Volts, A Panic-Mitigation Option

Volts: a newsletter about clean energy and politics

What with climate change accelerating and US politics falling apart, it’s pretty grim out there. Yet alongside these doom loops, somewhat anomalously, something good is happening: the transition away from fossil fuels to clean, carbon-free energy is underway, and it is accelerating every day

Our reading and listening options are constantly expanding and contracting, and especially with climate change and energy topics in particular it can be challenging to find options that do not simply induce panic. We have our regular go-to sources, like Yale e360, that has been creatively informative without just heaping on the bleak (any more than necessary, which it sometimes is). A recent discovery of an analytical source worth sharing is this newsletter/podcast combo by David Roberts. Below is the most recent podcast:

Volts podcast: rampant environmental rule-breaking and how to fix it, with Cynthia Giles

Designing rules (including climate rules) that are harder to break

The US has hundreds of environmental rules and regulations on the books, meant to achieve various environmental goals — clean up coal plants, reduce toxins in consumer products, limit agricultural waste, and so on.

Once these rules and regulations are put in place, most people don’t give them a lot of thought. To the extent they do, they tend to believe two things: one, that environmental rules are generally followed (maybe, what, 3-5 percent break the rules?), and two, that the answer to noncompliance is increased enforcement.

According to Cynthia Giles, both those assumptions are dead wrong.

 

Greenland Ends Drilling For Oil

Icebergs near Ilulissat, Greenland. Climate change is having a profound effect in Greenland with glaciers and the Greenland ice cap retreating. Ulrik Pedersen / NurPhoto / Getty Images

Thanks to Ecowatch for publishing this story by Andrea Germanos:

‘Future Belongs to Renewable Energy’: Greenland Ditches All Oil Drilling

Greenland announced Thursday a halt on new oil and gas exploration, citing climate and other environmental impacts.

“Great news!” responded the Center for International Environmental Law.

The government of Greenland, an autonomous Danish dependent territory, framed the move as necessary to transition away from fossil fuels. Continue reading

Peak Oil & Consequences

Donald Pols, director of the environmental group Milieudefensie, celebrates on May 26 after a court in the Netherlands ordered Shell to slash its emissions. REMKO DE WAAL / ANP / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

The hug says all you need to know. Our kids, our grandchildren, and generations to follow will all be wondering why we we fiddled so long while carbon burned. The consequences of choices we make now related to the future of fossil fuel use are epic:

Amid Troubles for Fossil Fuels, Has the Era of ‘Peak Oil’ Arrived?

For years, analysts have predicted that rising world oil consumption would peak and start declining in the coming decades. But with a recent string of setbacks for big oil companies and the rapid advance of electric vehicles, some now say that “peak oil” is already here.

An oil platform facility operated by French oil giant Total in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Angola in 2018. RODGER BOSCH / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

May was arguably the worst month ever for big oil — and the best for its opponents — as courts and corporate shareholders sided with environmental activists to humble the biggest of the fossil-fuel giants, culminating in “Black Wednesday.”

Electric taxis line up at a train station in Shenzhen, China in October, 2019. NIKADA VIA GETTY IMAGES

On that day, May 26, three events occurred that would have seemed nearly impossible not long ago: activists angry at ExxonMobil’s climate policies won three seats on its board of directors; Chevron shareholders voted to force the company to start cutting emissions; and a judge in the Netherlands ruled that Shell must slash its emissions by 45 percent by 2030.

So what’s next for big oil? Is the game up? Have we reached peak oil? Continue reading

When Renewables Are Less Expensive Than Coal…

A solar power plant in Gujarat, India. Renewable energy in the country would be cheaper than between 87% and 91% of new coal plants, the report says. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

Looks like we are almost there:

Most new wind and solar projects will be cheaper than coal, report finds

Almost two-thirds of renewable energy schemes built globally last year expected to undercut coal costs

Almost two-thirds of wind and solar projects built globally last year will be able to generate cheaper electricity than even the world’s cheapest new coal plants, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). Continue reading

Planting Trees & Second Thoughts

Way back when, the idea of planting a million trees was set in motion. I missed this Economist film and article at that time, but while pursuing planting I have seen other related concerns, each of which is worthy of consideration (as we continue planting):

The Story Behind
Climate change: the trouble with trees

Why tree planting is not the panacea some had hoped

Here you will find some of the resources used in the production of The Economist’s film “Climate change: the trouble with trees” along with exclusive additional material. It is part of the “The Story Behind”, a film series that reveals the processes that shape our video journalism. Continue reading

Exxon’s Emerging Reckoning

The pressure has been mounting for some time, but it is finally causing needed changes. There were plenty of headlines late last week, but only today do we feel this news means something potentially lasting:

ExxonMobil loses a proxy fight with green investors

An activist hedge fund succeeds in nominating at least two climate-friendly directors to the energy giant’s board

“The stone age did not end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of petroleum.” That battle cry animates critics of Big Oil, who dream of phasing out hydrocarbons in favour of cleaner fuels and technologies. Continue reading

More Charging Stations, Please

If we’re going to deal with the climate crisis, electric cars are a crucial part of the task. Photograph by Rebekah Zemansky / Shutterstock

In his weekly newsletter Bill McKibben shares an illuminating anecdote, titled Your Electric Vehicle Can’t Get There from Here—At Least, Not Without a Charge, about driving his electric car in New England that explains

Why we need to build a national network of charging stations fast.

I pulled into a Whole Foods parking lot in Bedford, New Hampshire, hoping against hope—but no, someone was already there, their Chevy Bolt plugged into the fast charger. Continue reading

Really, Wyoming?

A train loaded with newly mined coal near Gillette, Wyoming. Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA

It’s been too long since we last asked this question that had been a mainstay in these pages, but today we have to ask it of Wyoming, based on this story:

Wyoming stands up for coal with threat to sue states that refuse to buy it

Republican governor says measure sends message that Wyoming is ‘prepared to bring litigation to protect her interests’

Wyoming is faced by a transition to renewable energy that’s gathering pace across America, but it has now come up with a novel and controversial plan to protect its mining industry – sue other states that refuse to take its coal. Continue reading

Choices For Mining Lithium

The Salton Sea is one of numerous new mining proposals in a global gold rush to find new sources of metals and minerals needed for electric cars and renewable energy.

Thanks to the New York Times for this coverage of the choices surrounding how and where to mine a key ingredient of more efficient batteries–a consequential environmental question:

The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles

A race is on to produce lithium in the United States, but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green.

“This is the most sustainable lithium in the world, made in America,” Rod Colwell, the chief executive of Controlled Thermal Resources, said. “Who would have thought it? We’ve got this massive opportunity.”

Atop a long-dormant volcano in northern Nevada, workers are preparing to start blasting and digging out a giant pit that will serve as the first new large-scale lithium mine in the United States in more than a decade — a new domestic supply of an essential ingredient in electric car batteries and renewable energy.

The mine, constructed on leased federal lands, could help address the near total reliance by the United States on foreign sources of lithium.

But the project, known as Lithium Americas, has drawn protests from members of a Native American tribe, ranchers and environmental groups because it is expected to use billions of gallons of precious ground water, potentially contaminating some of it for 300 years, while leaving behind a giant mound of waste. Continue reading

The Sinking Cost Of Renewable Energy

Because its costs continue to slide with every quarter, solar energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels almost everywhere on the planet by the decade’s end. Photograph by Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times / Getty

Thanks to Bill McKibben, as always, for at least one bit of good news in his weekly newsletter:

Renewable Energy Is Suddenly Startlingly Cheap

Now the biggest barrier to change is the will of our politicians to take serious climate action.

Earth Week has come and gone, leaving behind an ankle-deep and green-tinted drift of reports, press releases, and earnest promises from C.E.O.s and premiers alike that they are planning to become part of the solution. There were contingent signs of real possibility—if some of the heads of state whom John Kerry called on to make Zoom speeches appeared a little strained, at least they appeared. (Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, the most carbon-emitting developed nation per capita, struggled to make his technology work.) But, if you want real hope, the best place to look may be a little noted report from the London-based think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative. Continue reading

The Climate Crisis, Earth Day Edition

Climate activists at a rally in Athens, Greece, in late 2018, hold up banners warning that time is running out on efforts to contain the earth’s warming to a rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Photograph by Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP / Getty

Thanks to Bill McKibben for this Earth Day edition of his newsletter, The Climate Crisis, which we sample from regularly:

How 1.5 Degrees Became the Key to Climate Progress

The number has dramatically reorganized global thinking around the climate.

It’s Earth Day +51, as we near the end of President Biden’s first hundred days, and forty world leaders are scheduled to join him for a virtual summit on climate change. “For those of you who are excited about climate, we will have a lot more to say next week,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said last Thursday, which is a sweet way to think about it—better than “for those of you who are existentially depressed about climate.” Continue reading

Urban Power Shifts

Center City Philadelphia, viewed from the Schuylkill River. ZOONAR GMBH / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Thanks to Jonathan Mingle  and Yale e360 for this analysis:

Cities Confront Climate Challenge: How to Move from Gas to Electricity?

Ending the use of fossil fuels to heat homes and buildings is a key challenge for cities hoping to achieve net-zero emissions. Nowhere is that more evident than in Philadelphia, where technical and financial hurdles and a reluctant gas company stand in the way of decarbonization.

In 1836, Philadelphians mostly used whale oil and candles to light their homes and businesses. That year, the newly formed Philadelphia Gas Works caused a stir when it lit 46 downtown street lamps with gas made from coal in its plant on the Schuylkill River. Continue reading

Fossil Fuel Divestment Debate Settled

Protesters have argued that you shouldn’t try to profit off the end of the world. New analysis shows that, in any event, you won’t. Photograph by David Grossman / Alamy

This is a short read with a big implication; as always we are grateful to Bill McKibben for his weekly newsletter:

The Powerful New Financial Argument for Fossil-Fuel Divestment

A report by BlackRock, the world’s largest investment house, shows that those who have divested have profited not only morally but also financially.

In a few months, a small British financial think tank will mark the tenth anniversary of the publication of a landmark research report that helped launch the global fossil-fuel-divestment movement. As that celebration takes place, another seminal report—this one obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the world’s largest investment house—closes the loop on one of the key arguments of that decade-long fight. Continue reading

Scotland, Running On Almost 100% Renewables

GETTY IMAGES. Scotland’s renewables output has tripled in 10 years

Thanks to Scotland, for the ambition and demonstration; and to the BBC for reporting this:

Renewables met 97% of Scotland’s electricity demand in 2020

GETTY IMAGES. WWF Scotland is calling for an increased roll-out of electric vehicles

Scotland has narrowly missed a target to generate the equivalent of 100% of its electricity demand from renewables in 2020.

New figures reveal it reached 97.4% from renewable sources.

This target was set in 2011, when renewable technologies generated just 37% of national demand. Continue reading

Turning Point In USA’s Transition To Electric Vehicles

General Motors has partnered with EVgo to deploy more than 2,700 fast chargers across the U.S. CREDIT: GM

John Paul MacDuffie and Sarah E. Light, both professors at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, have published an article on Yale E360 highlighting the improving potential for electric vehicles to dominate the USA market sooner than previously expected:

EV Turning Point: Momentum Builds for U.S. Electric Vehicle Transition

Driven by GM, Tesla, and the Biden administration, the U.S. is now poised to press ahead in the transformation to electric vehicles. Big challenges still loom, but technological advances, government support, and growing consumer appeal will drive the inevitable switch to EVs.

Last month’s failure of the Texas electric grid, coming just weeks after General Motors’ pledge to make only electric vehicles by 2035, highlights the daunting task the United States faces as it takes the first steps toward weaning its economy off fossil fuels. Continue reading

Promoting PIMBYism

A good method for converting so-called NIMBY opponents of turbines and other renewable-energy infrastructure would be to give locals a stake in the enterprise’s economic success. Photograph by Simon Dawson / Bloomberg / Getty

“No vote for wind power advocates” – wind power opponents’ election poster for the 2017 parliamentary elections. Source: windwahn.com

We have giant turbines along the ridge at the top of the mountain where we live. I enjoy looking at them, not because they are pretty, or perfect, but because they represent progress. I never had the NIMBY inclination. If the turbines were in my face all day, every day, or if I had some sense that they were affecting my property value, perhaps I would feel differently. I had thought of the acronym PIMBY, thanks to those turbines uphill from us, before reading this, but am glad to see it is a thing. Thanks, as always, to Bill McKibben for his newsletter’s role in getting us to see further down the road:

The Shift to Renewable Energy Can Give More Power to the People

The pandemic has driven a lot of people outdoors: reports show that park visits are up around the world and parking lots at hiking trails are packed. That’s understandable—by now you’d need to chop down a sizable forest to print out the studies showing that time in nature reduces stress, cuts healing times, and enhances the functioning of the immune system. As Sadie Dingfelder wrote in the Washington Post in December, “I’ve always found it relaxing and rejuvenating to be outdoors, but the anxiety and isolation of the pandemic, the uncertainty of civil unrest and, oh, I don’t know, the potential crumbling of American democracy have made me crave nature like a drug.” Continue reading

Offshore Wind Power, Eastern USA

Construction work underway at the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project, located 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. DOMINION ENERGY

Thanks to Yale e360:

On U.S. East Coast, Has Offshore Wind’s Moment Finally Arrived?

After years of false starts, offshore wind is poised to take off along the East Coast. Commitments by states to purchase renewable power, support from the Biden administration, and billions in new investment are all contributing to the emergence of this fledgling industry.

The Block Island Wind Farm off the Rhode Island coast was the first commercial offshore wind farm in the U.S. when it became operational in 2016. DON EMMERT/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

About 60 miles east of New York’s Montauk Point, a 128,000-acre expanse of the Atlantic Ocean is expected to produce enough electricity to power around 850,000 homes when it’s populated with wind turbines and connected to the onshore grid in the next few years.

Fifteen miles off Atlantic City, New Jersey, another windy swath of ocean is due to start generating enough power for some 500,000 homes when a forest of 850-foot-high turbines start turning there in 2024.

Continue reading

New Questions For Old Hills

Scenic beauty spot or potential hydropower storage facility? The Dovedale national nature reserve in the Peak District. Photograph: dianajarvisphotography.co.uk/Alamy

Thanks to the Guardian for giving us a different view on one possible part of a solution to the problem posed in yesterday’s post:

Powering up: UK hills could be used as energy ‘batteries’

Engineers explore using gentle slopes rather than steep dams or mountains to store electricity

Hundreds of hills across the UK could be transformed into renewable energy “batteries” through a pioneering hydropower system embedded underground.

Guardian graphic. Source: RheEnergise

A team of engineers have developed a system that adapts one of the oldest forms of energy storage, hydropower, to store and release electricity from gentle slopes rather than requiring steep dam walls and mountains. Continue reading

Denmark’s Clean Energy Island

A simulation of Denmark’s clean energy island, due to be completed before 2033. Photograph: Danish government

Wind is picking up speed in the race for energy’s future, and to help governments meet climate goals. Denmark is in that race to win. Thanks to the Guardian for this story:

Denmark strikes deal on £25bn artificial wind energy island

Thanks to an inter-party agreement, the clean energy hub in the North Sea is set to be the largest construction project in Danish history

Denmark’s government has agreed to take a majority stake in a £25bn artificial “energy island”, which is to be built 50 miles (80km) offshore, in the middle of the North Sea.

The island to the west of the Jutland peninsula will initially have an area of 120,000 sq metres – the size of 18 football pitches – and in its first phase will be able to provide 3m households with green energy. Continue reading

2021, Renewable Energy Race Heats Up

General Electric’s Haliade-X wind turbine at Rotterdam Harbor in the Netherlands. Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

Stanley Reed has been our go-to expert on turbines for a few years. The photos and illustrations are particularly helpful to understand the scale of these new models. Thanks to the New York Times for giving him prime space on the front page on the first day of the new year for this story:

A Monster Wind Turbine Is Upending an Industry

G.E.’s giant machine, which can light up a small town, is stoking a renewable-energy arms race.

Twirling above a strip of land at the mouth of Rotterdam’s harbor is a wind turbine so large it is difficult to photograph. The turning diameter of its rotor is longer than two American football fields end to end. Later models will be taller than any building on the mainland of Western Europe. Continue reading