from the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program. In his talk, he discussed the many ways we can move sustainability forward in three target areas: transportation, industry, and building efficiency, which account for 28 percent, 26 percent, and 40 percent of U.S. energy use, respectively.

Among the obvious solutions to promoting a more sustainable economy, Kats noted, are increasing the production tax credit for renewable energy, pumping more money into energy efficiency financing, and incorporating more renewable energy into building and city designs. He pointed to positive patterns already emerging in the field of low-carbon technology: solar photovoltaic technology, for example, has seen an 80 percent price reduction in just four to five years. Similarly, the price of a plug-in hybrid vehicle is now near that of a non-hybrid in a similar class.

The benefits of building green

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Climate Change, development, emissions reductions, Green Technology, Innovation, renewable energy, sustainable development, United States

Worldwatch researchers recently returned from Haiti as a part of the Energy Roadmaps for the Caribbean Project. One exciting idea that grew out of our meetings with government, utility, and private sector officials is the potential for wind and pumped-storage hydro systems on the island of Hispaniola.

A wind and pumped-storage hydro system is an old technology with a new twist, and it is a technology that is being explored on several small islands around the world.

A model of the wind and pumped-storage hydro system on El Hierro (Source: ThomasNet News and Gorona del Viento El Hierro)

For the past half century, countries including the United States have used excess electricity from fossil fuel and nuclear power plants during periods of low power demand to pump water uphill to be stored in reservoirs as potential energy. Then, when demand peaks the reservoirs are opened, allowing water to pass through hydroelectric facilities to generate the needed electricity to meet power demand.

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Caribbean, developing countries, emissions reductions, energy security, Green Technology, Haiti, hydropower, Innovation, low-carbon, renewable energy, wind power

by Qiong Xie

China’s offshore wind industry is gaining momentum and entering the large-scale development phase. China’s National Energy Bureau plans to boost the country’s offshore wind capacity to 5 gigawatts (GW) by 2015. And by 2020, according to the Chinese government’s Renewable Energy Plan of the 12th Five-Year Plan, China endeavors to further increase its offshore wind power capacity to 30 GW. Given the fact that China had only installed 142.5 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind turbines as of June 2011, reaching 5 GW in five years requires a big jump both for policymakers and companies.  Meeting these ambitious targets will require a vigorous renewable energy action plan and substantial financial investments. Offshore wind turbine technologies at various depths

There are several reasons why China has turned its attention to offshore wind power. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2011, China overtook the US in 2010 to become the world’s top energy consumer with a 20.3 percent share of global energy consumption. China also surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter in 2006. In order to secure a sustainable energy supply, China is pursuing renewable energy and energy efficiency. Currently, coal generation accounts for 80 percent of China’s electricity production, much of which comes from old and inefficient plants that contribute to severe air pollution and other health and environment impacts. China has recognized the economic and environmental need to adopt renewable energy such as offshore-wind to generate electricity. At the end of 2008, clean energy including hydro, wind, solar, biomass, biogas, geothermal and ethanol contributed 9 percent of China’s total primary energy use. In 2009, total installed wind power capacity in China reached 26 GW.

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China, Green Technology, offshore wind, renewable energy R&D