Dec 2011 Newsletter

Global Warming:   

We are going to discuss “Solutions” this Month

Let’s Recap from last month:

1.       World headed for irreversible climate change

2.       Permafrost  &  Peat Bogs warming  will  release  massive amounts of GHG:  CO2 and Methane

3.       CO2 traps more heat causing lots of Bad things from Crop failures; To more intense storms; To acidic oceans

4.       Where does most of above CO2 come ?  Mostly from Coal; Mostly to produce electricity.

5.       Congress is in a grid lock. Many won’t admit the Science is solid and overwhelming.

6. They are putting our children at Significant Risk !

So how to move ahead? Here is one Solution that holds promise:

CLEAN ENERGY STATE AND FEDERAL POLICY OPTIONS AND IMPLICATIONS- from C2ES see link above;  An Illustrative Framework for a Federal Clean Energy Standard for the Power Sector, November 2011

Quick Summary: Focus on Electric Utilities –most CO2 emissions & point sources.

}         Need Federal Policy to Manage GHG emissions

}         Require Utilities to Phase in Significant % of “Clean Energy”

}         Clean Energy = Renewables or Nuclear; Or Coal & CCS; or Natural Gas & CCS ; or Customer use Efficiency (Note: CCS stands for Carbon Capture & Sequestration – storage deep underground under impermeable rock layers)

}         Clean Energy % Moves up every Year

}         Senators Bingaman; Lugar; & Graham; and President Obama have all offered proposals

}         Consumer Electricity Rates to Achieve Goal – Varies, but 1% to 7% increase over time

►Is the Pennsylvania [Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard] – 18% by 2020 (at least 0.5% from solar) a good example?

Partially – But mostly No !

What started as an effort to promote renewable energy in Pennsylvania turned into legislation that supports fossil fuels and incineration.

Tier I
8% by 2020

TIER II – 10% by 2020

Note: Solar is Tiny; Tiny 0.5%.  We need 25. %.; & PA law does not require CCS for Coal or Natural Gas

What is CCS? Check these informative Videos from Shell:

First an  8 minute video.  Note – that Shell does go on record in this video and states that man made CO2 is causing the world to warm. ;

or a 6 minute video with different details.


Wait ! Scream the Deniers- “Solar is too expensive” (vs. coal or natural gas that don’t pay for environmental impacts or the cost of capturing CO2).  But let’s take a look at what solar costs compared to what your utility bill is now.


Solar Grid Parity 101:

Solar grid parity is considered the tipping point for solar power. This will occur when installing solar power will cost less than buying electricity from the grid.

The Cost of Solar

For starters, what’s the right metric for the cost of solar?  The installed cost for residential solar ($6.40 per watt in 2011), or commercial solar ($5.20/W) or utility-scale solar ($3.75/W)?  Even if we pick one of these, it’s difficult to compare apples to apples, because grid electricity is priced in dollars per kilowatt-hour of electricity, not dollars per Watt.


Enter “levelized cost,” or the cost of a solar PV array averaged over a number of years of production.  For example, a 1 kilowatt (kW) solar array installed in Minneapolis for $6.40 per Watt costs $6,400.  Over 25 years, we can expect that system to produce about 30,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh), so the “simple levelized cost” is $6,400 divided by 30,000, or about $0.21 per kWh.


But people usually borrow money, and pay interest, to install solar power.  And there are some maintenance costs over those 25 years.  And we also use a “discount rate” that puts heavier weight on dollars spent or earned today compared to those earned 20 years from now.  A 1 kW solar array that is 80% paid for by borrowing at 5% interest, with maintenance costs of about $65 per year, and discounted at 5% per year will have a levelized cost of around $0.37.


That means that “solar grid parity” for this 1 kW solar array happens if the grid electricity price is  $0.37 per kWh. But this calculation is location specific.


Residential solar projects may average $6.40 per Watt, but there are some good examples of aggregate purchase residential solar projects costing $4.40 per Watt.   The levelized cost of solar at $4.40 per Watt in Minneapolis is $0.25; in Los Angeles it is $0.21.


The map at under the section labeled “Solar Grid Parity 101” shows the levelized cost of solar, by state, based on an installed cost of $4.40 per Watt, averaged over 25 years (go to link above).


This map shows half our grid parity equation, the cost of solar.  But what about the other half, the grid price? It’s another complicated question.

The Grid Price

Utilities like to compare new electricity production to their existing fleet, which means comparing new solar power projects to long-ago-paid-off (amortized) coal and nuclear power plants that can produce electricity for 3-4 cents per kWh.  But this is apples to oranges, because utilities can’t get any new electricity for that price, from any source.


A more appropriate measure of the grid price is the marginal cost for a utility of getting wholesale power from a new power plant.  In California, this is called the “market price referent” and it’s around 12 cents per kWh.  The figure varies from state to state.


But while the market price referent provides a reasonable comparison for the cost of utility-scale solar, it’s not the number that matters for solar installed on rooftops or near buildings.  In those cases, the power is used “behind the meter,” and depending on the type of state policy for net metering, the customer can essentially spin their electric meter backward when their solar panels produce electricity.  That means that solar power is really competing against the energy cost on a utility bill, known as the “retail price.”


A map at under the section labeled “Solar Grid Parity 101” shows the average retail electricity price by state across the U.S.  It ranges from 8-10 cents in the interior to 15 cents per kWh and higher on the coasts. NOTE:  (while I pay $0.10 per kwhr – I need to add in distribution costs, etc – so I actually pay $0.20 per KWh ,I use that value to compare to).


In general, the residential retail electricity price is the generally accepted grid parity price.  With this price and our previous map of the levelized cost of solar, we can assess the state of solar grid parity.  The following map (see link)  shows the ratio of the levelized cost of solar to the grid parity price in each state.  Only Hawaii has reached solar grid parity without incentives.


As time rolls ahead, and grid prices rise while solar costs fall, the picture changes.  In five years (2016), three states representing 57 million Americans will be at solar grid parity: Hawaii, New York, and California.


There are other considerations in the grid parity calculation.

Solar vs. Grid Over Time

There’s one other calculation.  Let’s say that in 2011 solar still costs just a bit more than the grid electricity price, but that the grid price is rising at a modest rate each year.  In this case, solar may still be the right choice because the lifetime cost of solar (at a fixed price) will be less than the rising cost of grid electricity.  We can use an accounting tool called net present value to estimate the savings from solar compared to grid power over 25 years, and we find that for every percentage point annual increase in electricity prices, solar can be ~10% more expensive that grid power today and still be at “parity.”

Final Solution:

► Biochar production could Suck up CO2

Cornell University’s Johannes Lehmann thinks biochar – using organic matter to bury carbon dioxide in the ground – could be a large scale way to tackle global warming.


Win-win solutions can be hard to come by. But if Cornell University soil scientist Johannes Lehmann is right, there may be a way to lower our emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, save millions of people’s lives, and significantly boost the productivity of the world’s farms—all at the same time. And, most remarkably, his strategy is based on a deceptively simple technology invented 8,000 years ago.

Lehmann’s idea starts with organic leftovers that people normally burn or leave to rot—forest brush, corn husks, nutshells, and even chicken manure. When this stuff decays or goes up in smoke, it releases vast amounts of heat-trapping carbon into the atmosphere. Lehmann’s plan is to short-circuit this carbon cycle by creating a material called biochar.   Making biochar involves heating this organic matter without oxygen in a process called Pyrolisis. It can be carried out in a small household stove, or it can be an industrial operation. Either way, the Pyrolisis doesn’t produce carbon dioxide as ordinary, oxygen-fueled fire does. Instead, the carbon gets locked up in black chunks of charcoal-like matter.


Take that biochar and bury it in farm fields, and it acts like a giant carbon sponge holding in moisture and nutrients that boost crop yields. In 2003, Lehmann and his colleagues treated farm fields in Colombia with biochar and found they yielded up to 140 percent more corn per acre compared to biochar-free fields.

What’s more, the buried biochar turns out to be remarkably stable, locking up carbon for hundreds or even thousands of years. Lehmann’s calculations suggest that transforming the crop waste from 120 million hectares of U.S. farmland alone could sequester ten percent of the nation’s annual carbon emissions. Play that out on a global scale, and you can make a serious dent in climate change.

More  News:

China scales up solar power capacity plan

BEIJING, The government has set a target for installed solar power generating capacity to reach 15 gigawatts by 2015 and wind power capacity to hit 100 GW, China National Radio reported, citing an announcement from the National Energy Administration.

The ambitious move may have been encouraged by a rapid increase in solar power installation in recent months after the government unified grid feed-in tariffs for solar projects for the first time in July, and offered a higher price for projects that would be put into operation before the year end.

Installed solar power capacity at the end of 2010 was less than 1 GW in China  (USA was 2 GW), the world’s largest exporter of photovoltaic products and home to some of the industry’s top players, such as Trina Solar, JA Solar, Suntech Power and LDK Solar.

Of the planned 100 GW wind power capacity in 2015, 5 GW will be built in the ocean, it said. (USA & China both have about  43 GW in 2011).

China’s Nuclear Power Plans Unfazed by Fukushima Disaster

In the wake of the Fukushima meltdowns, some nations are looking to move away from nuclear. But not China, which is proceeding with plans to build 36 reactors .


Proctor & Gamble 2020 Energy goal = 30% renewable for 180 global plants.  Every corporation should do this !!!!

Finally:  We did Not make these Up !

Vermont aims for 90 % Renewable energy in 2050

Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan


Shell spills 13,000 gallons while drilling near Deepwater Horizon site

The area where the well was being drilled is about 20 miles from the site of the BP oil spill. Shell is working in water more than 7,000 feet deep. The well was being drilled by the Deepwater Nautilus, according to federal records. That rig is owned and operated by Transocean, the company that owned the Deepwater Horizon rig.   Note: Shell will be drilling in the Arctic next year.

►Rick Perry’s made-up ‘facts’ about climate change

“I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized. I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. Yes, our climates change. They’ve been changing ever since the earth was formed.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Aug. 17, 2011


This is a pretty sweeping statement about global warming by the newly announced GOP candidate for president. Perry has long been a skeptic of the science behind global warming, having highlighted that stance in his book, “Fed Up!”


But these remarks, made in New Hampshire, seem to take his skepticism to a new level, with significant and specific allegations:

1. A substantial number of scientists have manipulated data so they will have dollars rolling into their projects.

2. Almost weekly or even daily, scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.

How true is this?    The Facts (Washington Post):


The question of whether humans have contributed to climate change in recent years has generated increasing skepticism among the American public, especially as proposals to deal with the problem, such as reducing carbon emissions, have come with high price tags. But Perry is wrong to suggest that that skepticism has gained strength among scientists.


To the contrary, various surveys of climate researchers suggest growing acceptance, with as many as 98 percent believing in the concept of man-made climate change. A 2010 study by the National Academy of Sciences, which surveyed 1,372 climate researchers, is an example of this consensus. After all, it was first established in 1896 that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could help create a “greenhouse effect.”


There have been similar studies by, among others, the United States Global Change Research Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Yes, there are a few skeptics in the field, but even they generally do not question that human activity is warming the climate. A collection of statements by various scientific societies that support the consensus on climate change can be found here.


In response to our queries, Perry spokesman Mark Miner sent us a link to something called the Petition Project, which claims to have collected the signatures of 31,487 “American scientists” on a petition that says there is “no convincing scientific evidence” that human release of greenhouse gasses will “cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the earth’s climate.” The petition is a bit old, having been started in opposition to the 1997 Kyoto agreement on global warming.


But this petition doesn’t back up Perry’s claim of a growing army of scientists opposed to the climate change theory.


Only 9,000 of the signers actually have PhDs, and the list of signers’ qualifications shows only a relatively small percentage with expertise on climate research. (One study estimated that under the petition’s rather expansive definition of a “scientist,” more than 10 million Americans would be qualified to sign it.)

Another Perry spokesman, Ray Sullivan, provided links to a number of recent articles that he said demonstrated skepticism in the scientific community. We reviewed the articles, and they are anecdotal in nature, not evidence of the groundswell of opposition suggested by Perry.


Despite our repeated requests, neither spokesman provided any evidence to back up Perry’s claim that “a substantial number of scientists … have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects” — perhaps because that particular scandal appears to be a figment of Perry’s imagination.


Perry appears to be referring to hundreds of e-mails that were stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Britain and then disseminated on the Internet in 2009. One e-mail made references to adding a “trick” in the data, leading climate change skeptics to claim the data was manipulated.


But, although Perry claimed the scientists “were found to be manipulating this data,” five investigations have since been conducted into the allegations — and each one exonerated the half-dozen or so scientists involved.


So, in contrast to Perry’s statement, there have not been a “substantial number” of scientists who manipulated data. Instead, there were a handful — who were falsely accused.

The Pinocchio Test:

Perry’s statement suggests that, on the climate change issue, the governor is willfully ignoring the facts and making false accusations based on little evidence. He has every right to be a skeptic — all scientific theories should be carefully scrutinized — but that does not give him carte blanche to simply make things up.  The Washington Post rates This  as: “Four Pinocchios”.


Coming Next month: As Permafrost Thaws; Scientists Study the Risks. Yes – This is scarier than Politicians denying the science.


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