Three More Renewable Energy Tidbits

In an effort to highlight continuing good news on the renewable energy front, here are three new stories. First, Google has now invested more than twice the nearest company or organization in renewable energy. Google can claim that they generate enough power through renewable energy to cover 100% of their global electricity needs in data centers and offices. Amazon does a lot as well, but they are in a distant second.

Second, Elon Musk’s Tesla Company is primarily a battery company parading as an electric car company. Last week, forty days ahead of schedule, Tesla switched on a 100 MW lithium ion superbattery storage facility in Southern Australia, which will help power 30,000 homes through renewable wind energy provided by French company Neoen. Musk said in the spring if they could not deliver on the promise in 100 days, the batteries and installation would be free.

Third, last week in Miami, the second annual conference on Companies vs. Climate Change was held. Companies like Ford, GM, Walmart, and Mars, e.g. were in attendance. While all regret the President announcing the US pull out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, they are not letting that stop their movement down the path of battling climate change.

It would be nice if the President supported global efforts, but he cannot stop the significant progress that is occurring. And, as one climate scientist has said, Trump did everyone a favor by the announced withdrawal, as it has heightened the urgency and brought even more attention to the problem.

Let’s keep up the momentum.

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A few painful truths

We are overlooking some very painful truths primarily for short term gain. As I chatted with staff members for several US Senators, I found myself saying “you sound like a young person; you do realize we are leaving this problem for you?” I hope they start thinking more about what I said because of what we are ignoring.

The reason for my question is Congress has passed one Tax bill and is debating another that will increase our $20.5 trillion debt by at least $1.5 trillion. Yet, not only are we ignoring the $20.5 trillion debt, we are ignoring that the Congressional Budget Office projects that figure to grow by $10 trillion without the Tax bill impact. So, in 2027, the debt could be $32 trillion if the Tax bill is signed into law. This is beyond poor stewardship – it is malfeasance. We would be screwing those young staffers I spoke with.

Unfortunately, there is more. Our leadership has decided to make the US the only country in the world to not support the Paris Climate Change Accord. Not only are we denying hard truths and overwhelming scientific evidence, we are shooting ourselves and planet in the foot. Renewable energy is passed the tipping point and we risk getting left behind as other nations invest in Innovation for the new economy. Fortunately, cities, states and businesses are carrying the banner dropped by our leadership, who is being relegated to the kids table at Thanksgiving. At the next post-Paris event, the US may not be invited at all. If we don’t deal more decisively with climate change, we will be screwing those young staffers and their children.

A final issue to mention, but not the final problem we are ignoring, is the US is retrenching from our global leadership role to the delight of China and Russia and chagrin of our western allies. The President gave a speech in Vietnam this month similar to the one made in Davos earlier in the year. America will retrench to a nationalistic country seeking bilateral agreements. On each occasion, his speech was followed by Xi Jingping who gave the global leadership speech the US normally gives. What our President fails to understand is globalization lifts all boats and our economy benefits more than if we look to maximize only our share. This concept has been called the “Nash Equilibrium” in honor of the Nobel Economics prize winner who developed it, John Nash. If we retrench, we will be harming our future growth and screwing those young staffers.

As I mention, these are not the only things we are ignoring – poverty, job losses due to technology advances, healthcare costs, environmental degradation, infrastructure, better gun control, etc. Yet, should we not alter our path set by these leaders, this path will be defined in the future as the period when the US gave up its global leadership role. And, the world will be a lesser place because of it. Sadly, I have witnessed these words spoken by more than a few global financial and security experts.

 

 

A couple of climate clues

I am reading a great book called “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn. She focuses her attention on people in these professions (plus a few others) and how they work the earth and its waterways. They see what is happening with climate change and environmental degradation and have adapted over time what they do to continue their livelihood. The book has a subtitle of “Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland.”

A quote from a mentor to Justin Knopf, the farmer, is compelling. “Dr. Gary Pierzynski, head of the Kansas State University agronomy department describes…‘We have no doubt that climate change is happening. But we recognize that talking directly about it raises issues with some of our elected officials, who remain unconvinced and don’t support investing state resources to study it. So we emphasize our focus on challenges like extending the life of the Ogallala aquifer; we don’t disguise it but take away the climate change message.'”

It should not be lost on anyone that this man is about as far away from the coast as possible, but speaks of the impact on climate change on the agro economy and water sources. As an example, Knopf has used his experience to realize that using “no-till” farming is ideally suited for growing wheat and other products in his neck of the woods. When tilled, more of the topsoil is washed and blown away. When untilled, the ground keeps more of the creatures that naturally fertilize and break down the soil. It also aborbs more carbon.

He notes farmers continually experiment and share ideas, so what works there may be less suited elsewhere. I will write more on the book later, but what is fascinating is how these folks see what is happening first hand and adapt over time. Sometimes what they try fails and often it takes a few seasons for changes to fully be realized.Their livelihoods depend on it, so it is done with seriousness of purpose and observation.

On a different note, I saw a news report about Kodiak Island in Alaska. They are close to 100% renewable energy powered, using hydro and wind energy with battery storage. They switched when the diesel fuel got too expensive to shore up the hydro power when the demands increased. Also, a creative solution was used in the ship docks where they send and receive freight. Using a fly wheel concept, as one of the freight containers is lowered by the crane, it creates energy that is stored and used to lift the next container. The process continues as the containers are loaded and unloaded.

It should be noted the fly wheel concept is getting a lot of attention due to its elegance. In computer vernacular, elegance means the simplest and most effective solution. It also should be noted the cost of energy for the Island is more predictable and is lower than it was ten years ago. I highlight this cost statement as this is the new norm for renewable energy versus fossil fuel energy. The city of Georgetown, Texas came to the same conclusion when they signed a twenty-five contract for wind and solar energy rather than a shorter fossil fuel contract.

On the ground, local leaders, farmers, ranchers and fisherman are seeing what is happening first hand. They are making informed decisions that impact their future. It would be nice if our President, EPA director, Energy director and Congressional Republican leadership would make informed decisions. We could use their help and not their obstinance. The world is passing them by and they are not allowed to notice it.

Drawdown – a detailed guide to reducing climate impact

Paul Hawken is an optimist about battling our climate change crisis. He is also active in planning to do something about it. But, who is he? Hawken is an author, advocate and businessman who is the Executive Director of Project Drawdown, based his book “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Priposed to Reverse Global Warming.”

The book is based on the concept of drawing down the amount of carbon that is getting dangerously present in our atmosphere and warming the planet. It summarizes 100 solutions noting their cost, long term savings and estimated impact. Project Drawdown has an impressive Board of Directiors and research staff offering a seriousness of purpose.

Rather than list all 100, let me note the top ten solutions, which are interesting and makes one think holistically. And, some of these have small price tags.

1. Refrigeration Management: While the hydrocarbons that were hurting the ozone were banned, their replacement (HFCs) is warming our planet, much of it released in the last few years of life of the refrigerator. There is a plan to phase out HFCs from new refrigerators. It is also key to decommission old refrigerators earlier to prevent the greater release.

2. Offshore Wind Turbines: With the heavy ocean breezes, the offshore turbines have a huge upside on savings and impact. As with onshore wind energy, the cost has dramatically declined and wind energy is ready to replace even more fossil fuel energy sourcing. Offshore wind energy is being used significantly by other countries, with the first US development opening last December off Rhode Island.

3. Reduced Food Waste: Of all the issues, with relative little cost, we can make a huge dent in emissions from unused, rotting food. Between supermarkets, restaurants and homes, this wastage could be minimized with some concerted efforts which would not compromise taste. Better labeling on best-by dates, using imperfect looking food, better food planning at home, better gleaning of unpacked crops, using local produce more, etc. would produce dividends.

4. Plant Rich Diet: If cows were a country, they would be third largest abuser of the climate change impact. By shifting to more plant rich diets, we can reduce the amount of emissions leaked into the atmosphere and improve our own health.

5. Tropical Forests: We have greatly reduced our carbon eating forests, which has changed the equation dramatically. The planet used to be covered 12% by tropical forests, but it has declined to 5%. By replenishing tropical forests, the trees can have a positive impact on the environment and absorb more carbon.

6. Educating Girls: I have been an advocate of this for civil rights and economics, but it has a significant impact on climate. Hawken notes through education, girls can enter womanhood on their own terms. Now, too many girls are married at very young ages and never have a chance to consider a career. The younger they are married, the more children they have. Also, more educated women, means more intellectual capital to solve problems.

7. Family Planning: This goes hand in hand with the education of women. Larger family size is highly correlated with increased poverty. It is also highly correlated with a larger carbon footprint. Our planet also does not have unlimited resources, so we need to use what we have more efficaciously. If all people consume like the average North American, we have 2X too many people already.

8. Solar Farms: The cost of solar has dropped dramatically and jobs are growing  at an annual double digit rate for the past several years. Solar farms are much cheaper to build than a power plant and will continue their growth rate as battery storage improves.

9. Silvopasture: What does this mean? It is an ancient practice of integrating trees and pastures for crops and livestock. The symbiosis of the two better controls carbon absorption in a sustainable way.

10. Rooftop Solar: Putting solar panels on rooftops scares utility companies as it changes their model. Solar energy need not be done only through big projects to be effective. It can be very decentralized, Utilities are pushing back in several states to buy surplus electricity at a lower rate than they sell it when you need it at night. As battery storage improves, solar power will be even more integrated and expansive.

Hawken says we need to be alarmed by what is happening by climate change, but we should plan to act and then act. While discouraged by the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, he said the positive is far more Americans are aware of climate change and cities, states and businesses are acting in lieu of the void caused by the federal government.

I have been encouraged by this renewed vigor in addressing climate change. There are many good things occurring in the US and abroad. We can no longer wait and should celebrate, focus and leverage these solutions.

 

 

Saturday in the park – a few random musings

Using a popular song by the band Chicago, here are a few musings as you walk in the park this Sarurday.

Why does Vice President Mike Pence have a deer-in-the-headlights look when asked questions? We all know he has to think more about his choice of words so as not to anger his unforgiving boss. Yet, I keep thinking this guy may be President soon and he does not say many things of substance. If he were a sports radio announcer, he would be known as a “homer” meaning he is biased toward the home team.

Senator John McCain appeared as a frightened, beaten and broken man in The Vietnam documentary series. His plane was shot down over Hanoi and after breaking arms and a leg in the crash, he was beaten routinely and mentally and physically tortured. His captors filmed him and then beat him later when he did not show gratitude. Seeing him in this horrible condition reminds me of the now-President who said McCain was not a hero because he was captured. When the emcee gave the now-President a chance to correct his mistake, he doubled down on his criticism of McCain, a true war hero. Why we elected this man as President is beyond me.

I am hoping Angela Merkel carries the day in the German election. She is good for Germany, good for the EU and good for the world. She is the leader of the free world, since the US President has abdicated this role. Actually, I don’t view him as much of a leader at all even in his own country.

Finally, why can’t people like Bill and Melinda Gates run our country. They understand global and US problems recognizing the symbiotic nature we have with the world. They do their homework and take action based on their analysis working on things like global health, education, women’s issues to name a few.  This is in contrast to a White House incumbent who governs off rhetoric and chooses not to learn what he does not know. It is a wish I have..,

Have a great weekend. We all need one.

 

 

A few distractions from unexpected guitarists

With so many things happening in the world, we could use a few distractions. The following music factoids on some interesting guitar collaborations are quite unimportant, but may bring a moment of relief and reflection.

Joe Cocker covered several songs making them his own with his unusual style, including The Beatles’ “Little Help from my Friends.” What I just learned this week, the beautiful guitar lead-in to and throughout the song was played by none other than Jimmy Page. Page had left The Yardbirds and had not started Led Zeppelin with Robert Plant.

– Speaking of great lead guitarists, Jeff Beck, who also played with The Yardbirds and with several famous performers like Rod Stewart, Mick Jaggar, Tina Turner et al, was captured in a collaboration on a very famous song with a Motown star. Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious” has a pulsating and memorable guitar riff throughout, played by Beck.

– Another guitar collaboration married a very talented songwriter and performer by the name of Michael Jackson with lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen. Jackson’s famous song “Beat it” has a Beck-like guitar riff and solo player by Van Halen, whose own band is quite successful.

Eric Clapton is arguably the best known guitarist in the world. He also played briefly     with The Yardbirds – an amazing line-up of guitar talent. Before he died, Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers joined with Clapton on his most famous song “Layla.” Allman was an expert slide guitarist, so he played the plaintiff crying sound on “Layla” for the last half of the song.

– Finally, although not quite the capable guitarists as the above players, two other famous musicians played on “Carolina in my Mind,” James Taylor’s song. Taylor was signed by Apple Records, which was The Beatles’ self-created label. Needing a bassist and additional guitarist, Paul McCartney and George Harrison decided to do the honors for Taylor. That was quite the set of studio musicians for the 18 year old Taylor.

I find these collaborations fascinating. When I learned of them much later than when the songs were hits, I enjoyed the songs even more. Give them a listen and hear past the singer for the guitar sound. There are some famous fingers strumming along in these songs making them even more memorable.

The Renewable Energy Train continues to board former skeptics

I have written before the renewable energy train has left the station. The current White House incumbent’s position on climate change and promoting more fossil fuel development, can slow the train, but he cannot stop the market forces that are driving it down the track.

A newspaper story reprinted today supports this thesis and illustrates how more unlikely folks are getting on board the train. An editorial from the Fayetteville (NC) Observer entitled “Solar turning a corner in NC?” noted the opening of the largest solar farm east of the Mississippi. But, a new solar farm in NC is not news, as NC trails only California in solar energy.

What I found newsworthy beyond the size is the attendance at the grand opening of at least two Republican politicians – US Representstive Robert Pittenger and State Senator John Szoka. Szoka had spearheaded a renewable energy support bill, which is ironic since he was a previous skeptic. He noted “What changed my opinion is facts. Facilities like this are drawing down the cost of energy.”

But, these folks are not alone. There are groups like Conservatives for Clean Energy that are helping to propel the train. There is the work in several red states that have developed wind energy into a sizable part of their energy portfolio. These plain states like Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, e.g. are investing heavily in this increasingly cheaper source, with Iowa getting 1/3 of its electricity from wind energy.

I highlight the Conservatives who are jumping on the train, as unfortunately, climate change and renewable energy have been made a political issue. The people who have made it so are the fossil fuel companies who continue to wield their powerful influence to garner more profits. The White House incumbent and his cabinet are perpetuating this influence, but fortunately they are on the wrong side of the tracks and market forces and other political, business and citizen leaders are moving the train forward.