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Can Renewable Portfolio Standards make RE Work?

Can Renewable Portfolio Standards make RE Work?

Guest post by Geo who is a geologist working in Alaska

People want energy to be cleaner (i.e. emit less carbon dioxide). One way to do this is to use regulations to force either greater efficiency, or a switch to cleaner fuels.

A good example would be Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards in the United States. They were first enacted by the United States Congress in 1975, after the 1973–74 Arab Oil Embargo, to improve the average fuel economy of cars and light trucks (trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles) produced for sale in the United States. The idea was that slowly, across the board, the mileage of all cars and trucks produced in the U.S. would gradually increase. Over time this would result in cleaner air, and reduced oil usage. And perhaps save consumers money…

And it more or less worked as advertised. Standards were raised, and efficiency increased, largely without additional cost. U.S. cars are twice as fuel-efficient today as they were 40 years ago, saving car owners millions of dollars, and reducing air pollution. Arguably a win-win.

Figure 1: EPA “Light-Duty Automotive Technology, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 through 2017,” EPA-420-S-18-001, January 2018.

A slight nuance was added in some markets. Certificates for high mileage vehicles could be traded, so that some manufacturers could continue producing low mileage vehicles. For example, under California’s Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Regulation and those of states that have adopted California’s standard, vehicle manufacturers are required to earn or purchase credits for compliance with their annual regulatory requirements. This means that a certain number of electric cars must be sold to balance any low mileage vehicles.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

UK climate emergency is official policy

UK climate emergency is official policy

Heathrow’s expansion is now in question. Image: By J Patrick Fischer, via Wikimedia Commons

Major changes in the government’s policy on fossil fuels will be vital to tackling the UK climate emergency that Parliament has recognised.

LONDON, 3 May, 2019 − The United Kingdom has taken a potentially momentous policy decision: it says there is a UK climate emergency.

On 1 May British members of Parliament (MPs) became the world’s first national legislature to declare a formal climate and environment emergency, saying they hoped they could work with like-minded countries across the world to take action to avoid more than 1.5°C of global warming.

No-one yet knows what will be the practical result of the resolution proposed by Jeremy Corbyn, the Opposition Labour leader, but UK politicians were under pressure to act following a series of high-profile strikes by school students in recent months and demonstrations by a new climate protest organisation, Extinction Rebellion (XR),  whose supporters closed roads in the centre of London for a week.

The Conservative government ordered its MPs not to oppose the Labour resolution, and it was passed without a vote.

Zero carbon by 2050

Hours after the MPs’ decision, a long-awaited detailed report by the government’s official advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, was published. It recommends cutting the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The current target is 80%.

The report says the government should accept the new target immediately, pass it into law in the next few months and begin to implement policies to achieve it. The committee says that will mean the end of petrol and diesel cars on British roads, a cut in meat consumption, an end to gas boilers for heating buildings, planting 1.5 billion trees to store carbon, a vast increase in renewable energy, and many other measures.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Mainstream to jetstream

Mainstream to jetstream 

A couple of decades ago, renewable energy was almost an outlier: the new kid on the block. But now, solar and wind are not just mainstream: in both developed and emerging economies, they are the preferred option when it comes to power generation.

A powerful synergy of enabling factors and demand-side attributes is propelling solar and wind to compete against, and win, in competition with even the most cost-effective and flexible hydrocarbon-fuelled sources of power. Renewable energy is now the preferred choice when it comes  to reliable, affordable, and environmentally responsible energy.

A new report on global renewable energy trends from Deloitte Insights charts the astonishingly rapid disruption of traditional energy systems and markets that renewables are causing as the cost of photovoltaic and windfarm power plants continues to fall.  

Clearing the way

Longstanding barriers to the greater deployment of renewables have faded thanks to three strong attributes: rapidly approaching grid parity, cost-effective and reliable grid integration, and technological innovation. Solar and wind can now beat conventional sources on price while increasingly matching their performance. Moreover, the integration of renewables is actually solving grid problems rather than exacerbating them. Wind and solar are now competitive across global markets even without subsidies.

Onshore wind has become the world’s lowest-cost energy sources for power generation, with an unsubsidized levelized cost of US$ 30 -60/MWh, which falls below the range of the cheapest fossil fuel , natural gas—which weighs in at around US$ 42 – 78/MWh. Except for combined-cycle gas plants, the levelized costs of all conventional sources and nonintermittent renewables have either remained flat (biomass and coal) or increased (geothermal, hydropower, and nuclear) over the past eight years, while the cost of onshore wind and utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) plants have dropped by 67 and 86 percent respectively as the cost of components has plummeted and efficiency has increased—trends that are expected to continue.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Hydropower dams and the ways they destroy the environment

Hydropower dams and the ways they destroy the environment

Preface. Hydropower comprises 71% of renewable energy worldwide.  Nations like the U.S. and Europe have dams that have reached the end of their lifespan, so more are being torn down than built. In the U.S. 546 dams were removed between 2006 and 2014.

This contains excerpts and paraphrasing of three news stories

  1. 11 Jan 2019 the costs of environmental damage and dam removal need to be added into calculations for whether to build a dam or not
  2. 19 November 2014 NewScientist article by Peter Hadfield “River of the dammed“,about the Chinese Three Gorges project
  3. 2012: the greenhouse gas emissions of hydropower

***

Moran, E. F. et al. 2018. Sustainable hydropower in the 21st century, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Before developing countries build more dams, they need to take the following into account when estimating the cost

  • Deforestation
  • Loss of biodiversity, especially fish species
  • Social consequences, such as the displacement of thousands of people and the financial harm done
  • That climate change, especially drought, and evaporation from higher temperatures, which will lead to less water stored for agriculture and electricity
  • The cost of removing a dam is extremely high, so high dams wouldn’t be built if this cost were included.  Many new dams in Brazil and other nations will have a short lifespan — just 30 to 50 years

Hadfield, P. 2014.  “River of the dammed“. NewScientist.

Dams typically last 60 to 100 years, but whether Three Gorges can last this long is questionable given the unexpectedly high amounts of silt building up. Since fossil fuels are finite, as is uranium, to keep the electric grid up many see building more dams for hydropower as absolutely essential. Hydropower is also one of the few energy resources that can balance variable wind and solar as well.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate Change Mitigation: Is it a Good Idea to Sweep the Carbon Under the Carpet?

Climate Change Mitigation: Is it a Good Idea to Sweep the Carbon Under the Carpet?

Above: our paper recently published in Nature Energy. Our conclusion is that, in terms of energy returns, renewable energy in the form of solar or wind is much better than carbon capture and storage for mitigating of climate change. Sweeping the carbon underground is not a good idea. 

We have a little problem: for more than thirty years, the climate scientists of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been telling us that if we don’t stop emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere — mainly CO2 — we are in dire trouble. And we have done very little, nearly nothing. As predicted, we ARE in dire trouble.

There is some element showing that things may change: the polls indicate that more and more people are starting to understand the mess we are in and the action of the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg is making waves in the memesphere. We may be awakening from a 30 years slumber to discover that we have to hurry up and do something. But what?

Not that we lack plans: every IPCC report released includes plans on what we could or should do to avoid the worse. We have to follow a steep trajectory of de-carbonization while, at the same time, maintaining a vital minimum supply of energy to society. But how to do that?

The most common idea floated in these discussions is to use Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS). It is straightforward: instead of releasing into the atmosphere the CO2 emitted by a power plant, you pump it underground, sequestering it in a porous reservoir, maybe one that, earlier on, had contained gas or petroleum.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The true feasibility of moving away from fossil fuels

The true feasibility of moving away from fossil fuels

One of the great misconceptions of our time is the belief that we can move away from fossil fuels if we make suitable choices on fuels. In one view, we can make the transition to a low-energy economy powered by wind, water, and solar. In other versions, we might include some other energy sources, such as biofuels or nuclear, but the story is not very different.

The problem is the same regardless of what lower bound a person chooses: our economy is way too dependent on consuming an amount of energy that grows with each added human participant in the economy. This added energy is necessary because each person needs food, transportation, housing, and clothing, all of which are dependent upon energy consumption. The economy operates under the laws of physics, and history shows disturbing outcomes if energy consumption per capita declines.

There are a number of issues:

  • The impact of alternative energy sources is smaller than commonly believed.
  • When countries have reduced their energy consumption per capita by significant amounts, the results have been very unsatisfactory.
  • Energy consumption plays a bigger role in our lives than most of us imagine.
  • It seems likely that fossil fuels will leave us before we can leave them.
  • The timing of when fossil fuels will leave us seems to depend on when central banks lose their ability to stimulate the economy through lower interest rates.
  • If fossil fuels leave us, the result could be the collapse of financial systems and governments.

[1] Wind, water and solar provide only a small share of energy consumption today; any transition to the use of renewables alone would have huge repercussions.

According to BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy data, wind, water and solar only accounted for 9.4% 0f total energy consumption in 2017.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How State Power Regulators Are Making Utilities Account for the Costs of Climate Change

How State Power Regulators Are Making Utilities Account for the Costs of Climate Change

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham

The electricity powering your computer or smartphone that makes it possible for you to read this article could come from one of several sources. It’s probably generated by burning natural gas or coal or from operating a nuclear reactor, unless it’s derived from hydropower or wind or solar energy. Who gets to choose?

In many states, it’s up to the utilities, the companies that bill you for electricity. Costs often weigh heavily in their decisions. But deciding which costs to consider is a very subjective process.

If your utility accounts for the toll taken by climate change, like Xcel Energy in Colorado does, your state electricity regulator probably makes the company do that. This approach is one behind-the-scenes way that a growing number of states are addressing global warming.

As scholars who study the intersection between policies that deal with climate change and energy, we have studied the rules that govern electric utilities across the nation. Our new report sheds light on where state regulators have the ability to make rules that mandate action on climate change.

States, Electricity and Climate Change

Every additional ton of the greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels to generate electricity contributes to climate change. This carbon pollution has many negative consequences, both to the physical world and also to global social and economic systems.

But utilities don’t always tally the costs of these consequences. Because dealing with climate change is astronomically expensive, we believe that this should change.

Utilities still largely rely on coal, natural gas and nuclear energy to keep the lights on. These companies rely on older technologies in part because those facilities are already built and, to a degree, because of how much it costs to start up and shut down power plants. What’s more, fossil fuels have generally been cheaper than other energy sources until somewhat recently.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why All the Uproar Over the Green New Deal?

Why All the Uproar Over the Green New Deal?

Pulp mill, Longview, Washington. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Same ol’ same ol’ battle: The more things change, the more they stay the same

On August 21, 2009, The Wall Street Journal reported that “…many scientists say deep emissions cuts are necessary … to prevent … dangerous consequences of global warming,” and also reported that,  “Getting from here to there would require a massive economic shift.”

There’s likely been no better summary of the Green New Deal’s basic rationale. 

In just a few words, the Journal succinctly stated a dangerous trend of rising emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels, identified the scale of action necessary to putting a lid on the danger, and did that 10 years before the Sunrise Movement caught the attention of newly elected Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

The details on either the science or economic side of the responses to the Green New Deal can be dazzling, and we’ve seen a virtual explosion of debate across topics that will be discussed in the following pages. 

But, then as now, the heart of the massive economic shift deemed necessary by the evidence from science is a shift away from financing fossil fuels, with an accompanying shift to financing of renewables. Any such shift of “massive” scale was always going to rock some politically influential boats, so an offensive aimed at defeating it was revved up full bore. At bottom, it has long been and still is a competitive scramble for money.

Before the Green New Deal: The Old Battle Informs the New

In fact, an attack against renewables was kicked into gear years ago, and the current anti-Green New Deal brouhaha  is just a rehash of an old campaign to defend the capital and capitalists aligned around combustion of coal, oil, and natural gas. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

March 28, 2019 Book review of Bryce’s “Power hungry: the myths of green energy and the real fuels of the future”

March 28, 2019 Book review of Bryce’s “Power hungry: the myths of green energy and the real fuels of the future”

Preface.  This is a book review of: Robert Bryce. 2009. Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future.

This is a brilliant book, very funny at times, a great way to sharpen your critical thinking skills, and complex ideas and principles expressed so enough anyone can understand them.

I have two main quibbles with his book.  I’ve written quite a bit about energy and resources in “When trucks stop running” and this website about why nuclear power and natural gas cannot get us out of the peak oil crisis (after all, natural gas and uranium are finite also).

This book came out in 2009. As far as his liking for nuclear power, perhaps Bryce would have been less enthusiastic if he’d read the 2013 “Too Hot to Touch: The Problem of High-Level Nuclear Waste” by W. A. Alley et al., Cambridge University Press.  And also the 2016 National Research Council “Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety and Security of U.S. Nuclear Plants: Phase 2”.  As a result of this study, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Science Magazine concluded that a nuclear spent fuel fire at Peach Bottom in Pennsylvania could force up to 18 million people to evacuate. This is because the spent fuel is not stored under the containment vessel where the reactor is, which would keep the radioactivity from escaping, so if electric power were out for 12 to 31 days (depending on how hot the stored fuel was), the fuel from the reactor core cooling down in a nearby nuclear spent fuel pool could catch on fire and cause millions of flee from thousands of square miles of contaminated land.

Bryce on why the green economy won’t work:

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Oil Industry Ponders Getting ‘Dragged into Low-Carbon Future’ While Claiming it ‘Stepped up’ on Climate

Oil Industry Ponders Getting ‘Dragged into Low-Carbon Future’ While Claiming it ‘Stepped up’ on Climate

fossil fuel refinery

The fossil fuel industry’s faith that the modern world economy will be powered by its products for the indefinite future is usually unwavering. But cracks in that faith recently appeared in Houston at the top annual oil industry conference, known as CERAweek.

The trade publication Platts S&P Global noted that “talk of oil at CERAWeek felt a bit more lackluster this time around,” according to several attendees. Various pressures — from climate-anxious investors to competition from renewables — apparently are tempering the oil and gas industry’s usual optimism.

Perhaps also contributing to the mood was Norway’s announcement, just a day before the conference began, that its sovereign wealth fund was divesting from over 100 oil and gas exploration companies around the world. This news led to headlines like “World’s largest sovereign wealth fund to scrap oil and gas stocks.” Its fund managers were clear this decision wasn’t out of concern for the climate, but instead to make sure they didn’t lose money on risky oil and gas investments. 

Only a few years ago, however, CERAweek was brimming with industry bravado, in which oil company CEOs mocked renewable energy sources and made claims that the oil industry just wanted to lift poor people out of poverty.

At the 2014 conference, attendees even heard Gina McCarthy — the Obama-appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency at the time — promise that “[c]onventional fuels like coal and natural gas are going to play a critical role in a diverse energy mix for years to come.”

Oil and Gas ‘Crisis of Confidence’

Embed from Getty Images

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Icebergs and bankers

Icebergs and bankers 

On Saturday March 16, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Paris demanding action on climate change.  At the same time and not far away, a group of gilets jaunes protestors were demonstrating, sometimes violently, against the economic policies of President Macron—one of which increased the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. This was intended to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from the transport sector and help France meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement.  

Something is wrong here.  Both groups of protesters agree that climate change is a problem that needs to be urgently tackled, but they disagree vehemently about how this should be done. 

Pricing carbon is a delicate instrument that needs to be wielded with care. Either Macron doesn’t understand this or doesn’t care. Either way his policies to reduce carbon emissions are incredibly cack-handed.

Increasing taxes that push up the price of gasoline and diesel fuel is likely to be unpopular almost everywhere that people drive vehicles, and where agricultural produce and goods are delivered by road.  Which is to say just about everywhere in North America and Europe.

There is only one way to sweeten this bitter pill and that is to make carbon pricing revenue neutral. Households are compensated for the additional costs they will incur paying for fuel, and receive a modest annual payment–ideally in advance. 

End of the month, end of world. Same people responsable, same fight

In some places, communities will swallow this pill and grin and bear it.  But this requires a widespread understanding of the urgency of climate action and a willingness to pay the price of being a polluter–which in fact is what all of us who operate a gasoline or diesel vehicle actually are.  But in many jurisdictions, and obviously in France, an increase in the price of fuel is going to be met with strong resistance.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Could a Green New Deal Save Civilization?

Could a Green New Deal Save Civilization?

To fully and systematically address the climate/energy crisis, the plan will have to be far broader in scope than what is currently being proposed. And while we need to mobilize society as a whole with a World War II-level of effort, the reality is that there’s never been a challenge like this before.

The idea is infectious. Could a big government jobs and spending program succeed in kicking into gear the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and ultimately save us from catastrophic climate change? The energy transition is currently going way too slowly; it needs money and policy support. And many people would need job retraining in order to work in re-engineered, renewable-powered industrial systems. In the 1930s, the New Deal programs of Franklin Roosevelt helped create jobs while also building critical infrastructure, including rural electrification, roads, bridges, and government buildings. Today, as we confront the requirements to produce energy sustainably; to use it differently in transportation, manufacturing, and agriculture; and to reverse the current trend toward increasing economic inequality—in effect, to save and reinvent industrial civilization—the need is arguably much greater.

The public champions of the Green New Deal (GND) in the U.S. include Democratic progressive representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Deb Haaland, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Antonio Delgado. The idea is also supported by writer-activists Naomi Klein and Van Jones; by the Green Parties in the US and Europe; and by the Sierra Club, 350.org, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the Climate Mobilization. The proposals currently circulating in Washington aim to provide 100 percent renewable energy in 10 to 20 years while supporting job retraining and aiding communities impacted by climate change.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Open Energy 4: Renewable energy versus nuclear: dispelling the myths

Open Energy 4: Renewable energy versus nuclear: dispelling the myths

Don’t believe the spurious claims of nuclear shills constantly doing down renewables, writes Mark Diesendorf. Clean, safe renewable energy technologies have the potential to supply 100% of the world’s electricity needs – but the first hurdle is to refute the deliberately misleading myths designed to promote the politically powerful but ultimately doomed nuclear industry.

The strategies and tactics of RE deniers are very similar to those of climate science deniers.

To create uncertainty about the ability of RE to power an industrial society, they bombard decision-makers and the media with negative myths about RE and positive myths about nuclear energy, attempting to turn these myths into conventional wisdom.

The article Renewable energy versus nuclear: dispelling the myths was published in The Ecologist in April 2016. The Ecologist describes itself as “The Journal for the Post-Industrial Age” which leaves me a little confused. Diesendorf appears to be promoting 100% renewable energy as the best option for the future of industrial society but promotes this image in a journal that represents the collapse of industrial society as we know it.

Perhaps I have grown a little sensitive, but I truly resent the use of the term “denier” to describe scientific skepticism.  The connotations with Holocaust Deniers makes this vile language to use.

But a part of what Diesendorf says is true. The tactics deployed by renewable energy skeptics and climate change skeptics are very similar. The common name for these tactics is science.

Let us take a quick look at some of the Myths that Diesendorf wants to dispel. In the spirit of Open Energy threads I am going to resist excessive commentary myself but invite commenters to deconstruct what Diesendorf says. He lists 15 Myths in all, I have only reproduced 5 of those below. Please feel free to reproduce more in the comments.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Future is Rural: Food System Adaptations to the Great Simplification

The Future is Rural: Food System Adaptations to the Great Simplification

The Future is Rural challenges the conventional wisdom about the future of food in our modern, globalized world. It is a much-needed reality check that explains why certain trends we take for granted–like the decline of rural areas and the dependence of farming and the food system on fossil fuels–are historical anomalies that will reverse over the coming decades. Renewable sources of energy must replace fossil fuels, but they will not power economies at the same scale as today. Priorities will profoundly shift, and food will become a central concern. Lessons learned from resilience science and alternatives to industrial agriculture provide a foundation for people to transition to more rural and locally focused lives.

Jason Bradford, a biologist and farmer, offers a deeply researched report on the future of food that reveals key blind spots in conventional wisdom on energy, technology, and demographics. The Future Is Rural presents Bradford’s analysis from his career in ecology and agriculture, as well as a synthesis of the historical and scientific underpinnings of the astonishing changes that will transform the food system and society as a whole.

MIT: The Energy System Of The Future Is Closer Than We Think

MIT: The Energy System Of The Future Is Closer Than We Think

Energy System of the Future

Thanks to continuously declining costs, a hybrid renewable electricity generation system that combines wind, solar, and storage could become competitive with the cheapest fossil fuel electricity in the United States—combined-cycle natural gas generation, an MIT professor suggests.

John Deutch, an Institute Professor at MIT, has recently presented a study, ‘Demonstrating Near Carbon Free Electricity Generation from Renewables and Storage’, at an energy seminar at Stanford University.

According to Deutch, the best way to see if the hybrid electric systems (HES) of wind, solar, and storage could compete in costs with natural gas-fired electricity generation is to organize a large-scale demonstration to show if those HES could meet electricity demand of a relatively large service area “rather than rely on government sponsored large scale demonstration projects or regulatory mandates compelling deployment of storage.”

“Uncharacteristically I have been an optimist—I am an optimist—about this, and I believe we are very close to having an economically competitive triad—wind, solar and storage—to produce electricity at a cost as low as the cheapest fossil alternative, which is natural gas combined cycle,” Deutch said during his presentation. “We are close to having this be a commercial operation.”

The large-scale demonstration would show the private sector if those hybrid systems could be competitive, he said, noting that the base analysis was made for the ERCOT service area in Texas, and additional studies were made for Iowa and Massachusetts. Related: U.S. Political Discourse Could Boost Safe Haven Demand For Gold

According to Deutch, Puerto Rico and Hawaii could be suitable places for energy developers to show HES viability. The MIT scientist proposes developers to bid for 20-year contracts with a utility and all the government has to do is to ensure a ‘regulatory wrap’ to allow the project.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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