The new electricity boom: renewable energy makes staggering leap but can it last?

Australia now has enough projects committed to meet the national 2020 renewable energy target


A solar farm in Canberra. The clean electricity being sent into Australian homes and businesses could rise 36% this year. Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Thriving doesn’t quite cover it. New data released quietly late last week underscores the staggering pace of growth of renewable energy across Australia.

Nearly 3.5 gigawatts of large-scale clean energy projects were built in 2018. In capacity terms, this is more than twice the scale of Hazelwood, the giant Victorian brown coal plant that shut abruptly a couple of years ago, and it more than tripled the previous record for renewable energy installed in one year, set in 2017.

In generation terms, the amount of clean electricity being sent into Australian homes and businesses is expected to increase 36% this year, and should grow another 25% next year.

The Clean Energy Regulator, which released the report, says this makes Australia the global leader in per capita renewable energy deployment.

He says the new renewable projects in NSW should comfortably fill the gap that will arise when the Liddell coal-fired plant shuts in 2022, a planned event deemed so potentially disastrous a year ago that the Coalition under Malcolm Turnbull attempted to put pressure on the plant’s owner, AGL, into reversing its decision.

The surge in clean generation is creating conditions that would have been unimaginable not so long ago. For a brief period last weekend, so much energy was being captured from the wind and sun, and demand for electricity use dropped so low, that the spot price for wholesale electricity simultaneously fell to $0 in each of the five eastern states connected through the national grid. At that moment, 44% of the electricity being used across the market was from a renewable source, compared with 26% across the week. MORE

 

We Can’t Get Beyond Carbon With Gas

In B.C., Andrew Weaver, the leader of the Green Party, has said he will never support natural gas. This leaves John Horgan and the NDP with its support of a massive gas development with a dilema, especially when the federal NDP does not support natural gas development.


Photo by iStockphoto.com/Yerbolat Shadrakhov

Everyone knows the telltale smell of a gas leak. Except, because fossil gas is almost odorless, the smell that alerts us to danger actually comes from an added compound (tert-Butylthiol).

Unfortunately, there’s no malodorous chemical to warn us about the dangers of relying on fossil gas as an energy source. Yet, as The New York Times reported last week, utilities have a decision to make as they replace polluting coal plants: adopt clean, renewable energy or build plants that burn fossil gas.

It’s crucial that they make the right choice. That’s why the second goal (after finishing the job of eliminating coal-fired power) that former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg listed when he announced his $500 million Beyond Carbon initiative last month was this: “We will work to stop the construction of new gas plants.”

What makes it so important that we stop the so-called gas rush? After all, an unfortunate number of people (including some who know better), still claim that fossil gas “burns cleaner” than coal, as if that somehow makes it palatable. I’m sorry, but even if fossil gas were less polluting than coal (which it isn’t), saying that it “burns cleaner” is like insisting that a switchblade “kills quieter” than a machine gun. Either way, you’re still pumping daisies. Exactly how you ended up there is kind of beside the point.

Here’s where the stubborn reality of math kicks in: In order to prevent a worst-case-scenario climate disaster, we can’t afford to even use all of the fossil gas reserves that we already know about — much less find and extract new ones. What’s more, even if the entire world were to swear off coal right now, burning gas in its place would still leave us in a very bad place. Again, exactly how we got there will be beside the point.

Yet instead of backing away from disaster, fossil fuel companies (with shameful assistance from the Trump administration) actually want to frack more shale gas — and build the pipelines, power plants, and export terminals that go with it.

That’s far Beyond Foolish. But the kicker is that it’s not even necessary. It’s already more economical to use wind, solar, and storage instead of gas for large-scale power generation in many places, and that will soon be true everywhere. Already, cities like Los Angeles are stopping new gas plant construction in favor of renewable energy. So instead of investing in gas infrastructure that will be obsolete economically and technologically before the paint is dry, we need to be doing the opposite: developing a plan for replacing fossil gas everywhere in a way that’s both fast and fair — and by “fair” I mean it shouldn’t put any unjust economic burden on low-income and frontline communities.

Done right, the transition to an energy economy based on electricity from clean, renewable power will not only avoid a climate catastrophe but also bring about a healthier, more prosperous future. That’s the ultimate overarching goal of moving beyond carbon, and it’s why the Sierra Club and our allies are working hard every day to stop fracked gas. And when the valve on that last gas pipeline finally is closed? The only odor left will be the sweet smell of success. SOURCE

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Shell is not a green saviour. It’s a planetary death machine

Don’t buy the greenwash. Shell’s initiatives, which have won over many conservation groups, are dwarfed by its investment in oil and gas


 ‘Shell’s ‘cash engines’, according to its annual report, are oil and gas. There is no sign that it plans to turn the engines off.’ Photograph: Gregory Bull/AP

It is hard to believe it needs stating, but it does. The oil industry is not your friend. Whatever it might say about its ethical credentials, while it continues to invest in fossil fuels, it accelerates climate breakdown and the death of the habitable planet. You would think this point was obvious to everyone. But over the past few weeks, I have spoken to dozens of environmentalists who appear to believe that Shell is on their side. I’ve come to the bizarre conclusion that there is more awareness of the oil industry’s agenda within the arts than there is among conservation groups.

Two months ago, Shell announced a $300m fund for “investing in natural ecosystems” over the next three years. This, it claims, will help to “support the transition towards a low-carbon future”. By paying for reforestation, it intends to offset some of the greenhouse gases produced by its oil and gas extraction. In conversations with environmental campaigners from several parts of the world, I keep hearing the same theme: Shell is changing, Shell is sincere – so shouldn’t we support it?

The fund sounds big, and it is – until you compare it with Shell’s annual income of $24bn. Shell’s transition towards a low-carbon future is almost invisible in its annual report. Renewable energy doesn’t figure in its summary of financial results. When I checked with the company, it told me it had no discrete figure for its income from low-carbon technologies. Nor could it tell me how much it invested in them last year. But it did pour $25bn of investment into oil and gas in 2018, including exploration for new fossil fuel reserves in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico and off the coasts of Brazil and Mauritania. Among its assets are 1,400 mineral leases in Canada, where it makes synthetic crude oil from tar sands. Some transition. MORE

More Than 100 Cities Worldwide Now Powered Primarily by Renewable Energy

 

These cities get more than 70 percent of their electricity from wind, solar and other renewables. That’s up since the Paris climate agreement.

Burlington, Vermont, gets 100 percent of its power from renewable energy, including from solar farms like this one, built on locally made systems that track the sun. Credit: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images
Burlington, Vermont, gets 100 percent of its power from renewable energy, including from solar farms like this one, built on locally made systems that track the sun. Credit: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

As the price of renewable energy drops, more cities are cutting the cord with fossil fuel-based electricity.

A new report released Tuesday by the environmental group CDP finds that more than 100 cities worldwide now get the majority of their power—70 percent or more—from renewables. That’s up from 42 in 2015, when countries pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the Paris climate agreement.

CDP notes that more than 40 of those cities are now powered entirely by renewables, including Burlington, Vermont, which gets its electricity from a combination of wind, solar, hydro and biomass. Burlington will have more company within the next 20 years—58 U.S. cities, including Atlanta and San Diego, having announced plans to do the same.

London-based CDP, which tracks climate-related commitments by corporations and governments, looked at 570 cities across the globe for the report. The group defines renewables as solar, wind, hydro, wave power, biomass, geothermal—or all non-nuclear and non-fossil fuel sources—and includes cities where electricity from clean energy sources is citywide, not just in municipal buildings.

Four U.S. cities made the list of those getting at least 70 percent of their electricity from renewable sources: Seattle; Eugene, Oregon; and Aspen, Colorado, along with Burlington. Five Canadian cities are also on the list: Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg, North Vancouver and Prince George, British Columbia. MORE

Mike Nickerson: We must adapt to the limits of our planet.

Dramatic change is needed.

man wears blue crew-neck t-shirt holding toddler wears black hooded jacket near ocean under blue sky at daytime
We have long had the knowledge and ability to provide everyone with viable, satisfying lives far into the future.

Enmeshed as we are in a vast, expanding mechanical network, it is hard to imagine living in a culture where our lives are the core substance. Nevertheless, such a cultural shift offers an enduring and satisfying relationship with the Earth.

As a species, we have to shift from our long childhood growth phase to a stable adult form. In society’s late adolescence such cultural change may seem illusive. Step by step, however, the following can turn what is initially unimaginable into a clear possibility.

The first step is developing renewable energy. Wind, solar, hydro and other renewable energy development can be part of the end goal, while the process of putting them in place remains well within the familiar pattern of resource intensive development.

The second step is to focus on education and health care. These lead directly to increased capability and quality of life while using minimal amounts of material resources. Education is almost entirely knowledge and good will. Health-care is the same at the level of knowing how to lead our lives so as to maximize health. Experience shows, in country after country, that populations spontaneously stop growing when local economies are managed in a way that provides people with basic education, health care and old age security.

brown grass field under white cloudy sky

The third step is for human aspiration to focus on what we can do with life rather than on consuming material goods and expanding our use of energy.

The desire to grow is firmly rooted in our characters. Throughout our formative years and well beyond, growth is a preoccupation. To be able to crawl, to reach the water tap or to have our own way all require getting bigger. The residual urge to grow has been harnessed to stimulate the expansion of material consumption. The dilemma is that, while each of us wants to grow, collectively we have already grown to confront the limits of our planet. The solution has a well established precedent in each of our individual lives. For the most part, our physical growth comes to an end as we become adults. Physical growth is replaced by the development of our understanding, skills, relationships and appreciation of what life offers.

Voluntary simplicity is easier to promote when it is clear that it offers abundant opportunities for growth. Life-based pursuits, or the ‘3 L’s’ — Learning, Love and Laughter — as they are referred to for our sound bite world, offer boundless frontiers. The development of skills, scholarship, art, music, sport, dance, friendship, spiritual aspiration, parenting and service were the essence of human culture before the commercial era pressed acquisition to its current place of prominence. The saturation of landfill space, problems with pollution and painful experiences with finite natural resources bid us re-consider the emphasis we place on the pursuit of our human birthright.

In the same way that a developing embryo goes through the stages of evolution, civilization will likely follow the pattern of individual maturation. As a culture we are in late adolescence. We have grown big enough to accomplish anything which life requires of us. Now, as self-centeredness gives way to responsibility, our rapid physical growth can transmute into the growth of the remarkable qualities with which people are so abundantly endowed.

We could be appreciating life so deeply that we wouldn’t have time to impact the Earth at a dangerous level.

We have long had the knowledge and ability to provide everyone with viable, satisfying lives far into the future. It is not as sexy as solutions based on shiny industrial products, and it is unlikely to make a lot of money. Nevertheless it could save civilization.  MORE

Clean power, right in the heart of fracking country

“Along with other early adopters of clean energy across the country, Don Pettit has helped lay the groundwork for an industry that now attracts tens of billions of investment dollars each year.” 


The Bear Mountain wind project in BC. Photo by Don Pettit

Pettit has noted intrusive, disturbing changes to those rural lands in the decades since he first arrived in Dawson Creek.

“Since then it’s been a steady stream of industrialization… but the biggest shift imaginable has been the arrival of the fracked gas industry. There’s flares blasting away, and they stink, and surveillance cameras with lots of ‘No Trespassing’ signs. Some of my favourite spots are essentially destroyed.”

“Everything was rolling along nicely. We could have had factories producing wind blades, and we were on the verge of launching a major wind industry with thousands of jobs in B.C.. But just as it started to get going they dropped it.”

“Wind prospectors were coming into the region from all over the world. We wanted to tap into that and try to make at least one of these wind facilities at least partially locally owned — which we did. And I think we set a very high standard for community-supported wind development.”

Their ground-breaking work led to PEC’s inaugural green energy project, the Bear Mountain Wind Park, being fully commissioned in 2009, even as fracking activity was peaking in the Peace. B.C.’s first large-scale wind park at 102 megawatts, it stands a few kilometres south of Dawson Creek and continues to power the South Peace region.

And then, in 2010, things inexplicably went south.

Along with other early adopters of clean energy across the country, Pettit has helped lay the groundwork for an industry that now attracts tens of billions of investment dollars each year. A report issued last week by Clean Energy Canada, entitled Missing the Bigger Picture, calculates that the renewable energy sector employed about 300,000 workers in Canada in 2017 and has significantly outcompeted the rest of the economy in growth.

Yet Pettit has noted intrusive, disturbing changes to those rural lands in the decades since he first arrived in Dawson Creek.

“Since then it’s been a steady stream of industrialization… but the biggest shift imaginable has been the arrival of the fracked gas industry. There’s flares blasting away, and they stink, and surveillance cameras with lots of ‘No Trespassing’ signs. Some of my favourite spots are essentially destroyed.”

The potential health benefits of a transition to renewable appear similarly impressive. A 2016 Pembina Institute analysis estimated that by phasing out coal-fired power entirely by 2030, 1,008 premature deaths, 871 ER visits and $5 billion worth of negative health outcomes would be avoided between 2015 and 2035. And unlike the air and water contaminants emitted by coal and natural-gas plants that sicken local populations and warm the planet, Pettit enthuses that solar energy has “no moving parts and no pollution.” in energy price so communities can build business plans. No such program exists in B.C..

“Alberta has a program called community capacity building. It’s about communities wanting to replace some of the power that they’re using with solar, but they can also make them bigger than they need and put extra power into the grid and get paid for it.”

One significant benefit is a locked-in energy price so communities can build business plans. No such program exists in B.C..

When asked what the provincial government could do to promote its spread, he answers without hesitation. Instead of spending billions on Site C to power the fracking industry, which he says would mostly benefit big corporations in the short term, it could offer small, targeted incentives.  MORE

4 Ways to Cut Plastic’s Growing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

 “Unless waste management practices improve, the amount of plastic entering oceans could be 10 times greater in 2025 than they were in 2015 according to a 2015 study in the journal Science.”

Every stage of plastic’s life cycle, from fossil fuel extraction to disposal, produces greenhouse gases. A new study looked at ways to lower the toll.

Plastic waste. Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
The greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastics are projected to be nearly four times greater by mid-century. Increasing the use of renewable energy, plant-based feedstocks and aggressive recycling and reducing demand can help lower the impact. Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

As concern over plastic waste grows, researchers are raising red flags about another problem: plastic’s rapidly growing carbon footprint. Left unchecked, greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastics will be nearly four times greater by mid-century, when they are projected to account for nearly one-sixth of global emissions.

Not all plastics have the same carbon footprint, though. What they are made from, the source of the energy that powers their production, and how they are disposed of at the end of their life cycle all make a difference.

In a study published Monday in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, researchers calculated the life cycle emissions of different types of plastics, made from fossil fuels and from plants, and looked for ways to lower their total greenhouse gas emissions.

They found that there is no silver bullet. Every combination of plastics production and end-of-life disposal generates greenhouse gas emissions. But by combining four different approaches, they found they could lower emissions up to 93 percent compared to business as usual by 2050 if each measure was taken to the extreme.

Chart: Plastic's Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The most effective combination the researchers found was to use a plant-based feedstock (sugarcane in this case), with 100 percent renewable energy for production, recycling of all plastics rather than incinerating or dumping them in landfills, and reducing the annual growth in demand for plastics by half.

That combination could theoretically reach a 93 percent reduction compared to business as usual in 2050, or about a 74 percent reduction from 2015 levels, the researchers found. MORE

Children and young people just staged the world’s largest strike to save our future

Children and young people have issued an urgent call for adults to join them on a general strike on 20 September.


Featured image via Perth School Strike/Flickr

On 24 May, over a million children around the world marched out of school to demand their voices are heard over the growing climate chaos that we all face. Under the banner of #ClimateStrike and #SchoolStrike4Climate, these young people are a powerful force.  

“Join us!”

Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg has inspired children around the world. She’s been on strike, leaving school every Friday, since August 2018, to “urge leaders to do more to tackle climate change”. The movement has soared globally, and the 24 March strike was the biggest yet. Young people around the world marched out of school to share their rage and demand that governments and leaders take urgent action.

As Thunberg noted, young people left school in at least “1623 places” in “119 countries around the world”:

Children and young people have also issued an urgent call for adults to join them on a general strike on 20 September. Well-known activists and academics including Naomi Klein, Margaret Atwood, and Noam Chomsky have now backed this call.

“But this also has to go beyond education. We need to halt climate time-bombs like fracking, the new deep coal mine in Cumbria and the third runway at Heathrow. And importantly we need strong action from all parties to boost renewable energy, create green jobs and address the vast inequalities in our society.”

MORE

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A manifesto for tackling the climate change crisis

Jagmeet Singh’s call for fossil fuels ban leapfrogs the Leap Manifesto

“The NDP is coming late to the issue of dealing comprehensively with climate change. Can it compete effectively with Elizabeth May’s Greens on this front? We shall see.” – Thomas Walkom

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on May 7 in Ottawa. “The NDP is coming late to the issue of dealing comprehensively with climate change. Can it compete effectively with Elizabeth May’s Greens on this front?” asks Thomas Walkom.
Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats have discovered climate change. 

The party had been reluctant to take too uncompromising a stand on global warming for fear of alienating potential voters. That reluctance has gone.

Now the NDP is calling for an end to the entire fossil-fuel industry in Canada.

“The future of our country cannot involve fracking,” Singh said Monday in Ottawa, referring to a controversial method of drilling for oil and natural gas. “It cannot involve the burning of any fossil fuel.”

He said Canada must adhere to carbon reduction targets that are much stricter than those proposed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government if it to seriously fight climate change.

And he declared that he now opposes ambitious plans by British Columbia’s NDP government to build a massive liquefied natural gas project in the province’s north.

[In the past] the Leap Manifesto’s call to ban any new fossil-fuel energy projects, from pipelines to fracking, was seen as too radical. No more. Now, with his call for a Canada free of fossil fuels, Singh has outleapt the Leapers. MORE

 

No pedal to floor: Experts say no government can bring back Alberta bitumen boom

The oilsands’ investment problem won’t be easily fixed, they warn


Energy experts warn Alberta’s boom times are unlikely to return, no matter who takes power of the provincial government on election night. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

…some of Canada’s top energy thinkers — as well as international experts — warn there’s no pedal any premier can stomp to make that engine rev like it used to.

“No policy of any Alberta government can change things,” said Mark Jaccard, an energy economist at British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University, who has advised governments on climate policy and helps write reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“If Albertans are unwilling to accept a steady oilsands output, with the resulting employment, I fear for them.”

The University of Manitoba’s Vaclav Smil, one of Canada’s most widely quoted energy analysts, said any move to renewable energy will take decades, not years. The transition, however, may be felt sooner.

“All energy transitions are slow,” he said. “Oil will be with us for decades to come — but not necessarily with high annual growth rates.”

They’re very high-cost, capital-intensive projects. Why would you invest in that when oil prices have been so volatile and there are demand threats on the horizon?– Andrew Grant of Carbon Tracker

The world has changed, said Andrew Grant of the London-based research group, Carbon Tracker.

“Companies [are] much more reluctant to invest capital in projects that require very, very high capital outlay and take years and years to pay back. That encapsulates the oilsands.” MORE