Top Green Energy Advances Mitt Romney doesn’t Want to Hear About

As the deleterious effects of hydrocarbons like coal, gas and oil continue to be felt in the world, the peculiar US dedication to these poisons that produce illness and climate change will increasingly disadvantage it. The US will be open to lawsuits or diplomatic and trade reprisals for acid rain, ocean acidification, rising sea levels, and drought and crop failures. Moreover, other countries with more extensive green energy will have economic advantages over the dirty old US. And, developing countries will look to wind and solar innovators elsewhere than the US for their energy plants. Pakistan is contracting with a Czech firm, not an American one. Others are turning to China for solar panels. Romney’s US will be left behind.

Production prices are falling in wind and solar, and efficiencies are increasing, literally by the month. Since we are going to get there eventually, and since carbon emissions are so damaging, the world’s governments should be actively punishing use of hydrocarbons and actively promoting green energy. And, some are. In contrast, Romney wants to get rid of wind power tax breaks, e.g.

Japan is doing a trial run of offshore floating wind farms. The country is facing an energy crisis after its nuclear complex at Fukushima was hit by a tsunami.

China has just approved its largest solar power farm yet, in Datong, with a capacity of 300 megawatts.

Pakistan has a severe electricity shortage, to the point where there are street protests against blackouts. The Sindh provincial government is now turning to wind power, partnering with a Czech firm, in hopes of generating a new half-gigawatt from that source for the megopolis of Karachi. The electricity crisis is driving the country’s major political parties to begin looking at renewables to meet its needs. I am wondering if the close relationship of Muslim League leader Nawaz Sharif with Saudi Arabia has kept the PML from pursuing green initiatives. The Sindh wind farm is being promoted by the Pakistan People’s Party.

A fourth wind farm project is being planned for Oaxaca in Mexico, as that country seeks to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2020, only 8 years from now.

IBM says it has made a breakthrough in making an efficient thin solar panel from inexpensive, widely-available materials such as copper and tin rather than rare-earth metals. Such a development would allow a significant expansion of solar energy.

In enormous countries like India, individual states often dwarf most countries. Karnataka in India now has over a gigawatt worth of planned solar capacity in the pipeline, promoted by state government. Karnataka is already a leader in wind energy, with 2 gigawatts of installed capacity. The state’s ambitious plans already on the books could generate 60% of its electricity needs in coming years.

And, Gujarat state in the northwest is pioneering public-private partnerships to put solar panels on building rooftops.

Even in red-state Texas, solar power is now thought essential to meeting the state’s peak-power demands as its population and industry grow.

Green energy is already being generated a grid parity with hydrocarbons in many places, but it needs better storage (the sun doesn’t shine at night, and wind doesn’t always blow, so you need to store the energy for later use, but right now there aren’t good ways to do that on a massive scale). Companies are experimenting with hydropumps (pumping water uphill and allowing it to run back down), but also with ski-lifts and compressed air and water.

19 Responses

  1. Interesting that there are no comments on this yet. Of course, I think most of us who read this material are probably inhabitants of the same echo chamber. We do have a clue, though, unlike so many who don’t seem to have much long-term concern, just a desire for 1950 to return as they imagine it was, and as they imagine themselves as they would like to have been.

    • Bill, you got it: The key to the whole mess is the press: There is a world of difference between what one finds in the Internet (everything left and right, good and bad) and the MSM. Hopefully the general public is moving more and more to the Internet so that they can make informed decisions.

  2. Recommend an excellent book on climate and governance of the earth.

    “Down To The Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse” by David W. Orr.

    I have been reading it slowly, but I am finding it profound.

    As a political scientist with decades working on environmental issues, his comments on the infantile Americans driven by a half a trillion of advertising shows how far we are from a politics and a culture that can deal with the long emergency of climate collapse. This could well mean the end of civilization.

    Fundamentalist religion is a mixed bag of many contradictory issues, but their alliance with energy, finance through many avenues, including “The Family” where world leaders and very wealthy people pray together to continue the plunder to themselves.

    Quoting Bill Mckibben on page 128 “America is simultaneously the most professed Christian of the developed nations, but the least Christian in its behavior.”

  3. “the sun doesn’t shine at night,”

    No, but the salts it can heat remain molten and can be used to power steam generators. I think researchers at M.I.T. (irony) developed a method for thermal storage using molten salts.

  4. The retooling of industry to take on global warming isn’t likely winning compared to accelerated pace of Arctic melt and subsequent catastrophic methane release from sediments, in and near frost layer in sediment on continental shelf of Arctic Sea and continuing onto shallow North slope tundra..
    It is a race against time to contain rapid expansion of release of greenhouse gasses before it become impossible..
    To speed that race’s dark hour dark horse from behind so life on Earth wins out over physical properties of heat trapping gasses and to spur success of what can give incentive of hope perhaps a goodly dose of application of Act of God alteration.

  5. The future lies in solar and wind power.

    Right now the association of coal producers are having representatives appearing at regional GOP executive comittee meetings to promote coal products.

  6. It not only mittens tha has this problem 0 is allowing Shell to start drilling in the Artic and has called for more clean coal and nukes plants. In the mean time countries like Germany like you point out and Holland as I point out are moving break knex speed to resolve the energy problems of the future. Then here in Amerika will still haven’t done s*&^ about the nations grid. Amazing

    The pumpimg water up hill is used here in Calif. but you never get back what took to pump water up the hill. There some large irragation pumps near me that this winter will add generators turbines after the pumps to recover 80% of the power used. It’s a start.

    • has called for more clean coal

      It would be more accurate to say that he has called the bluff of the coal industry on “clean coal.”

      What he has actually done is issue regulations left and right that are shutting down coal-fired power plants and prohibiting the construction of new ones, using pollution regulations, while pinky-swearing that he’ll support “clean coal” technologies just as soon as the industry solves that whole pollution thing.

  7. Solar is far from being a cost efective energy source. Subsidies are the only reason some electricity is been produced at all.

    The recent drop in solar costs are, either inexistent or short run variations selectively chosen to give that impression.

    You can´t really make predictions based on so wildly optimistic assumptions about solar costs.

  8. I would be grateful to any one who could help me over my senior moment, of failing to see how ski-lifts can be used to store wind- or solar-genterated electricity.

  9. An energy-engineering-and-efficiency commentator blognamed Engineer Poet runs a blog called The Ergosphere. He has discussed the renewable-source-electricity storage problem in some of his posts. One of those posts (which I don’t have the patience to try finding) notes that while we can’t easily store electricity, we can store some of the things it does. He gives the example of windpower in Holland. When windpower-electricity is excess to ongoing power use needs, that windpower-excess is diverted to Holland’s deepfreeze foodstorage warehouses to chill them even colder than the safe deepfrozen temperature. When the windpower dies down, those deepfrozen foodstorage warehouses can cruise on stored superchill for several to many hours, warming “up” to a still-safe very cold temperature. Then they draw conventional power through the grid from conventional sources to stay at that still-safe temperature until there is another windpower surplus which can superchill them back to even-colder-than the safe storage temperature. In essence, these deepfreeze warehouses are being used as “super-chill storage batteries”, storing the cold which windpower electricity produced.
    link to ergosphere.blogspot.com
    (Engineer Poet also supports various in-his-mind new and improved nuclear power technologies. I hope that doesn’t scare or repel anti-nuclear people from reading all the rest of his work).

    And a thought occurred to me: renewably produced electricity could be used to electrolyze water into oxygen and hydrogen and the hydrogen could be stored until needed for electricity generation by fuel-celling it or conventionally burning it to turn turbines.

  10. The nice thing about this kind of discussion is that it gives a smidgen of hope that people, writ large, might be capable of thinking in terms of something other than unbridled combusto-consumption and profit and domination, and what might happen after they are dead.

    But there’s still so much of that pick-a-winner thinking and believing: which technology will RULE, in a game that’s driven by competition and covetousness, especially in light of the unanticipatable popping up of newer-faster-cheaper? Put your money on a winner is the game of too many players, from financializationists to plodding government bureaucrats working at a 19th-century pace (out of career-concern necessity) to bribed legislators and hopeful CEOs of startups with great new ideas that may turn into blind alleys and dead-ends in the blink of a ‘net post and tweet.

    But I guess, for the sake of my grandchildren, I should be glad that there’s at least an appearance that, except for the grifters and extractionists and their trolls and trulls, there’s some small evidence that a different ethos about the oikos might be taking root. Query whether it’s going to be buried by megatons of overburden from “bullshit-shovel-ready projects” like the “Coalfields Expressway,” a marvelous bit of so-typical deceit: link to sierraclub.typepad.com. Or zapped by UV or drowned by CO2 or rising ocean levels or asphyxiated by extinction of ocean phytoplankton, a la “Soylent Green.”

    What it takes, I think, is a fundamental revision of the basic approach to life. Something that even some reactionary “Christianists” are starting to discover is consistent with even the text of the Old Testament where so many of them find those “the Bible says” references to support their world view. That bit about wise stewardship and all, rather than use-it-up-before-Jesus-comes-back Dominionism. It’s about silly stuff like eschewing plastic bags, and even tiny little nods toward “ecology” like smaller, thinner, shallower plastic caps on your thinner, lighter vitamin-water bottles.

    And of course it’s not a universal motion — the Obamanauts have lit the fuse on oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, and of course they are pushing “clean coal” as part of a Wise Strategy Of Energy Independence. As if “we” can keep spewing “our” externalities under the doctrine of American Exceptionalism, ad nauseam and ad mortem.

    Oh, and I guess we should be gratified that, according to latest doctrine, the Navy is “going green.” But guess what? A gallon of french fry-based jet fuel, which the Navy plans to be using ever more of, costs something like $30 a gallon: link to townhall.com, and probably has its own set of externalities in production. That’s a kind of “substitution behavior,” PR and career-driven, that only seems to make sense.

  11. With regard to sheer availability of potential energy, there is no doubt that solar is the best technology to solve our problems.

  12. Professor Cole, I appreciate your insightful comments about the environment. I wish that more of the media did the same. Thank you. M.L. Squier [a.k.a. Mad Plato "the blogger", not the other guy.]

  13. Whether Romney wins or President Obama wins the next 4 years will be taken up trying to reach the smallest of understanding or compromise with the close minded yet centrally controlled Republican legislators. We have seen since 2008 what they are capable of not producing and the benefits they look to develop for themselves and their creed at the expense of the citizens. Despite any individual or political commitment to the issue there will be no break through to a sustainable economy or sustainable development, nationally in the US. The battle will continue and any compromise or “bi-partisan” legislation will be slow and diluted by the process.
    The leverage and movement in the US will come from the many acting for the many.Just as big money is trying to buy political control and only individual commitment and involvement can win the immediate battle, the same holds true for the larger, longer and more involved war on the destruction of our eco systems.
    Individuals, business, state and local governments have to move and take advantage of the tools and knowledge that is now available without having to meet the high priced guidance of consulting and software companies who have spent the last years exploiting the possible for their private gain and the improved efficiency and lower energy cost for their customers alone.
    The tools, training and job creation opportunities are there; and to borrow a page from the Father Knows Best Republican ‘We Built It” clan; we need to measure, GHG Inventory, acting locally in an organized and deliberate process, creating data, sharing technology and proven and possible ideas, building a carrot mob of GHG statistics on a grand scale, then we can manage, earn and save. We need to take hold of the tools for a new economy, before they become the exclusive property of the smart money crowd.
    Whatever your position on man induced climate change, global warming or what a sustainable economy looks like, to continue to do nothing is foolish and not in the least smart business.

  14. As I see it, the conversation here needs input from electrical engineers with experience in the design of electric distribution systems. Bringing more and more unpredictable levels of green energy into an electric grid is going to introduce, at some level, instability problems.
    I am not an electrical engineer.

    Traditional power grids serve customers who collectively place a variable load on their distribution system. The designers meet this load with a system of base-load generators and other controllable power sources.

    “Green” power grids are also expected to provide reliable power to customers who have a variable demand. But, green grids will be getting power from both controllable and uncontrollable generators. The simulation studies I have seen indicate that, because of instability problems, the uncontrollable energy sources may have a practical limit of about 30 percent of peak-load.

    • The grid can be re-done to accept higher levels of non-coal/gas inputs, as in Portugal, and computerized grids can feed in and dial back wind, e.g. Hydropumps, molten salt pits and other forms of large-scale storage can stabilize the grid. These problems are soluble. As for the money to be spent, it is minor compared to the costs of ever-increasing climate change.

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