Global environmental challenges
Most people have seen a polar bear, usually at the local zoo. And most zoo-goers know that wildlife advocates worry about the big white bears’ future as their icy Arctic habitat literally melts away as a result of global climate change. But apparently more than the climate is changing above the Arctic Circle.
The new mammal around the North Pole is the grolar bear, a hybrid created when a polar bear and a grizzly bear mate. Then there’s the narluga, a hybrid of the narwhal and beluga whale. The presence of these two new creatures and others produced by cross-breeding may be caused when melting sea ice allows them to mingle in ways they couldn’t before, according to a comment in the journal Nature.
These hybrids could push some Arctic species to extinction, the three American authors said in their Nature piece. They identified 22 marine mammals at risk of hybridization, including 14 listed or candidates for listing as endangered, threatened or of special concern by one or more nations.
“Some people may say these are just a few freaks. Others will say the sky is falling,” lead author Brendan Kelly, of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, told the Natural Resources Defense Council’s OnEarth website.
The California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday approved a unique reverse auction market to let renewable energy developers bid on small-scale projects under a program that would generate up to 1,000 megawatts for the state’s three big investor-owned utilities and further spur the solar industry.
Think of it as the eBay approach to ramping up production of carbon-free electricity.
During a withering recession, one would think the residential solar business would suffer. After all, five-figure photovoltaic panel arrays would seem to be one of those household improvements that would be first to fall off the to-do list.
Yet on Wednesday, Sungevity, an Oakland, Calif., solar installer, announced that it had raised a $15 million round of funding to further finance the three-year-old startup’s breakneck growth. Including the $15 million, the company has raised a total of $25 million from Greener Capital, Firelake Capital, BrightPath Capital Partners and individual investors such as the actress Cate Blanchett.
A $30 million investment in Soladigm, a Silicon Valley startup that makes “dynamic glass,” by General Electric and other investors offers a window into where venture capital may go in 2011.
Soladigm uses an electrochromic process to electronically darken or lighten windows to save on costs for heating, ventilating and air conditioning, or HVAC in industry parlance. The company’s dynamic glass darkens during the summer or hot times of day to cut air conditioning use and lightens when the weather is cold to capture and retain heat.
While the delivery of the first Nissan Leaf electric car to a California buyer over the weekend made headlines, there’s been relatively little attention paid to the small but growing electric truck and bus market.
As the workhorses of the economy, delivery trucks, city buses and other heavy-duty vehicles don’t carry the cachet of, say, a Tesla Roadster electric sports car. But electrifying urban fleets could go a long way to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants as well as helping wean the United States off imported oil.
The Cancun climate talks may have ended inconclusively and chances that the United States Congress will enact a cap on greenhouse gas emissions over the next two years are slim to none, but business still sees money to be made in the carbon market.
On Monday, for instance, Deloitte, the tax and consulting giant, said it has acquired two greenhouse gas consultancies, ClearCarbon Consulting and DOMANI. Terms of the deals were not disclosed.
Memo to Texas oil companies Tesoro and Valero: The return on your investment in California environmental politics is falling faster than the snow on the Sierra Nevada.
The petroleum refiners bankrolled Proposition 23, a measure on the November that would have suspended AB 32, California’s landmark global warming law. But they found themselves outspent and out-organized by a coalition of venture capitalists, hedge fund managers, renewable energy companies, environmental justice activists and some high-profile Republicans like California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the end, Prop 23 suffered a crushing defeat when 61.6 percent of voters cast ballots against the measure.
Solar and wind advocates hailed the United States Senate’s move Thursday night to extend for another year a key incentive program for big renewable energy projects. But they warned that another provision of the tax compromise under consideration could devastate the industry.
First the good news for green energy proponents: If the tax bill passes in its present form, developers will be able to receive through 2011 a federal cash grant to cover 30 percent of the cost of solar power plants, wind farms and other large renewable energy projects.
Iberdrola Renewables, the Spanish green energy giant, has jumped into the United States solar power plant market, announcing a deal Thursday with Silicon Valley’s SunPower for a 20-megawatt photovoltaic farm to be built in Arizona.
Altogether, SunPower, based in San Jose, Calif., will construct 50 megawatts’ worth of solar power plants for Iberdrola, including a 30-megawatt project to be built in Colorado.
Solyndra, a Silicon Valley solar module maker, took some heat in November when it decided to close a factory, lay off workers and delay expansion of a new manufacturing plant that was built with a half-billion-dollar federal loan guarantee.
In making the move seven weeks after opening the new factory, called Fab 2, the company cited the need to rein in capital expenditures in the face of aggressive competition from low-cost Chinese manufacturers.