Kauai Shows Solar + Storage is Starting to Become Cost Competitive With Fossil Fuels, Nuclear

It wasn’t too long ago that the cost of an average solar energy power plant was above 10 cents per kilowatt hour and the world was raving at the low prices for Middle East solar generation in the range of 6 cents per kilowatt hour. At that time, to the shock, awe, and dismay of many, solar began to become earnestly competitive with traditional power plants based on price of energy alone.

Base Wind + Solar Now Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels, Nuclear

But it’s amazing what a difference just two years can make. Now solar prices have fallen into a range of around 4-6 cents per kilowatt hour with the least expensive solar plants now hitting as low as 2-3 cents per kilowatt hour. These prices are now far less than diesel and nuclear based generation (in many cases 1/2 to 1/4 the price of these systems) and today even out-compete coal and gas fired generation.

utility-solar-beats-fossil-fuels-and-nuclear

(Research by Lazard now shows that wind and solar are less expensive than all forms of fossil fuel and nuclear based energy. Image source: Lazard and Clean Technica.)

For as you can see in the image above, the cost of new natural gas generation now ranges from 5 to 8 cents per kilowatt hour for the least expensive plants and the price for new coal generation ranges from 6 to 14 cents per kilowatt hour. Utility wind and solar, by comparison, now ranges from 3 to 6 cents per kilowatt hour in most cases.

These, far more competitive, prices for renewable energy based systems provide a very strong case for the base market competitiveness of renewables. One that supports a clear rational economic argument for rapid integration of renewable energy systems. A strong economic case that can now be made even when one doesn’t include the various harmful externalities coming from nuclear energy and fossil fuel based power or the related and continuously worsening climate crisis. Renewable energy detractors, therefore, can now no longer make an argument against clean energy sources based on price alone. As a result, the argument against more benevolent energy systems during recent months has tended to shift more and more to the issue of intermittency.

Facing Down Fears of Intermittency

As an example, in its most recent report on the cost of global energy, the typically pragmatic Lazard Consulting group recently noted:

Even though alternative energy is increasingly cost-competitive and storage technology holds great promise, alternative energy systems alone will not be capable of meeting the baseload generation needs of a developed economy for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the optimal solution for many regions of the world is to use complementary traditional and alternative energy resources in a diversified generation fleet.

It’s a statement that moves the consultancy group closer to reality. One that opens wide the door for a much needed rapid integration of clean energy supplies. But, as with the analysts who failed to predict the precipitous fall in solar prices and the related rapidly increased availability of renewable energy sources as a result, the Lazard report fails to understand the fundamental price and mass production supply dynamics now setting up. A dynamic that will likely transform the cost and availability of energy storage systems in a similar manner to those that acted to greatly reduce the price of solar energy systems during the period of 2011 through 2016. As a result, Lazard’s ‘not for the foreseeable future’ statement is likely to have a life expectancy of about 3-5 years.

Soft Limits

Wind and solar power generation systems do have the base limitation that they only produce energy when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. Often, these energy sources have to be widely distributed and interconnected to cover a significant portion of demands coming from power grids (30 to 50 percent or more). And in the present understanding of energy supply economies, standby power or power storage systems have to be made available for the periods when majority renewable energy systems go off-line. All too often, this standby power generation comes from conventional sources like coal, gas, or nuclear.

That said, the underlying flexibility of renewable energy is starting to overcome the soft limit that is intermittency. And a recent report by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that as much as 80-90 percent of grid electricity demand could be met by widely distributed renewable energy sources such as wind and solar as soon as 2050 so long as an advanced grid and related energy storage systems are developed.

In order to meet the challenge of transitioning most or all electricity based energy supply to renewables — not only does the cost of renewable energy need to be competitive with fossil fuels, but the cost of intermittent renewable energy + the systems that store them must be similarly competitive. Fortunately for those of us concerned about the growing risks posed by the global climate crisis, it appears that we are now entering a period in which exactly this kind of cost competitiveness for integrated renewable + storage systems is starting to emerge.

Solar + Battery Storage Becoming Cost Competitive

Last year, the Hawaiian Island of Kauai purchased a ground-breaking solar + battery storage system from Tesla and Solar City. The system paired solar panels with Tesla power packs to provide 17 megawatts of solar energy and 10 megawatts of battery storage in order to replace about 10 percent of the island’s expensive diesel electricity generation.

kuaui

(Tropical Kauai aims to be powered by the sun. In doing so, it’s starting to shift away from dirty and expensive energy derived from coal and diesel generating plants. Image source: Kuaui.com.)

On Kuaui, diesel generation costs about 22 cents per kilowatt hour. Expensive fuel and equally expensive heavy machinery must be shipped from far-flung locations to the remote island. And this adds to the overall cost of fossil fuel generation. During 2016, Solar City and Tesla significantly out-competed the price of diesel generation by offering its solar + storage generating system for 13.9 cents per kilowatt hour — a cost that was comparable to the more expensive versions of nuclear, coal, and gas fired generation plants the world over.

Fast forward to early 2017 and another solar + storage provider was being contracted to add still more renewable based electrical power to Kauai’s grid. AES Distributed Energy is now contracted to build 28 megawatts of solar photovoltaic panels mated to 20 megawatts of battery based storage. The price? About half that of diesel-fired power generation at 11 cents per kilowatt hour.

This is about 20 percent less than the Solar City + Tesla offering just one year later. A system that hits a price comparable to mid-range coal and nuclear generation systems. And, more to the point, AES’s solar panels + battery packs will enable Kuaui to produce 50 percent of its electricity through renewable, non-carbon-emitting sources.

Renewables + Storage to Beat Fossil Fuels in Near Future

Compared to the cost of renewable energy, the price of batteries is still comparitively expensive — effectively doubling the price of base solar. However, widespread adoption of battery-based electrical vehicles is helping to both rapidly drive down the cost of batteries and to provide a large global after-market supply of batteries useful for storing energy. By 2017, it’s likely that about 50 gigawatts worth of energy storage will be sold on the world market in the form of electrical vehicle batteries. By the early 2020s, this number could easily grow to 150 gigawatts of storage produced by the world’s clean energy suppliers every year.

lithium-ion-battery-production-to-triple-by-2020

(Global lithium ion battery production is expected to hit more than 120 GW and possibly as high as 140 GW by 2020. This production spike is coming on the back of newly planned battery plants in China, the U.S., and Europe. Presently, the largest plant currently operating is LG Chem’s China facility which was completed in 2016. Tesla’s Gigafactory is already producing batteries and is expected to ramp up to 35-50 GW worth of annual production by 2018-2019. Volkswagen has recently announced its own large battery plant to rival Tesla’s Gigafactory [not included in chart above]. FoxConn, BYD, and Boston Power round out the large projects now planned or underway. Image source: The Lithium-Ion Megafactories Are Coming.)

As electrical vehicles are driven, the batteries they use lose some of their charge. However, by the time the life of the electrical vehicle is over, the batteries still retain enough juice to be used after-market as energy storage systems. Meanwhile, the same factories that produce batteries for electrical vehicles can co-produce batteries for grid and residential based energy storage systems. This mass production capacity and second use co-production and multipurpose versatility will help to drive down the cost of batteries while making energy storage systems more widely available.

Though mass produced batteries represent one avenue for rapidly reducing the cost of energy storage systems mated to renewables, other forms of energy storage including pumped hydro, molten salt thermal storage, flywheels, and compressed air storage also provide price-competitive options for extending the effectiveness of low-cost variable power sources like wind and solar. And with the price of solar + storage options falling into the 11 cent per kilowatt hour range, it appears likely that these varied mated systems have the potential to largely out-compete fossil fuels and nuclear based on price alone well within the foreseeable future and possibly as soon as the next 3-5 years.

Links:

The World’s Cheapest Solar Energy in January 2015 Was 6 Cents Per Kilowatt Hour

Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis

Cost of Solar and Wind Beats Coal, Nuclear and Natural Gas

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Kauai Solar Peaker Shows How Fast Solar + Storage Costs are Falling

The Lithium-Ion Megafactories Are Coming

AES Distributed Energy

Election 2016: A Portrait of America Under Siege

“Donald Trump is an ignorant man, a vulgar man, a man who reminds me of Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin in his arrogance and thirst for power.” — Bernie Sanders

A Bizarro Reality

To look at Donald Trump’s version of what makes America great is to take a retrograde step through a rip in space-time and enter a fake populist bizarro land. To venture into an alternate dimension where a once-mighty and enlightened nation was strong-armed into taking the downward-sloping path into crisis and collapse. And like the bizarro land of the Superman mythos, this alternate reality is trying to inflict itself on the real world. It will succeed if we let it.

Trump’s a man who’s angrily proud of the fact that he does not pay taxes to support the safety, security and prosperity of the nation he seeks to lead. He’s a billionaire pandering to white workers’ fears of economic disenfranchisement while fighting to cut the very social and economic supports that these voters often rely on. A red-faced fear-monger blaming innocent immigrants and African Americans for economic woes his party — the republicans — engineered through forty years of trickle down economics. Policies that party is seeking to enforce through an unjust suppression of voters in places like North Carolina and Florida.

trumpdystopia

(A portrait of America under siege. What would America under Trump look like? This smokestack shanty town under darkening skies and surrounded by walls topped with barbed wire fences sitting in the shadow of gilded corporate towers just about says it all. Image source: What Would Jack Do?)

Donald Trump has often sought the populist mantle Bernie Sanders rightly bears. But Trump, Sanders says, “is an ignorant man, a vulgar man, a man who reminds me of Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin in his arrogance and thirst for power.” And as Bernie Sanders goes to bat on the campaign trail for Clinton, pledging to make Trump —  “start paying his fair share in taxes,” the rage-filled corporate mogul tars the career public servant Hillary Clinton, attempting to smear her with the same Wall Street trappings Trump of Trump Towers ignominy has worn since the day of his birth. In other words, it’s one thing to take campaign donations from Wall Street, but another thing entirely to live, eat, and breathe the Wall Street mantra. To support, as Trump has throughout his life, the same harmful tax cut, deregulation, and anti-minimum wage policies that created the problem of Wall Street vs Main Street in the first place.

Entering the Dystopian Upside Down World of Donald Trump

To live in Trump’s reality is to live in an America under a strange kind of upside down siege. If the real economic problem in America is income inequality — then Trump promotes more of it. If the real threats to America’s foreign policy endeavors are increasing isolation and alienation of our allies — Trump seeks to build a wall. If dictators imperil our country or disrupt our elections, then Trump praises them. And if the very real climate change spurred threats such as coastal inundation facing cities like Miami, Norfolk, and Elizabeth City and drought losses threatening the water supply of the Colorado River states are ever-worsening, Trump seeks to burn more coal, oil and gas, attacks renewables, and denies that climate change is actually happening.

(As bad as the effects of climate change currently are today, Donald Trump’s combination of anti-science, anti-renewables, and pro fossil fuels policy will result in a reversal of critical climate change mitigation at exactly the time when they are needed most. Leonardo Di Caprio makes an impassioned appeal for us to do our part and vote for politicians that support responsible climate change policies and against those like Trump who hurt pretty much everyone by pandering to harmful fossil fuel special interests.)

If abuses by the powerful have created harm in America and abroad, Trump talks up abusive strong-men like Russia’s Vladimir Putin. And Putin, for his own part, appears to have done everything he can to help Wikileaks hack Hillary Clinton’s emails or even post fake versions of emails to further misinform the American electorate.

Trump makes fun of dying polar bears, pretends Obama has no birth certificate, mocks reporters with physical disabilities, panders to white supremacists, and has turned himself into a wretched caricature of misogyny. There’s not a victimizable person, animal, or class he doesn’t appear willing to take advantage of.  Bully may describe him, but it doesn’t fully contain his apparent rage-filled ardor for exploitation, for wrecking lives, for running rough-shod over people or things he has labeled ‘loser.’

Praying to America’s Darker Angels

Trump seems to believe that we can transport ourselves back to a mythological past when America was greater than it is today. To promote the illusion that we are, somehow, not far better off now than we were at a time when African Americans were held as slaves, or suffered under the abuses of Jim Crow, when scientists were persecuted, when there were no labor laws preventing the exploitation of children or protecting workers’ rights to fair pay and treatment, when women had no right to vote, when the abuses of state-supported corporate exploitation by such entities as the East India Trade company led to the real Boston Tea Party and wholesale continental revolt, and when a policy of systemic genocide was enacted against the natives who lived on American soil for thousands of years before the colonists came.

What Trump’s lack-vision fails to see is that America’s aspirations for greatness led her out of a very dark time scarred by these ills and into the far more enlightened age of today. An age that is now under threat by the retrograde narratives and policies promoted by people like Trump who seem to push ever on toward a return to the old dark days of injustice and oppression. And this mindset, the abusive and revisionist view of history, is something we must reject if we are to have much hope of navigating the very serious troubles that are coming in this age global climate change and increasing dislocation. We must embrace new ways of doing things. We must turn to new leaders. We must reject the political violence of an old, angry white man, and the system of dominance and harm that he promotes.

A Necessary Endorsement of One of Our Nation’s Strongest Women

This is my endorsement for Hillary Clinton. A woman whom I admire for her strength, her tenacity, and her clarity of purpose. I may not agree with every policy she stands for or admire every aspect of her life. Like the rest of us, she is human and imperfect. But she is a true American who has served her country with honor. A lady who supports our America not just with her words, but both through paying a fair share of her substantial earnings and through her considerable life’s work. A leader I can stand behind. Someone who has already done many great things for this nation and who I believe, with the help of people like Bernie Sanders, is capable of so much more. In a day when we face off against so many abuses both at home and abroad, I think America would benefit from the steady hand of this strong woman — who has the potential to be a truly historical figure and to lead our nation out of a sea of troubles.

Donald Trump represents the worst sins the old world, but if we give Hillary the right kind of support, she can stand for the better virtues of tomorrow and serve the vision of an age that confronts its problems rather than spiraling ever deeper into self-destructive denial, anger, and isolation. That’s what this election means to me — risking an almost assured disaster by electing Trump or creating a very real possibility for reducing and escaping present harms if we elect Clinton. The choice, for me, couldn’t be clearer.

hillary-stormborn

(Throughout his campaign, Trump has impuned the dignity of women, calling them nasty and bragging about objectifying them. As a strong woman, Hillary is exactly the kind of person who should face down Trump’s misogyny. Image source: House of Clinton. )

So I urge you to lift your voices in this election. To be heard and to make your power and capacity to promote justice known. I ask you to stand strong against the intimidation, against the pervasive misinformation coming from those who would inflict so much harm. You are capable. We are capable. We can do this. We can release America from the siege that a fake Tea Party promoted by corporate interests and that people like Trump have placed her under. And we can make a strike against the underlying systemic mysogyny of our nation by electing our first female President of this United States of America.

I have listened to your voices and I know that you are strong. So be heard! It is time for the real America to shine through.

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

In Defiance of Harmful Fuels — Is Tesla/Solar City the New Model For What an Energy Company Should Look Like?

It could well be said that we are subsidizing our own destruction. Despite centuries of use, fossil fuels around the world today receive about 500 billion dollars annually in the form of economic incentives from Earth’s various governing bodies. With alternatives to fossil fuels becoming less costly and more widely available, and with the impacts of human-forced climate change growing dramatically worse with each passing year, such wasteful and harmful misuse of public monies is starting to look actively suicidal.

Fossil Fuel Funding for Global Catastrophe

Given so much money going into the hands of what are already the wealthiest corporations in existence, one would expect that the practice of providing these economic powerhouses with such a massive largess of public generosity would result in some kind of amazing overall benefit.

Energy itself is certainly a benefit. It allows for the rapid and easy transportation of groups and individuals. It lights up homes, powers machinery, keeps us warm in the winter and cool in the increasingly hot summers. But despite what the industry would like you to believe, fossil fuels themselves only represent a small fraction of the global energy available to human civilizations. And the kinds of energy fossil fuels provide is often in its lowest efficiency and most highly externally destructive forms.

What these deleterious industries instead provide is the dirtiest sources of energy in the world. Harmful energy whose particulate pollution alone results in the death of 7 million people each year. More deaths than warfare, more than natural calamities such as earthquakes, and more than even those two combined. That doesn’t even begin to add water pollution from practices like coal burning and fracking. Nor does it add in the ramping up of a global mass extinction event due to the pumping out of hothouse gasses at the rate of 13 billion tons of carbon every single year. A rate that is likely faster than during even the worst previous periods of hothouse extinction in all of Earth’s long geological past. Probably faster than during the Permian, and certainly faster than the last heat spurred mass die off — the PETM of 55 million years ago. A harmful emission that threatens to, by mid Century, wreck much of global civilization and ruin the prospects of all of the children of humankind, not to mention that of millions of species living on this planet.

(Arctic glacier melts under the heat of human-forced climate change as Ludovico Einaudi plays a haunting requiem. Fossil fuel burning has led us to this pass, and things are now about to get much worse. But, for some inexplicably immoral reason, we continue to pump billions of dollars every year into the very industries that are causing the trouble in the first place.)

As such, the fossil fuel industry produces the exact opposite of a public good and its very continued operation is a dire existential threat. One that grows worse each and every time any of us light up a fossil fuel fire. Back during the 1930s, at a time when the US was recovering from another destructive period of corporate excess, it was thought that a corporation should not exist unless it produced some form of benefit to civilization. So the question must be asked — why do the destructive fossil fuel industries continue to receive so much support from the political bodies of the world when the use of these fuels results in so much harm inflicted upon the very publics they are supposed to serve?

It’s not as if there aren’t any viable alternatives.

Tesla Plans to Merge With Solar City

One example of a corporation that could produce an amazing public benefit by speeding the transition away from harmful fossil fuels is Tesla. Since its inception, this auto company has dedicated itself to producing only electrical vehicles. And it was the first Western company to do this successfully on a large scale despite a massive opposition coming from the fossil fuel special interest political and economic bodies themselves.

The reason for such opposition is due to the fact that the electric vehicle represents the potential to radically transform the way people across the world use energy. The electric motors and batteries that drive electric vehicles are themselves 2-3 times more efficient than fossil fuel based internal combustion engines. So even if the global EV fleet were powered by fossil fuels, it would result in less overall fossil fuel demand.

But an EV can be charged by anything, including wind turbines and solar panels. And this mating of battery powered vehicle with these two sources provides an amazing opportunity for individuals to dramatically reduce fossil fuel use yet again. Finally, the batteries produced in electrical vehicle manufacturing can be used, after and during their use in cars, as a device to store renewable energy produced in homes, commercial buildings or cities.

Energy Storage Tesla

(Tesla has long marketed itself as an energy storage provider. Its expanding battery supply chain, increasing reductions in battery cost, and recent proposed merger with Solar City provides the potential for Tesla to provide fully integrated renewable energy systems. Image source: Tesla Motors.)

The average home in the US uses about 10 kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity on any given day. The Tesla Model 3 will come with a 60 kwh battery pack. Fully charged, this battery could power a home for nearly a week. But just sitting in the garage or driveway, the vehicle could take in energy from rooftop solar panels during the afternoon and evening hours, and with the simple application of some smart electronics and software, provide that energy back to a home during the night.

It’s an integrated system that largely can remove a person’s dependence on oil, gas, and coal for energy all in one shot. One that can reduce individual carbon emissions by 60 to 80 percent. And one that can result in greater systemic carbon emissions reductions if it becomes integrated into the full chain of manufacturing and transportation. And even more alluring is the fact that the more batteries are produced, the more solar panels that are sent down manufacturing lines, the lower the prices and the greater the public access to these energy transforming technologies. In such cases, it becomes more and more likely that an EV + solar combo will be supplemented by an inexpensive home battery capable of smoothing out times when the vehicle is not longer parked.

It’s a combination that the fossil fuel industry is apoplectic to prevent from hitting the market in a way that is broadly accessible. And, up until this point, there has never been one company that had the ability to integrate all these various systems in one go and under one roof. It’s a situation that changed yesterday when Tesla Motors offered to purchase Solar City.

Solar City Tesla

(The Solar City + Tesla merger has the potential to provide a number of integrated renewable energy solutions there were not previously available. EV charging stations mated with solar power generation is just one of many potential innovations that are likely to provide the opportunity to transition away from fossil fuel use. Image source: Clean Technica.)

The announcement came as CEO Elon Musk spoke of Tesla’s plans to fully solarize its network of charging stations. An innovation that would essentially begin to replace gas stations with solar and battery stations — and a huge step away from fossil fuels in itself. But the real transformative potential of the first fully vertically integrated renewable energy company in the form of Tesla + Solar City would be in its ability to provide single family homes with the potential to operate on renewable energy in a manner that is completely independent of any outside fossil fuel based source. And that, unlike oil, gas, and coal, is a public benefit that is entirely worthy of a government subsidy.

Links:

Fossil Fuels with 550 Billion in Subsidies Hurt Renewables

Tesla Offers to Buy Solar City

Tesla Motors

The National Recovery Administration

Air Pollution Kills 7 Million Each Year

Historic Performance on the Arctic Ocean

Hat tip to Vic

Hat tip to Greg

Deepwater Horizon On Land: Porter Ranch’s Neverending Gas Leak Prompts California State of Emergency

It’s the gas leak that just won’t end. One whose impacts have now become so wide-ranging that it has prompted California governor Brown to issue a declaration of emergency. But, even with vast state resources now in place to help deal with this disaster, the impacts are likely to be long-lasting and far-reaching. Serious impacts both to public health and to California’s contribution to global atmospheric, oceanic, and glacial warming.

A Dangerous Industry With Long-Lasting Impacts

(The Environmental Defense Fund issued this aerial infrared footage of a massive gas leak at Porter Ranch, California. In total, more than 180 million pounds of the gas has already leaked from the disaster site — increasing California’s methane emissions by 25 percent, sickening hundreds of local residents, and forcing the evacuation of more than 2,000 homes. Video Source: The Environmental Defense Fund.)

Poking holes in the Earth or blasting it apart with high-pressure flows of water to access fossil fuels has always been a dangerous proposition. Much of the stuff is volatile, poisonous, and often under high pressure requiring special equipment to regulate and contain its flow. Often, for decades or even centuries after a well has been exhausted for commercial use, it can still represent a danger to the public. Not to mention the fact that each pound of carbon extracted and burned contributes to pushing the globe toward a terrible hothouse mass extinction event.

It’s the kind of generational legacy hazard we often associate with nuclear energy. But when one considers the combined impacts of human-forced warming of the globe and the potential for toxic blowouts, the often invisible dangers of fossil fuel are revealed. Leaks, or related contamination of water and ground, the long lasting-impact of thousands of old coal mines or oil and gas wells along with the climate impact of the carbon already burned is something probably even worse than the nuclear hazard.

Just One Leak Increases California Emissions by 25 Percent, Sickens Residents

Back in October of 2015, an old gas well in the neighborhood of Porter Ranch, a suburb of Los Angeles, California, began spewing copious volumes of poisonous natural gas into the air. The well emitted 100,000 pounds of gas each hour. A rate that in one single event increased the methane emissions of the State of California by fully 25 percent.

But aside from massively and unexpectedly contributing to an already very dangerous global warming nightmare that is setting off increasingly extreme weather and geophysical changes across the Earth, the torrent of gas spewing from Porter Ranch instantly put residents and animals at risk. People in the region began experiencing wooziness almost immediately and the toxic impacts of long-term exposure to the gas leak can only be guessed at this time.

More specifically, people in the area complained of smells like propane or rotten eggs. Soon afterward, residents began experiencing an odd sense of disorientation. Nose bleeds, headaches, nausea, nagging coughs, sore throat problems, and fatigue followed. The victims included many of the residents of the Porter Ranch neighborhood as well as school children. In total, all of the schools in the region have now been evacuated along with the dwellers in more than 2,000 residences near the leak.

Serious Risk to Public Health Covered Up By Gas Industry

Natural gas in high concentrations impedes the flow of oxygen to the body which may result in a number of health problems, especially over extended periods of time. In very high concentrations, the gas causes asphyxiation which can rapidly result in death. But, also very concerning, is the fact that gas may be laced with dangerous concentrations of sulfur, hydrogen sulfide or other chemicals which can have serious and potentially long-lasting impacts to many major organ systems in the human body. The tell-tale rotten eggs smell residents of Porter Ranch reported is often a sign, not only of the odorant mercaptan, but also of the presence of these dangerous toxins.

Little is now known about the specific harm and danger to those exposed to this massive gas leak — which has been aptly described as a Deepwater Horizon on land. This is mainly due to the fact that SoCalGas, like so many fossil fuel based corporations in the current day, behaved in a reprehensible and irresponsible manner.

Porter Ranch Gas Leak Graphics

(Engineers still are unsure of the exact location of the Porter Ranch gas leak in the well shaft. Solutions include a time-consuming drilling of a relief well more than 8,000 feet deep. Engineers suspect that the leak may have developed where the cement well casing ends some 990 feet below the surface. SoCalGas issued the following graphic as a response to critics who stated the company wasn’t acting fast enough to stop the leak. Image source: Southern California Gas.)

The Porter Ranch gas well was just like many of the thousands-upon-thousands of wells being drilled across this country today. It produced gas until the company owning the well could no longer make a profit from selling it. At this time, the well was fitted with a blowout prevent or to prevent dangerous gas leaks of the kind Porter Ranch experienced over past months. But years later, and with no apparent explanation other than the cost-saving but risk-increasing practice of cannibalizing old well equipment, the blowout preventer was removed. Gas built up in or around the well. And by October of 2015, due to a fossil fuel company’s failure to provide for the safety of people living near the old well, the gas came erupting out.

Unfortunately, as has been the case with the related issue of climate change on a vast scale throughout the industry, and as has also been the case anytime one of these corporations’ hazardous ventures resulted in risk or harm, the first response was denial. SoCalGas couldn’t deny the fact that the gas leak had occurred. But it could deny the impacts. And so, making the false claim that scientists supported their communication, it did.

According to CNN, SoCalGas continuously issued the following statement during the first months of the gas leak:

“The well is located in an isolated, mountain area more than a mile away from and more than 1,200 feet higher than the closest home or public area… natural gas is not toxic and … its odorant is harmless at the minute levels at which it is added to natural gas.”

After residents and animals experienced health problems in the area, it’s become pretty clear that SoCalGas wasn’t telling the truth. It was instead attempting to cover-up both risks and ongoing harm in one of its industrial leak zones. A sadly and reprehensibly common practice.

One More Bad Act By Fossil Fuels

SoCalGas has since backed away from this initial statement and is now simply claiming it will do all it can to plug the well — a process which, like capping the Deepwater Horizon blowout, may take months. One that will take place after the health of Porter Ranch residents has been impacted and after tens of millions of pounds of greenhouse gas trapping methane have erupted into an already carbon over-burdened atmosphere.

To call such industrial activity irresponsible would be a vast understatement. And, given such actions by this destructive industry, one cannot help but wonder why the entirely appropriate campaign to urge individuals and institutions to take the moral high road and divest from all fossil fuels hadn’t started sooner. But now that such a just campaign is active, individuals, institutions, cities, states and nations now have the opportunity show their disapproval for continued risky activity, cover-ups by fossil fuel industry, and an ongoing effort to indefinitely dump heat-trapping carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere by entirely removing their monetary support of this harmful and amoral industry. It’s time to say goodbye to both the toxins and the lies and excuses that are also all-too-toxic to our public discourse.

Links:

Porter Ranch Gas Leak Triggers State of Emergency

Porter Ranch Gas Leak: California Declares State of Emergency

Porter Ranch Gas Leak Live Updates: The LA Times

Go Fossil Fuel Free

The Environmental Defense Fund

Southern California Gas Accused of ENRON-Linked Energy Market Manipulation During Late 1990s and Early 2000s

Rotten Eggs Smell Could Cost SoCalGas

Southern California Gas Official Company History

Sempra Energy — Parent Company to SoCalGas

Hat Tip to Caroline (for showing early, prescient, concern about this particular gas leak)

Hat Tip to DT Lange (for his amazingly thorough research on this subject)

 

Tesla’s Powerwall Puts Huge Crack in Carbon-Based Energy Dominance

“I think we should collectively try to do this, and not win the Darwin Award.” — Elon Musk

*   *   *   *   *

This week, with much fanfare, Elon Musk’s Tesla launched a new venture — Tesla Energy.

It’s a move that propels Telsa into direct competition with giant fossil energy companies. One that promises to disrupt the global power markets and to free a vast number of consumers now held captive to home and transport based fossil fuel energy use. An offering that provides a glimmer of hope for an escape path out of our current nightmare of an ever-heating global climate.

(Elon Musk presents Powerwall together with a nice, succinct summary of our current carbon emissions crisis.)

Freeing the Fossil Fuel Energy Slaves

As with Tesla’s earlier electric vehicle offerings, its new energy product seems humble. But don’t let looks fool you, because this little beast packs one hell of a wallop. Dubbed Powerwall, the offering is a scalable battery storage system. In its home energy incarnation, it comes in trim dimensions — 7 inches thick in a 4×3 foot stack. For homeowners, it provides two options — 7 kwh of storage for 3,000 dollars or 10 kwh of storage for 3,500 dollars. A low-cost, high quality offering that will allow individual and family solar users to say to hell with the grid, contentious fossil fuel interest muddied utility politics, and any coal or gas fired powerplants if they so choose.

Both stacks provide more than enough storage to get the average homeowner through a night’s electricity usage, with the 10 kwh stack providing a bit more flex. The stacks also provide back-up for grid tied homes during power outages. It’s enough flexible storage to run virtually any home on solar + battery power alone. That’s the real, revolutionary aspect of this system — cheaply and seamlessly providing homeowners the means to run on all-renewable power, all the time.

Tesla Powerwall

(Tesla Powerwall [upper left] and Model S. Image source: Tesla Energy.)

When combined with the ever-less-expensive and more reliable home solar arrays now becoming more readily available, this combination now poses not only a threat to fossil fuel based grid and vehicular energy — it represents a superior option to energy users on practically every level. Energy costs go down, reliability during storms goes up, and environmental impacts — carbon emissions, water use, and energy use based air pollution — go down or are virtually eliminated.

Massive New Market for Tesla

From a business standpoint, this is a huge breakthrough for Tesla. Previously, the company competed in a market rife with rivals. Still, it managed to succeed and even dominate by offering some of the highest quality vehicles in the world. Vehicles that pushed sustainability for the automotive industry toward new frontiers and provided a threat to both internal combustion and fuel cell based autos all in one go. But now, Tesla enters the power storage market with practically no comparable rivals. Its Powerwall is both the lowest cost and the highest quality storage solution available and it breaks new ground in an established, multi-billion dollar home energy market.

In an article today in Scientific American Karl Brauer, a senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, noted:

“If Tesla can produce a cost-effective home energy storage system, it could prove far more valuable, and profitable, than anything the company is doing with automobiles.”

Intermittency Constraints Reduced, Hitting Renewable Economies of Scale

Tesla’s Powerwall shatters the myth that renewable energy can’t effectively function due to its intermittency. That renewables require high price storage options to provide energy 24/7. Tesla’s offering enables 24/7 renewable power at low cost. The option it provides is scalable to utility level, and its modular construction leverages renewable energy’s distributed power advantages. It’s a complete game changer that should have fossil fuel execs quaking in their boots and those of us concerned about climate catastrophe feeling a bit more optimistic.

Rendering of Tesla Gigafactory

(Rendering of Tesla Gigafactory due to be complete before 2020 — the first of possibly many such gigantic battery producing facilities. Image source: Tesla Motors/Chamber of Commerce.)

Recent statements by Musk indicate that the new energy industry wildcard is ready to go all out for both new homeowner and utility customers. The company mentions one major utility that is already interested in a 250 megawatt battery storage buy. And Tesla plans to work with partner Solar City in developing comprehensive home solar + storage options.

Finally, the synergy between the Powerwall and the electric vehicle battery should not be missed. Large scale production of Powerwall will serve to leverage economies of scale and drive down battery costs both across the energy storage and electric vehicle sectors. Tesla is planning for this through the construction of not just one but multiple gigafactories — assembly plants capable of producing hundreds of thousands of battery packs each (See Tesla Gigafactory May be First of Many). And, even more impressive, Tesla plans to provide its patents to other players looking to rapidly scale battery production. It’s a nightmare scenario for fossil fuel companies, but a much more hopeful one for the rest of us. A bit of much-needed good news in an otherwise grim present.

Links:

Tesla Energy

Elon Musk Unveils Stored Sunlight in Batteries

Tesla Gigafactory May be First of Many

Tesla Motors/Chamber of Commerce

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Robert in New Orleans

If You Live in Arizona, Salt River Project Wants You Shackled to Fossil Fuels For Decades to Come

Remove all the empowerment. All the individual benefit and pride that comes from owning your own energy-producing resource. Remove all the financial benefit — all of the increasing opportunities for middle class families to cut energy costs, to increase property values, and to expand their economic opportunities. Remove all the added benefit of expanding US energy independence — both for the US nation and for individuals.

Remove it all, and you still end up with the staggering singular opportunity that home solar energy generation provides — to cut individual and family carbon emissions through electricity generation to net zero.

Arizona-Solar-Energy

(Solar neighborhoods like these are popping up all over Arizona. Monopoly utility Salt River Project wants to stop that through the imposition of fees. Image source: GOYO.)

It’s a staggering empowerment in that it gives each and every homeowner the opportunity to say no to a future in which the world is dragged further and further into a global warming nightmare. It’s a right. In essence, a basic human right, to be given a choice to avoid such a terrible outcome and to play a personal role in making responsible choices for the future benefit of ourselves, our spouses, our children.

And, just a few days ago, a major Arizona utility — the state-sanctioned monopoly Salt River Project — did everything they could to take that choice away from homeowners. To shackle them, for decades, to devastating, carbon-emitting energy sources.

The Salt River Project — Green Washed, Carbon Fueled

The Salt River Project is an old, mostly smoke-stack driven, utility. Having existed for more than 100 years, it now provides power for more than 1 million customers — primarily in the Phoenix metro area.

Of the power SRP generates, about 85 percent comes from dirty sources. Though hydroelectric dams are among its assets, though solar energy accounts for 120 megawatts of its generation, though wind accounts for about the same, SRP is primarily powered by fossil fuel sources. It owns stakes in nine massive fossil fuel generating stations — half of which are coal, the other half gas. As a result, SRP is responsible for many millions of tons of carbon emissions each year. All emissions it generates and dumps into the atmosphere — scot-free of costs for the harm it is continuing to inflict on the world’s atmosphere, oceans, glaciers, and weather.

Coal power plant SRP

(The Four Corners coal power plant and associated strip mine — one of many coal plants operated wholly or in part by SRP. SRP’s stifling of renewable energy adoption by homeowners would ensure the continued use of dirty plants like this for decades to come. SRP pays nothing for the harm plants like these inflict on the global climate system. Image source: High County News.)

But all this damage doesn’t come without its own share of greenwash. The Salt River Project touts goals of reaching 20 percent renewable capacity by 2020. It also hosts a home solar project which funds 12.5 megawatts of solar energy capacity for the current year (May 1 2014 to April 30 2015). A rate of adoption that would take 300 years to remove its fossil fuel generation even if energy consumption levels remained flat.

At best, given the amazing achievements of renewable energy on cost, ease of use, and access (especially for wind and solar), the energy transition efforts by Salt River Project (SRP) can be described as foot-dragging. An effort far too paltry and slow to be an effective mitigation to the damage resulting from human-caused climate change.

The glacial pace of energy transition for this massive utility is bad enough on its own. But, even worse, SRP has leveled one of the most heinous attacks on individual renewable energy ownership now ongoing in the United States. And it is with this action that it has basically nullified even the paltry progress it has made toward reducing carbon emissions from its own generation sources.

A State-Supported Monopoly Assaulting Home Solar Ownership

For as of this year, SRP has decided to levy a $50 monthly fee (we could well call it a fossil fueled tax of 600 dollars per year) on home solar owners for use of grid services. The fee directly targets home solar users for discrimination, penalizing them for their choice of power source.

The fee is so high as to have stifled solar energy adoption in the Salt River Project territory. Last year, users in the SRP grid region installed nearly 40 megawatts of home solar energy (four times that proposed by SRP). This year, installations could have hit as high as 60 megawatts or more — equaling half the total SRP solar generation capacity installed within just one year.

But rumor of the fee alone was enough to snuff out new solar adoption. The monthly rate of installation swiftly fell from more than 600 homes per month last year, to less than 10 per month this year.

Though Salt River Project is not alone in adding ‘grid maintenance fees’ for solar energy users, it is the first to set the fee high enough to stifle solar energy adoption. Other fees range from 5-25 dollars per month — well less than half what SRP charges and the net effect has not been so great as to reduce solar adoption. Arizona Public Service, for example, leveled a 5 dollar fee and home solar adoption has continued at the rate of nearly 8,000 per year in its region of control.

Homeowners in the SRP region simply have no other choice. SRP is the only grid services provider. And its policies, as a government-private partnership, are sanctioned by Arizona state legislation. SRP has thus used its monopoly status to snuff out individual solar adoption in its area of operation. And this, in itself, is an egregious stifling of the individual rights of energy choice and energy freedom.

Lawsuits, Massive Public Backlash

Salt River Project’s suppressive action is already very unpopular. At the board meeting in which solar fees were assigned an angry crowd of over 500 people gathered. As SRP announced decisions on solar fees, they were met with loud boos from constituents.

But the stifling of public solar adoption hasn’t just inflamed the grass roots — it’s also bringing some of the heaviest hitting solar corporations and public alliances into the ring. Today, Elon Musk’s Solar City Corporation joined Solar Alliance (a solar interest consortium) in suing SRP for anti-trust violations. The Solar City statement is one of historic significance and reads as follows:

Last Thursday, [SRP] approved a new pricing plan designed to punish customers who choose to go solar. Under the new plan, SRP customers who generate their own power have to pay additional ‘distribution charges’ and ‘demand charges’ that other SRP customers do not. These discriminatory penalties add up to hundreds of dollars per year, and make a competitive rooftop solar business impossible within SRP territory . . . SRP has sabotaged the ability of Arizona consumers to make this choice if they happen to live in SRP territory. We can already see the intended effects: After the effective date of SRP’s new plan (December 8 of last year), applications for rooftop solar in SRP territory fell by 96%. (Emphasis Added).

Recent filings by Solar City and Solar Alliance are likely the first of many. For SRP’s action is so egregious as to materially impact anyone who previously desired or planned to install solar, effectively removing their economic ability to do so.

Such removal of choice is anti-competitive by nature and will likely end up with SRP facing off not only against environmentalists, Tea Party activists interested in individual energy choice, solar leasers, installers, financiers and homeowners alike, but also against the US Department of Justice’s Anti-Trust Division.

Like SRP, many utilities hold but often do not so punitively wield monopoly powers over their regions of control. The current struggle by SRP to suppress home solar energy adoption highlights a potential abuse of power by many utilities going forward. Utilities are, therefore put on notice, solar energy providers and users will not be bullied by fossil fuel special interests into reducing adoption rates. Any actions to suppress adoption are anti-competitive and amoral. They will be challenged accordingly.

Links:

Arizona’s New Solar Charge ‘Unsupportable by any Economic Analysis’

Solar City Sues Arizona Utility for Antitrust Violations

Rooftop Billing Issues Far From Settled

The Salt River Project: Commons

Solar in the Desert — PV to Bury Fossil Energy on Price Before 2025

DCIM101GOPRO

(Sunlight in the Desert. Dubai solar park produces electricity at 5.98 cents per kilowatt hour, displacing a portion of the UAE’s natural gas generation. By 2025, solar systems that are less expensive than even this cutting-edge power plant will become common. By 2050, large scale solar, according to Agora, will cost less than 2 cents US per kilowatt in sun-blessed areas. Image source: International Construction News.)

*   *   *   *

Anyone tracking energy markets knows there’s a disruptive and transformational shift in the wind (or should we say sun?). For as of this year, solar has become cost-competitive with many energy sources — often beating natural gas on combined levelized costs and even edging out coal in a growing number of markets.

Perhaps the watershed event for the global energy paradigm was the construction of a solar plant in Dubai, UAE that priced electricity for sale at 5.98 cents (U.S.) per kilowatt-hour. Even in the US, where grid electricity regularly goes for 9-12 cents per kilowatt-hour, this price would have been a steal.

But the construction of this plant in a region that has traditionally relied on, what used to be, less expensive diesel and natural gas generation sources could well be a sign of things to come. For though solar can compete head-to-head with oil and gas generation in the Middle East now, its ability to threaten traditional, dirty and dangerous energy sources appears to be just starting to ramp up.

Solar’s Rapid Fall to Least Expensive Energy Source

A new report from Berlin-based Agora Energiewende finds that by 2025 solar PV prices will fall by another 1/3, cementing it as the least expensive energy source on the planet. Further, the report found that prices for solar energy fall by fully 2/3 through 2050:

Solar to be least expensive power source

(Solar is at price parity in the European Market now and set to fall by another 1/3 through 2025 according to a report by Berlin-Based Agora Energiewende.)

In Europe, solar energy already costs less than traditional electricity at 8 cents (Euro average) per kilowatt hour. And at 5-9 cents, it is currently posing severe competition to energy sources like coal and natural gas (5-10 cents) and nuclear (11 cents). But by 2025, the price of solar is expected to fall to between 3.8 and 6.2 cents per kilowatt-hour (Euro), making it the least expensive power source by any measure. By 2050, solar energy for the European market is expected to fall even further, hitting levels between 1.8 and 4.2 cents per kilowatt hour — or 1/4 to 1/2 the cost of fossil and nuclear power sources.

These predictions are for a combined market taking into account the far less sunny European continent. In regions where solar energy is more abundant, the report notes that prices will fall to less than 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s 2 cents (US) for solar in places like Arizona and the Middle East come 2050.

IEA Shows Solar Ready For Battle Against Carbon-Emitting Industry

Already, solar energy adoption is beginning a rapid surge. As of this year, it is expected that 52 gigawatts of solar capacity will be built. But as prices keep falling this rate of build-out could easily double, then double again. By 2025, the IEA expects that solar PV alone could be installing 200 or more gigawatts each year. And by 2050 IEA expects combined solar PV and Solar Thermal Plants (STE) to exceed 30 percent of global energy production, becoming the world’s largest single power source.

Solar Parking Lot

(Parking lots and rooftops provide nearly unlimited opportunities for urban and suburban solar panel installation. Image source: Benchmark Solar)

Considering the severe challenges posed to the global climate system, to species, and to human civilizations by rampant carbon emissions now in excess of 11 gigatons each year (nearly 50 gigatons CO2e each year), the new and increased availability of solar energy couldn’t come soon enough. We now have both an undeniable imperative to prevent future harm coupled with increasingly powerful tools for bringing down world fossil fuel use and an egregious dumping of carbon into the atmosphere and oceans. But we must implement these tools — wind, solar, EVs, efficiency, biomass, geothermal, biogas, tidal and others — as swiftly as possible if we are to have much hope for avoiding the worst impacts of human-caused climate change.

Links:

Solar Energy Emerging as Cheapest Power Source

Solar at 2 Cents per Kwh

Solar Seen as Unbeatable

Dubai Solar Bid Awes Energy Market Players

At 40 Percent Generation, Renewables are Mothballing Coal Plants on the South Australian Grid

Rapid renewable energy adoption by homeowners and grid visionaries resulting in the mothballing of dirty and dangerous power sources. It’s the kind of action that’s absolutely necessary if we’re going to have a prayer in dealing with human-caused climate change. And South Australia is making impressive strides by doing just that.

*    *    *    *

Despite being afflicted with a backwards Federal Government that is radically opposed to the further expansion of renewable energy, Australia continued to make amazing gains in alternative energy adoption this year. Throughout the country, rooftop solar installations surged — spurred on by a combination of high electricity costs, plummeting panel prices, and a grid readily capable of handling renewable energy additions.

Both the upgraded grid and the incentives for home renewable energy use that started this trend can be attributed to earlier and wiser governments. And, as a result, Australia boasts a massive distributed solar capacity with one out of every five homes (19 percent) across the country featuring solar arrays.

South Australia — Smooth Grid Loading, 52 Percent Generation From Renewables on Boxing Day

In South Australia, the story is amplified. This region of Australia features the highest home owner adoption of solar energy in the country — with more than 23 percent of homes equipped to generate solar based electricity. In addition, the grid in South Australia is heavily supported by 1,500 megawatts of wind turbine generated power.

As the wind tends to peak at night and solar peaks at mid-day, South Australian grid operators show few strong peaks in demand. And this makes grid operation quite a bit easier and less taxing on personnel and equipment.

The typical mid-day peak is smoothed out by solar even as wind powers up through the night. The only peak in the system occurs at midnight — when water heaters are programmed to switch on and take advantage of supposedly cheapest times. However, ramping solar energy adoption has tipped this previously intelligent feature on its ear as cheapest times now come at noon with the surge in solar wattage.

As we can see from December 26 figures, grid loading is mostly smooth but for the anomalous midnight peak:

December 25-27 South Australia Grid Loading

(South Australia December 25-27 grid loading shows that renewables smooth out peak demand curves. Image source: Clean Technica)

On this day, solar energy’s contribution to grid generation surged to 30 percent even as wind dropped off in the heat of the day. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that fully 52 percent of this region’s electricity was generated by renewables — with the lesser portion being derived from coal, gas and imports.

This majority generation from wind and solar flies in the face of renewable energy detractors who have long stated that high loads from wind and solar energy would be too variable to be useful to grid integrators. But the net effect for South Australia is both abundance and smoothing:

Total Renewable Generation South Australia

(Renewable dominate power generation in South Australia. Image source: Clean Technica)

South Australia’s 1500 MW worth of wind and high solar rooftop penetration resulted in an average of 40 percent of electricity coming from renewables in 2014. A figure that is expected to surge above 50 percent well before 2025.

An upshot of this is that two coal fired plants have been mothballed. These plants will no longer crank out tons and tons of greenhouse gasses. They have been idled, set to pasture by far less harmful energy sources.

Meanwhile, Rob Stobbe, CEO of SA Power Networks notes that he sees no future for large conventional fossil fuel generators. Stobbe’s vision is instead for rooftop solar, storage and renewable-based micro grids served by an operator and integrator like SA Power Networks.

Links:

One out of Every Five Australian Homes Use Solar Energy

Rooftop Solar in South Australia Met 1/3 of Electricity Demand

Denmark Kicking Fossil Fuels Addiction With Record 39 Percent (and Growing) Wind Generation

“We have set a one-of-a-kind world record. And it shows that we can reach our ultimate goal, namely to stop global warming.” — Denmark’s Climate and Energy Minister Rasmus Helveg Petersen.

*   *   *   *

Back in 1971, on the eve of the world’s first global oil shocks, the European country of Demark generated more than 80 percent of its electricity from crude. As the 70s progressed and the nation staggered under rising energy costs and failure to obtain supplies from this limited, exploited, and monopolized fuel source, Denmark began to embark on a campaign for energy independence that was then unprecedented. A campaign to rid itself of a destructive dependence on economically volatile, climatologically destructive, and easily manipulated fossil fuels.

Wind in the Distance

(Offshore wind turbines in the distance. Image source: Urland.)

At the time, Denmark began to turn back to its traditional use of wind — but as a direct source of electricity itself. The country, situated on a peninsula between the North and Baltic Seas is awash in breezes and the ever shifting flows of conflicting air masses. The idea, for Denmark, was to harness this energy as a means to break its dependence on foreign oil and, ultimately, remove fossil fuel use entirely.

At first, the going was slow. Wind energy facility construction moved gradually from test sites to small farms, to the first large utility scale ventures in the late 1980s. At this point, the nascent Vestas as well as the established Siemens had become primary producers of wind turbines on the global market. Steady growth through the year 2000 resulted in Denmark providing slightly more than 10 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and geothermal sources — with wind providing the bulk of this portion.

At this point, economies of scale began to kick in as wind power adoption in Denmark began to expand exponentially. Vestas and Siemens grew concordantly from niche energy players to primary contributors for a rapidly growing global electricity market. By the end of 2014, Denmark supplied more than 39 percent of its energy from wind alone.

The amount of oil used for electricity generation in Denmark now? Less than 3 percent. A staggering success that many, especially those supporting fossil fuel interests, never believed possible.

But despite these amazing achievements, Denmark is still shooting for more, with an ultimate goal of completely kicking a nasty and climatologically destructive fossil fuel habit. For Denmark is now within striking distance of achieving its goal of getting more than 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020 and becoming completely fossil fuel free by or before 2050.

Global_Wind_Power_Cumulative_Capacity.svg

(Global wind energy capacity since 1996. As Denmark pursues independence from fossil fuels — spear-headed by a surge in wind generation — global installed wind capacity continues to increase along an exponential curve. Image source: Commons.)

As Denmark pushes toward and beyond the 50 percent renewables mark, challenges remain. Grid storage and smart grid type energy movement will become more and more important. But, fortunately for Denmark and a number of other rising renewables states (including Germany at 27 percent renewables and California at 23 percent renewables) distributed and centralized storage systems are becoming more accessible. Electric vehicles, with their large batteries which can be utilized for grid storage when plugged in at home or at a smart charging station, are becoming more accessible. In addition, the cost of battery storage for grid applications is rapidly falling in many regions with nearby Germany seeing a 25 percent fall in the cost of battery storage this year alone.

With wind and solar energy now increasingly beating out coal and natural gas generation costs on a cents per kilowatt/hr basis, it becomes easier for responsible-minded governments like Denmark to shift more support to smart grids and storage in order to continue to grow renewable based power systems.

Lastly, the advent of new very large battery factories like those being built by Tesla, Solar City and Byd are likely to continue to drive down battery costs over the next few years — making transition beyond the 30 and 50 percent renewable electric generation milestones much more directly accessible.

It’s a megatrend which, should it become widely adopted and promoted, has the potential to start bending down the fossil fuel emissions curve soon — potentially pushing it to zero by mid century. Something that’s an absolute necessity if we’re serious about dealing with the ramping calamity that is human caused climate change.

Links:

Denmark Sets World Record for Wind Power Production

Germany and Denmark Join UK in Smashing Wind Energy Records

Battery Storage Systems Prices Fall 25% in Germany

Commons

World to Oil Producers — We Don’t Want Your Fracking Crude

World oil prices routed to 49 dollars per barrel today amidst weak global demand. It’s a sea change in the oil and energy markets that is now in the process of rattling many previously well established oil ventures to their foundations. A shot across the bow that may well signal the beginning of the end of crude due to a combination of expensive production, competition by renewables and efficiencies, and a widespread recognition of ramping hazards from human-caused climate change.

*    *    *    *    *

During the summer of 2014, amidst geopolitical crisis after geopolitical crisis in oil producing regions of the globe, world crude oil prices spiked to near 115 dollars per barrel. Ever since the mid 2000s, global producers had struggled to keep up with demand or to even keep crude + condensate production flat. But as of 2012, deregulated US fracking technology had ruptured large sections of the Dakotas, Texas and a strand from the Virginias through Pennsylvania.

US Fracking Ascendant

US oil production rose by 1 million barrels per day for three years running. By end 2014 US crude production had hit 9.13 million barrels per day. US liquids production, including 1 million barrels per day of biofuel, had spiked to 14.3 million barrels per day — making it the largest liquid fuels producer in the world.

But the US wasn’t the only region benefiting from gains. Russia and Iraq also saw oil production rise even as Saudi Arabia completed construction on a surge production capacity of 2 million barrels per day. And in the oil project pipeline more than 55 million barrels per day of new production was planned through the mid 2020s. All projects banking on continued oil price support in excess of 100 dollars per barrel.

Fracking Pads

(Fracking Pads stretch as far as the eye can see in North Dakota’s Bakken Formation. Image source: Greenpeace.)

It was an oil faerie tale come true. High prices and surging production combined to push oil asset valuations to levels never before seen. The oil majors, the world’s most profitable companies in the history of humankind, could rest safe in the assurance that this wealth and power base would continue to extend their reign for decades to come.

But, for the oil producers, the drilling and the service companies, and yes, even for the oil majors themselves, there happened to be more than one serpent in this otherwise rather lovely and gratuitous garden.

Declining Demand

From the control rooms of various corporate Death Stars, oil company executives must have felt quite comfortable with their positions. Even to those with fracking, tar sands, and deep offshore production exposure, 115 dollars per barrel was still quite profitable. And, conventional thinking was that the extra fire-water would, even at this price, support global economic growth which would, in turn, bring about more demand.

Past years experience supported this notion with demand rising by more than 1 million barrels per day each year even during times when the price of oil charged to $120 or higher. The 150 dollar price of economic harm set in 2008 was still a ways off and the forecasts called for demand to grow by 1.3 million barrels per day through 2015.

But demand did not perform as expected. Throughout the world economic weakness reigned. In Russia, sanctions imposed by the US bit deep into economic activity. In Europe, austerity measures resulted in stagnating growth. In China, an unwinding housing bubble did its own damage to demand for oil.

In addition, rapid and widespread increases in vehicle fuel efficiency were also drawing down marginal demand for oil. In the US, corporate average fuel efficiency was rising by 2-3 mpg per year. Worldwide, fuel efficiency standards were also rising. Furthermore, an entirely new animal began to appear on the international stage — the zero oil consuming electric vehicle.

By end 2014, more than 250,000 electric vehicles had been sold in the US with 600,000 EV sales worldwide. Compared to hundreds of millions of ICE vehicles roaming the world’s streets, this initial surge in EV adoption seemed small. Yet it was more than enough to instill a nagging worry among oil company supporters and investors. A worry reinforced by China’s late 2014 pledge to put 5 million EVs on its roads before 2020. So it seemed the tiny EV sprig could well grow into a tree that may later topple most of the oil demand base through the next couple of decades.

First Municipality-owned Solar Powered EV Charging Station in the USA

(Oil corporations’ worst nightmare. Solar charging station with EVs. Image source: Technology Tell.)

And oil companies didn’t need to look to just EVs to find instances of alternative technology drawing down oil demand. Throughout the world island and Middle Eastern nations, for so long dependent on oil-based electricity generation, began to adopt distributed solar systems that were far cheaper than their fossil fuel rivals. Though just 5 percent of global electricity demand still runs on oil, that 5 percent represents upward of 5 million barrels per day of global oil consumption. And eroding that demand in a marginal and sensitive market was beginning to show its impacts.

Throughout the latter half of 2014 demand faltered with growth forecasts winnowed down to 1.1 million, 900,000 and finally 700,000 barrels per day. A near halving of the previous forecast.

The Saudi Gambit

As demand expectations began to fall, so did prices. By September, oil was trading in the 90s and many around the world were looking to OPEC for support. The last time oil went into free-fall OPEC, lead by Saudi Arabia, cut production and prices rocketed back to 100 + dollars per barrel levels. However, this year Saudi Arabia was faced with an upstart US and a resurgent Russia and Iraq. Media outlets in the US were bragging about how North America had unseated the Sauds as the kings of oil production. But these outlets didn’t take into account the essential difference between the cost of North American oil production, which tends to run quite high, and the cost of Saudi production, which is still less than $20 per barrel.

Saudi Arabia must have seen this coming for quite some time as the Kingdom had banked more than 750 billion dollars in oil profits for a rainy day. By late fall, and sitting on this mountain of cash, Saudi Arabia made the then surprising decision to keep pumping oil and to urge its fellows in OPEC to do the same. And so, by November, OPEC’s 30 million barrels per day continued to be delivered.

Combined and surging US, Russian and Iraqi production formed a tsunami of ever cheaper oil competing for a host of unenthusiastic customers. Prices plunged to 65 dollars per barrel by mid December. By today, the price of a barrel in West Texas was 49 dollars, at Brent it was 53 dollars, in the geographically isolated and environmentalist blockaded regions near Alberta barrels traded for less than 37 dollars.

Extraordinarily High Price Production

If oil valuations, due to prices consumers appeared willing to pay, were high earlier this year, so were the costs of producing the new oil. Though there was quite a lot of new, unconventional oil out there to replace the slowly winnowing supplies of traditional fuel, that new oil was tough to reach. It required a great expense in broken and poisoned earth. In regions the size of a small country laid waste. Under skies that ever more frequently disgorged extreme droughts and deluges, after a proceeding series of years that have brought ever higher global temperatures, inexorably rising seas, and ever more rapid glacial melt, the environmental and human cost of extracting that unconventional fuel seemed very high indeed. A price that appeared to be rising to the point of an impending mass extinction event for the Earth due to a wrecked climate. A ghastly sacrifice in the name of oil profiteers. One that would include a growing number of human beings together with countless animal species.

Tar Pit #3

(Tar Sands’ hellish landscape of ruined Earth and toxic tailing ponds. Image source Occupy.)

In the North, in Canada, a vast strip mine wasteland reminiscent of Tolkien’s Mordor hosted colossal machinery devouring gigatons of earth and spitting out sun-blocking plumes of smoke, vomiting massive lakes of poisonous water (lethal to any poor bird who happened to land upon its surface and to fish and Canadians down-stream alike), and spitting out billions of tons of corrosive bitumen. In the US, fracking required the near-constant injection of water and chemicals into the earth, wrecking water sources and farmlands, to produce an equally caustic fracked crude. And far off shore, deep ocean drilling leveraged technology equivalent to lunar landers and the most advanced remote operated vehicles all launched from gigantic sea-based platforms.

The cost to continue to expand these ventures ranged between 50 and 110 dollars per barrel of oil extracted. An observation that shows more than a trillion dollars and 40 million barrels per day of planned oil developments through 2025 unprofitable at today’s price of 49 dollars per barrel. An observation that lead a recent Bloomberg analyst to appropriately term the projects ‘Zombies’ during a December assessment of a Goldman Sachs’ report on the matter:

Oil Zombies 70 dollars

(OMG, Zombies! Goldman Sachs’ report from December showing more than 1 trillion dollars of oil projects at risk under a $50 per barrel oil price regime. Image source: Goldman Sachs and Tom Randall at Bloomberg.)

Putting this investment at risk results in severe instability for global energy markets. The reason is that current oil field decline rates are so extreme that 9 million barrels per day of new production or enhanced recovery from existing wells must come on line every four years just to keep current production flat. Wholesale de-funding of these investments would lead to a rapid drop-off in global oil production in the coming years as rapidly depleting new sources such as fracking and faltering old wells fail en masse.

Notably, almost all new major oil projects are now on indefinite hold pending a return to higher prices. Prices that will almost certainly come at some point due to that raging depletion rate. But the question many are asking is will it come soon enough to prevent massive failures of numerous companies within the unconventional fuels industry?

Even the cost of just maintaining current unconventional production ranges from 35 to 95 dollars per barrel. Far more than the 10-20 dollars per barrel cost of extracting oil from a traditional pressurized oil well. And with current massive price falls to 49 dollars per barrel or less, many companies are now in jeopardy.

Of course, we should probably include trillions and trillions more at risk due to the fact that current oil producers simply must leave most of their caustic product in the ground in order to prevent catastrophic climate change. As a result, the entire oil industry is a zombie at this time.

We Don’t Want Your Fracking Crude!

Compounding the issue of high production cost is a stranding of assets caused by a little televised but widespread phenomena called Blockadia. Perhaps the most visible expression of Blockadia is the ongoing campaign against the Keystone Excel and Northern Gateway Pipelines that have left tar sands oil stranded and dependent upon rail transport in order to access international markets. Even tar sands truck routes and equipment deliveries have been hounded by rampant blockades.

The result is an isolation of Canada’s tar sands that has now driven local prices for a barrel of oil to less than 37 dollars. What this means for Alberta oil is very thin profit margins and no expansion of production whatsoever. If oil strikes below 35 dollars for any extended period, Alberta may be looking at shut-downs over the long haul.

For US fracking the story is similar. From outright bans to constant legal action on the part of communities and individuals, Blockadia has arisen both in the form of protests and in the form of litigation. Even Rex Tillerson, Exxon CEO and funder of some of the most virulent climate change denier hacks in the media sphere, donated money to an anti-fracking campaign aimed at preventing the construction of wells near his multi-million dollar Texas home. Hypocritically, Exxon has funded polluting industries in many disadvantaged and poorer neighborhoods for decades — forcing those without enough monetary muscle to hire troll berserker lawyers to suffer pollution, poisoning and displacement. But turn the tables and Rex likes the fracking crude about as much as the rest of us.

In the end, we are all in what Naomi Klein has called ‘the sacrifice zone.’ A region where the externalities of fossil fuel use become visible and an increasingly violent impediment to daily life and well being. It is for this reason alone that so many pipelines and oil ventures are now under threat of blockade. People are fed up and everyone from moms to scientists to cowboys to Native Americans to activists are willing to put themselves on the line to prevent the worst outcomes of fossil fuel burning. People don’t like being sacrificed or having their children sacrificed for company profits which is the primary reason we don’t want your fracking crude.

Under Threat of Bankruptcy

Sauds’ price war, declining demand, the extraordinary cost of unconventional extraction, and Blockadia now combine to put many oil companies under severe threat. Today, the blood-letting pushed the Dow down by 331 points. Fracking suppliers like United Rentals, which specializes in pumps for hydraulic fracturing, lost 10 percent of its value in just one day. Noble Energy, Diamond Offshore, TransOcean, Anadarko Petroleum, Denbury Resources — all involved in costly unconventional oil extraction — all fell by between 7.8 and 9.5 percent. Baytec, a tar sands player, lost 12.5 percent. Continental Resources, with a large exposure to the US fracking effort, lost 10.7 percent of its valuation. Even energy giants like Chevron and ConocoPhilips fell by more than 4 percent in today’s bloodletting.

Though the US industry has been opaque with regards to risk, given the assessed high costs for both fracking and tar sands and the extremely rapid well depletion rates for fracking, current risks for all US unconventional players are very high. North Sea producers have been more clear in their risks, however, with reports last week identifying 1/3 of oil firms in the offshore region at risk of bankruptcy with oil prices in the range of 55 dollars per barrel.

Even more established companies like Exxon, a company some analysts suspect may be able to prey on weakness in the shale patch, will feel the pinch if oil prices trade in the range of 40-50 dollars per barrel for an extended period with company profits essentially wiped out below 40 dollars.

In short, what we see is that in an over-supplied market high cost producers are very vulnerable to price competition from lower cost producers and from alternatives that can now also increasingly replace base oil consumption outright.

Renewables in the Wings

For it’s not just Saudi Arabia that unconventional oil producers have to take seriously. They are also under existential threat from a combination of rising efficiencies and increasingly cheaper and easy to access renewable energy and electric vehicles.

After this current price fall takes down the marginal producers of fossil fuels that can’t cut it, prices will again rise. Meanwhile, economies of scale will continue to reduce solar panel prices, increase battery storage capacity and economics, and provide electric vehicles at lower costs and ever-greater capabilities.

Within 5-10 years the next price war on marginal oil may well be spear headed by renewables themselves. And that is a good thing, because in order to prevent the very worst impacts of human caused climate change that geological firewater needs to remain where it belongs — in the ground. In other words, there’s good reason not to want that fracking crude.

Links:

Dow Plunges Below 331, Oil Falls Below 50

Bankers See 1 Trillion of Zombie Investments Stranded in Oil Fields

Tar Sands– The Most Destructive Project on Earth

Why My Next Garage Will Be Solar

Market Data

This Changes Everything

Taking on the Giants: Skunk Works Aims for Commercial, Compact Fusion Reactor Within Ten Years

Ever since major industrialized nations learned how to fuse atoms in megabombs able to blast scores of square miles to smithereens, the quest has been on to harness the vast potential energy store that is nuclear fusion as a viable means to peacefully fuel modern civilization.

Unlike fission, which involves the splitting of atomic nuclei, fusion both produces more energy while generating no radio-active waste. The primary fuel — H2 — is abundant and non-radioactive. Because conventional fusion reactors involve containment fields that force these non-radioactive elements together, they do not operate under dangerous conditions similar to nuclear fission reactors. The fusion reaction bi-products are also common, non-polluting elements together with a heat source used for mechanical work.

Fusion reactors aren’t vulnerable to the same kinds of terrible melt-downs seen at Fukushima and Chernobyl. And the energy density of the fusion reaction itself is extraordinary, producing a potential for very high energy returns on energy invested.

A world where an energy source of this quality is compact, economic, and widely available, is one within reach of a progression of advances and wonders. A human civilization with a growing capability to solve emerging problems involving a number of difficult limits.

The Quest for Viable Hot Fusion

As such, viable fusion is seen as a kind of holy grail energy source. And ever since the 1950s, engineers have been pursuing technical and cost effective means to harness it. For part of the problem in harnessing fusion was the highly energetic nature of the energy source itself.

To contain massive, hot, fusion reactions, magnetic plasma bottles were needed. Doughnut-shaped containment fields engineered to trap substances as hot as a sun. And the magnetic bottles themselves were energy-hungry beasts requiring major investment in infrastructure and materials.

The reactor facilities necessary to produce such high-energy bottles were massive, involving megawatts of energy for the magnetic fields that would contain the super-hot fusion reaction and its resultant plasmas. Such tokamak fields were very expensive to erect and maintain.

Tokamak_fields_lg

(Tokamak fusion reaction containment field. Image source: Commons.)

In most cases, more energy was needed to keep the fusion reaction in check than could be gleaned from the reaction overall. But slow and steady advances continued — primarily aimed at building a large enough containment vessel to glean a useful return on the energy dumped into the tokamak fields.

As the massive tokamak projects entered the 21st Century, a coalition of countries including the EU, the US, Russia and China, pooled efforts to construct the 23,000 ton ITER project. At a cost of $50 billion dollars US and growing, the project aims to provide a 10 to 1 energy return on energy invested by converting 50 megawatts of containment field energy into 500 megawatts of commercial energy. Such provision of a viable fusion energy store would, indeed, be a breakthrough and likely result in spin-off reactor technology if such offerings could be reproduced at relatively low-cost.

ITER plans to begin testing in 2020 and hopes to be online and producing energy by 2027.

It is worth noting, though, that the massive size and cost of projects like ITER serve to limit the likelihood that fusion energy will become commercially viable on any time horizon sooner than 20 years even if the energy production efforts are successful (although, one can well compare the 50 billion over decades cost of ITER with the $650 billion or greater annual cost of current ongoing oil and gas exploration).

Unexplained Experimental Results

For much of the mainstream scientific community, the large fusion plasma containment field projects like ITER serve as the only hope for a viable fusion energy source. But ever since the late 1980s, an underground science has developed around what was, at first, called cold fusion.

This fringe field emerged onto the world stage as an off-spring of work conducted and announced by Pons and Fleischmann in 1989. The two scientists provided reports observing a positive energy fusion reaction of deuterium occurring at low temperature in the presence of a relatively low-energy electrical current and a catalyst (palladium).

It was also a continuation of previous work by Graham, Paneth, Peters, and Tandberg during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Most notably, Tandberg stated in 1927 that he had fused hydrogen into helium in an electrolytic cell with palladium electrodes. Ironically, this work was mostly unknown to Pons and Fleischmann at the time of their announcement.

Pons and Fleischmann’s paper rocked the scientific community — triggering an article about the researchers in Time Magazine and Congressional inquiries together with speculation that a dawn of a new energy era was at hand. Much of this speculation was fueled by the researchers, who provided extraordinary claims about the usefulness of the energy source they discovered.

But the Pons and Fleischmann experiment was a sketchy subject for observational proofs. For like Tandberg, who had a patent based on his experiment rejected on the notion that ‘he could not explain the physical process,’ Pons and Fleischmann found resistance due to the fact that their observations would upend most of what was currently understood about atomic physics — chiefly that it should take a massive amount of energy to fuse atomic particles.

Even more bedeviling, the experiment was difficult to reproduce. Sometimes, the positive heat energy reaction that Pons and Fleischmann reported was observed and sometimes it was not. This inconsistency continued to fuel doubt in the validity of this line of research.

Even worse, there was very little in the way of sound scientific theory that could explain what was actually going on inside the reaction chamber to produce the observed heat. Conventional atomic science couldn’t produce a mechanism for such a reaction. And so the observations hinged on convincing the gate keepers of conventional science that a loop-hole existed in atomic fusion theory. A rather high bar to cross.

Since no current accepted and peer-reviewed theory could explain the cold fusion reaction to make it viable, this lead to researchers in the field fighting off the label of ‘scientific pariah.’

Nonetheless, work continued on so-called cold fusion (now often labeled low energy nuclear reactions or LENR) at a number of government and commercial laboratories around the world. Japan, Italy, France, Israel, and the US all continued to conduct validation and observation experiments related to Pons and Fleischmann’s efforts. And a variety of commercial efforts also emerged — with some producing rather extraordinary but, as yet, still disputed claims.

Last year, a team of scientists produced an observational study of a controversial generator called the E-Cat which claimed to use LENR technology to produce excess energy. The study validated the claim, but, as with most LENR work, has received broad criticism.  A second potential paper, produced by the same authors, was listed on a blog earlier this month. The draft has yet to appear in any of the major scientific libraries.

Lockheed Martin’s Compact Fusion

LOCKHEED-FUSION_300

(Lockheed Martin working on experimental fusion design. Image source: Lockheed Martin.)

Until recently, commercial agencies working to develop fusion as a viable energy technology have split into two camps — the large corporations which have chiefly funded experimental efforts, and the small corporations like Rossi Energy which have been promising, but failing to deliver, viable LENR generators for the past few years.

Now, as of last week, Lockheed Martin has entered the fray by making an announcement that it aims to produce a commercially viable small fusion reactor within the next ten years.

Spear-headed by Skunk Works — the same group that produced the first stealth bomber and a number of other breakthrough technologies — the effort aims to have an experimental reactor off the ground within 5 years, military capable technology for ships, vehicles and aircraft within 10 years, and non-government/military reactors within less than 20 years.

The Lockheed Martin reactors are planned to be compact — small enough to fit in an 18 wheeler truck bed. These compact designs would produce a relatively large amount of energy — about 100 MW. Such a design could power a moderate sized city, allow an aircraft to fly indefinitely, be used to power larger vehicles, and serve as an energy source for ocean-going vessels. Such a small design would be less costly, more useful, and more easy to rapidly test, develop, and deploy.

Fusion-Graphic Magnetic Mirrors

(Lockheed Martin’s fusion reactor desing uses a layered plasma containment approach. Image source: Cosmos. Image credit: Anton Banulski.)

The key to Lockheed Martin’s smaller design is the creative use of older containment technologies. According to reports from lead Lockheed Martin scientists, the Skunk Works team is using a technique that involves a cusp confinement method — which uses ring-shaped electromagnets to contain the fusion plasma. The electromagnets generate a field that bulges in the middle. Magnetism pushes the fusion particles together. The further away from the fusion medium the particles stray, the greater the magnetic force pushing them back in.

In the 1970s, cusp confinement was found to be too leaky to produce a fusion reaction. Martin’s solution is to surround the cusp field with a second magnetic mirroring field — also a somewhat leaky field. However, another innovation by Lockheed Martin is to shunt escaped particles back into containment using a third field layer.

According to the, now anecdotal, reports from the initial research team, the experimental design features a viable  fusion containment field using only 1 kilowatt of power. A claim that, if it bears out, could put this new design onto the cutting edge for fusion development, but would require quite a bit more testing to reach full power loads.

From a recent article in Cosmos:

McGuire said he and five to 10 researchers have been working for four years and have built their first experimental device. They carried out 200 test shots while commissioning it. He declined to say what temperature, density or confinement time they had achieved but he said the plasma appeared stable and they had heated it with up to one kilowatt of power.

A Big Corp to Take on the Fossil Fuel Giants?

As of yet, the Lockheed Martin announcement provides no scientific proofs (Lockheed says it has a scientific paper pending). And given the history of past fusion innovation claims, this prestigious company may well be taking a substantial risk in its early and apparently confident announcement. Some publications have already pointed out that LM is putting its reputation on the line.

That said, perhaps the entry of the prestigious Lockheed Martin corporation into the fast track for attempting to provide viable fusion technologies is a sign that some of these energy sources — whether Tokamak or LENR based — are on the verge of a period of breakthrough.

If so, what I wrote last year about fusion energy in Growth Shock may well apply:

Even if the first high hurdle of commercial viability is crossed, whatever industries provide fusion systems will have to survive competition with the wealthy, influential, and politically powerful fossil fuel industry. One can expect a similar campaign of disinformation, undermining, delaying and detracting that has been waged against the world’s solar, wind and biofuel industries. Misinformation and fear mongering are most likely to arise as soon as any announcement of commercial viability goes widely public. This second hurdle may well prove to be even higher than the first and oil, coal, gas and, possibly, traditional nuclear special interest groups may well join to keep this option in its bottle.

Before becoming overly optimistic, we must remember that both wind and solar energy showed great promise early on and have taken many decades fighting both real world limitations and entrenched special interests to gain the minor foothold they have now established. And these are both proven technologies that are in a vicious competition with the established smoke-stack interests. One would not expect much difference with fusion. If viable, it poses a greater threat than any current renewable energy system, so the opposition media campaign, in the event of publicly proven viability, would likely be shrill in the extreme.

But fusion technology may have a few strikes in its favor. Though it may well be disruptive to traditional fuel suppliers, it may not be as disruptive as current alternatives to traditional utilities. Most of the applications that the new fusion producers are attempting to license would be plug and play… fusion generators could directly replace those in coal, gas, and nuclear plants. The new infrastructure, essentially, is limited to a reaction chamber or boiler. And should fusion prove viable, this ‘plug and play’ aspect of the technology may prove to be a crucial advantage.

The compact nature of Lockheed’s prospective offering — 100 MW scale truck-sized reactors — should they emerge, could well be a critical fossil fuel replacement desperately needed in an age of ramping anthropogenic climate change. So let’s hope this is not a miss-fire on Lockheed’s part.

Links:

Compact Fusion

Is Lockheed’s Fusion Project Breaking New Ground?

Lockheed Developing Truck-Sized Nuclear Fusion Reactor

Growth Shock

Could Ultra-Cheap Energy be Just Around the Corner?

Tokamak

ITER

Cold Fusion

New York City is Planning to Go Fossil Fuel Free — So Why Not the Rest of the World?

greenhouse-gas-reductions-in-NYC-1-537x356

(New York City plans a number of measures to eliminate fossil fuel use and rapidly build climate change resiliency through 2050 including mass installation of solar energy on roof-tops, major reductions in energy use and increases in efficiency, painting roofs white to reduce the heat island effect, and providing both incentives and enforcement for those living within the city to make an energy switch and control consumption. Image source: New York City.)

As a city sitting at the edge of rising seas and in the path of almost certainly more severe storms, New York City faces the grim prospect of facing the brunt of impacts set off by human-caused climate change. This vulnerability was recently highlighted as Superstorm Sandy flooded 90,000 of New York’s buildings and inflicted 19 billion dollars worth of damages on the city alone.

The storm raced in on tides that were more than 1 foot higher than original New York City designers planned for. And the storm was likely enhanced by a combination of much warmer than normal ocean temperatures and a disrupted Jet Stream pattern that makes it more likely for tropical and polar air masses to come into confluence — increasing the energy potential of hybrid storms like Sandy.

And Sandy may just have been a warning shot across the bow.

Based on the city’s own figures, New York City is facing 4-10 inches of additional sea level rise before 2030 and 11-30 inches of sea level rise through 2050. Stark results of ocean current changes that are piling more water up on the US East Coast as well as an increasing number of destabilized and irreversibly collapsing glaciers in Greenland and West Antarctica that will likely provide ramping sea level rise through both this century and for many centuries to come.

80 Percent + Emissions Reductions By 2050 With The Ultimate Goal to Eliminate Fossil Fuel Use

Faced with these threats, New York City has put together a plan to completely eliminate fossil fuels as energy sources. To greatly increase energy efficiency measures and to shift the city to renewable energy sources entirely. The plan, in total, would reduce New York City’s carbon emissions by 83% below 2005 levels through 2050 with the ultimate aim of eliminating fossil fuel use altogether.

In pursuit of this goal, the city is providing a series of ten year planning measures aimed directly at both public and private energy users. The plans are broad based and set ambitious goals for both reduction in energy consumption and rapid adoption of renewable energy sources. For example, the city itself plans to install 100 megawatts of solar panels on public buildings even as it reduces building energy consumption by as much as 50 percent over the next ten years. Meanwhile the city plans to provide incentives and financing aimed at private solar installations exceeding 250 megawatts over the same period.

Other aspects of the plan include setting up an efficiency and renewables marketplace for the city, ensuring that the benefits of reducing energy costs are shared across the economic spectrum, providing standards enforcement for private buildings, transportation and consumption, and setting in place a scaling series of investments to build city resiliency for the climate-related troubles that are likely to worsen for the foreseeable future even if the world follows New York’s example and rapidly responds to climate change.

To this point, New York City joins New York State, California and the European Union as government bodies now pursuing broad policy goals to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions in their areas of responsibility by 80 percent or more. Responsible actions that should serve as models for cities, states, and nations around the world if we are to have much hope of confronting a growing climate nightmare set off by a reckless and irresponsible broader human-based carbon emission.

Links:

Please Read New York City’s Comprehensive Climate Action Plan Entitled: One City Built to Last

Why You Should Read the City’s Plan to Reduce Carbon Emissions by 80 Percent

New York State Executive Order 24: Climate Action Planning

To Fear Peak Oil, Or to Pursue it? That is the Essential Limits to Growth Question

On a world in which fossil fuel burning is now in the process of setting off various events of geological scale, one of the things we could well hope for most is a peak in fossil fuel supply. Such an event would force countries and economies to adjust. To abandon business as usual economics and to rapidly shift to approaches that enhance and reinforce lifestyles and energy consumption behaviors that do not radically alter the world’s environment for the worst.

But, unfortunately, as we will see below, there is more than enough oil, gas, coal, brown coal, fracked oil and gas, gas hydrates, tar sands, kerogen and other fossil fuel stores to continue burning for years, decades and perhaps even centuries to come. So to hope for peak fossil fuel use, unless that peak is determined by responsible individual, community, and political action, is a false hope. An end that sets off terrible consequences. Even worse than those difficult to deal with problems we’ve already locked in.

USGS_-_Bazhenov_Formation_Oil_Reservoir

(The Bazhenov Shale Formation. An Arctic oil and gas reserve now accessible due to US driven technological ‘advancements’ in hydro-fracking. This vast pool of tight oil has 1.2 to 2 trillion barrels of oil in place of which 75 to 330 billion barrels are currently estimated to be recoverable [Depending on who is making the estimation — US or Russian Government]. It is, perhaps, not a coincidence that these reserves occur in the same region where troubling methane blow-holes first appeared this summer. It is this massive supply of oil that is being directly targeted by the Exxon-Mobile/Rosneft partnership before sanctions this week put the effort on hold. Accessing this massive carbon bomb would lock in billions of additional tons of CO2 release into the atmosphere while, by itself, delaying a global peak in oil production by years to decades. The consequences of burning this massive fuel source are almost certainly far worse than simply leaving it in the ground. Image source: Commons.)

*****

Back in the mid 2000s there was an oil industry energy consultant by the name of Matthew Simmons. And Simmons had developed a laser-like focus on a massive store of ‘easy oil’ in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. This store was locked in the great oil field called Ghawar. A self-pressurized dome that originally contained about 80 billion barrels of the hothouse gas firewater we call oil. Prick Ghawar with a drill and the stuff just came erupting out. Deceptively clear for all the btus of global atmospheric heating it contained.

At some point, the black magic of Ghawar began to fade. Saudi Arabia started to inject water into the Ghawar well to keep the oil flowing. This required more energy and increased costs. For Saudi Arabia and much of the world, the age of easy oil was coming to an end.

Simmons declared that peak oil was just around the corner. That global oil production couldn’t exceed 85 million barrels per day. And that the new, unconventional sources — locked in tight oil deposits and tar sands — were too difficult to extract. Peak oil analysts declared that the Bakken would never exceed a flow rate of 100,000 barrels per day. And the Eagle Ford Shale basin was just a glimmer in the eye of most analysts. Risks for an imminent peak in world oil supply did seem quite high.

Bakken_Reservoir_fields_in_Williston_Basin

(Map of the Bakken tight shale fields in the Williston Basin. The Bakken is estimated to contain 24 billion barrels of oil of which 7.3 billion barrels are currently considered to be technically recoverable. Image source: Commons.)

For some, for conservationists and those who are justifiably very concerned about the impacts of continued fossil fuel based carbon emissions on the world’s climate systems, the notion of an imminent peak in world oil supply came as welcome news. It would force economies to adjust to new structural and environmental realities and it would help to prevent some of the worst impacts of climate change. Certainly, there were still massive volumes of coal and natural gas to consider. But a peak in world oil production would lead to a variety of consumption reductions as well as help to advance renewable energy technology — so long targeted for delay and denial by oil and fossil fuel interests through their wealthy political backers.

For most market analysts and economists, peak oil was never an object. They believed the magic of market economics would always provide a new resource and that the price signal would be enough to produce more resources of different varieties. But these analysts were somewhat blind to the broader impacts of large governmental movements and of investment or failure to invest in new resources by communities, states, and policy-makers.

In many ways, all of these analysts held somewhat correct views. But contained to their narrow focus, they failed to accept where the others were correct or to see their own short-comings. A vocal portion of the peak oil analysts, led by Simmons, retained a narrow, and primarily easy oil and fossil fuel centered world-view that not only denigrated the effectiveness of new oil technology to over-come any peak oil situation, but also blithely dismissed much of the potential for renewables to take up for new energy production. They held a rigid view that only radically reduced consumption (and related implied wide-scale poverty and collapse back to 19th century standards of living) would result from peak oil and that such reduced consumption and collapse was needed and, indeed, would happen whether we liked it or not. Some conservationists seemed to glom on to the notion that renewables were not a desirable solution and this led steam to the anti-renewables faction.

Though the push for lower consumption from peak oilers and conservationists was somewhat helpful, without the renewable option their world-view led to more implied reliance on fossil fuels through active denial of alternatives. And it left the door wide open for new oil related extraction technologies to come charging in absent any wide-spread renewable energy adoption.

The market analysts were labeled ‘cornucopians’ by the more militant peak oilers or related agitators. In fact, this was a term that seemed to include anyone who supported any technology whatsoever, including sustainability based technical solutions. Contrary to peak oilers, the analysts pushed a view that the supply crunch, at first, wouldn’t happen. And, when they were proven wrong, went about cheer-leading for the new fracking technologies and for opening up the unconventional oil basins.

An outside group of progressives pushed hard for new renewable resources. And, given the opening provided by high fuel prices, they were partially successful, despite the constant attacks coming from renewable energy detractors and in spite of a broad front of oil industry advanced extraction technologies competing in the energy investment sector.

Consequent to Simmons’ warnings, a peak in conventional fuels did happen during the period of 2006 to 2008. Prices rocketed and economies were jarred by the shock. A shift toward more renewable energy and efficiency was driven by the crisis. Consumption fell and the world economy stalled in a combined energy and market derivatives crash. But the market signal and increased prices for energy unlocked technology that lead to the rapid expansion of production in Bakken, Eagle Ford, in Canada’s tar sands and in other far-flung basins around the globe.

EIA_Map_of_Eagle_Ford_Shale_Play

(EIA map of the Eagle Ford shale play in South Texas. It’s a basin that extends into North Mexico and contains an estimated 10 billion barrels of recoverable together with trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. Image source: Commons.)

Today, the wretched energy and carbon intensive and highly polluting process that is fracking now squeezes 1 million barrels per day out of the Bakken formation. It wrings 1.7 million barrels per day out of the Eagle Ford formation. Add this staggering production gain to other fracking and conventional extraction efforts across the country and we find that the United States now produces a staggering 13.9 million barrels of liquid fuels per day.

This makes the US the highest volume liquid fuels producer in the world on the back of a terrible breaking of the ground and increasing extraction of a fuel source that is already in the process of wrecking the world’s climate.

Globally, despite struggling production in the Middle East and elsewhere, production of the firewater continued to rise. Canada’s tar sands production spiked to more than 2 million barrels per day with the Arctic state planning for a jump to 5 million barrels per day by 2030. An ongoing carbon bomb explosion that, by itself, could well be described as a tract of human-generated flood basalt.

These and other oil sources combined with enhanced extraction to push global daily oil production from 85 million barrels per day during the mid 2000s to approaching 92 million barrels per day in 2014. This on the back of oil reserves additions in the form of tar sands at 168 billion barrels of extractable oil (total reserve at around 300 billion barrels), Eagle Ford at 10 billion barrels of currently recoverable oil (total reserve at 80 billion barrels), West Texas at 30-75 billion barrels of recoverable oil, Bakken at 7.3 billion barrels of recoverable reserves, and many other regions around the world that are now seeing new oil extraction or enhanced oil extraction.

Permian_Basin

(The Permian Basin of West Texas now containing between 30-75 billion barrels of recoverable oil due to climate-endangering fracking technology. Image source: Commons.)

So Simmons was wrong on the issue of oil peaking at 85 million barrels per day, and many peak oil analysts along with him.

And so it goes with the global fossil fuels story. As of 2014 we burn more oil, gas and coal than we ever have and global peak oil has again been removed to some future date. The global carbon emission is now enough to completely overshoot the lower range IPCC emissions scenarios and we are staring down the face of the highly unpleasant middle and worst case ranges. So in this respect, a number of peak oilers were dreadfully wrong — peak oil did not save us from climate change. In fact, bad effects are now locked in and the debate has shifted to whether or not there is enough extractable oil, gas and coal to hit the worst case scenarios.

But if history doesn’t repeat itself, it does rhyme. For now it appears that both Eagle Ford and Bakken, due to the nature of rapid fracked well depletion, will peak sometime during 2016 and 2020. And the peak oilers are now having a bit of a rally, as challenges to global production, many of them political, are also continuing to expand.

On The Verge of a Voluntary Peak

The environmentalists and scientists, thankfully, appear to be on the verge of successfully putting a crimp on Canada’s tar sands production. The US has sanctioned Russian oil production and a massive set of Arctic and shale reserves many times the US tight shale reserve hangs in the balance (a resource of ultimate reserves on the order of 1.2-2 trillion barrels of oil of oil in place). Barriers to fracking are rising and companies, facing a production glut today and investor uncertainty tomorrow, are in the process of consolidation and retraction.

China is pledging to vastly reduce fossil fuel consumption growth and many oil exporters are beginning to wonder if they’ll have a market for their products there. Around the world, the situation is similar as governments and consumers both push for less use of dirty, dangerous, depleting and costly fossil fuels.

In addition, renewable energy and alternatives have never been more widely available. Solar panel costs are down and EROEI is up. Wind power beats fossil fuel generation in most markets even when considering a natural gas glut due to fracking. Electric vehicles continue to become more widely available and CAFE standards around the world keep rising. An expanding movement is afoot to shift diets to less meat intensive ones — thereby pushing for a reduction in both the land and fossil-fuel use footprint of agriculture. And all these changes aim directly at reducing fossil fuel demand and consumption, generating impetus, along with the political movements targeting both new and old sources for an artificial, voluntary peak in fossil fuel flows.

And this is exactly what we would desire, a direct refusal of business as usual economics. A voluntary taking on of responsible action, economic transition, and behavior change needed to reduce and eventually eliminate an extraordinarily damaging carbon pollution. As has been said, the Stone Age didn’t come to an end for lack of stones. And this could well be the case with fossil fuels, if we actively make that choice. Whether or not it happens essentially depends on people’s perception of the need for it to happen.

Fear of Peak Oil as a Means To Force Continuation of Business as Usual

But the voluntary peak is no-where near a pre-ordained certainty. There is an extraordinarily strong array of political forces aimed at both denying the existence of climate-related harm and doing everything possible to extend business as usual fossil fuel extraction for so long as it is economically and technologically possible. To deny the expansion of renewable energy access and to block access to measures that reduce consumption. To, overall, degrade the political will to respond effectively to a climate crisis that is directly linked to ongoing fossil fuel burning.

And one potential political lever for this forced extension is advancing the fear of peak oil. For if people are wrongly led to believe that peak oil is a worse event than climate change, then it is unlikely people will make the changes necessary to transition away from fossil fuels. They, like the climate change deniers, will cling to fossil fuel extraction in the same way passengers unaware of the existence of life-rafts will cling to the upper tiers of a sinking ship.

How does fear of peak oil work? It’s simple.

First deny, degrade or ignore any potential value to human civilization for renewable energy sources (this is easy for oil industry folks, because they’ve had years of practice advancing anti-renewables misinformation). This includes using energy return on energy invested (EROEI) figures that are outdated or simply false.

eroi_500x220

(In the EROEI battle, renewables win the electricity production race hands down. From top to bottom: light green = hydroelectric, teal = wind, purple = coal, light blue = nat gas, dark green = photovoltaic solar, and dark blue = nuclear. It’s worth noting that solar pv energy return on energy invested continues to rise and is now estimated at 7 according to newer figures. It is also worth noting that the best energy return on investment for individual vehicle transportation comes from an electric vehicle plugged into a renewables fed grid. Image source: Scientific American.)

Second, declare an extreme supply-side ideology in which only fossil fuels have any practical means to fulfill supply needs. In this view, all farming relies on fossil fuels and cannot trade inputs or flexibly change how food is produced to help ensure resiliency (meat to veg, polyculture agriculture, edible landscaping, individually grown gardens, etc). So if fossil fuels peak, access to food is seen to peak as well.

Third, over-emphasize the value of fossil fuels to all levels of civilization with the implied need for fossil fuel related industry to support civilization.

This mind-set is in direct contradiction to the appeal first advanced by Limits to Growth authors for a transition to a sustainable civilization that did not rely on environment-polluting and resource-destroying energy sources as the basis for its prosperity. In fact, it directly obscures the need for such solutions by placing the notion that civilization is only sustainable so long as fossil fuels are available and that civilization inevitably dies without them.

From LTG:

If society’s implicit goals are to exploit nature, enrich the elites, and ignore the long term, then society will develop technologies and markets that destroy the environment, widen the gap between rich and poor, and optimize for short-term gain.

And it is reliance on fossil-fuel based technology that directly reinforces the vicious cycle that Meadows so eloquently describes above.

The final element of the fear peak oil and cling to fossil fuels mind-set is to, at last, deny climate change and, more specifically, to deny that enough fossil fuels remain in the ground to set off climate change that is a threat to human civilization. And it is in this assertion, that they have excessively over-reached and are baldly incorrect (as many who keep tabs here are well aware).

massive carbon reserve

(More and more of a globally estimated 13-20 trillion tons worth of fossil-fuel based carbon are unlocked through advancing extraction technology each year. Is it really a sensible approach to simply wait for such technologies to fail? Image source: IPCC.)

Negative Impacts of Climate Change Now Ongoing, More than Enough Fossil Fuels to Wreck the Climate Many Times Over

So with oil and fossil fuels demand now in trouble due to a broad political and grass-roots response, due to spreading measures that reduce fossil fuel consumption, and due to rapidly expanding ease of access to various renewable energy based technologies, a new Matthew Simmons – type view has emerged.

The view is that Bakken and Eagle Ford are about to peak and with it, North American fossil fuel production will plateau or start falling and that a global peak is in the offing sometime around 2030. As with the Ghawar field focus, the view is likely correct in micro. The fields will probably peak by 2016-2020 and global oil production during the same period will (thankfully) suffer due to a combination of reluctance to invest on the part of oil companies, political constraints that hamper oil flows in Asia and the Middle East, and due to broader conservation measures and alternative energy adoption that begins to put the crimp on world oil demand.

And how we respond to this potential crisis in world oil supply will have far-reaching impacts for both energy and climate going forward. If we see the peak as something we must avoid at all costs, what we will witness is the rapid expansion of fracking in foreign countries to include the exploitation of massive tight fuel resources in Russia and China. We will see the expansion of US oil production through enhanced extraction in the West Texas formation. We will see the barriers to tar sands extraction fall and Canadian tar sands oil rocket to 5 million barrels per day. We’ll see the China syngas operation horrifically expand to an environmental catastrophe to rival that of Canada’s tar sands. And we’ll see the first forays into gas hydrate extraction. We’ll see more coal plants converted to burn brown coal – a massive resource already exploited in conventional coal-poor regions. And we’ll see oil extraction extend into the climatologically violent Arctic.

This expansion will not come without its severe costs. Fossil fuel prices will rise, poverty in many regions will expand. But without some major catastrophic event, net consumption, driven by an ever-expanding fossil fuel and related industry, will continue to increase over at least the next two decades and may well extend beyond 2030 as the massive unconventional resources continue to be tapped. For the political will for reducing such consumption will have been subsumed by fear of peak oil and the alternatives will, again, have been tamped down.

Or, instead, we can embrace peak oil and stop trying to fight off what will inevitably occur over the course of decades or centuries. We can actively decide to change how much and what we consume and we can push hard for renewable energy and broad sustainability measures in agriculture. And through that action we might prevent a portion of the climate catastrophe we have already partly locked in. We can learn not to fear peak oil, but to pursue it, along with the will-full and socially chosen peaking of all fossil fuel sources. We can say goodbye to the age of burning and open a new age where we attempt to deal with the consequences of fossil fuel based industrialism before it’s too late. Before we no longer have the opportunity to.

That’s our choice. But going into it, don’t be comforted with false notions that we don’t have enough carbon sources to wreck the climate. And don’t, for goodness sake, embrace the notion that peak oil is the worst problem we face. Instead, it is a necessary problem. Part of the active and, admittedly, difficult act of changing how we live and of attempting to make human civilization both a more resilient and less harmful beast.

Links:

Bakken Shale Oil Boom

Eagle Ford Crosses 1.5 Million Barrels Per Day in September

US Energy Information Agency’s Short Term Energy Outlook

The Case For a Moratorium on Tar Sands Development

Alberta Energy

West Texas Shale Could Dwarf Eagle Ford

Permian Basin Oil Production

How Many Barrels are in the Bakken?

The Bazhenov Formation

Behind the Numbers on Energy Return on Investment

The Ghawar Oil Field

Limits to Growth

Twilight in the Desert

Hat tip to Pintada (in answer to some of your questions)

 

Growth Shock Launch: “I Have a Confession to Make … We are in Trouble”

Some of you may have noted my absence. I’ve been nose-deep in completing the launch of a book that has been about 10 years in the making: Growth Shock. It developed both from my experience as an emerging threats expert for Jane’s Information Group and related consulting efforts, later from my connection to thousands of wonderful young people, many of them disadvantaged, through a 6 six year schools campaign, and finally through participation in the direct actions that were Occupy Wall Street and the 2012 Stop the Pipeline demonstration sponsored by 350.org in Washington, DC.

At some point, in the support of these direct actions for positive change, I developed the notion of channeling my energies and talents into works as actions. Growth Shock is the first of these. (Learn more in Growth Shock, Going on Offense and Setting an Example for Kindness Economics.)

Growth Shock Cover Art

(Growth Shock now available)

In support of these efforts, at least 60% of the book’s proceeds will go to 350.org (40%) and to direct funding for freedom from fossil fuels (FEFF) for individuals, localities and communities (20%). But I’m not stopping with these actions. An upcoming third speculative fiction novel in the Luthiel’s Song series will be re-named The Death of Winter and I will be organizing a campaign to raise energy transition funds for public schools around the sales campaign for this book (more on this later). Another publication effort examining the loss of glacial and sea ice and its consequences will direct funds to scientific research through the Dark Snow Project and to help support  James Hansen’s continued work at Columbia University. A fourth and still unnamed publication will also be directed toward reinvigorating policy efforts to rationally and benevolently restrain human population with an ultimate goal to bringing it, along with consumption, back into balance with Earth Systems and to back out of our current and dangerous overshoot. These efforts will likely take years to complete. But they are now on the table.

The Death of Winter

Luthiel’s Song Book III to be re-named: The Death of Winter

This is not at all to denigrate the need for direct action, campaigning, and demonstration. When possible, I will continue to participate in these efforts. But my goal will be to organize my life and my means of life support to also support systems that re-invigorate, restore, renew, and enlighten. This is the basis for the kindness economics proposed in Growth Shock — that our life works re-weave humankind back into the web of life, that we stop breaking it, and that we develop human technologies and thought systems that support life, rather than harm it.

But we’re a long, long way from any of that. And, at this very late hour, some of us are only just beginning to respond as others still languish or remain trapped, captives to systems of harmful consumption and harmful action. Meanwhile, climate change, overpopulation, resource depletion and the institutionalized and greed re-inforced systems that lock the technologies, policies, cultures and thought-systems that cause such harm in place are now in a critical phase of crisis, a phase where harm from these four forces is ramping ever higher, causing great fractures through the structures of modern civilization. Like the metaphorical lemmings, we still run headlong toward the precipice. Sooner or later, we will go over.

Unless we stop. Unless we back away.

We haven’t done this yet. We haven’t even slowed down. And, for this reason, we are in deep, deep trouble.

What follows is an opener to the book Growth Shock. But for you, I’ll provide a bit of qualification. The situation is a shade or two worse than even what I describe in the intro. Though I still believe it is possible for us to stop, to turn around and to make the needed changes, the effort required will be so great that the difference between the death-fed and destruction-creating human world of now and the vital, healthy, sustainable, and reinvigorating the heartbeat of nature human world of our best future is a vast chasm. A great rift that may well be impossible to cross for individuals, communities, and nations. This does not diminish our need to try, to at least make a grand attempt before being overwhelmed by the darkness. To level all our intellect, creativity and tool making abilities toward effecting a positive change, toward reversing the terrible disaster we’ve now set in motion that has already been, for many of the innocent creatures of our world, a horrible apocalypse…

***

Excerpted from Growth Shock:

I have a confession to make. One that is not easy to vocalize. One that is equally difficult to listen to. My confession is not one of a personal nature. I am not revealing my own, petty, individual sins. Instead, I’m making a confession for us all. A revelation of the ongoing and maturing tragedy of our race. One we will each need to be made aware of soon if we are to effectively act. For the age of excess is rapidly coming to a close and we are now entering a difficult and hard to manage age of consequences.

My confession is simply this: we are in trouble. A kind of trouble that is both typical to all living creatures and beyond the scope of anything we humans have yet witnessed. A kind of trouble that is both born of the natural world and directly caused by us.

Our trouble is that over the course of the next century we will run head-long into a number of very difficult to manage shocks that are the result of our unsustainable growth. How we confront these shocks will determine whether or not human civilization survives to reach the 22nd, 23rd, or 24th centuries or whether we, at the very least, encounter a coming age of darkness and decline.

That we will encounter some trouble is now unavoidable. At this point, all we can do is seek to reduce the scale of that trouble and lessen the harm that is its inevitable result. A decade or two ago, if we had acted sooner and with due urgency, we might have prevented harm. But harm is already upon us, growing worse with each passing year. And though our trouble has already become apparent to many, we still languish, squandering the time and effort needed to manage the emerging shocks even as they grow more deadly and dangerous.

If we decide to confront these troubles, what lies before us are many decades or more of sustained effort to reduce the damage we have inflicted upon ourselves efforts from which may arise a new golden age should we overcome these troubles. For pushing beyond our current limits through renewable energy systems, providing direct supports to heal the living world we depend on, establishing more kind and inclusive economic systems, and undergoing the general transition to sustainability necessary to deal with our current crisis results in an ever-expanding justice and prosperity. The potential for a true world without end.

If we do not act, a massive and rapid decline of human civilizations, a mass extinction in the oceans and on land, and a radical re-shaping of the Earth’s environment to a state far more hostile to humankind are all in the offing.

This is my confession. For it is the truth or our age. It is our dire tragedy, and our great hope. For we are living in the age of Growth Shock.

Growth Shock and Our Climate Change Choices: Mitigation and Adaptation, or Harm

Climate change, a topic that once was the purview of scientists and academics, has now become a central issue in today’s political and social discussion. The primary reason for this shift is the emergence of increasingly abnormal, damaging, and severe weather events that have come with greater and greater frequency to plague the world’s cities, states and nations. Tornadoes have devoured entire towns, hurricanes have become more numerous and powerful, freak hybrid superstorms are now a serious risk, 100 year flood events have become commonplace, wildfires are now endemic, causing damage in the billions of dollars annually, and immense country-spanning droughts now range the globe.

A secondary reason for our growing awareness is that it is becoming obvious that the world’s ice sheets are in rapid retreat even as sea levels are on the rise. Nine out of ten glaciers are in decline. The great ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland lose hundreds of cubic miles of ice annually. The resultant sea level rise driven by this melt and by thermal expansion of the oceans puts entire cities, states and nations into existential crisis. By the end of this century, practically all of south Florida may be little more than a shrinking archipelago. Some Pacific island nations are planning their inevitable evacuation to places like Australia, New Zealand, or the continents. Almost all coastal cities will be forced to expend significant monies and resources over the next century if they are to have any hope of warding off the rising seas and more powerful storms. An effort that, in the end, may well prove in vain.

It is a slow motion disaster movie script that plays before our eyes now, almost weekly, on the evening news. And there are many, many events that the mainstream media does not cover, likely due to the fact that it has become saturated with stories of this kind.

Growth Shock and Climate Change

Unfortunately this rising climate change emergency is just one aspect of a larger crisis of civilization-wide Growth Shock. Growth Shock is a dangerous condition brought on by a combination of our inexorably expanding global population, our over consumption of renewable and non-renewable resources, and the damage to our environment via carbon pollution that results in climate change. These three forces are all enabled by a great human limiter — Greed — which has been institutionalized in so many of the world’s corporations and is deeply imbedded both explicitly and implicitly in the world’s political systems and ideologies. So to solve climate change, we will also have to do much better at solving the problems of overpopulation, dangerous and violent methods of resource consumption, and the underlying disease of human greed.

To this point it is worth considering a statement from the ground-breaking sustainability work The Limits to Growth:

“If a society’s implicit goals are to exploit nature, enrich the elites, and ignore the long term, then that society will develop technologies and markets that destroy the environment, widen the gap between the rich and the poor, and optimize for short term gains. In short, that society develops technologies and markets that hasten a collapse instead of preventing it.”

I have also just completed my own work on the issue entitled Growth Shock: Tragedy and Hope at the Limits of a Finite World which will see electronic publication within the next two weeks.

Here is the cover image, brilliantly rendered by Matthew Friedman, in which the Vitruvian Man (representing the unsustainable and exploitative structures of humankind) seems to have grown too big for his own good and struggles unhappily against the globe’s confines:

Growth Shock Cover Art

The roll-out for this work will proceed over the next two weeks and it will be managed in such a way as to responsibly redistribute proceeds to charitable causes that, in my view, have been most effective in working to reduce the harm caused by Growth Shock and the related climate emergency (more on this later).

In any case, as climate change is one of the four forces enabling Growth Shock, we have come to a time where we are compelled to make choices and act in ways that prevent further harm through mitigation, to attempt to adapt to the growing nightmare that is now upon us, or to make the choice to fail to act and therefore increase the degree and velocity of harm coming down the pipe.

Mitigation

The obvious and worsening climate emergency that we are now just starting to experience has galvanized a growing cadre of grass roots organizations and individuals dedicated to the cause of preventing as much of the coming damage as possible. These advocates of mitigation believe that strong action now has the greatest chance of reducing future harm. And their efforts and advocacy are based in the sciences. With extreme weather and damaging events ramping up at 400 ppm CO2, the situation is bound to be far worse at 450, 550, 700, or the 900 ppm CO2 predicted under business as usual by the end of this century. Mitigation advocates are clear in the understanding that the less CO2 and other greenhouse gasses we emit, the less dangerous the ultimate crisis will become.

Mitigation and preventing future harm, therefore, must rely on a combination of efforts. Rapidly increasing renewable energy development will be needed to replace a large enough portion of fossil fuel use to sustain life support systems for the planet’s 7 billion human beings. This will involve a politically difficult replacement of fossil energy sources with clean sources like wind and solar as well as the regulation and eventual elimination of carbon emissions altogether. A more efficient use of space and, over all, more efficient life styles will also do much to prevent damage through both reducing energy and materials consumption. Such a transition will be difficult under current economies that are designed to endlessly increase the consumption of materials, labor, and resources all while funneling wealth to the top of social systems. These social and economic structures dangerously enhance the level of damage we cause and so must be challenged and called into question if we are to make much head-way.

To this point, a large shift away from the massive agribusiness of meat farming may well be needed. Today, more than 65 billion livestock are estimated to be held in states of captivity far more brutal and intolerable than even the worst-treated of human criminals. The lifespans of most of these creatures is doomed to a tortuously short 1-4 years and the unspeakable suffering many experience during their times as livestock animals is a black scar of atrocity born by our race.

An estimated 40% of the world’s grain crop goes to supporting this terrible and inhumane manifestation of food industry. Further, the lion’s share of the 30% of human greenhouse gas emissions attributed to human agriculture is based in the meat industry. As such, our industry enhanced dependence on harming animals for food and materials is likely to have to be greatly abated as part of a comprehensive climate change mitigation action. In any case, the amoral practices required by industry to produce such high volumes of meat render it ethically as well as physically unsustainable.

A true comprehensive mitigation will also have to redefine current paradigms of growth and wealth generation. Economic systems will have to become less focused on short term gains and concentrating wealth at the top and more focused on long-term prosperity and survivability through a more equal sharing of and access to more limited resources. The exploitative paradigm of pure capitalism has failed and failed again. This is largely due to the fact that pure capitalism tends to demand all responsibility be placed on the less fortunate and successful masses as the more fortunate are enabled to behave as little more than privileged anarchists. To mitigate the social shocks that are inevitable during a climate crisis and to reign in the massive, excessive and abusive over-use of resources by the wealthy, more responsibility must be demanded from the most privileged members of societies. Wealth compression, therefore, is an effective tool in reducing the harm caused by an over-consumption of resources at the upper rungs of civilization where some members consume more than 100,000 times the resources of a subsistence farmer and about 3,000 times the resources of a person living in today’s middle class.

Since the levels of exploitation and consumption that have enabled climate change to run rampant are encouraged and required by today’s neo-liberal and globalized brand of capitalism, this manifestation of capitalism must be reigned in, caged and defanged if we are to have much hope of mitigating the larger crisis of climate change.

Adaptation

Since we missed our chance to mitigate much of the damage from climate change by about 30 years (we’d have been much better off if we began rapid CO2 reductions, sustainability and wealth compression efforts in the 70s and 80s), a massive effort to adapt to the changes now set in motion will probably be necessary. It is likely that we’ve already locked in many decades of increasingly severe weather, and, likely, centuries of rising seas. Ultimate sea level rise based on the current level of CO2 in the atmosphere will probably terminate at between 15 and 75 feet higher than the current day (rising at between 5 and 15 feet per century). These changes are probably locked in now even if we halt all CO2 emissions today. But, more likely, our best realistic hope is probably to stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels at around 450 parts per million, which would result in higher-end damages being locked in for centuries.

As a result, if we are to continue to have powerful, resilient civilizations at the global and continental levels, then we must do serious work to make those civilizations more resilient. Entire cities may have to be moved or surrounded by increasingly tall flood barriers. New port systems will have to be devised to cope with changing sea levels. Architects and engineers will have to alter building and structure design to deal with more vicious storms and weather conditions. Farming will have to become more adaptive. The world’s agricultural systems will have to do more with less. Most likely, humans will have to rely more on grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts (which are more efficient ways to transfer energy and nutrients to the human body) and far less on meat (also a mitigation as described above). We may need to expend resources to ensure that our fellow living creatures, which provide essential life support services, do not become extinct. In short, what damage we cannot prevent via mitigation, we will have to learn to adapt to. As such, human civilization will probably need to take more responsibility in both defending itself and the natural world from the harm that is now coming.

Harm

With carbon pollution already reaching dangerous and excessive levels, any choices that do not mitigate (prevent) or help adapt to future climate change result in an increasing degree and velocity of harm. These choices include climate change denial — which not only insanely disputes the basic physical science behind the effect of greenhouse gasses on Earth’s climate but also ignorantly attributes current increasingly severe weather, temperature and sea level rise to a scientific ‘natural variability’ that denial proponents, purposefully or through blatant stupidity, misrepresent and misunderstand. This is not to confuse those who are understandably scared by the force that is climate change and have succumbed to the natural, though in this case irrational, human response to withdraw from and avoid danger. Political climate change denial seeks to exploit this natural human response for short term political and economic gain and, as such, must be viewed as anathema. Human denial and avoidance of harm, however, is a basic instinct-driven response that must be rationally addressed. In the case of harm caused by climate change, the only rational way to avoid it is through mitigation and adaptation. Denial of the physical forces of the universe unleashed by human over-consumption and institutionalized greed, on the other hand, is little more than a withdrawal into the realm of wishful thinking. Denial, in both cases, causes inaction and paralysis, enables the continuation of business as usual, and, therefore, increases harm.

To this point, any efforts to slow down or reduce mitigation efforts also increases the velocity and force of the harm now rushing toward us. Pressures to slowly mitigate and gradually adapt may seem rational at first, but result in a less tenable future long term. Responses need to be measured, organized and swift — like the emergency procession to lifeboats aboard a sinking ship. Irrationally clinging to damaging systems for as long as possible amounts to playing fiddle on the deck as the critical time to find a place aboard a lifeboat trickles away.

Depression is another natural human response to challenges that far exceed the scope of an individual to overcome. In this case, social depression over climate change has manifest in a form of doomerism that clings to the notion that any action in the face of a growing crisis is futile. To the doomers, I would like to say this:

If there is even a small chance that mitigation and adaptation will bring us through the crisis, then shouldn’t we pursue all efforts and make that likelihood as great as possible? What if the British and the French had simply given up in the face of what, to them, must have seemed an invincible German military juggernaut during the early days of World War II (in fact, their early denial that a problem existed at all set up the conditions for this terrible war in the first place)? To the doomers I would say that the more we fail to respond, the worse the crisis becomes. And a crisis always seems most insurmountable at its start and just before creative response is initiated. Though it is true that many civilizations have failed in the past when confronted with problems that are similar to ours and that climate change, especially, tends to crush civilizations by creating problems that are outside of its ability to evolve and adapt, failure to respond almost always ensures collapse. We may argue now that response is too little too late, but we really won’t know unless we’ve expended all efforts. And so all efforts are, therefore, entirely moral and appropriate.

Lastly, a number of entrenched special interests are heavily invested in harm. These include the world’s fossil fuel companies, the industrial meat industries, a number of investment banking firms that support and profit from such activities via financing, and a large supply chain of industries that produce products based on these activities. Since the resources and profits of these industries are, in part, shared with broader society via the stock market and through the production of cheap, easy to access, goods and services, many states, cities and individuals are also, wittingly or unwittingly invested in harm. As such, a turning away from harm will require conscious choices on the part of individuals, cities, states and industries to not only divest in stock portfolios that profit from harm but also to actively change behavior, methods of consumption and materials use. As we begin this process, entrenched industries and individuals that profit from harmful and exploitative activities are likely to dig in and fight every step of the way. They will attempt to deny us product choices via legislation and market dominance even as they attempt to pretend that harm coming from their practices is both natural and inevitable (directly or indirectly enhancing denialism and doomerism). This institutionalized, irrational and entrenched manifestation of human greed represents the center of gravity of harm coming from human systems and, if we can address it, it is likely that both denial and doomerism will fade.

Considering Moral Responses

In the end, any action that delays or prevents a swift, encompassing, and organized response to climate change increases the level of harm that we are in for. Such a choice, whether conscious or not, is essentially amoral in that it reduces civilization’s chance to survive an emerging existential crisis. A choice that eventually results in an escalating level of damage and loss of lives and livelihoods.

So we’ve come to a tough pass and these, whether we realize it or not, are our choices:

1. To prevent and mitigate harm.

2. To do our best to adapt to the harm that is coming.

3. Or to increase the degree and velocity of harm by failing to act.

My best hopes are for your courage to make the just choices for the sake of you, your family, and for all of us. This is our responsibility to ourselves and each other. And the time to act is now, now, NOW.

World CO2 Emissions Set New Record in 2012 at 31.6 Gigatons; On Current Path, World Locks in Dangerous, 2 Degree + Warming Before 2029

According to a recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), world CO2 emissions hit an all-time high last year at 31.6 gigatons. This means that only a 532 gigaton cushion now remains between pushing the world above the dangerous 2 degree Celsius Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity threshold. At the current rate of emissions, we will run headlong into this threshold within a little more than 16 years. So before 2029, without major changes in the world’s energy structure, a civilization-endangering global warming of at least 2 degrees Celsius will be locked in.

In order to attempt to buy time to respond to this growing crisis, the International Energy Agency has published a policy paper containing recommendations for a path forward that is less damaging than the current one. The agency paper noted that the current emission path brings us to 3.6 to 5.3 degrees warming by the end of this century under Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (Which measures about half of long-term warming). This pace of emissions is well above that needed to reach the safer goal of 2 degrees Celsius equilibrium warming or less by the end of this century. A level that climate scientists say human civilizations are better able to adapt to.

Pace of Emissions Increase Slowed

Pace of emissions increase did, however, back off from 2011’s rapid growth, slowing to 1.4 percent. IEA noted that US switching from coal to natural gas and a Chinese energy policy that included greater focus on renewables were major contributors to this slower pace of emissions growth. US emissions fell by a total of 200 megatons, reaching a level last seen in the 1990s. Europe also saw significant reductions — cutting emissions by 50 megatons. Unfortunately, despite a stronger renewables policy, the Chinese still emitted 300 megatons more carbon than in the previous year, while Japanese carbon emissions also advanced by a total of 70 megatons. The loss of ground in Japan was primarily due to its switching away from nuclear power as a primary energy source and returning to more traditional fossil fuels — natural gas and coal.

The hiatus in US carbon emissions may also be somewhat temporary. Natural gas prices are rising and, traditionally, this has resulted in a whip-lash effect driving utilities back to coal generation. It is worth noting, however, that wind energy is now competitive with coal power, while long-term coal prices are increasing. Solar energy prices are also falling rapidly. So let us hope that the natural gas whip-lash effect is somewhat muted by more adoption of renewable energy sources.

IEA Policy Recommendations Both Modest and Ambitious

Despite a greater overall adoption of renewables and lower carbon energy sources, CO2 dumping into the atmosphere is still tracking along the worst case scenario for climate change projected by the IPCC. In order to meet this challenge of rising emissions, IEA urges a number of policy changes to be put in place immediately.

These policies include:

  • A partial phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies
  • Limiting construction of the least efficient coal-fired power plants
  • Increasing renewable energy’s percentage of total energy generation from 20% to 27%
  • Targeting energy efficiency measures for new buildings
  • Reduce methane releases from oil and gas industry activities by half

The IEA claims that these policies would reduce projected 2020 emissions by as much as 8%, preventing about 3.1 gigatons of additional carbon from entering the atmosphere. IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, the report’s lead author notes:

“We identify a set of proven measures that could stop the growth in global energy-related emissions by the end of this decade at no net economic cost. Rapid and widespread adoption could act as a bridge to further action, buying precious time while international climate negotiations continue.”

This IEA report can be viewed as a plea to slow the damage even as it provides a compromise plan that could be put in place. The plan is both modest and ambitious. Modest, because the initial changes are easy to incorporate into the current energy structure. Ambitious because long-term goals involve a phase-out of the use of fossil fuel assets.

This call for comprehensive policy-based fossil fuel stranding and phase-out is the first of its kind from a major world policy body. In total, about 5-6 percent of undeveloped oil and gas reserves are projected not to be used. Also implicit in the the report is a stranding of a large portion of the world’s coal reserves as a larger transition to renewable energy is constructed through 2035. The IEA recommends that oil, gas and coal companies can shift to carbon capture and storage if they wish to protect their assets.

In the end, though, the numbers provided by the IEA will require more clarity in order to add up. More than 2,800 gigatons of fossil fuel are on the books of the world’s fossil fuel companies and none of those assets are yet slated to be captured in order to prevent atmospheric release. Even worse, millions of tons of carbon are released into the atmosphere every year via the process of oil and natural gas extraction. These emissions are not listed as assets, but they still end up in the atmosphere. Cutting them in half, as the IEA recommends, will still leave half of this addition active.

Costs of Damage to Leap Higher If Action is Delayed Until 2020

The IEA’s recommended plan would, at best, keep world carbon emissions about stable through 2020. The result would be that 256 gigatons of carbon will be emitted by 2020 through fossil fuel burning, putting us about half-way on the path to 2 degrees Celsius (equilibrium warming) by that time. Such a plan would leave the world with only about 276 gigatons of carbon wiggle room, requiring a very rapid draw-down of carbon emissions post 2020.

That said, starting implementation now would reduce the costs of a long-term transition away from fossil fuels by $3.5 trillion dollars, according to IEA estimates. So beginning changes now would lay the ground-work for a smoother, more rapid transition post 2020. Also, failure to implement these policies through 2020 puts the world on a path for 2 degree Celsius warming to be locked in sometime around 2025. So it is doubtful the goal of preventing a 2 degree Celsius warming (equilibrium) could be achieved without taking on the modest policy changes recommended by the IEA now.

For these reasons, the IEA plan should be both applauded and looked at with caution. Applauded, because it begins to put in place the necessary framework for long-term emissions reductions world-wide. Applauded, because it barely keeps alive the goal of meeting a less than 2 degree (equilibrium) temperature increase by the end of this century. And looked at with caution because it sails very close to a dangerous climate change wind.

For more comfort, we should ask for a more ambitious set of policies. But given a major dearth of such, the IEA measures are among the most prudent yet advanced. Not really much cause for comfort during this late hour.

Links:

Four Energy Policies to Keep the 2 Degrees Celsius Goal Alive

Delaying Action Until 2020 Costs the World 3.5 Trillion

Worth Reading: May 29, 2013

Our team of citizen science volunteers at Skeptical Science has published a new survey in the journal Environmental Research Letters of over 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers, as the Guardian reports today. This is the most comprehensive survey of its kind, and the inspiration of this blog’s name: Climate Consensus – the 97%.

Steven Chu is the 100 Billion Dollar Man, How Much Energy (and Money) Will Secretary Moniz Save?

Economists have shown that Steven Chu’s tenure as energy secretary has resulted in policy changes that will save US consumers, the government, and businesses over $100 billion dollars. These policy changes include support for renewables and incentives pushing increased energy efficiency across the board. So with vicious opposition coming from republicans to any new renewable energy and efficiency increases, will Moniz be able to meet or exceed Chu’s strong track record?

House Republicans Push Bill to Undermine Climate Research Funding, Puts Satellites In Jeopardy

A bill being drafted in the House could potentially undermine the climate science research activities and the oceans programs of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It also would open up the weather satellite sector, which has been a troubled area for NOAA in recent years, to more privatization.

So what are republicans good at again? Wrecking everything.

Mora County New Mexico Bans Oil and Gas Fracking Because “WATER IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN OIL.”

Wells are the Alcons’ only source of water. The same is true for everyone else in Mora County, which is why last month this poor, conservative ranching region of energy-rich New Mexico became the first county in the nation to pass an ordinance banning hydraulic fracturing, the controversial oil and gas extraction technique known as “fracking” that has compromised water quantity and quality in communities around the country.

“I don’t want to destroy our water,” Alcon said. “You can’t drink oil.”

Solar Energy Investment Rebounds

A re-appraisal of the global market for solar PV modules – predictions of higher growth and a rebound in margins – is underpinning massive gains in the stock prices of global manufacturing firms. And some analysts suggest it might be sustainable.

Pace of US Solar Energy Installation Nearly Triple that of Last Year

As of the end of April, 2013, the US has seen the installation of 845 MW of new solar energy capacity, a significant jump over the same period last year — which saw 348 MW installed.

Wind Energy in Cold Climates Set to Expand to 50 Gigawatts by 2017

Wind energy capacity is growing rapidly in the cold climates of the world. According to the latest forecasts, between 45 and 50 gigawatts of wind energy will be built in cold climates by 2017, which would mean an increase of as much as 72 per cent since the end of 2012 and investments amounting to approximately EUR 75 billion.

Researchers Find Connection Between Global Warming and Increased Monsoonal Precipitation

New research by scientists at the University of New Mexico suggests that future warming may lead to above average monsoonal moisture. While that sounds like a ray of sunshine especially to farmers in arid regions, the extra moisture is likely to be counterbalanced by increased evaporative loss.

Understanding Storms and Global Warming: A Quaint Parable

Imagine standing next to Parable Creek, an imaginary rocky brook in New England. The water is rushing past you from left to right, around the rocks that emerge tall above the surface of the stream, mounding over the top of those that are lower down. The deepest parts of the steam are relatively flat but show ripples that belie the presence of other rocks and sunken branches that are well below the water line.
It’s no surprise to regular readers I am quite concerned about climate change. My concern on this issue is two-fold: one consists of the actual global consequences of the reality of global warming, and the other is the blatant manipulation of that reality by those who would deny it.

The Dawn of The EV: Model S, Volt, Leaf Send Shock-Wave Through Auto Markets

Model S

(Image link: here)

10,000. That’s the best estimate for the number of electric vehicles and plug in electric hybrid vehicles that sold in April. And at that pace the US electric vehicle market will have surged to break the 100,000 mark by year end. This healthy sea change allowing access to growing numbers of no carbon and very low carbon vehicles comes just as the world enters a dangerous age of increasing risks due to world climate change. An age where devastating levels of CO2 at 400 ppm and greater are likely to be the norm going forward. And if we are to prevent jumps to 500, 600, or even 1000 ppm by the end of this century, a rapid transition to EVs must remain a keystone to any mitigation and prevention strategy.

So you can imagine why I’m calling for cautious optimism upon seeing Tesla’s Model S fly off sales lots at the rate of 2,000+ vehicles per month over the course of 2013. Not to say that these sales weren’t earned. The vehicle recently received the highest consumer reports rating ever for any vehicle and was recently named motor trend car of the year. This makes both the Tesla S and the Volt extraordinarily high-quality offerings, beating out nearly all gasoline based vehicles on the measure of quality alone (take that EV haters!).

In other words, the Model S is one beast of a great vehicle. It gets 300 miles per charge of electricity, a range that is even the envy of a number of gas guzzlers. And its speed is a warp-like shift from 0 to 60 in 4.4 (you can barely count them) seconds. The Model S is as luxuriant as it is sleek. Its smooth shape and high class features — the very picture of elegance.

I don’t usually brag about material goods. But you have to give Tesla credit. They’re doing the right thing and they’re doing it the right way.

The Model S’s rocket to stardom has set stocks of Tesla to soaring. Earlier this year, Tesla traded at 30 dollars per share. Today, Tesla stocks spiked at 93 dollars. Speculative interest remains high and it appears possible that Tesla may do to the US auto industry what Google did to the internet — result in its rapid transformation.

As a new technology, the future for electric vehicles is anything but certain. However, in the long run, it can confidently be said that if there is any future for the auto industry, it is in EVs and other alternative vehicles. Oil is a depleting and ever more expensive fuel. Combine that factor with the devastating climate change that oil contributes to and what you end up with is the fuel being nothing more than a costly and dangerous dinosaur. So the stakes for Tesla, GM, Nissan, other EV producers and the rest of us couldn’t be higher. If we want to see the automobile survive we’d better hope they succeed.

And success will mean a very long, tough slog. Over 800 million vehicles are currently in operation worldwide. To replace them all with EVs would require that all new vehicles sold be EVs for a period of 20+ years. Current sales are just a tiny fraction of total sales. With gas guzzlers still holding the bulk of the market captive, it will take a massive rate of sales increase for EVs to make a serious dent in the fleet of carbon emitting autos. It’s a tough challenge, but one we will have to undertake if we are to preserve a climate hospitable to human beings and keep the automobile too. And to do this we will not only need to have an increased availability of EVs like the Model S, Volt, and Leaf, we will also need an ever-increasing price on carbon emissions to speed a transition to low or no carbon technologies. Unfortunately, we are still in a position where alternative vehicles have a small but growing market share and where government policy on the part of transition to non-carbon energy technology has been manic at best. So we will need to see these changes to have much hope for the kind of progress we desperately need.

In the mean-time we should all bask in the minor, though hopeful, success of the EV. It has endured many slings and arrows from an pleathora of well-funded and politically well-connected enemies who fought as hard as they could to make certain this day never came. But, it appears, they have failed. And failed grandly at that. Not only are viable EVs now available to consumers, many of these EVs are now among the best cars ever made. These are innovations that have happened on American soil and as a result of American ingenuity. And, as noted above, they represent a hope for transformation to a less damaging form of automobile that, though it should have come sooner, is certainly welcome today.

Links:

The Tesla Model S

Green Car Reports

Portugal Runs On 70% Renewable Power in Q1 2013

(Portugal continues to expand its wind energy capacity via off-shore floating platforms)

Back in the early 2000s, Portugal decided to make a major change to its energy structure. It invested heavily in building wind, hydro, solar and vehicle to grid infrastructure. The government created a corporation that bought out the power infrastructure and invested money in creating a smart grid. By 2010, 45% of all of Portugal’s energy came from renewables. And, for the first time, Portugal ran 70% of its economy on entirely renewable energy during the first quarter of this year (the vast majority of which was provided by wind and hydro power).

Portugal has produced a stunning achievement. It has increased renewable energy capacity even as it heightened efficiency and constructed a large network of electric vehicle charging stations. Once mostly reliant on fossil fuel imports, Portugal now exports electricity — 6% of that produced so far this year. These innovations are providing Portugal with key economic advantages during what has been a very difficult time for the nation. These advantages will help it continue to trim its trade deficit and keep more of its own money in-country, reducing reliance on debt and fiat inflationary tools.

Many agencies and think tanks have said that such a level of renewable energy adoption is not possible. But Portugal, a small and economically challenged European country, has done it all in just one decade. With its smart grid and network of electric vehicle charging stations, Portugal is now able to continue to increase its renewable energy capacity on up to 100% — a goal that all nations should aspire to.

Portugal provides a good example of how economies can rapidly switch to renewable energy. Such switches will be entirely necessary as the next few decades proceed and the shocks of human-caused climate change intensify.

Links:

70 Percent Renewable Power Possible?

Portugal Gives Itself a Clean Energy Make-Over

 

%d bloggers like this: