Kudos to Scotland

Last weekend on PBS Newshour, a two-part series called “Scotland is betting on tidal energy” was presented. Per the series, Scotland “is nearly 70% powered by renewable sources already, with the goal of reaching 100% by 2020, 10 years ahead of schedule.” Let that quote sink in a little – by 2020. Their focus has been on offshore wind energy, but the true wave of the future is tidal energy.

A project in the Pentland Firth is called MeyGen which includes three tidal wave turbines each with three thirty foot blades, the apparatus weighing 150 tons. The turbines provide a very predictable amount of energy powering over 1,000 homes each. “As the tide ebbs and flows, the turbines spin between 7 and 15 times a minute generating power to a wind turbine.”

Tim Cornelius, the CEO of SIMEC Atlantis said the tidal turbines have been expensive at first and have required half the cost to be subsidized by the Scottish government. But, he said the costs are coming down and after one year the cost of production is 50% of the year before. The turbines also build off existing technology used in the oil and gas energy, with cranes, ships and equipment to position a new turbine.

Scotland has been the leading edge implementer of these tidal turbines and others are taking notice. Cornelius says SIMEC plans to deploy 250 additional tidal turbines in the next several years. Other coastal countries are taking notice and creating their own pilots. The US is behind others, but will be investing in a testing facility off the Oregon coast.

As discovered with solar and onshore and offshore wind energy, the production costs decline over time so as to be more on par with fossils fuel production costs. But, in my view, when all costs are factored in – maintenance, litigation, environmental degradation, transportation, water loss and health – renewables are far cheaper than fossil fuel. For example, maintaining coal ash is a cost that never goes away.

While good things are happening with renewables in the US, we can all learn from countries like Scotland. We have a few cities like Burlington, VT, Georgetown, TX and Greensburg, KS which are 100% renewable energy powered. And, while California is a solar power and Texas a wind power champion, we have far more ways to go.

So, kudos to Scotland!

 

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Two Americans win Nobel Economics prize on Climate Change work

Per an article this morning in Reuters, “Americans William Nordhaus and Paul Romer, pioneers in adapting economic theory to take better account of environmental issues and technological progress, shared the 2018 Nobel Economics Prize on Monday.”

Romer, with New York University, and Nordhaus, with Yale, developed models on the economic impact of dealing with climate change. Reuters cited the Nobel Academy in Stockholm, “‘Their findings have significantly broadened the scope of economic analysis by constructing models that explain how the market economy interacts with nature and knowledge.'”

This news is important as Americans still provide global leadership inspite of the dearth of leadership in the White House and EPA. America is moving forward on renewable energy, but our efforts are in spite of the absence and antagonistic actions of federal leadership. Arguably, more than any other issue, voters must ask their candidates where the stand on climate change actions and protecting the environment.

It is interesting that this came today as the headline article in The Charlotte Observer is “NC Leaders share concern about climate change.” These are 60 business, advocacy, former government and university leaders who have been brought together to speak to various problems. 45 of them responded to the question of climate change and, of the 45, only two naysayed climate change – one called it a hoax, while the other said it is real, but the jury is out on man’s influence. Think about that – 43 out of 45 define the problem and offer solutions.

Per these leaders, ideas include ceasing building on lands prone to flooding. NC has had two 500 year floods in two years, the same with Houston, Texas. Miami may be inescapably lost to continued flooding due to rising seas and porous limestone. The term we must understand as well is “sunny day flooding,” which happens more and more throughout the year.

These Nobel prize winners note we have to address the problem now while the costs are more manageable and can be sustained. The best teachers are the Dutch, as they have managed sea water encroachment for years. But, the impact also includes more and intense forest fires and the faster depletion of already dear water sources.

We have major problems occurring that Washington is not talking about and, in some cases, is making it worse. We must address climate change and invest more in  renewable energy, consider better coastal and flood plain building and consider a carbon tax. We must address fresh water loss that is hastened by climate change that is affecting farmers and other Americans. And, we must address pollution by companies and the growing mountain of plastic.

There are economic models that call to mind the old Fram oil filter commercial – you can pay me now or pay me later. Now, is far cheaper. Ask your politicians more questions and vote accordingly. If they do not admit there are problems, do not vote for them.

Atlantis will be a reality

Back in the early 1970s, an interesting and different song by Donovan called “Atlantis” hit the airwaves. It spoke of the destroyed world consumed by the sea. As sea level rises, the city of Miami will become a future Atlantis.

Earlier this week, on a PBS Newshour piece called “Will climate change turn Miami into a future Atlantis?”, Henry Briceno, a research scientist from Florida International University, used the phrase to define his city, “we are doomed.” Sadly, this is the second scientist I have heard define Miami’s future demise.

Hurricanes have caused Miami planners to build for strong winds. Yet, they have not paid enough attention to the encroaching seas. Miami is built on porous limestone, so sea water can more easily come in. Sunny day flooding has occurred more frequently and pumps and pipes attempt to take the water back out to the bay. It is even worse during the spring and fall when the moon’s impact on tides is stronger.

Miami’s Dade County and three adjacent counties are investing $200 million to recycle the water back to the bay. Yet, It is not enough and maybe too late. New Orleans is taking advice from Denmark on their water management lessons, but Miami’s limestone is a huge problem. Plus, the sea water will find its way into the Biscayne aquifer which will cause drinking water issues.

This is no longer a future issue. Sunny day flooding causes the streets of Miami Beach to be several inches deep in sea water quite often. Other coastal cities are seeing more sunny day flooding, as well.

Future models show an alarming picture for Miami and the Everglades. Sadly, too many are turning a blind’s eye. In the sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore and the Miami Beach mayor were standing in flooded streets, while the governor would not take their calls after asking staff to never use the term climate change. You would think the governor of a state surrounded on three sides by water would be concerned about climate change.

Donovan’s song may need to be re-released. Or, maybe the words can be updated for new coastal cities like Miami.

Walmart and Mars

What does this title mean, you ask? Walmart and Mars are two global companies moving the ball forward to combat climate change. Mind you, it is not just altruism driving these efforts, it is creating a sustainable, more predictable and better cost model. And, companies care about cost.

On PBS Newshour yesterday, an update on an earlier story was provided.  Walmart has a goal of being 100% renewable energy powered which they established a decade ago under CEO Scott Lee. They started simply, retraining their truck drivers on better ways to shift gears and drive to save fuel costs and actually measure fuel efficiency in truck driver performance.

Walmart also is converting their 12,000 stores to renewable energy. The PBS Newhour update noted that almost 500 stores in the US have been converted to solar power. Now, 28% of their US energy needs comes from solar energy. Retail stores have a lot of roof space, so companies like Walmart and IKEA have growing numbers of solar powered stores. They are also asking their suppliers to be better environmental stewards.

Mars is known for its candy, the biggest seller being M&Ms. Their goal is to make decisions that are “good for the environment and good for Mars,” They are using combinations of solar and wind energy to power their manufacturing plants. They just rolled out a new wind farm in Texas, a state that produces more wind energy than any other. Mars has noted their costs are lower with the renewable energy.

Fortunately, Walmart and Mars are not alone. Google, Facebook and Amazon are driving forces behind renewable energy given their significant data and distribution center power needs. Their centers in North Carolina are a reason NC ranks so highly on solar energy lists.

Yet, we should not lose sight that the cost of renewable energy has decreased so greatly, the decision is not just environmental, it is economic. Paula Diparno of CDP said on PBS Newshour that addressing climate change is “no longer a punishment, it is an opportunity.”

That is a huge shift in mindset. She added that there are three stakeholders for companies – customers, shareholders and management. Customers are noticing, shareholders are becoming more insistent and management better be paying attention. To this end, Blackrock, a major institutional investor, is requiring its companies to define what they are doing about renewable energy and climate change.

To this end, because of Blackrock’s efforts, Exxon Mobil’s shareholders voted last year to require management to do more and report back on addressing climate change. Ironically, this vote was the day before the current US President announced that he was withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Accord. That contrast speaks volumes.

 

Wind waltzes across Texas

Relatively unknown to many Anericans is the rapidly growing success of renewable energy in America. California is the significant leader in solar energy and Texas is the predominant wind energy state.

As reported on CBS Morning News this week, there are 24,000 renewable energy jobs in Texas mostly in the wind sector. That is more than 1/3 of coal jobs in the whole country. Further, over 16% of the electricity produced in Texas comes from wind energy at the end of 2017.

What may be surprising is former Republican Governor Rick Perry deserves credit for pushing a bill to expand the electric grid to draw power from the wind turbines. This action is vital as to power cities, the electricity has to be transferred from the plains areas where wind blows so strongly.

This makes Perry’s relative silence on the subject frustrating in his role as the director of the Department of Energy. He is doing the heavy lifting for the President as he pushes for more coal use. With the renewable energy jobs growing at double-digit per annum clip, one would think Perry might want to talk about expanding the nationwide grid.

Let me close with a reminder of the town of Georgetown, TX that is 100% powered by renewable energy. Republican Mayor Dale Ross noted in the CBS news interview that he is a Reagan Republucan, but breaks with his party on climate change. Ross, a CPA, wants to meet with the President as his Town Council voted to select the lesser and more predictable cost model for energy which is renewable energy.

Too many people debate renewable energy as a jobs vs. environment issue. This is an old argument and is no longer true. The market forces and development have made renewable energy more affordable. As a result, the jobs are growing. Just think of the wind waltzing across Texas.

A Portugese Energy Company knows about US Growth

An article in Reuters earlier this week noted a Portugese energy company that knows first hand where energy growth is occurring in the United States. It may be surprising to the current White House, but not the market, the growth is not in the coal energy sector.  Per Timothy Gardner’s article “EDP bullish on US renewable power despite Trump’s support for coal” in Reuters, the following quote is compelling.

“‘U.S. renewables represent the growth engine of our company,’ António Mexia, who since 2006 has run the power utility EDP (EDP.LS), one of Portugal’s biggest companies, said in an interview on Tuesday.

U.S. wind and solar power projects represented 65 percent of new investments last year at EDP’s renewables arm EDPR (EDPR.LS), and are expected to continue at that rate in 2018 and in 2019, Mexia said. EDPR operates renewable projects in 11 other countries in Europe and the Americas.”

This is not inconsistent with other measures in America as solar and wind energy growth have risen with the continual fall in pricing. And, it is showing up in recurring double digit job growth in solar and wind energy.

I have cited the significant increase in wind energy across our plains states, but this is following the forecast of oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, who appeared on “60 Minutes” more than five years ago. He noted that natural gas expansion is a bridge to wind energy. It is just buying us time to get the infrastructure ready and prices to get more effective. It should be noted that several states get over 10% of their electricity from wind energy, with Iowa  at just under 33% leading in percentage of total and Texas at 16% producing the most wind energy due to its size.

In California, North Carolina, Florida and other southern states in the east and west, solar energy is growing significantly. California, by itself, would be one if the most prolific solar countries. And, Tesla is more of a battery storage company than car company. Elon Musk went live with a massive battery storage site to help a French company power southern Australia with solar energy. It truly is a global industry, so seeing a Portugese company invest here in the US is not unusual.

The growth in energy jobs are in renewables. It would be nice if this was more publicly recognized by all of our elected leaders, not just the ones who are not funded by the fossil fuel industry.

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.