Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Concentrating Solar Power With Thermal Energy Storage Is Economically Useful For Utility Company Profits, Study Finds

Utility companies can benefit considerably from the utilization of concentrating solar power (CSP) and available energy storage methods, a new study from the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has found.

A CSP that possesses a 6-hour storage capacity works well to lower peak net loads for the part of the day when the sun isn’t shining. That’s “enough to add $35.80 per megawatt hour to the capacity and operational value of the utility, compared to photovoltaic (PV) solar power alone, and even higher extra value when compared to CSP without storage. The net load is the normal load minus variable renewables such as photovoltaic and wind.”

The thermal storage creates additional value because it allows CSP to replace the gas-fired generation that is used during peak loads and is more expensive, and also because it works to even out the solar power generation throughout the day, rather than a big bump during the day and big drop-off at night.

This study is one of the first where “the operational and capacity value of CSP with thermal storage has been evaluated using a production cost model, a traditional utility planning tool,” NREL writes.

The researchers used Energy Exemplar’s PLEXOS simulation model to specifically isolate the value of thermal energy storage (TES) with and without storage relative to other generation methods.

“We’ve known for a long time that CSP with storage adds significant value, however, we are now able to quantify this value in the language utilities understand,” said Mark Mehos, manager of NREL’s Concentrating Solar Power program. More

Given the amount of solar energy that SIDS and many tropical and sub-tropical countries have this is a most logical policy. Editor


Thursday, December 20, 2012

IEA: World to Burn 1.2 Billion More Tons of Coal Per Year by 2017 (If We Don't Wake Up)

Forecasts are not destiny, but when created by informed people they can represent our best guess about the future.

In the case of the latest report by theInternational Energy Agency (IEA), it would be great to prove the forecasters wrong, because what they predict is not very appetizing: BY 2017, the world could burn 1.2 billion additional tons of coal per year, mostly thanks to growth in India and China. This would mean that coal is catching up with oil as an energy source, with 2017 "global coal consumption [standing] at 4.32 billion tonnes of oil equivalent (btoe), versus around 4.40 btoe for oil."

Equivalent to Current Coal Consumption of Russia and U.S. Combined

Since 1 ton of coal produces 2.86 tons of CO2 when burned (because each carbon atom combines with 2 oxygen atoms from the atmosphere), this would mean an additional 3.4 billion tons of CO2 produced just from this extra coal. Definitely not a good scenario; we shouldn't run large scale experiments with our planet's atmosphere, it's our only life support system and the less we mess with it, the better.

Even the lower demand for coal in the U.S. because of low natural gas prices is just shifting the problem (though only partially):

"As US coal demand declines, more US coal is going to Europe, where low CO2 prices and high gas prices are increasing the competitiveness of coal in the power generation system. This trend, however, is close to peaking, and coal demand by 2017 in Europe is projected to drop to levels slightly above those in 2011, due to increasing renewable generation and decommissioning of old coal plants."

Let's Prove the Forecasters Wrong

What we truly need is clean energy innovation and investment. We have so many ways available to speed up the transition to clean energy, we just need to implement them with much more urgency! More


Monday, December 17, 2012

Jigar Shaw - Technology Can Solve the Energy Crisis

TEDxOilSpill - Jigar Shaw - Technology Can Solve the Energy Crisis


Uploaded on Aug 14, 2011.
A renowned visionary committed to renewable energy, Jigar Shah launched SunEdison in 2003 based upon a business plan he developed in 1999. That plan became the basis of the SunEdison model: Simplify solar as a service. Shah was tapped by Virgin mogul Richard Branson to head up the Carbon War Room, which harnesses the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Grid Could Run on 99.9% Renewable Energy By 2030

When a British energy minister argued that wind turbines generate a "mere trickle of non-storable energy", some eyebrows were raised.

Sure, there are challenges to shifting to clean energy, but with renewables providing an ever larger slice of the energy pie and with a number of studies showing 100% renewable energy is possible with today's technologies, his arguments were at best outdated, and at worst a severe case of misrepresentation and denial.

Now Science Daily reports on a study from the University of Delaware and Delaware Technical Community College adds weight to this thesis, suggesting that wind and solar could power the grid 99.9% of the time if combined with a certain amount of energy storage and fossil fuel backups for the rare occasion that clean energy alone was not enough.

Using computer modeling, the researchers explored 28 billion combinations of renewables and storage mechanisms, each tested with four years of weather and energy demand data. The results were encouraging, and because the study focused not just on matching supply with demand, but rather achieving the most cost effective solutions, it revealed some rather useful findings. Most notably, that it is cheaper to over-build generation capacity to a point where there is excess supply on sunny or windy days, and still an adequate direct supply when demand is high but wind or sun are in short supply. Storage was still an important part of the puzzle however, as Science Daily explains:

During the hours when there was not enough renewable electricity to meet power needs, the model drew from storage and, on the rare hours with neither renewable electricity or stored power, then fossil fuel. When there was more renewable energy generated than needed, the model would first fill storage, use the remaining to replace natural gas for heating homes and businesses and only after those, let the excess go to waste.

The study used cost estimates for renewables in 2030, that showed wind and solar at roughly half the installation price they are today, with maintenance costs remaining roughly constant. As far as I can tell, it didn't even get into the potential for radical energy and resource savings through ideas like embracing bright green cities or dematerializing the economy either.

Having just got into a heated twitter "discussion" with another naysayer who feels that fracking to avoid economic calamity is our only option, I must once again call BS. More


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Morocco leading the world towards a clean energy future

Morocco was the first country in the world to recognize the fledgling American Republic in 1777. Now, they are seeking clean energy independence and asking the world to join them in a green revolution.

This North African country, a constitutional monarchy about the size of California, has recently set a royal goal to ensure that 40 percent of its electricity demand is met from renewable energy sources by 2020. This is an extremely aggressive goal considering more than 90 percent of its current energy use is fossil fuel based and imported.

Astoundingly, with the cooperation of European and worldwide partners, Morocco has even grander plans to power itself entirely by renewable energy and potentially, in cooperation with other Northern African countries, export excess clean energy to Europe.

With these aggressive goals, it shouldn’t be surprising that King Mohammed VI of Morocco isn’t afraid of what anyone thinks when he talks about the reality of climate change. And talk he does.

In a message to world participants at the September 2102 conference in Morocco, Energy Challenges in the Euro-Mediterranean Region, King Mohammed said:

“Convinced of the vital importance of protecting and preserving the environment, and having realized at an early stage—thanks to its geographical location—the potential impact of climate change, my country resolutely opted for sustainable development which, needless to say, goes hand in hand with human development.”

In 2009, King Mohammed announced at a ceremony attended by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a $9 billion solar project with the target of creating 2,000 megawatts of renewable power by 2020. According to the Moroccan Minister of Energy and Mining at the time, Amina Benkhadra, the “massive project” will combine economic and social development with environmental protection and efforts to tackle climate change. “The project will reduce energy imports by saving the equivalent of a million tonnes of oil per year and help protect the environment by cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 3.7 million tonnes annually,” said Benkhadra.”

Morocco’s foray into its green future started small, with encouragement of individual solar systems on homes, especially in remote areas with no power. The country rightly understood the importance of localized sources of power generation and micro grids. It was only in 2007 when Morocco installed its first, small 50 kilowatt photovoltaic power plant in Tit Mellil. Then things got on a roll. In 2007, Morocco installed 200,000 square meters of solar water heating panels. In 2008, a combined cycle solar and thermal plant of 427 megawatts was established. But, all this was just the tip of a huge wave of renewable activity which has positioned Morocco to be a major geopolitical player in renewable energy.

In 2010, the largest wind farm in Africa, consisting of 165 turbines, was inaugurated in northern Morocco.

Clean Technica reported in October 2012, that a new memorandum of understanding was signed between the Moroccan government and the Desertec Foundation, a German based entity, to strengthen plans to build a massive series of solar power plants in the northern part of Morocco. These plants will supply not only power for Morocco, but also feed clean energy to Europe via high voltage direct current transmission lines.

“Morocco is a not just a visionary in the region, but also a successful pioneer in the global transition to renewables,” said Dr Thiemo Gropp, director of the Desertec Foundation.

In a Clean Technica article, Morocco Stays Renewable Energy Course Amidst Arab Spring, it notes that, “also vital to the renewable energy/energy efficiency strategy’s success and job creation, Morocco is investing in building out a modern electricity grid and distribution lines. These are key to the government’s plans to export green energy to Europe.”

The green headway Morocco is making shows the vital importance of strong leadership. More



Thursday, November 15, 2012

Shale offers freedom and security – but it could be a trap

Exploiting shale gas and oil entails greenhouse gas emissions that will far outstrip our ability to adapt to the climate change they will cause.

Wars are fought over energy. So vital is it to the economy that the few custodians of the world's oil and gas wealth have the power to determine global booms and recessions.

At last, it seems, a new source of energy might liberate us from this conflict – fossil fuels trapped within dense rock for millennia that we are now able to free, thanks to advances in engineering unthinkable a decade ago, and that are available in countries from Britain to Australia. But those same fossil fuels, much higher in carbon than their conventional counterparts, are likely to unleash runaway climate change that could put paid to any hopes of a low-cost – and low-risk – energy future.

Exploiting these new forms of energy – shale gas and oil entails greenhouse gas emissions that will far outstrip our ability to adapt to the climate change they will cause. But history shows we are unlikely to be able to leave any of these chaos-causing fuels unexploited. For most of the past 30 years, the main question for the US has been how to ensure enough energy to meet the economy's needs. The oil shocks of the 1970s showed the economy's vulnerability to foreign imports. Since then, the goal of "energy security" has been crucial.

One route has been to exploit biofuels, made from maize, a policy introduced by George W Bush. But these are expensive as they divert food sources into use as fuel. A far better bet for the US, barely thinkable during Bush's presidency, is shale gas, which is transforming the US economy.

The first companies into shale were independents, leaving the more staid multinationals in their wake. Mitchell Energy and Development, subsequently bought by Devon Energy, was credited with being the first major exploiter. Pioneer Natural Resources was another. But the multinationals, led by ExxonMobil, soon caught up.

In less than 10 years, the US has become one of the prime producers of gas. The price of gas plummeted to only $2 a unit this year. That compares with about $9-12 in Europe, and about $15 in Asia. The International Energy Agency in 2011 heralded "a global golden age of gas" and new estimates show that, by 2017, the US could be the world's biggest producer of oil and gas.

But the plunging price of gas in the US has caused its own problems. At such low output prices, developing shale gas reserves becomes much less economically attractive. "Some companies have had financial difficulties," says Steven Estes, partner at KPMG in Dallas. He points to Chesapeake Energy, one of the pioneers: "Companies that were heavily involved in shale gas exclusively have really taken a hit."

The solution has been to explore the same gas fields to look for another prize – shale oil. While the price of natural gas has plunged, oil has kept its value. Liquids too can be trapped in dense shale rocks. But some shale gas fields will easily yield oil, while others will not. The difference between the two is heralding a huge difference between gas and oil producers in the US. Estes says: "Companies that have oil to exploit as well as gas – including Exxon and Shell, which have made acquisitions – are in the best position." More


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

World Energy Outlook 2012

The global energy map is changing in dramatic fashion, the International Energy Agency said as it launched the 2012 edition of the World Energy Outlook (WEO). The Agency's flagship publication, released today in London, said these changes will recast expectations about the role of different countries, regions and fuels in the global energy system over the coming decades.

“North America is at the forefront of a sweeping transformation in oil and gas production that will affect all regions of the world, yet the potential also exists for a similarly transformative shift in global energy efficiency,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. “This year’s World Energy Outlook shows that by 2035, we can achieve energy savings equivalent to nearly a fifth of global demand in 2010. In other words, energy efficiency is just as important as unconstrained energy supply, and increased action on efficiency can serve as a unifying energy policy that brings multiple benefits.”

The WEO finds that the extraordinary growth in oil and natural gas output in the United States will mean a sea-change in global energy flows. In the New Policies Scenario, the WEO’s central scenario, the United States becomes a net exporter of natural gas by 2020 and is almost self-sufficient in energy, in net terms, by 2035. North America emerges as a net oil exporter, accelerating the switch in direction of international oil trade, with almost 90% of Middle Eastern oil exports being drawn to Asia by 2035. Links between regional gas markets will strengthen as liquefied natural gas trade becomes more flexible and contract terms evolve. While regional dynamics change, global energy demand will push ever higher, growing by more than one-third to 2035. China, India and the Middle East account for 60% of the growth; demand barely rises in the OECD, but there is a pronounced shift towards gas and renewables.

Fossil fuels will remain dominant in the global energy mix, supported by subsidies that, in 2011, jumped by almost 30% to $523 billion, due mainly to increases in the Middle East and North Africa. Global oil demand grows by 7 mb/d to 2020 and exceeds 99 mb/d in 2035, by which time oil prices reach $125/barrel in real terms (over $215/barrel in nominal terms). A surge in unconventional and deepwater oil boosts non-OPEC supply over the current decade, but the world relies increasingly on OPEC after 2020. Iraq accounts for 45% of the growth in global oil production to 2035 and becomes the second-largest global oil exporter, overtaking Russia.

While the regional picture for natural gas varies, the global outlook over the coming decades looks to be bright, as demand increases by 50% to 5 trillion cubic metres in 2035. Nearly half of the increase in production to 2035 is from unconventional gas, with most of this coming from the United States, Australia and China. Whether demand for coal carries on rising strongly or changes course radically will depend on the strength of policy decisions around lower-emissions energy sources and changes in the price of coal relative to natural gas. In the New Policies Scenario, global coal demand increases by 21% and is heavily focused in China and India.

No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 °C goal, unless carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is widely deployed.

Renewables become the world’s second-largest source of power generation by 2015 and close in on coal as the primary source by 2035. However, this rapid increase hinges critically on continued subsidies. In 2011, these subsidies (including for biofuels) amounted to $88 billion, but over the period to 2035 need to amount to $4.8 trillion; over half of this has already been committed to existing projects or is needed to meet 2020 targets. Ambitions for nuclear have been scaled back as countries have reviewed policies following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, but capacity is still projected to rise, led by China, Korea, India and Russia.

Water is essential to the production of energy, and the energy sector already accounts for 15% of the world’s total water use. Its needs are set to grow, making water an increasingly important criterion for assessing the viability of energy projects. In some regions, water constraints are already affecting the reliability of existing operations and they will introduce additional costs. Expanding power generation and biofuels output underpin an 85% increase in the amount consumed (the volume of water that is not returned to its source after use) through to 2035. More


Monday, November 5, 2012

Solar Industry Grows 13.2 Percent, Adds 13K Jobs

According to TSF’s National Solar Jobs Census 2012, the U.S. solar industry added 13,872 jobs between September 2011 and September 2012. Bringing the total of employed solar industry workers to 119,016, this leap represents a 13.2 growth in employment. In comparison, the overall economy poked along at a sluggish 2.3 percent during the same time period, according to information obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In a press release issued by TSF, Executive Director Andrea Luecke said, “The solar industry has grown at significantly higher rates than most other industries in the past several years, making it one of the foremost creators of new jobs in the United States. These new solar industry jobs are sustainable, cannot be outsourced and play a critical role in our country’s economic recovery.”

Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C. based non-profit Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), said, “The solar energy industry is creating jobs in America when we need them most. The rapid growth of jobs in the solar industry clearly demonstrates that smart policies, including the federal investment tax credit, are putting Americans back to work.”

Information gathered from the voluntary online census, which queried more than 1,000 solar companies, also provided illuminating information as to the principal driving factors behind the industry’s surge in growth. The biggest percentage of participants, almost one third, cited falling prices for solar components as a primary driver of growth. Others pointed to federal tax incentives and state legislation allowing third-party system ownership, as well as the enacting of Renewable Portfolio Standards to foster the increased production of solar energy.

“This is what happens when government provides a stable policy environment,” Resch added. “The private industry does what it does best – creates new jobs for Americans.”

Monique Hanis, spokesperson for SEIA, said continued growth of the U.S. solar industry will hinge greatly upon the protection and expansion of successful state and federal policies, in addition to continued financing for solar projects and operations. More



Thursday, November 1, 2012

What no candidate says about energy and the economy

This [US] election is being framed as a choice between two different approaches to return to robust economic growth. But what if both sides are missing a critical underlying factor in our economic troubles?

What if tools of the past no longer fit the economy of the future? Economic growth, as we have known it, is being constrained by an unprecedented slowing of growth in world oil supply. America’s path to future prosperity needs to recognize and confront this new energy reality, and adapt our economy to run on a lot less oil.

World crude oil production has been on a century-long rising trend—from less than one million barrels per day (mbd) in 1900 to nearly 75 mbd today. There have been aberrations along the way, such as a large fall in production during the Great Depression, but the upward trend has persisted—until recently. Since 2005, global oil production has been essentially flat. There have been plateaus before, but what is different this time is that real oil prices—i.e. adjusted for inflation—have roughly tripled within the span of a decade, yet relatively little additional production has been brought forth.

For most of the 20th century, oil prices in 2009 dollars were less than $35 per barrel. During the 25-year economic boom following World War II, they stayed reliably below $20. Real prices shot up to the $50 mark in the early 1970’s following the Arab oil embargo and reached $100 shortly thereafter with the Iranian hostage crisis. Excepting those oil shocks, average real prices remained remarkably low.

But something appears to have fundamentally changed over the past decade. Since 2000, aside from a spike and crash in 2008 and 2009, U.S. oil prices have climbed steadily and are now holding in the $80-$100 per barrel range, approximately three times their historic average, despite a worldwide economic slowdown. We have essentially been in a long, slow, but equally damaging oil shock for several years, only this one is not associated with any acute geopolitical event.

Various forces are contributing to rising oil prices, but an unavoidable key factor is the increasing cost and energy required to produce each new barrel of oil. From an energy and economic standpoint, the return on energy invested for new petroleum sources — such as tight oil in North Dakota, Canadian tar sands, or deepwater offshore oil is much lower than for conventional oilfields of the past, as research at the State University of New York at Syracuse has shown.

What does this mean for the economy? In essence, oil is delivering substantially less energy “profit” or surplus wealth to society than it used to. Higher prices also mean more American dollars flowing to oil-exporting countries, less money for households and businesses to invest or spend on other goods and services, and rising prices for oil-dependent products (a long list). It all adds up to a major drag on economic growth.

There is another important new wrinkle in the story of the petroleum age. Before 2000, we didn’t care much about other countries. The United States essentially laid first claim to the world’s oil exports. No longer. Oil consumption in developing countries, especially China, has exploded over the past decade. At the same time, oil-exporting countries are using more oil domestically. The result: oil exports available on the global market have been declining by an estimated 0.7 percent per year since 2005, according to analysis by Texas geologist Jeffrey Brown, and competition for those declining oil exports has increased, pushing prices further upward. More


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Great Transition, Part II: Building a Wind-Centered Economy

In the race to transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy and avoid runaway climate change, wind has opened a wide lead on both solar and geothermal energy.

Solar panels, with a capacity totaling 70,000 megawatts, and geothermal power plants, with a capacity of some 11,000 megawatts, are generating electricity around the world. The total capacity for the world’s wind farms, now generating power in about 80 countries, is near 240,000 megawatts. China and the United States are in the lead.

Over the past decade, world wind electric generating capacity grew at nearly 30 percent per year, its increase driven by its many attractive features and by public policies supporting its expansion. Wind is abundant, carbon-free and nondepletable. It uses no water, no fuel, and little land. Wind is also locally available, scales up easily, and can be brought online quickly. No other energy source can match this combination of features.

One reason wind power is so popular is that it has a small footprint. Although a wind farm can cover many square miles, turbines occupy only 1 percent of that area. Compared with other renewable sources of energy, wind energy yield per acre is off the charts. For example, a farmer in northern Iowa could plant an acre in corn that yields enough grain to produce roughly $1,000 worth of fuel-grade ethanol per year, or he could use that same acre to site a turbine producing $300,000 worth of electricity each year.

Because turbines take up only 1 percent of the land covered by a wind farm, ranchers and farmers can, in effect, double-crop their land, simultaneously harvesting electricity while producing cattle, wheat or corn. With no investment on their part, farmers and ranchers can receive $3,000 to $10,000 a year in royalties for each wind turbine on their land. For thousands of ranchers on the U.S. Great Plains, wind royalties will one day dwarf their earnings from cattle sales.

Wind is also abundant. In the United States, three wind-rich states—North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas—have enough harnessable wind energy to easily satisfy national electricity needs. Another attraction of wind energy is that it is not depletable. The amount of wind energy used today has no effect on the amount available tomorrow.

Unlike coal, gas, and nuclear power plants, wind farms do not require water for cooling. As wind backs out coal and natural gas in power generation, water will be freed up for irrigation and other needs.

Perhaps wind’s strongest attraction is that there is no fuel cost. After the wind farm is completed, the electricity flows with no monthly fuel bill. And while it may take a decade to build a nuclear power plant, the construction time for the typical wind farm is one year.

Future wind complexes in the Great Plains, in the North Sea, off the coast of China or the eastern coast of the United States may have generating capacity measured in the tens of thousands of megawatts. Planning and investment in wind projects is occurring on a scale not previously seen in the traditional energy sector.

One of the obvious downsides of wind is its variability. But as wind farms multiply, this becomes less of an issue. Because no two farms have identical wind profiles, each farm added to a grid reduces variability. A Stanford University research team has pointed out that with thousands of wind farms and a national grid in a country such as the United States, wind becomes a remarkably stable source of electricity.

In more densely populated areas, there is often local opposition to wind power— the NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) response. But in the vast ranching and farming regions of the United States, wind is immensely popular for economic reasons. For ranchers in the Great Plains, farmers in the Midwest or dairy farmers in upstate New York, there is a PIMBY (“put it in my backyard”) response.

Farmers and ranchers welcome the additional income from having wind turbines on their land. Rural communities compete for wind farm investments and the additional tax revenue to support their schools and roads.

One of the keys to developing wind resources is building the transmission lines to link wind-rich regions with population centers. Perhaps the most exciting grid project under development is the so-called Tres Amigas electricity hub, a grid interconnection center to be built in eastern New Mexico. It will link the three U.S. electricity grids — the Eastern, Western, and Texas grids. Tres Amigas is a landmark in the evolution of the new energy economy. With high-voltage lines linking the three grids where they are close to each other, electricity can be moved from one part of the United States to another as conditions warrant. By matching surpluses with deficits over a broader area, electricity wastage and consumer rates can both be reduced. Other long distance transmission lines are under construction or in the planning stages. More


Monday, October 29, 2012

Should We Focus on Energy Efficiency or Energy Supply?

A new study released last week has looked at the implications of switching the focus of mitigating climate change from developing energy supply technologies towards developing energy efficient cars, buildings, and domestic appliances.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that twice as much effort is currently being directed towards developing supply technologies such as new power stations than is being directed towards improving the efficiency of end-use technologies.

“About two-thirds of all public innovation efforts are directed toward energy supply technologies,” explained Dr. Charlie Wilson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia who led the study.

“It is vital that innovations in renewable energy supply continue, but the imbalance in spending needs to be redressed urgently to mitigate climate change. Evidence strongly suggests that energy end-use and efficiency currently stand as the most effective ways to mitigate climate change.”

“Efficiency gets short shrift in both public energy research and development, and in private market investments alike,” said Study co-author Prof Arnulf Grubler, of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and Yale University. “In contrast, improvements in technologies like domestic appliances and more energy-efficient transport are underrepresented given their potential for mitigating climate change.”

The study, led by Dr Wilson in collaboration with an international team of scientists fro Austria and the US, assessed energy technology innovation and quantified the relative emphasis placed on energy supply technology versus the technologies that are using the energy supplied. More




Why I'm occupying a gas-fired power station chimney

Thirty people shut down the UK's newest gas-fired power station and 15 occupied two of its chimneys at West Burton in Nottinghamshire this morning. I am one of them. We have set up two camps, one at the top and one inside the 80-metre-high smoke-stacks. We have also carried up enough supplies to keep us up here for at least a week.

It's pretty scary hanging inside the chimney on a portaledge, but we've been rigorously trained and have some very skilled climbers as part of our group. We've made a cosy camp with tarpaulins, and we plan to share a hot meal this evening at the same time as our friends across on the other chimney. The view up here is beautiful. We can see the River Trent and green fields and woods stretching into the distance – marred only by a single gas and three coal power stations. The chimney makes weird noises which jolted everyone awake several times last night but I'm sure we'll get used to it.

Making our home on top of a power station in October may seem like a strange thing to do, but we've thought long and hard about it, and we are here for very serious reasons. We're aware that as we sit here surveying the horizon, the east coast of the US is being devastated by Hurricane Sandy. These two things are inextricably connected.

We're doing this because the gas plant, which is still being constructed by its operator, EDF, is one of the first in a new dash for gas that has to be stopped. The government and the big energy companies want to build as many as 20 new gas power stations, which would leave the UK dependent on this highly polluting and increasingly expensive fuel for decades to come.

Last week EDF hiked its energy prices by 10.8%, the highest rise of any of the big six energy companies so far this winter. These price rises were triggered by the rising wholesale cost of gas, which the UK is increasingly forced to import as North Sea supplies decline. We already rely on gas for83% of our central heating and almost 50% of electricity. Increasing this dependence will cause household energy bills to rise even further, pushing those who live the most precarious lives deeper into fuel poverty.

By occupying the site and halting construction we hope, for however short a time, to stop this dash for gas and expose the madness of a government that is totally in the thrall of the big energy companies. Intense lobbying by some of the most powerful polluters in the world is eroding even the modest gains made by democratic attempts to shape our energy policy, which culminated in the 2008 Climate Change Act. Over the past five years, direct action campaigns have played a key role in forcing government U-turns around major environmental decisions – think of thePlane Stupid campaign against Heathrow's third runway and the shift away from coal after the occupation at Kingsnorth. Now, the government's climate advisers, the independent Committee on Climate Change, arewarning that a dash for gas could be illegal, causing the UK to miss the already relatively unambitious emissions reduction targets laid out in the Climate Change Act. More


Friday, October 26, 2012

The Politics of Solar Power

Bill Powers, of Solar Done Right, tells Business Week in a timely article about the political hitches holding solar back in the U.S., that “economically and technologically, the game is over.

The hang-ups in the U.S. are strictly political,” he said. Oil and gas still dominate the agenda of the political debate and alternative energy is treated with a certain indifference.

Yet, the market tells a different a story. Prices have fallen and the cost per watt for residential buildings has fallen from $9 per unit in 2006 to the current $5.46. The average commercial industrial installation price is even lower at $3.45 per watt. In some regions, payback for upfront investment is four to five years and lease schemes are widely available.

The media is always reporting on some revealing stories about solar power, such as this article about New York being the next great solar market, with focus on one particular company called OnForce Solar, based in the Bronx.

Back in May, OnForce’s CEO Charles Feit was named one of Crain’s New York Business’ “Top Entrepreneurs of 2012″. Among the criteria for selection was creativity and innovation. “OnForce has demonstrated these qualities consistently during the past five years, even during difficult market conditions,” Elaine Pofeldt, a contributing editor at Crain’s, said at the time. “It’s been a challenging period in the solar energy field, and under Feit’s leadership, OnForce has thrived nonetheless.”

The Solar Energy Industry Association says that over the last year around 52,000 residential rooftop systems were installed in the U.S. last year, 30 percent more than the previous year. Between 2010 and 2011, there was a growth of 109 percent for rooftop installations, including commercial buildings. More


Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Great Transition, Part I: From Fossil Fuels to Renewable Energy

The great energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy is under way. As fossil fuel prices rise, as oil insecurity deepens, and as concerns about pollution and climate instability cast a shadow over the future of coal, a new world energy economy is emerging.

The old energy economy, fueled by oil, coal, and natural gas, is being replaced with an economy powered by wind, solar, and geothermal energy. The Earth’s renewable energy resources are vast and available to be tapped through visionary initiatives. Our civilization needs to embrace renewable energy on a scale and at a pace we’ve never seen before.

We inherited our current fossil fuel based world energy economy from another era. The 19th century was the century of coal, and oil took the lead during the 20th century. Today, global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2)—the principal climate-altering greenhouse gas—come largely from burning coal, oil, and natural gas. Coal, mainly used for electricity generation, accounts for 44 percent of global fossil-fuel CO2 emissions. Oil, used primarily for transportation, accounts for 36 percent. Natural gas, used for electricity and heating, accounts for the remaining 20 percent. It is time to design a carbon- and pollution-free energy economy for the 21st century.

Some trends are already moving in the right direction. The burning of coal, for example, is declining in many countries. In the United States, the number two coal consumer after China, coal use dropped 14 percent from 2007 to 2011 as dozens of coal plants were closed. This trend is expected to continue, due in part to widespread opposition to coal now being organized by the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

Oil is used to produce just 5 percent of the world’s electricity generation and is becoming ever more costly. Because oil is used mainly for transport, we can phase it out by electrifying the transport system. Plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars can run largely on clean electricity. Wind-generated electricity to operate cars could cost the equivalent of 80-cent-per gallon gasoline.

As oil reserves are being depleted, the world has been turning its attention to plant-based energy sources. Their potential use is limited, though, because plants typically convert less than 1 percent of solar energy into biomass.

Crops can be used to produce automotive fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel. Investments in U.S. corn-based ethanol distilleries became hugely profitable when oil prices jumped above $60 a barrel following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The investment frenzy that followed was also fueled by government mandates and subsidies. In 2011, the world produced 23 billion gallons of fuel ethanol and nearly 6 billion gallons of biodiesel.

But the more research that’s done on liquid biofuels, the less attractive they become. Every acre planted in corn for ethanol means pressure for another acre to be cleared elsewhere for crop production. Clearing land in the tropics for biofuel crops can increase greenhouse gas emissions instead of reducing them. Energy crops cannot compete with land-efficient wind power. More


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

‘Bermuda should be the model for clean energy for the world’

Leading US conservationist Larry Schweiger, president of Virginia-based National Wildlife Federation visited Bermuda as a special guest speaker at the Bermuda Environmental Alliance’s ‘Latin Night for Planet Earth’ gala last Friday.

Mr Schweiger spoke about climate change and the impact it is likely to have on low-lying land and islands, such as Bermuda, and pointed to ways that the Island can be a ‘clean energy’ model for the world.

Here is a shortened version of Mr Schweiger’s speech:

We need to look north to see our future.

The Arctic is warming faster than any other place on earth. It has warmed more than twice as fast as the global average in the past fifty years. The Arctic has lost 20 percent more summer ice in 2012 than it did in the record-setting year 2007. We could see the complete loss of summer ice by the end of this decade. Dark open water or barren ice-free Arctic lands increase the amount of solar radiation absorbed and further speed the melting process.

Nearly the size of continental United States, Arctic ice is vital for temperature regulation in the Arctic region as it bounces about 90 percent of the sun’s energy as albedo. Open water absorbs 80 percent of the energy thus changing a giant reflector into a massive energy absorbing system. As the Arctic region warms, it thaws the nearby tundra and releases carbon dioxide and methane.

Open water is an important threat because it will heat deep Arctic waters that release methane and spawn the decay of nearby Arctic tundra that has the potential to triple the carbon in the sky through rapid decomposition of the organic matter. As permafrost soils decompose they release massive amounts CO2. Warm Arctic waters and warming thermokarst lakes and ponds also releases large quantities of extremely potent greenhouse-gas methane that further accelerate climate change, as methane is a potent greenhouse gas.

As the Arctic warms, Greenland warms and becomes the source of enormous amounts of runoff. It is an island covered by two-mile thick ice that is being impacted by Arctic warming. During 2011, Greenland dumped 100 billion tons of ice and water into the ocean. In 2007 the worst year on record, about 40 percent of the Greenland surface was experiencing melt. This past summer about 97 percent of the island was experiencing melt. The total volume of water released in 2012 is not yet available but it’s increasingly clear that the Greenland ice sheet may soon pass a point of no return as the Arctic ice disappears.

What happens in Greenland will not stay in Greenland. Added to the expansion-driven sea-level rise caused by warming waters, sea level rise from melting glaciers and Greenland is a rapidly approaching reality for islands, coastal communities and mega-delta regions of the world. Worldwide, a one-metre rise in sea level will displace 100 million people.

Warming ocean waters also produce more atmospheric moisture and breed fewer but bigger hurricanes. Powerful climatological shifts caused by an overheated Arctic will have unpredictable but certainly far-reaching consequences to Bermuda and other low-lying regions of the world.

We are already experiencing strong signals that climate change is happening now. Forest fires happen four times as often in the US and burn six times more acres. Massive droughts have been affecting critically important agricultural lands. Mega storms worldwide are increasing damages by about one percent per year. All these climate-driven trends added together signal a challenging future for us all.

Since the island of Bermuda is experiencing sea-level rise three times the world average rates and since it is in the path of hurricanes that are expected to become stronger and stronger, Bermuda should be the model for clean energy for the world. Working together we can decarbonise our energy supplies and avoid the worst.

This is doable. Since electric energy production in Bermuda is primarily produced by expensive imported oil, I believe Bermuda can create an efficient, clean energy path at equal or less cost than consumers are currently paying for electricity. Solar panel prices for example, have declined by 50 percent last year and LED lights and other efficiency measures can dramatically cut energy demand and save money.

We need to have unprecedented international cooperation to move away from carbon emitting fossil fuels to advanced efficiency measures and spawn serious investments in clean energy sources such as solar, wind, wave and current energy. More


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Peak oil review - Oct 22

Peak oil review - Oct 22

by Tom Whipple, originally published by ASPO-USA

1. Oil and the Global Economy

Oil traded in a narrow range until Friday when an accumulation of economic problems such as weak demand, growing inventories, and a seeming lack of progress at the EU summit meeting sent prices down more than $2 a barrel. The futures market closed out the week at $90.05 a barrel in NY and $110.14 in London. Widespread pessimism about the global economy coupled with a lack of any immediate threats to Middle Eastern oil supplies are held responsible for Friday’s decline.

US gasoline prices are finally dropping as they usually do after Labor Day with the nationwide price of regular down to $3.67 a gallon from $3.83 a month ago. Gasoline futures are down 25 cents a gallon in the last two weeks. In California, where they are still having refinery problems, regular is going for an average of $4.44 a gallon. While US crude inventories are at their highest level for this time of year since 1982, gasoline and distillate inventories are pushing record lows despite weak demand. The API reported last week that US oil demand in September fell 3.8 percent from last September to 18.2 million b/d. Northeastern US distillate inventories, where most of the demand for heating oil takes place, are down to the lowest on record and weather forecasters are already talking about a colder and snowier winter ahead in the region.

US natural gas futures dropped midweek on forecasts of milder weather across most of the US in the week ahead; by Friday however, new forecasts of colder weather in November, the possibility of a cold winter in the northeast, and shrinking natural gas inventories led to a jump in futures prices. Natural gas closed on Friday above $3.60 per million BTUs after having traded below $2 in the spring when the gas glut was at it height and there were fears that the US would run out of storage space.

2. Middle East

The New York Times, citing administration officials, reports that Iran is willing to open direct talks with Washington on the nuclear question after the US elections. Tehran and the White House, however, have denied that any agreement for talks has been reached, but the White House says it is open to the suggestion.

The possibility of talks boosts the administration’s case that sanctions rather than military action is the proper way to handle the situation. Others are already saying that direct talks are merely another attempt by Tehran to stall for time as it continues to work on its nuclear weapons program.

Meanwhile the US and EU imposed further sanctions on Iran’s oil and gas industries last week. Many of these new sanctions are designed to close loopholes that have arisen as Tehran scrambled to find ways around the sanctions. The EU’s sanctions involve freezing the foreign assets of some 30 Iranian companies doing business in the West.

Iran is attempting to portray any strike on its nuclear facilities as a step towards a regional or “global’ war with retaliation taking place against US and Israeli interests. Der Spiegel reports that Tehran is contemplating blocking the Straits of Hormuz with a giant oil spill. Although Iran’s exports would be disrupted too, the theory is that the shutting in of most Middle Eastern oil exports would force the lifting of the sanctions. More

Monday, October 22, 2012

Earthquake-Causing Fracking to Be Allowed within 500 Feet of Nuclear Plants

Nuclear Plants Vulnerable to Earthquakes

The American government has officially stated that fracking can cause earthquakes. Some fracking companies now admit this fact The scientific community agrees. See this, this, this, this and this.

Earthquakes can – of course – damage nuclear power plants. For example, even the operator of Fukushima and the Japanese government now admit that the nuclear cores might have started melting down before the tsuanmi ever hit. More here.

Indeed, the fuel pools and rods at Fukushima appear to have “boiled”, caught fire and/or exploded soon after the earthquake knocked out power systems. See this, this, this, this and this. And fuel pools in the United States store an average of ten times more radioactive fuel than stored at Fukushima, have virtually no safety features, and are vulnerable to accidents and terrorist attacks. And see this.

Indeed, American reactors may be even more vulnerable to earthquakes than Fukushima.

But American nuclear “regulators” have allowed numerous nuclear power plants to be built in earthquake zones:

And they have cover up the risks from earthquakes for years … just like theJapanese regulators did. For example:

  • The NRC won’t even begin conducting its earthquake study for Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York until after relicensing is complete in 2013, because the NRC doesn’t consider a big earthquake “a serious risk”
  • Congressman Markey has said there is a cover up. Specifically, Markey alleges that the head of the NRC told everyone not to write down risks they find from an earthquake greater than 6.0 (the plant was only built to survive a 6.0 earthquake)
  • We have 4 reactors in California – 2 at San Onofre 2 at San Luis Obisbo – which are vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis

For example, Diablo Canyon is located on numerous earthquake faults, and a state legislator and seismic expert says it could turn into California’s Fukushima:

On July 26th 2011 the California Energy Commission held hearings concerning the state’s nuclear safety. During those hearings, the Chairman of the Commission asked governments experts whether or not they felt the facilities could withstand the maximum credible quake. The response was that they did not know.This is similar to what happened at Fukushima: seismologists dire warnings were ignored (and see this.)

Yet the Nuclear Regulatory Commission doesn’t even take earthquake risk into account when deciding whether or not to relicense plants like Diablo Canyon. More