I’m honored today to run a guest post from Zachary Shahan, a guiding genius behind Cleantechnica, one of the web’s most useful sites for following the renewable energy revolution.

There’s no way around it — the future of energy is solar energy. But here’s the fun part: the future starts now.

Solar panels have been on the market for decades, but saying solar panels of today are the same as solar panels of the 1990s is like saying phones of today are like phones of the 1990s. True, you can’t play Tetris on your solar panels or listen to music via them, but who wants to climb onto a record-hot roof to do that anyway? Getting back to the central point here, it’s that the cost of solar has fallen off a cliff, and solar power is increasingly the cheapest option around. (see graph above).

Solar power prices are falling so fast that it’s hard for just about anyone to keep up. Last year, many of us jumped for joy as a record-low solar PPA was signed in Austin, Texas (for 5 cents/kWh). The solar industry was rocked much harder later in the year when low bids of 6.12 cents/kWh and 5.98 cents/kWh landed in Dubai. The contracted price ACWA Power offered the Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (DEWA) ended up even lower, 5.84 cents/kWh, in return for a big increase in the contract/project size. That was the highlight of the week at the World Future Energy Summit in January.

But ACWA Power and Dubai’s spot at the top of the podium didn’t last long. Austin Energy received bids under 4 cents/kWh in a recent solar power auction. Even if you throw in federal subsidies for solar, that puts them under 5.71 cents/kWh. (But honestly, solar subsidies are a crude way of correcting for the externalities of pollution from natural gas and coal — they shouldn’t be removed from the equation until fossil fuels are priced right.)

I think somebody at First Solar was eager to grab some of the hype about that, because we soon learned that it had actually signed a PPA with Berkshire Hathaway’s NV Energy that entailed selling it electricity for 3.87 cents/kWh (though, admittedly, with a price escalator included that would raise the price in future years).

I don’t know if it’s coincidental that many of these record lows are being seen in the heart of oil country, but it’s certainly funny. There’s much more to the story, though.

I think it’s safe to say that the majority of the people, or at least high-level people, working in the energy industry know that the future of energy is solar energy. Below are two charts to help make my point of how obvious this is. Read the rest of this entry »

TedX Innovations:

In a neighborhood close to downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, homeowners are transforming their lawns into small farms. Turf grass is abandoned for tubers, berries and corn. Strawberries grow next to sidewalks; apples hang from trees; potatoes are dug close to porches. Residential agricultural has become a trend.

TEDxLincoln speaker Tim Rinne is the catalyst for this phenomenon. Concerned about climate change ever since he first heard the term “global warming,” Rinne’s worry about the environment didn’t really start to hit home until he read about the potential for climate-related food scarcity, he says in a talk at the event. He had to know why and what he could do about it.

Read the rest of this entry »

antarctica_nasaJames Hansen’s release last week of a landmark study on climate change and sea level rise continues to reverberate in the science and journalism community. The study, as yet unpublished in a peer reviewed journal, was deliberately released early, so as to become part of the public discussion prior to the important climate talks scheduled in Paris for the end of the year.

This approach has been criticized, and indeed, for a scientist of lower stature than Dr. Hansen, and his  stellar group of co-authors, it might have been a major mistep.  But the credibility of this team of authors is so high, that the paper will continue to command attention for some time, and may in fact go down as a landmark.

There’s already been some pushback on the paper’s main points, raised by highly respected scientists, (see Kevin Trenberth’s comments posted here last week) – but now, some of the formal editorial review responses are coming thru as well.  The respected Oceanographer David Archer has released one such response, and it is much more supportive of the paper’s conclusions than Trenberth.
We’ve come to a watershed moment in the climate discussion, where the dialogue has turned from endlessly squashing denialist talking points, to a public debate more in line with where the science actually is.
In this case, the scientists are arguing, not, will sea level rise, but will it rise 3 feet by the end of the century? or 10 feet?

Washington Post:

Granted, the new Hansen study is simultaneously advancing a gigantic new synthesis of existing research and also pushing the envelope — it will need to be scientifically digested for some time, and has already drawn some critical comments from experts. However, the Hansen paper also just received its first official peer review by one of several reviewers designated by the journal, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions – the University of Chicago geoscientist David Archer. And it is a strong review – Archer says that the paper is a “masterwork of scholarly synthesis, modeling virtuosity, and insight, with profound implications.”

archerFrom the review by David Archer:

This is another Hansen masterwork of scholarly synthesis, modeling virtuosity, and insight, with profound implications. The main thrust of the paper, the part getting all the press, arises from the confluence of several recent developments in glaciology. First is the identification of a runaway condition in outflow glaciers of the West Antarctic ice sheet that makes the IPCC prediction for year-2100 sea level rise clearly obsolete.

The other is the recognition that warming ocean temperatures at the grounding line for the glaciers is driving a really strong flow and thus melting response. Temperatures at this depth tend to have a paradoxical inverse relationship with surface temperatures, which can cool due to fresh meltwater input, trapping heat in the subsurface. This idea may also explain the mystery of why Heinrich events, collapses of the Laurentide ice sheet,always came at cold times in the D-O cycles.

Read the rest of this entry »

Major climate initiative announced last night by the Hillary Clinton campaign. One of a continuing series of signs that Climate Change is now going to get the kind of attention it deserves in a national presidential debate. Unfortunately, in this battle of wits, only one party, the Democrats, so far,  is coming to to the table armed. We’ve had some recent statements by at least one big Republican donor on climate, but as yet, only Lindsay Graham, polling below 1 percent has been prominent on affirmation of climate science.
Climate Progress has a helpful, if long and depressing, rundown on the Republican side of the climate debate.

Here are some statements by other major candidates. Above, Bernie Sanders talks climate on the Bill Maher show.

Below, recent comments showing that candidate Governor Martin O’Malley understands the geo-political context of climate change:

Happy to update with more candidate statements of if anyone is aware of them.

Below, Senator Graham. Read the rest of this entry »

“Future generations will look back and wonder, what were we thinking? How could we possibly be so irresponsible?”

So begins a remarkable campaign commercial that may go down in significance with some of the memorable campaign themes of the past.  In rolling this out, the Clinton campaign is declaring a “Moon Shot” effort to “make America the world’s Clean Energy Super Power.”

Goals for an ambitious program include:

– A half billion solar panels installed by the end of her first term.

– Generate enough renewable energy to power every home in America within 10 years.

This does not have the flavor of a throwaway campaign slogan.  The Campaign is placing a pretty big bet that this theme will resonate – and I think if it continues to be messaged like this, there’s a chance it will be.

Nothing here about a price on carbon, so if that’s part of what is promised to be an extensive discussion, it will be interesting to see how they roll it out.

UPDATE: Press coverage begins


Read the rest of this entry »

Above, Hillary Clinton heckled on climate at a New Hampshire town meeting.

She apparently sees the utility of moving strongly on climate change now, while GOP candidates are hopelessly mired in the troglodyte dynamics of their primary process.  As 2015 develops into another record temperature year, the real heat will be on candidates who have no clue, much less program, on climate.

Wall Street Journal:

AMES, Iowa— Hillary Clinton on Sunday offered a preview of her plans to combat climate change, pledging to set high goals and build a clean-energy economy.

At an organizing event in Iowa, Mrs. Clinton swiped at Republicans who question the threat posed by climate change and said she was serious about addressing the issue.

“Those people on the other side, they will answer any question about climate change by saying I’m not a scientist,” she said. “I’m not a scientist either—I’m just a grandmother with two eyes and a brain…I know that if we start addressing it, we’re going to actually be creating jobs and new businesses.”

The Clinton campaign is expected to release more details about her climate policy Sunday evening, and she will deliver a speech about her plan Monday morning in Des Moines.

Mrs. Clinton has previously characterized climate change as an urgent threat and has voiced support for President Barack Obama’s executive actions to limit carbon pollution.

She has stayed silent, though, on the question of whether the Keystone XL pipeline should be built, declining to weigh in on what has been a contentious yearslong debate. Mrs. Clinton oversaw the Obama administration’s review of the project during her tenure as secretary of state.

She made no mention of Keystone on Sunday but called for an emphasis on generating more wind and solar energy. Mrs. Clinton called for a rebalancing of tax incentives, which she said are too heavily weighted toward fossil fuels.

“Our politics are imprisoned by the past,” she said.

Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders have been unequivocal in their opposition to Keystone and have made climate policy a central component of their campaigns.

Still waiting for details which are supposed to appear any time now on the Clinton website.


Hansen’s hypothesis on sea levels rising as much as 10 feet within 50 years: “Not only would it be 10 feet, but it would imply that in the next decades after that it would be even more. Because where this water is coming from is the west Antarctic ice sheet, and then there’s another part of the east Antarctic ice sheet which also has several meters of sea level rise in its ice. So what that would mean is coastal cities would become dysfunctional. Parts of the city would still be above water, but it wouldn’t make sense to try to rebuild them partially because they know the water is going to keep rising. So we can’t let it go unstable. We would lose all the coastal cities in the world, and that’s enormous a cost, which would affect everybody, whether they’re living on the coast or not.”

Hansen on public skepticism: “Oh, sure. That’s the nature of science. That’s the lifeblood of science. You always are skeptical of any new conclusion. And so that’s not surprising at all. But compare it to the 1980s, when I testified to Congress. There was an overwhelming skepticism and criticism, and then, over a few years, the story changed. Here, there were a lot of people becoming very suspicious that the IPCC was underestimating the sea level problem.”

Hansen’s idea to curb climate change:  “…As long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, people are going to keep burning them and going to find them, to dig them up wherever they can find them. …what we need to do is add a gradually rising fee to the fossil fuels, which you would collect from the fossil fuel companies at the source… And that money should be distributed to – all legal residents of the country. That way the person who does better than average in limiting his carbon footprint will make money, and it will be a big incentive for them to pay attention to their carbon footprint. It will be a big incentive for entrepreneurs to develop no carbon and low carbon energy sources and products. And the economic studies that have been done show that this actually stimulates the economy. So it doesn’t cost anything.”

Transcript here.


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