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Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (9/22/14)

Posted By Lowell F. on September 22nd, 2014

Here are five recommended reads for today (9/22/14).

  1. Greentech Media reports, “In the newest version of its comprehensive LCOE analysis of energy technologies, Lazard finds that a wide variety of renewables are, in some cases, directly competitive with coal, gas and nuclear without federal tax support.”
  2. According to the Washington Post: “For 140 years, the Rockefellers were the oil industry’s first family, scions of a business empire that spawned companies called Exxon, Mobil, Amoco and Chevron. So it was no trivial matter when a group of Rockefeller heirs decided recently to begin severing financial ties to fossil fuels.”
  3. The Wall Street Journal reports: “India is planning an upgrade to its solar-energy infrastructure and will soon invite bids for the development of solar parks. The federal administration in New Delhi and five state governments will work to set up 25 solar parks, which could increase the total installed solar capacity by nearly 10 times nationwide to about 20,000 megawatts…”
  4. The Washington Post has an article discussing “The coming era of unlimited — and free — clean energy.”
  5. Climate Progress reports, “More Than 310,000 People Descend On New York To March For Climate Action.”
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Robert Bryce’s Latest Anti-Clean-Energy Screed is Off by Factor of 100s (or more) in Its “Wind Power Density” Figure

Posted By Lowell F. on September 21st, 2014

There are so many fallacies in fossil fuel flack Robert Bryce’s latest book, “Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper,” it’s hard to know where to start. Here are just a few that cry out for correction.

  • Bryce claims that “many natural resources are, in fact, getting Cheaper” (for some weird reason he repeatedly capitalizes the word “cheaper”). Except that Bryce ignores the fact that oil has gone from around $20 per barrel in the late 1990s/early 2000s to around $100 per barrel today.  In reality, of course, what’s really plummeted has been the prices of solar and wind.
  • Bryce claims that “coal will not go away, because coal is a fuel of necessity for producing electricity.”  He further claims that China and India will inexorably race towards building new coal-fired power plants. Except that, since he wrote his book, that has changed dramatically, with China possibly “ready to kick [the] coal habit” and  India “eyeing mega-solar.”
  • Bryce calls people who believe we should transition rapidly from dirty energy to clean energy “degrowthers.” Of course, that’s completely backwards: in fact, it’s proponents of dirty, depletable energy who would prevent the world from growing in a sustainable fashion for decades/centuries to come, while proponents of clean, renewable, infinitely abundant energy would enable (and celebrate) such growth. Not to mention the fact that continued reliance on dirty, carbon-based energy will cause catastrophic, runaway global warming, impoverishing billions in the process. Details, details.
  • Perhaps most egregious of all, Bryce laughably claims that wind energy has an “incurable density problem,” in that supposedly it only produces “1 watt per square meter.”  This is utter nonsense. As this article (reviewing a previous screed by Bryce) explains, a conservative estimate for wind power density would be more like “110 watts per square meter as opposed to Bryce’s assertion of 1.2 watts per square meter.”
  • One problem is that “Bryce is calculating that 100% of the territory associated with a wind project is solely attributable to the wind program in terms of energy density,” when of course “wind farms are typically multi-use areas with, for example, farmers continuing to farm the land around the turbines.”  This is absurd, analogous to “attacking solar pv on the basis of power density when that pv is replacing roofing shingle — e.g., the space would be ‘unproductive’ for the energy system without the pv deployment.” (Note: also see this Grist article by John Farrell debunking Bryce.)
  • Another problem is that Bryce “does not – in any way – account for depletable vs renewable…A wind farm could, in theory, produce indefinitely from the same site” while “[f]ossil fuel resources (coal, oil, natural gas) will deplete.” Bryce simply refuses to engage seriously on the issue of resource depletion.
  • In sum: “Bryce misleads through selective and distorting citation of material; his work is a classic example of ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics’. He is frequently quite selective in presenting/discussing information. ”
  • Need further evidence that Bryce is wildly wrong in his assertions about wind power density? According to the Iowa Energy Center, administered through Iowa State University: “For a typical 15 mph site in Iowa, the actual average wind power density is about 400 W/m2.” That would mean Bryce is off by a factor of 400 on his estimate for average power density for wind energy, at least for land-based wind power based in Iowa.  Also note that if the wind turbine is located offshore, it wouldn’t take up any land at all that would be used for other purposes, making Bryce’s assertions even more absurd.
  • Also, according to the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium, you can get to 600 W/m2, 700 W/m2, or even 800+ W/m2 with offshore wind power (also see the table from NREL below, which has power densities as high as 2,000 W/m2). So, again, Bryce is wildly off in his “one watt per square meter” assertion. And he’s getting more off base every year that goes by, as wind turbines get taller,more and more powerful (e.g., see this one) and  ”denser” in terms of the power they can capture.f
  • According to Bryce, in addition to wind’s supposedly “deleterious impact on wildlife” (yes, he suddenly pretends to care about wildlife after touting the virtues of oil, coal and gas, the extraction and consumption of which causes enormous damage to ecosystems) and “how 500-foot-high wind turbines blight the landscape” (as opposed to blowing up mountains, spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, tearing up swathes of pristine Canadian forest to dredge up filthy tar sands oil?). Bizarre.
  • Bryce claims that if “policy makers wanted to replace all that coal-fired capacity with wind turbines – at 1 watt per square meter – they would need to set aside…land area the size of Italy.”  Of course, given that Bryce is off by a factor of hundreds (or higher), it’s more like 1/500th or 1/1000th the size of Italy. Thus, instead of “116,000 square miles,” it’s closer to 100-200 square miles of wind turbines, a miniscule area which of course could be located offshore, to replace all the coal-fired power in the U.S. Yet again, Bryce is not even close in his assertions.
  • Bryce also claims “intermittency” is a problem, when Germany and other countries have actually proven that as renewable power increases as a share of the country’s grid, stability actually improves!
  • Amazingly, Bryce even repeats the utterly debunked nonsense about noise from wind turbines and various health problems.
  • On climate change, about which there is no scientific dispute to speak of, Bryce says he’s “agnostic,” with inane comments like “regardless of what you think about carbon dioxide emissions” and “we don’t know for certain the ideal concentration” of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.” In a rare moment of honesty, Bryce admits that he “can’t talk knowledgeably about polar vortexes, cosmic rays [sic], ice cores,” that he is “bored” by all this science about “hockey sticks” and what-not.  Yes, Robert Bryce is “bored” with his subject material. Need we say more?
  • While Bryce admits that “natural gas is a potent greenhouse gas,” including through methane leakage, he waves it all away with the magic of the “invisible hand,” claiming that the “gas industry in the United States has a big incentive to reduce leakage and therefore have more product to sell.”  Except for one problem: if that’s the case, then why hasn’t the gas industry raced to do just that?
  • Appallingly, Bryce also waves away mass extinction due to global warming and other environmental consequences of fossil fuel use, noting breezily: “Some species will disappear…Parts of paradise will be paved. But we cannot forsake human creativity, economic productivity…stop economic development.” Wow.
  • Bryce further sets up a bizarre, false dichotomy between continuing to do things the way we’ve been doing them – fossil fuels forever! – and the strawman of humanity “retreat[ing] back to the grinding poverty that stunted so many lives in the past…”  This is almost like a parody, in that nobody could possibly believe such nonsense — right? Except that Robert Bryce apparently does.
  • Of course, the “think tank’ Bryce works for is paid good money by fossil fuel interests to do just that.  So, it’s unlikely that Bryce is – as he says – so much “optimistic to the point of idiocy” as “serving his paymasters to the point of absurdity.” Let’s further keep in mind that this is the same guy who regularly attacks subsidies to wind power but not the massively larger ones to fossil fuels, and who refuses to answer the simple question as to whether he receives direct or indirect support from the fossil fuel industry.
  • One final point: what is the deal with this credulous, positive review in the New York Times of Bryce’s pro-fossil-fuels, anti-clean-energy screed?  Among other things, the reviewer, Fred Andrews, simply repeats Bryce’s wildly false claim that “the average power density for wind energy is about one watt per square meter.” Most likely, the reviewer simply knows little if anything about energy and environmental issues (he is retired, but formerly was a “deputy Metro” editor at the Times). Note that Andrews also identifies the Manhattan Institute not as fossil-fuel-funded propaganda factory, which is what it is,  but neutrally (and inaccurately) as “a conservative research group.” As DeSmogBlog has correctly argued: “The Times’ opinion page editors should [ask] a few direct questions of op-ed contributors like Bryce about their funding,” because by “failing to implement this simple standard, the Times enables the printing of industry propaganda on its influential opinion pages.”

The bottom line is that Robert Bryce has outdone himself with this book.  Perhaps we might suggest a change in title, from “Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper” to something more accurate, like “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics?”

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Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (9/19/14)

Posted By Lowell F. on September 19th, 2014

Here are five recommended reads for today (9/19/14).

  1. At the NRDC Switchboard blog, David Doniger discusses “A One-Two Punch to Curb Powerful Climate Pollutants — Carbon Dioxide from the Power Sector and Methane from the Oil and Gas Industry.”
  2. A new report by the Center for American Progress finds, “By investing $200B/yr in efficiency & renewables, US can cut 40% CO2 while generating ~3M new jobs.”
  3. The Wall Street Journal reports, “Keystone Pipeline Cost Expected to Double, TransCanada CEO Says.”
  4. The White House issues a fact sheet detailing new “Executive Actions and Commitments from Across the Country to Advance Solar Deployment and Energy Efficiency.”
  5. RenewEconomy reports, “Just two months after Australia’s Abbott government achieved the dubious honour of becoming the first in the world to abolish a national carbon pricing scheme, more than 350 global institutional investors representing around $24 trillion in assets have called on government leaders across the globe to put a price on carbon, to help redirect investment on the scale required to combat climate change.
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Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (9/18/14)

Posted By Lowell F. on September 18th, 2014

Here are five recommended reads for today (9/18/14).

  1. The NRDC Switchboard blog reports: “Today, from the U.S. Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory released Tracking the Sun VII—the seventh Tracking the Sun report since 2009…Tracking documents how incredibly fast solar is growing here in the U.S. And it also reinforces just how important pro-solar policies are to that growth—creating a huge number of jobs, helping mitigate climate change, and giving our kids cleaner air to breathe.”
  2. According to the Financial Times, “Large wind farms and solar plants are now cost-competitive with gas-fired power in many parts of the US even without subsidy, according to Lazard, raising the prospect of a fundamental shift in the country’s energy market.”
  3. The Hill reports, “The Obama administration unveiled a slew of actions Thursday aimed at improving energy efficiency and increasing the use of solar power in homes and businesses, including $68 million in spending.”
  4. Mother Jones investigates China’s “Great Frack Forward,” noting that China’s “coal addiction threatens the planet,” and wondering whether it can “handle a natural gas revolution.”
  5. Scientific American report: “Last month, General Electric (GE) consulting presented the results of a U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) sponsored study testing if wind turbines can be controlled to manage the stability of the electric grid. The authors found that wind turbines might actually be a valuable tool for controlling and stabilizing the grid in the future, disputing the conventional notion that wind energy doesn’t play well with the grid.”
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“Better Growth, Better Climate” Report Says “Next 15 Years Are Crucial” for Switch to Clean Energy

Posted By Lowell F. on September 18th, 2014

A new report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate is well worth reading. Entitled “Better Growth, Better Climate,” its bottom-line conclusion is a powerful and compelling one:: “Investments to help fight climate change can also spur economic growth, rather than slow it as widely feared, but time is running short for a trillion-dollar shift to transform cities and energy use.”  A few more key points are:

  • The next 15 years are crucial – and require urgent action – for transforming the world’s energy system in order to head off disastrous global warming. These 15 years “could be an era of great progress and growth.”
  • “We have the technological, financial and human resources to raise living standards across the world.” Now we just need good policies to make that happen.
  • “US$45 trillion will be required in 2015–2030 for key categories of energy infrastructure. How that money is spent is critically important: it can help build robust, flexible energy systems that will serve countries well for decades to come, or it can lock in an energy infrastructure that exposes countries to future market volatility, air pollution, and other environmental and social stresses.”
  • “Much of the needed investment in low-carbon infrastructure can be handled through existing structures and mechanisms, with the help of effective policy, regulation and market signals. But for some investments – most notably a low-carbon transition in the power sector – creating efficient finance structures and attracting finance is more challenging and may require dedicated policy.”
  • Among the key recommendations are things we’ve been advocating for years: “Phase out subsidies for fossil fuels;” “Scale up innovation in key low-carbon and climate-resilient technologies and remove barriers to entrepreneurship and creativity;” and “aim for a global phase-out of  unabated fossil fuel power generation by 2050.”

Given the plummeting cost of clean, renewable energy, these goals are now more doable than ever. The big question is: how long fossil fuel industries will keep national and state-level governments in their grip, slowing and otherwise impeding progress towards the vision laid out in this excellent new report?

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