Tag Archives: renewable

Danish Prime Minister says country aims to remove fossil fuels from domestic flights by 2030

Denmark aims to make its domestic flights fossil fuel-free by the end of the decade, according to its Prime Minister.

Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Fredriksen, 2019. Image via Wikimedia.

In her New Year’s address, Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Fredriksen announced that she aims to “make flying green” inside the country. Although she acknowledges that the solutions are not yet in place in order to reach this goal, the announcement marks a strong — if not fully official — embracing of this goal.

On a larger scale, Denmark aims to slash its overall carbon emissions by 70% compared to 1990 levels by 2030. Fredriksen’s aim to de-couple internal flights from fossil fuel use would help push the country closer to that goal.

Flying green

“To travel is to live and therefore we fly,” said Ms Frederiksen (link in Danish), announcing her plan.”When other countries in the world are too slow, then Denmark must take the lead and raise the bar even more”.

She admits that making domestic flights fully green is no small feat, adding that researchers, as well as transport companies, are working to find solutions.

For example Airbus, a European airplane manufacturer, has announced plans to have hydrogen-fueled planes operational by 2035. If that hydrogen is generated using renewable energy, it could be one avenue through which Denmark could make good on its goal.

However, it’s not yet clear whether said tech will be ready to use on planes, in a cost-efficient manner, by 2030.

That being said, there is growing international interest in this regard — Sweden has also announced plans to make domestic flight fossil fuel-free by 2030, and international flights by 2045. France is also moving to ban domestic flights on routes where trains would take under two-and-a-half hours to make the same journey.

Researchers and manufactures will surely take this interest into account, and it will help to spur development on. For example, there has been some encouraging progress in the field of electric planes, although for now, it remains confined to smaller aircraft.

The air transport sector is a major polluter worldwide. Although domestic flights account for only a small part of its emissions, the smaller distances involved make it a prime area for innovation and development. In time, progress here could make their way on vehicles serving international routes.

Coronavirus crisis hits clean energy jobs across the US

The coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on the US economy, with 36 million people having asked for unemployment aid so far. Many sectors have been severely hit, but renewable energy jobs are some of the worst affected.

More than half a million clean energy jobs have been lost in March and April, a new report showed, reversing years of growth in an industry that has helped reduce damaging air pollution and the emissions responsible for climate change.

Clean energy employment has fallen by 17% since the coronavirus brought normal life to a screeching halt, according to unemployment data analyzed by BW Research and published by advocacy group Environmental Entrepreneurs.

Clean energy job losses in April were far greater than March, when 147,139 claims were made. Total claims for March and April amount to 594,347. For the purposes of the analysis, the term “clean energy” encompassed energy efficiency; renewables; grid and storage; and “clean” vehicles and fuels.

The numbers are especially grim in California, where 105,000 clean energy workers have lost their jobs, more than any other state. Los Angeles County lost nearly 15,000 clean energy jobs in April alone, 2 ½ times as many as any other U.S. county.

“These are higher numbers than expected, and we were expecting bad numbers,” Greg Wetstone, president of the American Council on Renewable Energy, a trade group, said in a statement. “It’s painful to see three years of growth essentially wiped out in a single month.”

Before the epidemic, nearly 3.4 million Americans worked in clean energy — three times the workforce of the U.S. fossil fuel industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected last year that the country’s two fastest-growing jobs over the next decade would be solar panel installer and wind turbine technician.

The report said that the federal government has offered little support for renewable energy so far. In a tweet last month, President Trump said that his administration would “never let the great U.S. Oil & Gas Industry down” and that he had instructed top officials “to formulate a plan which will make funds available” to the sector.

Looking ahead, the report forecasts more job losses unless the U.S. administration and Congress “take quick and substantive action to support the clean energy industry and its workers.” If no action is taken, it’s projected that 850,000 people in the sector will have filed for unemployment by June 30.

Around the world, firms working in sectors such as renewable energy are having to adapt to the new challenges posed by Covid-19. Last week, Nordex became the latest wind turbine manufacturer to withdraw guidance for the 2020 financial year, while in April Vestas suspended guidance for this year.

“Unprecedented economic impacts of COVID-19 are beyond daunting, for the whole clean energy industry — though the industry is nevertheless setting its sights on recovery and adapting to seek possible solutions,” Steve Cowell, President, E4TheFuture said in a statement.

New, ultrathin solar cell doubles the current efficiency record by reaching almost 50%

Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have created a record-shattering new solar cell. The device can convert sunlight to energy at nearly 50% efficiency, much better than present alternatives.

NREL scientists John Geisz (left) and Ryan France testing their prototype panel.
Image credits Dennis Schroeder / NREL.

Solar cells today typically run with between 15% and 23% efficiency, meaning they convert roughly 1/6th to 1/4th of incoming energy (in the form of sunlight) to electricity. But a new, “six-junction solar cell” designed at NREL boasts an efficiency of almost 50%, a huge increase.

More bang for your sun

“This device really demonstrates the extraordinary potential of multijunction solar cells,” said John Geisz, a principal scientist in the High-Efficiency Crystalline Photovoltaics Group at NREL and lead author of a new paper on the record-setting cell.

The cell has a measured efficiency of 47.1% under concentrated illumination, with one variant setting a new efficiency record under one-sun (natural) illumination of 39.2%.

The team used III-V materials — so called because of their position in the periodic table, also known as the boron group of semiconductors — to build their new cell; such materials have a wide range of light absorption properties that made them ideal for the task. Due to their highly efficient nature and the cost associated with making them, III-V solar cells are most often used to power satellites

The cell’s six junctions represent photoactive layers, and each is designed to capture light from a certain part of the solar light spectrum — in essence, each layer is specialized in absorbing as much as it can from certain parts of incoming light. The device also contains about 140 layers of various III-V materials to support these junctions, however, it’s only one-third the thickness of a human hair, the team explains.

“One way to reduce cost is to reduce the required area,” says Ryan France, co-author and a scientist in the III-V Multijunctions Group at NREL, “and you can do that by using a mirror to capture the light and focus the light down to a point. Then you can get away with a hundredth or even a thousandth of the material, compared to a flat-plate silicon cell. You use a lot less semiconductor material by concentrating the light. An additional advantage is that the efficiency goes up as you concentrate the light.”

France adds that exceeding the 50% efficiency mark is “actually very achievable”, but reaching 100% efficiency is impossible due to the fundamental limits of thermodynamics — then again, that stands true for all engines and devices used to generate or convert power.

Geisz explains that the current hurdle in exceeding 50% efficiency is presented by resistive barriers that form inside the cell which make it harder for electrical currents to flow. While the team is working on tackling this issue, NREL overall is working heavily towards making III-V solar cells more affordable, to give this technology a competitive edge on the market.

The paper “Six-junction III–V solar cells with 47.1% conversion efficiency under 143 Suns concentration” has been published in the journal Nature Energy.

The UK may soon get its first cryogenic energy battery

Energy storage company Highview Power has announced its intention to build a cryogenic energy storage facility in the north of England, a first for the U.K.

Image credits Highview Power.

A decommissioned power plant will be converted to house the cryobattery, according to Highview Power. After completion, the installation will have a 50 MW/250 MWh capacity (roughly as much energy as 25,000 households use in a day) that it will store without using water, toxic materials, and with no emissions. The energy to be stored here will be sourced from renewable sources, the company adds.

So how does it work?

I have bad news: there will be very little cryogenics going on at the cryobattery. In fact, no freezing or unfreezing of people is so far planned. Bummer.

However, what the battery will do is use electricity sourced from renewable sources (such as wind or solar) to compress huge volumes of air and store them in tanks. It’s a ‘cryo’ battery because there is a point, if you compress air enough, where it turns into a (very very cold) liquid; that’s the form it will be stored in. When energy is needed in the grid, the compressed air will be allowed to warm up, decompress, and escape the tanks — all while powering a turbine.

Highview Power said that they pitched the concept to the U.K. government, which is looking for ways to meaningfully reduce the country’s carbon emissions. They further note that the compressed air approach is much cleaner than conventional batteries. The cryobattery doesn’t involve the use of any toxic chemicals, it doesn’t need rare or advanced materials to be built (which means less environmental damage since you don’t need to produce and extract them), and doesn’t produce any emissions. Additionally, it can hold energy for up to several weeks at a time, which is longer than in traditional batteries.

The system is expected to boost local grid stability and reliability by storing renewable energy when bountiful, and releasing it when needed. Highview noted that the process is well-established already, having been used for natural gas storage. The company plans to build more cryogenic batteries across the U.K. in the future, and CEO Javier Cavarda said they’re also in talks with officials from Spain, South Africa, and several Middle Eastern countries.

The million-mile battery promised by Tesla is here

Elon Musk promised a battery that could take an e-vehicle a million miles and last for years at a time. Jeff Dahn, one of the pioneers of the modern lithium-ion batteries, has now delivered on that promise.

Image credits Paul Brennan.

In a new paper, Dahn announced that the company will soon be in possession of a battery that would make its robot taxis and long-haul electric trucks viable. Dahn is a Professor in the Department of Physics & Atmospheric Science and the Department of Chemistry at Dalhousie University, as well as a research partner of Tesla.

Charge for days

“Cells of this type should be able to power an electric vehicle for over one million miles and last at least two decades in grid energy storage” Dahn says.

Dahn’s research group is recognized as one of the most renowned and prestigious worldwide in the field of electrochemistry. Their new paper details the new power cell they created and a benchmark of its capabilities for further research.

The power cell is constructed using a nickel-rich NCM (nickel-cobalt-manganese) alloy for its cathode. The team explains that the alloy they used, known as NCM 523 (50% Nickel, 20% Cobalt, 30% Manganese), is stable and an excellent reference and starting point for further developments. Other elements that the team tested include graphite anodes, and different mixes of solvents, additives, and salt for the electrolyte solutions

All in all, the cells have a specific capacity (the ratio of energy storage ability to weight) 20% higher than that of the cathodes used in Li-ion batteries that power today’s mobile electronic devices. What’s more, the findings can be turned into useable batteries right away.

“However, since the goal of the study was to provide a reliable benchmark and reference for Li-ion battery technology, the specific energy density of the batteries described is not the highest compared to what can be really reached by advanced Li-ion batteries,” says Doron Aurbach the batteries and energy storage technical editor for the journal that published the study.

“Based on the study, Li-ion batteries will soon be developed that make driving over 500 kilometers (over 300 miles) from charge to charge possible.”

The paper “A Wide Range of Testing Results on an Excellent Lithium-Ion Cell Chemistry to be used as Benchmarks for New Battery Technologies” has been published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society.

Scotland city.

Scotland will probably reach 100% renewable energy goal ‘soon’

With nearly three-quarters of its energy coming from wind, solar, and hydroelectric energy, Scotland is well on its way to a carbon-free energy grid.

Image via Pixabay.

Scottish Renewables, “the voice of Scotland’s renewable energy industry” predicts in a recent report that the country will soon be meeting its 100% target for energy from clean sources.

Wind, solar and hydropower are now Scotland’s main sources of electricity, providing around three-quarters of all the energy the country generates. The report also suggests that renewable energy as a whole is providing significant benefits to almost every aspect of the nation’s economy. The use of renewable energy fosters innovation and supports growth, the local economy, and protects the environment.

The report lists the onshore wind and solar projects of recent years as central to the reductions seen in energy costs in Scotland. Right now, onshore solar and wind are the cheapest sources of electricity available in the country. Together, they’re covering more than half of Scotland’s electricity requirements. All in all, the renewable energy sector directly employs a total of 17,700 people across Scotland, with thousands more involved in hundreds of community energy projects.

All this progress, the report points out, was made possible by favorable policy. The Scottish Government declared a climate emergency earlier this year and committed to zero emissions by 2045.

While the results so far are definitely encouraging, Scottish Renewables stresses in its report that efforts must be made to decarbonize the heat and transport sectors in a similar way.

“This publication sets out just some of the many benefits renewable energy is bringing to Scotland, from islands which rely on wind power for their everyday energy to rural businesses which have turned to renewable heat to improve their sustainability, both economically and financially,” says Claire Mack, Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables.

“I’m hugely proud that renewable energy projects across Scotland are delivering on jobs and for communities, particularly in rural areas, while helping to displace the carbon emissions which cause climate change.”

Power lines.

Clean money, clean energy — a look at investment patterns in the energy sector

 

Decoupling our economies from fossil fuels hinges on one key component: investment. So, for today, I’d thought it would be interesting to see where the money is going in the energy sector, and what story those dollars are telling.

Power lines.

Image credits Johannes Plenio.

There are two ways to look at renewable energy investments: in absolute figures (i.e. how much each country is investing) and relative terms (i.e. how much of what they’re making, called GDP, they are investing). Let’s start with:

The absolute figures

Member states of the International Energy Agency (IEA) spent a total of $7,757 million on renewable (nuclear and hydrogen fuel included) research, development, and demonstration — or RD&D — in 2018. While that is a slight uptick from the previous year, it does come after a period of reduction in investments that lasted from 2011 ($10,548 million) to 2017 ($7,325 million). If we take nuclear and hydrogen out of the mix, investment in renewable energy in 2018 in IEA countries reached $2,972 million. Wind and solar energy are seeing the lion’s share of those investments.

Ourworldindata reports that global investments in renewable technologies increased from $47 billion in 2004 to $286 billion in 2015 (which is just over a 6-fold increase).

If you consider yourself a fan of clean energy — I personally am — then you’ll be delighted to hear that investment in renewable RD&D has outstripped investment in fossil fuels ever since 2010. We’re keeping nuclear and hydrogen out of this comparison. Nuclear energy tends to be quite expensive; investments here consistently dwarf those in both renewables and fossil fuels combined, and hydrogen is still a burgeoning field.

Adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP) the US, Japan, and the EU spend the most on renewable RD&D among IEA countries. France, Germany, the UK, Canada, Korea, and Mexico come after them. Most of these countries increased their investments into renewables in 2018. Note that under the IEA’s report, investments from the EU budget and from individual EU member states are handled separately. China is the largest single spender in renewable technologies, investing approximately the same amount as the United States, Europe, and India combined, according to Ourworldindata. They report that the country has also seen the greatest increase in investment, from $3 billion in 2004 to $103 billion in 2015 (a roughly 34-fold increase).

Investments in renewables.

Image credits Ourworldindata.

All in all, I’d say things are looking pretty good so far. More investment means more clean energy, and it also helps bring the cost of subsequent installations down — which means more (and more affordable) clean energy. This dynamic could help bring clean, renewable energy to the forefront of our grids by 2030 as ZME Science reported here. The shift is also encouraging news for those concerned about the environment.

“There are reasons to be optimistic, and reasons to be pessimistic,” Andrei wrote. “[W]e might be heading towards a future where renewables rule the market – and that future may be led by China. But even if this happens, we’re still off track for meeting the 2 degree goal: the plan of keeping global temperatures less than 2 degrees higher than before the industrial revolution.”

Andrei further explained that the IEA does have a plan on-track to keep global warming under check, and it involves five steps:

1. Increasing energy efficiency
2. Reduce coal and ban new coal plants
3. Ratchet up investment in renewables from $270 billion to $400 billion by 2030
4. Phase out fossil fuel subsidies
5. Reducing methane emissions in oil and gas production

The relative figures

While it’s definitely interesting to see who’s making it rain in the field of renewable energy, that’s only part of the story. It is much easier for a large, developed country to make investments. The absolute figures don’t give us a good indication of how much of a country’s total income is being spent on renewables — but investments relative to GDP (gross domestic product) do.

Renewable investment GDP.

Image credits: Ourworldindata.

Keep in mind that this data was recorded in 2015. Most countries invest around or below 1% of their GDP in renewable technologies, with Chile and South Africa being the two applaudable exceptions at 1.4% . China makes the top of the list here, too, as it did for absolute investments, with 0.9% of its GDP going into renewable RD&D. The US, despite being one of the largest absolute contributors is one of the runts of the litter here, with investments only consisting of 0.2% of its GDP.

One interesting point that arises from this dataset is that developing countries tend to invest more heavily (as a percentage of their total economy) into renewables than high-income countries. They’re also installing more of them, at almost double the rate of developed countries. Part of this can be due to the fact that developing countries need to develop or expand their energy production and delivery systems, whereas developed countries already have robust grids.

However, this might be good news for developing countries. A new study, co-authored by scientists from the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds, reports that the energy return on investment (EROI) for fossil fuels is lower than that of renewables. The EROI coefficient basically shows how much energy a source (such as coal or oil for example) produces compared to how much energy it takes to extract. It shows us how much we ‘get’ from a source compared to what we put in. The study was the longest of its kind, analyzing different sources of energy over a 16 year period, and found that at the finished fuel stage, fossil fuels range between 6:1 to 3:1 EROI. Renewable energy, on average, hovered around 10:1.

In other words, developing countries who are basing more of their national grids on renewable sources stand to benefit in the long run, as they can produce more energy for less effort. At the same time, the study’s authors warn that increasing energy costs of extracting fossil fuels will keep slashing away at their EROI coefficient, pushing this type of resource towards a “net energy cliff” — a point at which society starts running out of power because it takes too much energy to produce its energy.

“The ratios will only continue to decline because we are swiftly reaching the point where all the easily-accessible fossil fuel sources are becoming exhausted,” said co-author Dr Paul Brockway, an expert in energy-economy modelling at the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds.

“By stepping up investment in renewable energy sources we can help ensure that we don’t tip over the edge.”

That and ensure we don’t tip our planet over the edge, either. A win-win in my book.

Fire.

The UK had a coal-free week — the first time since 1882

The UK’s powerplants haven’t burned any coal for the last five days, the longest streak since the Industrial Revolution.

Fire.

Image credits Rahel Jalal.

Since May 1st, 1 pm, power plants in the UK haven’t burned a single lump of coal. This is the country’s first coal-free week since the advent of the Industrial Revolution in 1882, according to the BBC. Wind, gas, and nuclear power have covered the demand.

Cut the coal

“As more and more renewables come onto our energy system, coal-free runs like this are going to be a regular occurrence,” says Fintan Slye, Director of UK System Operator at National Grid.

“We believe that by 2025 we will be able to fully operate Great Britain’s electricity system with zero carbon.”

Another factor that helped this coal-free stretch was timing: grids are more likely to reach carbon-neutrality in spring (or autumn) when winds are high and days are long enough for solar panels to have a sizeable output. At the same time, domestic demand for energy is still relatively low, as customers don’t need to cool, heat, or light their homes that much.

The country has previously managed to go coal-free — both last year and earlier this year — but never for so long. Coal doesn’t have a very large presence in the UK’s energy grid to begin with — under 10% of the country’s energy is currently derived from coal-fired plants. The country is a global leader in offshore wind energy, and can also draw on nuclear power as a green option. However, the UK is quite fond of gas-fired plants and, while definitely cleaner than coal, gas-fired plants still generate emissions (both during gas extraction and burning), so this coal-free period wasn’t also emissions-free.

Still, this was definitely a step in the right direction. There’s been a worldwide move away from coal and towards renewables for the last few years, although it seems to have stalled somewhat last year as several countries added more coal to their grids. Coal currently ranks second to oil as a main source of energy worldwide. Coal is one of the largest single sources of carbon emissions in the world and a key driver of climate change.

Windmills.

Two-thirds of new energy installed in 2019 was renewable

And a third of the world’s energy is being generated renewably!

Windmills.

Image via Pixabay.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has released a new report showing that renewable energy represented two-thirds of the added power throughout 2018. This has also pushed its share of the total world capacity up to around one-third.

A market favorite

“Through its compelling business case, renewable energy has established itself as the technology of choice for new power generation capacity,” the director of IRENA, Adnan Z. Amin explained.

Different areas of the world differed in the rate of new renewable energy capacity they installed. Asia installed 11% more renewable energy compared to previous years, while Africa rose about 8.5%. Oceania took the lead, with a 17.7% increase in the rate at which renewable energy capacity is being installed. Europe trailed last with a 4.6% increase. Overall, two-thirds of the power added last year came from renewable sources.

Wind and solar energy saw the sharpest increases among all renewable sources in 2018. In fact, they saw the two largest increases among all types of energy sources. Technological improvements are making them cheaper to install and more reliable, as well as easier to access. Wind energy rose by around 49 GW while solar energy saw an increase of 94 GW.

Bioenergy was expanded in China and the UK, while geothermal energy had success in Turkey, Indonesia, and the United States. Hydropower remains the single largest generator of renewable energy, although its growth has been in steady decline for several years.

This is excellent news. Renewable energy has seen a steady rise over the last four to five years and this report shows that trend is holding firm. Amin agrees that we’re on the right track, but thinks that we’re still moving too slowly to reach our climate goals.

IRENA’s “Renewable Energy Capacity Statistics 2019” report can be downloaded on their page here.

Wind Power.

Spain is poised to go fully-renewable by 2050

Siestas and windmills are a natural pairing in my book.

Wind Power.

Image credits Peter Wiegel.

Spain’s government has announced an ambitious plan: the country’s grid will go fully-renewable by 2050. This radical de-carbonization of its economy over the next 30 years will reduce its greenhouse emissions by a whopping 90% (as compared to 1990 levels).

Poder verde

The plan comes as part of Spain’s draft climate change and energy transition law. The current government is committed to installing at least 3,000 megawatts of wind and solar energy, per year, for the next 10 years. It’s a monumental undertaking.

Officials also stated that they’ll ban new licenses for fossil fuel drills, hydrocarbon exploitations, and fracking wells. One-fifth of the state budget will also be earmarked for measures that will curb climate change. This sum will increase from 2025 onwards.

The Spanish government has also scrapped a controversial “sun tax” that hampered the country’s booming renewable energy sector.

The draft law is “an excellent example of the Paris agreement,” says former executive secretary of the UN’s framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) Christiana Figueres. “It sets a long-term goal, provides incentives on scaling up emissions technologies and cares about a good transition for the workforce.”

Writing for The Guardian, Arthur Neslen says “just transition” contracts are planned to shut down most of Spain’s coal exploitations — the government’s offer includes early retirement packages, training for clean energy jobs, and environmental restoration.

Absolutely no mention of washing coal to clean it up. Surprising, huh?

Funds for all these planned projects will be sourced (at least in part) from the sale of emissions rights, which the government plans to set for auction.

The new law mandates the Kingdom of Spain to reach a 35% electricity share for green energy by 2030. A 35% increase in energy efficiency is also planned by that year. Officials also said that government and public sector authorities will only be allowed to lease buildings that are close to being energy self-sufficient.

However, Spain’s government isn’t particularly well-entrenched and thus will need to rely on votes from their opposition to pass the bill. I hope they succeed — fingers crossed.

Europe set to ban halogen light bulbs

They’ve had a good run, but it’s time to start making the switch: after 60 years, halogen light bulbs will be replaced with their more efficient counterpart, LEDs.

Some of the LED light bulbs available to the consumer as screw-in replacements for standard incandescent bulbs. Photo by Geoffrey A. Landis.

The ban didn’t come out of the blue — it’s the final stage of a European Union directive (EC 244/2009), which aims to progressively ban less efficient energy light sources, improving energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions across the EU. It started in 2009 with the banning of traditional incandescent light bulbs and will now ultimately expand to include halogen lightbulbs as well.

Simply put, halogen light bulbs cost a bit less than LEDs, but they consume much more energy and have a shorter lifespan. Although there is significant variance between different bulbs, on average, LEDs consume five times less energy than halogen bulbs. In the long run, this will save consumers a lot of money: Philips, one of the largest producers, estimates that consumer savings of up to £112 ($144) a year from the switchover. The EU has a similar estimate:

“Switching from an average halogen lamp to an energy efficient LED will already save approximately 115 Euros (£103) over the LED’s lifetime of up to 20 years, and pay-back its cost within a year,” the EU says.

In terms of emissions, it’s estimated that the shift will prevent a whopping 15 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year — which is the rough equivalent of Portugal’s total emissions, for instance.

[panel style=”panel-default” title=”Halogen vs LED” footer=””]Halogen light bulbs work are essentially an incandescent lamp, consisting of a tungsten filament surrounded by a mixture of inert gas and a small amount of a halogen such as iodine or bromine. Thanks to this setup, halogen bulbs can be used at a higher temperature than a standard gas-filled lamp, producing more light than conventional incandescent bulbs.

But even halogen bulbs, which were innovative in their own right, don’t hold a candle Ito LEDs in terms of lifespan and energy consumption. The average lifespan of a halogen light bulb is 2 years, whereas the average LED will last from 15 to 20 years. [/panel]

For halogen light bulb producers, the lights won’t go out at once, though. Instead, they will gradually dim. Remaining stocks can still be sold, and some lamps (like capsules and low-voltage incandescents) are exempt from the ban, but for the vast majority of halogen bulbs, the ban will commence starting the 1st of September.

Also, consumers don’t need to worry — there is no obligation to change light bulbs immediately, as the law only affects producers, not consumers. Also, according to estimates, stocks will continue to last for quite a while, so if for some reason you prefer halogen bulbs, there’s no need to stockpile them just yet.

 

City of London.

London’s Square Mile to use 100% renewable energy by October

The City of London will draw on 100% renewable energy by the end of the year.

City of London.

City of London skyline.
Image credits Diliff / Wikimedia.

London’s famous “Square Mile” central district is going green — not in paint, but in spirit. Though not technically still a mile, as the district’s official bounds now enclose some 1.12 square miles, the major financial center will source 100% of its power from renewable sources starting this October, according to the City of London’s ruling body. The supply will come from solar panels installed on local buildings, further investments in larger solar and wind projects, and clean energy already in the grid.

The renewable mile

The City of London Corporation, the governing body of Square Mile (also colloquially known as the City of London), announced that it wants to draw only on renewable power from October 2018 onward. The City of London will install solar panels on the buildings it owns and will invest in installations such as wind and solar farms elsewhere in the UK.

Members of the City of London Corporation’s Policy and Resources Committee backed measures that would turn their own sites across London into electricity-producing units. They also signed off on investments in off-site renewable energy installations and backed the purchase of renewable energy already available in the grid. Some of the buildings the Corporation plans to turn into renewable-generation units include social housing across six London boroughs, 10 high-achieving academies, three wholesale markets, and 11,000 acres of green space including Hampstead Heath and Epping Forest. More than enough space for the City to develop clean energy for the city as a whole.

“Sourcing 100% renewable energy will make us cleaner and greener, reducing our grid reliance, and running some of our buildings on zero carbon electricity,” Catherine McGuinness, Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Policy and Resources Committee, said in a statement.

“We are always looking at the environmental impact of our work and hope that we can be a beacon to other organisations to follow suit.”

The Greater London area has been struggling with pollution for the past few years. However, they’re also making important efforts to change — like adopting more electric vehicles and taxing polluting ones, creating more green spaces, and relying more heavily on clean energy. Electric taxis and buses are already zipping through the streets, and last December Shadiq Khan, the city’s mayor, announced plans to extend the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to include London-wide buses, coaches, and lorries, as well as expanding the Zone to include North and South circular roads for all vehicles.

Middelgrunden.

Massachusetts and Rhode Island to build new offshore wind farms totaling 1.2GW

The US is set to build two new — and significant — offshore wind farms.

Middelgrunden.

Middelgrunden offshore wind farm, Denmark.
Image credits Kim Hansen / Flickr.

The states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island have both awarded major offshore wind contracts this Wednesday, a testament to the economic shifts that are making this renewable source of energy too attractive to ignore any longer. The two farms will have capacities of 800MW and 400MW, respectively.

Energy from thin air

The Massachusetts installation — christened “Vineyard Wind” — will be constructed in state waters some 14 miles (22.5 km) off of Martha’s Vineyard and is planned to be ready surprisingly fast: the farm is earmarked to start feeding the grid as soon as 2021, reports Green Tech Media. The two companies who won the contract — Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, both based in Europe — will share ownership of the project equally. The two will begin negotiations for transmission services and power purchase agreements shortly, according to a joint press release.

Vineyard Wind comes as part of Massachusetts’ recently-approved goal of building 1.6GW of wind energy by 2027 — and should cover half of that pledged capacity. Overall, it’s expected to reduce the state’s carbon emissions by over 1.6 million tons per year, roughly equivalent to the exhaust of 325,000 cars.

The project is likely to propel further offshore wind development in the area, similarly to what we’ve seen happen in Europe. The port of New Bedford has already been retrofitted to handle the immense load of traffic and infrastructure that development of Vineyard Wind will require, notes the New York Times — which is likely to make further development even more attractive and convenient.

The second contract, awarded by Rhode Island to Deepwater Wind, aims to provide 400MW capacity — although not on such short notice. Construction on the farm, called Revolution Wind, could begin “as soon as 2020” writes Megan Geuss of ArsTechnica, citing a company spokesperson. Deepwater Wind is an US-based firm that has previously collaborated with the state of Rhode Island to built the first offshore wind in the US: the 30MW unit off the coast of Block Island.

The added capacity from this farm will help Rhode Island to reach 1GW of renewable energy by 2020, a goal that state Gov. Gina Raimondo recently called for. Deepwater Wind will also need to start power purchase negotiations and get federal regulatory approval before construction can begin. Revolution Wind, like Vineyard Wind, will be built in state waters.

What’s next?

Block Island offshore.

Aerial view of the Block Island offshore wind farm.
Image credits Ionna22 / Wikimedia.

Judging by what happened in Europe, however, both Massachusetts and Rhode Island stand a lot to gain in the long term from these offshore wind developments. Europe currently hosts roughly 15.7GW of offshore wind, and the experienced energy companies have gleaned here has consistently knocked down installation costs — which made the tech is so attractive even in the US.

Similarly, the early experience and logistical base these two states will gain could provide them with a decisive edge in further offshore developments in the US — which are bound to pop up as installation costs drop. For example, the Department of the Interior recently opened 390,000 acres of federally-controlled waters off the coast of Massachusetts for offshore wind. New Bedford is ideally suited to provide shipping and support for developments here without any further investments — so Massachusetts will surely stand to benefit as more actors join the US offshore wind market.

And more are joining already — the state of New Jersey is also eager to plug its grind into offshore wind farms, with Governor Phil Murphy signing into law a commitment to 3,500 MW, the largest state offshore wind policy to date, on Wednesday, as well. The Union of Concerned Scientists applauds the developments-to-be, writing that these will likely spur states such as Connecticut, New York, Maryland, or Virginia into dipping their toes in offshore wind.

But it’s not just about what states gain. We’ve written before about the benefits renewables bring to local communities. These range from jobs (here and here), air quality improvements, reductions in carbon emissions, and a lower energy bill once the projects are up and running. All good things, I’m sure you’ll agree.

BMW.

BMW pledges to 100% renewable power by 2020, at COP23

Car manufacturing giant BMW also announced it would drop coal use. The company will shift all of its external power purchases to renewable sources by the end of this decade, head of procurement Markus Duesmann revealed in a speech at COP23 in Bonn.

BMW.

Image via Pixabay.

Recent calls at COP23 for governments to shift away from coal-power may have borne fruit in unexpected places. Today, Munich-based corporate giant BMW has revealed plans to shift its external energy purchases away from coal by 2020 and buy from green sources.

Bonn-a-fide shift

The partnership between the UN Climate Change Conferences and BMW dates back to 1992. After participating in previous Conferences of the Parties (COPs) in Lima, Paris, and Marrakesh, the BMW Group will once again take on an active part at COP 23.

Green energy currently made up 63% of the manufacturer’s needs in 2016, Duesmann explained in Bonn today, but the company wants to make it 100%. It’s an ambitious plan for a corporation of this size and scope, especially one that deals in heavy manufacturing. The company is already drawing on a variety of renewable sources, he added, mentioning the wind turbines powering BMW’s plant in Leipzig, Germany and the Spartanburg operation in South Carolina that draws methane from a local landfill.

“We strongly believe that, together with governments, other companies and representatives of the society, we can have a positive impact in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Ursula Mathar, the BMW Group’s VP of sustainability and environmental protection.

“Discussing the SDGs with various stakeholders at the Sustainable Innovation Forum is one of our top priorities.”

Overall, BMW will need to find suppliers of renewable energy to satisfy its roughly 1 terawatt per year consumption, Duesmann added, spread along 31 sites in 14 countries. In effect, the conglomerate will have to find and secure an extra 220,000 homes-worth of renewable electricity to go completely green energy-wise.

To that end, BMW will look into all sources of renewable power, no matter how unusual. For example, they’re treating with a South African biomass plant that runs on cow manure and chicken droppings. BMW will seek to sign more supply deals with solar energy providers according to Jury Witschnig, the company’s head of sustainability strategy. These agreements will go as far as BMW working with solar companies to build energy systems in company sites or becoming a cornerstone customer with long-term offtake agreements for future projects, he said.

BMW’s energy switch comes as part of a larger, billion-dollar move towards greater sustainability, an effort spearheaded by electric vehicles. Despite great confidence from government and private initiatives, especially in Europe, the payoffs from EVs are still uncertain. Confidence in their economic success is further impacted by criticisms that fossil-sourced energy and the raw materials required in their construction offset EVs’ environmental benefits. Along with the huge investments this shift requires, BMW is feeling the heat — the company’s shares have dropped 3.7% this year.

Hopefully, their investment pays off in the end. Especially given the huge confidence Europe’s governments and the public have shown for EVs.

Pruitt Bag.

Scott Pruitt says subsidies give renewables an unfair edge, and here’s why he’s a monumental hypocrite

In a pioneering display of cognitive dissonance, EPA chief Scott Pruitt said on Monday that he would to do away with subsidies for renewable energy and let them “stand on their own and compete against” other sources of energy, such as fossil — the latter being heavily subsidized, and has been so for decades.

Pruitt Bag.

Mom says I’m good at Photoshop, ok?
Image credits me / ZMEScience, free to use with attribution.

Another week, another Pruittism. This Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator said that he believes federal tax credits for wind and solar power should be eliminated in the interest of fair play on the energy market.

“I would do away with these incentives that we give to wind and solar,” he told attendees at a Kentucky Farm Bureau event.

“I’d let them stand on their own and compete against coal and natural gas and other sources, and let utilities make real-time market decisions on those types of things as opposed to being propped up by tax incentives and other types of credits that occur, both in the federal level and state level,” he further explained.

Now, I like hypocrisy just as much as the next guy (spoiler alert: I don’t) but Mr. Pruitt definitely went to previously un-dredged lows with that announcement. To see why, let’s take a look at what subsidies are and how they play out across the energy sector.

Energy subsidies.

Here’s the too long; didn’t read version, presented by David Hochschild, a commissioner with the California Energy Commission, at the Energy Productivity Summer Study in Sydney in February 2016. Image via CleanTechnica.

[panel style=”panel-info” title=”Subsidy, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary” footer=””]

A grant or gift of money: such as:
a) a sum of money formerly granted by the British Parliament to the crown and raised by special taxation
b) money granted by one state to another
c) a grant by a government to a private person or company to assist an enterprise deemed advantageous to the public.
[/panel]

We’re interested in the latter meaning of the word. Let’s take a look at the subsidies Mr. Pruitt would do away with:

  1. Wind power currently enjoys a tax credit of about 2.3 cents per kWh produced, and the measure starts phasing out this year and will expire completely in 2020.
  2. Solar energy investments get tax credits equal to 30% of their sum to encourage companies to invest in the sector. These credits will expire completely by 2022.

These incentives enjoy wide support among environmentalists and Democrats, while direct competitors of renewable in the energy market obviously oppose them, as do some Republicans. They’ve been touted again and again as the sole reason why renewable energy has seen such rapid growth in recent years, and the fossil fuel industry has been endlessly complaining they’re an unfair advantage.

Now let’s take a look at the subsidies oil, gas, and coal receive, as quantified by researchers at Oil Change International (full report at the bottom of the article). The sums in brackets are the estimated costs per year of these subsidies. Find a comfy seat, ’cause this is going to take a while.

The monetary black hole that is fossil fuel subsidies

Exploration and production related:

  1. Intangible drilling oil & gas deduction ($2.3 billion): Independent producers can fully deduct costs that aren’t directly related to the final operation of wells (such as labor, surveying, ground clearing, including development costs). Integrated companies can deduct 70% up front and the rest of 30% over five years.
  2. Excess of percentage over cost depletion ($1.5 billion): Independent fossil fuel producers can deduct a percentage of their gross income from production, reflecting reservoir depreciation.

Non-production related:

  1. Master Limited Partnerships tax exemption ($1.6 billion): A special corporate form that is exempt from corporate income taxes and publicly-traded on stock markets, primarily available to natural resource firms, the majority of which are fossil fuel companies.
  2. Last-in, first-out (LIFO) accounting ($1.7 billion): Allows oil companies to assume for accounting purposes that they sell the inventory most recently acquired or manufactured first. When inventory is experiencing increasing prices, LIFO assigns the most recent prices to cost of goods sold and oldest prices to remaining inventory, hence resulting in the highest amount of cost of goods sold and lowest taxable income for the company. It gets even better! LIFO-like measures are prohibited under international financial reporting standards.

Fire-sale on federal lands:

Author’s note: these methods hand over energy resources from public lands and federally-controlled waters to the fossil fuel industry at extremely low relative prices.

  1. Lost royalties from onshore and offshore drilling ($1.2 billion): outdated royalty exemptions, rate setting, and procedures for assessing oil and gas production on federal lands shortchange taxpayers by more than a billion dollars each year. If the federal government were to charge a 20% royalty rate for onshore drilling, the lowest rate charged by the state of Texas, taxpayers would benefit from an additional $3 billion in revenues.
  2. Low-cost leasing of coal-production in the Powder River Basin ($963 million): allows coal companies to lease federal land at low costs in the Powder River Basin (PRB), a mostly federally-owned coal-producing region in Wyoming and Montana that accounts for 40 percent of U.S. coal production (and 85 percent of coal production from federal lands). By exempting from ‘major coal producing region’ status, the federal government did away with requirements to plan and monitor coal production according to a systematic management process, making for significantly lenient lease rates in the PRB.

From now on I’ll just give a few examples in each category, and I’ll keep them short because most of you are probably dozing off by now.

Coal Bailouts:

Author’s note: as coal companies become insolvent, taxpayer dollars cover their obligations to communities and workers.

  1. Inadequate industry fees recouped to cover the Abandoned Mine Land Grant Fund ($400 million).
  2. Inadequate industry support to cover worker health impacts ($330 million).

Pollution subsidies:

  1. Deduction for oil spill penalty costs ($334 million).
  2. Tar sands exemption from payments into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund ($47 million).

Subsidies that lock in fossil fuel dependence:

  1. Enhanced oil recovery credit ($235 million in 2017, could cost $8.8 billion over the next decade according to The Office of Management and Budget).
  2. CO2 sequestration credit ($95 million).

Gets hard to follow, so here it is in chart form for 2016:

PermaTaxBreaks.

Image credits OCI.

Subsidies by industry.

Image credits OCI.

Fuel subsidies categories.

Image credits OCI.

Add everything up and you get $14.7 billion in federal subsidies and $5.8 billion in state-level incentives, for a total of $20.5 billion annually in corporate welfare. One-fifth of that goes to coal, the rest to oil and gas. Another factor at play here is continuity and length of these subsidizing schemes.

david-susbidies-time.

Another graph presented by Hochschild in Sydney, showing the short-term nature of the subsidies for renewable energy.
Image via CleanTechnica.

“There is a myth around subsidies, but there is no such thing as an unsubsidised unit of energy,” Hochschild told RenewEconomy after his presentation, and CleanTechnica later picking up on the quote here. “The fossil fuel industry hates to talk about that,” he added.

He explained that oil depletion allowances have been in place since 1926 and would continue, despite the fact that oil is “one of the most profitable industries in the world.” Insurance costs for nuclear plants, “without which there would be no nuclear plants,” are also a subsidy, CleanTechnica goes on to write. Drilling or fracking, which have been made exempt from compliance with the safe drinking water act, also serve as a subsidy by allowing natural gas companies to cut costs.

US wind and solar industries were stifled with repeated changes to their federal support mechanisms. The tax credits have been changed seven times in a decade, according to Hochschild.

“How can you plan a wind turbine factory or project in those types of conditions?” he asked.

A sliver of a crumb

Everything I’ve listed above is only part of the direct subsidies fossil fuel companies receive in the US, because the OCI only looked at direct production subsidies. OCI notes that the estimates of state-level subsidies are probably low, since many states don’t report the costs of tax expenditures (i.e., tax breaks and credits to industry), so data is difficult to come by.

Add to the above roughly $14.5 billion in consumption subsidies (things like Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps residents pay for heating bills,) $2.1 billion in subsidies for overseas fossil fuel projects, and probably the single greatest offender, indirect subsidies. This latter category involves things like the money the US military spends to protect oil shipping routes, or the unpaid costs of health and climate impacts from burning fossil fuels, which are naturally really hard to quantify precisely but navigate in the region of hundreds of billions of dollars.

It’s not happening in the US alone. According to the International Energy Agency, global subsidies for fossil fuels outweigh those for renewable energy more than 10-fold — CleanTechnica estimates it’s more than 13-fold if you don’t count biofuels. Vox reported that the International Monetary Fund estimates the world spends $500 billion in direct subsidies for fossil energy, a figure that increases to about $5.3 trillion a year after indirect spending (including environmental damages) are factored in.

But only Mr. Pruitt has the audacity to claim subsidies unfairly favor renewables, and they should be scrapped. It’s both hilarious and infuriating when the chief of the EPA says that, considering that the US’ subsidy policy on renewables is “hey we’ll help cover a bit of the cost of each unit of energy a wind turbine produces, and any company that invests in building solar energy will get just shy of 1/3 of that investment as a tax reduction. For the next 3-5 years.” Then it turns around and shells some $30 billion to fossil fuel companies every year.

Why? Well, as OCI concludes:

“In the 2015-2016 election cycle, oil, gas, and coal companies spent $354 million in campaign contributions and lobbying and received $29.4 billion in federal subsidies in total over those same years — an 8,200% return on investment.”

Every penny of that is paid from your pocket. Every year, your taxes pay for a company’s search for new deposits and the means to exploit them, its tax breaks, covers accounting artifices that are banned under international financing standards, forfeiture of royalties, dirt-cheap leasing, and finally they cover the costs when that company pollutes your air and water or simply fracks up big time and spills something or goes insolvent. Every year, some starting as far back as the 1900s.

All of it so that a fossil fuel company can keep making money, despite the fact that renewables can take up the job for less spending, fewer health impacts, less wealth concentration. And with 100% less global warming cover-up shenanigans.

So tell me again about how energy companies need to “stand on their own and compete” Pruitt, you brass-necked hypocrite.

OCI’s full report is available here. For a more comprehensive list of the subsidy schemes energy companies enjoy, as well as more details for the ones I’ve listed here, you can use the Green Scissors database.

Wind vs coal.

Nobody is going to make coal great again, says Bloomberg New Energy Finance founder

With new technologies hitting the markets every day, renewables are becoming cheaper far faster than anyone anticipated. This trend puts clean energy in investors’ cross-hairs and spells the end of coal as the mainstay of power grids around the world.

Coal.

Image via Pixabay.

Michael Liebreich, founder of the Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), says clean energy will take the cream of future investments, leaving fossil fuels in the dust. In a presentation he held at the research group’s conference this Tuesday in London, Liebreich said emerging tech is making clean energy more economical than fossil fuels for utilities in many countries around the world. In light of this trend, he estimates that the clean energy sector will attract 86% of the $10.2 trillion likely to be invested in power generation by 2040.

BNEF first took shape as New Energy Finance, a data company focused on energy investment and carbon markets research based in the United Kingdom and was purchased by Bloomberg L.P. back in 2009. When the company first began collecting data in 2004, it could already spot a trend towards larger machines and installations in the wind energy sector, all designed to deliver more power to the grid. A trend that is continuing even today, with both Siemens and Vestas Wind Systems working on plans for huge turbines, with wingspans larger than that of the world’s biggest aircraft, the Airbus A380.

This trend also carries with it the promise of even greater cost-efficiency, so much so that offshore wind developers in Germany are promising electricity without subsidy for their upcoming projects.

“One of the reasons those offshore wind costs have come down to be competitive without subsidies is because these turbines are absolute monsters,” Liebreich said. “Imagine a turbine with a tip height that’s higher than The Shard.’’

The cost per unit of energy from photovoltaic solar panels is also continuing to drop, making them more and more competitive against fossil fuels. That’s why Liebreich predicts two “tipping points” in the future, which will make fossil-fuel-generated power increasingly unattractive from an economic point of view.

“The first is when new wind and solar become cheaper than anything else,” Liebreich said.

“At that point, anything you have to retire is likely to be replaced by wind and solar,” he added. “That tipping point is either here or almost here everywhere in the world.”

Wind vs coal.

Image credits Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

These tipping points won’t happen everywhere at the same time, and their exact dates aren’t set in stone; it’s a process. A slide from Liebreich’s presentation, however, shows we could expect Japan to reach this milestone (i.e. building a PV plant will become cheaper than building a coal-fired generator) in 2025, while India will pass it by 2030, but for wind power.

Further down the road, the second tipping point will come when running costs for coal or gas plants become higher than those of solar or wind. According to this chart published by BNEF, that point may arrive sometime in the middle of the next decade in both Germany and China.

Running costs clean vs coal.

Image credits Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Energy prices vary quite considerably from country to country, so it’s difficult to make a precise estimation of when renewables will overtake fossil fuels in supplying power grids. Still, Liebreich is convinced that the economics of solar and wind are becoming attractive enough to overtake coal’s dominant position in the global power equation, no matter what incentives President Trump imposes on the US.

“This is going to happen,” Liebreich said, reffering to the transition to clean enery. “Coal is declining in the US. Nobody is going to make coal great again.”

Chinese province runs on 100% renewable energy for a week, saves half a million tonnes of coal

Last week, the northwestern Chinese province of Qinghai with its more than 5 million citizens ran entirely on renewable energy, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reports.

Tangshanpeng Wind Farm.

Image credits Land Rover Our Planet / Flickr.

China’s Qinghai province‘s 5.2 million citizens worked, ate, and went about their daily lives, drawing only on renewable energy between 17 and 23 of June. The whole thing was part of a trial conducted by the State Grid Corporation of China which aimed to prove that fossil fuels aren’t required to power future societies.

And that they did

Electricity use during this week amounted to 1.1 billion kilowatt hours (kWh), 72.3% of which was supplied by hydro, with newer sources such as solar and wind rounding up the rest. To put things into perspective, coal-fired plants would have required some 535,000 tonnes of coal to produce that much energy.

“Being the first trial of this kind in the country and a major step in the transformation of energy supply, it will be of great importance in promoting the use of clean energy in China in a sustainable and effective way,” said Quan Shenming, general manger of Qinghai Electric Power Corporation, a subsidiary of State Grid Corporation.

The figures haven’t been independently verified as of writing this, so we’ll have to trust Xinhua on it until the story is confirmed. But, if confirmed, the biggest result here is that the experiment showed you don’t need conventional plants so supply a “base load” of energy, a concept which opponents of renewables like to throw around. Still, compared to other places, Qinghai had the benefit of experience on its side. The province already heavily relies on renewables. Its grid has a total installed capacity of around 23 million kW, and renewables already supply 83.8% of that power.

But the province, and China as a whole, will continue to invest in clean energy. According to the Chinese National Energy Administration, China is set to invest 2.5 trillion yuan (US$366 billion) in this field by 2020. As part of this investment and according to the 13th provincial Five-Year Plan, Xinhua reports, Qinghai will expand its solar and wind capacity to 35 million kW by 2020, setting it up to share some 110 billion kWh to provinces in central and eastern China. With such a massive increase planned, it’s easy to see why officials would test how well renewables can power Qinghai (and other provinces) by themselves.

Earlier this month, we’ve seen California Gov. Jerry Brown work to tighten collaboration between his state and China regarding clean energy efforts. And, with China inching in at the forefront of renewable energy technology, it’s likely an effort that will pay off big-time. Hopefully, more states will follow suit.

 

Light Bulb.

Green living at home: a list of techs to hack your house into clean energy

Society as we know it today couldn’t exist without energy. If you boil everything down, energy directly translates to how much we can shape the world around us into the things we want and need — houses, food, warmth, ZMEScience.

Light Bulb.

Throughout our history, we got this energy by burning stuff — first it was food in our muscles, followed by firewood, and modern times dawned with the burning of fossil fuels, then atoms. This way of going about it wasn’t such an issue while humanity used a little energy overall and the environment could absorb both the byproducts and our limited ability to alter it.

But today we churn out a lot of energy. There has been a huge growth in the amount of energy we can bring to bear towards this goal of crafting a cozy world for ourselves, and our effects and emissions scale accordingly. Natural systems today are left weakened by millennia of human exploitation, and all over the world they’re buckling under the pressure we place on them today — which, according to our needs and energy generation potential, is greater than ever. These systems can’t come anywhere near scrubbing all the CO2 our pursuit of energy releases, and they can’t regenerate because we take out more and more from them.

We’re already seeing the effects in the shape of climate change and environmental breakdown. We’re living better than ever before — but doing so at the expense of everything else on the planet.

This needs to change

The matter of fact is that we can’t go back to how things were. The industrial revolution changed our society drastically, and it was made possible by an energy revolution. We need a lot of goods today, on a level only mass producing on assembly lines can supply. We simply can’t make enough medicine, clothes, or any other type of goods, by hand, for everyone. But hypothetically, even if we all decided to tighten the collective belt, forgo the comforts of modern life and go back to pre-industrial levels of energy use, we couldn’t do it. And food illustrates best why.

The sprawling cities of today depend on foodstuffs being shuttled in to feed their inhabitants. But without factories, we wouldn’t have any fuel or spare parts. Which means there will be no equipment to till soils, only oxen and plows, no pumps for irrigation, no industrial fertilizers — just good old fashioned back-breaking work. We could fish or hunt, but only with ships and tools you can build by hand and which don’t use engines. Considering how depleted natural stocks of game and fish are today, this way of doing things would probably net us fewer calories than we’d put into it.

Overall, de-industrialization would translate into an immense drop in food production. Going down this line of thought, we’d have no way to transport our limited food from farms to market beyond what a human or pack animal could carry, no cement to make proper roads, and only a limited capacity to quarry stone to build half-proper roads.

Dirt Road.

Pretty practicable. Until it rains.

It keeps going on like this.  So, could we do it? Back in 2009, Jon Bosak of TCLocal looked at one question:

“If New York State produced what it did a hundred years ago, before the arrival of gasoline- and diesel-fueled equipment, could it feed its present population?”

Apart from his own not-exactly-exact but still illustrative calculations, Bosak draws heavily on two papers published by J. Peters et al. in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems between 2006 and 2008. His conclusion can be best summed up as ‘no’, even when considering “that we still had substantially more arable land than we actually do now” and that “the vastly greater resources of animal power available a hundred years ago” would still be available today.

The first of Peters’ papers take a more thorough approach looking at how dietary choices impact the carrying capacity of New York State, finding that it could support around 30% of its current population with radical changes in diet, and just 21% of its current population on a “balanced diet” (which still requires significant changes in diet) with the full means available today. The second one reinforces the findings of the first in broad lines, while also showing that NYS could theoretically reduce the farm-to-consumer distance far below its current average of 1300 miles (2100 km), but fully supplying its population with food would still require shuttling goods over great distances — which, in the absence of mechanical means, may not be feasible since food tends to spoil.

That’s not taking into account how the lack of goods, electricity, running water, and a myriad of other things we take for granted but require constant power to operate would impact society, production, transport, and communications. People would eventually stabilize into agricultural groups in farms and some actually impressive cities, maybe. But no power — no internet, no phones so you can’t order takeout. Light switches would basically be stress relievers and there’d be no running water. At the same time, we know that a business as usual model basically takes us the same way, so we need to make some changes.

Now that we have our “why,” let’s look at the “how”.

Clean sources of power

The lion’s share of the problem lies in how we source that power. Much attention has been brought to fossil fuels and greenhouse emissions lately as the effects of climate change become more wide-spread and more pressing. But even if these resources weren’t as dirty as they are they would still be finite, meaning we’d have to shift away from them at one point or face those problems we’ve talked about earlier.

It’s on our governments to fully detach industry from fossil fuels. Other stuff like electric cars or wind farms fall on the shoulders of the industry. But there are things each of us can do to make the world a little bit greener, one tiny step at a time. Here’re a few of the going-ons in the field of renewable energy which could power home without burning anything.

Solar

Solar Panels.

Solar energy has gained huge popularity with domestic users because it scales down really well, it’s relatively cheap to install and easy to maintain. It can also generate a lot of power — if you want to get a rough estimate of how well solar would work for you, Google can help. Some countries also offer compensation for any extra energy that consumers pour into the grid, meaning you can make a little money on the side. It’s also ideal for the tiny anarchist in you — solar panels only need a bit of sun to churn out energy, meaning you can bolt some on your car or even carry them around with you and have power wherever it’s sunny.

Sounds good? I know. Here’s how you can incorporate solar in your home:

Among other things they dabble in, Tesla is a big promoter of solar energy. Since merging with SolarCity last year, it has announced that their Solar Roof will power your home with clean energy and be cheaper than the average roof. Musk says the company can deliver at a lower price because the current roofing supply chain is “incredibly inefficient”.

They’ve also made huge progress in battery technology, which would allow the system to store power whenever the sun shines and keep waste to a minimum.

“The roof would be integrated with Tesla’s house battery system, allowing the roof to store energy for a longer time,” Andrei wrote about the system last year.

An alternative to Tesla’s tech are the inconspicuous solar panels that startup Sistine Solar has developed. These panels can display whatever color or image you want — so you can install them on your roof to match the tiles or use them to display an ad or logo at your business. They bring the benefits of regular solar panels while keeping your advertising/decorating space unaffected.

Sistine Solar Roof.

Image credits Sistine Solar.

If your crib somehow lacks roofing, fret not. We’ve also talked with Solar Window CEO John Conklin about their proprietary coating which can turn windows and other transparent surfaces into power-producing panels — churning out energy even from ambient or artificial light. The product isn’t commercially available just yet, but Conklin wants it to be something everyone can use.

“SolarWindow doesn’t rely on direct sunlight like normal PV does. Any coated side of the two buildings will generate electricity even just from diffused light,” he said.

“We don’t want this to be something only for the rich and powerful,” John said. “[SolarWindow] works with natural or artificial light so it’s not just sunlight. All that light coming from your fixtures, for example, can be used to generate power.”

These windows can be installed at home to produce some power, but they truly shine on larger surfaces where they can capture a lot of light. Still, between them, these technologies could provide for all your energy needs at least during the sunny parts of the year.

Wind

Wind applications aren’t the best for small users because they usually cost a lot of money up front. They also usually require large blades and are relatively maintenance heavy, since there are a lot of moving parts. For these reasons, wind power is most often employed in medium-large scale applications, such as the Dutch’s iconic windmills to sprawling wind farms which can power whole cities.

Wind Farm.

Image via Imgur.

Still, they do have a number of advantages. For starters, wind can potentially work around the clock, unlike solar which is obviously limited to daylight hours. A turbine typically churns out more power than a single panel and wind works really well to complement solar in temperate areas or replace it altogether in cold or windy regions. However, because of their price tag wind generators would be more attractive to communities rather than individuals or families.

But if you have around US$23,000 burning a hole in your pocket, the Wind Tree will keep the lights burning with artistic grace — and very silently. One major advantage of the Tree over other wind-harvesting methods is that it can work with wind speeds as low as 2 m/s, so it will “be active more than 280 days of the year, with a predicted power output of 3.1 kW,” Andrei explained.

“The steel tree stands 11 m (36 ft) tall and measures 8 m (26 ft) in diameter and the operation is completely silent. New Wind also believe that the trees could be hooked up to buildings via the main switchboard or connected to the grid with an inverter,” he adds.

Spanish startup Vortex Bladeless have also demonstrated an “asparagus” turbine that turns oscillating movements into electrical energy. The company boasted that its Vortex Mini costs only half what a conventional turbine would, required little to no maintenance since there were few moving parts, and is totally silent. It also looks cool. While the Vortex is limited in how much power it can generate (30% less than conventional systems), it can function in average wind speeds of between 3-15 m/s.

Altaeros BAT.

Image credits (c) Altaeros.

If you dream of taking a merry band of friends and living it out off-grid, the Altaeros BAT (buoyant air turbine) might be just the focal point your little community will band together — primarily to charge their phones. This flying wind turbine is designed to float up into the more powerful winds at higher altitude (about 1,000 feet) for up to 18 months at a time, potentially allowing it to produce more power than its land-locked counterparts.

There are three reasons why I’d primarily suggest the Altaeros to a community rather than an individual consumer. The first is the fact that it can produce way more energy than one single family needs. Secondly, it was designed primarily with isolated communities and disaster relief in mind, and you can get a lot of utility out of this thing.

“Besides generating power, these floating power plants can provide data coverage, cell service and local weather data and can be deployed in harsh weather conditions, so they serve multiple purposes,” Tibi explained.

But there’s also a caveat. The Altaeros is basically a fancy blimp. I haven’t been able to find any definitive numbers on its price but it stands to reason that manufacturing and installing the Altaeros would be cheaper than a regular turbine. Here comes the third reason, however: with a regular turbine, you can plop it down and it will produce power for 15, 20, maybe 25 years with maintenance. The BAT, on the other hand, has a hard cap of 18 months after it needs to to be refilled with helium in the best case scenario, where there’s no damage or leaking. The price of helium, however, has been rising steadily, although this is always subject to change based on the market. Altogether, this means the BAT should cost less up front but produce a ‘more expensive’ kilowatt-hour as it has higher running and maintenance costs compared to regular turbines.

Heat

Heat (in the form of temperature) is annoying because nature never gets it just right — there’s either too much or too little of it and it’s always changing. So the issue of heat has to be approached from a few angles: heating (getting more heat), cooling (getting rid of heat), insulating (holding onto the heat you have) and transforming waste heat into other useful energy types.

Direct exchange geothermal heat pump.

A direct exchange (dx) geothermal heat pump, one type of home geothermal application.

Geothermal is an awesome way to cover both heating and, in the case of very hot reservoirs, energy generation. It basically consists of drilling pipes deep into the ground and pumping water through them, which will come back up nice and hot. This is probably the most conventional and widest-used heat-based method of energy generation, but it (usually) suffers from pretty big upfront costs (since digging the wells is expensive) and it’s highly dependent on local geology, so it may not be implementable everywhere. On the upside, it’s almost maintenance-free and will generate a lot of power to keep your home or greenhouse warm and supplied with ample bathwater throughout the year.

One really cool thing Paris-based architect Stéphane Malka did to insulate an old residential building in the French capital was to cover it in “parasitc cubes” made of wood. These were mounted onto the structure to create a beautiful, blocky, comb-like facade which was further decorated with plants. The wooden parasites reduced the total energy expenditure on heating to almost a quarter, from 190KWh/sq. meter to 45KWh/sq. meter. It also extended “useful space horizontally through openings in the exterior” to boot.

Icelandic turf house.

A cozy turf house.
Image via Jeff and Terry.

Icelandic turf house design also makes for very well insulated buildings. Although the huts were designed from the ground up to maximize insulation, since Iceland can be a dreadfully cold place, you probably live somewhere warmer so even a modest turfing of your house’s walls will help keep the cold out. On the bright side, this type of house is literally dirt-cheap so if you’ve ever planned on building a vacation home but never got the money together, now’s your chance.

Ok so now you have all this heat on your hands, what can you do with it? Well, you could use it to power your fridge. One team of researchers from the Department of Prime Mover Engineering at the Tokai University in Hiratsuka, Japan, have developed a thermoacoustic engine which harnesses waste heat to cool things down. This ‘sound wave refrigerator’ can turn waste heat from  270 degrees C (518 F) upward into loud sound waves at resonant frequencies to compress gasses, cooling them down to a maximum of -107.4 C (-161.3 F).

If you live in a place where the summers are really warm and you miss all that heat during the winter, you’ll be glad to find out that Swiss engineers have put together a way you can pickle heat. The method relies on a concentrated sodium hydroxide (NaOH) solution which releases a lot of heat when it comes in contact with water. So you tap into the compound’s stored chemical energy during the cold months, and when summer comes around you leave the (now watered down) solution out in the sun to dry.

“This substance can be stored for several months, even years, between uses. And tanks of the stuff can be shuttled wherever they’re needed.”

NaOH heat storage.

This is what the system looks like in the lab.
Image credits EMPA.

Effectively, this allows you to ‘store’ the sun’s energy as heat for use whenever you need it. Currently still in the prototype phase, EMPA (the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research) is looking to create a compact version of the system for domestic use.

And in case your home is just too warm, a team of the engineers from Stanford University in Palo Alto has just the way to cool you down while expending zero energy — reflective roofs.

“[The team] placed a surface made up of seven layers alternating between silicon dioxide (SiO2) and hafnium dioxide (HfO2) onto a silicon wafer. At the very top, a thin silver coating was applied to act as a first line of reflection. The first four ultra thin layers of SiO2 and HfO2 reflect nearly all the rest of the energy that wasn’t reflected in the first place by the silver layer.” Tibi explained.

“Together, this stack reflects 97% of incoming radiation. The bottom three layers – two thicker SiO2 layers separated by a thick HfO2 layer – absorbed heat from below and radiated it.”

“When tested, even during full sunlight, the coating cooled surfaces below it by 5 degrees Celsius.”

You’ll be glad to hear that while not as effective, painting your roof white will also help alleviate a scorching day’s heat. Given that air conditioning accounts for 15% of all electricity consumed in the US, I’d say this is a pretty good place to start — cheap, simple, and huge stacking potential.

That’s our list of home energy improvements to keep an eye out for. Some of these are commercially available right now, others are almost there, and a few still need some polish. But if you’re looking to become energy self-sufficient and do your part in decarbonising our economies, they’re a good place to start.

Solar Powerplant.

Earlier this month, California broke yet another green record using over 67% renewable power

California’s largest grid broke a renewable energy grid this May by sourcing more than 67% of its energy from renewables on the 13th.

Solar Powerplant.

The sunny state’s effort to go green is paying off bigger and better each time, as it claims yet another milestone in the renewable energy department. On the 13th of May the California Independent System Operator (CISO), its largest grid, drew 67.2% of its power from renewable sources, not including hydropower or rooftop solar. With hydropower factored in, this figure goes up to 80.7%, an achievement which can only help cement renewable energy in the eyes of the rest of the US.

The grid is greener on this side

CISO controls around 80% of the state’s power grids, meaning that if it draws primarily on renewable energy California, for all intents and purposes, draws on renewables too. The company had a bit of help sent its way by providence as 2017 has had plenty sunny days with ample winds (the state set a new wind power generation record on May 16 with 4,985 megawatts), hydroelectric reservoirs were full and in good order, and energy generation was goaded along by a rise in solar facilities (both traditional and roof-mounted).

These factors should make 2017 a year of more record-breaking as far as renewables are concerned in California.

“It’s going to be a dynamic year for records,” CISO spokesperson Steven Greenlee told SF Gate. “The solar records in particular are falling like dominoes.”

“The fact that the grid can handle 67 percent renewable power from multiple sources — it’s a great moment, and it shows the potential we have,” Center for Sustainable Energy director of policy Sachu Constantine told SF Gate.

Funnily enough, CISO was contending against the company’s own previous achievements. The record was set in March, when CISO filled 56.7% of demand with renewables, a record which in turn broke a previous CISO accomplishment.

And California is in an enviable position in other areas of clean energy, too. Last year, one power company contracted Tesla to construct a series of Powerpacks which would ensure a steady supply of clean energy on a (well, literally) rainy day. San Francisco’s public transport system is also set to go fully green by 2045, and is already cutting down on fossil fuel use.

And getting greener on the other side too

California is certainly making huge strides for clean energy and is probably leading the US in this regard, but the country is following suit. Atlanta officials recently committed to powering their city 100% with green energy by 2035 and Massachusetts plans to do the same. Chicago, too, pledged to reach the goal by 2025, Hawaii by 2045, and Nevada pledged to 80% renewables by 2040.

New York State has seen an 800% increase in solar use, Block Island is running on full-wind power and has shut down its previous diesel plants. This February, the US as a whole has had days when wind supplied more than 50% of power demand — and could run on mostly renewable energy by 2050 according to estimates by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Renewable energy isn’t only better for the environment — it’s also becoming cheaper every day. Battery storage, the simplest way to compensate for fluctuations in energy production and a perfect mate for solar and wind, is doing the same. The industry creates many more jobs and distributes wealth better to those it hires, not just CEOs — so it’s easy to see why governments are looking to build on clean energy.

And everyday folk are joining in on the transition more than ever. Certain types of renewable energy, chiefly solar, can easily be installed at home, will save you money on the bills (or turn a profit), help the planet, help you feel better at the same time, and the whole thing clearly pisses off the president and his backers something fierce. What’s not to love?

All in all, things are looking pretty swell on the renewable front. I’m hopeful that clean energy has a well-established future with so much support, especially considering that it mainly flows from the bottom up.

 

Solar Panel Workers.

Clean energy creates more than twice as many jobs than fossil in the US, report finds

Clean energy is providing more jobs for Americans than fossil fuel across the country. Big win for team green!

Solar Panel Workers.

Image via Pixabay.

A new report from environmental group Sierra Club shows that clean energy is making its mark in the United States’ economy. We’ve already talked about how investment in green tech seems to be more profitable and cost-efficient than fossil fuels, and people seem to have caught on to the fact. There are now more jobs in the renewable energy sector than in coal, oil, and gas in 41 American states and Washington D.C., the group reports.

Panel-to-paycheck

So when people think of green energy they probably think wind turbines, solar panels, and maybe dams. But the market as a whole includes a lot of fields, from generation, to storage (which is used to compensate for fluctuations in power output), to smart grid technology applications which make sure as little of the power is wasted as possible. Taken together, these jobs exceed those in the coal, oil, and gas sectors from extraction to processing and power generation. Drawing on job data recorded by the Department of Energy for 2017, Sierra Club found that clean energy jobs outweighed those in fossil fuels by more than 2.5 to one.

“Nationally, clean energy jobs outnumber all fossil fuel jobs by over 2.5 to 1; and they exceed all jobs in gas and coal sectors by 5 to 1,” the paper reads.

The report had many questioning the current’s administration’s motives for pursuing a fossil fuel agenda with such gusto.

“Right now, clean energy jobs already overwhelm dirty fuels in nearly every state across America, and that growth is only going to continue as clean energy keeps getting more affordable and accessible by the day,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.

“These facts make it clear that Donald Trump is attacking clean energy jobs purely in order to boost the profits of fossil fuel billionaires.”

The report goes on to say that despite the president’s best efforts, clean energy is growing strong in the US, with “over twenty cities nationwide” having set the goal to use 100% clean energy by 2030. The groups also warns that faced with this rapid development, we should be careful “not to make the mistakes of the past”, and ensure that the benefits brought by clean energy are equitably shared instead of pooled by a few individuals or companies.

The way forward

Putting workers and the community first, especially those who depended on fossil fuels in the past, is the way to go, Sierra Club says. The report highlights job stability, opportunities for fair and merit-based upward mobility in the industry, and secure pathways to the middle class for workers as a way to ensure this equitable sharing of benefits.

“This means supporting high road job strategies like responsible trade policies, project labor agreements, community benefits agreements, employer neutrality in union organizing drives, local hire, union apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, and efforts to open more of those opportunities to communities of color and low-income people,” the paper explains.

“In practice, this means working tirelessly to ensurethat the communities and workers historicallydependent on fossil fuels are prioritized and putfirst at every stage of our ongoing transition to aneconomy powered more fully by clean energy.”

Investment in workforce development should also be a prime focus for the industry, as almost three-quarters of employers across all energy sectors found it difficult to hire skilled workers. The report concludes that policies aimed at investing in and incentivizing clean energy could generate millions of new jobs across America — more than the fossil fuel sector ever could.

You can read the full report on Scribd.