Friday Linkage 12/6/2019

I drive by the signs advertising Ronald Reagan’s childhood home frequently when traveling to the Chicagoland area.  It is just too delicious that the patron saint of government bashing’s house is going to be administered by the government.

Or maybe the problem is that people really do not care all that much about hypocrites like Ronald Reagan.

On to the links…

The Economics behind Planting Billions and Billions of Trees–To bastardize a saying of Michael Pollan’s, “Plant trees, on appropriate land, mostly native species.”  It is a simple action that really has no downside. If we focus on areas that have been logged, burned over, or denuded by other means it will reintroduce tree cover to appropriate lands.

The World’s Top 10 Carbon Dioxide Emitters–Take a look:

960x0.jpg

The future of the Earth rests in the hands of China, the United States, and India.

This Energy Transition Is Different. Here’s Why–I applaud Andy Stone for pointing out that the key ingredient missing in the transition to a fossil free future is sufficient political will on the part of all politicians, but particularly those leaning with a conservative bent.  Our politics are bought and paid for by fossil fuels.

Spain Might Be The World’s Most Important Climate Test–How did we end up in an era where our political choices are being defined by progressives facing off against neo-fascists?

CO2-Eating Bacteria Made in the Lab Could Help Tackle Climate Change–Does this sound like the beginning to a young adult dystopian novel?

Let’s Implement a Luxury Carbon Tax, because not all Carbon is Created Equally–Let’s start with first class and business class airline flights.  Say $25 per ticket. All funds to be spent on reforestation.

Renewables are Not Making Electricity any More Expensive–Economics is a health of a thing.

Utilities Running Uneconomic Coal Plants Cost Consumers $3.5 Billion From 2015-2017–Coal is costing you money.

Average Battery Prices Fell To $156 Per kWh In 2019–Here is the key line: “this year the average EV battery pack prices decreased to around $156/kWh, which is some 87% less than it was in 2010 (over $1,100/kWh).”  In less than a decade’s time the average price has decreased almost 90%.

Are Electric Vehicles Really About To Plateau Oil Demand?–Plateaued oil demand is bad enough, but even a lower growth model will doom many higher cost oil plays in the short term.  EVs are part of the problem for oil demand, but just as important are tighter regulations on fossil fuel emissions in general.

Coal Power Becoming ‘Uninsurable’ as Firms Refuse Cover–If you cannot get insurance, you cannot operate.  I am sure that Donald Trump and his coal dust caked cronies will come up with a government backed reinsurance scheme to make sure that people like Bob Murray can profit from killing the planet.

Why Aren’t We Building a Traveling Wave Reactor in the U.S.?–Nuclear power always seems like it is an answer to our electricity problems until you account for all of the problems that nuclear power creates.  I am unwilling to hop on the traveling wave reactor bandwagon, but maybe Bill Gates is on to something. At least he is not spending his money on running for president.

Biofuels Could Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions By 96%–If nuclear seems like the holy grail of energy security, biofuels have to be the One True Cross of energy security.  At what point do we give up on the idea of liquid biofuels?

Agriculture is Part of the Climate Change Problem. Colorado Wants Farmers’ Soil to be Part of the Solution.–Improving soil health across grazing and other agricultural lands is probably one of the biggest “gains” we can make in the war against climate change.  Furthermore, increases in soil health and captured carbon will improve our ability to feed more people.

Chew On This: Farmers Are Using Food Waste To Make Electricity–Every kilowatt hour of electricity generated without the use of fossil fuels is a good thing.  Using a waste product to generate that electricity is like a double bonus.

DiGiorno and Stouffer’s Bring Plant-Based ‘Meat’ to Frozen Italian Food–If you do not think that plant based meat stand-ins are mainstream then how do you explain it being available in frozen pizza and lasagna?  Maybe it will be considered mainstream when there is a Jack’s frozen pizza with plant based pepperoni on sale for 4 for $10.

How Our Home Delivery Habit Reshaped the World–In an age of ubiquitous and pervasive shopping opportunities we need to radically rethink our relationship with consumerism.

Green Consumerism Is Part of the Problem–There is no such thing as “green consumerism.”  There is just “less bad consumerism.” Once we understand and internalize the reality that we cannot buy our way out of the problem of climate change, the sooner everyone will be better for it.

The Vanity of Billionaires Running for President

If you live in Iowa right now you are used to seeing some things.  First and foremost as we approach January 2020 is that the airwaves—both radio and television—are flooded with ads for a rogue’s gallery of presidential hopefuls.  Heck, you cannot fire up a video on You Tube without being assaulted by at least one ad calling the sitting President a “fraud and a failure.”  Granted, the sitting President is a fraud and a failure but I digress.

For some reason the current political situation and relative wide open field of candidates vying to take on Donald J. Trump in 2020 has forced upon us billionaires as saviors.  Armed with virtually unlimited war chests to spend on campaigns these billionaires are, in their own estimation, here to save us from the perils of another four years of a self-professed billionaire.  Is it ironic that the only prescription these men have to save us from the tyranny of a rich man is to elect another rich man.

Depending upon the source, Michael Bloomberg kicked off his campaign to be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States with an ad buy in excess of $30 million.

Again, depending upon the source, Tom Steyer had spent almost $50 million on his long shot bid to become the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.

Furthermore, Andrew Yang has spent approximately $8 million on a campaign polling in the noise at the bottom of the candidate list.

Let’s not even get into Howard Schulz, the former CEO of Starbucks, who threatened us all with his idea of running for President of the United States.

The vanity of these men is outstanding.  What ideas do Bloomberg, Steyer, Yang, or Schulz bring to the table that are not already being discussed and debated by candidates with years of political experience under their belts?

Their entire logic for running for President of the United States is that as very rich men they are uniquely suited to solve the problems of the United States of America.  You know who else thought along those very same lines?  Donald J. Trump.  See how that is turning out for the country.

Being a billionaire or even a multi-millionaire—I am still waiting on the receipts to see just how rich Donald Trump actually is—makes you one thing…rich.  That is it.  There is no intrinsic quality to money that conveys wisdom or ability or drive or compassion or whatever.  If Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, Barron Trump, or the forgotten child Tiffany Trump inherit any money from their father it just makes them “lucky spermers” in the parlance of old money winemakers.

What positive benefit could these men create by focusing their efforts and resources away from this vanity project and toward something else?  Look at Beto O’Rourke, who realized fairly quickly that despite his zeal for the office there was a general lack of enthusiasm for him as a national candidate, focusing on a state wide voter registration effort in Texas to flip that state blue.  If you want to get rid of Republicans and their politics of destruction the first step is to get more people voting.  Look at what happened when turnout rates are high as during the 2018 midterm elections.  It turns into a bloodbath for Republicans because the majority of the population does not like their policies.

Imagine the tens of millions and probably soon to be hundreds of millions being spent on vanity campaigns being redirected.

November 2019 Solar PV and Nissan Leaf EV Performance

November was an ugly month for solar photovoltaic production:

share_image

Why?  My system was disconnected and shut down due to a planned upgrade.  The guys from Moxie Solar installed an additional 8 panels and the attendant “balance of system” components like a new grid tie inverter.  The 8 additional panels represent an approximate 62% increase in nameplate capacity for my system.  Given the orientation and installation location are virtually the same as the previous 16 panels I expect to see an approximate 62% increase in solar production once the array is powered up.

This has to be one of the most frustrating parts of a solar installation.  The rooftop install and other system components were done in a little more than a working day.  The city inspection was done in about fifteen minutes and done a few days after installation.  The permission to operate and the simple act of flipping the switch?  I am still waiting.

See most of those zero production days in the last week of November?  That is the cost of waiting for someone to come over from the electric utility and watch a person from the solar installer flip a switch.   It is like a bad anecdote about union rules from the 1980s.  Soon…the switch will be flipped soon.

This might also be the last month for a while where I seen an average of over 5 miles per kilowatt hour in my Nissan Leaf.  For the month I drove a total of 619 miles that used 123.8 kWh of electricity at an average efficiency of 5.0 miles per kWh.  At an average carbon intensity, I avoided emitting ~702 pounds of CO2.

What November really taught me is that cold weather kind of sucks for an EV.  My particular Nissan Leaf is not equipped with the heat pump, so it relies on a resistive heater to provide any level of defrost in cold weather.  Most of the time my trips are short enough that I just deal with a cold cabin while the heated seat and steering wheel keep me cozy.  Put three passengers in the car and the windows start to fog up pretty quick with hot breath.  There is nothing so dispiriting as watching the guess-o-meter drop by 30% or more when you turn on the heat.

It is not enough to dissuade me from recommending an EV in general or an older Nissan Leaf in particular.  There is something to be said for taking advantage of a market dynamic like extreme depreciation.  You can have your Tesla Model 3.  I will take my solar panels, Nissan Leaf, and decarbonized home to the bank every day.

The Financial Math Behind Decarbonization

What if I told you that for the price of a base model Tesla Model 3—good luck actually finding one—you could decarbonize your household?

What if I told you that this is not a thought exercise but an examination of steps already taken?

Are you ready?

The price for base Tesla Model 3 is ~$35,000.  That is the price assuming that you can actually purchase the so-called “standard range” model and before any applicable tax credits.  For the purposes of this discussion I am going to leave tax credits aside for the time being.  So, we are working with a starting price of $35,000.

For that price you get an electric vehicle that has to draw power from the grid, which depending upon your locale and power company may support coal fired electricity.  It may also support fracking for natural gas or the nuclear power energy, assuming any of that industry remains in your region.

What else could you do with that $35,000?

Over the course of the past two and half years I have installed solar photovoltaic panels on my roof in two phases.  Why two phases?  Initially, my power company would only allow my roof mounted solar photovoltaic array to exceed my annual consumption—based on average expected production—by ~10% or so.  Considering how little electricity my household used in comparison to the average this worked out to a system of 4.64 kWh.  This initial phase cost me ~$11,000 before tax credits at the state and federal level.

In the past month I added ~62% more capacity to my existing solar photovoltaic array at a cost of ~$7,500.  In the past year I added an electric vehicle to the mix, which has upped my household consumption, in addition to a few winter months in 2019 where my prior panels were covered under deep snow curtailing production.  We also forgot to turn off a garage heater, which ran up the electric bill in February.  All told these changes goosed our consumption just enough to allow me to install an additional eight panels on my roof.

As it stands right now the photovoltaic array on my roof has a nameplate capacity of 7.52 kWh.  This was complete at a total cost of ~$18,500 before any tax credits.  Remember, we are leaving tax credits aside for the moment.  Assuming my household usage patterns hold—including one electric vehicle—this system will produce more than 100% of my household’s electricity requirements for the year.  The estimated excess production should allow me to replace my natural gas water heater with an electric air source heat pump model further reducing my household requirements for fossil fuels.  With the water heater replaced in the next year my household will only use natural gas for the forced air furnace in the colder months.  Trust me, I am looking at options to replace that as well.

What about the electric vehicle?  This is where the power of the market and a realistic assessment of one’s needs come into play.

A Tesla Model 3 is a fine automobile.  Dollar for dollar, it may be the best vehicle on the market right now when one considers its relative performance and environmental bona fides.  However, it still costs $35,000.

In January of this year I purchased a used Nissan Leaf for ~$11,500.  The Leaf had ~33K miles on the odometer, but the battery was in great condition being that the 2015 and later model years utilized an updated architecture that corrected some of the prior model years’ most glaring problems.  A purchase price of more than eleven thousand dollars might sound like a lot, but this was a car that retailed for more than $30,000 when new.  Losing two thirds of car’s value without high mileage is crazy town.  Or, good for the person who can take advantage.

If one can live with a lesser range, one can take advantage of the market punishing these older EVs for not being up to Tesla’s newer standards.  If one drives in town, for the most part, there is no disadvantage.  In almost a year of daily driving I have had just one instance of the range “guess-o-meter” dropping below ten miles remaining and I have never experienced the indignity of “turtle mode.”

How does this all add up?  Total cost for me to purchase an EV to replace all of my daily driver miles and enough solar photovoltaic capacity to power me entire household, including EV electricity requirements, was less than $30,000 before any tax incentives.  Compared to a $35K Tesla Model 3 I would say that I ended up in a better place.  Five thousand or so dollars better, mind you.

This is not to diminish the decision of someone purchasing a Tesla or any other EV.  Rather, it is to illustrate that there is an alternative path to decarbonization that is neither as expensive as portrayed by many and without any appreciable downsides.

The future is now.

Friday Linkage 11/29/2019

It’s Black Friday.  I hope that you are doing something today that is not shopping related.  Please.

On to the links…

Keystone XL: Police Discussed Stopping Anti-Pipeline Activists ‘by any means’–That is right, your freedoms as guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States mean nothing when an oil company wants to build a pipeline on your land.  The government is in bed with the oil companies.

Global Use of Coal-Fired Electricity Set for Biggest Fall this Year–We keep fighting and we keep pushing for a coal free future.  Our literal lives depend on it, literally.

Coal Knew, Too–Surprise, surprise.  The coal industry is almost universally a bad actor.  The coal industry treats communities, individuals, and the environment horribly in pursuit of a few extra dollars.

What A $108/kWh Battery Pack Would Mean For Tesla–I do not remember what the magic number in terms of cost was supposed to be for battery packs in EVs to speed mass adoption.  Maybe it was $100 per kWh. Maybe. Regardless, Tesla appears to be getting close on a decent level of scale. Now imagine millions of battery packs being manufactured by lots of players.  Scale brings cost down.

BMW Spends Billions to Secure Batteries and Drivetrains for its EVs–This is a sign that EVs are mainstream.  It is important to remember that many automobile manufacturers plan along 5-10 year time horizons given the lead times for things like stampings, etc.

Strike for Sunshine–Everyone on the left keeps waiting for a revival of organized labor in America.  Maybe the ideas behind the Green New Deal can spark a revival, but I am skeptical.  I do believe, however, that old school shoe leather organizing of workers across the industrial spectrum is what is needed.  Imagine a better world where Amazon warehouse workers, WalMart employees, and whoever else are unionized.

Clean Energy Technology was Thought to be Uninvestable. One Fund Thinks Otherwise–I am very leery of the “smart money” of Wall Street.  However, access to lots of capital may help speed development of clean energy.  I just hope that this is not a Faustian bargain.

How Bamboo Building Can Cool the Climate–Bamboo is just cool.

Kids In Finland Ride Their Bicycles To School In -17°C Weather–People at work look at me strangely when I go on a walk outside in weather that just hovers around freezing.  Imagine what they would say if I let my kids bike to school in even colder weather. Oh wait, my son walks to school year round.

Coca-Cola Sweden First Market To Adopt Fully Recycled Plastic–This is the absolute bare minimum that we should accept from packaged food makers.  If you cannot package your product in 100% recycled materials you cannot put your product up for sale.  Simple.

Friday Linkage 11/22/2019

This week one of the true giants of craft brewing announced a sale to a multi-national beverage conglomerate.  Fort Collins based New Belgium Brewery–the people behind Fat Tire Amber Ale–sold out to the group behind Kirin. This is the fourth largest craft brewery in the United States and the eleventh largest brewery overall.  Middle craft beer is dead. Support your small local brewery. Like today.

On to the links…

Keystone Spill Has Affected Nearly 10x More Land Than Was Estimated–Every time that someone brings up an argument in favor of an oil pipeline, especially the Keystone XL pipeline, just link to this article.  There is no such thing as a perfectly safe and secure oil or gas pipeline. The only perfectly safe and secure oil or gas pipeline is one that is not built.

See How Good the World Could be in 2040—If We Act on Climate Solutions Now–Lost in a lot of the pessimism about climate change specifically and the state of the world in general is that a future dystopia is not the only path available to use if we act.  Sure, right wing fanatics would have you believe that accelerationism–which is really just a pet theory for apocalypse nuts–is driving the world to the end times but they are wrong.

How Much Energy do We Really Need?–This is the kind of question that we need to be asking because it cuts at the very heart of the perpetual growth arguments of modern economic theory.  If we do not need to grow in perpetuity than we will need less energy than forecast in the future.

How to Cut U.S. Carbon Pollution by Nearly 40 Percent in 10 Years–Common sense and simple solutions to accelerate the climate change solution are available.  The problem is that a portion of this country’s politicians have no incentive whatsoever to embrace anything other than reactionary politics.  This is how we got a place where a conservative solution to health care coverage became the right wing’s bugaboo. We are doomed as long as these people are given any agency.

A Carbon Tax Won’t Kill the Economy–When someone at Forbes writes this article you have to wonder if the worm has turned.  It could also be that even the people at Forbes realize that America is relatively undertaxed and a carbon tax would go a long way to addressing destructive behaviors.  Somewhere Grover Norquist is hiding under his bedsheets and crying.

Two of America’s Biggest Coal Plants Closed this Month–This is why we keep pounding away at the problem by increasing efficiency, installing solar panels, and fighting for the true costs of fossil fuels to be included in the price of extraction.  Even with a president in the pocket of coal barons the ancient fuel is dying. Here is the damning paragraph from the article:

Together, the two retirements equal all the emission reductions from coal plant shut-downs in 2015, a record year when 15 GW of mostly smaller and older units were shuttered, reports Scientific American. Last year, 14 GW were mothballed. In 2020, more are on the way, including Kentucky’s Paradise plant.

The Paradise plant in Kentucky represents 1.15 GW of coal fired capacity.  It’s closure and another TVA asset in the region will save customers over $300M.  That is economics, bro!

5 Things to Know about Fighting Climate Change by Planting Trees–Here is the thing that gets me about this debate: the argument is that planting trees is not as good as some people make it out to be.  Okay, but that does not mean it is not beneficial. Just because the upside potential is lower than advertised does not mean that it ceases to be a worthwhile endeavour.  What is the downside?

When Residents Support Solar—Just ‘Not in My Backyard’–This is the worst.  Supposed liberals and supporters of green energy who just want to put energy production somewhere else.  Take responsibility for your consumption.

EasyJet Flights are Now Carbon Neutral–Carbon offsets are kind of the crack cocaine of the climate mitigation movement.  Easy to consume and oh so addictive. “See, we are carbon neutral,” a company can say without really addressing the underlying environmentally destructive behaviors that drive their business.

This Man Wants to Convince America Beef is Healthier than Meatless Burgers–This is also a man who worked for years to convince the American public that smoking was not a public heath crisis.  This is the same kind of man who will tell you industrial pollution is actually good for you. This is the same kind of man who will sell his soul for a few extra dollars in his bank.  This is the kind of man who needs to rot in hell.

There Are 2,000 Untested Chemicals in Packaged Foods — and It’s Legal–In some dark basement somewhere Richard Berman is swimming in his ill gotten gains like an oily Scrooge McDuck wondering if he should contact the packaged food industry to begin a campaign of telling us that untested chemicals in our food are really good for us.  Or, we could just avoid the middle aisles of the grocery store.

Los Angeles Places Largest Single Electric Bus Order In US History — 130 BYD K7M Buses–I am really waiting for the day when orders like this are just commonplace.  Or when orders of a much larger magnitude are what we report about. Still, progress.

Dominion Energy’s Electric School Bus Program Offers Valuable Vehicle-to-Grid Lesson–When electric buses are idle those big batteries can be part of the solution in shifting the mismatch between the supply of renewable energy and the demand for electricity.

Thermal Camera Reveals Efficiency Gap Between EV And ICE–About this time of year I wished I had a little bit of that wasted energy for heating my Nissan Leaf.

The U.S. Natural Gas Boom Is Fueling A Global Plastics Boom–Cheap natural gas equals cheap plastic.

Fast Shipping isn’t Great for the Environment— 7 Ways to Cut the Carbon Footprint on your Amazon Deliveries–Until Amazon is rocking a fleet of Rivian electric delivery trucks you are stuck with getting stuffed shipped the old fashioned way–heavily carbon intensive.  The advice is really simple: ship it together and ship it slowly. Or just stop buying stuff online.

This is What the Future Looks Like

Last week the installers from Moxie Solar completed the installation of eight additional solar photovoltaic panels on my west facing roof and the attendant upgrades to the electrical system (e.g. larger inverter).

Here is what 62% additional solar capacity looks like from the road:

IMG_20191119_105329112_HDR

See anything?  That is right, you do not see anything out of the ordinary save for a standard suburban house.

Here is what that same additional solar capacity looks like from the west side of the house:

IMG_20191119_105357389

This is what the future looks like.  Twenty four panels—sixteen 290W panels and eight 360W panels—producing green electricity every time the sun sends its rays our way.  These panels do their thing every day without nary a thought or action from me.  Silent and motionless these panels produce clean electricity.  This solar array will produce more than 100% of my household’s electricity needs including an electric vehicle.

If this is not the future than I have no idea of what will come to pass.