Wednesday wanderings early in July, 2021

Crosby, Stills and Nash sang:

Just a song before I go
To whom it may concern
Traveling twice the speed of sound
It’s easy to get burned”

Simon and Grafunkel added:

“Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobble stones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy”

In our 24 x 7 world of social media and pseudo and real news sources that tell us what to think, everything seems like a problem of urgency. Isn’t this horrible and we must act? Part of this is very real, as in this big world, something bad is happening somewhere. Since “if it bleeds, it leads” or is there is conflict between sparring legislators, it makes the news.

Good news stories do get reported, but in inverse proportion to their occurrence. The good news stories are far more common and everyday, but are not deemed newsworthy. I recall a silly example on a music show called “Where are they now?” which usually highlights a band that had success, then fell apart. They filmed one on the group Kansas, but it never aired. Why? The band members were all living normal lives, so it was not titillating.

Yet, the other part of these pervasive bad news stories, which can be tragic and dispiriting, is the news that needs to be talked about, but does not get much coverage. Here are a few.

  • We have a global fresh water problem that is only being made worse by climate change.
  • That climate change problem is no longer a future event – it is brandishing its fangs now with more wildfires, droughts and stalled weather patterns, along with more intense hurricanes and tornados.
  • On the good news side, renewable energy is growing at a rapid rate now that cost of production is economical and fossil fuel companies are being held more to account by shareholders and judges..
  • There is a poverty and hunger problem in the US and abroad. Too many Americans go to bed hungry. Too many Americans live beneath or at paycheck to paycheck.
  • The US has a huge debt and deficit burden that was already bad before the pandemic relief and tax cuts – now it is far worse, with interest cost becoming an increasing part of the budget.

These issues don’t get talked about enough. Even on the better news stations, the focus is way too much on which political party benefits from an issue. The issue itself gets less reporting than who benefits. In fact, wedge issues are seized to beat the other party over the head with, even if the problem has been around for years. I have long grown weary of problems not being addressed, because of optics. Do something.

But, back to CS&N and Simon and Garfunkel, let’s also balance all of this with the good stuff that is going on every day. I recognize there are too many folks that are wound way too tight. They seem looking for a fight if some thing or some person makes them do something. Get over it. The world does not revolve around you. If you have to wear a mask to get in some place, then you know what you need to do.

Yet, we should endeavor to leave all of our encounters on a better footing. Somewhere in some book I read, some guy called this rule golden. Something like treat others like you want to be treated. Now, that is something to evangelize.

A Tale of Five Cities (a reprise)

The following brief post was written four years ago. Even more progress has been made in other cities in the United States and around the globe. Wind energy is growing like gangbusters in the plains states and and solar energy continues to grow in others. US car makers are competing with foreign auto makers to make entire fleets of new electric vehicles and offshore wind has been approved off the Cape Cod area to help us rival other countries in offshore wind, such as Scotland.

I am often bemused by folks that argue against renewable energy citing costs and jobs. Some say the industry is fledgling, but this does a disservice to the huge progress made over the last five years. Renewable energy jobs are growing at double digit rates per annum and the production costs continue to fall and are much closer to fossil fuel costs, and even cheaper when the present value of all costs (environmental degradation, extraction, transportation, maintenance, health care, litigation, et al) are factored in.

Yet, let’s set that aside and consider five cities in the US – Aspen CO, Burlington VT, Greensburg KS, Houston TX and Las Vegas NV. The first three cities are fully powered by renewable energy, where the last two have significant renewable energy portfolios.

Burlington was the first city to claim being 100% powered by renewable energy – solar, wind and hydro-electric. Per a November, 2016 Politico article, the electric utility has not had a rate increase in eight years for its 42,000 residents.

Greensburg came next, unfortunately they had to experience a tornado that leveled the town. As they rebuilt the town, they did so with a green mindset. So, using solar and the heavy wind across the plain states, helped electrify the town with renewable energy. Starting from scratch let them build for the future.

Aspen was the third city. I find this interesting as I read an article a few years back over the concern of climate change on the skiing industry. More often, climate change impact focuses on coastal cities. This city acted and has now pushed the envelope to 100% renewable energy.

Which brings me to Las Vegas. They got press stating they were 100% renewable energy powered, but that was somewhat of a misnomer. Yet, what they did do is still impactful. The 140 municipal buildings and facilities are now 100% powered by renewable energy. That is not the rest of the city, but it is a statement nonetheless.

Finally, let’s visit Houston, deep in the heart of oil rich Texas. Per The Guardian in an article this week, Houston is the leading city in the US in producing renewable energy through wind and solar power with 1.1 billion kWh. 89% of its electricity is renewable energy powered. They are in the top 30 in the EPA’s list of Green Partners leading six Texas cities on this list. As I mentioned recently, Texas gets just under 13% of its electricity from wind energy.

These are powerful stores, pun intended. Please remember them and tell others. We are passed the tipping point on renewable energy and we should highlight those leading the way.

Greta Thunberg accuses leaders of creative public relations – reprise from 2019

My wife and I just watched the first part of a PBS documentary series on Greta Thunberg and her climate change response advocacy. Below is a post I wrote two years ago following her UN speech in Madrid. I had the good fortune of seeing her on her US trip before she traveled back for this speech. One of the highlights is how much a student of the issues she is, unlike many of her loud critics who offer personal attacks and even death threats in rebuttal. Plus, I should add the US has reentered the Paris Climate Change Accord and has seriousness of purpose to help lead the efforts.

In an Associated Press article called “Teen activist accuses leaders of ‘creative PR’ at UN climate talks” by Aritz Parra and Frank Jordans, Greta Thunberg did not shy away from calling leaders on the carpet. The activist who was recently awarded the Time Magazine Person of the Year for 2019, “accused governments and businesses of misleading the public by holding climate talks that are not achieving real action against the world’s ‘climate emergency.’”

Using a multitude of scientific facts, Thunberg “told negotiators at the UN’s climate talks in Madrid they have to stop looking for loopholes and face up to the ambition that is needed to protect the world from a global warming disaster.” It should be noted, the US is present, but its attendance is on the shoulders of lower level folks who cannot make decisions. Unfortunately, sans the US leadership as one of the two biggest polluters, other countries did not send decision makers either.

“‘The real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening, when in fact almost nothing is being done, apart from clever accounting and creative PR.’ said Thunberg.” Even at age 16, she is savvy to an age old practice by leaders to look like they are doing something when it is all a part of a subterfuge.

There was a positive action last week, “where the European Union announced a $130 billion plan to help wean EU nations off fossil fuels. German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said she hoped the “European Green Deal’ would ‘give the discussions here (in Madrid) a boost.’”

“Some experts echoed the activist’s concerns about lack of progress. ‘In my almost 30 years in this process, never have I seen the almost total disconnect that we’re seeing in Madrid, between what the science requires and the people of the world are demanding on the one hand and what climate negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful actions,’ said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a US based non-profit group.”

The lack of leadership on climate change is appalling and was a major concern of mine if the current (now former) US president won the election. Good things are happening in the US in spite of his naysaying efforts, but the world needs its leaders of the bigger polluters to be part of the solution. Thunberg is well deserving of her honor and continues to speak truth to people in power. It is sad that she knows far more about this topic than many adults who could make a difference. That would include the (now former) US president who is more concerned with perception and awards than helping the planet address this pandemic-like issue.

Coal energy risk is very human as well as planetary

The following paragraphs come from an article today called “Coal mine accident in China’s Chongqing kills 23” by Reuters.

“Twenty-three people died after being trapped in a mine in China’s southwestern city of Chongqing, the official Xinhua news agency said on Saturday, the region’s second such accident in just over two months.

The dead were among 24 people trapped underground by excessive levels of carbon monoxide gas at the Diaoshuidong coal mine, the agency said, adding that one survivor had been rescued, after more than 30 hours of search and rescue efforts.

Friday’s incident, which occurred at about 5 p.m. (0900 GMT) in a mine shut for more than two months as the company dismantled underground equipment, is being investigated, it added.”

Coal-mining accidents are not new, even though they have lessened over the years with greater precautions and fewer coal miners. Most of the coal stories are around the used up coal ash leaking into water reservoirs or the diminishing role coal plays in energy in the US.

I highlight this story as coal-mining remains a dangerous job and one that is not life lengthening due to the exposure to inhaled dust. When a wind mill system or a solar farm fail, people do not tend to lose their lives. Not only are these sources of energy helpful to our planet, they are less risky to the workers.

As the cost of renewable energy has fallen, the use of coal has declined further. Natural gas development put the first nail in the coffin of coal and renewable energy sources like wind, solar, tidal, hydro, geothermal, etc. are adding the other nails. In Texas, coal is being surpassed this year by renewables as the second largest source of electricity behind natural gas.

As oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens noted early last decade, natural gas will buy us time until wind energy takes over in the plains states. That time is now, with Iowa, Oklahoma and Kansas getting 1/3 of their combined electricity from wind energy and Texas getting over 1/6 of its electricity from wind, as the largest producing state.

I am saddened by the loss of life. Maybe, these lives won’t be lost in vain and efforts to migrate to renewable energy will hasten.

Coal mine accident in China’s Chongqing kills 23 (msn.com)

There she blows

Per an article in Power Technology in April, 2019 by Jack Unwin called “Top ten US states by wind energy capacity:”

“Donald Trump’s well-known hostility towards wind power and what he believes is its cancer-causing abilities wind energy is a well-established source of power in the US.

In fact, the US is the second largest producer of wind energy in the world with an installed capacity of over 96GW, and it has six of the world’s top ten onshore windfarms. But progress still needs to be made as a number of states in the southeast from Arkansas to Florida don’t have any wind turbines installed at all.”

Using updated statistics at the end of 2019, the top five states for wind energy are:

Texas (28,843 MW)*
Iowa (10,201 MW)
Oklahoma (8,172 MW)
Kansas (6,128 MW)
California (5,973 MW)

It should be noted, since they are smaller states, the top three by percentage of electricity generated by wind energy are: Iowa (41.7%) Kansas (36.4%) Oklahoma (31.7%). Saying it differently, more than 1/3 of the electricity produced in these three states combined come from wind energy.

The upside remains huge, especially referencing the two states that have no wind mills. The cost of wind energy is compelling and it is does not have the environmental degradation and cost of coal or does not leak methane or use water to acquire like natural gas. And, this does not reflect the huge growth in solar energy that has occurred and will occur.

I take pride that we are moving forward in spite of the efforts of the US president to play up fossil fuel. I would listen to the counsel of deceased oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, who said almost ten years ago, natural gas will buy us time, but the future of energy in the middle of the country is wind energy. It should be noted, Exxon Mobil was just removed from the Dow Jones as its capitalization has fallen.

Please remember Pickens’ words as he noted the wind blows across the plains states. And, the sun also shines across the country. More on that source later.

Note: Oil rich Texas has made a concerted effort to build wind energy. The following paragraph comes from wfaa.com’s website earlier this year.

“In Texas, the wind blows hardest in the West side of the state. But most people live in the central and eastern parts. So, Texas built 3,600 miles of electric transmission lines to carry power out of the most remote parts of the state. The legislature called it Competitive Renewable Energy Zones.Feb 16, 2020”

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

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.