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Republican Congressman installs geothermal energy, expresses fundamental understanding of our energy challenges

March 10th, 2016 · No Comments

Republican Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (NE-1), with a lifetime League of Conservation Voters (LCV) rating of 18%, recently replaced his heating system with a geothermal heating cooling system.

His description of why to this:

“I had an inclination to want to do it because I’m interested in trying to drive toward micro-energy production, distributed energy, conservation and even the potential of seeing the household become a net energy producer. So these are all the reasons I did it, but it obviously had to make financial sense. And this is a longer-term horizon but not so long term as to be prohibitive.”

Honestly, rather unusual language to see from a Republican Congressman.

He leveraged Federal and state programs to improve the cost effectiveness of his purchase that he expects to earn back the costs in about six years.  His explanation, as to the reason why those programs are legitimate, are truly surprising to see from someone with a 9% LCV 2015 rating.

“I’ve supported these things. The conservative logic, if you will, is the externality costs of the hydrocarbons are not accounted for in production costs. That creates an unleveled playing field. There is real social cost to that, it’s just not reflected in the market price.”

An explicit statement that there are real costs for burning oil, coal, and natural gas — that using them causes damages to third parties (today and into the future).  This is a core fact, a core truth that is too often simply unacknowledged by those on the ideological right.

“So that’s why you justify a movement toward a much more balanced portfolio, as aggressive as we can, toward a more sustainable energy set of systems for the country. And you’re in effect subsidizing, yes, the cost of that, but it’s offset by the decline in the externality cost of other forms of energy.”

In other words, there is not — net — a subsidy to renewable energy and energy efficiency if you think serious about “the externality cost of other forms of energy’.

If Representative Jeff Fortenberry could convert a meaningful share of the Republican House caucus to understanding this fundamental truth, we might find paths toward bipartisan paths to #ActOnClimate in a meaningful way … “as aggressive as we can”


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→ No CommentsTags: economics

JP Morgan’s “Prohibited Transaction” list: A clear sign of change

March 8th, 2016 · 1 Comment

Leading financial firm JP Morgan has issued a new Environmental and Social Policy Framework document.

JPMorgan Chase believes that balancing environmental and human rights issues with financial priorities is fundamental to sound risk management and a core part of corporate responsibility.

This 23 page document has 16 uses of the words “climate change”. And, reflecting this, the document lays out explicitly that how a firm once one of leading financiers of coal projects will accelerate its move beyond coal*. Most notably, ‘green field’ coal mining is now to be treated like projects using child labor and endangering world heritage sites.

transactions that we will not finance:

  • Forced or Child Labor: Transactions where there is evidence of the use of forced or child labor;
  • World Heritage Sites: Transactions for natural resource development within UNESCO World Heritage sites;
  • Coal: Transactions that involve asset-specific financing where the proceeds will be used to develop a new greenfield coal mine or a new coal-fired power plant in a high income OECD country.
  • Illegal Logging: Transactions with entities or projects that collude with or are knowingly engaged in illegal logging.
  • Uncontrolled Fire: Transactions with entities or projects that lack an explicit policy against the uncontrolled and/or illegal use of fire in their forestry, plantation or extractive operations.

With this, JP Morgan has joined Morgan Stanley and Citigroup in creating a ‘no go’ zones for coal as part of a shift toward climate aware financing.

To be clear, these financiers haven’t renounced coal entirely — but have created significant restrictions and guidance as to what is and isn’t acceptable coal-related investing (see pages 8-9).

Moving the financial markets and financial firms toward climate-sensible policies is critical to fostering a climate-friendly and prosperous future.  Policies and statements like those JP Morgan Chase just released are tangible signs of progress toward this.

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→ 1 CommentTags: coal

Climate Hawks’ Primary: A window on @SenSanders vs @HillaryClinton

March 7th, 2016 · 2 Comments

Simple truth:  Due to the dysfunctional nature of the American political process (and essentially in one major party), there is zero question that

  1. the Democratic Party candidate for President will be far better on climate and clean energy issues than the GOP candidate.
  2. anyone who considers themselves a Climate Hawk should work, full bore, to get the Democratic nominee elected.

This is a regretful truth of the American politics.

In a more rational world, the American people might be presented with a meaningful debate about how best to tackle climate change (nature (cap & trade, carbon fee, …) and size (full social cost of carbon, small incremental, …) of carbon pricing, government paying for clean energy deployment directly (such as via tax credits) and/or via mandates (renewable portfolio standards, etc …), etc … Sadly, this rational, reality-based debate is not occurring on the most crucial issue facing humanity in the 21st century (and for the centuries to come) and it will not occur in the Fall election. Thus, to the far too minimal extent that rational discussion of climate enters Presidential election discussions,  the ‘debate’ is within the Democratic party.

How should a Climate Hawk vote in the Democratic primaries (that remain)?

Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton?

A seemingly simple question that causes many to step back and think seriously. Looking at campaign platforms on climate (People before Polluters (Sanders); Climate Change and Energy (Clinton)), rankings by environmental organizations, environmental organization endorsements, and otherwise are all useful and viable paths for comparing and contrasting the two on their climate issues.  Another angle is to look at key supporters and surrogates: who is around them.

In this manner, two people seem to provide a basis for a ‘surrogate’ discussion about the campaigns and candidates:

In short, having had the chance to interact with both and knowing people close to them, both of these men are
  • Very decent and highly competent
  • Knowledgeable, passionate, and eloquent on climate change
  • Experienced and meriting attention
John Podesta is the ultimate effective insider. He is a trusted confident of the “D” establishment (Clintons, Obamas, etc …). Podesta knows how to get things done within bureaucracies (within the Federal government) and, with his extensive knowledge and experience ‘inside’ the system, sees how to get things done incrementally.
Bill McKibben is a ‘movement’ man, trying to change the world through rhetoric and action: to mobilize enough of a shift in the societal discussion and understanding of climate change to create the support and momentum for addressing climate change with the seriousness and urgency it requires. Drawn into climate activism after decades of journalistic looks at the issue (with inadequate policy attention and action), McKibben draws clear lines that seek to create stark contrasts and either/or situations. (His leading role related to Keystone XL pipeline is a clear example of this. Note, Podesta had some strong things to say about Tar Sands.)
The stark contrast between Podesta and McKibben seems to align with the Presidential candidates:
  • Both substantive, with strong core agreements.
  • Both with substantive knowledge about climate issues and desire to move the United States (and global community) toward stronger action on climate.
  • Podesta the incremental achiever and McKibben the impassioned truth-teller.
  • Podesta the ultimate insider and McKibben the ultimate outsider.
As another analogy, Bill might be the one to listen to on a Sunday morning at Church for motivation and guidance while John might be the boss you work for Monday to get that week’s tasks done.
With that perspective, the question remains: How should a Climate Hawk vote?
Vote here for “Climate Hawks.

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→ 2 CommentsTags: 2016 Presidential Election · Bill McKibben · climate change

How should a Climate Hawk vote?

March 6th, 2016 · 1 Comment

A Climate Hawk is a person who understands that climate change is a threat to our safety and security. Climate Hawks favor taking aggressive action to neutralize the threat. Many Climate Hawks are environmentalists, but one does not need to be an environmentalist to be a Climate Hawk.

The Climate Hawk destroyed the climate appeaser in its mighty talons.
Perhaps the most important single action for any Climate Hawk comes in the ballot box, helping put into office leaders who will choose to act ‘to neutralize the threat’ and to keep out of office those who deny it.
Regretfully, considering the magnitude and urgency of the threat, far too few of us have climate on the top of the pile for voting selection. Even among those who understand the magnitude of threat, climate is often an ‘also-ran’ — if ‘their’ candidate is good on other issues then, well, they will be ‘good’ on climate too.
The political action group Climate Hawks Vote is working to change this equation: to help boost the fortunes of Climate Hawk politicians and help politicians understand that being smart about climate (policy) is also smart politics.
As part of this, they just opened The Climate Primary ballot box (open through 8 March).  A very simple question:
Which candidate for President of the United States do you believe is the strongest climate leader?
Regretfully, in recognition of the fossil-foolish anti-science dominating one party, there are only three choices on the ballot: Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and No Endorsement.
It might seem — to you — that this is an easy and clear choice. If you’re there and aren’t interested in thinking more, go and cast your climate ballot.
If not … well, the next post will discuss ‘surrogates’ as a path toward thinking about Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton and climate policy in ‘their’ Administration.

→ 1 CommentTags: 2016 Presidential Election

It is past time for #election2016 to address #climate & environmental justice. Let’s start to change this in Flint.

March 2nd, 2016 · No Comments

The two Democratic candidates are going to Flint, Michigan, for a debate. Sparked by the horrific lead poisoning of (far, far) too many under Republican Governor Rich Snyder’s ‘watch’, this debate is expected to focus on challenges for urban minorities. A growing chorus is emerging advocating that the focus truly revolve around the core issue here: environmental justice.

As per the following, I’ve joined the choir.

Simply put, you should add your voice too.

These are fundamental issues.

Fundamental issues that are not enough of the public dialogue nor enough of the Presidential election discussion.

Rather than pontificating finger sizes and hair styles, our national discourse (and Presidential campaign / debates) should engage robustly in discussing problems of and paths to address environmental justice and climate change.

UPDATE: Petition delivered to DNC:


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→ No CommentsTags: environmental · environmental justice

Tweet storming @AlGore’s talk to @ARPAE’s #ARPA16

March 1st, 2016 · 1 Comment

As a respite from watching Republican Party debates and campaigning, I am spending three days at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) Energy Innovation Summit. In stark contrast to those @GOP science-denial soundbites, this Super Tuesday morning, Al Gore spent an hour on stage being interviewed by Steve Clemons from The Atlantic.  There are a number of people — like Al Gore and his former boss, Bill Clinton — that are simply worth listening to for their thoughtful and informed discussion whether you fully agree with specific points.  Listening with an open mind, anyone should learn and be spoked to thinking.  This morning’s Q&A, in front of 1000s of the nation’s leading edge energy scientists, engineers, and investors was no exception. While, hopefully, ARPA-E will make this full talk available, after the fold are a few dozen tweets that — well — don’t do justice to the Vice President’s comments.

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→ 1 CommentTags: Energy

@ARPAE Summit: Executives asked “Either/Or” Deployment/#Innovation, respond “Both”

March 1st, 2016 · No Comments

At the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) Energy Innovation Summit, Katie Fehrenbacher asked two CEOs (Michael J. GraffAmerican Air Liquide Holdings; Wayne T. Smith, BASF) their thoughts as to Bill Gates’ call for an “Energy Miracle” to address climate change.  

To paraphrase, her question:

Bill Gates has called for an “energy miracle”, for focusing on creating innovations to create new technologies for addressing climate change for deployment 15 years from now. This has created a bit of a battle as to what we should focus on: deploying available technologies or innovation.

Do you think that we should be investing more on deploying technologies and systems available today or should be we investing on innovation research?

Smith’s direct response:

I think we need both.

And, Graff:

I would fully agree with that.

Simply put, these two high-technology CEOs — both heads of firms with significant resources invested, annually, in developing ‘new’ technologies and capabilities — rejected the either / or premise and emphasized the importance of deploying climate/clean energy solutions today even as we work to develop new options for tomorrow.

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→ No CommentsTags: Energy

Can Sarah Palin see PV panels from her porch?

February 22nd, 2016 · No Comments

The Department of Energy just released a study that sparked this question:

Entitled Solar Prospecting in Rural Alaska, the study examines the return on investment for installing solar panels in communities far from the grid.  In remote areas, the cost of transporting goods and materials can be multiples of their price.  While flying in basic goods like milk (and coca cola) via the US Postal Service is subsidized by the rest of the nation, the reality is that it costs a lot more to get a gallon of diesel fuel to an Alaskan village far from the nearest road than it does at your neighborhood gas station.

While petroleum products have dwindled to less than one percent of America’s electricity supply, diesel generators are a prime electricity source for smaller communities not connected to the grid.  Very roughly, as a rule of thumb, consider roughly 1/20th to 1/20th of a gallon per generated kilowatt-hour.  E.g., just for the fuel, when diesel is $2 per gallon, electricity will cost $0.10-$0.20 per kilowatt hour to produce when the average American is paying $0.12 per kilowatt delivered to their home. Add in the cost of buying & maintaining the generator and you’ve likely doubled that production cost.  However, the fuel isn’t $2 per gallon in rural Alaska — with some villages having prices closer to $7/gallon. And, this ends up in the electricity bills.

Electricity generated by diesel fuel in some rural Alaskan villages can cost $1.00 per kilowatt-hour or more, which is more than eight times the national average.

Solar has been encroaching into Arctic energy systems.

Cleaning solar panel on Kodiak Island (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis)

Cleaning solar panel on Kodiak Island (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis)

For example, researchers have pursued wind/solar combo systems to support remote research sites and there are a number of solar installations around Alaska (including this home heated with solar thermal panels).

For rural Alaska villages, the DOE study concludes:

this analysis suggests that solar PV—along with fuel and other electricity savings measures—can be economically competitive in many remote Alaskan villages and could have a number of benefits including reducing a village’s dependency on diesel fuel, improving electricity price predictability, providing local environmental benefits, and more.

With that in mind, should we wonder whether, rather than Russia, Sarah Palin can see solar panels from her porch?

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→ No CommentsTags: sarah palin · solar

America’s K-12 science teachers tripping up on gateway to climate-science knowledge

February 19th, 2016 · No Comments

Up front, the expert scientific community is near unanimous: climate change is occurring and human action is driving this change.  Simple truth:

Over 97 percent of climate scientists have independently concluded that human-caused global warming is happening.”

As three leading science communication experts put in a US News & World Report OPED,

In the history of science, there have been few instances in which almost all experts in a particular field were in complete agreement.

Climate change is one of those instances.

Now for the troubling point.
Too many — under the withering propaganda attacks on climate science financed by the Kochs, Exxon, and others of their ilk — do not understand this.  And, this fact — that scientists have strong agreement on climate science — matters.  And, it even matters across the political spectrum.

A “Gateway Belief” is a piece of knowledge, a fact that — if known — opens the door for greater and deeper understanding of an issue. When it comes to climate change, across the political spectrum, this one point (that over 97% of experts say humanity is driving climate change) is such a gateway belief.

increasing public perceptions of the scientific consensus is significantly and causally associated with an increase in the belief that climate change is happening, human-caused and a worrisome threat. In turn, changes in these key beliefs are predictive of increased support for public action. In short, we find that perceived scientific agreement is an important gateway belief, ultimately influencing public responses to climate change.

In other words, want greater support for climate mitigation and adaptation action, a good starting point: educate people about the substantive (overwhelming) climate consensus.

Those resistant to action on climate change have long understood this — no wonder that they attack “97%” and trot out their pet anti-climate science talking head(s).

Sadly, far too many across the English-speaking world do not know this gateway belief.

Recently released research shows that a particularly troubling group is tripping over this gateway:

Only 30 percent of middle-school and 45 percent of high-school science teachers in the U.S. are aware of the fact that nearly all climate scientists are convinced that global warming is caused mostly by human activities.

And, things get worse.

Here’s the kicker: The authors explain that although many science teachers themselves believe that climate change is happening, because most are not aware of the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change many opt to teach “both sides” of the so-called climate debate, mistakenly giving students the impression that the basic facts are still contested, rather than conveying the fact that there is a deep and well-established consensus among climate scientists.

“Both sides” is clearly not solely a problem in traditional media “he says, she says,” all sides should be reported, tradition.

Not surprisingly, political ideology impacts teachers approaches to climate change. Further to the (and the redder the school district, I would suspect), the more likely “controversy” and “both sides” will make its appearance in the science curriculum.

97 percent, however, could well be the most effective tool against this.

one of the few facts that speaks to both conservatives and liberals in a powerful way is information about the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change.

Purple, blue, or red: knowing 97% “strengthens other important key beliefs that people hold about climate change”.  And, most powerfully, among conservatives.

Knowing about scientific consensus is powerful in other fields.  After all, there is a reason why “4 of 5 dentists agree” is embedded in the social landscape of a generation of TV watchers.  And, sowing doubt is powerful too.

Tobacco companies have long understood the psychological consequences of sowing doubt: As long as people think there is disagreement among the experts, most won’t act.

Sadly, rather than 97% being understood by 97% of Americans, the real figure is about 1% who know this.  E.g., it is far from only school teachers who are tripping at the gateway.  However, teaching teachers “97%” and getting them to teach their students that might be a way get beyond 1% and have fewer Americans tripping on the gateway and falling flat on their face when it comes to climate science knowledge.



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Renewable/Efficiency/Storage Progress so fast even ‘innovators’ find it hard to keep up …

February 17th, 2016 · No Comments

We are seeing extraordinary shifts across virtually every technology arena even though, especially in areas of large-fixed infrastructure (buildings, energy systems, etc …), it can sometimes be hard to see the change.

Whether solar pv or wind pricing, the ability to squeeze out efficiency in systems (buildings, vehicles, machines, etc …), or battery capacity per pound, the pace of change in systems commercially available is often hard to comprehend. As the Department of Energy has put it, we are living through a Revolution NOW!

DOE on on LED light bulbs: price nosediving, installations skyrocketing

With the breadth and pace of change in the energy market, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it is hard even for those pushing innovation to keep up with that pace of change.

“Innovation” is certainly a strong thematic in government energy policy discussions around the world. The announcement of the ‘billionaires’ club’ Breakthrough Energy Initiative provided one of the major ‘side’ elements to the COP21 in Paris.  Associated with that, a pledge by major governments to double energy R&D funding by 2020.

Building on this, four major ‘names’ (Arjun Majumdar (Stanford, first head of ARPA-E), John Deutch (MIT), George Schultz (former Secretary of State), and Norm Augustine (former CEO, Lockheed Martin)) have called for a major private-sector push for energy innovation.

The concept is interesting. In essence, seek to create ten ten-Corporation initiatives groups. Each of these 100 firms would commit to $10M/year in funding, for a total of $10B over a decade, to develop breakthrough energy options through the innovators’ valley of death into broad commercialization and deployment.

each Energy Innovation Entity would be supported by roughly 10 companies, each committing about $10 million a year for 10 years — a “10-10-10” mechanism.

Lots of challenges in this concept. A bit much focused on ‘develop tomorrow’s options’ without mentioning today’s and, well, a concept for business cooperation that seems at odds with most firm’s corporate governance approaches and …  However, still an interesting concept.

Embedded within the discussion, however, an example of just how hard it can be for ‘innovators’ to keep up with the pace of change. The following is the authors’ major example of where large-scale private business investment is required.

Take, for example, advances in battery technology. A battery that costs less than $100 per kilowatt-hour with a lifetime of more than 1,000 cycles would be a game changer for offering affordable and reliable renewable electricity across the world. Today’s lithium ion batteries cost three times more.

Yes, $100 per kWh is generally see as a critical threshold for making EV vehicles truly cost competitive with traditional gasoline vehicles on purchase price (and much less expensive to own).  The problem is found with “today’s” — or at least how one thinks about it.

Batteries have been nose-diving in price.  In the Energy Innovative Entity concept OPED, the authors certainly imply that getting from $300 to $100 is unlikely to occur with lithium ion batteries without some form of intervention like they suggest (note, $1B is a relative pittance in the battery world) and is a stretch goal requiring major intervention and significant time to achieve it.

That, however, does not comport with “today’s” reality.

The Chevy Bolt, being built today, has batteries that General Motors is buying at $145 per kilowatt-hour capacity.  GM released that price information five months ago.  And, GM forecasts achieving $100 per kWh battery pricing by 2022 in the normal course of business.

GM Battery Cost Price Projections

Note that the  $145/kWh price is what GM is paying today.

The actual price today (okay, five months ago — at least) is less than half what the authors cite.

With the rapid advances in battery density and rapidly lowering costs, the GM graphic above is likely pessimistic about what we will actually see in the market place.

It seems plausible that the $100 per kWh battery target will be broken before 2020.

Simply put, the advances in energy systems (and, well, across virtually every field of technology and science) are going so rapidly that even those most concerned with ‘innovation’ are having a hard time keeping up.


→ No CommentsTags: electric vehicles · Energy