This catalog showed up just in time for Christmas, and underlines the changes that ordinary Americans have not failed to notice.
As loud as the Fox News noise machine screams, Planet Earth speaks with greater authority.

duluthwhip

ice_storm

Ice coats trees in Midland, Michigan. Tens of thousands of customers remain without power across the eastern US following a pre-Christmas ice storm.

I was fortunate to be living just north of the worst part of this storm, which I heard people describe in epic terms.
Folks are still shivering across the region, and dying from carbon monoxide fumes from generators.

Fort Wayne.com:

“The system is pretty compromised out there,” she said. “We expect we will have more outages.”

In Michigan, where about half a million homes and businesses lost power at the peak of the weekend storm, an inch or so of snow was expected. Utilities there reported 101,000 customers without power Thursday morning and said it could be Saturday before all electricity is restored.

Tony Carone lost power in his Lapeer, Mich., home Sunday morning. The 52-year-old lineman for Detroit-based DTE knew there were long hours ahead.

“I was one of the casualties,” he said while taking a break from restoration work Thursday morning.

Maine reported more than 21,000 customers still out, down from a high of more than 106,000. There were more than 101,000 without power in three Canadian provinces, including 54,000 in the city of Toronto.

WJLA.com:

Montgomery was among a half-million utility customers – from Maine to Michigan and into Canada – who lost power in an ice storm last weekend that one utility called the worst during Christmas week in its history. Repair crews were working around the clock to restore service, and they reported good progress Wednesday morning despite more snow rolling into the Great Lakes and Upper Midwest overnight.

Authorities said the storm contributed to the deaths of 14 people across the region, including a 50-year-old man who was overcome by carbon monoxide fumes from a generator in Knox, Maine.

What this underlines once again, is the emerging technologies of distributed energy, energy storage, and electric vehicles are going to fundamentally change the equation for utilities and their customers. In an era where these events are becoming more common, and more severe, and when asymmetrical warfare and terrorism will be the primary security threats, a distributed electrical grid, where even homes and small business can be islandable, independent cells, makes sense.

The Toronto Star:

Why are doctors in our “modern” hospitals delivering babies by flashlight after their hospital’s power was knocked out by an ice storm? Partly, because we’ve ignored a critically important part of any modern health facility – its emergency power system.Most hospitals rely on diesel backup generators that can provide just enough juice to keep vital services and emergency lighting operational. But some, like Queensway-Carleton in Ottawa and the London Health Sciences Centre, have taken things to the next level by installing combined heat and power (CHP) systems. These mini power plants produce both electricity and heat and can keep hospitals, old-age homes, and other such institutions close to fully operational even during an extended blackout.

That’s because they not only provide more electricity than basic diesel generator systems, they also can provide the space heating and hot water needed to keep things habitable. And because these systems usually are powered by natural gas, which has a separate power system from our main electrical grid, they can operate as long as they are needed without running out of fuel.

Our neighbours in the U.S. learned this lesson in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, when institutions like Princeton University remained operational throughout thanks to CHP systems, while some New York hospitals had to scramble to evacuate patients in the dark when their backup generators failed.

The kind of weather we have seen this week in Southern Ontario is only going to become more frequent as the impacts of climate change begin to bite down. Meanwhile, in our biggest city – Toronto – only a tiny fraction of the power used in the city is actually produced within its borders. We need more locally generated power that can help us survive increasingly wild weather events.

It’s not just CHP systems that should be a much more common part of our urban fabric. Rooftop solar systems can also help to keep power flowing in local areas. We have acres of roof space in our cities that at the moment is mostly just collecting summer heat and, increasingly, winter ice. We need to accelerate our efforts to make sustainable zero emission solar energy a part of city living.
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More on the right wing war on solar energy.
Utilities have a point that, as more and more customers invest in solar and renewable energy, the costs of maintaining the larger electric grid do not go away.

The answer is, of course, new regulatory structures that will allow for a gradual change from  the centralized grid to a more distributed one. The technology is going to take us this way, (think television, internet, and cell phone) and we will be looking at a major train wreck in the coming decade without some creative thinking.

coal

We in the US are now in a de facto moratorium on new coal construction. What few projects may be currently underway will most likely be the last ever build in this country.

Politico:

Coal-fired power plants are shutting their doors at a record pace — and for the most part, nobody’s building new ones.

The latest round in the war on coal? Not exactly. The reality is that Americans’ lights will stay on just fine even as coal plants continue to close, thanks to a quiet revolution in energy efficiency and a boom time for cheap natural gas. Throw in some stricter rules for older plants, and the result is a sharp drop in the economic viability of coal-fired power.

Since 2008, coal has dropped from nearly half the U.S. power market to about 37 percent. In the next several years, industry analysts say, hundreds of older coal-fired units will power down for good.

The coal industry and its supporters have blamed these trends on a “war on coal” by President Barack Obama, but the facts on the ground don’t entirely support the political rhetoric. True, Environmental Protection Agency regulations are forcing older plants to reduce pollution and upgrade their equipment, helping drive the wave of shutdowns. But increasingly efficient homes, office buildings and factories and a fall in demand for electricity are big reasons why power companies don’t need to build replacements right away — possibly for another two decades.

Even in coal-heavy Kentucky, utilities have decided that at times, closing a big coal plant is the least costly option. And many customers won’t even notice that the plants are gone.

“While many coal plants are expected to close, for a variety of reasons we are unlikely to feel it at the light switch,” said Jennifer Macedonia, a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Midwest Energy News:

A new report warns that Wisconsin’s economic competitiveness could be at risk if the state doesn’t diversify its electricity sources.

The Badger State is already burdened by the second highest electricity prices in the Midwest, with only Michigan customers paying more on average.

Those rates are likely to climb faster than inflation and prices in surrounding states in the next decade due to Wisconsin’s dependance on coal-burning power plants, according to Gary Radloff, director of Midwest policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Energy Institute.

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Thanks, Santa!

December 25, 2013

Deva Premal: Ide Were Were

December 25, 2013

chinablade

As reported here, more signs that China’s coal fired party is drawing to a close – as critical air pollution and water shortages – as well as climate concerns, mount.

Kieran Cooke for Climate News:

Australia has been growing rich from exporting coal and other resources to China. The good times could be coming to an end, says a new report.

LONDON, 23 December – Coal mining companies in Australia have been enjoying the good life in recent years, making millions of dollars from feeding the seemingly insatiable energy appetites of Asia’s tiger economies – particularly that of China.

But a new report by the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment (SSEE) at Oxford in the UK warns that Australia’s coal mining party could be coming to an end.

It says coal demand in China looks likely to fall in the years ahead due to concerns about climate change and other factors, leaving billions of dollars of investments in Australian coal mining projects in jeopardy.

The report, Stranded Down Under, details the considerable growth of Australia’s coal production in recent years. Coal has been one of the main reasons behind the continuing health of the country’s economy – it now accounts for 16% of the total value of exports.

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Cleantechnica:

While the news about climate change seems to get worse every day, the rapidly improving technology, declining costs, and increasing accessibility of clean energy is the true bright spot in the march toward a zero-carbon future. 2013 had more clean energy milestones than we could fit on one page, but here are thirteen of the key breakthroughs that happened this year.

1. Using salt to keep producing solar power even when the sun goes down. 
Helped along by the Department of Energy’s loan program, Solana’s massive 280 megawatt (MW) solar plant came online in Arizona this October, with one unique distinction: the plant will use a ‘salt battery’ that will allow it to keep generating electricity even when the sun isn’t shining. Not only is this a first for the United States in terms of thermal energy storage, the Solana plant is also the largest in the world to use to use parabolic trough mirrors to concentrate solar energy.

2. Electric vehicle batteries that can also power buildings.
Nissan’s groundbreaking ‘Vehicle-To-Building‘ technology will enable companies to regulate their electricity needs by tapping into EVs plugged into their garages during times of peak demand. Then, when demand is low, electricity flows back to the vehicles, ensuring they’re charged for the drive home. With Nissan’s system, up to six electric vehicles can be plugged into a building at one time. As more forms renewable energy is added to the grid, storage innovations like this will help them all work together to provide reliable power.

3. The next generation of wind turbines is a game changer.
May of 2013 brought the arrival of GE’s Brilliant line of wind turbines, which bring two technologies within the turbines to address storage and intermittency concerns. An “industrial internet” communicates with grid operators, to predict wind availability and power needs, and to optimally position the turbine. Grid-scale batteries built into the turbines store power when the wind is blowing but the electricity isn’t needed — then feed it into the grid as demand comes along, smoothing out fluctuations in electricity supply. It’s a more efficient solution to demand peaks than fossil fuel plants, making it attractive even from a purely business aspect. Fifty-nine of the turbines are headed for Michigan, and two more will arrive in Texas.
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