It’s a big question.

As disruptive technologies of energy production and efficiency take greater shares of the energy service business, can traditional electrical utilities survive? Should they survive?
The most desirable outcome may be that they change to accommodate and facilitate the new world. Whether they will or not is anyone’s guess – some look ready to make the leap, others drag their feet.

Suggest following links to help get the whole scope of this issue.

Amory Lovins at RMI Blog:

Laments for Europe’s money-losing electric utilities were featured in an October 2013 cover story in theEconomist. It said Europe’s top 20 energy utilities have lost over half their 2008 value, or a half-trillion Euros—more than Europe’s banks lost. Many utilities therefore want renewable competition slowed or stopped. Indeed, some European giants, like Germany’s E.ON and RWE, are in real trouble, and five of Europe’s top ten utilities have suffered credit downgrades. So have some U.S. utilities—most recently Jersey Central Power & Light and Potomac Electric Power Co.—from the likes of Fitch, Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, Credit Suisse, and others.

Should old, long- and often still-subsidized oligopolies be bailed out or shielded from competition when they bet against innovation and lose? Those big European utilities were supposed, but failed, to prepare for renewables by reinvesting their hundreds of billions of Euros’ windfall from billing customers for the first decade’s tradable carbon emission credits they’d been given for free. Now they’re griping that disruptive technologies are upending their old models—just as innovators had warned them for the past few decades.

Disruptive technologies are meant to upset the status quo to bring worthwhile change. Should we have rejected mobile phones because they threatened to displace landline phones? Didn’t digital cameras make film cameras largely obsolete? Shouldn’t print newspapers have to invent new business models to confront the rise of the Internet?

Greentechmedia:

Ken Munson, CEO of Stockton, Calif.-based startup Sunverge Energy, doesn’t want you to think of his company’s product as a “battery in a box,” backing up a roof full of solar panels — even if that’s one very accurate way to describe what it packages up into a closet-sized, UL-certified form.

Instead, he’d like you to consider the Solar Integration System as an energy manager for the modern, solar-PV-equipped home — and, importantly, one that utilities see as an asset, not a threat.

“We’re very utility-centric,” Munson said in a March interview. “We believe that, inherently, a utility focus, utility ownership, even utility rate-basing [of] our devices as an asset, is where the industry is moving.” That’s a view that doesn’t align with the ‘customer-owned solar+storage=utility existential threat’ views we’ve seen expressed lately. It’s also a departure from the way thatcompetitors like SolarCity or Stem have targeted building owners as their storage customers.

But with 2 megawatts of its systems deployed from Sacramento, Calif. to Auckland, New Zealand, Sunverge is on its way to getting a pretty broad set of test utilities for its behind-the-meter storage platform. In fact, Sunverge ranks third behind SolarCity and Stem in terms of total megawatts of advanced battery projects planned in California, according to the state’s Self-Generation Incentive Program records. With California regulators moving to break a year-long impasse between utilities and customers over how to connect battery-backed solar systems to the grid, those projects could accelerate in the months to come.

Now Sunverge is turning to the next phase of its plans: networking those distributed solar-storage systems into a virtual power plant that is able to store, shift and balance electricity at grid scale. “Stuffing lithium-ion or flow or any kind of battery in a box and putting it in as a simple backup device is not that exciting,” Munson said. “But putting a cloud layer with real-time energy services on top, and being able to aggregate and control a fleet of devices on the grid in near-real time — that’s something special.”

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Hat tip to reader todaysguestis for pointing this out in a comment thread. I thought it was good enough to make a post of its own. Dr. Jason Box is interviewed at length on the Greenland ice by Vice Media, part of HBO.

This is one more indication that the Dark Snow Project has been more than meeting its communication goals. More news coming on some very compelling scientific results, as well.  I’ll be making some more detailed announcements soon, but by all means, go check out the Dark Snow site, and if you can, support this work.

tesla

Bloomberg:

Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA), the electric vehicle maker co-founded by Elon Musk, plans to use only raw materials sourced in North America for its proposed $5 billion U.S. battery factory.

The Silicon Valley company won’t look overseas for the graphite, cobalt and other materials needed for its so-called Gigafactory, said Liz Jarvis-Shean, a spokeswoman.

“It will enable us to establish a supply chain that is local and focused on minimizing environmental impact while significantly reducing battery cost,” she said in an e-mail.

The move comes amid heightened interest in curbing graphite pollution and a widespread corporate sensitivity about avoiding the use of industrial minerals from global trouble spots such as central AfricaChina’s government, for example, has begun to shutter mines producing graphite, a major ingredient in lithium-ion batteries, over air-quality issues,Bloomberg News reported March 14.

Tesla “is a high-profile company that is entering an age of supply-chain transparency,” said Simon Moores, an analyst at Industrial Minerals Data in London.

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Barry Goldwater:

“While I am a great believer in the free competitive enterprise system and all that it entails, I am an even stronger believer in the right of our people to live in a clean and pollution-free environment. To this end, it is my belief that when pollution is found, it should be halted at the source, even if this requires stringent government action against important segments of our national economy.”

– Leftist, tree-hugging, Big Government environmentalist whacko…and 1964 conservative Republican Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, from 1971′s The Conscience of a Majority.

Hat tip to Bradblog and D.R. Tucker

60 Years of Solar Cells

April 19, 2014

“Let it Shine” by Amory Lovins, via NewEnergyNews:

Bell executives presented the first practical solar cell to the world at a press conference on April 25, 1954.

At the time of Bell’s announcement in 1954, all the solar cells in the world delivered less than one watt. Today, more than 120 gigawatts of generating capacity of photovoltaics have been installed worldwide. This year not only marks the 60th anniversary of the silicon solar cell but also the beginning of reaching the Holy Grail solar scientists have only previously dreamt of before “ entering the Era of Grid Parity, where solar panels begin to generate power at costs equal to or less than electricity produced by fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

solarcell1

What does this mean? Simple! Massive amounts of cleanly produced electricity will become a reality in our lifetime.

In fact, on April 26, 1954, The New York Times noted on page one, that the Bell solar cell “may mark the beginning of a new era, leading eventually to the realization of one of mankind’s most cherished dreams“ – the harnessing of the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.  U.S. News and World Report came out with a story as full of hope as the Times piece with the title: Fuel Unlimited,” exclaiming that the silicon solar cells “…may provide more power than all the world’s coal, oil and uranium.¦Engineers are dreaming of silicon powerhouses. The future is limitless.”

On April 18, 2014, a formal celebration will take place in Palo Alto, CA to mark the milestone of 60 years of practical PV. Palo Alto is becoming a living demonstration that we’ve come a long way since that first Ferris wheel was lit up by solar technology in 1954, and that in fact, whole cities can be powered by solar and other renewables. The City of Palo Alto recently started covering its entire community’s power demand through renewable purchases and credits and is on track to procure 100% renewable power by 2017. Solar is expected to make up 18% of that portfolio.

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Critical battle won against yet another Koch funded “think” tank. Significant because it involves the attempt too use the Freedom of Information Act as a bludgeon against free thought and inquiry.
Rick Piltz has a good wrap with links at Climate Science Watch.

Climate Science Watch:

The Virginia Supreme Court has rejected the American Tradition Institute’s demand for email correspondence between former University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann and his colleagues. In upholding a higher education research exclusion from freedom of information access in this case, the Court cited the potential for “harm to university-wide research efforts, damage to faculty recruitment and retention, undermining of faculty expectations of privacy and confidentiality, and impairment of free thought and expression.” This is the result we have advocated in this case for the past three years.

The Richmond [Virginia] Times Dispatch reported

RICHMOND — The Virginia Supreme Court today rejected a conservative group’s attempt to obtain a University of Virginia climate researcher’s emails.

The justices said retired Arlington Circuit Judge Paul Sheridan was right when he ruled that Michael Mann’s emails are proprietary records dealing with scholarly research and therefore are exempt from disclosure under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The ruling ends the American Tradition Institute’s three-year court battle to obtain the emails. …

The Washington Post reported 

Unpublished research by university scientists is exempt from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled Thursday, rejecting an attempt by skeptics of global warming to view the work of a prominent climate researcher during his years at the University of Virginia.

The ruling is the latest turn in the FOIA request filed in 2011 by Del. Robert Marshall (R-Prince William) and the American Tradition Institute to obtain research and e-mails of former U-Va. profesor Michael Mann. …

In 2012, Circuit Judge Paul Sheridan sided with U-Va., saying that Mann’s work was exempt and that the FOIA exemption arose “from the concept of academic freedom and from the interest in protecting research.” Marshall and ATI appealed.

The Virginia Supreme Court ruling includes this:

“We reject ATI’s narrow construction of financial competitive advantage as a definition of ‘proprietary’ because it is not consistent with the General Assembly’s intent to protect public universities and colleges from being placed at a competitive disadvantage in relation to private universities and colleges. In the context of the higher education research exclusion, competitive disadvantage implicates not only financial injury, but also harm to university-wide research efforts, damage to faculty recruitment and retention, undermining of faculty expectations of privacy and confidentiality, and impairment of free thought and expression.”

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Dr. Joe Romm reports on a new study that provides more detail on  the drying of the western US, this winter’s Polar Vortex, and the “Warm Arctic, Cold Continents” paradox.

As readers here know, the hottest debate in atmospheric science is not whether man is causing climate change – that was settled decades ago. The debate is, HOW is that change going to manifest, as increasing global heat content drives changes to circulation patterns that have been consistent for millennia.  This past winter’s “ridiculously resilient ridge”, which brought drought to the west, and arctic cold to the eastern US, is looking more and more as if it is at least partially a product of climate change.

Joe Romm in ClimateProgress:

Natural variability alone cannot explain the extreme weather pattern that has driven both the record-setting California drought and the cooler weather seen in the Midwest and East this winter, a major new study finds.

We’ve reported before that climate scientists had predicted a decade ago that warming-driven Arctic ice loss would lead to worsening drought in California. In particular, they predicted it would lead to a “blocking pattern” that would shift the jet stream (and the rain it could bring) away from the state — in this case a “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” of high pressure.

My recent video on the California Drought featured interviews with key scientists observing the “Ridiculous Ridge” phenomenon.

More ClimateProgress:

A new study in Geophysical Research Letters (subs. req’d) takes the warming link to the California drought to the next level of understanding. It concludes, “there is a traceable anthropogenic warming footprint in the enormous intensity of the anomalous ridge during winter 2013-14, the associated drought and its intensity.”

The NASA-funded study is behind a pay wall, but the brief news release, offers a simple explanation of what is going on. The research provides “evidence connecting the amplified wind patterns, consisting of a strong high pressure in the West and a deep low pressure in the East [labeled a 'dipole'], to global warming.” Researchers have “uncovered evidence that can trace the amplification of the dipole to human influences.”

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