2007: Is the tide turning for green technologies?

A collection of disparate and unrelated headlines:

  • House approves an energy bill to boost fuel-economy standards to 35MPG by the year 2020, over loud protests by domestic and foreign manufacturers. Unthinkable until a few years ago, no other action by the legislature could have sent a stronger signal to Detroit that their influence/lobbying power is waning and their days are numbered.
  • Google unveils the cryptically named “RE<C” initiative. It stands for renewable energy cheaper than coal. In other words making clean energy sources competitive with the cheapest and ecologically worst option, the abundant coal deposits supplying 50% of US electricity currently. This is the first time a company with significant resources is going beyond the standard-operating-procedure of hand-wringing over the economic incentives favoring coal.
  • Formula 1 decides to go green, announcing a ban on further engine development to focus on realizing higher efficiencies. One example according to the Wired article: kinetic-energy recovery systems, which improve on the regenerative brakes found on existing hybrids today, are expected to appear in 2009. F1 racing may sound remote from everyday concern but the trickle-down effect is responsible for ubiquity of antilock brakes and traction control, as well as more exotic options like clutchless manual transmissions.
  • Ferrari announces that the company will improve its fuel economy 40% across the line. It’s largely symbolic: while the cars routinely make the worst offender on EPA lists every year, there are very few on the road and likely they are not getting a lot of miles as Ecogeek points out. Total savings will be negligible. But the fact that a company operating in a unique niche market with captive audience, completely immune to mainstream trends is still pursuing a greener image speaks volumes.
  • Living With Ed, a reality show focused on an ecologically-minded actor and his more pragmatically inclined spouse debuts on HGTV channel.
  • By a single vote margin the Supreme Court decides that EPA can in fact regulate carbon emissions from automobiles, sweeping aisde “creative” interpretations of existing law as guaranteeing an inalienable right to pollute.
  • There are signs that price elasticity may exist after all when it comes to fuel prices: CNN/Money reports that drivers are cutting back as gas hovers around the magical $3 level. More mysteriously gasoline prices at the pump are not keeping up with the stratospheric rise of light-sweet crude in the barrel. In all previous price hikes, refiners were quick to dismiss allegations of price-gouging by arguing that price at the station directly follows from the underlying commodity prices. Oil briefly hit three digits a barrel but gas prices barely moved– because the demand is soft. Nobody is complaining or asking why they are not paying more. But it’s too early to declare the end of the SUV-era.  As a former colleague pointed out  suppressed demand may be temporary fallout from the credit-crunch. It’s too early to conclude that a renewed price-sensitivity has emerged.

On the downside:

  • Climate change meeting in Bali ends on a not-entirely-negative note. This is an improvement over the last time United States threw a wrench into the Kyoto agreement by rejecting the provisions after joining as a signatory first. Resulting agreement has no teeth, after a binding commitment for developed countries to cut emissions is dropped in favor of wishy-washy language about good intentions, best effort, sunshine-and-clear-skies.


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