US-China Sign Major Climate Pact, then John Kerry Slams Deniers

by Guest Contributor Sophie Vorrath.

Originally published on RenewEconomy.

As Australia’s political leaders shift firmly into reverse on climate change, China and the US have jointly reaffirmed their commitment to contribute significantly to global efforts to meet the climate challenge.

“In light of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change and its worsening impacts, and the related issue of air pollution from burning fossil fuels, the United States and China recognise the urgent need for action to meet these twin challenges,” the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters said in a joint statement.

The statement, issued by US Secretary of State John Kerry at the end of his Beijing visit on Saturday, committed the two countries to “collaborate through enhanced policy dialogue, including the sharing of information regarding their respective post-2020 plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions,” and to “devote significant effort and resources to secure concrete results,” by the Sixth US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue later this year.

The two sides have also reached agreement on the implementation plans for the five initiatives launched under the CCWG, including vehicle emission reductions, smart grids, carbon capture and storage, emissions data collection, and energy efficiency.

It’s a far cry from the political mood in Australia, where the climate focus is on scrapping the carbon price, winding back renewable energy targets, and on coal, coal and more coal.

On the bright side, it is perhaps thanks to countries like ours that Kerry – who announced earlier this month he was serving his last term in US politics – has embarked on a climate mission, or “climate blitz” as it has been dubbed, which he kicked off in Jakarta on Sunday with the first speech in a series that will urge the international community and world leaders to fall in line on climate.

And what a speech it was, describing climate change as one of the top global security threats, and pillorying those who deny the science behind it:

When I think about the array of global climate – of global threats – think about this: terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – all challenges that know no borders – the reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them.

“…The science of climate change is leaping out at us like a scene from a 3D movie. It’s warning us; it’s compelling us to act. And let there be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the science is absolutely certain.

“We need to move on this, and we need to move together now. …We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and science and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific fact. Nor should we allow any room for those who think that the costs associated with doing the right thing outweigh the benefits.  …We certainly should not allow more time to be wasted by those who want to sit around debating whose responsibility it is to deal with this threat, while we come closer and closer to the point of no return.”

According to reports, Kerry chose Indonesia to start the blitz because the archipelago of more than 17,000 islands is particularly at risk from rising sea levels.

“Because of climate change, it’s no secret that today Indonesia is… one of the most vulnerable countries on Earth,” Kerry told the audience a high-tech US-funded cultural centre at a Jakarta mall.

“If we truly want to prevent the worst consequences of climate change from happening, we do not have time to have a debate about whose responsibility this is,” he said.

“The answer is pretty simple: It’s everyone’s responsibility. Now certainly some countries – and I will say this very clearly, some countries, including the United States, contribute more to the problem and therefore we have an obligation to contribute more to the solution. I agree with that. But, ultimately, every nation on Earth has a responsibility to do its part if we have any hope of leaving our future generations the safe and healthy planet that they deserve.”

The US-China climate pact, and Kerry’s strongly worded Indonesia speech, follow a joint US-France statement on climate action, in the form of an op-ed co-authored by Presidents Barack Obama and Francois Hollande.

Published last week in the Washington Post, the piece talked of expanding the two countries’ clean energy partnership, moving toward low-carbon growth, and doing more to help developing countries shift to low-carbon energy.

“As we work toward next year’s climate conference in Paris, we continue to urge all nations to join us in pursuit of an ambitious and inclusive global agreement that reduces greenhouse gas emissions through concrete actions,” the article said.

“The climate summit organised by the UN secretary general this September will give us the opportunity to reaffirm our ambitions for the climate conference in Paris.”

Paris will host the 21st Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 21) in December 2015, which will provide the architecture for post-2020 emission cuts. It is expected to yield decisive results.

Amid all this joint reaffirming of climate ambition, the silence from down under is deafening. As can be seen in the charts below, Australia currently exists in a league of its own, leading the backwards-looking climate laggards among the developed nations.

As HSBC climate analyst Zoe Knight notes, “chart 1 shows that for some countries, emissions are still on the rise and that the rate of carbon intensity improvement is declining. While table 1 shows that the reality is not aligned with countries’ reduction pledges.”

Meanwhile, in Canberra…

This article, Kerry Slams Global Warming Deniers After US–China Pact, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

All new Australian Power Plants to be Renewable through 2020

by Nicholas Brown.

According to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), all new electricity generation capacity in Australia will be from renewable energy. It will mostly be from wind energy, while 13% of that is expected to be from large-scale solar PV, and 3% from biomass.

After years of hearing very little about Australia’s transition from fossil fuels, there has been Sydney’s plan to go 100% renewable by 2030 and a lot of big news in 2013. But the next several years will be even bigger.

According to an IEEE article about the coming growth of renewables in Australia: ”There are nearly 15 800 megawatts of proposed wind generation projects, according to the AEMO. More than 780 MW of the wind power is expected to come online in 2014-2015.”

Australian cumulative electrical power generation chart
Australian cumulative electrical power generation chart

This massive progress is partially caused by a nationwide carbon tax, which was instated in 2012. According to the IEEE article: ”By 2020, there could be 3700 MW less coal-fired generation, about 13 percent of the country’s total coal power production.”

<br />A wind farm in rural Australia via Shutterstock.
A wind farm in rural Australia. Image by Shutterstock

The dominance of wind generation in this forecast (compared to solar) is largely due to the fact that wind power is cheaper than solar power. It is good to see a decent mix of biomass as a part of this. Power plants fueled by biomass can back up solar arrays and wind farms while preventing methane from entering the atmosphere.

Methane is 21 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and biomass power plants usually burn methane, resulting in the emission of the more benign carbon dioxide. This replacement of methane with CO2 has a positive environmental effect.

Follow me on Twitter: @Kompulsa.

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This article, All New Australian Power Plants Will Be Renewable Through 2020, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Nicholas BrownNicholas Brown has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, geography, and much more. My website is: Kompulsa.com.

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13 Brilliant Energy Breakthroughs of 2013

by Guest Contributor Kiley Kroh.

Originally published on ThinkProgress.

While the news about climate change seems to get worse every day, the rapidly improving technology, declining costs, and increasing accessibility of clean energy are the true bright spots in the march towards a zero-carbon future. 2013 had more clean energy milestones than we could fit on one page, but here are thirteen of the key breakthroughs that happened this year.

1. Using salt to keep producing solar power even when the sun goes down. Helped along by the Department of Energy’s loan program, Solana’s massive 280 megawatt (MW) solar plant came online in Arizona this October, with one unique distinction: the plant will use a ‘salt battery’ that will allow it to keep generating electricity even when the sun isn’t shining. Not only is this a first for the United States in terms of thermal energy storage, the Solana plant is also the largest in the world to use to use parabolic trough mirrors to concentrate solar energy.

2. Electric vehicle batteries that can also power buildings.

Nissan Leaf shows Vehicle to Grid technology testing
Nissan’s groundbreaking ‘Vehicle-To-Building‘ technology will enable companies to regulate electricity by tapping into EV’s plugged into their parking areas. Image Credit: Nissan Leaf via Shutterstock.

Nissan’s groundbreaking ‘Vehicle-To-Building‘ technology will enable companies to regulate their electricity needs by tapping into EV’s plugged into their garages during times of peak demand. Then, when demand is low, electricity flows back to the vehicles, ensuring they’re charged for the drive home. With Nissan’s system, up to six electric vehicles can be plugged into a building at one time. As more forms renewable energy is added to the grid, storage innovations like this will help them all work together to provide reliable power.

3. The next generation of wind turbines is a game changer. May of 2013 brought the arrival of GE’s Brilliant line of wind turbines, which bring two technologies within the turbines to address storage and intermittency concerns. An “industrial internet” communicates with grid operators, to predict wind availability and power needs, and to optimally position the turbine. Grid-scale batteries built into the turbines store power when the wind is blowing but the electricity isn’t needed — then feed it into the grid as demand comes along, smoothing out fluctuations in electricity supply. It’s a more efficient solution to demand peaks than fossil fuel plants, making it attractive even from a purely business aspect. Fifty-nine of the turbines are headed for Michigan, and two more will arrive in Texas.

4. Solar electricity hits grid parity with coal. A single solar photovoltaic (PV) cell cost $76.67 per watt back in 1977, then fell off a cliff. Bloomberg Energy Finance forecast the price would reach $0.74 per watt in 2013 and as of the first quarter of this year, they were actually selling for $0.64 per watt. That cuts down on solar’s installation costs — and since the sunlight is free, lower installation costs mean lower electricity prices. And in 2013, they hit grid parity with coal: in February, a southwestern utility, agreed to purchase electricity from a New Mexico solar project for less than the going rate for a new coal plant. Unsubsidized solar power reached grid parity in countries such as Italy and India. And solar installations have boomed worldwide and here in America, as the lower module costs have drivendown installation prices.

5. Advancing renewable energy from ocean waves. With the nation’s first commercial, grid-connected underwater tidal turbine successfully generating renewable energy off the coast of Maine for a year, the Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) has its sights set on big growth. The project has invested more than $21 million into the Maine economy and an environmental assessment in March found no detrimental impact on the marine environment. With help from the Department of Energy, the project is set to deploy two more devices in 2014. In November, ORPC was chosen to manage a wave-energy conversion project in remote Yakutat, Alaska. And a Japanese delegation visited the project this year as the country seeks to produce 30 percent of its total power offshore by 2030.

6. Harnessing ocean waves to produce fresh water.

This year saw the announcement of Carnegie Wave Energy’s upcoming desalination plant near Perth, Australia. It will use the company’s underwater buoy technology to harness ocean wave force to pressurize the water, cutting out the fossil-fuel-powered electric pumps that usually force water through the membrane in the desalination process. The resulting system — “a world first” — will be carbon-free, and efficient in terms of both energy and cost. Plan details were completed in October, the manufacturing contract was awarded in November, and when it’s done, the plant will supply 55 billion litters of fresh drinking water per year.

7. Ultra-thin solar cells that break efficiency records. Conversion efficiency is the amount of light hitting the solar cell that’s actually changed into electricity, and it’s typically 18.7 percent and 24 percent. But Alta Devices, a Silicon Valley solar manufacturer, set a new record of 30.8 percent conversion efficiency this year. Its method is more expensive, but the result is a durable and extremely thin solar cell that can generate a lot of electricity from a small surface area. That makes Alta’s cells perfect for small and portable electronic devices like smartphones and tablets, and the company is in discussions to apply them to mobile phones, smoke detectors, door alarms, computer watches, remote controls, and more.

8. Batteries that are safer, lighter, and store more power. Abundant and cost-effective storage technology will be crucial for a clean energy economy — no where more so than with electric cars. But right now batteries don’t always hold enough charge to power automobiles for extended periods, and they add significantly to bulk and cost. But at the start of 2013, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory successfully demonstrated a new lithium-ion battery technology that can store far more power in a much smaller size, and that’s safer and less prone to shorts. They used nanotechnology to create an electrolyte that’s solid, ultra-thin, and porous, and they also combined the approach with lithium-sulfur battery technology, which could further enhance cost-effectiveness.

9. New age offshore wind turbines that float. Offshore areas are prime real estate for wind farms, but standard turbines require lots of construction and are limited to waters 60 meters deep or less. But Statoil, the Norwegian-based oil and gas company, began work this year on a hub of floating wind turbines off the coast of Scotland. The turbines merely require a few cables to keep them anchored, and can be placed in water up to 700 meters. That could vastly expand the amount of economically practical offshore wind power. The hub off Scotland will be the largest floating wind farm in the world — and two floating turbines are planned off the coast of Fukushima, Japan, along with the world’s first floating electrical substation.

10. Cutting electricity bills with direct current power.

New USB technology
New USB technology will be able to deliver 100 watts of power, spreading DC power to more low voltage personal electronics.

Alternating current (AC), rather than direct current (DC) is the dominant standard for electricity use. But DC current has its own advantages: its cheap, efficient, works better with solar panels and wind turbines, and doesn’t require adapters that waste energy as heat. Facebook, JPMorgan, Sprint, Boeing, and Bank of America have all built datacenters that rely on DC power, since DC-powered datacenters are 20 percent more efficient, cost 30 percent less, and require 25 to 40 percent less floorspace. On the residential level, new USB technology will soon be able to deliver 100 watts of power, spreading DC power to ever more low voltage personal electronics, and saving homes in efficiency costs in their electricity bill.

11. Commercial production of clean energy from plant waste is finally here. Ethanol derived from corn, once held up as a climate-friendly alternative to gasoline, is under increasing fire. Many experts believe it drives up food prices, and studies disagree on whether it actually releases any less carbon dioxide when its full life cycle is accounted for. Cellulosic biofuels, promise to get around those hurdles, and 2013 may be when the industry finally turned the corner. INOES Bio’s cellulosic ethanol plant in Florida and KiOR’s cellulosic plant in Mississippi began commercial production this year. Two more cellulosic plants are headed for Iowa, and yet another’s being constructed in Kansas. The industry says 2014′s proposed cellulosic fuel mandate of 17 million gallons will be easily met.

12. Innovative financing bringing clean energy to more people. In DC, the first ever property-assessed clean energy (PACE) project allows investments in efficiency and renewables to be repaid through a special tax levied on the property, which lowers the risk for owners. Crowdfunding for clean energy projects made major strides bringing decentralized renewable energy to more people — particularly the world’s poor — and Solar Mosaic is pioneering crowdfunding to pool community investments in solar in the United States. California figured out how to allow customers who aren’t property owners or who don’t have a suitable roof for solar — that’s 75 percent of the state — to nonetheless purchase up to 100 percent clean energy for their home or business. Minnesota advanced its community solar gardens program, modeled after Colorado’s successful initiative. And Washington, DC voted to bring in virtual net metering, which allows people to buy a portion of a larger solar or wind project, and then have their portion of the electricity sold or credited back to the grid on their behalf, reducing the bill.

13. Wind power is now competitive with fossil fuels. “We’re now seeing power agreements being signed with wind farms at as low as $25 per megawatt-hour,” Stephen Byrd, Morgan Stanley’s Head of North American Equity Research for Power & Utilities and Clean Energy, told the Columbia Energy Symposium in late November. Byrd explained that wind’s ongoing variable costs are negligible, which means an owner can bring down the cost of power purchase agreements by spreading the up-front investment over as many units as possible. As a result, larger wind farms in the Midwest are confronting coal plants in the Powder River Basin with “fairly vicious competition.” And even without the production tax credit, wind can still undercut many natural gas plants. A clear sign of its viability, wind power currently meets 25 percent of Iowa’s energy needs and is projected to reach a whopping 50 percent by 2018.

This article, 13 Huge Clean Energy Breakthroughs Of 2013, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

Four Possible Scenarios For Australia’s Energy Future

by Joshua S Hill.

In Australia, wind power is rapidly replacing coal-fired capacity.
In Australia, wind power is rapidly replacing coal-fired capacity.

A new report published by the Future Grid Forum has outlined four possible scenarios which could represent the way Australia’s national electricity system may grow.

The Forum brought together more than 120 representatives from the electricity industry, government, and community. The aim was to “inform and inspire the national conversation about the future of electricity in Australia.”

The report presented to the participants is available for download here.

The Future Grid Forum presented four scenarios “that have far-reaching implications for the current and future electricity supply chain and would alter the electricity system in Australia.” The four scenarios are:

  • Set and forget
  • Rise of the prosumer
  • Leaving the grid
  • Renewables thrive.

“All of the choices in the Future Grid Forum scenarios have consequences for the price of electricity, something that has significantly impacted consumers in recent years,” said CSIRO Energy Flagship Chief Economist, Paul Graham. ”Electricity will not get cheaper in the coming decades, but bills can be reduced through the adoption of energy efficiency, peak demand management and on-site generation.”

“These steps, in combination with general wages growth, means the share of income average households spend on electricity is projected to be similar – shifting marginally from 2.5 per cent in 2013 to between 2.3 and 2.9 per cent in 2050 depending on the scenario.”

The four scenarios present ways in which consumers can take greater control of how they consume and produce electricity.

“This proactive shift could potentially influence the business model for the electricity sector, encouraging the emergence of new services to supply an individually tailored product – not dissimilar to the telecommunications industry shift from a one-size-fits-all landline telephone system to a wide variety of mobile and associated data and entertainment services,” Mr Graham said. ”One of the Forum’s scenarios looks at the option for around a third of consumers to disconnect from the electricity grid through the use of on-site generation using technologies like rooftop solar panels and battery storage; and this is projected to be economically viable from around 2030 to 2040.”

“Under the full range of scenarios Australia could see on-site generation grow from the current figure of 8 per cent to reach between 18 and 45 per cent of total generation by 2050, but mostly while staying connected and using the grid as an electricity trading platform.”

The four scenarios are helpfully explained in the following four images.

set and forget

rise of the

leaving the grid

renewables thrive

The Forum is clear to make the distinction between scenarios and predictions.

“They are windows through which we can view potential futures for Australia’s electricity sector and have been developed through extensive quantitative modelling, analysis and social dimensions research,” they note.

Unsurprisingly, the Forum believe that technology is going to play a much greater role in the way that we move forward, allowing for “more sophisticated ways of managing household demand during peak times through the introduction of devices such as smart air conditioners and in-home storage systems.”

“Better strategies for peak demand management could save two cents per kilowatt hour or $1.4 billion per annum on distribution costs for households,” Mr Graham said.

“This is an extraordinary time of change for Australia’s electricity industry and the Forum partners see the release of this report as an opportunity to begin a national conversation to decide the right answers for the sector, its stakeholders and, most importantly, all Australians,” Mr Graham concluded.

Australia has consistently been behind the curve in energy innovation, thanks primarily to heavy reliance on massive coal reserves. Movement has been made — including recent solar records reaching 3 GW — but there is a long way to go.

This article, Four Possible Scenarios For Australia’s Energy Future, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Joshua S. HillJoshua S Hill I’m a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we’re pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I work as Associate Editor for the Important Media Network and write for CleanTechnica and Planetsave. I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), Amazing Stories, the Stabley Times and Medium.   I love words with a passion, both creating them and reading them.

Australian Rooftop Solar Reaches 3 GW

by Giles Parkinson.

Australia goes Distributed Solar
Australia goes Distributed Solar in a Big Way. Image by sunwiz.

Originally published on RenewEconomy

Australia has passed through another significant solar milestone, reaching 3,000 MW (3 GW) of solar PV this month, as Queensland nudged the 1 GW mark and states such as South Australia reached household penetration rates of 25 per cent.

“Solar power is reshaping Australia’s electricity market,” says Warwick Johnston, the head of solar research group SunWiz, who compiled the data. “This is a milestone as note-worthy as the one millionth solar power system that was installed in April.”

The growth in solar PV in Australia is quite remarkable, given that Australia’s capacity was barely more than 180 MW in 2009. Much of this growth came as a result of generous feed in tariffs, but the growth continues as a new generation of households look to solar to hedge against the rising cost of grid-based electricity, to make a statement about green energy, or to do both.

Australia is almost unique in the world in having its solar installations almost exclusively in rooftop solar PV. That, according to Johnston, now totals 3 GW on its own, mostly residential but also on a growing number of commercial rooftops, such as wineries.

Australia has only one solar PV array above 1.2 MW, the 10 MW Greenough River solar farm in Western Australia, although three projects have begun or are about to begin construction in the ACT, and the 102 MW Nyngan project will also begin construction in January. Others are in the wings. To put this into comparison, the Japanese market is expected to install 9 GW of solar in 2013 alone, much of it at commercial or larger scale.

Sunwiz Australia solar

Some other striking figures in the latest data release from SunWiz include the penetration rates in individual states.

Johnston says that nationwide, 14 per cent of dwellings host solar power systems; and one in four dwellings in South Australia have rooftop solar. Queensland has a penetration rate of 22 per cent, and WA 18 per cent.

This is having an impact on Australian electricity markets. Here’s another interesting statistic: At midday on Sunday, September 29, solar power contributed to 9.4 per cent of electricity demand in the National Electricity Market, and 28 per cent in the state of South Australia.

Over the winter months, solar power contributed to 1.4% of total power consumption in the National Electricity Market, reaching a daily peak of 2.75% of energy NEM-wide production on September’s “Solar Sunday”, Johnston says. (See the graph below).

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 9.24.26 pm

The solar market is having an impact on incumbent fossil fuel generators, and network operators. That’s because solar reduces demand from the grid, and also takes away revenues on what has traditionally been the most profitable part of the day for generators.

Queensland state-owned generator Stanwell Corp blamed solar for most of its woes, the decline of base-load generation and its inability to return a profit from generation last financial year. As Hugh Saddler remarks in another story today, some of its generators are operating at less than 50 per cent capacity. Many industry experts suggest solar is having such an impact on electricity markets that it is causing a near equal amount of fossil fuel generation to be mothballed or closed.

The SunWiz report says that the solar market has contracted from its giddy, FiT-inspired peaks in the middle of 2012, but it is now stable. However, profitability for industry players remains a challenge, although the customer is benefiting. The months of October and November both recorded around 75 MW of installations.

The average rooftop system has jumped to 4.3kW, the most popular size is now between 3kW and 5kW (depending on the state and its solar resources) up from 1.5kW, and 5 per cent of systems are more than 8kW (the average in the US).

South Australia boasted an average size of 4.8kW and that state overtook Queensland to be the largest market in Australia over the last two months. Localities such as Hilton, Lonsdale, Rosewater and Emu Flat set records for installations.

More information on the SunWiz data can be found here.

This article, Australian Rooftop Solar Reaches 3 GW, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Giles Parkinson

Giles Parkinson is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia’s energy grid with great interest.