Showing posts with label renewables. Show all posts
Showing posts with label renewables. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Cheap as Chips Renewables

“Three years ago, we thought wind and solar would be cheap as chips, and they’ve even gone below that,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive officer of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The plummeting price of renewable energy has bankrupted more than two dozen wind and solar manufacturers, but BNEF analysts say these lower prices could lead to a tripling of investment in the sector over the next 17 years. The collapse of companies appears to be little more than natural attrition in a fast-evolving industry with an extremely bright future.

This is comparable with the car industry where just a handful of major players emerged from the hundreds of small companies that started up from the 1880s onwards.

While suppliers are suffering from falling prices, those lower prices are making more projects profitable to develop and advancing the day when renewables can rival coal and oil on cost. 

Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that renewables will account for half of all generation capacity by 2030. They predict that much of the future market growth will be driven by low-cost attractiveness rather than by the government subsidies that have supported renewables markets so far. As costs fall, countries are paring back subsidies.


News from the Transformation tab.  

Carbon trading in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), involving nine states in the U.S. Northeast, has produced $1.6 billion in economic value added to the region. They have been so successful at reducing emissions that they plan to tighten the cap. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Stockholm - are we there yet?

Remember when car trips seemed endless? Remember when you couldn't tell the difference between two hours and ten hours? Remember when you were the whiney kid in the back asking, "Are we there yet?". Maybe you have also been the adult in the front seat desperately fending off "Are we there yet?" with sing-a-longs, I Spy, and Animal, Vegetable and Mineral.

I remember being that whiney kid as we drove over dirt roads on our annual pilgrimage from Kingaroy to the Gold Coast or the Sunshine Coast. The four or five hour drive was eternity to me. Now, the dusty country roads have been paved with bitumen, and kids are easily entertained with portable DVD players. Even the 12 hour trip from Sydney to Brisbane doesn't generate quite the same bored queries about  arrival. 

These days, my impatience is about the journey to the new Clean Energy Economy. Our whole nation is on a decades-long journey from the Dinosaur Economy, based on fossil fuels, to the new Clean Energy Economy.  Oh! I'm so impatient to get there. 

We creep, creep, creep along, hampered by billionaires protecting their dinosaur assets. I have to keep reminding myself that we will get there eventually. We have no choice but to make this journey.

The journey seems so fragile when leaders say we don't really need to go, or they make blood promises to dismantle the moderately effective vehicle we're travelling in, to replace it with a cobble-de-fudge of tokenism. 

Then a government minister, Greg Combet, comes out with both guns blazing and stands up for this journey and the vehicle his government has crafted, and my hopes lift again. 

Not that they lift to the point of asking, "Are we there yet?" I'm just pitifully grateful that the rickety vehicle is still lumbering forward.

So, I go and check out the Transformations tab to take heart from the vigorous actions that are underway worldwide. Once again, I see that we're not the only vehicle lurching along the pot-holed road. Instead I see hundreds of other vehicles of all shapes and sizes making the same journey. Countries, provinces, cities, corporations, individuals - it's an exodus, a flood of refugees abandoning the old dinosaur economy. 

Some vehicles are bruised and battered, tied together with string, crammed with occupants arguing with each other. Others are robustly confident, cruising with aplomb towards their goal. Many are inward-looking, taking care of their own, but a few have tow-lines attached to little clusters of vehicles that have wheels but no engines. Not everyone has a tow line. Now and then, you see broken down vehicles on the verges. These poor vessels have no chance of making the journey. Will their passengers transfer, eventually, to other vehicles? Will someone take them in?

One of the most confident vehicles cruising in the vanguard of this cavalcade is Stockholm.  It is awash with advanced green technologies deployed to meet the long term target of carbon neutrality by 2050. It is well on the way to the first milestone in 2015 when it will use 100% renewable electricity and have per capita carbon emissions of 3 tonnes (c.f. USA at 22 tonnes).

Are we there yet? Already 80 per cent of all the buildings in Stockholm are connected to a district heating system largely fueled by burning the city's combustible waste.

It's funny. Stockholm is already so sure of the journey and so far along the track that they hardly need to ask, "Are we there yet?". On the other hand, Australia is so uncertain about the journey and so tentative about the vehicle, that it is not yet ready to ask, "Are we there yet?".

But I'm ready. I'm making the journey. I'm asking, "When will we get there? Are we there yet?". I'm decarbonising. Got the solar panels. Got the greenpower. Replacing gas heater with heat pump. I'm not there yet, but I'm definitely on the road. 

What about you?


News from the Transformation tab. 

Stockholm is a low-carbon leader with strong initiatives across many areas. By 2015 electricity will be 100% renewable and CO2 emissions will be 3 tonnes per capita (c.f. USA at 22 tonnes). Most (80%) buildings  have district heat mostly fueled by the city's combustable waste. Sewage plants provide biogas for 6,000 cars, all municipal waste vehicles and some 300 buses. Stockholm is well on the way to being carbon neutral by 2050.  Source: BusinessGreen.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Gas reserves give us enough rope to hang ourselves

Like many other countries, Australia is in the thrall of gas. The Australian government identified gas as a stepping stone on the path to decarbonising our economy when it was believed that replacing coal generators with gas would be an effective interim measure in decarbonising our economy.

This position comes from politicians practising the art of the possible and throwing the fossil fuel industry a bone.
OK boys, we can't have as much coal, but, look!, we'll have gas instead.
It's a clever move because it pits one fossil fuel (coal) against another (gas). That makes it one set of guys in hard hats against another, which is much better than pitting the hard hats against the beanie-capped renewable brigade, or the Knitting Nannas, who can call upon moral principles that are more powerful than crude commercial arguments.

The art of the possible is modest. It lacks ambition and is hobbled by caution. It won't rouse us to the national effort that is needed for the energy revolution that lies ahead. So it is entirely deserving that the 'gas as transition' strategy has come unstuck in all kinds of ways.

The deep unpopularity of coal seam gas projects in local communities has unleashed a groundswell of local action expressed powerfully in the Lock the Gate campaign.

Another major problem with the 'gas as transition' idea is that emerging evidence shows that gas won't cut the mustard when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.

As the International Energy Agency says,
The high gas scenario shows carbon emissions consistent with a long-term temperature rise of over 3.5°C. A path towards 2°C would still require a greater shift to low-carbon energy sources, increased energy efficiency and deployment of new technologies including carbon capture and storage (CCS), which could reduce emissions from gas-fired plants.
If coal generators are replaced by gas generators that endure for 30-40 years, they will be emitting carbon dioxide for decades to come. This won't meet the timetable required to keep average global temperatures below the 2°C guardrail for a safe climate.

Yet another difficulty is the emerging data that gas is no cleaner than coal when things like fugitive emissions are taken into account.

No wonder that the hard-nosed Jeremy Grantham, former chairman and chief investment strategist for the $100 billion funds manager GMO Capital, recognises additional gas reserves as a trojan horse - beguiling but dangerous.
The major disadvantage of all of these extra (oil and gas) reserves, though, is that they will give us more rope with which to hang ourselves by frying the planet.

If we are to prevent dangerous global warming and keep the planet within the 2°C guardrail for a safe climate, 80% of gas, coal and oil reserves will need to be left alone. They will be stranded assets unless/until carbon capture and sequestration becomes commercially viable.

What to do?

Be informed. Have a questionning mind. Support the Lock the Gate campaign and the 100% Renewables campaign.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Don't ask little of me - you might get it.

We are a lucky generation – we're living at the dynamic beginning of massive global transformation. It's a time to ask big things of ourselves and of each other – just as Winston Churchill did in a speech to the British people at the beginning of WWII.
We are in the preliminary stage of one of the greatest battles in history. ...  I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.
Winston Churchill

Nothing calls the human spirit to effort better than the promise of great difficulty. The comprehensive energy revolution that lies before us is a massive task and this is the critical decade.

This is the decade when Australia needs to make a serious start on a national plan to shift electricity generation from 8% renewables to 100% renewables.

Beyond Zero Emissions, a climate policy think tank, has produced a roadmap that shows how Australia can do this over just 10 years, at a cost of 3% of GDP. The Zero Carbon Australia plan involves approximately 6,400 wind generators (7.5 MW capacity) and nearly 200 Concentrated Solar Thermal (CST) plants spread across Australia's best solar and wind regions. Here's how it looks.

The new CST plants and wind farms would be built in clusters and joined to the national grid that will be enhanced with additional HVAC lines as well as some HVDC lines for longer distances. HVDC power lines lose only 3% of power per 1,000 km.

The focus on two technologies, CST and onshore wind turbines, is a result of several factors.
  • CST and wind turbines are commercial off-the-shelf technologies so there is no delay in getting started.
  • Australia has excellent solar and wind resources (e.g. we have plenty of room for onshore wind turbines so we don't need any of the more expensive offshore wind farms).
  • Together, CST and wind can deliver reliable baseload power that is sufficiently flexible to dispatch power at short notice and cope with variability of demand and changing weather conditions. CST with salt storage delivers electricity 24 hours a day because the molten salt stores heat from the sun to keep the turbines turning through the night.

Australia is not alone in planning continent-wide electricity grids that rely on renewables. Desertec has done similar planning for a grid that encompasses Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Like Australia, deployment is at an embryonic stage. A CST plant has been commissioned in Tunisia while Saudi Arabia and UAE are rolling out ambitious programs for utility scale solar power. They are positioning themselves for the post-oil era so they can continue to be energy exporters.

In the US, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report Renewable Electricity Futures Study (RE Futures) demonstrates that the US (lower 48 states) could be 80% renewable by 2050.

The Australian government is comissioning its own study to show how Australia's electricity could transition to 100% renewables by 2030 or 2050.

So now the thought has been thought, it's hard to unthink it. We are at the beginning of an energy revolution. The transition to 100% renewables will be a battle, tooth and nail, with wealthy and powerful fossil fuel interests. They will oppose every step that reduces markets for their coal, oil and gas.

Churchill was lucky, the European theatre of war in WWII lasted only five years. In contrast, our battle with fossil fuel interests will last for decades. It will take toil, tears and sweat, and even blood. Plenty of blood has been spilt defending oil resources, and it is likely to happen again.

That's why I say we are a lucky generation. We live in times that ask a lot of us. Can we rise to the challenge?
Don't ask little of me, you might get it.


The Transformation tab reports examples of progress towards a low-carbon future. Here are recent snippets.

Morocco, Saudi Arabia, UAE and South Africa are building utility-scale solar generators using Concentrated Solar Thermal technology. Source: ConstructionWeek

Morocco maintains a national renewable energy and energy efficiency strategy that includes renewable energy sources meeting 42% of electricity demand by 2020. Source: Cleantechnica

Friday, June 29, 2012

The carrot, the stick and the map

The Can Do! attitude that harnessed the efforts of whole nations in an all-out war effort during WWII survives in the iconic figure of Rosie the Riveter. When men joined the armed forces, women filled their places in factories, transport, businesses and on farms. My Grandma Blanche saw out WWII as a transport driver for local military bases in the North of England, where her two daughters met and married improbably good looking airmen.

The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has given Can Do types a shot in the arm with the release of its report, Renewable Electricity Futures Study (RE Futures) which outlines how the US can convert its electricity system to 80% renewables by 2050.

The detailed report proves the nay-sayers wrong by demonstrating that current technology is sufficient and that intermittent sources like solar and wind are no obstacle.

The report is a massive work in four volumes and covers the subject comprehensively. It was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and is a collaboration with more than 110 contributors from 35 organizations including national laboratories, industry, universities, and non-governmental organizations.

I am very heartened to see responsible government agencies get on with the job of planning a pathway to the new low-carbon future. I'm afraid that Australia's Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism lacks the capacity, vision and leadership to produce useful work like this. They seem to be too much in the thrall of the coal and mining sectors.

A Can Do map is one of the three things needed for a fundamental shift in beliefs and practices. The other two requirements are: Awareness that the current system is unsustainable (the stick), and recognition of the benefits of change (the carrot).

The carrot, the stick and the pathway map are necessary preconditions for the transition from an ecosystem of denial to a culture of responsibility.

With a reason to act, confidence in the destination and an outline of what needs doing, millions of Rosies will roll up their sleeves and see that the job gets done.

H/T KC Golden.


New on the Transformation tab.

Ireland has signed a MOU with UK to provide renewable power. Irish businessman Eddie O’Connor, the CEO of Mainstream Renewables, has unveiled a plan to invest €12.5 billion to expand the country’s wind energy farms, and build links to supply the UK. Source: ReNewEconomy

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Yin and yang of clean energy

Ma Xuelu, chief strategy officer for solar panel manufacturers Yingli, sketches a vision of the future of solar power.
We want solar to be the green energy that the common man can use. It’s not like oil, solar is a harmonious resource, a peaceful resource.

In these words, I hear echoes of the ancient teachings of Taoism which promotes harmony or union with nature, virtue and self-development.

China has a long cultural history where patience is a core value, so I am interested to see that their forward planning gives prominence to clean energy. China plans to spend $27 bn in 2012 to promote energy conservation, emission reductions and renewable energy.  Their goal is to reduce emissions by 40-45% by 2020, compared with 2003 levels, and boost use of renewable energy to 15% of overall energy consumption.

Its deep history gives China a long term perspective. In contrast, many Western democracies have relatively new national identities and seem driven to make their mark quickly. Western cultures are impatient for results. When we encounter obstacles we sometimes want to crash through, or change course.

Li Junfeng, a senior policy official, brings a different perspective in this comment about difficulties encountered by fledgling solar and wind industries.
Our industries are still very young. A child will stumble as he walks, because he’s still young. But eventually he will grow up.

This reminds me that solar power has been described as the teddy bear of renewables because it is small and lovable. What will it be when it grows up? A 360kg grizzly?

This graphic from the Financial Times shows how China's fledgling wind industry compares with that of the USA (click to enlarge).


News from the Transformation tab.

World solar energy usage almost doubled in one year. In 2010 the world used 30 terawat-hours and in 2011 this had risen to 55.7 terawatt-hours.  Source: e360.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Waste not, want not

Waste not, want not.

Did you grow up with this homily? I seemed to hear it quite often when I grew up — mostly when I pushed vegetables around on my dinner plate. But then, I grew up in a time and place that is now foreign, even to me.

When I was five, I lived on a dairy farm and attended a rural one-teacher school. Electricity came from the diesel generator, water came from rainwater tanks, and the school even had a horse paddock for the couple of kids who rode horses to school.

That was post-WWII Australia — a foreign land compared with my current life in Sydney, one of the world's most liveable cities.

So, why am I thinking about "waste not, want not" when I could be thinking about Luke Nguyen's new restaurant?

It was triggered by this Eurostat data that ranks European countries on their use of renewable energy. One column of data shows the proportion of their energy that comes from 'Biomass and renewable wastes'. Here's a graph of the top countries.

Share of biomass/wastes in gross inland energy consumption, 2009

Latvia already gets 29% of its energy from biomass and renewable wastes!

These countries are so much better-prepared for the future than countries like Australia where we rely so heavily on fossil fuels for our energy. Less than 1% of our energy comes from biomass/renewable wastes.

It seems to be taking enormous effort for Australia to move to more sustainable energy, however our new carbon tax, starting 1 July, will make a difference. For example, it will give an incentive for major rubbish dumps to harvest their methane emissions and generate power, instead of letting the methane leak into the atmosphere where it contributes to global warming.

Another helpful measure is our State target to increase the proportion of ethanol in petrol. Ethanol in NSW is made as a byproduct from processing wheat into protein and starch. After these food elements are produced, ethanol is made, and finally the waste from ethanol production is turned into feed supplements for cattle. Waste not, want not. 

Nevertheless, it will take us decades to catch up with countries that already get more than 10% of their energy from biomass and renewable waste. Our efforts now will build a bridge to the new Clean Energy Economy that will appear when the Dinosaur Economy based on fossil fuels collapses.

Human societies are fast approaching the limits of some critical resources. The earth has only limited quantities of oil and gas. It is foolish to waste things that are in short supply.  Indeed, it is foolish to waste anything at all.

In a world of constrained resources, coming generations will re-learn what our grandparents knew. They will live again in a world where "waste not, want not" is the rule to live by.


News from the Transformation tab. 

Vale, the world’s second-largest mining company, and leading Australian renewable energy company Pacific Hydro will jointly build and operate two wind farms in Brazil’s northeast. The power produced will be used by Vale in its mining operations. Source: Pacific Hydro.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A lump sum or a magic pudding?

I had a friend, Miranda, who spent her income as she earnt it. Her view was that she would get another packet of money next week to replace what she spent this week. Just like Norman Lindsay's Magic Pudding that simply re-grew when part of it was eaten, her money was continually replaced with a fresh supply.

I was concerned that she would go into retirement with no savings and I figured that paying rent on the age pension is no fun. So I suggested that instead of thinking about her income as a magic pudding that got replenished each week, she should think of it as a lifetime allowance that is doled out week by week. Across her lifetime, she would earn a limited amount of money, and as each week passed there was one less portion awaiting her.

After that, she started saving. When she retired, she didn't have enough to live on, but she was able to buy a small apartment in a regional town and lived a modest and contented life on the age pension.

It seems to me that Western consumer societies have been living like Miranda, as though natural resources would be magically renewed year after year. But that is not the case. Like Miranda's lifetime income, many of Earth's resources are large, but limited.

Towards the end of her working life Miranda had only a small portion of her earnings still to come. Similarly, some of Earth's resources have only a small portion left. For example, we have used most of the earth's oil resources, most of the arable land is already farmed and most fresh water resources are fully used.

With population due to expand by another 2 billion in coming decades, many of earth's resource budgets can only get tighter.

Fortunately, not all earth's resources are as limited as Miranda's lifetime earnings. Some resources renew endlesslessly in human timeframes. It's good to see countries beginning the transition to these magic pudding energy resources — sun, wind and geothermal.

By conserving our limited resources, we wisely give our children and grandchildren the opportunity to live fulfilling lives, instead of blindly devouring the lump sum of their inheritance.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Wuthering Heights – love is not a rational activity

Our enduring love affair with oil means that pain and punishment don't diminish our affection for the beloved. Even catastrophes like the Gulf oil spill haven't dented our passionate dependency on oil.

It's hard to comprehend this kind of irrational behaviour. Science has its logical explanations, but no one has shone a better light on irrational love than Emily Bronte in Wuthering Heights where destructive forces are unleashed when Cathy and Heathcliffe can't be together. This kind of love is a force of nature not to be argued with. It makes absolute sense on an emotional level, and, after all, love is not a rational activity. 

It seems that we'll put up with a lot of abuse from oil and still keep loving it, but that is not the case with nuclear. When nuclear treats us badly, we're outa there! Japan closed 50 nuclear power stations after the Fukushima disaster. And half way around the world, Germany pulled the plug on its nuclear plants, closing eight immediately and phasing the remainder out by 2022.

Given the destructive force of carbon emissions, we better hope that our love affair with oil tapers off into a cooler and more pragmatic business relationship, similar to our feelings for nuclear.

If we think back, perhaps we can see some signs that this is happening. Cars have lost their place as fetish objects in popular culture. Increasingly, young people are choosing not to drive at all. In the US, the percentage of people younger than 35 without a driver’s license has risen to 26% in the past decade.

Our new fetish objects are mobile phones, ipods, ipads and e-books. They are all powered by electricity.

Perhaps we see emerging signs of love for renewables in growing affection for solar power, the teddy bear of renewables, and appreciation of wind generators for their majestic beauty.

Let's hope this early affection flowers into full blown obsessive passion—a Cathy and Heathcliffe kind of love that let's nothing get in the way.

Kate Bush captured the wild irrationality of Cathy-and-Heathcliffe love in her song, Wuthering Heights. Check out this fabulous version by Hayley Westenra who can really sing!


News of the day on the Transformations menu tab.

India takes up solar power. Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Ltd. (KREDL) has embarked upon a Public-Private-Partnersip project for a 1000 hectare solar park at Mannur village in Bijapur. KREDL has already commenced projects to generate 80 MW of solar power in Bijapur and Gulbarga districts, and is working on increasing solar power generation by 40 MW every year. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Subsidies – specks or logs?

We have set out on this long journey towards a low carbon future.

We know that the cost of doing nothing will be enormous in money, goods, homes and lives. So we are prepared to pay to avoid catastrophe. Of course, we don't want to pay more than we have to, and we don't want to pay more than the other guy. So everyone is busy with their calculators and measuring rods making sure we pay as little as possible, making this transition look like a slow bicycle race.

The situation is ripe for vested interests to say, "Hey! Those guys are getting too much money. It's not fair."

This happened recently with respect to Chinese solar panels exported to the U.S. The U.S. Department of Commerce decided that the manufacturers had an unfair advantage due to big subsidies from the Chinese government. To level things up, they slapped a tariff on them.

Fossil fuel industry supporters often complain that governments are giving too many subsidies to renewable energy projects. Industry associations and lobbyists are counting on their fingers and toes to tally all the subsidies, big and little, for renewables.

The very reputable International Energy Agency (IEA) found that countries worldwide paid $66 billion in subsidies to encourage the development and deployment of renewable energy in 2010.

That sounds like a lot, but it is just a speck compared with the $409 billion that governments paid to subsidise fossil fuel in the same year, according to the IEA.

Fatih Birol, exceptional economist with the IEA says, 
Energy markets can be thought of as suffering from appendicitis due to fossil fuel subsidies. They need to be removed for a healthy energy economy. Energy is significantly underpriced in many parts of the world, leading to wasteful consumption, price volatility and fuel smuggling. It's also undermining the competitiveness of renewables.

Australia doesn't get a mention in this very excellent Guardian article about fossil fuel subsidies, but I note that after floating the idea of reducing the $2 billion diesel rebate, the Australian government caved in to industry lobbying and it didn't get a mention in the recent budget.

When fossil fuel interests criticise the subsidies given to renewable energy, they need to look at the log in their own eyes before complaining about the speck in other people's eyes.
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Matthew 7.3

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Fossil fuel dependence: A dead end

Fossil fuel dependence is a dead end, though you'd never know it the way the mining industry carries on.

Mining lobbyists like to scare politicians and the public, but global statistics for trends in new power generation show a dramatic decline for fossil fuels. Maybe the miners are stridently fighting a rear guard action?

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the International Energy Agency, investment in renewables for power production rose from $50bn in 2004 to $260b in 2011. Over the same time investment in fossil fuel power production fell from $250b to $40b. It looks like this.

This gives a clear picture of the road to the future. Personally, I find it very heartening to see that the world is moving towards renewables at a rapid rate. It's exactly what economists say we ought to do.

Climate Spectator (14 May 2012)has more detail: King Carbon.

This Bloomberg article (10 May 2012) says,
On the way to a renewable energy future, a funny thing has happened: Big Oil has become the biggest investor in the race to create green fuels. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Apollo and Neptune are growing tomatoes

As societies turn away from fossil fuels towards renewables will the dark carbon gods of coal and oil give way to mankind's original gods of sun, wind and water? Will we see a shift in cultural practice?

Already, we see beauty in solar installations like Gemasolar, near Seville in Spain, where the layout of the mirror array is guided by the patterns of seeds in sunflower heads.

And wind generators are entering beauty contests.

New technology can be very techie, but as I have discussed, renewables are very lovable.

What's not to love in this new farming system that uses solar power to desalinate water and produce greenhouse crops in the desert. Sundrop Farms have developed the technology that uses trough mirrors to heat oil that boils sea water to run turbines to generate electricity. It also desalinates the water. The electricity, heat and water are used in greenhouses to grow vegetables. In 2010-2011 Sundrop trialed the high-tech system in the desert near Port Augusta. The trials went very well and in 2012 they will expand  to have 8 hectares under greenhouses.

You can take a site visit –

The cool language of technology needs to meet the life-affirming language of love.  Surely the capacity to grow nourishing food in the desert is nothing short of miraculous?

Where is our sense of wonder? Apollo and Neptune have joined forces to grow tomatoes in the desert of South Australia.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The teddy bear of energy sources

Solar power is the teddy bear of energy sources. What's not to like about the sun, the source of all life? Best of all: No wars have ever been fought over solar power (though I'm sure that teddy bears have been at the centre of a good few sibling battles).

Eric Curren gives a comprehensive round-up of the status of solar power at Transition Voice as at November 2010, in the U.S.

He notes that solar is cute and lovable right now because it is mostly small scale and individuals can have their own pet systems.

This will change when large scale solar becomes more common as countries like Saudi Arabia (investing $109 billion in solar over the next 20 years) start to roll out big solar generators in desert areas and upgrade their national grid networks. In Australia, Beyond Zero Emissions advocates for Concentrating Solar Thermal in their Stationary Energy Plan.

Schemes are being sketched to augment Europe's power supply from large scale solar plants in North African and Middle Eastern (MENA) countries connected to Europe by HVDC transmission lines.

Source: 2050 Desert Power report (click to enlarge)

Locals in MENA countries who see industrial scale solar generators and the transmission lines carrying the power to rich northern neighbours may not see solar as a lovable teddy bear. If they are given a share of the power at a price they can afford, they are likely to see solar more like a fairy godmother.

Continuing the teddy bear metaphor, Eric Cullen asks:
What will it take to help the solar teddy bear grow into a thousand-pound grizzly, ready to rip to shreds high energy costs, polluting fuels and dangerous nukes?
Now THAT'S a future I want to see!


The 2050 Desert Power report is discussed at ReNewEnergy. You can download the report here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Good news story

What's the good news story about climate change? For me, it is the exciting transition to a low-carbon economy.

The new low-carbon world will benefit billions of people by:
  • Reducing prices/costs – reducing the cost of energy as fossil fuel prices soar. California wind and solar generators have signed contracts to deliver electricity for less than the cost of gas generators. Solar PV is cheaper than diesel in places as sunny as Spain.
  • Security – homegrown renewable energy gives certainty of supply that can't be provided by importing fossil fuels.
And of course the switch to a low carbon economy will prevent the worst excesses of 'business as usual' climate change.

Right now I can add to my rooftop solar PV for about $4,000 and eliminate electricity bills. Forever. It will take four years to recoup the $4,000 investment, after that I get free electricity.

I look forward to the first plug-in hybrid cars. They will eliminate my petrol bills except for occasional long trips. My current Prius saves me $1,000 a year in fuel bills, compared with my previous car.

I also want to see solar and wind power in the poorest countries – funded by carbon offset programs. A quarter of the world's population does not have electricity at all. I want them to get clean power.

What's YOUR good news story?