Tag Archives: renewable energy

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?

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Friday Linkage 9/8/2017

Labor Day week and the links are a little light.  Maybe I spent too much time reading about DACA, Hurricane Irma, and the forthcoming Iowa vs. Iowa State football game to really get my head into other news stories.

On to the links…

This EPA Statement Reads Like Something You’d Find in Breitbart—In a few years when the Trump Administration is little more than a steaming pile of bad memories the lasting damage will be unwound slowly and shit like this will just make us cringe in collective disbelief.  It is amazing that a group of politicians who accuse everyone outside their circle of being “fake news” is probably the largest source of bullshit every spewed from the West Wing.

Potential Carbon Capture Game Changer Nears Completion—Natural gas as a source of electricity is here to stay for a while, so if we could find a way to effectively and economically capture the carbon released as a result of combustion it could be a pathway to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Power Company Kills Nuclear Plant, Plans $6 Billion in Solar, Battery Investment—This happened in Florida, which is a state as hostile to a good idea as any that exists.  Heck, it’s a state that has elected Rick Scott to be its governor more than once.

How Tennessee’s Taken the Politics Out of Renewable Energy—Make it about choosing economically efficient solutions that provide renewable energy and even red states like Tennessee can get behind the green revolution.

Huge Tunisian Solar Park Hopes to Provide Saharan Power to Europe—The numbers are staggering.  4.5GW of solar is a monster number.  However, the dreams of tapping the Sahara Desert to power Europe always seem to be just a little out of reach.

After its Dams Came Down, a River is Reborn—The Elwha River will be a test case for dam removal going forward and it looks like an amazing success story.  Nature will find a way.

Ten Days of Solar in August

My recently installed and activated solar photovoltaic system was operational for 10 full days in August.  Over the course of that period of time the system generated approximately 178 kWh of clean and green electricity.  At an average daily production of almost 18 kWh the system is yielding somewhere between 70 and 75% based on system size, orientation, and estimated solar radiation.

Interestingly, during those ten days I am “ahead” approximately 95 kWh compared to my consumption.  This is probably due to the fact that late August in eastern Iowa has been chillier and cloudier than normal.  The chillier means we have not turned on the AC but the cloudier means my PV system is not generating as much as possible.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t so to speak.

If I continue to get the prior ten days’ worth of average electricity generation I should blow past my September electricity usage because we have taken some steps to reduce our household consumption even further.  Previously we were using about 380 kWh per month across twelve months.  Since the PV system was activated we stopped using a medium sized chest freezer in our basement that was really just a repository for junk food from warehouse stores.  It was not a large or old freezer, but I have to believe that it consumed a decent amount of electricity.  Plus, September is usually a great month for sleeping with the windows open.

I am sure that the novelty of my generation exceeding my consumption will wear off, but it is really fun.  I just wish that the electric meter had one of those old style wheels so that I could watch it spin backwards in the afternoon when the late day sun is blasting my west facing array.

Friday Linkage 9/1/2017

As we witness the damage in Houston and the surrounding area as a result of Hurricane Harvey our thoughts will turn to the recovery.  Knowing Texas this will be a great time to be a rich developer and a bad time to be anyone else.  My guess is that whole communities will get bulldozed to make way for developments that no one really asked for and lead to a wholesale change of what is a very diverse city.

Plus, our flaccid cantaloupe of a leader actually praised the size of the crowd which was comprised of refugees from the storm.

On to the links…

Pay Heed to What Nature Is Telling Us—Right wingers and Republicans in general are too concerned with staying in power by satiating a rabid base that thinks climate change is some socialist conspiracy designed to rip their guns and freedom away to actually do something constructive.  It is incumbent on the rest of us—as in the majority of Americans—to drive our nation forward in a positive direction.

The Death of US Coal, In Charts—The data does not lie and hucksters like Jim Justice know this to be true.  No one is adding new coal fired generation capacity and most utilities are removing such capacity.  It’s called a death spiral.

The (Only) Culprit Of Coal’s Demise—[http://oilprice.com/Energy/Coal/The-Only-Culprit-Of-Coals-Demise.html]  Cheap natural gas is the first order effect on coal.  It is the primary driver for the decline in coal use, but other secondary factors have played an increasingly important role.  Call it piling on if you will.

Xcel Energy Plans to Retire Two Coal-Fired Plants in Pueblo, Increase Renewables—If only Colorado Springs could finally close the awful Drake power plant in the middle of town.

Coal in Decline: An Energy Industry on Life Support—It’s not just true in the U.S. but in Australia as well.  What the Australian case shows is that as these plants age retirement will become a more attractive financial option given the state of electricity markets.

Australia Generates Enough Renewable Energy to Power 70% of Homes—Maybe this is why coal is in such trouble in Australia.  The next step is to figure out a grid level storage system to take excess supply and apply it to peak demand periods.

Wind Power Costs Could See Another 50% Reduction by 2030—How is that for a gut punch to coal and natural gas?

Wind Power Costs Could Drop 50%. Solar PV Could Provide up to 50% of Global Power. Damn.—Believe it.

America’s First U.S.-Built Offshore Wind Installation Vessel—By 2018 the U.S. will have a mobile work platform designed for installing offshore wind turbines.  This is how we put the knowledge paid for by the offshore drilling industry to good use.

Shuttle Fleet At Zion National Park Adds Proterra E2 Electric Bus—Heavy use commercial and fleet vehicles like garbage trucks and busses should be the first focus of the electrification drive because these diesel monsters put on huge miles per year and spew a lot of bad stuff into the air.  Plus, with fuel costs being such a large component of the cost of ownership the operators are keen to save money.  Additionally, electric drivetrains are simpler to maintain.

Class 7 All-Electric Truck From Cummins Revealed—No one is saying that the first heavy duty tractor trailers to get electrified need to be able to drive across Nebraska on I-80 in one charge.  There is a large market of shorter haul trucks—think the multi-modal system out of the port in Los Angeles—that could go electric first.

China’s Crazy Plan to Keep Sand From Swallowing the World—If there is one place where people do not sit around endlessly discussing an idea to determine if it is too crazy to succeed it has to be China.  Generally this leads to bad air and questionable development, but in this case the outcome is decidedly greener.

How We Stayed Cool in the Summer Heat Without AC—Man are we over air conditioned.

My New Addiction

One of the great features of my SolarEdge inverter is a monitoring system that produces a great looking dashboard:

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There is an app for my phone that shows the same information updated at fifteen minute intervals.  Damn, this is addictive.  I check it probably ten times a day to see what my new toy is doing.

Now that I mention it, I wonder what the production is right now…

Solar Power is Scary for a Reason

Solar power should scare the daylights out of anyone who generates electricity from coal, natural gas, and/or nuclear.  Why?  It works like some sort of middle ages alchemy.

After two half-days of work, a grip load of procedural hoops, and about $11k in cash I had my solar system installed on my roof:

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Now, it just sits there generating what I hope will be more than 100% of my annual electricity needs.  More so, it does it in the most unspectacular way.  The panels just sit on my roof, unseen from the front of the house, soaking up the sun silently day in and day out.  When I go to work the panels just sit there soaking up the sun without any intervention on my part.  When I go on vacation the same deal applies.

If you take into account the tax credits that I will receive from the federal and state governments, I am looking at a net cost of approximately $6k to generate all or more of my electricity needs from the sun via solar panels on my roof.  I keep looking around wondering if there is a catch that I missed somewhere that states this is not really possible.

Solar power used to be the stuff of Mother Earth News and Homepower, both great magazines but hardly the harbingers of mainstream adoption.  Sure, the hippie dippie science teacher at your middle school had solar panels, biked to work, and wore tie dyed hemp shirts but he was an outlier.  Solar power is no longer an outlier.  It is something that nearly everyone, including someone like me who lives in a very “basic” suburban home in a nondescript development in eastern Iowa, can put on their roof and break free of the fossil fuel monopoly.

These are seemingly dark times.  The threat of climate change is real.  Our government is led by a cadre of profiteers in the pocket of business interests with a nominal figurehead who is the single most unfit human to ever hold that office.  Our civil society seems not so civil anymore as polarization and animosity appear to be at extremely high levels compared with the relative calm of the recent past.

However, I hold out hope because solutions to some of these problems seem so close at hand.  We have the tools to create lasting and meaningful change that will lead to a resilient and abundant future.

Demand Destruction from Home

Demand destruction is what coal mining companies, utilities, and anyone who benefits from a centrally controlled power grid dreads.  Why?  Demand destruction represents an existential threat to the entire business model of these entities.

Consider the state of Iowa’s electricity generation mix and my recently installed solar photovoltaic system.  Iowa’s electricity generation mix breaks down like this for April of 2017:

Iowa Energy Chart.gif

In Iowa non-hydroelectric renewables usually equals wind given the relatively low penetration of solar photovoltaic generation.  Another caveat is that the wind tends to blow strongly in the spring and demand for electricity has not spiked with the onset of the summer air conditioning season.

Now consider the impact of a solar photovoltaic system, mine or someone else’s.  When that demand leaves the grid, so to speak, what generation sources do you think will be curtailed?  In order I think it would be coal, nuclear, natural gas, and finally wind.  Why?  Wind turbines do not have a recurring fuel cost, so the cost to retire them does not include a perpetuity of fuel cost baked in which can be a significant driver for an asset with a long life.

In other terms, do you keep generating power by paying to burn a fuel or just harvest the wind for free?  In business school the number one lesson I learned in marketing was to not compete with free.  You will lose every time.

So, as demand disappears from the grid as a result of distributed residential solar the traditional fossil fuel sources are forced to compete with installed and cheap wind power for a dwindling number of customers.  I exaggerate to some degree to get the point across, but in Iowa this may not be such a moot point given the plans for wind power development in the next three years.

Depending upon how you measure it Iowa has more than 6,900 megawatts of wind power providing anywhere from 35% to 40% of the state’s electricity.  This is great news in and of itself, but the state’s two major utilities—MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy—have announced investments for an additional 3,000 megawatts or more by 2020.  Just with these additions—barring any additional activity by other energy players—would bring Iowa nearly 10,000 megawatts of wind power and give the state the capacity to produce more than 50% of its electricity from the wind.  This is without a significant portion of the state’s electricity demand being displaced by distributed residential solar or energy efficiency.

As you can see from the chart that when the wind blows heavily, which it tends to do in the spring, wind is already the largest source of electricity generation in the state.  That trend was true for February, March, and April of 2017. This is only going to grow in the future.

Our homes can be the drivers of change for a cleaner and greener world.