As Congress continues to haggle over a continuing resolution to keep the government functioning, two renewable energy programs hang in the balance. Republicans have apparently won the Battle of the Bulb as a Tea Party effort to defund the banning of 100-watt incandescent bulbs appears to be part of the deal. The wind industry’s production tax credit is also hanging in the balance. Wind energy officials say the industry will collapse without government support. But wind is working well in ranch country in Wyoming.
Renewable energy is also causing an international crisis as the solar trade war escalates. With China and the US trading tariffs, India has decided to join the free-for-all by yielding to industry pressure to put a 15 percent levy on thin film products. Since solar and wind require subsidies under any circumstances, such trade disputes may be inevitable. We can only hope that they do not extend to other products as well or we may be looking at another Smoot-Hawley. As Technology Review editorializes, such trade wars could put us all in the dark.
Biofuels got a little blip as Coskata, a Boston-based ethanol manufacturer backed by Silicon Valley investor Vinod Koshla, made it to an IPO. But everywhere else the news was bad. Range Fuels, which had promised to commercialize cellulose biofuels, went under, as the cellulose revolution remains over the horizon. Wire revealed that the Navy’s biofuel program will have it paying four times the cost of oil for jet fuel. A report from the International Land Coalition says that investors setting up biofuels plantations have grabbed half the land sales in the developing world over the last decade, imperiling small indigenous farmers. A University of California study says sugarcane biofuels may result in health and environmental problems in Brazil and other tropical countries. (The report is being touted by domestic ethanol manufacturers eager to avoid imports.) And PistonHeads, a European website, warns that adding ethanol beyond 10 percent may cause serious damage in older car engines.
Finally, IBM offered a much brighter vision of the future with “five innovations that will be here in five years.” They include: 1) mind-reading computers (above), 2) biogenic passwords, 3) homes that draw power form the kinetic energy of people moving around in them, 4) automatic sorting of junk mail and 5) an end to the “digital divide.” At least somebody’s optimistic about the future.