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

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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.

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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

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

Model S

(Image link: here)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

The Tesla Model S

Green Car Reports

Portugal Runs On 70% Renewable Power in Q1 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

70 Percent Renewable Power Possible?

Portugal Gives Itself a Clean Energy Make-Over

 

US Sees Nearly 10,000 EV and PHEV Sales in January and February 2013, Tripling 2012 Sales For Same Period

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) and plug in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) more than tripled during January and February of 2013 when compared to the same period in 2012.

Overall, sales totaled 9781 during the first two months of 2013 vs 3089 during the same period of 2012.

Significantly reduced prices of lithium ion batteries has allowed automakers to offer substantial incentives on EVs and PHEVs while still making a profit. In addition, the number of plug in hybrid and base electric vehicles keeps expanding. The result has been a massive sales jump over 2012.

Leading EV and PHEV sales is the Chevy Volt with nearly 3,000 US sales so far in 2013. Chevy expects to sell 36,000 Volts globally, a healthy increase over strong 2012 sales. The Volt’s competitors the Plug in Prius Hybrid and the Ford CMax and Fusion Energi PHEVs also made strong showings with combined sales of these models only a few hundred less than that of the Volt. While sales of competing vehicles continues to grow the Volt’s long base electric range of 40 miles combined with a number of very appealing purchase incentives provide a strong basis for the Volt’s continued lead in the PHEV market. Ford CMax and Fusion Energi which both support base electric ranges of 20 miles appear poised to take market share from the shorter range Prius Plug-in although significant incentives and strong marketing may help support the Prius for some time.

Base electric vehicles including the Leaf, Tesla luxury EVs, the Ford Focus Electric, Toyota’s RAV 4, Honda’s Electric FIT, and the Mitsubishi iMiEV showed combined sales of about 4,200. Among these, the increasingly cost-competitive Leaf, the Mitsubishi iMiEV, and Tesla’s luxury brands appear to dominate. A very economic SMART ForTwo EV will begin selling in March for a base price of 25,000 dollars without incentives and a range of 68 miles. As a city-only vehicle and including state, federal and dealer incentives, the ForTwo will likely be very appealing to customers in metro areas where the price of gasoline currently averages over 4 dollars per gallon (cutting 2,000 dollars or more each year off the gas bill).

If current trends in EV and PHEV sales continue, it appears these vehicles may approach the 100,000 sales mark by the end of this year. Gasoline prices are likely to continue to push drivers toward these far more efficient vehicles with prices for gasoline in 2012 showing highest ever averages that are unlikely to abate much through 2013.

Links:

http://insideevs.com/february-2013-plug-in-electric-vehicle-sales-report-card/

http://www.electricdrive.org/index.php?ht=d/sp/i/20952/pid/20952

Worldwide Fossil Fuel Subsidy of $523 Billion, Six Times That of Renewables, a Massive and Unconscionable Malinvestment

At a breakneck pace, worldwide public funds are being employed to make the global warming situation far, far worse. In total, 2011’s global fossil fuel subsidy was $523 billion dollars, greatly outweighing a renewable energy subsidy of $88 billion dollars during the same year.

This fact belies the notion, often peddled by the oil, gas, and coal industries, that renewable energy sources require government assistance to remain competitive. The larger truth is that all major energy development projects lean on public support. And, as shown above, dirty, dangerous, and depleting fossil fuels suck up the lion’s share of that benefit.

The extra money was spent, in large part, to tap unconventional and expensive energy reserves such as fracked tight oil, heavy oil, tar sands, high sulfur oil, deep water oil, Arctic oil, fracked gas, and methane hydrates. All these energy sources require massive resource and capital expenditures to extract which is why public funding has been necessary to tap the new reserves. In Russia, it costs more than $100 dollars per barrel to extract the new, marginal oil. In Saudi Arabia, a $100 dollar per barrel level is also needed. In the US, a range of 80-90 dollars per barrel is required.

These new oil reserves are being tapped at a time when it is becoming plainly obvious that much of these new fuels must stay in the ground to prevent climate catastrophe. Price Waterhouse Coopers LLC claims that only 1/3 of the world’s current fossil fuel reserves can be burned without devastating climate impacts. The International Energy Agency uses  the same figure. Carbon Tracker, a UK-based Think Tank, notes that only 20% of the world’s current fossil fuel reserves may be burned if we are to avoid extraordinarily damaging impacts.

According to the geological record, sustained levels of CO2 at 400 ppm is enough to raise temperatures as much as 3-4 degrees Celsius, much higher than any of the above reports currently estimate.

So this begs the obvious question: why are we continuing to subsidize fossil fuels at such a breakneck pace? The cost of extracting these sources keeps growing and growing. This, alone, is enough to question their economic viability. But the fact that at least 2/3s and perhaps nearly all of the current reserves can’t be burned dramatically belies how much money and effort is being wasted.

To me, such policies are not very remote parallels to suicide. Economic and social suicide on the part of oil, gas, and coal companies and climate suicide on the part of the world’s civilizations.

Perhaps, a more productive response would be to subsidize renewables at half a trillion a year? My bet is that these energy sources would rapidly overtake and become far more productive than the dirty, dangerous, and depleting fossil fuels that are, even now, causing violent changes to the world’s climate. And these are energy sources with a future. Ones that don’t wreck, in wholesale fashion, the systems that support the diverse life and livelihood of Earth-bound creatures that form the basis for viable economic systems in the first place.

Links:

http://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/English.pdf

http://www.carbontracker.org/

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/11/13/1179251/iea-report-fossil-fuel-boom-is-a-climate-disaster-in-the-making/

http://www.pwc.com/en_GX/gx/low-carbon-economy-index/assets/pwc-low-carbon-economy-index-2012.pdf

 

 

Mitt Romney’s Enormous Lie On Green Energy Reveals Assault On Key US Industry

(Imagine Mitt Romney holding a match under this image)

It’s really no news that republicans hate US alternative energy. Across the country over the past few years they’ve done everything a political party can do to fight renewables. They’ve blocked legislation, they’ve waged verbal and political campaigns against the new technologies, and they’ve jiggered laws and legislation in an attempt to dissuade people from adopting alternative energy sources at every turn. The Volt, as just one example, has turned into a political whipping boy of the right blamed and smeared with each new success. Solyndra, in another example, is a strawman that has ridden shotgun with Mitt Romney all over the campaign trail.

Republicans, clearly divested of their fake jobs interest, have targeted an industry that directly supports hundreds of thousands of American jobs, 3 times the average number of jobs per dollar spent when compared to fossil fuels, and indirectly supports over 8.5 million jobs. But, it’s pretty clear, given republicans’ actual policies, removed from rhetoric, that they don’t care one whit about these jobs or any other so long as they’ve got a political axe to grind.

Enter yesterday’s presidential debates when Mitt Romney, telling a lie a minute, suddenly opened all guns on alternative energy in this off-color and patently false statement:

“And these [clean energy] businesses, many of them have gone out of business, I think about half of them, of the ones have been invested in, have gone out of business.”

This statement couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only has renewable energy production doubled since Obama began his term in 2009, of the 34 alternative energy companies having received government loans through the stimulus program, only 3 are now in bankruptcy. Nine percent does not make half. But since when did arithmetic ever bother Mitt once he’d gotten onto the whopper roll?

Romney’s false claim goes further than even its blatant and gross exaggeration would indicate. It creates an impression that alternative energy in the US is an abject failure. An implication which couldn’t be further from the truth. And with new US wind installations outpacing every other form of new energy except the, soon to go bust, natural gas, Romney has decided to level a vicious political assault against a sector that is critical to current US energy security as well as economic growth.

We all know that republicans like Romney believe that more drilling can power the entire US and achieve energy independence all in one go. It can’t. The costs for the new fuels are too high, the rate of consumption is too great, and the rate of overall depletion is too high. The republican push for reliance on these depleting fuels would only set the US for another bubble and bust. Even now, many natural gas companies are financially struggling due to the climbing costs of fractured shale production. On the side of oil, fracked extraction of that resource requires prices higher than $90 per barrel to remain profitable. A high price Romney smugly blames on Obama even though it is a simple reality of the market force of depletion acting on the fossil energy sources Romney wants us to be reliant on.

Yet these internal dynamics don’t even take into account the dramatic and growing impact of fossil fuel emissions on climate change. Nor do they consider that the cost of renewable energy, year over year, just keeps going down.

Just this year, another 20% of sea ice was lost in the Arctic. At the current rate of decline, ice-free summers will be seen in the Arctic within this decade. The impacts of this event are twofold — ever more extreme and prolonged extreme weather conditions in the northern hemisphere and enhanced melt in Greenland as it loses its insulating barrier of sea ice. But Mitt Romney doesn’t believe in climate change, remember?

Also this year, solar energy prices fell by over 65%. Now that’s change we can believe in. And as Mitt so snippetly noted, oil prices are high on average overall. Yet Mitt wants to bet the farm and the country, for that matter, on an increasingly expensive and difficult to extract resource.

Romney’s assault on the legitimacy of renewable energy is not only an assault on increasingly less expensive energy and on dealing responsibly with climate change, it is an assault on the American dream. Imagine if Romney’s false vision of half US alternative energy industries going bankrupt came true. Imagine all the lost jobs and livelihoods. Imagine all the failed innovations. Imagine how far back both the US and the world will be pushed if that dark vision becomes reality.

Perhaps Mitt Romney wasn’t lying entirely when he made this statement after all. Perhaps he was instead telegraphing his own plan to drive half of US alternative energy industries into bankruptcy even as he pushes for greater dependence on the dirty dangerous and depleting oil, gas, and coal. It’s really funny how neurotic people with bad intentions tend to project in this way. So we have to wonder, was Mitt foreshadowing the result of a Romney presidency?

Perhaps Mitt Romney’s wish for alternatives is as it was with GM:

“Let them go bankrupt.”

Considering Mitt profited so much from American bankruptcies over the course of his career, I suppose he’d like that. Who knows, maybe his equity firms could still get a part of that action. US middle class alternative energy jobs going to China for more Romney bucks, anyone?

Chevy Volt Hits New Record, Breaks 16,000 US Sales for 2012, Total Sales Worldwide Now Around 30,000 vehicles

September saw another record month for Chevy Volt sales in the US. Overall, 2851 Volts were sold just edging out August’s previous record of 2831 US sales. A combination of word of mouth, new Volt marketing strategies, and very appealing incentives to buyers pushed the revolutionary new auto out at ever-increasing rates.

Overall US sales are now 16338 for 2012 with total US sales since December of 2010 at 24335. Worldwide total sales for both the Volt and Ampera are now likely within a few vehicles of the 30,000 mark making the Volt the best selling electric vehicle of all time.

This month’s sales come despite a massive negative media storm in the conservative press attempting to kill off the revolutionary and disruptive new vehicle and a plug in electric design that threatens to lay the groundwork for breaking transportation’s dependence on fossil fuels across the world. The shrill storm of what could only be called negative advertising included a wide range of attacks using fuzzy math to inflate the Volt’s cost, to brand the vehicle as a taxpayer subsidized failure, or to, in an schizophrenic kind of wobbling criticize the Volt’s lowering cost to consumers.

I suppose these various magazines and pundits are against the American people getting a good deal on a revolutionary new technology that promises to kick open the door to US energy independence? In any case, the deafening silence from these sources on over 40 billion dollars in fossil fuel subsidies is telling to say the least. When will the fuzzy math stories on subsidized $10 per gallon gasoline emerge? We’re waiting.

In any case, the Volt is the spearhead in a surging US electric vehicles market. Overall, about 5,000 electric vehicles have sold in the US just this month alone. Surging Volt sales in August and September were met by rising Leaf sales as well. The Nissan Leaf, which had seen declining sales over the past few months staged a comeback in September and saw 984 vehicles fly off lots for the month. Nissan had said the Leaf would stage a comeback and made good with a 43% increase over the previous month. In all, a total of 5,212 Leafs have sold so far this year in the US. In addition, a longer-range, lower priced version of the Leaf is about to release. These new advances should make the race between EVs ever more interesting.

Though figures for Toyota’s plug-in Prius haven’t yet posted for September, they should be in the range of 800-1200 based on initial estimates. Toyota’s plug in, though boasting less all electric range than the Volt, is seen as a somewhat affordable competitor. But it appears that Chevy’s own discounts and affordable leasing options on the Volt have made it more appealing to the slightly less electric Prius. Toyota, however, is a powerful brand and shouldn’t be counted out in this competition.

Additional electric vehicle sales came from Tesla, Fisker, Mitsubishi and Ford. Given the increasing interest and expanding market for US electric vehicles, it appears that the domestic market is on its way to breaking 50,000 total EVs and PHEVs sold by the end of 2012. Overall, a substantial leap forward for an appealing and highly beneficial new technology.

Links:

http://insideevs.com/september-2012-plug-in-electric-vehicle-sales-report-card/

http://media.gm.com/content/dam/Media/gmcom/investor/2012/1002SalesRelease.pdf

How to Fight the Fossil Fuel Special Interests: Thirteen Steps to Protecting Our Future

(Teddy Roosevelt established America’s first Progressive Party. Called the Bull Moose Party, it ran on a platform of halting the abuses of industry, preserving natural resources, advancing civilization, and developing government structures that advanced the public good. President Roosevelt, shown above, riding a moose.)

 

In dealing with the combined crisis of resource depletion and climate change, those seeking solutions are confronted at every turn with entrenched special interests whose profit and power comes from a perpetuation of a harmful status quo. They delay responses to human caused global warming. They confuse the issue by meddling with the language and definitions surrounding the topics of energy and climate. They actively work to attack alternatives to fossil fuel dependence, waging public relations and political campaigns against the supports for wind, solar, electric vehicles and increases in energy efficiency. And they work to secure special deals and subsidies to a fossil fuel industry whose goal is complete market dominance.

When we look at the money, power, and degree of political influence held by these organizations, it can, indeed, seem a massive task to rip the fingers of these new robber barons from a strangle-hold on our future. But try we must. If we do not, the future steadily grows worse. As the decades pass, the twin crises of resource depletion and climate change ratchet down on us with increasing force. At some point, we lose the ability to maintain the functioning of a world civilization and we fragment into an every-increasing number of bitter and bickering tribes, harboring only a fading memory of a golden age that has slipped beyond our reach.

These may seem like far-reaching issues. But they are real and ongoing today. And we, even now, consciously or unconsciously, are making decisions that will drastically affect the path of our lives, our children’s lives, and the lives of all generations that follow. For we have come to a turning point in our age and we must decide whether to act responsibly or to allow the hope of civilization to perish.

There are many who are already engaged in an action to shore up our civilization, our world, our vital natural resources, and the technologies, practices and behaviors that will enable sustainability. These persons come from a variety of organizations and values systems. But the one virtue they hold in common is that they know sustainability is a necessary value of a healthy civilization. Some of these organizations include:

http://www.350.org/

http://www.americanprogress.org/

http://www.sierraclub.org/

http://www.nrdc.org/

… and many more activist and advocacy organizations and think-tanks.

In addition, we have the faculty of human science that is constantly increasing our understanding of our universe and our world. All these groups, both preservers and explorers, provide an invaluable service. They guard the gates to climate change. They hold back the worst impacts of fossil fuel special interests. They provide us with a clearer and clearer understanding of the crisis we are facing.

Together, they have formed a kind of holding action reigning in the world-wide excesses of industry. But now, a holding action is no longer what is required. For even as the climate and resource depleting crises worsen, the fossil fuel industries are again engaged in a massive campaign for dominance of political, media, and financial power sources. Against this assault, a holding action cannot stand. The gate keepers instead, must unite and go on the offensive.

Returning to the issue of fossil fuel industry abuses, it is important to note that they have demonstrated, through both their action and inaction, their complete lack of responsibility on the issues of human caused global warming and resource depletion. They have waged a public relations and political war against any and all alternatives to dirty, dangerous and depleting fuels. They have blatantly refused to do anything more than what amounts to token investment in alternative energy sources. And many of them have funded efforts to demonize both scientists and those providing solutions to the combined crisis of global warming and resource depletion.

Given this immense failure, it is sadly necessary to declare a public war against these special interests and to use all peaceful means available to remove their stature as energy leaders. Over the past few decades, they have failed to make provision for the future in almost every way while employing every means to cynically shore up their own power. They have caused harm where there was no harm before. And they have placed the future of human civil society in dire peril. For these reasons, we should raise a public call that all organizations and individuals with means rally to this cause and that they operate together for a common purpose — removal of these special interests from such high power and economic prominence.

In pursuit of these goals, the following are submitted as an outline for a plan of action:

1. Provide an in-depth, wide-ranging, and ongoing communication describing industry political, economic, and environmental abuses to the public. This PR campaign would need to hit all levels of media and government. Coordination of the various environmental, sustainability, and public service networks would be key to successfully managing this kind of campaign.

2. Initiate a wide-ranging direct action against new oil, gas, and coal industry projects. A good model for this is the action against the Keystone XL pipeline. However, the actions would have to be more broad-based and diverse. Similar to what is being waged against the coal industry now, but on a broader level.

3. Direct political action and lobbying. An increase in lobbying activity explaining to our government why these actions are being undertaken and providing a list of concessions necessary from industry in order for actions to cease (requirements for action cease fire).

4. Related to the above… Lines in the sand drawn on overall carbon emissions reduction per year, on incentives for renewables (at least four times the levels of direct and indirect incentives to oil, gas, and coal or 2% of public spending), and on government public communication in major media outlets providing education on the existence and risks of global warming and resource depletion.

5. Publicly outing major oil company stock holders and industry leaders who do not agree to the terms above.

6. Organizing a campaign to promote and protect the alternatives. Direct support for GM’s Volt. Direct support for wind energy. Direct support for solar energy. Direct support for smart grids and energy storage systems. Direct support for sustainability in agriculture and for sustainable communities. Direct support for vegan and vegetarian alternatives in major food outlets and other progressive measures. This is not just word of mouth, it is coordination with the new industries in order to give them a PR advantage. In addition, identifying specific areas where coal, oil, and gas can be directly replaced by alternatives.

7. Schools, schools, schools. Coordinate non-profits to develop a fund to put solar panels on public schools. Campaign in a ‘save our schools, save our world’ program that raises both the importance of schools and the need for alternative energy. Enlist teachers, students, librarians. Develop renewable energy and global warming laboratories at schools through their science and technology programs. Form local fundraisers to collect money for school solar panels and education programs. Focus on the schools in Texas, Oklahoma, California, North Dakota, North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Virginia and Florida the most. These are either key energy regions, areas that will be hardest hit by climate change or both.

8. Change the language to reflect the true nature of the problems facing us. Global warming is an appropriate descriptor. Denier is more apt than skeptic. Paint those who support fossil fuel industries and who deny global warming as irresponsible, short sighted, and harmful to society. If they are going to act in an amoral fashion. Shame, shame, shame them.

9. Focus on the media. Hold the media accountable for irresponsibility in its portrayal of energy and climate issues. Expand the scope of agencies like Media Matters to include the entire media on issues like global warming, climate change, and alternative energy. As an example, I see about one hit piece on the Chevy Volt at least every other day. These articles, the people who write them, and the news sources they come from should be called out, fact checked, and exposed for publishing inaccurate and harmful information.

10. Direct action to protest public officials funded by the oil, gas, and coal industry. Identify political officials funded by oil, gas, and coal. Publicly post information about them on ‘watch dog’ sites on the internet. Pick visible and prominent figures from this group and organize strategic protests against them aimed to call attention to their pandering to oil, gas and coal special interests. Identify oil, gas, and coal funding sources, organizations hired to do their political dirty work etc.

11. Provide an agency designed to protect the scientists. Provide legal assistance to scientists assaulted by fossil fuel special interests. Provide public advocacy on behalf of these scientists. Put people to work tracking every death threat, every instance of public besmirchment, every fallacious litigation against these scientists, every invasion and violation of their human and Constitutional rights. Track groups that have targeted scientists. Identify individuals. Target these groups and individuals with both civil and criminal prosecution.

12. Protect our future. On every Earth Day, each year, to symbolically communicate our resolve to protect our future, we could organize groups of concerned individuals to form ‘linked arm rings’ around the institutions, natural resources, community, state and national bodies and infrastructure that play a key role in preserving out future. We could encircle GISS, NASA, NOAA offices, Solar panel facilities, windmills, a neighborhood Chevy Volt, parts of our national parks. Our bicycles. Our local farms. We could take a picture and post them to all forms of media on the net under the header “Earth Day, Protect our Future, the things, people, creatures, and places we must protect to ensure a good future.” The idea is to create a ritual action, repeated yearly, that cements in people’s minds the importance of preserving the future. Have prominent individuals make speeches. Encourage people to write poems or publish blogs on this subject. Encourage only certain foods (local, vegan etc) to be eaten on the week leading up to this day. The idea is to cement a cultural value, to provide a symbolic action, and to create a basis for a new form of moral good. And, last of all, to force the world to recognize it.

13. The public elevation and celebration of climate and alternative energy luminaries like James Hansen, Bill McKibben, Joe Romm, Al Gore, and others who are eloquent, brave, or who have maintained the strength of character to directly confront our problems. We should also elevate and celebrate those who have come before — persons like Rachael Carson and John Muir or presidents like Teddy Roosevelt. Even as we look to the future we should establish precedent based on the morality, prominence, resonance, and moral bravery of our leaders. Many have sought to demonize these individuals. We should, therefore, fight to defend them.

For events to have degenerated to the level of direct conflict, rather than that of cooperation, is truly tragic. However, responsible people can no longer sit by or offer only token and fragmented resistance to fossil fuel special interests. The damage caused to both climate and economies is now widely apparent and still these powerful organizations work to delay action, to harm the alternatives, and to attack scientists.

The degree of self-serving insanity coming from this group has risen to the level of a narcissistic irrationality. If we were on a sinking ship they would be screaming ‘don’t man the pumps!’ for fear of wetting their fragile and overly decorous business attire. It’s high time we got them off the deck, away from the captain, and safely locked in the brig, all while the rest of us managed this emergency and fought to save the vessel from sinking.

The Economic Advantages of Running A Wind Farm

Over the past few years, much misinformation has been distributed by fossil fuel interests wrongfully denigrating the value of wind and solar energy. Outrageous claims have included the notion that wind and solar energy contribute to global warming. That the energy sources are uneconomical and overly expensive. That they require fossil fuels to support them because they are intermittent. That they can never contribute more than marginal capacity to the grid. And that operators and owners cannot profit from these energy sources.

In this article, we will focus on wind energy, debunking these false claims and demonstrate that wind energy is far more valuable, flexible and resilient a resource than coal, oil, or natural gas.

Zero Cost Fuel

All energy sources require infrastructure to harness the fuel. Billions every year are spent on oil and gas rigs. Coal mining requires massive digging machines and processing equipment. And all forms of fossil fuel require generators to turn fossil resources into electricity or mechanical energy.

For wind energy, this process is simplified. Energy is generated at the source. In short, a turbine is a mining, transportation and generation operation all wrapped into one. From the point of view of a utility, this vastly simplifies the process of electricity generation by removing the fuel extraction and the fuel transportation operation in one step. Wind generators do not require a constant train of freight filled with coal or natural gas to keep their turbines spinning. All that is required is, well, wind.

The result is that wind facilities free themselves from the burden of having to manage fuel costs. And since fossil fuels can be very volatile, this liberation makes them much more stable economically. A wind facility that is competitive with fossil fuels today, will become ever more profitable over time. This is due to the fact that the sunk cost of construction and maintenance are the only two cost-sets wind operators need to worry about. And because these costs can be planned for and forecast, the potential for risk is drastically reduced.

In many cases, levelized costs for wind turbines assume a 20 year life expectancy. However, as an infrastructure, these turbines have the potential to last 30, 35, 40 years or more. Well constructed and maintained turbines may come close to tripling initial life expectancy. In these cases, wind power becomes vastly less expensive than fossil fuels. And all these benefits come from having zero-cost fuel available at point of source.

Rising Capacity Potentials

Fossil fuel-funded articles have often derided wind for its intermittency, noting that it would be unwise to have wind contribute more than 5 or 10 percent to any power grid. However, this flies in the face of current realities on the ground. Iowa, for example, now receives an average of 19 percent of its energy from wind generators. North Dakota receives 22 percent. This is not name-plate capacity, but electricity flowing to grid. Colorado and Oklahoma now also receive more than 10 percent of their electricity from wind.

Overseas, the potentials have also proven higher than warnings may have indicated. In Denmark, the entire country received more than 26 percent of its energy from wind in 2011. Portugal, Spain, and Ireland each produce over 18 percent of their electrical energy through wind.

Capacity factor, the difference between nameplate capacity and amount of energy generated has remained at around 30 percent. New turbines have also become more efficient. And systems using higher towers and larger blades are able to tap steadier winds at higher levels. But many regions without ideal wind patterns have seen new wind development. The fact that capacity has not fallen, however, shows that advances in technology can continue to expand the area in which turbines can operate economically while further enhancing returns in regions with more ideal wind resources. Capacity factor would certainly rise for the US should we begin to build more wind farms off-shore, where winds are both stronger and more reliable.

Because fears about limited capacity and intermittency haven’t risen to the level of hype, many countries are now exploring expanding wind production further. Denmark, for example, is pushing to have 50% of its energy provided by wind power before 2020. When one considers that 37% of US energy is currently provided by coal, a 50% contribution from wind to Denmark would render most concerns about the ability of this renewable source to overcome intermittency and capacity problems moot.

Intermittency: More Bark Than Bite

As alluded to in the paragraphs above, many states and countries have already been able to overcome intermittency challenges to establish wind generation contributions to total energy as high as 26%. Overbuild, diversification of the power grid, flexible grid management, multiple regions operating wind turbines, and improvements in turbine technology all aid in the management of wind energy. Some of these practices were already in place for traditional utilities, so the changes haven’t been as disruptive to operations as first expected. Other new practices increase the overall resiliency of the grid and the reliability of power sources as well.

A common claim by renewable energy detractors has been that wind power facilities require an ‘alarming level’ of stand-by fossil fuel generation capacity. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, there is not one documented case of a fossil fuel plant being idled for the single purpose of substituting for wind systems. Because of grid overbuild, idle sources often exist and these can be brought on line as need be for any emergency. The same is true with wind and solar resources as it is for fossil fuel resources.

Most utilities hold to the standard of planning for weather events and managing wind’s capacity factor. And this has served to make wind far more reliable than previously expected.

More Economic Storage Becoming Available

A recent article in Wired Magazine highlighted a revolutionary new energy storage technology. Eccentric Genius Danielle Fong has invented a revolutionary compressed air energy storage device. The device is currently being produced and sold by Light Sail Energy. The Light Sail storage device overcomes the obstacles of previous compressed air devices by spraying a fine mist of water vapor into the compression chamber. Water stores far more energy than air, so the water/air medium allows for a much higher energy storage capacity by volume at much lower temperatures. And this drastically increases the efficiency of such energy storage while reducing costs. The result is the efficiency factor for Light Sail’s compressed air is 70 percent, roughly double previous compressed air storage systems ratings of 35 percent.

This storage technology advance provides utilities with a new tool to further erode the barriers posed by intermittency constraints.  It will also likely provide a basis for continued innovation in this area.

Costs Now Competitive With Fossil Fuels

Often, fossil fuel special interests will deride wind energy due to the fact that it receives a small degree of subsidy support from the US government. For these interests, this is the height of hypocrisy. For there are few interests within the United States as highly subsidized as the fossil fuel industry. Over the past decade, oil interests alone have received over $45 billion in subsidies. And despite record profits, the industry has deployed powerful lobbying groups to make certain they remain on the taxpayer’s dole year after year. Just last year alone, oil and gas interests received over $4 billion dollars in federal subsidies and incentives. This does not include the massive level of state and foreign interest support these industries receive.

On the other hand, wind energy does not enjoy similar support. Its subsidy program is reviewed most years and is sporadically included or excluded depending on political winds, economic pressure, and the whims of governing bodies. Last year, wind received $1.6 billion dollars in supports. But this year such funding may not materialize.

Despite the unevenness of federal support for wind energy, new wind installations for last year were 6.1 gigawatts, only second to natural gas installations. Furthermore, the cost of wind energy per kilowatt hour has fallen to levels putting it in the range of traditional power sources. Levelized costs for wind energy plants under construction are 96.8 dollars per megawatt hour. This is less than new coal, nuclear, and biomass. The only energy source that costs less for new installation is natural gas. However, natural gas includes a number of external costs including climate change, damage to water supplies via fracking, and through the burning of a resource that may have harmful health impacts (Marcellus Shale gas has been shown to be radioactive in a number of studies). And as mentioned above, these levelized costs assume turbine life-spans of 20 years, which with proper maintenance can be extended much longer.

Fossil Fuels’ High Risk of Volatility

One other point to consider is the fact that natural gas prices are now on the rise. Much drilling in gas basins has been put on hold as drilling companies struggle to maintain solvency. Just last week, ATP filed for bankruptcy after being unable to maintain operations under an ongoing regime of natural gas glut and low prices in the US. Drilling rigs have been shifted, instead, to oil. With so few rigs operating and with the depletion rates for the new fracked wells so high, it seems likely that prices will whip-saw back into a much higher range over the next few years. This volatility will likely reduce the profitability of natural gas generators and harm the prospects of any utility who is overly reliant on this resource.

Coal, now an international commodity, also suffers from similar problems. Sky-high demand has been cutting into profits for coal-burning facilities around the world. Further, requirements to reduce emissions of both carbon dioxide and the plethora of other toxic chemicals contained in coal are pushing prices even higher. The fact that new build wind is already less expensive than new-build coal should give a good idea as to trends in this area.

Electricity — Future Fuel for Ground Transport

One would not think that wind could compete directly with oil as a source of liquid fuel. But with the increasing availability of electric and hybrid electric vehicles, this is indeed the case. Utilities using wind energy can boast of the fact that they provide clean electricity to electric vehicles at a cost equaling about 70 cents per gallon. This is less than five times the cost of traditional gasoline, drastically belying the notion that oil is an economic fuel source. And with most electric and plug in hybrid electric vehicles able to make 99 miles or more on an equivalent gallon of electricity, the cost, in practice, is actually more than 15 times less even for a comparable ‘economy’ vehicle. Again, the removal of harmful externalities reduces climate change damage and health care costs as well.

Benefits For Stable Communities, Long-Term Growth

Overall, it is sad to see so much effort being spent in this country by interests bent on demonizing and destroying such a valuable new energy source. In short, these attacks harm not only those who would profit from this new energy source, but the health and well-being of the American people as a whole. Utilities, states, and municipalities falling prey to this harmful stream of misinformation will pay the price in increasing environmental and health costs to their communities and constituents. Increased costs for repairing electrical grids after major storm events. And increased costs for generating energy due to the inherently volatile and depleting nature of fossil fuels.

Links:

http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/electricity_generation.cfm

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-26/u-s-wind-turbine-installations-rose-31-in-2011-awea-says.html

http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2012/07/danielle-fong/

http://cleantechnica.com/world-wind-power/6/

http://arstechnica.com/science/2012/08/wind-accounts-for-one-third-of-new-energy-generating-capacity-in-us/

http://blog.ewea.org/2012/07/denmark-50-wind-powered-electricity-by-2020/

http://mediamatters.org/research/2012/05/25/myths-amp-facts-about-wind-power/183968

Rush, Romney in Denial over Renewable Energy

Mitt Romney, in a recent tirade against the clean energy industry, gave progressives another gift today.  “You can’t drive a car with a wind mill on it,” he said, clownishly. One wonders what Romney’s fixation with cars sporting various things strapped to the top is. I suppose the dog wasn’t enough for him and now he’s trying wind mills? If he were smart, he might have first tried a solar panel:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Jsqf5CEUI0

Behold, Romney, your worst nightmare — a solar Prius. Dog kennel not included…

Romney’s own tirade follows directly on the heels of Rush Limbaugh who, after losing many of his advertisers for his mad dog slut-shaming of Sandra Fluke, has shifted his eyes to fresh meat — the U.S. renewable energy industry. But this particular attack involves a rhetorical disappearing act.

The problem with the Volt is just like all of Obama’s green energy, there’s no business there yet. There’s no solar energy business yet. There’s no wind energy yet,” Rush said on his radio show today.

I suppose Rush missed the 50 gigawatts of wind energy capacity the US now boasts. Or, perhaps, Rush is unaware of the 5 gigawatts of solar energy systems now in place? That 71 billion dollars worth of solar power sales in 2010? Nada, according to Rush. Or the Chinese dumping of solar panels in an attempt to bankrupt a rocketing U.S. alternative energy market? Rush says it all never happened.

As for no business for the Volt — it sold more than 1000 units last month, more than the comparatively priced Corvette. Rush must also have missed the millions of hybrid electric vehicles on the road worldwide or the 150,000 all-electric vehicles now on highways in California.

It seems that Rush and Romney would both like to deny the existence of an industry that now produces more energy than all the nuclear power plants in the world. Much like climate change, they’re trying to hide something that is undeniably real with another smoke and mirrors act.

Pay no attention to the oil man behind the curtain…

http://thinkprogress.org/green/2012/03/07/439938/oil-lobby-chief-jack-gerard-uses-out-of-context-finding-to-protect-oil-subsidies/

 

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