India to Fight Airpocalypse by Making Every Car Electric by 2030

Stricken by air pollution, tired of paying so much for fuel imports, fearful of climate change, and looking to cut vehicle ownership costs, India now plans to have all new cars purchased in the country be electric-powered by 2030.

A Crisis Brought on by Fossil Fuel Dependence

If you thought air pollution in China was bad, you haven’t really taken a good look at India.

According to a 2015 ‘Airpocalypse’ report from Greenpeace, the massive country sees 1.2 million people die from toxic air pollution every year. This number, according to the report, was only slightly less than total deaths attributed to tobacco use.

(Smoke, dust, and industrial pollution choke India’s skies in this 2012 NASA Satellite Photo. During recent years, air quality decline in India has been attributed both to increasing air pollution and to rising instances of wildfire ignition spurred by human-caused climate change.)

Over recent years India’s air pollution death rate, according to Greenpeace, has been steadily ticking upward. And in 2015, the country surpassed China’s annual loss of life due to bad air. In places like the capital city of Dehli, the amount of harmful particulate pollution now often rises to 13 times the maximum safe level recommended by the World Health Organization.

A large share of the pollution that causes these deaths comes from automobile emissions. Add in the worsening instances of heat and drought caused by fossil-fuel-emissions-based climate change — which are already hitting India’s farmers and water security hard — and the incentive to move to clean energy sources couldn’t be higher. Facing multiple and worsening but related crises, it is now the goal of the country’s energy minister — Piyush Goyal — to begin a massive vehicle electrification program that first targets the country’s most heavily polluted population centers and then aims to encompass the entire nation.

100 Percent Electric Vehicles by 2030

The program would both add electrical vehicle charging infrastructure even as it incentivizes India’s citizens to purchase zero emissions vehicles. Individuals would be offered electrical vehicles for zero money down and then would pay back the price of purchase in installments from money saved due to far lower fuel costs. The plan would ramp up in 2020, leverage subsidies of around 4.3 billion dollars equivalent value per year, and would aim to build demand for between 4-7 million electrical vehicles annually.

Goyal says that the goal is to have 100 percent of all new cars sold as electrical vehicles by 2030. And it’s a goal that not only aims to reduce harmful pollution — but also to significantly lower fuel imports which presently stand at around 4.5 million barrels of oil per day even as it tamps down the overall cost of running a vehicle. As an added benefit, the program would spur rapid growth in the country’s automotive sector which, if successful, has the potential to leap-frog the country into a far more competitive economic position vis-a-vis the rest of the world. Especially considering the backward energy and climate policies of western heads of state like coal promoters Donald J. Trump and Malcolm Turnbull which threaten to put countries like the U.S. and Australia behind the energy transition curve.

(Are electrical vehicles about to hit an S-Curve type adoption rate? Policies in India and in other nations and cities around the world seem set to help enable an electrical vehicle and renewable energy based transition away from fossil fuels. Image source: Solar Feeds.)

India’s clean energy ambitions do not start or end with electrical vehicles, however. The country is also involved in major efforts to promote wind and solar energy. India’s solar bid process has been very successful in both lowering costs and spurring mass adoption of clean energy sources. This year the program will help to add fully 10 gigawatts of solar power capacity to the country’s electricity sector. A recent wind energy bid program now appears set to achieve similar gains — with another 6 gigawatts of capacity from that clean energy source on tap in 2017. So it’s likely that these new electrical vehicles will be powered more and more by renewable sources even in previously coal-dependent India.

India is among a growing group of nations announcing ambitions to switch entire vehicle fleets over to electric and renewables. The Netherlands is mulling over a ban on petroleum and diesel based vehicles by 2025. Sweden, Norway and Belgium are planning similar bans by 2025 through 2030. And these countries join an expanding number of major cities around the world like Athens, Paris, Mexico City and Madrid who have announced bans on pollution-causing fossil fuel based cars by 2025.

Links:

India Eyes All-Electric Car Fleet by 2030

India to Make Every Single Car Electric by 2030

Airpocalypse

NASA

India Expects to Add 10 Gigawatts of Solar Power in 2017

Wind Power Passes Inflection Point in India

Diesel Controls at Critical Technological Junction in Transport

Solar Feeds

Duration of Indian Hot Season Nearly Doubles

Hat tip to Mblanc

Hat tip to Henri

Hat tip to Matt

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

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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.

Links:

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

Quora

Hat tip to Steve Piper

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

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

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

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

Tesla Surges Ahead Despite Negative Attacks

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

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

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

Electric Medium Range Aircraft on the Horizon

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

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

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

Storage Advances Our Options for Fighting Climate Change

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

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

Links:

London-Paris Electric Flight in a Decade

Tesla Now Worth More Than Ford, GM

Tesla

Wright Electric

Hat tip to Wharf Rat

Hat tip to Greg

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

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

Base Wind + Solar Now Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels, Nuclear

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

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

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

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

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

Facing Down Fears of Intermittency

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

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

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

Soft Limits

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

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

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

Solar + Battery Storage Becoming Cost Competitive

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

kuaui

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

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

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

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

Renewables + Storage to Beat Fossil Fuels in Near Future

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis

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

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory

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

The Lithium-Ion Megafactories Are Coming

AES Distributed Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ev-volumes

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

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

Rising EV Quality, Lower Cost Helps to Drive Adoption Rates

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

chevy-bolt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better Access to Charging Infrastructure, Faster Charging, Superior Performance

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

tesla-superchargers-destination-chargers

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

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

Helping to Combat Global Climate Change

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

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

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

Links:

Dramatic Plug in Vehicle Sales Growth During 2016

EVs Will Soon Be Cheaper Than Regular Cars

Norway to Ban Petrol Vehicle Sales

Chevy Bolt

New Nissan Leaf With 200 Mile Range is Coming

Tesla Model S

Chevy Bolt vs Model S

Electric Buses Regenerate City Planning

BYD Sells 50 Electric Buses to Argentina

Seattle Buses to be All-Electric

Gas2 — More Tesla Charging Stations

Hat tip to JPL

Florida’s Existential Choice For 2016 — Renewables and Climate Responses or Death by Fossil Fuels

People living in the state of Florida have a big problem — their homeland, as it is today, cannot exist for very long if we double down on fossil fuel burning as Donald Trump has proposed. And this situation, in turn, creates a big problem for Trump — he can’t win the 2016 election without Florida’s support. Trump’s vicious combination of climate change denial, anti-renewables policy stances, and attacks on immigrants whose family members may also be displaced by climate change have considerably damaged his chances of capturing the state’s 29 electoral votes. He’s now in a situation where he’s basically reliant on smoke screens and misinformation to convince the voters of Florida to commit what amounts to an electoral suicide.

us-coal-production

(U.S. coal production has been falling since Obama’s election in 2008. As a result, US carbon emissions have plateaued. The kinds of renewable energy that the American people want can continue to generate reductions in greenhouse gasses flooding the environment and give the people living in Florida a fighting chance. But that won’t happen if we elect Donald Trump as President. Image source: Vox and The Energy Information Administration.)

Trump’s Dirty Energy Pledges Would Mean Certain Devastation For Florida

About a week ago, Trump pledged to, in effect, zero out all spending on renewable energy and climate change related science while pushing hard for an expansion of coal, oil, and gas burning if he is elected. Meanwhile, Trump’s energy team is little more than a covey of climate change deniers hand picked directly from the fossil fuel industry. Trump has pledged to kill the EPA, to roll back Obama’s Clean Power Plan, and to drop out of U.S. emissions reductions pledges to the Paris Climate Summit (COP 21).

If you were looking for an example of a perfect storm of the absolute worst climate change and renewable energy related policies, policies that were guaranteed to put the world back on a track toward a devastating business as usual carbon emission — then Trump fits the bill. And to large parts of Florida, Trump’s policy pledges are starting to look a lot like a promise to inflict climate Armageddon on the low-lying state.

(This year, surface melt was observed for the first time in East Antarctica. This new observation points to increased risk of glacial melt from a region that is capable of dramatically raising global sea levels. The people living in low-lying Florida are becoming more and more concerned. And they should be. Video source: Climate State.)

Miami-Dade County sits on the front lines of this rising climate crisis. Already, the city has pledged 400 million dollars to raise streets and upgrade the city’s drainage system. Why? The oceans in Miami have now risen to the point that tides frequently disrupt transportation, flood neighborhoods, and swamp businesses. These upgrades may buy Miami a decade or two or three. But there’s absolutely no way Miami can survive for any longer than this if Trump commits to his policy choices as-is. Even the rosiest rational predictions for sea level rise by the end of this Century put Miami mostly under water well before the year 2100 under the kinds of emission scenarios that a Trump Presidency would commit us to.

Further up the coast, Jacksonville is still reeling from damages inflicted by Hurricane Matthew — a storm made worse both by the record hot Atlantic Ocean and by the added effect sea level rise had on the height of its wind-driven surge of flooding water. Like Miami, Jacksonville is starting to feel the effects of sea level rise. And its likelihood for continued existence this Century would be quite low if Trump’s fossil fuel burning policies were enacted. The story is much the same for pretty much all of Florida’s coastal cities as well as the southern tip of Florida stretching on north to the Everglades. Sea level rise is an existential threat to these regions now. One that will be made far worse if we continue to burn the fossil fuels that Trump is committed to.

Trump Seeks to Kill Renewables While Amendment 1 Attempts to Stymie Solar

Even as Trump is moving to crush renewable energy progress and responses to climate change at the federal level, hurting Florida’s chances of facing down climate threats, the fossil fuel industry and a number of aligned utilities are attempting to stymie solar energy development across the state. Like much of America, residents within Florida are attracted by renewable energy. In fact, a recent poll showed that four out of five voters supported increasing levels of renewable energy development. Home and business owners alike want access to new, clean, independent energy choices. People rightly concerned about the impacts of climate change want more clean energy.

clean-energy-costs

(As the effects of climate change worsened, clean energy costs have been falling. Now costs are so low that financial benefits to individual energy users abound. Fossil fuel industry is acting in increasingly aggressive ways to stifle access by using laws to prevent people from using clean energy sources. Trump is fighting to help these corporations prevent you and your family members from taking advantage of the multiple benefits clean energy provides. Image source: The Whitehouse.)

Since renewable energy is so popular among voters, and even among republicans, fossil fuel special interests often resort to deceptive tactics in order to keep people captive to harmful energy consumption. And this election, utilities have attempted to protect their monopoly power interests by forcing anti-solar Amendment 1 on the state. Amendment 1 aims to open a loop-hole for utilities to charge independent renewable power generators exorbitant fees and to suppress the rate of solar adoption in the state. Amendment 1’s language has been called deceitful by the Union of Concerned Scientists. It’s a proposal that has been put forward by a collection of fossil fuel special interests including Exxon Mobile, Duke Power, The Koch Brothers, Florida Power and Light and others. And if the Amendment passes, it will help to lock Florida in a fossil fueled climate change nightmare. One that is, even now, starting to nibble away at the vital cities that enable the state to function.

Yuge Wave of Climate/Renewable Energy Voters?

With both the future existence of Florida’s cities and access to renewable energy under threat, voters in Florida are turning out like never before. Nationalized Hispanic and Caribbean immigrants whose families may also be forced to seek refuge in the U.S. due to climate change are voting in droves. And the people of the increasingly swamped Miami Dade County are flooding the polls. There, fully 55 percent of registered voters had cast a ballot before election day.

The record turnout in places like Miami-Dade helped bouy the Florida early vote to 6.4 million — more than the total post election day count for the year 2000. This large turnout has come as registered democratic voters lead republicans by 92,000 coming into election day. But first and second generation citizens may well be generating even more of a democratic edge. According to Vice, 86.9 percent more Latinos voted early than during 2012. And a good portion of that 455,000 total are registered as independents and even republicans. Meanwhile, there is some indication that well less than 90 percent of republicans are voting for Trump.

While Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric may have helped to generate some of this shift, it is likely that rising climate and energy concerns are also affecting the Florida vote. A poll from earlier this year found that concerns about climate change from Florida residents was on the rise. Fully 81.3 percent of Florida peninsular residents expressed moderate to serious concern about climate change as an issue. And though debate moderators and their mainstream media sponsors failed to raise the critical issues of climate change and renewable energy in the televised match-ups between Clinton and Trump, Clinton frequently harangued Trump for his noted extreme degree of climate change denial. Furthermore, Trump’s own statements and policy choices have produced enough ripples in the media to generate a general understanding that Trump is fighting against popular advances in renewable energy while stifling responses to climate change in a state where people are becoming increasingly aware that they’re under the gun. Together, these underlying political forces are likely to sap voters away from Trump in a state he must win to secure the 2016 election.

Let’s hope that happens. The future of Florida and so many other important things hangs in the balance.

Links:

Vox

The Energy Information Administration

Trump to Zero Out Clean Energy Funding

Climate State

U.S. Voters Want Renewable Energy

The Whitehouse

Four Reasons to Vote No on Anti-Solar Amendment 1

Florida Early Vote Beats Entire 2000 Turnout

Floridians are More Concerned About Climate Change

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

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

Up to 3.4 Trillion Dollars in Bad Fossil Fuel Investments

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

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

bloomberg-oil-crash

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

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

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

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

Coal Already Seeing Severe Declines — Oil and Gas are Next

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

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

rapidly-falling-battery-prices

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

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

Coal, Oil and Gas — Noncompetitive Bad Energy Actors

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

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

Trends Still Favor Renewables

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

Links:

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

Vegas Casino Plans to Leave Warren Buffet’s Nevada Utility

The Coal Industry is Bankrupt

Clean Power Plan

COP 21

More Fuels from Hell or the Renewable Grid? Stark Energy Choices for the Next Decade

Continuing to burn and extract fossil fuels comes at a terrible and rising risk for pretty much everyone. Thankfully, the capacity to reduce our dependence on these fuels from hell and transition to far less environmentally harmful energy sources is available like never before. But whether or not we make that choice as a society will depend on the actions of both political and economic leaders as well as individuals in the U.S. and around the world.

Biggest Oklahoma Earthquake Ever Seen and Fossil-Fueled Storms

In Oklahoma, the filling of fracking wastewater injection wells is applying a huge stress to the bedrock. There, the new presence of billions of tons of water is changing the way the land bears weight even as it lubricates existing fault lines. This change, in turn, is setting off earthquakes of never-before-seen intensity, not only in Oklahoma, but in many places across the central U.S.

usgs-map-fracking-earthquake

(USGS map of a fracking-related earthquake that struck Oklahoma City on Friday. Continuing to frack in the central U.S. will likely produce increased risk for such quakes even as it provides greater access to climate change-worsening fossil fuels. Image source: USGS and Arstechnica.)

On Saturday, one of these quakes reached a 5.6 magnitude near Oklahoma City, injuring one person, damaging a number of buildings in the historic section of town, and causing stock losses at local grocery stores. As earthquakes go, this was a moderate-intensity event, but it was the largest such event that Oklahoma City had ever seen. There is a reasonable and growing concern that the fossil-fuel extraction activity that is fracking could produce far worse — especially if sections of the New Madrid Fault Line to the east in Missouri become stressed.

Farther south, concerned residents in Louisiana, after suffering a 500-year rainfall event linked to climate change that dumped 6.9 trillion gallons of water over the state in just a few days, are attempting to block oil exploration leases in the Gulf of Mexico. This heavy weather is being born in a world in which increasing rates of evaporation are intensifying droughts in some regions and sparking powerful rainfall events in others. This type of extreme weather will continue to worsen so long as we keep burning fossil fuels.

500-year-rainfall-event-louisiana

(A 500-year rainfall event that dumped 6.9 trillion gallons of water over Louisiana in August — one of numerous climate change-related 500-year flood events hitting the U.S. in 2016 — helped to raise concerns and spark protests over the opening of new drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico. Image source: Weather Matrix/Jesse Ferrell.)

Louisiana residents are starting to get worried, and with good reason. Now, hundreds of Louisiana protesters are valiantly attempting to prevent the opening of new fossil fuel leases that could free up another 30 billion tons of carbon-based fuels for burning. If such oil was discovered and brought to market, it would effectively add three more years to the lifespan of global fossil-fuel burning at a time when a rapid cessation of such burning is necessary to preserve anything remotely resembling a livable climate. Similar protests along the East Coast spurred the Obama Administration’s choice to close oil exploration leases in the Atlantic for at least the next five years. Sadly, thus far, no such positive outcome has occurred for the Gulf. After the recent exploration rights auctions, the production of these harmful fuels is one step closer to market.

A Huge Opportunity For the Alternatives

Fracking-related earthquakes in Oklahoma City and oil-lease protests as an upshot of climate concerns by citizens are just two events in a larger tapestry of conflict over the use of dangerous and volatile fossil fuels. As this conflict rages across the globe, new energy sources are starting to make inroads. In particular, wind and solar power during recent years have gone mainstream as electrical power generation sources. In the U.S. so far during 2016, more than 90 percent of new installed electricity generation capacity has come from wind and solar combined. On the current path, these two energy sources will account for ten percent of total U.S. electricity production by 2021, a more than five-fold increase in ten years.

Moreover, a recent report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) finds that it is technically possible for the largest grid in the world (occupying the eastern U.S.) to receive fully 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2026. These potentials do not include recent and projected advances in battery storage technologies, which provide an opportunity to further expand wind and solar generation by helping to make these clean energy sources less variable.

nrel-scenarios

(The National Renewable Energy Lab recently reported that the eastern U.S. could get 30 percent or more of its grid electrical power from wind and solar by 2026. Image source: NREL and Vox.)

Improvements in renewable energy cost and continuing technological advances have helped to drive this expanded access. In almost all major markets, wind and solar are competitive with fossil fuels on price. Utility renewable power purchase agreements (PPAs) now range as low as 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour while homeowners who install solar are often able to save money and recoup investment costs in as little as five years. In addition, the fact that wind and solar does not result in damage to water supplies, rising earthquake risks, various fossil-fuel related health hazards (related to air and water contamination), or the greenhouse gasses that have so wrecked our climate, adds another huge cost benefit to civilization at large — a strong justification for the continued subsidization of these fuel sources (as well as the obvious justification that fossil-fuel subsidies should be cut).

In the end, the action by political parties, economic leaders, voters, and individuals will determine which path we take over the next ten years. If solar and wind energy are suppressed by fossil-fuel interests strong-arming local and state governments (as they were in Nevada), if Republican climate change deniers continue to be elected to Congress or capture the Presidency, if economic leaders around the world continue to support government subsidies for fossil fuels, if capitalists continue to use financial market levers to suppress renewable energy industries, and if individuals do not take the increasingly available opportunities to reduce their fossil-fuel energy consumption and make the energy switch, then fossil-fuel burning will continue to increase over the next ten years and related harms will continue to ramp up.

However, if everyone makes the choice to start doing something about these rising problems now, then we have an opportunity to make a big leap forward, to make our civilization more resilient to climate change, to reduce climate harms, and to rapidly set out on a path toward a much-needed energy transition. Ultimately the choice of seeming ease in continuing to use fossil fuels is really one of seriously increasing pain. We need to make the other choice. And we all need to start doing it now.

Links:

Fuels from Hell

USGS

Biggest Oklahoma Earthquake Ever Seen

New Madrid Fault Line

Gulf Coast Residents Crash Oil Lease Auction

Facebook Weather Matrix

U.S. Solar Market Insights

Eastern U.S. 30 Percent Renewables by 2026

NREL

G20 Baulks at Ending Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Hat tip to June

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DT Lange

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

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

Fossil Fuel Funding for Global Catastrophe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tesla Plans to Merge With Solar City

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

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

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

Energy Storage Tesla

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

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

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

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

Solar City Tesla

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

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

Links:

Fossil Fuels with 550 Billion in Subsidies Hurt Renewables

Tesla Offers to Buy Solar City

Tesla Motors

The National Recovery Administration

Air Pollution Kills 7 Million Each Year

Historic Performance on the Arctic Ocean

Hat tip to Vic

Hat tip to Greg

Norway, India and Netherlands May Ban Fossil Fuel Driven Vehicles by 2025-2030

New national policy proposals from the four ruling parties of Norway spurred a flurry of headlines this week as leaders explored the possibility of banning all fossil fuel based vehicle sales by 2025.

The country, which already has a 24 percent national all-electric vehicle sales rate — is pursuing ways to ensure that number grows to 100 percent in very short order. Note that these vehicles are of the all-electric, battery-driven variety and do not include hybrids or plug in hybrids like the Chevy Volt.

Norway’s Push Implies a Big Shift for Fossil Fuel Exporter

Leaders from both parties within Norway were considering the ban which, if enacted, would dramatically reduce Norway’s vehicle fleet carbon emissions. Fully 90 percent of Norway’s electricity is generated by renewable hydro-electric power. And hooking vehicles up to this energy source would push their use and chain of fuel emissions to zero.

Tesla Model S Supercharger

(A Tesla Model S recharges its battery at a solar powered electrical station. A combination that provides a clear path out of a transportation-based hothouse gas emissions trap. Enabled by this technology, a number of countries are considering a complete ban on fossil fuel use for vehicle transport from 2025 through 2030. Image source: Green Car Reports.)

A fossil fuel exporter, about 20 percent of Norway’s GDP comes from the sale of oil to the rest of the world. And this represents a bit of an irony in Norway’s policies. But Norway, for its part, appears to be very serious about transitioning away from fossil fuels and setting an example for the rest of the world. A challenge it will necessarily have to meet by diversifying its economy as global fossil fuel demand falls.

Norway May Be Signalling Global Transition Away From Fossil Fuel Powered Automobiles

Norway’s 5 million populace switching to all electric vehicles wouldn’t put a huge dent in global oil demand. But if other countries start to follow Norway’s lead, then a strong global trend could assert. Already, both the Netherlands and India are exploring similar policies — with the Netherlands looking to enact a 100 percent non fossil fuel vehicle fleet standard by 2025 and India exploring a similar option for 2030.

Increasing electric vehicle capabilities, lower battery prices, and expanding electric vehicle production are now allowing countries like Norway to consider the possibility of fossil-fuel free automobile fleets. By 2017, both Tesla and GM will be offering 200 mile range electric vehicles from a price of under 35,000 US dollars. Sales of these two vehicles alone are expected to top 150,000 in 2017 and with Tesla seeing nearly half a million preorders for the Model 3, production is likely to continue to ramp up.

Following expected trends, it appears that range performance and cost for the battery + electric motor combo will hit parity with fossil fuel driven vehicles by the early 2020s. Other measures of performance such as engine efficiency, noise, horsepower, particulate emissions, carbon emissions, and torque are all already superior in electric vehicles.

Rapid Ramp Toward Catastrophic Climate Change Provides a Sense of Urgency

From the standpoint of climate change, a shift to electric vehicles and away from internal combustion engines provides a number of systemic benefits. The electric engine is 2-3 times as efficient as an internal combustion engine and so it takes less energy power overall.

NOAA global temperature anomalies

(Global temperatures have been nearly 1.5 C hotter than 1880s averages during the first four months of 2016. By end of year, temperatures should fall in a range that is about 1.25 to 1.3 C hotter. A level very close to the dangerous 1.5 C climate threshold and far too close for comfort to the 2 C threshold. If we are to have much hope of avoiding temperature ranges well above these danger zones, the rate of carbon emissions reduction from human civilizations around the globe will have to be extraordinarily swift. Image source: NOAA.)

This increased efficiency alone results in a net, large-scale conservation across the fuel chain. Secondly, electric vehicles have the option of powering their engines using wind, solar, or hydro. And in doing so, vehicle use and fuel based emissions both drop to zero. The only remaining factor of emissions related to electric vehicles are found in the materials used to construct EVs and in the supply chains used to transport vehicles components and finished products. And since transport emissions figure heavily in this aspect, a large-scale shift away from fossil fuel based transport will cut this number down as well.

With many nations considering 100 percent fossil fuel based vehicle bans and with EV production and quality rapidly ramping up, it appears that there’s a possibility that a big chunk of modern transportation could be shifted away from fossil fuels over the next 15 years. And that event couldn’t come sooner — as the effects of catastrophic climate change appear to already be howling at the door.

Links:

Norway Considers Ban of Gas Fueled Vehicles by 2025

Norway May Become First Country to Ban the Use of Gas Powered Cars

Green Car Reports

NOAA

Hat tip to Cate

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REN 27 renewable energy share

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

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

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

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

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

New Electric Generating Capacity

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

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

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

US Energy Generation by Sector

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

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

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

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

Positive Trends, but Still too Slow

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

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

LCOE costs for all power sources

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

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

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

Links:

Global Renewable Energy Adds 147 GW in 2015

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

Cost of Energy by Source

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

Stephen Hawking Quotes

Renewables Global Status Report

350.org

Sierra Club Beyond Coal

The Clean Power Plan

The Paris Climate Accord

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DT Lange

Too Close to Dangerous Climate Thresholds — Japan Meteorological Agency Shows First Three Months of 2016 Were About 1.5 C Above the IPCC Preindustrial Baseline

We should take a moment to appreciate how hot it’s actually been so far in 2016. To think about what it means to be in a world that’s already so damn hot. To think about how far behind the 8 ball we are on responses to human forced climate change. And to consider how urgent it is to swiftly stop burning coal, oil and gas. To stop adding more fuel to an already raging global fire.

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Global policy makers, scientists, and many environmentalists have identified an annual average of 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial marks as a level of heat we should try to avoid. The Paris Climate Summit made a verbal pledge to at least attempt to steer clear of such extreme high temperature ranges. But even the strongest emissions reduction commitments from the nations of the world now do not line up with that pledge. And it’s questionable that they ever could given the massive amount of greenhouse gas overburden that has already accumulated and is already rapidly heating the world’s airs, waters, ice, and carbon stores.

Current emission reduction pledges, though significant when taking into context the size and potential for growth of all of carbon-spewing industry, don’t even come close to the stated 1.5 C goal. Under our presently accepted understanding of climate sensitivity, and barring any response from the global carbon stores unforeseen by mainstream science, pledged reductions in fossil fuel use by the nations of the world under Paris would limit warming to around 3 C by the end of this Century. Rates of carbon emission reduction would necessarily have to significantly speed up beyond the pledged Paris NDC goals in order to hit below 3 C by 2100 — much less avoid 2 C.

As for 1.5 C above preindustrial averages — it already appears that this year, 2016, will see temperatures uncomfortably close to a level that mainstream scientists have identified as dangerous.

Global temperatures March Japan Meteorological Agency

(Japan’s Meteorological Agency shows that March of 2016 remained at global temperature levels above 1.5 C higher than the preindustrial baseline.)

The most recent warning came as the Japan Meteorological Agency today posted its March temperature values. In the measure, we again see a major jump in readings with the new March measure hitting a record of 1.07 C above the 20th Century average or about 1.55 C above temperatures last seen during the early 1890s. These temperatures compare to approximate 1.52 C above 1890s temperatures recorded by the same agency during February and a 1.35 C positive departure above 1890s levels during January. Averaging all these rough anomaly figures together, we find that the first three months of 2016 were about 1.47 C above the 1890s, or near 1.52 C above the IPCC 1850 to 1900 preindustrial baseline.

So for three months now, we’ve entered a harsh new world. One brought about by an atrocious captivity to fossil fuel burning. One that many scientists said it was imperative to avoid.

Due to the way the global climate system cycles, it is unlikely that the rest of 2016 will see such high global temperature marks and that the annual average will bend back from a near to, or slightly higher than, 1.5 C peak during early 2016. A La Nina appears to be on the way. And as the major driver of the cooler side of natural variability, La Nina taking hold should draw some of the sting out of these new record atmospheric temperature readings.

That said, overall ocean heat still looks quite extreme. Pacific Decadal Oscillation values hit their second highest ever monthly values during March of 2016. And a strongly positive PDO can tend to bleed a great amount of heat into the world’s airs even absent the influence of El Nino. In addition, Arctic warming this year has hit new record levels. Arctic sea ice is now at or near seasonal record low levels in most measures. Albedo is very low with many dark ice and open water regions forming throughout the Arctic Ocean. Snow cover levels are also low to record low — depending on the measure. Very early Greenland melt is already hampering the reflectivity of that great ice mass.

As summer advances, these factors may tend to continue to generate excess heat in Arctic or near Arctic regions as new dark surfaces absorb far more solar radiation than during a typical year. New evidence of increasing Arctic permafrost carbon store response may add to this potential additional heat contribution.

There is danger then, that an La Nina driven and natural variability related cooling later in the year may tend to lag — pulled back by a positive PDO and amplifying feedbacks in the Arctic. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels peaking between 407 and 409 parts per million during the months of March and April — the primary and increasingly dangerous driver of all this excess heat we are now experiencing — risk bending the upper end of that temperature threshold still higher and in ways that we probably haven’t yet completely pinned down. But the fact that March appears to have lingered near February’s record high anomaly values is cause for a bit of heightened concern. In other words, 2016 is setting up to be hot in ways that are surprising, freakish, and troubling.

Links:

Japan’s Meteorological Agency

Met Office — Measure From Which IPCC Preindustrial Baseline is Derived

NOAA’s Weekly ENSO Report

NSIDC’s Interactive Sea Ice Extent Graph

The Greenland Summer Melt Season Just Started in April

PDO Record Data

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Freeing the Fossil Fuel Energy Slaves

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

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

Tesla Powerwall

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

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

Massive New Market for Tesla

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

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

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

Intermittency Constraints Reduced, Hitting Renewable Economies of Scale

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

Rendering of Tesla Gigafactory

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

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

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

Links:

Tesla Energy

Elon Musk Unveils Stored Sunlight in Batteries

Tesla Gigafactory May be First of Many

Tesla Motors/Chamber of Commerce

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Robert in New Orleans

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

DCIM101GOPRO

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

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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.

Links:

Solar Energy Emerging as Cheapest Power Source

Solar at 2 Cents per Kwh

Solar Seen as Unbeatable

Dubai Solar Bid Awes Energy Market Players

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 25-27 South Australia Grid Loading

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

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

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

Total Renewable Generation South Australia

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

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

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

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

Links:

One out of Every Five Australian Homes Use Solar Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Quest for Viable Hot Fusion

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

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

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

Tokamak_fields_lg

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

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

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

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

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

Unexplained Experimental Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lockheed Martin’s Compact Fusion

LOCKHEED-FUSION_300

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

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

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

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

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

Fusion-Graphic Magnetic Mirrors

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

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

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

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

From a recent article in Cosmos:

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

A Big Corp to Take on the Fossil Fuel Giants?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

Compact Fusion

Is Lockheed’s Fusion Project Breaking New Ground?

Lockheed Developing Truck-Sized Nuclear Fusion Reactor

Growth Shock

Could Ultra-Cheap Energy be Just Around the Corner?

Tokamak

ITER

Cold Fusion

The Good News — 56% of New Energy Installed For First Half of 2014 Was Renewable; The Bad News — 40% Was Natural Gas

New installed Capacity 2014

Good news and bad news. But first, the good news…

For the first half of 2014, a total of 56% percent of newly installed electricity generation capacity within the US came from wind and solar energy sources. In total, that’s more than 3,300 gigawatts of new power from non carbon emitting energy generation for the first six months of 2014 alone.

Solar energy, in particular, saw a major increase from 2013 — jumping 47% in new installed capacity over the same period last year. In total, the US now boasts more than 15 gigawatts of solar energy generation capacity — racing to catch up to US wind generating capacity that now stands at nearly 62 gigawatts.

A majority of new solar power generation came from utility-based projects. But strong new additions in residential solar power also buoyed total additions. The massive leap in new solar capacity was spurred by rapidly falling panel prices combined with much more robust avenues for those seeking to install solar — at the individual, agency, and utility scale. Municipal and institutional solar power generation also saw a substantial leap with government buildings, libraries, schools and churches taking the solar plunge.

Wind showed a substantial recovery from the first half of 2013, which only saw 2 megawatts of new wind after conservatives in Congress spear-headed an assault on the renewable energy production tax credit in an attempt to stymie new alternative energy sources. The blood-letting pushed wind off a track in which it was gaining between 5-10 gigawatts of new power generation annually during 2008 to 2012. Due to falling wind prices and rising gas and coal prices, however, wind appears to be staging a comeback to previous rates of adoption.

Overall, it’s an excellent start to a year that will almost certainly see more major new alternative energy resource additions.

Natural Gas — A Bridge to More Carbon Emissions

As for the bad news, 40% of the new generation capacity came from natural gas…

Natural gas has been promoted as a ‘bridge to clean energy.’ But the fact that each new natural gas plant installation extends the life-time of US carbon emissions is a black eye on this green-washed claim.

It’s true that natural gas emits less carbon when burned than coal. But the ground-water endangering fracking process also leaks a portion of the fracked gas into the atmosphere as methane. And methane is 86 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a 20 year time-frame. Adding in the effect of methane leakage makes fracked natural gas as bad or nearly as bad as coal when taking into account the total industrial cycle heat forcing.

In addition, as noted above, continuing to construct natural gas plants now locks the US into an economic commitment to keep burning natural gas far into the future. In this way, on this path, our economy will continue to emit large volumes of carbon well past mid century. And given an immediately imminent and dangerous hothouse warming crisis, we simply can’t afford to keep emitting for so long.

In essence, we should be pushing to have all new energy capacity come from renewables even as we work to shut down existing carbon-fired power plants as rapidly as possible. And the already existing carbon-based infrastructure is massive — composing nearly 430 gigawatts of generating capacity for natural gas and 304 gigawatts for coal. We should be looking at ways to rapidly reduce this massive, carbon-emitting monstrosity. Not continue to add more to it.

In fact, a new research study found that by adding new natural gas capacity, CO2 emissions were increased as the potential for new renewable energy additions were crowded out by competition and as the life-span of fossil fuel based infrastructure was extended. In essence, these common-sense findings are a strong argument for no new fossil fuel based additions at all.

Some of our more rational government officials have paid lip-service to the notion that the US should take a leading role on climate change. And this is a very valuable sentiment. However, real leadership does not involve adding new fossil fuel capacity or seeking new fossil fuel resources. True climate leadership is based in rapidly phasing out the burning of fossil fuels entirely, not locking them in for decades of continued use.

Links:

New US Power in 2014: More than Half Renewable So Far

Memo to Obama: Expanded Natural Gas Worsens Climate Change

US Power Generating Capacity Additions During First Half of 2014

Study: Effect of Natural Gas Supply on Renewable Energy and CO2 Emission

 

 

No Excuse Not To Transition: Denmark Wind at 5 Cents Per Kilowatt Hour

Running the world on renewable energy.

If you listen to the fossil fuel cheerleaders, the possibility is more remote than ever. Earlier this month, a few oil and natural gas fracking boosters in the EU derided the high cost of energy in Europe. They claimed that shifting to a policy of climate and groundwater threatening fracking could free them from both energy price shock and dependence on threatening overseas powers like Russia.

Unfortunately, such, unattached-to-reality, fossil fuel boosting by former industry professionals turned politician isn’t new. For these wayward ministers had missed recent developments in nearby Denmark providing a real long-term solution to both high energy prices and dependence on foreign suppliers, and all without the added hassle of threatening Europe’s water supplies or pushing the world one step closer to climate change game over.

Cheaper Than Other Forms of Energy

GE Wind Turbine with Battery Back-up

(GE wind turbine with battery backup in the turbine housing stores power for times of peak demand or when the wind is not blowing. Image source: Smart Planet.)

For according to a recent report from the government of Denmark, new wind power coming online in 2016 will cost half that of energy now provided from current coal and natural gas based power plants. The net price would be equal to 5.4 cents (US) per kilowatt hour.

Rasmus Petersen, Danish Minister for Energy, Climate and Buildings was far more sanguine than a number of his wayward peers regarding renewable’s prospects:

“Wind power today is cheaper than other forms of energy, not least because of a big commitment and professionalism in the field. This is true both for researchers, companies and politicians.”

“We need a long-term and stable energy policy to ensure that renewable energy, both today and in the future is the obvious choice.”

Not included in Rasmus’ statement is the amount of monetary damage and loss of life that would inevitably be prevented by shifting the energy base to renewables and away from climatologically harmful fossil fuels. Damage to crops, damage from extreme weather, loss of coastal infrastructure, loss of fisheries, loss of whole ecologies, and increasing risks of a runaway global warming feedback in the Arctic are all reduced or prevented under such a shift. Though there is currently no price mechanism to add these monumental costs inherent to fossil fuel use to the current energy marketplace, the effects are ongoing and born by all of broader society.

It’s a kind of tax fossil fuel use foists on us all. A tax that includes potential loss of life as an ultimate levy. And with each passing year, the pain and harm from that wreckage-inducing tax increases.

In addition to broadly preventing such harms, an ever-increasing energy independence comes with a majority reliance on renewables as base energy.

EU Still Pushing for Renewables Expansion

Despite the rather loud voices of a couple of fossil fuel cheerleaders, the EU is pressing hard for increasing renewable energy generation. In total, the EU commission is now recommending that member states, on aggregate, set a 30 percent renewable energy production target and a 40% emissions reduction goal. This would more than double the 14.1 % renewable energy use achieved throughout the EU during 2012 and rising through 2014.

The EU’s action comes on the back of a flurry of new reports showing that 100% reliance on renewable energy for electricity and base fuel is now possible given current technology and existing markets. These studies found complete replacement of fossil fuel infrastructure, including transportation, to be possible given current resources and technology for all new energy by 2020-2030 and for all energy by around 2050. Meanwhile, many of these studies found that costs for replacement were surprisingly low, especially when efficiency and the elimination of unnecessary consumption were added in.

Under the current situation of amplifying damages caused by human-induced climate change, such policies provide a means of escape from escalating harm and of a prevention of the worst effects of warming-related climate and biosphere shocks. Governments around the world should take a good, hard look at such policies going forward as the economic excuses for perpetrating such harm by continuing fossil fuel exploitation, given the availability of 5 cent per kilowatt wind energy, grow quite thin indeed.

Links:

Wind Power Undercuts Fossil Fuels to Become Cheapest in Denmark

Onshore Wind Now Cheapest Form of Electricity in Denmark

Providing All Global Energy With Wind, Water and Solar Power

Smart Planet

Fossil Fuel Cheerleaders Push ‘Shale Option’

 

 

Renewables to Replace Nat Gas as World’s Second Largest Electricity Source by 2016, Generate 25% by 2018

new-and-total-world-wind-power-570x380

(Image of rocketing wind power capacity growth since 1996. Source: Futurist)

A new report from the International Energy Agency reveals that total renewable energy sourced electricity generation is set to surge another 40% between now and 2018. This means that by 2016, renewables will have supplanted natural gas as the world’s second largest source of electrical power and that by 2018, renewables will generate fully one quarter of the world’s electricity.

Power generation from hydro, wind, solar and other renewable sources worldwide will exceed that from gas and be twice that from nuclear by 2016, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said today in its second annual Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report (MTRMR).

According to the MTRMR, despite a difficult economic context, renewable power is expected to increase by 40% in the next five years. Renewables are now the fastest-growing power generation sector and will make up almost a quarter of the global power mix by 2018, up from an estimated 20% in 2011. The share of non-hydro sources such as wind, solar, bioenergy and geothermal in total power generation will double, reaching 8% by 2018, up from 4% in 2011 and just 2% in 2006.

(Emphasis added to clarify the usual confusion between capacity and generation)

Et tu Brute?

Raging development of renewables has come on strong despite the fact that they receive just 1/6th the subsidy support (523 billion vs 80 billion in 2011) of fossil fuels and have been the whipping boy of carbon energy cheer leaders in blogs, the media, and in chat rooms for years.

Misinformation, a clear funding disadvantage, and a constant wave of negative press from vested interests, has been unsuccessful in keeping the pace of renewable energy growth from running rapidly ahead of any other set of fuels. Doubts about renewables’ energy return on energy invested (EROEI), intermittency, and the ever-arcane ‘lack of thermal capacity’ has been rendered moot by a vast and growing volume of electricity generated from these sources. Instead, IEA has found renewables to stand on their own merits:

“As their costs continue to fall, renewable power sources are increasingly standing on their own merits versus new fossil-fuel generation,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven as she presented the report at the Renewable Energy Finance Forum in New York. “This is good news for a global energy system that needs to become cleaner and more diversified, but it should not be an excuse for government complacency, especially among OECD countries.”

Further to this point, IEA noted:

in addition to the well-established competitiveness of hydropower, geothermal and bioenergy, renewables are becoming cost-competitive in a wider set of circumstances. For example, wind competes well with new fossil-fuel power plants in several markets, including Brazil, Turkey and New Zealand. Solar is attractive in markets with high peak prices for electricity, for instance, those resulting from oil-fired generation. Decentralised solar photovoltaic generation costs can be lower than retail electricity prices in a number of countries.

Impetus for this massive growth comes primarily from wind and solar power sources, which, as noted above, are set to double their capacity over the next five years.

It’s enough to make the fossil fuels, who still remained the funding babies of the world’s governments in 2011, feel a bit of betrayed consternation.

Et tu Brute?

Coal Funding to be Cut

Adding further insult to injury, funding of the most polluting fossil fuel source — coal — appears to be on the chopping block. In his recent Climate Action Plan announcement, Obama laid down a policy in which the United States would no longer support loan funding for coal-fired power plants overseas and where his administration would begin to strictly regulate carbon emissions from coal plants in the United States. Meanwhile, the World Bank has stated that it would drastically cut its funding for new coal plants, providing support for them only in the ‘most dire of economic circumstances.’

But it’s Not all Roses for Renewables Yet

Surging worldwide investment in renewables has, sadly, come at time of lagging renewables investment in Europe. Wide-ranging ‘austerity’ measures imposed by central banks and conservative governments in Europe have forced some countries in the Eurozone to cut funding for new renewable energy projects.

That said, despite government cut-backs, the pace of adoption in many countries remains high due to both public purchases and due to the fact that prices for new generation keep falling rapidly. So even though funding fell, these lower outlays were still able to purchase more renewable watts for each dollar (or in this case, Euro), spent.

Direct Replacement Necessary to Have any Hope of Mitigating Human Caused Climate Change

Policy measures to cut coal plant funding and regulate carbon emissions raise the possibility of a growing direct replacement of fossil fuel energy sources with renewable energy sources over the coming decade. A rapid pace of this kind of replacement will be necessary to deal with a growing set of difficulties imposed by human-caused climate change. What appears hopeful is that renewables seem poised to encompass ever-larger portions of the world’s energy mix. Let’s hope the pace at which this replacement occurs is fast enough and strong enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

To wit, it is important to note that global carbon emissions are still rising. As of 2012, the world had emitted 31.6 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere. And though the rate of increase slowed substantially from 2011 to 2012, this massive volume of CO2 was enough to set a new record high. So the sense of urgency and impetus for change could not be higher.

From this point forward, we’re in a race between the rate of fossil fuel burning and the rate of renewables adoption. Allowing too much more to be burned before the last coal plant, oil well, and natural gas plant are shuttered (or, more dubiously, have their carbon sequestered) puts in place a situation where we were ‘too late’ to prevent a climate nightmare.

And this is one situation where we really, really don’t want to be too late.

To this thought, I’ll leave you with a recent interview of climate activist and, in my opinion, hero of social and environmental justice, Tim DeChristopher by late night entertainer David Letterman:

Links:

International Energy Agency

Renewable Energy Closing in On Natural Gas

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

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

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

Pace of Emissions Increase Slowed

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

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

IEA Policy Recommendations Both Modest and Ambitious

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

These policies include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

Four Energy Policies to Keep the 2 Degrees Celsius Goal Alive

Delaying Action Until 2020 Costs the World 3.5 Trillion

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