Six weeks into power the Conservative government could fall

Wow, who would have guessed that Canadian politics could be this exciting? For the benefit of my American readers who are enjoying Thanksgiving holidays, here’s a little update from Canada.

It seems the opposition Liberals, the New Democrats and the separatist Bloc Quebecois aren’t happy with a fiscal update from the ruling Conservatives that contains no fiscal stimulus to help jumpstart the economy. The opposition parties have all said they will vote against the package. If they did, it would be a vote of no confidence and the Conservative government would fall.

Now, there are two scenarios if that happens: Either the Governor General calls an election, which would be a ridiculous situation given that we’re in the middle of an economic crisis and just had an election six weeks ago; or, the Governor General asks the opposition parties if they can form a coalition government. Continue reading Six weeks into power the Conservative government could fall

GE suspends development of “high-efficiency incandescent”

Back in February 2007 General Electric announced that it had made key advancements in the development of a high-efficiency incandescent (HEI) light bulb that would be as efficient as a compact fluorescent bulb (CFLs) but without the mercury and with better light quality. Early versions would hit the market by 2010, the company said. GE basically saw the writing on the wall, as several jurisdictions — including Australia, Canada and several U.S. states — had announced the same year plans to ban inefficient light bulbs somewhere between 2012 and 2015. The HEI was basically the last kick at the can for the 100-plus year old Edison incandescent.

Then, in October 2007, GE announced it was closing plants and cutting hundreds of employees as part of a restructuring of its lighting business. The old inefficient bulb was toast. GE would instead focus its efforts on LEDs, Organic LEDs, and its HEI technology. Harvard business school professor Daniel Snow said GE’s HEI was the company’s “last gasp” of inspiration before the inevitable, final death of the Edison bulb.

A year has passed since GE’s restructuring. I decided to find out the status of the HEI so e-mailed the folks at GE to get an update. Here’s the reply I got today from GE spokesman David Schuellerman:

GE Consumers & Industrial and GE Global Research have suspended the development of the high-efficiency incandescent lamp (HEI) to place greater focus and investment on what we believe will be the ultimate in energy efficient lighting — light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs). Research and development of these technologies is moving at an impressive pace and will be ready for general lighting in the near future. LEDs and OLEDs used in general lighting are now poised to surpass the projected efficiency levels of HEI, along with other energy-efficient technologies like fluorescent, and have the additional benefits of long life and durability.

So there you have it: The century-old bulb that anchored the GE brand and made GE a global leader in lighting is, after one last gasp in 2007, officially dead.


As power consumption falls, it’s time for sober second thoughts

Here’s an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal (via the Indianapolis Star) that talks about an “unexpected drop” in electricity consumption across the United States that can’t be explained by the housing crisis or general economic conditions alone. It’s a strange article, in a way, because it doesn’t even mention the word “conservation” and reads like there’s some kind of X-Files mystery to investigate.  There is passing reference to customers maybe using less energy because they’re being told to, but it’s hardly held up as the biggest explanation. “Something fundamental is going on,” says Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers. He just doesn’t know why… weird.

Anyway, the same strange phenomenon is happening in Ontario. The difference is that our electricity planners are blaming it on the downturn and not giving much credit to conservation efforts. But with a $26 billion spending program to build more nuclear, at some point the province’s government will have to justify such spending if electricity use continues to decline.

Can North America’s largest coal plant convert to biomass?

My Clean Break column today takes a closer look at efforts by Ontario Power Generation to convert some of its coal-fired generating assets into biomass-burning power plants, including potentially several units at its Nanticoke Generating Station — North America’s largest coal plant. The provincial Liberal government has vowed to shut down the last of Ontario’s coal plants by 2014, and biomass conversion is being seriously considered as a way of partially getting there. It’s an ambitious undertaking, given the scale of such a project, but successfully making it happen would solve many problems with one solution. Continue reading Can North America’s largest coal plant convert to biomass?

Volt production charging ahead, despite GM woes

GM’s Rob Peterson told MarketWatch that getting the Volt launched by 2010 is still a “top-priority program” for General Motors, which is staring bankruptcy in the face and is pleading — along with Ford and Chrysler — for a multibillion-dollar bailout from Washington. This is reassuring, and of course it makes loads of sense. If GM has any chance of getting more bailout money it has to convince U.S. Congress that it’s serious about changing its ways by producing vehicles that are more efficient and will help wean the United States from foreign oil. To cut back on the Volt wouldn’t send the right message to Washington, so the Volt in many ways is the only thing that GM has going for it. There’s also the fact that most of GM’s main competitors also have plans for plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles by 2010 or shortly after, so to stay competitive it really has no choice. Continue reading Volt production charging ahead, despite GM woes