Momentum Toward a New Energy Age – Nails in the Carbon Coffin

Warren Buffett & Al GoreI recently got promoted with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project organization and finally got to meet him. It was a special day as he is, of course, an idol of mine. This happened at a big training session for 600 more Canadian Climate Leaders (8000+ in the world) held last week in Toronto.

My personal agenda aside, the hope is that this group becomes obsolete soon. We work on educating the public and creating momentum, as the world shifts into the new energy age. We’re still probably decades from a full shift, but momentum is definitely ramping up. A few recent developments in the news may have more impact than we will (but we’re working as hard as ever on educating our world).

WARREN BUFFET BETS ON SOLAR

Warren Buffet, iconic American billionaire investor recently pulled his money out of oil and invested about a billion dollars in solar. This is really important for momentum because although the investment trends have been going this way, Buffet is more than a person. He’s a larger-than-life icon for the investment world. His move is a signal to investors everywhere, that the time to make the shift to new energy technology is now. A good analysis of why he did this can be found here.

Similarly but negatively, a few years ago, T. Boone Pickens, another iconic billionaire, started backing natural gas fracking in a big way, causing a huge investment shift into that business. This was very unfotunate. Not only did it do nothing for greenhouse gas emissions and wreck a lot of landscapes, but it was a myth built on weak profit numbers, created for political reasons (expensive mid-east wars, energy independence etc.) We now know that fracking wells peak in a few years and that fracking cannot make money when the oil price drops below $80. And we still don’t know completely what vile chemicals they are pumpiing at very high pressure down towards our fresh water aquifers.

SOLAR AT 4 CENTS PER KWH

In its own way the fracking debacle may end up doing some good. Buffet and others are finally seeing that coal, gas and oil either have no future, or are just too political and volatile for investment gambits. Renewables, on the other hand, are becoming increasingly positive. The technology is proven, you can build it fast, and now the economics are fabulous. For example, solar just hit 4 cents per kilowatt in an important utility bid in Austin, Texas. Nothing can touch this, not natural gas, not even cheap old coal.

It’s time for everyone, investors, homeowners, business owners, corporate executives, urban planners, government policy people, developers, etc. to get on the clean tech bandwagon and slam the last few nails into the carbon coffin.

The Economist reports scientific proof that severe weather is going to rise exponentially

The cautious skeptics at the Economist Newspaper continue to move their general position away from default conservative approaches. Last week the publication reported that “scientists are now able to say that climate change increases the risk of a particular weather pattern by a measurable amount and, in some cases, that a particular episode is almost impossible to imagine without global warming.” Green blog re economist pic It quotes credible scientists at Oxford University, University of Melbourne, the Natioanal Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the USA and the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. It notes that it is still difficult to connect individual weather events to climate change, but the science is growing quickly linking man-made climate change to patterns of dramatically increasing severe weather occurrances. The Economist: “In an attempt to give the overall picture, a new study in Nature Climate Change by Erich Fischer and Reto Knutti, both of the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, moved away from individual events to consider heatwaves and rain storms in general. They took all the heat and precipitation extremes between 1901 and 2005, defining extremes as events likely to occur once every 1,000 days. By running the climate models with and without climate change, they found that 0.85°C of warming (the rise since the industrial era began) has made such heat extremes four or five times more likely, roughly the same as in the Australian study. The authors attribute 75% of the heat extremes, and 18% of the precipitation extremes, to observed global warming. Worryingly, the risk of an extreme event seems to rise exponentially as mean temperatures creep up. The probability of a heat extreme is twice as great at 2°C of warming than at 1.5°C…That is a useful addition to climate science. People are routinely told about—and routinely ignore—the bad things they are doing to the climate. The attribution studies show that the climate is doing bad things back.”

It’s important when cautious, skeptical and credible publications like the Economist acknowledge truths that they know are especially bad news for carbon-based players in the global economy. The worm is definitely turning. Here’s the link: The Economist

Everyone should watch this

Professionally, I’m a commercial writer and videographer, so although I wish everyone on earth would  click on the picture below and watch the whole video, I know most people won’t; because its 18 minutes long.Elon Musk Powerwall

So I’ll try to tell you about it in a few sentences. It’s a presentation by Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, the electric car people. He’s unveiling two products: A home battery system that you hang on your wall and an industrial battery system, that big organizations can use for more demanding needs than a residential home.

The home battery can be ordered today for $3500. A big enough home solar panel system is still a bit expensive to install, but as many people know, these costs have dropped by more than 80% in the past 5 years and will continue dropping. It’s similar with electric cars, they still cost more than most of us can afford, but that is changing really quickly too. Tesla is right now building a massive battery factory in Nevada, which Musk says is the first of many that will be built by his company and others, all over the world. So batteries for solar-panel-homes and home charging of electric cars will soon be accessible to a lot more people in ordinary income brackets. Electric vehicle makers are right now quickly eliminating long distance concerns and the other worries we have about them.

This home battery announcement is further proof that the world is going to change big time, despite all the BS that status quo industries pay lobbyists to shovel at us. So in addition to making our planet healthier, it is now really starting to make economic sense for ordinary people to shift more to electricity and away from fossil fuels.

Energy politics & economics update

My last post suggested oil prices would rebound, but obviously I underestimated how determined certain countries are to use the oil price as a weapon. There is all kinds of speculation, including the suggestion that the once powerful OPEC group wants to hurt the USA natural gas industry and the Russians at the same time. They have loads of cash, so they don’t care how long it takes to inflict the damage they are seeking. It’s all a little complicated and in a few decades will be irrelevant.

The good news is that the growth in investment in our renewables future APPEARS to continue unabated by the availability of cheap oil and gas. According to Bloomberg total clean energy investment jumped 16%  in 2014, to $310bn (£205bn). China led the trend with growth of 32%. Of course most of this was before the oil price collapse; however it also took place during a period when a lot of government subsidies for renewables disappeared, or were reduced. In addition, China and the US reached an agreement this past November that says China will increase its non-fossil fuel energy consumption to 20% within 15 years; and the USA will reduce emissions by 26-28% below its 2005 level by 2025. Republicans in the USA will try to prevent this in the short term, but unfortunately for them, China and the rest of the world will ignore them, creating a global competitive imperative within 10 years or so.

I’m trying to paint a rosy picture here but the realist in the dark corner of my brain is screaming out that we should expect some difficulty for clean tech investment during 2015 and perhaps 2016.  Governments will continue to move into renewables for centralized power. I think distributed solar will continue to grow in places where it is already growing quickly. But inroads into new market regions will be delayed, while cheap natural gas remains abundant. Everything is exaggerated. Low oil prices will hurt but not cripple the fracking business. On the other hand the fracking business probably is making more of its productivity gains than it should.

In the long run coal and uranium-based nuclear are more or less certain to expire, but in both cases it will take a long long time to reach their end. Oil and gas will likely live on forever, but their global dominance will dissipate within a few decades. I still believe that the march toward a green future is unstoppable, but it will march more quickly when oil and gas are expensive again.

Let’s not panic about oil prices

Every time the price of oil drops dramatically people get into a tizzy. They think it will hurt the economy. They shouldn’t. Environmentalists think it will threaten the growth of alternative energy. They shouldn’t worry either.

crude price hist 5 yrs 333

First, for my fellow oil-loving Canadians who think they have all kinds of problems; well you do, but the oil price drop isn’t really serious. If you look at this chart you can see that the price of oil has grown steadily over the past 5 years. Sure it’s had its ups and downs -like in 2011- when it went for a big swing. That’s probably all that’s happening right now.

Second for my fellow environmentalists, we worry when the oil price goes up because it makes it more profitable for oil people, who seem to care more about profits than public safety and environmental damage. We also worry when the oil price goes down because we think it threatens the current march to cost parity (see map) that is taking place worldwide for solar.

WORLDWIDEPRICE PARITY 444

Similar maps can be drawn now for wind, geothermal and other clean technologies by the way; so quit worrying. The game is basically ending for oil. It’s like participating in a game of monopoly and knowing you just don’t have a way to win, but it would be rude to stop playing.

So the oil people are quietly investing in wind power in Texas, trying to figure a way out of unprofitable fracking, and hiring fewer lobbyists to try to attack climate science. The USA, UK, Canada and Australia are the only four countries left in the world where the media is gullible enough to take these lobbyists seriously anyway. That will completely end soon.

Environmentalists should look at the big picture. When oil goes way up or way down it demonstrates to homeowners and businesses how volatile and unpredictable oil is and how conservation technologies and clean energy technologies are starting to look pretty good by comparison.

This whole mythology about wind and solar being somehow less reliable because they are a little intermittent is now being reviewed by serious players in less inflamed tones, with new smart grid technologies and new electricity storage solutions now helping to dispel one of the few arguments oil and coal people have left.

Nonetheless, having said all of this about the arguments for clean tech, the transformation challenge is huge. Clean tech investment is easily kicking butt everywhere and growth of solar and other renewables is staggering compared with past growth; but it is not staggering when measured against the world scenario. Non-hydro renewables are well under 10% of the worldwide energy scene. So we have a long way to go. But at least the argument is over.

All that’s left to do is to worry about the volatility of oil and start changing all our systems to clean, reliable renewables.

Seven New Developments that Reveal a Quickly Changing World Energy Economy

There is a perfect global economic storm developing for accelerated renewables growth led by the solar industry. Please consider these  7 developments.

1. The most recent Chinese parliament session opened with the announcement that pollution is the country’s number one challenge; and the determination to solve it. According to the Economist Magazine an inordinate degree of emphasis and time was spent on the topic.

2. Solar is no longer seen as unproven by mainstream America. About 200,000 U.S. homes and businesses added rooftop solar in the past two years alone –equivalent to four or five conventionally-sized coal plants.

3. Despite reductions worldwide in incentives, solar growth will be in double digits every year for the next few decades and renewables will power half of North America within about 25 years.

4. In 43 states, governments and utilities are struggling to sort out the solar net metering mess, with utilities usually resisting at first, then planning strategies to redefine themselves. The courts help this process with judgements against any gouging grid charges, so the utilities have no choice but to invest in new-world grid upgrades and highly profitable roles as installer/financiers.

An administrative law judge in Minnesota ruled recently that distributed solar arrays were a more cost-effective resource than natural gas to meet Xcel Energy’s peak power needs. According to cleantechnica.com, “If solar trumps gas for peaking power in Minnesota, there’s little reason to be building new natural gas peaking capacity anywhere in the country (See link below for complete detail on this new reality).“

tesla gigafactory

5. Apple and Tesla are planning the largest battery factory in the world, to be built on American soil and to manufacture batteries for cars, phones and electronics on an unprecedented scale (the plant is to be accompanied by a solar farm and largely powered by it).

6. The journal Nature is reporting that Harvard researchers have now proven a design for a flow battery using organic molecules instead of metals at $27 per kilowatt hour compared with $81+ for the best vanadium-based system. Because it is organic it offers unprecedented flexibility for designing each battery ideally to its application and also offers the real likelihood of further cost reductions.

7. The carbon industry’s last great hope, the politically manufactured shale gas miracle, is a bust, with increasing evidence that the wells’ peak production comes within a few years, disproving their business cases, and verifying that actual lifecycle costs and environmental costs of natural gas will keep it from competing with renewables in the very near future.

Once digital cameras were commercialized, the experts in the photo business expected the transition to take 20 years, but the tipping point was reached in a few years and the total transition took about  6 years. This kind of momentum is now about to happen in solar/renewables.

The Russia/Ukraine/Europe economic gas squabble is just one more example of the stupidity of extractive dependence. Carbon fuels are being battered worldwide. Extreme weather is too obvious now. Lobbying cannot defeat economics/pragmatics/the will of the internet-connected people. The carbon fuel industry is quickly becoming a dinosaur. Please click here and read this important article about solar vs. natural gas. Solar wins on immediate cost, future cost stability, job creation, infrastructure and reliability.

Extreme Weather Alert for the Next…100 Years?

Last week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago, Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University said Arctic ice is disappearing because of too much greenhouse gas, weakening the jet stream and creating more extreme weather.

Acrtic sea ice 333 melts 1984-2012av temp since 1881 & hottest yearsMore hurricanes, floods, severe ice storms, droughts that threaten the food supply; windier, hotter, colder, wetter, dryer. Extremes. The atmosphere around our planet that keeps us alive is razor thin and the ecological balance is very fragile. We are screwing with these and the trouble is apparently only beginning. Statistics point to alarming increases in ocean and air temperatures in the past three decades especially, and spikes in all extreme weather events. Just ask any insurance company how quickly the earth is becoming uninsurable.

IT’S ABOUT PEOPLE, NOT POLAR BEARS

David Titley, a former admiral with the U.S. Navy and director for the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk was at the meeting and was quoted as saying “It’s about people, not polar bears.” He questioned whether we will be able to adapt in time to the accelerating pace of extreme climate change and extreme weather events. There are already hundreds of millions of ‘climate refugees’ on earth.

OUR FOOD SUPPLY

A lab director at the U.S. National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment noted that most of our food crops and cattle are produced in mid-lattitudes that our now experiencing recurring droughts, or at the other extreme, floods. In 2003 Europe suffered a drought that claimed 70,000 lives. Maize production decreased by 30%. The fruit harvest was reduced by 25%. Grains and hay to feed animals dropped 30%. Wine production was the lowest in 10 years. For the money people out there, the total loss was 4 billion Euros. As the photos below show, Europe is far from being an isolated case.

Drought France, Brazil, Swiss, SpainDrought USA 2012 chartDrought China 2011 chart & photo

On top of droughts; fires, hurricanes, tsunamis and floods are increasing, because of imbalances like the the jet stream, as mentioned. And because thicker, polluted air now holds more moisture longer, then like a water balloon springing a leak, dumps a lot more precipitation over a smaller area, all of a sudden.

The photos in this blog are courtesy of the Climate Reality Project and also have attributions printed on them. They were mostly taken in the past 3 or 4 years, showing the catastrophic consequences of increasing extreme weather events. Is this just cyclical bad weather that will calm down soon?  No. Nothing in the data suggests that. Quite the opposite. This is the beginning of a continuously growing worldwide disaster.

Fires Vegas & Colorado 222Fires russia, brazil, australia copyCalifornia 333 copyPortugal & Spain copyPakistanIndia floodsChina & RussiaGermany 333Czech, Slovak, HungaryAustria & GreeceNA Cities 2012-13Philippines & ArgentinaHRRICANES 222Ice_Storm_by_NOAA_jpg_475x310_q85EXTREME SNOWWe’re all responsible for this: Governments who are stuck on oil and coal, and pretending natural gas will save us; the media that can’t distinguish between bogus science and real science, industry when it prefers the green photo op to real long term energy planning, you and I when we imagine we are powerless and continue to buy gas guzzling cars, oil furnaces and continue voting for governments that claim they are ‘managing the economy.’ In reality they permit the uncompensated destruction of  the only real resource on which any economy can be based, our planet.

You can do something about it. It’s never too late to start. Click here for solutions you can implement personally. It’s not someone else’s problem. It’s ours. It’s the defining issue of our era. Let’s not let anyone distract us with other priorities. Climate change is at the top of the list. Just look at the weather forecast. Outlook: Extreme.