Stanford Engineer Mark Jacobsen has done ground breaking work on approaches to power the planet with Renewable energy. He tells Dave how.

Renewable Energy World:

1. What is your take on the Energiewende program?

Energiewende encouraged the growth of solar and wind worldwide. The feed-in tariff propagated globally, increasing solar penetration, and the solar industry in Germany boomed, creating significant jobs. The growth of wind in Germany spurred other countries to grow wind as well and encouraged a growth of wind manufacturers and the development of bigger and better turbines.

2. The New York Time’s article “Germany’s Effort at Clean Energy Proves Complex” states that “one of the first obstacles encountered involves the vagaries of electrical power generation that is dependent on sources as inconsistent and unpredictable as the wind and the sun. And no one has invented a means of storing that energy for very long, which means overwhelming gluts on some days and crippling shortages on others that require firing up old oil- and coal-burning power plants. That, in turn, undercuts the goal of reducing fossil-fuel emissions that have been linked to climate change.” However, others claim that more coal power plants have been shut down than started up (at least 20) and your work has shown that this would indeed be the case. What is your take on what is likely happening in terms of reserve fuels and emissions in this scenario?

Ensuring the reliability of the grid is merely an optimization problem. If fossil generators are used to fill in gaps, it is only because the current grid is inefficient and the health and climate impacts of fossils are not reflected in the costs of these fuels. It has nothing to do with whether it is possible to have a reliable grid with wind, water, and solar power. Several groups have shown that it is possible to combine wind and solar and use geothermal as a base load and fill in gaps between demand and renewable supply with hydroelectric and/or stored concentrated solar power to provide a grid reliable to 99.8 percent and higher. In addition, using demand response can help reduce demand at peak times. Further, oversizing the grid with wind and solar to make it easier to match normal electric power demand, and using excess wind and solar to produce hydrogen for transportation and district heat (as done in Denmark) can allow for a reliable grid and provide energy for other sectors of the energy economy.

3. The article also states the plan has created a strain on Germany’s power grid. A spokesperson for the grid operator Tennet is quoted saying: “Where energy was previously brought into the state and distributed to small communities, these communities are now producing the power, and we need to find a way to transmit it to the larger urban areas. Everything has been stood on its head.” Is this a valid concern or a normal step of transitioning energy systems?

Most people would argue that having local sources of energy increases local jobs and energy reliability, particularly when a disaster occurs. The fact that the local communities are producing too much can easily be rectified by converting other sectors of the local energy economy (e.g., transportation, heating/cooling, industry) to electricity.


It’s the weekend. You can warm up a cup of cider, or something stronger, stretch out, and put this on.

You’re welcome.


Bit of the Carbon bubbly anyone?

Wall Street Journal:

PITTSBURGH — Some of the largest pension funds in the U.S. and the world are worried that major fossil fuel companies may not be as profitable in the future because of efforts to limit climate change, and they want details on how the firms will manage a long-term shift to cleaner energy sources.

In a statement released Thursday, leaders of 70 funds said they’re asking 45 of the world’s top oil, gas, coal and electric power companies to do detailed assessments of how efforts to control climate change could impact their businesses.

“Institutional investors must think over the long term, which means that we must take environmental risks into consideration when we make investments,” New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli told The Associated Press in a statement. The state’s Common Retirement Fund manages almost $161 billion of investments.

Fossil fuels currently provide about 80 percent of all the energy used in the world. The pension funds say that because it takes decades to recoup the huge investments required for fossil fuel exploration, there’s a significant chance that future regulations will limit production or impose expensive pollution-control requirements that would reduce the fuels’ profitability.

Others signers of the letter include the comptrollers or treasurers of California, New York City, Maryland, Oregon, Vermont and Connecticut, as well as The Church of England Pensions Board, the Scottish Widows Investment Partnership, the investment firm Rockefeller & Co. and dozens of other funds that control a total of about $3 trillion. Only a fraction of that is with fossil fuel companies, however.

The American Petroleum Institute, which represents the industry, was examining the statement and did not immediately comment.

Big money quote:

“The scientific trajectory that we’re on is clearly in conflict” with the business strategy of the companies, Ehnes added, referring to the overwhelming consensus among top scientists from around the world that global warming is a man-made threat, that pollution from fossil fuels is the biggest problem and that many of the already-discovered fossil fuel reserves will need to stay in the ground to avoid extreme climate change.”

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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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