As Italian solar photovoltaic (solar PV) development continues to boom, figures have been released to show that the country’s solar production has surpassed wind energy production.
It has been suggested that this is the first time that a developed country has generated more electricity within solar PV than with wind energy, according to a report by Gestore dei Servizi Energetici (GSE).
Solar PV generated nearly 10.7 TWh of electricity for slightly more than 3% of internal consumption. Wind turbines, on the other hand, generated only 10.1 TWh for slightly less than 3% of supply.
Moreover, both solar PV and wind now produce significantly more electricity than Italy’s geothermal power plants, which during the past four years have consistently produced about 1.6% of Italian electricity supply.
While Italy remains second to Germany in total PV installations worldwide, growth of new solar PV installations continued robustly with nearly 2,500 MW installed in the first half of 2012.
Total installed solar PV capacity at mid year in Italy is about half of that in Germany: ~15,000 MW in Italy, to 28,000 MW in Germany.
While a significant portion of solar PV capacity in Italy is found in large solar plants, nearly one-third of Italy’s total solar PV capacity was installed by homeowners, farmers, and small businesses in 2011.
Allen & York recruit within the European renewable energy sector and have a number of solar PV roles in Italy, including:
The U.S. is going through the worst outbreak of West Nile virus in history, a problem likely to be exacerbated by climate change. Today, new research from the University of Michigan suggests that climate change is also likely to spread the flu:
[C]limate change could upset the carefully choreographed interactions between ruddy turnstone shorebirds and the horseshoe crabs that provide the bulk of their food during the birds’ annual stopover.
Climate change caused disruptions to the well-timed interplay between the birds and crabs could lead to an increase in the avian flu infection rate among ruddy turnstones and resident ducks, a Michigan University statement said.
Researchers say because Delaware Bay is a crossroads for many bird species traveling between continents, an increase in the avian infection rate there could conceivably help spread novel subtypes of the influenza virus among North American wild bird populations.
“We’re not suggesting that our findings necessarily indicate an increased risk to human health,” said Rohani, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, a professor of complex systems and a professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health.
“But every single pandemic influenza virus that has been studied has included gene segments from avian influenza viruses. So from that perspective, understanding avian influenza transmission in its natural reservoir is, in itself, very important,” Rohani said.
The common flu may sound harmless (though it still kills thousands of Americans per year), flu pandemics are deadly serious. The 2009 H1N1 pandemic killed between between 151,700 and 575,400 people, according to an estimate from Lancet. While this research is new, a longstanding and robust body of work suggests that global warming is likely to increase the incidence of a variety of illnesses.
Big Moves In Industrial Efficiency: White House Directive Could Stimulate $40 Billion In New Manufacturing Investments
It’s not a new solar manufacturing plant. It’s not a revolutionary wind turbine. And it’s not a fancy new electric vehicle. But a big clean energy initiative announced by the White House today may be a bigger deal than all of those combined.
Yes, the President is pursuing industrial energy efficiency — a lot of it.
Earlier today, Obama signed an Executive Order that sets a national goal of 40,000 MW of new combined heat and power (CHP) installations in the next 10 years, while directing various departments to initiate policies and technical assistance programs to help implement projects.
According to the White House, achieving these targets could bring between $40 billion and $80 billion in new capital investments to the manufacturing sector over the next decade.
CHP — a process that uses excess heat from electricity generation for air-conditioning or water heating, or uses excess heat to generate electricity — is well proven in both manufacturing and at power plants (see also “Recycled Energy — A core climate solution“). The U.S. currently has about 80,000 megawatts of electricity capacity from CHP — or about 9 percent of the nation’s overall portfolio.
However, as illustrated from the chart below put together by the Pew Environment Group, the U.S. is still far behind other nations in implementation:
The industrial sector accounts for about 30 percent of all energy use in America. So the U.S. can still do a lot more to make its industrial base more efficient — thus reducing carbon emissions, saving manufacturers money, and making them more competitive. The Obama Administration plan would increase America’s capacity of CHP by 50 percent over the next decade.
According to the Department of Energy, that could save up to $10 billion per year in energy costs and reduce annual CO2 emissions by 150 million metric tons, or the equivalent of taking 25 million cars of the road.
The announcement comes two days after the White House finalized new automobile fuel standards, which will boost the efficiency of the nation’s auto fleet to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 — reducing annual oil consumption by 2 million barrels a day and bringing in roughly $1.7 trillion in fuel savings for consumers.
And yesterday, the Energy Information Administration released data showing that renewable electricity from wind, solar, geothermal and biomass had doubled under the Obama Administration.
For more on why industrial efficiency is so important for reducing energy use and boosting competitiveness, check out this great primer from the Rocky Mountain Institute:
by Walter Frick, via BostInno
The central energy challenge we face as a nation and a planet is the transition away from fossil fuels, which contribute to climate change, to clean sources of energy. The most important debates in this area concern just how quickly this must be accomplished and how to do it in the cheapest way possible. Last week Mitt Romney’s campaign released its energy plan, which completely ignores all of this.
Instead, the plan focuses on the goal of North American energy independence by 2020 through expanded fossil fuel production. Unfortunately, as Michael Levi, an energy policy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in a review of the plan for Foreign Policy, “achieving energy independence through expanded supplies is a pipe dream.” You can read his review to find out why. I want to focus on the plan’s dismissal of clean energy.
The Romney Plan’s Only Mention of Clean Energy
The only mention of clean energy comes in the plan’s Innovation section, where it states support for basic research into new energy technologies, and notes that expanded development should apply equally to all sources. There’s no way to read this as anything except a commitment to drastically scale back existing clean energy programs like tax credits, applied research, and funding for commercialization. The terms ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ are totally absent.
Boston’s Cleantech Community on the Plan
I emailed a number of Boston’s most astute cleantech analysts and businesspeople for comment on the plan and what I heard was (unsurprisingly) overwhelmingly negative.
“It’s a political document not worth serious analysis,” said Mitch Tyson, a serial cleantech entrepreneur and a lecturer at Brandeis.
As Bilal Zuberi, cleantech VC at General Catalyst, put it:
I wish Mitt Romney understood the need for a true long term energy strategy for the US. Instead he is delivering where he sees money in the short term, i.e. continued focus on same old oil and gas sectors that have made us pawns in the hands of foreign governments.
I expected a Presidential candidate to understand he will be responsible for making decisions that would affect multiple generations. I don’t see how his energy policy at all link to the steady and growing concern across America for environmental pollution, global warming, and sustainable development.
Marcie Black of Bandgap Engineering pointed out another sin of omission: though it calls out clean energy subsidies, the document makes no mention of U.S. fossil fuel subsidies which are on the order of $10 billion per year.
Jim Cabot, SVP at Rasky Baerlein and a former EPA official, took issue with the plan’s nod towards resolving energy permitting issues. “Over the years I have found that blaming permitting is often a red herring for other more substantive problems,” he wrote. “Oh, and the approach of ‘I’ll just roll the dice with the future of the planet by rapidly accelerating carbon emissions’ gives me pause too.”
Romney Used to Appreciate Clean Energy, At Least a Little
Romney’s record on energy issues as governor of Massachusetts was mixed. He helped set up the Green Energy Fund, seeding it with $15 million from which to make cleantech investments. The Fund turned into MassCEC’s investment arm, which has done good work. On the other hand, he backed out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program for Northeast states.
His position on global warming has been consistently hard to pin down. In 2004, as he unveiled a climate plan for Massachusetts, he made the following hedge:
If climate change is happening, the actions we take will help. If climate change is largely caused by human action, this will really help. If we learn decades from now that climate change isn’t happening, these actions will still help our economy, our quality of life, and the quality of our environment.
Nearly a decade later, the evidence suggests climate change is even worse than we thought. It’d be nice if Romney would admit this. But despite the overwhelming scientific consensus on the issue, that won’t happen because of the delusions of the Republican base. Worse still, it’s no longer enough to just avoid taking a stance on climate change. That’s so 2004. Today, in our post-Solyndra world, you have to avoid supporting clean energy altogether.
The Media Covered What Was In the Plan, Not What Was Left Out
One of the most frustrating parts of Romney’s energy plan is that it actually succeeded in changing the conversation. The media knew they had to cover it, and so they covered what was in it. And so much of the press focus was squarely on the details around fossil fuel development, rather than its complete dismissal of cleantech.
The Debate We Should Be Having
The unfortunate thing about all of this is that we could be having a legitimate debate about clean energy policy. I know a lot of really smart people who favor clean energy policies like feed-in tariffs, deployment tax credits, funding for commercialization programs, loan guarantees or other government-backed financing mechanisms for scale-up, and more.
But if team Romney came out in favor of a low carbon price or federal electricity standard plus a significant increase in basic and applied energy research but against certain other policies that’d at least be a legitimate debate we could have.
Energy issues are complicated, as is climate change. Conservatives have a lot to add to the discussion with their appreciation for market forces and for the unforeseen consequences of government intervention. But with Romney as their candidate, they’re passing on the opportunity.
As Levi put it in the aforementioned review:
Reasonable people can differ on how much emphasis to place on climate change in U.S. energy policy, but it isn’t reasonable to ignore it entirely.
But we’re weeks away from a presidential election, so unreasonable is all we get.
Walter Frick is the Business Editor for BostInno. He’s passionate about the power of technology to improve the world. This piece was originally published at BostInno and was reprinted with permission.
Free Market Hypocrisy: Why Do We Hold Renewables To Different Standards Than Fossil Fuels And Nuclear?
Now that renewables are receiving some of the same incentives that fossil fuels have enjoyed for nearly one hundred years, we’re suddenly being inundated with calls for a purely “free-market” approach to energy development from politicians on the right and companies concerned about the growth of clean energy.
Their arguments make for good sound bites. But if we take a look at the history of energy development in the U.S., it’s very clear that we’ve never had a truly “free” market. In fact, all of the technologies that dominate our energy system today were given special incentives by the government in order to get them to commercial scale.
According to a recent report from the venture capital firm DBL Investors, the U.S. coal, oil, gas, and nuclear industries have cumulatively taken in more than $630 billion in tax credits, land grants, R&D programs, and direct investments from the government. That far surpasses the roughly $50 billion in government renewable energy investments (wind, solar PV, solar thermal, geothermal, biofuels) through these same mechanisms over the decades, according to the report.
But when renewable energy is given similar incentives — helping double the penetration of non-hydro renewable electricity since 2008 — the energy free-marketeers come out of hiding and lament how we’re supposedly “picking winners and losers.”
The Republican party’s platform released this week is a perfect example:
Unlike the current Administration, we will not pick winners and losers in the energy market-place. Instead, we will let the free market and the public’s preferences determine the industry out-comes. In assessing the various sources of potential energy, Republicans advocate an all-of-the-above diversified approach, taking advantage of all our American God-given resources. That is the best way to advance North American energy independence.
Sounds pretty straightforward. However, the RNC’s platform is very bullish on maintaining use of coal, a resource that is declining in the U.S. because of … current market forces.
According to the Energy Information Administration, we’ve seen a 20 percent drop in coal generation over the last year. That decline has been “primarily driven by the increasing relative cost advantages of natural gas over coal for power generation in some regions,” wrote EIA.
But when market forces move in the wrong direction for coal supporters, that is apparently when it’s okay for government to intervene. According to the RNC’s platform, the party wants to use the strength of government to “encourage the increased safe development in all regions of the nation’s coal resources.”
So there you have it. When the government encourages renewable energy, that’s called picking winners and losers. But when the government encourages coal — an increasingly-expensive resource that has become an environmental nightmare — that’s “the best way to advance North American energy independence.”
And the picture becomes even more complicated when looking at the forces behind the boom in gas production. In fact, the fracking technologies people love to hold up as a miracle of the free market were made possible through years of government investment.
A 2011 investigation from the Breakthrough Institute showed that the natural gas industry was able to commercialize fracking technologies only after decades of tax credits, government R&D programs, government assistance with mapping, and partnership with companies entering commercial scale.
A geologist from Mitchell Energy, a leading company that pioneered fracking put it this way: “I’m conservative as hell. But the “[Department of Energy] did a hell of a lot of work, and I can’t give them enough credit for that.”
The examples of government assistance to help commercialize energy technologies goes on and on.
And most people only know about the ones that are easy to track. There are other imbedded subsidies — things like land give-aways to coal companies or tax exemptions — that are hidden below the surface. Here are a few examples, as illustrated by this subsidies iceberg infographic from Earth Track:
This long history of assistance to energy technologies is completely lost in the current debate.
The latest political dust-up is over support for wind through the production tax credit, a performance-based incentive crafted by Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley that provides wind farm owners with a credit of 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour of electricity produced.
The credit is set to expire at the end of the year. Since it was introduced, the U.S. wind industry has been able to drop costs by 90 percent. However, because of suppressed natural gas prices (again, helped by decades of tax credits, commercialization partnerships, and R&D programs) the wind industry says it needs the tax credit for a couple more years in order to give investors certainty. If the credit expires at the end of the year, the industry could shed up to 37,000 jobs, according to a report from Navigant Consulting.
Extending the credit has very strong bipartisan support. After all, 81 percent of wind is installed in Republican districts nationwide. But there has been growing resistance from a band of free-marketeers who claim that the tax credit distorts the market, thus preventing Congress from extending the incentive for a year or two more. (Ironically, many of these same critics consistently vote to preserve permanent tax credits worth billions of dollars for the most profitable oil companies in the world).
At the same time, companies like the nuclear-heavy utility Exelon are pushing Congress to abandon the tax credit. Here’s what the company’s CEO said in a recent statement:
“These groups agree that it is now time for federal government to stop picking energy technology winners and losers through subsidies like the PTC and to allow market forces and state and local renewable portfolio standards to work.”
Exelon has a pretty substantial wind portfolio worth 900 megawatts of capacity. However, most of its portfolio — 93 percent — is made up of nuclear power plants. But if it were not for the immense support for nuclear through loan guarantees, government-backed insurance, waste containment programs, and cost-recovery allowances for cost overruns over the last five decades, we wouldn’t have much of a nuclear industry in this country.
But here’s something more remarkable: even while warning about “picking winners and losers,” Exelon executives have gone to the government to request loan guarantees and tax credits for its other operations.
In 2007, Exelon President Christopher Crane testified to Congress in favor of new loan guarantees for the nuclear industry. Of course, without these loan guarantees and government-backed insurance programs, no private investor would finance a nuclear plant in this country.
And just this year — two days after saying the production tax credit for wind should be ended — it was reported that Exelon would receive tax credits for two hydropower projects it had under development.
We desperately need an honest conversation about energy incentives.
In order to smooth out this complicated picture, there are some analysts and political leaders who say we should get rid of all subsidies to all technologies and let the free market hash it out. That’s an appealing argument to many. But it completely ignores the embedded impact of a century of support to fossil fuels and 50 years of support to nuclear.
It also ignores a more fundamental problem: Our climate is reaching a tipping point and we don’t have time to waste in transitioning away from carbon-based fuels. Period.
Most supporters of clean energy agree there will be a time to phase out incentives that are currently helping boost the industry. There are a lot of disagreements about exactly how and when it should be done, but that conversation is well underway as the cost of renewables continues to fall.
As we drudge through this political season and listen to the calls from selective free-marketeers on “picking winners and losers,” let’s remember how we got to where we are in the first place.
And more importantly, let’s remember where we’re trying to go.
Today, I’m going to tell you about an intriguing sustainability start-up called Energy Points, and its founder, a Greenpeace activist turned physicist named Ory Zik. But first, a word or two about the kinds of questions that Energy Points hopes to answer.
A not-so-serious question: I used to go through 3-4 pairs of running shoes a year, and hated to throw old ones away. So I’d pack them in a box, and send them to Nike in Oregon. The company’s ReuseAShoe program makes old shoes into playgrounds, or tennis courts, or materials for new shows. Nike has collected 28 million pairs of shoes since 1990. Does this make sense? Or would the world have been better off if I’d just trashed them?
A more serious question: You’re the chief sustainability officer of a big company. Working with the chief technology officer, you’ve just saved $1 million in energy costs by consolidating data centers and replacing old desktops and printers with efficient ones. Your CEO is so pleased that he’s told you to invest some of the savings in a sustainability project that will make a difference. Do you buy LED lights? Put solar on a warehouse roof? Install low-flush toilers in the restrooms?
“We don’t have any numbers to drive decisions,” says Ory Zik, the CEO of Energy Points, who, at age 48, is starting his third company. Particularly when comparing impacts across different arenas — energy, water and materials — there’s no common language.
“Saving a billion kilowatt hours versus saving a billion gallons of water — what is most important?” he asks. “What do you do–drip irrigation, solar panels, hybrid vehicles?”
Absent good data, the alternative — for companies and individuals — is feel-good environmentalism, or what a scientist I know calls “green bling” — rooftop solar in a shady neighborhood, or bike racks that score LEED points but rarely get used.
Energy Points, a software company, hopes to put science and data into the hands of sustainability decision-makers. The company says its platform
combines advanced analytics with complex resource scarcity data to translate all resources into primary energy, enabling a direct, one to one comparison of domains such as electricity, water and fuel.
Energy Points achieves this
by providing a universal metric and the first calculation engine that converts all metrics and resource domains into energy. Each of these resources require energy to produce, consume or manage – and the amount of energy that each require is measurable to a high degree of accuracy.
That sounds complicated, and behind the scenes, it is. But the goal is to take an immense amount of data and turn it into accessible metrics to help guide corporate and government actions around sustainability.
I met Ory recently in D.C. to learn more. He was visiting EPA, DOE and GSA to try to sell them on the value of Energy Points, which publicly released its software just six months ago after more than a year of development. The company has raised about $4.5 million in financing from Plan B Ventures, a Boston-based angel-style investor that backs clean tech and life science start-ups. It is based in Cambridge, MA, and is advised by scientists from MIT and Harvard.
Before starting Energy Points, Ory was the founding CEO of HelioFocus, a solar thermal company, and of QuantomiX Inc., a microscopy company. A native of Israel, he has a Ph.D. in physics from the Weizmann Institute of Science and started Greenpeace Israel in the 1990s.
“Greenpeace uses a lot of numbers, but the numbers don’t have context,” he told me. “As a physicist, you’re trained to analyze data and use it rigorously.”
What Energy Points has done is created a unit of measurement known, not surprisingly, as an Energy Point. One point is the amount of crude oil needed to produce one gallon of gasoline. Other resources — kilowatt hours of electricity, gallons of water, a ton of solid waste — are then translated into energy points. (Ory compares these to the points that are part of the Weight Watchers’ weight-loss system.)
This isn’t simple because the accounting depends on local conditions. An array of solar panels in a state that depends heavily on coal-generated electricity has more sustainability value than the same array in a state where more of the power comes from wind or hydro. Beyond that, solar in Phoenix also delivers more sustainability value than solar in Boston, for obvious reasons.
Here’s a map created by Energy Point that compares the fuel mix across the US. Higher numbers indicate a fuel mix with lower carbon emissions. So a company with facilities all around the country that wants to buy renewable energy would do so in regions with low numbers, if it wanted to maximize its impact. (Other maps are here.)
None of this, alas, would be necessary if energy, water and materials were priced right. But of course the costs of carbon emissions are not priced into our electricity bills and some places int he US actually give away water for free. Price, Ory told me, is at best a very imperfect indicator of the scarcity of a resource or of its environment cost.
Several customers are now experimenting with Energy Points. They include researchers at Harvard University and several FORTUNE 500 companies, which Ory declined to name.
Unfortunately, for now, the software can’t be used to guide personal decision-making. Should I spend my extra bucks on wind-powered electricity, organic food, carbon offsets, new windows for my home or none of the above? Until we price things right, it’s anybody’s guess.