This morning’s twitter feed had this:
Solar prices are plummeting. In area after area, the prices are getting to the point of an ability to compete directly against traditional electricity sources/systems without local (and even, at times, without federal) tax or other financial subsidies. With each year, the financial world’s predictions of when solar will be cost competitive is coming closer and the ‘where’ is expanding. (Simply point, everyone — from Greenpeace to Exxon Mobil — has been too pessimistic about how fast solar would expand globally.) Due to lower equipment prices, innovative business models, and economies of scale (in both hard and soft costs), solar is increasingly a viable option for communities, businesses, and individuals not to prominently ‘show their green values’ with solar on the roof, but to put (or keep) green in their pocketbooks through tangible and continuing savings on their electricity bills.
Solar is a (massive) set of good (to great) news stories about the expanding and accelerating potential for the Clean Energy Revolution to dethrone fossil fuel’s dominance of our energy system(s).
This is occurring, however, despite a wide range of serious impediments to expanding solar deployment and hastening integration into the energy system. From utilities fearful of threats to their bottom line fighting solar installations (creating alliances between ideological adversaries, as libertarian Tea Party activists (such as Conservatives for Energy Freedom) unite with left-wing environmentalists to advocate for homeowners to be allowed to install and own their own solar panels — such as in North Carolina) to outdated financial structures that penalize systems with higher upfront costs but far lower life-cycle costs and which don’t reward distributed systems for system benefits in utility rate discussions to …
To the most important: the absence of a fiscal price for “externalities”. From pollution’s impact on children’s brain development to acidification of the oceans threatening food chains to fossil fuel burning pumping out cancer-causing chemicals to the pesky little issue of climate change impacts, there are very serious and very real costs that are either not put into or only marginally represented in the fiscal equation of energy transactions. A true representation of the costs associated with burning coal might put the price of a coal-originated kilowatt hour at somewhere to 2-3 times higher than it is actually priced on the market. While there is no energy option without its ‘costs’, there is a simple reality: fossil fuels have far greater impacts and costs that are treated as “externalities” than is the case with renewables like wind and solar. Simply put, fossil fuels — writ large — benefit from a privatization of profit and a socialization of cost.
In addition to all the other obstructions and barriers to deployment, solar (and wind and geothermal and tidal and …) have to confront a reality: the market’s financial equation undervalues their benefits and subsidies the incumbents by not addressing very real costs.
As those costs — from health treatment of asthma to ash pond pollution of water ways — are “socialized” into the general community, there is a legitimacy for the general community (e.g., the government) to provide a path to recognize clean(er) energy options’ benefits within the fiscal equation. E.g., in short, to provide a tax credit that will help even the playing field for solar electricity.
Thus, my response to Stephen:
And, obviously, thus this post …
To extend the discussion, there could and should be a better path forward. Here are several thoughts.
- Move toward a Feed-In Tariff structure:
- Establish a ten-year guaranteed price for the electricity from a system deployed in a specific year.
- Have this on a structured glide-slope downward to reward early/earlier adopters and in recognition that the price to produce the power will decline with each passing year.
- Perhaps a 5-10 percent decrease from year to year, with a target of eliminating excess above grid prices within a decade (and adjusting plan with long lead time — perhaps 3 years out — to enable sensible business and financial decision-making).
- The distributed clean energy system owners’ would be paid for all their electricity production — and then have to pay for, at normal rates, their electricity usage.
- Then the entire consumer base would help pay for more rapid penetration of clean energy systems.
- Address market barriers to entry.
- Price externalities.
None of these are new here and all have received serious attention and discussion. Until, however, these occur, we should have paths to balance the significant subsidies that fossil fuels receive with support to renewable systems: such as tax credits for solar.
A brief plug: Green Tech Media’s Energy Gang podcasts are well worth having on your listening list. What better way to fill your time on that subway commute to work or to occupy your mind while doing the dishes than listening to substantive and informative discussions on some of the least and most tractable issues in our energy system(s)?
February 11th, 2015 · 1 Comment
Since diving into the deep end when it comes to energy issues, almost every day sees new fascinating concepts, approaches, and technologies. Fascinating … exciting … even hope inspiring at times. And, as well, as the passion builds, so many of these are truly Energy COOL. Not surprisingly, the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) annual Energy Innovation Summit is a target rich environment for finding truly amazing Energy COOL technologies and possibilities.
For a number of years, perhaps the most enjoyable Summit events has been a ‘Shark Tank’ session, with a number of emergent energy tech firms giving three minute pitches with four venture capitalists then asking questions and giving recommendations. This year, selected out 150 applicants to represent a range of technologies and energy challenges, seven firms presented:
Follow after the fold for some discussion / impression of these firms and their pitch sessions.
SIDENOTE: Perhaps the biggest issue with ARPA-E: the nation would be well served if its budget was roughly an order of magnitude larger.
[Read more →]
Tags: Energy · energy cool
Most people think and most analysis occurs in a stove piped fashion. Difficult in conception and more costly in resources (whether brain cells, time or cash), narrow and constrained thinking often fosters not just far from optimal but simply bad decisions. This is true across virtually all of human existence. The energy arena is far from an exception to this problem. From not considering life-time electricity use when buying Christmas lights to using the ‘commodity’ price rather than delivered cost (“fully burdened cost of fuel”) in military procurement decisions to only discussing energy savings returns off insulation or new windows without talking about comfort or health benefits in the house to ignoring the productivity benefits from greening workplaces (and schools), the limited nature of thinking when it comes to energy and environmental issues is hard to exaggerate. (And, of course, these are only benefits ‘within the decision-maker’ rather than all the externalities (both benefits and costs) that are left out of the economic transitions.) The all-too-often limited lens restricts us (all of us) to sub-optimal or simply wrong decisions.
Thinking about solar carports provides a window on this issue.
[Read more →]
This guest post is the from the passionate and dedicated James Wells.
The New England Patriots pointed to a study released today which they say shows that the alleged deflation of footballs in recent games was not due to human causes.
From the executive summary of the report, “DeflateGate: Basic Science and Deflating the Hyperbole”:
It’s just natural variation.
Footballs have had different inflation pressures for thousands of years.
The Edelman research firm authored the report, building on their robust track record swatting away the damaging efforts of environmentalists to impede progress.
As their spokesperson said at the report’s release,
It’s a little different from our normal work, but we saw an opportunity to protect an American business from overzealous conspiracy theorists.
[Read more →]
The Christian Science Monitor has developed an interesting quiz: Climate change: Is your opinion informed by science? I went ahead and started to take the test. The questions ranged from science history to chemistry (which is/isn’t a greenhouse gas) to change over time to … well, a spectrum of climate issues that aren’t necessarily self-evident. Okay, this is ‘my’ arena and should do okay. Even so, considering the questions, I was pleased that the quiz ended with the screen to the right.
The value of the ‘quiz’ isn’t solely in the challenging questions but the quality of the brief descriptions at the end of each quiz. With a policy environment where one political party’s elites emphasize that they’re not scientists, the reality is that far too many people’s opinion is not informed by science.
As is typical, on completion came the option to share the quiz, which I did with automated braggadocio:
This prompted a quick retort from scientist Peter Gleick
Hmmm … and thus my
and the Monitor’s responses …
Well, teacher, are you sure that I can’t earn some extra credit?
To start with, lets face some facts — I got 100% when, in fact, I didn’t get all the questions right. One of the quiz’s did not allow an accurate answer.
Question 15 asks “What is the hottest year on record since 1880?”
As can be seen to the right, I answered 2010 with the other options being 1934 (a hot year in the United States), 1970 (hmmm … thrown in for confusion), and 1998 (an El Nino year and one of top five hottest global years, hottest year in the 1900s). This is a good example of the ‘lets see if we can confuse’ and ‘can we catch those influenced by science denial’ elements throughout the quiz.
In any event, I got this question right … even though that answer is wrong.
Since the Christian Science Monitor‘s posting of and before my taking this quiz, NASA and NOAA released the reporting that 2014 is the hottest year in recorded history.
That’s right, the correct answer to question 15 is: 2014.
Okay, my question to @CSMonitor: Can I get that extra credit now?
There is a growing movement to divest from fossil fuels. This ranges from the individual (for example, my retirement accounts are down roughly 80% over the past three years in terms of ‘fossil fuel’ (at least direct) investments) to businesses to growing numbers of non-fossil fuel/climate friendly investment operations to pressure on institutions to disinvest their endowments and retirement funds. This is especially true with U.S. educational institutions, as university communities (students, alumni, faculty, staff) increasingly see disconnects between an institutional commitment toward improving the future and financial investments in arenas which undermine future prospects (of students, communities, and the broader world community).
Across the nation, the number of divestment commitments from educational institutions, cities and counties, and other institutions/groups is growing.
The fight against divestment has also grown, with fossil fuel firms seeing risk to their financial well-being and future prospects.
At numerous institutions, the divestment efforts are met with resistance. In no small part they are met with arguments (falsely based, fyi, even without the paragraphs that follow) that disinvestment would risk portfolio financial performance. This has been, for example, particularly acrimonious with Harvard University‘s extremely large and, what might be called, fossil-foolish endowment fund.
While it has been possible to build a (and many have built) climate-friendly financial portfolio — without difficulty — that matches (or even outperforms) the general market, what might have happened if a Harvard or otherwise had started a serious disinvestment of its fossil fuel portfolio at the beginning of 2014?
Consider sector financial performance over the past year (this is as of 8 January 2015):
- Oil & Natural Gas: -10.51%
- Financials: + 19.5%
- Health Care: +27.5%
- Information Technology: +19.16%
- Etc …
E.g., lowering one’s exposure to fossil fuels almost certainly would have boosted portfolio performance through the year.
And, of course, the ‘oil’ fall is much heavier in the later half of 2014. Thus, even a gradual process moving just a few percent of a portfolio per month would have ended up having
This is a suggestive post … there are a tremendous range of complex issues to examine to understand just how much better endowments would have fared if they had begun a disinvestment process a year ago. And, there are questions as to how the disinvestment process can best be pursued to marry high financial performance with ethical, moral, and policy commitments. This is something that merits more serious examination ….
Even so … even so … it is clear that disinvestment would have served institutions better financially while better aligning their financial investments with their core purposes.
December 2nd, 2014 · 7 Comments
Buzzing around some circles, Six Myths About Climate Change that Liberals Rarely Question seeks to challenge conventional ‘left’ perspectives about climate change. The post, regretfully, is an interesting — yet troubling — mix of right on the money, partial truths, and misleading elements.
To #ActOnClimate like quitting #smoking: Always good idea. Should have quit smoking 20 years ago, but quitting now is still smart! #Climate
— A Siegel (@A_Siegel) November 24, 2014
November 27th, 2014 · 1 Comment
There are a series of arguments used by fossil-fuel defenders / pollution promoters to dismiss the utility of renewable energy electricity options. One standard is to dismiss wind and solar by saying that it only delivers X percent of the electricity. The intent of playing to that number, with the emphasis on “only”, is to prove the lack of utility of these renewables for 21st century energy requirements. What these commentators fail to do, of course, is to make clear that yesterday’s number is (much) smaller than today’s … and that today’s is smaller than tomorrow.
This came up in a recent back-and-forth with a climate denier (okay, actually more like a ‘climate impact denier’ and ‘climate mitigation delayer’). As part of his advocating that the recent US-PRC climate accord is meaningless, he wrote:
Coal now provides some 65% of all the energy consumed each year by China, generating most of the electricity and heat for 1.3 billion Chinese and providing most of the power for industry.
Meanwhile, solar and wind power still meet less than 3% of the nation’s energy needs.
The ‘only 3% produced by wind and solar’ is a deceptive way to discuss renewables. One measure/angle of many; e.g., it is part of a picture.
Lets put that number in context.
First, lets look globally. From 2008-2013, (page 21 from source 1) averaged, respectively, 50 and 40% growth year-to-year. Wind, which is more mature, averaged 21%. That 21% means wind doubling roughly three years, the solar essentially a doubling annually.
Global PV in 2004: 3.7 gigawatt capacity. In 2013: 137 gigawatts (40 times as much in a decade). What nation is adding the most right now? The PRC. (Source 1, page 49)
Now, a standard climate action delayer argument is to advocate for the next great technology — that we can’t (shouldn’t) act now because we need to create some great new thing (more efficient solar, fusion power, etc) and that we’ll leverage that thing better than sliced bread to solve global warming, world hunger, and split ends. That argument — which this delayer has used — ignore the critical importance of deployment and the lessons from deployment.) Wind, 17 gigawatts in 2000 and 318 in 2013. Nearly 20x increase in 13 years. Again, which is top installing nation now? PRC. (page 59). Okay, China’s 3% of wind/solar was well under 1% just a few years ago and will be 10% in a few years time.
The price to deploy solar systems has been plunging — globally — at double digit levels. (An indication of just how rapid: 2014 solar installation prices in the United States are 59% lower than predicted way back in 2010.) Many focus solely on solar panel costs (with per watt costs having plummeted down to the 50-70 cents range) when those ‘hard’ costs are only part of the equation. Soft costs — from optimum placement to permitting to sales to financing — are a critical part of the equation driving solar costs toward parity (or advantaged position) over fossil fuel electricity generation in more markets around the globe with every passing day.
While ‘technology’ advancements should not be dismissed, the serious revolution in business processes are outside too many people’s thinking. [Read more →]
Tags: solar · Solar Energy
November 21st, 2014 · 1 Comment
Former Marine, Former Secretary of the Navy, Former Senator Jim Webb is the first out of the box for the 2016 Democratic Party Presidential nomination hunt. Over at DailyKos, Markos has a biting (and to me, generally accurate) review of Webb’s announcement video in the context of Democratic Party primary politics and TeacherKen put up a sympathetic reflection on Jim Webb.
While Webb is far from the stage of having formal policy issue statements, he does have a record of action and statements to examine. Over at Grist, Ben Adler put up a searing review of Jim Webb and climate/environmental issues:
in the Senate, Webb was a “climate curmudgeon,” [who worked to undermine Presidential authority to negotiate climate treaties, fought against the Environmental Protection Agency, and
on climate change, by far the most monumental environmental issue, Webb may be little better than the Republican Party to which he once belonged.
During his Senate term, Webb:
As Kate Sheppard put it,
Webb has emerged as a major pain in the ass for Democratic leaders on climate issues
As Ben Adler put it,
it’s a problem that Webb sucks on climate change. The next president has to be a climate hawk. We’re rapidly running out of time to stave off the worst effects of warming.
[Read more →]
November 21st, 2014 · 1 Comment
The continental United States has been slammed by cold temperatures and it is difficult to escape images of Buffalo’s massive snowfall. When there is a big snowstorm, climate science deniers gleefully crow “Where’s Global Warming” and otherwise in a way that resonates with (sadly, too large) a segment of the population and is gleefully played by media outlets looking for shallowly amusing items to spread around.
A la Senator James Inhofe (R-ExxonMobil) dragging out his children to make an igloo on the Mall mocking Al Gore, the science denial community leverages what is going on in backyards and on TV broadcasts to confuse people about reality.
Yes, Buffalo is having a massive, massive snowstorm. (And, I do not envy — sympathize greatly with — those who are trying to deal with its impacts — from shoveling massive amounts of snow, to worrying about whether your home will cave in, to …) For too many, that (beautiful) white stuff somehow is a disproving item when it comes to climate change science. To try to explain that, in fact, the snow is related to climate change opens the door for ill-educated mockery. Yet, it is …
And, well, there are times when Twitter catches it all.
NOTE: Excellent discussion re Climate Change & Lake Effect Snow. Highly recommended. [Read more →]
Tags: catastrophic climate change · climate change · climate delayers · climate zombies · Global Warming · global warming deniers