Wind and Solar Accounted For 57 Percent of New U.S. Generating Capacity Additions in First Quarter

Policy sure makes one heck of a difference. Thanks to legislation and investments by China, the U.S., Europe and numerous other countries around the world, solar energy has reached price parity or better with natural gas and coal over a growing subset of the globe. In the United States, fully 36 states in 2017 are seeing solar at parity with fossil fuel based generation. And costs for this new, clean energy source are expected to keep falling over at least the next five years as production lines continue to expand and technology and efficiency improves.

Wind, already competitive with natural gas and coal in many areas by the mid 2000s, is also seeing continued price declines as turbine sizes increase and industrial efficiency gains ground. As a result, the two mainstream energy sources most capable of combating human-caused climate change are taking larger and larger shares of the global power generation markets.

(Solar and wind continue to gain a larger share of new capacity additions than competing fossil fuel based generation. Image source: SEIA.)

This trend continued through Q1 of 2017 as about 4 gigawatts of new generation capacity or 57 percent of all new generation came from wind and solar in the U.S. Solar added about 2.044 GW, which was a slight drop from Q1 of 2016. Wind, however, surged to 2 GW — representing the strongest first quarter since 2009. In total, U.S. renewable generating capacity including wind, solar, hydro, biomass, geothermal and others is now at 19.51 percent of the national total. Expected to hit above 20 percent by year-end, renewables have now far outpaced nuclear (at 9.1 percent) and are swiftly closing on coal (at 24.25 percent).

Globally, 24 percent of electrical power generation was produced by renewables by the end of 2016. This share will again jump as 85 gigawatts of new solar capacity and 68 gigawatts of new wind are expected to be added during 2017. As a result, total renewable generation is now set to outpace global coal generation in relatively short order.

Such rapid adds in renewable capacity are being fed in part by expanding solar production around the world and, particularly, in China. During late 2016, solar manufacturing capacity in China had expanded to 77.4 GW per year — with more on the way. And even as production capacity continues to grow in China and across Southeast Asia, places like the U.S. (with Tesla’s Buffalo Gigafactory 2 alone expected to eventually pump out 10 GW of new solar cells each year), Canada, Turkey, Korea, and Mexico are also rapidly expanding the production pipeline. Meanwhile, the global wind production pipeline continues to make significant gains.

(By 2020, global wind and solar generating capacity is expected to roughly double. Rapid growth in renewable energy is a necessary mitigation for harms resulting from human-forced climate change. Image source. FIPowerWeb.)

The rapid additions to renewable energy capacity provide hope that the world will soon start to see falling carbon emissions overall. Such an event is key to reducing harm already coming down the pipe due to human-forced climate change as global temperatures begin to challenge the 1.5 C threshold during the next two decades and as CO2e (including CO2 and all other greenhouse gasses) levels threaten to cross the critical 550 ppm demarcation line.

The strong progress of renewables does not come without a number of concerning difficulties and challenges. These challenges are primarily political — with Trump’s backing away from Paris threatening to upset the emissions reductions apple cart and Suniva’s recent ITC challenge injecting uncertainty into the U.S. solar energy market. Meanwhile, fossil fuel based industry backers continue various attempts to sand-bag or, worse, reverse renewable energy growth.

Despite these various difficulties, renewables like wind and solar will likely continue to gain ground as markets expand, technology and efficiency continue to improve, and as states, nations and industries jockey to claim their own share of the growing renewable energy market windfall. The big question that should concern pretty much everyone, however, is will this expansion in renewables proceed fast enough to afford the world a much-needed chance to slake an extraordinary amount of climate change related damage that’s now moving rapidly down the pipe in our direction.

Links:

SEIA

AWEA

2016 Was the Year Solar Panels Became Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels

FIPowerWeb

Trump Will Withdraw From Paris Climate Agreement

Global PV Manufacturing Expansion Rebounds in Q1 2017

Solar Power in China

Global Wind Capacity Nears 500 GW in 2016

GTM Forecasting More than 85 GW of PV to Be Installed in 2017

Could a Trade Dispute with China End the U.S. Solar Boom?

Spectacular Drop in Renewable Energy Costs Lead to Global Boost

Solar to See 9 Percent Growth in 2017

Wind and Solar Equal More than Half of New Generation Capacity in Q1 of 2017

Hat tip to Greg

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51 Comments

  1. Richard Green

     /  June 27, 2017

    Hi Robert, longtime reader and admirer of your work. Thanks.

    Wondering if you can help me understand a couple of things.

    First, what is the net saved emissions of renewables as compared to gas or coal. I realize that the “clean” part of renewables is really talking about the emissions once they are in use, but how much is created during the research, extraction, transportation, refinement, building, maintenance, disposal, etc of a windmill or solar panel (I’m working hard to be a whole systems thinker but I’m sure I’ve missed many points along the continuum). When we take the whole process into account what do the numbers look like?

    And second, with all of this additional capacity coming online, has there been a reduction in the number of coal plants or oil refineries in use? I always get nervous when I read about all this new “clean” energy capacity because I fear that it is simply being used as a justification to keep our current lifestyles in place (by our I mean the middle/upper class in the West) and that a reduction in total energy consumption will only happen if we actually change our lifestyles and use significantly less.

    Would love to hear your thoughts on these two points.

    Reply
    • First, thanks for the kind words. Second, I’d like to also thank you for giving me the opportunity to address a number of fallacies and assumptions you’ve presented related to a much-needed and far-too-long delayed transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

      The below graph implies various carbon emission reductions based on increased renewable energy adoption rates, switching to lower carbon fuels, and increasing vehicle efficiency and EV adoption rates:

      Renewables considerably reduce carbon emissions and their build out into the broader market absolutely displaces a portion of fossil fuel use. If, for example, the present 24 percent global portion of power generation now managed by renewables were instead replaced by coal, then emissions would be more than a billion tons per year (carbon) higher than today. Conversely, lower cost renewables are already replacing coal and gas on a net basis. For example, since 2015 we have had no new coal generation capacity additions in the US (see figures above). Meanwhile US coal plant closures have accelerated.

      https://cleantechnica.com/2017/04/24/us-coal-plant-closures-likely-eliminate-30-million-tonnes-annual-coal-demand/

      Bad energy actor policy by Trump may or may not reverse this trend. But, rest assured, if the U.S. starts to again add coal plants or to increase coal burning, instead of continuing to add more renewables, then U.S. carbon emissions will certainly rise. Already, Trump’s policies may be harming U.S. emissions reduction prospects, but actions by states like California and by various cities around the U.S. can help to reduce this harmful impact by doubling down on support for renewables and taxes and fees for fossil fuels:

      Wind and solar now also directly compete with gas — resulting in less demand for gas overall. And we should include this growing base competition into the larger competitive dynamic that’s ongoing between coal, gas, and renewables at large. If, for example, the majority of the new power generation capacity is going to renewables, as has been happening now for a number of years, then renewables, overall, are growing their proportion of the power generation structure (as was clearly noted in the above article with renewables growing to above 20 percent of the total U.S. power generation capacity) and crowding fossil fuels out.

      There is also considerable evidence that solar is replacing diesel power generation in remote locales like islands or far-flung off grid land areas. Of course this is all before the larger wave of EV availability coming in 2017 through 2030 which will allow a direct mating of transport with wind and solar — providing a potential to directly replace oil production. But even now, present rates of annual EV adoption are replacing thousands of barrels of oil production per day and adding to the overall trend of demand slump for this particular fuel.

      In addition, the considerably lower life cycle carbon emissions for renewables come chiefly from manufacturing (which uses a portion of fossil fuels for its processes presently). Even so, due to fossil fuel use in the manufacturing chain, the worst LCCEs for wind and solar still range from 1/11th that of coal (1/8th that of gas) with the best ranging from 1/50th that of coal (1/40th that of gas). So it’s pretty clear which energy source is superior when it comes to net carbon emissions, even with a bit of fossil fuel sabotage in the production chain.

      So as the chain of energy production becomes more renewable-based, the LCCE of renewables dramatically falls. In a total energy transition scenario, LCCEs for wind and solar fall to 1/1000th or even to net zero when exotic trace gasses involved in the manufacturing process are also incinerated.

      Furthermore, there is considerable evidence showing that transitioning to renewables also results in increased energy efficiency and lower use of energy per capita overall.

      http://www.irena.org/DocumentDownloads/Publications/IRENA_C2E2_Synergies_RE_EE_paper_2015.pdf

      The result is that renewable replacement of fossil fuels rapidly drives net emissions downward — as we have seen in a number of energy markets globally where higher renewable penetration rates have occurred.

      Please see Renewables cut European carbon emissions by 10 percent in 2015:

      https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/apr/03/renewables-cut-europes-carbon-emissions-by-10-in-2015-says-eea

      Your primary concern should be that continued burning of fossil fuels is a lose-lose-lose scenario for the climate and the environment, for global security, and for the global economy. You should also be aware that arguments stating that renewables growth worsens the overall climate situation are absolutely and entirely fallacious.

      Reply
      • webej

         /  June 27, 2017

        The difference between the actual pathway and the projections is, to use a corny pun, shocking. I am convinced that there will still be major advances in efficiency and costs both for electrical generation as well as storage (not to mention computing and transmission).
        Electricity for transportation and heating will place new demands on the grid. On the other hand, going local (generation & storage) with climate efficient housing could also have major impacts. All told, it is hard to predict how things will turn out. The speed of many of these things could surprise. It’s almost enough to make me hopeful.

        Reply
        • What’s pretty clear is that there’s a lot of incentive for efficiency among home solar owners, wind and solar based utilities, battery producers, solar cell producers, wind turbine producers, and the various potential distributed power systems based on renewables. For fossil fuels, the incentive is more weighted toward lower efficiency by source owners due to the fact that lower efficiency increases demand. In other words, a democratized power system where users are also owners and where producers are selling a product rather than energy sets the incentive scale toward increasing efficiency.

  2. It’s interesting that as renewables grow on an exponential path, projections into the future are merely linear…

    Reply
    • Good point…

      It’s worth noting that GTM research recently revised its 2017 projected solar capacity addition rate upward from 78 GW to 85 GW. With prices continuing to fall, and with so much global concern RE climate change driving new additions, it’s certainly possible that many projections will prove too conservative so long as fossil fuel special interests fail to stymie renewable energy adoption rates.

      Reply
  3. climatehawk1

     /  June 27, 2017

    Tweet scheduled.

    Reply
  4. wili

     /  June 27, 2017

    https://www.skepticalscience.com/heading-for-warmest-climate-half-billion-years.html

    “We are heading for the warmest climate in half a billion years”

    Reply
    • From the excellent article posted by wili:

      “In fact, if we continue on our current path and exploit all convention fossil fuels, then as well as the rate of CO₂ emissions, the absolute climate warming is also likely to be unprecedented in at least the past 420m years. That’s according to a new study we have published in Nature Communications.”

      Emphasis added.

      Reply
  5. DJ

     /  June 27, 2017

    Thanks for the update on the progress in renewable adoption, I think these reports are crucial to maintaining optimism and belief that it IS possible to address the climate change issue (crisis?) even though it may sometimes appear to be a lost cause.

    I am alarmed on a daily basis by the continual news that confirms the dangerous trajectory we’re on with respect to climate change, but am also daily reminded that there’s huge cause for optimism based on the exponential progress being made in the adoption of renewables – and this progress continues unabated, completely indifferent to the idiocy and wishful thinking coming out of the current federal administration.

    I recently worked for a few years at an ISO (they operate the electricity grids) and can say first-hand that many of the problems related to managing renewable energy sources for electricity – problems that seemed almost impossibly daunting even 5 years ago, are being rapidly resolved. I also work directly with technology and am regularly amazed at how rapidly the entire technical landscape is evolving. Based on that I can’t help be be optimistic that if we can make it through these next transitional decades the possibility of a sustainable future is within reach. Thanks again for your continued efforts in reporting the good news and the bad..

    Reply
    • Thanks for your valuable comments and insight, DJ. And thanks for your on-the-ground efforts at ISO. With climate change and renewables, it really is a combination of tragedy and hope. And as you wisely hint, it’s probably a good idea not to get too hyper-focused on either — but to instead remain both aware of the risks and of the various escape hatches that are becoming available to us if we choose to use them.

      Reply
  6. PlazaRed

     /  June 27, 2017

    Interesting article about India’s closing of coal mines.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/coal-india-closes-37-mines-solar-power-sustainable-energy-market-influence-pollution-a7800631.html

    Here’s a line from it:-
    “Plans for nearly 14 gigawatts of coal-fired power stations – about the same as the total amount in the UK – were scrapped in May, signalling a seismic shift in the India’s energy market.”

    Reply
    • That’s good news. I hope this trend keeps gaining steam, as it were. We appear to be having a counter trend bump in coal burning from the U.S., China and India during early 2017. With so many closures, however, there’s probably a ceiling that’ll be hit sometime soon.

      It’s unfortunate that Obama’s Clean Power Plan has been scrapped by Trump. It would have helped to push coal emissions down further by speeding plant closures.

      Reply
  7. Greg

     /  June 27, 2017

    Thank you Robert. I know we are in for a real fight the likes we have not seen and only can envision from our mythology. That said it is critical we transition to electrons to run our civilization or gope is lost.I am heartened regarding the speed this will occur by the recent transition to LED’s. We have seen this within 10 years and I see the young and hip now embracing the ability to create light effects, mood transitions, and seasons from the same lights. In other words, it does not just replace older less efficient technology but improves upon it in many ways. This is beginning to happen with transportation. I have experienced this first hand and now loathe an ICE vehicle for the slowness to accelerate, the noise, the fumes, the repair needs, the oil stains in the driveway, etc. And of course calculate pounds of carbon that stay in the ground. A friend of my wife is now selling electricity to his neighbors from his panels in New York. I have not investigated the details but the point is that once you have tasted that you want more and you push the tech forward and talk with conviction to everyone as a salesperson for it. I expect a paradigm shift in the general population with electric vehicles in less than 10 years and solar shortly thereafter in the U.S.

    Reply
    • I think solar in the U.S. is already having a big breakthrough. Bad policy can slow it down, but is unlikely to stop the larger trend without some truly draconian laws coming out at the federal and state level. To be clear, we have panels now being produced for 35 cents per watt. A while ago, the holy grail for solar was considered to be 50 cents per watt. It really is the least expensive power source so long as you manage the rest of the production, distribution and installation chain rationally. Of course the range globally is 35 cents per watt to around 80 cents per watt for higher tech, higher efficiency cells. All in all, it’s remarkable, amazing and cause for cautious hope even in the present ridiculous political environment.

      Reply
  8. wili

     /  June 27, 2017

    This is good news, well reported. And nice discussions, too.

    Slight fly in the ointment, though…many of us were hoping that the apparent plateauing in coal use over the last few years might be followed by a reduction, eventually to near zero. But the latest numbers seem to suggest that we are going in another direction…the wrong one!

    “Coal on the rise in China, US, India after major 2016 drop”

    “BEIJING (AP) — The world’s biggest coal users — China, the United States and India — have boosted coal mining in 2017, in an abrupt departure from last year’s record global decline for the heavily polluting fuel and a setback to efforts to rein in climate change emissions.

    Mining data reviewed by The Associated Press show that production through May is up by at least 121 million tons, or 6 percent, for the three countries compared to the same period last year. The change is most dramatic in the U.S., where coal mining rose 19 percent in the first five months of the year, according to U.S. Department of Energy data.”

    https://apnews.com/6368dd2dd37d40a8bb915d6984536e38/Coal-on-the-rise-in-China,-US,-India-after-major-2016-drop

    Reply
    • So let’s dig a little deeper into the article and look at the overall trends:

      “The reasons for this year’s turnaround include policy shifts in China, changes in U.S. energy markets and India’s continued push to provide electricity to more of its poor, industry experts said. President Donald Trump’s role as coal’s booster-in-chief in the U.S. has played at most a minor role, they said.”

      The first thing to consider is that coal is at its lowest price in about 15 years. So there’s a bit of market switching going on between coal and natural gas — which is also rather low in price but can be more regionally constrained.

      The next thing to consider is rate of economic growth — which is strong in India and China both. To be clear, in order to avoid coal growth, both of these markets will need to provide strong incentives for lower carbon fuel adoption even in an environment where renewables are cheap. We’ve seen during the past few years that such policy can reign in harmful coal consumption. Of course, if there is backsliding…

      The policy shifts in China include a slight relaxation of air quality standards following a big crack-down last year. The result is more coal going to existing plants. This policy shift plus economic growth is enough to account for the rise. China’s larger renewable energy investments and concerns over clean air are likely to reign in any strong swing in this direction. But unfettered economic growth sans a clear and strong emissions policy does leave open the door for this kind of backsliding. This is the reason why the forecast for China is somewhat uncertain despite the fact that China’s larger energy direction — toward renewables and away from fossil fuels — is quite clear.

      In the U.S., the loss of the clean power plan has opened the door for a bit of a counter-trend coal resurgence. This happens as states with poor environmental and climate policies take advantage of low cost coal. The article states that Trump’s actions have been minor in this regard. In my view, this is only partly true. There probably would have been some rebound for U.S. counter to the larger trend at some point. However, Trump’s attacks on the clean power plan and Paris provides an opening for a larger counter-trend resurgence. In the end, there’s a big fight ongoing in the U.S. between harmful fossil fuel sources and low cost renewables. Renewables have a serious market and public support advantage. But the old, harmful fuels continue to have support from a number of bad energy actors at the state and federal level. Overall, the longer term trend favors renewables, but the policy backsliding is harmful without serious counters from pro-renewables, pro-climate-action, states and cities.

      In India, rates of renewable adoption would have to be very considerable to slake coal demand in the near term. This is absolutely a possibility if India strongly moves forward with its renewable energy ambitions. India is in a position similar to that of China a few years back where there’s an emerging opportunity for early reductions in coal burning, but one that requires serious policy work.

      In the end, I tend to think this bounce is temporary. With so many coal plant closures and with pressure on coal still high despite policy shifts in the U.S. and China, there’s a bit of a ceiling on how much coal can resurge. In addition, low cost renewables globally continue to crowd out coal market share. The very real danger, however, is that with policy backsliding and the re-opening of doors to unsustainable growth is that the coal retraction pauses — locking in far more harmful emissions than we need. This is a call for those of us who support strong responses to climate change to redouble our efforts for a rapid renewable energy transition. Failure to do so in the present environment would be disastrous over the medium to long term as it would open the door to a return to the BAU emissions track.

      Reply
      • wili

         /  June 28, 2017

        Wow! Thanks for the detailed response. I hope it is a temporary bounce, too, and your arguments give me more reason for such hope. They also tell me that economic growth is a big part of the problem. India itself is something of a poster child for how economic growth does not necessarily ‘raise all boats.’

        Redistribution, nationally and globally, could get livable conditions to most of the poorest without adding massively to our collective consumption of both fossil-death-fuels and of everything else. But somehow, that doesn’t get much of a place at the table, so to speak.

        Reply
        • When the richest individuals among us have 150,000 times the impact of the poorest, inequality is absolutely a part of the problem. We need policy advocates that know how to communicate this issue and generate broad support for positive, equality based policies to counter the various special interests that have been so harmful. I think we’ve generally had some success on the equality front RE communications. But the present divide and conquer messaging of republicans and conservatives RE the U.S. middle class is not helping matters at all.

        • wili

           /  June 28, 2017

          Amen, brother. Amen!

  9. Matt

     /  June 28, 2017

    Excellent article Robert!
    Is it just me, but I have a real concern over “bio fuel” being labelled as a renewable energy…
    Sure you can grow a crop and replant but on the same definition all FF’s could be defined as Bio fuels (just over a longer time period).
    My concern is really based on the abuse of the definition. As an example, here in my home state in Aust, they clear fell ancient forests, woodchip, and then burn the residual waste and label it bio fuel? Seriously? to make matters worse, a large component of our “so called” carbon reductions have been based simply on delaying re-harvest of these destroyed forests?
    When you have such eminent researchers such as Kevin Anderson laying out the scale of plantation required to draw the carbon budget back to a meet a 2C target (i.e. the size of India each year) I cannot see how there can be an opportunity for Bio Fuel, carbon capture (in the form of re-forestation) and food production to all co-exist?
    Certainly technologies employed already such as tapping the gas from waste disposal sites etc. is not a bad concept as these sties will leak Methane and Carbon Dioxide anyway, so there would not be a net increase in emissions using them.
    Have I got this all completely wrong? would love to know others thoughts on the role of Bio Fuel…..

    Reply
    • Allan Barr

       /  June 28, 2017

      Biofuels are an abomination, simply put.

      Reply
      • I think this is more than a bit overstated. Biofuels are considerably less damaging than fossil fuels overall, for example. But mating harmful agricultural practices with biofuels is not at all helpful. And, because of this, you do have some biofuels like palm, rapeseed, and soy that may somewhat approach fossil fuels in their negative impact.

        For reference:

        http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/footprint/agriculture/palm_oil/environmental_impacts/

        But to be clear, it’s not palm oil itself that’s harmful. It’s the fact that you’re making peatlands more susceptible to fires and harming their ability to act as a carbon sink that has detrimental climate impact. If you harvested palm oil without harming the peatlands, then a considerable portion of its negative impact would be removed, for example.

        Reply
    • A simple equation one can use for comparing the relative positive/negative sustainability value of energy sources is:

      Wind+solar PV +concentrated solar>Hydro+Geothermal+Wave>Second Generation Biofuels*>First Generation Biofuels*>Nuclear>Natural Gas>Oil>Coal

      At the center of this scale, first generation biofuels displays a collection of sustainability opportunities and challenges. I put an * over biofuels because, if used responsibly, they can be net carbon negative sources. However, in the overall sustainability picture presented by the energy transition movement, they should be viewed as playing a supporting role to the heavier lift made by wind+solar mated with electrical vehicles

      The key difference between biofuels and fossil fuels from a sustainability standpoint is that biofuel carbon emissions are new/biogenic and fossil fuel carbon emissions come from old carbon that would have otherwise never been a part of the carbon cycle. To more clearly describe this, through decay, the carbon in these plants used as biofuel would mostly end up in the carbon cycle in any case. So from an emissions standpoint, biofuels are far, far less harmful and far, far more sustainable than fossil fuels.

      In addition, fixing carbon capture technology to biofuel plants provides an option for net negative carbon energy. This particular technology will likely be needed if we’re going to actively remove carbon from the atmosphere and start to see falling levels of CO2 once societies hit carbon neutral states. Such a response is necessary now to avoid ramping catastrophic impacts from climate change over the long term.

      Where biofuels hit a sustainability bump is in fossil fuel burning to support biofuel farming, land use and agriculture. If, for example, you’re cutting down huge forests, or worse, burning peatlands in Indonesia, as part of your biofuel production endeavor, then you are harming the Earth’s ability to act as a carbon sink. In addition, peat is an older form of carbon that would tend to be sequestered, so if biofuel production involves increased fire risk to peatlands, then you’re adding to the problem of carbon emissions. Futhermore, fossil fuel burning for agriculture supporting biofuels is counter-productive to say the least.

      Land for biofuels can compete with land for food production. And the land footprint for biofuels vs solar, for example, is about x100 — which is a rather significant difference. So that’s a considerable footprint to keep in mind. In the present day that can be an issue with regards to world hunger. That said, biofuel’s impact on food production is often marginal. So this particular problem has tended to be over-stated by biofuel detractors. In addition, in advanced sustainability scenarios where emphasis on farming shifts away from meat, more farmland is freed up for other uses (reclaimation by forests and/or biofuel land). Futhermore, second generation biofuels from sources like switchgrass are far more sustainable given the fact that marginal lands that do not directly compete with farmlands can be used.

      In order for biofuels to be sustainable long term, they need to meet certain criteria. But these criteria are basically within reach given responsible use. Primarily, they need to not involve clear cutting (especially in places like the Amazon), they need to not overly compete with farmlands for food, they need to not use fossil fuels in their production, and they need to not encourage environmental harm to peatlands. Like anything else, these criteria can be met through the application of helpful policy and the punishment of bad actors. But if you’re just using the very harmful present industrial farm structure to, laissez-faire, mass produce biofuel, then there are going to be a number of considerably harmful externalities baked in.

      Biofuels should be a study in what responsible management can achieve vs the serious harms failure to act responsibly causes as a result. However, in comparison with fossil fuels, only the very worst biofuels (which rely on a very high level of fossil fuel burning to produce in addition to harming forests and resulting in fires within peatlands) have a comparable negative impact. In other words, fossil fuels are so bad that it’s hard to beat them on that scale.

      So, in summary, biofuels can probably meet about 10-15 percent of the world’s energy needs in a positive fashion if managed sustainably. They can help to draw carbon out of the atmosphere. And they can benefit from advances in second generation biofuels which have a smaller ecological footprint. However, larger use of biofuels is probably unwise given the land use requirement and likely harm to forests and peatlands as a result. Furthermore, mating biofuels with unsustainable farming and land use practices can considerably harm the overall carrying capacity of the planet. Overall, biofuels are less harmful than fossil fuels, but can result in serious harms if not managed well or used at an appropriate level of penetration in a mixed renewable energy based system that is overall more heavily reliant on wind and solar.

      Reply
      • wili

         /  June 28, 2017

        Without going into too much detail…some first gen biofuels were pretty horrible disasters. I have an open mind about ‘second generation’ ones, though.

        Reply
        • Most renewable advocacy groups are justifiably cautious regarding biofuels in that they recognize that various standards and criteria are needed to prevent harmful land use, deforestation, and considerable fossil fuel burning to support biofuels. If you’re horrified by their net impact, then you should be even more concerned about fossil fuels (whose impact is considerably worse regardless of how bad first gen biofuels ultimately became in certain regions).

        • wili

           /  June 28, 2017

          Indeed: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/apr/04/palm-oil-biofuels-meps-eu-transport-deforestation-zsl-greenpeace-golden-agri-resources-oxfam

          ” MEPs vote to ban the use of palm oil in biofuels

          MEPs say a ban, which needs approval from the European commission, is needed to avoid renewable targets contributing to deforestation”

        • So the palm oil as biofuel ban is an example of applying a sustainability standard to biofuels. I think this is generally helpful. Not all biofuels are equal in this regard. Notably, palm oil, soybean and rape seed are biofuels that have a higher impact due to related agricultural practices. This is a matter that can be addressed though policy.

        • Matt

           /  June 29, 2017

          Thank you all for your information/opinions. My Main concern is not so much actual harvesting of biomass for fuel, more the way that government’s (especially here) seem to be able to use a very broad definition of “bio fuel” to green wash the public into thinking bad practice is good practice…
          All that being said though…. surely the amount invested in the tech, would be far better put into improving smart grids and investing in wind/solar now???

      • Allan Barr

         /  June 28, 2017

        Just hope no one lives within 100 miles of those plants, there are many studies done which confirm they are toxic for ones health in very significant ways. I have also seen studies which suggest they are about 2.5 times more polluting than coal. Anyway its really a moot point because without government subsidies they are simply not cost competitive with Solar or wind and I expect them to go away sooner or later.

        Reply
        • Well, we can certainly agree that the advance of wind and solar is positive. And that wind and solar generally have a better impact overall. It’s just that if the choice comes down to biofuels vs fossil fuels, we should be leaning more toward the former and not the latter. Of course this comes with the caveat of responsible/sustainable biofuel criteria.

          I highly doubt that any form of biofuel, no matter how terrible, would emit 2.5 times the carbon of coal. Perhaps from a particulate pollution standpoint, someone could make a case that a biofuel plant could be 2.5 times worse than a coal plant that has scrubbers attached. But even that’s a bit of a stretch…

          The issue is that some biofuels are rather bad primarily due to agricultural impacts. Meanwhile, some are very good. You just need clear policy to separate the wheat from the chaff.

  10. Greg

     /  June 28, 2017

    Another shelf cloud moving in..this one in Boston tonight. It’s only a low, horizontal wedge-shaped cloud, associated with a thunderstorm gust front, but seems to be more and more common. Another canary?

    Reply
    • Greg

       /  June 28, 2017

      Same storm system earlier in Connecticut. That’s hail making it look like winter. So these storms are getting higher (more energy in system) and producing larger hail.

      Reply
    • Greenland and its increasing production of ice bergs will tend to produce a deeper trough over the near North Atlantic region. This will result in increasingly unstable weather for the US East Coast. We’ve seen more of this kind of weather pattern this year. So far, it hasn’t been too disruptive. Let’s hope the off shore waters don’t heat up too much or we could end up with more rain bombs.

      Reply
  11. Greg

     /  June 28, 2017

    Plenty of solar power up North.

    Reply
    • PlazaRed

       /  June 28, 2017

      Recently I made the journey from Almeria to Guadix in Andalucia, Southern Spain.
      This area is either desert or semi desert arid land where little grows due to very low rainfall caused by it being on the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
      The road distance is approximately 100 kilometres or 60 miles.
      Vast parts of the area are covered with solar panels, while there are also hundreds of huge windmills spinning everywhere from the valley floors to the mountain tops.
      Also there are other types of generators using mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto collection towers towers
      This is just one area of Spain with a huge amount of renewable energy being generated.

      The figures for 2015 are near 40% but 2 years later its probably a lot higher.
      (Wind power provided the largest share at 19.1% followed by hydroelectric power at 11.1%. Solar power provided 5.2% and renewable thermal a further 2%. The total electricity supplied (demand coverage) from energy renewable’s was 37.4% of Spain’s requirements in 2015. )

      Interestingly the Spanish government with their infinite greed and constantly clawing for cash are looking at ways of taxing private individuals who install solar panels, hence avoiding paying massive connection charges to the supply companies, along with also paying for the power used. Its is very easy to assume that the generating companies are influencing to government to tax individuals who install solar panels as they want no competition.
      (As an example, my monthly electric domestic bill is about 25 Euros, ($28) of which 5 Euros is for electric consumption of about 60 Kilowatts, or 2 kilowatts per day and 20 Euros is for connection fees and government taxes, including a special electricity tax.)
      Hopefully any renewable tax will be short lived? I’ll see what I can find out about it in the scant news etc but one of the big fears in Spain is always the taxes and the government; it puts a lot of people off even investigating new ideas.
      Electric cars are generally considered a joke here so far but that will no doubt slowly change as well as cities like Madrid and Barcelona limit fossil powered vehicles from city centres!

      Reply
    • It’ just insane. Thank god we had a cool May (high Arctic) and a normal June. Otherwise…

      Reply
  12. PlazaRed

     /  June 28, 2017

    Looking at the last year, it seems that the price of oil is getting to be long term, bordering on possibly permanent!
    Its a bit like the difference between weather and climate, where weather is short term and climate long term. The price drooping is starting to look like a financial version of climate where its unit price has dropped so much, its going to have long term effects on certain aspects of some economies.
    The present price of $44 approx must shortly lead to a massive amount of unwanted equipment from drilling rigs to transport systems, even ships and ports will be affected.
    Coal will be the same problem with huge excavation machinery becoming redundant.
    The only use it can really be put too is other types of mining and road/dam construction but that will never absorb the amount of equipment soon to be on the second hand market or simply redundant scrap.
    I’m thinking that all this huge mining and extraction sector will be in such decline that it could affect the global economy?
    This transition to renewable energy may be the modern equivalent of what happened to horse/mule transport when motorised transport developed.
    I think a similar situation is developing to what the tobacco companies experienced a few years ago when people started to stop smoking. The oil and coal companies will not take this lying down and will be flat out working on ways of influencing consumers to buy more of their products.
    A graph of oil prices over he last year is below:-

    http://www.marketwatch.com/investing/future/clq7/charts

    Reply
  13. bostonblorp

     /  June 28, 2017

    Reducing red meat consumption or otherwise offsetting it is as every bit as important as the conversion of the grid to renewables. And there’s potentially good news to that end with one company claiming they’ll be on the market years ahead of general expectations.

    https://qz.com/1015757/vegan-mayo-startup-hampton-creek-is-producing-lab-made-meat-and-it-wants-to-sell-in-walmart-wmt-and-whole-foods-wfm/

    Reply
  14. wili

     /  June 28, 2017

    More good news, only slightly dimmed by the fact that most of this was hydro:

    “Six Million People in China Just Went 100% Renewable for a Week
    It’s the first major test of renewable energy on the grid in China.


    “Clean energy is the ultimate way,” Han Ti, general manager of the Qinghai grid company told local news outlet Xinhua. “We need to reduce reliance on fossil fuel, improve our energy structure, and reduce carbon emissions.”

    The Qinghai province has 19.7 million kW of renewable energy installed, and makes up a little over 82 percent of all the energy production in the province. Qinghai is the fourth largest province in China, spanning the northeast part of the Tibetan plateau and has the headwaters of the two largest rivers in China, the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers. Most of the energy during the test week was produced by hydro-electric power, thanks to the major rivers. Because of its renewable energy output, and the fact that it is one of the most sparsely populated regions of China, it is the ideal place to test the using only green energy.”

    https://www.inverse.com/article/33426-china-renewable-energy-seven-days

    Reply

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