TWITE 08.24.17

Posted August 23, 2017

Hello reader, and welcome to the latest edition of This Week in the Environment! Today we are going to get out our crystal balls and try to divine the future—of energy, that is. What will it take to create a sustainable energy future, and what is the lay of the land right now? For everyone who accepts the facts about climate change, there are no reasonable alternatives to going 100% renewable as quickly as possible. Fortunately, as you can read in this week’s articles, that goal is not out of our reach. Renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal are becoming more economical by the day, and nearly every country in the world has access to at least one renewable resource. All it takes is the political will to create the necessary market conditions for renewables to truly thrive, and we can ensure a healthier, happier future for generations to come.

—Jon Conway, Ph.D., Greenpower Research Director

5. Despite Low Solar Power, California's Electric Grid Ran Smoothly During the Eclipse Los Angeles Times

As one of the largest solar-heavy electricity markets in the country, California used the recent eclipse to test the reliability of its grid—and passed with flying colors. One of the big criticisms of solar and wind is that they rely on time of day and weather to create electricity, so without any storage or backup generation they are unable to provide consistent round-the-clock energy. However, California’s grid managers were able to seamlessly ramp up other power sources to cover the brief loss of solar energy caused by the celestial event. The successful juggling of California’s complex energy market during a major disruption is a sign that the grid is more robust than previously thought. While the backup power sources were mostly natural gas and hydroelectric this time around, the rapid rise of renewables and electrical storage means that the state could be powered 100% renewably during the next solar eclipse.

"I think the grid can handle a surprising amount of solar penetration — more so than we originally thought — and it will be able to handle more once we get more battery storage online." Handa Yang, UC San Diego Center for Energy Research

4. Nuclear Power Plants are ‘Bleeding Cash’ ThinkProgress

Nuclear power is a divisive issue among those pushing for a zero-carbon future. Those in favor of nuclear often claim its strength as an emission-free baseload power producer makes it invaluable to a fossil-free future, while those against (myself included) argue that those benefits are not enough to justify such a dangerous and costly power source. Between the deadly waste products with lifetimes longer than the human species, the illegal uranium smuggling to build nuclear weapons, and the potential for catastrophic failure a la Fukushima and Chernobyl, nuclear fission power remains a grave danger to our civilization. The recent abandonment of two South Carolina nuclear plant projects raises another point that may be the last straw for nuclear—it can’t turn a profit. Around the world, new nuclear power projects are coming in behind schedule and massively over budget, or, like South Carolina’s plants, are being cancelled altogether. If even “America First” Energy Secretary Rick Perry can’t justify taxpayer support for a completely non-competitive energy source, environmental debates may be the least of the nuclear industry’s worries. Whatever the global energy future may be, it looks like nuclear (fission!) won’t be a part of it.

"Let it be written that environmentalists didn’t kill the nuclear power industry, economics did." Chris Tomlinson, Houston Chronicle

3. Geothermal Energy Could Support Central American Low-Carbon Economic Development CleanTechnica

One of the strengths of renewable energy technologies is that nearly every place in the world has the benefit of at least one renewable resource. Hot, sunny Australia is ripe for solar. The US East Coast, with its massive, shallow continental shelf, is perfect for offshore wind. And Central America has enormous geothermal resources—resources it can tap to provide constant, near-limitless, cheap, clean power to the people that live there. Most industrialized and developing nations relied and still rely on harmful fossil fuels, which all too often profit the few at the expense of the many. Renewable energy is not only cleaner but presents the opportunity to create a much more equitable energy economy, as was well-illustrated by Chile in last week’s TWITE.

2. Solar-Plus-Storage Poised to Beat Standalone PV Economics by 2020 Greentech Media

A day might come soon when putting up solar panels without a battery or other storage technology will be as unconventional as building a house without a roof. Solar+storage is inching closer toward profitability as the technology improves. As the market grows, experts predict that this form of greening electricity will go into the black by 2020 in some areas. One of the big reasons solar and wind haven’t already dominated the energy landscape is that they produce power intermittently. If enough storage can be deployed economically to smooth out the gaps, there will be little to stop the renewable revolution and a cleaner future for ourselves and the planet we live on.

"The hype might actually be real. If these somewhat conservative projections do come true, then yes, by 2020 solar-plus-storage will be a cost-competitive source of dispatchable energy." Paul Denholm, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

1. 139 Countries Could Transition to 100% Renewable Energy Under New Plan NBC News

Just to establish the feasibility of a completely renewable future even further, a team of scientists and experts have laid out plans for more than two-thirds of the world’s countries to get all of their energy from wind, water, and sun in the next 30 years. Their plan covers all nations that had energy data available, and includes all the major players—the US, China, and India—that are contributing to climate change. They estimate that transitioning to renewables will prevent nearly 5 million deaths and $30 trillion—nearly half of the Gross World Product—in climate-related costs every year, all while creating tens of millions of jobs and stabilizing the world’s electrical grids. The drawback? The demise of the fossil fuel industry (and the main source of funding for climate change denying politicians). What are we waiting for?

"We strive to reduce energy costs, create jobs, stabilize energy prices, eliminate air pollution, health problems and eliminate global warming simultaneously. You don’t need to believe in global warming to believe in 100 percent clean, renewable energy, which has so many additional benefits." Dr. Marc Jacobson, Stanford University

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