Renewable Energy Technology is Now Powerful Enough to Significantly Soften the Climate Crisis

In order for the world to begin to solve the climate crisis, one critical thing has to happen. Global carbon emissions need to start falling. And they need to start falling soon before the serious impacts that we are already seeing considerably worsen and begin to overwhelm us.

Carbon Emissions Plateau For Last Three Years

Over the past three years, countries around the world have been engaged in a major switch away from the biggest carbon emitter — coal. China is shutting down hundreds of its worst polluting coal plants, India is following suit, the U.S. is shuttering many of its own facilities, and in Europe the trend is much the same. Around the world, investment in new coal fired plants continues to fall even as the old plants are pressured more and more to halt operations.

(It’s starting to look like cheap renewable energy and the drive to reduce pollution and to solve the climate crisis are a stronger factor in the present carbon emissions plateau than a cyclical switch to natural gas fired power generation. Image source: The International Energy Agency.)

In many places, coal generation is being replaced by natural gas. This fuel emits about 30-50 percent less carbon than coal, but it’s still a big source. In the past, a switch to natural gas due to lower prices has driven a cyclical but temporary reduction in global carbon emissions. And falling coal prices have often driven a price-forced switch back to coal and a return to rising emissions rates. But after years of rock-bottom coal prices due to continuously falling demand this, today, is not the case.

Low-Cost, More Desirable Renewable Energy Blocks a Cyclical Switch back to Coal

And the primary reason for this break in traditional energy cycling is that renewable energy in the form of wind and solar are now less expensive than coal and gas fired power generation in many places. Add that wind and solar are considerably more desirable due to the fact that they produce practically zero negative health impacts from pollution and that such zero-emitting sources are critical to solving an ever-worsening climate crisis and you end up with something seldom seen in markets anywhere. A rare synergy between a public interest based drive for a more moral energy industry and a, typically callous to such concerns, market-based profit motive.

(In Western Europe basic economics and a desire for cleaner power sources has resulted in both wind and solar overtaking coal fired power generation capacity. Image source: Bloomberg.)

Consider the fact that now, in Western Europe, both solar and wind energy have higher installed capacities than coal. Combined, the two sources have more than double the present energy producing capacity of this dirty fuel. Coal just can’t compete any longer. And an increasing glut of low-cost, non-polluting renewable energy is forcing even the largest, most economically viable, coal fired power plants such as the 2.2 gigawatt facility in  Voerde, Germany to shut down.

In Australia, despite the mad-hatter attempts by coal cheerleader politicians to supply more of this dirty carbon to a dwindling world market, renewable energy just keeps on advancing. This week, Queensland announced a new solar + storage project that would at first supply 350 megawatts of renewable energy and would ultimately expand to 800 megawatts. The drive for the project comes as solar prices in Australia are now beating out gas fired power generation. Meanwhile, market analysts are saying that solar+storage will soon be in the same position. And, even more ironically, many of the new solar and battery storage promoters in Queensland are past coal industry investors.

Simple Technologies Leverage Economies of Scale

The technologies driving this fundamental energy market transformation — wind, solar, batteries — are not new silver bullet advances. They are older technologies that are simple and easy to reproduce, improve, and that readily benefit from increasing economies of scale. This combination of simplicity, improvability and scaling is a very powerful transformational force. It enables companies like Tesla to spin core products like mass produced batteries into multiple offerings like electrical automobiles, trucks, and residential, commercial and industry scale energy storage systems. A new capability and advantage that is now beginning to significantly disrupt traditional fossil fuel based markets world-wide.

A fact that was underscored by the shockwaves sent through combustion engine manufacturers recently after Tesla’s simple announcement that it would begin producing electric long-haul trucks.

The announcement almost immediately prompted downgrades in conventional truck engine manufacturer stock values. In the past, competition by electric vehicle manufacturers like Tesla have forced traditional, fossil fuel based vehicle and engine manufacturers to produce their own electric products in order to protect market share. But since these companies are heavily invested in older, more polluting technology it is more difficult for them to produce electric vehicles at a profit than it is for pure electric manufacturers like Tesla.

Renewable Energy Technology Capable of Removing Lion’s Share of Global Carbon Emissions

In light of these positive trends, we should consider the larger goals of the energy transition with regards to climate change.

  1. To slow and plateau the rate of carbon emissions increases.
  2. To begin to reduce global carbon emissions on an annual basis.
  3. To bring carbon emissions to net zero globally.
  4. To bring carbon emission to net negative globally.

By itself, market based energy switches to renewable energy systems can cut global carbon emissions from their present rate of approximately 33 billion tons of CO2 each year to 1-5 billion tons of CO2 each year through full removal of fossil fuels from thermal, power, fuel, manufacturing, materials production and other uses. In other words, by itself, this now rapidly scaling set of technologies is capable of removing the lion’s share of the human carbon emission problem. And given the rapid cost reductions and increasing competitiveness of these systems, these kinds of needed reductions in emissions are now possible on much shorter timescales than previously envisioned.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Europe’s Coal Power is Going up in Smoke — Fast

The International Energy Agency

Plans Laid for 800 MW Solar + Storage Facility in Queensland

Tesla Semi Announcement Causes Analysts to Start Downgrading Traditional Truck Stocks

Coal Plants are in Decline

Hat tip to Phil

Hat tip to Spike

Hat tip to Brian

Electric Flights Between Major Hubs Possible in Ten Years as Tesla Outpaces Ford & GM Market Value

As the impacts of climate change continue to worsen, the opportunity still exists for leaders and individuals at every level to reduce the coming harms by renewing and redoubling the push for clean energy. And in many places, this kind of strong leadership is happening — just not in the Trump White House.

(Battery gigafactories, solar roofs, electric vehicles and many other renewable energy advances are enabling both energy independence and the potential for a rapid response to human-forced climate change. But obstacles imposed by short-sighted and immoral leaders like Trump could get in the way of these much-needed actions. Image source: Tesla.)

In January, China appeared ready to take the title of clean energy leader away from the United States as it planned to shut down 104 carbon and soot spewing coal-fired power plants. California and New York pledged to redouble support for renewables even as they vowed to fight Trump’s repeal of the Clean Power Plan all the way to the Supreme Court (an all-too clear reminder of why the Republican sabotage of Garland really hurt us all). Meanwhile, 25 cities in the U.S. have now set their sights on getting 100 percent of their energy needs from zero-carbon sources.

Tesla Surges Ahead Despite Negative Attacks

The supporting clean energy industry is also still making great strides despite attacks on helpful climate and energy policy by Trump. Tesla this month announced that nearly 30,000 of its electric vehicles were sold in the first quarter of 2017 — that’s a 69 percent jump in sales over the same period for 2016. The news buoyed Tesla stock prices which are now more highly valued than those of the still mostly fossil-fueled Ford and GM. The news shows that confidence among investors for Tesla’s future success is hitting extraordinary high levels, despite what has been an ongoing negative PR campaign linked to fossil-fuel special interests against the clean energy company.

(Elon Musk mocks those in the investor media who’ve been on what amounts to a multi-year campaign to talk down Tesla at all costs.)

Tesla plans to rapidly ramp up electric vehicle production this year with the entry of the Model 3. The clean energy company is presently on track to sell about 400,000 Model 3’s in 2-3 years. And its Nevada Gigafactory is already ramping up the battery production that will support the new vehicle.

Electric Medium Range Aircraft on the Horizon

Tesla owes a lot of its success to its ability to provide high energy density batteries at a relatively low cost. And the company now produces a wide range of clean energy products from battery storage systems to electric vehicles to solar rooftops. Tesla’s ability to leverage advances in energy storage and renewable energy technology has been a primary key to its relatively rapid short-term success. And it’s these rapid advances in renewable energy that are enabling another wave of products increasingly capable of replacing harmful fossil fuel burning — extending even to medium range aircraft in the near future.

(The Wright 1 by Wright Electric is expected to be able to handle up to 30 percent of global air travel without the use of fossil fuels.)

According to reports from BBC, Wright Electric is set to produce a plane that, within the next decade, will be capable of making medium range flights. It expects to produce an aircraft called the Wright 1 which will be capable of making 300 mile flights using electric engines and battery power alone. The aircraft could, for example, make the trip from London to Paris. Wright Electric says that the new craft would be capable of completing 30 percent of global flights. The aircraft is expected to be considerably quieter than conventional, fossil fuel driven craft. And British low cost flyer — Easyjet — has already expressed interest in the design.

Storage Advances Our Options for Fighting Climate Change

In the past, battery storage energy density was too low to support the needs for most air travel platforms. But recently, both increasing energy density in new batteries and falling costs have been enabling electric flight. That said, electric medium range aircraft would be a real sustainability breakthrough — adding to the biofuel option for air travel.

It is becoming increasingly clear that we have strong options for confronting climate change. With each week there seems to be some new advance or positive movement. But we must make the choice to turn away from harmful fossil fuels together. And, unfortunately, this issue has been clouded by harmful political actors which puts everything we’ve worked for up until this point into jeopardy.

Links:

London-Paris Electric Flight in a Decade

Tesla Now Worth More Than Ford, GM

Tesla

Wright Electric

Hat tip to Wharf Rat

Hat tip to Greg

New Study: Rapid Transition to Renewable Energy Helps Global Economy, Prevents Worst Climate Impacts

We may not be living in the belly of the beast just yet, but we are most certainly now caught up in its jaws. In this case — the jaws of a politically and economically powerful set of fossil fuel interests that, unless they release their death grip, will condemn the world to a catastrophic future.

Fossil Fuel Interests vs a Benevolent Climate

Global warming in the range of 1.1 to 1.2 C above 1880s temperatures is already starting to have a destabilizing effect on many of the world’s nations. Seas are rising, the ice caps are melting, droughts, floods and wildfires are worsening, impacts to crops are growing more acute and unrest and inequality are on the rise. A related conflict over what energy sources will supply the world’s nations in the future has resulted in a sea change in the global political dynamic — setting climate change deniers representing fossil fuel special interests against honest scientists, renewable energy advocates, environmentalists and concerned businesses and citizens alike.

(Increasing rates of sea level rise, as shown in the most recent World Meteorological Organization report on The State of the Global Climate, are on track to render numerous cities, regions and island nations uninhabitable by the middle of this Century. This is just one of the many impacts of global warming. And continuing to burn fossil fuels makes each of these problems worse.)

This crisis and its related power struggle is the defining moment of our time. For its outcome will determine whether or not global civilization collapses in a series of worsening conflicts and climate calamities or if a new age of equal access and cooperation arises as more democratic and beneficial energy systems emerge and as nations decide to cooperate to come to the aid of those most hurt by the coming difficulties.

New Study Urges Rapid Deployment of Renewable Energy as Best Path Forward

We should be very clear that doom to human civilization by climate catastrophe is not inevitable. We have a shot at getting out of that trap if we escape the death-grip some fossil fuel industry backers now have on the global political and economic system. We can make it through if we take an alternative path. We can cut carbon emissions, make the global economy more resilient, and prevent the worst effects of climate change all at the same time. It will take a lot of concerted investment and effort. But it’s basically the conclusion of a recent joint study published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) that pursuing a rapid deployment of renewable energy systems combined with ongoing efforts to increase energy efficiency can steer the world away from the worst impacts of climate change.

The study determined that rapidly adding renewable energy systems and pursuing increased efficiency would be enough to reduce global carbon emissions by a rate of 2.6 percent per year. It aimed to produce a best shot at limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius this Century. And though such a goal may still be overshot somewhat under the IEA/IRENA study’s recommended path, the overall results would be a dramatic departure from business as usual fossil fuel burning which would produce between 4 and 7 C (or more) warming this Century. This rapid transition to non carbon energy would reduce the severity of global warming consequences — giving space for people, cities and nations to adapt. Without this kind of transition, it is difficult to imagine how human civilization and large subsets of the vulnerable natural world could survive through 2100 or even through mid Century.

(IEA/IRENA report urges rapid cuts in carbon emissions by G-20 to prevent worst-case climate impacts.)

The study calls on the biggest global emitters and largest industrial nations to take responsibility for the bulk of this transition (represented by the G-20). And the heavy lift would come in the form of a 2.5 percent reduction in energy intensity per year to increase efficiency and a more than tenfold increase in renewable energy demand. The study calls for a 150 percent increase in renewable energy investments and a doubling of the present overall renewable energy adoption rate (120 to 150 gigawatt annual approx to 240 to 300 gigawatt annual approximate).

Energy Transition a Big Investment that Produces Major Benefits

Meanwhile, the industrial sector would need to lower its carbon intensity by 80 percent through 2050. Present global energy investments of 1.8 trillion per year would need to rise to 3.5 trillion per year to achieve these goals. Fossil fuel investment would decline while renewable energy investment would increase by 150 percent. Oil and coal use would fall as natural gas was used for lower emissions fuel switching before being phased out or entirely mated to carbon capture and storage (CCS) by mid century. The study notes that some investments in oil, gas and coal may be unrecoverable but that CCS could be deployed on a limited basis to strategically help soften the blow to certain market sectors even as overall use rates declined. The hard to access fossil fuels would be abandoned first while demand for the easier sources would be winnowed down later on in the period.

(Recommended policies would result in lower energy expenditures per household while both pollutants and emissions were dramatically reduced.)

By 2030, solar and wind energy combined, according to the report, would be the largest global provider of electricity. And by 2050, 95 percent of energy sources would need to be low carbon while 70 percent of automobiles would need to be electric. By 2060, the study envisions a zero carbon energy system.

Ironically, the economic benefits of this transition would be considerable. Such an energy transition alone would be expected to boost global GDP by 0.8 percent in 2050 (adding 1.6 trillion dollars to the global economy) and the total overall benefit to GDP would be 19 trillion. Overall, this is more than a 10 percent return on the 145 trillion invested over the period.

Serious Political Challenges Remain

It’s worth noting that the IEA/IRENA study presents its findings to a G-20 that is presently being strong-armed away from responses to climate change by the Trump Administration and Saudi Arabia. After apparent bullying by Trump, G-20 leaders are now afraid to even mention the term climate change. But Trump’s approach has not only spurred a backlash from scientists and environmentalists, a large subset of the business, civic and public policy leaders that often produce the basis for G-20 initiatives are speaking out against industrial nations moving in retrograde at the exact time that they should be moving forward. The leaders point out that leaving 19 trillion dollars on the table is nonsensical and that the climate crisis is already starting to harm both G-20 nations and the developing world (which has contributed comparatively little to the problem of climate change).

As a result, it appears that the fossil fuel interests backing Trump and that are the mainstay of petrostates like Saudi Arabia and Russia are producing a crisis of confidence among key G-20 constituents. It has become obvious to most of the non-fossil fuel world that an energy transition needs to happen and that it would be beneficial to pretty much everyone. But old interests are hanging tight on the reigns of power and delaying a necessary, helpful, and ultimately life-saving set of policy actions.

Links:

World Meteorological Organization Statement on Climate Change in 2016

Perspectives for the Renewable Energy Transition

Don’t Mention the C-Word

Business Leaders Urge G-20 to Put Climate Back on the Agenda

G-20 Urged to Return to Climate Agenda

First Ever IEA/IRENA Report

The Electric Vehicles are Coming — Global Sales Likely to Exceed 1 Million During 2017

Electric vehicle (EV) performance has been improving so quickly and prices have been falling so fast that the internal combustion engine (ICE) wouldn’t be able to compete for much longer. You will soon be able to get Porsche performance for Buick prices and when you get that, neither Porsche nor Buick are able to compete.Tony Seba

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We talk a lot here about tipping points. Often this is in the negative sense when it comes to climate change. But when it comes to electrical vehicles, which is one of the key renewable energy technologies that has the capacity to mitigate climate harms, it appears that the world is rapidly approaching a much more positive kind of economic tipping point.

Steadily, markets are opening up to a new wave of far more capable electric vehicles. And this is good news — because the combination of wind + solar + electrical vehicles + battery storage has the capacity to act as a market force that, on its own, will begin to dramatically cut the global carbon emissions now driving dangerous climate change the world over.

850,000 EV Sales for 2016, Possibly More than a Million During 2017

During 2015, as EV ranges extended, as charging networks expanded, as countries like China and India began to incentivize electric vehicles in an effort to fight choking air pollution, and as high value vehicles like Tesla’s model X became available, global EV sales jumped to over 500,000. This momentum continued during 2016 despite plummeting gas prices — a year when sales of electric vehicles are now expected to rise by more than 60 percent to 850,000.

By 2017, it is likely that global annual EV sales will lift still further — hitting over 1 million in the world market as lower cost, longer range electric vehicles like the Chevy Bolt, the Tesla Model 3, and an upgraded Nissan Leaf are expected make their entry.

ev-volumes

(Plug in vehicle sales including EVs and PHEVs are expected to jump about 60 percent during 2016. Rising vehicle quality and concerns about pollution and climate change are the primary drivers. Image source: Plug in Electric Vehicles Sales Growth.)

While climate and environmental policy is helping to spur this beneficial trend — with smog-choked cities and countries concerned about climate change pushing for fossil fuel based vehicle bans — it’s important to note that overall EV performance and quality now also appear to be a major underlying driver pushing EV adoption rates higher. In other words, a vehicle with a more powerful engine, faster acceleration, and a larger interior, one that produces less noise while driving, generates no toxic stink from a tail pipe and costs less to fuel and maintain, and one whose operation (when coupled with a renewable electricity supply) won’t contribute to all the nasty droughts, floods, heatwaves, animal deaths and rising tides that are becoming so pervasive due to fossil fuel burning, is looking increasingly attractive.

Rising EV Quality, Lower Cost Helps to Drive Adoption Rates

Rising rates of adoption, in essence, come both from various performance advantages as well as from an increasing societal awareness of EVs’ greatly lessened harmful impacts. Moreover, electric vehicles — like wind and solar — have the ability to produce great leaps in performance, capability, and cost reduction. As a result, they are increasingly narrowing the gap with fossil fuel based vehicles on range and price even as already superior power and efficiency expands.

chevy-bolt

(Higher capability electric vehicles like the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 will help to further increase global sales during 2017. On acceleration and torque, both of these vehicles will be able to outperform many ICE based sports cars for a lower price. But the larger point here is that EVs are advancing very rapidly and are likely to be able to outperform ICEs in almost every way by as soon as the 2020s. Image source: Chevy Bolt.)

Vehicle ranges across almost all model lines are rising. The Nissan Leaf, for example, now has a range of 107 miles — compared to 84 miles just two years before — even as the company is expected to provide a 200 mile capable model in the near future. Meanwhile, today’s Leaf’s range is less than half that of the comparatively priced Chevy Bolt whose late 2016 release model boasts a 238 mile capability (about 4 times that of typical electric vehicles from just 2-3 years ago). Well-selling higher end vehicles like Tesla’s model S and X still dominate the longer range category. The base Model S’s range is 210 miles with larger battery pack versions now extending the vehicle’s legs to up to 315 miles.

The Chevy Bolt is the first mass market, moderately priced, fully electric vehicle (starting at around 35,000 dollars) with a highway range in excess of 200 miles available for US buyers. A vehicle that Motor Trend Magazine has rated very favorably. Lower maintenance and fuel costs will further add to the vehicle’s economic value and overall appeal. In late 2017, the Tesla Model 3 will join the Bolt in this category. Both vehicles represent high quality and higher performance options for buyers. And these models should help to considerably increase the number of electrical vehicles sold in the U.S. and around the world as they become available.

Electric Buses Promise to Help Revitalize Urban Areas, Make Public Transport More Attractive

(Gothenburg is one of many cities around the world moving to electric bus based transportation. This form of transport is not only clean, it provides unique features that aid in city planning and urban renewal. Video source: Electric Buses Regenerate City Planning.)

Larger electric vehicles such as trucks and buses are also starting to become more widely represented. For example, Chinese EV manufacturer BYD recently received an order for 50 new all-electric buses from Argentina. Proterra, another electric bus manufacturer, just had an order from the city of Seattle for 73. King County, which includes Seattle, plans to have all its buses powered by electricity within 3 years. Electric buses have seen major advances in recent years and now feature ranges as long as 350 miles and charging times in as little as 3-30 minutes.

Better Access to Charging Infrastructure, Faster Charging, Superior Performance

Expanding EV charging networks are also making these vehicles more accessible to the public. Tesla has invested heavily in placing chargers along highways in the U.S. and around the world. And it is the only automaker presently making superchargers — capable of fully charging an electric vehicle in about an hour — available as a special service to its drivers. These networks are adding to EV ease of use and are helping to further reduce range anxiety. Meanwhile the ability to charge at home, at work, and at numerous destinations such as grocery stores, rest stops, and malls adds to EV versatility and ease of use — providing convenience that ICE vehicles lack.

tesla-superchargers-destination-chargers

(Tesla’s ever-expanding charging network includes both super-chargers and more conventional charging stations. Image source: Gas2.)

EVs now also provide superior performance when compared to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles in a number of areas. Though gasoline is presently more energy dense than batteries (a situation that is changing as battery technology improves), electric motors are far and away superior to internal combustion engines. Smaller electric motors save weight and space — allowing for larger vehicle interiors and storage. Meanwhile, an electric motor’s ability to rapidly deliver energy to the drive train produces superior acceleration and torque compared to ICE based vehicles. It is this feature that allows the Tesla Model S to outperform even motorcycles in acceleration. Simplicity of design is also a superior feature of electrical vehicles — one that is enabling EV owners to dramatically reduce maintenance costs. Less moving parts and less complicated engines enable this benefit. Add in greatly reduced fuel costs and it becomes pretty clear why EVs are enjoying such rapidly rising rates of adoption.

Helping to Combat Global Climate Change

Increasing EV popularity and access helps to combat global climate change on a number of levels. First, EVs produce zero tailpipe emissions. Second, EV engines are more efficient than internal combustion engines — so they use less energy overall than fossil fuel based vehicles. Third, EVs mated to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar produce zero or near zero carbon emissions during operation. Finally, the batteries used to charge EVs can provide storage for intermittent sources like wind and solar energy. And this energy storage can occur both while the batteries are sitting in a stationary vehicle and after-market when batteries are removed following the end of the vehicle’s time of use.

EVs are also transformative in that they greatly reduce and provide the potential to eliminate emissions from large segments of the transportation sector. And this is a pretty big deal as global transport is presently one of the world’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. With EVs, supply chains for food delivery and manufacturing have the potential to be decarbonized — which also helps to reduce various material and food based carbon footprints.

So the EVs are coming. A liberating economic force that’s helping to drive an energy switch that the world, at this time, desperately needs.

Links:

Dramatic Plug in Vehicle Sales Growth During 2016

EVs Will Soon Be Cheaper Than Regular Cars

Norway to Ban Petrol Vehicle Sales

Chevy Bolt

New Nissan Leaf With 200 Mile Range is Coming

Tesla Model S

Chevy Bolt vs Model S

Electric Buses Regenerate City Planning

BYD Sells 50 Electric Buses to Argentina

Seattle Buses to be All-Electric

Gas2 — More Tesla Charging Stations

Hat tip to JPL

Al Gore’s Revenge — Internal Combustion Engines Stink and This Ridiculously Powerful Electric Turbine Truck Proves It

As of yesterday, Nikola Motors announced the performance specs and preorders for its new hybrid electric long-haul truck. It’s a ridiculously awesome design — one that boasts across the board superior performance when compared to internal combustion engine based trucks that are currently available. The company producing this amazing feat of electrical hybrid vehicle engineering calls its new vehicle the Nikola One. But we’re going to have some fun at the expense of climate change deniers and electric vehicle detractors both here and call this thing Al Gore’s Revenge.

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Nikola One

(Nikola One aka Al Gore’s Revenge. It’s big, it’s red, it’s mean, it’s electric — and it’s about to eat internal combustion engine based trucking market share for lunch. Image source: Nikola Motor Company.)

If there’s ever been a name that climate change deniers tried to turn into a nasty joke, it’s Al Gore. Back in the late 1990s, Al Gore displayed amazing foresight and did the prescient, responsible thing by working to incentivize a transition to electrical vehicles. He rightfully attacked internal combustion engines for the inefficient, wasteful and fossil-fuel dependent beasts that they were. Calling them infernal internals, he was probably the first person of political standing to make the apt link, in reference, between climate change and hell on Earth.

For his good deeds and for his speaking truth to the political and economic powers of the day, Gore was largely demonized in the fossil fuels industry supported republican media. Pretty much anyone who defended Al Gore was attacked. And, for a while, despite a glaringly huge and growing scientific consensus, climate change deniers pretended that the notion of human caused climate change itself was the sole mental invention of this sensitive and thoughtful man.

Now, though, the joke is on the climate change deniers and on the fossil fuel industries, like Peabody Coal, who paid to support their demonization of climate leaders. For now even the fossil fuel haven that was long haul trucking is starting to fall due to the superior physical performance potentials of electric engines.

Al Gore’s Revenge — Electric Engines Aren’t Just Cleaner, They’re Better

Nikola One is an 18 wheel long haul trucking rig. Powered by an electric turbine engine, its 320 kwh battery pack is capable of propelling the vehicle, without the aid of any additional tanked fuel source, more than 190 miles. Tanked fuel then lengthens the legs of the more efficient electrical turbine giving it an ultimate total systems range of 1,200 miles. By comparison, an ICE-powered standard truck typically boasts a range of just 500 miles. As a result, the combined fuel efficiency of this massive rig is between 10 and 15 miles per gallon. This is 2-3 times the fuel efficiency rating of standard long haul trucks and about the fuel efficiency average of a relatively long-legged 1990s SUV.

An electrical vehicle powered by a battery that is capable of recharging either through regenerative breaking or a wall socket, the Nikola One is already capable of achieving a zero emissions ride. But that’s if truckers are willing to stop every 190 miles for a recharge or to put net zero carbon biofuels into its ‘agnostic’ fuel tank. In all likelihood, most rigs will be refueled for some time by compressed natural gas stations on many long haul routes. A combination that implies about a 75 percent reduction in carbon emissions during driving. However, the ability to place 190 miles worth of all electric range on a long haul truck now, means that battery technology needs to only see prices fall by another 60 percent in order for ICE comparable ranges to be achieved by an all-electric truck with a weight similar to the Nikola One (see more below).

But the superior performance specs don’t end at range, fuel efficiency, and reduced emissions. This vehicle boasts 2,000 horsepower (regular ICE trucks only have 500 horsepower), the ability to travel up hill at 65 miles per hour (ICEs really lag going up hill and can only do 20-40 mph on an incline) and to regenerate electricity from breaking while going downhill (ICEs regenerate nada). The Nikola One can accelerate from 0 to 60 in 30 seconds, or half the time it takes for a comparable ICE to make the mark. And the Nikola One saves weight — coming in at 2,000 pounds less than a typical ICE truck (one wonders what the all electric range would be if the 2,000 pound weight difference was instead used to add more batteries — possibly near 350 miles). In other words, the Nikola One is expected by be 10 percent leaner and a whole lot meaner than the fossil fuel combustion engine trucks that have dominated the roads for nearly a Century.

Nikola One Side View

(Side view of Nikola One. Nikola One boasts a 320 kw chargeable battery pack and a fuels agnostic ‘gas’ tank that can run on compressed natural gas, petroleum, diesel, or biofuels like ethanol or biodeisel. The truck can make a 190 mile range on all electric power and is capable of net zero carbon emissions travel in its full 1,200 mile range if the appropriate biofuel is used in its tank. The Nikola One is, therefore, more similar to the Chevy Volt than it is to the Tesla Model S. However, it represents a massive leap forward in sustainable trucking design. Image source: Nikola Motors.)

All of these amazing capabilities have generated a notable amount of excitement. And, in total, more than 7,000 preorders for these beasts have been logged so far. A value of 2.3 billion dollars for the emerging electric vehicle trucking company. Nicola’s CEO noted in a press release yesterday:

“Our technology is 10-15 years ahead of any other OEM in fuel efficiencies, MPG and emissions. We are the only OEM to have a near zero emission truck and still outperform diesel trucks running at 80,000 pounds. To have over 7,000 reservations totaling more than 2.3 billion dollars, with five months remaining until our unveiling ceremony, is unprecedented.”

The technology that allows Nikola One to achieve these weight saving and performance results centers around an electrical turbine engine and lithium based battery pack. The electrical engine is in itself about twice as efficient as an ICE. The battery pack allows for 190 miles of additional electrical range per charge and for the recuperation of electrical energy from regenerative breaking and from the action of the electrical engine itself. The result is a total system that possesses more power, weighs less, and is overall 2-3 times as efficient as an internal combustion based design. Though this system does use a fuel thank (which can be filled with CNG, petroleum, diesel or biofuel) to extend the base electrical range, it represents a huge leap forward in the sustainability of long haul trucking. And looking at the base numbers for weight and electric battery potential, it would be surprising if we did not see a number of 350 to 500 mile all electric truck ranges start to emerge in the time period between now and 2020.

Hybrid Electric Turbine

(If we’re going to tackle climate change, we need to address both long haul trucking and aircraft based fossil fuel emissions. Hybrid electric turbine technology like that used in Nikola One can also be used in jet aircraft. It’s a form of technology that both promises to make energy use more efficient and to provide a path to zero carbon emissions from these modes of transportation. In January, NASA performed an aircraft electric turbine demonstration that was capable of greatly reducing carbon emissions from air travel. Image source: NASA.)

Nikola One costs 375,000 dollars, which is about twice the price of a traditional long haul truck. However, the company notes that fuel costs for the vehicle are halved. Since fuel costs are a major primary expense for truckers and shipping companies, Nikola One’s added energy efficiency is expected to be very appealing to the current market. Superior performance will give the truck a time of travel edge over traditional vehicles along hilly routes or in areas where stop and go traffic is an issue. The company also plans to lease the trucks for $5,000 dollars a month and states that this offering a better value than a traditional ICE truck when accounting for the costs of fuel.

If Nikola is able to make good on its performance and cost promises for this truck, then one of the last bastions of fossil fuel dominance appears to be falling. Long haul trucking has long represented a sustainability challenge due to the high weight, long range, and high horsepower requirement of the industry. It was long thought that the energy density of fossil fuels would represent an impenetrable barrier to renewable energy systems in this market. But detractors apparently didn’t take into account the basic fact that Al Gore was right — the internal combustion engine is a laggard. And superior electrical engine performance now provides an avenue for renewable energy systems to begin to compete with fossil fuels in the long haul trucking arena. And one final note is that the hybrid turbine based electrical engine design used by Nikola may also provide a useful sustainability innovation for air travel — which also relies on turbines for jet propulsion (see NASA link below).

Al Gore’s Revenge indeed.

Links:

Nikola Motors Logs 7,000 Electric Long Haul Truck Preorders

Nikola Motor Company

Nikola Motors Gets 2.3 Billion Worth of Preorders For its Electric Semi

Peabody Coal Funded Climate Change Deniers

Researchers Advance Propulsion Toward Low Carbon Aircraft

Hat Tip to Greg

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Record Drop in Coal Burning Raises Question — Is Peak Fossil Fuel Use Happening Now?

Peak oil, gas, and coal.

It’s a possibility that many who believe the fossil fuel industry’s false dependency mantra look at with fear and trembling. Because, for years, that industry, through various public relations efforts, has perpetuated a myth that a loss of access to fossil fuels would ruin the modern global economy. That fossil fuels were so high-quality no other energy source could effectively replace them.

It’s a myth that, in many ways, competes with the threat of human-caused climate change for space in the public’s collective imagination. One that is not without a few valid supports. For the shifting of energy use away from one set of sources and on toward another set is a massive, disruptive undertaking even in the case where the new energy sources are superior to the old.

November Through April 2015 2016

(This is what a real existential threat to global civilization looks like. From the 1880s to the six month cold season of 2015-2016, global temperatures warmed by 1.38 degrees Celsius. At the end of the last ice age, it took about 3,000 years for as much warming to occur as human fossil fuel burning has achieved over just the last 136 years. Dealing with what is a problem of geological scale ramping up with lightning speed will require a necessarily rapid reduction to zero fossil fuel burning over the coming decades. Recent swift curtailments of coal use provide some hope that such a reduction may be possible. But rates of fossil fuel use will have to peak soon and be cut even more swiftly to prevent a very rapidly intensifying global emergency. Image source: NASA GISS.)

But despite a few reasonable worries, the overall effect is to generate a decoy existential threat to the very real threat of a new global mass extinction event if fossil fuel burning isn’t somehow halted in very short order. One that removes innovative thinking and generates a false impression that there really is no way to effectively mitigate and respond to the impacts of an ever-worsening long climate emergency.

The World Health Organization implicates fossil fuel based carbon emissions as one of the greatest risks to human health this Century stating:

Climate change is among the greatest health risks of the 21st Century. Rising temperatures and more extreme weather events cost lives directly, increase transmission and spread of infectious diseases, and undermine the environmental determinants of health, including clean air and water, and sufficient food.

At the same time, many of the same policy and technology choices that drive climate change, such as polluting energy sources and unsustainable transport systems, also have large immediate and local health impacts – most notably the more than seven million deaths that are caused each year by air pollution (emphasis added).

Given what is a very real danger to human health and well-being arising out of the practice of burning fossil fuels coupled with potential human civilization collapses due to severe climate change, sea level rise, disruptions to the growing season, and extreme weather, it’s worth considering the notion that a functional world without them is not only possible — it is absolutely necessary. For shift away from what some have called energy sources from hell and we open up the potential to expand prosperity, to increase prospects for not just the rich, but for practically everyone. For by doing so we shift away from fuels that result in severe systemic harms in a transition to new, less damaging, more distributed and democratic fuels.

And with a massive curtailment of coal energy use, with a rapidly growing adoption of renewables, and with increasing challenges to growth in natural gas and oil consumption all showing up during 2015, it appears that just such a shift may have already started.

*****

Today’s harbinger of what may well now be an ongoing massive move away from harmful fossil fuel energy is itself a bit ironic. For the message comes in the form of a new report out from the fossil fuel giant British Petroleum. And it’s a real eye-catcher. For this fossil fuel industry based report found that global coal use fell by the largest margin ever recorded. With oil and gas struggling to make up the difference, with the fortunes of renewable energy on the rise, and with fossil fuel energy use growing at a very sluggish net annual rate of about 0.56 percent, we’ve got to ask the question — have we reached the age of peak fossil fuels? And, if so, why isn’t the world economy falling apart as some predicted?

Record Drop in Coal Use

The big shock comes in the form of a massive 1.8 percent annual drop in coal use globally. Lead by China and the US, total global coal curtailment reached 71 million tons of oil equivalent during 2015. This was the greatest single annual drop in coal use in the entirety of the 50 year BP record.

Plummeting Coal Use

(According to fossil fuel industry giant, BP, global coal use fell by its largest margin ever. Image source: Carbon Brief.)

The massive drop in coal also occurred at a time when prices for the carbon-emitting commodity were at or near historical lows. A situation that would normally stimulate demand — all other things being equal.

But with coal, all things are not equal. China suffers from some of the worst air and water pollution conditions in the world due to its reliance on the stuff. Its people are getting sick from emissions particulate related lung damage and from coal-based water contamination. Many are dying prematurely as a result. And since coal use is the greatest contributor to China’s air and water woes, China has undertaken a massive effort to curtail its burning.

Globally, coal is also the worst fossil fuel contributor to Earth System warming on a pound-burned for pound-burned comparison. With global temperatures now hitting near the 1.3 C above 1880s temperature marks on an annual basis — a level high enough to begin to inflict severe climate change related harms — world leaders are increasingly feeling the heat to cut coal.

No Global Recession, But Fossil Fuel Use Stagnates

Curtailment of coal use on such a large scale due to climate, health, welfare, and environmental concerns is unprecedented. In the past, large drops in coal use have only occurred during times of economic recession or when another major fossil fuel source such as natural gas out-competed coal on the global market. During this year of greatest coal losses, neither was the case. Coal remained competitive with natural gas on a cost vs cost comparison basis during 2015 even as the global economy grew by about 3 percent according to International Monetary Fund estimates.

Global Growth International monetary fund

(Despite stagnating fossil fuel use and plummeting rates of coal use, the global economy grew by 3.1 percent during 2015. Image source: The International Monetary Fund.)

Coal’s loss also comes in the context of a declining fossil fuel share in the global energy mix. According to BP, fossil fuels accounted for only 86 percent of global energy use — which was the lowest level ever recorded. Non fossil fuel interest sources such as the recent REN21 paper on the global state of renewable energy put that number even lower — close to 80 percent.

But the BP numbers look bad enough from the fossil fuel industry perspective. Globally, both gas and oil use increased by a combined 134 million tons of oil equivalent. A gradual rate of growth that follows historical lines for those two sources. However, when you account for the loss of coal, net fossil fuel energy use only grew by 63 million tons of oil equivalent — and that represents just a 0.56 percent annual rate of growth for the fossil fuel sector. This compares to a historical annual growth rate in fossil fuel use of 1 to 3 percent during non recession years.

Peak Fossil Fuel Use as Boon Not Bane

Rising rates of renewable energy adoption are the primary reason for coal’s fall and fossil fuel stagnation. Globally, according to BP figures, the net add in non-hydro renewables energy use was equivalent to 48 million tons of oil. A number that, if BP is correct, is nipping away at fossil fuel market dominance by achieving a rate of adoption similar to that of a mainstream energy source.

Renewables Rise Fossil Fuels Stagnate

(Renewable rise while coal plummets, dragging down fossil fuels’ overall share of the global energy supply during 2015. Image source: Carbon Brief.)

Falling rates of overall energy gain for fossil fuels may well represent the start of a period when oil, gas, and coal begin to go into net decline. This has not happened yet. But it will be necessary if the world is to have much hope of preventing extremely catastrophic rates of warming by greater than 2 C above pre-industrial levels this Century. So the big coal curtailment during 2015 as the global economy continued a 3 percent annual growth rate was a huge step in the right direction. But to prevent a future in which ever-more-harmful rates of warming occur. In which 3 C, 4 C, or even 5 C warming becomes likely during this Century, then we will need to continue seeing renewables advance. Then we will need to see what would be a benevolent peak in fossil fuel use. One that is coming on a bit late for comfort and that couldn’t happen soon enough.

Links:

BP — Coal Use Fell By Largest Recorded Margin in 2015

The International Monetary Fund

Choose Between Fuels From Hell and Renewable Jobs Economy

Renewables Global Status Report

NASA GISS

Renewables are Winning the Race Against Fossil Fuels — But Not Fast Enough

We have to reverse global warming urgently, if we still can. — Stephen Hawking

The world is dangerous not because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything. — Albert Einstein.

*****

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve been drawn into a race. A race against time to swiftly reduce carbon emissions in order to prevent ramping climate harms on the path to a fifth hothouse extinction. For the current burning of fossil fuels and the ongoing dumping of carbon into the atmosphere at the rate of 13 billion tons each year is an insult to the global climate system that has likely never been seen before in all of the deep history of planet Earth. And the swifter we draw that emission down to zero and net negative, the better.

In the early part of this race, there is one factor that can provide the greatest overall benefit — the rate of renewable energy (RE) adoption. For adding RE at a high rate removes future market share from fossil fuels even as it draws down emissions, enables efficiencies, and undercuts fossil fuel industry revenues. Such a systemic change saps the economic and political power of destructive entities that have for decades attempted to lock in greater and greater volumes of climate-harming emissions. And when RE begins to overcome not just future market share, but also current fossil fuel markets, this loss of power and influence hastens.

Hawking We have to reverse global warming urgenty if we still can

Once fossil fuels begin to lose their grip on political systems around the world, it becomes easier to implement other consumption based policies like a carbon tax or further disincentives to a very wasteful use of resources at the top of economic spectra across the globe. An energy renaissance of this kind is not a perfect fix. It can’t halt all the climate harm coming down the pipe. But it does hit hard at the center of gravity of a corrupt and deleterious global economic power base that, if it had its way, would lock in the worst effects of a hothouse extinction in very short order — inevitably wrecking human civilization and inflicting a global ecocide in the process. It shrinks the might and reach of bad carbon actors. And it opens up avenues for a ramping up of more powerful climate change mitigation and response policies in the future.

In this context of a drive pull the rug out from under the bad carbon actors, it appears that RE adoption rates are now starting to hit a level that makes just such a political and economic power shift possible.

Renewable Energy Adds Nearly 150 GW in 2015 Despite Low Fossil Fuel Prices and Backward Policies in Some Countries

During 2015, according to a new report out by REN21, renewable energy added 147 Gigawatts of total global electricity generation capacity to hit 1,849 gigawatts overall. This big jump came even as fossil fuel prices plummeted, as policies adverse to renewable energy adoption took hold in places like Australia and the UK, and as global subsidy support for fossil fuels remained at a level four times that of government support for renewables. Factors showing a serious lack of commitment to the safety of human civilization that lead to a slower overall RE capacity growth in the range of about 3 percent year on year for the entire sector.

Christine Lins, Executive Secretary of REN21, noted in Clean Technica that renewables gains against this tide were significant and impressive:

“What is truly remarkable about these results is that they were achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows, and renewables remained at a significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies. For every dollar spent boosting renewables, nearly four dollars were spent to maintain our dependence on fossil fuels.”

Rates of solar and wind growth were particularly strong. Both technologies benefited from prices that increasingly undercut gas, coal, and diesel generation in an expanding number of markets. Solar added 50 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity during 2015 — which is a stunning 40 percent jump over the amount added in 2014. This nearly matched wind’s jump of 63 gigawatts — about a 14 percent increase above 2014 wind additions. In total, global solar capacity now stands at 277 GW and wind at 433 GW.

REN 27 renewable energy share

(Renewables continued to gain ground against traditional power sources in 2015. Wind and solar together now account for about 5 percent of global electricity generation with total renewable generation now nearing 23.7 percent. Image source: Renewables Global Status Report.)

As a share of global electricity generation, renewables grew by nearly 1 percent year on year from 2014 to 2015 — jumping from 22.8 percent to 23.7 percent. A rate of growth that edged out coal and gas in many markets. Meanwhile, the number of people now employed in the renewable energy sector globally expanded to 8.1 million.

99.2 Percent of all New US Electrical Power Additions Came From Renewables During the First Quarter of 2016

Moving on to 2016, the US saw a stunning 99.2 percent of all electricity power additions coming from renewables during the first quarter. Overall adding about 2.1 gigawatts of new capacity, wind and solar dominated.

The biggest contributor to these gains was residential solar which installed 900 megawatts of new capacity. Falling customer costs in the residential market spurred these gains even as state and federal incentives provided a sunny outlook for those taking the rooftop solar plunge. Solar leasing accounted for about 60 percent of this new capacity. But a healthy 40 percent came from outright purchases. Rates of solar purchases have benefited from easy access to loans and a positive policy environment in many states (although exceptions like Nevada did put a drag on the national rate of adoption).

New Electric Generating Capacity

(A staggering 99.2 percent of all new electricity production capacity came from renewables during Q1 of 2016. If we’re wise, we’d work to ensure that all new energy comes from non carbon sources on into the future. Image source: Renewables — 99 Percent of New Electricity Capacity in the US During Q1.)

These substantial residential adds marked a continued trend in which individual homeowners are enabled more and more to chose between utility sourced energy, solar leasing contracts, and individual ownership of energy production. A new freedom that provides resilience to renewable energy growth across the US so long as adversarial policies aren’t enacted (as we’ve seen in Nevada with Warren Buffet’s strong-arming of the political process in an attempt to protect legacy coal and gas holdings).

Meanwhile, wind added 707 megawatts of new power and utility solar added 522 megawatts. Gas, which maintained near historically low fuel prices only added 18 megawatts. Together, this picture shows that climate change concern based resistance to new fossil fuel infrastructure has combined with falling renewable prices to push most utilities to opt out of new carbon based infrastructure. Larger trends like Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the Paris Climate Summit and vigorous fossil fuel divestment, anti-pipeline, and anti-coal campaigns spear-headed by 350.org and the Sierra Club, serve as a powerful moral backstop to renewables improving economies. A combination of government and NGO action that has now generated a decent level of enforcement to reducing dependency on harmful fuels.

US Energy Generation by Sector

(Large renewable additions outpaced natural gas year on year as coal saw big cuts. Overall, US electricity usage was also down. Image source: Renewables — 99 Percent of New Electricity Capacity in the US During Q1.)

Year on year differences in power generation from Q1 2015 to Q1 2016 paint a rather bright picture for what appears to be an ongoing US energy transition. Overall coal use fell by 7.3 percent to 28.6 percent of the US total. Renewables jumped by nearly 3 percent to 17.1 percent of the US total — taking up almost half the loss coming from coal. Most of the renewable gain came from wind and solar which jumped from 5.2 to 7.2 percent of the US total. At more than 1 million rooftops and taking in a growing portion of utility power generation, solar for the first time exceeded 1 percent of US electricity generation — a threshold that many see as a tipping point for ramping rates of adoption. Water generation added about another 1 percent. And rounding out the non-carbon energy sources, nuclear power added 1.2 percent to increase to 20.9 percent of the US total (though the nuclear generation addition was smaller than either wind or solar, its larger net total figured favorably over a period in which overall US power use fell).

Led by drops in coal and petroleum liquids use at a combined total 94,000 gigawatt hours, US electricity generation fell by more than 50,000 gigawatt hours — a drop of nearly 5 percent. This continues a larger trend of US electricity demand softening — one that has been driven in part by increasing efficiencies across the electricity chain. And the only fossil fuel based energy system showing year on year gains was natural gas — which added just over 19,000 gigawatt hours. A total that trailed the renewables add by nearly 3,000 gigawatt hours.

The trend in the US is therefore pretty amazingly clear. Despite historically low coal and gas prices, renewables and efficiencies are now the dominant force in a US electricity market that presently appears to be making solid moves away from traditional fossil fuel based energy sources.

Positive Trends, but Still too Slow

To be clear, these are very positive trends. On a Q1 2015 to Q1 2016 comparison, US fossil fuel use for power generation fell from around 67 percent to 62 percent. But 62 percent is still a majority of the US electricity generation base. And with climate change already ramping up to dangerous extremes, the goal here should be to push US fossil fuel burning for electricity past the 50 percent level and on to 0 percent as swiftly as possible. So for the US, which has clearly shown global leadership in cutting carbon based fuels over the past year, there is still a very long road ahead. And the globe, even in the more positive electricity generation context, lagged the US rate of renewable energy adds by about 50 percent while net power use is growing (not shrinking).

To this point, electricity power use is not all power use. And from a global perspective, adding in transportation, renewable energy only managed to gain a 0.1 percent additional share of the global energy pie (rising to 19.2 percent). This lag was due in large part to growing oil use for transportation — which benefited from lower prices. And though the jump in global oil demand was not as much as some fossil fuel interested parties had hoped for, it did manage to forestall a greater overall net gain in the global renewable energy total.

LCOE costs for all power sources

(Falling wind and solar LCOE prices have combined with global concern over human caused climate change to push ramping rates of renewable energy adoption. A second wave of increased market access will necessarily be driven by renewed policy efforts combining with falling energy storage prices and a flood of new electrical vehicle production coming from 2017 to 2022. Image source: Commons.)

Looking forward, the world will need to add in the range of 250 to 350 gigawatts of renewable energy each year while rapidly adopting electric vehicles and related energy storage technologies to provide annual rates of renewable share increases in excess of 2 percent while trimming fossil fuel use in the transportation sector. Synergies between electrical vehicle production increases and falling battery costs provide a pathway for this next phase of renewable energy expansion. For garaged electric vehicles (EVs) can act as energy storage devices with the right software, smart grids, and organized energy trading. Meanwhile, old EV batteries can be re-purposed for low cost home, business, and utility energy storage devices that can aid in ramping renewable energy grid penetration.

Fossil fuel industry special interests are likely to fight this phase of renewable energy growth with everything they’ve got. But, so far, they’ve pretty much failed to take out the renewables renaissance in its infancy. Now as it moves into adolescence, the stakes are higher and the game is likely to get even rougher. But it appears that despite all opposition from various fossil fuel bad actors, this critical energy renaissance is in the process of taking hold. And given the fact that a very dangerous human-caused climate change is ramping up far more rapidly than expected, the building impetus for an energy switch couldn’t happen soon enough.

Links:

Global Renewable Energy Adds 147 GW in 2015

Renewables — 99 Percent of New Electricity Capacity in the US During Q1

Cost of Energy by Source

Thirty Years of Climate Deception Could be Offense Under New California Law

Stephen Hawking Quotes

Renewables Global Status Report

350.org

Sierra Club Beyond Coal

The Clean Power Plan

The Paris Climate Accord

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DT Lange

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