Despite some unevenness, bumps along the way, and a few major problems that need to be ironed out, Germany’s energy transformation continues, driven by a deceptively simple policy that has proven to be the most effective driver of renewable energy transformation worldwide.

Renewables International:

On Friday, Germany’s Manager Magazine reported preliminary figures for the German power sector, revealing that Germany exported more electricity in the first 3 quarters of 2012 than ever before. Nonetheless, some remain concerned.

According to preliminary figures not yet published by the BDEW, an association representing power and water providers, Germany exported 12.3 terawatt-hours of electricity in the first 9 months of 2012, compared to minus 0.2 terawatt-hours in the first 3 quarters of 2011 (effectively meaning that Germany was a net importer in the first 3 quarters of last year). The sudden nuclear phaseout last spring clearly reveals itself when we look at the statistics for the first 9 months of 2010, when Germany was a net exporter of 8.8 terawatt-hours. Nonetheless, experts remain concerned mainly about two things: the wide gap between peak power demand in the evening late in November; and the low value of German power exports relative to power imports.

In the evening in late November, power demand in Germany generally peaks for the year at around 80 GW. These hours are reliably always dark, so no power will come from photovoltaics. If there is also little wind power at that time, Germany will have to have that entire amount as dispatchable power generating capacity. The situation is not new, however, and it will not change; going forward, Germany will always have to have at least 80 GW of dispatchable power generating capacity, though not all of that need be fossil and nuclear – power storage will increasingly make up a small share of the pie, and gas turbines could increasingly run on biogas and gas made from excess renewable electricity (power to gas, itself a form of power storage).


The Tesla Model S sedan  – shown above burning rubber in an weirdly silent demonstration of how much power electric drives deliver to the road – looks like a sales success, and may power electric car manufacturer Tesla to profits in 2013.


The Tesla Model S electric luxury sedan has been a runaway success, with the car praised by most that have driven it and order books already registering more than 13,000 sales. To take advantage of the strong demand, Tesla is in prime position to charge a little more for the Model S and that is exactly what it looks to be doing.


General Motors and ABB today showed the next stage in battery reuse, the repackaging of five used Chevrolet Volt batteries into a modular unit capable of providing two hours of electricity needed by three to five average American homes.

The uninterruptable power supply and grid power balancing system was demonstrated during GM’s Electrification Experience. The prototype unit provided 25 kW of power and 50 kWh of energy to power all the support lighting and audiovisual equipment in an “off-grid” structure used for the event.

“GM’s battery development extends throughout the entire life of the battery, including secondary use,” said Pablo Valencia, GM senior manager of battery lifecycle management. “In many cases, when an EV battery has reached the end of its life in an automotive application, only 30 percent or less of its life has been used. This leaves a tremendous amount of life that can be applied to other applications like powering a structure before the battery is recycled.”

GM and ABB last year demonstrated how a Chevrolet Volt battery pack could be used to collect energy and feed it back to the grid and deliver supplemental power to homes or businesses.

During today’s demonstration, the energy storage system was run in a “remote power back-up” mode where 100 percent of the power for the facility came from Volt batteries through ABB’s Energy Storage Inverter system. A similar application could one day be used to power a group of homes or small commercial buildings during a power outage, allow for storage of power during inexpensive periods for use during expensive peak demand, or help make up for gaps in solar, wind or other renewable power generation.

These functions, along with frequency regulation on electric distribution systems, could someday be used by utilities to reduce cost to customers and improve the quality of power delivery. These applications are referred to as community energy storage to distinguish them from substation-size energy storage projects.

“We showed today how fast this research concept is turning into reality,” said Allen Burchett, ABB’s senior vice president for Business Development in North America. “The ABB-GM Volt battery system is the world’s first use of car batteries as possible back-up power for homes and other commercial uses. We will be installing it on the grid soon to complete the technical evaluation, and this will tell us all what smart grid applications are possible, like back-up power, reducing energy cost, strengthening utilities’ distribution systems and storing surplus renewable energy.”

waterheaterRenewables International:

Germany apparently still has 1.4 million electric heaters spread across roughly 40 million households, putting the percentage of electric heating at around 3.5 percent. Nonetheless, RWE estimates that these electric heaters could add the equivalent of around 10 gigawatts of pumped storage – equivalent to an eighth of peak German power capacity and a sixth of peak demand on a normal workday.

The approach will only make sense, however, if the heaters are not only used to store power at night, but quite the opposite – to store excess renewable electricity during the day. Going forward, the problem Germany faces is not a lack of demand for power at night, but excess solar power during the day.

While this option marks a fundamental break with environmentalists’ previous focus on more efficient heating systems, the renewables community is increasingly praising electric heaters as a way of allowing more renewables to be installed.


The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is recruiting one hundred homeowners in Washington for an experiment on how to store surplus wind energy. The BPA is testing a promising smart-grid concept that would use residential water heaters to help manage the fluctuations of wind energy generation.

The project will address two problems experienced on the grid: shortage of power during peak times and surges of power during windy periods, when the energy isn’t needed.

While homeowners will be able to override the control device at any time, it’s unlikely that they would even notice a change in temperature.

The water heaters in effect become energy storage devices — turning on to absorb excess power and shutting down when demand ramps up —leveling out the peaks and valleys of energy use. Benefits include:

  • no need for expensive and toxic battery storage
  • no need for fossil fuel burning power plants to fill in low wind energy gaps
  • water heaters provide distributed storage, avoiding point loads on grid
  • smart water heaters can be manufactured economically, for just a few dollars more.

First, we know that journalists are not as gullible as they were in 2006, or 2009. Having been burned and made to look foolish by climate denial distortions of previous IPCC reports, and cherry picked emails, mainstream media is not quite so easily manipulated these days.
At long last, we are seeing a general acknowledgement of what we, in the reality based community, have long known – there is a right wing information bubble – a heretofore impenetrable, seamless, logic loop of epistemic closure in the incestuous tribal pack behavior of the Fox news/right wing blog/talk radio alternative universe – finally, catastrophically, and hilariously revealed to all in Fox News’ unbelievable live melt-down as Mitt Romney’s predicted landslide failed to materialize last month.  There is, at last, some agreement among mainstream news sources that in those fevered swamps, there be madness.

Many of the leading journalistic gatekeepers for climate information have, for some time in fact, been checking the science-centric blogosphere, even this blog and the climate crocks video series, for the reasoned, informed framing of disinformation attacks like that attempted last week.

See video above for a brief clip of my interview with Climate model expert Ben Santer – one of a number of interviews I conducted at this fall’s American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco. A longer video is coming this week from the Yale Forum.

This has been a matter of discussion among scientists, journalists, and communicators over the past year or more. The early dissemination of factual corrective responses to deliberate distortions is now proven to largely dampen these cheap attempts before they bubble onto the intended Fox News/Limbaugh/Beck circuit and become talking points of the day for the low-info army. The game has changed.

The Independent:

An attempt by climate sceptics to hijack the latest UN report on global warming by selectively leaking claims that it is caused by sunspots rather than man-made emissions of carbon dioxide has backfired.

Sceptics described the forthcoming report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a “game changer” because of its apparent support for the controversial theory that solar activity, interacting with cosmic rays from deep space, can explain global warming.

Alec Rawls, a Republican blogger in the United States who signed himself up as an expert IPCC reviewer, decided to leak the panel’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) on the grounds that it is a taxpayer-funded document.

Mr Rawls claimed the report suggests that the IPCC has finally come round to the idea that solar activity – sunspots – is partly responsible for the observed global temperatures rise seen over the past half century.

However, climate scientists pointed out that Mr Rawls has selectively quoted from the draft report and has ignored other parts of the document stating that solar activity and cosmic rays cannot explain the increase in global temperatures seen over the past half century, as sceptics have repeatedly claimed.

The AR5 draft report states that although there is “some evidence” that solar activity combined with cosmic rays may influence the formation of clouds, and therefore temperatures, but the phenomenon is “too weak” to influence the climate in any significant way.

The other major problem with the sunspots idea is that solar activity has largely flat-lined over the past 50 years, whereas average global temperatures have continued to rise, the IPCC report says.

“The lack of trend in the cosmic ray intensity over the last 50 years provides another strong argument against the hypothesis of a major contribution of cosmic rays to on-going climate change,” the draft report says.

Professor Bill McGuire of University College London said that the IPCC report reiterates the widely accepted view among scientists that climate change is not a natural process but the consequence of human activities.

“Alec Rawls’ interpretation of what IPCC5 says is quite simply wrong.  In fact, while temperatures have been ramping up in recent decades, solar activity has been pretty subdued,” Professor McGuire said.

Delaware Online:

Something rather cataclysmic has being happening among anti-global-warming enthusiasts. A growing number admit they’ve been wrong. An Associated Press poll found four of every five Americans said climate change will be a serious problem for the United States if nothing is done about it. That’s up from 73 percent three years ago.

Personal experience, not the complicated formula of science measurements is winning new converts. That includes extraordinary changes in the rise of sea levels as The New Journal has been tracking, accelerated patterns of wildfires that are destroying entire communities in the country’s western regions and shorter cold weather patterns during winter.

Read the rest of this entry »


One reason I hoped Michigan would pass a 25 percent Renewable Energy standard in November was, to get our  utilities off the dime in preparing for an impending disruptive change in electrical generation.  Remember what the internet looked like in 1993? Remember how it looked in 1997?  That’s what happens when  compelling technology comes of age – and companies that aren’t ready for change that their customers want, will simply disappear.

Renewable Energy World:

Quick question.  Your state has good sunshine, lots of open rooftops, and the cost of solar energy has been falling by 10% per year.  Do you think it will take 13 years to double the 10 megawatts (MW) of installed solar power?

Yes, if you’re the largest corporate utility in my state, and willfully ignoring the economic trend.  But ‘no’ if you make decisions based on data, because the price of unsubsidized solar electricity will undercut most utility retail electricity prices within a decade, enabling 200 times more solar (4,400 MW) than found in this utility’s plans.

That’s just one utility’s wake up call in a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), Commercial Rooftop Revolution, and it’s far from the only one.  By 2016, over 100,000 MW of unsubsidized rooftop solar will able to match grid electricity on price.  Within 10 years, it will be 300,000 MW, enough to provide 10% of the nation’s electricity.  This affordable solar future presents a stark challenge to traditional utility planning and a clarion call for better electricity policy

Some utilities have responded by clinging to the 20th century paradigm of centralized control.  Virginia’s Dominion Power, for example, expressed satisfaction at a recent conference at introducing standby charges on solar producers, ostensibly to help them recover the cost of “backing up” solar power.

On the other hand, many utilities and state regulatory commissions are finding the value in solar and realizing that perceived barriers aren’t as large as they had feared.  Austin Energy, a Texas municipal utility, now pays a non-subsidy premium for solar because it helps them offset expensive peak power purchases.  In Hawaii, utilities who two years ago argued that the distribution grid was at its limit have been managing to accommodate thousands more solar projects on their grid systems.

Regardless of their predisposition toward solar power, utilities, regulators, and policy makers need to recognize that there’s a revolution in electricity systems coming soon.  Solar will become so affordable in the next 5-10 years that as many as 38 million homes and businesses will elect to produce their own power more cheaply from unsubsidized solar rather than buy it from their utility.  That means policies that limit distributed generation will have to change: net metering limits must rise, permitting must be simplified, archaic “15% rules” will have to be driven by data not speculation.


coyoteThe buffoonasphere bubble that briefly bobbed up over a leaked non-operative IPCC draft has subsided.  Result? A moderate  rustling in the internet weeds. This week’s news that matters?  A new huge majority of Americans have chosen to believe their eyes.

The Hill:

Four out of 5 people in the U.S. say global warming will be a big problem for the nation without action to reduce it, and a growing majority believe that temperatures are going up, a poll shows.

The Associated Press-Gfk poll released Friday shows that 80 percent say the country faces a “serious” problem if nothing is done to reduce future warming.

Associated Press:

A growing majority of Americans thinkglobal warming is occurring, that it will become a serious problem and that the U.S. government should do something about it, a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds.

Even most people who say they don’t trust scientists on the environment say temperatures are rising.

The poll found 4 out of every 5 Americans said climate change will be a serious problem for the United States if nothing is done about it. That’s up from 73 percent when the same question was asked in 2009.

And 57 percent of Americans say the U.S. government should do a great deal or quite a bit about the problem. That’s up from 52 percent in 2009. Only 22 percent of those surveyed think little or nothing should be done, a figure that dropped from 25 percent.

CBS News: 

Belief and worry about climate change are inching up among Americans in general, but concern is growing faster among people who don’t often trust scientists on the environment. In follow-up interviews, some of those doubters said they believe their own eyes as they’ve watched thermometers rise, New York City subway tunnels flood, polar ice melt and Midwestern farm fields dry up.

Christian Science Monitor:

“They don’t believe what the scientists say, they believe what the thermometers say,” Krosnick said. “Events are helping these people see what scientists thought they had been seeing all along.”

Phil Adams, a retired freelance photographer from North Carolina, said he was “fairly cynical” about scientists and their theories. But he believes very much in climate change because of what he’s seen with his own eyes.

“Having lived for 67 years, we consistently see more and more changes based upon the fact that the weather is warmer,” he said. “The seasons are more severe. The climate is definitely getting warmer.”

“Storms seem to be more severe,” he added. Nearly half, 49 percent, of those surveyed called global warming not just serious but “very serious,” up from 42 percent in 2009. More than half, 57 percent, of those surveyed thought the U.S. government should do a great deal or quite a bit about global warming, up from 52 percent three years earlier.

A well known denialist told me last spring that his primary concern was the effect of extreme weather events on public opinion.  One of the recurring themes of recent months among scientists I’ve spoken to, is “..a new climate state..”, where extremes beyond human memory have become more commonplace.

That sound you hear, as James Carville said recently in another context, “…is pine on skull.”