Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Amazon's Solar Roof Fires Imperil Zero Carbon

On the afternoon of April 14, 2020, dozens of firefighters arrived at an Amazon warehouse in Fresno, California, as thick plumes of smoke poured from the roof of the 880,000-square-foot warehouse.

Some 220 solar panels and other equipment at the facility, known as FAT1, were damaged by the three-alarm fire, which was caused by “an undetermined electrical event within the solar system mounted on top of the roof,” Leland Wilding, Fresno’s fire investigator, wrote in an incident report.

A little over a year later, about 60 firefighters were called to an even larger Amazon facility in Perryville, Maryland, to put out a two-alarm blaze, local news outlets reported.

In the intervening months, at least four other Amazon fulfillment centers caught fire or experienced electrical explosions due to failures with their solar energy-generating systems, according to internal company documents viewed by CNBC.

The documents, which have never been made public, indicate that between April 2020 and June 2021, Amazon experienced “critical fire or arc flash events” in at least six of its 47 North American sites with solar installations, affecting 12.7% of such facilities. Arc flashes are a kind of electrical explosion.

“The rate of dangerous incidents is unacceptable, and above industry averages,” an Amazon employee wrote in one of the internal reports.

The solar snafus underscore the challenge Amazon and many other large corporations face in their quest to shrink their environmental footprint and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Amazon has been among the most aggressive. In 2019, founder Jeff Bezos launched the Climate Pledge, promising the largest online retailer would zero out emissions by 2040, embrace renewable energy and move away from gas-guzzling delivery vans, including through a billion-dollar-plus investment in electric vehicle company Rivian.

Amazon’s learning curve with solar

Corporate America is under pressure from regulators and a growing subset of investors to set and report on environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals.

Many will be able to reap financial rewards for renewable energy efforts after Congress in August passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes climate provisions projected to reduce the country’s carbon emissions by roughly 40% by 2030.

Commercial solar in the U.S. is expected to see 8% annual growth over the next five years, thanks in part to the legislation, according to Wood Mackenzie solar analyst Michelle Davis. Warehouses can take outsized advantage of solar, she said, because they have large roofs and the systems can power all the HVAC, refrigeration and other energy-heavy systems located inside.

But costly and dangerous issues can arise.

By June of last year, all of Amazon’s U.S. operations with solar had to be taken offline temporarily, internal documents show. The company had to ensure its systems were designed, installed and maintained properly before “re-energizing” any of them.

Amazon spokesperson Erika Howard told CNBC in a statement that the incidents involved systems run by partners, and that the company responded by voluntarily turning off its solar-powered roofs.

Excluded from the public sustainability report is any mention of the expenses Amazon incurs when there’s a failure. An Amazon employee estimated, in the documents circulated internally, that each incident cost the company an average of $2.7 million. Costs included third-party audits of rooftop solar systems, checks on how much electricity they were generating and repairs for any broken or faulty parts of the systems that inspectors identified.

The Amazon employee also said the company would lose $940,000 per month, or $20,000 for each of the 47 decommissioned North American sites, as long as the solar remained offline. There could be additional costs for Amazon depending on contracts with clean energy partners for renewable energy credits, the documents show.


Green parties are facing a reality check

How pleasant it is to watch an idea fall apart. Especially when it is an idea held by people you don’t particularly care for. In recent years all of the democracies have been plagued by green parties. The kindest interpretation of them is that they provide a wake-up call of some sort: a reminder that we should be kind to our planet, that sort of thing. But in every country they got too free a ride. They ended up preaching catastrophism to a supplicant media. And they ended up demanding that we all get off fossil fuels yesterday without any satisfactory explanation of how we were meant to keep the lights on today. That pleasant period for them came to a halt this year, when that old friend of conservatives – reality – kicked in.

When Vladimir Putin chose to invade Ukraine in February, one of the things that was finally brought to greater public attention was Europe’s reliance on Russian gas. In recent years countries such as Germany were very happy to rely on Russian gas for their energy needs. At the same time they were thrilled to be able to cover themselves in a green veneer by shutting down their nuclear and coal-fired power stations.

Four years ago, at the United Nations General Assembly, the then president Donald Trump spoke about the dangers of such reliance. As he put it:

‘Germany will become totally dependent on Russian energy if it does not immediately change course. Here in the western hemisphere, we are committed to maintaining our independence from the encroachment of expansionist foreign powers.’

But the Germans, and everybody else, knew better.

While Trump has never been the world’s best vessel for the communication of truth, what he said in this case was right. Yet the world couldn’t help making fun of him. Germany’s representatives at the UN did it right there and then, smirking, shaking their heads and laughing performatively while president Trump spoke. Their reaction went viral online, and traditional media followed suit. ‘The German delegation had the best reaction to Trump’s UN speech’ was how Bloomberg reported it, while the Washington Post went with: ‘Trump accused Germany of becoming “totally dependent” on Russian energy at the UN. The Germans just smirked.’

Well, they’re not smirking now – particularly as Russia has just shut down Nord Stream 1 for 72 hours of ‘maintenance’. And least smirky of all are the Greens. For the German Greens do not have the luxuries of opposition afforded to their counterparts in the UK. In Germany the Greens have been part of the coalition government since last year and have therefore had to face up to the realities, not to mention the burdens, of power.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine and sanctions were imposed on Russia, the Russians have been happy to play tit-for-tat by holding Europe’s gas supply hostage. One result of this is that the German Greens have had to grow up awfully fast.

Hitherto their stated policies have been all the usual stuff. They want renewable resources to be the main source of energy today and want to get off fossil fuels and nuclear energy now. Sensible critics point out that while we wouldn’t mind if the technology was already in place, the fact is that it isn’t. Maybe it will be in the coming years, but it isn’t right now. Still, like all of their European counterparts, the German Greens continued to pretend that their critics were dogmatists with a positive fetish for fossil fuels rather than the realists that they actually are.

Now the Greens are having to make a great energy leap. As members of the German government they are staring close up at the realities of soaring energy prices. They are having to face the prospect of the lights going off this winter, and of public buildings in major cities such as Hamburg already trying to ration the amount of electricity they use. The Greens’ demand that everybody else join them in a fantastical leap has now reversed into the Greens recognising that their society simply is not ready.

In June Robert Habeck, the co-leader of the Green party and vice-chancellor of Germany, announced that the country would be significantly increasing its use of coal power to counter the effect of the Russian energy lock. So right there is the Green party signing up for fossil fuels. Next is nuclear. The German Greens grew partly out of the country’s 1970s anti-nuclear movement. They cheered Angela Merkel on as she scheduled the shutting down of Germany’s three remaining power plants. For while Frau Merkel saw no danger in relying on Russian gas she did think that nuclear energy was a great risk.

In recent days German officials announced they would be reversing the policy of shutting down nuclear power plants. The Greens seem to be aware that for them this would be the final hurdle. Habeck has ruled out the idea of keeping the nuclear plants. It is not an enviable position that he and his party are in.

On the one hand, they could make the leap on nuclear as they did on fossil fuels – but then would they be a Green party any more? One imagines not. On the other hand, they can try to stick to just one of their principles and either crash the government or see themselves held responsible this winter when the lights go off in Germany.

It is an uncomfortable position, to be sure, but a pleasant one to observe. It would be pleasanter still if other people in the green movements across the West observed it too.

In the UK we have just had another burst of middle-class maniacs attacking and vandalising petrol stations to try to force us off petrol. Because I don’t know about you, but whenever I get to the pump and see that it isn’t working, I immediately ditch the car for good and go about the rest of my life on foot. But I wish these ‘activists’ and the other greenies noticed what is happening to their counterparts in Germany. For there a pipe dream is meeting reality. And reality is winning, as she so often does.


Come 2035, California residents will have to shop elsewhere for new gasoline powered vehicles

Come 2035, California residents will have to shop elsewhere for new gasoline powered vehicles. On August 25, the California Air Resources Board voted to require that all new cars sold in the Golden State from 2035 and 70 percent of cars sold from 2030 be battery-powered electric, plug-in hybrid, or hydrogen fuel cell, which CARB considers to have zero emissions.

The stated rationale: these cars produce fewer carbon emissions than cars with internal combustion engines; emissions contribute to global warming; and global warming “poses a serious threat to the economic well-being, public health, natural resources, and the environment of California.”

Everyone loves battery-powered electric vehicles, especially when gasoline is over $3 or $4 per gallon. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) tweeted that everyone should get an electric car. But although Teslas and Ford F-150 Lightning pickup trucks might be fun to drive, these new purchases might not be reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving the planet.

Batteries Use Fossil Fuels for Charging. The latest research shows that electricity for battery-powered vehicles is coming from coal and natural gas, rather than renewables. If battery-powered vehicles were to be charged with emissions-free energy, then emissions from transportation could perhaps be reduced. But solar, wind, and nuclear are generally fully used for other purposes, and additional sources of energy to meet electricity demand come from fossil fuels and hydropower. As I have written elsewhere, the mix of fuels turned on and off to meet additional demand is not the same as the mix used for total electricity production. Until emissions-free fuels are common enough to have a net environmental benefit, battery-powered vehicles will not reduce emissions.

Producing Batteries Results in Emissions. Seventy percent of the world’s electric batteries are produced in China, and 83 percent of China’s energy comes from fossil fuels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The longer the range of the battery, the more carbon is used in the production process. Kelly Senecal of Convergent Sciences has calculated that carbon emissions to produce a battery for a Nissan Leaf were equivalent to driving a BMW 320d for 24,000 miles. For a larger Tesla Model S battery, carbon emissions used in production are equivalent to driving the BMW 320d for 60,000 miles. In addition, transporting batteries from China to the United States uses emissions, but the magnitude is more difficult to calculate.

Mining Battery Ingredients Causes Environmental Damage. Those concerned about greenhouse gas emissions may also be worried about the negative effects on the environment of mining for battery components. Such mining disrupts the land in low-income countries, such as cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where abuses have been documented by Amnesty International. Lithium is another crucial component of batteries, and China, Chile, Argentina and Australia are home to potentially damaging lithium mines, according to the Institute for Energy Research.

Battery-Powered Electric Vehicles Are Impractical and Expensive. Pure battery-powered vehicles lack sufficient range to satisfy most customers. Although 60 to 70 miles of range is enough for most trips, people buy cars for all circumstances, including vacations and cold weather. Those heading out on vacation this Labor Day weekend will worry about finding charging stations along the highway, as well as lines to charge cars. If it takes 30 minutes to charge, and two cars are ahead, that’s a break of one-and-a-half hours. Add a few irritable kids, and the experience becomes a disastrous way to begin a vacation.

In most large cities, such as New York City, many do not have access to indoor garages for overnight charging. Using charging stations on the street, if available, risks theft of expensive charging cables.

The economic well-being of low-income Californians might be harmed by having to purchase more expensive vehicles. Battery-powered electric vehicles cost more than gasoline-powered equivalents. Ford’s base model F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck costs $46,974, and its gasoline-powered twin costs $32,000.

California’s actions generally send ripples eastward, as other states adopt Golden State policies. But until electricity can be generated by emissions-free power, battery-powered vehicles will generally increase, rather than reduce, emissions, and make travel more inconvenient and costly for drivers.


More Warmist deception

In public discourse, there are those promoting the truth, and those looking to further their agenda. This is most obvious regarding the topic of Climate Change where feelings and ideology are weaponised to not only win the argument, but to scorch the earth of opposing views.

Into this battle swaggers The Australia Institute, a Canberra think tank staffed by Greens-loving activists and commentators. Their Climate Change rhetoric is infused with UN-style anti-human de-growth dogma — a study in green-left ideology dedicated to choking Australia’s economy and future opportunities that forms part of the wider agenda to constrain fossil fuel production.

Throw enough mud and it sticks, and TAI’s partisan analysis of Climate Change and energy leaches into the public debate like toxic sludge. TAI is often quoted by The Guardian Australia, and then regurgitated online in blogs such as Renew Economy, Crikey, The Saturday Paper, and The Conversation.

In March 2022, TAI released Fossil fuel subsidies in Australia asserting that the fossil fuel industry was provided $11.6 billion in subsidies in 2021-22. The exaggerated claims were widely repeated including online by

In other words, for every minute of every day in the 2021-22 budget period these subsidies cost the public $22,139. For context, $11.6 billion is 56 times greater than the $206.8 million budget of the National Recovery and Resilience Agency.

In direct contradiction, the Productivity Commission calculated that 2020-21 assistance to the entire mining industry, not just the fossil fuel industry, was just $476 million.

The mining sector received only 4 per cent of allocatable assistance ($476 million), despite accounting for 11.5 per cent of value added — meaning it was the least assisted sector relative to its size.

This would imply that there has been a significant overstatement in the amount of subsidy from governments to fossil fuel industries by listing the $8 billion diesel fuel rebate — which is neither a subsidy, nor is it specific to the fossil fuel industry.

The report also claims $200 million of equity in Kurri Kurri Power Station used to firm wind and solar, and $900 million in federal tax concessions for aviation fuel. At a state level, the report incorrectly lists government investments in profit-making state-owned power stations, mines, ports, and railways as fossil fuel subsidies.

In May 2022, TAI penned APPEA members who pay no income tax, which argues for higher taxes on resource companies. The author, widely quoted by The Australian and other news sources, wants us to believe that gas companies get a free ride, based on selectively edited tax data, and without considering costs and deductions.

The report cherry-picks just five gas companies, but APPEA (Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association) represents over sixty full-member companies, making no attempt to convey the huge expenses incurred in developing resources, such as the $100 billion construction cost of Queensland’s three LNG projects.

A more holistic review of the ATO tax data would have revealed that other APPEA member gas companies paid a combined total of $5.4 billion in taxes in the same period, with an additional $7.8 billion in Petroleum Resource Rent Tax.

Furthermore, the report used modelling figures from 2012, suggesting that $85 billion would be collected by government from eight LNG trains. The industry ended up with six trains, and a much smaller estimate of $58 billion in government income over the twenty-five-year life of the projects.

In the August 2022 op-ed, It’s time to tax mining and energy giants properly, TAI executive director Richard Denniss argues for higher taxes on Australian gas companies, citing the $137 billion total revenue of the Norwegian oil and gas sector as an example of a ‘good resources tax system’.

This is a flawed perspective as the Norwegian government sells oil and gas itself, in addition to collecting fees and taxes from private sector petroleum companies. Australian governments derive income from fees, taxes, and royalties, but do not extract and sell oil and gas. As Australian taxpayers do not provide the massive capital required to develop natural resources, and do not sell these resources directly, the comparison is invalid.

Further muddying the waters is the lack of separation of oil production from natural gas production. These commodities have different markets, different benchmark pricing, and furthermore, Australia does not produce significant amounts of oil. How much of Norway’s petroleum income is from oil, and how much from gas? As the saying goes, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

These offerings, however, provide some insight into the mindset of the staff and leadership at The Australia Institute, in direct contradiction to their mission statement.

Our Goal: The Australia Institute provides intellectual and policy leadership. We conduct research that drives the public debate and secures policy outcomes that make Australia better. We are confident that we consistently deliver on the promise of our motto: research that matters




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