US: Renewables to rise above coal and nuclear says FERC

US renewable

Image credit: Stock

Renewables are estimated to add nearly 50,000 MW, being more than a quarter of the total capacity according to a review by the SUN DAY Campaign of data, issued last week by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

According to the report, the mix of renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) provided 57.26% of new U.S. electrical generating capacity added in 2019 – swamping that provided by coal, natural gas, oil, and nuclear power combined

FERC’s latest monthly “Energy Infrastructure Update” report (with data through to December 31, 2019) reveals renewable sources (i.e. biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) accounted for 11,857 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity by the end of the year. That is a third more (33.97%) more than that of natural gas (8,557 MW), nuclear (155 MW), oil (77 MW), and coal (62 MW) combined.

Renewables have now also surpassed 22% (i.e., 22.06%) of the US’ total available installed generating capacity – further expanding their lead over coal capacity (20.89%). Among renewables, wind can boast the largest installed electrical generating capacity – 8.51% of the U.S. total, followed by hydropower (8.41%), solar (3.49%) [2], biomass (1.33%), and geothermal (0.32%). Thus, wind and solar combined now account for 12.0% of the nation’s electrical generating capacity.

Moreover, the FERC foresees renewables dramatically expanding their lead over fossil fuels and nuclear power in terms of new capacity additions during the coming three years (i.e., by December 31, 2022). Net generating capacity additions (i.e., “proposed additions under construction” minus “proposed retirements”) for renewable sources total 48,254 MW: wind – 26,403 MW, solar – 19,973 MW, hydropower – 1,460 MW, biomass – 240 MW, and geothermal – 178 MW.

By comparison, net additions for natural gas total 21,090 MW while the installed capacities for coal, nuclear, and oil are projected to drop by 18,857 MW, 3,391 MW, and 3,085 MW respectively. In fact, FERC reports no new coal capacity in the pipeline over the next three years.

Thus, while net new renewable energy capacity is projected to be nearly 50,000 MW greater within three years, that of fossil fuels and nuclear power combined will decline by over 4,200 MW. Between now and the end of 2022, new wind capacity alone will be greater than that of natural gas while that of wind and solar combined will more than double new gas capacity.

Moreover, if FERC’s data prove correct, then by the end of 2022, renewable sources will account for more than a quarter (25.16%) of the nation’s total available installed generating capacity while coal will drop to 18.63% and that of nuclear and oil will decrease to 8.29% and 2.95% respectively. Natural gas will increase its share — but only slightly – from 44.67% today to 44.78%.

As the Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign, I believed that the rapid growth of renewables and corresponding drop in electrical production by coal and oil in 2019 provides a glimmer of hope for slowing down the pace of climate change. In addition, renewables’ continued expansion in the near future – as forecast by FERC – suggests that with supportive governmental policies, these technologies could provide an even greater share of total U.S. electrical generation. SOURCE


Statistics presented in this article can be found here. Read the full FERC report.

A Win-Win Climate Solution Awaits

A Win-Win Climate Solution Awaits, Below2C

The year 2019 ended the hottest decade on record by being the year of climate emergency declarations. Globally, “one in ten people now live in a place which has declared a climate emergency,” reports The Verge. Canada declared a climate emergency in June of 2019.

Canada is locked-in to a Fossil-Fuel-Expansion Obsession

In spite of declaring a climate emergency, Prime Minister Trudeau continues to be all-in the for the fossils. Canadian taxpayers bought the Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion in 2018 and are now footing the bill for an expansion project whose cost estimates have ballooned to $12.6 billion from $7.4 billion. And it gets even worse.

Trudeau is now poised to announce the approval of the Teck Frontier project, a new giant Tar Sands mine—the largest ever—which will dump more than 4 million tonnes of carbon per year into the atmosphere until the 2060s. And yet just a few months ago in Madrid, Canada promised it will be at net-zero-emissions by 2050. This is very agonizing to watch. “They know [Trudeau and his cabinet] — yet they can’t bring themselves to act on the knowledge. Now that is cause for despair,” wrote Bill McKibben in TheGuardian.

Climate Solution? Energy Transition is the Answer

On January 3, 2020, Ottawa-based Abacus Data released a poll titled, “Energy transition: a widely accepted concept; Canadians want governments to work on it, not against it.” The poll shows that “75% say it [transition] is a global trend, beneficial for Canada in the long term. Most feel it is necessary and will happen.”

Yet business-as-usual persists, with most governments slow to announce bold emission control measures, and with some even in denial.

The Trudeau Government, caught in a bind between the fossil fuel economy and the need to transition to renewables, is not acting as quickly as Europe and Asia.

Europe has discovered that shifting a fossil fuel company to renewable energy can be surprisingly simple, because many of the needed technical and management skills are the same.

All of Norwegian oil giant Statoil’s wind energy department, for example, was recruited internally. Little was needed to retrain its engineers. If Statoil moved its offshore wind business into a separate company, it would be one of the 15 largest companies on the Oslo Stock Exchange.

And if the solar division of French oil company Total SA were separated from its parent company, it would be one of the world’s largest solar businesses.

With increasing divestment and the falling demand for oil, transition to ever-cheaper renewables is in the best interests of the industry.  Instead of buying pipelines and giving billions in fossil fuel subsidies to shore up an economically non viable “zombie” industry, Canadian citizens, through their governments, could take a smarter tack.

That is to give the industry government subsidies only on condition that it publish plans to transition to renewables at the rate of 8.5% a year. Compounded, the transition would be complete in 10 years, by 2030.

What about Alberta?

There are 60,000 old oil wells in Alberta with geothermal energy waiting at the bottom. And Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan form the sun belt of Canada, receiving over 2375 hours of sunlight a year. They could switch broadly to free unlimited solar energy, including concentrated solar power, which now serves communities in the US, Spain, Morocco, India and China.

Transforming the energy grid to upload all this power could be modeled loosely on FDR’s depression-based Rural Electrification Administration, still operating, and being copied in other countries.

All this development would stimulate the economy and increase employment.

Further procedural information is available on The Climate Mobilization website, and from daily Twitter reports of exciting worldwide innovations from Canada’s Mike Hudema (@MikeHudema), Stanford’s Mark Z. Jacobson (@mzjacobson), and Singapore’s green energy CEO, Assaad Razzouk (@AssaadRazzouk).

A Win-Win Situation for Climate

A win-win situation awaits us all: it simply requires political will, knowledge of existing solutions, and Canadian savvy and can-do.  We can and must collectively urge our governments to act quickly and dynamically to meet the emergency. SOURCE

 

Microgrids: An idea whose time has come?

A microgrid on the Blue Lake Rancheria reserve in California

Blue Lake Rancheria)

As the global population grows, so does the demand for electricity. But there are challenges, even now. More than a billion people around the world don’t have access to power grids. According to the Canada Energy Regulator, 200,000 people in Canada are not connected to the North American electrical grid and natural gas distribution pipeline systems.

We’re also seeing natural disasters and major weather events disrupt power supply, causing mass blackouts for days at a time. And when one part of the transmission system breaks down, it can paralyze the whole grid.

Enter the microgrid. A concept that’s been growing in popularity, it’s a power system that can operate independently or work in connection with bigger grids.

A microgrid “contains everything that it needs to provide power to a community,” said Lynn Côté, cleantech lead at Export Development Canada. “You’re not building a system for a million people. You’re building a system for maybe a thousand people, 500, maybe 250.”

Big electrical grids connect buildings to central power sources, such as coal, nuclear and gas plants. When main components stop working, everything can be affected.

A microgrid operates as an island, which can be beneficial during times of crises like storms or outages (or for other reasons). Many are powered by a mix of renewable energy and batteries, with natural gas for backup. Microgrid power isn’t necessarily more reliable, but in communities far from a larger power source, microgrids can alleviate complications because the electricity is stored, owned and controlled locally.

One of the older examples is a microgrid built more than a decade ago in Sendai, Japan, which is powered by a mix of solar, gas and battery. According to Berkeley Lab, which does research on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy, during blackouts caused by the 2011 tsunami and earthquake, the microgrid in Sendai provided power and heat to the teaching hospital of Tohuku Fukushi University.

“Widespread power outages cause a lot of social and economic damage and destruction. And the climate crisis is making all of this worse,” said Jana Ganion, energy director for Blue Lake Rancheria, an Indigenous reserve in California that launched a solar microgrid in 2015.

Millions of people in California had their power shut off last fall because of wildfire risk. Meanwhile, the Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid provided electricity to thousands nearby.

Setting up a microgrid can be an expensive undertaking, especially in dense urban or suburban areas with existing infrastructure. Consumers typically stick with what works, said Côté, and for the majority of Canadians, that means hydroelectric power (nuclear and coal are the next-biggest power sources).

“It’s really hard for certain countries to raise the kind of capital you need [to build a power plant],” said Côté, who has researched microgrids in remote Canadian communities. She said the “autonomy” a microgrid provides “is really important.”

There are nearly 300 remote communities across Canada, many of which rely on diesel-powered microgrids for electricity generation. Over the last decade, the federal government has worked with regional entities to create greener options.

In August, Gull Bay First Nation, north of Thunder Bay, Ont., co-developed a community microgrid that uses solar, battery storage and automated control technology to help reduce diesel use, according to Ontario Power Generation. It’s the first of its kind in Canada.

Côté said that in addition to making remote areas more self-sufficient, microgrids could help communities access clean drinking water by providing the power to treat it. SOURCE

Microsoft will invest $1 billion into carbon reduction and removal technologies

Microsoft executives.

Microsoft plans to establish a $1 billion fund dedicated to “carbon reduction, capture, and removal technologies,” amid a broader commitment to clean up the software giant’s emissions across its corporate history by 2050.

It’s one of the largest funding commitments ever to methods of sucking carbon dioxide out of the air, which most research shows will be a necessary part of any plan to prevent catastrophic levels of global warming. Funding for direct-air-capture startups like Carbon Engineering, Climeworks, and Global Thermostat have been climbing but have been limited to the tens of millions of dollars range to date.

In a statement to MIT Technology Review, Microsoft stresses the money will go to more than direct air capture, adding that it will fund the build-out of projects as well as research and development. The money will be invested over the next four years.

The company’s language leaves room for many other possible investment areas, including natural systems for removing and storing carbon dioxide, such as forestry projects, or technologies that prevent it from escaping power plants in the first place. For that matter, the phrase “carbon reduction” in the announcement means some of the funds could simply go to solar, wind, and other renewables projects as well.

Microsoft's pathway to carbon negative by 2030.
COURTESY: MICROSOFT

Microsoft didn’t specify its total historic emissions, but said its operations will pump out 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide this year, directly or indirectly. The company says it will offset its climate pollution stretching back to 1975 through a combination of direct air capture and natural systems—including tree plantings, new soil management practices, and a largely theoretical approach known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage.

Experts say that natural systems can play a big role in drawing down greenhouse gases, but it’s notoriously difficult to account for them in an accurate and reliable way.

Noah Deich, executive director of Carbon180, and other observers says Microsoft’s announcement on Thursday goes well beyond the standard carbon neutrality commitments of other major corporations, because it incorporates historic emissions, sets specific benchmarks for reductions, and puts a large amount of money behind the efforts. SOURCE

Bernie Sanders Unveils $16 Trillion ‘Green New Deal’ Plan

Senator Bernie Sanders’s “Green New Deal” climate policy plan calls for the United States to eliminate fossil fuel use by 2050.

Credit: Dustin Chambers for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Senator Bernie Sanders on Thursday will release a $16.3 trillion blueprint to fight climate change, the latest and most expensive proposal from the field of Democratic presidential candidates aimed at reining in planet-warming greenhouse gases.

Mr. Sanders’s proposal comes one day after Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, who made climate change the central focus of his campaign, announced he was dropping out of the 2020 race. Mr. Inslee’s absence could create an opening for another presidential aspirant to seize the mantle of “climate candidate.”

Mr. Sanders was an early supporter of the Green New Deal, an ambitious but nonbinding congressional plan for tackling global warming and economic inequality. He is bestowing that same name upon his new plan, which calls for the United States to eliminate fossil fuel use by 2050.

It declares climate change a national emergency; envisions building new solar, wind and geothermal power sources across the country; and commits $200 billion to help poor nations cope with climate change.

Mr. Sanders said in an interview Wednesday night that his proposal would “pay for itself” over 15 years and create 20 million jobs in the process.

There is no broadly agreed-upon figure of how much needs to be spent to decarbonize the United States economy, but one study estimated that as much as $4.5 trillion could be needed just to modernize the nation’s power grid.

Still, the Sanders plan’s eye-popping price tag is several times bigger than those of his leading opponents. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has called for spending $1.7 trillion over 10 years. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has a $2 trillion green manufacturing plan. Other candidates, including former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, have also put forth ambitious proposals. MORE

 

Alberta Can Transition from Oil and Gas and Have a Strong Economy. Here’s How

‘Tens of thousands’ of people would be put to work immediately in high-skill jobs, say advocates.

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Lliam Hildebrand: Alberta’s workers need to escape the oil boom-and-bust cycle. Renewable energy can help. Photo from Iron & Earth.

What will a transition away from oil and gas mean for workers in Alberta?

Perhaps greater job security than in the boom and bust heydays of the oilsands, comparable wages and less time apart from family.

This is not a utopian pipe dream. Over the past month The Tyee spoke with experts across the province and the country who said Albertans have the skills and desire to build the sustainable energy system necessary to address our climate emergency.

“A lot of the people that support the pipeline are also very pro-renewable energy,” said Lliam Hildebrand, who spent years working in the oilsands and now runs a group called Iron & Earth that advocates for policies connecting oil workers to the millions of jobs required to build a low-carbon economy in Canada.

Decades of employment for laid-off Albertans could be unlocked by our political leaders in a matter of days.

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

 

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

What’s the Difference Between a Low-Carbon and Zero-Carbon Future? Survival

Governments, media and industry use ‘low-carbon economy’ frame to continue business as usual.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan celebrating LNG Canada’s investment decision as an investment in the low-carbon economy. They’re missing a critical point: we need a zero-emissions economy. Photo: BC Government Flickr

In a recent Vancouver Sun column describing the introduction of enabling legislation for the Shell LNG Canada project in the B.C. legislature, Vaughn Palmer ends with these words:

“The finance ministry reckons that even with the estimated $6 billion in relief over 40 years, the province would still reap $22 billion in revenues over the same period. Without the project, returns would, of course, be zero.”

It’s a compelling comparison. With the project we can pay for schools, hospitals and poverty reduction. Without it, we have nothing.

Yet it is fallacious, a comparison promoted by Big Oil and adopted by most governments. It takes our minds off alternatives.

The correct comparison is between revenues generated from $40 billion invested in fracking and fossil fuel production versus revenues generated from $40 billion invested in renewable energy, such as solar, wind and thermal.

Two similar-sounding phrases lie at the heart of this issue. One has gained predominance, the other relegated to the margins of climate change discourse. The first is “low-carbon economy,” an economy in which even fracking and liquefied natural gas have a role. The second is “zero-carbon economy,” an economy in which no more greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere. In this second framing, the goal must be an economy fuelled entirely by renewable, non-carbon-emitting sources. MORE

How Clean Energy R&D Policy Can Help Meet Decarbonization Goals

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With roughly a decade left to avoid locking in dangerous climate change, swift action is required to identify where the greatest emissions are coming from and then rapidly decarbonize those sources. The most effective path to decarbonization is cutting fossil fuel consumption, but developing and urbanizing countries require new energy and efficiency technologies – making clean energy research and development (R&D) critical.

The good news is that advances in the last two decades have cut renewable energy costs, making new renewables cheaper than operating existing coal power in many parts of the world.

Consider solar photovoltaics, which date to the 1950s, but were too expensive to be used commercially for many years. In 1977, the price per watt of crystalline silicon solar cells was $76.67, but over time, R&D drove down prices, making more commercial applications for solar feasible.  This accelerated deployment, starting a feedback loop that further reduced prices. Solar cell prices per watt reached $0.26 in 2016, a decline of 99.6% in 39 years. MORE