Scotland and America quietly (at least here) show the way on wind energy

In one of the best kept secrets in America, solar and wind energy continue to make huge strides and are on par cost-wise with coal energy production. And, with total cost of environmental, health, acquisition and litigation are factored in, the renewables beat the pants off coal. This is a key reason in Texas, renewable energy is passing coal as the second largest energy source behind natural gas in 2020. And, as oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens said on “60 Minutes” early in the last decade, natural gas will buy us time, but wind energy is the future in the plain states.

The wind also blows in Scotland, especially offshore in the North Sea. Per Wikipedia, “Wind power in Scotland is the fastest-growing renewable energy technology, with 8423 MW of installed wind power capacity as of December 2018. This included 7800 MW from onshore wind in Scotland and 623 MW of offshore wind generators. There is further potential for expansion, especially offshore given the high average wind speeds, and a number of large offshore wind farms are planned.

The Scottish Government has achieved its target of generating 50% of Scotland’s electricity from renewable energy by 2015, and is hoping to achieve 100% by 2020, which was raised from 50% in September 2010. The majority of this is likely to come from wind power. This target will also be met if current trends continue.”

From Offshore Wind Scotland (link below), more update numbers on the offshore wind power notes, “We have 915 MW of operational offshore wind (as compared to the 623 MW in December, 2018 in Wikipedia) including the world’s first floating offshore wind farm, Hywind Scotland, and a further 4.1GW of consented projects in the pipeline. One of the largest offshore wind projects in the world, the 950MW Moray East project, is under construction in the Moray Firth and Kincardine Offshore Wind Farm, which at 50MW is the largest floating wind array in the world, is also under construction 12km off Stonehaven. SSE’s 1075MW Seagreen project in the Firth of Forth will start construction next year with 114 turbines utilising 9.5MW machines from MHI Vestas. Crown Estate Scotland will kick off the next offshore wind leasing round, ScotWind, with projects announced in 2020 and this should see the Scottish market rise to over 10-12GW by 2030.”

I recognize most readers will gloss over the numbers, but suffice it to say, Scotland is recognizing and capturing the power of its location to harness the wind. They set out a long term plan and went about achieving it, even when obstacles got in the way. What got very little play here is a golf course owner who happens to be the US president sued to stop construction of offshore wind mills visible from one of his Scottish courses. His company lost the case and had to pay the Scottish government US$290,000 for its court costs.

But, back in the states, Texas is not the only plain state taking advantage of wind. Iowa gets about 40% of its electricity from wind energy. Per Wikipedia, in 2019, the top five wind energy states are:

Texas (28,843 MW)
Iowa (10,190 MW)
Oklahoma (8,172 MW)
Kansas (6,128 MW)
California (5,973 MW)

California also leads the pack by far on solar energy at 27,900 MW in the first quarter of 2020, with North Carolina (6,400 MW), Arizona (4,700 MW), Florida (4,600 MW) and Texas (4,600 MW) filling the next four slots.

To put the two leaders in perspective, the Texas wind energy and California solar energy megawatts can power close to 8 million homes in each state. It should also be noted that electricity intensive businesses that run data and call centers, like Amazon, Google, Facebook and retailers like Walmart and IKEA are well ahead of others on the push toward renewable energy. Amazon is running TV commercials right now that say Amazon will be 100% renewable energy powered by 2025.

COVID-19 is harmful to people, but also is hurting the fossil fuel businesses. Quite simply, fewer people are traveling and buying petrol. But, the renewable energy business is less impacted as the focus is on homes and businesses. The Paris Climate Change Accord was not the only big deal that occurred in 2015 in Paris. Bill Gates led a group of 26 private investors and the University of California to form The Breakthrough Energy Coalition to invest in technology that will improve renewable energy and lessen our carbon impact on the planet. Gates committed US$2 Billion of his own money.

I mention all of this as this move forward is still underreported and underappreciated, at least here in the states. When I see US politicians funded by fossil fuel companies cry foul over green initiatives, the answer is simple. It is already happening due to market forces and it also happens to be where the job growth is. So, where do you want to invest your money?

https://www.offshorewindscotland.org.uk/

Bombshell – Documentary of the actress (and scientist) Hedy Lamarr

Last fall, I wrote a brief post to introduce you to the fascinating story of Hedy Lamarr based on the novel “The only woman in the room.” While the book is a dramatization of her life as both an actress, and yes, scientist, PBS is airing a documentary called “Bombshell – The Hedy Lamarr Story.” Please click on the link below.

While Hollywood is so busy making movies about comic book heroes with supernatural abilities, it is ironic they have missed the fascinating story of a real hero right in their midst. I did not reveal the punch line in the first post, but even when I do, the book is worth the read.

Hedy Lamarr escaped Austria both as a Jew, but also from a controlling husband who supplied munitions to both the Nazis and Italians. She met Mussolini, who hit on her, and she believes she heard Hitler making her domineering husband quiver in the next room, as she listened through the wall.

As she came to America to become one of the most beautiful and iconic stars, she paid attention to what was going on in World War II. And, here is where it gets even more interesting. Her father taught her to investigate and understand science. She took apart a music box at age 5 and put it back together. She even briefly dated Howard Hughes, at one point, and he listened to her suggestions on making planes faster, as she showed him pictures of fast fish and birds as compared to his boxy design.

When she noticed that the German Uboats were unstoppable in the Atlantic easily avoiding the antiquated torpedoes of the US and UK, she invented a way for allied ships and subs to communicate with their torpedoes and alter the path. She used a frequency hopping approach and worked with an avant garde pianist composer named George Antheil, who had done cutting edge work on linking up music from multiple player pianos. A prominent scientist who saw promise introduced them to a physicist and the invention got a patent.

The Navy scoffed at the idea, in large part of her being a woman, an actress and borrowing an idea from player pianos and buried the patent. It was more than OK for her to raise money for War Bonds, which she was good at, but a woman inventor, who heard of such a thing? was their attitude. Unbeknownst to her, the Navy began using her patent in the 1950s (while it was still effective) to pilot drones and other systems. She was never told nor was she ever paid for its use. For some reason, she did not seem to mind not getting paid, but she did want the acknowledgment.

Yet, it gets more interesting. Lamarr and Antheil’s invention is now used in Wifi, GPS and Blue tooth technology. And, finally, she received late in life accolades when the story broke about who actually invented this technology. In fact, on the website of a scientist who developed its use in the Navy, he gives credit to her cutting edge invention made many years before in 1942.

Lamarr had become a recluse by the time she started getting the accolades, after she felt too many plastic surgeries greatly altered how she looked and she did not want to be remembered like thst. Her son spoke on her behalf in front of other inventors accepting their accolades.

The documentary uses a recorded audio interview with her as well as a few TV interviews to tell her story. Her son, daughter and granddaughter, as well as other historians, add a lot of background to the story. She was a complex woman and she described herself as a better artist than business person.

The documentary is worth the watch. Do pay attention to her words of wisdom at the end of the documentary. And, if you like the documentary, you will also enjoy the dramatization in the book. A link to my earlier post is below as well.

https://www.pbs.org/video/bombshell-the-hedy-lamarr-story-xxkyoj/

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2019/10/17/the-only-woman-in-the-room-a-novel-about-the-amazing-true-story-of-hedy-lamarr/

The Fifth Risk – a must read by all legislators

Michael Lewis has authored several books that lay out a practical lens of major issues. They include “The Big Short,” “Moneyball,” “Liar’s Poker,” “The Blind Side,” and “The Undoing Project.” His latest book is called “The Fifth Risk,” and it is as much historical as it is alarming of missed risks.

The book is based on his review of largely unread briefing materials that were prepared for the incoming Trump administration by officials describing what the various departments do, their concerns, their successes, etc. Since the president was surprised he won the election and had fired his transition manager, Chris Christie, candidates to take over the various departments were not identified, much less in place. So, materials were not read and meetings went unattended. Lewis even interviewed people that prepared such reports after he read the non-confidential portions of the reports. They were more than happy to share their stories.

The above paragraph is not made to be political, it just presents a fact that the folks who eventually took over these departments missed a huge opportunity to learn how things worked from the people who oversaw the departments. As a result, our country is at risk of things that the leaders of many departments do not fully understand. And, what makes it more concerning, is many never took the time to understand or were even qualified to do so. The DOE was previously run by a nuclear physicist. After the election, until he recently resigned, it was run by a former governor without a science degree.

The book is actually a quick read, much shorter than it could have been. Yet, it is something every legislator should read, as they likely have a poor understanding of the risks at hand and what is not being done.

Lewis summarizes the general concerns of a key contributor from the Department of Energy, who greatly worries about things like exposure risk to radioactive waste product from nuclear energy that still exists and attacks on our energy production and distribution system, by saying:

The fifth risk is “the risk society runs when it falls into the habit of responding to long-term risk with short-term solutions. ‘Program management’ is not just program management. ‘Program management’ is the existential threat that you never really imagine as a risk.”

And, later he identifies the not knowing risk. “Here is where the Trump administration’s willful ignorance plays a role. If your ambition is to maximize short-term gain without the regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing the cost. If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it’s better never to really understand those problems.”

To this point, the DOE contributor said when he saw the budget, “All the risks are science-based. You can’t gut science. If you do, you are hurting the country. If you gut the core competency of the DOE, you gut the country.”

There are so many things that these various departments do that benefit American people and industry that are misunderstood or simply not known. Could they be more efficient? Of course, and that should be the goal of any administration. Yet, these hard working people, scientists, engineers, Ph.Ds, etc. do yeomen’s work, and are ridiculed by some as the “deep state.” After speaking with many of these people, Lewis concludes the deep state are folks that actually know what they are talking about. They do not boast on themselves and get little notoriety.

One example is of a Coast Guard scientist who is the foremost authority on where people who fall over board might drift. He is actually acclaimed in other countries more than he is here, because he did not brag on his efforts. Previous to his efforts, falling over board usually meant the death of the person. Yet, he studied patterns, currents, sizes of people, what were they wearing, and other data points over years, even going on board as part of search and rescue missions. He developed an easier to use software tool that heightened the Coast Guard’s ability to pin point people. And, it is successful, but he is now retired with no obvious successor.

But, let me leave you with a final example, one of many. A business leader in rural America was bragging on getting a loan all on his own. The bank had a press conference where the leader was going to say this is how it should be done, with no government involvement. When someone from the Department of Agriculture introduced herself, he asked “what are you doing here?” She said, “we are the ones who lent you the money you are talking about.” He had no idea. Most Americans don’t, even legislators. After one complained about the Department of Agriculture sucking, she told the state official something he did not know, we invested more than $1 billion in your state last year.

I have written before about “The Invisibles.” These are the folks who show up at work each day and make things run well, without bringing attention to themselves. There are numerous examples in this book. And, when they are not allowed to do the things that are needed, we are the ones who suffer.

Fossil fuel energy may have seen a global turning point

Earlier this week, Reuters in the UK posted an article called “Fossil fuels for power at turning point as renewable surged in 2019 – data.” A link to the article is below. A few excerpts from the article are telling:

“The use of fossil fuels such as coal and oil for generating electricity fell in 2019 in the United States, the European Union and India, at the same time overall power output rose, a turning point for the global energy mix. Those countries and regions are three of the top four largest producers of power from fossil fuels. The declines suggest the end of the fossil fuel era could be on the horizon, said Tomas Kaberger, an energy professor at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, who provided the power generation data to Reuters.

Kaberger, who is also the chair of the executive board for Japan’s Renewable Energy Institute and a member of the board at Swedish utility Vattenfall AB, provided data covering more than 70% of the world’s power generation that showed for most of 2019 the amount of power sourced from fossil fuels dropped by 156 terawatt hours (TWh) from the year before. That is equal to the entire power output of Argentina in 2018.

The data also indicates that renewable power generation increased at a faster rate than the overall growth in power output for the first time, rising by 297 TWh versus 233 TWh for overall output, Kaberger said.

‘It is economics driving this as low-cost renewable electricity outcompetes against fossil and nuclear power plants,’ said Kaberger.”

The last quote from Kaberger is extremely important. The economics of renewables relative to their fossil fuel counterparts are driving the movement. The argument that renewables cost more is not relevant any more. And, when you factor in the present value of all costs – acquisition, transport, environmental degradation, production, water loss, health, storage, maintenance and litigation – renewables beat the pants off fossil fuel energy.

So, when you hear fossil fuel arguments such as cost, use the above example. When you hear fossil fuel arguments such as jobs, solar and wind energy jobs are growing at double digit rates. The big picture question is if we can use a non-polluting, renewable energy at the same or better cost, and create jobs, is that not the best path forward?

https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-electricity-fossilfuel-decline/fossil-fuels-for-power-at-turning-point-as-renewables-surged-in-2019-data-idUKKBN20R0I6?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews

The Bahamas is rebuilding with solar power

With more devastating hurricanes, The Bahamas has been subject to several disasters. As reported on “60 Minutes” last night, following Hurricane Dorian, they are rebuilding with micro solar power grids. The island of Abacos and its largest town were hit hard.

The islands have been powered on diesel fuel generators for decades. It is very costly to freighter over diesel fuel. Plus, every island does not have its own power generation, so the electricity has to be transmitted over long distances.

The over head power lines are devastated in certain areas, with poles snapping and transmitters and lines torn to the ground. Regardless of the power source, the lines need to be buried.

In the interim, micro solar farms have been built. Some are on top of schools which actually weathered recent storms, while others are a series of panels in fields, which can withstand 185 mph winds. And, they are building larger arrays of solar panels that take advantage of the improved efficacy of battery storage.

The Bahamas are showing the way and doing their part. Yet, small nations like this are overburdened by the climate change causes of the industrialized nations. They have petitioned the United Nations to get the greater polluters to help fund the cost of transition.

While the cost of solar power is on par or better than the diesel fuel generation, there are implementation costs, especially with the burying of power lines, which is needec regardless of the source.

Climate change is making hurricanes more damaging. These island nations bear the brunt. It is good to see them act more strategically going forward.

Being candid on obvious concerns

Last night, “60 Minutes” did a piece on the continuing forest fires in Australia. The risk has heightened due to climate change on this very hot and dry continent.

One of those whose home has been destroyed is incredulous by the lack of planning and execution by the prime minister and government. She said our country is on fire and the risk will continue and they cannot focus on that? Another person joined others and refused to shake the prime minister’s hand saying “you’re an idiot, mate.”

Not to be outdone, former conservative PM Malcolm Turnbull noted climate change is making the Australian forest fires worse. He referred to climate change naysayers in his own party as “idiotic.”

Their candor is needed. In the US, Republican lawmakers are now pushing the planting of a million trees. This is a good start, especially after twenty years of varying degrees of climate change denial, but addresses only one side of the issue. We need to also stop putting so much carbon and methane into the atmosphere as well as taking carbon out of the air with more trees (and other measures).

I am not advocating the use of derogatory terms like idiot or idiotic, but in the case of the current Australian PM, Scott Morrison, many would not shake his hand after he took a planned vacation to Hawaii while the fires were raging back home. That was not the wisest of moves.

Planting trees is a good start

I read this week House Republican minority leader Kevin McCarthy is pushing for a bill to require the planting of a million trees. Some members of the Republican party are now openly admitting climate change is a problem after over twenty years of varying degrees of denial.

The rationale is to two-fold. These members realize younger voters know climate change is a problem to deal with. These members also are pushing a carbon capture narrative to permit the unabated use of fossil fuel energy.

This is a good start for the Republican party, but a necessary strategy has two vital components:

1) take more carbon out of the atmosphere

2) put less carbon into the air

Focusing only on one or the other is half the battle. Fortunately, coal is on the demise in most places around the world. In the US, more coal-fired plants have been retired under Trump’s tenure than under the last three years of Obama’s. With all his bluster, Trump cannot stop the demise.

The key is to diminish natural gas, which has less carbon impact than coal, but creates a larger methane and water problem. While methane has a shorter life than carbon, it is more potent a problem.

We should embrace planting more trees. We should also increase mangrove areas near seashores which absorb a lot of carbon and protect against rising tides. And, as noted in the documentary “Ice on Fire,” there are a number of other carbon eating measures.

These with increasing solar, wind, and tidal energy sources and continued urban and agricultural climate efforts will help put less carbon in the air. The answer is all of the above and more.

A lump of coal is less in use

A good news environmental story that began almost ten years ago is coal use is on the demise. Sadly, legislators who have a say in coal states have not been forthcoming with coal miners making commitments that are not reflective of market conditions. Two stories frame this topic:

A Fox News piece by Dan Springer from September entitled “Coal Industry continues sharp decline despite Trump’s promised revival,” notes the following:

“But since he (Trump) took office, U.S. coal consumption has hit a 41-year low and coal plant closures have actually accelerated. The next to fall, in December, will be Colstrip units 1 and 2, which have been keeping the lights on throughout the Pacific Northwest since 1975. Shutting down one-third of the capacity of the largest coal plant west of the Mississippi comes even after Trump scrapped the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and his administration pledged $39 million to make coal plants run cleaner.

‘There’s nothing he can do about it,’ said Randy Hardy, an energy consultant and former head of the Bonneville Power Administration. ‘The market economics are so compelling that absent massive federal government subsidies to keep coal alive, you couldn’t do it economically.'”

Recently, a Houston Public Media piece by Florian Martin called “Wind energy on track to surpass coal power in Texas,” noted the following:

“Both (Coal and wind energy) now make up about 20% of the state’s energy mix, with wind just 0.3 percentage points below coal. Ramanan Krishnamoorti, chief energy officer at the University of Houston, said wind power has increased dramatically in the past 12 years, up from 3% in 2007. But in the short-term, it’s cheap natural gas that’s responsible for the decline of coal.

‘The real story has been, if coal went down from over 32% down to 20%, that slack was picked up by natural gas,’ he said. Natural gas made up more than 47% of the energy mix last year.

Krishnamoorti said he expects coal to decline further and for renewable energy to make modest gains in the next few years. ‘If wind can just maintain where it is, it’s going to surpass coal in 2020,” he said. “It’s a question of, can it get that next bump up to sort of go through this significant expansion.’ Krishnamoorti said wind power’s growth has slowed down in the past few years due to the end of tax credits that helped it.”

Links to both articles are below. I have written earlier, that if measured as a country, the state of Texas would be the fifth most prolific wind energy country in the world. And, California is among the world leaders in solar energy, also if measured as a country.

What is lost in all of this is the decline of coal is not a surprise, nor has it taken place over night. So, it frustrates me that legislators in a position of power have not shot straight with coal miners and done something more to help the transition. The wind blows and sun shines in these coal producing states. And, that is where the job growth is, not in coal energy.

https://www.foxnews.com/politics/coal-industry-decline-trump-revival

Wind Energy On Track To Surpass Coal Power In Texas

Bank CEO blasts peers for not seeing inequality (per The Charlotte Observer)

With more interest and advocacy for the disenfranchised in our midst, an article by Austin Weinstein of The Charlotte Observer caught my this week called “Bank CEO blasts peers for not seeing inequality. A link to the article is below.

I have written often about the “haves and have-nots” in America. The disparity has been worsening for years and it now matters more to whom and where you were born than merit. Sadly, the declining middle class and growing poverty problem has been addressed by more trickle down economics and attacks on benefits to help people in need.

Per The Charlotte Observer:

“Kelly King, the CEO of Truist — America’s sixth largest bank — issued an exhortation to the economic elite of North Carolina and the country: We are blind to the difficult lives of many in the U.S. and must work to resolve the country’s educational and economic divides, or risk the consequences.

‘We see what happens when we have this giant divide between the haves and the have-nots,’ King said to bankers and executives gathered in Durham for an annual economic forecast hosted by the North Carolina Chamber and North Carolina Bankers Association. ‘If we have this scenario where people lose hope, they have no sense of opportunity, they’re dysfunctional. They get mad, they get on drugs, they get guns, they start shooting.’…

While there are many origins to America’s widespread educational and economic inequality, King pointed to the perceived failures of American public school system as one of the paramount reasons for the divides in the country. If people can’t read or do simple math, he said, they are effectively left out of much of the U.S. economy.

‘We are cheating our kids and our grandkids of a future,’ King said. ‘They will not have the same kind of life we have had,” he warned, if the current course of the country isn’t changed.'”

We must invest in our children and our communities. Asset Based Community Development means repurposing depleted assets or restoring them to original form. A neighborhood school is more than a place of seven hour education. It offers a community meeting place for after-school programs, neighborhood meetings, civic meetings, exercise classes, etc. Inviting schools, rewarded teachers, safety mind-sets, etc. will reinforce better education for our kids.

King’s admonition speaks to the crisis it is. The US disparity has widened at the same time our educational ranks in science and math have fallen. If we don’t invest in our kids, we really don’t have the standing to speak of American exceptionalism. It is hard to be a shining light on a hill if we fall from the top.

Read more here: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/business/banking/article239048138.html#storylink=cpy

A royal push for climate change action

Strong on the heels of Greta Thunberg’s visit to the United States and United Nations climate change conference in Spain, a royal member of the UK family is making a very public statement backed with funds to match. In an article by Simon Perry in People Magazine, of all places, a very important global mission was revealed in an article called: Prince William Unveils Ambitious New Environmental Mission: ‘The Earth Is at a Tipping Point and We Face a Stark Choice’.

The first three paragraphs from the article (see link below) are as follows:

“On Tuesday, the royal unveiled a multimillion-dollar international award to harness the best ideas for tackling the biggest environmental challenges in the world.

William, 37, has set his sights on spending the next decade rewarding visionaries and innovation. Called Earthshot, it will be awarded to five winners a year for the next decade, generating what William hopes will be 50 solutions by 2030.

‘The earth is at a tipping point and we face a stark choice: either we continue as we are and irreparably damage our planet or we remember our unique power as human beings and our continual ability to lead, innovate and problem-solve,’ William said in a statement. ‘Remember the awe inspiring civilizations that we have built, the life-saving technology we have created, the fact that we have put a man on the moon. People can achieve great things. And the next 10 years presents us with one of our greatest tests: a decade of change to repair the earth.’”

The case for change to reward climate change action innovation was echoed when “Dr. M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International, added in a statement, ‘We have a very small window, 10 years, to jolt earth onto a path of sustainability. It can sound terrifying – or it can sound like one of history’s greatest opportunities. Yes, the challenges are daunting. But how we react is still, in this sliver of time left, entirely up to us – and that is what the Earthshot Prize is all about. It’s about this opportunity in front of us, right now, to choose to put our energies towards taking action and uncovering solutions, to choose to create the future we want over settling for the one that we fear.’”

It is good to see more public figures cite the need to act, especially with the recalcitrant US president who is beholden to the fossil fuel industry. Fortunately, good things are happening around the globe and in the US, but more is needed to address the climate change impact which is already happening. I applaud the future King. We all should.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/royals/prince-william-unveils-ambitious-new-environmental-mission-the-earth-is-at-a-tipping-point-and-we-face-a-stark-choice/ar-BBYun7r?ocid=spartandhp