Tag Archives: clean energy

We Have More than Enough Money to Decarbonize Our Energy System

If I ever hear another American politician say that we cannot afford the transition to clean energy I will scream.  Why you ask?

In 2012 it was estimated that consumers in the U.S spent approximately $65 billion on soda.  In that same year it was estimated that consumers in the U.S. spent approximately $11 billion on bottled water.  [1] That is to say that American consumers spent over $75 billion on unnecessary drinks and, in the case of soda, a product that is generally regarded to be detrimental to your health.  Not to mention the environmental impact of disposable, single use containers.

Okay, why is that relevant in the terms of this discussion?  In 2016, the most recent year for which full year data is available, the U.S. invested $44 billion in clean energy including both private investing and government expenditure.  [2]

Therefore, we spend more than 50% more on soda and bottled water per year than we invest in clean energy.  If we just directed the money from soda and bottled water to clean energy investment it would represent an increase of 172%.  That is a lot of solar panels and wind turbines.

Someone may argue that this scenario is impractical, but I would challenge such an argument on several fronts.  One, spending on soda and bottled water—for the most part—is totally discretionary.  No one needs a Diet Coke to survive and other than emergency situations no one needs bottled water.  It could be argued that it would be better if no one consumed bottled water given the economic and environmental impact of a product that can also be obtained from municipal water supplies.  Two, by and large individuals now have the power to redirect their discretionary spending toward renewable energy.  As long as you have the capital or alternative financing arrangements are available you can put solar panels directly on your roof.  Thus, your Diet Coke and Evian habit can be turned into clean energy.  A direct substitution, so to speak.

My point is to illuminate that when we discuss the level of investment necessary to decarbonize our energy system it needs to be placed in direct comparison to some broader economic choices.  Is the future our planet worth skipping that Dr. Pepper?

  1. http://classroom.synonym.com/how-much-do-americans-spend-on-soft-drinks-12081634.html
  2. http://www.businessinsider.com/us-2015-renewable-energy-investments-2016-5
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Friday Linkage 10/6/2017

This country is messed up in so many ways.  What has happened in the past weeks in Puerto Rico and Las Vegas are horrific reminders of the role our politicians play in responding to disasters and shaping our future.  However, we are saddled with Trump and his merry band of Republican sycophants who care for nothing more than self-adulation, guns, and tax cuts.  In reality, Trump cares only about self-adulation and Republicans really only care about tax cuts but both are willing to use the issue of gun rights to get their desired outcomes.

I do hold out hope that there is a better and more constructive future in the works as the coalition that has propped up the right wing for the past twenty years fractures under its own internal pressures and external demographic realities.

On to the links…

The McKibben Effect: A Case Study in How Radical Environmentalism Can Work—It’s not radical if the end goal is the survival of humanity as a species.  It’s only radical because the forces opposed have deduced that the easiest way to create opposition is to label something as radical in an effort to saddle it with semantic baggage.

Skiing IS Politics—The personal is political and it always has been.

New Era of Solar Power is Now Upon Us—According to the International Energy Agency, two-thirds of the power installed in 2016 was solar.  The same agency predicts that solar growth will be the highest of any energy source through at least 2022.

US Renewables Grew 10% In 1st Half Of 2017—That is a damn good number for the first half of the year given that the number usually spikes in the second half due to large projects coming on line before the year’s end.

Growth of Green Energy Sector Surges in Minnesota—Clean and green energy is producing a lot of jobs in a lot of places.  No one really thinks about Minnesota being a hot spot for solar, but solar is big business now.

What’s Up in Coal Country: Alternative-Energy Jobs—This is what the future looks like.  It is not Trump’s attempt to use clowns like Rick Perry to prop up the coal industry for the benefit of a few crony capitalists.  It is about providing jobs for people in an industry that can help make the world a better place.

Courts are Waking up to the Cost of Climate Change—The guy at the top and his minions—here’s looking at you Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke—may be tools of the fossil fuel industry, but it looks like the rest of the world is realizing the true costs of these fuels need to take into account externalities.

Here are the Actual Tax Rates the Biggest Companies in America Pay—As the debate over tax reform…errr tax cuts heats up in Washington D.C. take note of what is really happening.  American companies do not pay higher taxes than their counterparts in Europe.  However, you will hear this time and again in the coming months.  It is a right wing myth.

Americans Have Soured on Junk Food. Don’t Worry, Food Companies Have a Plan.—Americans no longer mindlessly consume ever more Big Macs, Whoppers, and whatever the hell Taco Bell is making today.  Oh, we still consume the veritable shit ton of junk food but the growth has stalled.  On to the developing world the titans of garbage in a paper sack say.

Bicycle Highway in the Netherlands Built Using Recycled Toilet Paper—Leave it to the freaking Dutch to build a bike path out of recycled toilet paper.

This Entire Barley Field was Planted and Harvested without Humans—Automation in farming may happen before automation in our personal automobiles.  I do not know what the positives and negatives are of this development but robotic farming is kind of cool.

Which Is Better for the Environment: Meatless Mondays or #NoRedOctober?—Why not do both?

Friday Linkage 3/31/2017

It is starting to feel like spring in Iowa, which means it has rained for several of the past few days and the temps are holding to a balmy mid-40s range.  Joy.

Despite the less than stellar weather it is time to start thinking about warmer weather projects and the list is long this year.  I cannot wait to get my hands dirty again.

On to the links…

What If They Killed The Clean Power Plan & Nobody Cared?—This is the best case scenario for the next few years.  We can only hope that the cost curve keeps bending in renewable energy’s favor and that coal continues to die a long, slow death.

Top US Coal Boss Robert Murray: Trump ‘Can’t Bring Mining Jobs Back’—Donald Trump lied, no big surprise, because coal jobs are not coming back.  No one is going to reopen old mines in Appalachia and the mines in the western U.S. are all about big machines.

Clean Energy Employs More People than Fossil Fuels in Nearly Every U.S. State—Seems like the jobs argument is pretty simple.  Granted, Exxon Mobil does not give donations to its political cronies to promote solar jobs.

Do Environmental Regulations Reduce Employment? Not Really.—Facts do not matter to the current administration and its Russian stooges, so I imagine that a fact based argument about environmental regulations would be shouted down as fake news or some such bullshit.

Alaska Warms to Solar Power as Prices Fall and Benefits Grow—This is Alaska.  Other than Wyoming fewer states are more associated with fossil fuels than Alaska.  If Alaska goes solar what’s left?

As Energy Mix Becomes Cleaner, Minnesotans Paying Less for It—So a cleaner power grid is a cheaper power grid.  Okay, who wants to argue against cheaper and cleaner?

Tesla Solar in Hawaii is a Sign of Things to Come—The future is now.

Australian Rooftop Solar Installs Are Up 43% In 2017—Australia should be covered in solar panels.  The country is more sun baked than any I can think of outside of the Middle East.

Rescuing Los Angeles—I am beginning to think the future will look a lot like this small patch of Los Angeles.  As institutions are increasingly prevented from being effective by elected leaders beholden to deceitful special interests solutions to livability will be hyper-local and inherently DIY.

Solving Global Dietary Problems is a Bigger Challenge than Climate Change—Meat is bad for the climate.  There is little logical argument against this statement.  Also, western societies eat too much meat.  Again, there is little logical argument against this statement.

Cycling in Minnesota Creates Thousands of Jobs and Cuts Health-Care Spending—Basically, cycling is awesome.

5 Packaging Materials You Didn’t Know are Difficult to Recycle—How many of these packaging materials have you or I blindly thrown in the recycling bin?

Illinois Considers Legalizing Marijuana for a Fiscal Boost—This is the end of prohibition on marijuana in the United States.  Once the first state does it for economic reasons every other non-legalized state will follow.  It’s all about the Benjamins.

U.S. Craft Brewers Up 6% in Volume, 10% in Retail Dollars—Craft beer in the U.S. continues to grow at a rapid clip. However, I am worried about the long term prospects for so many breweries.

Rapidgrass Sings The I-70 Blues—If you have ever thought your ski vacation would begin soon after seeing the mountains poke through Front Range haze on I-76 you have not experienced the I-70 blues.

Friday Linkage 1/13/2017

Did that circus sideshow…er, press conference actually occur on Wednesday morning?  Is this the beginning of the end for the American experiment?  Or is it the beginning of the end of the Republican Party?  We can always hope.

Furthermore, can someone please tell right wingers to stop making comparisons to Nazi Germany.  One, it is factually wrong on so many levels and right wingers have been getting it wrong for the better part of a decade.  Just because the official party name included the word “socialist” does not mean that the Nazis had anything to do with socialism.  Two, it cheapens the horrors committed by the Nazis and their allies.

On to the links…

All the Risks of Climate Change, in a Single Graph—Try and think some happy thoughts:

nature_cc_reasons_for_concern_graph.png

States, Power Companies Lead in Cutting Carbon; Election Not Slowing Expected 2017 Progress—The Federal government may be screwed for the next several years, but paralysis at the national level will not stop progress by states and utilities.

US Energy Analysis Sees Renewable Electricity Passing Coal by 2030—Granted, natural gas is still going to be getting burnt.  A lot, but there is hope that we can kill the coal beast.

Arab Gulf Firms Set their Sights on the Region’s Growing Appetite for Solar Power—Lots of sunshine…check.  Available land…check.  Urban populations…check.  When oil rich gulf states are realizing the potential you know the jig is up.

Costa Rica got 98 Percent of its Electricity from Renewables in 2016—Costa Rica uses a lot less electricity per capita than other nations, but 98% is a totally rad figure.  Yes, I used the adjective rad.

China Is Pumping Hundreds of Billions of Dollars Into New Renewable Energy Projects by 2020—While the U.S. led by an orangutan dithers on what to do about the next generation of energy, China is blowing everyone’s doors off by investing billions on top of billions into renewables.

Clean-Energy Jobs Boosting Colorado’s Economy—The key element of this report is not the jobs related to energy production like wind turbine mechanics or solar installers, but the jobs around things like energy efficiency.  There is hay to make in driving efficiency into all corners of our economy.

Arizona still a Force in Solar Power, despite Other States’ Gains—The economics must be good because Arizona politicians have definitely tried to kill solar power on a number of occasions.

Infinite Solar Power Technology Could Completely Change Our Future—Headlines like this remind me of old newsreels that proclaimed nuclear power was going to be so cheap that it would be “too inexpensive to meter.”  How did that work out?

The Bizarre and Inspiring Story of Iowa’s Fish Farmers—What if our fish came from aquaculture in the middle of the U.S. instead of dirty farms in South America or Southeast Asia?  What is that fish was raised on plant based meal instead of ground of fish meal?  What if…

Nine Easy Things You Can Do To Save the Ocean—Some of this is obvious, but repetition is not always a bad thing when you are trying to change people’s behavior.

Friday Linkage 7/11/2014

It’s off to Colorado for a week of being out of touch, visiting some new breweries, and generally trying to recharge to ol’ batteries. Thus, I will be out of pocket and not posting for more than a week but I should have some good stuff to share come the end of the month like a rundown of some really good beers made in Minnesota that I picked up during my trip over the fourth of July and whatever I end up discovering in the Centennial State.

On to the links…

Investment In Clean Energy At Highest Point Since 2012—Just some plain ol’ good news.

The Emerging Clean Energy Edge—Carl Pope, the former director of the Sierra Club, has a succinct piece on why clean energy has reached the tipping point where it can displace traditional fossil fuels without the need for subsidies. Dig it.

Renewable Energy Provided One-Third Of Germany’s Power In The First Half Of 2014—Don’t believe it is possible to see large scale usage and integration of renewables? Witness Germany getting one third of its power from renewables for an entire half of a year. Not a day. Not a holiday. Rather, an entire half year. Pretty impressive.

‘Singlet Fission’ can Increase Solar Cell Efficiency by as much as 30 Percent—I do not understand the science behind the breakthrough, but anything that can increase the efficiency of solar PV is a good thing.

Taking Oil Industry Cue, Environmentalists Drew Emissions Blueprint—I love that people are surprised by the environmental movement taking cues from the oil and gas lobby. Really? Those companies have been wildly successful in shaping public policy for the better part of a century. It’s about damn time.

Nine Iowa Counties see Million-Gallon Crude Oil Trains—My neck of the woods is not on the list, but these rolling firebombs waiting to happen are rumbling through a good portion of the state. It feels a little too close to home.

To Improve Accuracy, BBC Tells Its Reporters To Stop Giving Air Time To Climate Deniers—Finally, a news corporation takes a stand on giving climate deniers equal time. Why do people who are outnumbered at least 99 to 1 if not 999 to 1 get anywhere close to equal time on the air? Besides Fox News, the BBC’s practice should be standard for every other news outlet. Who cares what Rush says about your bias because he is a blowhard bought and paid for by the extreme right.

This Train Could Power A Fleet Of Electric Buses—Trying to wring out every last wasted kilowatt of electricity is a surer climate change mitigation strategy than any expansion of renewables in terms of immediate return on investment. Innovative solutions like this are going to be part of the future plan.

Californians Keep Up With Joneses’ Water Use—This is depressing. California is facing epic drought and its citizens are doing little if anything to conserve water on a personal level. Who needs a freakin’ green lawn in California? No one.

Protecting Parrotfish on the Path to a Caribbean Reef Revival—Reefs are complete ecosystems, so we need to ensure the vitality of all the creatures that inhabit them. The decline of parrotfish means that algae and other organisms colonize the coral and outcompete more traditional reef inhabitants.

Interior Commits to Bison Restoration, but Offers few Specifics—The North American bison is an amazing creature and its restoration from near extinction is also equally amazing. What is needed, as the Poppers postulate in their Buffalo Commons idea, is a wide scale reintroduction into the landscape of the American west that has been long dominated by cattle.

What Type of Environmentalist are You?—This little quiz made the rounds of the internet during this week. It’s a fun little diversion.

More And More Companies Are Buying Their Way Overseas To Get Lower Taxes—Do you want to know why we have a revenue problem in the U.S.? It’s because corporations keep making more money and keep paying less in taxes. ‘Nuff said.

Friday Linkage 12/28/2012

Christmas is over, the New Year is almost here, and the world keeps spinning.  It’s likely we are heading over the fiscal cliff, the SEC is on the path to another BCS national title, and yet the world will keep spinning.

I guess what I am trying to say is that no matter how dire things look the world manages to find a way to keep on spinning and we find a way to keep on living.  Don’t think another SEC BCS national title is a dire thing?  Obviously you do not spend a lot of time around fans of colleges from the SEC.  Ugh…

On to the links…

Does Foam Insulation Belong in Green Buildings?–Man, the more I read about foam insulation of all types the more thankful I am that my builder steered me away from spray foam as a go to option.  Instead we used a blown in product that has produced amazing results.  Maybe we should follow a modified version Michael Pollan’s “food rules.”

10 Energy Numbers to Remember from 2012–Just a nice little rundown of energy related statistics from 2012 to keep in the back of your mind.   Bring on 2013!

New World Record Set for Solar Cells: 44% Efficiency–Oh yeah, bring on the higher efficiencies.  Step by step we are getting closer to a time when solar photovoltaics will be cheaper than any fossil fuel.

Nanomaterials that Split Sunlight Into Separate Colors Could Bring Solar Panels to 50% Efficiency–If you thought 44% efficiency was badass, well get ready for 50% efficiency.  As solar panels get cheaper and cheaper on a per watt basis the focus has to turn to the balance of system costs, which usually are the majority of system costs in the U.S.

Top Ten PV Projects Under Construction in the US–If you do not think solar is for real, check out the size of these projects.  Solar is very real.

Local Solar: Minnesota Develops Its First Community Solar Project–This is a great story because this is a way forward for a lot of communities to take advantage of solar energy.  These systems can be hard to locate and finance, but if enough people can get together a site for a larger system can be found, financing can be secured, etc.  All right!

Germany Still Kicking Ass on Clean Energy: 2012 Production Forecast to be 15% Above 2011–And when I think the U.S. has come a long way a country like Germany comes along to make me feel like a fool.  The real kicker here is that this 15% growth on an already large base of installed renewables.

Cause of Death Trends for the U.S. and Australia–This is just a fascinating interactive data set to play with.  Data can be fun when it is presented in an accessible way.