Its been a while since I tried to put together a post so I thought I'd do something simple and highlight a few of the sustainable energy stories that I found to be of interest this past week.
The growth of carbon markets continues to accelerate and that was certainly reflected in the stories that caught my attention.
Starting out: Fast Company magazine for July/August chronicles the rise of a cadre of Yale Forestry grads that are at the centre of the carbon offset markets (see Carbon Boom). The article tries to make the case that Yale forestry-school grads are dominating the emerging carbon markets. Thats probably a bit of a stretch, but my wife is a forester and says that yes, Yale has worked to establish and publicize a reputation as a leader in the development of forest-based offsets. The article is good but I'm a sceptic regarding the claim of Yale as an undisputed leader in the world of carbon credits in part as a result of comments such as this:
"I focused my courses at Yale around independent studies to look into this stuff," she says. "Back then, in 2005, it was still unknown." Now, "it's growing like crazy, and pretty much any forestry student you speak to at the moment wants to do [carbon credits]."
Crabon trading and offsets may have been unheard of among Yale students but not in most of the rest of the world. More credibly, the writer acknowledges the as yet unproven efficacy of carbon markets in addressing climate change and notes that California, a proven environmental leader, has attained its success on the back of tough activist regulations that forced adaptation.
The Globe & Mail looked at the development of carbon markets in Canada and concluded that the problems can be solved (see Carbon Conundrum Solvable, July 22nd, 2008). The writer, Boyd Erman, identified two key issues including the perennial story of Canada's economic fragmentation between ten squabbling provinces and three territories.
"For starters, the country needs to harmonize its regulations so that provinces and the federal government all have consistent rules on how much polluters can emit, which will standardize the market within Canada. With all the political sniping surrounding the issue, the situation has been well publicized."
He also cites Mike McBain of the Royal Bank to the effect that with huge emissions growth in the country, demand for offsets will have to be met from outside the country. So Canada's emissions trading system will have to be fungible with the emerging international carbon trading regime.
Notably, Royal Bank made its own news late last week, announcing its coming of age as a one-stop carbon trading centre (see RBC unveils worldwide carbon trading capabilities to help industry manage greenhouse gas emissions, Market Watch Weekend Edition, July 18th, 2008 and RBC's press release).
Making climate change a bit more relevant for individual investors, HSBC announced its Global Climate Change Fund, a mutual fund that will invest in companies that expect to benefit from developing climate change solutions. Thanks to Point Carbon for identifying this story in its daily newsletter (subscription required).
I also found some interesting stories on the waste-to-energy theme.
Again, in the Globe & Mail, Martin Mittelstaedt reported on an Ontario dairy farmer that is set to become the country's first supplier of electricity from manure (see On the Farm, a Back-End Solution to the Energy Crisis, July 21, 2008). Using an anaerobic digester and a diesel generator converted to run on methane, a farmer near London, Ontario will soon begin supply electricity to the Ontario grid. Starting out at 300 KW, he intends to grow the operation to 1.3 MW by supplementing his farm manure with food wastes from local canning plants.
At the New York Times, Mathew Wald looked at progress in the U.S. towards the commercial production of liquid-fuels from garbage and wastes (see Gassing Up With Garbage, July 24th, 2008).
"Virtually any material containing hydrogen, carbon and oxygen could potentially be turned into motor fuel. That includes plastics, construction debris, forest and lawn trimmings, wood chips, wheat straw and many other types of agricultural waste.
The potential fuels include ethanol, which can be blended with gasoline, or other liquids that could displace gasoline or diesel entirely. Government studies suggest the country could potentially replace half its gasoline supply in this way — even more if cars became more efficient."
The story includes a long list of different companies and initiatives as evidence of the growing interest in converting waste to energy. I'll try and look at some of the companies in a later post.