Archive for December, 2011

Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (12/22/11)

Posted By Lowell F. on December 22nd, 2011

Here are five recommended reads for today (12/22/11)

  1. At Grist, Dave Roberts argues that the new EPA rules covering mercury and other toxic emissions are “a Big Deal.”
  2. At ThinkProgress Green, Brad Johnson reports that Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) “Denies ‘Any Benefit’ To Babies And Pregnant Women From Reducing Mercury Levels.”
  3. 3. Greentech Solar reprints an analysis by GTM Research solar analyst Shyam Mehta predicting “a period of severe upheaval (i.e., restructurings, acquisitions, insolvencies) for high-cost [solar] manufacturers” in 2011. Greentech Solar writes that Mehta’s forecast was “prescient” and “vindicated.”
  4. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Coal plants without scrubbers account for a majority of U.S. SO2 emissions.”
  5. The Guardian reports, “[U.K.] Government plans to slash incentive payments for householders who install solar panels were on Wednesday ruled “legally flawed” by a high court judge. The ruling opens the door for a judicial review that could force the government to delay its plans, potentially allowing thousands more people to claim the higher subsidy.”
Comments Off

Clean Energy Expert Tam Hunt: Rapid Clean Energy Growth Inevitable

Posted By Lowell F. on December 21st, 2011

At Scaling Green, we periodically attempt to highlight some of the brightest, most up-and-coming stars – key industry players, thinkers, etc. – in the cleantech world. Today, we feature Tam Hunt, the “managing member of Community Renewable Solutions LLC, a renewable consulting and project development company focused on community-scale wind and solar,” and also a lecturer at UC Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management.  What caught our eye about Tam Hunt were a number of articles he’s written on clean energy issues, such as “The True Cost of Renewable Energy,” in Renewable Energy World. We caught up to Tam last week.

We were immediately struck by Tam’s tremendous confidence in clean energy’s popularity and growth potential. One of his points is that renewables are actually at scale now, not at some distant point in the future. And Tam has an informed perspective, given his work on Santa Barbara County, California clean energy plan. Entitled “A New Energy Direction,” that report called for weaning the region off of fossil fuels by 2033, through a series of measures including: reducing energy use in buildings, reducing petroleum demand, next generation vehicles, wind power, solar power, and ocean power.

In our conversation with Tam, he placed particular emphasis on energy efficiency in the building sector, specifically mentioning the Architecture 2030 challenge, which aims to “achieve a dramatic reduction in the climate-change-causing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the Building Sector by changing the way buildings and developments are planned, designed and constructed.” In part, Tam focuses on the building sector because, in his view, this is something we can have a major impact on at the local level, without waiting for action by a Congress that is unpopular, dysfunctional, and out-of-touch with Americans’ overwhelming support for clean energy. At the local and state levels, in contrast, there is much greater potential for rapid policy action, as we’ve already seen in California, where Gov. Brown has signed a law requiring that 33% of the Golden State’s energy come from renewable sources, like wind and solar, by 2020.

Nonetheless, we asked Tam – given his work on a plan for one large U.S. county – what’s portable to other counties, and even to national policy. In short, how does the US get to majority renewables as rapidly as possible? Tam Hunt’s answer: continue the growth trajectory we’re already on. As Tam wrote in his Renewable Energy World article:

Where global wind power has grown about 25 percent per year in the last decade, global solar power has grown an average of 68 percent each year over the last five years (including Bloomberg New Energy Finance projections of 28 GW of new solar in 2011). This is a doubling literally every 1.3 years. So today’s 40 GW of capacity becomes, under the same growth rate, an astronomical 1.3 million GW by 2030. Obviously, the recent rate of growth won’t continue because, among other reasons, this is far more power than we need for the entire globe! But even if solar power’s rate of growth drops in half to 35 percent over the next two decades, this produces a doubling every 2.3 years and we get 16,000 GW (16 terawatts) by 2030 – almost as much as the entire world will need by then.

What’s keeping this scenario from rapidly coming to fruition? It’s certainly not the cost of renewables, which is coming down fast. Instead, according to Tam Hunt, it’s more about issues like transmission and integration, which are largely policy matters. It also, in Tam’s view, is about the need for a burgeoning, increasingly powerful, cleantech industry to aggressively defend itself against dirty energy interests that want to slow or stop clean energy scaling. That, in turn, is a matter of fighting back against the huge numbers of lobbyists and lawyers, giving large sums of money to pliable politicians every year, within the federal government’s halls of power.

No doubt, cleantech needs to fight – and win – the inside-the-Beltway battle in coming years, in part by getting the facts out there (e.g., clean energy’s increasingly competitive costs and local job creation potential), and in part by playing the political game effectively. But let’s be clear about this: entrenched dirty energy interests will fight back with everything they’ve got to keep a powerful competitor from rising up and taking its place, and to keep their gravy train of enormous profits and taxpayer-funded welfare rolling along. In fact, we already see that with their coordinated assault on the solar industry in the aftermath of the Solyndra non-scandal.

In the end, Tam Hunt’s optimism about clean energy growth is based on two main factors. First, there’s clean energy’s overwhelming popularity (in the 90% range in many cases), which shows no signs of dissipating, despite the dirty energy industry’s relentless disinformation campaign against it. Second, there’s the ongoing, inexorable (think Moore’s Law for computer technology), and rapid reduction in the cost of producing clean energy. This trend has already resulted in “[t]he price of solar energy-generated electricity, calculated by a legitimate levelized cost of energy (LCOE) method, [now becoming] competitive in many regions with the price of electricity generated by conventional sources.” This trend is almost certain to continue for years to come.

Finally, keep in mind that clean energy doesn’t come with the enormous health and economic costs that are inherent to dirty energy, such as the $500-billion-per-year cost of coal in the United States alone. Taking those “externalities” into account, not to mention others like military costs and global warming, clean energy becomes even more competitive than it already is. Given that policymakers in Washington, DC, can’t seem to figure this one out, it seems that we’re going to have to do it ourselves, in the industry and at the local and state level. For that, we’ll need a heavy dose of Tam’s optimism.

Comments Off

Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (12/21/11)

Posted By Lowell F. on December 21st, 2011

Here are five recommended reads for today (12/21/11)

  1. According to The Energy Collective, “The technological revolution allowing for the cheap extraction of natural gas from shale occurred thanks to more than three decades of government subsidies for research, demonstration, and production, a new Breakthrough Institute investigation finds.”
  2. The Washington Post reports, “The Obama administration moved Tuesday to boost renewable energy on both coasts, approving onshore solar and wind farms in the West and pushing for offshore wind power in the Atlantic Ocean.”
  3. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune writes at the Huffington Post about “The Keystone XL Pipeline Scam.”
  4. Stephen Lacey of Climate Progress reports, “Tens of thousands of residents in China’s southern Guandong Province gathered in the streets yesterday, occupying a highway to demonstrate against the development of a new coal plant near Shantou city. The residents say existing coal plants in the area are fouling local air and water, and are making people sick.”
  5. Leslie Blodgett of the Geothermal Energy Association writes at Renewable Energy World, “Despite some financial and regulatory setbacks, the U.S. geothermal industry will plough ahead next year, finding some refuge in international markets.”
Comments Off

Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (12/20/11)

Posted By Lowell F. on December 20th, 2011

Here are five recommended reads for today (12/20/11)

  1. Energy  Boom reports, “It’s an ambitious goal for any state – 90 percent of electricity needs from renewable sources by 2050. For Vermont, which started with a goal of 20 percent by 2017, it seems like the sort of gargantuan feat only great faith or great determination can accomplish. “
  2. Tuan Pham of PowerFin Partners argues at GreentechSolar that “ the solar industry has focused too much on the environmentally ‘green’ benefits of solar power and too little on the economic ‘green’ benefits.” Pham further argues that, “[b]y educating consumers about solar’s role within electricity markets and emphasizing solar economics relative to conventional power – specifically natural gas – the solar industry can attain some pricing power and be a non-trivial part of the energy market. “
  3. Stephen Lacey of Climate Progress recommends that we all watch a video on how “Congressional Inaction Threatens Middle Class Wind Jobs in America’s Heartland.”
  4. According to CleanTechnica, Google today announced “that it has invested $94 million into four solar photovoltaic (PV) projects currently being built close to Sacramento, California by Recurrent Energy,” and that “its portfolio of clean energy investments has now reached $915 million.”
  5. Bloomberg reports: “Broad sloping buildings roofed by solar panels and swaddled in plants that filter storm water will rise on an island in New York’s East River. That’s Cornell University’s vision for a new applied- sciences campus in New York City. The school was named yesterday as the winner of a competition set up by the city to build a facility for job-spinning engineering research — the way Stanford University has helped seed innovation in Silicon Valley.”
Comments Off

Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (12/19/11)

Posted By Lowell F. on December 19th, 2011

Here are five recommended reads for today (12/19/11)

  1. Renewable Energy World reports, “How successful China will be developing its solar market is debatable but the intention, focus and allocation of funds is clear. In 2011, China has addressed two of the key needs to creating a strong domestic market — a unified feed-in tariff and a transmission infrastructure that can handle renewable energy.”
  2. Lester R. Brown of the Earth Policy Institute writes, “The pace of solar energy development is accelerating as the installation of rooftop solar water heaters takes off. Unlike solar photovoltaic (PV) panels that convert solar radiation into electricity, these “solar thermal collectors” use the sun’s energy to heat water, space, or both.”
  3. Joe Romm writes at Climate Progress that “[n]ew research on solar energy conversion finds, ‘the efficiency of conventional solar cells could be significantly increased’… the research holds the possibility of increasing the efficiency of solar cells by 50% to 100%.”
  4. According to Politico, “After spending four years and millions of dollars prepping for the new rules [on light bulbs], businesses say pulling the plug now could cost them. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association has waged a lobbying campaign for more than a year to persuade the GOP to abandon the effort.”
  5. Robert Redford argues at the Huffington Post, “When the United State Congress intentionally ties these two things [the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline rider and the tax-relief bill] together, though, it’s not a joke: it’s a national disgrace.”
Comments Off