May 28, 2013
This may already be old news to people who read this blog, but here it is again.
The building sector is set to use far less energy in the next three decades than previously thought, according to the 2013 Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Driven primarily by efficiency regulations for lighting and HVAC equipment, individual homes and commercial buildings show steady declines in energy use through 2040, says the agency. Architecture 2030, which crunches the numbers each year, has released a chart comparing 2013 projections with prior ones, declaring, “The building sector is tracking ahead of the 2030 reduction targets.”
“When I looked at the numbers and looked across the board at all the statistics, I just literally fell off my chair,” says Ed Mazria, FAIA, founder and CEO of Architecture 2030, which is known for its 2030 Challenge to radically curtail fossil-fuel consumption in the built environment. “Looking at projections out to 2030, we’re adding about 60 billion square feet, and the numbers are still flat.” That represents a 22.6% increase in building floor area, says the organization—a rate that attempts to take a slow recession recovery into account for the near term without giving it undue influence in the long term. (The model assumes an average annual growth of 2.5% in gross domestic product through 2040—projecting slightly slower recession recovery through 2015 than some other federal agencies and slightly faster recovery than others.)
I’ve said it before, I’ll keep saying it. No matter what you think about the need to decarbonize – the revolution is coming, because the technology is so compelling it simply is going to have its way.
A picture is worth a thousand words. The graph above compares the price history of solar energy to conventional energy sources. This is what a disruptive technology looks like. While conventional energy prices remained pretty flat in inflation adjusted terms, the cost of solar is dropping,fast, and is likely to continue doing so as technology and manufacturing processes improve.
While solar currently accounts for less than 1% of the energy supply, it is an exponentially improving technology, both in terms of price (14%/year) and pace of construction (60%/year). Already it is approaching parity with other energy sources in the Western US. Assuming this trend continues for another 10 to 20 years, and there’s no reason not to, solar power will become 5 to 10 times more cost effective than it is today. This raises an interesting question. What happens if solar becomes an order of magnitude cheaper than other sources of power?
This is the nature of disruptive technology. It represents such an improvement that it renders existing industries obsolete. We saw waves of disruption take place as the Internet upended entire industries. Expect to see a lot of this in the coming years.
You can see where this is going, can’t you. As network prices surge, rooftop solar PV prices are falling even more dramatically in the other direction. As the Edison Electric Institute and leading US utilities have pointed out this year, customers now have the option of sourcing electricity from their own resources at a cheaper cost, and will be tempted to use the grid only as a backup. This, of course, is a major threat to their business model. It’s what AGL Energy, and Hawaii’s network operator have both described as the “death spiral.”
I’ve written and talked about this for years. It’s not getting any less significant.
Smart money is betting on sustainability and renewable technology. There’s a new sense of urgency, because in states like mine, where the anti-science crowd has done their best to hold up progress, there is a real threat to the health of our major utilities if we do not update our regulatory structures fast enough to keep up with new technology, and the increasing recognition by the financial community that sustainable business will soon be the only business.
Climate Deniers, WindBaggers and the “Agenda 21″ crowd will take this as more evidence of the vast, left wing conspiracy.
Guys, if you want to argue the science of interdependence, don’t look at me. Take it up with the capitalists at Walmart.
According to a recent survey conducted by SRI, 65 percent of retail investors and 53 percent of institutional investors are currently expressing interest in fossil fuel-free portfolios in reaction to climate change. More than 2,000 SRI industry professionals took the First Affirmative Financial Network’s Fossil Fuels Divestment Survey in anticipation of the 24th annual SRI Conference taking place October 28-30 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Other key survey findings include:
- 77 percent see growing risks for investors associated with fossil fuel company holdings in their investment portfolios.
- 30 percent of those surveyed either already do – or are getting ready to – offer fossil-fuel free portfolios to investors.
- 63 percent believe that investors will in the next 10 years start divesting in meaningful numbers from fossil-fuel companies due to climate change implications of such energy sources.
Since launching its sustainability program in 2006, Walmart has reduced energy consumption in its stores, installed solar panels on its rooftops, curbed emissions from its trucks and recycled millions of tons of its trash. Now that the world’s biggest retailer has streamlined its own operations, it is turning its attention elsewhere — actually, almost everywhere.
Since last fall, Walmart has rolled out what it callsa supplier sustainability index to thousands of suppliers, asking them pointed questions about their operations and prodding them to better understand and manage their own supply chains.
It’s Walmart’s most ambitious environmental project ever, and if all goes according to plan, it will change the way all kinds of consumer products — clothes, toys, electronics, food and beverages — are made. The typical Walmart stocks 125,000 to 150,000 products (!), and the environmental and social performance of most companies that make them soon will be rated and ranked in Bentonville, Ark.
So Walmart is asking lots of questions of its suppliers. Among them:
Among the big lies that windbaggers like to spread about wind energy, there are 2 that come up a lot.
One is that wind turbines kill a lot of birds, relative to other human activities.
The other is that windbaggers give a damn about birds.
There are many ways to classify the impacts of electricity generation on wildlife. Effects can be direct and/or indirect; acute or chronic; individual or cumulative; and local, regional, or global. Each type of effect was explored in this study. Acidic deposition, climate change, and mercury bioaccumulation are identified as the three most significant and widespread stressors to wildlife from electricity generation from fossil fuels combustion in the NY/NE region.
Risks to wildlife vary substantially by life cycle stage. Higher risks are generally associated with the resource extraction and power generation stages, as compared to other life cycle stages. Overall, non-renewable electricity generation sources, such as coal and oil, pose higher risks to wildlife than renewable electricity generation sources, such as hydro and wind. Based on the comparative amounts of SO2, NOx, CO2, and mercury emissions generated from coal, oil, natural gas, and hydro and the associated effects of acidic deposition, climate change, and mercury bioaccumulation, coal as an electricity generation source is by far the largest contributor to risks to wildlife found in the NY/NE region.
..wind farms are responsible for roughly 0.27 avian fatalities per gigawatt-hour (GWh) of electricity while nuclear power plants involve 0.6 fatalities per GWh and fossil-fueled power stations are responsible for about 9.4 fatalities per GWh. Within the uncertainties of the data used, the estimate means that wind farm-related avian fatalities equated to approximately 46,000 birds in the United States in 2009, but nuclear power plants killed about 460,000 and fossil-fueled power plants 24 million.
To recap, about 46,000 avian mortalities were associated with wind farms across the United States in 2009 but nuclear plants killed about 458,000 and fossil-fueled power plants almost 24 million, estimates illustrated by Figure 2. Figure 2 also reveals how the number of absolute birds killed by wind energy pales in comparison to other causes such as
windows and cats. Regardless of where the wind turbines are located, by minimizing reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power, they prevent the death and injury of wildlife that would otherwise occur across the world’s coal mines, uranium tail
ponds, oil refineries, natural gas facilities, uranium acidified forests, polluted lakes, and habitats soon to be threatened by climate change.
Although most evaluations of the beneficial effects of wind-generated electricity, including the present one, have addressed the degree to which they reduce (through displacement) atmospheric emissions, other important effects are potentially displaced as well. For example, obtaining fossil fuel through mining, drilling, and chemical modification of one form to another (e.g., gasification of coal) has a variety of environmental effects including loss of habitat for terrestrial and aquatic species.
Operation of thermal (energy generation units), which generate heat to drive turbines, produces heated water, either from cooling or in the form of steam to drive the turbines, or both. If the energy from the heated water is not recovered, the water is usually discharged into the environment; in closed cooling systems, its heat is discharged. All forms of generation have associated life-cycle emissions and wastes along with other environmental effects that are affected by the design, materials provision (including mining), manufacture, construction, transportation, assembly, operation, maintenance, retrofits, and decommissioning of the generators and their associated infrastructure. Some of these stages of the life cycle—most notably, mining—have adverse effects on human health as well.
May 17, 2013
In the past year, we’ve seen images of extreme pollution events across China, far in excess of anything that would be tolerated in developed countries.
What’s been largely uncovered by mainstream media in the west, are the protests and demonstrations, sometimes violent, that have been breaking out against new coal power stations, oil and gas development, and polluting industries across China.
It’s a standard climate denial talking point that “whatever we do will make no difference because China yada yada”. Time to put that one to rest. Not only has China been leading the world in the development of renewable energy, but has now begun serious discusions about when to introduce a carbon tax of their own..
Environmental carnage of all sorts is a truly major emergency in China, both in the short term and as a potential limit on the country’s development;
Chinese emissions are a problem not just for its own people but also for the world. It has now overtaken the U.S. as the biggest carbon emitter; most of the coal that is burned anywhere on Earth is burned in China.
May 15, 2013
Yesterday we got a nice push in this piece from the Weather Channel. Dark Snow is making inroads, and we can do so much more if everyone helps out. I appreciate deeply the support we’ve receieved so far, and am hard at work preparing for our trip in late June.
Peter Hadfield, (potholer54 on YouTube) has a new addition to his indispensable series of climate disinformation debunks.