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/

Pandemic accelerates renewable energy surpassing coal energy in US

In an article by Brad Plumer of The New York Times (see below) called “In a first, renewable energy is poised to eclipse coal,” the growth of renewable energy has been further fueled by the pandemic. This year, renewable energy (solar, wind, bio-mass, geothermal and hydroelectric), will surpass coal as the second largest energy source.

Per Plumer, efforts by the current president to keep propping up coal-burning plants have proven ineffective against market conditions. He notes “Those efforts, however, failed to halt the powerful economic forces that have led utilities to retire hundreds of aging coal plants since 2010 and run their remaining plants less frequently. The cost of building large wind farms has declined more than 40% in that time, while solar costs have dropped more than 80%. And, the price of natural gas, a cleaner-burning alternative to coal, has fallen to historic lows as a result of the fracking boom.”

Plumer adds the impact of COVID-19 which has reduced electricity usage with fewer stores and restaurants open is hastening this trend. “And because coal plants often cost more to operate than gas plants or renewables, many utilities are cutting back on coal power first in response.”

Further, “Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, and its decline has already helped drive down US carbon dioxide emissions 15% since 2005. This year, the (Energy Information Administration) expects the US emissions to fall by another 11%, the largest drop in at least 70 years.”

Coupled with people driving less and avoiding traveling by airplanes, an upside to COVID-19 is 2020 will be an impactful year on less carbon usage which will help in cleaning air (which is noticeable from satellites) and addressing climate change. As the economy slowly recovers with the majority of people being cautious in their movements and spending patterns, at least this positive impact will continue for more than 2020. And, hopefully with the coal plants being used more and more in the bull pen for extra need, more may be retired.

Still, some folks are surprised by the news of the decline in coal. They should not be. About eight years ago, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens was on “60 Minutes” and said the future energy source in the windy plains states is wind energy. He added fracking for natural gas will buy time until the cost of wind is more economical. Now, oil rich Texas bears that out with wind energy surpassing coal by itself this year. While Texas produces more wind energy than any other state, Iowa gets over 40% of its electricity from wind and most of the top states in percentage of electricity are plains states.

Not only has coal become relatively more expensive due to the cost declines in other sources, its costs and risk continue beyond the life of the fuel and the plant. Duke Energy and TVA have had to clean up messes from coal ash that have bled into the water systems. And, Duke’s Dan River spill was from a long-ago retired coal plant.

The people I feel for are the coal miners whose hopes have been propped up by politicians who have not been forthcoming. I have known about coal’s demise since that Pickens’ interview and through other news and reading sources. My guess is so have the politicians, yet rather than be truthful and help them plan for new careers, they kept feeding their hopes. And, last time I checked, the wind blows and sun shines in those coal producing states. So, these miners are owed long-time-coming truths and help to find and train for new jobs.

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.

China bets on wind and solar power in Brazil

With the US government overly concerned with protecting non-renewable fossil fuels, other countries continue to move forward. An article called “China bets on wind and solar power in Brazil” by Manuela Andreoni in Dialogo Chino last August showed how China is filling the void.

From the article:

“It took just two months and a few billion dollars for China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) to become one of the largest providers of clean energy in Brazil. Between May and July, the company acquired two solar power plants – including the second largest in the country – and six wind farms.

Chinese companies were already a powerhouse in Brazil’s energy sector, owning about 10% of the country’s capacity, mostly because of big acquisitions in recent years by State Grid and China Three Gorges; not to mention the thousands of kilometers of transmission lines being built.

But the new move by CGN solidified China’s presence in Brazil’s flourishing new energy market. According to a Diálogo Chino analysis of public records, the new investments mean Chinese companies now own 16% of Brazil’s wind power capacity and 21% of its solar capacity, or 2,822 megawatts in total.”

American companies, states and cities are moving forward on renewable energy. Their efforts would be so more impacful if leveraged by the federal government.

Our planet needs more leadership on this issue than America is showing. Countries like Germany and China are filling that void.

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

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

These Alaskans moved their village due to climate change

Climate change is no longer a futuristic concern. People, governments and businesses are responding to issues today whether it is sunny day flooding in coastal cities, increased magnitude and frequency of forest fires or stalled weather patterns causing more flooding or droughts.

Venice is an important face of rising sea levels, but Miami is the most at risk major city in the world say climate scientists. Yet, a town in Alaska has been forced to plan and move their town inland today.

An NPR story by Greg Kim earlier this month was entitled, “Residents Of An Eroded Alaskan Village Are Pioneering A New One, In Phases.”

“It’s finally moving day in Newtok, Alaska, the village where erosion has already claimed several homes and the river is banging on more doors. Newtok is sending a third of its residents across the Ninglick River this year, to its replacement village, Mertarvik. Decades of planning have built up to this moment.”

An earlier story from September noted, “In mid-October, Newtok will move one-third of its roughly 350 residents to a new village currently under construction on higher ground 9 miles away. The move will mark a sober milestone: Newtok residents will be the first Americans to be relocated because of the effects of climate change.”

Two things stand out. The Newtok citizens have been planning this move for over 25 years. While that may surprise some folks, we have known about climate change and rising sea levels for some time. Exxon Mobil is in court for misepresenting the impact of climate change to shareholders, but much of the prosecutor’s data comes from suppressed data from Exxon Mobil scientists. These scientists used to speak to groups about climate change concerns until management told them to stop. Shell Oil even produced an educational video on climate change concerns in the 1990s.

While these firms have moved to a naysaying strategy fueled by a Public Relations firm, they know the hard truths. And, if they forget, their shareholders voted that management tell them.

Newtok will not be the last US town or city which may need to move. Please remember the term sunny day flooding, as it represents days when sea water leave standing water in the streets of these cities.