Tesla’s Electric Sales Explode Despite Slow Model 3 Production Ramp

Around the world, electric vehicle makers are starting to make serious inroads into the global auto market. And aspirational industry leader Tesla continues to break new ground and open new markets despite an increasing array of challenges.

Record Tesla Sales

During the third quarter of 2017, Tesla sold 26,150 all-electric vehicles. A new quarterly sales record for the company which included 14,065 super-fast luxury Model S sedans, 11,865 of the also super-fast and highly luxurious Model X SUV, and 220 of the mid-class luxury-sport Model 3. In total, during 2017, Tesla has sold more than 73,000 vehicles. Placing the all-electric vehicle and renewable energy systems manufacturer in a position to challenge the 100,000 cars sold mark by end of December.

(Tesla production and sales by Quarter shows that Q3 2017 beat Tesla’s previous record by more than 1,300 vehicles. Tesla appears on track to hit near 100,000 vehicle sales in 2017. Note that Model X production took 6 Quarters, or approximately 18 months to fully ramp to present sales rates above 10,000 per Quarter. Telsa ultimately expects to produce more than 60,000 Model 3s per Quarter by 2018. Investment analysts are more conservative — with Morgan Stanley targeting 30,000 Model 3s per Quarter. Image source: Commons.)

Surprises in Tesla’s Q3 report include greater than expected overall Model S and X sales. Pessimistic speculation about Tesla struggling to sell its higher-quality line as customers await the anticipated but less expensive and tweaked-out (but still bad-ass) Model 3 abounded throughout August and September. Those contributing to this brouhaha, however, did not appear to anticipate the excitement generated by Tesla’s Model 3 launch which appears to have spilled over to the more expensive line-up even as Tesla both offered incentives on some of its showroom vehicles and cut shorter range, lower cost versions of its Model S line-up.

Tesla Model 3 Production Ramp — A Miss, But Still in the Window

Tesla did, however, fail to meet Model 3 production ramp goals of 1,500 by the end of September. And this was one point where the Tesla pessimists ended up proving at least partly right. Citing production bottlenecks, the luxury EV manufacturer noted that it had produced only 260 Model 3s by end month — a 1,240 vehicle short-fall for the Quarter.

Overall vehicle production had still grown from July through September — hitting 30 in July, about 80 in August, and about 150 in September. This is still an exponential rate of expansion. But the more rapid anticipated ramp was not achieved. Tesla noted that most of their fast production chain was functioning as planned. But that a few bits of the complex and highly automated Model 3 manufacturing subsystems were taking “longer than expected to activate.”

(Tesla’s ground-breaking Model 3 missed company production targets by a fairly wide margin this month — triggering a big controversy among investors. Long term prospects for the Model 3 remain strong as Tesla works through what is, effectively, an employee beta testing period. Image source: Tesla.)

At first blush, this appears to be a fairly wide miss in Tesla’s planned production ramp. But if rapid production scaling is still achieved this fall, it will look like nothing more than a bit of a bump in the road. After the Q3 report, Elon Musk noted:

“I would simply urge people to not get too caught up in what exactly falls within the exact calendar boundaries of a quarter, one quarter or the next, because when you have an exponentially growing production ramp, slight changes of a few weeks here or there can appear to have dramatic changes.”

In other words, we are still in the window for rapid production scaling, even if the earlier, more rapid, ramp was missed by a few weeks.

The company previously struggled with its very complex production of the ultimately popular Model X. To address production challenges, Tesla aimed to simplify production for the Model 3. But integration of new automated equipment into large manufacturing chains as the vehicle is built and product-tested by employee-customers is proving to again pose a few challenges. Challenges that, at this time, do not appear to be anywhere near as serious as those encountered during the Model X production ramp, but are still enough to produce delays.

Tesla Model 3 Production Still About to Explode as EV Maker Enjoys Serious Structural Advantages

Keeping these facts in mind, we can take some of the overly negative reports following Tesla’s failure to hit early Model 3 production targets with a lump of salt. The company still produces amazing cars, is still going to flood the world with high-quality and much more affordable all-electric Model 3s. The company owns a massive manufacturing apparatus in the form if its Freemont plant and Nevada Gigafactory. An apparatus that is rapidly growing. Outside this expanding manufacturing chain, the company is the only major automaker to seriously invest in and rapidly expand crucial EV charging infrastructure. All of these are systemic underlying strengths that the electric automaker will continue to leverage and expand on.

(Tesla battery sales help to reduce EV battery pack costs by producing economies of scale in production. The reverse is also true. With demand for Tesla’s powerwall and powerpacks on the rise, the company possesses a number of systemic advantages that most automobile manufacturers lack. Image source: Tesla.)

Tesla is in the process of transitioning from an automaker that produces a moderate number of vehicles each year to a major automaker that produces more than half a million vehicles each year. And it’s bound to encounter a bump or two in the road from time-to-time. Ultimately, the Model 3 production ramp will hit its stride as Tesla works out the kinks. Around 500,000 reservation-holders will still get their cars.

Analysts at Morgan Stanley recently:

warned investors against “micro-analyzing the monthly ramp of the Model 3.” Most vehicle launches have hiccups, and quality and attractiveness count for far more importance than quantity “at least for now,” they said in a note.

Tesla was quick to stress that it foresaw no serious issues with the Model 3 production. That the company understood what needed to be fixed in the manufacturing chain and was working to address those issues. If this is the case, we should see Model 3 production start to ramp more swiftly over the coming weeks. But even without rapidly ramping Model 3 production — which is on the way sooner or later — Tesla is still smashing previously held all-electric sales records.

And for those of us concerned about climate change, that’s good news.

Links:

Tesla Shares Shake off Bad News of Model 3 Deliveries

Tesla

Tesla Q3 Report

 

 

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India Utility Plans to Build EVs, Startup Bollinger Motors Launches Gritty Electric Truck, Wind Energy Boosters Push Europe to Meet Paris Goals Faster

Internal combustion engine automobile manufacturers and fossil fuel investors, eat your hearts out…

Indian electrical power generation utility JSW has decided to throw its weight behind building electrical vehicles for the larger Southeast Asian market. On the other side of the world, a small U.S. EV startup plans to sell 10,000 to 20,000 off-road all-electric SUVs each year. Meanwhile, still further east in Europe, an industry consulting group is recommending a rapid off-shore wind energy build-out to help address human-caused climate change.

An Indian Electrical Power Company Decides to take a Shot at EV Manufacturing

According to reports from The Economic Times of India, the utility JSW plans to pursue an electrical vehicle (EV) build-out as part of a larger drive by India’s government to have all new vehicles sold in the country be electrified by 2030. The company is outlaying 3,000 to 4,000 crore, or more than half a billion dollars, as an investment to jumpstart its EV manufacturing by 2020.

Though JSW’s previous economic interests have primarily focused on electrical power generation, steel, and mining, the group appears to be adopting a Tesla-like business model going forward by integrating energy storage, charging infrastructure, and electrical vehicles. Prashant Jain, JSW’s chief executive officer noted to ET that:

“India is at an inflexion point and the three businesses that we have identified offer growth. While battery storage and charging infrastructure would be a forward integration for us, electric vehicle is an adjacent business, but we believe it’s a huge opportunity as it will offer level playing field to new entrants.”

Upstart Bollinger Motors’ Serious Off-Road SUV

Across the Pacific in the U.S. a small company out of Hobart, New York, population 47,000, has produced a serious EV sport utility vehicle prototype. The Jeep-Hummer mashup looking thing has an impressive 362 horsepower and can be configured with 120 or 200 miles of all-electric range. A 6100 lb towing capacity and massive wheel base communicate an underlying attitude of grit that’s something entirely new in the electrical auto world and, well, for lack of a better set of descriptors, rough and rugged.

(With the advent of less expensive and more widely available battery packs and electrical drive trains, EV and energy storage companies are starting to pop up all over the place. The above video shows Bollinger Motor’s planned EV off-road truck — which it hopes to produce at a rate of 10,000 to 20,000 per year. JSW, a traditional India-based utility, just threw its own hat into the EV ring this week. With so few EVs available and so much demand for clean energy alternatives, the market at this time appears to be wide open. Video source: Bollinger Motors.)

At $60,000 per truck, it’s well within the traditional off-road market. And Bollinger ultimately plans to sell between 10,000 and 20,000 copies of this mean machine each year — if it can make the regulatory hurdles for U.S. auto manufacturing and find a partner that will help it produce all those thousands of units. A big if — but one that achieved could really help to jump-start the off-road EV market in the U.S.

Looking at traditional auto manufacturers, you kind of have to shrug and say — why didn’t they think of this? But one industry’s apathy is another entrepreneur’s opportunity. Or at least so thinks Bollinger.

Big Wind Energy Build Recommended for North Sea

Electrical vehicles are a key element of a synergistic suite of renewable energy technologies including wind, solar and energy storage that are increasingly capable of replacing fossil fuel burning infrastructure and removing harmful carbon emissions. Rapid growth in these industries enables swift reductions in the amount of heat-trapping gasses from human sources presently hitting the atmosphere.

Facts that were obviously on the minds of wind energy boosters in Europe during recent days as Michiel Muller of energy and climate consulting group Ecofys published a new report recommending a rapid increase in offshore wind development in order for Europe to meet Paris Climate Agreement goals. Muller noted that to prevent increasingly harmful warming, “Europe will need a fully decarbonized electricity supply by 2045. Renewables are essential to making this happen.”

(A graphic description of a large wind energy build-out recommended to help Europe meet its Paris Climate Agreement goals. Image source: Europe’s Growth Rate in Offshore Energy Must Triple to Get Paris Goals in Reach.)

Muller recommends adding significant new off-shore wind energy supplies from North Sea countries like France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

During recent years, turbine size increases and industrial mass production efficiency gains have resulted in falling costs for both onshore and offshore wind generation. Offshore wind, which in the past has been somewhat more expensive than onshore wind or other traditional power sources, is becoming more cost-competitive. And it’s a power source that suffers less intermittency than its onshore brethren. However, lower solar and onshore wind prices present additional renewable energy and carbon emission reduction options for European states.

Links:

Europe Must Triple Off-Shore Wind to Bring Paris Goals Within Reach

Europe’s Growth Rate in Offshore Energy Must Triple to Get Paris Goals in Reach

JSW Energy Plans Electric Vehicles Manufacturing by 2020

JSW Energy

The Bollinger B1 is an All-Electric Truck with 360 Horsepower and up to 200 Miles of Range

Bollinger Motors

Hat tip to Suzanne

A Beautiful Machine to Change the World — Model 3 to Transform Global Automobile Markets, Open Pathway For Rapid Energy Transition

“The Tesla Model 3 is here, and it is the most important vehicle of the century. Yes, the hyperbole is necessary.” — Motor Trend

“The arrival of Tesla’s Model 3 signals a new chapter in automotive history, one that erases 100-plus years of the gas engine and replaces it with technology, design, and performance hot enough to make electric vehicles more than aspirational – to make [electric vehicles (EVs)] inspirational.” — Wired.

“[T]here isn’t anybody who’s going to sit in the driver’s seat of this car and not want it. The Model 3 stokes immediate desire, and the lust lingers. That truly changes everything.” — Business Insider.

(The Tesla Model 3 entered low rate initial production in July of 2017. There has likely never been a more anticipated, desired, or better reviewed automobile. Image source: Tesla. )

*****

More than half a million. 

That’s the number of pre-orders Tesla’s Model 3 has racked up since its 2016 product announcement and through its July 2017 launch. And it’s possible that there’s never been a car that’s so anticipated, so desired by the public. People are literally clamoring for this best-in-class, long-range, all-electric vehicle. Elon Musk is getting harassed on twitter by followers anxious to know when their Model 3 will be ready for purchase. And it’s questionable if Elon’s plan to go through ‘mass production hell’ to reach 500K per year annual production rates by end 2018 will ever come close to satiating demand for what is far more than just an amazing automobile (Tesla reports it is still accumulating reservations at a rate of 1,800 per day net, or more than 12,000 per week).

If we were to tap into what drives Model 3 customers, what fuels this particularly virulent brand of Tesla-mania, we’d probably find a dynamic combination of desire, aspiration, and fear. Desire for what is hands-down an absolutely awesome vehicle. Aspiration to contribute to a public good through a meaningful purchase. And a growing fear that we need to move very swiftly away from fossil fuels to confront the rising crisis that is human-caused climate change.

Beautiful Machines

The vehicle itself is just simply extraordinary. For 35,000 dollars you can get a car with a 220 mile all-electric range. For 44,000, the car’s renewable legs lengthen still further to 310 miles. This graceful beast can rocket from 0-60 in less than six seconds. And her interior is wrapped in the kind of bubble cockpit, due to glass roofing, that most fighter pilots would envy. She’s a vehicle that gives a nod to the simplicity of earlier times with her gadget-less dash board. Her liquid exterior a reflection-in-form of the plasma-producing energy of a futuristic, but quietly purring, all-electric drive train.

(Tesla’s beautiful machine launches. Top down view shows iconic glass roof. Image source: Tesla.)

Elon Musk has delivered to us the exact opposite of a clunky automobile made up of all the worst excesses of a stinking smokestack civilization. The Model 3 comes across as a bold and proud creature of air and light. A hopeful machine designed in the pursuit of a better future day, a better way forward.

Changing the World for the Better

And this is what brings us to the heart of the matter. The crux of the reason why hunger for the Model 3 is quite possibly without cure, without limit. People in advanced civilizations these days are tired of being the butt of blame. And they are more than a little worried about what may be coming down the Keystone XL pipeline of climate change. They don’t want to contribute to the great death and harm that is worsening climate disruption with their purchases. They no longer want to be consumers captive to the unforgiving, smog-belching yoke of fossil fuels. They want the vehicular equivalent of the paladin’s white horse. They want to buy into a liberation from an age of pain and heartbreak and endless bad choices with no visible way out. And with each Model 3 purchase — that’s exactly what they are doing.

(Tesla aims for 5,000 vehicle per week Model 3 production ramp by late fall. Image source: Tesla.)

For if Tesla is able to meet this visceral demand for a truly renewable vehicle, if the company is able to ramp up to 20,000 + vehicle per month production rates, it will, by itself, more than double the size of the U.S. Electrical vehicle market in just 1-2 years. The batteries the elegant Model 3 relies on will form a basis for extending the reach of already affordable wind and solar energy (as we are seeing this week in a new wind + battery deal off Massachusetts). And the seismic ground wave produced by the Model 3 will drive a major spike in demand for other, similar electrical vehicles from an expanding array of automakers.

The Model 3 is thus the tip of the spear for speeding an energy transition in the U.S. and in many other countries. And she couldn’t have come at a better time.

Oklahoma to Build World’s Second Largest Wind Farm as France + UK Pledge to Ban Fossil Fuel Vehicles

If we’re going to effectively deal with climate change while maintaining economic prosperity, then it’s absolutely essential to rapidly transition fossil fuel based energy to non-carbon emitting energy. And some of the best options for doing so presently involve leveraging economies of scale with three widely available technologies — wind, solar, and low cost storage and EV batteries.

Oklahoma Wind Capacity to Rise Above 30 Percent of Electrical Generation

Over the past week, serious advances continue to be made on these fronts. In the Oklahoma panhandle, Invenergy has partnered with GE Renewable Energy to build a 2 GW onshore wind farm. Once finished, the farm (named Wind Catcher) will be the largest U.S. wind farm and the second largest such farm in the world. The farm itself will be composed of 800 massive 2.5 megawatt wind turbines. This is GE’s largest wind turbine model and its size will help to lower the cost of producing electricity, some of the benefits of which will then be passed on to energy customers.

(According to the American Wind Energy Association, Oklahoma presently ranks as third in the U.S. for wind electrical generation capacity at 6,645 megawatts. Adding another 2,000 megawatts would considerably increase Oklahoma’s wind energy share by 30 percent. As a result, present Oklahoma wind generation of 25 percent of the state’s electrical supply would likely rise to 32.5 percent as a result of this single large project.)

Pete McCabe, President and CEO of GE’s Onshore Wind business noted in Clean Technica:

“GE is delighted to be a part of the groundbreaking Wind Catcher project with Invenergy and American Electric Power. We look forward to putting our teams to work in these communities as we continue to move toward our goal of ensuring that no one has to choose between sustainable, reliable and affordable energy.”

The project which will cost 4.5 billion dollars hits a pretty amazing price of around 2.25 cents per kilowatt hour installed. And with new wind energy projects costing as little as 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour on average in 2017, it appears that raw economic factors alone are likely to continue driving large and lucrative wind projects like the one now being pursued in Oklahoma. A single project that will increase Oklahoma’s wind energy generation capacity by 30 percent to 8,645 GW and push wind’s total share of state electrical generation to around 32.5 percent (see image and caption above).

France and UK Pledge to Ban Fossil Fuel Vehicles

Even as wind gains a larger share of energy production capacity in a red state, the UK and France have now joined a growing number of cities and nations in providing a responsible pledge to ban petrol and diesel based vehicles by 2040. These national moves match a recent initiative by Norway — which aims to sell only electrical vehicles in country by 2025. Meanwhile, India has also recently set a goal to sell only electrical vehicles in its own markets by 2030. Cities such as Madrid, Munich and Stuttgart are also considering diesel bans.

Concerns about worsening air quality, recent cheating by automakers on emissions standards, worries about climate change and a major threat to traditional automaker market share by all-electric manufacturers like Tesla appear to have reached a kind of critical mass.

From the New York Times:

Britain’s decision is, however, the latest indication of how swiftly governments and the public in Europe have turned against diesel and internal combustion engines in general. Automakers, though reluctant to abandon technologies that have served them well for more than a century, are increasingly resigned to the demise of engines that run on fossil fuels. They are investing heavily in battery-powered cars as they realize their traditional business is threatened by Tesla or emerging Chinese companies, which have a lead in electric car technology. The shift away from internal combustion engines is in large part a result of growing awareness of the health hazards of diesel.

According to reports from the BBC, France’s own July 6 decision to ban petrol and diesel vehicle sales by 2040 was spurred by the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. France has long aimed to reduce its carbon emissions and the 2040 vehicle ban is part of a larger plan for the country to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Links:

USA’s Largest and World’s Second Largest Wind Farm to be Built in Oklahoma

Britain to Ban New Diesel Cars by 2040

France to Ban Sale of Petrol and Diesel Vehicles

American Wind Energy Association

Racing to Catch Ludicrously Fast Model 3 Production Ramp, U.S. Automakers Grew EV Sales by 102 Percent in June 

Early on, Tesla recognized that responses to climate change were necessary — not just from individuals and governments, but also from industry. And Tesla realized that, when mated with wind and solar energy, electrical vehicles could become a powerful force for driving an energy transition capable of rapidly cutting global carbon emissions.

(Reduction in coal burning and lower than predicted demand for fossil fuels has helped to generate a carbon emissions plateau during 2014 to 2016. Rapid additions of renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and electrical vehicles provides a potential to begin to bend down the global emissions curve near term and reduce the damage that is now being locked in by fossil fuel based carbon emissions. Image source: IEA.)

Tesla’s Market-Driven Response to Climate Change

Electrical vehicles possess a number of key sustainability advantages that aren’t widely talked-about in the public discourse. Electrical motors are considerably more efficient than ICE engines — so broadening EV use lowers energy consumption in transportation while at the same time allowing EVs to draw power from traditional and newly emerging renewable sources. The massive batteries housed in EVs and sold after-market also have the capacity to become a major solar and wind energy storage asset that could ultimately enable the removal of peaking, high emissions, coal and gas plants.

In light of these opportunities, back in the mid 2000s, Tesla made a bold, necessary move. Its leadership decided that it would attempt to become a major automaker dedicated solely to electrical vehicle sales. This business plan would hitch Tesla’s economic future entirely to the success or failure of clean energy ventures. Unlike most present automakers, Tesla would not suffer from divided loyalties to harmful incentives linked directly to fossil fuel based economies. It decided to make its clean energy break by producing top of the market, high-quality electric-only vehicles and, then, by leveraging loyalty to a superior brand, move vertically down into broader market segments.

(If Tesla’s planned Model 3 production ramp to 5,000 vehicles per week by end of 2017 holds true, then the all-electric automaker’s quarterly deliveries are about to go exponential. Image source: EV Obsession.)

Such a disruptive end run on the world’s energy and vehicle markets was bound to encounter stiff resistance and loud detractors. However, if successful, Tesla would force traditional energy and transport players to make a tough choice — follow in Tesla’s footsteps and try to compete, or face dwindling customer bases as a massive wave of innovation completely upended markets. The automaker decided that the best way to goad a broader transition toward electrical vehicles in western markets was to lead it. And that’s exactly what Tesla has been doing.

Major EV Sales Growth on Tap for 2017 Due to Automaker Shift + Model 3 Sales

In the U.S., during 2017, the trend of an emerging industry reaction to Tesla is becoming quite clear. The major automakers are all in a scramble as the imminent arrival of the Model 3 nears. The vehicle, which begins production this month, aims to provide very high quality, Tesla’s trademark swift acceleration, top-notch tech, groundbreaking automation, and 215+ miles of all-electric range for a 35,000 dollar base price. An offering that is disruptive due to quality and accessibility alone. But add to it the 400,000 + preorders that Tesla has accumulated and you’ve got what basically amounts to a volcanic eruption in the global auto market.

In large part, as a response to Tesla’s market-transformation plan, a number of major automakers are deciding to provide their own competing offerings. This year, GM beat the Model 3 to the start line with the 200+ mile range, high-quality Chevy Bolt. Toyota, launched its competitively-priced Prius Prime plug-in hybrid. Nissan redoubled efforts to position its best-selling Leaf all electric vehicle even as it announced plans for a 200+ mile range version in 2018. Meanwhile, Volvo plans to electrify all its vehicles by 2019.

(Increasingly attractive EVs and plug in hybrids like the Chevy Bolt, the Prius Prime, and the Nissan Leaf helped to boost U.S. electrical vehicle sales in June as automakers gear up to compete with Tesla’s Model 3. Image source: InsideEVs.)

This activity has generated considerable growth in sales as customers discover electrical vehicles of ever-increasing variety, value and capability. During June of 2017, all-electric vehicle sales from major automakers in the U.S. market (excluding Tesla) increased by more than 100 percent over June of 2016 on the back of the entry of attractive, highly-capable models like the Bolt. Meanwhile, plug-in hybrid sales grew by 11.5 percent. Total U.S. EV and plug in hybrid sales for the month from major automakers + Tesla hit a new record in June of 17,182 on the back of major automaker sales growth (a total growth of about 16 percent for the entire U.S. market).

Tesla, on the other hand, showed slightly lower June 2017 sales vs June 2016 in U.S. markets as it experienced a hiccup in 100 kw battery pack production. But with the Model 3 nearing launch, an explosion of EV sales from Tesla is in the offing over the coming months. According to statements by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the ground-breaking vehicle is expected to trickle into the market by adding about 30 sales in July. By August, deliveries are expected to triple to 100. By September, another 1,500 or so Model 3s are expected to arrive. Production will then, according to Musk, swiftly ramp up to 20,000 per month by December.

If these ambitions bear out, and if about half of Model 3 sales are in the U.S., then the U.S. could see north of 40,000 EVs and plug in hybrids sold in the U.S. during December. This would represent a 60 percent + jump over the all-time record EV sales month of December 2016. But even if Tesla’s extraordinarily ambitious production ramp-up goals for the Model 3 aren’t reached by December, the excitement surrounding the vehicle is likely to continue to spur growth and competition in the larger EV market through the period. And that’s a bit of much-appreciated good news for those of us who are increasingly concerned about climate change.

Links:

Big Auto’s Fully Electric Car Sales Up 102% in USA

Plug-in Electric Sales Report Card

Next Generation Leaf to Have 215 to 340 Mile Range

Volvo Electrifying All Models By 2019

CO2 Emissions Flat for Third Straight Year

EV Obsession

With India Building Solar Power Stations For 65 Cents per Watt, Suniva’s ITC Complaints Kinda Make You Want to Laugh (and Cry)

So in the world of solar there’s various different price structures. There’s cell prices, there’s module prices, and then there’s total system prices. The cells are the little bits that go into a solar panel. The module is the solar panel itself. And the system is the complete array of modules that’s been racked, packed, and assembled.

Solar Cells are Now Produced For as Little as 20 Cents Per Watt

In business, the best way to get the lowest prices is to do things en masse. The largest, most efficient solar assembly plants in China and Southeast Asia now produce solar cells for as little as 20 cents per watt. As of June 28th, solar modules from this region were going for as little as 33 cents per watt.

Low to very low solar cell and module prices are helping to enable a mass global construction of clean energy producing solar power stations that are either competitive with other fuels — or that just basically blow them away when it comes to price. And such high volumes of renewable energy construction around the world are providing some hope that humankind will be able to stave off the worst impacts of fossil-fuel spurred climate change. A greenhouse gas based of warming airs and waters that is already threatening keys species, putting Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in an existential crisis, and endangering the future of thousands of coastal cities as melting glaciers start to flood the world’s oceans.

Solar Power Stations For as Little as 65 Cents Per Watt

In the U.S., solar power stations now average about $1.10 cents per watt once all the cost of labor and construction is added in. For most instances, this price is competitive with highly polluting power stations like gas and coal. It’s about half the cost of nuclear energy. And solar prices are now also dipping below the price of new wind energy (which is also falling).

(GTM finds very low and falling prices for solar globally.)

In other regions of the world, solar energy is even less expensive. In the UK, Egypt, Mexico, China, and India, the cost of building a solar power plant is now $1.00 or less. A price which is now lower than the cost of a new advanced coal or gas power station. India, which boasts the least expensive construction costs for solar, can now build a renewable energy station for about 60 to 70 percent of the price of a comparable coal or gas plant at 65 cents per watt.

In this global economy, solar is now becoming cheaper than any other traditional source. It is also far cleaner than the other sources with the possible exception of wind. Solar has, by reducing costs so precipitously and by increasing access, become a game-changer both for the global energy market and for humankind’s prospects for reducing the considerable damage caused by fossil fuel based greenhouse gas emissions.

Subsidies vs Tariffs 

Enter Suniva, which is one of the world’s less efficient solar manufacturers. Based in the U.S., but majority owned by China, Suniva was unable to compete in a global market that produced solar cells for such low cost and high availability. This year, the firm filed for bankruptcy. The firm was unable to compete despite tariffs that the U.S. had already imposed on some solar panel importers. A set of tariffs that have already helped to make the U.S. solar market more expensive than other comparable markets. Tariffs that have arguably slowed U.S. solar adoption rates while doing little to actually protect less competitive manufacturers that would probably have eventually failed anyway.

The tariffs were, however, set in response to a legitimate gripe. Subsidies by China had probably created an unfair advantage for Chinese solar panel manufacturers. And these subsidies likely continue to generate advantages for such manufacturers in both China and in Southeast Asia. Subsidies that, in part, probably sped along Suniva’s bankruptcy and the approximate loss of 1.200 U.S. solar manufacturing jobs.

Suniva’s Selfish Suit Threatens to Wreck U.S. Solar Industry

Suniva’s response, however, is pretty overblown. One that threatens much of the solar market as it presently stands in the U.S. The corporation is asking for a $.40 floor on imported solar cell prices — which is basically double that of the lowest cost solar cell presently on the market. The company is also asking for a $.78 cent floor on import module prices — which is 45 cents higher than current lowest module spot prices. Such added costs would ripple through the U.S. solar production chain and would probably result in plant prices that range from $1.34 to $1.89 per watt. The reason is that the U.S. panel market is considerably dependent on imports and presently has few manufacturing plants that can produce cells and modules for prices low enough to prevent a big jump in industry-wide costs if Suniva gets its way.

(Evidence mounts that Suniva’s ITC case could sabotage the entire U.S. solar market. Image source: GTM.)

Such a jump in prices would result in considerable harm to the various solar companies that buy solar modules and build power plants, commercial and non residential systems by destroying a good deal of the present and rising solar demand in the U.S. This particular industry is now quite large and recent research by GTM indicates that as much as 66 percent of new construction could be halted if Suniva is allowed to so considerably distort the U.S. market. Ultimately, this risks the loss of thousands of jobs (not just the few hundred that have been lost in the manufacturing sector)– as much as 88,000 if the recent report by SEIA is correct.

So what’s the upshot? If Suniva’s suit goes through, it’s a big blow to both U.S. competitiveness and to our national responses to climate change. Chinese subsidies may, indeed, be distorting markets. But the solution that Suniva presents is basically to recommend drinking a hemlock that would kill off a big segment of the U.S. market while doing little to actually support U.S. solar manufacturing. Some jobs may trickle back as manufacturers try to meet the demand of a much reduced U.S. market. But the rest of the world will move on as incentives for U.S. manufacturers to improve dry up and as the home market itself contracts.

For the flip side of Chinese subsidies is that they not only subsidize Chinese solar manufacturing capacity, they also serve to advance a global energy transition through the mechanisms of direct investment and scaling. And there are so many larger benefits that the U.S. can take from the reduced pollution, increased secondary markets, increased competition, energy independence, and reduction of climate change based harms that are resulting from this major investment. The correct response is to meet investment and innovation with the same if we wish to reasonably compete. But the present federal administration appears to have completely lost sight of a better American future as it fights to regain the distorted ideal of an imagined past greatness.

Which is why Suniva’s ITC suit, in its present form, is at best short-sighted and at worst both selfish and broadly destructive.

Links:

Solar Costs are Hitting Jaw-Dropping Lows

PV Spot Prices

China-Owned US Solar Manufacturer Seeks Tariffs on Imports

Solar Industry Expects Loss of 88,000 Jobs in U.S. if Government Rules in Company’s Favor in Trade Case

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

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

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

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

Racing to Catch up With Tesla

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

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

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

Race to Win the Energy Transition 

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

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

Links:

100 Gigafactories Could Power Entire World

Battery Gigafactories Hit Europe

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

China Battery-Maker Signs Massive Supply Contract

Tesla Plans 12 to 24 Million Vehicles Per Year

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

Tesla — 4 More Gigafactories

Global EV Outlook 2017

Tesla to Build 10-20 Gigafactories

Hat tip to Greg

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

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

Base Wind + Solar Now Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels, Nuclear

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

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

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

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

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

Facing Down Fears of Intermittency

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

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

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

Soft Limits

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

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

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

Solar + Battery Storage Becoming Cost Competitive

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

kuaui

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

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

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

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

Renewables + Storage to Beat Fossil Fuels in Near Future

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis

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

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory

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

The Lithium-Ion Megafactories Are Coming

AES Distributed Energy

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

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

Fossil Fuel Funding for Global Catastrophe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tesla Plans to Merge With Solar City

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

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

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

Energy Storage Tesla

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

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

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

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

Solar City Tesla

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

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

Links:

Fossil Fuels with 550 Billion in Subsidies Hurt Renewables

Tesla Offers to Buy Solar City

Tesla Motors

The National Recovery Administration

Air Pollution Kills 7 Million Each Year

Historic Performance on the Arctic Ocean

Hat tip to Vic

Hat tip to Greg

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

DCIM101GOPRO

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

*   *   *   *

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

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

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

Solar’s Rapid Fall to Least Expensive Energy Source

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

Solar to be least expensive power source

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

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

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

IEA Shows Solar Ready For Battle Against Carbon-Emitting Industry

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

Solar Parking Lot

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

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

Links:

Solar Energy Emerging as Cheapest Power Source

Solar at 2 Cents per Kwh

Solar Seen as Unbeatable

Dubai Solar Bid Awes Energy Market Players

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

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

*    *    *    *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 25-27 South Australia Grid Loading

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

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

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

Total Renewable Generation South Australia

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

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

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

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

Links:

One out of Every Five Australian Homes Use Solar Energy

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

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

nasa_p1089035

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

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

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

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

What is Growth Shock?

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

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

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

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

*    *    *    *    *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food, Fossil Fuels and the Compost Bomb

Burning Rings of Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song of Flood and Fire

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

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

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

Ukraine — The Breadbasket of Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

Growth Shock

Smoke From Massive Siberian Fires Seen in Canada

Burning Rings of Fire

Climate and Frozen Ground

Lance-Modis

A Song of Flood and Fire.

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

Climate Change Pushes FAO Food Price Index to 208 in February

The Economy of the Ukraine

Rosneft Warns West over Crimean Sanctions Woos Japan

Rosneft

Putin — the New Global Shah of Oil

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

Nearly 5600 Plug-in Electric Vehicles Sold in US This September

A massive wave of electric vehicles is starting to build in the US. Over the past month record sales in many EV and PHEV models drove total sales of all plug-ins to 5598, a new all-time record.

Leading the top performers was the Chevy Volt which sold 2851 vehicles this September. The Volt roared in to post a back-to-back record sales following August’s surge. This sales boost seemed to mock an endless stream of negative and unreliable press criticizing everything from the high numbers of vehicles sold to the Volt’s falling price — which made it ever more available to customers.

Directly on the Volt’s heels was the Plug-in Prius. Prius leveraged its powerful brand, a less expensive EV model, and a, somewhat short, though still significant, all-electric range of 11 miles, to sell 1652 units. This rate of sales was far higher than expected and was just two vehicles short of its previous record in April.

The Nissan Leaf also showed strong sales for the month, pushing 984 vehicles out onto the road. Nissan is also starting to market a cheaper and a longer-range version of the Leaf for 2013.

Honda and Mitsubishi made minor showings to round out total known EV sales of 5598. However, Fisker and Tesla do not release monthly sales figures, but probably sold a total of an additional 250 vehicles (approximate). This likely means that total electric vehicle sales for September challenged the 6000 mark.

Already, new offerings for 2013 are starting to become available. Most notable is the Ford C-MAX Energi which is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle like the Volt and the plug-in Prius. With 47 mpg fuel economy and a battery stack that offers a gasoline free driving range of 20 miles, the C-MAX Energi boasts an EPA 95 MPGe average fuel efficiency. The Energi is less expensive than either the Prius plug-in or the Volt and, therefore, may prove a competitor for added sales and driving down EV prices.

With all the new energy swirling around EVs, it appears that total US sales may well exceed 50,000 by the end of this year. The Volt has already sold over 30,000 vehicles worldwide and interest in EVs continues to grow as more people adopt this revolutionary and environmentally friendly new technology.

This surge in alternative fuel vehicles couldn’t come too soon. With the Arctic in rapid decline and with impacts from human caused global warming set to worsen, it is high time the world began a shift to less carbon intensive technologies, and to systems that offer the opportunity for radically diminishing greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, larger EV fleets will greatly enhance US energy independence by taking a bite out of oil consumption and reducing the need for US oil imports.

Links:

http://green.autoblog.com/2012/10/04/september-alt-fuel-sales-continue-rapid-clip-plug-ins-sell-5-00/

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

Are Renewable Energy Sources Set to Outcompete Fossil Fuels?

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

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

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

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

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

The Volt is dead! Long live the Volt!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

Why Would Congress Cut a $1.6 Billion Dollar Subsidy to Wind and Still Subsidize Oil to the Tune of $40 Billion?

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It seems that every year or so a matter of national urgency comes up for debate in Congress: a rather inexpensive incentive for the critical wind industry called the production tax credit. This incentive aids an industry that creates tens of thousands of US jobs even as it helps to mitigate the ongoing climate change crisis currently impacting the United States.

In all, the production tax credit cost the US government $1.6 billion last year. It paid that money back tenfold in new jobs created and in carbon emissions prevented. In short, this small sum is helping to solve the climate change crisis that this year may cost America as much as $100 billion from combined drought and other extreme weather damages even as it helps to solve our economic crisis.

Often, wind opponents argue that if wind must receive subsidies to expand, then it is not economically viable. But considering the fact that all major energy sources receive a degree of subsidies and incentives, this argument is, in itself, nonsensical.

Oil, for example, is a major beneficiary of US subsidies. And, for years, it has operated under the illusion of being an ‘economic energy source.’ Now, a decade of high prices has made a mockery of this claim. And over the same period, more than $40 billion has been spent in subsidies and incentives for this dirty, dangerous, and depleting oil. But high oil prices have managed to ensure one thing: that oil companies themselves end up making record profits. In this case, shoveling money at already highly profitable oil is like shoveling more fuel onto a climate change fire. Onto a depleting energy source that is bound to cost more and more as the years wear on. In essence, we are spending taxpayer money to damage our economy while simultaneously enriching the companies that do so.

Republicans in Congress, who seem determined to kill this tax credit for the wind industry should think on the job losses, and the further damage to America via the vehicle of climate change, such a repeal would cause. They should think on their often hollow claims of reverence to the spirit of freedom. One they are allowing the oil barons to crush through the force of political and market dominance. These same republicans have often given lip-service to job creation. Now they have a chance to allow an actual job creation measure to pass. Given past performance, one is not too hopeful this will occur. But should they block the production tax credit, they should pay for their failure. For they would harm America’s energy security, her ability to create jobs, and the climate security which is vital to maintaining her Agricultural prominence.

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Earth Alone

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Earth. A lonely world in a vast universe. And all around us, in our solar system, and even in the places barely visible through the lengthening vision of our telescopes, are dead worlds. Barren worlds. Hellish hot worlds. Strange giant gas worlds. Frozen worlds. But none hospitable to the rich variety of life all around us.

There is poetry here. It is the poetry of beauty. Of singular wonder. Of a gift or of the great good fortune that we ended up here, the only place we could have come to be. It is also the poetry of loneliness and desperation. For if anything happened to this world. For if the world changed even just a bit. It becomes far, far less likely that we would continue. Change a little more and the chances for life existing on Earth grow slim indeed.

Massive things in motion

In many ways we are beholden to the enormous natural forces that surround us. There is much we cannot control — the fall of an asteroid, the explosion of a supervolcano, a gamma-ray burst all would result in changes that are likely beyond the scope of human beings to adapt or overcome. But there is also much we can control. And there are many things we can do to reduce the likelihood for harm coming to our world at our own hands.

Overshoot

There are 7 billion human beings living here. This is seven hundred times the number of hunter gatherers the world supported 10,000 years ago. In the 1970s and 1980s, sustainability experts set a cautious growth limit for humans on Earth at around 6 billion. Even at the time of the first reports, 4 billion human beings were causing major stresses to the world environment. Species loss was accelerating, resources were beginning to deplete, forests were disappearing, and pollution was creating greater and greater impacts. Loss of ozone was already a threat and reductions in the use of pesticides were needed to protect key species. It was also becoming clear that human emissions of CO2 more than a hundred times that emitted by volcanoes was starting to warm our climate.

Some sustainability experts, like the authors of the ground-breaking book Limits to Growth, made appeals for building a livable path forward. A transition to technologies that did less harm. A transition to ways of living that produced less children. A transition away from dirty, dangerous and depleting fossil fuels. The hope was to sustain civilization. To prevent overshoot. To preserve a world hospitable for human life. But few people listened and few of the policies were enacted. Now, we are in a situation where resources are rapidly depleting, arable land is shrinking, and the climate is growing increasingly hostile. We live in a world of social, political and national unrest. We live in a world of resource wars. A world where the number of refugees from extreme weather exceeds the number of refugees from warfare.

These instance are all signs of overshoot — a situation where the human stresses to Earth are beyond what is sustainable for a livable world. A situation where resource depletion exceeds the natural world’s ability to replace those resources. A situation where the rate of pollution, primarily of CO2, exceeds the ability of sinks to absorb it. A situation where the pollution sinks are filling up and starting to become sources.

The Global Footprint Network makes yearly estimates of how many planets would be needed to support human consumption. And their estimate is that currently 1.5 Earths would be needed to sustain our recent activity indefinitely. Looking forward, under business as usual, Global Footprint estimates that 2.2 Earths will be needed by 2050. Since there is only one Earth, this level of overshoot cannot be sustained indefinitely. And pushing Earth too far beyond its limits results in irreversible damage and a contraction of the world’s carrying capacity to .8, .5, .3 or even zero Earths. Overshoot for too long means we could, potentially, remove ourselves from the planet.

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source: http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/world_footprint/

Sustainability

Returning to sustainability means both change and reduction. And, perhaps, this is why it is so unpopular. A drunk or a drug addict doesn’t like to be told he or she needs a change in behavior. And we have grown drunk on growth, addicted to fossil fuels, hooked on over-consumption, stuck in population growth without restraint.

To change to sustainability means more cooperation and less competition. It means more moderate winners and far less losers. It means holding the robber barons to account. It means reducing and removing fossil fuel consumption. It means eating less meat. It means more renewable energy and more localized communities. It means more democratic rule and less hierarchy. It means more freedoms for women to control their family size and when they have children and less oppression of and violence against women. It means more compassion and less selfishness from leaders.

Making a change to sustainability will be a hard lesson to learn. It is even doubtful that we are up to the task. But the stakes couldn’t be higher. If we fail, if we choose the path of hubris, then we risk losing our civilization, so much of life, and perhaps even our world. It is difficult to make an appeal to humanity’s better angels. But if the angels are listening, please fly to send word!

 

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