Wind energy is not a future resource, it is here now.
There is no question that it will be a primary part of our energy mix in the future. The only question is, will we build those millions of turbines here in the US, or will we concede the growth industry of the 21st century to our competitors.

Mark Jacobson is a Stanford engineer actively engaged in envisioning the future.  He’s been getting a lot people’s attention since  producing the cover story of Scientific American 3 years ago, outlining a plan to move the planet completely to renewable sources of energy by 2030.

Since then he has been fleshing out the details of how intermittent sources can supply base load power.

That was one of the questions I asked him to address when I caught up with him briefly after his presentation at last December’s AGU conference in San Francisco. Since it resonates with the new video that will be coming out this week, now seems as good a time as any to post the short interview.  Link to the landmark Sciam article below – pdf here. 

Scientific American – Plan for a Sustainable Future:

Our plan calls for millions of wind turbines, water machines and solar installations. The numbers are large, but the scale is not an insurmountable hurdle; society has achieved massive transformations before. During World War II, the U.S. retooled automobile factories to produce 300,000 aircraft, and other countries produced 486,000 more. In 1956 the U.S. began building the Interstate Highway System, which after 35 years extended for 47,000 miles, changing commerce and society.

Is it feasible to transform the world’s energy systems? Could it be accomplished in two decades? The answers depend on the technologies chosen, the availability of critical materials, and economic and political factors.

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Today the maximum power consumed worldwide at any given moment is about 12.5 trillion watts (terawatts, or TW), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The agency projects that in 2030 the world will require 16.9 TW of power as global population and living standards rise, with about 2.8 TW in the U.S. The mix of sources is similar to today’s, heavily dependent on fossil fuels. If, however, the planet were powered entirely by WWS, with no fossil-fuel or biomass combustion, an intriguing savings would occur. Global power demand would be only 11.5 TW, and U.S. demand would be 1.8 TW. That decline occurs because, in most cases, electrification is a more efficient way to use energy. For example, only 17 to 20 percent of the energy in gasoline is used to move a vehicle (the rest is wasted as heat), whereas 75 to 86 percent of the electricity delivered to an electric vehicle goes into motion.

Even if demand did rise to 16.9 TW, WWS sources could provide far more power. Detailed studies by us and others indicate that energy from the wind, worldwide, is about 1,700 TW. Solar, alone, offers 6,500 TW. Of course, wind and sun out in the open seas, over high mountains and across protected regions would not be available. If we subtract these and low-wind areas not likely to be developed, we are still left with 40 to 85 TW for wind and 580 TW for solar, each far beyond future human demand. Yet currently we generate only 0.02 TW of wind power and 0.008 TW of solar. These sources hold an incredible amount of untapped potential.

The Economist:

Looking at nuclear power 26 years ago, this newspaper observed that the way forward for a somewhat moribund nuclear industry was “to get plenty of nuclear plants built, and then to accumulate, year after year, a record of no deaths, no serious accidents—and no dispute that the result is cheaper energy.” It was a fair assessment; but our conclusion that the industry was “safe as a chocolate factory” proved something of a hostage to fortune. Less than a month later one of the reactors at the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine ran out of control and exploded, killing the workers there at the time and some of those sent in to clean up afterwards, spreading contamination far and wide, leaving a swathe of countryside uninhabitable and tens of thousands banished from their homes. The harm done by radiation remains unknown to this day; the stress and anguish of the displaced has been plain to see.

Then, 25 years later, when enough time had passed for some to be talking of a “nuclear renaissance”, it happened again (see article). The bureaucrats, politicians and industrialists of what has been called Japan’s “nuclear village” were not unaccountable apparatchiks in a decaying authoritarian state like those that bore the guilt of Chernobyl; they had responsibilities to voters, to shareholders, to society. And still they allowed their enthusiasm for nuclear power to shelter weak regulation, safety systems that failed to work and a culpable ignorance of the tectonic risks the reactors faced, all the while blithely promulgating a myth of nuclear safety.

Not all democracies do things so poorly. But nuclear power is about to become less and less a creature of democracies. The biggest investment in it on the horizon is in China—not because China is taking a great bet on nuclear, but because even a modest level of interest in such a huge economy is big by the standards of almost everyone else. China’s regulatory system is likely to be overhauled in response to Fukushima. Some of its new plants are of the most modern, and purportedly safest, design. But safety requires more than good engineering. It takes independent regulation, and a meticulous, self-critical safety culture that endlessly searches for risks it might have missed. These are not things that China (or Russia, which also plans to build a fair few plants) has yet shown it can provide.

In any country independent regulation is harder when the industry being regulated exists largely by government fiat. Yet, as our special report this week explains, without governments private companies would simply not choose to build nuclear-power plants. This is in part because of the risks they face from local opposition and changes in government policy (seeing Germany’s nuclear-power stations, which the government had until then seen as safe, shut down after Fukushima sent a chilling message to the industry). But it is mostly because reactors are very expensive indeed. Lower capital costs once claimed for modern post-Chernobyl designs have not materialised. The few new reactors being built in Europe are far over their already big budgets. And in America, home to the world’s largest nuclear fleet, shale gas has slashed the costs of one of the alternatives; new nuclear plants are likely only in still-regulated electricity markets such as those of the south-east.

 ClimateProgress:

Recently, the editorial board of theWashington Post asked if the world can fight global warming without nuclear power, looking to Germany and Japan for the answer.

Both countries are known for a nuclear shutdown path. In Japan, only one of the 54 nuclear reactors currently remains in operation. Germany has closed eights reactors following the nuclear catastrophe of Fukushima in March 2011 and the remaining nine are scheduled to be closed by 2022.

That obviously must lead to rising emissions, the Post claims. Germany’s “electricity sector emits more carbon than it must after eight reactors shut down last year.”

If you look at the most recent emissions data, however, the opposite is happening. Germanyreduced its carbon emissions in 2011 by 2.1 percent despite the nuclear phase out. How can that be?

The cut in greenhouse gases was mainly reached due to an accelerated transition to renewable energies and a warm winter. In addition, the EU emissions trading system capped all emissions from the power sector. While eight nuclear power plants were shut down, solar power output increased by 60 percent. In 2011 alone, 7.5 gigawatts of solar were installed. By the end of last year, renewable energies provided more than 20 percent of overall electricity.

The Washington Post refers to critics of this transition who “reasonably predict that the country will instead rely on electricity imports from neighbors running old, reliable coal, gas and, yes, nuclear plants for years to come.”

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Scott Mandia of the Climate Science Rapid Response Team was tapped for an interview on last week’s teaparty tempest making the deny-o-sphere rounds about James Lovelock and the latest supposed walk-back of climate science. Scott’s got it right. Climateprogress fills in the gaps.

ClimateProgress:

Famed scientist James Lovelock has always been in a category of one when it comes to global warming. See for instance my June 2009 post, “Lovelock still makes me look like Paula Abdul, warns climate war could kill nearly all of us, leaving survivors in the Stone Age.” That’s mostly because he doesn’t follow the scientific literature.

Now that he has dialed back his doomism — alarmism is a wholly inadequate word for Lovelock’s (former) brand of unjustified hopelessness — the media and the deniers are just so excited. That’s especially true since Lovelock has now overshot in the other direction of climate science confusion and just keeps peddling nonsense.

And so we have this MSNBC story:

‘Gaia’ scientist James Lovelock: I was ‘alarmist’ about climate change

James Lovelock, the maverick scientist who became a guru to the environmental movement with his “Gaia” theory of the Earth as a single organism, has admitted to being “alarmist” about climate change and says other environmental commentators, such as Al Gore, were too….

The world has not warmed up very much since the millennium….”

He was wrong about his doomism before, he is wrong about Gore now, and he is apparently uninformed about basic climate observations (see “Breaking News: The Earth Is Still Warming. A Lot“). Indeed, even MSNBC feels compelled to note:

Asked to give its latest position on climate change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a statement that observations collected by satellites, sensors on land, in the air and seas “continue to show that the average global surface temperature is rising.”

The statement said “the impacts of a changing climate” were already being felt around the globe, with “more frequent extreme weather events of certain types (heat waves, heavy rain events); changes in precipitation patterns … longer growing seasons; shifts in the ranges of plant and animal species; sea level rise; and decreases in snow, glacier and Arctic sea ice coverage.”

Duh.

If you thought you’ve seen the last word in wind turbine design, think again.

Cleantechnica:

From a distance it looks like an escaped party balloon in the shape of a donut, but that new thing up in the skies over Limestone, Maine this winter was in fact the 35-foot prototype for a new helium blimp capable of harvesting wind energy at high altitudes, built by the company Altaeros. High-altitude winds are generally stronger and steadier than those near the surface, making them a more efficient feedstock for wind turbines than the low lying winds harvested by conventional wind farms.

How not to harvest wind energy at high altitudes

Building taller wind turbine towers is not a particularly cost effective way to grab high-altitude winds, due to additional expenses for site acquisition (larger towers generally require a larger footprint), manufacturing and transporting the components, constructing the tower, and performing routine inspections as well as maintenance and repair.

The benefits of blimp-lofted wind farms

Altaeros Energies, which calls its new blimp the Airborne Wind Turbine, is one of several companies working around the problem by sailing a turbine into the air (other attempts include hookups between wind turbines and kites).

Along with the benefits of gaining high altitudes without the need for a tower, the dock for the new blimp fits on a trailer for easy portability. The blimp’s tether doubles as a power transmission line and in case of severe weather, the blimp could be grounded by remote control.

Altaeros’s Airborne Wind Turbine

In the test this winter, the Airborne Wind Turbine prototype was lofted 350 feet high, carrying within its donut hole a popular Skystream model turbine from the firm Southwest Windpower. As anticipated, the blimp-mounted turbine generated more than twice the power than it would have if attached to a tower at a more conventional height.

Initially, the company’s goal was to attain a working height of up to 2,000 feet (by comparison, the Empire State Building is 1,250 feet high) and to develop a production model that could be transported in  a standard shipping container and installed in just a few days.

So far tests indicate that a height of only 1,000 feet would be sufficient to gain a significant savings over conventional wind power. Within that parameter, Altaeros estimates that the energy produced by its turbine would cost up to 65 percent less than a comparable ground-sited wind turbine.

New video on wind power coming very soon. In the meantime, the video above tracks efforts to deploy wind offshore in Maine’s chilly waters.  An equally enormous resource awaits in the Great Lakes, which developers are eager to tap, see below.

Greenbuildingelements:

Some sustainable resources are simply ripe for the harvest. According to Wind Energy News, a September 10 report from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) offshore wind resources have a total potential of 4,150 GW.
Translated, this amount of offshore wind could provide roughly three times the current total U.S. annual electricity demand.

Mlive.com

MUSKEGON, MI – Out of sight is out of mind, offshore wind proponents hope.

Two Michigan universities have joined forces with a Seattle-based design company to pursue offshore wind technology that could be a “game-changer” on the Great Lakes.

Grand Valley State University and Michigan Technological University are in a group seeking federal funding for initial engineering and design of new floating-turbine technology. The floating technology has the potential of moving turbines to the middle of the lakes.

The public-private partnership is seeking investors to cover the matching funds needed in a U.S. Department of Energy wind technology grant program, GVSU officials said.

The Glosten PelaStar floating wind turbine platforms would allow placement of utility-scale wind farms anywhere on the Great Lakes and in water depths that would allow the turbines to be located so they cannot be seen from shore.

The past debate over wind turbines on Lake Michigan centered on opposition to near-shore turbines that are clearly visible from shore. The Scandia Offshore Wind project proposed for the Lake Michigan waters off Oceana and Mason counties created a huge public outcry that led both counties two years ago to reject the concept.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bottom line: Climate denial wins the “Obama was born in Kenya” crowd.  Nobody else.

Does Obama’s recent reference to climate as a campaign issue mean he’s getting it too?

LATimes: 

The Yale-George Mason University poll being released Thursday found that 76% of Americans support regulating carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas pollutant and that two-thirds believe the U.S. should pursue policies to reduce its carbon footprint.

Yale/George Mason Poll:

A large majority of Americans believe that global warming made several high profile extreme weather events worse, including the unusually warm winter of December 2011 and January 2012 (72%), record high summer temperatures in the U.S. in 2011 (70%), the drought in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 (69%), record snowfall in the U.S. in 2010 and 2011 (61%), the Mississippi River floods in the spring of 2011 (63%), and Hurricane Irene (59%).

NYTimes:

poll .. shows that a large majority of Americans believe that this year’s unusually warm winter, last year’s blistering summer and some other weather disasters were probably made worse by global warming. And by a 2-to-1 margin, the public says the weather has been getting worse, rather than better, in recent years.

The survey, the most detailed to date on the public response to weather extremes, comes atop other polling showing a recent uptick in concern about climate change. Read together, the polls suggest that direct experience of erratic weather may be convincing some people that the problem is no longer just a vague and distant threat.

 Climate Progress:

I know you’ve heard the established wisdom: The climate bill failed in large part because it lacked public support.

That was never true, as over a dozen polls we reported on in the last 3 years make clear (see them here and below). But that myth became popular because it suited the narrative of both the deniers and do-little centrist crowd and their enablers in the media.

What’s amazing is that even though essentially none of the major national “influencers” in the public arena — the President, Congress, media and so on — has been using their bully pulpit to talk about mandatory controls on carbon dioxide pollution for almost two years now, the public still supports it overwhelmingly.  A full 65% of Americans support “imposing mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions/other greenhouse gases.”

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Love the song. But the climate debate has taught me that there are, in fact, bad guys. So Dave Mason and I just disagree.

Whatever you do, don’t miss the clip above. (off topic but pretty damn funny, and then again maybe not so off topic)

I’m posting this as kind of a historical note. I think this is a remarkable example of the nexus between news, entertainment, opinion, and the way people perceive and process public issues in this multi media age. Some people will compare this to Bill Clinton’s Sax playing turn on the Arsenio show in ’92, but I think this is a step beyond.  It’s hard to imagine Newt Gingrich, or Rick Santorum pulling this off, much less Mitt Romney. Whether it works, we’ll see – but it sure is entertaining.

ThinkProgress:

In a Rolling Stone interview published today, President Obama broke out of his self-imposed silence on climate change. He made some remarkable statements, including his belief that the millions of dollars pouring into the anti-science disinformation campaign will drive climate change into the presidential campaign.

Earlier this year the President omitted any discussion of climate change from his State of the Union address. And he (or the White House communications team) edited it out of his Earth Day proclamation.

But in this interview, Obama was actually the first to bring up climate change, noting it was one of many big issues he’s had to deal with and then slamming the GOP for moving so far to the right on the issue.

From the Rolling Stone Interview:

…..But what’s happened, I think, in the Republican caucus in Congress, and what clearly happened with respect to Republican candidates, was a shift to an agenda that is far out of the mainstream – and, in fact, is contrary to a lot of Republican precepts. I said recently that Ronald Reagan couldn’t get through a Republican primary today, and I genuinely think that’s true. You have every candidate onstage during one of the primary debates rejecting a deficit-reduction plan that involved $10 in cuts for every $1 of revenue increases. You have a Republican front-runner who rejects the Dream Act, which would help young people who, through no fault of their own, are undocumented, but who have, for all intents and purposes, been raised as Americans. You’ve got a Republican Congress whose centerpiece, when it comes to economic development, is getting rid of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Doesn’t all of that kind of talk and behavior during the primaries define the party and what they stand for?
I think it’s fair to say that this has become the way that the Republican political class and activists define themselves. Think about John McCain, who obviously I have profound differences with. Here’s a guy who not only believed in climate change, but co-sponsored a cap-and-trade bill that got 43 votes in the Senate just a few years ago, somebody who thought banning torture was the right thing to do, somebody who co-sponsored immigration reform with Ted Kennedy. That’s the most recent Republican candidate, and that gives you some sense of how profoundly that party has shifted.

Read the rest of this entry »

Politico has an informative piece on the current impasse surrounding the much-needed passage of a Production Tax Credit for Wind Energy (link below).

The article mentions my congressman, Dave Camp, who is chairman of Ways and Means – a position that is usually prefaced in journalism with the qualifiers “the powerful”, or described as being one of the most important legislative posts.

Well, I went to high school with Dave. He’s a nice guy. My wife has taught his kids. He’s a good Father, clearly. We agreeably disagree on almost everything, and I try to restrain myself from beating him up too often for ignoring my early warnings on that nasty Iraq business.
I met with him last fall and discussed the the Wind Production Tax credit, which is vital to keep a consistent, predictable playing field for one of the 21st century’s most important industries. (video coming very soon on this) I spent an hour on the phone with a couple of his staffers afterward. They were polite and well spoken.

But damned if I can tell what he thinks about it, or what he’s doing on it. Turns out some of his colleagues are a little confused as well.

Politico:

Congress is taking the wind out of turbine sales.

And that’s despite support from President Barack Obama, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a substantial roster of House Republicans who see extending the wind tax credit as an electoral imperative.

Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) is so frustrated he’s thought about trying to go over House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp’s head to get legislation moving.

The credit doesn’t expire until the end of this year, but turbine makers are already feeling pain because developers can’t afford to lay bets that Congress will sort it out later.

The bottom line: It takes a long time to get projects up and running, and, amid tight budgets, subsidy scandals and election-year politics, there’s no guarantee that this tax break will catch a tailwind in time to avoid a crippling interruption in production.

On one level, the wind credit is just another casualty of the ongoing tussle between conservative budget hawks who want to rein in government spending and business-minded Republicans who support subsidizing industrial innovation. But what makes this tax break unusual is the damage that’s already being done — and the possibility that inaction could devastate an industry that Congress has propped up for two decades.

“It’s a horrible way to do business,” Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) said. “But that’s the way the place works.”

Bottom line, if congress is serious about defunding all energy subsidies and making a truly level playing field, well and good, then start with the oil companies, and by the way, tell them they have to keep the Strait of Hormuz open on their own dime.

But if not, check the graph above. It shows what has happened in the past when congress has made a political football of the PTC. Last time it expired in 2004, the industry had a 77 percent drop the following year. It’s not because wind can not be competitive without subsidies, any more than oil and gas needs them – but predictability is the number one thing you have to give business people if you expect them to make long term investments, and we have not been doing that.

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