The Top 10 Energy Stories of 2013

1. Subsidy Wars: Fossil Fuels vs. Renewable Energy

Some are saying it’s time to change the game on subsidies and climate — and that the obscene subsidies paid to the fossil fuel industry must end.

Many in the renewable energy sector would be happy with a level playing field — where renewable energy would receive the same amount of subsidy dollars per kilowatt hour as fossil fuel or nuclear power have felt they were entitled to for decades. Source: IEA. 2013 – Redrawing the energy climate map

2. Fossil Fuels get a $550 Billion Dollar Christmas Present

Fossil fuels have dominated the global energy market and even the global economy for a long time. You would think that such mature industries wouldn’t need government subsidies — their annual revenue and profits are mind-boggling. However, with money comes power. And that money-power has a stranglehold on governments of the world such that it convinces governments to give them even more money in subsidies.

Another recent study comes to the conclusion that the total annual subsidies fossil fuel companies get from governments (in just the developed world) comes to about half a trillion dollars. This follows a 2010 study from the International Energy Agency that found fossil fuel industries got $550 billion in annual subsidies.

3. Unlike Fossil Fuels, Renewable Energy subsidies expire Jan 1, 2014

The end of 2013, just like the end of 2012, 2008, 2005, 2003 and many years prior, brings with it the expiration of the Production Tax Credit for Renewable Energy (PTC).

Thanks to a long history of federal support, the incumbent fossil fuel sectors enjoy solid business certainty provided by permanent, embedded federal tax breaks.

Renewable energy, however, being the new kid on the block, does not have this luxury.

4. Utilities Face a ‘Perfect Storm’ From Falling Renewables Costs

A new report from leading utilities analysts at investment bank UBS suggests that energy utilities in Europe, North America and Australia are facing a ‘perfect storm’ from the falling cost of renewables, energy efficiency and falling demand, and may not be able to sustain their business models.

The report is entitled; Can utilities survive in their current form? – and is the latest in a series of assessments, reviews and analysis that point to the severe disruption to the centralized generation model, and the demand and supply dynamics that have governed the industry for the past few decades. To briefly summarise the UBS response to its own question, the answer is No.

UBS says the biggest impact on the current utility model will occur in developed markets, where renewables in general and distributed solar in particular will take more of an already depleted “demand pie.”

5. Obama Pushes the Big ‘Green’ Button

Part of President Obama’s executive order of December 5th 2013,  included directing the federal government to triple its use of renewable energy by 2020. Obama instructed agencies to incorporate “Green Button” data further into their energy management practices.

First unveiled in 2012, the Green Button Initiative is literally a green button on a energy utility’s website that allows consumers to download their energy consumption data in a format that’s easy to understand.

6. Obama: Federal Government Has 7 Years to Triple Renewable Energy Use

On Thursday, the administration released an executive order directing the federal government to triple its use of renewable energy by 2020, which would bring the government’s renewable energy usage to 20 percent. The order will apply to all federal agencies, including the military.

The Associated Press, which obtained a copy of the executive order before it was published, noted that the federal government itself occupies approximately 500,000 buildings and operates 600,000 vehicles, and purchases more than $500 billion per year in goods and services. The order does not disclose the cost of the transition, but says the goal will be reached “to the extent economically feasible and technically practicable.”

7. Nissan Leaf Fleets Can Power Offices and Homes

You may have heard of the vehicle-to-grid (V2G) concept in which electric vehicles can supply their battery power to electricity grids during peak hours and other electricity shortages. Nissan recently decided to apply a somewhat similar concept to the Nissan Advanced Technology Center in Atsugi City, Japan. The company calls it “Vehicle-to-Building.” During peak hours, when electricity prices are highest, the vehicles supply their battery power to the building, enabling them to avoid this peak charge.

8. 13 Brilliant Energy Breakthroughs of 2013

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.

9. U.S. Deficit Could Be Cut by 1 Trillion Using Carbon Tax

A carbon tax of $25 per ton of emissions would cut the deficit by $1 trillion over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

The finding was part of a report CBO just put out detailing 103 different ways — in terms of both cutting spending and raising revenue — the U.S. government could reduce its deficit. At a total haul of $1.06 trillion by 2021, the carbon tax was far and away the biggest deficit reducer of any option listed.

It’s a policy that enjoys widespread support amongst politicians, industry spokespersons, economists, and polling of the general public.

10. 100% Renewable Energy Powers All These Places All The Time

A handy selection of jurisdictions where renewable energy has taken over completely.

Iceland. (Yes, all of it) runs on clean, renewable energy.

Iceland: A 100% renewables example in the modern era

Iceland

Tokelau. A South Pacific Island. Runs on 100% Solar Power. Used to burn shiploads of expensive diesel and kerosene to create electrical power.

An Island (Tokelau) Powered 100% By Solar Energy

An Island (Tokelau) Powered 100% By Solar Energy →

Samsø. An Island in Denmark. Citizen cooperative formed to power the entire Island. Sells excess electricity to mainland Denmark. Cooperative makes a tidy profit.

Introducing Samsø, A 100% Wind-Powered Island

blog_2013_10_23-1
Güssing. Formerly near-bankrupt town in Austria now runs on solar and locally-sourced biofuels. They sell their surplus electricity to neighbouring towns. Oh, and they export solar panels and biofuel by the truckload. And town coffers are filling with clean gold.

Güssing, Austria Powered Entirely By Renewable Energy

blog_2013_10_08-1

The renewable energy stories will get even better in 2014, as renewable energy ‘comes into its own’ around the world.

Happy 2014 and thanks for reading JBS News!

Utilities Face ‘Perfect Storm’ From Falling Renewables Costs

by Giles Parkinson.

Originally published on RenewEconomy

A new report from leading utilities analysts at investment bank UBS suggests that energy utilities in Europe, North America and Australia are facing a “perfect storm” from the falling costs of renewables, energy efficiency and falling demand, and may not be able to sustain their business models.

The report – entitled; Can utilities survive in their current form? – is the latest in a series of assessments, reviews and analysis that point to the severe disruption to the centralized generation model, and the demand and supply dynamics that have governed the industry for the past few decades. To briefly summarise the UBS response to its own question, the answer is No.

UBS says the biggest impact on the current utility model will occur in developed markets, where renewables in general and distributed solar in particular will take more of an already depleted “demand pie.”

This, says UBS, will cause profits to fall and could force utilities, particularly generators, to look at greater exposure to renewables and distributed generation, and to other downstream services. It comes to a similar conclusion on this as the CSIRO Future Grid forum, and echoes some of the strategic decisions currently being mooted German energy giants RWE and E.ON.

“We expect the renewables onslaught to continue and that the going will only get tougher for conventional generators,” the UBS analysts write. “We believe they will need to examine and change their traditional business model to survive the renewables era.”

These new business models could include a greater focus on rooftop solar, energy efficiency, and consumer offerings that combined solar, storage, and electric vehicle infrastructure, as well as energy efficient appliances.

UBS says the economic for solar panels looks set to work best in Australia, the southwest US, Germany, Italy and, with a time lag, in Spain.

It notes that the combination of decreasing costs of solar and rising electricity bills means that “end-user” grid parity has been achieved in several key European market, and in Australia and the south-west of US.

This means that consumers can reduce the cost of their bills by more than the cost of the solar system – and rooftop solar systems are having the added impact of pushing thermal generation down the merit order, as Stanwell has testified in Queensland.

“As unsubsidised solar replaces conventional generation … in Europe, the US and Australia by shaving off the peak demand, it has started to reduce pool electricity prices,” UBS notes. And utilisation rates will also fall. This would lead to a 50 percent fall in profits from conventional utilities in Europe by 2020, based on current deployment forecasts.

UBS says the prices will fall so low that capacity will have to be removed to allow prices to recover. However, that capacity may be superseded anyway by the emergence of storage, potentially another blow to conventional generation.

Interestingly, UBS conducted a survey of 65 utility companies in Europe, Asia, America, Australia and Brazil – and the biggest number of utilities who viewed renewables as a threat where conventional generators in developed markets.

More than 50% of generators thought this way, compared to less than 5% in emerging markets. The percentages were virtually reversed when asked about the opportunity for renewables.

Must be something about sunk investments. Indeed, most developed market generators said renewables would lower their profits, while in emerging markets they thought renewables would increase their profits. UBS noted that the problems for conventional generators in developed markets would likely increase, given that penetration rates are still relatively low.

In Germany, however, households are expected to generate 29 percent of their needs from rooftop solar by 2020, and commercial businesses up to 18 percent. In Italy and Spain, commercial businesses are expected to generate more than one quarter of their own electricity requirements.

This article, Energy Utilities Facing ‘Perfect Storm’ From Falling Cost Of Renewables — Report, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

10 Top Cleantech and Environment Stories From September

by David L Roberts

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Image Credit: Solar panel, wind turbine & globe via Shutterstock

Here’s my latest monthly report of the “Top 10” most compelling non-CleanTechnica clean energy and environment-related news stories encountered last month. These articles may have an impact on your business, your life, and the world we live in. Or, at the very least, might surprise you about what’s going on.

Over a thousand articles were reviewed across various energy platforms, 30+ were found to be of particular interest and are available in my newsletter upon request. The 10 most interesting to me are shown here, most important posted last.

10. Here’s a report of renewable energy platforms for 2011 and 2012, highlighting the top wind and solar companies and the top consuming countries. In summary, renewables are entering a 5-year period of essential innovation, consolidation, and bankruptcies. Late bond payments and defaults on $8.4B in debt abound for recent Chinese leaders: Suntech, LDK, GCL, ZK and Yingli.

9. GlobalData reports that renewable energy sources will account for 20% of the global energy mix by 2030, with natural gas rapidly transitioning, but with solar thermal being the predominant renewable.

8. A study of the 6000 power plants in the US reports that the “50 dirtiest” produce 33% of US GHG emissions, but only 16% of the electricity. They account for 2% of the global GHG total and, if they were a country, would produce more than Canada, Germany, and North Korea. They are located in coal-lobbying states of Alabama, Missouri, Texas, and Georgia.

7. There’s more scientific evidence that manmade contributions to global warming are responsible for many recent extreme weather events. The report states that as GHG emissions and global temps increase, agricultural yields will decline; storm severity will worsen, producing flooding; droughts will extend; and forest fire burning acreage will increase. Germany’s Environment Minister claims humans are the primary cause of global warming.

6. New “leaked” report from climate watchdog IPCC, challenges the direct relationship between atmospheric CO2 and global temperature warming. Whereas CO2 levels have increased 1997-2012, global temps (they say) have risen at a quarter of the rate predicted in 2007, leading to a renewed debate about climate change correlations. Stay tuned, as this could be huge!

5. According to Climate Central, the current amount of climate warming CO2 in the atmosphere has already “locked in” over 4 feet of rising tides along US coastlines by 2100. This will displace over 3 million folks in over 300 communities, most notably Florida, Texas, and the East Coast.

4. Giant Honeywell, a Fortune 100 Co, introduces interface software that enables partner organizations to integrate their energy management (EMS) programs with Honeywell’s Wi-Fi thermostats. Not to be outdone, French energy giant Schneider delves into the home EMS market with its “Wiser” line of hardware and software. Both are principally for the home EMS market with adaptability to smartphones, tablets, or computer.

3. Energy management (EMS) programs that are widely adopted across Europe and the US are finally taking hold in China. Their first formal program is being piloted in industrial Dezhou City between the Dezhou Energy Conservation Center, 52 Chinese industrial companies and the Institute of Industrial Productivity (IIP) — a global company based in DC.

2. Surprisingly, the oil & gas industry accounted for 49% of all the investments in CO2 mitigation technologies 2000-2012. Of the $336B total invested, it breaks out this way: O&G invested $165B ($84B is for shale gas alone), private industry $91B, and the federal govt $79B.

THE NUMBER ONE CLEAN ENERGY ARTICLE IN SEPTEMBER

1. The largest fossil fuel company, Exxon/Mobil, admits that global warming is real, that fossil fuels are the main cause, and that society must shift to renewable power sources. Embedded chart shows progression of GHG pollution thru 2100, suggesting we have already reached the point of safe “stabilization.”

BONUS NEWS FEATURE – FOR FUN

Keep your eyes open — and nostrils closed — for developments on this discovery by researchers in Australia. The Mediterranean legume — Biserrula — when fed to livestock, is shown to reduce methane flatulence in livestock by 90%. This is important because livestock are estimated by some researchers to contribute at least 51% of the worlds’ GHG emissions.

Repost.Us - Republish This Article

This article, 10 Top Cleantech & Environment Stories From September, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

David L Roberts is a marketing consultant to renewable energy startups.

What is Renewable Energy?

by John Brian Shannon

Renewable energy is a kind of energy, one that is automatically replenished by the environment, such as the rainfall which is collected behind hydroelectric dams and can be used to produce hydroelectric power.

It may surprise you to know that there are only two kinds of energy; Renewable and Non-Renewable. All the different types of energy are categorized under those two kinds of energy.

The Sun’s light and heat is employed (directly) to produce solar power and (indirectly) for wind power production, and heat in the Earth’s crust is used to generate geothermal energy. Another type of renewable energy used around the world is biomass.

Please view the graphic below, to see the world’s total available energy from all sources.

One row displays Renewable Energy, while the other row displays Non-Renewable Energy.

We can see that in 2009, the total world energy demand from all sources, including all forms of transportation worldwide, amounted to 16 Terawatt years of energy — including all forms of transportation which itself accounted for one-third of all energy demand on the planet.

By 2050, it is expected that worldwide energy demand (including transportation) will reach 28 Terawatt years of energy.

Planetary energy graphic energy-resources-renewables-fossil-fuel-uranium
Planetary energy graphic. © R.Perez, K.Zweibel, T.Hoff. Comparing finite and renewable planetary energy reserves (Terawatt ‐ years). Total recoverable reserves are shown for the finite resources. Yearly potential is shown for the renewables. Image courtesy: Perez and Perez 2009a

We can see from the graphic that the Renewable energy from solar power has the most potential and by itself, could have produced an amount of energy 1437.5 times the total world energy demand of 2009 (including transportation).

amonix-solar-module-record
Amonix solar modules mounted on Sun tracking system. Image courtesy: Amonix.com

Even with the increasing energy demands of our civilization by 2050, solar power by itself, could provide 821.4 times the world’s total energy demand, including all transportation.

solar-pv-header
Solar energy can easily provide all of our energy.

Of course, wind power could do the same between now and 2050, or even up to 2100 with its much higher level of demand. The Renewable energy available worldwide from wind power alone is equal to the energy required to power our entire civilization, including all forms of transportation.

Other types of Renewable energy such as Biomass, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, and Hydroelectric power, are important, but even when exploited to their maximum potential they are nowhere near being able to satisfy world energy demand — nor do they need to. They can complement solar power and wind power, adding to national electricity grids during times of the day with low wind activity and at night, when solar power is not adding power to the grid.

Another type of energy which can be considered renewable energy, (when the proper production processes are used) is the energy we get from from fuels such as gasoline, (when made from algae + water) or ethanol/methanol, (when it is made from a combination of organic waste material + enzymes + water).

Some biofuels are made from green plants, but require more inputs of water, fertilizer, and pesticides to grow them, than the final product is worth — which is why it is very important to select the right plants to create biofuel or it isn’t a sustainable energy solution. If the optimum plants are not selected for biofuel processing, government subsidies must then be employed to make the process affordable for farmers and biofuel producers.

Algae, switchgrass, jatropha, millettia and camelina, are sustainable choices for biofuel production, as is organic waste when processed with enzymes.

COREGreenGasRefinery_Vector2
If you add ordinary organic waste + tap water + enzymes (after processing, the result is) very pure gasoline + very pure CO2 for carbonated drinks + distilled water. Image courtesy: CORE biofuels

Due to the fierce competition in solar panel manufacturing since Chinese manufacturers entered the market, solar (PV) panels have dropped in price — so much so, that electricity produced at solar power plants can now be sold at comparable rates to the electricity produced at conventional power plants.

solar vs coal price 2011-2020
Utility-scale power plants, solar vs. coal 2011-2020. Image courtesy: cleantechnica.com

Wind turbines also have fallen in price dramatically and now compete against conventional energy around the world — with or without subsidies.

To compare Renewable and Non-renewable energy, it is important to examine two different variables; Subsidies and Externalities.

Subsidies:

  • Both Renewable energy and Non-renewable energy benefit from various subsidy schemes around the world.
  • The U.S. federal government subsidizes energy producers with vastly different subsidy rates for each energy type.
  • The various U.S. state governments subsidize energy producers with vastly different subsidy rates for each energy type AND subsidy rates vary considerably between the different states.
  • Sometimes a subsidy in country “A” (to promote extraction of petroleum for example) will have another subsidy added to it in country “B” which imports that petroleum (one subsidy on top of another subsidy) which helps bring down the price at the gas pump.
  • To make biofuel from corn (a poor choice of plant for biofuel production) farmers and producers were subsidized until January 1, 2013, by the U.S. government at $0.60 per litre.
  • Over time, subsidies can add up to many billions of dollars per year.
  • Please see the chart below, which shows the yearly subsidies enjoyed by the different energy producers in the U.S.
  • From the chart, we see that Oil and Gas receives $4.86 billion per year, from the U.S. government.
  • From the chart we see that the Nuclear power industry receives $3.5 billion per year, from the U.S. government.
fossil-fuel-subsidies
Annual energy subsidies in the United States. Image courtesy: DBL Investors What Would Jefferson Do?

How were these numbers arrived at?

In the case of Oil & Gas, DBL Investors took the grand total of subsidies paid to the Oil and Gas industry from 1918 – 2009 and divided it by 91 years, which equals $4.86 billion per year.

In the case of nuclear, DBL Investors took the grand total of subsidies paid to the nuclear power industry from 1947 – 1999 and divided it by 52 years, which equals $3.50 billion per year.

Similar calculation methods are applied to Biofuels 1980 – 2009 and Renewables 1994 – 2009.

Externalities:

  • Whatever the kind of energy, there are always externalities to deal with.
  • In the case of wind turbines, they can create noise, and for some people the noise is uncomfortable. And, they are either a source of wonder or an eyesore — depending on your viewpoint.
  • Hydroelectric dams dramatically lower fish stocks in rivers, although there have been some notable programmes designed to mitigate this in some river systems.
  • In China, the externalities from burning fossil fuels cause 410,000 deaths per year.

“China faces a number of serious environmental issues caused by overpopulation and rapid industrial growth. Water pollution and a resulting shortage of drinking water is one such issue, as is air pollution caused by an over-reliance on coal as fuel. It has been estimated that 410,000 Chinese die as a result of pollution each year.” – Common Language Project

  • This problem does not stop at the borders of any one country, for it is a worldwide externality.
  • The polluted air in China does not stay in the country, but circulates around the northern hemisphere, taking between 5 to 7 days to reach the western coastline of North America.
  • Similarly, the polluted air from North America takes 4 to 6 days to reach Europe.
  • And then there is the depleting ozone layer and oxygen levels in the Earth’s atmosphere caused by the burning of fossil fuels and man-made chemical compounds — along with dramatically increasing CO2 (and CO2 equivalent) gases, which increase the solar insolation value of the atmosphere (trapping heat) and thereby increasing the average worldwide temperature.
  • Scientists say that for each 1 C degree of global warming, it costs governments, businesses and citizens, 1 Trillion dollars per year to mitigate those effects.
Action_vs_Inaction_500
Climate action vs. Climate inaction.

According to 97 percent of the climate scientists testifying under sworn oath in the United States Congress in April of 2012, most of the global warming measured since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, is ‘anthropogenic’ — that is, caused by humans. Profoundly, it is in our best interest to make the switch to Renewable Energy.

Massive spending reductions for governments will be the result of switching to Renewable energy, as the costs to human health (national health care systems externality) and the costs of mitigating the damage caused by climate change (agriculture, property and emergency management externality), will drop dramatically.

Not to mention the billions of dollars of savings when conventional energy subsidies end.

wind-solar-04
Hybrid power plants employ both solar and wind, in this example. Image courtesy: SolarPraxis