How Goliath Might Fall — Fossil Fuel Industry to Experience Market Crashes Over Next 10 Years

There’s a very real David vs Goliath conflict now underway in the global energy markets. On one side is a loose coalition made up of renewable energy producers and advocates, individuals who are increasingly concerned about global warming, environmentalists, technophiles, people promoting a democratization of the energy markets, and energy efficiency advocates. On the other side is a vast and powerful global fossil fuel industry backed by wealthy billionaires like the Koch Brothers and various national and nationally supported corporations around the world.

Up to 3.4 Trillion Dollars in Bad Fossil Fuel Investments

By the end of the next 1-3 decades, one set of these two forces will have won out — which will, in turn, decide whether the world continues along the path of climate devastation that is business as usual fossil fuel burning, or sees a rapid reduction in burning-related emissions to near zero which will help to mitigate climate harms while effectively crashing the 3.4 trillion dollar global fossil fuel market.

At issue is the fact that wind, solar, and electric vehicles together have the potential to rapidly take over energy markets that were traditionally monopolized by the fossil fuel industry. Earlier this year, a report out from Bloomberg vividly illustrated the stakes of this currently-raging conflict as it relates to oil and a burgeoning electric vehicles industry.

bloomberg-oil-crash

(Electrical vehicles provide hopes for keeping massive volumes of fossil fuels in the ground and similarly huge volumes of carbon out of the atmosphere. This is achieved by greatly reducing oil demand which could crash the oil markets by as soon as the 2020s. Image source: Bloomberg.)

According to Bloomberg, present rates of electrical vehicle (EV) growth in the range of 60 percent per year would be enough to, on their own, produce an oil glut in the range of 2 million barrels of oil per day by the early to middle 2020s. Continued rapid electric vehicle adoption rates would then swiftly shrink the oil market, resulting in a very large pool of stranded assets held by oil producers, investors and associated industries. Bloomberg noted that even if EV growth rates lagged, continued expansion would eventually result in an oil market crash:

“One thing is certain: Whenever the oil crash comes, it will be only the beginning. Every year that follows will bring more electric cars to the road, and less demand for oil. Someone will be left holding the barrel.”

Bloomberg also noted that LED light bulbs are increasing market penetration by 140 percent each year all while the global solar market is growing at a rate of 50 percent per year. And when technologies like LEDs, solar, wind, and increasingly low cost batteries combine, they generate a market synergy that has the capacity to displace all fossil fuels — coal, oil, and gas.

Coal Already Seeing Severe Declines — Oil and Gas are Next

During 2010 to 2016, we’ve already seen a severe disruption of the coal markets globally and this was due in part to strong wind and solar adoption rates. Coal capacity factors are falling, coal demand is anemic and the coal industry has suffered the worst series of bankruptcies in its history. “The coal industry fundamentals remain very bleak in my opinion,” noted Matthew Miller, a coal industry analyst with S&P Global Market Intelligence in a recent report by the Sierra Club. “If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, we can’t see it yet.”

But as bad as things are for the coal industry now, in the timeframe of 2017 through the early to middle 2020s we have a reasonable expectation that renewable energy and efficiencies will produce even stronger market impacts through competition with fossil fuels. Though not as bad off as coal, natural gas has now entered an unenviable market position where rising fuel costs would cause a ramping rate of renewable energy encroachment. A feature that has tended to check natural gas price increases. Meanwhile, presently rising oil prices will only serve to incentivize the current wave of electrical vehicle adoption.

rapidly-falling-battery-prices

(Rapidly falling battery prices along with falling solar and wind energy prices will eventually make fossil fuels non-competitive on the basis of cost. Meanwhile, ramping climate harms produce strong incentives for switching energy sources now. Image source: Bloomberg.)

During this time, first cheap renewables and then cheap batteries will increasingly flood the energy markets. Applications that directly replace fossil fuels in core markets will expand. Meanwhile polices like the Clean Power Plan in the US and COP 21 on the global level will continue to erode policy supports for traditionally dominant but dirty fuels.

Coal, Oil and Gas — Noncompetitive Bad Energy Actors

The choices for fossil fuel industry will tend to be winnowed down. Competition will be less and less of an option. Meanwhile, direct attempts to dominate markets through regulatory capture by placing aligned politicians in positions of power in order to strong-arm energy policy will tend to take place more and more often. But such attempts require the expense of political capital and can quickly turn sour — resulting in public backlash. As we have seen in Nevada, Hawaii, Australia and the UK, such actions have only served to slow renewable energy advances in markets — not to halt them entirely. Furthermore, reprisals against agencies promoting fossil fuels have gained a good deal of sting — as we saw in Nevada this year when a major casino and big utility customer decided to pull the plug on its fossil fueled electricity and switch to off-grid solar in the wake of increasing net metering costs.

All that said, we should be very clear that the outcome of this fight over market dominance and for effective climate change mitigation isn’t certain. The fossil fuel industry is one of the most powerful political and economic forces in the world. And even though they are now bad actors on the issue of climate change — which threatens both human civilization and many of the species now living on Earth with collapse and mass extinction — they still, in 2016, retain a great deal of economic and political clout. And this clout endows these industries with an ability to enforce monopolies that effectively capture various markets and delay or halt renewable energy development in certain regions.

Trends Still Favor Renewables

Nonetheless, the trends for renewable energy currently remain pretty strong, despite widespread fossil fuel industry attempts to freeze out development of these alternative sources. And collapsing economic power through expanding competition by renewables would ultimately result in a loss of political power as well. In such cases, we wouldn’t expect a crash in economic power and political influence by fossil fuel interests to occur in a linear fashion — but instead to reach tipping points after which radical change occurs. And over the next 10 years there’s a high likelihood that a number of these energy market tipping points will be reached.

Links:

Here’s How Electric Cars Will Cause the Next Oil Crisis

Vegas Casino Plans to Leave Warren Buffet’s Nevada Utility

The Coal Industry is Bankrupt

Clean Power Plan

COP 21

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119 Comments

  1. Dan in Oz

     /  October 25, 2016

    Here in Perth, Australia, the uptake of roof-top solar panels has been so popular that suburban rooftops are the single biggest contributer to the Western Australian grid. Or to put it another way, the power generated by roof-top solar is more than the biggest power plant on our grid. This has led to the closure of coal- and gas-fired powers stations.

    It does help that Perth has the most sunshine hours of any Australian capital city. We also have a traditionally high penetration of solar hot water systenms too. Hot water heating takes about a third of the total energy used by a typical Australian house. It’s a pity that all that good work is undone by the place being a sustainable planners nightmare! We have one of the lowest population densities of any city in the world. So EVs would be the perfect solution.

    But it does show that when the economics are right, the market explodes.

    Reply
      • Important? Mass destruction of life support systems and human civ must be important to Turnbull?

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      • mulga mumblebrain

         /  October 25, 2016

        Jeff, Turnbull’s ‘progressive’ act has been shown to be a complete sham, as you would expect of a former merchant bankster and investor in vulture funds and large scale deforestation, not to forget off-shore tax avoidance havens. He is NO different in practise from Abbott, save for some facility in dissembling and lying that Abbott lacked. And he has the insufferable gall to pose with his grandson while ensuring that he will live in Hell.

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        • Keith Antonysen

           /  October 25, 2016

          Australia is somewhat of a dogs breakfast in relation to renewable energy; some of the States are pushing it hard; whereas, others are towing the Federal Liberal National Party line. Queensland is interesting in that it is pushing for the Galilee Basin Adani coal mine to go ahead, while promoting renewable energy. The Federal LNP government has taken every possible opportunity to squash Agencies dealing with climate change, and push the use of fossil fuels.
          Turnbull, the current Prime Minister was a harsh critic of the direct action policy pushed by Abbott, the former “Prime Minister”; now Turnbull promotes direct action and other extreme right wing opinions.

          Direct action is a godsend to companies, as they are provided financial support to reduce carbon emissions, without any clear contract to fulfil their promise.
          Since the carbon tax was annulled, carbon emissions have been increasing and promised targets won’t be met.

        • mulga mumblebrain

           /  October 25, 2016

          Keith, in fact Australia under the hard Right Abbott regime, with the increasingly ludicrous marionette Turnbull as a front-man, is possibly the greatest climate destabilisation recalcitrant on the planet. Did you see the article in the ‘Guardian’ today where it has been shown that the supposed amount of fugitive emissions of methane from coal-seam gas fracking here were under-estimated by the industry by at least one or two orders of magnitude? No-one can really be certain because, naturally, no proper studies have been undertaken. If these figures, based on experience from the USA, are correct, then coal-seam gas’s supposed advantage in greenhouse gas emissions over coal disappears entirely.
          The next steps are well-established. The regime and its allies and supporters in the Murdoch machine, will slander and vilify the researchers. If they’re really lucky, the Murdochites will wage a vendetta against them for years, as they did and still do with Tim Flannery. The industry will reject it all, and release more of their own ‘research’. The regime will bellow about ‘jobs and growth’, their brain-dead mantra in all things, and the REAL priority, ‘profits’, will remain, as ever, unspoken and unspeakable. And as the ‘Guardian’ article noted, we will soon surpass Qatar, another rogue state, in exports of gas, but, whereas Qatar reaps 26 billion a year from the exports, we will get a paltry one billion, thanks to generous hand-outs to the fossil fuel industry. It really would take a concerted effort to create a more malignant and moronically self-destructive system if you started from scratch, or find a more scabrous crew to drive it on than the current Federal regime. Poor feller our country.

      • lesliegraham1

         /  October 26, 2016

        China has just cancelled 30 coal fired power stations and is not going to connect another 30 to the grid. So far this year they have cancelled, closed or mothballed 100GW of coal fired plants – equal to the entire coal fired generation of the UK and Spain combined.
        http://energydesk.greenpeace.org/2016/10/21/china-coal-crackdown-cancel-new-power-plants/
        It’s as clear as day where this is heading. Anyone who thinks coal still has a long term future and has money tied up in the carbon corporations is simply a blinkered fool – and that obviously includes the most stupid government in the developed world – that of Australia.

        Reply
        • mulga mumblebrain

           /  October 28, 2016

          Austrayans of a certain type, love to cringe-inducingly declare the country ‘world-class’ in some field or another. These days we are truly ‘world-class’ in only one category that I can think of-the production of Rightwing morons who, despite their obvious and considerable deficiencies, still think themselves truly amazing. If they weren’t destroying everything precious in the country, you’d laugh yourself silly at their antics.

    • From a Northern Hemisphere point of view it seems extremely strange that Australia isn’t a world leader in solar power instead of trying to mine and export more coal. (Your current federal and Queensland governments, anyway.)

      Even odder, I suppose, is the UK, trying to shore up an insignificant and dying coal industry, an oil industry in terminal decline, and an unproven gas industry strongly opposed by those living over its targeted source rocks. And there’s Canada, trying to export more oil and gas to the world even while claiming its new climate bona fides.

      But above all the U.S. and China, not only the world’s largest economies and fossil fuel importers, but also the world’s largest fossil fuel producers. Perhaps all we can do is hope they come to their senses and/or figure out how they can profit from renewable energy before it’s too late for all.

      Reply
      • mulga mumblebrain

         /  October 25, 2016

        Magma, thirty or forty years ago we were the global leaders in solar. But then our poisonous political and business castes let that slip, and opted for the ease of digging up rocks, instead. One solar pioneer David Mills, left for California in 2014, frustrated at the opposition to solar. Various solar technologies developed in Australia went overseas due to lack of interest here by our capitalist parasite caste. Buried contact solar technology departed for Spain in 1988, and soon after evacuated tube technology was snapped up by China and evacuated glazing to Japan. In 2001 Dr, Zhi took his technology to China and in 2004 crystalline silicon on glass technology departed for Germany. Meanwhile our cretin rulers still speak of ‘clean coal’ and ‘carbon capture and storage’ in which they have fruitlessly invested heavily. If we’d developed our technology, instead of ignoring it, we’d be on the gravy train, but China, where science and rationality are still respected, will reap that reward instead.

        Reply
      • Well said Magma. Here in Canada we have an issue with provincial jurisdictions, so the federal govt can’t just regulate everything it wants to, or one or more of the provinces will throw a hissy fit. Then everyone has to negotiate and politically maneuver themselves to get some sort of deal, so now we’re doing the horse trading. (pipelines carbon price) So in this case, Alberta and Saskatchewan are fighting to protect their fossil fuel industries.

        What I don’t get is why Sask. is planning on spending $1.5B on CCS for a coal plant, when they could join a cap and trade alliance with Ontario or Quebec, spend part of that $1.5B putting in hundreds of wind turbines (it’s windy there)(also, tons’o’jobs), and then sell off a giant pile of carbon credits when they close that coal plant?

        Reply
    • I find it amazing that despite everything the pro-fossil fuel government has done to try to stop them in Australia, renewables are still making big gains there. Testament to the economics, as you say. Thanks so much for the on the ground reports, Dan. Has there been much in the way of EV penetration where you are yet?

      Reply
      • Dan in Oz

         /  October 25, 2016

        Sadly not yet. I think we hope for a progessive government very soon to push EV. There was a flurry of activity at the back end of the last Labor government to install the infrastructure.

        By and large Australia is a right-wing suburban culture, not disimilar to the Mid-west. There are strong pockets of progessives – Melbourne, parts of Sydney, Fremantle in WA. And at least there are high numbers of people who accpet climate science. I remember my UK friend coming to visit as commenting within hours that he’s never seen so many V8s in one place. That was a few years ago now, and the death of Holden (GM in Australia) shows that the love affair with these muscle cars is waning.

        But the adoption of PV was almost overnight. If the economies can be made to work for EVs, they will take over quickly too.

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        • Phil

           /  October 25, 2016

          The uptake of solar PV was on the back of very generous State based feed-in tariffs. Those have been or are in the process of being ended. The next stimulus is battery storage but that is probably still a few years away for significant penetration and costs will still need to come down.

          Finally some role out of utility scale solar PV is beginning to occur especially in Queensland.

          I suspect that real action will not occur here until the effects are in everyone’s face. The Southern Hemisphere in some respects is lagging behind the Northern Hemisphere in severe climate change impacts, perhaps excepting the drought in South America.

          Last time concerns about climate change took a central place was in 2007 on the back of severe drought affecting cities. Might need something similar or perhaps some severe cyclone impacts.

        • Phil — What about the Great Barrier Reef? In any case, it seems to me that Australia has suffered from severe droughts, floods, fires, and storms pretty frequently of late. SLR in the NE might be an issue already as well. Climate change refugees moving from island nations to Australia. I guess the impacts aren’t every day, but they’re certainly happening now.

        • mulga mumblebrain

           /  October 25, 2016

          The big reason that Australia has gone backwards, at accelerating pace, for forty years is Rupert Murdoch. His MSM Empire is a sewer of hate and fear-mongering, pandering to the rich, promoting neo-liberal Free Market capitalism, total, craven, obeisance to the USA and the hardest of hard-core hatred of environmentalism and Greens in any shape or form. The rest of the MSM is barely better, talk-back radio in particular apeing the Murdochites fully.
          The Government run ABC and SBS once had a diversity of opinion, but that drove the Right insane with totalitarian rage, so, after 1996 and the victory of John Howard (the beginning of The End for this country)they were purged heavily of Thought Crime. Notorious and fanatic anthropogenic climate destabilisation deniers were appointed to the board, some straight from the Murdoch machine. The apparatchiki accommodated happily to the new regime, or departed. Now the ABC is simply the ‘Australian’ of the airwaves, with the ecological catastrophe almost totally ignored, or still actively and frenetically denied. And SBS has become propaganda claxon number one for the jihadists attacking Syria, probably under the influence of Saudi money, as the Sauds have been allowed to open numerous ‘schools’ where the Wahhabist jihad cult is indoctrinated.
          It has been depressing and intriguing to see this country go down the sewer over the last forty years, particularly after the hope and principle of the Whitlam years. But Murdoch first really showed his true nature then, in turning his MSM Empire (then much smaller) into an engine of hatred, fear and disinformation. That’s the real reason Austrayans are so stupid, ignorant, greedy and willfully blind-they have been made that way by the owners of society.

        • Phil

           /  October 25, 2016

          Robert, concern for Great Barrier Reef is there in the background but reporting in MSM is very lacklustre, outright lies (you can guess who) or non-existent. In fact, more general reporting on climate change issues follows a similar trend, combined with the grip the fossil fuel lobby has on both politicians and bureaucrats alike at all levels of Government.

          People also get caught up in everyday issues such as well such as cost pressures, job insecurity. It takes big events to push climate change into public focus and keep it there. These includes fires, droughts, and floods. While their incidence has increased, they are not new phenomena. For example, largest recorded flood for Brisbane was in late 1800’s (and by a considerable margin). Also, everyone and often including climate change scientists keep pushing the line that single events cannot be directly and scientifically attributed to climate change and gutting CSIRO climate science shills and resources will reinforce this into the future as well.

          In terms of refugees, Australia’s policy is morally bankrupt and has bi-partisan support. They care about refugees as much as future generations. As long as refugees do not arrive in naval vessels, their treatment will not change.

        • Out of all of this, I find the underlying intimidation of scientists and journalists to be the most repugnant. But it’s all pretty bad and similar to what’s going on in many ‘first world’ countries.

        • Phil

           /  October 25, 2016

          At transmission/utility scale, the best option I have seen for large scale energy storage is liquid air energy storage. All aspects are mature and pilot plants are being constructed in UK and Germany. One of the larger storage tanks used in LNG industry (300,000 cubic metres if I recall correctly) can store around 15 to 17 GWh. Round trip efficiency can be improved using both waste heat and cold generated by different parts of the process.

          A novel approach is using electric trains carrying carriages containing heavy loads running up and down inclines. When they run up hill, they take electricity off the grid helping to avoid spillage of renewable energy in low demand times. When they run down the incline, they brake and run a generator (regenerative braking) which puts electricity back into the grid. They can provide FCAS/NCAS services for grid stability or load following services. Everything is based upon gravity.

    • At the risk of sounding like a Johnny-One-Note, people pushing wind and solar too often omit pointing out that they’re essentially water-less power sources, and free of the dependence on siting near and using water resources. I would expect ever-drier parts of Australia to embrace them on that property alone.

      Reply
  2. webej

     /  October 25, 2016

    In Germany and the Netherlands a discussion has started about when (?2030) to mandate electric cars, effectively phasing out the internal combustion engine. Although not yet a done deal, it is being spoken of in terms of political platforms but also by civil servants and government spokesmen.

    Reply
    • That’s excellent news. The Netherlands does have a lot to lose, being so low-lying. Germany is such a powerhouse that this would have a big impact globally.

      Reply
  3. Marcusblanc

     /  October 25, 2016

    Nice work RS, loving the fine balance of acknowledging the genuine progress being made, whilst the bad news from the earth system continues to roll in.

    I went through a period (20 years ago) where I thought I was going to be a motoring journalist (yes, I know, boo hiss and all that). My semi-informed opinion is that the epic fall in battery costs, as shown in your graph, along with the announcement of the new Tesla Model 3 (250 ml range), Chevy Bolt (238 ml) and the soon-to-be upgraded Renault Zoe (250 ml) suggest EV’s are finally ready to shatter the dominance of the internal combustion engine.

    Of course, it will take time that we don’t really have (with consequent terrible costs/effects), but the economics of this new breed of EV will be so stark as to be overwhelming.

    It’s worth mentioning that the Zoe is a very basic car, and is not in direct competition with the upmarket Tesla.

    ‘The new Zoe will be delivered to UK drivers in November and is expected to sell for around £17,000 from Saturday after a £4,500 government grant. The Tesla Model S, which has a similar 248-mile range, retails at £53,500 and up.’

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/29/renault-says-new-zoe-has-longest-range-of-any-mainstream-electric-car

    I just hope they can make enough to transition as quickly as possible, address charging times, and push on into the crucial van and truck markets, whilst de-carbonizing the electricity supply.

    It’s complicated and daunting, but it is starting to happen. Just go back and look at the drop in battery costs. 60% in 5/6 years(ish) is faster than pretty much anyone predicted.

    Reply
    • Marcusblanc

       /  October 25, 2016

      PS I believe the Renault Zoe is that cheap because Renault lease you the battery for approx £70 pound a month, but it is still very cheap to run compared to the competition, given that you do actually drive it on a regular basis.

      Reply
    • Thanks for this, Marcus. I really wish the US market would open for the Zoe. Seems an amazing innovation considering the price.

      RE mix of hope and tragedy… That’s just what’s real as you well know. We’re going to hit the wall. It’s just a question now of how hard. EVs are a part of applying the breaks. We could, of course, do quite a bit more if we weren’t so locked up in this market frame of mind.

      Reply
    • Well, here in Norway the Nissan Leaf has been the most selling electrical car (although this particular month the BMW i3 is the most sold EV, and the Tesla is popular among the rich). We paid £24000 (todays currency value) for ours and has already saved us a lot of money on both petrol and tolls (which are free). I spend like £10 each month in electricity (compared to £90 in petrol before), but then again electricity is very cheap here in Norway so hardly comparable to other European countries (or the US). I frequently tell people here that EV’s are a no-brainer, and many people who though they were buying a car for secondary use very soon realize they use it 90% of the time and their SUV or estate (very popular form factor here in Norway) is parked most of the time. When people start driving EV’s they realize that they are a technologically better car and more fun to drive due to the remarkable response in accelleration. Many also enjoy that they are so silent too.

      Although many complain about battery capacity in the winter, after all it gets rather cold here in Norway then. But personally my Nissan Leaf gets warm in the morning way faster than any fossil fueled car I have ever had before. And even better I dont have to make the whole neighbourhood stink. Many of my neighbours have diesel SUV’s and believe me, getting out in the morning is just horrible in a cool non-windy morning with the NOx and fumes lingering outside, some basically stinking like rotten eggs. I am very tempted at asking if anyone has stomach problems when I meet them in the morning, but I guess bullying is not the way to go. It just surprises me that people actually don’t care that their cars stink so much.

      The vast majority of those who havent done the switch yet is because they have a cabin in the mountains and only the Tesla has the range to work, but is prohibitably expensive for most people. While the new Model 3 and the Renault Zoe (as well as new coming models) will have the range, many will miss the estate form factor since they have a lot of things they bring with them to their cabin. Once a 400+ km range estate is on the market people will buy like crazy over here.

      But as Robert say here, this change will come quicker than many imagine. I have noticed that our current right-ish government has not quite realized this with how they are opening up new drilling prospects in the northern region trying desperately to keep the oil business alive. No doubt oil has made Norway rich, but I seriously think its time to give some of this wealth back to the world in the form of stopping any new discoveries and developing new technologies for the future (as well as sponsoring solar and wind in other countries, which btw there are many smaller companies that do already here with great success).

      Reply
      • Thank you for posting your experiences here, John. I wasn’t aware that the government in Norway was currently right-ish. I think the allure for EVs in oil producing countries (and within local fossil fuel industries) is that they can keep consumption down at home and sell the oil overseas. Eventually, though, when EVs become widespread enough, this takes down demand globally.

        It’s going to be tough for countries who have bet their economic development on fossil fuels. Of course, I still believe there’s time to economically diversify. But that period is running out. Norway is in better shape than most. And it seems to me that you guys have a number of paths going forward. The writing on the wall, though, is that the world should have tried to transition many years ago. And things are going to be pretty tough now that we’ve waited so long to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. In the end, there’s no real comparison between that which is lost due to burning fossil fuels long term and that which is gained by curtailing their use currently. We’ve got countries in Africa now that are losing 5-10 percent of their GDP due to sea level rise and constant inland movement coupled with loss of coastal structures. We’ve got island nations that are being wiped off the map. Around the world, coastal cities and delta growing regions are now threatened. This is just a small snapshot of the the problems related to climate change and, though diffuse, they are pretty ubiquitous. And these are the early, easy crises. In the next couple of decades, it will start to become pretty obvious that we waited too long to respond. That the damage will be tough to deal with because we waited. And if we make the same mistake now, it just gets worse.

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    • Well said Marcus. We can hope that this transition happens faster than everyone anticipates, not unlike the idea that the motor car took only 13 years to completely replace horses in NYC. Cell phones, the internet, yada yada. With battery costs falling, and a raft of new compelling plug in models coming out in the near future, this turning point could happen very quickly. In addition to the models you pointed out, the new Toyota Prius Prime plugin is priced very competitively, VW and Mercedes both have plans for massive EV investment (whether they follow through is another story, but we’ll see), Kia and Hyundai are all releasing EV models, to mention nothing of the massive Chinese push for EVs. They are no longer going to be a hard to find niche product, as they are going to be at car dealers everywhere.

      EVs might not be the most cost effective way to cut emissions, but they are a way for people to actually spend money on it in a tangible way. Something you can touch. And then it becomes an early adopter type snowball, not only so the buyer can feel like they’ve at least done something, but also because their neighbours are going to see it, and become aware that EVs are viable. Then they go mainstream, and I feel like EVs might be one of the climate solutions with the easiest mainstream buy in.

      EVs will definitely help, but I think Bill McKibben might be right, all of the personal changes that concerned people make will not be nearly enough, and that it’s most important that we keep talking about climate change, and keep pushing our politicians to do the right thing.

      Reply
      • It’s important to remember that renewables are a part of a larger solution that will necessarily involve concerted, consistent action on the part of larger groups and governments. EVs, wind, solar, efficiencies, other alternative energy, individual action… while helpful and necessary can’t produce a broad enough impact alone to deal with the problem of climate change without strong policies supporting the mass multiplication of these actions.

        To this point, and ever since its inception, the fossil fuel industry has been very effective at managing government relations, public relations, and advertising to produce outcomes that result in energy industry dominance. Without a similar broad effort on the part of environmentalists and renewable energy interests to influence the public and the government entities that make decisions that affect energy market and emissions outcomes, there is absolutely no way to win the battle of climate mitigation. And to be even more clear, that battle has been effectively lost for decades. The result is great cost and pain to pretty much everyone.

        Now that climate change is threatening to eat our collective lunch, we’re in a ‘backs against the wall’ kind of scenario where the fight for effective mitigation has now become a fight for lives and livelihoods. If the fight is lost, there’s a high likelihood that there probably won’t be much of human civilization left by the end of this Century.

        Reply
  4. Falling demand for fossil fuels, when it begins in earnest, will trigger a game of economic musical chairs that may be unprecedented in history even if it unfolds over twenty or thirty years. But it may well be faster than that.

    The sensitivity of coal, petroleum and natural gas price to supply and demand, the long payback time of large multibillion dollar capital projects, the growing effect of carbon pricing, and the limited export options of Russia and many OPEC nations means that the lower-cost producers will reduce prices to whatever levels needed to keep their oil and gas flowing to market. Higher cost producers will, sooner or later, be toast. It’s not hard to foresee a wave of bankruptcies, consolidations, retrenchments and closures. And with it, hundreds of thousands of orphaned wells that will eventually leak to aquifers or to the surface – a gift that keeps on giving.

    Reply
    • Marcusblanc

       /  October 25, 2016

      Good point about capped wells, and I wonder who will end up paying to clear up the mess left by the Oil giants?

      Privatise the profits, socialise the losses. A mantra for our times.

      Reply
    • @Marcusblanc: it’s a serious issue, and an underappreciated one. Many oil and gas reservoirs maintained a pressurized seal for millions or tens of millions of years, kept in place by the confining pressure of the overlying rocks, stable geology in ancient sedimentary basins, and slow strain rates allowing fractures and faults to ‘heal’ or reseal. That longevity cannot possibly be assumed for the millions of 8″ to 16″ continuous holes to surface lined with steel and cement that will be exposed to hot corrosive fluids over periods of decades or centuries.

      Looks like we’ve made sure some of our great-great-grandchildren will still be employed cleaning up after us. I’m not sure they’ll be all that thankful for the work, though.

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    • You’re right. These are the toxic middens of our age. Can almost guarantee that the cost of capping and safe keeping will fall to the public. The endless externality that just keeps on giving as it were.

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    • Genomik

       /  October 25, 2016

      Similar is happening w closing of Diablo Valley Nuclear Plant and all nuclear plants. Cost to clean up when not profitable anymore will be alot!

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    • Don’t know in the US, but here in Norway you pay a tax for every electronic gadget you buy that is some sort of “garbage tax” to help with the cost of disposing the gadgets. The US should certainly have a similar tax for the big oil companies, locked away in some fund for the time when the governments have to clearn up after them when they collapse or leave a region looking like a scene from Mordor.

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  5. Andy_in_SD

     /  October 25, 2016

    Coal Already Seeing Severe Declines — Oil and Gas are Next

    So does that mean that “coal is the canary in the coal mine?”

    Sorry, someone had to say it…..

    Reply
  6. Genomik

     /  October 25, 2016

    File this in the “Great if it gets out of the lab…….” dept!

    Return of incandescent light bulbs as MIT makes them more efficient than LEDs

    Usually traditional light bulbs are only about five per cent efficient, with 95 per cent of the energy being lost to the atmosphere. In comparison LED or florescent bulbs manage around 14 per cent efficiency. But the scientists believe that the new bulb could reach efficiency levels of 40 per cent.

    And it shows colours far more naturally than modern energy-efficient bulbs. Traditional incandescent bulbs have a ‘colour rendering index’ rating of 100, because they match the hue of objects seen in natural daylight. However even ‘warm’ finish LED or florescent bulbs can only manage an index rating of 80 and most are far less.

    “This experimental device is a proof-of-concept, at the low end of performance that could be ultimately achieved by this approach,” said principal research scientist Ivan Celanovic.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/03/12/return-of-incandescent-light-bulbs-as-mit-makes-them-more-effici/

    Reply
  7. Greg

     /  October 25, 2016

    Excellent article Robert. Researchers at MIT completed a four year long, comprehensive study, searching for the answer about whether or not existing electric cars on the road today could replace conventional cars. As it turns out, according to MIT, even the first generation models – such as the Nissan LEAF and Ford Focus Electric (with sub 100-mile ranges) are capable to replace nearly 90% of cars, and at a similar overall cost of ownership. Emissions from transportation (including up-river power plants) would be then reduced by about 30% (or more, with power plants continual journey to decarbonization over time).
    http://insideevs.com/mit-study-finds-that-existing-electric-vehicles-could-meet-90-of-drivers-needs/

    Reply
    • Great study here, Greg. And more proof that resistance to EVs is primarily a social/political/economic construct. In other words, monetary and political interest combines with an innate social adversity to change to generate artificially high barriers. That said, I do think that increasing EV performance and continually falling battery costs help to generate a rising tide for renewables in the energy markets. The barriers continue to be structural/social and we should keep working to break those down, though. In other words capability alone is not enough. We need to change hearts and minds and wake people up to this new reality — both when it comes to energy and climate.

      Reply
    • And there are already EVs on the road that get over 200 miles on a single charge such as Chinese carmaker BYD’s e6. What I am waiting for is an EV that will tow our 6,000-lb travel trailer a couple hundred miles between recharges, though already there are several hybrid models out that would have no problem meeting such a need with much more range.

      I am interested-in recent improvements in turbine-hybrid technology which already can increase fuel mileage in light-duty to heavy-duty trucks and buses by 250-300% and use natural gas, landfill gas, or sour gas for fuel, each of which produces less GHG emissions than do gasoline or diesel-powered hybrid vehicles.

      US company Wrightspeed, founded by an early Tesla partner, is an early leader in turbine-hybrid technology in light-duty to heavy-duty trucks and buses, which is already in-use in the US and several other nations, and is being tested by FEDEX and UPS too.

      http://www.wrightspeed.com/technology

      Reply
  8. Ryan in New England

     /  October 25, 2016

    By 2017 solar capacity is set to triple, contributing further to the decline of fossil fuels. Not fast enough, but we’ll take whatever good news we can get.

    http://www.climatecentral.org/news/us-energy-shakeup-continues-solar-triples-20802

    Reply
    • These big gains will continue to hurt coal. Nat gas will be news pretty soon as well. If we can go net declining carbon emissions global soon, we’ll be well off the BAU path. The next serious challenge is getting to null carbon emissions as fast as possible.

      Reply
  9. coloradobob

     /  October 25, 2016
    Reply
  10. Mark

     /  October 25, 2016

    “How cheap natural gas and renewable energy are driving down electricity prices in one interactive chart”

    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/plugged-in/us-residential-electricity-prices-decline-for-the-first-time-in-14-years/

    re oil industry…. one of many questions is, will it be a slow collapse, or a sudden fall off the cliff?

    And Re the average joe/Jane….hopefully some jobs will be available somewhere outside the car industry, for the people employed in the muffler, transmission, carburetor, and other car parts business, when those systems are gone.

    and thanks for the informative site.

    Reply
    • I think the marginal nature of oil will generate big busts once consumption rates start falling by around 3-5 percent. For mainline vehicle manufacturers and parts, the process will tend to be a bit more gradual. Overall, renewables generate more jobs than they displace. But responsible societies and industries will work to provide retraining for those who see their sectors move on.

      Reply
  11. On one side is a loose coalition made up of renewable energy producers and advocates, individuals who are increasingly concerned about global warming” – Robert

    “we are the world” (On the West Side of Zero – 2)

    Reply
  12. John S

     /  October 25, 2016

    Our local pro-development council in south east Queensland has commissioned a feasibility study of building a solar power plant, with analysis showing a $10M (aus) saving over 20 years. “Cr Paul Gleeson, who prompted the research, said he was not a great believer in anthropogenic climate change but did believe in the need for renewable energy” [The Redland City Bulletin]

    Take the wins where you can.

    Reply
    • mulga mumblebrain

       /  October 25, 2016

      What that means is that a Queensland council and its electors have a councillor who is either an ignorant moron, or an ideological fanatic. Pretty typical. And of course ‘pro-development’ is just the cancer metastases’ jargon for ‘pro-destruction’, but they can smell MONEY.

      Reply
      • John S

         /  October 26, 2016

        Mulga, ignorant moron in this case. The pro-destruction council, as you rightly put it, has plans to upgrade the ferry terminal that services the Moreton Bay islands that include turning 5 hectares of mangroves into apartments on reclaimed land.
        Obviously ‘reclaimed’ isn’t going to last long, the ‘developers’ will make a lot of money, the project will ultimately fail, and the mangroves will be long gone.

        Reply
        • mulga mumblebrain

           /  October 28, 2016

          The way things are going, that little boondoggle might be inundated before they find any suckers dumb enough to buy them.

  13. Greg

     /  October 25, 2016

    Reminds me of 2001 a Space Odyssey. Could this smog-eating tower solve China’s pollution problem? (Trees wouldn’t hurt, of course!)

    Reply
  14. bostonblorp

     /  October 25, 2016

    RS, I’m sure rebutting AGW deniers is about as fun as chewing sandpaper but when I see a popular blogger posting something like this:

    (BS climate change denier link taken down)

    I feel it can’t go unanswered. I wish I had your gift of the pen and encyclopedic knowledge but I do not. Sorry to pollute the comments with the linked claptrap.

    Reply
    • The claims are so unreal as to be laughable. Taking them seriously elevates them unnecessarily. It’s basically junk reporting. I’m taking the link down.

      I’ll refer you here to #38 in the climate myths section at Skeptical Science:

      https://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php

      The scientific evidence that global warming is happening and is caused by humans is unequivocal.

      Reply
  15. June

     /  October 25, 2016

    Renewables made up half of net electricity capacity added last year

    Experts hail rapid transformation that will see clean energy outgrow fossil fuels in the next five years – but warn UK is failing to exploit huge potential.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/25/renewables-made-up-half-of-net-electricity-capacity-added-last-year

    Reply
  16. Greg

     /  October 25, 2016

    Reply
    • What Sam, not assuredly natural variability related like unprecedented QBO flips? /sarc

      Yes. Absolutely unprecedented. Add to list of potential impacts linked to polar amplification.

      Reply
  17. Greg

     /  October 25, 2016

    A local update to flooding from Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina. Along with 27 deaths, destruction in 37 counties and disruption of normal life, Hurricane Matthew floods flushed lots of uncertainty into eastern North Carolina.While all rivers in that battered region were expected to be below flood stage this week, state officials are still assessing the health hazards Matthew’s sometimes record-breaking flooding deposited in rivers and streams.
    http://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/2016/10/25/post-matthew-water-how-bad-is-it/

    Reply
    • Greg

       /  October 25, 2016

      Also:Scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of coal ash cenosphere found in Neuse River after Matthew. Photo courtesy: NC Waterkeeper Alliance

      Reply
    • I wonder if Matthew affected North Carolina sentiment during this election? Trump is well known for his climate change denial after all. And NC has been taking a lot of climate change related hits lately.

      Reply
  18. Greg

     /  October 25, 2016

    Keep this in mind when expounding on how the Unites States would put itself and the world through a Trump candidacy. Follow the money with big media.

    Reply
  19. Greg

     /  October 25, 2016

    The case for science and its essentiality, here made in 1945, and even more relevant today.
    https://www.nsf.gov/about/history/vbush1945.htm#ch1.1

    Reply
  20. Greg

     /  October 25, 2016

    OT but Heads up: Google Has Quietly Dropped Ban on Personally Identifiable Web Tracking
    It also means that Google could now, if it wished to, build a complete portrait of a user by name, based on everything they write in email, every website they visit and the searches they conduct. The move is a sea change for Google and a further blow to the online ad industry’s longstanding contention that web tracking is mostly anonymous.
    https://www.propublica.org/article/google-has-quietly-dropped-ban-on-personally-identifiable-web-tracking

    Reply
  21. 12volt dan

     /  October 25, 2016

    I,m surprised no one has posted this yet but some countries are going forward in banning gas and diesel vehicles in the 2025 to 2030 time frame.

    Norway https://www.theweathernetwork.com/news/articles/major-country-to-ban-diesel-gas-fossil-fuel-cars-by-2025/69470/

    According to that article both India (by 2030) and the Netherlands (2025) are also progressing towards bans

    Reply
    • Thanks for this, Dan. Good info.

      Reply
      • Jeremy in Wales

         /  October 25, 2016

        Think it should be mentioned that City goverments and in the US state governments can also have an impact on the take up of EVs and PHEVs. In London electric vehicles do not attract the payment of the congestion charge and although it is only those at the richer end of society that can presently afford these things the increasing numbers then create a second hand car market.
        Other incentives can be reduced licence costs, cheaper parking,use of bus lanes etc.
        ttps://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/electric-vehicles

        Reply
  22. Greg

     /  October 25, 2016

    Robert and wannabees:

    Reply
  23. Greg

     /  October 25, 2016

    Tonight online 6:30 EST. (currently 12:15 EST)

    Reply
  24. Weekly CO2

    October 16 – 22, 2016 401.65 ppm
    October 16 – 22, 2015 398.49 ppm increase of 3.16 ppm in noisy number

    Daily CO2
    October 24, 2016: 402.27 ppm
    October 24, 2015: 398.65 ppm 3.62 ppm increase in really noisy number

    This is the ballgame. As long as this number continues to rise, we are in trouble and every ppm increase is deeper trouble. It goes up easy, it comes down hard when considered against the activities of our species.
    (per co2.earth)
    Warm regards,

    Mike

    Reply
    • So the thing to look at here is if/when this CO2 accumulation rate falls off. We knew we’d get a spike due to strong El Nino interaction. However, if we don’t drop down to the background 2.2 ppm per year rate soon, we’ll know that something else is going on. October/November/December are still in the El Nino interaction range plausibly. Beyond that, it’s a stretch and we need to start looking at the possibility of other amplifying feedbacks.

      Reply
      • exactly, and the thing about the background 2.2 ppm increase that we hope to see return is that an increase of 2.2 ppm is still disastrous though the disaster moves more slowly and the lower rate of increase gives us more time to respond, but the bottom line is that we need to stop the increase. We need to get to zero ppm increase and then start working on the changes and technology that will start moving the needle down. In 2014 Michael Mann said that we needed to stay under 405, but once we started blowing past the 405 number, Mr. Mann walked that statement back and started talking about how we need to watch the emission numbers rather than the accumulation numbers. Why would he change his tune that way? Could there be political fallout from setting a hard target that we will blow right by? Keep up the good work all, especially RS for the work on this site. We have our work cut out for us if we want to do anything significant to slow the sixth great extinction.

        Reply
  25. June

     /  October 25, 2016

    First day since the minimum over 402ppm. October 24th ESRL CO2 Level: 402.27ppm. Last year on this date the level was 398.65

    Reply
    • June

       /  October 25, 2016

      Forgot link again..I’m getting senile…

      http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/monthly.html

      Reply
      • June

         /  October 25, 2016

        smallbluemike, it looks like we posted almost simultaneously! These numbers are indeed depressing.

        Reply
        • depressing indeed. If the numbers continue in 3 ppm plus into 2017 we will need to be looking and thinking about how the carbon cycle is changing and what that means. I think we need a direct air capture miracle and we need it soon. I am really depressed to be thinking along these lines. A carbon tax to pay dividends to carbon capture might be a smart idea. The problem has to become a profitable solution or our species and its free market juggernaut are going over the cliff. I can’t believe we are doing this to so many relative innocents, including my children and grandchildren.

        • mulga mumblebrain

           /  October 25, 2016

          ‘We’ aren’t doing it, mike-‘They’, the owners of society, the capitalist parasites and their political and MSM stooges are doing it. I am more convinced than ever that it is quite deliberate, as they could take their filthy lucre and invest it in renewables and ecological repair, but they refuse to do so and do everything in their considerable power to thwart the sane fractions of humanity and their own class. I’m not sure if it is driven by an eugenicist urge to cull 90% of humanity, and see their descendants live like lords on a much less devastated planet, sans the ‘useless eaters’, or if it is driven by more malignant pathopsychology yet, where walking cadavers like Murdoch simply intend to be revenged against the still living and all Life on Earth, by destroying our world.

        • when I say “we”, I am thinking of our species. Yes, the average capitalist parasite is pretty different from the average tree-hugger, but if you are another species or another generation of our species, we will be identified in a brutal shorthand that will just recognize that we, this generation and a couple before, knew what had to be done and were unwilling/unable to do the right thing or enough of the right thing. Your average, really good treehugger in the industrial world probably still has a footprint that requires the deaths of a lot of other beings. I think it’s an ugly scenario we find ourselves in.

    • It looks rather disconcerting to me. Between the oceans and forests and permafrost and wetlands and droughts and expanding wildfires and hydrates something may well be up. Lots of noise from El Nino to still consider. We won’t have a better picture until December/January timeframe. But to be very clear, the Equatorial Pacific is cooling and we’re still getting 3+ ppm monthly gains. That’s not really a very good signal. Let’s hope it calms down.

      Reply
  26. coloradobob

     /  October 25, 2016

    Florida Weathercaster Calls For Colleagues To Report On Climate Change

    John Morales is not afraid to discuss climate change and its present and future impacts with viewers, a rare quality among TV weathercasters.

    Morales, the chief meteorologist at Miami’s NBC 6, is the longest-tenured broadcast meteorologist in South Florida. He recently took to Twitter to express his disappointment with the media and government for failing to connect the king tides, the highest tides of the year, to sea-level rise, which poses a long-term threat to the region.

    “Others with a bullhorn in South Florida should have the courage to discuss #sealevelrise on air & online like I’ve been for years,” he concluded. “Sigh.”

    Link

    Reply
    • Good for Morales. Apparently appropriately named. He’s one of the many voices I respect and admire. Those who do not apparently get the air time they deserve. What he’s saying about King Tides should be front page news.

      Reply
  27. June

     /  October 25, 2016

    Interesting profile here. He does sound like he’ll put climate issues on the front burner.

    Commentary: A promising pick for UN Secretary General

    Guterres, who will take over as Secretary in January 2017, has displayed an impressive understanding of the interconnectedness of climate issues and the willingness to fight for those causes he thinks deserve attention and resources.

    http://www.dailyclimate.org/tdc-newsroom/2016/nov/commentary-a-promising-pick-for-un-secretary

    Reply
  28. Suzanne

     /  October 25, 2016

    Sorry if this was previously posted and I missed it…
    At NPR:
    Antarctica’s Ice Sheets Melting Faster..and from Beneath
    http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/10/25/499206005/antarcticas-ice-sheets-are-melting-faster-and-from-beneath

    Reply
  29. June

     /  October 25, 2016

    Another statistic from this study, I think related to the limited coverage of it in the media: only 22.5% of respondents in the nationally representative sample had heard of the Pope’s powerful letter.

    Pope Francis’s edict on climate change has fallen on closed ears, study finds

    …But, the authors say, among both conservative Catholics and non-Catholics who had heard of the encyclical, the pontiff’s perceived credibility decreased as political leaning veered to the right

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/24/pope-franciss-edict-on-climate-change-has-fallen-on-deaf-ears-study-finds

    Reply
  30. coloradobob

     /  October 25, 2016

    Northern Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching damage worse, surveys suggest
    Fresh surveys of the Great Barrier Reef six months on from a mass coral bleaching have found large-scale damage north of Cairns, where a growing coral death rate due to heat stress is being exacerbated by disease and predators, scientists say.

    Researchers from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies have released a map with new pictures and video that show the aftermath of the extreme underwater heatwave last summer.
    http://www.theage.com.au/environment/northern-great-barrier-reef-coral-bleaching-damage-worse-surveys-suggest-20161025-gsaegm.html

    Reply
  31. coloradobob

     /  October 25, 2016

    Want to Survive Climate Change? You’ll Need a Good Community

    Auburn Gresham, on the other hand, never lost its core institutions or its people. Stores, restaurants, community organizations, and churches animated its streets, and people hung out on the sidewalks. Older people there belonged to block clubs; residents assured me they knew who they had to keep tabs on during the heat wave. Auburn Gresham has long been regarded as one of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago; but its death rate, three per 100,000, was among the lowest in the heat wave—far lower, in fact, than many of the wealthy white neighborhoods across town.

    Throughout the city, the variable that best explained the pattern of mortality during the Chicago heat wave was what people in my discipline call social infrastructure. Places with active commercial corridors, a variety of public spaces, local institutions, decent sidewalks, and community organizations fared well in the disaster. More socially barren places did not. Turns out neighborhood conditions that isolate people from each other on a good day can, on a really bad day, become lethal.

    https://www.wired.com/2016/10/klinenberg-transforming-communities-to-survive-climate-change/

    Reply
  32. eric smith

     /  October 25, 2016

    I have read that above 12% renewables intermittent characteristics make the grid unstable and unmanageable. No battery or other storage technologies are anywhere on the horizon at this point. Please confront this issue and also why thorium reactors are not a much better path. Thorium reactors sound much more attainable and seem to be incredibly safe.

    Reply
    • Marcusblanc

       /  October 25, 2016

      Quite a few people mention thorium reactors, and they do look a lot better than current nuclear plants in several important areas.

      But the graph at the top of the thread shows that battery prices have fallen 60% in 5 or 6 years, so I would question the idea that effective storage technologies aren’t anywhere on the horizon.

      http://electriccarsreport.com/2016/10/daimler-starts-construction-second-battery-factory-kamenz/

      Reply
      • Very expensive, plus the containment problem RE corrosive molten salt has never really been dealt with.

        So the synergy RE electric vehicles and energy storage works like this:

        1. EVs themselves can provide energy storage services.
        2. Batteries used in EVs can be repurposed into second market energy storage devices.

        In essence, mass production of EVs = mass production of energy storage.

        As for this notion of a 12 percent penetration limit, it’s pretty much bunk. The National Renewable Energy lab has provided numerous reports showing the existing grid can handle 80 percent loading without storage. That said, storage does help with leveling and, in itself, becomes a dispatchable source in its own right that removes the need for idle/dispatchable coal/gas power plants.

        Reply
  1. Jonas Gren: Kanariefågeln i klimatgruvan | KLIMAAKSJON / NORWEGIAN WRITER'S CLIMATE CAMPAIGN // NWCC
  2. How Goliath Might Fall — Fossil Fuel Industry to Experience Market Crashes Over Next 10 Years – MI-VU

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