Category Archives: Green Energy

100 megawats of solar in Minnesota

Solar gardens in the state have just reached the 100 megawatt milestone.

This is actually something of a disappointment because a few years ago, Xcel, the main energy company involved in this, projected that we’d be at 200 megawatts by some time last year. On the other hand there are close to 180 new projects in design and construction phase. A current, revised estimate suggests that the statewide solar garden production will reach that 200 megawatt goal.

Currently, Minnesota plants are produce about 15,000 megawatts of electricity. So, the solar garden electricity is only 1% of our overall current production, and current electricity production is probably close to half of what it ultimately needs to be to replace liquid and gas energy used in homes and vehicles.

One percent may not sound like a lot, but this is one percent of the overall production that comes from pretty much nowhere. Just peopled deciding to fund a few solar panels. And, we are lucky that the state legislature in the past has not stood in the way of these efforts (though Republicans in the state legislature are now actively trying to stop solar).

There are a few large scale solar projects currently producing about 162 megawatts. Hardly anybody has solar on their roof, and all those flat topped public buildings, strip malls, etc. are sitting there unused. Most of them, anyway. If we fully deploy solar, this state, which by the way is fairly sunny, should be able to produce double a lot more electricity with solar.

The Energy East Pipeline Is Toast

Witness the overall demise of fossil fuel pipelines, thanks in part to the hard work of amazing activists, and in part to the fact that the value of these pipelines is dropping fast, which in turn, can be attributed in no small part to the hard work of amazing activists. And now, the latest:

From The Globe and Mail:

TransCanada scraps controversial Energy East Pipeline project

TransCanada Corp. has pulled the plug on its controversial $15.7-billion Energy East Pipeline proposal, after slowing oil sands growth and heightened environmental scrutiny raised doubts about the viability of the project.

In a terse statement Thursday morning, TransCanada said it has reviewed the “changed circumstances” and would be informing the National Energy Board that it would no longer proceed with the project, including the related Eastern Mainline, a natural gas pipeline that complemented the crude-carrying Energy East.

Puerto Rico, now’s your chance!

Puerto Rico can become the first significant size polity to rebuild itself from the ground up to be totally Carbon free. Or at least, that seems like a good idea. If only the US Government wasn’t so anti-Puerto Rico, owing to the president being, well, Trump.

Anyway, there is now a pile of money and effort pouring int Puerto Rico and this can be used in part to give Puerto Rico sigificantly more economic and energy security in its future, if only energy-smart decisions are made now. So let’s see what Get Energy Smart Now blog has to say about this!

Puerto Rico’s electricity system, prior to Maria, heavily relied on centralized diesel power generation with above-ground power transmission: very high cost electricity, dependent on continued fossil-fuel imports, with great vulnerability to disruption.

Post disaster, thoughtful policy and efforts would seek to maximize value in the Disaster 4R chain: relief, recovery, reconstruction, and resiliency against future impacts.

Rapid deployment/installation of solar-power centered micro-grids to Puerto Rico is a clear example of a Disaster 4R.

Here are some rapid thoughts as to such a Solar Disaster 4R package.

Go HERE to see the bullet pointed suggestions which could ultimately lead Puerto Rico into the next era of energy planning and development. As noted in the bullet points of the post, the success and validity of any such overhaul is based on it coming from the Puerto Rican society, economy, and local population.

States Can Lead the Way on Climate Change

True that. In the US, energy policy and regulation happens much more at the state level than the federal level, and our federal government went belly up last January anyway. Some states will not lead, they will go backwards, but others will lead, and show the way.

So, here I want to highlight this new item in Scientific American by Rebecca Otto.

States Can Lead the Way on Climate Change
The Trump administration’s threats to abandon Obama’s Clean Power Plan and exit the Paris accords don’t necessarily mean all is lost

The word “corporation” does not appear in our Constitution or Bill of Rights. But as Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse notes in his book Captured, corporations had already grown so powerful by 1816 that Thomas Jefferson urged Americans to “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
Today the conflict between the unfettered greed of unregulated capitalism and the right of the people to regulate industry with self-governance has reached extreme proportions. Corporations now have more power than many nations and feel justified in manipulating democracy to improve their bottom lines instead of the common good.
Nowhere is this problem more pronounced than…

Then where? THEN WHERE??? Go read the original piece!

Rebecca Otto’s Clean Energy Plan for Minnesota

Earlier today, Minnesota Gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Otto released her energy transition plan. It an ambitious plan that puts together several elements widely considered necessary to make any such plan work, then puts them on steroids to make it work faster. To my knowledge, this is the first major plan to be proposed since the recent dual revelations that a) the world is going to have to act faster than we had previously assumed* and b) the US Federal government will not be helping.

Here’s the elevator speech version: Minnesota residents get around five thousand dollars cash (over several years), monetary incentives to upgrade all their energy using devices from furnaces to cars, some 80,000 new, high paying jobs, and in the end, the state is essentially fossil fuel free.

About half of that fossil fuel free goal comes directly from the plan itself, the other half from the economy and markets passing various tipping points that this plan will hasten. The time scale for the plan is roughly 10 years, but giving the plan a careful reading I suspect some goals will be reached much more quickly. This means that once the plan takes off, Minnesotans will have an incentive to hold their elected officials accountable for holding the course for at least a decade.

The central theme of the plan is to use a revenue-neutral carbon price, which is widely seen by experts as the best approach for cleaning up our energy supply. The simple version of the carbon price works like this: Releasing carbon is saddled with a cost, way up (or early) in the supply chain. So you don’t pay a gas tax or any kind of energy tax, but somewhere up the line the big players are being charged for producing energy reliant on the release of fossil carbon. They, of course, have the option of producing electricity from wind and solar.

The campaign notes, “Rebecca’s Minnesota-Powered Plan doesn’t raise taxes a single penny. It levies a carbon price on fossil fuel companies, and pays 100% of the revenue back to Minnesota residents, so we can take charge of our own energy.”

That money is then distributed to any citizen who wants it (of course they will all want it), evenly, across the board. So, in theory, your cost of living is a little higher if dirty energy producers are in your own personal supply chain, but lower if they are not, and in any event, you are paid off to not care. The point is, if you personally eschew fossil carbon releasing products or energy sources, you get the payoff and someone else is paying for it. That would apply to both individuals and companies, because companies can often make those choices. For example, a school bus company would be more likely to replace an old dirty bus with an electric bus rather than a propane bus. (Just yesterday, an electric bus set a record, going over 1,000 miles on a single charge! Electricity is some pretty powerful magic.)

The Otto plan has a twist. While 75% of the carbon price is distributed evenly and directly to all citizens, 25% is distributed as refundable tax credits intended to cover 30% of the cost of clean energy improvements that use Minnesota companies. This may include solar panels, heat pumps for heating and cooling, insulation, new lighting, etc. New or used electric cars count. So it all goes back to the people, but some of it is directed to support the energy transition for individuals and families.

(A “refundable credit” is a tax credit that you still get even if you did not pay enough taxes to use it, so people of any income will be able to access the clean energy benefits.)

The conservatively estimated potential cash gain for a typical Minnesota family is laid out in this table from the Otto campaign:

That is for one year. As the plan matures, a decade down the line, we can assume the carbon price component will diminish, but the household payback for being off fossil fuels will increase, and, guess what? The plant gets to live and your children don’t have to live in as much of a dystopian future!

The clean energy technologies that will need to be deployed mostly already exist, and most of them can be processed and supplied right here in Minnesota. Indeed installing PV panels and car chargers, or efficient heat pump based furnaces, etc. is the kind of job that can not be outsourced to some other country, because your house is here so the work gets done here! It is estimated that some 80,000 long term high paying jobs will be generated from this infrastructure redo. That will in turn increase revenues to the state and quite likely, will spell surpluses, some of which are likely to be tax rebates or other sorts of payoffs to the citizens of the state.

A quick word about the Coal-Car Myth. Some will read about this plan and say, “yeah, but … if I drive an electric car and stuff, that electricity is even worser because it is made with dirty coal and stuff.” (Yes, I make the Coal-Car Mythers sound a bit dull because, at this point, you’d have to be a bit dull to still be thinking this). First, know this: There are circumstances under which burning coal to make electricity to charge a car will be more efficient than running a gasoline car. To conceptualize this, imagine two engineering teams in a competition. One is to make an energy plant using coal, the other is to use an energy plant using only 6 cylinder Ford motors. The winner builds the plant that is more efficient. The team using the thousands of internal combustion engines will lose. Second, know this: It is simply not the case that all of our electricity comes from coal, and every week there is less and less of it coming from coal. Electric cars have the promise, by the way, of outlasting internal combustion cars on average. So, over perhaps half the lifespan of a given electric car, what might have been a tiny increase in efficiency for a small number of electric cars (the rest start out way more than tiny) will become a great efficiency. It is time to switch to electric cars in Minnesota.

You can expect opposition to this plan from the likes of the Koch brothers, who are currently spending just shy of a billion dollars a year, that we know of, to keep fossil fuel systems on line and stop the clean energy transition. I asked Rebecca Otto what she expected in terms of push back. She told me, “Investing in clean energy means investing in our communities and taking charge of our own energy, instead of subsidizing big oil. Hence, big oil will be the stumbling block, as this will affect their bottom line over time.”

I asked Rebecca why this is something that needs to be handled by the states, rather than at the national level. She told me, “The crippling dysfunction in Washington is persistent and we need to act now. Oil companies are spending billions of dollars to rig the system against clean energy solutions. We need to break their stranglehold on our democracy and put people, not oil companies back in charge.”

She also noted that “we also have a moral imperative to do something and the federal government has become paralyzed by big oil propaganda and political spending. The states could become laboratories to begin to tackle climate change. And whoever does is going to reap the economic benefits from the job creation. These jobs pay 42% higher than the state’s average wage.”

Economists say the carbon price is the best way to make the energy transition happen. Regular Minnesotans benefit the most, the Minnesota economy benefits, and the environment benefits. This is a good plan. I endorse it.

This plan, which you should read all about here, has also been endorsed by the famous and widely respected meteorologist Paul Douglas, by Bill McKibben of 350.org, St Thomas scientist and energy expert John Abraham, and by climate scientist Michael Mann.

I’ve got more to say about this plan and related topics, so stay tuned.

Here’s a video of Rebecca Otto discussing energy from the roof of her solar paneled home, with her windmill generating electricity in the background. Apparently, she walks the walk!

Other posts on the plan:

Powering Minnesota to prosperity through energy leadership


*You may have seen recent research suggesting that we have more time than previously estimated to get our duck in a row with clean energy. That research was misrepresented in the press. A statement made by one of the authors clarifies: “..to likely meet the Paris goal, emission reductions would need to begin immediately and reach zero in less than 40 years’ time.”

Top fossil fuel producers caused half of global warming, third of sea level rise

I’ll just put this item from UCS here for your interest:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Study Finds Top Fossil Fuel Producers’ Emissions Responsible for as Much as Half of Global Surface Temperature Increase, Roughly 30 Percent of Global Sea Level Rise

Findings Provide New Data to Hold Companies Responsible for Climate Change

WASHINGTON (September 7, 2017)—A first-of-its-kind study published today in the scientific journal Climatic Change links global climate changes to the product-related emissions of specific fossil fuel producers, including ExxonMobil and Chevron. Focusing on the largest gas, oil and coal producers and cement manufacturers, the study calculated the amount of sea level rise and global temperature increase resulting from the carbon dioxide and methane emissions from their products as well as their extraction and production processes.

The study quantified climate change impacts of each company’s carbon and methane emissions during two time periods: 1880 to 2010 and 1980 to 2010. By 1980, investor-owned fossil fuel companies were aware of the threat posed by their products and could have taken steps to reduce their risks and share them with their shareholders and the general public.

“We’ve known for a long time that fossil fuels are the largest contributor to climate change,” said Brenda Ekwurzel, lead author and director of climate science at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “What’s new here is that we’ve verified just how much specific companies’ products have caused the Earth to warm and the seas to rise.”

The study builds on a landmark 2014 study by Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute, one of the co-authors of the study published today. Heede’s study, which also was published in Climatic Change, determined the amount of carbon dioxide and methane emissions that resulted from the burning of products sold by the 90 largest investor- and state-owned fossil fuel companies and cement manufacturers.

Ekwurzel and her co-authors inputted Heede’s 2014 data into a simple, well-established climate model that captures how the concentration of carbon emissions increases in the atmosphere, trapping heat and driving up global surface temperature and sea level. The model allowed Ekwurzel et al. to ascertain what happens when natural and human contributions to climate change, including those linked to the companies’ products, are included or excluded.

The study found that:

<li>Emissions traced to the 90 largest carbon producers contributed approximately 57 percent?of the observed rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, nearly 50 percent of the rise in global average temperature, and around 30 percent of global sea level rise since 1880.</li>


<li>Emissions linked to 50 investor-owned carbon producers, including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Peabody, Shell and Total, were responsible for roughly 16 percent of the global average temperature increase from 1880 to 2010, and around 11 percent of the global sea level rise during the same time frame.</li>


<li>Emissions tied to the same 50 companies from 1980 to 2010, a time when fossil fuel companies were aware their products were causing global warming, contributed approximately 10 percent of the global average temperature increase and about 4 percent sea level rise since 1880.</li>


<li>Emissions traced to 31 majority state-owned companies, including Coal India, Gazprom, Kuwait Petroleum, Pemex, Petroleos de Venezuela, National Iranian Oil Company and Saudi Aramco, were responsible for about 15 percent of the global temperature increase and approximately 7 percent of the sea level rise between 1880 and 2010.</li>

“Until a decade or two ago, no corporation could be held accountable for the consequences of their products’ emissions because we simply didn’t know enough about what their impacts were,” said Myles Allen, a study co-author and professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford in England. “This study provides a framework for linking fossil fuel companies’ product-related emissions to a range of impacts, including increases in ocean acidification and deaths caused by heat waves, wildfires and other extreme weather-related events. We hope that the results of this study will inform policy and civil society debates over how best to hold major carbon producers accountable for their contributions to the problem.”

The question of who is responsible for climate change and who should pay for its related costs has taken on growing urgency as climate impacts worsen and become costlier. In New York City alone, officials estimate that it will cost more than $19 billion to adapt to climate change. Globally, adaptation cost projections are equally astronomical. The U.N. Environment Programme estimates that developing countries will need $140 billion to $300 billion annually by 2030 and $280 billion to $500 billion annually by 2050 to adapt.

The debate over responsibility for climate mitigation and adaptation has long focused on the “common but differentiated responsibilities” of nations, a framework used for the Paris climate negotiations. Attention has increasingly turned to non-state actors, particularly the major fossil fuel producers.

“At the start of the Industrial Revolution, very few people understood that carbon dioxide emissions progressively undermine the stability of the climate as they accumulate in the atmosphere, so there was nothing blameworthy about selling fossil fuels to those who wanted to buy them,” said Henry Shue, professor of politics and international relations at the University of Oxford and author of a commentary on the ethical implications of the Ekwurzel et al. paper that was published simultaneously in Climatic Change. “But circumstances have changed radically in light of evidence that a number of investor-owned companies have long understood the harm of their products, yet carried out a decades-long campaign to sow doubts about those harms in order to ensure fossil fuels would remain central to global energy production. Companies knowingly violated the most basic moral principle of ‘do no harm,’ and now they must remedy the harm they caused by paying damages and their proportion of adaptation costs.”

Had ExxonMobil, for example, acted on its own scientists’ research about the risks of its products, climate change likely would be far more manageable today.

“Fossil fuel companies could have taken any number of steps, such as investing in clean energy or carbon capture and storage, but many chose instead to spend millions of dollars to try to deceive the public about climate science to block sensible limits on carbon emissions,” said Peter Frumhoff, a study co-author and director of science and policy at UCS. “Taxpayers, especially those living in vulnerable coastal communities, should not have to bear the high costs of these companies’ irresponsible decisions by themselves.”

Ekwurzel et al.’s study may inform approaches for juries and judges to calculate damages in such lawsuits as ones filed by two California counties and the city of Imperial Beach in July against 37 oil, gas and coal companies, claiming they should pay for damages from sea level rise. Likewise, the study should bolster investor campaigns to force fossil fuel companies to disclose their legal vulnerabilities and the risks that climate change poses to their finances and material assets.

How to clean coal

It suddenly became apparent, just a couple of days ago when President Trump was ranting and raving at a political rally, that the man does not know what clean coal is.

This is a concern because his entire energy policy stems from the assumption that we can mine lots of coal in West Virginia and use that for energy, that this is OK because it will be clean coal.

The term clean coal has been used in three ways, but really, is correctly used in only one way (number 2 of the three below), and when used that way, it is still bogus.

1) The term clean coal, or phrases very close to it, have been used by the energy industry to refer to their cleaning up of coal plants to have them put fewer nasty particulates and chemicals into the air. Clean plants produce clean effluence while burning coal. This is nice and all, but it has nothing to do with the fundamental problem that burning coal is a major contribution to global warming, because when you burn coal you take Carbon that is attached mainly to other Carbon atoms in solid form, and combine it with Oxygen, to make heat and CO2. The CO2 is the greenhouse gas.

2) The term clean coal refers to burning coal and somehow making the CO2 not go into the atmosphere. A method that makes the Carbon not become CO2 is essentially impossible because it is the oxidation of the Carbon that is the energy production process. You can not turn coal into heat energy without making CO2. It. Is. Not. Possible. But, some say it is possible to make the CO2 go away or not be a problem in some other way. If we were talking about a small amount of CO2, that might be possible. We could store it underground or something (never mind that this takes energy too). But for burning a lot of coal, for keeping coal as a major part of our energy policy, we simply can’t do that. You cant store away a gazillaton of a gas every year and expect it to stay stored.

3) This is the newest definition. This is Trump’s definition. You dig the coal up, then you wash it so it is clean. Then you burn it and everything is fine.

Nope.

By the way, the photo above is of the harvesting of sea coal in Hartepool. That, apparently, was a thing.

Australia Solar Thermal Plant: Messed up reporting

SolarReserve will build, for the South Australia government, a solar thermal plant rated at 150 MW, which is about 25 MW more than that government uses currently. Over time, assuming Australia goes all on clean and green, the amount of electricity used by South Australia will increase substantially, but for now, this plant will provide the extra to the regional grid.

A solar plant is a way of making the use of solar more full time. Instead of just producing electricity by sunlight, perhaps storing some in batteries, it uses sunlight to produce heat, which is then used to run a turbine all day and all night, and across periods of cloudiness (which are rare in the case of this particular plant’s location).

Putting it another way, this kind of plant solves the problem that clean energy tends to be intermittent. Putting it still another way, this kind of plant reduces the need to store electricity that may be overproduced or produced irregularly by photovoltaic solar or wind plants.

But the reporting of this story sadly demonstrates counterproductive lousy anti-clean energy commentary delivered in an envelope of crap reporting (because the reporter did not understand the story enough to ask the right questions). Here is a quote from the story in The Guardian

<blockquoteWasim Saman, professor of sustainable ernergy engineering at the University of South Australia, said solar thermal was a more economical way of storing energy than using batteries.

“The significance of solar thermal generation lies in its ability to provide energy virtually on demand,” he said.

But Dr Matthew Stocks, a research fellow in the research school of engineering at the Australian National University, said solar thermal also had limits.

“One of the big challenges for solar thermal as a storage tool is that it can only store heat. If there is an excess of electricity in the system because the wind is blowing strong, it cannot efficiently use it to store electrical power to shift the energy to times of shortage, unlike batteries and pumped hydro,” he said..

No. Investing in this kind of plant is a move to reduce the problem of storage.

Show me an article about a new nuclear power plant, an upgrade to a coal plant, or a new natural gas plant, that mentions that these technologies are not batteries. This is nothing other than a senseless contrary opinion pulled out of the nether regions of a reporter’s notebook. The search for false balance continues even at the Guardian, which really should know better.

Trump, Perry, Energy, Climate, #Sad

Two items I know you’ll want to check out.

The ‘intellectual’ debate Rick Perry says he wants is already over

Last week, Energy Secretary Rick Perry told CNBC he considers his skepticism towards climate data to be a sign of a “wise, intellectually engaged person.” Yesterday, at a press briefing at the White House – it’s apparently supposed to be “Energy Week” – Perry used similar phrasing, calling for “an intellectual conversation” on global warming.

Four myths journalists should watch out for during Trump’s “Energy Week”

The White House has declared this to be “Energy Week” and is pushing a theme of “energy dominance,” with a particular emphasis on exports of natural gas. Three of President Trump’s cabinet members are out in force this week trying to spread misleading or false messages about energy and exports through the media.

“An energy-dominant America will export to markets around the world, increasing our global leadership and influence,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt wrote in a joint op-ed published Monday in The Washington Times.

Watch out for these myths:

Myth #1: Natural gas exports are good for ordinary Americans and the overall U.S. economy

Myth #2: Natural gas exports are good for the climate

Myth #3: Natural gas exports have been blocked until now

Myth #4: The U.S. can achieve “energy dominance”

The item at MMFA has the details.