Category: Alternative Energy

Big News! More Jobs in Clean Energy Than Coal & Oil for First Time!

Global-Climate-ChangeThere was some great news for those of us advocating on behalf of Planet Earth today, as the United States reported that, for the first time, employment in the solar energy industry is greater than the number of jobs in oil and natural gas extraction. That incredibly important milestone, which flies in the face of many of the Right’s economic arguments against environmentalism, took place last year, but the numbers have just been released.

Anyone with one eye and half sense already knew this would happen. As the public becomes better-educated about clean energy and its myriad benefits — benefits which transcend the critical impact on global climate change — the demand for solar, wind and other renewable resources will simply continue to grow by leaps and bounds. The fact that those industries are now less profitable than their long-established dirty energy counterparts is due only to the fact that a great deal of research and development and marketing ramp-up has to take place before the economies of scale kick in.

This news gives great additional credibility to the Presidential campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein as they attempt to convince the American voting public of the viability of an economy based primarily on these emerging energy markets and products.

Go tell that to your cynical conservative friends.

It’s Not Green Energy That’s Hitting Hard Times, It’s the Usual Corporate Greed Story

As a longtime journalist, I am aware of the power and impact of headlines on news stories and opinion pieces. More often than not when I hear or read someone commenting on a recent posting, the slightest probing reveals that they didn’t read the piece in its entirety. In fact, rarely do they read past the lead paragraph. But in far too many cases, they talk as if they were knowledgeable about a subject when all they’ve read is the headline.

Headlines are the primary means by which memes are created and spread. By their nature, they are incomplete. By design, they are intended not so much to educate readers but to entice then to read the piece.

Thus it is that when I encounter a particularly misleading headline, I tend to react strongly.

Today’s Christian Science Monitor online has an article headlined, “Has Renewable Energy Hit Hard Times?” That question might well cause you to ask whether wind and solar have somehow been found to be uneconomical or counter-productive. But the opening sentence of the article begins to reveal the real agenda behind the story. “Just last summer, renewable energy was considered a booming industry,” it tells us. Aha, so this is not about green energy, it’s about green energy companies who are disappointed in their profit margins.

Sure enough, The main focus is on SunEdison, the very epitome of Big Green. That company has pursued a relentless and highly risky policy of growth by acquisition and has a well-documented shady business plan that involves the main company building and then selling or licensing alternative energy capacity to subsidiaries it owns. It turns out the “hard times” are being encountered by SunEdison’s investors who are angry that “Stock prices have plunged in recent months as [they] have begun to question the companies’ business model.”

The CSM article concludes, “Moving forward, renewable energy needs simpler and more transparent business practices to meet the world’s growing enthusiasm for energy alternatives.” Exactly. Supplanting the exploitative practices of Big Oil and Big Coal with Big Green isn’t going to shift the ethics or priorities of the market. This is precisely why the development of wind and solar cannot be entrusted solely to private enterprise whose only motive is short-term profit and who will cut and run at the first sign that their last-century approach to business isn’t going to be rewarded in the New Global Economy.

Meanwhile, the CS Monitor would do well to retrain its editorial staff in the construction of useful and accurate headline writing. I know it’s a lost art, but it’s not rocket science.

The Nation Offers Three Reasons for Optimism on Climate Change

global_climate_change_4The Nation magazine, in its current 150th anniversary issue, features an article entitled “3 Reasons to Be Optimistic About the Fight to Save the Climate.” Summarized quickly, here are the reasons:

  1. International leaders are starting to frame the debate and discussion of climate change in strongly moral language, which appeals more to peoples’ guts where political decisions are often made than do facts and statistics.
  2. Renewable energy sales and installations around the world are soaring well beyond expectations and in many cases much faster than even the most optimistic predictions.
  3. The coal industry — biggest criminal group in the continuation of the use of carbon-based fuels — is in serious financial trouble and shows every sign of being in decline, due in some small but growing part to calls for divestment of investments in fossil fuel companies.

I could go on to explain each of these points in more detail, but that’s what the article in The Nation does so well, so I’m going to shut up now and urge you to go read that excellent and optimistic piece now.

 

Please, President Obama, Don’t Do This!

It is bad enough that President Obama counteracts his signing of a major new deal on global warming with China by making approving noises about the Keystone XL Pipeline. Now he’s apparently about to bow from industry pressure applied through his own Environmental Protection Agency and significantly weaken our nation’s alternative fuels efforts.

According to reporting by Evan Halper of the LA Times, the President is giving some thought to a “rollback of the 7-year-old green energy mandate known as the renewable fuel standard.” Such a rollback would have a devastating effect on investment in and development of the alternative fuels that must remain central to our nation’s contributions to fighting global climate change.

The suggested rollback is being initiated by the EPA, under pressure from the petrochemical industry. Their reasoning is that the program has so far failed to produce alternative fuels in sufficient quantity and quality to be a viable alternative energy source. That is unarguably true for the most part. But the answer to the problem is not to abandon or de-emphasize the program. On the contrary, the failures should drive further investment and research designed to overcome the obstacles we are discovering and have discovered. Nobody said or thought this was going to be easy. But if the Federal Government doesn’t lead on this vital issue, who will? Surely not the petroleum industry with its vested interest in the status quo so deep that it cannot even see the human extinction looming just over the next horizon.

So, please, Mr. President. Don’t do this. Don’t sabotage this vital program. Redouble our efforts and expenditures on alternative fuels. Before it is too late.

 

Obama Takes Significant Executive Action on Solar Just Before Big Climate March

President Obama has announced 14 separate Executive Actions and 30+ partnerships of various stripes around renewable energy in one of the biggest news days for the subject in recent memory. Some of the actions actually have immediate or near-term practical consequences; others are just symbolic. But that doesn’t mean they’re not important. Sometimes the non-verbals, the metaphoric have greater impact than the practical.

Cynics will say that he made these announcements all at once to appease his critics from the Left just in time for tomorrow’s big Climate March. I’m sure there’s a lot of that in here. But that’s OK. As someone on Daily Kos pointed out, “That means we can point to it and say ‘We made  you do that.'”

I am somewhat encouraged by these developments. In announcing the initiatives, the White House said they would:

cut carbon pollution by nearly 300 million metric tons through 2030 – equivalent to taking more than 60 million cars off the road for one year – and will save homes and businesses more than $10 billion on their energy bills.

That’s not enough but it’s not nothing either.

 

Germany’s Solar and Wind Success Come at Expense of Utility Companies

Solar panels cover the roofs in all or most homes in many German towns and cities.

Solar panels cover the roofs in all or most homes in many German towns and cities.

There may be no better illustration of the meaning of the phrase “disruptive technology” than in Germany’s experience over the last several years with wind and solar energy adoption. Germany, along with Canada and, interestingly enough, Brazil, leads the industrialized world in switching to a green economy.

The story of Germany’s incredibly rapid adoption of renewable energy sources has been told well and often enough that I need not repeat it here. If it’s news to you, you can check out this NYT article or this German government site that updates the national policy of energiewende (energy transformation). Or just Google “Germany renewables”.

But this piece by Justin Gillis focuses more on the impact of this transformation on Germany’s power utilities, who, according to Gillis, have seen “profits from power generation collapse.” He points out that, “In Germany, where solar panels supply 7 percent of power and wind turbines about 10 percent, wholesale power prices have crashed during what were once the most profitable times of day.” One of the nation’s largest power utilities recently announced a $3.8 billion loss for the most recent fiscal year. Its CEO admitted the company was “late, probably too late,” to respond to the transformation now sweeping the country.

American utilities are watching what is happening in Germany and they are acting like ducks: calm and unruffled on the surface, but underwater paddling like crazy to stay afloat without changing directions. In this country, Big Coal, and Big Oil, and other Big Power vested interests are resisting and opposing changes in rules and laws that would encourage and facilitate more rapid response to global climate change as they scramble to protect their obscene profits. Instead, they could and should be investing some of that windfall into clean energy, finding ways to channel some of the coming profit from the transformation into their coffers (which is, after all, the only thing they actually understand).

A sudden disruption of the power companies and their suppliers would have a temporarily devastating effect on the economy in the form of thousands, perhaps millions, of jobs lost. But if industry and government work together to plan the transformation, and if the private companies take an active role in creating and channeling the transformation, some of that disruption an be managed and minimized.

In the long run, though, the disruption is not only tolerable, it is essential. Global climate change threatens the very existence of humanity.

As it is, we’ve allowed Big Power to turn us into global eco-terrorists, holding humanity hostage as we refuse to give up the dangerous and poisonous ways we generate and consume energy even as the reserves become depleted and the air becomes unbreathable and the water becomes inhabitable.

10 Reasons for Some Optimism on Climate Change

The Guaradian has published a helpful article providing 10 reasons we should perhaps be a bit more hopeful than we might otherwise seem advised to be about climate change. The 10 reasons cited in the article are:

  1. Barack Obama has made it one of his defining issues.
  2. China has ordered coal power plants to close.
  3. The cost of solar has fallen by two thirds.
  4. People are taking their money out of fossil fuels.
  5. Bangladeshi women are being retrained as solar technicians.
  6. Renewable energy will soon take the lion’s share of new power.
  7. European homes are using 15% less energy than they were in 2000.
  8. Cutting emissions has become a business imperative.
  9. Oil is becoming much more expensive to find.
  10. Electric car sales are doubling each year.

Of these, the ones that I find most promising and hopeful are items 3, 4, 5 and 8.

Chart showing decline in price of solar panels from 1977 to 2013 from $75 to 74 centsWith the cost of solar falling rapidly, the potential for widespread adoption of this best-of-breed technology grows greater and greater. Sun power is clearly and unequivocally the best renewable energy source by any measure. Are there problems to be resolved? Sure. But they can’t be resolved from a position of stasis. In building out the solutions and encountering the problems and dealing with them in place, we will overcome them or find ways around them.

The rapidly growing divestment movement is most promising. As universities, retirement funds and other large institutional investors begin to show the way toward carbon-free portfolios, it will become increasingly difficult for the world’s richest companies to continue to convince a dwindling shareholder base of the economic soundness of their underlying strategy. (About which, see items 8 and 9.)

As the world’s poorest workers are being retrained to install solar power, two related things are happening. First, they and their culture are being made acutely aware of the impact of the climate on their lives. Second, the cost of solar continues to decline (see item 3, above). This puts upward pressure on the economy in some powerful and as-yet-little-understood ways.

As for item 8, when it becomes economically advantageous to reduce carbon emissions and to rely less and less on more and more expensive and socially sanctioned sources of energy, businesses are being forced to realize that it is good business and politics to reduce their carbon footprint.

The combined effect of all of this won’t mean a lot without a great deal of public policy shift, but taken together these indicators are indeed reasons for increased optimism.

 

This is Outrageous! Oklahoma “Conservatives” Impose Tax on Homeowners Who Install Solar Panels!!??

Do these people have no shame at all? Do they not recognize their own hypocrisy? Or has greed so gripped their souls that they can no longer see anything but dollar signs when they look where they used to keep their ethics?

global_climate_change_3Seems the Oklahoma legislature has decided to adopt a bill written by the most nefarious lobbying organization in the country that is designed to actively discourage homeowners in that state from attempting to do something about global climate change. The bill, prepared by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), views such citizens as “freeloaders on the system” who must pay a fee to stay on the grid. This despite the fact that they are producing, via their sun panels, more electricity than they need and are thus enabled to sell the excess wattage back to the grid’s owners and operators.

So these people are exercising freedom of choice, independence, and the principles of capitalist free enterprise. So the Republicans want to bring that crap to an immediate halt! WTF??!!

I wonder how many other state legislatures have adopted this bill or will do so in the future?

 

Climate Change Roundup for March 6-7, 2014

global_climate_change_4Desert Plants May Hold Key to Problem of Arable Land Loss for Biofuel Production

A big obstacle to the more widespread adoption of plant-based biofuel alternatives has been the fact that the plants harvested and used for creating these fuels end up depriving farmers of arable land and, in some cases at least, consumers of access to affordable food.

Now the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SRBC) has discovered that desert plants irrigated with sea water can produce biofuels more efficiently than the plant life being studied and used at the moment, notably corn and sugar cane. That discovery has the potential to push biofuels to near the top of the list of alternative fuel sources to focus on as America staggers its way toward a more sustainable energy profile.

Small (Pop. 150) German Town Runs Completely on Alternative Energy, Builds Its Own Grid

The small German town of Feldheim, about 40 miles outside Berlin in what used to be East Germany, has, over the past nearly 20 years become so completely independent of traditional energy resources that it has actually built its own electrical grid when the state power utility balked at a request to buy back excess energy the town was spinning off.

Feldheim, in partnership with a local alternative energy firm, started with wind turbines in 1995, advanced to an extensive solar panel farm in 2008, a biogas plant that converts pig manure and excess corn into a heating system. Renewable fever had caught on.

By 2009, the town was producing more than its total energy needs with these alternative fuels but the big power company that provided their grid refused either to buy the excess output or to lease the town a portion of the grid. So townspeople put up approximately $3,000 each to fund the design and creation of their own power grid.

Obviously this is not a rich community. And it is operating in a more regulated setting than we in the United States can imagine. And yet, this handful of folks proved it is feasible for a local community to go completely to alternative fuels and even profit in the bargain.

This could be a great model for communities throughout the U.S. to look to if they want to help minimize the impact of global climate change in their areas and don’t want to wait for the Feds to get around to doing anything meaningful.

Offshore wind farm photoMassive Offshore Wind Farms Could Not Only Meet Large Energy Needs, They Might Also Help Quell Major Hurricanes

Stanford University Professor Stan Z. Jacobson says that he has developed a computer model that suggests that installing massive wind farms off U.S. coastal areas could “disrupt a hurricane enough to reduce peak wind speeds by up to 92 mph and decrease storm surge by up to 79 percent.”

That is, of course, in addition to their major potential as a source of the cleanest and most renewable energy source of all, including solar.

Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, simulated Hurricanes Sandy, Isaac and Katrina with his model and found in every case that the presence of large working wind farms would have greatly mitigated the damage from those storms both by taming them and by shortening their lives.

It’s not every day you get a win-win like this one. Even though there has been massive resistance in the U.S. to installing these wind farms, maybe the prospect of greatly reducing the death and destruction from the new superstorms will be enough incentive to cause someone to sit up and take notice. Probably not, but I can hope, can’t I?

Malaria Could Become a Worse Problem in Africa and South America Because of Climate Change

A team of researchers from the United Kingdom and the U.S. has determined that increasing temperatures might well worsen the effects of malaria in places like South America and Africa.

The finding is actually a side effect of the main purpose of the study, which was to confirm the suspicion that in warmer periods, the mosquitoes that cause malaria migrate to higher elevations. There, they find new victims who don’t have the long history of constant exposure to malaria, so the effects of the disease are significantly worse.

This is just another example of the deep intertwingling that goes on among all of the earth’s ecosystems and the climate. One of the reasons climate change is such an intricate and major problem to address is that it is easy to come to the conclusion that we can blame everything that goes wrong on the climate shifts. That in turn weakens peoples’ ability to focus on the things that are potentially most devastatingly real in their lives. At the same time, too many potential impacts of the crisis can lead to crisis overload and numbness to every new discovery.

But we need to maintain our sensitivity and our compassion if we are going to develop the political will to minimize the massive impact of global climate change on the planet and on humanity.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

Democrats in Washington Planning an All-Nighter to Discuss, Bring Attention to Climate Change

At least 28 Democratic members of the United States Senate plan to spend several hours Monday night speaking to one another and for the record about climate change. The intent is to bring greater focus to the problem by members of Congress and to begin to develop some new ideas and plans for dealing with the crisis.

The event is being organized by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) [my own Senator, I’m proud to say!], Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Whitehouse, in particular, has been a great champion of the cause of global climate change, giving frequent speeches on the subject, often beginning with the observation that, “It’s time to wake up” to climate change.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has been supportive of the efforts of Whitehouse and others who are concerned about global climate change. He and several other senior Senators will join the all-night session.

Of course there won’t be any Republicans in attendance. As a party voting bloc, they are deniers whose big business handlers don’t want to see them advocating any position that might reduce unprecedented corporate profits with anything that sounds socially responsible.

 

Why Solar Will Rule: Price Drops 99% in 35 Years to $0.74/kW

Chart showing decline in price of solar panels from 1977 to 2013 from $75 to 74 centsThis chart from costofsolar.com shows the steep decline in the price of ceramic solar panels from their inception in 1977 to this year’s projected price of 74 cents per kilowatt.

Price is just one of the many reasons solar will win the global future. The pace of that victory for all of humanity will accelerate once we get a Congress that supports our President’s desire to shift more and more energy reliance to the ubiquitous, free sun.