Renewables on the Rise: A Look at How Far We’ve Come

(3BL Media/Justmeans) — When you’re climbing a big mountain, sometimes it’s good to turn around and see how far you’ve come, even if you still have a long way to go. Certainly, the transition to a clean energy economy is a huge mountain, but the folks at the Environment New York Research & Policy Center, have given us a breathtaking look back on what has been accomplished on this climb over the past ten years. At a time when so little is getting done in Washington, and what little movement there has been, has been in the wrong direction, it’s heartening to see how much has been accomplished, primarily as the result of efforts by other actors.

The group reports in Renewables on the Rise, that “Clean energy is sweeping across America, and is poised for further dramatic growth in the years ahead. “

Here are some highlights.

  • America produced almost 8 times as much electricity from sun and wind as we did in 2007, and those two sources combined to produce 10% of the nation’s total for the first time this past March.
  • At the same time, the country is using nearly 10% less energy per capita than a decade ago. Nearly all of that decline was in fossil fuels. [in 2007, fossil fuel consumption was 85.927 quads, compared to 2016 when it was 78.569].
  • Breaking it down further, solar produced 43x more power than ten years ago, while wind produced 7x as much.
  • Energy consumption fell 14% relative to GDP, which should put to rest the idea that more energy is needed to grow the economy.
  • Electric vehicle sales surged in 2016 by 40% to 157,000 vehicles
  • Utility scale energy storage grew twenty-fold between 2007-2016.

The report also breaks down the data along several dimensions including geography. Not only did no one region of the country dominate the renewable scene, neither did political affiliation. A number of traditional “Red states,” including Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and North Carolina played leading roles in the deployment of solar or wind technology.

The Whole US Energy Picture in a Single Chart (Almost)

(3BL Media/Justmeans) — Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has released their annual US energy consumption chart (Click for larger image). Yes, it looks like spaghetti, but it contains a lot of useful information. It shows, on one page, how much energy we used in 2016, and specifically, what sources we got it from and what we used it for.

For starters, it says that we used 97.3 quads, which is short for quadrillion BTU’s. That’s a lot of energy. As Dave Roberts points out in Vox, that’s equivalent to 8 billion gallons of gasoline of 36 million metric tons of coal. It’s also the same amount that we used in 2011 and 2.2 quads more than we used in 2012.

However, in 2012 (Click for larger image), we used 17.4 quads of coal,26 quads of natural gas, 34.7 quads of petroleum, and 4.512 of renewables. Compare that with last year where we used 14.2 quads of coal, 28.5 quads of natural gas, 35.9 quads of petroleum, and 5.407 quads of renewables These four sources account for the bulk of the difference.

Perhaps the most startling information is found on the upper right hand side of the chart. That’s where it shows is the amounted of rejected, or wasted energy (an excellent measure of efficiency) and the amount of useful services received from all that energy.

Clean Power Plan Emission Targets Will Be Met Regardless of SCOTUS Pick

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Even as the Supreme Court remains deadlocked over the future of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the U.S. appears likely to achieve the CPP goals a full 14 years ahead of schedule. That’s according to a story by Daniel S. Cohan and Leah Y. Parks in The Hill. According to the authors, this early arrival will come courtesy of a combination of energy efficiency and alternative sources of energy.

Let’s take a look at the numbers. The CPP is looking for a 32% reduction in electric power generated emissions, relative to 2005, by 2030. As of 2015, emissions had already dropped by 15%. Although we don’t have numbers yet for 2015, we do know that coal use, by far the largest emissions source, dropped by another 12%. However, EIA has projected coal consumption to stabilize and increase slightly in 2017. The reason for this is unclear, but it’s worth noting that EIA has been fairly consistently wrong in their “long run projections.” At present, coal production is down 30% compared to the same period last year.

If the intent of the CPP executive order could be compared to a steady process of moving material from the top of a mountain to the bottom, in this case, moving from coal and other fossil fuels to cleaner sources, market forces have produced the equivalent of an avalanche.

Investment Impacts of Climate Change

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - We’ve all heard a lot about what we can expect from a changing climate. There will be increased droughts and flooding, food prices will likely rise, as will the level of the ocean. Growing seasons will shift as will the migration patterns of animals. Some species will move into areas where they had not previously been found.

New Rooftop Air Conditioning Standards Save Tons of Energy

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - With summer coming to an end, it’s time for many of us to put away our air conditioners, or shut them down for the season. That takes care of one significant contributor to our monthly energy bill. According to the DOE, air conditioning is responsible for roughly 5% of all the electricity produced in the US. It also accounts for roughly 9% of the energy used in a “typical” home, though, of course, that will vary widely by location. In commercial buildings, where equipment as well as people can have cooling needs, that number can be as high as 14%.

It’s true that here in the Northern Hemisphere, heating exceeds cooling as a portion of our energy footprint. But as we look to the future, much of the world that has yet to be developed is in the South. This portends a major rise in AC demand. According to the PBL Netherland Environmental Assessment Agency, global demand for cooling will exceed that for heating well before the end of this century.

Therefore, this is an excellent time for the US Department of Energy to propose new standards for air conditioner efficiency, since so much new technology is developed and/or marketed here in the US. That means that new designs meeting these higher standards will be available when the anticipated great surge in air conditioning takes place. This complements other energy saving standards we wrote about earlier this month.

The new standard would slash air conditioning energy usage by 30%. While that might not seem like a lot, given the tremendous amount of energy devoted to this sector, it turns out to be the largest energy savings ever achieved by any DOE energy standard*. The new standard is expected to save some 1.3 trillion kWh over its life. Because this new standard is specifically directed at commercial rooftop air conditioning, that amounts to some $16 to 30 billion in savings to businesses.

Obama Launches Host of New Actions and Commitments on Renewables & Efficiency

(3Bl Media/Justmeans) - There is a sea change gradually sweeping across this country, propelled, perhaps, by the idea of an actual sea change rather than the familiar metaphorical one. Seas are rising, become less salty, more acidic. Currents are changing direction, giving birth to new winds, some of them quite temperamental.

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