Paint the Roofs White

A low-cost, low-tech solution to fight climate change just won an endorsement from Energy Secretary Stephen Chu yesterday: paint the roofs white.

The idea is simple: Black roofs absorb most radiation as opposed to white roofs which reflect a good bit more. A two-page summary of a technical paper done by an old colleague of Chu's at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and a commissioner on the California Energy Commission advances the concept:

Most existing flat roofs are dark and reflect only 10 to 20 percent of sunlight. Resurfacing the roof with a white material that has a long-term solar reflectance of 0.60 or more increases its solar reflectance by at least 0.40. Akbari et al. estimate that so retrofitting 100 m2 (1000 ft2) of roof offsets 10 tonnes of CO2 emission. (For comparison purposes, we point out that a typical US house emits about 10 tonnes of CO2 per year.)

So painting 1,000 square feet of black rooftop white can offset the emissions of a typical US household. Or in the big picture, as Chu pointed out, lightening the color of roads and roofs could have the equivalent effect of taking every car in the world off the road for 11 years.

Continue Reading...

CCS: Is it Really That Far Off

The new fashionable observation in energy circles is that Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) is not ready for prime time.

US News and World Report ran a feature making the point a couple weeks back. Now Energy Secretary Steven Chu made the same point at a DC energy conference this week. The secretary told audience members that "CCS" technology might not be ready for "serious deployment" for eight to 10 years.

Really? Every time I turn around, I read about another carbon storage and sequestration project that is up and running or about to be.

Continue Reading...

Measuring the Green Mile

I sometimes wonder about the economic cost of the foot. I’m not talking about the body part, mind you, but the unit of measurement, arch-rival to the meter. During the great wave of globalization, we’ve relied on two competing systems of measurement. What inefficiencies did this produce?

Continue Reading...

Full Power

Not since Jimmy Carter donned a sweater and put solar panels on the White House has energy efficiency become such a hot topic in Washington DC. That’s because anyone cares about the climate change debate consuming the capital understands that energy efficiency is the most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the economy.

With that in mind, look for more and more companies and governments to start talking about electricity productivity. That’s the amount of bang one gets for their power.

The Rocky Mountain Institute is out this week with a new report examining how effectively the 50 states are using the power they consume. RMI measures electric productivity by taking a state’s GDP and dividing it by the number of kilowatt-hours consumed.

Continue Reading...

The US Green Building Movement - Green Means Go

As energy costs continue to soar to unprecedented levels, it appears that a critical threshold has finally been crossed in the US green building movement. Over the past several years, the “greening” of commercial real estate has started transitioning from a socially responsible peripheral issue into a business necessity for many commercial real estate players. Since 2000 (the year that LEED-NC (new construction) was adopted), the number of new green building projects has been growing at a compounded annual growth rate of 50 percent to 100 percent. In 2006, the number of projects achieving LEED-NC certification was almost 20 times the number that were certified during 2000 and 2001 combined. Approximately 50 percent of the aggregate building area of all LEED certified buildings in the US was certified during 2006 and the first half of 2007. 

What has caused the acceleration of the green building momentum in the US? Primarily three factors: 

          (i)  user demand,

          (ii)  government requirements and incentives, and

          (iii)  increased savings/reduced costs.

Continue Reading...

The SEC is Getting Hot and Bothered over Climate Change

Publicly-traded companies should evaluate whether global warming (or, if you prefer, climate change) is reasonably likely to have a material impact on the company's future financial performance. If the company concludes that there is a material impact, it must disclose that conclusion to the US Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) in various periodic reports.

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated in its 2007 report, evidence of climate change "is unequivocal, as it is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level" (see IPCC Report, Summary for Policymakers, in Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis at 5).  Thus, the only question is whether the potential consequences of these physical effects of global warming on the company - such as damage to company property, interruption of revenue streams that such property generate, increased costs to comply with regulations attempting to minimize global warming, and potential liability in lawsuits seeking damages from parties perceived as causing global warming - are "reasonably likely" to have a "material" impact on a company's financial performance.

How to interpret and apply these two expansive and as-yet poorly defined terms in the context of climate change, given the unknown time horizons during which the financial impacts may arise, is the $64 or $640 million question publicly traded companies must now answer.  [summary]


Published in Metropolitan Corporate Counsel (January 2008)