Thursday, April 10, 2014
Global solar dominance in sight as science trumps fossil fuels (??!!)
Now all they've got to do is get the sun to shine for 24 hours
Solar power has won the global argument. Photovoltaic energy is already so cheap that it competes with oil, diesel and liquefied natural gas in much of Asia without subsidies.
Roughly 29pc of electricity capacity added in America last year came from solar, rising to 100pc even in Massachusetts and Vermont. "More solar has been installed in the US in the past 18 months than in 30 years," says the US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). California's subsidy pot is drying up but new solar has hardly missed a beat.
The technology is improving so fast - helped by the US military - that it has achieved a virtous circle. Michael Parker and Flora Chang, at Sanford Bernstein, say we entering a new order of "global energy deflation" that must ineluctably erode the viability of oil, gas and the fossil fuel nexus over time. In the 1980s solar development was stopped in its tracks by the slump in oil prices. By now it has surely crossed the threshold irreversibly.
The ratchet effect of energy deflation may be imperceptible at first since solar makes up just 0.17pc of the world's $5 trillion energy market, or 3pc of its electricity. The trend does not preclude cyclical oil booms along the way. Nor does it obviate the need for shale fracking as a stop-gap, for national security reasons or in Britain's case to curb a shocking current account deficit of 5.4pc of GDP.
But the technology momentum goes only one way. "Eventually solar will become so large that there will be consequences everywhere," they said. This remarkable overthrow of everthing we take for granted in world energy politics may occur within "the better part of a decade".
If the hypothesis is broadly correct, solar will slowly squeeze the revenues of petro-rentier regimes in Russia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, among others. Many already need oil prices near $100 a barrel to cover their welfare budgets and military spending. They will have to find a new business model, or fade into decline.
The Saudis are themselves betting on solar, investing more than $100bn in 41 gigawatts (GW) of capacity, enough to cover 30pc of their power needs by 2030 rather than burning fossil fuel needed for exports. Most of the Gulf states have comparable plans. That will mean more crude - ceteris paribus - washing into a deflating global energy market.
Clean Energy Trends says new solar installations overtook wind turbines worldwide last year with an extra 36.5GW. China alone accounted for a third. Wind is still ahead with 2.5 times old capacity but the "solar sorpasso" will be reached in 2021 as photovoltaic (PV) costs keep falling.
The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory says scientists can now capture 31.1pc of the sun's energy with a 111-V Solar Cell, a world record but soon to be beaten again no doubt. This will find its way briskly into routine use. Wind cannot keep pace. It is static by comparison, a regional niche at best.
A McKinsey study said the average cost of installed solar power in the US across all sectors has dropped to $2.59 from more than $6 a watt in 2010. It expects this fall to $2.30 by next year and $1.60 by 2020. This will put solar within "striking distance" of coal and gas, it said.
Solar cell prices have already collapsed so far that other "soft costs" now make up 64pc of residential solar installation in the US. Germany has shown that this too can be slashed, partly by sheer scale.
It is hard to keep up with the cascade of research papers emerging from brain-trusts in North America, Europe and Japan, so many brimming with optimism. The University of Buffalo has developed a nanoscale microchip able to capture a "rainbow" of wavelengths and absorb far more light. A team at Oxford is pioneering use of perovskite, an abundant material that is cheaper than silicon and produces 40pc more voltage.
One by one, the seemingly intractable obstacles are being conquered. Israel's Ecoppia has just begun using robots to clean the panels of its Ketura Sun park in the Negev desert without the use of water, until now a big constraint. It is beautifully simple. Soft microfibers sweep away 99pc of the dust each night with the help of airflows.
Professor Michael Aziz, at Harvard University, is developing a flow-battery with funding from the US Advanced Research Projects Agency over the next three years that promises to cut the cost of energy storage by two-thirds below the latest vanadium batteries used in Japan.
He said the technology gives us a "fighting chance" to overcome the curse of intermittency from wind and solar power, which both spike and drop off in bursts. "I foresee a future where we can vastly cut down on fossil fuel use."
Even thermal solar is coming of age, driven for now by use of molten salts to store heat and release power hours later. California opened the world's biggest solar thermal park in February in the Mojave desert - the Ivanpah project, co-owned by Google and BrightSource Energy - able to produce power for almost 100,000 homes by reflecting sunlight from 170,000 mirrors onto boilers that generate electricity from steam. Ivanpah still relies on subsidies but a new SunPower project in Chile will go naked, selling 70 megawatts into the spot market.
Deutsche Bank say there are already 19 regional markets around the world that have achieved "grid parity", meaning that PV solar panels can match or undercut local electricity prices without subsidy: California, Chile, Australia, Turkey, Israel, Germany, Japan, Italy, Spain and Greece, for residential power, as well as Mexico and China for industrial power.
This will spread as battery storage costs - often a spin-off from electric car ventures - keep dropping. Sanford Bernstein says it may not be long before home energy storage is cheap enough to lure households away from the grid en masse across the world.
Utilities that fail to adapt fast will face "disaster". Solar competes directly. Each year it is supplying a bigger chunk of peak power needs in the middle of the day when air conditioners and factories are both at full throttle. "Demand during what was one of the most profitable times of the day disappears," said the report. They cannot raise prices to claw back lost income. That would merely accelerate what they most fear. They are trapped.
Michael Liebreich, from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, says we can already discern the moment of "peak fossil fuels" around 2030, the tipping point when the world starts using less coal, oil and gas in absolute terms, but because they cannot compete, not because they are running out.
This is a remarkable twist of history. Just six years ago we faced an oil shock with crude trading at $148. The rise of "Chindia" and the sudden inclusion of 2bn consumers into the affluent world seemed to be taxing resources to breaking point. Now we can imagine how China will fuel its future fleet of 400m vehicles. Many may be electric, charged by PV modules.
For Germany it is a bitter-sweet vindication. The country sank €100bn into feed-in tariffs or in solar companies that blazed the trail, did us all a favour, and mostly went bankrupt, displaced by copy-cat competitors in China. The Germans have the world's biggest solar infrastructure, but latecomers can now tap futuristic technology.
For Britain it offers a reprieve after 20 years of energy drift. Yet the possibility of global energy deflation raises a quandry: should the country lock into more nuclear power stations with strike-prices fixed for 35 years? Should it spend £100bn on offshore wind when imported LNG might be cheaper long hence?
For the world it portends a once-in-a-century upset of the geostrategic order. Sheikh Ahmed-Zaki Yamani, the veteran Saudi oil minister, saw the writing on the wall long ago. "Thirty years from now there will be a huge amount of oil - and no buyers. Oil will be left in the ground. The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil," he told The Telegraph in 2000. Wise old owl.
School heads are breaking the law if they preach eco agenda, warns British Education Secretary
Headteachers who brainwash children with green propaganda are breaking the law, Michael Gove has suggested.
The Education Secretary has read ‘with concern’ a report which accused ‘activist’ teaching staff of trying to turn pupils into ‘foot soldiers of the green movement’. It found the marks children were awarded in exams depended on ‘parroting’ the green agenda. And many widely-used textbooks included inaccurate examples.
A spokesman for Mr Gove said: ‘The Secretary of State read this report with concern. ‘Schools should not teach that a particular political or ideological point of view is right – indeed it is against the law for them to do so.’
The study, by a think-tank set up by former Tory Chancellor Lord Lawson, warned that ‘eco-activists’ in the education system were urging children to use ‘pester power’ to ensure parents are forced to adopt lifestyle choices dictated in schools.
‘We ﬁnd instances of eco-activism being given a free rein within schools and at the events schools encourage their pupils to attend,’ it said. ‘In every case of concern, the slant is on scares, on raising fears, followed by the promotion of detailed guidance on how pupils should live, as well as on what they should think.’
The Global Warming Policy Foundation report, by Andrew Montford and John Shade, described the teaching of climate science in British schools as ‘disturbing’.
Mr Montford said: ‘The brainwashing of our children for political ends is shameful. Those responsible for education in the UK need to take action and take it quickly.’
The report found that teaching on ‘sustainability’ and green issues pervaded the whole curriculum, from French to religious education.
One RE exam asked children to ‘explain actions religious people might take to look after the planet’.
The marking scheme suggested answers such as: ‘avoid polluting the world’, ‘recycle’, ‘reduce carbon footprint’ – and even ‘protest when necessary’ and ‘join action groups such as Greenpeace’.
The report found inaccurate statements in popular geography textbooks, such as one saying there had been an ‘increase in the number and intensity of tropical storms’.
Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says there is ‘low confidence’ that any increase has taken place. Many schools are showing films such as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, even though the report says it contains inaccuracies.
And Education Scotland suggests schools show climate-change disaster movies such as The Day After Tomorrow – but no films critical of the green agenda.
Mr Gove’s spokesman added: ‘Ministers are clear that the new national curriculum must equip young people with the core knowledge they need to understand the weather, climate, the earth’s atmosphere, physical geography and the interaction between nature and the environment.
‘That means in both science and geography, pupils must learn the facts and processes which underpin public discussion of climate change. They must not be directed towards a particular campaigning agenda.’
Green campaigners rejected the report. Adam Dyster, parliamentary liaison officer at the UK Youth Climate Coalition, said: ‘The only time when brainwashing is an appropriate term is when the likes of the Global Warming Policy Foundation deny the scientific facts of climate change.’
Cut back on eating baked beans to tackle climate change
People should eat fewer baked beans to reduce flatulence which can contribute to global warming, a minister suggested today. Fears were raised about the impact of ‘smelly emissions’ caused by Brits eating more beans than any other country in the world.
Climate change minister Lady Verma said it was an ‘important’ issue and urged the public to ‘moderate our behaviour’.
Concerns have previously been raised about the effect of methane emissions from cows on global warming.
But in the House of Lords today a Labour peer raised questions about the impact of human diet on emmisions. Viscount Simon, 73, a Labour peer who has been a member of the House of Lords for more than 20 years, voiced his fears about the ‘smelly emissions’.
Lord Simon said: ‘In a programme some months ago on the BBC it was stated that this country has the largest production of baked beans and the largest consumption of baked beans in the world.’
He asked Lady Verma: ‘Could you say whether this affects the calculation of global warming by the Government as a result of the smelly emission resulting therefrom?’
Lady Verma described his question as ‘so different’ but she appeared to suggest that people should think twice about over-indulging in baked beans or any food which causes flatulence.
She added: ‘You do actually raise a very important point, which is we do need to moderate our behaviour.'
A study last December suggested the total value of baked beans sold in the previous year had fallen by £20.8 million to £339.3 million in the UK.
Lord Simon's grandfather Sir John Simon, a Liberal, was given a peerage in 1940 after serving as Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor.
A study this week recommended eating baked beans every day, to help significantly reduce cholesterol and lower the risk of heart diseases.
Wind and bloating were among the side effects of those eating the daily portion, although this subsided after a while, said lead researcher Dr John Sievenpiper from St Michael’s Hospital, Toronto.
Last month a survey found that tins of baked beans were the most popular item that Brits took with them when going on foreign holidays.
Lord Howell speaks up
The exchange over the impact of beans on global warming came as a senior Tory peer called on the government to stop trying to prevent climate change altogether.
George Osborne’s father-in-law Lord Howell of Guildford, a former Foreign Office minister, said a change in direction of energy policy was ‘overdue’.
The Tory peer said in the House of Lords: ‘Now may be time to consider switching our colossal expenditure in attempting mitigation to adaptation to what is widely believed by many of us to come in the way of more extreme weather.
‘It seems that our current mitigation efforts seem to be producing no vast improvement in carbon emissions - in fact an increase in our carbon footprint - burning more coal, increased fuel poverty, driving investment away from this country to elsewhere where power is cheaper, raising the prospect of blackouts and general environmental damage.’
At question time in the Lords he asked energy minister Baroness Verma: ‘Isn't it becoming very obvious that some change of direction in our climate and energy policy is overdue if we are to achieve our green goals?’
Lady Verma said the Government's policy was about ‘both adaptation and mitigation’.
Labour peer Baroness Worthington said: ‘On discovering a flood in a bathroom you would not make your priority turning your house into a swimming pool, you would turn the tap off.
‘That is precisely what we need to do and I think it is regrettable that we have some prominent members of the other side (Conservatives) who do not seem to accept it.’
Look who's criticizing Showtime for trying to scare people about global warming
The New York Times endorsing climate realism? Not exactly. They just think that trying to scare people about global warming doesn't work and other, more subtle methods must be used:
If you were looking for ways to increase public skepticism about global warming, you could hardly do better than the forthcoming nine-part series on climate change and natural disasters, starting this Sunday on Showtime. A trailer for “Years of Living Dangerously” is terrifying, replete with images of melting glaciers, raging wildfires and rampaging floods. “I don’t think scary is the right word,” intones one voice. “Dangerous, definitely.”
Showtime’s producers undoubtedly have the best of intentions. There are serious long-term risks associated with rising greenhouse gas emissions, ranging from ocean acidification to sea-level rise to decreasing agricultural output.
But there is every reason to believe that efforts to raise public concern about climate change by linking it to natural disasters will backfire. More than a decade’s worth of research suggests that fear-based appeals about climate change inspire denial, fatalism and polarization.
The Times mentions in passing that the IPCC doesn't believe that there is a connection between climate change and an increase in severity of natural disasters:
Since then, evidence that a fear-based approach backfires has grown stronger. A frequently cited 2009 study in the journal Science Communication summed up the scholarly consensus. “Although shocking, catastrophic, and large-scale representations of the impacts of climate change may well act as an initial hook for people’s attention and concern,” the researchers wrote, “they clearly do not motivate a sense of personal engagement with the issue and indeed may act to trigger barriers to engagement such as denial.” In a controlled laboratory experiment published in Psychological Science in 2010, researchers were able to use “dire messages” about global warming to increase skepticism about the problem.
Many climate advocates ignore these findings, arguing that they have an obligation to convey the alarming facts.
But claims linking the latest blizzard, drought or hurricane to global warming simply can’t be supported by the science. Our warming world is, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, increasing heat waves and intense precipitation in some places, and is likely to bring more extreme weather in the future. But the panel also said there is little evidence that this warming is increasing the loss of life or the economic costs of natural disasters. “Economic growth, including greater concentrations of people and wealth in periled areas and rising insurance penetration,” the climate panel noted, “is the most important driver of increasing losses.”
"Our warming world" is not warming at the moment, which may be contributing more to the skepticism about climate change than how scary global warming hysterics can make climate change sound or look. After experiencing one of the coldest, most brutal winters since records began to be kept, a majority of Americans remain unconvinced that the earth is warming. It hardly matters whether efforts to scare people, or more subtle methods are used, the climate change crowd is going to have to come up with better evidence than they are presenting now.
Obama’s “Government Motors” Doubles Down on Chevy Volt
Chevrolet’s firebrand electric-hybrid vehicle, the Chevy Volt, has so far seen a dramatically disappointing sales record. Government Motors, however, is prepared to shovel hundreds of millions of dollars into the continued production of one of America’s least favorite automobiles… Oh, and they’re also going to introduce a new version of the Volt, with a lower price point and significantly fewer options.
According to Reuters:
"Chevrolet has sold just 58,158 Volts since the car went on sale 39 months ago, despite price cuts and heavy discounting. In comparison, the best-selling Ford F-series pickup last month sold more than 70,000."
Wow… That almost makes Obamacare enrollments look like a rousing success. (Almost.) Of course, the two vehicles are drastically different – making the comparison is kinda like comparing apples to spontaneously-combusting oranges. According to sales figures, the biggest difference between the two vehicles seems to be that people actually like Ford pickups.
But let’s not let little business realities (like no one wanting to purchase a heavily subsidized, and overpriced, electric hybrid) get in the way of throwing some more money at the problem. Despite the fact that selling the Chevy Volt has proven to be more difficult than selling overpriced “brosurance” to “young invincibles”, GM is taking a page from Team Obama’s style of management: They decided to invest roughly $384 million dollars to expand production of a “new generation Volt”.
The “new and improved” model will, of course, be stunningly similar to the current model (ya know: the model that, apparently, nobody wants to purchase). According to Reuters:
"The standard Volt won't deviate dramatically from the current model, which is priced from just under $35,000 and has a driving range of up to 380 miles, according to Chevrolet."
Inexplicably, some people actually seem to think that continuing the production of GM’s embarrassment will yield different sales figures as time goes on. And, really, it’s a logical conclusion… “Doubling down” is what most businesses do with products that have failed to capture the imagination of consumers. Right?
For good measure, and to ensure that their poor-performing Volt rakes in a couple dozen extra sales each year, Chevy will also feature a “low cost” edition of the vehicle. The plan is likely to work (sarcasm font), because there’s nothing quite like shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for a liberal status symbol that doesn’t have electric windows. (Especially when a large chunk of the price of the vehicle is earmarked for the electric power supply.)
The low cost edition will have less than a 300 mile range, less equipment and undoubtedly fewer cup holders. (They could probably cut a few more costs by employing the rarely mentioned “Fred Flintstone” method of propulsion.) Oh… And it will still cost more than $30,000 for the privilege of getting behind its wheel. (A $7,500 tax credit didn’t do the trick… but shaving a few thousand off the price, at the expense of quality, is going to get sales rolling?)
To the untrained eye, the Volt’s sales figures pretty much resemble what the average person would consider “an unmitigated disaster”. Most businesses, after three years of abysmal sales, would sack the creative team responsible for pitching the idea, as well as the dreamy eyed managers who gave the disaster a “thumbs up”…
But, this is Government Motors. Results, apparently, don’t matter… Maybe GM can set up an online exchange for Volts if their “less-car-for-slightly-less-money” campaign doesn’t pan out. (Of course, with our current set of government leaders, I also wouldn’t rule-out a tax on all consumers who “opt out” of buying a Volt.)
The thirst for oil will continue
This week, Exxon Mobil (XOM) laid out the facts of oil and energy demands and felt confident enough to say all their reserves will be exploited. Despite fear-mongering about climate, population, income-inequality and desperate efforts to redistribute billions of dollars from rich nations to poor nations, the world's thirst for oil will matter more. In fact, the world's thirst for oil will be driven by prosperity.
The proposed policies portray nations that are on the cusp of rapid growth as feeble and inadequate, when they are anything but that. Not only should rich nations reject this rhetoric but so, too, those supposed victims whose growth would be snuffed out with new rules.
Exxon Mobil has taken information from the International Energy Agency on reaching the goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 50%, below the 2005 level, by the year 2050, and the tally coming in at a cool $45 trillion. In other words; it simply isn't happening. Moreover, the UN report on climate change released last week comes to the conclusion that rich nations in Europe and the United States owe poor nations $100 billion a year to protect them from the ravages of climate change. That line of thinking, so incendiary and scuttlebutt was pulled from the 48-page summary of the report at the request of the United States.
Yet there have been plenty of quotes from officials involved in the push for global climate change regulations and policies.
"First of all, developed countries have basically expropriated the atmosphere of the world community. But one must say clearly that we redistribute de facto the world's wealth by climate policy. Obviously, the owners of coal and oil will not be enthusiastic about this. One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore, with problems such as deforestation or the ozone hole." Ottmar Edenhofer
Be that as it may, it's clear that the hype over renewable sources displacing fossil fuels is a myth, but not for lack of effort. Wind seems dead, but solar has taken on a life of its own, and could soon stand without government help, which means there are investment opportunities. But the big news is that the world will need oil and gas for the foreseeable future. I really don't think many people understand just how much longer the demand for fossil fuels will grow. In addition to China and India, amazing economic growth will spark a surge in demand from several nations including:
By 2040 there will be 2.6 billion more people on the planet, and the global economy will grow by 130% according to data from Exxon Mobil. Oil and gas will meet 60% of energy demand driven by transportation. Natural gas will displace coal as number two source of energy driven by 90% increase in electricity demand. I do take issue with assumptions made by Exxon and IEA on nuclear if indeed Japan abandons it completely and France embarks on plans to cut its reliance by 50%.
The energy use table underscores the miracle of fossil fuels and evolution of mankind. First, coal powered the First Industrial Revolution, and then oil and gases energized the Second Industrial Revolution, although sadly 2 billion people still need biomass for energy to prepare their dinners.
(I know hipsters think cooking oil will be the fuel of the future, but it's a drag, takes a lot of time and effort and can't power industry. The rich Western biomass crowd is fooling itself in effort assuage a needless sense of guilt.)
The fracking miracle will take hold around the world, providing amazing opportunity for American ingenuity and know-how. In the meantime, the natural gas phenomenon has stalled for a lack of pipes and infrastructure and that must change immediately. The time to strike is now!
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Posted by JR at 9:31 PM