Archive for the ‘PV & Earth Sustainability’ Category
Like many Americans, I am an avid listener to American Public Media’s Marketplace show. The show bills itself as “the most widely heard program on business and the economy — radio or television, commercial or public broadcasting — in the country. That popularity can also be a problem when journalists on the show discuss something they don’t understand.Earlier this month, Marketplace had a weekly roundup on the economy, focusing on manufacturing jobs because of emphasis provided on this topic by both of the presidential campaigns. The guests were John Carney of the Wall Street Journal and Catherine Rampell from the Washington Post.
At the third minute, Rampell weighs in on whether clean energy jobs would really help laid-off manufacturing workers. At 4:30, Carney shows his complete ignorance and claims that clean energy jobs are “science fiction.”
I know that Marketplace knows better. Scott Tong does excellent clean energy reporting for the show on a regular basis.
Let’s set the record straight since Rampell and Carney clearly couldn’t do a basic Google search.
The solar industry alone has created one out of every 80 jobs in the United States since the great recession. When including wind, LED lighting, and other clean energy categories, that number could be close to one in 33.
For the solar industry, a majority of these new employment opportunities are blue collar construction and manufacturing jobs that pay an average of $21 per hour — far higher than the $16 per hour non-union manufacturing jobs that South Carolina was touting later in that episode.
Amazingly, even Kai Ryssdal got into the bashing by questioning if clean energy could make a dent in hiring laid off manufacturing and mining workers.
In fact, the solar industry has hired more veterans than anyone else, retrained coal workers, and even provided a soft landing for oil and gas workers who have lost their jobs. The vast majority of solar and wind workers are trained in less than six months because their previous work experience and training is completely transferrable.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, wind technician is the fastest growing job category — expanding twice as much as the next-fastest growing job, occupational therapy assistant.
In 2015, the manufacturing arms of the solar and wind industries employed tens of thousands of people making pieces and parts in the United States. This is up by 20,000 people over 2014. In fact, this number is expected to continue to grow at that pace for the next five years.
How does an amazing show like Marketplace get these things so wrong? How do folks from the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal not know that solar and wind power now make up over 75 percent of new electric capacity additions in the United States — representing over $70 billion in new capital investment in 2016 alone. In so doing, these industries are generating substantial fees for investment banks, lawyers, accountants, and often advertising dollars for their newspapers and radio shows.
My sense is that these folks want to run as far away from environmentalists as possible. Clean energy in the United States has been defined by earnest environmentalists who, to their credit, embraced it wholeheartedly. But to our collective detriment, they spun an ideological, naïve story divorced from the reality of the energy economy transformation actually taking shape around us.
The result is that clean energy is mistakenly seen as a passive and precious solution for a future society — a delicate sunflower waving in the face of a muscular coal miner or a pristine field of green and sky of blue set against a dirt mound penetrated by a fracking rig. It feels more Utopian than aspirational, more luxury than necessity.
In short, it doesn’t feel American.
American is can-do, right-now, yes ma’am. Luckily, the actual transformation of the energy economy is as American as the Hoover Dam or the interstate highways, and even more earth-shaking. If only the discussion among politicians, media, business leaders, and the American public reflected that reality.
Unfortunately, the clean energy conversation is profoundly and unnecessarily polarizing. Like climate change itself, it’s become part of a larger culture war that fits neatly into the media’s predictable tendency of false equivalence, pitting workers against activists, businessmen against academics, and common sense against idealism. As a result, according to recent surveys, public sentiment about the urgency of action to prevent climate change is split along party lines between “let’s do something!” and “meh.”
The energy might be clean, but the work and the jobs are as rooted in dirt, sweat, and back-breaking labor as any American endeavor, and even more lasting.
We need to change the conversation to align with the deep emotional and aspirational narratives that speak to the American public. Clean energy could feel as all-American, cutting-edge, rugged, reliable, resilient, and tough as fracking. The same American ideals of independence, freedom, self-sufficiency, and opportunity can bring together green advocates and Tea Party stalwarts, labor and entrepreneurs, main street and Wall Street.
Independence is the heart of American identity. Clean energy is independence turned into electrons: the application of cunning, sweat, and ingenuity to harness the restless power of the American landscape.
The American energy economy is changing, and changing rapidly. Clean energy and energy efficiency is where the growth is happening. We can move of millions people from coal mining, low-tech manufacturing, and even oil and gas into good paying jobs that don’t negatively impact the health of people and the planet.
By rebranding clean energy, we can empower all Americans to work together for a stronger future. It’s time to get down and dirty
Without a healthy and productive environment and climate, nothing else matters. Nothing.
We can no longer depend on the U.S. federal government to lead on Climate Change.
193 nations around the world understand the anthropological science and the recent history of Climate Change and the threat it represents. Science is key to understanding how we arrived here and where Climate Change is heading.
The United States needs to lead on Climate Change and social activism is what gets its done in our democracy. Now more than ever, if we want to protect not only future generations but increasingly our current planet health, our time and money will be required, continually, to support activist groups who credibly lead this activism. 350.org, Greenpeace, NRDC, EDF, Ceres, Sierra Club and the list goes on.
Climate Change activism is underpinned with non-partisan science which is why I have supported Union of Concerned Scientist since 1985. In a time when the truth and facts mean nothing, UCS strives to make sure truthful science and fact is presented to our elected officials and the electorate. Their work is crucial not just because of the results of the recent election but also the accumulating and alarming data which shows that climate change is likely accelerating significantly beyond the models we have relied on. The graph below is an alarming indicator of just how serious and near term the threat is. The red line is 2016 ice accumulation.
Please consider supporting this highly productive and effective organization now by viewing the Union of Concerned Scientist website – www.ucsusa.org
“Why are solar companies going out of business as the industry grows? The explanation is fairly simple, and it may continue to happen over and over again.”
The headlines above are from a recent article on Motley Fool. It s a familiar headline given the recent solar industry turmoil and the election falsehoods reported in the media. But the thesis like this one that the industry is in some self inflicted death spiral is just plain wrong.
The actual answer IS simple and straight forward:
- Solar energy and other renewables are competing with highly subsidized fossil fuel energy This is not new news. During its remarkable accent, the solar industry has been driven to meet a subsidized utility cost basis (kWh cost) that then ripples negatively across the entire solar industry supply chain.
- Fossil fuel subsidies run between 10x to 20x more than the amount renewable energy receives depending on sector and timeframe. Numerous articles on the specifics of the subsidy imbalance can be found here and in an older post on this blog.
- Of course the fossil fuel industry doesn’t pay for negative externalities – its been using ground level air and earth’s atmosphere as a garbage dump for particulate and GHG emissions. This represents an enormous economic burden to society via healthcare, environmental damage, climate change and general quality of life which is paid for in non-energy cost sectors. In other words, we are certainly paying for it, just not on the energy bill.
- And while the solar industry has done a great job of reaching near grid parity in certain markets despite this subsidy imbalance, a number of studies have shown that if you level the subsidy playing field – WITHOUT factoring in negative externalities, solar can be the same or lower kWh cost depending on locale.
- While a barrier to new, large balance sheet entrants, current efforts from Elon Must/Lyndon Rive and their SolarCity, as we ll as Sunpower, First Solar and many others to go large scale to solve immediate pressing global climate change problems, the fossil fuel subsidy largesse limits the success of these efforts.
- The enormity of the subsidy imbalance problem is global in nature and is well understood to be holding back a rapid transition to clean energy generation.
I always find it amusing when I hear free market fundamentalists opine on the renewable energy industry when they state that they would never invest in a sector that relies on subsidies to exist. The entire energy industry is not a pure market and has always been highly subsidized and regulated.
So, how much longer will societies around the world take to regulate a level playing field so the all important energy sector can meet the Paris climate accords targets?
In my previous Diversification Chronicles post I covered some of the high level reasons why the time is right for fossil fuel and electric utilities to pursue profitable diversification into the renewable energy industry. Below, I outline recent events and news that further highlights the legal, regulatory and market drivers that should create urgent diversification strategy development or expansion for companies with large CO2 and GHG negative externalities as a result of their business operations.
On August 9th, the federal 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the first time on the legality of the Obama administration’s estimated social cost of carbon (SCC). SCC was determined by federal agencies who worked together starting in 2008 to create an accurate SCC, a metric that represents the long-term economic damage to society, in U.S. dollars, from each incremental ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. The latest estimate placed the SCC at $36 per metric ton of CO2.
The recent ruling upheld the Department of Energy’s use of the SCC metric in its analysis of standards for commercial refrigeration equipment. DOE used them for issuance of 2 rules in 2014: one of the rules set energy efficiency standards for 49 classes of commercial refrigeration equipment, while the other stipulated test procedures for the standards.
The refrigeration industry challenged DOE’s use of the social cost of carbon, but DOE’s use of the SCC metric, “was neither arbitrary nor capricious” according to senior federal judge Kenneth Ripple, who was appointed to the bench by President Reagan. The ruling was definitive in its entirety.
While this ruling only applies to the refrigeration industry in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, the implications are enormous for the oil & gas and electric utilities. The SCC metric as established by the US government is now a benchmark going forward. This may well be the first domino falling which would affect all CO2 & GHG emitters in near term.
For the first time ever, CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants will drop below those from natural gas in 2016, according to a new analysis from the federal Energy Information Agency. Renewable energy, energy efficiency, historically low prices for natural gas, and other factors have driven coal use down by >30% while natural gas has been replacing that fuel for generation.
It was always assumed that natural gas would be a solid 50-year bridge fuel combined with renewables, energy storage and other technologies. But with its rapid rise in use, less energy density, and methane issues, natural gas is becoming a larger CO2 & GHG contributor with projections putting it past coal emissions in its heyday.
In addition to overproduction, very low oil prices, and legal challenges surrounding potential prior knowledge of the impact of their industry on climate change, the oil & gas industries are facing a potentially game changing problem of how Wall Street will value each company’s fossil fuel reserves.
Typically, an oil & gas company’s stock market valuation is weighed heavily on proven reserves and ability to extract. With many countries looking at putting a price on CO2 and limiting extraction of oil & gas as a result of the COP 21 Paris Agreement, this becomes a crucial data point for both the investment community and the operating companies themselves.
Industry observers believe that it’s only a matter of a few years before the investment community significantly reduces the value of oil & gas companies and limits their equity positions. Additionally, the Securities and Exchange Commission is coming under pressure to change its rules to require energy firms to be more clear on what their material climate change risks are.
Combined with climate change symptoms seemingly accelerating over the last few years, these market and regulatory challenges make diversification into renewables an imperative. Short-term and weak green-washing strategies of the past will not stand up to public or government scrutiny going forward. The time is now for government and corporations to lead the transition to renewable and clean energy.Share this:
First post in a series looking at the fossil fuel segment diversification into renewable energy.
Consider the current energy industry situation:
- For the first time in the last 100 years of the electric utility industry, revenue from sales of electrons did not go up after the US economy emerged from the recent great recession. Energy efficiency, renewable energy and behind-the-meter generation schemes are part of the reason.
- Oil and gas industry revenue and margins are suffering from very low prices as a result of overproduction, regulatory tightening on negative externalities and other factors.
- The coal industry is at a point that prompted the CEO of one the largest coal producers to state publicly that coal as a dominant generation fuel is in significant decline. Natural gas at historically low prices is rapidly replacing coal for base load generation. Coal is also impacted by strict limits on emissions as a result of the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards(MATS). International markets, long thought to be a lucrative export valve for US coal, are in decline. China and other large coal burning nations have enacted new laws to wind down their coal generation, as the reality of climate change sets in and the cost-competitiveness of renewable energy continues to rise.
- The future energy picture, broadly speaking, is generally viewed through an electric industry lens. “Electricity is the energy of the 21st century,” according to Patrick Pouyanné, CEO of the large French oil company Total, which has been making initial strategic investments in renewable energy and energy storage over the last six years.
- The majority of the world’s countries (174) have come to agreement on slowing down climate change at the United Nations COP21 in December 2015, which attempts to limit warming to 2° C compared to pre-industrial levels. With energy generation contributing average of 35% of emissions, the implications for the energy sector is clear.
In this era of market turmoil and low prices across all fossil fuel energy sectors, renewables are highly cost-competitive AND gaining ground. The recent BNEF 2016 Outlook verifies what renewable energy cheerleaders have been saying for many years – renewables with energy storage and next-generation grid technology are ready to lead the imperative global transition away from carbon-intensive generation.
So why is the fossil fuel industry still sitting on the sidelines? Renewable energy companies and assets throughout the supply chain are relatively inexpensive now, due to the low cost of the gas and oil it competes against. The timing to present a diversification effort to shareholders has never been better. The timeline for return on investment for renewable diversification is significantly shorter than building fossil fuel assets. This would appear to be a first-mover’s diversification market.
The renewable energy industry represents a natural, highly profitable diversification strategy given the fossil fuel industry’s large balance sheets, synergistic services and capabilities, very low cost of capital, leverage with regulatory agencies and built-in customers in many cases. Yet many fossil fuel companies continue to dig in deeper on their traditional extraction-and-burn model, even as a Deloitte survey of oil and gas executives back in
2009 uncovered major concerns about the sustainability of their industry. The majority of these executives also expressed strong support for, and confidence in, the future of renewable energy.
There are signs that a tentative transition by some entities is underway. Major electric utilities such as Duke Energy, Georgia Power, NRG Energy and Exelon domestically have their toe in the renewable energy water, and the large European utilities Enel and E.ON have announced long term transitions to 100% renewable energy. Other smaller electric utilities are testing renewable generation, and decoupling their profitability from electron-only sales into energy efficiency and other services. The oil & gas sector is increasing their involvement in renewables with recent announcements from Shell, Total, and Statoil, as well as a number of smaller firms that service the large multinationals.
However, with the exception of Total and few others in the electric utility industry, diversification capital investment budgets are small, generally under 0.6% of the total. And there is always the lingering suspicion, based on past pronouncements, that these latest diversification efforts are merely green-washing to counter urgent climate change action calls.
To be sure, diversification from a core competency is not simple for any company who has shareholders to satisfy on a quarterly basis. Patience for executing a diversification strategy is not something the investment community is good at, as witnessed by the removal of electric utility visionary David Crane from the electric utility NRG last year. And E.ON in Germany is an example of the difficulty in maintaining profitability while crossing the diversification chasm.
But with the continual and rapid lowering of the installed cost and levelized cost of energy, as well as plunging cost reductions in the energy storage sector, diversification into solar and wind and other renewables can be achieved with a well timed diversification plan and lower risk. There’s money to be made, jobs to be created and the urgent health of our planet to consider. How about now?Share this:
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) held its twenty first Conference of Partners (COP21) in Paris in 2015.
The conference negotiated the Paris Agreement, a global agreement on the reduction of climate change, the text of which represented a consensus of the representatives of the 196 parties attending it. The agreement will enter into force when joined by at least 55 countries which together represent at least 55 percent of global greenhouse emissions. On 22 April 2016 (Earth Day), 174 countries signed the agreement in New York, and began adopting it within their own legal systems.
The key result was an agreement to set a goal of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (°C) compared to pre-industrial levels. The agreement calls for zero net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to be reached during the second half of the 21st century.
This is all a very large challenge given the many sectors, beyond energy, contribute massively to climate change.
The great visualization below from the UN explains why the 2 degrees Celsius target is so important to stabilizing the earth’s atmosphere. (click on the play button in middle of graphic)
According to the IPCC (get to know more about IPCC), global warming of more than 2°C would have serious consequences, such as an increase in the number of extreme climate events. In Copenhagen in 2009, the countries stated their determination to limit global warming to 2°C between now and 2100. To reach this target, climate experts estimate that global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions need to be reduced by 40-70% by 2050 and that carbon neutrality (zero emissions) needs to be reached by the end of the century at the latest.Share this:
I wrote previously that The Club of Rome sponsored a report by MIT in 1972 titled “The Limits to Growth”, which found that earth’s non-renewable resources can support a global population of about 6 billion. The focus was on tracking and modeling the extent to which population, food production, depletion of resources, pollution, and industrialization would cause declines in many aspects of human civilization including economic growth, population numbers, and quality of life.
It did not consider the multiplying affects of climate change.
The authors were predicting a significant change to global humanity in the 2015 – 2020 timeframe. Forty years later the their forecast is lining up with the current ecological overshoot problems we are facing as a result of 7 billion voracious human inhabitants. I like the term “Peak People” to define this situation.
An interesting and illustrative symptom of Peak People is the worldwide shortage of sand. Who would have guessed this was a problem? (interesting movie on the topic, and a great U.N. piece here.) Sand suitable for cement production, hydraulic fracking and other construction is now becoming scarce. In many developing countries the problem is so severe that sand is being removed from beaches and coastal waters to support infrastructure development rather than to support tourist and pleasure industries. (with enormous environmental and habitat damage) In Dubai, sand from Australia was barged in to provide the correct type of beach-quality sand, as the plentiful desert sand found there is lightweight silt that blows away with the slightest breeze and is not easily usable for cement construction, let alone beaches.
Various types of sand were generally thought to be in large supply. Silica, which is used to manufacture silicon for semiconductor chips and crystalline solar cells, was thought be in inexhaustible supply, as its root element, Silicon, is the second most abundant element in the earth’s crust. But large scale damming of rivers blocked the natural flow of silica-rich sand from the mountainous regions, and when combined with growing global industrial demand, has resulted in the drying up of accessible low cost supply. Consequently there is a mining boom in full gear globally to strip the last known silica sand quarries as well as hoard construction quality sand. A good example of the latter is the boom taking place in the upper Midwest United States, where most of the output is supporting the oil and gas industry fracking boom.
While I have always viewed Peak People from the agricultural, water, climate change, and biodiversity lens, the depletion of sand due to human activity was more than surprising and it’s another validation of The Limits to Growth thesis on resource depletion. Up until recently, technology has delayed the impact of over population especially in agriculture but I believe it will require hyper-accelerated innovation and new classes of material science to continue the current “business as usual approach“.
How do we transition to a sustainable and stable civilization that leverages the limitless human creative and technological capacity that is responsible for the quality of life we currently enjoy?Share this:
Important and great NASA modeling and visualizations using data from around the globe and from space observations.
Click here to view CO2 visualization video: A Year in the Life of Earth’s CO2
View temperature visualization video: Earth Surface Temperature from 1950 – 2013
We have all the science proficiency we need from exceptional government science sources to validate anthropogenic global warming, and yet our political leaders will dispute scientific knowledge when it does not line up with their narrow focus and constituents. Worse, the knowledge is often corrupted with junk science which nonpartisan, science based organizations like the Union Concerned Scientists work diligently to debunk and correct.
Please consider supporting their great work by becoming a member on the UCS site: www.ucsusa.orgShare this:
Another alarming piece in the NYT today on the Antarctic ice movement and its decline.
“Today we present observational evidence that a large sector of the West Antarctic ice sheet has gone
into irreversible retreat,” Dr. Rignot said in the NASA news conference. “It has passed the point of no return.”
The contribution of Antarctica melt to accelerating Greenland ice sheet melt water is more than alarming as the assumption that Antarctica would be slow to melt is incorrect. The heat-trapping gases could destabilize other parts of Antarctica as well as the Greenland ice sheet, potentially causing enough sea-level rise that many of the world’s coastal cities would eventually have to be abandoned.
“If we have indeed lit the fuse on West Antarctica, it’s very hard to imagine putting the fuse out,” Dr. Alley said. “But there’s a bunch more fuses, and there’s a bunch more matches, and we have a decision now: Do we light those?”
Hopefully we as a globally community can avoid lighting these remaining fuses. If we don’t, there may well be a demonstration of ecological overshoot resulting in a large reduction in the number of human inhabitants on earth starting in a 100 years from now.
How do we transition to a sustainable and stable civilization that leverages the limitless human creative and technological capacity that is responsible for the quality of life we currently enjoy?Share this: