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

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

Carbon Emissions Plateau For Last Three Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple Technologies Leverage Economies of Scale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(UPDATED)

Links:

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

The International Energy Agency

Plans Laid for 800 MW Solar + Storage Facility in Queensland

Tesla Semi Announcement Causes Analysts to Start Downgrading Traditional Truck Stocks

Coal Plants are in Decline

Hat tip to Phil

Hat tip to Spike

Hat tip to Brian

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

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

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

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

Tesla Surges Ahead Despite Negative Attacks

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

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

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

Electric Medium Range Aircraft on the Horizon

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

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

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

Storage Advances Our Options for Fighting Climate Change

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

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

Links:

London-Paris Electric Flight in a Decade

Tesla Now Worth More Than Ford, GM

Tesla

Wright Electric

Hat tip to Wharf Rat

Hat tip to Greg

An Agenda Harmful to the American People

Farmers in Iowa, Kansas, Texas and California’s Central Valley know that the weather is getting worse. They know that droughts are intensifying, floods are more severe, and wildfires are growing larger as the years steadily warm. Coastal dwellers in Nantucket, Virginia Beach, Cape Hatteras, Myrtle Beach, Miami and the lowlands of Louisiana know that the seas are rising. They know that tidal and storm flooding takes more land and property with each passing year. And those who live in the far north, in places like Barrow, Alaska, know that the glaciers and sea ice are melting.

(Harmful impacts to Americans from climate change are on the rise and the number of Americans concerned about climate change has never been higher. Image source: Gallup.)

Americans, in greater numbers than ever before, believe that climate change is real, that it is a threat to them, and that humans are the cause. The growing consensus on the matter from the U.S. populace does not match the 97 percent or more of climate scientists who are very concerned about the issue, but the 68 percent of Americans who believe that global warming is occurring and is caused by humans cuts a stark contrast with the person who is now the sitting President of the United States.

Obama’s Helpful Response

The world has already warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius since the 1880s. We see the effects of that warming all around us. All across this country, lives, property and livelihoods are under increasing threat from a climate fundamentally changed by fossil fuel burning. However, the warming we’ve already experienced is the early, easy warming. The warming that lies ahead is of a much more difficult caliber. In other words, a blow is coming at us all. We can’t completely stop it at this point — it’s too late for that, we’ve coddled the fossil-fuel special interests for far too long — but we can soften it.

President Barack Obama tried to help the American people do just that. He established fuel efficiency standards aimed at inspiring innovation among America’s corporations. Such innovation would put them at the forefront of new technology that could help wean our country off oil dependency. By 2025, most vehicles were to have average mileage standards of 54.5 mpg, the implication being that a large portion of U.S. vehicles would be electric by then. At the same time, Obama pushed to shift U.S. power generation away from coal, and more toward wind and solar. These combined efforts would have cut U.S. carbon emissions across the entire economy 26 percent by 2025. They would have generated a leaner, meaner U.S. economy better suited to compete in a world whose constituents increasingly demand clean energy, and better able to face the harms coming down the pipe from human-caused climate change.

Fossil Fuel, Petrostate Interference in Global Democracies

The fossil fuel interests of the world — including both corporations and states suffering from economic dependence on fossil fuel revenues — did not at all like the new policies coming out of the U.S. The United States, as a global leader promoting renewable energy and responses to climate change, was fully capable of spearheading a global energy transition. Under Obama, the beginning of such a transition happened. Solar cell production multiplied, wind farms proliferated, clean energy costs fell, electrical vehicles hit the markets in increasing numbers, and net energy use per person fell, all while economies grew. In part due to exceptional American leadership, the U.S. trend toward cleaner energy repeated itself around the world. Meanwhile, demand for dirty fossil fuels began to lag. People began to talk widely about leaving a large portion of the world’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground, unused. Coal interests experienced mass bankruptcies. And oil and gas markets grew ever more uncertain.

(As government policies supporting renewable energy proliferated, prices dropped and production boomed. In other words, positive policy on the part of the world’s governments produced a renewable energy revolution — much to the ire of fossil-fuel special interests. Image source: Clean Technica.)

Powerful interests associated with fossil fuels, who already held amazing influence over the world’s political bodies, began to fight back. In Europe, this came in the form of right-wing politicians apparently backed by the espionage campaigns of an expansionist and resurgent Russia. Meanwhile, Russian aggression surged into Ukraine and even at times threatened wind production in the Baltic Sea. In the U.S., fossil-fuel-backing Republicans like James Inhofe and Scott Pruitt fought to remove key government policies promoting climate action. But consistent U.S. climate policy managed to hang on.

Now, with the election of Donald Trump — achieved in part through the Russian petrostate’s cyber-warfare campaign against the U.S. electoral system — all the progress achieved by the Obama Administration is in doubt.

A Cadre of Fossil Fuel Backers, Climate Change Deniers, and Ties to Russia 

Trump has placed Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as head of the State Department, fired top career diplomats, and placed political cronies into key roles. Tillerson has failed to recuse himself in the case of interests related to Exxon — a key element of which were Obama-era sanctions that prevented Exxon partnering with Russia in developing oil fields in the Arctic. Trump’s chief national security adviser Michael Flynn — now identified as being employed as a foreign agent for Turkey at the time (it is illegal for a foreign agent to hold a position as part of the U.S. government) — was found to be secretly conferring with Russia (allegedly about the removal of said sanctions) before he himself was forced out of the post.

(Former Bush ethics lawyer weighs in on Michael Flynn failing to register himself as a foreign agent. Video source: CNN.)

Over at the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, a politician who has for many years denied that the world is warming and that humans are the cause, now heads an agency he often sued. Pruitt is well-known for his attacks on government action to reduce the impacts of climate change and for receiving considerable campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. Almost immediately after coming to head the EPA, Pruitt stocked top offices at the agency with well-known climate change deniers, many of whom were once staffers of Congress’s chief climate change denier — James Inhofe.

Attack on CAFE Standards

As Trump fills key policy-making positions with fossil-fuel industry chiefs, climate change deniers, and people with odd ties to the Russian petrostate, he is moving to kill off Obama’s signature climate actions. This week, Trump appears ready to announce a rollback of Obama’s fuel efficiency standards. Such a move would put a damper on U.S. electric car production just as competitive foreign automakers are jumping into the EV market with both feet. The threatened rollbacks could also cost consumers an extra $2,600 in fuel over a vehicle’s lifetime, harm U.S. energy security, and result in more carbon dumped into the atmosphere. According to the New York Times:

[Obama’s] rules have been widely praised by environmentalists and energy economists for reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and its greenhouse pollution. If put fully into effect, the fuel efficiency standards would have cut oil consumption by about 12 billion barrels and reduced carbon dioxide pollution by about six billion tons over the lifetime of all the cars affected by the regulations (emphasis added).

Though it would take about a year to remove Obama’s policy, and though it is likely that states like California (along with nine other states pushing automakers to increase EV availability) will fight the measure, this change in direction comes at a critical time for the world’s climate, right when harmful impacts from climate change are hitting the American people harder and harder.

Removal of Clean Electricity Goals

Trump’s early moves against U.S. fuel efficiency standards (and by extension energy and climate security) are, unfortunately, just the first subset of a two-pronged effort. Trump is also expected to direct a denier-stacked EPA to dismantle Obama’s clean electrical power regulations — rules aimed at incentivizing wind, solar, and lower carbon forms of fossil fuels while shutting down highly polluting coal power plants. Obama’s actions would have sped renewable energy expansion while cutting U.S. carbon emissions by 26 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2025. But if Trump’s new proposals go through, an extra 2 billion tons of CO2-equivalent gasses could be coming from U.S. smokestacks and tailpipes by that time.

G20 Promotes ‘Market Magic’ as Solution to Climate Change

Trump’s policy moves also appear to be aimed at hollowing out international actions on climate change. A recent draft of the upcoming G-20 Summit, a meeting of finance ministers from the world’s top 20 industrialized nations, backed away from key commitments to combat climate change. The G-20’s preliminary policy statement removed language supporting the Paris Climate treaty (only 47 words address the treaty now as opposed to 163 words in 2016), appears to have reneged on $100 billion worth of commitments from wealthy nations to fund renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions cuts, and relies on “multilateral development banks to raise private funds to accomplish goals set under the 2015 Paris climate accord.”

John Kirton, director of the University of Toronto’s G-20 Research Group, in an interview with Bloomberg noted that the new policy statement “…basically says governments are irrelevant. It’s complete faith in the magic of the marketplace. That is very different from the existing commitments they have repeatedly made.”

It’s worth noting that Trump’s appointed treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin is the U.S. lead for G-20-related climate policy, so this new direction for the G-20 can’t entirely be separated from Trump or from his former Goldman Sachs employee Treasury Secretary.

Worsening Climate Situation

All these prospective national and global climate policy reversals come as the climate situation continues to worsen and damages from climate change related disasters escalate. We are currently in the process of warming from 1.2 C (present global temperature departure) above 1880s averages to 2 C above average. The amount of damage coming from this next degree of warming will be considerably more than the amount of damage that occurred as we warmed from 0.5 to 1.2 C above average from the 1980s to now.

(According to reinsurer Munich Re, the number of natural disasters has more than doubled since the early 1980s. Growth in the number of natural disasters all come from meteorological events, hydrological events, and climatological events — all which are influenced by warming global temperatures. Image source: Munich Re.)

The U.S. and every other nation in the world is now seeing a clear and present danger coming from climate change as natural disasters ramp up. In other words, the climate change related fire is already burning. And the Trump Administration appears set to throw more fuel on that fire. We can say with complete certainty that these policies represent a political agenda that is harmful to the American people. And we should resist this harmful agenda at every turn.

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

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

Peak oil, gas, and coal.

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

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

November Through April 2015 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

Record Drop in Coal Use

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

Plummeting Coal Use

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

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

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

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

No Global Recession, But Fossil Fuel Use Stagnates

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

Global Growth International monetary fund

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

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

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

Peak Fossil Fuel Use as Boon Not Bane

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

Renewables Rise Fossil Fuels Stagnate

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

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

Links:

BP — Coal Use Fell By Largest Recorded Margin in 2015

The International Monetary Fund

Choose Between Fuels From Hell and Renewable Jobs Economy

Renewables Global Status Report

NASA GISS

“Injurious to the American People” — Republicans to Receive a Well-Deserved Drubbing Over Decades of Climate Change Denial in 2016 Election

Back in 2013, Donald Trump had a bit of a hissy fit. The problem? In his mind, the planned construction of majestic wind turbines off the coast of Scotland would mess up the view from his newly built golf course. So Trump, in typical bellicose Trump fashion, went to war against an elegant and beneficial energy source:

Donald Trump isn’t happy. So, as usual, he’s making a big fuss.

The trouble this time? Not Barack Obama’s birth certificate. No. It’s windmills. In this case eleven wind turbine generators slated to be built in the ocean near a new golf course Trump constructed in Scotland.

The wind mills will provide power for a much as half of local residents and cost only about 400 million dollars. Trump’s golf course will cost 1.2 billion and suck up a goodly portion of its own energy while giving nothing back. One project produces a luxury that many residents of the Scotland coast will be unable to enjoy. Another produces renewable, zero GHG emission power that benefits everyone in the region and has much larger benefits around the globe.

Yet Donald Trump’s hoity-toity 1.2 billion golf course is too good for those helpful turbines. Trump, invoking the royal ‘we,’ says “We will spend whatever monies are necessary to see to it that these huge and unsightly industrial wind turbines are never constructed.”

In the end, Donald Trump engaged in a two-year legal battle to stop these wind turbines. A battle that he ultimately lost. But not only did he lose his fight to kill the turbines — he earned himself the disdain of the Scots and many Britons as well. A Scottish leader dubbed Trump ‘three times a loser.’ And hundreds of thousands of Britons signed a petition to have him banned from coming to the UK.

Turbines in the Gloaming

(Wind turbines in the gloaming. Which would you rather have — these gossamer beauties or another golf course for 1 percenters? Image source: Emaze.)

Trump’s self-destructive tilting at wind turbines would be comical — if this kind of socially and environmentally damaging behavior were not endemic to a vast majority of currently-elected republicans. And, in fact, this episode of Trump’s blindness to public sentiment, self-important ranting, and unfounded ideological attacks on a helpful energy source could well be seen as microcosm to the responses of the republican party to the threat posed by human-caused climate change and to its potential mitigations over at least the past three decades.

Who, after all, was the party of drill, baby, drill, fight to defend coal, attack the EPA, dismantle the Clean Water Act, kill the Clean Air Act? Who was it that fought practically every government support for wind, solar, and electric vehicles? Who was it that attacked every international climate agreement even before the signature ink was drying? Who endlessly harangued the IPCC? Who, again and again, attempted to de-fund NASA and NOAA climate science research initiatives? Who stymied a carbon tax, a gas tax, or any other incentive policy that would help people move away from carbon-based energy sources? Who brought snowballs into the Senate as ‘evidence’ that climate change was a ‘fraud,’ despite more objective proofs for human-caused global warming than for the theory of gravity itself?

Global warming since 1850

(Global heat spiral shows planetary warming since 1850. Once you realize that high levels of climate danger are reached at the 1.5 C and 2 C threshold, this graph really hits you like a sucker punch. But, in order to protect their fossil fuel allies from a much needed energy switch, many republicans are willing to pretend a rapid spiral toward more and worse climate disasters isn’t happening. In other words, they’re willing to put the lives and livelihoods of American citizens at risk for the sake of a single, destructive industry. Image source: Ed Hawkins.)

Who fought Obama’s Clean Power Plan? And who, when their legislative roadblocks failed, drummed up 27 fossil-fuel aligned governors to mount a legal challenge for the plan in the US Supreme Court? If there was ever a party that turned support of fossil fuels and denial of climate change into a brand name, then it was republicans.

And this year appears to be an opportunity for republicans to be paid back in full for their bad climate actions by an increasingly informed and concerned electorate. For according to a report today in the Washington Post, fully 64 percent of Americans are worried either a ‘great deal’ or a ‘fair amount’ about climate change — a number that includes 40 percent of self-identified republican voters. In addition, the cited Gallup poll also found that 65 percent of Americans now believe that climate change is human-caused. That’s still not in line with 97 to 98 percent of scientists — but it’s more than enough to influence an election.

And Hillary Clinton, the current democratic front-runner, appears to be homing in on an issue that may well prove to be the weak underbelly of the republican party this year. Chris Mooney, in the Washington Post today found that:

“The Clinton campaign sees polling showing profound political vulnerability on climate for the Republicans generally and Trump specifically, so the Clinton camp intends to push climate themes aggressively, ” adds Paul Bledsoe, who worked on climate issues in the former Clinton White House and is now an independent energy consultant. “They see GOP climate denial fitting into a larger narrative of Trump and the Republicans being willing to deny factual information injurious to the American public just because it doesn’t fit into Tea Party ideology.  That will be a meta-theme of the campaign, and climate fits into it.”

Clinton earlier today announced her overall climate strategy should she be elected. One that included hopes for a carbon tax, but that looked to pragmatically work with Congress over renewable energy funding initiatives. One that continued to build on initiatives already set in place by Obama. Clinton also hinted that she’d treat climate change as a national and international security issue — setting up a climate situation map in the White House. And though Clinton may not be quite as climate-hawkish as the outspoken and passionate Bernie Sanders (which is one of many reasons why I still hope Bernie wins, but it’s looking increasingly like a long-shot), she is certainly a far cry from the wind-killing Trump or any other potential republican candidate (Ted Cruz or Paul Ryan) for that matter.

Plummeting Price of Solar Energy

(With the price of solar cells falling by more than 99 percent since the 1970s, both wind and solar energy are now competitive with coal and gas. In addition, National Renewable Energy Lab figures indicate that over a 30 year lifespan solar energy system averaged a very strong Energy Return on Energy Invested of between 8 and 18 in most cases and as high as 30 in the highest efficiency, lowest material use modules — competitive with both wind and fossil fuels. On the back of these strong economics, solar has caught up with wind and together the two represented 2/3 of installed new power generation in 2015. Clinton’s stated policies would leverage the strengths of renewable energy systems to help mitigate the harmful effects of climate change. Image source: Commons.)

Trump, for his own part, has stated “I am not a big believer in man-made climate change.” So no climate change response plan. No situation room like Clinton’s. He has pledged to do away with all of Obama’s executive orders (including the Clean Power Plan). And he has pledged to de-fund the EPA (thereby removing the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon emissions). Trump has also pledged to reinvigorate the dirty coal industry and to double down on fracking. In other words, true to his wind-killing history in Scotland, Trump would be a nightmare candidate during a time in which the worst effects of climate change are now starting to ramp up.

If Trump and Clinton become the nominees and Clinton decides to use republicans’ vulnerability to the issue of climate change to the fullest, it’s possible that not only would Trump suffer, but so would many other republicans down-ticket. Republican voters from a growing number of regions (like the key battleground state of Florida — which is at risk of having its southern 1/6th rapidly flooded out by sea level rise) are facing increasingly obvious harms as a result of fossil fuel related warming. So there’s a clear vulnerability here if the climate change message is communicated correctly. And if this is the case — if the Senate returns to Democratic hands and if those concerned about climate change get a shot at the House — then we may not just have to settle for clean energy incentives. We could have a decent shot at a carbon tax.

And to this point — for any republican out there in the woods who is listening — even former Ronald Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz (back from the days when republicans were just a little bit wiser and even-handed than they are today) supports a carbon tax:

“I have long advocated a revenue-neutral carbon tax,” Shultz said. “It’s just there to level the playing field. Because you want sources of energy to compete equally and to bear the costs of what they produce.”

But Shultz comes from an era when respectable republicans didn’t do silly things like go tilting at solar panels and wind turbines.

Links:

Donald Trump’s Money Would be Better Spent Building Wind Farms

The 97 Percent Consensus

He’ll Take the Low Road — Trump’s Tortured History With Scotland

Trump — I’m Still a Birther

Emaze

Ed Hawkins

National Renewable Energy Lab Calls Claims of EROEI Constraints on Solar a Myth

The Growth of Photovoltaics

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs

“A Harbinger of the End of the Fossil Fuel Era” — Coal Production, Exports Plummet as Peabody Energy Declares Bankruptcy

“Peabody Energy’s steep decline toward bankruptcy is a harbinger of the end of the fossil fuel era … Peabody is crashing because the company was unwilling to change with the times, — they doubled down on the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, and investors backed their bet, as the world shifted toward renewable energy. They have consistently put profit over people, and now their profits have plummeted. Our world has no place for companies like Peabody.” — Jenny Marienau, U.S. Divestment Campaign Manager of the environmental group 350.org, in a recent statement.

****

Jenny Marienau of the climate disaster prevention group 350.org is certainly right about one thing. A healthy world. A world full of life and of prospects for all people, all living things. A world that avoids the worst impacts of a terrible climate disruption on the road to a hothouse mass extinction. In this, far more hopeful, world there is no place for companies like Peabody Energy. Companies whose profit-making and related accumulation of a corrupting political power and influence is entirely dependent on locking in an ever-worsening global crisis.

STRIP_MINING_ON_INDIAN_BURIAL_GROUNDS_BY_PEABODY_COAL_CO_-_NARA_-_544109

(Peabody became infamous for its destructive strip mining efforts that transformed beautiful and treasured lands into toxic, lifeless moonscapes. Here, a Peabody crane scoops coal out of the Nara strip mine which was also the location of a sacred Native American burial ground. Continued fossil fuel burning will ultimately have a similar beauty and life-denuding effect on the whole of the global environment. Image source: Commons.)

Coal’s Moral and Economic Bankruptcy

Today that company, representing the largest coal interest in the Western World, declared bankruptcy. An optimistic announcement that comes amidst a swift sea change and a precipitous contraction in the global coal industry. One that, if world-wide public, private, protest action, and individual efforts to reduce carbon emissions on the back of 200 nations reaching a landmark global climate agreement in Paris continue in force, may well be a beginning of an end to the fossil fuel energy era.

With each passing day, that start of an end becomes more and more visible in what appears to be an ongoing global coal industry collapse and retrenchment. In three of the world’s largest coal producing and consuming regions — India, China, and the US — production, imports and exports are down. In the US, coal production has fallen by more than 50 percent since 2008. Meanwhile US coal exports plummeted by 23 percent in 2015 alone. In China, coal consumption is reported to have dropped during both 2014 and 2015. This drop comes as this world’s largest current greenhouse gas emitter has announced an expanding array of bans on coal burning for its highest polluting power plants and a cessation of coal plant construction in 15 of its provinces. In India, one region that coal backers had looked to for expanding consumption, coal imports are also down.

The broadening contraction in coal has forced bankruptcies not just for Peabody, but for other major American coal players like Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources. A devastating wave for a climatologically destructive industry that appears less and less likely to survive in any form resembling its former might.

The Supertrend That’s Driving Coal’s Downfall — Mass Protest, Divestment, The Rise of Renewables, Policy Push to Prevent Climate Change, and The Switch To Gas

It’s all a part of an emerging supertrend that is being reinforced along many fronts. The first of which involves a broad global protest action against new coal plant construction and wider fossil fuel based energy itself. Led by key groups like 350.org, Greenpeace, and the Sierra Club, these critical actions have targeted construction sites, pipelines, railways and mines. In addition, a comprehensive divestment campaign spear-headed by 350.org has targeted capital flows to the fossil fuel special interests. In this campaign, investing firms and institutions are faced with a call to moral action. A call to shift resources away from the fossil fuel-based companies that profit by locking in the ever-worsening impacts of climate change. In most cases, coal divestment is seen as the low-hanging fruit in these efforts. The coal companies produce the highest level of fossil fuel based carbon pollution per ton of fuel burned, are among the biggest threats to clean air and clean water, and are the most financially at risk entities among the fossil fuel based polluters.

Such campaigns against coal would be toothless without readily available alternative energy sources. And during recent years, clean substitutes for coal like solar and wind energy have become more and more accessible. Market prices for both resources have plummeted to the point where either can now compete directly with coal in most major markets. A fact that was brought into stark contrast this year when the cost of a newly constructed Indian solar power station fell below the cost of a newly constructed Indian coal plant fueled by imports. Solar energy in particular has been surging by leaps and bounds with India alone planning 100 gigawatts of new solar powered generation in just six years — a level of construction that will inevitably take a big bite out of what appears to be the last remaining major energy market where coal could potentially expand. In effect, what we are seeing is coal being crowded out by far more benevolent and increasingly competitive wind and solar based energy systems.

US Coal Production Eports Down

(US coal production has plummeted since 2008 in the face of rising renewables, increased use of gas, and falling overseas demand. Global trends seem to indicate that the US coal market is a microcosm of the larger shift in the international energy trade — one that has been driven by a broad-based effort to reduce carbon emissions and impacts related to a human-forced warming of the world. Image source: Clean Technica. Data source: US EIA.)

In many nations, drives to increase the rate of renewable energy adoption have been put at logger-heads with the special-interest funded bodies supporting polluting legacy fossil fuel generation. In the US, republicans have become infamous for their pro-coal, drill-baby, drill, anti-renewables, climate change denial political stance. But despite a well-funded effort by fossil fuel industry to lock in carbon pollution and climate disruption by stacking the political deck, policies aimed at confronting climate change have continued to advance. The Paris Climate Summit, though the object of much criticism, produced the strongest global climate treaty yet. And the broader effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has now been reinforced by a growing number of cities, states, and nations who now realize that continuing the current massive carbon emission is a hazard to their ongoing existence. Coastal cities and nations facing worsening sea level rise, states in expanding drought zones, regions stricken by water insecurity and increased crop damage, cities, states and nations dependent on healthy oceans for tourism and seafood, regions confronting waves of persons displaced from drought-stricken nations, and cities, states, and nations in the path of increasingly severe weather have all both quietly and loudly fought back — pushing the necessary cuts in hothouse gas emissions forward. These key stakeholders — who basically represent all of the rest of the non-fossil fuel interest world — are starting to realize that the carbon industry, though excessively influential, is not all-powerful. And they are starting to more effectively wield their own, far more just, influence in an attempt to reduce the climate harm that is now setting in.

Within the fossil fuel ranks there is also division. Even among the fossil fuel players there appears to be an acceptance that coal is on its way out. Messaging coming from the fossil fuel industry appears to have shifted to support of the still very harmful natural gas and for a new global fracking campaign. In essence, what we observe is that the oil and gas interests, including the new fracking interests, have basically maneuvered in a way that effectively throws coal under the climate change response bus. Coal is tougher to greenwash than natural gas and the spearhead campaign against coal as the worst of the worst among carbon polluters has proven undeflectable. This has been especially true in the UK where even conservatives are aiming to shut down coal plants (while continuing their harmful efforts in support of fracking and aimed at suppressing rates of renewable energy adoption).

Preventing Ever-Worsening Harm — Why The Fossil Fuel Era Must End as Soon as Possible

With today’s Peabody bankruptcy declaration, and in light of these observed trends, it’s becoming more and more apparent that the global energy game has changed and that the political and economic power of coal is fading. A positive shift to be certain. One that will help to reduce global carbon emissions. But we should remember that the current human greenhouse gas emission is now ten times faster than during the last hothouse mass extinction event 55 million years ago. And the only way to greatly reduce that terrible spewing of heat trapping gasses is to not only completely cut out the coal emission, but to also remove the major atmospheric carbon contributions coming from a massive burning of both oil and gas. To this point, we should work as hard as we can to help make Jenny’s prediction above a reality. For we desperately need the end of the fossil fuel era to happen soon.

Links:

A Harbinger of the End of the Fossil Fuel Era (Please Support 350.org)

The Western World’s Largest Coal Company Declares Bankruptcy

US Coal Production Continues Plunge

China Expands Coal Ban

Sans a Swift Switch to Renewables, Dangerous Climate Change May Be Imminent

COP 21

Greenpeace

The Sierra Club — Beyond Coal

350.org — Divestment

US Energy Information Administration

Peabody Strip Mining on Indian Burial Grounds

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

 

 

Toxic Interests: In Lead-up to Paris Summit, Conservative Politicians Around the World are Fighting to Kill Renewable Energy

We have seen the enemy and he is us.

‘He,’ in this case, is those among us now fighting an all-out war against government programs aimed at reducing the damage caused by human-forced climate change. And in this present time of ramping climate catastrophe, there is no excuse at all for this morally reprehensible activity. Yet, excuse or no, the foul actions of these shameless ignoramuses continue. For all around the world conservatives (called [neo] liberals in Australia) with ties to fossil fuel based industry continue to scuttle programs that would result in the more rapid adoption of renewable energy systems even as they undermine related initiatives to increase energy efficiency.

At a time when the world faces down a growing climate crisis — one that will have dramatically worsening impacts as the decades progress — these failed and corruption-born policies represent the most abhorrent of political activities. And as the world convenes to consider how best to lessen the danger posed by an unfolding global tragedy, there are many in power who are now actively working to increase that danger.

More than anything else, this corrupt group is fighting to enforce ramping dangers, an ever-broadening harm, and untold future tragedy.

Shutting Down Coal to Build Natural Gas in The UK

This week, the conservative government of the United Kingdom made what seemed to be an optimistic announcement. It now plans to phase out all coal generation by 2025. Because coal power generation is the worst of the worst among carbon polluters, this news was rather good. Good, that is, when one doesn’t take a look at the broader context of current UK energy policy. And taking that look, we find what could best be described as an utterly abysmal state of affairs.

wind_power

(Wind power, produced by these and many other majestic towers turning over the UK countryside, is a critical solution to human-based fossil fuel emissions and a target of conservative energy policies. Image source: British Wind Energy Association.)

Ever since coming to power this summer, the conservative government has consistently cut subsidies for renewable energy while providing subsidies for some of the worst polluting facilities imaginable. Recently, UK Energy Secretary Rudd received stark criticism for this move along with pointed words over related backward policies like the provision of subsidies for expensive and polluting diesel-electric generators. Pointed words that came from both politicians and scientists alike. One such scientist was chief of the UN’s environmental programme Jacqueline McGlade who recently stated in the Financial Times:

“What’s disappointing is when we see countries such as the United Kingdom that have really been in the lead in terms of getting their renewable energy up and going — we see subsidies being withdrawn and the fossil fuel industry being enhanced.”

So even as conservatives in the UK are phasing out coal, they are replacing it with oil and natural gas. Fossil fuel replacements for fossil fuels at the expense of both zero-carbon renewables and a climate capable of supporting human civilization. For both oil and gas are still major carbon emitters. Especially when one considers the UK conservatives’ intention of fracking the countryside in search of these dangerous fuels. A method of extraction that has proven to increase emissions of volatile methane gas. And each new gas or oil plant built will continue to pump carbon into the atmosphere for decades even as it risks having its production lifespan cut short as the damages caused by carbon pollution become ever more obvious.

From the Financial Times:

Ms Rudd told the Today programme she wanted to rewrite the rules of the scheme to encourage gas instead. She said: “We have a capacity market auction coming up. We are going to review it carefully afterwards and ensure we do get the new gas we need.”

Conservatives, in this case, who have ideologically (and ludicrously) campaigned against all subsidies have instead decided to subsidize the bad climate outcomes all while cutting funding for solutions.

Fighting Renewable Energy Subsidies, Clean Power Plan in the US

In the US, the situation is only slightly better. Slightly better in that conservatives do not currently hold the Presidency. That said, conservatives are still doing their damnedest to kill off practically every renewable energy program the United States has to offer.

In May, House Republicans presented a bill (HR 1901) that would completely kill off the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy in the US. This in contrast to a permanent wind Production Tax Credit proposed by Obama. Meanwhile, the same Republican clowns who bring snowballs into the halls of Congress as supposed proof that global warming isn’t happening repeatedly try to de-fund the PTC for both wind and solar at each and every new budget session.

And it’s primarily due these efforts on behalf of fossil fuel backers by Republicans that the PTC is set to expire again by 2017. A move that will inject volatility into the renewable energy markets and bite into what has been an amazing period of growth by both Wind and Solar energy across the US. Growth that has happened despite Republicans’ apparent best efforts to halt it (see Paul Krugman’s Enemies of the Sun).

US Solar Energy Adoption rate

(US Solar energy adoption rates continued to soar in 2015, jumping to 40 percent of all new installed energy capacity for the first half of the year. These great gains have occurred despite broad based assaults on public policies supporting the rapid adoption of this critical renewable energy source. Image source: US Solar Market Summary.)

Though the PTC represents the Federal Government’s big support program for wind and solar energy development, any program that would reduce carbon emissions falls under attack. Republicans, who have hypocritically spoken in favor of US energy independence, mount repeated attacks on increases in Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency Standards. Republicans incessantly assault the EPA and its underlying Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. But more recently, Republican attacks against EPA have focused on the underpinnings of Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The plan, which sets modest goals to reduce US carbon emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels through 2030, would also greatly increase the rate of US renewable energy adoption, force the early retirement of the worst polluting power plants, and push for further increases in energy efficiency. Exactly the kind of progress against human forced climate change and toward US energy independence that Republicans apparently abhor.

By contrast, there hasn’t been a bit of legislation supporting fossil fuels that Republicans haven’t loved. Republicans constantly call for ending the oil export ban — a move that would greatly benefit US-based oil corporations. They wholeheartedly support the polluting and groundwater destroying process that is fracking. They’ve repeatedly called for increased drilling of all kinds everywhere including offshore drilling, Alaska National Wildlife Refuge Drilling, and Arctic Ocean Drilling. And they continuously support the dirtiest, highest carbon emitting fuel sources imaginable such as Canada’s Tar Sands and Coal. In fact, Republicans support for coal extends to the point that they frequently pass bills like this one which would allow toxic fly ash the enter groundwater supplies.

At the State level conservative republicans have repeatedly attempted to ram through ALEC and Koch funded bills to roll back net metering laws and renewable energy targets (see Koch Brothers, Big Utilities Attack Solar Energy). All while attempting to open public lands and waters to every variety of drilling and coal mining.

But despite these broad based attacks, renewable energy in the United States continues to make major gains even as energy efficiency measures advance. Sadly, the pace of carbon emission reduction and related renewable energy adoption has been greatly slowed by these continuous attacks by conservative Republicans.

Australia — From Terrible to Not Much Better

In the Southern Hemisphere, recent years have seen a wholesale gutting of renewable energy based policies by the Tony Abbott government in Australia. Time and time again, Abbott (which like northern conservatives foists laizzez faire markets and supports destructive industries like fossil fuels) pushed for a roll back in Australia’s previously aggressive renewable energy adoption rate all while trying to breathe new life into a zombie coal mining, export and power industry.

By Summer of 2015 the situation had gotten so dire that solar energy industry leaders were calling Abbott’s actions a ‘vindictive crusade’ against the renewable energy industry. John Grimes, head of the Australian Solar Council, this July launched an attack on the Abbott government after Australia’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation decided to stop funding new wind projects.

In a statement to the Saturday Paper, Grimes asserted:

“If Abbott continues this way, we’re [the solar industry] finished. We know that solar and other renewables are competing with coal, and Abbott is intent upon protecting that industry. So, this is our WorkChoices moment. We will be mobilising, and we’ll be campaigning in marginal seats. We’re starting to plan this now.”

RET cut

(During June of 2015, the Tony Abbott government cut Australia’s Renewable Energy Target [RET] from 41 gigawatts by 2020 to 33 gigawatts. Unfortunately, the new Prime Minister — Malcolm Turnbull — hasn’t moved to support previous, more aggressive targets. As such, Tony Abbott’s legacy of cutting renewable energy in favor of coal lives on. Image source: Renew Economy.)

By Fall, the Abbott government had fractured. This development likely in no small part due to campaigning by renewable energy supporters and those concerned about human caused climate change. The new head of the Australian Liberal Party (don’t let the name fool you, they’re just like conservatives everywhere else) Malcolm Turnbull, when considering past performance, might want to support cutting edge solar technology for Australia. However, in his first months as Prime Minister he appears to have done little but cowtow to his numerous coal industry supporting party colleagues.

As an example, Turnbull’s appointed Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel recently stated:

“My vision is for a country, a society, or world, where we don’t use any coal, oil, or natural gas, because we have zero-emissions electricity in huge abundance”.

But Turnbull, who is now being pushed by his political colleagues to make it illegal for environmentalists to sue coal companies if they open up new land to mining, felt the need to defend coal on the same stage by making the following and highly fallacious statement:

“If Australia were to stop all of its coal exports … it would not reduce global emissions one iota.”

Due to renewable energy’s popularity in Australia, due to Turnbull’s own likely affinity for the development of cutting edge wind and solar ventures, but also due to the terrible and intransigent institutional legacy of coal support in his party, the Turnbull government has come across as schizophrenic on the issues of renewable energy and climate change. On the one hand, some within Turnbull’s administration make statements like that of Dr. Finkel above. But when it comes to actual policy, Turnbull has continued to support many of the disastrous initiatives set forward by Tony Abbott. Which makes the Turnbull government look like it’s attempting to greenwash a facade over a rather ugly coal-ash face.

If Leaders Can’t Support Renewable Energy and Work to Halt Fossil Fuel Burning, Then They Need To Go

Though the UK, the US and Australia do not make up the entirety of the western world, the conservative anti-renewable energy and pro-fossil fuel sentiment represented in these three countries is wide-ranging. Such sentiment is common to conservative governing groups around the world — from Canada to Europe to New Zealand and beyond. In the western democracies of the world this crippling ideology is preventing a necessarily rapid push to adopt non-carbon energy and prevent the worst impacts of global climate change.

As we approach the Paris Climate Summit, we should be very clear on this one political issue of key importance. If these people continue to hold political power, we will not act rapidly or decisively enough. We will find ourselves overwhelmed by consequences as their delaying actions stymie any effective response. It is therefore crucial that the supporters of the fossil fuel industries of the world are removed from office. They have shown themselves for their true colors — they’ll continue to support these harmful and wretched fuels regardless of consequences, regardless of any, even the most extreme, risks to their own nations and to the nations of the world.

Links:

Top UN Scientist Criticizes UK Cuts To Renewable Subsidy

UK Coal Fired Plants to be Phased Out

Ministers Accused of Trying to Sneak Through New Fracking Rules

Methane Leaks Wipe Out any Benefit of Fracking

Republicans Fight to Repeal PTC for Wind

House Panel Passes Extenders Package Without PTC

Enemies of the Sun

The GOP Assault on Environmental Laws

The Clean Power Plan

GOP Attacks on Clean Power Plan Going Nowhere

163 Republicans Push for More Offshore Drilling

Republicans Push for Renewed Drilling in Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge

Republican House Passes Bill Forcing Keystone XL Approval for the 9th Time

Republican House Passes Bill That Would Allow Toxic Coal Ash to Enter Groundwater

Koch Brothers, Big Utilities Attack Solar Energy

US Solar Market Summary

Abbott’s Campaign to Kill the Renewable Energy Sector

Renew Economy

Australia Slashes its Renewable Energy Target by 20 Percent

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 25-27 South Australia Grid Loading

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

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

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

Total Renewable Generation South Australia

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

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

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

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

Links:

One out of Every Five Australian Homes Use Solar Energy

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

Denmark Kicking Fossil Fuels Addiction With Record 39 Percent (and Growing) Wind Generation

“We have set a one-of-a-kind world record. And it shows that we can reach our ultimate goal, namely to stop global warming.” — Denmark’s Climate and Energy Minister Rasmus Helveg Petersen.

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Back in 1971, on the eve of the world’s first global oil shocks, the European country of Demark generated more than 80 percent of its electricity from crude. As the 70s progressed and the nation staggered under rising energy costs and failure to obtain supplies from this limited, exploited, and monopolized fuel source, Denmark began to embark on a campaign for energy independence that was then unprecedented. A campaign to rid itself of a destructive dependence on economically volatile, climatologically destructive, and easily manipulated fossil fuels.

Wind in the Distance

(Offshore wind turbines in the distance. Image source: Urland.)

At the time, Denmark began to turn back to its traditional use of wind — but as a direct source of electricity itself. The country, situated on a peninsula between the North and Baltic Seas is awash in breezes and the ever shifting flows of conflicting air masses. The idea, for Denmark, was to harness this energy as a means to break its dependence on foreign oil and, ultimately, remove fossil fuel use entirely.

At first, the going was slow. Wind energy facility construction moved gradually from test sites to small farms, to the first large utility scale ventures in the late 1980s. At this point, the nascent Vestas as well as the established Siemens had become primary producers of wind turbines on the global market. Steady growth through the year 2000 resulted in Denmark providing slightly more than 10 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and geothermal sources — with wind providing the bulk of this portion.

At this point, economies of scale began to kick in as wind power adoption in Denmark began to expand exponentially. Vestas and Siemens grew concordantly from niche energy players to primary contributors for a rapidly growing global electricity market. By the end of 2014, Denmark supplied more than 39 percent of its energy from wind alone.

The amount of oil used for electricity generation in Denmark now? Less than 3 percent. A staggering success that many, especially those supporting fossil fuel interests, never believed possible.

But despite these amazing achievements, Denmark is still shooting for more, with an ultimate goal of completely kicking a nasty and climatologically destructive fossil fuel habit. For Denmark is now within striking distance of achieving its goal of getting more than 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020 and becoming completely fossil fuel free by or before 2050.

Global_Wind_Power_Cumulative_Capacity.svg

(Global wind energy capacity since 1996. As Denmark pursues independence from fossil fuels — spear-headed by a surge in wind generation — global installed wind capacity continues to increase along an exponential curve. Image source: Commons.)

As Denmark pushes toward and beyond the 50 percent renewables mark, challenges remain. Grid storage and smart grid type energy movement will become more and more important. But, fortunately for Denmark and a number of other rising renewables states (including Germany at 27 percent renewables and California at 23 percent renewables) distributed and centralized storage systems are becoming more accessible. Electric vehicles, with their large batteries which can be utilized for grid storage when plugged in at home or at a smart charging station, are becoming more accessible. In addition, the cost of battery storage for grid applications is rapidly falling in many regions with nearby Germany seeing a 25 percent fall in the cost of battery storage this year alone.

With wind and solar energy now increasingly beating out coal and natural gas generation costs on a cents per kilowatt/hr basis, it becomes easier for responsible-minded governments like Denmark to shift more support to smart grids and storage in order to continue to grow renewable based power systems.

Lastly, the advent of new very large battery factories like those being built by Tesla, Solar City and Byd are likely to continue to drive down battery costs over the next few years — making transition beyond the 30 and 50 percent renewable electric generation milestones much more directly accessible.

It’s a megatrend which, should it become widely adopted and promoted, has the potential to start bending down the fossil fuel emissions curve soon — potentially pushing it to zero by mid century. Something that’s an absolute necessity if we’re serious about dealing with the ramping calamity that is human caused climate change.

Links:

Denmark Sets World Record for Wind Power Production

Germany and Denmark Join UK in Smashing Wind Energy Records

Battery Storage Systems Prices Fall 25% in Germany

Commons

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

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

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

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

Price of Wind at all time low

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

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

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

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

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

US renewables forecast 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

US Department of Energy Wind Energy Report for 2013

SUN DAY Forecast

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

Related Reading:

Major Court Clears the Way to Let Renewables onto the Grid

Proposed Coal Export Terminal Suffers Major Setback

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

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

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

Pace of Emissions Increase Slowed

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

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

IEA Policy Recommendations Both Modest and Ambitious

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

These policies include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

Four Energy Policies to Keep the 2 Degrees Celsius Goal Alive

Delaying Action Until 2020 Costs the World 3.5 Trillion

New US Wind and Solar Installations Beat Out Natural Gas, Coal

If you listened to the right wing media, you’d think that wind and solar energy had died a loud and ignominious death. Not true according to the latest reports from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. New installation reports show that rumor of the death of wind and solar energy is simply misinformation likely spread by journals and news sources aligned with oil, coal, and gas special interest groups which seek to retain energy market dominance.

Total US wind and solar installations through September of 2012 were 5 gigawatts. In contrast, total installed new natural gas capacity was 4.5 gigawatts and total new installed coal capacity was 2.2 gigawatts. This is very good news and shows enormous progress on both the climate and energy front for the US. However, for the US to begin to make an appreciable dent in carbon emissions, new wind and solar installations will have to continue to pick up. In total more than 8 times the current installed capacity for wind and solar are needed within the next 10-20 years. So the pace of new installation will also have to increase.

Below is a table from the FERC report:

Links:

http://www.ferc.gov/legal/staff-reports/sep-2012-energy-infrastructure.pdf

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/10/24/1078751/wind-and-solar-make-up-100-percent-of-us-electricity-capacity-in-september/

Obama Fights For Renewable Energy Future, Runs on Superb Energy Record

Today, in a campaign speech at Colorado State University, Obama stated:

“You believed we could use less foreign oil and reduce the carbon pollution that threatens our planet. And in just four years, we have doubled the generation of clean, renewable energy like wind and solar. We developed new fuel standards for our cars so that cars are going to get 55 miles a gallon next decade. That will save you money at the pump.  It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a level roughly equivalent to a year’s worth of carbon emissions from all the cars in the world put together.”

“If your friends or neighbors are concerned about energy, you tell them, do we want an energy plan written by and for big oil companies?”

“Or do we want an all-of-the-above energy strategy for America — renewable sources of energy. Governor Romney calls them ‘imaginary.’ Congressman Ryan calls them a ‘fad.’ I think they’re the future. I think they’re worth fighting for.”

And Obama is correct. Correct in that he has achieved a stunning transformation in US energy policy. Correct in that he has increased US energy independence since taking office. And Correct in that Romney’s energy plan is one drafted entirely to cater to the interests of oil, gas, and coal companies.

Taking a look at the data, we can find evidence of this amazing progress. Since 2008, the US capacity for alternative energy generation has nearly doubled from 10,508 gigawatthours in 2008 to 18,777 gigawatthours by the end of the first half of this year. In total, renewable energy generation now accounts for 14.76% of all US power sources. This is more than nuclear but less than coal and natural gas.

New installations for wind and solar energy have soared over the period. Solar energy grew by 285% and wind energy grew by 171%. New installations for renewable energy are outpacing every energy source except natural gas. As a share of new energy installations, renewable energy accounts for 38% of the total while natural gas accounts for 42%.

This stunning surge in renewable energy capacity and its ability to compete, increasingly, with coal, gas, and nuclear, can be credited, in large part, to Obama’s energy policy. Obama pushed for measures to encourage new alternative energy installation. He pushed for stimulus funds for alternative energy programs. And he risked severe political backlash from powerful fossil fuel industries as he pushed for these new sources.

And the backlash came. It came from campaign contributions from oil special interests to republican rivals. It came in the form of an endless series of advertisements aimed at spreading oil, gas, and coal focused messaging. It came in the form of a republican party transformed to almost entirely represent fossil fuel interests even as it has denied climate change. Last of all, it came in the form of vicious attacks directed at the wind, solar, and electric vehicle industries.

But Obama’s push didn’t end with alternative energy. Obama provided a major push for increasing US fuel efficiency standards. Pushing competitiveness of US automakers in key areas while vastly reducing US dependence on foreign oil. These new efficiency standards have already taken a bite out of oil imports. Under Obama US oil imports have plummeted by 2 million barrels per day from 12.9 million barrels per day in 2008 to 10.9 million barrels per day this year. These reductions in oil imports are bound to continue as Obama’s policy results in fuel efficiency standards rising to 55 miles per gallon by the 2020s. It results in more electric and plug in hybrid electric vehicles on the road. It results in the US auto industry becoming leaders in this key new technology. All these results are signs of progress Americans can feel proud of. All these results are signs of a burgeoning independence that, if continued, will result in a far stronger America.

By contrast, Obama’s rival would cut renewable energy incentives and slash efficiency standards. This would not only increase dependence on fossil fuels at a time of amplifying global warming. It will also increase US dependence on foreign energy sources at a time when the world is increasingly competing for every available export. Romney’s policy will result in higher emissions, higher energy prices, and higher profits for oil, gas, and coal companies. It is a policy that aims to rig the game in favor of those interests and turns a blind eye to all the external harm such a policy would cause. It is a policy that will result in a weaker America that will likely attempt to dominate other countries in order to pursue energy security. It is a policy that will likely result in more costly foreign wars. It is a policy that will result in the expansion of both the trade deficit and the current public debt.

Obama, on the other hand, can proudly show that he fought for America’s energy future. A future with the potential for both energy independence and independence from the dirty, dangerous, and depleting fossil fuels. A future that may give us a glimmer of hope for being leaders against the powerful forces of climate change. A difficult future we may equip ourselves to navigate if we continue in the example set by Obama.

Links:

http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_move_impcus_a2_nus_ep00_im0_mbblpd_a.htm

http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2012/08/renewable-energy-sees-explosive-growth-during-obama-administration

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/08/29/765131/renewable-electricity-nearly-doubles-under-obama-i-think-theyre-the-future-theyre-worth-fighting-for/

Romney Gunning to Kill US Wind, Solar Industries, Enforce Monopoly of Dirty, Dangerous, and Depleting Fuels

Today Mitt Romney held a speech on the border of Texas and New Mexico where he laid out his plans for the US’s energy future. And if two words come to mind from his proposals they are these: Robbery and Ruin.

Just yesterday, Romney received more than $10 million dollars in campaign contributions from the coal and oil industry. Money he is trying to hand back many times over in special perks, subsidies, and give-aways to his big polluting backers.

First, Romney proposes to take public lands from the people of the US and hand it over to states who would then be encouraged to give these land rights, free of charge, to oil, gas, and coal companies. He would take a resource in the public trust, one of America’s great treasures, and hand it over to what amounts to a group of corporate looters. The ghost of Teddy Roosevelt must be turning over in his grave as Romney offers up this sacrifice to his corporate masters. For it would result in public lands being transformed from something like this:

Into something like this:

 

Romney’s second big giveaway is to cut taxes for the highly profitable oil companies again. I say again because it was the same thing Bush did when he was elected back in 2000. And it is also ironic to see a massive influx of Bush energy advisers finding places of prominence on Romney’s energy team.

This year, oil companies already received more than 2.3 billion dollars in subsidies and tax assistance. This public support after having recorded over $137 billion dollars in profits. But Romney seems to think that greed is its own virtue and has decided to give another 2.4 billion away in additional tax breaks. This 5 billion dollars in tax-payer support each year would come on top of record profits from the highest oil prices ever and the great American land giveaway described above.

But Romney’s plan goes still further. Romney would cut regulations that keep coal companies from dumping massive volumes of mercury into the air and water. Coal companies have often complained that the public health protection measure is too expensive. But what Romney and his coal backers don’t reveal is that the added pollution kills more than 30,000 people each year. For Romney and big coal, profits are far more important than lives. So the protections for Americans must go.

In general, all these policies draw support from a vast and ongoing denial over the damage caused to the United States by an intensifying climate crisis. Just this year alone, over $100 billion in damages will likely be inflicted on the US economy by a number of climate-related disasters. Romney’s push to double down on big oil and big coal will only worsen the damage that is still to come.

Romney’s plan is first a dire insult to American interests in the form of a giveaway to a destructive industry. Romney’s plan is second a harm that results in added toxins spewed into the atmosphere and an ever-decreasing likelihood of dealing with the ongoing climate crisis.

But the crowning black jewel to the whole dark and devastating Romney energy policy is this: attack the wind and solar industry.

Romney plans to bring down all competitors to oil and coal through direct policy measures. He is gunning to devastate the wind and solar industry by removing the production tax credit even as he pushes to further subsidize the heavily polluting oil and coal industries. His plan would gut US innovation and progress in wind and solar energy. It would cede leadership in a 2 trillion dollar alternative energy market to China and Germany. And it would result in the loss of tens of thousands of US jobs. Worse, it would remove the prospect for creating hundreds of thousands more jobs in the future and shackle us to an energy source that is bound to abandon us during our hour of greatest need.

Republicans and Romney often deride industries that require subsidy support. However, the oil and coal industry still receive subsidies after more than 150 years of operations. The level of subsidies they receive is far higher than those of the burgeoning alternative energy industry. Typically, for a new industry to effectively get off the ground it needs a higher level of support than a traditional, established industry. And considering that the oil industry has become so profitable through its effective cornering, total dominance and monopolization of all transportation markets, giving it any subsidy at all simply amounts to paying tribute to a tyrant. It is unnecessary, wasteful, and encourages the worst behavior.

Yet this is exactly what Romney and Ryan are pushing to double down on. And they would lay the slain carcass of the alternative energy industry at the feet of their fossil fuel masters.

Given the intensifying climate crisis. Given the depleting and increasingly expensive fossil fuels. Given the need for America to create sustainable jobs in a sustainable industry. And given the fact that if we fail to lead in the alternative energy revolution, others will in our stead, it is absolutely necessary that the American public reject Romney. Reject Ryan. Reject robbing from the American people for the profit of special interests and reject policies that will ruin our future. And, last of all, reject the vicious and anti-American agenda of the oil and coal company barons who stand behind them.

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

Who is to Blame for High Gas Prices?

As the presidential election’s silly season continues, as the most outrageously pandering promises are made to all people across the political spectrum, a single issue seems to have outdistanced the rest — who is to blame for high gas prices?

Republicans, for their part, seem to enjoy blaming Obama who, supposedly, is keeping millions of magical drilling rigs hostage. If only freed from their bondage, republicans claim these rigs all alone, all by themselves, could, in a puff of faerie dust, reduce the price of gasoline to $2.50 per gallon.

But do the republicans have a rational leg to stand on in their endless drill, baby, drill diatribe? To find out, we’ll have to examine some facts.

Obama brings massive increase in drilling

Since Obama entered office, there has been a massive increase in US drilling. And the sad truth, despite republican rhetoric, is that the US would be engaged in increased drilling regardless of who held the office of president. The US is so addicted to oil that it can’t afford, at this time, not to exploit every economic source. As a result, drilling has increased by over 350% under Obama.

Huge drilling efforts result in only moderate supply increases

Considering tripling US extraction efforts, one would think that US oil production would rise dramatically. In truth, production has risen, but by only a small amount. The net result of a massive 350% increase in drilling has only been a moderate bump in oil production of 14%. US crude oil production increased from a 2008 level of about 5 million barrels per day to today’s level of 5.7 million barrels per day.

Moderate increase in supply does not result in oil price drops

So all out drilling under Obama has resulted in some increase in supply. And you would think, all things being equal, that the price of oil would also fall. But all things are not equal. Oil is traded on the world market and there are an expanding number of factors keeping the price of oil high.

First, Saudi Arabia has claimed that $100 per barrel is a ‘fair’ price for oil. Saudi Arabia produces more than 10 million barrels each day and is the world’s second largest oil exporter. They are the only country in the world left with substantial spare capacity. This means that Saudi Arabia is the only oil producer with much influence on supply or price. But Saudi is saying it will defend $100 oil. And the means Saudi has to defend this price is through cutting supply. So should oil prices decrease, Saudi will cut production. In fact, it did this during 2009-2010. And since Saudi cut production at that time, prices have risen from $40 per barrel to over $105 per barrel now. As the world economy recovered in 2010-2011, Saudi Arabia brought production back. But demand was so high that the new oil didn’t result in substantially reduced prices.

Second, the reason Saudi Arabia is the only producer with spare capacity is the fact that all other oil producers are pumping oil flat out. And despite this all-out production, the world’s supply of crude oil has remained flat at around 74-75 million barrels per day (blue line on graph) since 2004. This means that despite the highest average price for oil ever, for eight years running, world crude oil production has structurally leveled off. The reason for this plateau is that new production of crude oil is only enough to keep pace with the rate of production decline from existing wells. In short, when it comes to crude oil production, the world is running to stand still.

Third, high cost unconventional oil fills in the gap. Today, the world produces 18 million barrels per day of unconventional oil along with other substances such as wet gas and condensate (condensate is usually included in the crude oil figure, but it’s a different substance altogether). This includes supplies of tar sands from Canada, deep water oil, natural gas liquids, and biofuels. Much of this oil costs $50 dollars per barrel or more to produce. And the fact that the world is reliant on this ‘oil’ means prices will never fall below the high cost of a marginal barrel.

Most unconventional oil isn’t really oil at all. For example, Canada uses 8% of its entire natural gas supply to hydrogenate tar and ship it to us as ‘oil.’ The fact that we are calling hydrogenated tar ‘oil’ is a certain sign of how desperate we’ve become. And biofuels certainly aren’t oil. They’re fuels interchangeable with oil derived from crops. And it is through the production of these very expensive and difficult to produce fuels that the world has been able to increase production at all.

Fourth, the nominal demand for oil is about 98 million barrels per day, this is ten million barrels per day higher than the combined total production of crude oil plus unconventional oil. What this means is if prices go down, demand will keep going up until we hit a level of consumption of around 98 million barrels per day. The reason for this very high nominal demand is the fact that so many machines using so much oil are operating around the world. Oil-consuming automobiles alone are being produced at a rate of 80 million each year with more than one billion of these machines in existence around the world. With so many hungry machines, any new oil produced will be rapidly snatched up.

These combined issues mean that the US would have to produce more than ten million barrels per day of additional low-cost oil in order to create a situation where long-term gas prices of $2.50 cents per gallon or less were possible. But, in truth, achieving this feat is a bald impossibility.

All new oil is expensive oil

The reason why drilling cannot dramatically bring down the price of gasoline is that the cost of producing all the new oil is dramatically high. ‘Conventional’ oil from fracked wells costs $50 per barrel just to produce. Prices for biofuels, deep water drilling, polar drilling and Canada’s hydrogenated tar are about the same. But even the most wildly optimistic projections from all these sources show only slow increases in production requiring massive expense and effort.

Options for drastically increasing production do exist, however, if you’re willing to pay much more for gas. Oil shale contains 1.5 trillion barrels of potentially recoverable goop called kerogen. The US kerogen, however, is even less energy-dense than Canada’s tar. So the cost of producing this ‘oil’ is around $100 per barrel. And this cost hides the fact that a huge amount of natural gas would be needed to hydrogenate the kerogen. Furthermore, the oil shale is in a water poor region. Massive volumes of water would be needed to produce this goop. But the water doesn’t exist in the high volumes needed, so it would have to be piped in.

The result is that a immense and terrifying industrial effort would be needed to rip an enormous hole in America’s heartland to produce this ‘oil.’ And the irony is that, if we are forced to produce the oil shale, it will only result in even higher prices than today.

New drilling can’t dramatically lower prices, even though that’s what oil companies want you to believe

So, in short, the republicans are either misinformed, or they’re not telling the truth. This is hardly surprising considering that oil companies paid 18.5 million dollars into republican campaigns this year alone. Money to democrats from oil companies was substantially lower — only 2 million dollars. And what this oil company money is going to is keeping us all dependent on increasingly expensive oil.

Oil companies don’t want us to realize that even more drilling can’t radically reduce prices. But they do want to continue their dominance in the energy markets. They do want to continue their position as the dominant provider of transportation fuels. And in order to do this, they must convince us that the best solution to high gas prices is more drilling, even if it is not.

Real solutions — increased efficiency, alternatives

The only real solution to the oil depletion problem is switching away from fossil fuels and dramatically increasing efficiency. And even though republicans aren’t very good at proposing sustainable solutions, they are very good at demonizing policies and technologies that actually help.

This was recently demonstrated by republican efforts to demonize the Chevy Volt. Number 1 in customer satisfaction in 2011, the Volt dramatically reduces dependence on oil by making commutes all-electric. Since 80% of all gasoline consumption occurs in commutes, a transition to electric vehicles like the Volt would drop US oil consumption by 7 million barrels per day. If these vehicles became common-place around the world, oil consumption could fall by as much as 35 million barrels per day. And that would dramatically lower oil prices as well as eliminate the need for new oil production. This powerful new technology represents a potential future oil companies and republicans most definitely do not want. A future, however, that would be dramatically more prosperous for the rest of us.

But republican attacks aren’t limited to demonizing revolutionary American technologies like the Volt. Republicans have also worked to de-fund all government incentives to produce solar energy, wind energy, and to increase vehicle efficiency. Solar and wind energy reduce dependence on fossil fuels and since gas and coal are increasingly interchangeable with oil, they indirectly reduce oil prices. Finally, republicans attacks on energy efficiency directly increase the price of oil by increasing demand.

Republican policies push high prices higher

Only a dummy or someone bought and paid for would make the argument that civilization should remain dependent on an increasingly expensive and scarce resource like oil. And that’s just what republicans are doing. Though republicans aren’t to blame for the fact that oil itself is more expensive because it is depleting, they are to blame for pushing policies that enforce dependence on oil, for fighting at every turn to reduce efficiencies, and for doing their best to demonize and destroy any alternatives to oil.

Foremost, the republican push for drilling as the only solution is doomed to failure. At best, new drilling is a temporary stop-gap. Long term, without alternatives, it dooms the world economy to spiraling increases in energy prices. This policy is one born out of the myopic special interests of oil companies and their continued drive for dominance and outrageous profits. A true allegory to this failed policy was the conservative/republican push for deregulating the banks and the housing market in the 1990s. The result was a world financial collapse in 2008. We don’t want to see the same thing happen in energy. But blinded by profits and donations, republicans are,once more, trying to force us down a dangerous path.

 

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Rush, Romney in Denial over Renewable Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pay no attention to the oil man behind the curtain…

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

 

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