What Is ‘Solar-as-a-Service’?

Editor’s Take: UrbanVolt says it is focusing its light-as-a-service model on solar, and the idea is intriguing. The company believes the service, which basically puts UrbanVolt in charge of project managing a solar installation, will do away with the current practice of locking companies into a 25-year lease for on-site solar. Instead, a monthly service fee structure will allow the company to own the solar installation after seven years.
So, what’s the next ‘as-a-service’ model UrbanVolt will produce? According to the company’s website, energy storage-as-as-service will be available soon.

Podcast: Local Solar Power: Red Plus Blue Makes a Green Tea Party

In this episode of Building Local Power, we interview Debbie Dooley, President of Conservatives for Energy Freedom and co-founder of the Green Tea Coalition in the southern U.S. Dooley’s organizations promote “consumer choice in the energy field” to “provide competition” and stop monopolies from limiting their customers’ options in renewable energy. The Green Tea Coalition features a collaboration between members of the Tea Party Movement and progressives in the Green Party and the Democratic Party in Georgia and other southern states.

Full transcript is available here.

This conversation tracks closely with a previous Building Local Power episode where our experts discussed hyper-partisanship in our political system. That episode, Breaking Through Partisanship: Left-Right-Local, discussed how local issues and local politics cuts across partisan barriers and brings coalitions of concerned residents together.

“I live in Atlanta, there’s different roads that will take you to your final destination of Atlanta. The roads you take is dependent upon where you’re coming from,” says Debbie Dooley of talking to people across the political spectrum in order to promote local renewable energy. “As long as we work together, someone’s willing to work together to advance clean energy and solar and other renewables, I don’t care why they’re advancing it, wanting to work to advance it. I just care in the end result.”

Here are some great reading and watching recommendations from our guest, Debbie Dooley:

Article from Vox

Article from The Guardian

Audio Credit: Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

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Can Puerto Rico Really Depend on Microgrids and Renewables for Power?

As Puerto Rico sets out to rebuild its electric system knocked out by Hurricane Maria in September, can it become a model for renewable energy?

Scores of government agencies, think tanks and energy experts are mulling that question, as much of the U.S. Caribbean territory still lacks electricity.

This week, the Puerto Rico Energy Resiliency Working Group, created under the New York governor’s office, released a 63-page plan for the island to “Build Back Better” over a decade at a cost of $17.6 billion. Among its recommendations: $1 billion in microgrids for critical infrastructure and rural communities.

Experts say the challenge is not technical. Costs have dropped so much for solar, wind and other technologies that renewables can be cost-effective. The big issue instead is political and financial: Is there the concerted will and independent supervision required, and where’s the money for it?

Before the storm, debt-burdened Puerto Rico had relied mainly on a government utility that runs big fuel-fired power plants to supply electricity to its 3.4 million residents.

Puerto Rico set targets for renewables years back that it has failed to reach. Its recovery from Maria has not been well-coordinated between federal and local government agencies, community groups, businesses and others. Those factors don’t bode well for making the island a model quickly, experts say.

“The problem is systemwide in scale, and you’re dealing with essentially a bankrupt government and bankrupt power company,” Matthew Perks, founder of New Energy Events (NEE), said. NEE organizes the annual Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum.

Four months after the storm, with no centralized plan to guide rebuilding, it’s been “battlefield triage,” he said, adding that “they’re [still] just trying to get the lights on.”

Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), an independent nonprofit, is working with groups in Puerto Rico on a long-term plan for cleaner, cheaper energy. Part of the effort: microgrids, similar to the solar panel and battery back-up system that Tesla installed to power the Children’s Hospital in San Juan after the hurricane. Microgrids could serve a home, neighborhood or large facility like a hospital or factory. They could operate on their own and also be linked to the larger grid and sell excess energy to the grid operator, the government’s Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).

“That would require a new involvement from PREPA on what facilities would get paid for their sales to the grid,” Roy Torbert, principal with RMI’s Islands Energy Project, said.

For rural communities, PREPA could install solar panels and battery storage on buildings themselves — even without immediate links to the broader grid, suggested Jorge Camacho with the U.S. government’s Smart Grid program. In Puerto Rico’s mountains, there’s little population density, most homes use relatively little power, and stringing transmission lines is very expensive. PREPA could place small solar and batteries on rural homes and businesses through the “own-operate-maintain” model similar to what Green Mountain Power has in Vermont. The systems likely would cost $7,000 to $10,000 per rural home, a sum that could be financed with federal recovery funds and federal subsidies for solar, Camacho said.

“Of course, the process would have to be transparent and have oversight from the independent Puerto Rico Energy Commission,” added Camacho, a Puerto Rican engineer who formerly served as infrastructure lead at the Public Service Commission of Washington, D.C.

Insufficient oversight has been a major component behind PREPA’s current woes. The island set up its independent regulatory group only three years ago, and rules and procedures still need strengthening for the commission to function effectively, said former PREPA engineer Tomas Torres Placa, executive director of the nonprofit Institute of Competitiveness and Sustainable Economy known as ISCE-PR.

“We have faith that with a strengthened energy commission, we can comply with the renewable portfolio standard,” Torres said, referring to plans to reach 20 percent renewables by 2035. Yet strengthening would require staffing by competent technocrats, not political hacks, he added.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello is requesting roughly $17 billion in federal funds to revive the island’s energy sector, which now uses renewables for less than 3 percent of electricity generation. Many observers will be watching how new contracts are handled. PREPA in late October cancelled a $300 million repair contract with tiny Whitefish Energy Holdings of Montana after public outcry over terms that included paying $319 an hour for a journeyman lineman.

Rossello has sought help in rebuilding from New York. The working group that just released its report includes representatives of the New York Power Authority, PREPA, Puerto Rico Energy Commission, U.S. Department of Energy, Navigant Consulting and others. Its proposals build on New York’s experience after Superstorm Sandy five years ago and PREPA’s recent efforts.

Yet funding remains an open question, as does long-term will and proper oversight.

“Puerto Rico has an opportunity now to have a more reliable, resilient and cost-effective grid,” said Torbert. “There are many sources of private capital. What they need is certainty their investment will be repaid. That all speaks to having a strong and independent regulator in place.”

Eight Great Women in the Business and Science of Solar

It has been a long, long, long road for the global photovoltaic industry and its participants from its early days with few manufacturers and support primarily limited to oil companies looking for a feel-good business unit to what seemed like its overnight success in the mid-2000s. In 1977 the industry had 1.74 MWp of capacity to produce PV cells. At the end of 2017 the industry had 98 GWp of capacity to manufacture PV cells.

The men and women responsible for the PV industry growth from its beginnings as an oil company hobby to the fastest growing source of electricity in the world often gather at scientific conferences and drink to their old, pioneering days. Working in the PV industry in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s required more than hope, it required a deep and steadfast belief that the industry would prevail, would become mainstream and would set the tone for the future of electricity generation — because … there was a time when the solar struggle was over whether it would survive as an industry at all.

It is easier to believe in the future of solar today than it was decades ago. This article honors eight of the women who believed and persevered and pioneered the PV industry of today and without who it might be a very different industry indeed.

Each woman has in her own way championed the cause of climate change as well as the cause of the solar industry and has worked tirelessly educating, conducting research and deploying solar technologies to ensure the future of the industry.

This article honors the contributions of women in science and business and whose careers stand as an example to young women around the world of what is possible.

Izumi Kaizuka, RTS, Japan

Dr. Izumi Kaizuka has dedicated her life to the study of the global photovoltaic industry its technologies, business models and deployment. Dr. Kaizuka majored in Chemistry at Tokyo Metropolitan University. After graduation, she joined Lion Corp. as a researcher working in R&D for specialty chemicals for surface modification of polymers and electro conductive materials. In 2003, she joined RTS Corp., PV specialized consultancy in Tokyo established in 1983

Since 2003, Dr. Kaizuka has served as the Japanese representative to IEA PVPS Task 1, an international working group for “Strategic PV Analysis & Outreach.” She is one of the authors of Task 1’s key annual report “Trends in Photovoltaic Applications” and provides analysis of global PV industry as well as Japanese PV market trends. Dr. Kaizuka also contributes to global corroboration on PV standards as the duty chair of the national committee of IEC TC82.

The bare facts of a person’s resume do not describe the dedication, the quiet passion, the commitment and joy that that person brings to their work. In solar, work is most often a calling. Dr. Kaizuka is committed to promoting women in business and research and serves as the chair of WinPVJ, Division of Women in Photovoltaics, JSPS 175th Committee on Innovative Photovoltaic Power Generating Systems and PVTTMT, a business women’s network.

The PVSEC Special Award, along with the Cherry Award and the Becquerel Prize, is one of the distinguished scientific awards in the global PV industry. Over the many years that these awards have been presented there have been few women recipients. The PVSEC Special Award is presented to honor a PV professional’s outstanding contributions for technology development and the promotion of photovoltaic solar energy conversion. The decision is made by the PVSEC organizing committee. In 2017 Dr. Kaizuka was awarded the PVSEC Special Award at the PVSEC-27 held in Otsu, Japan for her tireless commitment to the science and application of photovoltaic technologies.

People who work with Dr. Kaizuka describe her as dedicated, of course, and as knowledgeable, patient, willing to sacrifice her time for her industry and friends and a true mentor to young women and men entering the industry.

Renate Egan, UNSW, Australia

Basic research is a creative discipline relying as much on inspiration and ideas as on data, repeatability and experimentation. People who can marry the creative with the technical while focused on the best use of data are rare, and they are crucial to the solar industry.

Currently an Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales, Australia, Dr. Renate Egan leads UNSW’s activity in one of the last remaining bastions of pure research in the solar industry, the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP). In her role, Dr. Egan manages ACAP’s projects and coordinates activities with ACAP’s funding agent the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). Her administrative activities include balancing the needs of ARENA with the requirements of ongoing research.

During her career, Dr. Egan has served as managing director of R&D at Suntech Australia as well as CTO and managing director at CSG Solar AG. Her focus is on manufacturing costs, new technology development and the development, management and use of data for better analysis and decision making.

Those who have worked with Dr. Egan say that she has been a passionate and untiring supporter and promoter of solar energy, especially photovoltaics, for decades. Dr. Egan consistently pushes the boundaries of photovoltaic research and the use of better — not just more — data. Dr. Egan is a Co-Founder and Chair at Solar Analytics, a start-up providing software for predicting energy generation from solar energy systems as well as a Partner at Solinno, another Australia-based start-up company that consults in project management, risk assessment, policy and process documentation, IP development and management and project funding.

Dr. Egan’s commitment to the science, engineering and to the analytics required to keep the global PV industry on its trajectory to becoming a mainstream electricity source serves as an example to young women considering a career in the solar industry.

Darlene McCalmont, McCalmont Engineering, U.S.

Of her career, Darlene McCalmont says, “I always say I left the dark side of chemical manufacturing for the bright side of solar even though I feel my operations experience in the chemical industry has played well into why I have been successful in the solar industry. Being part of the solar industry growth has definitely left me feeling good every day about what I do and the contribution to the environment I have made.”

Darlene McCalmont graduated from Ohio State, one of the few women in the late 1970s to earn a degree in Chemical Engineering. Following graduation, she went to work for Celanese Corp., a chemical processing company based in Texas. While in Texas she earned her MBA. She married her childhood sweetheart Tom and they moved to California where Darlene worked for Safety-Kleen, a chemical cleanup company.

Solar installation pioneers often say that they started their business out of their garages and with a truck. After the chemical company was sold and subsequently downsized, Darlene, together with her husband Tom, founded Regrid Power, a solar installation company in the Bay Area. They now run a thriving solar engineering firm, McCalmont Engineering.

People who work with Darlene describe her as detail oriented, operationally excellent, exacting but fair, organized, insightful and thoughtful. One of Darlene’s favorite expressions is “In God we trust. All others bring data,” which pretty well sums up her approach to operations and execution. Her common-sense approach is true to her no-nonsense, Midwest sensibility, farm girl origins.

Common sense and a well-grounded world view is not the whole story; instinct and knowing when to act on it is crucial to business and in life. Back to Darlene’s days working for the California chemical cleanup company; one day a particularly noxious chemical came in to the facility on a truck from somewhere up north. Darlene knew that the chemical was highly dangerous. In the middle of the night her sixth sense kicked in and believing that there was something not-quite-right about this particular truck she went to the facility at 1am to process it through. She was right. The chemical was in the incorrect type of truck to contain it, and it was gradually etching its way through the bottom of the truck.

Terry Jester, Silicor Materials, Iceland

In the global solar industry, all roads eventually wind back to ARCO Solar, one of the U.S. pioneers of photovoltaic manufacturing. ARCO was formed in 1977 after Atlantic Richfield acquired Solar Technology International, a company founded by PV industry pioneer Bill Yerkes.

ARCO was the first PV manufacturing company to produce 1 MWp of modules in one year. This may seem small by today’s standards, but this achievement helped put the PV industry on the road to today’s massive scale and lower costs.

Terry Jester, a pioneer in PV manufacturing, began her solar career in 1979 at ARCO Solar as a mechanical engineer working on solar module design and reliability. She has spent 38 years working on producing and refining the cost and performance of solar cells and modules. Her early work focused on creating a product that could be warranted for 25 years, which was accomplished in the late 1980s.

Terry remained with ARCO through several name and ownership changes, from ARCO’s acquisition by Siemens, to Shell and finally to SolarWorld. She served as a director at SunPower. In June 2008, she joined Hudson Clean Energy as their Entrepreneur in Residence. Terry joined Calisolar in 2011 as their Senior VP of Operations and stayed with the company through its name change to Silicor Materials, leading the company as its CEO and now Chairman.

People who work with Terry Jester describe her as focused on manufacturing excellence and as unfailingly kind, supportive and a wonderful mentor to young women seeking an engineering career.

Sheila Bailey, NASA, U.S.

Photovoltaic technologies have been a part of space travel for decades. So, young women seeking a career in PV look not just at the ground, gaze up at the sky.

Sheila Bailey’s career highlights what women can achieve in science and engineering. She has been a senior physicist working in photovoltaics at NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC) for 33 years, has authored and co-authored over 170 journal and conference articles and 16 book chapters, and holds two patents. Recent projects include nanomaterials and nanostructures for space photovoltaics, quantum wire III-V solar cells and quantum dot alpha-voltaics. She is on the Editorial Board of “Progress in Photovoltaics.”

The list of her accomplishments is long. She has a B.S. from Duke University in physics, a M.S. in physics from the Univ. of N.C. at Chapel Hill, and a Ph.D. in condensed matter physics from the University of Manchester in England. She spent a post-doctoral year at the Royal Military College (part of the Univ. of New South Wales) in Canberra, Australia.

Sheila is the recipient of the faculty excellence award from Baldwin Wallace College and the Federal Women’s Program award. She is an Ohio Academy of Science “Exemplar.” She was awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Medal for her work in space photovoltaics. She has completed the Office of Personnel Management’s Executive Potential Program. She was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 2003 by Governor Taft.

Sheila is a member of the American Physical Society and a speaker for the American Institute of Physics Visiting Scientist Program. She is a member of AIAA Aerospace Power Systems technical committee and past member of the IEEE Electron Devices Society Photovoltaic Devices Committee. She is president of the Lewis Engineers and Scientists Association. She was an adjunct professor at Baldwin Wallace College for 27 years and is currently an associate faculty member of the International Space University.

Along with all the above accomplishments, Sheila is an advocate for women in STEM careers and is an active speaker with the NASA GRC Speakers Bureau as well as the APS speakers. When people describe Sheila, they note her dedication of course, but also her sense of humor and fun, evidence of a life well lived doing what she loves.

Sarah Kurtz, University of California Merced, U.S.

Dr. Sarah Kurtz joined NREL in 1985 as a post-doc and now teaches at the University of California Merced. She has the honor of being the first woman to win the PV industry’s prestigious Cherry Award.

The Cherry Award was established in 1980 and is named for William R. Cherry, a PV industry Pioneer. It is presented annually at the IEEE PVSC in the U.S. During her acceptance speech at the 2012 conference Dr. Kurtz said: “Persistence in the face of skepticism should be our response when the world says it cannot be done.” This sentence sums up her career and her philosophy.

Dr. Stuart Wenham, CTO, Suntech, and the winner of the 37th Cherry Award presented Dr. Kurtz with the 38th Cherry Award at the 2012 conference. Presenting the award, Dr. Wenham said, “Sarah has worked tirelessly for 20 years. Dr. Kurtz’s body of work has helped the acceleration of growing high-quality cells and measuring multi-junction cells. More recently, she has looked at reliability issues of integrating multi-junction cells and solar PV in general into larger systems.”

Generosity sums up the career of a woman who has dedicated her life to solar research, committed her time to promoting the science of the industry through her steadfast focus on scientific excellence. People who know her note her dedication, focus and willingness to mentor others.

Christiana Honsberg, Arizona State University, U.S.

Dr. Christiana Honsberg is the second woman to win the Cherry Award, accepting this honor in 2015 at the IEEE PVSC in New Orleans. Among other things, including her mentoring of young PV professionals over the years, she was honored for her work advancing the understanding of intermediate band, interband and quantum well approaches to PV manufacturing. Dr. Honsberg is a co-inventor of the Very High Efficiency Solar Cell (VHESC) that combines optical/solar cell architectures to produce a sum-of-the-efficiencies result of 42.8 percent.

Professor Honsberg is the Senior Sustainability Scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and Professor, School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. She earned her PhD at the University of Delaware where she was an associate professor specializing in high performance solar power.

Professor Honsberg has tirelessly supported women in STEM.

Nicola Pearsall, Northumbria University, U.K.

Professor Nicola Pearsall is a lecturer and researcher and the director of the Northumbria Photovoltaics Applications Centre and leader of its Energy Systems research group. Professor Pearsall earned a degree from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology with an honors degree in Physics and earned her PhD for research into indium phosphide solar cells for space applications from the Cranfield Institute of Technology. She joined the faculty at Northumbria University in 1989 while completing her PhD and was awarded the title of Professor in 2004.

Along with her responsibilities to the university and her students, Professor Pearsall is a member of the European Photovoltaic Technology Platform and is the U.K. representative for the Solar Europe Industry Initiative.

As with all the women briefly profiled here, Nicky is dedicated to the global industry and has deep, lasting ties within it. She has served as chairperson of many committees, chaired conference sessions, presented research results at countless conferences and always reserves time for friends and acquaintances in the industry, all of who speak of her as a too humble example of a dedicated, tireless solar industry citizen.

Tesla Opens New York Store for Solar, Cars and Storage

If there’s any doubt Tesla Inc. isn’t just a car company anymore, its brand-new Manhattan showroom should put it to bed. On Friday, Tesla opens a store in New York’s Meatpacking District that, for the first time, will sell cars, solar panels and batteries permanently under one roof.

In a sparse, glass-walled space, the Model X sport utility vehicle and Model S sedan are on display alongside solar offerings and Powerwall storage systems. A Model S sits across from a sign that reads: “Produce Your Own Clean Energy.” In this store and others that Tesla’s enhancing across the U.S. starting Friday, car and energy salesmen will work side-by-side.

Tesla’s Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk took a big gamble buying SolarCity Corp. last year. It opened up the billionaire to harsh criticism from some investors who described his takeover of the solar company—led at that time by his cousin, Lyndon Rive—as a bailout rife with conflicts of interest. The synergies of solar and electric vehicles weren’t immediately clear, and Tesla has been working to integrate the businesses ever since, positioning itself as an energy—not strictly a car—company. This new New York store is the physical manifestation of that.

Besides an occasional pop-up, solar was rarely before available in Tesla stores. Now, potential solar customers can discuss the power products with energy-focused salespeople in person—before or after checking out a new SUV. If they like the pitch, a site surveyor will then be sent to their homes to finalize the plan, followed by installation. Employing energy consultants directly in stores on a permanent basis lets the company cross-sell products and puts it on the offense at a time when residential solar is slumping in the U.S. after 16 straight years of growth.

Although solar panels and the Powerwall home battery system are on display, noticeably missing from the expanded offerings in the 10,900-square-foot (1,013-square-meter) showroom is the Model 3, Tesla’s more affordable and much-hyped electric sedan that began production in July. Output of the car, which starts at $35,000 before options, has been plagued by production bottlenecks, though the first non-employee customers just began getting their cars, suggesting progress on the production front.

The long-anticipated Tesla solar roof is also not on display at the new Manhattan location, which replaces Tesla’s smaller storefront in Chelsea. They’re expected to be sold in stores in 2018 after testing is completed on those installed on employees’ houses.

Next year, Tesla customers will also be able to begin taking delivery of their electric cars at the Meatpacking location, rather than going to the Brooklyn store to pick up their new rides. The Manhattan store won’t offer a service center like the Red Hook showroom near Brooklyn’s industrial waterfront does—but it does have a free espresso bar for Tesla customers.

The opening of the new Manhattan store coincides with an important company event: the completed integration of SolarCity into Tesla. In the year since Tesla paid $2 billion to buy SolarCity, it’s ditched its door-to-door sales model, and next week, the integration is expected to be complete. With the exception of a website, the SolarCity name will mostly vanish, with all solar products instead sold under the Tesla brand.

Though the synergies of solar and electric vehicles weren’t immediately obvious, the deal proved prescient: Other solar installers seeking to reduce high marketing costs amid market contraction have since sought partnerships with better-known brands. Tesla has also refocused the solar unit’s strategy. SolarCity, which popularized the no-money-down lease, chased growth at all costs and amassed more than $3 billion in debt along the way. Tesla’s energy unit has had success with solar-panel sales and appears more focused on profitability.

The new store may be in the heart of one of Manhattan’s toniest sales corridors, but it’s not intended just for downtown residents. The area draws tourists and commuters, and the store is situated beneath the heavily trafficked High Line elevated park.

Expansive floor-to-ceiling glass faces out at The Standard hotel, allowing for sun to pour into the mostly white interior. The new store is on the same block as a Diane von Furstenberg showroom and is just a few blocks from an Apple Inc. store, which sports a similar clean, crisp design.

The rented space includes several mounted touch-screens where buyers can configure their Model S and Model X vehicles, which are available for delivery to customers in the next month or two. Drivers can also put down $1,000 reservations for the Model 3, much like they do online. But with a wait list of some half a million customers, most buyers placing an order this week won’t get their Model 3s until next Christmas—or later.

For any holiday shoppers who can’t wait a year or more for their Model 3s, solar panels—which could be installed within the month, permits and snowfall willing—may be the way to go. There’s an energy consultant on-site.

Arctic vulnerable to worst-case oil spills

As more of the Arctic Ocean becomes open for shipping, the United States isn’t prepared for potential disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, top U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. State Department officials told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday.

Coast Guard Adm. Robert Papp said that when the Deepwater Horizon explosion occurred in spring 2010, the Coast Guard was able to deploy manpower and resources from its numerous bases in the Gulf of Mexico to assist in cleanup and recovery efforts.

In the Arctic, the Coast Guard has limited resources and infrastructure, he told a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

If a similar spill occurred in the arctic, “We would have nothing,” Papp said. “We’d be starting from ground zero.”

David Balton, deputy assistant secretary of state for oceans and fisheries, also drew a comparison between the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the U.S. response to a spill in the arctic. Federal agencies hadn’t anticipated how to respond to a worst-case scenario in the gulf and the same is true in the arctic, he said.

Environmental changes in the arctic, such as rising temperatures, melting sea ice and changing ecosystems, combined with new technologies, are opening new possibilities for human activity in the region, including ocean shipping, oil and natural gas development, mineral ore extraction, commercial fishing and tourism.

But the added activity creates risks. Greater shipping traffic through fishing areas and increased oil and natural gas exploration raise the risk of accidents.

Energy exploration is under way but the existing infrastructure is limited.

Pete Slaiby, vice president of Shell Alaska, which hopes to begin its exploration drilling in Alaska next year, said drilling, cleanup and well-control technology improved as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Shell vessels will respond to spills within 60 minutes. In the worst-case scenario, he said the company is prepared to recover 25,000 barrels of oil a day via mechanical skimming alone. Shell wells will be accessible by both divers and remote-operated vehicles.

“I believe we have the best oil response plan in the world,” he said.

The Coast Guard is examining what it will need in the next few decades to fulfill its roles in the arctic, Papp said. He said its most immediate need is a seasonal facility to base crews, hangar aircraft and protect vessels to mount a response.

Balton said it would take several years to meet minimum requirements of preparedness.

Arctic town eyes future as Europe’s gateway to space

Sweden’s small Arctic town of Kiruna has a surprisingly international airport with regular flights to London and Tokyo, but it has even bigger plans: to offer commercial space flights.

Spaceport Sweden, a company founded in 2007, hopes to be able to provide the first flights within a decade from Kiruna’s airport.

“We’re working on establishing commercial flights from Sweden to space for tourism and research, and to create a launching pad at the airport,” explained the company’s enthusiastic director, Karin Nilsdotter, seated in her office at the Swedish Institute of Space Physics (IRF).

The idea is that space tourists would take off for a maximum two-hour trip into space aboard futuristic spacecraft currently undergoing testing, which resemble a cross between an airplane and a space shuttle and which can carry between one and six passengers.

The sub-orbital flights will send passengers 100 kilometres (60 miles) above Earth and allow them to experience five minutes of weightlessness.

Kiruna’s location in the far north of Sweden, and Europe, makes it a prime location for space flights, Nilsdotter said.

The space flights would not be disturbed by heavy air traffic, nor is the region a densely populated area. The wide-open spaces within Sweden’s borders also mean no bureaucratic red-tape to be resolved with other countries.

Kiruna also has 60 years experience of space research to its credit. IRF was founded in 1957 and the Swedish space research and rocket centre Esrange, located in the town, was founded in 1966.

“We have to use this knowledge to create a unique adventure with global impact: space travel,” Nilsdotter insisted.

“Even if it’s too early to give any figures, market studies show there is potential for 14,000 travellers after 10 years of business,” she added.

Spaceport Sweden is not building its own spacecraft, but will instead collaborate with a company that is doing so, she says, refusing to disclose how many spacecraft it will operate nor the identity of its partner.

In the United States, several companies are already developing aircraft capable of carrying space tourists, such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

“The technology isn’t fully developed yet,” Nilsdotter said, adding that the companies were currently carrying out test flights in the United States.

The first commercial space flights are expected to take place in the United States in 2014 and a few years after that in Sweden.

The head of the Esrange space research and rocket site, Lennart Poromaa, is meanwhile more measured in his enthusiasm for the project.

“In a few years there may be commercial space flights, but it will take longer than people think,” he said.

Esrange pulled out of the project “because we’re not about creating adventure”, he explained.

But “we could help them if they need help in the field of research, possibly”, the aerospace engineer said.

According to Nilsdotter, space flights could take off four times a day. Esrange meanwhile launches four rockets a year.

“Researchers who want to test their experiments in microgravity may be able to fly with us and then adjust their projects,” she said.

In the United States, more than 1,000 tickets for space flights have already been reserved, at around $200,000 (153,000 euros) apiece.

For adventure-seekers who can’t wait to visit space, Spaceport Sweden already offers flights from Kiruna airport to view the northern lights, a spectacular phenomenon of colourful lights that streak across the night sky, for the tidy sum of 6,990 kronor (810 euros, $1,059).

Arctic thaw threatens much of world: WWF report

Global warming in the Arctic could affect a quarter of the world’s population through flooding and amplify the wider impact of climate change, a report by environmental group WWF said Wednesday.

Air temperatures in the region have risen by almost twice the global average over the past few decades, according to the peer-reviewed scientific report.

That is not just down to melting the polar ice pack, a major cooling agent for global weather patterns and reflector of sunlight.

It is also linked to the release of more of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming that are naturally trapped in frozen soil, it claimed.

“What this report says is that a warming Arctic is much more than a local problem, it’s a global problem,” said Martin Sommerkorn, senior climate change advisor on the WWF’s Arctic Programme.

“Simply put, if we do not keep the Arctic cold enough, people across the world will suffer the effects,” he warned.

The combination of thawing Arctic sea ice and melting ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica was likely to raise global sea levels by about 1.2 metres (four feet) by 2100, more than previously thought, according to scientists commissioned by the WWF for the report.

“The associated flooding of coastal regions will affect more than a quarter of the world’s population,” the WWF said.

Scientists have expressed concern in recent years about the now visible melting of the Arctic region, to the extent that some have predicted virtually ice-free summers there this century.

The full impact of polar melting has yet to be taken into account by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scientific reference for world climate predictions, as reliable observations have only started to emerge in recent years.

Sommerkorn said the melting was already having an effect on the weather in the northern hemisphere, such as drier conditions in Scandinavia or the southwest of North America, or more humid Mediterranean winters.

However some climatologists at the World Climate Conference here urged caution about such short-term judgments, while acknowledging the major long-term influence of Arctic melting on the world’s climate.

“We see that summer sea ice is likely to disappear by 2060,” said Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at Britain’s Met Office.

“But I don’t think we understand the physics yet,” she added, pointing to possible natural variability to account for recent local weather patterns.

The WWF report concluded that melting sea ice and the release of pockets of greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide from thawing permafrost and methane seeping from the depths of the warming Arctic Ocean — would also fuel disruption to atmospheric and ocean currents much further afield.

Arctic permafrost stores twice as much carbon as contained in the atmosphere, acording to the WWF. Some 90 percent of near surface permafrost in the Arctic could disappear by the end of the century, the report found.

That trend could significantly accelerate global warming and force a shift in emissions targets, Sommerkorn told journalists.

“If we allow the Arctic to get much warmer it is really doubtful whether we will be able to keep the Arctic climate feedbacks under control,” he said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is due at the conference later this week, on Wednesday urged world leaders to act now to halt global warming, after seeing first-hand its effects in the Arctic during a visit to Norway.

“The Arctic is similar to sending a canary into a coalmine — this is a danger warning for the global climate,” he said.

World leaders will gather at a UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December to try and seal a new international accord on fighting climate change.

Arctic talks open amid protests

Talks on preserving the Arctic amid a race for its rich resources opened Monday as protestors urged the meeting to focus on damage to the fragile region from climate change.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the summit in Chelsea, Canada, that “those who have legitimate interests in the region” should be heard amid anger from some countries and indigenous peoples that they had been excluded.

“We need all hands on deck because there is a huge amount to do, and not much time to do it,” the top US diplomat warned.

“What happens in the Arctic will have broad consequences for the earth and its climate. The melting of sea ice, glaciers, and permafrost will affect people and ecosystems around the world,” she said.

“And understanding how these changes fit together is a task that demands international cooperation.”

The talks brought together foreign ministers from Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States.

They were to discuss how to manage the economic opportunities and protect the fragile ecosystem in the frozen north, as the Arctic sea ice melts away and companies line up to drill for oil and gas.

“There is an urgency driving our efforts,” Clinton warned. “As the sea ice recedes and waters warm, we expect more fish to move into the Arctic. Where fish go, fishing vessels will follow.

“And in order to manage future Arctic fisheries, we need to be working together now to share what we know about the changing marine ecosystem.”

But protestors urged participants to also focus on the damage from climate change, and the so-called greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

“The thing that people should expect and demand is an expressed commitment on the issue of climate change,” Michael Byers, author of “Who Owns the Arctic,” told AFP.

Dozens of protesters from Greenpeace and the Council of Canadians, a political activist group, decried the scramble for offshore drilling, saying Arctic mineral resources should remain untouched.

“When you think about it, three of the worst emitters of carbon dioxide on the planet… the United States, Canada and Russia are going to be around the table, and they’re going to be talking about the region of the world that is at the epicenter of climate change impact,” said Byers, a politics professor at the University of British Columbia.

“So if they don’t talk about climate change and they don’t talk about reducing emissions, then they will have willfully turned a blind eye to the biggest problem facing the Arctic today.”

The ministers were to discuss creating mandatory shipping regulations, setting maritime boundaries, establishing search and rescue protocols, and negotiating territorial disputes in the Beaufort Sea and the Barents Sea.

Byers said sea ice scientists predict that the Northwest Passage and the Arctic Ocean could be “seasonally ice free within the next three to five years.”

“At that point the entire Arctic begins to look like the Gulf of St. Lawrence or the Baltic Sea and you have effectively 12 months per year of shipping with ice strengthened ships and ice breaker escorted convoys.”

Aboriginal groups and several nations, including Iceland, Sweden and Finland, have also been angered at being left out of the talks.

“It is worrying that we see the development of an inner core of five coast states of the Arctic meeting outside the architecture of the Arctic Council,” British EU representative Diana Wallis said earlier this month.

“This could seriously undermine a very precious cooperation and it has to be treated with some seriousness.”

The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental group of Arctic states and Inuit indigenous groups that meet biannually. Canada and others blocked the European Union from being granted “observer” status.

Arctic sunshine revs up greenhouse gases

Sunlight in the arctic is delivering a double climate blow, researchers say, by both melting ice and speeding up the release of greenhouse gases.

Dead vegetation preserved in far northern permafrost under ice is estimated to contain twice as much carbon dioxide as is held by the atmosphere, and global warming could allow this plant matter to decompose, releasing both that CO2 and methane, they say.

Rose Cory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her colleagues, studying melting permafrost sites in the arctic, found the amount of CO2 released was 40 percent higher when the melt water was exposed to ultraviolet light than when kept dark, buried in the permafrost.

The increase is because ultraviolet light, a component of sunlight, puts more energy into soil bacteria and fungi and accelerates the rate at which they break down organic matter and release CO2.

Major thawing in the arctic could be a major source of positive feedback that could accelerate global warming, the researchers said.

“Our task now is to quantify how fast this previously frozen carbon may be converted to CO2 so that models can include the process,” Cory told NewScientist.com.