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India’s expanding solar grid
The New Delhi-based Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), released a new report showing how—in just two years—India’s National Solar Mission has transformed the solar market in India. The report, Laying the Foundation for a Bright Future, is the first independent, external analysis that’s been done on the strengths and hurdles faced by India’s solar efforts.
Under the first phase of the project, India’s installed solar capacity jumped from only 17.8 MW to over 500 MW. During that time, solar energy prices dropped to as low as Rs. 7.49/kWh, or $0.15 USD/kWh, faster than most anticipated. In India, solar energy is approaching grid parity, or the point where it can compete with energy from traditional sources like coal and natural gas—a fairly remarkable feat for such a young market.
Women at the helm
This year’s Fortune 500 has made history with the “female 18.” The 2012 ranking of the 500 largest corporations in the United States includes a record 18 firms helmed by female CEOs, up from 12 companies in 2011. The previous record for women-led companies in the Fortune 500 was set in 2009, and included 15 firms run by female executives. Just seven Fortune 500 companies had female CEOs in 2002 and 2003.
Though this year marks a new high for female CEOs, women still run just 3.6 percent of Fortune 500 companies. One in ten Fortune 500 corporations have no women on their boards according to research by Catalyst, a non-profit organization that seeks to expand women’s roles in the workplace. The two largest Fortune 500 corporations run by women are both in the tech industry: Hewlett-Packard, which ranked 10th on Fortune‘s list and named Meg Whitman CEO last fall, and IBM, which ranked 19th and has been run by Ginni Rometty since January.
Making solar affordable in the U.S.
As part of the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently announced up to $5 million available this year to develop “plug-and-play” photovoltaic (PV) systems that can be purchased, installed, and operational in one day. This effort is part of the Department’s broader strategy to spur solar power deployment by reducing non-hardware, or “soft” costs, such as installation, permitting, and interconnection, which currently amount to more than half of the total cost of residential systems.
As part of a planned five-year program, the Energy Department will invest an initial $5 million this year for two projects that will develop innovative plug-and-play prototypes through partnerships with universities, industry, utilities, and other stakeholders. The Department plans to make an additional request of $20 million to Congress over the next four years to support these efforts. The SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national effort to make solar energy cost competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade. Inspired by President Kennedy’s “Moon Shot” program that put the first man on the moon, the SunShot Initiative has created new momentum for the solar industry.
UPS explores biomethane fuel for its fleet
UPS recently announced the deployment of 10 dual-fuel biomethane-diesel vehicles in the United Kingdom. The addition of biomethane fuel technology to UPS’ diverse fleet is potentially very exciting, as biomethane is one of the world’s most environmentally friendly vehicle fuels yet. Biomethane is a renewable energy source produced from organic waste, in this case derived from a landfill. Biomethane has unique properties and provides a number of environmental benefits. It has great potential for reducing carbon—each unit of biomethane cuts emissions well-to-wheel by 70% compared to diesel.
Biomethane is also one of the few alternative fuels that supports long-haul, heavy end trucks used for moving package trailers. This vehicle type is a brand-new addition to UPS’s alternative fleet of more than 2,500 vehicles. Since 2000, UPS’s alternative fuel fleet has collectively logged more than 200 million miles.
New sustainable ETF
AdvisorShares, an investment management firm that sponsors actively managed Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), has announced that May 24th will be the launch date for its Global Echo ETF (GIVE). The firm describes GIVE as “a broadly diversified multi-manager ETF with a focus on Sustainable Investment themes,” such as “economic themes (corporate governance, risk & crisis management, community investment, energy efficiency, food, green building); environmental themes (air, water, earth); technology themes (mobility, renewable energy, technology and access); and social themes (human health such as occupational health and safety).”
The fund will allocate a portion of its assets to the Global Echo Foundation, a charitable foundation co-founded by Philippe Cousteau, Jr. The goal of the foundation is to provide resources for global environmental sustainability, to support the lives of women and children, and to expand micro-enterprise. Community Capital Management will manage the fixed-income portion of the fund, and Kevin O’Keefe, Chief Investment Officer for First Affirmative Financial Network, will be lead manager for the fund’s alternative investment strategy.
Citigroup shareholders have a say on pay
Fifty-five percent of Citigroup shareholders rebuffed the compensation plan for the bank’s top five executives which included a $15 million pay package for its chief executive, Vikram S. Pandit, marking the first time that stock owners have united in opposition to outsized compensation at a financial giant.
Though non-binding, the shareholder vote comes amid a rising national debate over income inequality, suggesting anger over pay for chief executives has spread from Occupy Wall Street to wealthy institutional investors like pension fund and mutual fund managers including CalPERS, the California state pension fund. The votes are part of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul that mandates that public companies include “say on pay” votes for shareholders to express opinions about compensation.
Last year, only 2 percent of compensation plans were voted against, according to ISS Proxy Advisory Services. According to Mike Mayo, an analyst with Credit Agricole Securities, Citigroup has had the worst stock price performance among large banks over the last decade but ranked among the highest in terms of compensation for top executives.
Impacts of BP oil disaster are coming back to the surface
It has been nearly two years since the largest oil spill in U.S. history occurred in the Gulf of Mexico after the explosion on the Deep Horizon drilling rig used by BP. Scientists at the 17th annual Tulane Environmental Law Summit gathered to present information on the continuing impacts of the BP oil spill that began on April 20th, 2010, 40 miles off the Louisiana coast.
In charge of heading the Gulf cleanup, BP used chemical dispersants that drove the oil to the ocean bottom, along with the toxins which included arsenic. Scientists at the summit presented recent photographs of shrimp with no eyes and fish with cancerous tumors born long after the Gulf was declared “safe” for fishing. Dr. Andrew Whitehead, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Louisiana State University, who is studying the BP spill and has reviewed much of the scientific studies of the Exxon Valdez spill, explained that stock declines of species may take several years to develop as reproduction is impacted in successive generations and across species.
But some impacts are being felt now, especially for sediment dwelling seafood. Current reports from fisherman up and down the coast are startling. The oyster harvest for 2010 was the worst in more than four decades and oystermen continue to report catches down as much as 75 percent. Dr. Williams warned that “The future chronic health effects from consumption of contaminated seafood and biomagnification along the food chain are yet to be realized in both sea life and humans. Chronic effects may take years to present and may elude an analysis of their causal origins.”;
Louisiana is the 3rd largest producer and refiner of petroleum in America and manufactures 600 petroleum products making it second in the nation in primary production of petrochemicals. The 20-mile stretch on the Mississippi from New Orleans to Baton Rouge known as “The Cancer Corridor” pumps out 1/4 of the chemicals made in America.
Celebrating Mother Earth
Sunday April 22, 2012, marked the 42nd anniversary of Earth Day. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.
The idea came to Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. Senator Nelson announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment” to the national media; persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to serve as his co-chair; and recruited Denis Hayes as national coordinator. Hayes built a national staff of 85 to promote events across the land.
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