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Energy and Global Warming News for August 9th: From Bike Stocks to Concentrated Solar
Joe Romm, 9 Aug 10

The Best Peak Oil Investments: Bicycle and Scooter Stocks

When gas prices rise, more people turn to bicycles for transportation. Will these bike and scooter stocks ride in the oil price’s slipstream?

A 2008 survey of bicycle retailers found that the vast majority of bike store owners felt that their sales had increased because many people were turning to bicycles for some of their transportation needs because of high gas prices. 95% of store owners reported that they had new customers because of high gas prices.

While few people can completely replace their car with a bicycle, many people can make some trips on two wheels and human power. And 2008 is not the first time we’ve seen a surge in bike sales along with a surge in oil prices: the all time record for annual bike sales was in 1973, during the last oil crisis. If future gas prices return to the levels seen in 2008 and stay there, we should not be surprised to see a sustained increase in the use of bicycles for transport, as well as a rise in the purchase of bikes, bike parts, and accessories.

One fly in this ointment is that the biggest increases in sales for bike retailers during 2008 were in service and repair, followed by new bikes and accessories. Bicycle manufacturers saw increased sales in 2008, but not as large as the increases in ridership, because much new ridership came from cash-strapped individuals dusting off old bikes and getting them in shape to run errands or commute. I think it will take a longer sustained rise in oil prices than we saw in 2008 to permanently shift the transportation landscape towards bicycles; investors should not expect perfect (or even near-perfect) correlation between oil prices and bike company profitability.

Insurance Companies Find There is Money to be Made in
Green Technology

HONG KONG — Every day, national and local officials, municipal utilities, corporations, homeowners and consumers are weighing the risks and rewards of adopting renewable energy. The up-front costs can be daunting.

Sure, putting solar panels on my house might be good for Mother Earth and could save me money in the long term, but what if they break in two years and I’m out $5,000 before I have recouped my investment?

Unfortunately, good karma points are not going to pay the power bill. But insurance might.

Increasingly, insurers are stepping in to bridge the gap between green intentions and actual capital outlays on green technology.

They are backstopping warranties on solar panels, helping start-up companies with short track records offer multidecade guarantees on their products and win over skeptical customers and project financiers. They are studying weather patterns to offer protection in the event of, say, unusually weak winds that fail to spin turbines, or a volcanic ash cloud from Iceland that diminishes the output of a solar energy facility in Spain.

They are advising companies on how best to incorporate renewable energy systems into their factory operations and offering property insurance that will pay not just to rebuild a structure in the event of a loss like fire but reconstruct it in a more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient way.

They are even offering coverage to carbon traders. So, if you are a European utility engaged in an emissions offset program in China and a devastating earthquake damages your partner power plant in Sichuan, you have some peace of mind.

Analysis: Climate Talks Stumble from Page 1

BONN, Germany — The new climate change treaty under negotiation for the past 2 1/2 years begins with a brief document called “A Shared Vision.” The problem is, there isn’t one.

The latest round of talks that concluded Friday showed that the 194 negotiating countries have failed to even define a common target or method for curbing greenhouse gases — just one example of the ongoing divide among rich and poor nations.

Talks began in 2007, with the aim of wrapping up a deal in Copenhagen last December. But that didn’t happen, despite the presence of 120 heads of state or government. It ended instead with a three-page statement of intentions brokered by President Barack Obama.

Though less than expected, the Copenhagen Accord scored some breakthroughs. It boiled down the core elements of a deal to 12 carefully worded paragraphs, and it inscribed hard-fought compromises by the main protagonists, the U.S. and China.

Details were to be filled in by the next major conference in Cancun, Mexico, starting in November.

Japan Seeking to Export Low-Carbon Technologies

TOKYO — Japan is seeking to export low-carbon technology and equipment to nine mostly Asian countries in exchange for “right-to-pollute” credits, a press report said Sunday.

The Japanese government has already reached basic agreements with Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and India on such deals and plans to start talks soon with Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, China and Peru, the business daily Nikkei said.

It will initially provide financial and technical help to 15 projects in which Japanese firms will export energy-efficient technology and equipment to these countries, the report said.

Japan emits some 1.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases a year. The 15 projects, when fully implemented, are expected to cut five to 10 million tonnes worth of emissions.

Search Launched for ‘Lost Amphibians’ before Colourful Creatures Go Extinct

Endangered species of the rainforests like the golden toad, the black and yellow climbing salamander or the scarlet frog may be colourful but none have been spotted by humans for more than a decade.

Other ‘missing amphibians’ include the Turkestanian salamander, that was last seen in 1909.

Conservation International fear such elusive creatures are in danger of going extinct and are trying to track down 100 species that are ‘hanging on’ before they are lost forever.

The ambitious project will require trekking through inhospitable jungles in Borneo to find the Sambas Stream Toad, that has not been seen since intensive logging started in the area 50 years ago.

Others like the African painted frog have never been photographed before, while the hula painted frog has not been since its marshland home in Syria was drained to prevent malaria.

Some species may improve important to medicine as amphibian skins can be used in the creation of life-saving drugs. Many are unique to science, like the Australian gastric brooding frog that gives birth through the mouth or the Mesopotamia Beaked Toad of Colombia with its strange pyramid-shaped head.

As one of the most sensitive animal groups affected by climate change, all the species will cast light on the effects of global warming.

Flywheel Power Grid Storage Project Gets DOE Loan

Beacon Power on Monday said it has closed a $43 million loan guarantee with the Department of Energy for a project to use flywheels to buffer 20 megawatts of power on the grid.

The loan covers 62.5 percent of the estimated $69 million needed to construct the flywheel storage plant in Stephentown, N.Y. The New York Energy Research and Development Authority is also providing $2 million in funding for the plant which is now under construction.

Once done, Beacon Power said that the plant will be the only one of its kind in the world. Rather than use a large battery, it will use a network of flywheels to store electricity from the grid as kinetic energy and disperse it in quick bursts of up to 15 minutes.

Right now, grid operators typically use natural gas power plants to maintain a balance between supply and demand and keep a steady frequency of 60 cycles per second. The Stephentown project, expected to be completed by the end of the first quarter next year, will be able to provide 10 percent of the frequency regulation services in New York needed on a typical day.

The project is significant step up for the technology, which so far has been used in smaller-scale installation of about one megawatt of power.

BrightSource to Build Largest Concentrating Solar Power Plant

On August 4th, 2010, Brightsource Energy Inc., an Oakland, California-based developer of utility-scale solar thermal power plants, announced that the California Energy Commission’s (CEC) siting committee recommended approval of what will be the world’s largest solar energy project. The project, called the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (ISEGS), consists of a three-plant, 392-megawatt solar electric generating system located in California’s Mojave Desert. After a 30-day comment period passes, the final permits allowing the commencement of construction will most likely be issued. Additionally, Brightsource Inc. has received a conditional commitment from the U.S. Department of Energy for $1.37 billion in loan guarantees to fund the project.

The electric power that the plants generate will be contracted to two utility companies, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Edison Co., under separate long-term contracts that will deliver more than 2,600 megawatts of electric power. Impressively, Ivanpah will double the amount of solar thermal electricity currently produced in the U.S.

This post originally appeared on Climate Progress.

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