Top Ten Green Energy Good News Stories

1. Environmentalists and peace advocates are hoping that cooperation on solar energy projects can help foster peace between Israelis and Palestinians. What this article doesn’t say is that such cooperation might also allow the two sides to avoid future conflicts over resources. The gas fields off the coast of Israel and Gaza could become an object of competition. And there is a looming water crisis that could drive conflict, which might be averted by solar-powered water purification plants. Green energy can also possibly avert the worst impact on the Middle East of global climate change, which will hit Israelis and Palestinians disproprotionately.

2. Saudi Arabia plans to become, well, the Saudi Arabia of solar energy production. Plans are being made to stretch power cables to Egypt, where the population of 82 million is hungry for energy. While Egypt has great solar potential of its own, it is oil-rich Saudi Arabia that has the spare cash to invest at the moment in solar installations. And few places on earth have more sunlight and less flora and fauna than the Kingdom’s Empty Quarter. (Saudi and other plans for nuclear plants may have been muted by the Fukushima disaster).

3. The photovoltaic plant at Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates not only powers a major research facility in the city but exports extra power to the UAE grid. AME Info writes, “Masdar Power is currently constructing the 100MW Shams One, one of the largest concentrated solar power plants of its kind in the world and the largest in the Middle East. Located at Madinat Zayed, 120km southwest of Abu Dhabi city, the project, is on schedule for completion towards the end of 2012.”

4. In Turkey, GE is pioneering with a half-gigawatt hybrid power plant that combines wind, solar and natural gas.

5. There have been “ferocious” cost reductions in the price of solar energy. And, the industry is growing by leaps and bounds. The equivalent of 17 nuclear reactors’ worth of solar installations shipped in 2010.

6. State and federal tax policy has helped boost wind power over gas and coal in states with high wind potential. States that don’t encourage renewable energy by tax policy are essentially committing mass murder against future generations (present tax policy often favors hydrocarbons unfairly and, criminally).

7. Brazil is seeking to triple its renewable energy generation by 2020, with an emphasis on wind. The government is investing in the renewables much more than in hydrocarbons.

8. Google is increasing its research and development budget for its program to make solar energy cheaper than coal, and is working on grid issues, as well.

9. Global solar capacity grew 73% in 2010. Solar is still only about .5% of global electricity production, but that is an enormous increase over only half a decade ago, and the prospects are for big leaps forward over the next decade.

10. The largest wind farm in Europe has just begun production in Scotland. It will power 250,000 homes. Scotland has made it of the highest priority to get 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025, among the most ambitious such plans in the world.

The reason these stories are so important, despite the so-far small contribution of wind and solar to world energy production, is that they point to a near future in which they generate a substantial proportion of the world’s electricity. We are in a race with disaster because of the ever-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and soot we a spewing into the atmosphere. We are at 393 parts per million of carbon now, up from 380 only a couple of years ago. 450 ppm of atmospheric carbon has been identified by scientists such as James Hansen as the point at which life on earth as we know it begins to look unsustainable. We’ll be there in short order if current trends continue.

These charts from the NOAA Mauna Loa Observatory may tell the striking story of a human species marching to a doom at its own hands, not only blithely unaware of the approaching calamity but actively denying it out of a tragic mixture of greed, shortsightedness and stupidity.

C02 at Mauna Loy Observatory

C02 at Mauna Loa Observatory

See
James Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity
for a clear outline of the scale of the challenge.

8 Responses

  1. the issue of energy is of relevance: resources, translated in the population issues worldwide (migrations, overall growth).

    changing our ways structurally by taking food, water and energy out of corporatism and financial equations might reverse quality of life issues for the better and even mere survival might be at stake. can do (the pointed at green initiatives) might be not good enough if they are realized along the lines of profit.

    m.

  2. Another impact of solar and wind energy, at least for some countries, will be economic. Instead of having to come up with hard currency to buy oil from overseas, you can generate the power locally.

    And on a different level, it seems like solar and wind plus good batteries or gas turbine backups have the potential to change the world in the same sort of way as cellphones–in a lot of countries, it’s hard to build large-scale infrastructure because of corruption or incompetence or instability or whatever. But if you can buy a solar installation once, put it into your village, and have power for the next ten or twenty years, you no longer have to talk or bribe someone into hooking you to the country’s power grid, and you’re no longer vulnerable to that power grid’s unreliability.

    • Along the lines you’re discussing, maybe the way out of the global economic crisis is labor-intensive energy. Meaning that instead of a permanent drain of cash to fossil fuel exporters, each country swings the money to building renewables at home, which will require many employees for maintenance even after construction is over.

      We’ve been inculcated with the capitalists’ hatred of labor-intensive, versus capital-intensive, big projects to the point where we’re now afraid to try big initiatives like dams. But now we’re looking at many small labor-intensive projects that spread risk.

  3. Excellent of items that I appreciate your posting.

    And, as per your first one, smart energy policy can help on multiple grounds — including in conflict resolution and reducing of risks of future conflict. (Re: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, see this concept: Israelis/Palestinians: There is a common enemy … link to getenergysmartnow.com )

    And, while in agreement, writ large with much of your list and the emphasis, there are important issues in the details. For example, re #5: “The equivalent of 17 nuclear reactors’ worth of solar installations shipped in 2010.” In fact, 17 gigawatts of solar were installed which creates the 17 nuclear facilities at 1 gigawatt per nuclear power plant. However, that is “capacity” rather than “utilization”. There is a simple reality: the sun doesn’t shine 24 hours a day and there are minor issues like clouds. Very roughly, it is reasonable to think of solar in the 15-20% utilization range. At 20%, that would put the solar deployments at the equivalent of about 3.5 gigawatts of 24/7 production. Nuclear power plants, in the OECD countries (with a minor little hiccup in Japan radically changing things), have a utilization rate more in the 85-95% range. Taking 90%, that would translate 17 gigawatts of capacity to about 15.3 gigawatts of 24/7 electricity production. This is not meant to be an argument for (or against …) nuclear power but to enrich the substantive understanding of the implications of the 17 nuclear reactors comment/claim/figure. (And, as you point out, solar electricity production prices are falling dramatically — for centralized and distributed systems –, making them more competitive in more places virtually every day, and solar is deploying far more rapidly than nuclear, even in pre-Fukushima days.)

  4. Juan- excellent update, but a question.
    Why did you two exactly the same charts about CO2 at Mauna Loa?

    Also, do you really think solar powered desalination can provide enough water for more than just household use in Israel and Palestine? Agriculture consumes a lot of water.

  5. The declining price of solar PV makes me and others hesitant to commit to investing in a solar array . Because of the large initial outlay costs are recovered over the span of years in the form on reduced electrical payments to the utility company. The analysis that I have been presented with called for a break even point 10 years into the future, assuming utility charges rise at their current rate. At the end of 10 years I would then be saving money on electricity but would only have a 10 year old solar array as equity. Think of what a ten year old computer is worth. If I wait for the price and capability of solar PV for another few years I would have a more valuable array and for less cost then buying one now. Since the initial outlay would be less then I would still reach the break even point at the same point in the future as if I bought today. So why buy now?

    • That’s the kind of thinking that is killing the planet — “Why buy now?” Because after all, that would be money out of YOUR pocket, the way you limit your calculations, and the smart, selfish person waits until other people have paid off all the development and externalities, so that the maximum amount will stay in the pockets of you, and the rest of the humans that think that way, to tickle their pleasure centers to the max.

      “Break even point?” What a sorry way to calculate personal gain to a nicety, without regard to all the stuff YOU can leave other people to pay for, just the maximum benefit to yourself. But of course I saw the same thing pointed out in an Economist blogwar, and the self-interested person representing your viewpoint, noting that so many other people reckon the same way, decreed he would be a fool to do otherwise.

      And another thing that is going to kill the species is time frame and greed-shriveled notions of comity and horizons: People who think this way, who speculate on petroleum and dump crap into the water and air and steal everything they can from the Real Economy to enrich their own living-large, know that they are immune to the consequences of their actions.

      Like the Wall Streeters say, “I’ll be gone – you’ll be gone.” Off to some residual semi-tropical paradise of pleasure and ease, before the crap really hits the fan or, like the dictators fleeing the righteous anger in this Arab Spring, just ahead of the sans culottes, with a private jet and a bunch of hidden bank accounts containing the birthrights of the people they dominated. They will die comfortably, cared for by the best nurses and doctors money can buy, long before the desperate and destitute and desiccated rabble can get to them and exact some retribution.

      By the way, a solar panel is not a computer. Technology may leapfrog what you buy today with an increase in efficiency and of course cost reductions as people convert, but 40 to 80 year life spans are right there to see. link to envirocitizen.org , and any number of other googleable articles. The ones that light my boat and run the refrigeration are 10 years old and going strong. Gee, how many coal- or gas-turbine or nuclear-fueled power plants can match that kind of service life?

      But never mind, your kind of thinking dominates, now doesn’t it?

  6. All the solar you are writing about is solar electricity, and predominantly utility scale. Small scale solar can be just if not more effective.

    Basic solar electricity is a few square inches of solar electric cell, a few rechargeable AA batteries, a cell phone, a radio. Add a hand crank or bicycle generator and you have a reliable source of electrical power, day or night, by exercise or sunlight. This level of primary and secondary solar power is available and affordable all around the world now. We just don’t recognize it.

    In the OECD nations, this scale of solar energy system is emergency and disaster preparedness, a solar civil defense because Solar IS Civil Defense, and possibly camping trips. The next largest scale, one square foot and up, is one window/one room portable systems suitable for tenants.

    For the 1.5 billion or more people in the world who do not now have access to reliable electricity, this same scale could be affordable LED light and cell phone power. There are even buy one, give one programs that can team these two markets together.

    That’s just solar electricity. What about solar thermal?

    Juan Cole’s list doesn’t mention solar thermal anywhere but solar heating and cooling is being used all around the world today and could be used much more. Solar thermal is simply
    light reflects
    dark gets hot
    clear keeps the wind out

    This can be as basic as solar disinfection of water with a clear plastic bottle. Simple solar cookers and desalinators can be made from trash. Clear and dark plastic or glass, aluminum foil, mylar or mirrors, white sheets, old umbrellas. Solar architecture has been in vernacular architecture for a long while for both heating and cooling. We just have to take advantage of it.

    Another aspect of solar that we also tend to ignore is agriculture, including landscaping and ecological systems design

    I boiled down all I know about simple solar into a half hour on youtube divided into eight segments:
    link to solarray.blogspot.com
    link to solarray.blogspot.com

    I wonder if anything on those videos could be useful to people in the Middle East and North Africe, among other places.

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