Clean energy costs continue to fall

The Department of Energy just released Revolution Now, an annual update on its progress in accelerating clean energy. Specifically, it focuses on advances in five technologies: wind power, utility-scale solar power, distributed solar power, electric vehicles, and LEDs…

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Since Obama entered office, these key technologies have dropped in cost between 41 and 94 percent.

Innovation in clean technology has come as a result of a concerted and diverse policy effort, from advanced research to tax credits, loans, pollution regulations, prizes and awards, and performance standards.

The bulk of the policy effort has come in blue states and at the federal executive level. After 2010, the GOP Congress refused Obama any legislative help, on anything…

Reasonable people would like to see these cost savings continue to improve. Depending on how folks vote – and that means all the way down-ticket to Congress-critters – good sense may prevail. Or not.

Progress building clean power in the USA even while conservatives drag their feet

❝ As the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals prepares to hear challengers’ arguments against the Clean Power Plan on September 27th, the most up-to-date analysis shows that the Clean Power Plan’s goals have become even more readily achievable as the electricity sector is already shifting to clean energy. Many power companies are not waiting for the courts to resolve the legal challenges. Instead, they are accelerating the shift to clean energy, assisted by the rapid cost declines of renewable technologies. This steady and continuing shift in our power sector makes clear that the goals set forth by the Clean Power Plan are eminently attainable.

❝ The Clean Power Plan — the centerpiece of U.S. action on climate change — places the first-ever limits on carbon dioxide pollution from power plants, our nation’s largest source of the dangerous pollution that drives climate change…In fact, the pace of investments in clean energy is accelerating in the power sector, continuing the strong climate progress of the last several years…Several recent studies have projected that renewable energy may double from 2015 levels by 2021…

❝ Dynamic maps in the article show the dramatic renewable energy progress that has been made across the country over the past several years. In the span of just five years, solar generation in Nevada increased more than seven-fold, and North Carolina has seen its solar generation increase five-fold in the past two years alone. Iowa and Texas, which were already leaders in wind power back in 2010, have both nearly doubled their wind generation over the past five years, and both states are expected to continue their shift to a clean energy future over the next several years.

The Clean Power Plan reinforces and builds on these market trends by embracing the kind of flexible strategies that the industry already employs. The CPP gradually phases in the required emissions limits starting in 2022, and by 2030 is projected to result in carbon cuts of roughly 32 percent below 2005 levels, or 19 percent below 2012 levels. Even though the CPP emissions limits don’t go into effect for another six years, carbon emissions from the power sector have already fallen by more than 5 percent since 2012. That means that in the past three years alone the power sector achieved more than one-quarter of the pollution cuts required by 2030…

The benefits are economic as well as environmental, they affect our public health as much as our economic health. Progress towards the time when global energy is dominated by renewables is no longer a dream but an obvious and growing reality. RTFA and take a look at those maps chugging along. Reflect upon the fact that the do-nothing, know-nothing Congress has been owned by fossil fuel industries so long they may as well change the name of the building to the Koch Bros. Lobbying Center. Yet, change is upon us all. Costs continue to reduce through the economies of scale, design and research.

Put some folks into elective office with backbone and principle. Who knows how much more will be accomplished?

We used up a year’s worth of Earth’s resources — by August 8th


Andrey N Bannov/Shutterstock

As of Monday August 8, humans will have officially used up all the resources Earth can regenerate in a year.

The day is known as ‘overshoot day’, and this year it’s happening five days earlier than in 2015 – which means we just burnt through a sustainable amount of resources in less time than ever before…

Overshoot day is calculated by the Global Footprint Network each year, using United Nations data on thousands of economic sectors, such as fisheries, forestry, transport, and energy production.

When we talk about resources, it’s not just water, land, and food – it also refers to things like carbon storage, so we’ve now reached a point where we’re pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere than can be reabsorbed by forests and oceans…

The network has calculated Earth’s overshoot day dating back to the 1960s, and has shown that, up until 1970, we were only using as many resources as the planet could sustainably reproduce. In fact, in 1961, we were only using three-quarters of our annual resources.

But in 1970, we burnt through our annual resources by 23 December, and every year since then it’s become earlier and earlier.

The good news is that society is finally weaning itself off of fossil fuels. Last year, Costa Rica managed to power the entire country with 100 percent renewables for 75 days in a row.

Germany was powered by 95 percent renewable electricity last year, and Portugal was able to run for four straight days without any fossil fuels. In many countries, renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels.

It’s not just CO2 emissions that are on the decline. China has also committed to reducing its citizens’ zealous meat consumption by 50 percent by 2030, which is estimated to stop the equivalent of 1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions. And many cities are making big steps towards getting rid of single-use plastic waste.

Maybe next year will become the first year in more than four decades that we push that overshoot date back a few days.

Think so?

Massachusetts is on the verge of greater energy independence

In case you missed the news, the Massachusetts House and Senate…did something big that we should all celebrate. By passing major energy bills, they have set the Bay State on a path of reduced reliance on fossil fuels while propelling our state towards a clean, affordable, and reliable energy future in which up to 50 percent of our electricity will come from hydropower, onshore and offshore wind turbines, and solar arrays. These actions will also drive investment in energy storage and continued gains in energy efficiency.

The two bills share some important features. Both seek to have Massachusetts tap into abundant renewable energy sources available in the region — mainly hydropower and land-based wind power — through long-term contracts that will stabilize energy costs and capture added benefits for Massachusetts. Both look to kick-start offshore wind, a potential job creator. And both address the issue of leaky natural gas pipes under the streets of our cities and towns…

These requirements have many benefits, starting with saving residents money on their electric bills. In fact, a recent study by the Massachusetts Clean Electricity Partnership—a coalition of hydropower, wind, and transmission companies—showed that expanded hydro and wind power could save Massachusetts homes and businesses more than $170 million annually by lowering wholesale energy costs and reducing demand for natural gas…

These bills move the state in the right direction at a faster pace by diversifying our energy supply, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and creating jobs and careers in new industries. By combining the most ambitious parts of the Senate and House bills, Massachusetts can blaze a trail to a clean energy future that others across the country and the world will follow.

I’m not surprised that Massachusetts demonstrates leadership in reforming energy use and abuse, generation and alternatives. They did the same in healthcare. They did the same for decades in disciplines as far afield as fighting slavery and, yes, kicking-off a certain revolution against colonial masters.

The equivalent of those colonial masters now have names like the Koch Brothers instead of King George. They still consider the working people of this land to be nothing more than wage slaves to be “guided” to producing the greatest profits in return for the least return needed to sustain life.

States like Massachusetts – with sufficient courage and ingenuity – can move the whole nation forward by example. As they have done in the past.

Germany just had a day with so much renewable energy it had to pay people to use electricity


Click to enlargedIlmari Karonen/WikiMedia

On Sunday, May 8, Germany hit a new high in renewable energy generation. Thanks to a sunny and windy day, at one point around 1pm the country’s solar, wind, hydro and biomass plants were supplying about 55 GW of the 63 GW being consumed, or 87%.

Power prices actually went negative for several hours, meaning commercial customers were being paid to consume electricity.

Last year the average renewable mix was 33%, reports Agora Energiewende, a German clean energy think tank. New wind power coming online should push that even higher.

“We have a greater share of renewable energy every year,” said Christoph Podewils of Agora. “The power system adapted to this quite nicely. This day shows again that a system with large amounts of renewable energy works fine.”

Critics have argued that because of the daily peaks and troughs of renewable energy—as the sun goes in and out and winds rise and fall—it will always have only a niche role in supplying power to major economies. But that’s looking less and less likely. Germany plans to hit 100% renewable energy by 2050, and Denmark’s wind turbines already at some points generate more electricity than the country consumes, exporting the surplus to Germany, Norway and Sweden.

Germany’s good news demonstrated they’re still lacking flexibility. Any enterprise – even a public utility – hates to pay back consumers for being hooked-up.

Not bad news for consumers, though. Even the corporations that benefitted.

Thanks, Honeyman

The Brits are breathing cleaner air — Guess why?

Plummeting coal use in 2015 led to a fall of 4% in the UK’s annual carbon dioxide emissions, according to government energy statistics published on Thursday. Coal is now burning at its lowest level in at least 150 years.

The closing of old polluting coal-power stations and the rapid rise in renewable energy meant coal consumption fell by 22% compared to 2014, the biggest drop ever seen outside of miners’ strikes, according to analysts at Carbon Brief. Production of coal in the UK also fell to a new record low, dropping by 27% due to mines closing.

The rapid decline in coal use is continuing in 2016, with four more stations closed in the last fortnight, including Longannet, Ferrybridge and Eggborough, leaving six operational. The government has pledged to close all coal plants by 2025 to help meet climate change targets…

Renewable electricity generation surged in 2015, rising by 29%, allowing it to claim a record 25% share of all electricity. Most of this came from wind power and bioenergy, the latter being boosted by the continued conversion of Drax – once the UK’s biggest coal plant – to burning wood pellets…

Solar power increased by 50% in 2015 to make up 9% of all renewable electricity. The government has been repeatedly criticised for cutting support for renewable energy and energy efficiency programmes.

❝ “If anything is to blame for tight margins, it’s previous governments’ history of incoherent energy policy,” said Paul Massara, former CEO of “big six” energy company RWE npower. “Investors need long-term clarity on policy, and they simply have not been getting it.”

“Look outside the UK and it’s clear that the direction of travel in is only in one direction, towards primarily low-carbon, flexible, smart energy systems,” said Andrew Garrad, senior consultant at DNV GL energy. “It’s been accelerated by the Paris climate agreement, and Britain is by no means ahead of the pack in this transition.”

Climate change deniers who turn their backs on truth will now add life’s day-to-day realities to the mix. Life is getting better, The air is getting cleaner. And I guess they will claim that lowered emissions, less pollution, is somehow bad for us.

Bad for their wallets? A few. Maybe.

Americans have just begun to use the power of rooftop solar

It seems like every few weeks there’s some new measurement of how successful solar power is in the United States. In early March, industry analysts found that solar is poised for its biggest year ever, with total installations growing 119 percent by the end of 2016. This week, federal government analysts reported that in 2015, solar ranked No. 3 – behind wind and natural gas – in megawatts of new electricity-producing capacity brought online…

Which makes you wonder: Is there a limit to that growth? According to a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a federal research outfit, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news: Yes, there is a ceiling for solar power in the United States. The good news: We’re not even remotely close to reaching it. In other words, solar’s potential has barely been tapped.

The report is the deepest dive on solar’s potential since NREL conducted a similar analysis in 2008. The new report’s estimate is much larger than the older report’s, mostly because of vast new troves of satellite imagery data of the country’s rooftops and computer models that are better able to calculate how much power each panel can produce. The analysis leaves behind policy and cost considerations. Instead, the only question is: How much power could we really get if we slathered every roof in America with solar panels? The answer: about 39 percent of the country’s electricity consumption, at current levels.

It’s important to note that the report looks only at rooftop panels, as opposed to utility-scale solar farms. Utility-scale solar provides about twice as much power as rooftop panels, so the full potential of solar is likely even higher than what NREL describes in this report. Even 39 percent, though, would be a revolutionary change from where we are now; despite solar’s rapid growth in the last several years…Coal, which is still the nation’s No. 1 energy source, commands about 32 percent of the market. So the future that NREL is envisioning here would basically flip our energy makeup on its head.

If Americans were to stand up on their hind legs to battle for democratic representation in our state legislatures as well as Congress and the White House – a big IF – that would be the kind of change in circumstances that could not only bring about this kind of energy change, it would accelerate the process.

Believe me. The stodgiest of political hacks would want to get on board the renewable energy train just to keep their seat.

Uruguay leads, the United States doesn’t even try to keep up


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As the world’s most powerful nations squabbled in Paris over the cost of small cuts to their fossil fuel use, Uruguay grabbed international headlines by announcing that 95% of its electricity already came from renewable energy resources. It had taken less than a decade to make the shift, and prices had fallen in real terms, said the head of climate change policy – a job that doesn’t even exist in many countries.

This announcement came on top of a string of other transformations. In 2012 a landmark abortion law made it only the second country in Latin America, after Cuba, to give women access to safe abortions. The following year, gay marriage was approved, and then-president José Mujica shepherded a bill to legalise marijuana through parliament, insisting it was the only way to limit the influence of drug cartels.

What’s more, the country cracked down so strongly on cigarette advertising, in a successful bid to cut smoking rates, that it is now being sued by tobacco giant Philip Morris.

Mujica himself became internationally famous for refusing to enjoy the trappings of presidential power – staying in his tiny house rather than moving into the official mansion – and giving away 90% of his salary.

To those who have never taken much interest in South America’s second smallest country, Uruguay seems to be quietly reinventing itself as a beacon of innovation and progress. In fact, the changes fit into a long progressive tradition, stretching back over a century and a half…

Uruguay is about the size of Washington state. The GDP per capita is around $17K. Compare that to Washington state at $47K or the United States at $42K.

As always, these questions come down to a matter of priorities. If the wellbeing of the working people of a nation is prime this is what you get. If your politicians self-limit to phony 2-party tap-dancing, if your national culture believes that reality TV is more important than the health and welfare of the people of the nation – you get crap opportunities at progress in living unless you are part of the upward-bound [and ever-diminishing] minority.

Good news in the UK — Renewable electricity overtakes coal

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Britain generated more of its electricity from renewable sources than from burning coal for the first time in the second quarter of 2015, as more wind and solar farms were built.

A record high of 25.3 per cent of the UK’s power came from wind, solar, biomass and hydro-electric sources in the three months to June, up from just 16.7 per cent in the same period the year before.

By contrast the share of electricity from Britain’s ageing fleet of coal-fired power stations fell to 20.5 per cent, down from 28.2 per cent a year previously…

The Department of Energy and Climate Change said the record share of renewable generation reflected not only more renewable capacity, such as the construction of big new offshore wind farms, but also “more favourable weather conditions for renewable generation”.

Biomass energy, which is also classed as renewable, also increased following the conversion of part of Drax, Britain’s biggest coal-fired power plant, to burn wood instead.

The drop in coal power also reflected the closure or temporary shutdown of other coal power stations and an increase in the UK’s carbon tax which made coal plants less profitable to run.

You don’t need an amplifier to hear the tears falling from the dark orbs that pass for eyes in the Koch Brothers. They cry for every penny of profit lost by their fossil fuel brotherhood of pollution.

The other day, the electric meter for all of Germany ran backwards for 8 hours!

Germany’s electricity traders may face busy weekends as sunny weather positions the nation for a season of solar power records.

After Wednesday’s all-time high of 27.7 gigawatts, Europe’s biggest electricity market is poised for new highs in the next few days or weeks, according to group meteorologist Marcus Boljahn at MeteoGroup. The previous record of 24.2 gigawatts was set on June 6, 2014, when fewer solar panels were installed, the weather forecaster said. One gigawatt is about equal to the capacity of a nuclear reactor…

Germany’s planned decade-long, 120 billion-euro ($127 billion) shift to cleaner energy from fossil fuels has made the nation the biggest economy in the world to rely so heavily on renewable power. Unpredictable solar and wind energy can flood the grid, resulting in negative power prices, when generators must pay consumers to take electricity. The risk is higher at weekends, when usage slows as offices and factories shut…

Germany got about 26 percent of its electricity from renewables in 2014, a share the country aims to increase to 45 percent in the next 10 years. Solar accounted for 22 percent, according to the German Association of Energy and Water Industries, a lobby group.

Intraday German day-ahead power prices were negative for eight hours on Sunday in continuous trading…Prices turned negative for two hours on Wednesday,,,a normal workday with industry at typical output

Read my recent post over here on renewables in Germany – and you can ignore two of the biggest lies from the fossil-fuel flunkies: It’s perfectly possible to manage the storage swings on demand using renewables with a small amount of cleaner fossil fuel like natgas – and “Germany’s not as big as the United States so it’s easier to change” – is hogwash! We’ve never made wholesale changes to any infrastructure in one nationwide sweep. Even the Interstate highway system was built-out in segments over time. Germany’s GDP is slightly larger than the sum of our two largest producers of GDP, California and Texas. Comparable advancement in either state would matter enormously to the health of the American economy.

Of course, ain’t anything like that happening in Texas with the blivets in charge functioning ideologically as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Permian Basin crude oil.