Renewables Gathering Speed Across the Heartland

November 21, 2015


7 years ago, my state of Michigan was looking at possibly as many as 9 new coal plants in planning stages. Two of them within 25 miles of my home.
Today, all those plans have gone away – we have a landscape increasingly dotted with wind turbines – which are producing more power, more cheaply, than was imagined back then – new wind purchase agreements in this state are coming in at less than 5 cents/kwh.

One of the utilities that was planning a huge new coal fired plant, Wolverine Cooperative, dropped that plan, and has now announced that they have entered into a power purchase agreement for a new wind farm to be built in Michigan, which will bring their portfolio to 30 percent renewable energy.

Jeff Biggers in the NYTimes:

Recent polls show that 60 percent of Iowans, now facing flooding and erosion, believe global warming is happening. From Winneshiek County to Washington County, you can count more solar panels on barns than on urban roofs or in suburban parking lots. The state’s first major solar farm is not in an urban area like Des Moines or Iowa City, but in rural Frytown, initiated by the Farmers Electric Cooperative.

In the meantime, any lingering traces of cynicism will vanish in the town of Crawfordsville, where children in the Waco school district will eventually turn on computers and study under lights powered 90 percent by solar energy. Inspired by local farmers, who now use solar energy to help power some of their operations, the district’s move to solar energy will not only cut carbon emissions but also result in enough savings to keep open the town’s once financially threatened school doors.

Wind turbines now line cornfields across the state, providing nearly 30 percent of Iowa’s electricity production. With some $10 billion invested in wind energy and manufacturing in Iowa, Republicans and Democrats alike recognize the benefits of green jobs.

This is only a beginning, of course. Dirty coal still accounts for 60 percent of Iowa’s electricity needs. But such centralization of electricity will falter, as other towns and cities follow the lead of Bloomfield, which recently announced plans to ramp up energy-efficiency efforts and shift its municipally owned utility — one of 136 in Iowa — to 100 percent energy independence, significantly through renewable sources by 2030.

Scientific American:

The switch from the heat-generating incandescent bulbs to light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, reduces the energy used to produce light by as much as 85 percent.

The cost of LED bulbs has dropped by over 90 percent in recent years, explains David Friedman, principal deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE). “Ultimately, over the next five to 10 years, it will cut the electricity use of lighting in half.”

LEDs are just one of the technologies at the forefront of a clean revolution sweeping the U.S. The solid-state light sources have grown from 400,000 installations in 2009 to some 78 million in 2014, according to the DoE’s latest analysis of the fastest growing clean-energy technologies—and LEDs are not alone. Wind, solar and other technologies have seen similar explosive growth, providing a glimmer of hope that the world might be able to combat climate change this century. National commitments made under the auspices of climate negotiations in Paris could further drive the adoption of clean-energy technologies, not just in the U.S. but in the European Union as well as China, who has already begun investing in clean technologies and whose president last year set a joint goal with Pres. Barack Obama to stop greenhouse gas pollution growth by 2030.


Texas can thank record wind output for a slump in power prices to the lowest in five years.

On-peak power at the North hub, which includes Dallas, slid $4.08, or 23 percent, to $13.51 a megawatt-hour for the hour ended at 4 p.m. local time from Nov. 13, grid data compiled by Bloomberg show. It’s headed toward the lowest full-day average since at least Nov. 9, 2010.

Ercot’s (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) low pricing was “being driven” by the increase in wind generation, Rhodri Williams, a Boston-based Genscape Inc. analyst, said in an electronic message.

Meanwhile, Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi of Stanford  and UC Davis have expanded on their projection for how 139 countries can derive 100 percent of their energy from renewables.

Scientific American:

Jacobson and Delucchi, a research scientist at the University of California at Davis,  presented their “100 percent renewables” construct to the public for the first time in a 2009 feature article in Scientific American. It explained how the world could derive all of its power, including for transportation, from 1.7 billion rooftop solar systems, 40,000 photovoltaic power plants, 3.8 million wind turbines, 900 hydroelectric plants, 490,000 tidal turbines and so on. “The whole idea originated with the Scientific American article,” Jacobson says. “Now there are five or six nonprofit organizations that use ‘100 percent’ in their name. Walmart, Google and Starbucks have said they want to go to 100 percent renewable energy. So have a number of cities. The goal of our plans for U.S. states and the 139 countries is to have places set their own ‘100 percent’ goals.”

Some have. AS a first step, New York and California have both passed legislation calling for about 60 percent of their power to come from a renewable energy mix by 2030. Hillary Clinton has endorsed a 100 percent goal for the U.S. by 2050.

Energy demand across the 139 nations by 2050 would be met with a broad set of wind, water and solar technologies: 19.4 percent onshore wind farms, 12.9 percent offshore wind farms, 42.2 percent utility-scale photovoltaic arrays, 5.6 percent rooftop solar panels, 6.0 percent commercial rooftop solar panels, 7.7 percent concentrated solar power arrays, 4.8 percent hydroelectricity, and 1.47 percent geothermal, wave and tidal power. Jacobson, Delucchi and more than a dozen colleagues from around the world have posted the details, country by country, in a self-published paper they released online. Hoping to make it available for COP, they have yet to publish it in a journal, but they intend to, Jacobson says. The previous plans have all been published.

The big knock against renewables such as wind and solar is that they are intermittent; the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. That means large amounts of energy storage are needed to save up excess power generated when these technologies are going full bore, which can then be tapped when they are low. Storage adds substantial cost and complexity to a renewable energy system.  But Jacobson has an answer. By using a smart mix of technologies that complement one another during different parts of the day and different weather conditions, storage can be kept to a minimum. He, Delucchi and two colleagues explain how this can work across the U.S. in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that will be published Nov. 23.

The engineering detail in all these papers and plans is staggering. The document released for the 139 countries provides an itemized mix of technologies and costs for every nation, as well as how much land and rooftop area would be required. Since 2009 the two researchers, working with many others, have honed the numbers again and again. Now what is needed most, Jacobson says, is exposure. “We have talked to hundreds of expert and politicians. Now we need to reach hundreds of millions of people,” in hopes that they will see the possibilities and begin to call for them.




5 Responses to “Renewables Gathering Speed Across the Heartland”

  1. Andy Lee Robinson Says:

    Really encouraging that the revolution is ramping up and that the penny is starting to drop with some energy companies.
    They are starting to realize that if they do not embrace and adapt, then they will go extinct.
    Fortunately, survival is not compulsory.

  2. andrewfez Says:

    Now if they’d fix the building codes, all that stuff would pack more of a punch:

    Here’s a builder who has partnered with Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Alaska, talking about the passive house he made there for himself to live in. Alaska was on the forefront of an energy crisis a while back, when oil was $100. Keeping your home heated was a $3000, $4000, $5000, $6000+ per year venture, with poorer people sometimes taking second jobs to keep their homes warm. The builder makes a few comments pertaining to folks moving away because of high energy bills; perhaps a mini-energy crisis migration was underway. At any rate here are a few points he makes:

    The US has the most outdated codes with regards to insulation and thermal storage of any Western country. Germany is killing us with regard to home energy efficiency because of this.

    Some of the products he uses are from Germany: He’s taped up all the plywood that is the floor of his attic with a tape designed in Germany; I believe it allows for air tightness but allows moister diffusion. The point is, is that Americans could indeed be lacking in innovation in this area, and thus are losing $$ and jobs to European competitors.

    It costs $20,000 for a boiler to heat a typical 2,500sqft Alaskan home and over 10 years, you’ve bought $50,000 in heating oil. He put $10,000 in insulation in his passive home, and he has no boiler; it gets heated with sunlight, a hair dryer and his toaster. So over a 10 year period, he’s saved $70,000 using $10,000 in insulation.

    The REMOTE wall system he uses is technology designed in the 1950’s. Basically all you’re doing is insulating the exterior of the house massively. Cold Climate Housing has instructions on how to retrofit existing buildings with this on their Youtube channel.

  3. […] Renewables Gathering Speed Across the Heartland […]

  4. […] Renewables Gathering Speed Across the Heartland […]

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