Above, former Utility Executive Michael Osborne explains how Austin (Tx) Energy has begun thinking about the role of electric vehicles in the integrated smart grid of the future.  Austin Energy is one of the most forward leaning utilities in the nation, and Osborne recently helped negotiate the lowest price for solar electricity ever, under 5 cents/kwh.

Meanwhile, utilities across the country are beginning to come around on renewables in the face of an unstoppable revolution.

Reuters via Business Insider:

(Reuters) – For years, the utilities responsible for providing electricity to the nation have treated residential solar systems as a threat. Now, they want a piece of the action, and they are having to fight for the chance.

If utilities embrace home solar, their deep pockets and access to customers could transform what has been a fast-growing, but niche industry. Solar powers only half a million U.S. homes and businesses, according to solar market research firm GTM Research.

But utility-owned rooftop systems represent a change the solar installation companies who dominate the market don’t want, and whether the two sides can compromise may determine if residential solar truly goes mainstream.

In Arizona, the state’s largest utility has proposed putting solar panels on 3,000 customers’ homes, promising a $30 monthly break on their power bills. In New York, regulators are weighing allowing utilities to get into the solar leasing business to meet the state’s aggressive plan to incorporate more decentralized, renewable power onto the grid.

The Kids are all right.

One more reason for politicians to wake up on climate change and renewable energy. The demographics of younger voters.

Washington Post Wonk Blog:

PORTLAND — Of all the Very Portland things that exist in Portland, there is a plot of land next to City Hall, right outside the building’s front portico, where the city is growing its own Swiss chard.

“And on a place that used to be a parking lot!” exclaims Mayor Charlie Hales, adding a detail that actually makes this story even more Portland.

When Hales was first elected as a city commissioner in 1993, the ground in front of City Hall that has become a vegetable garden contained a  parking lot with reserved spaces for the mayor and city commissioners. “Those of us on the council then said, ‘that’s not consistent with our values and our rhetoric,'” Hales recalls.

And so they gave up their spaces for a bit more of the city’s famed green space. “That’s not the only place in Portland,” he adds, “where we took out a parking lot and put in a little piece of paradise.”

By 2012, metro Portland had 34,545 more 25-to-34 year-olds with bachelor’s degrees than it did in 2000, according to American Community Survey data that Cortright just analyzed for the research site City Observatory. That’s an increase, of about 37 percent, that’s outpaced similar gains in New York (25 percent), Los Angeles (30 percent) and even — barely — metropolitan Washington, D.C. (36 percent).

Portland is succeeding in large part because the long-term direction of the city happens to align with what these young people prize today. The college grads decamping for Portland probably don’t say “I’d like to live somewhere with an urban growth boundary!” But that policy is partly responsible for producing the things about Portland that now draw them here: the compact living, the easy access to nature, the possibility that a farm might actually be near your table, the emphasis on communal assets — parks, public transit, tool shares (people kept telling me about the tool shares) — over individual ownership.

“To some extent, bring it on,” Hales says. “We’re happy that that migration is coming here, because that is the future, and we’re happy to have an outsized slice of it coming to Portland.”

portlandrackPortland Bureau of Transportation:

The Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) recognizes that the installation of bicycle parking racks, especially racks of innovative and aesthetic designs by property owners, improves Portland’s transportation infrastructure and enhances Portland’s image as a livable, innovative city. In particular, the installation of bicycle racks on city streets furthers these goals:

  • To provide needed parking for the increasing number of people who choose bicycling as a transportation option
  • To enhance Portland’s image as a people- and bicycle-friendly city; a community that regards bicycles as a permanent and important part of the city’s transportation infrastructure
  • To encourage more people to choose cycling as a transportation option
  • To create a symbol for our city’s livability that will gain positive attention locally, regionally and nationally.

Want to install an art rack?  Find out how, step-by-step, by clicking here. (“Art Rack Approval and Installation 101″  31 kb PDF file)





“Business needs to show Millennials it is innovative and in tune with their world-view,” Barry Salzberg, CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, noted in the report.

In the company’s 2014 “Millennial Survey,” which polled more than 7,800 Millennials in 26 countries, 78 percent reported that innovation within an organization has influenced them in their job searches. Seventy percent say they see themselves working independently and digitally at some point in their careers.

The survey also revealed that leadership opportunities matter to this group. Nearly one in four Millennials are asking for a chance to demonstrate their leadership skills, and half of them feel their organizations could do more to develop future leaders.

They also say they’re keen to work for companies that have a social mission. While Millennials tend to believe businesses are successfully generating jobs (46 percent) and increasing prosperity (71 percent), many say they could be doing more. Specifically, Millennials point out opportunities to combat resource scarcity (56 percent), climate change (55 percent) and income equality (49 percent).

The bad news? Most Millennials report that their current employer does not encourage creative thinking. They cite management attitude (63 percent), operational structures and procedures (61 percent) and employee skills, attitudes and diversity (39 percent) as impediments to innovation.

Ultimately, this up-and-coming generation feels businesses should measure their success not only on financial performance, but also by the degree to which they are improving society.


The line you hear about renewable energy, over and over again, is that “renewables like solar and wind are intermittent” and therefore need a back up.
All sources of energy are intermittent, and all need a back up, – that’s why you have a grid.

Above, retired Austin Energy exec Michael Osborne was instrumental in negotiating the lowest price for utility scale solar ever.
He describes how Austin Energy, the municipal utility in Texas’ capital city, keeps the lights on with multiple sources of energy, including “intermittent” nuclear power.
One difference between renewables and traditional power sources is that you can lose a whole lot of power, unexpectedly, when something goes wrong with a large centralized power plant, like when a nuclear power plant trips offline, or as happened recently with a fire in a UK gas generator.
Carbon Brief:

What happens when a major gas power station catches on fire? Well, it certainly looks spectacular. But it appears the short term impact on the UK’s power generation is pretty minimal.

Energy company RWE npower had to unexpectedly shut down one of the Dicot B power station’s 700 megawatt units last night after a fire broke out in one of the cooling towers.

Didcot’s shutdown is the latest in a series of unexpected outages which National Grid has had to cope with in recent months. This has led to a spate of headlines questioning whether National Grid will have enough power stations available to cope with high demand over the winter months.

We take a look at how National Grid copes with such unexpected events, and why it remains confident the UK will have enough power this winter.

Where does the UK’s power come from?

National Grid is legally required to make sure there’s always enough power to meet demand. The UK’s peak demand – at around 6pm on weekdays – is currently around 45 gigawatts. This is expected to rise to about 55 gigawatts over the winter, as people spend more time indoors and use more electricity.

Big coal, gas, and nuclear power stations are responsible for meeting most of this demand. The government’s latest statistics show 30 per cent of the UK’s electricity comes from gas, with 28 per cent coming from coal. Nuclear power provides about 20 per cent.

When one of these power stations has to be taken offline, it’s big news. Earlier this year, the Heysham 1 and Hartlepool nuclear reactors with a total capacity of 2.3 gigawatts shut down after engineers discovered cracks in their boiler casings. Both power stations are due to come back online before Christmas, although they will only be operating at 70 to 80 per cent of their normal output, the Telegraph reports.

Two coal power plants – at Ferrybridge and Ironbridge – also caught fire over the summer, meaning National Grid has had to do without their combined 1.4 gigawatts of capacity in recent months.

Read the rest of this entry »

A well informed correspondent writes:

So noaa reinforces nasa… Hottest September ever. For us NOT TO BREAK the record now, a significant cool down would have to occur. So far, October is just as hot as September so it is unlikely to cool this month. Means temps in November and December would have to be about 0.58C to avoid an alltime record. That won’t happen

Daily Mail:

The first nine months of 2014 have a global average temperature of 58.72 degrees (14.78 degrees Celsius), tying with 1998 for the warmest first nine months on record, according to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

‘It’s pretty likely’ that 2014 will break the record for hottest year, said NOAA climate scientist Jessica Blunden.

The reason involves El Nino, a warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean that affects weather worldwide. In 1998, the year started off super-hot because of an El Nino.

But then that El Nino disappeared and temperatures moderated slightly toward the end of the year.

This year has no El Nino yet, but forecasts for the rest of the year show a strong chance that one will show up, and that weather will be warmer than normal, Blunden said



All of the world’s top 10 warmest years have occurred since 2000. Climate studies have shown the world is poised for more warmth as the amounts of carbon dioxide rise. Last month, figures revealed carbon dioxide levels rose by the highest amount in 30 years in 2013.

Noaa has recorded above-average global temperatures for each September in the last 38 years. The last September with below 20th century average temperatures occurred in 1976, Noaa said.

The government agency said the temperatures were driven by warming oceans.

Read the rest of this entry »

The dream of storing sunshine is an old one.
This cartoon certainly has the politics right.

UPDATE: a reader sends a link to a more recent (june 2014) Shakhova interview. The sound quality not as good, which makes it difficult to follow, nevertheless,I am posting this in the interest of furthering the discussion.  This is a “part 1″ of 3, the others being available at the you tube link.

In the past week, I’ve been posting a number of excerpted interviews relating to the topic of undersea methane releases in the arctic.
This has not actually been something I planned out just this way. The idea was, I wanted to interview as many folks behind the scenes and find out as much as I could, then synthesize everything into a nice tidy video, and release that. But events have kind of overtaken that.

In September, the Royal Society held an event in the UK which drew a number of experts on arctic ice and the rapid changes observed there. Among those was Dr. Gavin Schmidt, of NASA, one of the most highly respected experts on the planet in areas of global climate. Dr. Schmidt gave a well attended lecture on the issue of arctic methane, specifically to push back against what has become somewhat of a Youtube cottage industry, methane disaster porn.   It’s not hard to  find  material proclaiming the imminent extinction of humanity due to the massive release of methane from arctic ocean shelves – and I agree with Dr. Schmidt that this kind of material is irresponsible and divorced from reality.

The scientific source often cited (and then, I think, exaggerated) for such dire pronouncements is the work of Dr. Natalia Shakhova, the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, and her associate Dr. Igor Semilitov.  Short story, Shakhova et al were not at the UK shindig, leading to charges of conspiracy to exclude them from the discussion.  Since I started this series, I’ve even been getting emails darkly hinting that perhaps I was a tool of that conspiracy, as well.  I don’t think a preference to step carefully is indicative of a conspiracy, but never mind.

Among Dr. Schmidt’s strongest arguments are datasets that he says indicate little or no methane breakout in the relatively near paleo-record, from 2 previous eras.
First, the Holocene warm period, –  at about the time the planet was coming out of the last ice age, the arctic was warm, possibly warmer than today, forna period substantially longer than the current warmup.  The other period, known as the Eemian, was an interglacial, a temperate spell, like ours, just before the plunge in to the most recent ice age, about 120,000 or so years ago.  We know it was pretty warm for quite a while – thousands of years – because sea level was high - maybe 15, or 20 feet higher, and a substantial portion of the Greenland ice sheet seems to  have melted.
Yet, Schmidt says, we saw no methane breakout.
This paleo argument is compelling to me, as I have always considered the fossil record a powerful indicator of how the current climate will behave.

Could we have more of a buffer for big methane belches than we know?  Here are two slides from Schmidt’s lecture – which is not available to my knowledge online, although may be soon, at least in audio.




There’s a lot more material on this, much of which I have not digested myself, but I wanted to get as much of this under-seen and under-discussed material online where people can read it, and spark a tiny bit more informed discussion on the issue, something I am sure Dr. Schmidt, Dr. Shakhova, and all concerned, would like to see happen.  There are a lot more perspectives on this than what most people have heard, so now is as good a time as any to hear them.
Clearly this is an important discussion, and more information is needed. Happy to hear from anyone who has additional useful resources on this issue, and ideas about how to broaden the discussion.

RealClimate blog posted a review of the issue, I’m assuming by David Archer, about a year ago:

Methane from the Siberian continental shelf

The Siberian continental shelf is huge, comprising about 20% of the global area of continental shelf. Sea level dropped during the last glacial maximum, but there was no ice sheet in Siberia, so the surface was exposed to the really cold atmosphere, and the ground froze to a depth of ~1.5 km. When sea level rose, the permafrost layer came under attack by the relatively warm ocean water. The submerged permafrost has been melting for millennia, but warming of the waters on the continental shelf could accelerate the melting. In equilibrium there should be no permafrost underneath the ocean, because the ocean is unfrozen, and the sediment gets warmer with depth below that (the geothermal temperature gradient).

Ingredients of Shakhova et al (2013)

  1. There are lots of bubbles containing mostly methane coming up from the shallow sea floor in the East Siberian Arctic shelf. Bubbles like this have been seen elsewhere, off Spitzbergen for example (Shakhova et al (2013)). Most of the seep sites in the Siberian margin are relatively low flow but a few of them are much larger.shakhova
  2. The bubbles mostly dissolve in the water column, but when the methane flux gets really high the bubbles rise faster and reach the atmosphere better. When methane dissolves in the water column, some of it escapes to the atmosphere by evaporation before it gets oxidized to CO2. Storms seem to pull methane out of the water column, enhancing what oceanographers call “gas exchange” by making waves with whitecaps. Melting sea ice will also increase methane escape to the atmosphere by gas exchange. However, the concentration of methane in the water column is low enough that even with storms the gas exchange flux seems like it must be negligible compared with the bubble flux. In their calculation of the methane flux to the atmosphere, Shakhova et al focused on bubbles.
  3. Sediments that got flooded by rising sea level thousands of years ago are warmer than sediments still exposed to the colder atmosphere, down to a depth of ~50 meters. This information is not directly applied to the question of incremental melting by warming waters in the short-term future.
  4. The study derives an estimate of a total methane emission rate from the East Siberian Arctic shelf area based on the statistics of a very large number of observed bubble seeps.

Read the rest of this entry »

RIP: Rick Piltz

October 19, 2014

I met Rick Piltz in DC several years ago. He had been doing yeoman’s work on climate issues for a long time already, including blowing the whistle on underhanded attempts to quash scientific inquiry.
I was saddened to hear last night that he had passed away.

D. R. Tucker in the Washington Monthly:

Rick Piltz, the man who blew the whistle on the George W. Bush administration’s vicious assault on climate science, has passed away.

From Climate Science Watch:

From 1995-2005 he held senior positions in the Coordination Office of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. In the spring of 2005, Rick resigned from his position to protest the Bush Administration’s political interference with climate change communication. His whistleblower documentation of politically motivated White House editing and censorship of climate science program reports intended for the public and Congress received front-page coverage in the New York Times and was widely reported in the media. Rick testified before both the House of Representatives and the Senate at hearings on political interference with federal climate scientists.

Piltz was, of course, brutalized by the climate-change denial industry for his bold decision to reveal the full extent of the Bush administration’s malevolence on this issue: the late wingnut columnist Robert Novak was particularly savage in his attacks.

Piltz refused to bow down to the forces of denial. After leaving the Bush White House, he continued to speak and write and fight for strong action to reduce carbon pollution, and demanded that members of both parties be held accountable for failing to take all appropriate and necessary action to limit dangerous emissions.

Rick Piltz may be gone, but his fight continues. We will fight in his name, and we will make sure that his name is remembered as a hero in the fight for climate justice.


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