Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

Did your power prices go up again this month? Mine have been going up two or three times a year for as long as I can remember.

According to the Australian Green Left Weekly, there is absolutely no reason Australia can’t have 100% renewable energy in less than a decade at sharply reduced prices.

The article refers to a May comment by the vice-president of Sempra Energy, one of the largest utility firms in the US – that there was no longer any technical obstacle to powering California with 100% renewables.  “We now have the ability to control the grid twenty times faster than you can blink your eye. The technology has been resolved. How fast do you want to get to 100%? That can be done today.”

The author Renfrey Clarke goes on to point out that most of Australia’s fossil-fueled generating infrastructure is past its design life. Prone to costly breakdowns, it’s extremely expensive to maintain and should be replaced.

According to a recent Australian National University study, it’s far cheaper to replace it with renewables.

Positing the future cost of solar photovoltaic and wind energy at $50 per megawatt-hour (MWh), the team concluded that the “levelised cost of energy” (LCOE) over the lifetime of a balanced, 100% renewable energy system (including storage) would be around $75/MWh. For comparison, the LCOE of electricity from new supercritical black coal plants was estimated last year at $80/MWh.

Clarke maintains the energy market is already outstripping these prediction. Recent unsubsidized price contracts for delivered renewable energy include $40/MWh for a wind farm in Morocco and $33.90/MWh for solar photovoltaic in Dubai.

For energy storage, the ANU study proposes the well-tested technology of “pumped hydro”. This is impressively cheap and its virtues are listed as including excellent inertial energy, spinning reserve, rapid start, black start capability, voltage regulation and frequency control. Australia has numerous good sites for off-river and seawater pumped hydro.

Still greater system security is provided by a combination of pumped hydro with battery storage. Using modern software, utility-scale batteries can be switched into the grid in milliseconds. A recent Bloomberg report states that lithium-ion batteries are expected to fall in price by more than 70% by 2030.

 

Source: Green Left Weekly

The Switch: How Solar, Storage and New Technology Means Cheap Power for All

Chris Goodall

Profile Books (2016)

Book Review

This book was enormously valuable in rectifying many of my prior misconceptions about renewable energy. First and foremost was my erroneous belief that high production costs would make renewable energy far more expensive than fossil fuels – that the renewable energy revolution would require either a) a major reduction in population or b) major sacrifice in terms of lifestyle choices.

Both turn out to be totally untrue. At this point renewable energy (mainly photo-voltaic solar energy) is already cheaper than fossil fuels in many parts of the world. By 2040 the cost of producing renewable energy will be so low, fossil fuels will be virtually obsolete.

The first section of Goodall’s book focuses on the mathematical explanation of what he refers to as the “experience curve.” Energy economists use these formulae to explain the rapid decrease in the cost of manufacturing PV cells, solar panels and solar batters. The same process can be used to predict future costs of manufacture. Which is one of the main reasons Wall Street financiers are refusing to invest in new coal and gas-fired power plants. They know the electricity they produce will never compete with the low cost and efficiency of renewable energy.

In the past two decades, the main purpose of new gas-fired power plants has been to address power outages during peak demand periods. Because they only power up 10-50 hours a year, they are extremely inefficient and expensive to operate. In a number of regions, power suppliers using smart technology and creative billing schemes are flattening out peak demand periods by encouraging large energy consumers to shift their energy usage to non-peak periods.

Goodall asserts that six billion of the world’s seven billion population could easily switch to 100% solar energy now because they live in hot sunny regions. The other one billion in Northern Europe and parts of the US (and New Zealand) will need to supplement PV solar with other forms of renewable energy (wind, hydro, biofuel, etc) and develop short and long term storage technology to meet their winter energy needs.

The cost of lithium ion storage batteries is also dropping rapidly, though it lags several years behind decreasing PV production costs. As more and more energy consumers invest in solar storage systems, grid-based energy will continue to increase rapidly – with the cost of maintaining energy transmission infrastructure falling on fewer and fewer shoulders. This will only hasten the switch to renewable technology.

 

Regreening the Planet

VPRO (2013)

Film Review

This documentary is about a global social enterprise called Commonland stared by Chinese American environmentalist John D Liu and Dutch ecologist Willem Ferwerda. The primary purpose of Commonland is to attract business investment for regreening landscapes that have been desertified due to destructive industrial farming practices.

Liu first got his start regreening the Loess Plateau in China, using organic and biodynamic principles that focus on restoring healthy soil microorganisms and smart water use.

The documentary features amazing footage of four regreening projects in China, India, Egypt and Spain. Each emphasizes the economic and job creation potential of regreening. Large scale projects that shift communities from imported to locally produced food are one of the best ways to create jobs for unemployed youth.

More information at the Commonland website>

 

Battery Powered Homes

Catalyst (2016)

This is a short made-for-TV documentary promoting Australia’s preeminence in the uptake of battery based solar systems. Because solar panels don’t produce electricity at night, homeowners with solar panels must either have large enough batteries to supply their evening energy needs or purchase power from the grid to cover these periods. In 2016, thanks to major technological advances, the price of lithium solar batteries dropped from $15,000 to $10,000.

The popularity of solar batteries in Australia seems to mainly relate to the high price of grid-based power.* However there are clearly other factors. In parts of Australia, some local councils pay residents a rebate covering half the cost of their solar battery. This is because solar batteries can be crucial in fighting a severe bush fire that causes the grid to go down.

What impressed me most about the documentary was all the innovative ways battery manufacturers use to increase the uptake of their product. For example, a home owner has a number of different options in selecting a solar battery package. For $10,000 they can purchase a battery that makes them totally independent from the grid. For considerably less, they can purchase a smaller battery that stores enough electricity to get them through peak evening hours when power company charge the highest rates.

In Perth, where one out of five private homes have solar panels, battery manufacturers are collaborating with developers to construct apartment buildings with solar batteries large enough to supply all the units. In this case, the landlord will ultimately own the battery and tenants will pay their power bill to her.

Other communities with high solar panel penetration are investing in enormous batteries that supply entire neighborhoods. All surrounding solar homes feed into the battery during the day and draw from it at night.


*Typically power companies by power during the day from solar-powered homes for 7 cents a kilowatt hour and sell it back at night for 28 cents a kilowatt hour.

 

New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio

 

By Max DeHaldevang

Quartz Media

US president Donald Trump turning his back on the Paris climate agreement would send a terrible signal about the country’s commitment to staving off an environmental catastrophe—the US alone is responsible for 15% of the world’s CO2 emissions.

But there’s at least some hope: millions of Americans will stay committed to the agreement no matter what Trump does. How? Through their cities.

Eyeing Trump’s repeated threats about leaving the Paris accords, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti last November rallied 71 US mayors, whose cities are home to tens of millions of people, to sign an open letter calling on the then-president-elect to stay in the agreement. Garcetti didn’t mince his words in an interview with Quartz in January, saying: “If we were to withdraw…from the Paris accords, I’ll tell you what we’re going to do: we’re going to adopt it locally.”

New York mayor Bill de Blasio affirmed the message today, amid the most serious speculation to date that Trump will trigger an exit from the agreement.

The six largest cities in America, the mayors of which each signed Garcetti’s letter, are home to about 21 million people just by themselves. Add to that the 40 million people in the state of California—where governor Jerry Brown has promised (paywall) to “take significant action” if the US abandons the Paris agreement—and Trump’s potential action at the federal level is significantly undermined.

America’s urban areas are home to more than 80% of the country’s population. As social scientist and visionary political theorist Benjamin Barber, author of If Mayors Ruled the World, told Quartz in a Q&A last year, “About 80% of greenhouse gas emissions come from cities and cities also control about 80% of GDP. They can do a lot to combat climate change, whether or not Trump undermines the COP21 agreement.”

Barber, who died of cancer in April, days after his last book Cool Cities: Urban Sovereignty and the Fix for Global Warming was published, also argued that cities’ power extends far beyond complying with the Paris agreement.

That’s shown by a host of initiatives US mayors are taking to cut carbon emissions locally. Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed, for example, claims he can cut emissions by 25 percentage points in his city by picking off “low-hanging fruit” like retrofits on wasteful buildings and incentives to businesses to cut energy use. “To take action in the city of Atlanta, the center of the ninth-largest metro in the country…it takes my decision and eight votes from [the city] council,” he said in an interview last year. “In my opinion, that’s very efficient.”

It isn’t just altruism that compels the nation’s cities to take action. With solar panels becoming cheaper than fossil fuels in 2016, it’s making less and less economic sense to shy away from alternative energy sources. “Even if you didn’t believe in climate change, [green energy] is a pure driver of economic activity,” Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel said in December. “The city is never going back from this.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity

by Jordan Osmund and Samuel Alexander (2016)

Film Review

A Simpler Way is about an experiment in radical voluntary simplicity in Victoria Australia in 2016 Using donated land, volunteers from Australia, New Zealand and the UK agree to opt out of the money/corporate system and spend a year in an intentional community. The documentary is a record of their experiences.

The premises behind this experiment, called The Simpler Way Project, are as follows:

1. Contemporary civilization has begun to exceed the limits of a finite planet – the fragile Earth cannot support and indefinite increase in people living affluent lifestyles.

2. Technology and the free market can’t save us.

3. We can’t afford to wait for government to find a solution.

4. It’s up to ordinary people to figure out ways of meeting their basic needs that consume fewer resources.

Most of the film focuses on the shelters they erected (after seeking outside expertise) – a combination of tiny houses built from recycled construction materials, cobb houses (see The Revolutionary Mud House Movement) and earthships (see The Earthship Movement: Transforming Garbage into Homes).

Although they would try to grow most of their own food, initially they rely on local organic food from CSA’s (see Top 10 Reasons to Join a CSA). They cook with a combination of open fire and solar and mud overs.

Most find it far more satisfying relying on themselves and other community members to meet their survival needs, as opposed to working at a desk for money. The biggest challenge for all of them is learning the communication and conflict resolution skills necessary to make group decisions. A few become so frustrated with this process they leave and are replaced by new volunteers.

The Truth About Factory Farms

The mass production of America’s food comes with a hefty price. Find out the environmental, animal, and human impact of raising over 99 percent of US farm animals in factory farms in this infographic,”The Truth About Factory Farms.” Visit our infographic page for the high-res version.