Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Warning Issued Over Anti-Carbon Tax Posters

Labor is warning small businesses against displaying the Coalition's anti-carbon tax posters, saying they risk million-dollar fines if the information is found to be misleading.
The Coalition has sent the fliers to bakeries, butchers, dry cleaners and fruit shops just days before the carbon tax is due to take effect.

The tactic is a further sign that both sides of politics are preparing to ramp up their campaigning efforts surrounding the tax.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott told a meeting of Coalition MPs that he and other senior party figures would be campaigning "across the country", warning people the tax would push up the cost of living and threaten jobs.

Labor is also preparing a coordinated campaign this weekend to reassure the community about the effects of the tax.

Special Minister of State Gary Gray plans to visit the South Australian city of Whyalla on Sunday - a community Mr Abbott said would be "wiped off the map" because of the carbon pricing scheme.

Earlier today, Mr Abbott visited an RSPCA compound in Canberra to point out that "thousands" of charities would be worse off under the tax despite Government reassurances.

The head of the RSPCA in the ACT, Michael Linke, estimates the cost of the carbon tax will be somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 per year for the local organisation.

"At this stage we're not expecting job losses here in Canberra," Mr Linke told reporters at Mr Abbott's media conference.
"There is absolutely no way that I'm going to compromise animal welfare, so we are going to have to shave costs in other areas."

The Government says more than $300 million is available to councils, community groups and charities to help offset the costs of the carbon tax.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard used Question Time to ridicule Mr Abbott's visit to the animal welfare charity.
"I can assure the Leader of the Opposition (that) on July 1, cats will still purr, dogs will still bark and the Australian economy will continue to get stronger," Ms Gillard told Parliament.

"Presumably tomorrow he will be out trying to scare Skippy the bush kangaroo, and the day after he'll be out trying to scare Puff the Magic Dragon, and so it will go on."


And Labor is also warning businesses to be "very, very careful" about being part of Mr Abbott's campaign by displaying posters in their shop fronts.

"Don't allow him to drag you into his cynical scare campaign because the consequences of that are very serious," Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury told Parliament.

"If you do mislead your customers, then you could face fines of up to $1.1 million."

But the Coalition has rejected suggestions their small business posters are misleading.

"The fliers do nothing more than explain the Government own modelling and policy," Opposition small business spokesman Bruce Billson said.

"This is just another example of the Gillard Government trying to intimidate small business to not pass on or talk about the impact of the carbon tax."

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has set up a hotline for members of the public to make complaints about misleading carbon tax claims.

Firms 'Less Prepared' For Low-Carbon World

Just days before Labor's pollution price takes effect, a new survey suggests Australian firms are feeling less prepared now for a low-carbon future than they were 12 months ago.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report, released on Tuesday, also finds only a third of respondents believe the opportunities created by imposing a carbon tax will outweigh the risks in the long term.
That's down from about 50 per cent in the inaugural survey in 2011.

The report says executives may have been overconfident before the details of Labor's scheme were announced in mid-2011.

Global uncertainty may also be behind the shift in sentiment, coupled with the fact that "corporate nervousness on the eve of the introduction of the carbon pricing scheme is bound to be at its peak".
But the Gillard government can take heart from other key findings.

About 85 per cent of directly affected businesses and two-thirds of all companies are already acting to reduce pollution.

"These findings indicate Australia's carbon pricing legislation has spurred firms to take action to reduce their carbon emissions," the report, commissioned by GE, states.

"This will ultimately reduce the country's overall carbon footprint."

GE ecomagination director Ben Waters is encouraged by the fact carbon pricing is already driving energy efficiency.

"We've been in the realm of opinion and policy advice but now we've got a law that's about to start," he told AAP.

"It's about getting into action, which is what business does best."

Almost three-quarters of the 136 senior executives surveyed by the EIU believe carbon pricing is here to stay - although almost half think a better regime will eventually replace Labor's current proposal.

That's partly because two-thirds believe the $23-a-tonne starting price is too high.

"It is likely that Australia, which is just about to take its first steps towards carbon pricing, will have to go through several years of discussion and trading before reaching equilibrium," the report states.

The Gillard government's carbon tax will transform into an emissions trading scheme in mid-2015.

The EIU analysis also suggests the corporate carbon agenda has shifted towards "cost reduction" in 2012.

Of the 300 biggest emitters that will pay the tax from July 1, more than half have set up dedicated roles or teams to identify greater carbon or energy efficiency measures internally.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Carbon is Key for Getting Algae to Pump Out More Oil

Overturning two long-held misconceptions about oil production in algae, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory show that ramping up the microbes’ overall metabolism by feeding them more carbon increases oil production as the organisms continue to grow. The findings — published online in the journal Plant and Cell Physiology on May 28, 2012 — may point to new ways to turn photosynthetic green algae into tiny “green factories” for producing raw materials for alternative fuels.

“We are interested in algae because they grow very quickly and can efficiently convert carbon dioxide into carbon-chain molecules like starch and oils,” said Brookhaven biologist Changcheng Xu, the paper’s lead author. With eight times the energy density of starch, algal oil in particular could be an ideal raw material for making biodiesel and other renewable fuels.

But there have been some problems turning microscopic algae into oil producing factories.
For one thing, when the tiny microbes take in carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, they preferentially convert the carbon into starch rather than oils. “Normally, algae produce very little oil,” Xu said.

Before the current research, the only way scientists knew to tip the balance in favor of oil production was to starve the algae of certain key nutrients, like nitrogen. Oil output would increase, but the algae would stop growing — not ideal conditions for continuous production.

Another issue was that scientists didn’t know much about the details of oil biochemistry in algae. “Much of what we thought we knew was inferred from studies performed on higher plants,” said Brookhaven biochemist John Shanklin, a co-author who’s conducted extensive research on plant oil production. Recent studies have hinted at big differences between the microbial algae and their more complex photosynthetic relatives.

Jilian Fan, Changcheng Xu, and Chengshi Yan

“Our goal was to learn all we could about the factors that contribute to oil production in algae, including those that control metabolic switching between starch and oil, to see if we could shift the balance to oil production without stopping algae growth,” Xu said.

The scientists grew cultures of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii — the “fruit fly” of algae — under a variety of nutrient conditions, with and without inhibitors that would limit specific biochemical pathways. They also studied a mutant Chlamydomonas that lacks the capacity to make starch. By comparing how much oil accumulated over time in the two strains across the various conditions, they were able to learn why carbon preferentially partitions into starch rather than oil, and how to affect the process.

The main finding was that feeding the algae more carbon (in the form of acetate) quickly maxed out the production of starch to the point that any additional carbon was channeled into high-gear oil production. And, most significantly, under the excess carbon condition and without nutrient deprivation, the microbes kept growing while producing oil.

“This overturns the previously held dogma that algae growth and increased oil production are mutually exclusive,” Xu said.

The detailed studies, conducted mainly by Brookhaven research associates Jilian Fan and Chengshi Yan, showed that the amount of carbon was the key factor determining how much oil was produced: more carbon resulted in more oil; less carbon limited production. This was another surprise because a lot of approaches for increasing oil production have focused on the role of enzymes involved in producing fatty acids and oils. In this study, inhibiting enzyme production had little effect on oil output.

“This is an example of a substantial difference between algae and higher plants,” said Shanklin.
In plants, the enzymes directly involved in the oil biosynthetic pathway are the limiting factors in oil production. In algae, the limiting step is not in the oil biosynthesis itself, but further back in central metabolism.

This is not all that different from what we see in human metabolism, Xu points out: Eating more carbon-rich carbohydrates pushes our metabolism to increase oil (fat) production and storage.

“It’s kind of surprising that, in some ways, we’re more like algae than higher plants are,” Xu said, noting that scientists in other fields may be interested in the details of metabolic switching uncovered by this research.

But the next step for the Brookhaven team will be to look more closely at the differences in carbon partitioning in algae and plants. This part of the work will be led by co-author Jorg Schwender, an expert in metabolic flux studies. The team will also work to translate what they’ve learned in a model algal species into information that can help increase the yield of commercial algal strains for the production of raw materials for biofuels.

Climate Change Envoy Warns Against Cutting Investment in Green Energy

The government's climate change envoy has warned that failure to take more action to invest in a low carbon economy is a threat to the future "prosperity and security" of the British people.

John Ashton, who has just stepped down from his post at the Foreign Office, told MPs that the UK was still considered an influential global player on climate change, but signalled that position was at risk as the country was falling behind on investment in energy efficiency and clean energy.

This in turn would make it harder to meet global targets to limit global warming to 2C - the level at which experts consider most countries will cope with the ensuing disruption to weather patterns.

"Failure to deal with climate change would amplify already dangerous stresses arising from food, water and energy insecurity," Ashton told the energy and climate change select committee. "This potentially unmanageable combination of stresses poses a systemic risk to the security and prosperity of our country."
In 2004 the government's then chief scientist, Professor Sir David King, made headlines around the world when he declared that climate change was "the most severe problem we are facing today, more serious even than the threat of terrorism".

However, the growing political consensus for tackling climate change, which culminated in the 2008 Climate Change Act committing the UK to binding emissions reductions, has appeared to be breaking down in the last two years as lack of economic growth and savage public spending cuts have eroded support for sometimes costly policies.

These issues came to a head in February when more than 100 Conservative MPs signed a letter to the prime minister, David Cameron, calling for an end to onshore windfarms.

Ashton, who left his six-year post two weeks ago, said he sympathised with concerns that UK efforts to combat climate change would be an expensive failure if other countries did not follow suit. However in a thinly-veiled warning about the damage done by draining political support for 'green' policies, he said the UK's diplomatic efforts to persuade other countries to reduce the world's reliance on oil and other fossil fuels "depends on what we are doing at home" and the "consensus across the political spectrum".

Ashton also told MPs that far from leading the world, the UK was falling behind important economic competitors such as Germany, Korea, China and Japan in some of the big future industries such as offshore wind energy and carbon capture and storage systems for gas and coal power stations.

"Internationally we must resolve the false choice, exacerbated by the current crisis, between economic security and climate security," said Ashton. "A rapid shift to low carbon growth is essential for security, competitiveness and prosperity, not an intolerable risk to competitiveness, jobs and growth."

"Politically we must address this not as a distraction from our current problems, but as part of the solution to them," he added.

Tory committee member Dr Phillip Lee challenged Ashton, however, suggesting that there were still hundreds of millions of people who wanted a better standard of living in developing countries like China, and in the UK during the recession, who would not support policies which pushed up the price of energy and so goods and services they wanted to buy.

"It's seen that going green is going to slow down the growth that we need," added Lee.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Harvey Norman Invests in Solar Panels

RETAILER Harvey Norman plans to be a market leader in the domestic solar industry after placing a substantial order for user-friendly solar panels. 

United States-based Westinghouse said today it had received an order for five megawatts of its Solar Instant Connect solar panel systems from Harvey Norman.

The order represents a significant investment in the green technology, which will result in Westinghouse's shipments in 2012 more than doubling from 2011.

Harvey Norman said the uptake of solar energy in Australia was stronger than in most other parts of the world, with over 830 megawatts sold in the local market in 2011.

"With Australian power pricing continuing to rise, we are continuing to see very strong demand for solar installations," Harvey Norman commercial division franchisee Alan Stephenson said in a statement.

"In addition to supplying kitchen, bathroom items, hot water and air conditioning systems, we have established a solar business, which we believe will be a market leader."

The newly ordered solar panels require Australian certification, and the first shipments to Harvey Norman are expected to begin in late-2012, Westinghouse said.

Solar Australia: Harvey Norman Invests in Solar Panels

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