Monday, June 08, 2020

Solar’s Cheaper Than Coal — Great, So We’ve Beaten Climate Change Then, Right?

By Tim Worstall

It’s not necessary for us to actually agree with the following statement in order for us to derive a logical conclusion from it. After all, we might demur a little about whether solar really is cheaper than coal, or ponder on whether simple cost per watt is quite the right way to measure between continuous and variable electricity sources. However, if we do take this seriously then we are able to derive a useful logical conclusion from it:

Building new solar power projects would generate cheaper electricity than running most of the world’s existing coal power plants, according to a global renewable energy report.

New figures have revealed that more than half of the world’s coal plants could be undercut by the falling cost of new large-scale solar projects, which are now more than 80% cheaper to build than in 2010.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) has found that up to 1,200 gigawatts of the world’s existing coal capacity could cost more to run than the cost of new utility-scale solar plants.

If energy companies replaced only their most expensive coal plants with new solar power projects or onshore wind farms, totalling 500 GW globally, they could save up to $23bn (£18bn) every year and wipe out 5% of last year’s total global carbon emissions, according to Irena.

Excellent, we’ve beaten climate change then.

For recall what the original prognosis was. That we’d carry on fuelling an ever growing industrialised society through the use of fossil fuels. More, in the worst scenario (what is now RCP8.5) we’d run out of conventional oil and gas and so turn back to the more emmittive coal. Now we’re being told that we’re simply not going to do that. Solar is cheaper. So, logically enough, people are going to install solar. Why wouldn’t people install the cheaper option?

This logic goes on to tell us that what we needed to do in order to beat climate change was get the cost of non-fossil energy sources down below those of fossil. Which, as above, we’ve done. We can now sit back and allow normal human greed to drive the rest of the process. After all, there is no one at all who favours fossil because they love clouds of black smoke now, is there?

Future energy installations will be solar, driven by pure capitalistic greed, and we’re done. We don't have to overturn industrial society – or capitalism – itself. We’ve solved the problem without doing that.

Which leads to two further pieces of logical deduction. There are those who insist that we must still overturn that capitalism, that industrial society to beat climate change. Even though we’ve already, as the figures above show, solved the problem. A possible deduction from this is that they don’t believe the above numbers and our response to that must be, but, but, don’t you believe the science, deniers? The other would be that they’re – as they have been all along – just looking for a reason to over turn capitalism and any old thing will do there. For it really is true. If we’ve made non-fossil fuel energy generation cheaper than fossil then we really have already beaten climate change. No more need be done.


Governors Need Relief from Renewable Fuel Mandates During Crisis

Many industries are suffering under mandates that need to be lifted to help the recovery efforts in the wake of the coronavirus economic epidemic. On April 15, 2020, Govs. Greg Abott of Texas, John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, Gary Herbert of Utah, Mark Gordon of Wyoming, and Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler to request some regulatory relief from disruptions in the oil market caused by the government shutdowns and other economic impacts of the coronavirus.

The governors made a compelling case for the Trump Administration to suspend a mandate that will crush the domestic oil refineries if allowed to stand. In the letter, the governors cited the law that allows a “waiver of the renewable volume obligation (RVO) under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)” because of “severe economic hardship.” This is clearly a time of severe economic hardship with tens of millions of unemployed Americans and faced with a potential economic recession currently and going forward.

The governors are correct to demand the government take a hard look at the economic distress of American refineries and figuring out how the impact of “costs associated with the recent tripling in the price of renewable identification numbers (RINs)” will destroy domestic refiners. It clearly will, which is why these governors are trying to protect refineries and jobs from an unnecessary government mandate. The EPA needs to immediately grant this waiver to allow the domestic oil industry to get back on its feet.

The EPA should have been granting waivers even before this crisis but there is no reason why the Trump Administration should not follow the March 13, 2020, declaration of a national emergency with targeted waivers. Under the law, the EPA is designated the power to set the levels of biofuels for the next few years while factoring in likely fuel consumption to calculate a percentage of ethanol that each gallon of gas must be added by refineries. Mario Loyola, Sr. Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, explained the next steps in The Atlantic on November 23, 2019, “to create a credit-trading scheme, each new gallon of pure renewable biofuel is assigned a unique renewable identification number. That ‘RIN’ becomes a tradable credit when that gallon of biofuel is blended with enough regular gasoline to meet the RFS.” A waiver will help small refineries suffering today.

Although it is true that refiners will need to purchase a smaller number of RINs because of lower demand, the mandated renewable volume obligation was an unachievable 11.56 percent before the crisis. With the crisis, the cost of compliance is even more difficult. These mandates take cash from refiners who don’t have cash for operations, because of the crash in demand with Americans traveling far less. Derrick Morgan, senior vice president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) told Bloomberg, “we’re just looking for compliance costs to get back in line, during this time of severe economic harm to the refining industry.” Refineries are bleeding cash the mandate puts some small refiners in danger of going bankrupt.

The supporters of biofuels admit that ethanol will continue to be 10 percent of the supply of gas. A waiver will grant relief from compliance costs at a time when refineries barely have enough cash flow to support operations. Forcing them to pay for RINs will crush them. Consider this cost while demand for gas is down about 50 percent while RIN costs are up over 300 percent. The same amount of ethanol will be blended regardless of the mandate.

While the refineries are subject to the free market laws of supply and demand, the biofuel producers are granted a government-mandated market. Thanks to crashing oil prices and government mandates, two North American refiners have already become a casualty of the coronavirus economic recession. If the Trump EPA does not issue a waiver, the result will be a push for higher-priced foreign biofuels, paid for by struggling refineries, to be used in the U.S. fuel supply.

Low demand has put U.S. refineries in a tough economic position. The lack of a waiver will make the problem worse and hammer small refineries struggling to stay afloat. The EPA should grant the request of the five governors for a waiver in order to prevent damage to the critical energy infrastructure of this nation while saving thousands of American jobs.


Can making food from CO2 help our planet?

There have been times over the past couple of months when fretting about the carbon footprint of the food we eat has seemed like a bit of a luxury. When you’re staring at an empty supermarket shelf for the third time in a week, it can be hard being green.

But Covid-19 hasn’t changed the fact that the world’s food systems, and the planet that supports them, have never been under greater strain. Population growth, coupled with escalating demand for meat and dairy — which together account for more than 50 per cent of food‑related greenhouse gases, and 80 per cent of all agricultural land use — means the race is on to find more sustainable sources of protein.

Plant-based imitation meats, edible insects, lab-cultured beef and the “chickenless egg” are some of the alternatives already in the frame. The Chicago-based company Nature’s Fynd makes protein using microbes found in the volcanic springs of Yellowstone Park.

An even more radical solution, however, is one now being proposed by a biotech start-up in Finland called Solar Foods: a protein powder made from CO2 in the air we breathe.

“To make the powder, we use a method called gas fermentation, which can be compared in many ways to making beer,” says Pasi Vainikka, the company’s chief executive. “But instead of yeast, we use naturally occurring single-cell organisms called hydrogenotrophs, which require hydrogen and CO2 to grow.

“We put some of these organisms in a fermenter along with a solution containing a small amount of mineral salts, and then we add small bubbles of hydrogen — which we get by splitting water using renewable energy — and CO2, which we capture from the air. The bacteria eat the hydrogen for energy and the CO2 for carbon, and they multiply and grow. As the liquid grows thicker, we continuously draw some of it off and then dry this out to make the protein powder.”

The resulting powder, called Solein, has a protein content of about 65 per cent — on a par with dried soya. It can be incorporated into bread, pasta, drinks and plant-based dairy and meat alternatives and its only byproducts are oxygen and a small amount of water. When we speak on the phone, Vainikka has just cooked up a round of Solein patties. In the long term, he adds, it could also provide the amino acid platform for growing cultured meat.

Plants make protein from CO2 too, of course. But unlike arable farming, Solar Foods’ process isn’t subject to climate, seasons or crop failure. It doesn’t require the use of fertilisers or pesticides and it requires a fraction of the water. According to analysis by Hanna Tuomisto, associate professor of sustainable food systems at Helsinki University, it has a carbon footprint per kilo five times smaller than plant protein and 100 times smaller than beef. And it can be cultivated in just a matter of hours.

The real challenge, says Vainikka, a bioenergy specialist who oversaw Finland’s largest sustainable energy research initiative, is scaling production. “At the moment, the cost of production is around €30 per kilo of pure protein. With further scaling and cheaper electricity, it would be possible to bring that cost down to a handful of euros a kilo — then you’d be in the window of plant-based proteins today.”

Now Solar Foods is seeking €15m to build a plant 100 times bigger than its micro-brewery-sized operation. If all goes according to plan, the first Solein-based products will hit the market in 2022.

The concept of carbon recycling was first explored by Nasa in the 1960s, as a means of feeding astronauts on the longest-distance missions. It wasn’t entertained as a serious alternative to agriculture at the time, however, because there was no commercial or environmental imperative. Chemical fertilisers had just been invented, intensive farming was flourishing and “climate change” was just a speck on the horizon. People simply didn’t see the need.

Half a century later, that Nasa research has inspired physicist and biotech entrepreneur Lisa Dyson to co-found Air Protein, a start-up in Berkeley, California, that’s now rivalling Solar Foods.

“If we’re going to feed 10 billion people by 2050, we’ve got to ask, ‘Where’s all the land going to come from?’” says Dyson. “How better to explore making food in a resource-constrained way than looking at how you’d do it on a spaceship? How do you grow food as efficiently and quickly as possible?”

Air Protein launched in 2019, with backing from private investors and the US Department of Energy. Last November, the company debuted what it described as “the world’s first air‑based meat”: a CO2-derived piece of protein with the taste and texture of chicken. Samples weren’t available at the time of writing so I can’t vouch for the flavour, but in pictures, at least, it certainly has the appearance of poultry.

“We were able to get good flavour and texture, but we haven’t solved all the problems yet,” says Dyson. A team of chefs and food scientists is now working on formulas for air-based “beef”, “pork” and “seafood”, although no launch date for these products has yet been confirmed.

A UK pioneer in carbon recycling is Deep Branch Biotech. Based at the University of Nottingham, in the East Midlands, the start-up has been recognised by the Forbes 30 under 30 list for turning industrial CO2 emissions into feed for fish and poultry.

“It’s great as an individual to make the choice to not eat meat but as a society it’s naive to assume that everyone will do that,” says chief executive Peter Rowe. “We’ve chosen to focus on the animal feed market — rather than protein for human consumption — because that’s currently where the biggest pull for really high-quality protein is.

“At the moment, [the UK’s livestock industry] sources all its soy and most of its fish meal from South America. By making feed production local [and] regional, we can reduce the carbon intensity of that feed in a multitude of ways.”

Earlier this year, Deep Branch launched a pilot in partnership with Drax, the biggest power station in the UK.

“We were willing to work with Drax’s renewable energy plant in Yorkshire, because it uses biomass that’s carbon neutral at the point of generation — but I personally wouldn’t want to work, say, with an oil refinery,” says Rowe. “We don’t want to be seen to be propping up unsustainable industries.”

As Rowe acknowledges, the sourcing of CO2 can be contentious. Solar Foods refuses to partner with industrial emitters on principle. Instead, the company harvests all its CO2 from the air using its own direct-capture technology. “We don’t want to be there to greenwash carbon emissions from fossil resources,” says Vainikka. “And not being reliant on industrial emissions means we are free to go anywhere.”

Industrial CO2 emissions are already used for carbonating fizzy drinks. And they could soon play a part in making spirits too.

Air Vodka is a new “carbon-negative” spirit from New York made with industrial CO2 emissions captured from businesses around the state. Currently shortlisted for the $20m XPrize — which recognises innovations in carbon-conversion technology — it is the result of a catalytic process that its creator, Air Company, ultimately hopes to employ in making a variety of ethanol-based products including perfume, cleaning products and fuel.

I got hold of a bottle, though, and it tastes exactly as you’d expect: crisp, slightly sweet, but otherwise of not very much at all. Is the carbon-negative martini the cocktail of the future? Who knows?

More pressing, perhaps, is whether air-based protein could ever offer a viable solution to the mounting problems faced by our  planet.

“Yes, ideas like [air-based protein] have a part to play, but must be placed into a much bigger picture about supply and demand, coupled with the food system, which is what really needs transforming,” says Guy Poppy, food systems expert and ecology professor at the University of Southampton.

The problem for any novel form of protein, he adds, is the scaling necessary to provide an alternative to the livestock industry. “A change in demand for animal-based proteins will help environmental health and provide direct and indirect benefits to human health, but the supply of such proteins will remain a challenge, especially in the current food system.”

I ask Vainikka if he feels optimistic: “We aren’t optimists,” he says, “but we aren’t pessimists either. What we are is possibilists. What we want to demonstrate is that there are opportunities and technologies that can take us forward. We want to empower people to make a good choice. But then it’s up to them to choose.”


Record June Gains for Greenland Ice Sheet

On the back of substantial surface mass balance (SMB) gains over the past few years, the Greenland ice sheet looks set to continue that trend of GROWTH in 2020 (not that you’d know it if all you read is the MSM).

Data-driven FACTS reveal vast regions to the southwest are currently GAINING RECORD LEVELS of snow & ice. Never before in June has the Greenland ice sheet grown by more than 4 Gigatons in a single day, until now that is–according to Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) data going back to 1981.

Here are the latest measurements (from June 3, 2020):

Greenland’s SMB (

I’ve just given you the irrefutable facts, yet the mainstream has chosen to run with headlines like this one, from “High Temperatures Set Off Major Greenland Ice Melt—Again“

One passage from the article (dated June 3) relays the exact opposite of what the actual data reveals: “With temperatures nearly 20 degrees Fahrenheit higher than usual in some areas, the southern part of the ice sheet is melting at its highest rate this season.”

The obfuscation is clear, and pathetic. But what’s far more troubling is how the sheeple have fallen for the ruse.

Now, in addition, and at the risk of further upsetting those agenda-pushing elites, this trend of INCREASING snow mass isn’t just confined to Greenland. No, the entire Northern Hemisphere is witnessing one of its snowiest seasons on record, according to the Finish Meteorological Institute (FMI).

The FMI’s Total Snow Mass for the Northern Hemisphere chart reveals levels of powder have held appropriately 500 Gigatons above the 1982-2012 average during the second half of the season as winter encroaches ever-further into spring/summer:

The COLD TIMES are returning in line with historically low solar activity, cloud-nucleating Cosmic Rays, and a meridional jet stream flow.

Even NASA agrees, in part at least, with their forecast for this upcoming solar cycle (25) seeing it as “the weakest of the past 200 years,” with the agency correlating previous solar shutdowns to prolonged periods of global cooling here.



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