Germany is racing past 20% renewable energy on its electricity grid, but news stories stridently warn that this new wind and solar power is costing “billions.” But often left out (or buried far from the lede) is the overwhelming popularity of the country’s relentless focus on energy change (energiewende).

How can a supposedly expensive effort to clean up the energy supply be so popular?

1. It’s about the cost, not the price

Most news stories focus on the cost of electricity in Germany, which has some of the highest rates per kilowatt-hour in the world.  But they don’t note that the average German electricity bill – about $100 a month – is the same as for most Americans.  Germans are much more efficient users of energy than most, so they can afford higher rates without having higher bills.  (Note to self: check out options for energy efficiency).

2. It’s about vision

Germany doesn’t just have an incremental approach to renewable energy, but a commitment supported by 84 percent of residents to get to 100% renewable energy “as quickly as possible.”  A few U.S. states have renewable energy visions (e.g. 33% by 2020, 25% by 2025) that approach Germany’s, but they’re mired in the notion that despite enormous savings to society in terms of health and environmental benefits, renewable energy shouldn’t cost any more today than conventional, dirty energy on the utility bill.  Germans have taken the long view (about energy security, price volatility, etc).

3. It’s about ownership 

I lied in #1.  Support for Germany’s renewable energy quest isn’t about cost of energy, but about the opportunity to own a slice of the energy system.  Millions of Germans are building their retirement nest egg by individually or collectively owning a share of wind and solar power plants supplying clean energy to their communities. Nearly half of the country’s 63,000 megawatts of wind and solar power is owned locally, and these energy owners care as much about the persistence of renewable energy they own as they do about the energy bill they pay. Not only do these German energy owners reduce their own net cost of energy, every dollar diverted from a distant multinational utility company multiplies throughout their local economy.

Below, related news from the US:

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I covered this in a video (below) a few years ago, and many posts since then.  Further proof – wind turbines did not make the top then then, and they don’t now.

What’s number one? Full disclosure, I’m the sudden caretaker of my wife’s new kitty cat…


An Environment Canada study released Tuesday shows that more than 270 million birds are killed in Canada every year from human-related activity, which includes deaths caused by cats owned, or not controlled well, by humans.

Richard Elliot, director of wildlife research for Environment Canada, said in an interview the estimated figure of 270 million is out of a total of 10 billion birds. “We’ve got a lot of birds, and that’s probably a good thing because we’re killing a lot.

Most birds in Canada are protected by the 100-year old Migratory Bird Conventions Act, as well as the Species at Risk Act and various provincial wildlife acts that prohibit destroying nests or killing birds, but little is being done to shield them from the following top killers.

1. Domestic and feral cats: 200 million

There are about 8.5 million domestic cats in Canada, and 1.4 to 4.2 million wild or stray cats. Although feral cats are smaller in number than house cats, they’re responsible for twice as many bird kills. Even so, cats by nature can be serial killers and don’t just kill when they’re hungry.

Elliot said kitty-cams attached to cats’ collars reveal that even house cats are avid hunters. “A cat you think is just out wandering around the premises would be killing 10 or 12 birds a night.”

Ian Davidson of Nature Canada said in an interview with CBC, “Our pets don’t really understand the difference between an endangered bird species or not, so we strongly recommend people keep their cats indoors, especially around dawn or dusk.”

2. Power lines, collisions and electrocutions: 25 million

Wind turbines accounted for only 16,700 kills. But wind power is expected to grow tenfold over the next decade.

3. Collision with houses or buildings: 25 million

Between two and five per cent of nuthatches, chickadees and pigeons may be killed after striking houses or buildings, the report estimates. Davidson suggests turning off lights in large municipal buildings, since birds are attracted to bright light, as well as muting reflections on the windows so they don’t appear transparent to birds

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Volvo develops its technologies rather discreetly, but it has now gotten to a stage where it has decided it is time to reveal this innovative technology, which it co-developed with nine other parties (not vehicle manufacturers). The new concept, which was developed over a period of three years, involves the use of lightweight composite materials to build certain vehicle parts that can double as energy storage for a Volvo S80 sedan.

For example, Volvo used these materials to create an intake plenum cover (intake manifold cover) and a boot lid (trunk lid) which store energy. It says that the trunk lid stores enough energy to facilitate removal of the car’s standard batteries.

As for the intake plenum cover, it says that it can supply power to the car’s 12 volt electrical system. The material can also be moulded and formed to replace various parts. The intake plenum cover mentioned above is one of them.

A 15% overall reduction in vehicle weight is expected from this project if applied to electric cars. That translates to a kerb weight reduction of 522 pounds (237 kg) for an entry-level Volvo S80. The test car is charged via regenerative braking, and it can be plugged in.

This European Union-funded project sounds awfully clever, and potentially sleek! Could this research inspire people to do other things such as make cellphone cases out of energy storage material? Who knows?

Joe Romm on the Carbon Tax

October 23, 2013

Part 2 of Thom Hartmann’s interview with Dr. Joe Romm of

See part 1 here.

The topic is a carbon tax – the subject of a new piece in Washington Monthly that asks, could carbon taxes become a useful tool of monetary policy.

The Federal Reserve has been trying to create inflation for several years now without very much success. Paul Krugman explains the liquidity trap the best, but to describe the problem briefly: when prices and wages are rising, people are more likely to buy things or invest their money, because otherwise, their money will gradually lose value. Paying off old loans is easier, too, because they are worth relatively less as time passes. When prices are relatively stable as they are now, the opposite is true, and economic activity is slower, which is why Ben Bernanke and other central bankers have been working to stimulate inflation.

Legislatures around the world are part of the problem. They keep cutting their budgets (or in our case, clumsily hacking the budget to pieces), which has done serious damage to the economy around the world. These policies have also suppressed prices. When governments borrow and spend on a large scale, the amount of money in circulation in absolute terms increases, and prices rise.

If simply increasing prices were the only goal, then legislatures could achieve it while reducing their deficits by instituting some kind of tax on consumption, such as a sales tax. In other countries, value-added taxes routinely contribute to inflation. The problem is that people might respond simply by buying less, so the tax wouldn’t do anything for the economy as whole. For inflation to stimulate economic activity, incomes must rise along with prices.

But what if the government returned the money from the tax to citizens through a refund? Then not only would prices increase, but so would incomes. This way, legislatures could aid central banks in their inflationary efforts without adding to their deficits.
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As people in fire prone areas across New South Wales review their survival plans or flee for their lives, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said he is convinced there is no link between bushfires and climate change.

“Fire is a part of the Australian experience,” Mr Abbott told Melbourne radio listeners. “It has been since humans were on this continent…. Climate change is real as I have often said and we should take strong action against it but these fires are certainly not a function of climate change. They are a function of life in Australia.”

The Australian:

The damage and destruction the bushfires have caused is unprecedented for this time of year, NSW Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

His remarks come as firefighters battle two emergency fire situations at Linksview Rd in Springwood and at Gateshead, with the blaze at Stockrington Road at Minmi downgraded to “watch and act”.

“Never before have we seen the extent of damage and destruction and wide-scale fire activity at this time of the year,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.


According to David Bowman, professor of forest ecology at the University of Tasmania, who has studied bushfires for more than 30 years, bushfire behavior is showing signs of change.

“The problem with Australia is that the records are pretty shallow, which makes it really difficult to talk conclusively about any of the fire activity. But when you piece everything together there’s some very convincing evidence.

Aggressive fires

“Even the firefighters are reporting really unusual behavior,” said Bowman, adding that firefighters are fighting bigger and more aggressive fires.

“Normally at night — and this is borne out by firefighters in the United States — the fire will quell as the temperature cools. But firefighters are saying that because of the heat, bushfires are burning just as fiercely at night. It’s all getting pretty worrying.”

He said duration was also a factor that was changing in bushfire behavior.

“It’s no big deal to have a fire in October but to have one that has burned like this for more than a week at this level of intensity is unprecedented.

Most unsurprising new fact of the year.  Everyone has observed how for each new report of legitimate concerns on climate change, waves of trolls flood media comment threads with tired, shopworn talking points of denialism.
We’ve already seen (above) how Koch backed Tea Party thugs routinely game internet comment threads. Now, new reports of how this is done at Fox News as well. (and, doubtless at countless boiler rooms in the lower levels of right wing think tanks across the country…)

Daily Kos:

In the newest instance by Rupert Murdoch and Fox New’s PR campaign, they employed sockpuppet accounts and internet anonymity tools to spread their propaganda on blogs and comment sections, even those with little traffic.

NPR media reporter David Folkenflik writes in his forthcoming book Murdoch’s World that Fox News’ public relations staffers used an elaborate series of dummy accounts to fill the comments sections of critical blog posts with pro-Fox arguments.In a chapter focusing on how Fox utilized its notoriously ruthless public relations department in the mid-to-late 00’s, Folkenflik reports that Fox’s PR staffers would “post pro-Fox rants” in the comments sections of “negative and even neutral” blog posts written about the network. According to Folkenflik, the staffers used various tactics to cover their tracks, including setting up wireless broadband connections that “could not be traced back” to the network.

A former staffer told Folkenflik that they had personally used “one hundred” fake accounts to plant Fox-friendly commentary:

Just one more bit of information and I encourage you to read up further on the revelations:

On the blogs, the fight was particularly fierce. Fox PR staffers were expected to counter not just negative and even neutral blog postings but the anti-Fox comments beneath them. One former staffer recalled using twenty different aliases to post pro-Fox rants. Another had one hundred. Several employees had to acquire a cell phone thumb drive to provide a wireless broadband connection that could not be traced back to a Fox News or News Corp account. Another used an AOL dial-up connection, even in the age of widespread broadband access, on the rationale it would be harder to pinpoint its origins. Old laptops were distributed for these cyber operations. Even blogs with minor followings were reviewed to ensure no claim went unchecked.

Wash Post:

Is it possible to make GOP lawmakers pay a political price for throwing in with the climate science deniers? The League of Conservation Voters is engaged in an interesting experiment designed to answer that question, running ads targeting GOP Senator Ron Johnson and a handful of House GOP lawmakers over their climate denialism.


Living in an alternative universe.

The group’s operating theory: Denying what science says about threats to the fate of the planet should perhaps be, you know, a tiny bit politically problematic. GOP lawmakers pay a steep price for outsized claims about abortion or immigration. Why not about something as consequential as climate change?

Now the group has done a new poll that, it says, underscores that drawing attention to a public official’s climate science denialism does erode his or her public image. The group’s polling memo is right here. The group polled on Senator Johnson in the Green Bay, WI, media market — a swing area where its ads ran — before and after the ad buy. According to the memo:

52 percent of constituents who definitely recall the ads volunteer unfavorable impressions of Ron Johnson and his record in an open-ended (unprompted) question format, and most of the concerns they express relate directly to the content of the ads.

The memo also reports a 14-point increase in those who feel less favorable towards Johnson based on what they have heard about him; an eight point increase in his job disapproval; and an eight point boost in in constituents believing Johnson is out of step on climate change. (For more on Johnson, and the results the polling found on climate-denying House GOPers, read the whole memo.)

“Denying climate change science is something that, when you put it in front of voters, they stand up and take notice,” top Dem pollster Geoff Garin, who did the survey for the LCV, tells me. “We’re finding that when voters hear about an elected official denying basic climate science, it is consequential in the way they think about that person, both in terms of the issue itself, and in terms of larger conclusions voters draw about whether that official thinks the way they do.”

Below, bullet points from the memo:

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Dr. Joe Romm, Climate Progress joins Thom Hartmann. Right now – we still have have a chance to save our planet from the greatest threat it’s ever faced: climate change. But at what point will our efforts be in vain? At what point will climate change become permanent?

Joe discusses the new Summary for Policy Makers of the IPCC 5th Assessment report.

Part 2 of the interview will be posted tomorrow.
My own interview with Dr. Romm from last spring is below.

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We’ve had a lively discussion in recent weeks on the benefits of renewable energy and the changes coming in the utility business as renewables take a larger chunk of the business. Here’s more food for thought. I have not yet worked thru the studies mentioned here, but the links should give us all plenty of fodder.


Investment bank Citi published a broad analysis of the world’s energy markets called Energy Darwinism that predicts that 71 percent of the money invested in power generation between now and 2035 will be in renewables or nuclear. More than 40 percent of that sum, which represents more than $4 trillion, will go to wind and solar, Citi’s energy economists concluded.

Solar, in particular, has shown an “alarming” learning rate where every doubling of production capacity results in a 30 percent price decline for panels. At 7.4 percent, wind’s learning rate is slower, but the technology has become cost-competitive with natural gas plants in some locations. Based on these cost reduction curves, Citi’s economists forecasted when utility-scale wind and distributed solar will cost the same as conventional fuels.

Digging into the effect on wholesale energy markets, Citi also forecasted exactly where “fuel substitution will take place” — or in what circumstances it’s more economic to use one power source over another. It plots the levelized cost of energy against the output in terawatt-hours to forecast how wind, coal, natural gas and solar compete.

In some cases, solar is actually displacing natural gas at peak times of the day, when power is most expensive. In Germany, some natural gas peaker plants are being run for less than ten days a year because of solar, the study noted.

“The energy market has changed dramatically in recent years and we believe this mix is only going to alter more rapidly going forward,” concluded Citi researchers.

The implications for utilities are profound. This is particularly true in developed countries, where energy efficiency could reduce utility demand by 20 percent in both gas and electricity in the years ahead.

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This video, short film really – has probably done as much for the cause of sexual equality as years of pronouncements and pontificating by pundits and politicians. It’s had almost 90 million views. That it’s something with substance beyond the piano playing hamster or stupid titillating one off, that’s even more amazing.

I’d never heard this before, since I’m a wonky NPR type – but happened to be driving in an area where I couldn’t find the NPR station – wound up tuning to WJZQ Traverse City.

I saw this artist on the cover of Rolling Stone a while ago, and wondered if this guy is so great how come I never heard of him?

Now I know.  The female voice heard above, by the way, is Mary Lambert.
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