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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




2016 Was the Year Solar Panels Became Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels


Trump Will Withdraw From Paris Climate Agreement

Global PV Manufacturing Expansion Rebounds in Q1 2017

Solar Power in China

Global Wind Capacity Nears 500 GW in 2016

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

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

Spectacular Drop in Renewable Energy Costs Lead to Global Boost

Solar to See 9 Percent Growth in 2017

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

Hat tip to Greg

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Sweden Aims to be Carbon Neutral by 2045; Largest Pension Fund Ditches Climate Bad Actors

In a stunning victory for clean energy and climate progress, Sweden this week overwhelmingly passed a law that fully commits the country to carbon neutrality by 2045. Meanwhile, Sweden’s largest pension fund has divested from corporations it identifies as violators of the Paris Climate Accord. As a wise person recently said (see featured comment below) — this is “what real climate leadership looks like.”

Beating a Fast Path to Net Zero Emissions

Sweden’s most recent climate law, which flew through the Parliament by a 254 to 41 margin, aims to have the country producing net zero carbon emissions in less than three decades. This new measure moves the date for Sweden’s carbon neutrality forward by 5 years from 2050 to 2045.

Already a climate leader, Sweden presently gets about 85 percent of its electricity from hydropower, wind and nuclear energy. Across all sectors of its economy, Sweden has achieved the goal of 50 percent renewable energy fully 8 years ahead of schedule. The new measure doubles down on this already-powerful trend by further trimming carbon-based electrical generation while shifting larger focus to carbon emissions cuts from the transportation sector.

(Swedish electrical generation is dominated by hydro, nuclear, and wind power. Sweden aims to remove fossil fuels from electrical power generation while shifting transportation to EVs and biofuels by 2045. Image source: Electricity Production in Sweden.)

In order to achieve carbon neutrality, Sweden is pushing hard for rapid electrical vehicle adoption, switching remaining liquid fuels to biofuels, and to completely phase out its ever-dwindling margin of fossil fuel power generation. The result of these policies would be a country that primarily runs on renewable and nuclear power generation and that uses EVs and other alternative fuel vehicles for motorized transportation. Ultimately, Sweden aims to cut its presently low carbon emissions by a further 85 percent all while planting trees and developing carbon sinks to offset the rest by 2045.

Divesting From Climate Bad Actors

In a related move, Sweden’s largest pension fund, which manages the pensions of 3.5 million Swedish citizens, decided to divest money from various climate bad actors. The fund, AP 7, announced last week that it would pull investments from six corporations that it identified as being engaged in various violations of the Paris Climate Summit. These companies included: ExxonMobil, Westar, Southern Corp, and Entergy for fighting against climate legislation in the United States, Gazprom for oil exploration in the vulnerable Arctic, and TransCanada for building pipelines across North America despite widespread local opposition and obvious long-term climate impacts.

(AP 7’s divestment from climate bad actors is a major win for climate action advocacy groups like which nobly aim to leverage mass social, political and protest action to help spur a transition to 100 percent renewable energy in an effort to prevent serious global harm from climate change. Image source:

These moves were praised by climate action advocacy group’s Jamie Henn, Strategic Communications Director for the global grassroots climate movement, who stated:

“Sweden divesting its largest pension from Exxon proves you can’t claim to support climate action while funding and perpetuating climate change. Exxon knew about climate change half a century ago, and continues to sow doubt and bankroll climate deniers. With its core business model dependent on exploiting people and planet for profit, Exxon is in direct violation of the Paris agreement.”

Responsible Climate Action by Sweden

Sweden’s latest moves cast light on various agencies who have done so much to slow the pace of a much-needed response to climate change and a related energy transition while putting serious legislative muscle behind carbon emissions reductions. It’s a major win for the divestment and climate action movements — further calling into doubt the viability of a number of businesses who’ve predicated their future profitability on wholesale global harm. Sweden, by both moving forward its date for carbon neutrality and by moving large pension funds away from direct capital support of the fossil fuel industry continues to set an example for all by vividly underlining how decisively the rest of the world needs to act to catch up.


Sweden Commits to Becoming Carbon Neutral by 2045 With New Law

Sweden’s Largest Pension Divests From Paris Accord Violators Including ExxonMobil and TransCanada

Electricity Production in Sweden (Please Support)

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Big Win For Solar Revolution, Public as Nevada Reinstates Net Metering

Back during late 2015 and early 2016, wealthy investors aligned with Nevada utilities in an attempt to kill off a wave of rooftop solar adoption rippling through the state.

Campaign money was promised, shady back-room deals were made, and in 2016, the state set forward a policy that would basically make it uneconomical for homeowners to purchase or maintain solar rooftops. Credits to homeowners with solar roofs who sold electricity back to utilities dropped from 12.5 cents per kilowatt hour to 2.5 cents.

This crushing blow to clean, distributed energy resulted in mass protest both from the Nevada public and from the industry itself. Demonstrations erupted in the Nevada capital as Solar City (now under Tesla), Sunrun, and Vivint all decided to pull the plug on state operations in an all-out boycott to protest Nevada’s anti-renewables policy. In total, 2,600 clean energy jobs were lost in Nevada as industries fled the state and solar adoption rates plummeted.

Many thought this was the short-term end for rooftop solar in Nevada. That residents wanting to tap the abundant, clean power source would have to wait for battery prices to drop enough for them to go off-grid. But since 2016, it appears that the Nevada government has now had a change of heart in the face of a powerful counter-lobbying campaign by the solar industry, progressive politicians, and the public. For yesterday, both Governor Sandoval and the state legislature reinstated a net metering policy that is far more benevolent to homeowners with solar roofs and the solar industry at large.

(Nevada Governor Sandoval signs new state law re-opening the state to the rooftop solar industry. Image source: Vote Solar Nevada.)

It’s worth noting that the new policy makes far better sense for Nevada — which has no fossil fuel resources to speak of, but possesses an abundance of sunlight and is home to Tesla’s Gigafactory 1. And the fact that Nevada ever turned against renewables at all is a testament to the harmful influence fossil fuel based utilities are sometimes able to exert on state governments. But this effort to stymie renewables and home solar ownership ultimately failed.

Assemblyman Chris Brooks, a Democrat who spearheaded a clean energy push in Carson City provided this gauge of Nevada public sentiment in Scientific American:

“A lot of folks would say, and you would be surprised, ‘Las Vegas has so much sun; why aren’t we putting solar on every roof in Nevada? People across the state, from many different demographics, many different socio-economic situations, all said, ‘Why don’t we use more solar?’”

The newly reinstated policy will provide utility buy-backs for home solar generation at no less than 75 percent of the retail rate (or around 8-9 cents per kilowatt hour) and would be phased to allow new solar purchasers to receive higher payback rates during early years of ownership to help defray system costs. This policy stability ensures that homeowners who buy solar will receive a good return on their investment.

And it’s something politicians in the state are pretty proud of. Republican Governor Sandoval suggested that the program be a model for other states looking to incentivize renewable energy as the bill was signed.

“I believe, humbly, it will be a national model across the country.” he said to a crowd of solar advocates at the signing ceremony. “I’m as competitive as it gets, and I want Nevada to truly be a leader in energy policy.”


Nevada Boosts Solar Power, Reversing Course

Vote Solar Nevada

Warren Buffet’s Quiet Bid to Kill Solar in the Western U.S.

Nevada Enacts Progressive New Solar Policies

Nevada Reinstates Key Solar Energy Policy

Nevada’s Solar Fees Have People Furious

AB 405

Old Energy Left Behind — Equivalent of 7 Gigafactories Already Under Construction; Tesla Plans 10-20 More

In an interview with Leonardo DiCaprio during late 2016, Elon Musk famously claimed that it would take just 100 Gigafactories to produce enough clean energy to meet the needs of the entire world. As of mid 2017, in the face of an ever-worsening global climate, the equivalent of 7 such plants were already under construction while plans for many more were taking shape on the drawing boards of various clean energy corporations across the globe.

(Elon Musk shares climate change concerns, expresses urgency for rapid transition to clean energy in interview with Leonardo DiCaprio during late 2016.)

Tesla’s own landmark gigafactory began construction during late 2014. Upon completion, it will produce the Model 3 electric vehicle along with hoards of electric motors and around 35 gigawatt hours worth of lithium battery storage every single year (a planned output that Tesla said it could potentially triple or more to 100-150 gigawatt hours). During May, Tesla stated that it would set plans for four new gigafactories after Model 3 production began in earnest late this summer. And this week, Elon Musk announced an ultimate ambition to construct between 10 and 20 gigafactories in all. For reference, so many gigafactories could ultimately support vehicle production in the range of 12 to 24 million annually.

Racing to Catch up With Tesla

Tesla’s ramp-up to clean energy mass production, however, is not going unanswered. In China, CATL is building a gigafactory that by 2020 will produce about 50 gigawatts of battery packs every year. This massive plant is the centerpiece of China’s push to have 5 million electrical vehicles operating on its roads by 2020. It’s a huge facility that could outstrip even the Tesla Gigafactory 1’s massive production chain.

Meanwhile, another 11 facilities under construction around the world will add around 145 gigawatts of additional battery pack production capacity by the early 2020s as well. Add in both China’s CATL and Tesla’s Nevada battery plant and you end up with 230 gigawatts of new battery production — or the equivalent to just shy of 7 gigafactories that are already slated for completion by around 2020.

(Steep climb in EV adoption pushes global fleet to above 2 million during 2016. Swiftly dropping prices and expanding production chains will help to drive far more rapid adoption during 2017-2020. Massive factories producing EVs will also help to speed larger energy transition away from fossil fuels. Image source: International Energy Agency.)

Race to Win the Energy Transition 

According to news reports, the big-ramp up in battery production has already driven prices down to $140 dollars per kilowatt hour. That’s a major drop from around $550 dollars per kilowatt hour just five years ago. An amazing trend that is expected to push batteries for electrical vehicles down to below $100 dollars per kilowatt hour by or before 2020, and to around $80 dollars per kilowatt hour not long after. This means that battery packs for vehicles like Nissan’s new Leaf, the Chevy Bolt, and Tesla’s Model 3 are likely to range between $5,000 and $7,000 dollars in rather short order. A price level that will allow EV production at cost parity with similar fossil fuel driven vehicles within the next three years.

But ambitions appear to go well beyond just the transportation industry. Based on Musk’s earlier assessment, it appears that he’s aiming to control a 10-20 percent stake in the larger global energy market. An aspiration aided both by the innate fungibility of battery pack production (after-market EV batteries can be resold to the energy storage market) together with Tesla’s recent Solar City acquisition. It also appears that he is helping to spur a race between various companies and nations for new, clean energy, leadership. And with so much momentum already building behind the big clean energy push, it appears the choices for present energy and transport leaders are either to join the race or get left behind.


100 Gigafactories Could Power Entire World

Battery Gigafactories Hit Europe

Lithium-Ion Batteries are Now Selling for Under $140 Dollars per kwh

China Battery-Maker Signs Massive Supply Contract

Tesla Plans 12 to 24 Million Vehicles Per Year

Electric Batteries $100 Dollars Per kwh by 2020, $80 Soon After?

Tesla — 4 More Gigafactories

Global EV Outlook 2017

Tesla to Build 10-20 Gigafactories

Hat tip to Greg

With Mass Vehicle Electrification on the Horizon, New Oil Development hits a 70 Year Low

“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


As the global climate situation worsens, the rickety and destructive old energy sources that caused the problem in the first place continue to look less and less secure. Meanwhile, the new energy sources that will help to address what is now a very serious crisis continue to gain strength.

Plummeting Oil Discoveries, Investments

A report out from the International Energy Agency this week showed that new oil discoveries had fallen to 2.4 billion barrels — less than 1/3 of the 15 year average. Meanwhile, the volume of conventional resources sanctioned for development fell to 4.7 billion barrels or the lowest level seen since the 1940s.

(Global oil discoveries and sanctioned developments hit historic lows during 2016. A structural trend due to new energy market factors that is likely to continue through at least the end of 2017. Image source: International Energy Agency.)

Sanctioned development is a direct measure of investment in new oil extraction infrastructure while new discoveries are a key factor in maintaining or expanding present oil supply rates of around 85 million barrels per day globally (total liquid fuels including biofuels are now 92 million barrels per day). If investments are falling along with new discoveries, at some point daily production rates will start to lag.

A combination of low oil prices, strong opposition to new oil projects, divestment of fossil fuel market capital, concern over climate change, loss of good faith in the oil industry, and rapidly falling renewable energy prices have all weighed heavily on oil exploration and new project investment. Intense efforts to extract unconventional oil (shale oil and tar sands) in the U.S. and Canada also depressed the broader global markets. IEA sees this trend continuing through at least 2017. A potential for price increases may emerge post-2017 due to supply tightening despite a feeble expected demand growth of 1.2 million barrels per day over the next five years. Given such weak expected increases in demand, most of any supply tightening would tend to come as flagging new project investments fail to make up the gap in falling well production rates.

Oil Major Predicts Electric Future

But over the same 5-year timeframe another factor pushing down global oil demand is expected to begin to emerge. Electric vehicle purchases, which now make up about 1 percent of the global market, are expected to dramatically expand in the coming years. A fact that even oil major Total acknowledges.

(Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects rapid adoption trend for electric vehicles. However, once this kind of market momentum starts, it can tend to snowball very rapidly. Potentially even more rapidly than this trend graph suggests.)

According to a recent report from Gas2:

At the Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in New York on April 25, Joel Couse, chief economist for Total, predicted that sales of electric cars will surge from about 1% globally in today’s new car market to up to 30% of the market by 2030. If that happens, he says, demand for petroleum based fuels “will flatten out, maybe even decline.”

Coming from an oil major, this is a big admission. And one that jibes with past reports made by Bloomberg showing electric vehicles dramatically eating into global oil demand by the 2020s. Since Bloomberg’s 2016 report, new revelations have continued to emerge showing EV market strength. Battery prices are falling by 20 percent per year — which just keeps making both EVs and related battery storage more accessible. Meanwhile, EVs continue to develop in ways that surpass their conventional counterparts. Michael Liebreich, who founded Bloomberg New Energy Finance, expects that by “2020 there will be over 120 different models of EV across the spectrum. These are great cars. They will make the internal combustion equivalent look old fashioned.”

Potential to Decimate Oil Demand in Just One Decade

More than 50 percent of global oil demand comes from gasoline use. Another 15 percent of that demand comes from distillate use which includes diesel — which is also a motor vehicle based fuel. Start replacing significant portions of the global vehicle fleet with EVs and that demand is going to fall.

(Total oil demand is significantly vulnerable to fluctuations in gasoline and distillate products demand — both of which are heavily impacted by electric vehicle and solar energy adoption rates. Image source: Quora.)

This is arguably already a marginal feature of the oil market with EVs making up 1 percent of global vehicle sales and with solar now acting to directly replace diesel based electric generation. But the ground swell we are beginning to see in the energy markets appears to be the start of transformational trend.

Cities and countries are banning (or planning to ban) petrol-based vehicles. Automakers like Volkswagon, GM, Nissan, BMW, Audi, Ford, and Toyota are dedicating increasing portions of their vehicle fleets to electrics even as all-electric manufacturers like Tesla are growing more dominant. And fast charging stations that are capable of 5-10 minute charge times are on the horizon. Given the emerging confluence of affordability, capability and desirability — it appears that a big, S-curve-like, EV adoption bump is coming on fast. If and when such an event occurs, a crash in oil production rates is likely to follow soon after.


International Energy Agency

Total Predicts Electric Cars Will Decrease Oil Demand

Bloomberg New Energy Finance

How Goliath Might Fall

The 5-10 Minute EV Charging Stations are Coming


Hat tip to Steve Piper

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.


(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.


(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:

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.


(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.


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

Rex Tillerson Named as Secretary of State Amidst CIA Report of Russian Attack on U.S. Election

For those saying that this is the first time they’ve heard of Russia’s attack on the US election or of the serious and harmful conflict of interest that occurs when a billionaire demagogue who’s aligned with fossil fuel special interests, couldn’t care less about the integrity of American democracy, and denies human-caused climate change takes office, then I have ‘news’ for you. We were writing about this back in July.


Some have said that President-Elect Donald Trump’s stated support of Russian hacking and conduct of espionage operations against the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election while subsequently attacking the CIA is ‘on the verge of treason.’ Mind you, these charges come from a member the Tea Party — the musket-toting Joe Walsh — and not from the democrats or journalists who’ve been warning the U.S. electorate about Russian interference apparently aimed at placing Trump as President since the summer. A fact that has come into harsh focus now that a CIA report on Russian espionage has been brought to the attention of the press. A report that would have been discussed publicly prior to the election, and not after, if republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hadn’t voiced doubts or threatened to politicize the matter.

(Former CIA Counter-Terrorism official Phil Mudd expresses outrage at Trump’s attacks on one of the US’s top intelligence agencies.)

This week, notably after an election in which Russia, urged on or enabled by some republican party leaders, dug up emails in what for any rational observer was an obvious effort to smear the political opponents of republicans and in which republicans were largely found technically if not popularly victorious, Mitch McConnell is now singing a different tune. The Senate Leader strongly condemned any foreign breach of U.S. cyber-security and noted that “the Russians are not our friends.”

Bravo Mitch. But one has to ask the entirely pertinent question — where was your sense of patriotic concern three months ago??? 

Former CIA Director Michael Morell was pretty clear in his expert opinion on the matter:

“A foreign government messing around in our elections is, I think, an existential threat to our way of life. To me, and this is to me not an overstatement, this is the political equivalent of 9/11.”

Sadly, this political firestorm likely won’t end with the CIA report or with the Congressional inquiry. Trump will claim the FBI’s non-attribution of intent in Russia’s obvious espionage efforts as cover for his own harmful actions. Actions that first cheered-on Russian espionage and have, over the past week, produced an adversarial relationship between a President-elect and an agency — the CIA — whose chief mission it is to keep Americans safe from the kind foreign aggression we’ve apparently just experienced.

Oil CEO Friend of Russia as U.S. Secretary of State

Meanwhile, on Monday, the man who benefited the most from this CIA-reported Russian interference in the U.S. election — Donald Trump — was busily promoting ‘Friend of Russia’ Rex Tillerson into the office of the Secretary of State. In this case, the phrase — elections have consequences — has just produced a gigantic payoff for all those CIA-identified Russian email hacking and fake news dissemination efforts in the form of the man Russia lauded for helping its petroleum industry open new fossil fuel extraction and burning efforts in the Arctic.

Rex will come to head an agency whose stated goals include the promotion of human rights and the advancement of U.S. policy aimed at mitigating and reducing the harms produced by human-caused climate change. But what Rex has done — for his entire 41 year career at Exxon — is promote the kind of oil extraction efforts in Russia that will saddle the Earth with yet one more gigantic carbon bomb and broker business deals with some of the worst human rights abusers in modern history.


(Russian efforts to increase oil and gas production focus on Arctic regions of East and West Siberia. Exxon Mobile under Tillerson was slated to provide Russia with extraction assistance when plans were shut down by U.S. sanctions against Russia following its invasion of the Ukraine. Tillerson opposes sanctions and has, in the past, looked the other way when Russia has acted in an abusive fashion. Image source: EIA.)

For Rex and Exxon, in an admittedly risky courting of a Russian dictator well known for cynically turning against his ‘friends,’ a big deal with Russia promised to produce billions in profits by opening up Arctic oil exploration. Back in 2013, an arrangement was moving along in which Exxon would provide technical expertise for extracting a massive pile of hard to reach oil and gas reserves. Exxon didn’t seem concerned by the fact that Russia had betrayed a similar contract with British Petroleum, thrown one of the competitors to state-run Rosneft in jail, or forced a Total Oil CEO to flee Russia due to ‘sustained harassment.’

In 2014, the high-risk game that Exxon was playing with Russia went sour after Russia invaded the Ukraine. The U.S. under President Obama, decided to apply sanctions against Russia for its military occupation of Ukraine. And in subsequent years, Exxon lost at least 1 billion due to the combined sanctions and Russian military aggression. Russia, meanwhile, saw its Arctic oil extraction efforts slow due to lack of access to western technical expertise. Tillerson, at the time, used his position as Exxon CEO to put pressure on the U.S. to lift sanctions. Such efforts were arguably against the national interest — which focuses on containing and preventing aggression by foreign powers — and aimed at simply fattening Exxon’s and, by extension, Rex’s bottom line. In critiquing an Exxon CEO, we might lable these actions as amoral profit-seeking that runs counter to the national interest. But place Tillerson as Secretary of State and we end up with moral hazard writ large. For Tillerson, if he promotes similar goals while in office, would be wrongfully using a public appointment to pursue a personal monetary interest — in other words opening up the U.S. to corruption and enabling Tillerson to perpetrate graft.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Exxon was facing its own troubles due to its promotion of climate change denial after Exxon scientists warned the company that climate change would produce serious and wide-ranging impacts. Various attorney generals across the U.S. investigated the oil giant for misleading the U.S. public in its numerous climate change related communications and through political activities that supported climate change skeptics and deniers. Meanwhile, Exxon shareholders filed their own suit against the company claiming that the corporation’s stated oil reserves did not take into account planned responses to climate change. Overall, these wide-ranging legal entanglements paint a broad picture in which Exxon is consistently charged with misleading both the public and its shareholders on the critical emerging issue of climate change. And all of this happening while Rex Tillerson, the newly appointed Secretary of State, was at the helm.

In the end, it’s pretty obvious what will result from Tillerson’s appointment as Secretary of State. First, U.S. efforts to mitigate climate change by working with foreign powers will be stymied and/or sabotaged. Trump has stated that he wants to withdraw from the Paris Climate Summit — and who better to lead those efforts than climate change denial promoter Rex Tillerson? But more to the point, U.S. foreign policy under Tillerson is even more likely to roll back sanctions against Russia for its attack against the Ukraine. And not only would this embolden Russia to future aggression while opening up another major source of global carbon emissions, it may also produce personal profits for Rex Tillerson and short term corporate profits for Exxon — if Russia doesn’t screw him and the U.S. over. And after directly attacking the U.S. election to get what it wants in an act of international cyber-warfare aggression the likes of which has never been perpetrated against this country, it appears that Russia has all the worst of intentions at heart.

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.


(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.


(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.

The Roof is On Fire — Looks like February of 2016 Was 1.5 to 1.7 C Above 1880s Averages

Before we go on to explore this most recent and most extreme instance in a long string of record-shattering global temperatures, we should take a moment to credit our climate change denier ‘friends’ for what’s happening in the Earth System.

For decades now, a coalition of fossil fuel special interests, big money investors, related think tanks, and the vast majority of the republican party have fought stridently to prevent effective action to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. In their mad quest, they have attacked science, demonized leaders, gridlocked Congress, hobbled government, propped up failing fossil fuels, prevented or dismantled helpful regulation, turned the Supreme Court into a weapon against renewable energy solutions, and toppled industries that would have helped to reduce the damage.

Through these actions, they have been successful in preventing the necessary and rapid shift away from fossil fuel burning, halting a burgeoning American leadership in renewable energy, and in flooding the world with the low-cost coal, oil, and gas that is now so destructive to Earth System stability. Now, it appears that some of the more dangerous impacts of climate change are already locked in. So when history looks back and asks — why were we so stupid? We can honestly point our fingers to those ignoramuses and say ‘here were the infernal high priests who sacrificed a secure future and our children’s safety on the altar of their foolish pride.’

Worst Fears For Global Heating Realized

We knew there’d be trouble. We knew that human greenhouse gas emissions had loaded the world ocean up with heat. We knew that a record El Nino would blow a big chunk of that heat back into the atmosphere as it began to fade. And we knew that more global temperature records were on the way in late 2015 and early 2016. But I have to say that the early indications for February are just staggering.

Extreme Global Warming

(The GFS model shows temperatures averaged 1.01 C above the already significantly hotter than normal 1981-2010 baseline. Subsequent observations from separate sources have confirmed this dramatic February temperature spike. We await NASA, NOAA, and JMA observations for a final confirmation. But the trend in the data is amazingly clear. What we’re looking at is the hottest global temperatures since record keeping began by a long shot. Note that the highest temperature anomalies appear exactly where we don’t want them — the Arctic. Image source: GFS and M. J. Ventrice.)

Eric Holthaus and M. J. Ventrice on Monday were the first to give warning of an extreme spike in temperatures as recorded by the Global satellite record. A slew of media reports followed. But it wasn’t until today that we really began to get a clear look at the potential atmospheric damage.

Nick Stokes, a retired climate scientist and blogger over at Moyhu, published an analysis of the recently released preliminary data from NCAR and the indicator is just absolutely off the charts high. According to this analysis, February temperatures may have been as much as 1.44 C hotter than the 1951 to 1980 NASA baseline. Converting to departures from 1880s values, if these preliminary estimates prove correct, would put the GISS figure at an extreme 1.66 C hotter than 1880s levels for February. If GISS runs 0.1 C cooler than NCAR conversions, as it has over the past few months, then the 1880 to February 2016 temperature rise would be about 1.56 C. Both are insanely high jumps that hint 2016 could be quite a bit warmer than even 2015.

It’s worth noting that much of these record high global temperatures are centered on the Arctic — a region that is very sensitive to warming and one that has the potential to produce a number of dangerous amplifying feedbacks. So we could well characterize an impending record warm February as one in which much of the excess heat exploded into the Arctic. In other words — the global temperature anomaly graphs make it look like the world’s roof is on fire. That’s not literal. Much of the Arctic remains below freezing. But 10-12 C above average temperature anomalies for an entire month over large regions of the Arctic is a big deal. It means that large parts of the Arctic haven’t experienced anything approaching a real Arctic Winter this year.

Looks Like The 1.5 C Threshold Was Shattered in the Monthly Measure and We May Be Looking at 1.2 to 1.3 C+ Above 1880s For all of 2016

Putting these numbers into context, it looks like we may have already crossed the 1.5 C threshold above 1880s values in the monthly measure during February. This is entering a range of high risk for accelerating Arctic sea ice and snow melt, albedo loss, permafrost thaw and a number of other related amplifying feedbacks to a human-forced heating of our world. A set of changes that will likely add to the speed of an already rapid fossil fuel based warming. But we should be very clear that monthly departures are not annual departures and the yearly measure for 2016 is less likely to hit or exceed a 1.5 C departure. It’s fair to say, though, that 1.5 C annual departures are imminent and will likely appear within 5-20 years.

If we use the 1997-1998 El Nino year as a baseline, we find that global temperatures for that event peaked at around 1.1 C above 1880s averages during February. The year, however, came in at about 0.85 C above 1880s averages. Using a similar back of napkin analysis, and assuming 2016 will continue to see Equatorial sea surface temperatures continue to cool, we may be looking at a 1.2 to 1.3 C above 1880s average for this year.


(El Nino is cooling down. But will it continue to linger through 2016? Climate Prediction Center CFSv2 model ensembles seem to think so. The most recent run shows the current El Nino restrengthening through Fall of 2016. Such an event would tend to push global annual temperatures closer to the 1.5 C above 1880s threshold. It would also set in place the outside potential for another record warm year in 2017. It’s worth noting that the NOAA consensus is still for ENSO Neutral to weak La Nina conditions by Fall. Image source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

NOAA is currently predicting that El Nino will transition to ENSO neutral or a weak la Nina by year end. However, some model runs show that El Nino never really ends for 2016. Instead, these models predict a weak to moderate El Nino come Fall. In 1998, a strong La Nina began to form — which would have helped to suppress atmospheric temperatures by year-end. The 2016 forecast, however, does not seem to indicate quite as much atmospheric cooling assistance coming from the world ocean system. So end 2016 annual averages may push closer to 1.3 C (or a bit higher) above 1880s levels.

We’ve Had This Warming in the System for a While, It was Just Hiding Out in the Oceans

One other bit of context we should be very clear on is that the Earth System has been living with the atmospheric heat we’re now seeing for a while. The oceans began a very rapid accumulation of heat due to greenhouse gas emissions forcing during the 2000s. A rate of heat accumulation in the world’s waters that has accelerated through to this year. This excess heat has already impacted the climate system by speeding the destabilization of glaciers in the basal zone in Greenland and Antarctica. And it has also contributed to new record global sea ice losses and is a likely source of reports from the world’s continental shelf zones that small but troubling clathrate instabilities have been observed.

Nature Global Ocean Heat Accumulation

(Global ocean heat accumulation has been on a high ramp since the late 1990s with 50 percent of the total heat accumulation occurring in the 18 years from 1997 though 2015. Since more than 90 percent of the greenhouse gas heat forcing ends up in the world ocean system, this particular measure is probably the most accurate picture of a rapidly warming world. Such a swift accumulation of heat in the world’s oceans guaranteed that the atmosphere would eventually respond. The real question now is — how fast and far? Image source: Nature.)

But pushing up atmospheric heating will have numerous additional impacts. It will put pressure on the surface regions of global glaciers — adding to the basal melt pressure jump we’ve already seen. It will further amplify the hydrological cycle — increasing the rates of evaporation and precipitation around the world and amplifying extreme droughts, wildfires and floods. It will increase peak global surface temperatures — thereby increasing the incidence of heatwave mass casualty events. It will provide more latent heat energy for storms — continuing to push up the threshold of peak intensity for these events. And it will help to accelerate the pace of regional changes to climate systems such as weather instability in the North Atlantic and increasing drought tendency in the US (especially the US Southwest).

Entering the Climate Change Danger Zone

The 1-2 C above 1880s temperatures range we are now entering is one in which dangerous climate changes will tend to grow more rapid and apparent. Such atmospheric heat has not been experienced on Earth in at least 150,000 years and the world then was a much different place than what human beings were used to in the 20th Century. However, the speed at which global temperatures are rising is much more rapid than anything seen during any interglacial period for the last 3 million years and is probably even more rapid than the warming seen during hothouse extinction events like the PETM and the Permian. This velocity of warming will almost certainly have added effects outside of the paleoclimate context.

Arctic Degree Days Below Zero Anomaly

(Anyone looking at the temperature anomaly graph on the top of this post can see that a disproportionate amount of the global temperature anomaly is showing up in the Arctic. But the region of the High North above the 80 degree Latitude line is among the regions experiencing global peak anomalies. There, degree days below freezing are at the lowest levels ever recorded — now hitting a -800 anomaly in the Arctic record. In plain terms — the less degree days below freezing the High Arctic experiences, the closer it is to melting. Image source: CIRES/NOAA.)

One final point to be clear on is then worth repeating. We, by listening to climate change deniers and letting them gum up the political and economic works, have probably already locked in some of the bad effects of climate change that could have been prevented. The time for pandering to these very foolish people is over. The time for foot-dragging and half-measures is now at an end. We need a very rapid response. A response that, at this point, is still being delayed by the fossil fuel industry and the climate change deniers who have abetted their belligerence.


The Old Normal is Now Gone


Hot, Hot, Hot

Michael J. Ventrice

No Winter for the Arctic in 2016

Big Jump in Surface and Satellite Temperature Measures

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

Industrial Era Global Ocean Heat Uptake Doubles in Recent Decades


Republican Governors Sue to Stop Clean Power Plan


Warren Buffett’s Disaster Capitalism — Downplaying Climate Change Risks, Attacking Solar, Increasing Insurance Premiums

How bad is climate change related risk? Should investors be worried? Are investments safe from this risk?


Warren Buffett’s recent letter to shareholders attempts to answer these questions — as they relate to his investment firm’s climate change mitigations as well as its insurance industry climate risk exposure. His statement, and related framing of climate change risk, is one coming from the point of view of one of the wealthiest men in the world. It’s an announcement that comes fresh off a battle with solar energy companies and renewable energy advocates in Nevada — where Buffett’s actions and lobbying essentially cost Nevada years of solar and renewable energy development. And it’s one that appears to be both flawed in its outlook and cynical in its application.

Save Rooftop Solar

(A number of big money investors like the Kochs and Buffett have been lobbying to squash a burgeoning rooftop solar industry that empowers individual homeowners to make the responsible choice to stop using fossil fuels for power generation. This action appears to be aimed at protecting legacy fossil fuel assets that are inflicting serious and ramping harms to the global climate system. Image source: Vote Solar.)

Buffett’s general view, as with numerous big-money investors of his generation, is to both downplay climate change and to cast it in the most narrow of market contexts. His particular point of reference, like those of many of his peers, is rather sadly deficient. One that urges the inflation of vulnerable insurance company assets during a period when damages and losses are expected to increase.

Downplaying Risks, Increasing Premiums

Here are a few highlights of his statement to shareholders:

“Last year, [Berkshire Hathaway Energy] BHE made major commitments to the future development of renewables in support of the Paris Climate Change Conference. Our fulfilling those promises will make great sense, both for the environment and for Berkshire’s economics… BHE has invested $16 billion in renewables and now owns 7 percent of the country’s wind generation and 6 percent of its solar generation. Indeed, the 4,423 megawatts of wind generation owned and operated by our regulated utilities is six times the generation of the runner-up utility. We’re not done.

I am writing this section because we have a proxy proposal regarding climate change to consider at this year’s annual meeting. The sponsor would like us to provide a report on the dangers that this change might present to our insurance operation and explain how we are responding to these threats.

It seems highly likely to me that climate change poses a major problem for the planet. I say ‘highly likely’ rather than ‘certain’ because I have no scientific aptitude and remember well the dire predictions of most ‘experts’ about Y2K. It would be foolish, however, for me or anyone to demand 100% proof of huge forthcoming damage to the world if that outcome seemed at all possible and if prompt action had even a small chance of thwarting the danger.

This issue bears a similarity to Pascal’s Wager on the Existence of God. Pascal, it may be recalled, argued that if there were only a tiny probability that God truly existed, it made sense to behave as if He did because the rewards could be infinite whereas the lack of belief risked eternal misery. Likewise, if there is only a 1% chance the planet is heading toward a truly major disaster and delay means passing a point of no return, inaction now is foolhardy. Call this Noah’s Law: If an ark may be essential for survival, begin building it today, no matter how cloudless the skies appear.

It’s understandable that the sponsor of the proxy proposal believes Berkshire is especially threatened by climate change because we are a huge insurer, covering all sorts of risks. The sponsor may worry that property losses will skyrocket because of weather changes. And such worries might, in fact, be warranted if we wrote ten- or twenty-year policies at fixed prices. But insurance policies are customarily written for one year and repriced annually to reflect changing exposures. Increased possibilities of loss translate promptly into increased premiums.

Think back to 1951 when I first became enthused about GEICO. The company’s average loss-per-policy was then about $30 annually. Imagine your reaction if I had predicted then that in 2015 the loss costs would increase to about $1,000 per policy. Wouldn’t such skyrocketing losses prove disastrous, you might ask? Well, no.

Over the years, inflation has caused a huge increase in the cost of repairing both the cars and the humans involved in accidents. But these increased costs have been promptly matched by increased premiums. So, paradoxically, the upward march in loss costs has made insurance companies far more valuable. If costs had remained unchanged, Berkshire would now own an auto insurer doing $600 million of business annually rather than one doing $23 billion.

As a citizen, you may understandably find climate change keeping you up nights. As a homeowner in a low-lying area, you may wish to consider moving. But when you are thinking only as a shareholder of a major insurer, climate change should not be on your list of worries.

A Failure to Understand the Nature of Systemic Risk

After reading this statement, it’s a bit perplexing why even monied investors like Warren Buffett aren’t convinced the impacts of a ramping, fossil fueled, climate change will be dangerous and disruptive to the bottom line. Perhaps it is due to an inherent flaw of a money-centric worldview. But even investors can be practical-minded and decide not to throw good money after bad — as is now the case with fossil fuels and climate change.

As such, we might be kind to say that Buffett’s statement here is more than a bit short-sighted. He fails to recognize the basic and inherent link between the stability of his wealth and the stability of the climate system. He falsely equates 97 percent of scientists identifying a high risk of damages due to climate change with a host of unrelated issues including Y2K, a 1 percent chance of climate change danger and damage being realized (the risk is far higher), the great flood, and a cynical man’s view of the probability of the existence God. That’s not just comparing apples and oranges. That’s comparing a sirloin to a fruit salad.

Climate Change is Everywhere

(The Environmental Defense Fund put together the above graphic based on the most recent 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report’s findings to illustrate the climate change related impacts that are already occurring around the world. For an increasing number of people, the damage has already happened and it’s steadily growing worse. Buffett’s comparison of an active crisis [which is already producing impacts] with Y2K [which was essentially a tempest in a teapot] is more than a little daft. Image source: EDF. Data Source: IPCC.)

Y2K was a human-based problem that impacted a limited, human-based system — computers. The fix was simple — change the dating mechanism. The potential impacts only affected that single system — how electronic devices functioned. And the transition was hyped in the media.

Climate change is a fossil fuel industry (and carbon emissions) caused problem that impacts broad and all-encompassing systems. It requires a tough fix — transitioning away from fossil fuel based energy, significant changes to land management, and a related and challenging draw-down of atmospheric carbon. And it is a problem that has been widely downplayed in the media.

And climate change has a much, much more widespread impact than Y2K. Everything from sea level, to weather, to the balance and health of life on the Earth is affected as the world warms. It impacts multiple systems upon which everyone relies. In the best case climate change generates weather that human civilization has never seen before (in the human context, these come in the form of the highest global temperatures ever experienced, highest peak storm potentials, worst droughts, fires and floods), it generates city-endangering sea level rise, and it generates or contributes to a decline in ocean health (a health that 1 billion people rely on for their food supply). In the worst case, if fossil fuel burning continues, it locks in multi-meter sea level rise, releases the permafrost and hydrate carbon, and kills most of the life in the ocean and on land in a hothouse mass extinction event. By comparison, the best case for Y2K was nada — no problem. The worst case was disruption in the use of electronic devices for a few years. Any threat analyst worth his salt would tell you — one of these things is not like the other.

As IPCC-identified warming-related damages and disruptions continue to unfold and worsen, people like Buffet should be seeing an inherent, long-term and ramping risk of instability within the markets. Climate change is not just about insurance risk. It’s about the loss of cities and the destabilization of the nations that global marketplace relies upon to remain viable. Markets can respond to these instances if the damage is limited and the pace of accumulated damage is slow. The problem is that when enough major instances occur rapidly, the viability of the markets and the related trade systems fail. Emergency action requires increasing state involvement. More and more of the productive capacity of nations goes to the effort of response, aid and dealing with conflict and instability. And traditional insurance systems in this case may suffer collapse or become non-viable.

If recent, and far milder than what we will be seeing in the future so long as fossil fuel burning doesn’t halt soon, events like the Syrian drought, the Russian fires, the Pakistan floods, mass migration from drowning Pacific Islands and drought stricken Middle Eastern countries, large increases in the frequency and intensity of wildfires, increasing rates of glacial melt, increasing rates of sea level rise, and an increasing inundation of the world’s delta regions on top of a 1 C jump in global temperatures since the 1880s, continue to expand and place strain on the developed world, then the threat to insurance market viability is all-too-real. Furthermore, if these instances haven’t convinced Buffett that the climate change threat is more real than a 1% probability of disruption, is already far more disruptive than Y2K, is entirely capable of producing great flood type catastrophes for many of the world’s coastal and flood-prone cities, and is worth responding to because one doesn’t want to take the chance that God does not coddle the destroyers of the Earth, then I don’t know what will.

Buffet’s Halfhearted Investments in Renewables Fail to Inspire Confidence

Buffett’s utility investments in wind and solar are certainly positive. However, he appears to be treating them as only a marginal hedge while still supporting a host of fossil fuel related investments. This is more a grown-up version of greenwash than anything else. To this point his fund’s rate of renewable energy and zero carbon fuels adoption is far too slow to meet even COP 21 commitments and far, far too slow to prevent seriously ramping harms. Furthermore, his actions in Nevada — which protected majority fossil fuel burning utilities from renewable energy adoption by citizens of that state in essentially crushing a burgeoning residential solar industry — were counter-productive to facing down the larger threat of climate change.

Buffett has failed to propose an alternative to fossil fuel dominated power generation in Nevada after playing what amounts to a cynical market dominance game there. Both his actions and his statements show a troubling lack of urgency and a larger failure to grasp the nature of the climate change threat. Even worse, his statement regarding insurance –‘the problem is solved in the market by just increasing rates and increasing the value of the major insurers’ — implies a short-sighted and amoral approach.

This proposal rings of the oft-derided disaster capitalism in that it seeks to profit from ramping harm. It also generates a market bubble in the form of over-capitalized insurers who are ever-more vulnerable to the large climate disruptions that will certainly be coming. For if the market essentially prices people out of insurance or if insurance companies do not make good on claims due to increasing damages, then faith in markets is eroded and market stability crumbles. Pretty quickly, it can get to every man for himself and that’s a level of volatility that is very tough for even the most cynical and money-minded of investors to game.

Effective leadership in markets, as in so many other fields, requires taking on the long view, providing constituents with security, and truthfully working to confront future risks. Buffett’s statements and actions are all sadly lacking in this regard.


Warren Buffet’s Quiet Bid to Kill Solar in the Western US

Vote Solar



Warren Buffet’s Letter to Shareholders

Hat tip to Greg

Welcome to the Renewable Energy Renaissance — Fight to End Fossil Fuel Burning is Now On

Beneath the dark and growing cloud of human fossil fuel emissions there are a few carbon-free lights being kindled among all the black, coal-ash soot.

They’re the lights of a new renaissance. An unprecedented period of change for governments, the energy markets, and for individuals themselves. For we are all, whether we realize it or not, now embroiled in a struggle that will determine our own fates as well as that of our children and of all the generations to follow. For this renaissance is as much about liberation — the provision of clean energy choice as means to free ourselves from a wretched captivity to fossil fuel consumption — as it is about fighting to leave those very hothouse mass extinction fuels in the ground.

It’s a new kind of vital social unrest. A global struggle for justice on a scale not seen since at least the downfall of the slave trade. The battle lines have been drawn — in courtrooms, at ports, along pipelines, and on the train tracks, in the legislative offices of cities, states and in the halls of the federal government itself. We, as a civilization, are being divided into pro-renewable energy, pro-response to climate change, pro saving life on this Earth, and anti-renewable energy, anti-response, climate change denial factions. It is a disruptive, highly dangerous period of history. One we must successfully navigate if we are to survive as a modern civilization and, perhaps, as a species living on this Earth.


(The human carbon emission is now 150 times that of current volcanic activity. To achieve the same rate of emission from volcanoes, you would need a Siberian Flood Basalt equal to that which set off the Permian Mass Extinction — the worst hothouse extinction in Earth’s history — active on every continent on the face of the Earth. Image source: Human Activities Produce More Carbon Emissions Than Volcanoes.)

Given the crucial nature of what has now become an essential conflict over the fate of the Earth herself, it’s worth asking yourself the question — which side are you on? The darkness of climate change is upon us and the need to make such a choice could not be more clear or resonant.

Nevada Monopoly Fossil Fuels vs Solar Fight Goes National

An example of this struggle in microcosm took place during December through January of 2015 in Nevada. Emboldened by similar decisions in Arizona, monopoly utilities moved to protect their carbon-polluting infrastructures by pushing the state government (made up of a majority of republicans to include the governor — Sandoval) to impose restrictive fees on solar energy use throughout the state. Targeting rooftop solar energy systems, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUCN — also made up entirely of republicans) voted to, across the board, increase costs for rooftop solar users by both slashing incentives and imposing draconian fees. The decision negatively impacted 12,000 current solar customers using rooftop power to include families, schools and even public libraries.

Solar City, a leading solar energy provider in Nevada has since decided to completely remove its industry from the state. The decision came after this statement:

“[The PUC] has effectively shut down the rooftop-solar industry and taken the extraordinary step to punish over 12,000 existing solar customers, including schools, with exorbitant fees in what appears to be an attempt to protect the profits of the state’s largest utility. All three members of the PUC, who voted unanimously to change the rules, were appointed by Governor Sandoval.”

“Most disturbing is the PUC’s decision to retroactively sabotage existing solar customers’ investments by changing the rules on them. The Nevada government encouraged these people to go solar with financial incentives and pro-solar policies, and now the same government is punishing them for their decision with new costs they couldn’t have foreseen. These actions are certainly unethical, unprecedented, and possibly unlawful. While the rest of the country embraces a clean energy future, Nevada is moving backwards.”

Nevada Pro Solar Protesters

(Solar energy supporters protest Nevada’s draconian solar fees in a January 13 action outside the PUC headquarters. Under the initial ruling even existing solar users would have been penalized. Now a new ‘compromise’ offered by PUC will ‘only’ provide a severe disincentive for pretty much every other Nevada resident to adopt solar energy for their home or business. Image source: Ecowatch.)

Nevada’s PUC decision smacks of a monopoly power generation protection scheme. One that has made it impossible for solar installers to operate in the state. As result, Nevada’s two other top solar installers (Vivint and Sunrun) have now followed Solar City’s example and decided to halt operations in Nevada. The jobs impact from just these three solar providers closing shop is a net loss of 6,000. But with hundreds of small solar installers active in Nevada before the ruling, the economic and environmental damage is likely to be ongoing and long-term.

As Vox noted on January 20th:

For the state’s monopoly utility, it’s a successful attempt to avoid competition. For the well-funded conservative groups fighting the spread of solar around the country, it’s the first decisive victory. For most Nevadans, however, it represents an own goal, a senseless act of self-sabotage.

But what happens in Nevada, apparently, doesn’t really end up staying in Nevada. After Harry Reid, a Nevada Senator, questioned the decision’s legality, national voices began to take up the cause as well. Hillary Clinton spoke out against the decision. Bernie Sanders — running a strong challenge to Hillary in this year’s democratic nomination campaign — noted that the PUC board’s decision was “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” Martin O’Malley, also a democratic presidential candidate, implied that the decision was an intentional ‘sabotage’ of the solar energy industry.

PUCN has since offered to ‘grandfather’ in existing solar users. But the war to stop rooftop solar growth by this fossil fuel powered utility appears to have jumped back into Arizona where another large utility is seeking to impose similar exorbitant fees.

26 Red States Appeal Supreme Court to Rule on Clean Power Plan

As if Nevada’s war against rooftop solar industry within its own state wasn’t bad enough, a group of 26 states currently governed by fossil fuel industry funded republicans are now submitting a Supreme Court challenge to Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The group has re-stated the now typical and jaded republican claim that the EPA doesn’t retain the legal authority to regulate carbon emissions. The new claim is predicated on the statement that EPA will force fossil fuels out of business, stating that the federal government does not retain the authority to effectively ban the use of a particular set of fuels.

It’s a convoluted appeal that smacks of past states rights arguments regarding every kind of dangerous, toxic or nefarious trade from slavery, to firearms, to tobacco. The appeal letter demands an ‘immediate stay’ on the Clean Power Plan (a cessation of implementation). It seeks to sanctify as ‘legal right’ the ability of coal plants to remain open and to continue pollution. It attacks federal government decisions that would support renewable energy as a solution to climate change (without using the words climate change once in the document, which itself required a supreme manipulation of legalese to achieve). And it uses language that implies state policy directives and goals supersede those of the federal government.


(According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the benefits of the Clean Power Plan far outweigh the costs. The fossil fuel industry and their political allies don’t want you to know this basic fact. Image source: The Union of Concerned Scientists.)

The appeal holds up as evidence the fact that numerous coal plants will be forced to close during 2016 as states attempt to come into compliance with the Clean Power Plan. Plants the republicans are seeking to keep open for their industry sponsors. Plants whose emissions republicans continue to fight to lock in.

The statement is, in essence, an attempt to make an end run around the typical court appeals process which will take months. Such a delay would force states, by law, to move to comply with the EPA standard before any Supreme Court ruling. An action that smacks of desperation on the part of the fossil fuel industry and its backers.

We should be very clear — any effective action on climate change will require that fossil fuel generating power plants be closed down early. That they will not be permitted to emit their toxic, hothouse extinction forcing, gasses into the atmosphere on and on into the coming decades. This is a moral decision that is as necessary for the survival of human civilizations as it for many of the innocent creatures now living on our planet. The authors of the above letter know this, which is why the language is crafted in such a way as to attack the very rational underpinnings of that understanding.

New Study Says US Can Go 100 Percent Renewables Without Nuclear

As the fossil fuel industry fights through all its various political agents to retain dominance and not lose ground against a burgeoning renewable energy sector and an environmental movement morally compelled to reduce harm by preventing the worst impacts of human-caused climate change from being realized, a new study released today provides still more hope for a rapid transition away from a horribly damaging dumping of CO2 into the atmosphere.

The study, published in Nature Climate Change, found that existing technologies including upgraded powerlines connected to wind and solar energy power stations across the US could provide 80 percent of the electricity for the United States by 2030. The upgraded power lines would link the various regional power sectors in the US. In turn, these sectors would share renewable energy across the entire grid structure of the United States. Such sharing would vastly reduce the intermittency of renewable energy without the need for large-scale energy storage systems. A windstorm in Kansas could thus provide electricity to Gulf Coast residents sitting in still air. Sunlight falling at dawn in DC could, in a similar way, power street lamps during the dark of still night in LA.

The study authors note:

Carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation are a major cause of anthropogenic climate change. The deployment of wind and solar power reduces these emissions, but is subject to the variability of the weather. In the present study, we calculate the … configuration of variable electrical power generators using weather data with high spatial … resolution over the contiguous US. Our results show that when using future anticipated costs for wind and solar, carbon dioxide emissions from the US electricity sector can be reduced by up to 80% relative to 1990 levels, without an increase in the levelized cost of electricity. The reductions are possible with current technologies and without electrical storage. Wind and solar power increase their share of electricity production as the system grows to encompass large-scale weather patterns. This reduction in carbon emissions is achieved by moving away from a regionally divided electricity sector to a national system enabled by high-voltage direct-current transmission (emphasis added).

The reason why large grid structures able to efficiently transport  renewable energy from individually modular and intermittent systems works is due to the fact that there’s always wind blowing or sun shining somewhere on the Earth. The more inter-connected and efficient the grid, the more it is enabled to tap and move this energy from place to place and greatly, overall, reduce the intermittency of wind and solar for the entire structure.

It’s worth noting that such a system would radically alter current power generating and distribution structures. US utilities would tend to shift more from power providers to grid operators — electrical power middle-men that move energy from distributed power sources to far-flung customers.

Renewable Energy Projected to Dominate Electricity Markets by 2030

But not only is renewable energy advancing as a result of scientific viability studies, these sources of non-carbon-based power, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), are poised to leap into positions of market dominance over the next 25 years. The report, cited by Joe Romm today and published by IEA in November, indicates that renewables will produce more than 50 percent of the world’s electricity by 2030 and will have leapt into a position of significant dominance by 2040.

IEA Power by Source 2030

(Renewables shown as dominating the electrical power market by 2040 in this IEA graph.)

Disturbingly, IEA also notes a continued growth in the consumption of coal and gas. So if the IEA report is correct, carbon emissions for the power sector would continue to increase through 2040, which would be a bad outcome for the world’s climate and for life on Earth. Specifically, it would put us on a path toward around 2.7 C warming this Century and about 5-6 C warming long term — which would be about enough to push CO2 levels above 550 ppm and melt most or all of the ice on planet Earth should such high greenhouse gas concentrations be maintained.

However, Joe Romm finds some cause for optimism. Joe notes that China’s coal emissions may have peaked in 2013 and that China is rapidly adding renewable energy capacity. According to Climate Progress:

… this projection is not what would happen if the nations of world pursued the kind of aggressive policies they unanimously agreed to in Paris to avoid very dangerous warming and stay below total warming of 2°C. That would effectively end fossil fuel emissions by 2100. Indeed, the IEA forecast does not fully take into account what now appears to be an unexpectedly rapid shift away from coal in China. As a result, in its chart, coal power generation increases substantially by 2040. …. Goldman Sachs, for one, believes global coal consumption for power generation peaked by in 2013.

The IEA itself notes that one of its key assumptions may be too conservative: “China is becoming the wild card of coal markets, with the risks to our projection of a plateau and then a slow decline in coal demand arguably weighted to the downside.” I think the plateau and slow decline scenario was plausible a year ago, but China’s coal consumption dropped nearly 3 percent in 2014, at least 5 percent in 2015, and one analyst in Beijing projected recently, “coal consumption will drop by between 2.5 percent and 3 percent in 2016.” Beijing keeps adding new policies to slash coal use, as detailed in a major analysis last month from the Center for American Progress, which concluded “Chinese coal consumption enters downward spiral.”

If Joe’s correct, then it appears that the entire fossil fuel based electricity industry is now in a fight for its life. One it must inevitably lose for so many of the rest of us and of much of life here on Earth to survive. So when you hear talk coming from state regulators about coal industry losses, preserving rates and markets, or preventing coal and gas plants from being shut down, you should remember — there’s a critical choice being made here. One to cut off the short term prosperity of the fossil fuel special interests to prevent centuries upon centuries of devastation, death and pain here on Earth for future generations and for the entirety of the natural world. And it’s for this reason that we must make the entirely moral choice to send coal, gas and oil on its way. To leave these fuels from hell where they belong — in the ground.

We certainly do not need these toxic hothouse fuels and we can most certainly survive without them. In fact, our future survival and opportunities for future prosperity absolutely depend on the cessation of their burning, and soon.


Solar City Stopping Sales, Installations After PUC Ruling

Nevada’s Strange Decision to Throttle its Own Solar Industry

26 Republican Led States Challenge Clean Power Plan


Future Cost-Competitive Energy Systems and Their Impact on CO2 Emissions

Better Power Lines Would Help the US Supercharge Renewable Energy

World Energy Outlook 2015

By 2030, Renewables Will be the World’s Primary Energy Source

Hat tip to Scott



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


(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.)

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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.


Solar Energy Emerging as Cheapest Power Source

Solar at 2 Cents per Kwh

Solar Seen as Unbeatable

Dubai Solar Bid Awes Energy Market Players

US Wind Hits Record Low Price of 2.5 Cents Per Kilowatt Hour; 9-12 Gigawatts of Renewable Energy Additions Ramp up for 2014

The excuses for failing to rapidly adopt renewable energy systems grow thinner and more contorted with each passing day…

During 2013, costs for wind energy plunged to record low levels as both wind and solar set to make substantial new capacity gains in 2014 and 2015, according to a recent report from the US Department of Energy.

PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) pricing for wind during 2013 plunged to the very low range of 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour after levelized costs were included for new wind energy projects. For comparison, the average range of PPAs for all new energy sources in 2013 was 2.5 to 5 cents per kilowatt hour and included wind, solar, natural gas and coal. This made wind energy the least expensive source for new energy in 2013 following a long trend of overall falling prices.

Price of Wind at all time low

(Price of wind hits all time low in 2013 at 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour. Image source: US Department of Energy.)

Solar prices also fell to within competitive ranges, leading to record adoption rates for that energy source for the US in 2013.

New wind generation is expected to hit between 4 and 6 gigawatts in 2014 and between 5 and 9 gigawatts in 2015. Overall, 13 gigawatts of new wind energy capacity is now under construction, with the bulk focusing on the wind-rich region of the central US.

Solar is also expected to make strong gains in 2014 by adding between 5 and 7 gigawatts of new capacity. Rapidly increasing US growth in solar energy installations has been led by a combination of factors including plummeting prices and a rising adoption of home solar energy through rooftop leasing arrangements targeted to save consumers money on their power bills.

By end of 2014, total installed wind capacity is expected to hit around 74 gigawatts in the US. Meanwhile, US solar capacity is likely to climb above 18 gigawatts by year end. Altogether, these combined energy sources, when taking capacity factor into account, will have produced about 5% of the US’s electricity.

US renewables forecast 2

(US renewable energy net electrical generation from 2013 [historic] through 2018 [projected]. Image source: SUN DAY Forecast using US Energy Information Agency sources.)

With new construction projects continuing, total US renewable energy generation is expected to exceed 13.4 percent by the end of 2014 and 16.11 percent by the end of 2018.

Strong Gains Necessary to Mitigate Human-Caused Climate Change, Barriers to Adoption are Now Chiefly Political

Though the combined continued net price drop and cumulative substantial renewable energy generation gains are encouraging, they will need to advance at ever faster rates if we are to have much hope for rapidly mitigating the worst effects of human caused climate change. US generative capacity additions for renewables should probably be in the range of 2-4 times their present rate of adoption and goals should be set for the total replacement of US ghg emitting generation capacity by or before 2050.

With prices for renewable electricity generation now at levels competitive with traditional fossil fuels, and, in the case of wind, far less than fossil fuels, the primary barrier to adoption is now political. Fossil fuel related organizers have, through lobbying and media related efforts, worked on a number of fronts to water down renewable energy incentive legislation and slow or block policy measures that would speed their adoption. Many of these groups are aligned with conservative members and climate change deniers in Congress, but also include a broad array of outside organizations.

These groups represent a final, but strong road block to adoption of permanent mitigations to climate change with broad ranging benefits such as practically unlimited base fuel sources and freeing economic systems from the specter of energy scarcity and insecurity. Given both the lurking risks of human-caused climate change and the prospective benefits of widespread renewable energy generation, the time for a broad push for rapid adoption of renewable energy systems is now.


US Department of Energy Wind Energy Report for 2013

SUN DAY Forecast

Price of Wind at All Time Low of 2.5 Cents Per Kilowatt Hour

Related Reading:

Major Court Clears the Way to Let Renewables onto the Grid

Proposed Coal Export Terminal Suffers Major Setback

The Monsters of Growth Shock Rise: Conflict in the Ukraine, Global Food Crisis, and Spending 500 Billion Dollars to Permanently Wreck the World’s Climate


(Immense Russian wildfires burning through the thawing tundra’s carbon pool during summer of 2012. The bar on the lower left denotes 50 kilometers. From end to end, the burning zone seen is about 500 miles in length. Image credit: NASA. Image source: Smoke From Massive Siberian Fires Seen in Canada.)

The radio and television today blares with the news but never the causes:

US meat, coffee, almond and milk prices to sky-rocket. Ukraine invaded by the Russian petro-state. Exxon Mobile to partner with Russian Rosneft and invest 500 billion dollars in extracting oil and gas from the increasingly ice-free Arctic.

What has caused all this? In a term — Growth Shock.

What is Growth Shock?

It’s what happens when any system grows outside of the boundaries of its sustainable limits. In the current, human case, its primary elements are overpopulation, renewable and nonrenewable resource depletion, climate change, poisoning the biosphere and wasting livable habitats, and a vicious system of inequality in which an amoral elite loots and pillages the lion’s share of planetary resources while driving increasing numbers of persons into poverty, hunger, and vulnerability to environmental/ecological collapse.

In the more immediate sense, human burning of fossil fuels is now intensifying droughts and extreme weather around the world. This is negatively impacting agricultural production. In addition, military aggression on the part of Russia has destabilized one of the world’s largest food producers — Ukraine. But these causes and effects are all a part of the larger structure of an ongoing Growth Shock crisis. The most recent and more intense iteration of a series of events that began in the 1970s and continues today.

In my own writing, I have described the forces of Growth Shock as four monsters (overpopulation, resource depletion, climate change, institutionalized human greed) and, like the Diakiaju of Pacific Rim, they continue to grow stronger and to devour increasingly large chunks of our world.

In the context of our intensifying Growth Shock, conflicts can rapidly escalate as resources grow scarce and various nations, powerful individuals and corporate entities jockey for dominance in the context of increasing limitation and peril. But it is important to note that unless the underlying condition that caused the crisis — what is now likely the most terrible manifestation of Growth Shock ever witnessed by humans — is addressed, then there are no winners. No dominators that survive to flourish in the end. No remnant that sees a prosperous future. Only an ongoing string of worsening conflicts, disasters and temporary victories leading to a terrible and bitter ultimate defeat.

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The Special Interests of a Corporate Petro-State, its Dictator and its Oligarchs

So many of you are probably wondering why Russia suddenly invaded Ukraine? Why the West is taking an increasing stake in this country that, until recently, rarely showed on the international stage?

The reasons currently given by US officials certainly appear noble. We should not allow one country to simply invade, bully and rig the electoral process for another. We should not allow a single nation to flaunt international law and behave in a manner that better fits an age of anarchy and brutality. We should not permit these things from the member of the international community with broad responsibilities and obligations that is Russia.

These are moral and, indeed, appropriate frames for the current conflict. As they are appropriate rhetorical responses to international bullying. But we would also be wise not to ignore the underlying drivers — food crisis and overwhelming political power of fossil fuel special interests.

If anything Russia is now little more than a dictatorial, nuclear-armed petro-state, run by corporate oligarchs and a brutish strong man in the form of Vladimir Putin. A man who has ruled this country for a period now going on two decades through a combination of bullying, trickery, and poll fixing. The kind of character many conservatives these days seem to appreciate…

At 2.2 trillion dollars in GDP each year, its economy is comparable to that of the UK — sizable, but not an equal to economic powerhouses US, China, Germany or Japan. But what the Russian petro-state lacks in economic girth, it more than compensates for in two very destructive and destabilizing items — nuclear weapons and fossil fuels. It also retains a rather sizable and effective military — one whose forces are capable of projecting power and toppling governments throughout both Europe and Asia. One that retains its ability to rain nuclear Armageddon on any nation of peoples around the globe.

And this set of powers is increasingly being used to advance the special interests of the corporate, dictatorial state that is today’s Russia.

But it is Russia’s vast oil and natural gas wealth, the single-minded and narrow interests of its rulers, and the dark impetus that is global climate change that have likely combined to spur Russian’s current aggression.

Food, Fossil Fuels and the Compost Bomb

Burning Rings of Fire

(The tundra compost bomb explodes into burning rings of fire that illuminate the Russian night during 2012. The fire rings seen here are each between 10 and 100 kilometers across. Image credit: NASA. Image source: Burning Rings of Fire.)

For the very natural gas, oil and coal that Russia uses as a mainstay for its economy are now in the process of wrecking its future prospects and propelling it to ever more desperate and violent action.

To understand why, one simply has to think a little bit about permafrost and frozen ground.

A majority of Russia’s land mass sits on a pile of permafrost ranging from 1 to more than 10 meters in depth. In the past, this frozen substrata underlay many of Russia’s fields, cities and towns, forming a kind of frozen bedrock. But over the past few decades, the permafrost began to rapidly thaw under the radical and violent force that is human-caused warming. At first, this event was thought to weigh in Russia’s favor. The newly thawed permafrost would become more productive farmland, many assumed, and the added warmth would extend Russia’s growing season.

But few apparently accounted for the speed and violence of human-caused climate change. What happened instead was literally a firestorm. For the thawing peat retained a combustibility roughly equivalent to brown coal. Even worse, it contained pockets of highly flammable liquified organic carbon and methane. Over top this volatile layer were the great boreal forests and the vast grasslands of the Russian land mass. During the periods of summer drought that emerged as human caused climate change amplified at the end of the 2000s, these forests and grasses were, increasingly, simply piles of kindling growing atop a meters thick layer of volatile fuel.

By 2010, climate change brought on a series of record droughts and heatwaves extending far into the Arctic that set both permafrost thaw and lower latitude regions ablaze. As a result, Russia suffered agricultural losses unlike anything seen in its past. Fields and towns burned. The productive regions burned. Russia was forced to close its agricultural market for exports. World food prices hit all time record highs and the food riots that followed were enough to topple regimes and alight civil wars throughout the world’s most vulnerable states.

Through the summers of 2013, Russia suffered amazing fires in its thawing tundra lands. These blazes were, at times, intense enough to require the calling up of its military and the mobilization of up to 200,000 people simply to fight the fires. Heat and moisture from the thawing tundra spilled out into the Jet Stream and amplified the storm track. By 2013, record drying and burning in the tundra lands turned to record floods in the Amur region of both China and Russia. A tragic song of flood and fire.

Song of Flood and Fire

(Massive wildfires burn over Yakutia as an immense rainstorm begins to form over the Amur region of Russia and China. The fires and deluge would together ruin millions of acres of crops during 2014. Image credit: Lance-Modis. Image source: A Song of Flood and Fire.)

It was a string of climate change induced disasters that produced blow after telling blow to Russian agricultural production.

Meanwhile, around the world, similar droughts, floods and severe wind storms were ripping through the world’s croplands. By early 2014, the world food price index was again on the rise. By February, the index had climbed to 208, a very high level that would put those countries and populations at the margins at risk of increasing poverty and hunger all while potentially destabilizing any number of nations.

Ukraine — The Breadbasket of Europe

Perhaps the irony is lost on Russia that the very fuels — oil, gas and coal — that it views as an economic strength are also the source of its increasingly marginal food security and the ongoing and growing devastation of its lands. But Russia, its strongman, and its corporate oligarchs likely haven’t overlooked the fact that Ukraine is one of the world’s largest food producers. In a world where food is becoming increasingly costly and scarce, this particular commodity may well be more important than even oil, gas, or coal.

Ukraine possesses 30% of the world’s remaining richest black soil. It regularly ranks within the top ten producers of both wheat and corn. It is the world’s top producer of sunflower oil. The reach of its agricultural exports extends to the UK, Europe, Japan, China and into Russia itself. If Russia has a food crisis, it will be to the Ukraine that it turns to first. Moreover, the current Russian dictator must see an imperative not to rely overmuch on the US or its other economic rivals for food.

So it is in this context — a one in which climate change is causing Russia to flood and burn, in which climate change is now beginning to take down global agricultural productivity, and in which the Ukraine could well be seen as the Iraq of world food production (one of the only countries with the ability to radically increase production) — that we must also view both the Ukrainian revolution for independence and the Russian armed invasion as a response.

Russia Already Taking Hold of Some of Ukraine’s Most Productive Farmland

Centuries ago, during the dark ages, bad winters drove waves of tribes out of the frigid northern lands and into the then fertile fields of Rome and Europe. History, it seems, is not without its rhymes. For now, a fiery human-driven thaw and climate change appears to be having a similar impact on the Russia and Ukraine of today.

For the lands already under Russian occupation and threat of invasion (Eastern Ukraine primarily) are also some of Ukraine’s most productive wheat and corn growing zones. These lands under threat of additional Russian incursion, if added to the already occupied and planned to be annexed Crimea would compose the bulk of Ukraine’s agriculture.

Russia’s invasion, thus, must be seen as a direct looting of Ukraine’s lands and productive capacity for Russian and, by extension, Putin’s self interest. A set of interests likely inflamed by Russia’s own declining state of food security.

Climate Change and Why This Fight Must Be Against Fossil Energy, Not for It

Unfortunately, this conflict, like so many others, falls under the ominous shadow of the global fossil fuel trade. A shadow that grows ever darker as the crises imposed by human-caused climate change become more and more dire.

In the context of what could cynically be termed American interests, the fossil fuel giant Exxon recently partnered with Rosneft, an oil corporation Putin and his oligarchs essentially looted from a political rival, to invest 500 billion dollars in drilling and exploration in the Russian Arctic. The zones included in the deal involve the highly unstable clathrate and natural gas stores of the Arctic Ocean. And considering the massive sum invested, one cannot overlook the likelihood that the ESAS’s store of up to 1400 gigatons of natural gas clathrate have now been targeted by global fossil fuel interests for burning. Such an exploitation would result in the near tripling of the current human atmospheric carbon loading — all by itself and without the added inputs from coal, tar sands, or other oil and gas reserves. In other words — corporate insanity in the mad pursuit of profits for a few supremely wealthy and powerful individuals. In this case, a breed of greed-driven insanity that falls under the specter of an increasingly violent and expansionist Russia. One driven to hunger for resources by the land and crops destroying influences of the fossil fuels it continues to seek to exploit.

Here is Growth Shock in its most brazen form when wealthy oligarchs, dictators and corporations collude to profit while ruining the productivity of the lands upon which even they rely. And it is this terrible state that cannot be allowed to continue.

The US, therefore, could strike a blow against both Russian aggression and climate change game over by sanctioning Russian-backed Rosneft, disallowing any American corporation from conducting business with them or any other Russian petroleum entity and going further to say that they will sanction any other global corporation with ties to Rosneft. Use of the power of the dollar and of the global monetary system, in this way, could strike a blow against both the greed that underlies the current Growth Shock crisis and against the maniacal continued and expanding exploitation of extraordinarily destructive fuels.

If the US wishes to continue to bring Russia to heel, it will also use the carrot of access to US grain and food shipments as well as providing partnership arrangements with US alternative energy and sustainability-based corporations in exchange for a peaceful withdrawal from the Ukraine. To help Russia save face, it could provide these offers in a less public fashion or in a way that is not personally insulting to Putin.

Little to No Time Left, But the Crisis Presents a Fleeting Opportunity

In broader context, the deteriorating global food situation, the deteriorating global climate situation and the maniacal quest by fossil fuel companies to access and burn an ever-growing volume of oil, coal and natural gas has reached a critical stage that simply cannot continue for much longer without entirely ruining the prospects for human civilization and, likely, much of life on Earth. The Russia and Ukraine conflict is an opportunity to begin a full attempt to change course and to bring the, now very large and growing, forces of our Growth Shock crisis to bay. If we do not, the window of opportunity may well be closed and we may well have consigned ourselves to ever-worsening conflict under a situation of ongoing resource destruction, destruction of modern civilization’s food base, a situation where the powerful are ever more enabled to take from the weak, and a situation in which a hothouse extinction eventually snuffs out most or all of those that survive the ensuing collapse.


Growth Shock

Smoke From Massive Siberian Fires Seen in Canada

Burning Rings of Fire

Climate and Frozen Ground


A Song of Flood and Fire.

World Food Security in the Cross-hairs of Human-caused Climate Change

Climate Change Pushes FAO Food Price Index to 208 in February

The Economy of the Ukraine

Rosneft Warns West over Crimean Sanctions Woos Japan


Putin — the New Global Shah of Oil

New Weapon Emerges in Fight Against Fossil Fuel Dominance and Escalating Climate Change: A Wind Turbine That Achieves Grid Parity While Eliminating Intermittency

Last year, Republicans fought tooth and nail to block and delay the only federal funding program for wind energy — the Production Tax Credit. Their energy brinksmanship and political hostage taking forced a delay of a critical renewable energy investment decision until the last minute even as US wind capacity surged to 60 gigawatts and is attributed to increasing US economic growth by .25% in the 4th quarter while adding over 80,000 new jobs. This cynical political action, on the part of republicans and other opponents to renewable energy, resulted in an unconscionable stalling of new installations in early 2013 even as extreme weather and climate change continued to batter countries around the globe.

By comparison, US fossil fuel companies still enjoyed billions of dollars in subsidy, tax incentive, land use donations, and direct investment support from the federal government, risk free. To this point, it is worth considering the following info-graphic provided by the Environmental Law Institute:

energy subsidies -- black, not green

They were the true beneficiaries of a government funded welfare system for energy sources, that year after year, continue to worsen our weather and climate — resulting in escalating physical and financial harm in the US and around the globe.

But even as new wind installations lag due to a toxic brew of investment uncertainty conjured up by republicans, new alternative energy technology continues to undercut prospects for long-term fossil fuel market dominance. In particular, a new wind turbine, this one produced by GE, breaks a number of key market barriers to wind energy adoption in both the US and around the world.

GE achieves grid parity and energy storage with new turbine.

GE achieves grid parity and energy storage with new turbine.

The systems, pictured above, include GE’s 1.6-100 and 1.7-100 wind turbines.

These turbines include two revolutionary advancements that put it toe-to-toe with traditional fossil fuel and nuclear generation sources in both capability and cost. First, the new turbines achieve a staggering 20-24% efficiency gain. This puts prices for these turbines at less than coal for new generation construction.

Other alternative energy systems have recently made similar gains, with solar and wind plants increasingly available that provide energy at, near, or lower than the cost of new coal. But the crowning blow of this new system to fossil fuel dominance lies not just in its staggering efficiency gains. The system also includes distributed storage.

Each turbine is equipped with a battery system that stores excess energy generated during times when the wind is blowing. This new capacity levelizes transmission to the grid during times of high energy production. It also enables the wind turbine to store the excess energy for later use. As a result, the capacity factor of an individual turbine jumps from around 30% to 54%. It also allows wind producers with the new turbine to directly compete with fossil fuel based energy sources in the highly lucrative frequency regulation business.

Fossil fuel cheerleaders have often derided the intermittency and lack of storage potential in renewable energy sources, claiming this was an impenetrable barrier to broader adoption. Now, these new turbines render that argument mostly moot. Higher net capacity factor for advanced wind and lower costs than traditional fuels results in an increasingly serious market challenge to dirty energy sources. Now, if we can just get a few friends in the US government to provide the funding these systems merit, then we might begin to make some serious gains in both net carbon emissions and a more permanent US energy independence.

As noted above, republicans are doing their best to block such critical advancements. And, it seems, they and their fossil fuel allies are seriously threatened by continuously advancing renewable energy technology. As of June, republicans and their oil company backers pushed to de-fund the US ARPA-E renewable energy research program providing critical funding for advancements such as the one produced by GE. Apparently, republicans are bound and determined to prove their theory of dysfunctional government by creating the level of dysfunction they so often criticize while at the same time support fuels that ruin humanity’s future prospects.


Next Generation Wind Turbines are Cheap, Reliable and Brilliant

Virtually all Federal Incentive for Wind Energy Comes From a Single Program

Republicans in the House of Representatives have pushed to increase US coal burning, approve the Tar Sands Keyston XL Pipeline, remove energy efficiency standards, and to slash US government (ARPA -E) R&D funding for new renewable energy technology by 80 percent. Fully 55% of all Republicans in the US Congress deny that human caused warming even exists.

The Price of Fossil Fuel Subsidies

US Energy Experiences Natural Gas to Coal Whiplash; Natural Gas ‘Bridge to Sustainability’ Collapses Yet Again

Ugly Coal

(A Coal Plant Dumping its Toxic Brew into the Atmosphere. Image source: Climate Crocks)

Natural gas was supposed to act as a bridge to sustainability. Fracking and increased drilling were supposed to reduce US reliance on high-carbon coal. But in 2013, coal consumption is again rising. So what the hell happened?

In short, history repeated itself and energy markets have experienced yet another natural gas to coal whiplash….

Natural gas is an inherently volatile energy source. As prices rise, new sources are sought out, new technologies applied to its extraction and, if depletion barriers are overcome, a surge of new supplies are brought to market. Then, as the wave of new supplies comes to dominate, prices crash. Rushing in to take advantage of the falling prices, the utility companies engage in a generational shift to natural gas electricity production. This increasing consumption of natural gas has two effects. It puts a bottom on natural gas prices and it reduces coal-fired power generation by becoming more competitive on the basis of price. A result of these changes is that US CO2 emissions fall. But, due to the market whip-lash effect of natural gas, these reductions are only temporary.

On the supply side, as natural gas prices fall, less and less producers are able to make a profit. The rate of drilling that drove both the boom and the glut slows to a trickle. This happens even as utilities and other natural gas users demand more of the low cost substance. As a result, prices begin to rise. But since drilling rigs are now allocated elsewhere and natural gas producers are cautious to return to aggressive drilling, supply doesn’t keep pace with demand. Eventually prices rise to the point where natural gas is again, less competitive with coal. Utilities, to preserve their balance sheets, shift back to black rock fuel and carbon emissions again rise.

The 2013 Whiplash

In 2013, US energy markets and related CO2 emissions are now experiencing just this kind of whiplash. After falling to a low price of around $2.60 per million btu, natural gas has been trading in a range between $3.60 and $4.25 since May of this year. And the effect on energy markets has been profound. The result, as Joe Romm implied in his allegorical article ‘Bridge Out’ is that the entirely ephemeral natural gas bridge to sustainability has again disappeared. According to Romm’s excellent article:

Coal’s share of total domestic power generation in the first four months of 2013 averaged 39.5%, compared with 35.4% during the same period last year, according to the Energy Information Administration [EIA]…. By contrast, natural gas generation averaged about 25.8% this year, compared with 29.5% a year earlier.

In the words of another brand of popular fiction: what the frack?

The long touted bridge to sustainability has, yet again, failed. And we find ourselves increasing consumption, yet again, of the worst emitting fuel source — coal. As a result, US carbon emissions are, after about four years of decline, expected to rise in 2013. The US Energy Information Agency projects that the US will emit 2.4% more CO2 than it did last year. But, should the coal surge continue through end of year, this carbon emissions backslide could be even worse than predicted.

Natural Gas: Unreliable Bridge, Bad Help

Sadly, even the reduced CO2 emissions that came, in part, as a result of a temporary shift to natural gas generation also brought with it a terrible cost. Fracked wells drove the most recent boom and bust whip-lash cycle. They were a rapidly depleting, temporary measure to increase production, and these costly wells emit far more methane than their contemporary counter parts. Some studies have even noted that methane leaks via the fracking process make natural gas a more harmful than coal when net carbon emissions are taken into account.

Perhaps worse, the fracked wells also threaten underground and surface water sources from both cracks in the casing pipes and toxic effluent at the numerous and proliferating drill sites. Further, water use in fracking is voracious and, in many cases, adds another burden to fresh water supplies.

Water stress is rising across the United States with fossil water in the Ogallala rapidly depleting even as the US West suffers year after year from a widening climate-change induced drought. With fracking threatening the purity and safety of dwindling supplies, numerous cities and one New Mexico county have banned the enhanced extraction process in an effort to protect municipal water.

In the end, high cost natural gas fracking efforts have managed a temporary reduction in US CO2 emissions at the cost of rising methane emission and harm to water supplies. The flood of new gas also likely delayed or replaced some efforts to transition to the more effective pollution reducing sources of wind and solar. Finally, the price whip lash inherent to natural gas production has returned markets, yet again, to rising coal use.

The term for this is bad help. Very bad help. In short, no fossil fuels represent a solution to climate change or enhance sustainability. They are all dirty, dangerous, and depleting.

To this point, I’ll leave you with the trailer to the must-seem Gasland II:

Drill Baby, Drill and Climate Change Game Over: US Oil Production Hit Record Growth In 2012

Fracking in Pinedale

(A Fracking Operation in Pinedale, Wyoming. Image source: here)

According to this report in the Wall Street Journal, US ‘oil’ production surged by 14 percent in 2012 to nearly 9 million barrels per day (this figure includes natural gas liquids, hence the quotations, actual crude oil production was about 7 million barrels per day).

This surge in production was fueled, primarily, by a broad application of hydrolic fracturing technology to enhance the rate at which oil and related fuels are squeezed from the ground. Little in the way of new discoveries have resulted in this enhanced flow of climate fire-juice. Instead, new technologies have been aimed at the old, tired, or difficult to reach sources in order to squeeze more from the ground.

It’s a tough gamble for oil and gas companies. The reason is that a massive investment in new drilling rigs and an ever increasing number of fracked wells is required to sustain this large pulse of new oil. By end of 2012, more than 43,500 wells had been drilled, and, perhaps more importantly, a record 19,000 wells were fracked over the same period. All this drilling and fracking activity costs a lot of money. So a price of oil above 95 dollars is required to sustain most marginal operators.

Tellingly, with a slight fall in world oil prices over the past spring, the rate of new wells drilled had dropped and is projected to fall below 2012 numbers by about 1,500 to around 42,000 by end of 2013. US natural gas production has already leveled off due to lower prices and a large portion of this rig count drop includes the lag due to lower natural gas prices. But traditional oil well drilling is also sliding off. So the new focus is primarily on tight oil and oil shale fracking.

Fracking is an energy and water intensive process that costs much more than a traditional oil well. It also results in increased risks of ground-water contamination. So communities across the US have been forced to choose between oil and gas extraction, and keeping their water supplies safe. There is also a longer-term choice on global climate, which we’ll discuss more in detail below.

As noted above, marginal prices need to remain above 95 dollars per barrel for the highest cost operators to make a profit. Embedded in this high marginal price for shale oil is the fact that most fracked wells have a high depletion rate. The result is that flows from these wells drop off dramatically over time. So more and more wells need to be fracked each year to keep overall flow rates high. The end result is that fracked well production creates a net cliff in fracking dependent oil in a 10-15 year time-frame. New basins of fractured oil will, therefore, need to be accessed to keep flow rates high.

Nonetheless, the US is likely to continue to see higher rates of oil production over the coming 5-10 years due to this fracking boom. But at the cost of much more expensive oil and ever-increasing damage to the world’s climate.

Fracking Climate Change Game Over

Oil fracking is a form of enhanced oil extraction. As such, it enables a more rapid extraction of existing oil reserves and, to  a degree, opens reserves that were previously uneconomic to extract. Since less than 1/3 of current fossil fuel reserves can be burned while still maintaining a vague hope of keeping warming below the dangerous 2 degrees Celsius threshold by the end of this century, the race to drill and frack more wells and increase oil production is a race toward climate change game over.

Fracking also results in large methane seeps from fractured wells. These seeps are not included in fossil fuel reserves, yet they still end up in the atmosphere. And since methane is, over 20 years, 105 times more potent than CO2 as a warming agent, this extra emission is a very bad additive to an already warming climate.

The net result is we’ve tapped a more carbon intensive technology to burn more oil faster. In metaphor, we’ve decided not to jog, but to sprint headlong toward the climate cliff.

At current emissions rates and emissions growth rates, the world says farewell to any possibility of preventing a 2 degrees Celsius warming by century’s end sometime around 2025.



Record-breaking 19,000 New Wells to be Fracked in 2012

Slower Pace of Drilling Likely For US and Canada During 2013

When Burning is No Longer Moral: A Call For Fossil Fuel Abolition


(Image source: Here)

Science has provided more than enough evidence to show that burning fossil fuels is an increasingly dangerous activity. Recent reports reveal that we are 565 gigatons of fossil fuel carbon away from crossing the dangerous climate tipping point of 2 degrees warming. Burning all current, proven, fossil fuels would result in dramatically more carbon entering the atmosphere. Five times the number needed to keep the very worst climate impacts in check: 2,795 gigatons.

But the oil, gas and coal companies keep seeking ways to expand that, already dangerously over-sized, base of fossil fuels resources. They tap expensive and dirty energy like the tar sands. They break the ground via fracking to bring more high-carbon oil and gas to the surface. They attempt to make economical the exploitation of billions of tons of methane hydrates. Pushing endlessly to exploit more, more, more.

As this mad effort to continue burning fossil fuels indefinitely into the future expands, a political war is waged to suppress any alternative energy source. Republican political lackeys to the oil, gas, and coal giants, at every turn, attempt to limit, reduce, or deny the development of non-carbon or low carbon energy. They fight to keep companies from paying the costs for externalizing the damage caused by fossil fuel extraction and the resulting carbon emission. They fight any limit to carbon exploitation — be it a carbon tax or a cap and trade policy.

Perhaps worst of all, is the ongoing effort by oil, gas and coal companies to deny that carbon emission causes any harm whatsoever. Efforts that have included attacks on scientists who have raised the warning of an increasingly dangerous climate change. The mad logic behind these attacks is simple. The fossil fuel companies obviously care nothing for humanity’s future. Instead, they care only for their immediate profits.

An Insane, Amoral Path Toward Harm

Cigarettes and tobacco killed my grandfather. Will fossil fuel burning and resulting climate change kill my grandchildren?

Exploiting all current fossil fuel reserves is enough to raise world temperatures 6 degrees Celsius or more by the end of this century. Amplifying feedbacks from the environment will push that temperature increase to 12 degrees Celsius by 2300. There is a high likelihood that a 6 degree Celsius temperature increase will do in my grandchildren. And 12 degrees Celsius removes the possibility of a habitable world.

2,795 gigatons of carbon locked in current reserves, while enough to push Earth out of the habitable zone, isn’t all the potential carbon locked in unconventional reserves of fossil fuel around the world. In fact, as much as 10,000 gigatons of carbon reside in unproven, but possible reserves. Even worse, at the current rate of burning we pass the ‘safe’ 565 gigaton threshold sometime around 2028. Unfortunately, carbon emissions aren’t level. They are increasing.

All these factors — the huge and increasing rate of burning, the amount of carbon currently on the books of the world’s fossil companies, the comparatively small amount we can still burn to maintain reasonable hope for a safe climate, and the massive volume of potential fuels that could be exploited — represent a terrible crisis. Yet every policy, every media effort, every campaign by the fossil fuel giants pushes us ever more rapidly into trouble.

They have us on an unconscionable, amoral path toward certain and ever-increasing harm.

Exploitation, Slavery, And Profit-driven Monstrosities

A blogger recently described a conversation he had with an oil executive. In this conversation, the oil executive claimed that if we didn’t have oil we would instead have slavery.

It’s worth taking a few moments to let this concept sink in. It’s also worth considering what it reveals about the person from which it came.

Slavery is, perhaps, the greatest injustice humankind has ever inflicted upon itself. It takes many forms from serfdom to outright trading of human beings for profit. Many of the most advanced civilizations have existed and boasted strong economies without the exploitation of human beings as slaves. And the notion that slavery doesn’t exist today because of oil, gas and coal is equally asinine. Human rights groups have increasingly warned of a growing trade in human beings since the 1990s. And we have also witnessed a ‘soft’ form of slavery in the exploitation of very low wage workers forced to live in shanty towns by mega-corporations around the globe.

Slavery isn’t something that strengthens economies. Conversely, it weakens them. In the 1860s US, the North boasted a highly developed economic system primarily devoid of slave labor. Meanwhile, the south was mostly a poorly developed slave-labor based agrarian economy designed to support the affluence of a tiny number of land-owner elite. The North won the war, largely due to its highly developed economy. The south lost, not because of battlefield failures, but because of an inability to match the North’s superior logistics, innovation, and industry. And though northern industry may have been fueled, in part, by coal, current forms of alternative energy are far more powerful and efficient than US coal and wood burning in the 1860s.

The notion that slavery would be necessary in the absence of oil, gas, and coal is one that comes from a mind that elevates the concept of exploitation and denies the notion of sustainability. In both slavery and fossil fuel use exploitation is a critical component. Extracting fossil fuels exploits the Earth’s resources. Burning fossil fuel externalizes damage by exploiting the Earth’s atmosphere and, in doing so, exploits the prospects of future generations. And slavery is a simple and extreme form of exploiting human beings. But exploitation isn’t necessary for prosperity or economic development. Instead, it can often ruin both.

What exploitation does do very well is maximize profits while relying less on effort or innovation. And this is where the hard truth comes in. Exploitation all too often serves to fuel the advancement and acquisition requirements of greedy, narcissistic individuals who lack the capacity to see beyond the confines their own tiny orbits or to gain much sense of the harm they may be causing.

Finally, oil, gas, and coal executives too often pretend that the energy sources they supply are the only viable forms available. In 2013, a time of expanding access to renewable forms of energy, this notion is as wretched and antiquated as the 19th century assertion that slavery was necessary for American prosperity.

Alternatives, Equality Necessary For Human Advancement

If the world can run on 100 dollar per barrel oil, then the world can certainly run on far less expensive sources of wind, solar and biofuels. Contrary to what some doomers say, these new sources could very well result in greater economic development and prosperity than the fossil sources of energy that tend to cause so much costly external harm. Further, the diffuse nature of these energy sources leads to more equal economic structures. Profits concentrate less and tend to be more spread out. In such cases, history shows that prosperity tends to spring up in a virtuous self-sustaining cycle.

This truth has already born out in many of the most advanced corporations and economies around the globe. Apple runs on 75% renewable energy. Ironically, Apple also often competes with oil companies for highest profits. But Apple’s methods of profit generation — innovation and diligence — contrasts with the oil company model of exploitation and political manipulation. One company represents a promising future, the others a catastrophe. Germany powers itself on 25% renewable energy. Denmark has reached over 30%. California, the largest economy in the United States, generates 33% of its electricity from renewables. Even China seems to understand the stakes. After years of suffering from water scarcity due to coal pollution, in 2012 China produced more new energy capacity from wind than it did from fossil fuels.

This ongoing and growing trend is not slavery, it is an opportunity for liberation.

The Time For Abolition is Now

With renewable energy achieving economic viability at the same time fossil fuels threaten to wreck the climate, now is the time for a strong movement to abolish the use of fossil fuels and to hasten transition to sustainable energy. The small carbon budget remaining to us is cause for urgency and the continued expansion of dangerous fossil fuel use is reason enough to act now.

In the 18th and 19th centuries brave abolitionists stood against those still supporting slavery. They paved the way to freedom and dignity for millions and they set in place the conditions for which a nation would be liberated from its own terrible legacy. In this day, we need a new form of abolitionist. One brave enough to stand against the might of the fossil fuel giants and to fight for a future in which the hope of a livable world remains. A world that husbands the prosperity of future generations rather than sacrificing them on the alter of fossil fuel company profits.

The time for abolition of these dirty, dangerous and depleting fuels is now.


Burning One Third of Current Fossil Fuel Reserves is Enough to Wreck Civilization. So Why, Oh Why, are We Tapping Methane Hydrates?

We basically have three choices: mitigation, adaptation and suffering. We’re going to do some of each. The question is what the mix is going to be. The more mitigation we do, the less adaptation will be required and the less suffering there will be. –John Holdren, President of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences.

According to a recent report by Price Waterhouse Cooper, burning 1/3 of the remaining fossil fuel reserves is enough to push world CO2 concentrations to 450 ppm. This concentration would almost certainly bring world temperatures more than 2 degrees above the 20th century average — a level that scientists agree would result in powerful climate feedbacks and terrible impacts to human civilization, likely wrecking many of the world’s most powerful and diverse societies. This is the terrible outcome we see from burning just 1/3 of the world’s current fossil fuel reserves. Burning them all puts the world on the path to a devastating and unlivable 1000 ppm or more.

Yet world fossil fuel reserves is a moving number. Each year, new sources that were considered inaccessible are tapped. So, next year, new discoveries will add to the total. And the year following. And so on. Even worse, worldwide efforts by advanced societies to tap a massive fossil reserve of methane called hydrates is now underway. Methane hydrate is a frozen reserve of methane and water that lies locked hundreds or thousands of feet below permafrost or on or beneath ocean sea beds. Altogether, they represent a carbon store as much as two or three times the size of the world’s current accessible fossil fuel reserves.

Japan, Russia, and now the United States are experimenting with new technologies aimed at extracting these massive methane reserves. Recently, in Alaska, Conoco Philips, funded by Department of Energy grant money, partnered with Japanese hydrate extraction experts in an attempt to tap frozen methane beneath Alaska’s North Slope. In a process that involves injecting CO2 into underground formations to displace frozen methane, this partnership is attempting to prove viable a new extraction technology that may result in the additional burning of more than a trillion tons of fossil fuel.

The cost of this extraction is still prohibitively high. But, if tar sands, fracking and other unconventional extraction techniques are any guide, the oil industry will spare no expense to extract and burn as much of this fuel as possible. And, if current marketing and lobbying campaigns by the oil and gas companies are successful, then alternative energies will be squelched, necessitating the burning of this expensive and environmentally explosive fuel.

Though some CO2 may be sequestered in the extraction process, an additional volume of methane will be released as well. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas in its own right. But the real issue is the fact that burning this methane in addition to all the other conventional fossil fuels would create enough global warming to wreck human civilization many times over. This is an unconscionable result. Which begs the question: why are we trying to tap this methane? Why are we continuing to make our situation worse and worse when we should be deploying alternative energy technologies as fast as is humanly possible? We need to avoid 450 ppm CO2 like the plague and we need to rush back to 350 ppm CO2 as fast as possible.

We had a climate-change driven storm earlier this month. It was powerful and freakish. It flooded New York City’s subway system for the first time ever and left more than 40,000 Americans homeless. But Sandy will seem but a weak trifle compared to the impacts coming our way. So, why, oh why would we continue to make them worse?


Are Renewable Energy Sources Set to Outcompete Fossil Fuels?

A flurry of news reports heralding a new oil and gas age for the US glosses over a dark and difficult to deal with fact. The cost to extract both of these non-renewable resources is increasing. Tight oil and gas fracturing, claimed to be an energy savior for the US despite a plethora of problems including well casing leaks, contaminated water supplies, methane leaks, surging investment costs, and high costs to bring the fuels to market, are expected, by many sources, to be the ‘new future.’

In short, the ‘new future’ looks a lot like the old past, but much more expensive and coming on the heels of a long string of global warming impacts. For gas, the cost of the tight sources is over twice that of traditional wells, costing around $5 to extract a unit of tight shale gas. For oil, tight shale supplies require as much as $90 dollars per barrel to produce. These high costs are nearly twice as much as the often derided and vilified ethanol, which requires $50 dollars per barrel to produce without subsidy.

But the massive oil and gas marketing campaign to put out renewable energy’s electric fire continues apace. This week showed a flurry of glittery and optimistic oil and gas reports coupled with the typical volley of hit pieces aimed at everything that replaces oil from the Chevy Volt to your friendly neighborhood wind farm. The usual suspects all repeated their shrill and desperate chant of ‘the Volt is dead’ a month after Volt sales reached new records and costs to produce each vehicle were dropping fast as sales numbers increased.

Misinformation painting the Volt as uneconomic was belied by these numbers and a recent report showing that the Volt only costs consumers 3 cents per mile to drive. A regular ICE vehicle at $4 per gallon gasoline and 30 miles per gallon fuel efficiency costs 13 cents a mile to drive, more than four times as much. How does the Volt achieve such a feat? Get rid of as much oil input as possible and move to a, far more efficient, battery and electric motor configuration.

Perhaps these lower costs are the reason owners rank the Volt highest in customer satisfaction.

The Volt is dead! Long live the Volt!

But despite all the positive attributes of this powerful, new American technology, a large section of the media is now bent on killing the vehicle. At every success a new negative spin is generated. For example, as the Volt broke sales records last month, hundreds of blogs and articles parroted the fact that GM was offering discounts on the car as a sign of weakness. The same papers and blogs, many months before, criticized the Volt for being too expensive. So which is it? Similar negative information has been spewed about wind, solar, and biofuels. The only solution heralded by these ‘news’ sources appears to be fossil fuels, whose rather large and long string of negatives these news sources wholly ignore. Which ultimately begs the question, who pays the check?

Attempts at fossil fuel dominance and public opinion shaping ranged long and far throughout traditional media and in politics. Overall, it was a typical, banner week for the increasingly rickety fossil fuel based economy. But despite all this misinformation which one blogger recently to compared to the reign of ‘the Dark Lord,’ there were a number of glimmers of hope peaking out through all this misinformation.

As mentioned above, Chevy recently discounted its revolutionary Volt by as much as 10,000 dollars or offered leases for $299 (not $159 as claimed in the misinformation media), spurring new sales and raising the possibility that total Volt sales would reach 30,000 by end of September. Overall, this is far better than the earlier launch of the, equally derided and vilified at the time, Toyota Prius during its first two years. In addition, even as prices for the Volt are going down, quality is going up. The EPA estimated battery range for the vehicle has climbed from 35 miles to 38 miles resulting in a combined average mileage of 98 mpg. This gives most Volt users about 1000 miles of travel between fill-ups which means savings on top of savings for owners.

In addition, US alternative energy coming from solar, wind, and geothermal, as a percentage of electric power, has grown from 3% to 6% within the last four years. Total alternative energy from electric power adding in hydro-electric and geothermal is now over 15%, more than nuclear energy as a proportion of electricity generation. And since the primary contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is electricity generation (coming from coal and natural gas generation and extraction), this leap in alternative energy capacity is a help in dealing with the problem of climate change.

Perhaps most important is level costs and falling prices. Wind and solar energy are very stable energy sources, making it easy for investors to predict outcomes. Not so with natural gas, which is one of the most volatile energy sources available, making it a baby for those who love to game the market. And as time has gone forward, costs for wind and solar continue to drop. Wind is now less expensive than everything but the least expensive natural gas plants. And solar is now less expensive than new nuclear energy and combined cycle gas and coal plants that could be retrofitted for carbon capture at even greater prices. In fact, over the past 18 months, the cost of solar panels has dropped by 65%, leading to a boom in panel sales around the world and in the US even as modest subsidy support for the new energy sources may be withdrawn.

The same can certainly not be said for fossil fuels. Natural gas is driving some companies to the edge of bankruptcy due to the rising cost of extraction and a glut on the market, caused, in part, by rising alternative energy usage. In addition, oil just saw its most expensive year on record. And people are beginning to awaken to the vast external costs and harm of coal use, with opposition to new plants rising in the US and around the world.

Across the globe, countries are taking notice of the alternative energy sea change. During a period this spring, Germany produced 50% of its energy from solar panels. That number is expected to rise to as high as 70% by next year. And as one of the only bright lights in Portugal’s ailing economy, it has managed to install enough renewable energy to make up 45% of its entire electricity grid. Going forward, this energy capital will help to stabilize and improve an otherwise troubled economy by reducing its dependence on imported fuels. Similar stories are being told across Europe and in places in the US. North Dakota produces 20% of its electricity through wind. California and Texas are following suit.

A view of the total installed capacity for US wind energy can be seen below (As of August 2012, the number broke 50 gigawatts installed, a 3.1 GW addition in just 8 months!).

The EU has installed 100 gigawatts of wind capacity and China boasts over 60 gigawatts of installed wind energy capacity. In total, nearly 50 gigawatts of new wind energy capacity will be installed during 2012. Solar energy is now surging to catch up, with total solar energy installations to reach 30 gigawatts in Germany alone this year. The US now boasts 6 gigawatts of solar energy and growing and the world is now adding nearly 30 gigawatts of solar energy capacity each year. This combined installation of 80 gigawatts wind and solar each year is a significant leap forward for alternative energy and is starting to prove its ability to outpace fossil fuels as a primary energy provider.

A sad fact is that, without the harmful media and political campaign being waged by US oil, gas, and coal special interests, the US could be even further along in developing domestic energy sources independent of foreign influence or climate damaging pollutants. Recent opposition to the production tax credit by oil money soaked republicans in Congress now threatens thousands of US alternative energy jobs and will likely further slow development of wind and solar energy production capacity within the US. This removes a key feed-in to US manufacturing and cedes more leadership to competitors overseas — primarily Europe and China. But the republicans, who run on the false mantra that they believe all ‘government subsidies are bad,’ never saw a fossil fuel subsidy they didn’t like and are fighting tooth and nail to keep the oil and gas industry’s incentives of 40 billion dollars intact even as they campaign on expanding subsidy support to this already subsidy bloated industry. But the republicans have been unable to stop what is a growing US and world-wide trend, only delay it, much to the harm of their native country.

(Romney and the republican strawman, Solyndra, on campaign trail together)

The renewable energy boom in the US has also led to a benevolent side effect — an increase in US manufacturing, installation, and alternative energy service jobs. Overall, green energy supports three times the number of jobs when compared to fossil fuels. As a result, more than 8.5 million people work in an alternative energy or energy efficiency related profession, according to Business Week. Look at the map below to find the nearest wind energy component manufacturing facility. Most likely, it is in a city or state near you:

All these facts combine to make the alternative energy sector a growing challenge to the established fossil fuel special interests. And, for this reason alone, we are likely to continue to see a stream of misinformation and demonization of the alternatives coming from fossil-fuel associated sources. But the next time you hear someone say the words Solyndra in a political context, bash wind or solar, or demonize the Volt, it’s important to know where that message originated — those casting their lot with the dirty, dangerous, and depleting fossil fuels.


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