Above, new BMW ad touting the new i3 electric vehicle.
When we think of rapid technological change, the early days of the internet come immediately to mind, for anyone who was an adult at that time.   In 1993, while many of us had seen or used computers at work, the idea of owning one seemed a bit off the wall. What would you do with it?
Send an email? to Whom? Why?

We remember what happened then.
Fast forward, wrap your mind around this fact. Solar energy is now cheaper than gas, in Dubai. And Texas.

Below, watch Michael Leibrich, New Energy guru for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, discuss the transition now underway in the utillity space.  Worth a listen in the entirety, but if you’re pressed, go right to 8:30, and listen to the story about film Photography giant Kodak’s inabilty to foresee and adjust to the rapidity of the switch to digital cameras – a process Liebrich likens to a “phase change.”
Texans like my friend Michael Osborne will quibble whether Dubai or Austin has the lowest prices for Solar right now, but the message is clear.

Cleantechnica:

One of the biggest solar power stories of the past year — if not the biggest — was the record-low price of solar power that was bid in Dubai toward the end of the year. ACWA Power bid 5.98 cents per kWh, well below the cost of natural gas in the region (which is 9 cents per kWh). Michael Liebreich — Chairman of the Advisory Board of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and founder of the company under the original name of New Energy Finance — was kind enough to invite me to dinner the other night after a World Future Energy Summit panel that he moderated. On the way to dinner, our conversation was already getting so interesting that we stopped to record a bit of it.

Mr Liebrich’s remarks stand up in light of the most recent survey of utility executives by Utility Dive: Read the rest of this entry »

As much as I’ve been banging the drum about changing poll numbers on climate change – whoo boy, Republican internal numbers must be rather spectacular.  Another climate denier is asking to get off the crazy bus…

Reuters:

Rick Perry’s farewell speech to the Texas legislature listed the accomplishments expected from an outgoing Republican governor of the country’s largest oil-producing state. But his Jan. 15 speech also did something less predictable: touting his environmental record, from lowering Texas’ carbon emissions to turning the state into a global leader in wind energy production.

“We have expanded our economy while protecting our environment,” said Perry, who is openly exploring a second White House run in 2016.

It was a greener message than the one he delivered ahead of his last presidential campaign, when he called climate change a “contrived phony mess,” and it reflects an expectation among some in the party that voters in 2016 will want Republican candidates to develop a more sophisticated climate change message.

“‘I’m not a scientist’ won’t be a winner in the presidential field,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said of the now common response Republican lawmakers and candidates offer when asked about climate change.
crazybus

The search for a new message on climate change is driven by electoral math.

While leaders of the Republican-controlled Congress have vowed to block regulations to control carbon emissions, a poll by Yale University earlier this month found that 56 percent of Republicans support regulating climate-warming greenhouse gases.

“Red state disputation of science isn’t going to work,” said former South Carolina congressman Bob Inglis, noting that voters skew younger and more independent during presidential election cycles.

UPDATE: Video of Perry’s speech – short segment includes the boasts about renewables and a lower carbon footprint.

In the video above, Perry is still on message promoting the fossil fuel “all of the above” energy strategy, and the Keystone pipeline – but clearly there is movement dimly acknowledging reality.
In June, 2014, Perry compared limits on carbon to a nuclear attack, below. Read the rest of this entry »

Droll skit from Lake Wobegon. Only 2 minutes long. Why not?

Elite: Script from January 24, 2015 broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion:

GK: When the surgeon comes in to say hello before he opens up your skull to see what that big dark spot on the CAT-scan was, you don’t want to see a guy with a toothpick in his mouth and a baseball cap on his head..

TR: Hey—- how’s it goin’? My name’s Bubba —- put her there. (BUMP AND CRASH) Whoops. Didn’t see that. Anyway — just wanted to say howdy, Brian, and we’re going to put you out in a moment, and then we’ll —- open her up—- you know —– and see what we’re dealing with here, okay?

GK: My name isn’t Brian, it’s Carson.

TR: Oh? Oh! Right. I was looking at the word “brain” —- thought you were Brian. That old dyslexia kicking in. Anyhoo—- you take it easy (FADE, CLINK OF SURGICAL STUFF)

GK: He may be a nice guy, but suddenly you want to see his whole medical school record, not just the certificate. —- Same when you board the plane and you’re right behind the pilot and he bumps his head on the door—-

FN: Ouch! Goldang it! Boy, that smarts! Whoa! Son of a gun! Hi— — how are we doing there? (SHAKES A LOCKED DOOR) Oh. That’s the lavatory. Someone’s in there. Cockpit’s up there. Boy o boy. Rough night last night.

GK: You look at him and he doesn’t have the tight crewcut you like to see on a pilot, he has long hair and it looks like he spends a lot of time fussing with it. You want an overachiever for a pilot, not a narcissist. Same when you turn on the TV and you hear your U.S. Senator talking about science —–

TR (DRAWL): There is no hard evidence that human activity contributes to climate change, or that carbon dioxide is involved —- I mean, heck, trees give off carbon dioxide —- no, sir, the simple truth is that a United Nations conspiracy is behind this, trying to regulate carbon emissions to cripple our country. That’s what we’re dealing with here.
GK: You don’t want the U.S. Senate operating in a fantasy world, do you? No. You hear him speak and suddenly you reassess your feelings about elitism. Everybody’s opposed to elitism, until suddenly you need someone smart —- and when it really comes down to it —- your life may depend on an arrogant jerk who knows what he’s doing.

GK: …..a message in the public interest from the American Elitism Institute in Superior, Wisconsin.

In the ebb and flow of climate information, there seems, lately, to be a pulse of new findings relevant to the accelerating melt of ice sheets.

Scientific American:

As happens so often in science, Mike Willis wasn’t actually looking for what he ended up discovering. The glaciologist was combing through satellite and GPS data to see what small, local effects could be clouding satellite measurements of larger changes in Earth’s gravity from ice loss.

What he did not expect to find was a hole twice the size of Central Park in a small ice cap in the northern reaches of Greenland.

“What the heck is that?” he thought when he saw it.

He didn’t think he could possibly be the first person to have spotted it. “Surely someone’s noticed a gigantic hole in northern Greenland before,” he said, but there were no records of it.

Trying to guess what it could be, he and his colleagues ruled out a meteor crater, a volcano, and, as they joked, Dr. Evil’s sub-ice lair. Ultimately, “the thing that fits it best is that it’s a subglacial lake,” he said.

Such lakes of water pool at the bottom of an ice sheet or glacier, and were known to be scattered under parts of Antarctica. But they hadn’t been found yet in Greenland.

Looking through satellite data going back to the 1970s, Willis couldn’t find any sign of the hole until 2006. At that point surface water in the area was flowing in an unexpected direction and disappearing down a moulin right in the spot Willis was looking at. That flow pattern repeated every few years, and then in 2011, “Boom! A big hole appears in the place where the water disappeared,” he said.

Ohio State University:

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Researchers who are building the highest-resolution map of the Greenland Ice Sheet to date have made a surprising discovery: two lakes of meltwater that pooled beneath the ice and rapidly drained away.

One lake once held billions of gallons of water and emptied to form a mile-wide crater in just a few weeks. The other lake has filled and emptied twice in the last two years.

Researchers at The Ohio State University published findings on each lake separately: the first in the open-access journal The Cryosphere and the second in the journal Nature.

Ian Howat, associate professor of earth sciences at Ohio State, leads the team that discovered the cratered lake described in The Cryosphere. To him, the find adds to a growing body of evidence that meltwater has started overflowing the ice sheet’s natural plumbing system and is causing “blowouts” that simply drain lakes away.

“The fact that our lake appears to have been stable for at least several decades, and then drained in a matter of weeks—or less—after a few very hot summers, may signal a fundamental change happening in the ice sheet,” Howat said.

Guardian:

The planet’s two largest ice sheets – in Greenland and Antarctica – are now being depleted at an astonishing rate of 120 cubic miles each year. That is the discovery made by scientists using data from CryoSat-2, the European probe that has been measuring the thickness of Earth’s ice sheets and glaciers since it was launched by the European Space Agency in 2010.

Read the rest of this entry »

Safety drills for children in areas impacted by swarms of earthquakes, which could be related to fracking for oil and gas, or underground disposal of fracking related wastes.
The images bring up memories of civil defense “duck and cover” drills from the cold war 1950s.

Here, the original 1950’s “Duck and Cover” film.

CBC:

Senaida Martinez throws her head back and points a finger up.  She makes her way carefully around her kitchen table, eyes fixed above, finger tracing in the air the long winding route of a thin fracture that runs across the ceiling and out into the hallway.

“This one was old. We patched it up. But then it got opened again, so that’s new,” she says.

The new crack doesn’t bother her; the house is old and besides she’s only renting it. But it means there’s been another earthquake, and that’s starting to get on her nerves.

There have been dozens of earthquakes in the past few months. They now average about one a day, although some days bring many more. Martinez says she recently felt 12 earthquakes in one day.  They’ve all been small, usually less than magnitude 3.0, the kind of earthquakes Californians shrug off all the time.But Martinez lives in Irving, Texas, known for floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires, not earthquakes.

So something has changed to suddenly set the ground trembling. Martinez thinks it’s the stepped-up fracking.

Fracking is the hydraulic fracturing of rock and shale with millions of litres of high-pressure water mixed with chemicals to help unlock the oil and gas underground. It has led to an impressively bankable energy boom in Texas and other parts of the United States. The wastewater from fracking is injected into disposal wells. Geophysicists say if that water finds its way into an underground fault it can lead to the fault slipping, possibly resulting in an earthquake.

It’s not clear whether that’s happening in Irving, but the possibility has raised further questions in the Martinez household.

Senaida Martinez says the earthquakes may be a tipoff that underground chemical-laden wastewater from fracking is not only slipping into fault lines but also seeping into the groundwater.

Weather.com:

North Texas is in the clutch of a surprising cluster of earthquakes, leaving many searching for a root cause.

In 2008, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex suffered its first earthquakes in recorded history, and since then, as the Dallas Morning News reports, there have been over 120 minor quakes in the area.

Read the rest of this entry »

Powerful idea, powerfully stated.

Wall Street Journal:

LAS VEGAS—Net-zero homes are going mainstream, if the home-building industry has anything to do with it.

The homes, which generate more electricity in a year than they use, have long been viewed as a niche product for the affluent who can afford custom homes. The chief problem is that it is expensive to get a home to net-zero status, and many customers aren’t willing to wait several years for their electricity-bill savings to cover the thousands of dollars they would have to spend on net-zero features such as solar panels and energy-efficient windows, doors and appliances.

But some builders, motivated by what they deem as rising demand from home buyers and state and local regulators, are aiming to change those perceptions by designing such homes for the mass market. Such a model home—the latest in the National Association of Home Builders’ annual New American Home series showcasing new-home designs —is on display this week in a hillside neighborhood 7 miles from the Las Vegas Strip as part of the trade group’s International Builders Show.

Most net-zero homes generate much of their own electricity through rooftop solar systems, though they are still connected to the public power grid for the times, such as nights, when their system isn’t generating all the electricity needed. At other times, such as intensely sunny periods of the day, those solar systems generate more electricity than a given house needs, so the excess is sent to the public power grid. The homeowner receives credit for the excess electricity, the amount of which varies depending on the state and the utility company, that typically shows up on their monthly or annual bill.

Achieving net-zero status typically requires builders to install spray-on foam insulation to seal the house of leaks and adding energy-efficient doors, windows, appliances and lighting, among numerous other features. Net-zero homes also need high-performance heating and ventilation systems and other equipment to regulate humidity, air quality and air flow.

 

Chattanooga Times Free-Press:

Solar energy will power them. Rain barrels will capture water from their roofs. So will bioswales, slowly returning replenishing groundwater reserves. Architecture will make the most of wind patterns and sun angles. Building materials will be kind to human health and, in many cases, sourced locally.

Read the rest of this entry »

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