Archive for the ‘PV & Earth Sustainability’ Category

Limiting to 2º C – Its Not Just Energy Production

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)

 

URL: http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/why-2c/

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.

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On Publishing Break Until July 2016

In the meantime, let's all work on limiting our emissions!

In the meantime, let’s all work on limiting our emissions!

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A Solar New Year Greating

Solar PV, bankability

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Limits To Growth – The Global Shortage of Sand

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.

Beach Sand Mining - Madagascar

Beach Sand Mining – Madagascar

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.

Global cement prodVarious 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?

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NASA CO2 and Temperature Visualizations

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

PV & CO2

 

View temperature visualization video:  Earth Surface Temperature from 1950 – 2013

Solar PV and surface temperatures

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.org

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West Antarctic ice sheet melt – “It has passed the point of no return.”

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

Its melting and becoming unstable faster than predicted.

Its melting and becoming unstable faster than predicted.

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?

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Go Ahead, Vladimir, Make My Day

Great piece from Tom Friedman this past Sunday on why a natural gas embargo on Ukraine and byukrain pipelines extension Europe by Russia would be good thing for renewable energy and energy efficiency growth. Some excerpts:

“Because such an oil & gas shock, though disruptive in the short run, could have the same long-term impact as the 1973 Arab oil embargo — only more so. That 1973 embargo led to the first auto mileage standards in America and propelled the solar, wind and energy efficiency industries. A Putin embargo today would be even more valuable because it would happen at a time when the solar, wind, natural gas and energy efficiency industries are all poised to take off and scale.”

” . . . . Solar cells, for example, have dropped in cost by more than 80 percent in the last five years. This trend is underway, if a bit less dramatically, for wind, batteries, solid state lighting, new window technologies, vehicle drive trains, grid management, and more. What this means is that clean energy is moving from boutique to mainstream, and that opens up a wealth of opportunities.”

A gas embargo by Putin would also reinforce the message of the United Nations’ latest climate report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warned with greater confidence than ever that human-created carbon emissions are steadily melting more ice, creating more dangerous sea level rise, stressing ecosystems around the globe and creating more ocean acidification, from oceans absorbing more C02 . . .”

“We are closer to both irreversible dangers on climate and scale solutions on clean tech than people realize. Just a little leadership now by America — or a little scare by Putin — would make a big difference.”

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“Imagine fuel without fear. No climate change. No oil spills, no dead coalminers, no dirty air . . . .

. . . . no devastated lands, no lost wildlife. No energy poverty. No oil-fed wars, tyrannies, or terrorists. No leaking nuclear wastes or Lovins firespreading nuclear weapons. Nothing to run out. Nothing to cut off. Nothing to worry about. Just energy abundance, benign and affordable, for all, forever.

That richer, fairer, cooler, safer world is possible, practical, even profitable-because saving and replacing fossil fuels now works better and costs no more than buying and burning them.”

This is the lead in from the book  “Reinventing Fire – Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era” by Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute. Mr. Lovins is a noted and award winning physicist and leading authority on energy. With this book, he provides a compelling road map for transitioning the energy mix in transportation, industry, residential and commercial buildings profitably and with great societal and economic gain. He demonstrates that it’s not just dreaming but its already happening with technology, business models  large amounts of willing finance capital already established. As a global society we just need the political and economic will to make it happen. A great read. A TED talk by Amory Lovins on this book can be found here.

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A New Year, A New Direction – PV & Sustainability

Employment change and family transitions in the last 18 months limited my time for blogging on the industry. Thanks to everyone who sent inquiries regarding my publication schedule and your questions and suggestions for future posts.

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Climate Change is Already Lowering the Quality of Life in Less Developed Countries.

For 2014, I plan to spend more time on the subject of sustainability and the interaction point with energy generally and solar energy specifically.

2013 was clearly a large indicator of things to come. Super Storm Sandy, the decline and near extinction of the Monarch butterfly, the North Atlantic cod fishery collapse, Typhon Haiyan, extensive Australian drought and on and on. As a species, we humans are overunning the earth’s ability to support the systems that support our way of life. We are in massive ecological overshoot to the point of needing another 50% of earth’s renewable and non-renweable resources to meet our rapcious needs. Overshoot meaning when a population exceeds the long term carrying capacity of its environment.

From a great piece by Haley Smith Kingsland of the Global Footprint Network in Huffpo:  “Most Americans might be surprised to discover that it would take the ecosystems of 1.9 United States to regenerate the ecological resources U.S. residents use annually. Were Italy’s residents to use ecological resources produced solely within their country’s borders at their current rate, they would need 4 Italys. Japan’s residents demand the ecological resources of 7.1 Japans. It would take 1.8 Indias to support India. Egypt uses the ecological resources of 2.4 Egypts, and China the resources of 2.5 Chinas.”

The pace at which this overshoot problem is accelerationg is alarming as it exceeds even the least conservative modeling projections by the acedemic and scientific communities. How do we reign this in with all the competing nationalistic, econonmic and even religious factions?

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Happy New Year 2014

iStock_000017482156Small cropped with card

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Distributed Generation of Energy Policy – State by State

US DOE Energy All Stars Seminars

US DOE Energy All Stars Seminars

I had the opportunity to attend the US Department of Energy’s inaugural lecture series “Energy AllStars, What’s Our Energy Future” in Washington DC on January 19. Dr. Steven Chu, outgoing Secretary of DOE gave another one of his adroit and compelling presentations, which started with a comparison of how technology solved an environmental problem caused by transportation in the late 1800’s – namely that major American urban centers like New York and Detroit were being fouled with 3 – 4 million pounds of horse manure and 40,000 gallons of urine per day by horse drawn carriages. A technology transition—the rise of the automobile—solved this problem in less than 30 years. He went on to show how the dire issues facing us as a result of climate change and its cost to insurance companies and taxpayers presents another technological and economic solution transition opportunity: this time with clean energy and energy efficiency. Dr. Chu’s presentation is one that the President Obama should give to the nation.

As compelling as Secretary Chu’s presentation was, the one that followed, by the energic and former Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, really got my attention. She outlined her experience of being powerless, despite valiant efforts, to stop manufacturing flight from Michigan and the resulting collapse of the middle class. But the Governor then outlined her Clean Energy Jobs Race to the Top proposition that is modeled on the highly successful Department of Education’s Race to the Top program. This program leveraged $4.5B in American Reconstruction & Reinvestment Act (aka stimulus package) funding by making competitive grants to state governments that instituted education reform and showed progress in many categories of improved education statistics. It’s a successful program that has received bipartisan accolades.

Govenor Granholm has winning plan?!

Govenor Granholm may have a winning plan . . . . .

As Governor Granholm outlined, the beauty of this program is that it becomes non-partisan – who would say no to funds that are being offered on a structured basis that provides real value to each state?  It respects the states and federalism while it builds on the leadership already demonstrated by many states on climate change, clean energy, and energy efficiency.

Her Clean Energy Jobs Race to the Top program would be on an opt-in basis working with a funding level similar to the Department of Education program. The price for entry would be to establish both demand side and supply side strategies. These include enacting a state level clean energy standard of something like 80% by 2035, establishing innovation centers via industry and education partnerships, and producing technology and clean energy that is indigenous to each region. Each state would do an analysis of its strengths and weaknesses and hone in on a strategy that would leverage their region’s unique capabilities. The overall goal is to show how many jobs can be created.

With the government stimulus program over, the question is how to fund a program like this given the current sad state of Capitol Hill. Governor Granholm posited 2 ideas that would be difficult but could be achieved. One is to leverage philanthropic foundations such at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Google and others, where they provide capital that can then be matched by other private and government sources. The second, and I think the most interesting, is to repatriate some of the large amount of corporate money now offshored in tax havens with a program that would have low tax basis for investing in the program, resulting in enormous business opportunities that would benefit all of US industry.

Clearly there are many questions and challenges to this proposition but the basic framework she provided is clever, could have legs and create massive change with little money spent. To paraphrase the Governor, “Truly, we have an obligation as a nation to fix the problem of the hollowing out the middle class and to achieve energy independence by creating clean energy jobs.”

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21% of Energy Production, 380,000 Jobs

1.5MW Audi roof   source: Gehrlicher Solar

1.5MW Audi roof source: Gehrlicher Solar

Gem of a video here showing the progress of PV solar energy proliferation in Germany. (runs fast, so freeze frame to digest statistics) Now 21% of the energy mix, renewable energy in Germany has provided 380,000 jobs and a road map for other countries to follow. Over the last 12 years of successful policy implementation, PV solar energy (near 10% of German energy) has eliminated the energy peak in Germany which is reducing costs and environmental degradation considerably while increasing energy security.

Germany is demonstrating that a large number of distributed renewable inputs from solar and wind can be integrated successfully into the grid infrastructure without stability or reliability issues. This is a common misconception about intermittent generation sources that, after 12 years of operation, the German market has proved otherwise.

Germany is also demonstrating that the distributed generation model works and is real threat to established utilities working in the standard centralized model used the world over. While its easy to be in the solar energy and say that we may

have the utilities on the run in the near future as distributed generation makes in roads, that one side “we win” mentality is a no win proposition. It would be prudent for utilities and the renewable industry and government to work together on policy and a road map that takes into account the enormous past and current investment of the utilities in existing infrastructure while following an economic and technological road map that leads to a smooth and profitable transition to a distributed generation model for all stakeholders.

Some interesting snippets from Energy Rebellion, the producer of the video:

. . . . . . . solar gold rush that lead to investments around the globe was mainly driven by demand in Germany up until recently. The first effects of this rush is prices for PV-solar systems have fallen by up to 70% and continue to decline.

PV solar energy

Large solar PV success with only moderate solar resource

. . . . . . . today industry experts claim that photovoltaic & multi-kWh energy storage will become the cheapest source of electricity even in OECD countries within the next 10 years. 
This will lead to a very fast structural change of the entire world economy.

. . . . . . . . large scale market development has just started, but with 24.5 GW of PV-Solar capacity installed on more than 1 million roofs in Germany, the first signs of this new industrial revolution can already be observed.
 For example even during the dark & windy winter month of January, PV-solar produced up to 7 GW or 10% of peak-load demand in Germany.
 When a deadly cold wave brought the fossil & nuclear dominated energy system of France close to collapse, German PV-solar kept many gas & oil fired power plants offline, which significantly lowered the spot-prices at the European Energy Exchange.

 

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