Sunday, March 18, 2018

Beyond Three Thirds, the Road to Deep Decarbonization - By Michael Liebreich, Senior Contributor, Bloomberg New Energy Finance

Wind tower by smokestack (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
In my BNEF Summit keynote in London last September, I talked about how far clean energy and transport had come over the last fifteen years.  Where renewable energy used to be dismissed as “alternative”, I talked about the “new orthodoxy” of what I called the Three-Third World:  by 2040 one third of global electricity will be generated from wind and solar; one third of vehicles on the road will be electric; and the world’s economy will produce one third more GDP from every unit of energy.

The fact that we are on track for the Three-Third World is quite extraordinary.   It certainly outstrips my expectations when I founded New Energy Finance in 2004.  And it is probably unstoppable:  wind, solar and battery costs will continue to fall faster than any mainstream energy forecasters expect, and there is nothing that makes me think President Donald Trump will succeed in his attempts to revive coal.

That’s the good news.  The bad news is that even though we are on track to achieve the Three-Third World by 2040, it will not be enough 
Building efficiency
First of all, we all need to start treating the energy efficiency of our buildings like it really matters.  Mainly that means insulation, air-tightness, and good thoughtful architecture and design.  It doesn’t need to add much cost to the building; in many cases nothing at all.  Ten years ago, I had never heard of the PassivHaus building standard; in ten years’ time, all new buildings could easily meet it.  In fact, there is no reason why new houses shouldn’t produce more energy than they consume, receiving utility revenues instead of incurring utility costs.  It’s just a question of applying technologies and techniques we know work.

Retrofits are harder.  The important thing is that any time a building undergoes a deep renovation, its energy performance has to be brought up to the highest standard.  It is possible – I’ve done it.  As long as you are doing deep renovation works anyway, the extra costs are not prohibitive.  Even a twenty-year payback would be equivalent to 5% risk-free after-tax – a highly attractive rate of return to most home-owners in a world of persistently low interest rates.  Mainstream mortgage providers need to stop colluding in a system that treats the cost of a new kitchen as an investment, but the cost of a low-energy retrofit as an expense.

Once all new-builds and deep renovations are done properly, we will halve our heating challenge over twenty years, allowing a lot more of the heating load to be met electrically, mainly with air-source and ground-source heat pumps.  If you think they can’t work in cold temperatures, just look at Norway, or Japan.

Then there are other new technologies.  Some of the most intriguing start-ups I come across are working on thermal batteries, using phase-change materials, salts, clever thermodynamics, or just big chunks of concrete or tanks of hot water.  Drake’s Landing Solar Community meets over 95% of its winter heating needs from solar energy collected during the summer.  It lies just 45 minutes’ drive from the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympic venues.  How cool is that – or rather how warm?

There are, however, significant benefits to continuing to power a large proportion of the world’s heating with solid, gas, or even liquid fuels.  These are easier to store in bulk to cope with seasonality and resilience than electricity, which will always need to balance to within a few days’ of real time, and will also be needed by industry.  The question is how to make them zero-carbon.

A significant proportion of the heating load in temperate climates –  in countries like the U.K., Northern Europe, New England, Canada, the former Soviet Union, and Northern Asia – could be met by biogas or biomass, most efficiently using combined heat-and-power, or CHP, cogeneration.  Though it is hard to add district heating in existing neighborhoods, it can be done – look at Sweden.  Some 10% more Swedish households have been connected to district heating every decade since the 1960s, to the point where over half of all homes are now connected.  And here’s a thought – since you are going to have to add more capacity to local grids to charge all those EVs, how about combining new bio-based CHP delivering local heating, with massive battery storage, to provide grid services and improve resilience for energy-intensive industries, all while reducing investment requirements in the distribution grid?

If there’s not enough biogas, you might consider running your CHP on natural (i.e. fossil) gas, which would still be up to 85% efficient, but not zero-carbon.  To achieve that, you would need to use CCS (carbon capture and storage), but let’s be clear, that is not happening in the absence of a carbon price.  Micro-CHP is attractive until you consider the capital cost, and even with a carbon price it’s hard to see how to capture the emissions from distributed sources.

And that brings us to hydrogen, which can be used anywhere without creating local emissions.

My skepticism about hydrogen vehicles is well known.  What real problem do they solve?  If you have electricity and you want to drive somewhere, just use a battery electric vehicle (BEV) – they will be fully competitive with internal combustion vehicles on a total-cost-of-ownership basis with no subsidy within five to six years in most markets, according to BNEF forecasts ... .  Why would you waste half of your electricity electrolyzing hydrogen, compressing and storing it, only to turn it back into electricity in a car?

If you are concerned about how long it takes to refuel, well that is a problem for the few percent of us who actually drive long distances; everyone else will charge their EVs overnight.  Most people won’t want to visit a hydrogen station every few days just to avoid a 20-minute charge on the rare occasion when they drive long-distance.  Even commercial vehicles, unless they regularly drive long distances – say, over 300 miles – will go electric.  Ships, trans-continental trains, long-distance trucking, and niches like fork-lift trucks are the only parts of the transport system where hydrogen makes any sense.

In fact, even if you have already produced your hydrogen for some other reason – such as seasonal storage – and you want to drive somewhere, it will make more sense to generate power centrally and charge an EV, rather than to put it in a hydrogen-fueled vehicle.  Doing so will be much lower-capex per megawatt, much more efficient, and you can extract value from the waste heat.  And that’s before getting into the lack of hydrogen filling stations compared to the ubiquity of the grid, the complexity of fuel cell vehicles versus the simplicity of EVs, maintenance costs, safety, and so on.

Nevertheless, I am bullish about hydrogen.  It is one of the most promising ways of dealing with longer-term storage, beyond the minutes, hours or days that could be met by batteries, or the limited locations in which pumped storage could work.  It can be stored as hydrogen, perhaps blended into the existing natural gas system, or after conversion into ammonia, natural gas (so-called power-to-gas, or P2G), methanol, or some higher-value synthetic liquid fuel.  It can help provide the huge pulses of reliable power needed by some energy-intensive industries like ceramics.  We need to stop fooling ourselves about hydrogen as a transport fuel, and explore its pervasive use throughout our energy, chemical, and industrial system.

Read more at Liebreich:  Beyond Three Thirds, The Road to Deep Decarbonization

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Saturday 17

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

From Residential to Utility-Scale, Solar Wins in Recent State-Level Actions

Community-scale solar (Image credit: CC0 Creative Commons | Pixabay) Click to Enlarge.
22 Solar Projects for New York
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on March 9 announced that New York has authorized competitive awards under the state’s Clean Energy Standard mandate for 22 utility-scale solar projects.  The awards are part of $1.4 billion awarded for a total of 26 renewable energy projects in the state.

Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) President and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper in a statement commended Cuomo for what she said is a “historic commitment to solar energy.”

“These 22 solar projects will create thousands of jobs, generate billions of dollars in investment and bring clean and affordable energy to the residents of New York state,” she said.  “It is highly rewarding to see that the Empire State has made this groundbreaking investment in solar energy.”

Energy Bill Signed in Virginia
Gov. Ralph Northam on March 9 signed an omnibus energy bill for Virginia that designates 5.5 GW of solar and wind energy as “in the public interest.”  The bill also initiates a process to modernize the state’s power grid to help spur renewable energy development.

SEIA Vice President of State Affiars Sean Gallagher said in a statement that the public interest finding is a “great first step” for solar in Virginia.

“[W]e must ensure the grid modernization process that this bill initiates is data-driven, solicits the public’s input, and is not a blank check for a utility to spend consumers’ money with little accountability,” Gallagher said.

By 2022 Virginia is expected to have an installed solar capacity of about 2 GW, before taking the new law into consideration, according to SEIA.

New Jersey Considers Clean Energy Bills
New bills filed on March 14 by New Jersey legislators have been lauded by many clean energy organizations for their potential to grow the state’s renewables development and extend benefits of clean energy to more residents.

The text of the bills was not immediately available in the state’s online legislative documents center.

According to the SEIA, the two companion bills introduced in the New Jersey House and Senate would increase the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard target for solar and begin the process of developing next-generation solar incentives in the state.

This legislation would also help establish a community solar program in the state, giving consideration to residential customers, especially in multifamily buildings, and low-to-moderate income customers, SEIA said.

In a statement Brandon Smithwood, policy director for the Coalition for Community Solar Access, said the bills were important for solar in New Jersey in light of the recent tariffs places on solar cells and panels.

Read more at From Residential to Utility-Scale, Solar Wins in Recent State-Level Actions

Siting a Wind Farm in the Most Challenging Place in the US

Developer: “It’s a bit of a bellwether for what the future looks like.”

Image, right: visual simulation of the AWE as it will be seen from Gregg Lake in Antrim, NH. (Credit: AWE) Click to Enlarge.
According to Jack Kenworthy, CEO of Eolian Renewable Energy, a project developer based in New Hampshire, the best wind projects are those that have died two times because then you know what’s wrong with them.  The project he is currently working on is known as Antrim Wind Energy (AWE), a 28.8-MW wind farm on the Tuttle Hill ridge line in Antrim, N.H. in the United States.

On a windy day in late February, Kenworthy, Henry Weitzner with Walden Green Energy, a subsidiary of German utility RWE, and landscape architect David Raphael with Landworks, took several members of the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) on a site inspection tour to show them how AWE will impact the community in which it resides.

New England Wind Projects Challenging
In all of the U.S., New England is among the most difficult places to site wind projects.  Walden Green Energy’s Henry Weitzner said this one has been one of the worst.  “Walden has looked at about 15 different projects,” he said, adding, “We have looked at Texas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Utah and California, and I would say that there definitely are some issues in California but this is overwhelmingly the most difficult.”

So why even try?  Going back to 2009, Kenworthy explained he had originally viewed the process of building a wind farm in the state of New Hampshire as the most reasonable of all the New England states.  At that time there had been three wind projects that had gone though the SEC process.  “The process itself was long and expensive and kind of painful for all those projects but at the end of the day they were able to be built,” he said.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with his project, which was not modified or conditioned but outright denied “at the 11th hour on a subjective issue” he said.  The reason for the denial was adverse aesthetic impacts.

Rather than give up, Kenworthy altered the project, dropping one turbine all together and modifying the height of another to lessen its visual impact.  Further, he swapped out the Iberdrola turbines with higher-rated Siemens turbines so he could deliver the same amount of power to the grid with fewer turbines.

Since a few years had passed, he was also armed with more direction regarding what benchmarks the project needed to meet.  “Noise is very clear to us — it is a 40 DBA standard.  Shadow flicker is very clear — it is an 8-hour per year standard.  We can meet that,” Kenworthy said.  

Finding Good Sites
Kenworthy said part of his tenacity in building the AWE project is that it is the best sited wind project in the state.  Not only because of the excellent wind resource, but also because the project can be built close to existing transmission lines and close to a main highway, so there is no need to build new transmission nor is there any roadway impact.

“Look, good wind sites, nowadays in New England are extremely rare.  This is one of them.  In fact, it's not just a good wind site, it’s a great wind site,” said Kenworthy.

Read more at Siting a Wind Farm in the Most Challenging Place in the US

Climates Change Faster in a Warmer and Wetter World

While more rain normally cools a summer environment, a warmer and wetter world could face quite unfamiliar problems.

Heat and moisture together can speed up climate change. (Image Credit: Mary Hollinger, NOAA, via Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
Climate change may still cause surprises, if simultaneously it means a warmer and wetter world.  More heat and moisture together can unbalance ecosystems.

Scientists have been warning for decades of shifts towards ever greater risks of flooding in some places, more intense and sustained droughts and potentially lethal heatwaves in others.

But new research suggests an unexpected twist: temperate and subtropical zones could become both hotter and wetter during future summers.

And this could create a whole suite of unexpected problems: farmers and city dwellers who have adapted to a pattern of cool wet summers or hot dry summers could face a new range of fungal or pest infections in crops, or pathogens in crowded communities, as insects and microbes seize a new set of opportunities.

Canadian scientists report in Nature Communications that they considered what they call “departures from natural variability” that may follow as a consequence of continual rises in global average temperature, driven by ever greater combustion of fossil fuels that emit ever higher ratios of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

They studied historical records back to 1901, and climate projections as far as the year 2100.  And they see a problem:  creatures – people, crops, pathogens and pests – that have adapted to particular regional ecosystems could be jolted out of their comfort zone.

“Some of the disruptions of climate change stem from basic physics and are easily anticipated.  Increases in sea level, forest fires, heat waves, and droughts fall into that category.

“But there is a whole other category of unexpected disruptions that stem from upsetting the complex balance of ecosystems,” said Colin Mahony, a forester and doctoral student at the University of British Columbia, who led the research.

A global increase in outbreaks of fungal needle blight in pine plantations could be linked to wetter and warmer conditions.  Mosquito-borne pathogens could flourish in hot cities with once rare puddles of standing water.

Read more at Climates Change Faster in a Warmer and Wetter World

Youth and Colombia Forests - by James Hansen

Satellite images show a rainforest being deforested (Credit: Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Tropical deforestation does more than fuel global climate change, threatening all people.  It also affects life prospects of local youth.  So I am happy to see young people in Colombia stand up for their rights.  Yesterday my legal adviser Dan Galpern filed my Amicus Brief in Colombia to support 25 plaintiffs, youth between ages 7 and 26, who are filing a tutela (guardianship) action, a mechanism that the Colombian Constitution provides to protect fundamental rights of individuals to a dignified life, health, food and water.  The plaintiffs can be seen here.

Deforestation threatens fresh water supplies, as half of the rain that falls in the Colombian Amazon is recycled rain.  The impact of deforestation on ecosystems and freshwater, together with climate change, risks public health by helping spread vector-borne diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and zika.

Colombia, in the precatory 2015 Paris climate accord, committed to zero-net deforestation in the Colombian Amazon, the most biodiverse region in the world, by 2020.  Instead the nation allowed deforestation to skyrocket in 2016 by 44 percent.

The legal action of the 25 youth has been filed before the Superior Tribunal of Bogota, with the support of Dejusticia.  Dejusticia is a Colombia-based research and advocacy organization dedicated to the strengthening of the rule of law and the promotion of social justice and human rights in Colombia and the Global South.

The youth are asking the government to formulate an action plan within six months to reach zero-net deforestation in the Colombian Amazon.  Further, they are asking the government for an Intergenerational Agreement in which the authorities will commit to take effective and quantifiable measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Read more at Youth and Colombia Forests