Tag Archives: Clean Energy

Nuclear Plant Bill Riles, Confuses, Perhaps Conspires

There is a pair of bills working their way through the Minnesota state legislature that would change the way Xcel Energy can pay for certain costs of maintaining and upgrading its nuclear power plants between now and their eventual final shut down several years hence. Continue reading Nuclear Plant Bill Riles, Confuses, Perhaps Conspires

The Best US Electricity Generation Graphic Ever, No Kidding

Carbon Brief has produced a US based (sorry, rest of the world) interactive graphic that accesses an extensive underlying database that shows everything about the electricity generation that there is to know. Each generation plant, each type of electricty, capacity, etc. and you can view the information by state, by type of energy, and with some other toggles.

Here is an example. Continue reading The Best US Electricity Generation Graphic Ever, No Kidding

Climate and energy are becoming focal points in state political races

Just a pointer to my colleague John Abraham’s current post in The Guardian:

The latest example, Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Otto has a strong clean energy proposal

As soon as Donald Trump won the presidential election, people in the US and around the world knew it was terrible news for the environment. Not wanting to believe that he would try to follow through on our worst fears, we held out hope.

Those hopes for a sane US federal government were misplaced. But they are replaced by a new hope – an emerging climate leadership at the state level and a continuation of economic forces that favor clean/renewable energy over dirty fossil fuels. In fact, it appears that some states are relishing the national and international leadership roles that they have undertaken. Support for sensible climate and energy policies is now a topic to run on in elections.

This change has manifested itself in American politics. One such plan stems from my home state, but it exemplifies work in other regions. I live in the state of Minnesota where we are gearing up for a gubernatorial election, which is where this plan comes from.

My state is well known as somewhat progressive, both socially and economically. The progressive policies resulted in a very strong 2007 renewable energy standard, which helped to reduce carbon pollution and create 15,000 jobs.

As an aside, it is really painful for me to…

Click here to find out about John’s pain!

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 Continue reading Rebecca Otto’s Clean Energy Plan for Minnesota

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.”

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.

Cheap Books, Random Thoughts

ADDED, ANOTHER CHEAP BOOK YOU MIGHT WANT:Dune

The following random thought will eventually become a more carefully written blog post, but I want to get this out there sooner than later.

Mention electric cars, or solar panels, or any other kind of thing a person might buy and deploy to reduce their Carbon footprint.

Mention that to enough people and some wise ass will eventually come along and tell you how wrong you are. About how electric cars are worse for the environment than gas cars because bla bla bla, or how solar panels are worse for the environment than burning natural gas because of yada yada yada.

I guarantee you that in almost every case, said wise ass is either using bogus arguments they learned form the right wing propoganda machine and that they accepted uncritically, or they are working with two year old information or older.

The electric car, or electric bus, or what have you, is very often, most of the time, and in the near future, always, the better option. If you are reading this sentence and don’t believe me, let me tell you now that your argument from incredulity does not impress me.

I’m particularly annoyed about the anti-electric bus argument. Electric busses already usually pay for themselves well before their lifespan is up using today’s calculations, but a machine designed to run for decades is going to be in operation years after we have almost totally converted our power system over. If you are a state or school board or something an you are currently working out the next five years of planning, there is a chance you may be thinking now about buying a bus that will be in operation in the 2050s. Are you seriously thinking about buying an internal combustion vehicle for that? Are you nuts?

Anyway, that was that thought. Now, for your trouble, a book suggestion. Have you read “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” by John Le Carré? In some ways this is Le Carré’s best novel, but it is also totally different than all his other novels, in that it is short, a page turner, quick, not detailed. It is like he wrote one of his regular novels then cut out 70% of it. If you’ve never read Le Carré and you read this, don’t expect his other novels to be the same. They are all great, but they are also denser, longer, more complex, demand more of the reader.

I mention this because right now you can get the Kindle edition of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold for $1.99. I’ve not read this novel in years, but I think I’m going to get this and add it to my growing collection of classics on Kindle, which I may or may not eventually read.

By the way, there was a movie.

Two other books, both sciency, both cheap in Kindle form, I’ve not read either one, but maybe you know of the book and are interested.

Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth

John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Saint Phocas, Darwin, and Virgil parade through this thought-provoking work, taking their place next to the dung beetle, the compost heap, dowsing, historical farming, and the microscopic biota that till the soil. Whether William Bryant Logan is traversing the far reaches of the cosmos or plowing through our planet’s crust, his delightful, elegant, and surprisingly soulful meditations greatly enrich our concept of “dirt,” that substance from which we all arise and to which we all must return.

Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization

Ten thousand years ago, our species made a radical shift in its way of life: We became farmers rather than hunter-gatherers. Although this decision propelled us into the modern world, renowned geneticist and anthropologist Spencer Wells demonstrates that such a dramatic change in lifestyle had a downside that we’re only now beginning to recognize. Growing grain crops ultimately made humans more sedentary and unhealthy and made the planet more crowded. The expanding population and the need to apportion limited resources created hierarchies and inequalities. Freedom of movement was replaced by a pressure to work that is the forebear of the anxiety millions feel today. Spencer Wells offers a hopeful prescription for altering a life to which we were always ill-suited. Pandora’s Seed is an eye-opening book for anyone fascinated by the past and concerned about the future.

Why is the US Government turning back to petroleum when clean energy means JOBS JOBS JOBS?

The solar energy field now produces the larest share of jobs in US Power generation. There are 374,000 jobs i Solar right now, compared to fewer than 190,00 in coal, gas, and oil.

This corresponds to shifts in the amount of electricity produced by these various sources, as indicated in the Department of Energy graph shown above.

The biggest states for this job growth are California followed distantly by Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina.

Given current trends inside the beltway, I expect the Department of Energy to make this report disappear so 2017 US Energy and Jobs Report_0.

A Question For Next Debate: How Will the US Catch Up With the Clean Power Plan?

The US is already behind in its agreed to commitment to clean power

A study just out in Nature climate Change suggests that the US is already behind in its commitments to reduce the use of fossil fuel as an energy source, and the concomitant release of climate-warming greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

The paper, by Jeffery Greenblatt and Max Wei, says:

Current intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs)are insufficient to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting temperature change to between 1.5 and 2.0?C above pre-industrial levels, so the effectiveness of existing INDCs will be crucial to further progress. Here we assess the likely range of US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2025 and whether the US’s INDC can be met, on the basis of updated historical and projected estimates. We group US INDC policies into three categories reflecting potential future policies, and model 17 policies across these categories. With all modelled policies included, the upper end of the uncertainty range overlaps with the 2025 INDC target, but the required reductions are not achieved using reference values. Even if all modelled policies are implemented, additional GHG reduction is probably required; we discuss several potential policies.

The authors note that we can reach the targets, if we do something about it soon. There is time. The main problem seems to be methane, emissions of which will be higher than previously estimated. Chris Mooney talked to the authors, reports that here, and notes:

Earlier this year, the U.S. EPA increased its estimate for how much methane is being emitted by the oil and gas sector, and by the U.S. overall, in recent years. The new study has more or less done something similar.

“We made some corrections to the 2005 and 2025 estimates for methane,” says Greenblatt. In particular, he said, in 2005 these changes added 400 million additional tons of carbon dioxide equivalents emitted as methane.

Greenblatt emphasized that assumptions of higher methane emissions aren’t the only reason that the U.S. could miss its goals, but that it’s a significant one. “An increasing amount of methane emissions is part of the story,” he said.

Another problem, of course, is the yahoos who live in conservative states, the self-interested fossil fuel industry, and presidential candidate Donald Trump. These nefarious actors are trying to force the US EPA Clean Power Plan out of existence because, well, I guess they want to see all of our children grow up in a post apocalyptic world.

John Upton at Climate Central notes:

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has embraced the fight against global warming started by President Obama. Republican nominee Donald Trump has vowed to end it, such as by disbanding the EPA and abandoning international commitments.

Polluting industries and conservative states are suing the EPA in an attempt to overturn its new power plant rules, arguing that the agency overstepped its legal boundaries. The rules haven’t taken effect yet, but they’re the linchpin of American climate policy.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will hear opening arguments in the case Tuesday, with an eventual ruling likely from the Supreme Court. A judicial appointment by the next president could tip the Supreme Court against or in favor of environmental regulations, such as the Clean Power Plan.

So, the question I’d love to see asked in the next Presidential Debate is this: “A recent peer reviewed study indicates that the US is not on target to meet the promised reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This is mainly due to methane release being greater than previously thought, but other factors matter as well. What will you do as President to get us back on track?”

More about the Clean Power Plan:

Coal Use by US Educational Institutions Down 64% since 2008

A lot of higher education institutions are old, and back in the day, things were different. Not only were most schools simultaneously on top of and on the bottom of great snow covered hills, but they were often surrounded by nearly medieval settlement, or at least, pre-industrial ones, that lacked things like central heat, electricity, and so on, even after these things became common and normal.

I remember the legacy of this reality at my Alma Mater, a small university in Cambridge, Mass. Most of the campus had its own heating system, which was built at a time when centrally distributed electricity and such were certainly in place but just as certainly not universal. There, a power plant, which I am going to guess formerly burned coal but later natural gas and oil, made electricity for the general grid, but in so doing also produced steam. The steam was then shipped (mostly) across the river and quite a ways down the road to the campus, where it was distributed to many buildings to provide heat. At several points were grates that gave access to the steam heating system, creating open air warmer micro environment, on which homeless folks would sleep. It was a big deal when the University administration decided to put spiky metal barriers over the vents to keep the homeless people from having a chance to survive a cold winter. There was an outcry. The vents were uncovered in a matter of days.

But I digress.

Today’s news, which comes to us from the Department of Energy, is that educational institutions are using way less coal than they used to. And that makes sense only in the context of the above described sort of thing; educational institutions, as large and demanding places where people both lived in work, with many buildings and a lot of contiguous spaces, were among those places that historically developed their own electricity generation systems, as well as heating systems. Some of those electricity generating systems also fed out to the local grid, so the odd situation developed where among a region’s power plants would be one or more owned and operated by a university or college, or an agent thereof. And, a certain number of these burned coal.

But now

Coal consumption by educational institutions such as colleges and universities in the United States fell from 2 million short tons in 2008 to 700,000 short tons in 2015. Consumption declined in each of the 57 institutions that used coal in 2008, with 20 of these institutions no longer using coal at all. Many of these institutions participate in the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, a program aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Coal consumption has decreased as institutions switch from coal to natural gas or other fuels.

This coal consumption is less than a tenth of one percent of the total US coal consumption, so this may be little more than symbolic to some. But it isn’t. This is fossil fuel not being burned, and it means a lot.

The graph at the top of the post shows the trend.

This is not all good news. It is nice to reduce coal use, but a lot, most, of this coal has been replace with natural gas. However, in some cases, geothermal was used, and some renewable sources of energy have been deployed.

More here.

A New North American Clean Energy Plan

Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau and Enrique Peña Nieto, have made a joint announcement. As reported by NPR:

President Obama and his counterparts from Canada and Mexico are preparing to unveil an ambitious new goal for generating carbon-free power when they meet this week in Ottawa.

The three leaders are expected to set a target for North America to get 50 percent of its electricity from nonpolluting sources by 2025. That’s up from about 37 percent last year.

Aides acknowledge that’s a “stretch goal,” requiring commitments over and above what the three countries agreed to as part of the Paris climate agreement.

The news reports and press information about this event note that the US currently produces about a third of its energy from non fossil fuel sources. Mexico produces less than 20% of its power this way, and Canada is at about 81%. A big part of this shift will involve shutting down coal plants and expanding wind and solar. However, this mix, as well as the proposed 50% of “clean energy,” may include biofuels, which are very limited in their effectiveness in combating climate change, Nuclear, which is diminishing in its importance, and possibly “carbon capture” which is not an energy source and not likely to have much impact because it essentially doesn’t work at any meaningful scale because of physics.

So, we will need to see some clarification in this area.