May 9, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Green-tech pros eye cash in carbon

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Credits designed to restrict emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are being discussed in the context of climate change regulation.

But trading in emissions for different types of pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, has been going on for years. Renewable Energy Credits are another type of green trading program, driven by government mandates for utilities to generate a certain amount of renewable energy.

Regulations will definitely accelerate (carbon management)...We're a little bit in the Wild West right now.
--Dan Pullman, vice president, McNamee Lawrence

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative will use a cap-and-trade system set to go online in 2009. It will give electricity generators a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases they can emit. If they stay below that allowance, they get credits for those offset emissions, which can be exchanged with other polluters.

Carbon trading has already taken hold in Europe, where about 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide were transacted last year on the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme, at a value of more than 18 billion euros (or $24.41 billion), according to carbon finance research firm Point Carbon.

Many of these exchanged credits are generated through project finance deals and voluntary carbon offset arrangements. In one example, carbon credits were generated in a solar power project in Malaysia, said Dan Pullman, vice president of investment bank McNamee Lawrence, which advises alternative energy companies, including voluntary carbon offset company Carbon Neutral.

Because the solar power replaced a dirtier form of power generation, the financiers of the project gained carbon credits, which could be sold on a carbon exchange.

How policies are shaped has a significant impact on the price of credits. Emissions limits that are not stringent will results in a surplus of allowances, according to experts.

Phoenix Motorcars, for example, can get carbon credits in addition to its zero-emissions vehicle credits, which are part of a $25 million California clean energy incentive program (click here for PDF).

But the company isn't doing anything with the carbon credits because they "have almost no value," said Bliss. By contrast, the California state zero-emission credits will likely be in high demand from other automakers, he said.

Planktos' Kubiak has also found that the price for carbon emissions is very low, particularly in the regulated European market because of a surplus of allowances. But he anticipates prices will go up over time and said that the company, which intends to sell credits directly, "can do quite well" at $5 per ton of carbon.

Pullman said that the arrival of federal U.S. regulations will help drive more trading. Also required are more certification authorities to evaluate carbon offset schemes, he said. There have been complaints that carbon offsets are not adequately vetted or certified.

"Regulations will definitely accelerate (carbon management). It creates a much more active environment for trading and exchanging carbon credits," Pullman said. "We're a little bit in the Wild West right now."

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5 comments

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Zero Emission Credits
Can anyone tell my why the car owner shouldnt be the one to sell the credits they generate?
Posted by Renegade Knight (13748 comments )
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that seems logical
why should an automaker get a credit for a vehicle that could potentially have an impact (if not sold and driven, no impact)
Posted by jamie.p.walsh (288 comments )
Link Flag
What a waste.
Carbon credits are only vehicles (pun intended) for trading on the broken window fallacy. By being forced to divert capital into carbon credit markets, companies have even fewer resources and capital to commit to research and development of technologies of their own making. Now comapanies want to "sell" them credits?

If government wants to break windows, we should expect there to be glass makers following the vandals.
Posted by sumwatt (69 comments )
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It seems
that this system is self-defeating. I'm going to plant trees and then sell my carbon credits to a coal burning power plant or perhaps a steel smelt. So the carbon continues to be released in the air. Zero reduction. What mental giant concieved such a lame-brain idea. A wealth redistrabution scam. All this activity and money changing hands and nothing of any real value gets created. Great, I see economic difficulties in the near future.
Posted by suyts (824 comments )
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the value of carbon credits, ZEV credits
It's an imperfect system, but nothing in the real world is. In balance, the eco credits help. Here's how and why.

Without the credits, there is too much of an uphill battle to create and sell EVs, which is one of the most expensive and risky ventures an entrepreneur can embark on (look what happened to Tucker, DeLorean, Bricklin, et al, ).

With the credit system, the big manufacturers are getting away with creating more pollution, but no manufacturer wants to pay money they do not have to... they will look for ways to reduce their pollution output to reduce those costs. It gives the established automakers like GM an incentive to produce their own EVs.

By being able to sell credits, Phoenix and other clean vehicle manufacturers are not only building clean vehicles. A decade ago the automakers, GM most notably, went to great extremes to dismantle the laws that said they had to produce clean vehicles, and they went a step further to try to completely erase any reminder of EVs... they destroyed everything they made under loud public protest.

GM lied about the real reason they did not want to make them: most EVs only have one moving part in their drive train, are far, far simpler, and require almost no maintenance... no car maker can make much money on EVs once they leave the dealership-- no tune-ups, oil changes, fan belts, catalytic converters, etc. GM was terrified of disrupting the status quo, and they knew that EVs would last much longer before they ended up in the wrecking yards... they wanted to be able to sell you a new car every few years. The oil companies may also have been pressuring the automakers to keep from making EVs, too.

No matter how it starts, so long as practical EVs begin to populate out streets and highways, and people see just how much better they are in every way, they'll overcome their buyer's resistance. Many people today don't want to consider EVs for fear that they'll come to regret it... they would rather play it safe and let someone else take the risk of buying the first EVs.

The use of ZEV and carbon credits will die off without any intervention from anyone-- as soon as EVs begin to sell well and engine-powered car sales plummet, Phoenix and other EV makers will have too many credits and not enough credit buyers to whom they can sell.

The value of the credits will drop gradually at first, and then there will be a steep drop as engine cars lose market share... no one will want them.

The credits have no set dollar value. Phoenix has to negotiate with other companies to sell them. If Phoenix is suddenly selling 100,000 cars a year, the old-guard automakers will not only find it much harder to sell their gas-powered cars, but they'll be in panic mode to produce their own EVs and so will not need to buy credits from anyone else. That's the beauty of eco credits... they'll die a natural death without help from legislators.

When that happens, Phoenix will be a robust and vigorous company with no need for credit crutches, and they will be working to sell not only EVs, but solar panels to install on your roof, and high-speed charging stations to keep you rolling on interstate trips.
Posted by billdale (34 comments )
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