NewEnergyNews

NewEnergyNews

Gleanings from the web and the world, condensed for convenience, illustrated for enlightenment, arranged for impact...

The challenge now: To make every day Earth Day.

YESTERDAY

  • Weekend Video: Coming Attractions?
  • Weekend Video: Cost Is No Longer The Obstacle For Solar
  • Weekend Video: Jon Stewart On Climate Change, The Pope, And The Republican Front-Runners
  • THE DAY BEFORE

  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-HALFWAY TO HELL AND GETTING HOTTER
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-CHINA’S U.S. NEW ENERGY BUY-IN
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-WIND GETS BIG ON EU GRID
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-GRID-FREE WITH SOLAR IN WEST AFRICA
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    GET THE DAILY HEADLINES EMAIL: CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS OR SEND YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS TO: herman@NewEnergyNews.net

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    THE DAY BEFORE THE DAY BEFORE

    THINGS-TO-THINK-ABOUT THURSDAY, July 30:

  • TTTA Thursday-DEFENSE DEPT CALLS CLIMATE CHANGE URGENT THREAT TO SECURITY
  • TTTA Thursday-OCEAN ENERGY PROVING ITSELF OFF HAWAII
  • TTTA Thursday-MORE LIGHT FOR SOLAR
  • TTTA Thursday-THE WAY TO GET ENERGY EFFICIENCY
  • THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • ORIGINAL REPORTING: INSIDE EXELON'S PUSH TO SAVE ITS ILLINOIS NUCLEAR FLEET
  • QUICK NEWS, July 29: ATTACKS ON NEW ENERGY DOCUMENTED; HOW WYOMING AND CALIF WINDS FIT; SOLARCITY GOES FOR THE HUGE SMALL BUSINESS MRKT
  • AND THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • TODAY’S STUDY: DRIVERS OF THE U.S. CO2 EMISSIONS 1997–2013
  • QUICK NEWS, July 28: THE CLIMATE CHANGE OPINION PREDICTOR; CLINTON TALKS NEW ENERGY; THE GOP FIELD AND CLIMATE
  • THE LAST DAY UP HERE

  • TODAY’S STUDY: THE NEWEST CLIMATE SCIENCE (SPOILER: NOT GOOD NEWS)
  • QUICK NEWS, July 27: WIND’S HOPE IN THE WATER; ALABAMA WANTS ROOFTOP SOLAR; NEW ENERGY BILL WOULD BOOST GEOTHERMAL
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    Anne B. Butterfield of Daily Camera and Huffington Post, is an occasional contributor to NewEnergyNews

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    Some of Anne's contributions:

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT), November 26, 2013
  • SOLAR FOR ME BUT NOT FOR THEE ~ Xcel's Push to Undermine Rooftop Solar, September 20, 2013
  • NEW BILLS AND NEW BIRDS in Colorado's recent session, May 20, 2013
  • Lies, damned lies and politicians (October 8, 2012)
  • Colorado's Elegant Solution to Fracking (April 23, 2012)
  • Shale Gas: From Geologic Bubble to Economic Bubble (March 15, 2012)
  • Taken for granted no more (February 5, 2012)
  • The Republican clown car circus (January 6, 2012)
  • Twenty-Somethings of Colorado With Skin in the Game (November 22, 2011)
  • Occupy, Xcel, and the Mother of All Cliffs (October 31, 2011)
  • Boulder Can Own Its Power With Distributed Generation (June 7, 2011)
  • The Plunging Cost of Renewables and Boulder's Energy Future (April 19, 2011)
  • Paddling Down the River Denial (January 12, 2011)
  • The Fox (News) That Jumped the Shark (December 16, 2010)
  • Click here for an archive of Butterfield columns

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    Some details about NewEnergyNews and the man behind the curtain: Herman K. Trabish, Agua Dulce, CA., Doctor with my hands, Writer with my head, Student of New Energy and Human Experience with my heart

    email: herman@NewEnergyNews.net

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    Your intrepid reporter

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      A tip of the NewEnergyNews cap to Phillip Garcia for crucial assistance in the design implementation of this site. Thanks, Phillip.

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    Pay a visit to the HARRY BOYKOFF page at Basketball Reference, sponsored by NewEnergyNews and Oil In Their Blood.

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  • Monday, August 03, 2015

    TODAY’S STUDY: THE SMART WAY TO DO SOLAR IN HAWAII

    Efficient Design of Net Metering Agreements in Hawaii and Beyond

    Coffman, et. al., July 20, 2015 (University of Hawaii)

    Introduction

    In Hawaii, like most U.S. states, households installing rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems receive special pricing under net-metering agreements. These agreements allow households with rooftop solar to buy and sell electricity at the retail rate, effectively using the larger grid to store surplus generation from their panels during sunny times and return it when the sun isn’t shining. If a household generates more electricity than it consumes over the course of a month, it obtains a credit that rolls over for use in future months. Net generation supplied to the grid in excess of that consumed over the course of a full year is forfeited to the utility. Net metering agreements often include a monthly fee to support billing, transmission and operation of the grid. On Oahu, the customer charge is $9, and additional monthly fees can bring the minimum bill up to about $17. Households who have installed enough rooftop solar such that they are “net zero” currently pay at most $200/year for grid connection and load-shifting services.

    A growing concern is that the utility has many costs besides the fuel used in electricity generation, and most of these “fixed costs” are lumped in with perkilowatt hour (kWh) charges. As a result, under current net metering agreements, when a solar customer provides their own power, they don’t pay the fixedcost component for each kWh they produce. Under a revenue-decoupling rule, those costs are shifted to households and businesses without rooftop solar. As less power is sold in Hawaii, fixed costs per kWh are rising fast (Figure 1). Most of the decrease in power sales is due to gains in efficiency, but some of it is due to installations of solar PV. Residential customers now pay roughly $0.17/kWh for fixed costs. For a household consuming 15 kWh per day—which is about average— that amounts to $76.50 per month. After the drop in oil prices earlier this year, well over half the utility’s revenue from residential customers goes toward fixed costs.

    A longer-term concern, particularly in Hawaii with its high electricity rates, is that an inefficient pricing system could encourage many households and businesses to install stand-alone systems, unplug from the grid, and further raise costs for everyone else.

    So what would a better net metering agreement look like? There is no single answer to this question, but there are some basic economic concepts that ought to guide policy. A perfectly efficient scheme--one that minimizes waste--would set real-time per-kWh prices equal to the “marginal” generation cost, and allow anyone to buy or sell as much power as they want at this price. Marginal cost is the incremental cost of power production—the cost of generating one more kWh. This cost can vary a lot depending on total demand and the amount of renewable power, among other things, so ideal prices would vary over the course of each day, week, season and year. This variation is likely to become especially pronounced as the variable supply from renewable sources becomes more prominent. Fixed costs could be handled a few ways, but would not necessarily be included in the per-kWh price today. Implementing true marginal-cost pricing would solve problems with net metering agreements and make achieving the State’s renewable energy goals much less costly overall. It would also entail a number of challenges.

    Here we sketch out a set of long-term solutions based on marginal-cost pricing as the primary platform. We also offer some near-term suggestions for interim policy. But first, we briefly review some of the benefits and challenges of distributed solar, and explain why net metering agreements were originally set up as they were…

    The Long-Term Solution

    Here we propose three simple ideas to achieve a more efficient and equitable electricity system that is particularly relevant for systems with a lot of variable renewable supply, like rooftop solar. I. To improve efficiency, all households and businesses should have an option to buy or sell as much electricity as they like at a price equal to the marginal cost of electricity production. II. Fixed cost of grid construction and maintenance (power plants, transmission cables, transformers, etc.) not covered by marginal-cost rates should be spread as widely as possible in order to limit grid defection and improve fairness. III. Subsidies for solar power, to the extent that they are necessary to achieve renewable energy goals, should be paid via tax credits rather than cross-subsidies among electricity customers, in order to aid transparency, avoid regressiveness, and further inhibit inefficient grid defection.

    These simple ideas are easier to write down than to implement. In particular, marginal-cost pricing could imply prices that vary a lot from day to day and hour to hour. As a practical matter, such pricing would require smart meters that could measure electricity use on a short time step, and smart meters are costly. There would also be practical challenges surrounding basic measurement and regulation of what constitutes true marginal cost, which may include not just incremental generation costs, but adjustments for critical peaks that push the limit of what the whole system can supply. The marginal cost of electricity can even vary by location in power systems with limited transmission capacity.

    Interim Solutions with Customer Choice

    In our view, it would be best to offer a tariff to all customer classes with hourly prices that reflect the continuous variation in supply and demand of electricity. This balance will evolve over the coming years as renewable energy grows. Some customers will be able to reduce their bill by curbing electricity use during times of high marginal cost (high loads with low renewable power production) and increasing it during times of low marginal cost (low loads and/or high renewable power production). These customers will choose the hourly pricing tariff, and in so doing they will reduce their own costs and the system’s costs.

    Many kinds of electricity loads are relatively easy to shift between hours of the day. Examples include water heating, water pumping, pre-cooling of commercial buildings, and electric vehicle charging. We expect this option to be attractive to many customers. Their private gains from shifting loads toward renewable supply would then significantly improve integration of renewable energy with the existing system.

    Moreover, variable pricing would open a door to innovative ideas for storing electricity or otherwise shifting loads over time. Anyone with a good idea for shifting demand toward renewable supply could profit from it, and simultaneously improve the whole electrical system. In the future, we expect demand response to changing prices to be automated by a panoply of smart machines that a growing share of customers will use, because it will be economical to do so.

    We also recommend that a flat-rate tariff be offered that is based on the average marginal cost for the overall power system. Customers selecting this tariff would pay a flat price per kWh that is adjusted monthly based on the average marginal cost. This tariff offers a less volatile option for customers who fear a “bill surprise” from hourly pricing. Although the calculation would differ somewhat from current billing, we expect the total bill would not look much different from current pricing for the average customer, although there may be some adjustment between residential and larger scale customers.

    It would also be possible to offer a time-of-use (TOU) tariff, with flat rates each month that differ between peak, shoulder and off-peak hours. The rates for each slot would be the average marginal cost during these periods. This tariff would provide an intermediate option for customers willing and able to shift loads, but who prefer a more predictable size and timing of rate changes.

    All three tariffs are based on the system’s marginal cost of power production; they do not include other costs in the per-kWh rate. Customers with solar therefore do not avoid paying any costs when they produce renewable power. It is possible that marginalcost pricing would recover enough revenues to cover both fixed costs as well as generation costs, but this is not necessarily the case. We address the tricky question of residual fixed costs (or profits) below.

    Although a flat-rate marginal-cost tariff does not provide an incentive for customers to shift use from current peak-load times to high-renewable times, it serves as an important backstop for risk-averse customers. In order to protect this option, it may be necessary to move high-solar customers off of this tariff and onto one of the time-varying tariffs once daytime marginal costs become significantly lower than nighttime marginal costs. Otherwise, by producing power at low-value times and consuming it at highvalue times, solar customers would raise rates for other customers on this tariff, effectively obtaining a crosssubsidy from them.

    Residual Fixed Costs or Profit

    In the long run, marginal-cost pricing could generate more or less revenue than total costs. Marginal cost is typically above each hour’s average generation cost, since the utility draws from a mix of low-cost and high-cost generators, and marginal cost is based on the highest-cost generator currently operating. So revenue from marginal-cost pricing will exceed fuel and other variable costs, leaving a potentially large sum to cover grid management and capital costs. It is not clear whether this extra revenue will be greater or less than fixed costs.

    Given the reductions in demand that we have seen in recent years, and the further reductions in peak demand that we would expect under marginal-cost pricing, it seems likely that revenue from marginal-cost pricing will fall somewhat short of total system costs. A large component of these costs are labor and other grid management costs, which tend to increase with wages, and are likely to increase further with more complex grid management. The practice of keeping most power plants running at all times also contributes to a possible revenue shortfall, since it raises fuel costs (the large amounts of fuel needed to run plants at minimum load), while artificially reducing marginal costs. At the same time, kilowatt hours sold are declining.

    The best way to deal with these residual fixed costs is not completely clear. To keep the systems as efficient as possible, residual fixed costs probably should be recovered through some combination of fixed monthly fees or general tax revenues. Options include a flat charge on every customer’s bill, demand charges based on peak use from the grid, a small adder or percentage markup on per-kWh rates, or possibly a one-time Legislature-funded markdown of sunk costs. When choosing among these options or combining them, it will be necessary to find the right balance between prompting inefficient grid defection (via high base charges or demand charges) or producing unintended cross-subsidies of PV customers (by including residual costs in the kWh rate).

    To the extent that fixed costs are not sunk costs, but rather fundamental to management of the grid itself—like the utility’s labor force—it makes sense to pass these costs on to customers in one form or another. If these costs, unlike sunk costs, cause grid defection, then it suggests grid defection is truly economical.

    If the power company continues to use older generation and transmission assets for which capital costs have already been completely recovered, marginal-cost pricing could produce surplus revenue, reducing or eliminating residual fixed costs. Although it seems unlikely, in the case that marginal-cost pricing brings excess profits to the utility, the excess profits could be taxed to supplement the State’s general resources or otherwise used to offset income or excise taxes.

    Demand Response: The Least Cost Option

    Besides traditional cycling of power plants, there are just two ways to deal with the variability challenges of renewable energy: store it or shift it. Batteries can store energy over hours or days. Or we could build dams and reservoirs that could store energy by pumping water uphill during surplus times and later use it to make hydroelectric power. These would require huge capital outlays and have significant social and environmental implications.

    Alternatively, we can try to shift demand toward the sun and wind. Shifting demand to cope with variable renewable supply is highly attractive because it doesn’t require major capital outlays. It only requires rate restructuring, a restructuring that would enhance efficiency and lower costs regardless of our renewable energy goals. Those who choose to have hourly marginal-cost pricing would require smart meters, but these costs are modest and they would be targeted at those most willing to shift loads. Those on time-of-use tariffs could get by with simpler meters.

    Although it remains unclear how much demand could shift in response to variable marginal cost pricing, and whether large-scale storage will ultimately be prudent, it makes sense to start by taking advantage of the most flexible, least cost option.

    QUICK NEWS, August 3: CPP FACT SHEET; WILL CPP COST? – CO-OP UTILITIES; CPP MOST SIGNIFICANT PRESIDENTIAL ACTION ON CLIMATE – SIERRA CLUB

    CLEAN POWER PLAN WHITE HOUSE FACT SHEET …The Clean Power Plan is a Landmark Action to Protect Public Health, Reduce Energy Bills for Households and Businesses, Create American Jobs, and Bring Clean Power to Communities across the Country

    August 3, 2015 (The White House)

    “…We have a moral obligation to leave our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged. The effects of climate change are already being felt across the nation [according to President Obama]…The final Clean Power Plan sets flexible and achievable standards to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030…[It provides] significant public health benefits…[creates] tens of thousands of jobs while ensuring grid reliability…[drives] more aggressive investment in clean energy technologies…[saves] the average American family nearly $85 on their annual energy bill in 2030…[gives] a head start to wind and solar deployment and [prioritizes] the deployment of energy efficiency improvements…[and continues] American leadership on climate change…” click here for more

    WILL CPP COST? – COOPERATIVE UTILITIES

    EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations Fail to Consider the Economic Impact on Americans

    "…Any increase in the cost of electricity most dramatically impacts those who can least afford it, and the fallout from the EPA's rule will cascade across the nation for years to come [according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA)]…While we appreciate the efforts intended to help offset the financial burden of rising electricity prices and jobs…the final rule still appears to reflect the fundamental flaws of the original proposal. It exceeds the EPA’s legal authority under the Clean Air Act, and it will raise electricity rates…while challenging the reliability of the grid…” click here for more

    CPP MOST SIGNIFICANT PRESIDENTIAL ACTION ON CLIMATE – SIERRA CLUB Sierra Club Statement On The Clean Power Plan

    August 3, 2015 (Sierra Club)

    “The Clean Power Plan is the most significant single action any President has ever taken to tackle the most serious threat to the health of our families: the climate crisis…Today marks the end of an era for dirty power plants that have spewed dangerous pollution into our air without limits for too long. It signifies a new era of growth for affordable and safe clean energy sources that don’t fuel climate disruption and sicken our communities…The Clean Power Plan is an opportunity for workers, entrepreneurs, and businesses to prosper…Public officials around the country have a choice. They can support new jobs, cleaner air, healthier families, and the vast majority of the American people - or they can stand with fossil fuel executives who will say and do anything to maintain the dangerous status quo…” click here for more

    Saturday, August 01, 2015

    Coming Attractions?

    The “not-a-scientist” meme is now officially political history. That does not, of course, prevent some politicians from living in the past. From The Briefing via YouTube

    Cost Is No Longer The Obstacle For Solar

    The cost of central station solar now beats the costs of coal and natural gas in Florida. The Age of Light is maturing. Props to Hazel Henderson. From greenmanbucket via YouTube

    Jon Stewart On Climate Change, The Pope, And The Republican Front-Runners

    This will be his final week. He is gonna be missed. From Jon Stewart via YouTube

    Friday, July 31, 2015

    HALFWAY TO HELL AND GETTING HOTTER

    Earth now halfway to UN global warming limit

    29 July 2015 (New Scientist)

    “…All but one of the main trackers of global surface temperature are now passing more than 1 °C of warming relative to the second half of the 19th century…[and we] could also be seeing the end of the much-discussed slowdown in surface warming since 1998, meaning this is just the start of a period of rapid warming…Last year was the hottest since records began, but only just. With an El Niño now under way – meaning warm surface waters in the Pacific are releasing heat into the atmosphere – and predicted to intensify, it looks as if the global average surface temperature could jump by around 0.1 °C in just one year…The UN negotiations on climate change aim to limit warming to 2 °C above pre-industrial temperatures…[I]f climate talks do not lead to drastic action, we could pass the 2 °C mark around the middle of the century…[T]emperatures might briefly drop next year after the current El Niño ends…[but] with global emissions of greenhouse gases rising ever faster, [the planet may continue to warm at a rate more like those from 1984 to 1998, when it warmed at 0.26 °C per decade]…” click here for more

    CHINA’S U.S. NEW ENERGY BUY-IN

    Current Patterns and Future Opportunities; Mapping Chinese Direct Investment in the U.S. Energy Economy

    Melanie Hart and Angela Luh, July 2015 (Center for American Progress)

    “A first-of-its-kind report released by the Center for American Progress…finds that Chinese companies are investing heavily in U.S.-based clean energy projects and that, by-and-large, these investments have the potential to create positive economic outcomes for states and localities across the nation… Many of these investment deals contribute to job creation and infrastructure expansion across the nation…[ Current Patterns and Future Opportunities Mapping Chinese Direct Investment in the U.S. Energy Economy] makes several recommendations for how the federal government can leverage current programs to better support state and city energy investment needs across America…[including]…Establishing a clean energy investment initiative under the SelectUSA program to provide targeted investment attraction support for state and local government energy investment needs…Providing evidence-based, sector-specific investment attraction recommendations to help local economic development offices make smart decisions about where and how to direct their limited resources…Making Chinese direct investment projects in the U.S. energy economy a highlight of the U.S.-China diplomatic track on par with the bilateral projects going forward in the Chinese market…” click here for more

    WIND GETS BIG ON EU GRID

    The 2014 Joint Research Centre’s wind status report shows that wind energy provided Europe with 8% of its electricity in 2014.

    Joshua S. Hill, July 27, 2015 (Clean Technica)

    “…[T]he EU’s grid-connected cumulative wind capacity in 2014 reached 129 GW, accounting for 8% of European electricity demand [according to new data from the Joint Research Centre]. Such a figure equates to the equivalent of the combined annual consumption of Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece, and Ireland…This growth is expected to continue growing, and by 2020 account for 12% of European electricity…Denmark generated enough wind electricity in 2014 to cover 40% of its internal demand, while in Ireland, Portugal, and Spain, the share of wind reached between 19% and 25% of final consumption. Not as impressive, but still worthwhile mentioning, 15 other EU Member States generated 4% or more of their electricity from wind energy generation…[G]lobal cumulative connected capacity soared to 370 GW in 2014, with 2014’s 52.8 GW installed capacity representing an annual record, a 48% increase compared to 2013, and 17% compared to 2012…China is well ahead of the pack, with 23.2 GW of new installations and a market share of 44%...” click here for more

    GRID-FREE WITH SOLAR IN WEST AFRICA

    Oolu Is Bringing Solar Energy To West Africa’s Off-Grid Population

    Christine Magee, July 31, 2015 (TechCrunch)

    “…[M]any people living in rural areas of West Africa still walk miles to the nearest city to charge their cellphones and purchase kerosene for lanterns…[and] the average rural family spends around $20 per month on energy-related costs [which is a huge expense where the per capita GDP is] just over $1,000…Oolu’s in-home solar system is composed of three adjustable lights and two USB plugs, powered by a battery that holds a charge for up to six hours with maximum output…For a low monthly fee, Oolu will install the system and perform all necessary maintenance, including free battery replacements and system upgrades…[It has saved] families an average of 60 percent on total energy spending…[S]imilar products are already being used in areas of East Africa…[Oolu has also set] up a distribution model and payment infrastructure that West African families and community leaders are comfortable with…” click here for more

    Thursday, July 30, 2015

    DEFENSE DEPT CALLS CLIMATE CHANGE URGENT THREAT TO SECURITY

    Climate change ‘urgent and growing threat’ to national security: Pentagon

    Rowan Scarborough, July 29, 2015 (Washington Times)

    “…[National Security Implications Of Climate-Related Risks And A Changing Climate from the Department of Defense] says that climate change is an ‘urgent and growing threat to our national security’ and blames it for ‘increased natural disasters’ that will require more American troops…[Though some] studies have questioned whether such a trend exists...[the pentagon reports that] climate change will have ‘wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the foreseeable future’ because it will [worsen stability-threatening things in countries around the world like [poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions]…” click here for more

    OCEAN ENERGY PROVING ITSELF OFF HAWAII

    Wave energy test rolling forward in Hawaii; Tapping the ocean's kinetic energy

    Amy Gahran, July 28, 2015 (EnergyBiz)

    “Just off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii…the U.S. Department of Energy and the University of Hawaii are collaborating to gather data which could help…show how well wave energy might help utilities address crucial, growing challenges with maintaining grid stability while relying more heavily on renewables…The 20 kW [Azura] wave energy converter from…Northwest Energy Innovations…represents a significant technological advancement…[It] is one of the first devices developed that will demonstrate conversion of ocean energy to electricity by absorbing energy through both up-and-down and back-and-forth wave motions, enabling its converter to generate more electricity than previous such devices…[And it] can rotate 360 degrees, reducing mechanical stress and helping prevent failures…” click here for more

    MORE LIGHT FOR SOLAR

    New material combines photons for big solar energy gains

    Graham Templeton, July 28, 2015 (Extreme Tech)

    “…University of California Riverside researchers are taking] currently inaccessible infra-red light and turning it into visible light…[This theoretically greatly improves] the efficiency of solar power…[at] an affordable price…Infrared light currently passes straight through most silicon solar cell technologies…Much of solar research has worked to directly convert infrared light to electricity, but such technologies change the transistor design, and thus the manufacturing process for solar panels. Their impacts tend to be limited by cost concerns…These researchers chose to accept the absorptive abilities of current silicon transistors, and instead looked to make the light conform to the panels. They created an all-new hybrid material…By changing the incoming sunlight into silicon’s favorite for absorption, the material could improve solar panel efficiency by as much as 30%. And while the costs of the material itself are not yet known, there is huge potential in offering such large improvements without the need to completely reinvent the transistor…” click here for more

    THE WAY TO GET ENERGY EFFICIENCY

    Which energy efficiency policies saved the most last year?

    Steven Nadel, July 29, 2015 (American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy)

    “… In [Energy Efficiency in the United States: 35 Years and Counting], we reviewed many current energy savings estimates and projections…[to determine] which policies appear to be saving the most energy today…Vehicle fuel economy standards generated the largest energy savings in 2014…The second largest savings, 5.4 quads, come from minimum efficiency standards on appliances and other types of energy-using equipment…Third on the list is the ENERGY STAR program, including ENERGY STAR homes, buildings and equipment…[E]nergy efficiency programs funded by utility customers [are fourth, followed by building energy codes, federal government energy efficiency research and development, energy service companies, and federal energy efficiency tax incentives…[These estimates] should be considered approximate and…there is likely some overlap…” click here for more

    Wednesday, July 29, 2015

    ORIGINAL REPORTING: INSIDE EXELON'S PUSH TO SAVE ITS ILLINOIS NUCLEAR FLEET

    Atoms for electricity: Inside Exelon's push to save its Illinois nuclear fleet; Exelon says its nukes need backing, others say nukes shouldn’t get another bailout

    Herman K. Trabish, February 26, 2015 (Utility Dive)

    Exelon’s new plan to support aging nuclear plants and cut carbon emissions is putting a big decision in front of Illinois lawmakers.

    Will legislators make ratepayers rescue Exelon’s uncompetitive nukes to sustain reliability and an influential economic sector? Or will they turn to renewables and energy efficiency to fill the gap when the plants retire?

    “There are likely to be tremendous cutbacks of basic social services and the legislature is likely to have to raise taxes or fees to make the budget balance,” said Environmental Law and Policy Center Executive Director Howard Learner. “Will legislators at the same time force consumers, through a non-bypassable charge, to pay hundreds of millions of dollars each year for the next six years to bail out Exelon nuclear plants?”

    But many who make their livelihoods in and around the nuclear plants see things a bit differently.

    “Part of the upcoming debate in Springfield should focus on what these plants mean to their host communities,” read a letter signed by Mayors from six nuclear plant neighbor cities. "Illinois nuclear facilities provide thousands of good jobs; the kind of jobs you can support a family on ..."

    What Illinois stands to gain and lose

    In Potential Nuclear Plant Closings in Illinois, a report to the legislature, four state agencies recommend a Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) as one of five market-based solutions to the challenges facing Exelon. Other possible solutions assessed by the agencies are (1) pure market economics, (2) a carbon tax, (3) a cap and trade program, or (4) a sustainable power standard.

    In the report, the Illinois Commerce Commission concludes negative economic impacts from the closures would include:

    2,500 direct job losses at the nuclear plants

    4,431 indirect job losses at local businesses

    $1.8 billion in annual lost economic activity

    a 10% to 16% increase in wholesale power prices which would cause further economic impacts, including 896 job losses and $45 million in lost economic activity

    Regional grid operators PJM and MISO calculate, according to Exelon, that early nuclear plant closures would drive Illinois electricity prices up 10%, costing Commonwealth Edison customers $437 million and Ameren customers $810 million to $1.2 billion in the first year.

    Investments in energy efficiency and renewables would, however, create 9,600 new jobs by 2019 and $120 million in annual energy cost savings from lower electricity prices, the Commerce Commission concluded.

    The Better Energy Solutions for Tomorrow (BEST) Coalition and the Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel-led Clean Jobs Coalition argue efficiency and renewables offer a more sustainable alternative to the nuclear plants.

    Exelon’s LCFS is a cornerstone of both Senate Bill 1585 and House Bill 3293, legislation that Exelon argues would “help reduce carbon emissions, increase renewable energy, and maintain affordable, reliable electricity for consumers and businesses” as well as “ensure continued operations of the state’s nuclear power plants.”

    “Illinois needs an all-of-the-above energy strategy that will help reduce harmful air emissions, grow renewable energy and maintain our state’s existing nuclear plants,” said Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago).

    “This comprehensive legislation balances the need to preserve our nuclear plants while at the same time promoting other low-carbon energy resources such as wind, solar, hydro and clean coal,” said Senator Sue Rezin (R-Morris).

    The cost of nuclear power

    Flat or declining Illinois electricity demand has resulted in an electricity oversupply thanks to Exelon’s 11-plant nuclear fleet, Dynegy and NRG coal fleets, existing, retrofitted, and new natural gas facilities, and a growing wind portfolio, according to Learner. With all these merchant generation sources fighting for a share of the competitive power markets, prices are falling.

    “That means the less economically efficient plants are getting squeezed out,” Learner said. That’s good for consumers and the Illinois economy. But it is bad for Exelon because, he added, “the less efficient either have to cut prices or shut down.”

    While Exelon’s LaSalle, Braidwood, and Dresden units remain competitive, the Clinton and Quad Cities units are not, and the Byron units are marginal, Learner said.

    “As an NRC Commissioner, I licensed about twenty nuclear plants,” said Vermont Law School Adjunct Professor Peter Bradford, who also served as Chair of the Maine and New York utilities commissions. “But now nuclear just doesn’t make the cut economically.”

    Contrary to Exelon claims, it is not low natural gas prices or negative power market prices caused by wind’s production tax credit that are the cause of its plants' financial problems, Bradford said.

    “Ten years ago, the operations cost was between $0.01 per kWh and $0.02 per kWh but now, largely because of substantial capital investment needs, the operating cost is between $0.04 per kWh and $0.05 per kWh,” Bradford explained. “If plants were still able to operate in the $0.01 per kWh to $0.02 per kWh range, they would be fine.”

    Not one, but two previous bailouts

    Exelon’s LCFS will require Illinois investor owned utilities to purchase low-carbon energy credits for 70% of their power. Eligible sources would be solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, tidal, wave, and clean coal. The standard sunsets at the end of 2021, or when an EPA Clean Power Plan program supersedes it. It cannot increase electricity customer rates more than 2.015% above 2009 levels, or about $2 per month. Excess revenues would be rebated.

    “Exelon is asking the legislature to change the rules of the competitive market in a way that would bail out its economically uncompetitive nuclear plants,” Learner said. “It wants to essentially re-regulate and require utilities to purchase 70% of their power from nuclear plants owned by Exelon. And force consumers to pay for it, even if the price is above the current market price.”

    “Those reactors were already bailed out once,” Bradford added. “When electric restructuring led to competitive power markets, the nuclear plant owners insisted on stranded cost recovery.”

    They were bailed out again last spring by PJM, Learner pointed out. By withholding part of its fleet from the May 2014 PJM capacity market auction, Learner explained, prices cleared at $120 per MW-day, doubling the RTO-wide clearing price of $59 per MW-day for planning year 2016/17. That produced, he reported from a UBS Bank analysis, almost $150 million more in capacity revenue for planning year 2017/18.

    Exelon “couldn't have played its hand any better in the capacity auction,” one account of the UBS analysis reported.

    Even if Illinois legislators go along with the Exelon-backed bills, “there is no reason to think this will be the last time Exelon has to come around,” Bradford said. “Even if gas prices don’t go lower, developments in storage, solar, and efficiency will put downward pressure on power prices and operational costs will continue to put upward pressure on nuclear plant costs.”

    Kicker: The PJM capacity market auction

    Though many think Exelon will get its way, Learner is unconvinced.

    "I’m not saying it won’t happen, but the legislative session runs to at least the end of May,” he said. “PJM’s May capacity market auction could well provide considerable revenue to Exelon. Some in the legislature will ask how many gifts from the public wallet and business’s bottom line Exelon is going to get for the same nuclear plants.”

    QUICK NEWS, July 29: ATTACKS ON NEW ENERGY DOCUMENTED; HOW WYOMING AND CALIF WINDS FIT; SOLARCITY GOES FOR THE HUGE SMALL BUSINESS MRKT

    ATTACKS ON NEW ENERGY DOCUMENTED Report: Attacks on Renewable Energy Policies in 2015

    Elsner and Kasper, July 2015 (Energy and policy Institute)

    “Fossil fuel and utility interests, concerned about the rise of cheap clean energy, continue to finance attacks on pro-clean energy policies in an effort to delay the growth of their [competition, according to a new report]. These companies, along with the Koch Brothers’ political network and front groups, want to continue selling as much coal, oil, and gas as possible — and, in their effort to roll back clean energy policies, are spreading misinformation about clean energy and the energy market…[They] fund front groups, who then attack clean energy policies…With greater numbers of customers generating and using their own clean energy, utility corporations saw decreased revenues…As a result of this competitive market threat, the utility industry, through its trade association, the Edison Electric Institute, launched a calculated, multi-year campaign…” click here for more

    HOW WYOMING AND CALIF WINDS FIT UW Study Demonstrates Benefits of Pairing Wyoming and California Wind

    July 27, 2015 (University of Wyoming)

    "…[C]ombining the strengths of Wyoming wind with California wind and solar will reduce the intermittency of renewable energy and smooth the power supply -- leading to benefits for utilities and energy consumers alike [according to Wind Diversity Enhancement of Wyoming/California Wind Energy Projects: Phase 2 from the University of Wyoming…[It] digs into the details of geographic diversity relative to renewable energy and is based on one year of actual one-minute average wind and solar electrical production data from California and data from four operating meteorological towers in Wyoming…[Wyoming and California wind patterns are very different and very] complementary…California wind is strongest at night, while Wyoming wind is strongest during the day and peaks in the afternoon -- coincident with the time when the sun is beginning to set while the electric load is still increasing into the evening hours…” click here for more

    SOLARCITY GOES FOR THE HUGE SMALL BUSINESS MRKT SolarCity launches plan to bring solar power to small and midsize firms

    Ivan Penn, July 28, 2015 (LA Times)

    “SolarCity Corp. wants to deck the rooftops of small and midsize businesses with solar panels by offering a new financing strategy to a market that the company says has largely gone untapped…Companies that lease the solar panels from SolarCity would be able to save 5% to 25% compared with their current electric bills…Businesses with potential for solar arrays of less than 500 kilowatts made up less than 40% of commercial solar installations in the first quarter of 2015. Solar arrays under 100 kilowatts were less than 10% of commercial installations…SolarCity's target is businesses that would use small solar arrays ranging from 30-kilowatt systems that a mom-and-pop store would use to a 500-kilowatt system designed for a warehouse or storage facility. The company plans to make the leasing plan available to businesses first in California and then expand in the next year...” click here for more

    Tuesday, July 28, 2015

    TODAY’S STUDY: DRIVERS OF THE U.S. CO2 EMISSIONS 1997–2013

    Drivers of the US CO2 emissions 1997–2013

    Feng, Davis, t. al., July 21, 2015 (Nature Communications)

    Abstract

    Fossil fuel CO2 emissions in the United States decreased by B11% between 2007 and 2013, from 6,023 to 5,377 Mt. This decline has been widely attributed to a shift from the use of coal to natural gas in US electricity production. However, the factors driving the decline have not been quantitatively evaluated; the role of natural gas in the decline therefore remains speculative. Here we analyse the factors affecting US emissions from 1997 to 2013. Before 2007, rising emissions were primarily driven by economic growth. After 2007, decreasing emissions were largely a result of economic recession with changes in fuel mix (for example, substitution of natural gas for coal) playing a comparatively minor role. Energy–climate policies may, therefore, be necessary to lock-in the recent emissions reductions and drive further decarbonization of the energy system as the US economy recovers and grows.

    The CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are the primary cause of anthropogenic climate change1, and the United States emits more CO2 each year than any other country except China. In the decade before 2007, US CO2 emissions grew by an average 0.7% per year. However, beginning in 2007, US emissions decreased, reaching a minimum of 5,284 Mt CO2 in 2012—12% lower than 2007 levels and 5% lower than 1997 levels2. This recent decline is good news and is consistent with the Obama administration’s stated goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 17% in 2020 and 83% in 2050 relative to 2005 levels3. Assuming no change in emissions outside the power sector, the new rules proposed by the US Environmental Protection Agency in June 2014 to limit CO2 emissions from power plants will require US emissions to decrease to 4,200 Mt CO2 in 2030—a further 20% reduction from 2013 levels4.

    Coinciding with the post-2007 decline in emissions, innovations in hydraulic fracturing technology have dramatically increased domestic supplies of gas5,6. Commentators in the scientific community and media have linked the two trends, celebrating the climate benefits of the gas boom7–9. Recently, the Third National Climate Assessment of the United States Global Change Research Program also adopted this conclusion, stating that the decrease in US CO2 emissions was ‘ylargely due to a shift from coal to less CO2-intensive natural gas for electricity production’10. Yet, despite potentially significant implications for US climate and energy policy, there has been no quantitative analysis of whether the gas boom and changes in the fuel mix of the power sector are indeed driving the decrease in US CO2 emissions.

    Here, we use input–output structural decomposition analysis (SDA) to assess sources of change in US CO2 emissions over a decade of mostly increasing emissions, 1997–2007, and then over the period of mostly decreasing emissions, 2007–2013. Our analysis quantifies the contribution of six different factors to changes in US emissions. These factors are: population growth; changes in consumption volume caused exclusively by changes in per capita consumption of goods and services; shifts in consumption patterns or the types of goods and services being consumed; adjustments in production structure or the mix of inputs (for example, labour, domestic and imported materials) required to produce US goods and services; changes in fuel mix as reflected by the CO2 emitted per unit of energy used; and changes in energy intensity or the energy used per inflation-adjusted unit of economic output. The SDA in this research is based on the additive decomposition of the changes in emission determined by six multiplicative factors acting as accelerators or retardants of the emission dynamics. Each term in the decomposition is a product of the change in one explicative factor and the level values of the other five factors, and thus represents the contribution of one explicative factor to the total change in emission. For example, in the term where population is the explicative factor, the values of consumption volume, production structure, consumption patterns, energy intensity and fuel mix are held unchanged and only population varies. In this way, the SDA method allows us to quantify the contribution of each of the assessed factors to the trend in emissions. Details of our methodology and data sources are in the Methods section (including Supplementary Methods). We find that before 2007, rising emissions were driven by economic growth: 71% of the increase between 1997 and 2007 was due to increases in US consumption of goods and services, with the remainder of the increase due to population growth. Concurrent with the global economic recession, 83% of the decrease during 2007–2009 was due to decreased consumption and changes in the production structure of the US economy, with just 17% related to changes in the fuel mix. During the economic recovery, 2009–2013, the decrease in US emissions has been small (o1%), with nearly equal contributions from changes in the fuel mix, decreases in energy use per unit of GDP, changes in US production structure, and changes in consumption patterns. We conclude that substitution of gas for coal has had a relatively minor role in the emissions reduction of US CO2 emissions since 2007.

    Results

    Growing emissions from 1997 to 2007. Between 1997 and 2007, US emissions increased by 7.3% (Fig. 1, black curve). Our analysis shows that the main factor behind this increase was an increase in consumption volume caused by growth in per capita consumption of goods and services in the United States. Indeed, increases in such consumption volume correspond to a contribution of a 21.8% increase in emissions over this decade (Fig. 1, red curve). The next most important factor influencing CO2 emissions over the same period was population growth. Immigration and natural growth have resulted in steady population growth at a rate of B1% per year since 1997. These population gains contributed to an 8.9% increase in emissions between 1997 and 2007 (Fig. 1, yellow curve).

    However, other factors slowed the growth of emissions between 1997 and 2007: decreases in the energy intensity of GDP; changes in the consumption patterns of US consumers; shifts in production structure; and decreases in the use of coal as an energy source. For instance, over this period, the energy used per dollar of economic output decreased by 17% (Fig. 2a, black curve), the share of consumer spending on manufactured goods decreased by B4% (Fig. 2b), the share of imported inputs to the US industry sectors increased (for example, imports to petroleum and coal products sector increased by 6.7%, and imports to the chemical products, primary metals and textile sectors increased by 2.7%, 2.5% and 2.1%, respectively)11, and the share of US electricity generated from coal decreased by B5% while the share generated from natural gas increased by 8% (Fig. 2c). All of these trends exerted a downward influence on emissions. Between 1997 and 2007, changes in energy intensity, consumption patterns, production structure and fuel mix contributed to retarding emissions of 7.4, 6.9, 4.9 and 3.6%, respectively (Fig. 1, purple, green, blue and orange curves, respectively).

    Declining emissions from 2007 to 2013. US CO2 emissions stopped growing in 2007, and decreased by B11% between 2007 and 2013 (Fig. 1, black curve). Looking at this time period in aggregate, the only factor which acted to increase emissions over the period was continued and steady population growth ( þ 3.7%) (Fig. 1, yellow curve). However, the upward influence of population growth was overwhelmed by the downward influence of changes in production structure ( 6.1%), fuel mix ( 4.4%), consumption volumes triggered by per capita consumption ( 3.9%), energy intensity of GDP ( 0.5%) and changing consumption patterns ( 0.4%; Fig. 1, blue, orange, red, purple and green curves, respectively).

    Although all of the analysed factors except population contributed to the decrease in emissions during 2007–2013, different factors dominated over shorter periods. Figure 3 subdivides 2007-2013 into 2-year periods, showing that emissions fell by 9.9% from 2007 to 2009, increased by 1.3% between 2009 to 2011 and decreased again by 2.1% between 2011 and 2013.

    More than half (53%) of the initial and most substantial decrease in emissions, between 2007 and 2009, was due to a sharp drop in the volume of consumed goods as a result of reduction in per capita consumption during the global economic recession (Fig. 3, red bar). In particular, Fig. 4 shows that sharp decreases in the volume of capital expenditures and exported goods between 2007 and 2009 drove down associated emissions by 25% and 18%, respectively. Changes in the production structure of the US economy (that is, the volume and type of intermediate goods demanded) and the fuel mix of the energy sector contributed 30% and 17% of the initial (2007–2009) decrease in emissions, respectively, while increases in the energy intensity of the US economy and changing consumption patterns exerted modest upward influences on emissions during the same period.

    As the US economy had slowly recovered from the global economic recession, between 2009 and 2013, the average annual change in US emissions was small: a 0.2% decrease. Economic recovery is reflected by the upward influence of the volume of goods consumed on emissions during both 2009–2011 and 2011–2013. Between 2009 and 2011, rising consumption volume, population growth, and increasing energy intensity urged emissions up by a combined 4.0% (2.2%, 1.5% and 0.3%, respectively), which was only partly offset by the changes in consumption patterns ( 1.1%), production structure ( 1.0%) and fuel mix ( 0.6%), resulting in an actual increase in emissions of 1.3% (Fig. 3). However, between 2011 and 2013, the upward influence of consumption volume and population on emissions was less ( þ 1.2% and þ 1.2%, respectively) and the energy intensity of the economy decreased ( 2.1%). When combined with changes in the fuel mix of the energy sector ( 1.2%) and shifting consumption patterns ( 0.2%), the net effect was a 2.1% decrease in emissions during 2011–2013 (Fig. 3).

    Increases in the supply of natural gas affect two of the factors in our analysis: the fuel mix of the energy sector and, to a lesser extent, the energy intensity of the US economy. By decreasing gas prices, abundant gas encourages a shift in the fuel mix from more carbon-intensive coal to gas. In turn, a shift to gas may contribute to decreased energy intensity because gas-fired power plants are on average 20% more efficient at converting fuel energy to electricity than coal plants12.

    The boom of natural gas from breakthroughs in hydraulic fracturing of shale deposits had only just begun to affect US gas supplies in 2009 (ref. 5). Thus, the decrease in emissions from changes in the fuel mix of the energy sector prior 2009 reflects an independent and longer-term trend of the declining use of coal in the US energy sector (see, for example, Fig. 2c). However, as seen in Fig. 3, changes in the US fuel mix from 2007 to 2009 alone would not have caused a decrease in US emissions.

    Although the decreases in emissions since 2009 have been relatively small, the influence of shale gas is visible. For example, about half of the 2.1% decrease in emissions during 2011–2013 is related to changes in the fuel mix of the energy sector ( 1.2%, orange bar in Fig. 3). Yet the decrease in the energy intensity of the US economy was nearly twice as strong an influence on emissions over the same period (purple bar in Fig. 3).

    Although a drop in the energy intensity (exajoule per dollar output) of the energy sector in 2013 accounts for roughly a third of the observed decrease in US energy intensity in 2011–2013, the remaining two-thirds relate to changes in energy used by the transport and service sectors (Fig. 2a). Three unrelated trends underlie the decreasing energy intensity of these sectors. First, high gasoline prices during 2011–2013 (the average price of gasoline had remained above $3.40 per gallon during this period, in contrast to the average price of $2.50 per gallon in 2005) have contributed to both a reduction in per capita miles driven (Supplementary Fig. 1a) and an increase in average fuel efficiency of vehicles (Supplementary Fig. 1b), and thus a 33% decrease in US gasoline consumption during 2011–2013. Second, a mild winter in 2012 meant less energy was used for heating and thus reduced energy intensity of the service sector (households also used less energy for home heating, which accounts for part of the drop in consumption volume)13 (Supplementary Fig. 2). Last, there is evidence that manufacturing in the United States became more energy efficient: energy use by manufacturing was nearly constant 2011–2013 despite average annual growth in GDP of 2.3% per year over the same period.

    Shifts in the production structure of the US economy between 2007 and 2013 have consistently exerted a downward influence on US emissions, as the volume and type of intermediate goods used by various industry sectors has evolved and become more efficient (blue bars in Fig. 3). Yet this structural shift also reflects the progressive offshoring of emissions-intensive industries to China and other developing countries over the analysed period14. For instance, between 2009 and 2011, when changes in domestic production structure exerted a downward influence on US CO2 emissions ( 1%, blue bar in Fig. 3), we calculated that the net import of emissions embodied in US trade increased by 32% (Supplementary Fig. 3). Trade data for the 2011–2013 period is not yet available.

    Between 2009 and 2013, the share of US consumption of manufactured goods increased relative to services (Fig. 2b), but the net effect of changes in consumption patterns was to decrease emissions (by 1.1% between 2009 and 2011 and by 0.2% between 2011 and 2013; green bars in Fig. 3). This result reveals that changes in the types of goods being consumed over time can have a significant impact on emissions15,16, and that it is not as simple as the balance of manufactured goods and services…

    Decomposing Final Demand. Because changes in the volume of goods and services consumed were the single most important influence on US emissions between 1997 and 2013, we also analysed four separate components of final demand to assess the trends in emissions related to each category as well as the important influences on emissions in each case. Figure 4 shows the emissions associated with different final demand (consumption) components: household consumption (Fig. 4a), governmental expenditure (Fig. 4b), capital formation (Fig. 4c) and exports (Fig. 4d).

    Between 2007 and 2013, emissions associated with household consumption decreased by 11.0%, which was almost entirely driven by changes in fuel mix and production structure, especially between 2009 and 2013, since consumption volume was constant (Fig. 4a). Emissions associated with government expenditures in the same time period decreased by 4.8%, and it was largely driven by changes in energy intensity and production structure (Fig. 4b). In contrast, emissions related to capital formation decreased by 24.4% between 2007 and 2013, primarily due to a huge decline in the volume of capital investment (Fig. 4c, red curve). However, changes in emissions related to exports between 2007 and 2013 were almost entirely the result of changes in the volume of exports, with the other factors cancelling each other out (Fig. 4d).

    QUICK NEWS, July 28: THE CLIMATE CHANGE OPINION PREDICTOR; CLINTON TALKS NEW ENERGY; THE GOP FIELD AND CLIMATE

    THE CLIMATE CHANGE OPINION PREDICTOR This Factor Predicts What People Think About Climate Change; Education affects climate change beliefs differently if you live in the U.S.

    Justin Worland, July 27, 2015 (Time Magazine)

    “Around the world, people with higher levels of education are more likely to understand climate change than their less-educated counterparts, according to new research published in the journal Nature Climate Change…Using data collected by Gallup from 119 countries, researchers found that education level was a key determinant of climate change risk perceptions in 62% of countries around the world. But all bets are off when it comes to education and views of climate change in the United States, along with a select few English speaking countries. Political party and ideology predicted views of climate change in the U.S., not education alone…[Different regions had vastly different levels of awareness…Two-thirds of people in Egypt, Bangladesh and Nigeria, for instance, had never heard of climate change…The lack of climate change awareness in developing countries should be of particular concern because…[p]ublic support for an agreement will help countries to follow through on commitments…” click here for more

    CLINTON TALKS NEW ENERGY Hillary Clinton pushes renewable energy with focus on solar

    Dan Merica, July 27, 2015 CNN

    “…[A]s president, [Hillary Clinton said,] she would put the United States on a path toward generating enough renewable energy to power every home in the country by 2027 - ten years after she would hypothetically take office…Clinton knocked Republicans for refusing ‘to accept the settled science of climate change’ and cast her push as a fight for children and grandchildren…Clinton's plan focuses largely on residential power usage and is buoyed by a focus on solar. By the end of her hypothetical first term as president, Clinton promised that the United States would have more than 500 million solar panels installed across the country…The presidential candidate also stressed building an energy grid more focused on renewable energy, particularly solar, by the end of the decade…[A] Clinton presidency would hope to increase output of solar energy by 700% by the end of the decade…” click here for more

    THE GOP FIELD AND CLIMATE The Most (And Least) Extreme Republican Presidential Candidates On Climate Change

    Ryan Koronowski, July 26, 2015 (Climate Progress)

    “…It’s an extremely safe bet that the Republican nominee will not take more action to confront climate change than President Obama has. The question is more how much of the president’s climate agenda the nominee would reverse, repeal, or ignore…Pope Francis just told the world through the Vatican’s latest encyclical that climate change is happening, caused by humans, and requires ‘urgent’ policy…[H]ere is the GOP presidential field, ranked by how far they would walk back President Obama’s climate agenda, from least to most: 17. George Pataki…16. Lindsey Graham…15. John Kasich…14. Carly Fiorina…13. Chris Christie…12. Jeb Bush…11. Jim Gilmore…10. Ben Carson…9. Rand Paul…8. Marco Rubio…7. Bobby Jindal…6. Rick Perry…5. Mike Huckabee…4. Scott Walker…3. Donald Trump…2. Rick Santorum…1. Ted Cruz…” click here for more

    Monday, July 27, 2015

    TODAY’S STUDY: THE NEWEST CLIMATE SCIENCE (SPOILER: NOT GOOD NEWS)

    Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 ◦C global warming is highly dangerous

    Hansen, et. al., July 23, 2015 (Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics)

    Abstract

    There is evidence of ice melt, sea level rise to +5–9 m, and extreme storms in the prior interglacial period that was less than 1 ◦C warmer than today. Human-made climate forcing is stronger and more rapid than paleo forcings, but much can be learned by 5 combining insights from paleoclimate, climate modeling, and on-going observations. We argue that ice sheets in contact with the ocean are vulnerable to non-linear disintegration in response to ocean warming, and we posit that ice sheet mass loss can be approximated by a doubling time up to sea level rise of at least several meters. Doubling times of 10, 20 or 40 years yield sea level rise of several meters in 50, 100 or 10 200 years. Paleoclimate data reveal that subsurface ocean warming causes ice shelf melt and ice sheet discharge. Our climate model exposes amplifying feedbacks in the Southern Ocean that slow Antarctic bottom water formation and increase ocean temperature near ice shelf grounding lines, while cooling the surface ocean and increasing sea ice cover and water column stability. Ocean surface cooling, in the North Atlantic 15 as well as the Southern Ocean, increases tropospheric horizontal temperature gradients, eddy kinetic energy and baroclinicity, which drive more powerful storms. We focus attention on the Southern Ocean’s role in affecting atmospheric CO2 amount, which in turn is a tight control knob on global climate. The millennial (500–2000 year) time scale of deep ocean ventilation affects the time scale for natural CO2 change, thus the time 20 scale for paleo global climate, ice sheet and sea level changes. This millennial carbon cycle time scale should not be misinterpreted as the ice sheet time scale for response to a rapid human-made climate forcing. Recent ice sheet melt rates have a doubling time near the lower end of the 10–40 year range. We conclude that 2 ◦C global warming above the preindustrial level, which would spur more ice shelf melt, is highly danger- 25 ous. Earth’s energy imbalance, which must be eliminated to stabilize climate, provides a crucial metric.

    Introduction

    Humanity is rapidly extracting and burning fossil fuels without full understanding of the consequences. Current assessments place emphasis on practical effects such as increasing extremes of heat waves, droughts, heavy rainfall, floods, and encroaching 5 seas (IPCC, 2014; USNCA, 2014). These assessments and our recent study (Hansen et al., 2013a) conclude that there is an urgency to slow carbon dioxide (CO2 ) emissions, because the longevity of the carbon in the climate system (Archer, 2005) and persistence of the induced warming (Solomon et al., 2010) may lock in unavoidable highly undesirable consequences.

    Despite these warnings, global CO2 emissions continue to increase as fossil fuels remain the primary energy source. The argument is made that it is economically and morally responsible to continue fossil fuel use for the sake of raising living standards, with expectation that humanity can adapt to climate change and find ways to minimize effects via advanced technologies.

    We suggest that this viewpoint fails to appreciate the nature of the threat posed by ice sheet instability and sea level rise. If the ocean continues to accumulate heat and increase melting of marine-terminating ice shelves of Antarctica and Greenland, a point will be reached at which it is impossible to avoid large scale ice sheet disintegration with sea level rise of at least several meters. The economic and social cost of losing 20 functionality of all coastal cities is practically incalculable. We suggest that a strategic approach relying on adaptation to such consequences is unacceptable to most of humanity, so it is important to understand this threat as soon as possible.

    We examine events late in the last interglacial period warmer than today, called Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5e in studies of ocean sediment cores, Eemian in European 25 climate studies, and sometimes Sangamonian in American literature (see Sect. 5 for timescale diagram of Marine Isotope Stages). Accurately known changes of Earth’s astronomical configuration altered the seasonal and geographical distribution of incoming radiation during the Eemian. Resulting global warming was due to feedbacks that amplified the orbital forcing. While the Eemian is not an analog of future warming, it is useful for investigating climate feedbacks, the response of polar ice sheets to polar warming, and the interplay between ocean circulation and ice sheet melt.

    Our study relies on a large body of research by the scientific community. After intro- 5 ducing evidence concerning late Eemian climate change, we analyze relevant climate processes in three stages. First we carry our IPCC-like climate simulations, but with growing freshwater sources in the North Atlantic and Southern Oceans. Second we use paleoclimate data to extract information on key processes identified by the modeling. Third we use modern data to show that these processes are already spurring 10 climate change today…

    Summary implications

    Humanity faces near certainty of eventual sea level rise of at least Eemian proportions, 15 5–9 m, if fossil fuel emissions continue on a business-as-usual course, e.g., IPCC scenario A1B that has CO2 ∼ 700 ppm in 2100 (Fig. S21). It is unlikely that coastal cities or low-lying areas such as Bangladesh, European lowlands, and large portions of the United States eastern coast and northeast China plains (Fig. S22) could be protected against such large sea level rise.

    Rapid large sea level rise may begin sooner than generally assumed. Amplifying feedbacks, including slowdown of SMOC and cooling of the near-Antarctic ocean surface with increasing sea ice, may spur nonlinear growth of Antarctic ice sheet mass loss. Deep submarine valleys in West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin of East Antarctica, each with access to ice amounting to several meters of sea level, provide gateways 25 to the ocean. If the Southern Ocean forcing (subsurface warming) of the Antarctic ice sheets continues to grow, it likely will become impossible to avoid sea level rise of several meters, with the largest uncertainty being how rapidly it will occur.

    The Greenland ice sheet does not have as much ice subject to rapid nonlinear disintegration, so the speed at which it adds to 21st century sea level rise may be limited. However, even a slower Greenland ice sheet response is expected to be faster than carbon cycle or ocean thermal recovery times. Therefore, if climate forcing continues 5 to grow rapidly, amplifying feedbacks will assure large eventual mass loss. Also with present growth of freshwater injection from Greenland, in combination with increasing North Atlantic precipitation, we already may be on the verge of substantial North Atlantic climate disruption.

    Storms conjoin with sea level rise to cause the most devastating coastal damage. 10 End-Eemian and projected 21st century conditions are similar in having warm tropics and increased freshwater injection. Our simulations imply increasing storm strengths for such situations, as a stronger temperature gradient caused by ice melt increases baroclinicity and provides energy for more severe weather events. A strengthened Bermuda High in the warm season increases prevailing northeasterlies that can help 15 account for stronger end-Eemian storms. Weakened cold season sea level pressure south of Greenland favors occurrence of atmospheric blocking that can increase wintertime Arctic cold air intrusions into northern midlatitudes.

    Effects of freshwater injection and resulting ocean stratification are occurring sooner in the real world than in our model. We suggest that this is an effect of excessive small 20 scale mixing in our model that limits stratification, a problem that may exist in other models (Hansen et al., 2011). We encourage similar simulations with other models, with special attention to the model’s ability to maintain realistic stratification and perturbations. This issue may be addressed in our model with increased vertical resolution, more accurate finite differencing method in ocean dynamics that reduces noise, and 25 use of a smaller background diffusivity.

    There are many other practical impacts of continued high fossil fuel emissions via climate change and ocean acidification, including irreplaceable loss of many species, as reviewed elsewhere (IPCC, 2013, 2014; Hansen et al., 2013a). However, sea level rise sets the lowest limit on allowable human-made climate forcing and CO2 , because of the extreme sensitivity of sea level to ocean warming and the devastating economic and humanitarian impacts of a multi-meter sea level rise. Ice sheet response time is shorter than the time for natural geologic processes to remove CO2 from the climate system, so there is no morally defensible excuse to delay phase-out of fossil fuel emissions as 5 rapidly as possible.

    We conclude that the 2 ◦C global warming “guardrail”, affirmed in the Copenhagen Accord (2009), does not provide safety, as such warming would likely yield sea level rise of several meters along with numerous other severely disruptive consequences for human society and ecosystems. The Eemian, less than 2 ◦C warmer than pre-industrial 10 Earth, itself provides a clear indication of the danger, even though the orbital drive for Eemian warming differed from today’s human-made climate forcing. Ongoing changes in the Southern Ocean, while global warming is less than 1 ◦C, provide a strong warning, as observed changes tend to confirm the mechanisms amplifying change. Predicted effects, such as cooling of the surface ocean around Antarctica, are occurring 15 even faster than modeled.

    Our finding of global cooling from ice melt calls into question whether global temperature is the most fundamental metric for global climate in the 21st century. The first order requirement to stabilize climate is to remove Earth’s energy imbalance, which is now about +0.6 W m−2 , more energy coming in than going out. If other forcings are unchanged, removing this imbalance requires reducing atmospheric CO2 20 from ∼ 400 to ∼ 350 ppm (Hansen et al., 2008, 2013a).

    The message that the climate science delivers to policymakers, instead of defining a safe “guardrail”, is that fossil fuel CO2 emissions must be reduced as rapidly as practical. Hansen et al. (2013a) conclude that this implies a need for a rising carbon 25 fee or tax, an approach that has the potential to be near-global, as opposed to national caps or goals for emission reductions. Although a carbon fee is the sine qua non for phasing out emissions, the urgency of slowing emissions also implies other needs including widespread technical cooperation in clean energy technologies (Hansen et al., 2013a).

    The task of achieving a reduction of atmospheric CO2 is formidable, but not impossible. Rapid transition to abundant affordable carbon-free electricity is the core requirement, as that would also permit production of net-zero-carbon liquid fuels from electricity. The rate at which CO2 emissions must be reduced is about 6 % yr−1 to reach 5 350 ppm atmospheric CO2 by about 2100, under the assumption that improved agricultural and forestry practices could sequester 100 GtC (Hansen et al., 2013a). The amount of CO2 fossil fuel emissions taken up by the ocean, soil and biosphere has continued to increase (Fig. S23), thus providing hope that it may be possible to sequester more than 100 GtC. Improved understanding of the carbon cycle and non-CO2 10 forcings are needed, but it is clear that the essential requirement is to begin to phase down fossil fuel CO2 emissions rapidly. It is also clear that continued high emissions are likely to lock-in continued global energy imbalance, ocean warming, ice sheet disintegration, and large sea level rise, which young people and future generations would not be able to avoid. Given the inertia of the climate and energy systems, and the grave 15 threat posed by continued high emissions, the matter is urgent and calls for emergency cooperation among nations.

    QUICK NEWS, July 27: WIND’S HOPE IN THE WATER; ALABAMA WANTS ROOFTOP SOLAR; NEW ENERGY BILL WOULD BOOST GEOTHERMAL

    WIND’S HOPE IN THE WATER Offshore Wind Farm Raises Hopes of U.S. Clean Energy Backers

    Diane Cardwell, July 23, 2015 (NY Times)

    “…[O]ff the coast of Block Island, part of Rhode Island, a small flotilla [of crane vessels, tugboats and barges just] began installing the 1,500-ton foundations of the nation’s first commercial-scale offshore wind farm…It’s a moment that its supporters have long anticipated, billing it as nothing less than the dawn of a new clean energy future for the United States, which lags Europe and China in harnessing ocean gusts for electricity…Only five turbines will spin in the waters off Rhode Island…But its backers see it as one that could lend credibility to other efforts…[P]olicy experts and business executives warn that without stable subsidies and mandates — and coordination among the states — offshore wind development will be limited to a few small demonstration projects. Along with Cape Wind, projects are stalled near Delaware, New Jersey and New York…How far and fast the market develops depends, analysts and experts say, on how strong of a commitment the country makes…” click here for more

    ALABAMA WANTS ROOFTOP SOLAR Alabamians Overwhelmingly Ask for Freedom to Choose Solar Energy

    Kyle C. Grider, July 23, 2015 (Triple Pundit)

    “Alabamians are overwhelmingly in favor of their utilities boosting the use of solar energy to generate electricity, and they are nearly unanimous in their opposition to penalizing solar by tacking on fees, according to a new survey…The strength of the survey response leaves little doubt…[Out of more than of 1,600 responses,] 78 percent picked solar as one of the top two sources of energy that they would like to see their utility use more of in Alabama. Wind came in second [with 34 percent] …A study conducted several years ago by researchers at Arizona State University placed Alabama eighth nationally in terms of states that would benefit the most from expanding solar energy deployment. Alabama currently ranks 48th in both installed solar capacity and the total number of solar jobs per capita…Alabama is one of only four states in the nation without ‘net metering’ policies…” click here for more

    NEW ENERGY BILL WOULD BOOST GEOTHERMAL Senate Energy Bill Would Help Achieve the Nation’s Geothermal Potential, Industry Leaders Say

    July 24, 2015 (Business Wire)

    “…[T]he U.S. geothermal industry applauded U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alas., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., for…[The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, a broad, bipartisan bill with five titles covering energy efficiency, infrastructure, supply, accountability, and land conservation that would]…set a 50,000-MW National Geothermal Goal…direct federal agencies to identify priority areas for development…allow federal oil and gas lease holders to obtain a non-competitive geothermal lease to facilitate coproduction of geothermal power…facilitate new discoveries by allowing the limited non-competitive leasing of adjacent lands where a new discovery has been made; and…provide geothermal exploration test projects a limited categorical exclusion provided the lands involved present no extraordinary circumstances…” click here for more