Conversion to Renewable Energy is Going Too Slow to Avoid Catastrophe – Part 3

by on February 17, 2015 · 2 comments

in Culture, Economy, Energy, Environment, Health, History

Renewable Solutions Are Here Now and Technically Feasible Today
By Frank Thomas and John Lawrence
Here is Part 1 and Part 2

6a00d8341cca9453ef01b7c74c9f94970bIt is now clear, at least from a technical perspective, that we could eliminate fossil fuels over a period of 20 to 40 years. That’s if we went full steam ahead without being blocked by fossil fuel corporations, the politicians beholden to them and various other vested interests who stand to profit from the status quo.

In 2009 Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and Mark Delucchi, a research scientist at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, came up with a detailed, groundbreaking road map for just how this could be accomplished. Their study showed how 100% of the world’s energy could be supplied by wind, water and solar (WWS) resources by as early as 2030. Their paper, which appeared in Scientific American, is called “A Plan for a Sustainable Future by 2030.”

Their plan includes not only power generation but also transportation, heating and cooling. Jacobson and his colleagues are developing a state by state plan to accomplish this shift. Whether it is politically feasible or not remains to be seen. All sorts of forces are collaborating against it – namely those who don’t even agree that climate change is a threat to human civilization.

As Jacobson told the New York Times, “It’s absolutely not true that we need natural gas, coal or oil – we think it’s a myth. This really requires a large scale transformation. It would require an effort comparable to the Apollo moon project or constructing the interstate highway system. But it is possible without even having to go to new technologies. We really have to just decide collectively that this is the direction we want to head as a society.”

The problem is that in today’s society large scale government directed projects like the interstate highway system or the transcontinental railroad are just not on the table. Even the space effort has been defunded. These projects which would provide tremendous numbers of good paying jobs are not ideologically correct according to the prevailing mindset that government can do no good.

And private enterprise is not about to take them on. They would require money from somewhere, and there is much resistance to new taxes. The money could be provided, however, in the same way Abraham Lincoln got the money for the transcontinental railroad – by just creating it as fiat money or establishing a public bank.

According to the Constitution, money creation is the task of the central government, but it has been delegated to the big banks, which create money every day by fractional reserve banking and to the Federal Reserve which creates fiat money on a large scale by quantitative easing and essentially gives it to Wall Street.

Jacobson and Delucci’s plan for New York State has already been completed and is being considered by Governor Cuomo. Here is the essence of the plan:

“Converting to wind, water and sunlight is feasible, will stabilize costs of energy and will produce jobs while reducing health and climate damage,” said Jacobson.

The study is the first to develop a plan to fulfill all of a state’s transportation, electric power, industry, and heating and cooling energy needs with renewable energy, and to calculate the number of new devices and jobs created, amount of land and ocean areas required, and policies needed for such an infrastructure change. It also provides new calculations of air pollution mortality and morbidity impacts and costs based on multiple years of air quality data.

Renewable2The study concludes that while a WWS conversion may result in initial capital cost increases, such as the cost of building renewable energy power plants, these costs would be more than made up for over time by the elimination of fuel costs. The overall switch would reduce New York’s end-use power demand by about 37 percent and stabilize energy prices, since fuel costs would be zero, according to the study. It would also create a net gain in manufacturing, installation and technology jobs because nearly all the state’s energy would be produced within the state.

The plan specifies actual numbers of wind generators required both onshore and offshore, the exact number of solar power plants and rooftop systems and the exact number of geothermal, tidal and hydroelectric power systems. At the present time, almost all of New York’s energy comes from imported oil, coal and gas. Under Jacobson’s plan, 40 percent of the state’s energy would come from local wind power, 38 percent from local solar and the remainder from a combination of hydroelectric, geothermal, tidal and wave energy.

If New York switched to WWS, air pollution–related deaths would decline by about 4,000 annually and the state would save about $33 billion in related health costs every year. That savings alone would pay for the new power infrastructure needed within about 17 years, or about 10 years if annual electricity sales are accounted for. The study also estimates that resultant emissions decreases would reduce US climate change costs – such as coastal erosion and extreme weather damage – by about $3.2 billion per year. Then why doesn’t New York state, one of the most progressive in the US, actually go ahead and implement this plan? Good question? Answer: all sorts of forces are arrayed against it, namely lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry and other large corporations.

“We must be ambitious if we want to promote energy independence and curb global warming,” said study co-author Robert Howarth, a Cornell University professor of ecology and environmental biology. “The economics of this plan make sense,” said Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell engineering professor and a co-author of the study. “Now it is up to the political sphere.”

What Would $1 Trillion Get You in Terms of Renewables

Software entrepreneur, venture capitalist and philosopher Tom Rand has written a book called Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit, 10 Technologies to Save Our World. Each of the 10 chapters is devoted to a different kind of renewable energy. It is beautifully presented with luscious pictures and full of optimism. He points out that the sun’s energy that hits 1% of the Sahara desert is enough to power the whole world. The potential is there but there is also the need to accelerate the capital flow that is required to build renewable infrastructure. Once built the energy is virtually free. Trillions of dollars went into saving the banking system in 2008. The military-industrial-intelligence complex consumes about $1 trillion annually. Yet there is a pittance for renewable infrastructure from Congress. What a statement about American values! Rand asks the question after each chapter, “What would $1 trillion get you in terms of renewable energy systems.”

Solar energy development is the most advanced technology and its deployment in several forms is well under way. For example, the 17 megawatt Solar Tres development in Spain when completed will be the world’s first commercial molten-salt central receiver plant and will feature a field of 2600 heliostats and a 15 hour molten-salt storage system.

Concentrated solar power technology or CSP is now making a rather strong comeback as a result of technical innovations and much improved thermal storage solutions that counter solar energy’s perennial problem of intermittent supply. While US and Spain are the world’s leaders in this technology, a number of CSP plants are now under development globally. The main customers are industrial firms and commercial buildings and even large apartment complexes and condominiums.

There are several projects in the Mojave Desert which supply energy to southern California homes. BrightSource’s LPT solar thermal system is operating at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) in California’s Mojave Desert. The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility is a 370 MW facility which consists of three separate solar thermal power plants just off interstate highway 15 on the Nevada-California border in the Mojave Desert. Ivanpah, which began commercial operation in 2013, is delivering power to PG&E and Southern California Edison. The project is currently the largest solar thermal power plant in the world and it doubled US production of energy from solar when it went online. Ivanpah was constructed by Bechtel and is operated by NRG Energy of Carlsbad, CA, one of the project’s equity investors. Google is also a partner in the project.

Renewable12Unlike photovoltaic technology, which converts solar radiation directly into electricity, the Ivanpah facility generates heat. More than 300,000 mirrors gather tremendous amounts of sunlight and focus it on three 40 story high towers filled with water, raising temperatures to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and producing steam that spins turbines that generate electricity. The desert region—thanks to its elevation and clear, dry air—receives reliable sunlight 330 to 350 days per year. The complex will reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by more than 400,000 tons per year. These large projects in the desert are being subsidized by the Obama administration.

The Ivanpah plant is not without controversy however. Birds flying through the area have been killed by the intense heat. A proposed plant is on a flight path for birds between the Colorado River and California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea – an area, experts say, that is richer in avian life than the Ivanpah plant, with protected golden eagles, peregrine falcons and more than 100 other species of birds recorded there. The toll on birds has been surprising, said Robert Weisenmiller, chairman of the California Energy Commission. “We didn’t see a lot of impact” on birds at the first, smaller power towers in the US and Europe, Weisenmiller said.

A trillion dollars invested in solar energy could replace half the coal-based production in the US today

Now consider wind energy. The US Department of Energy estimates that wind could generate 15 times the world’s total energy needs. T Boone Pickens has called the US “the Saudi Arabia of wind.” Large scale wind power is the fastest growing energy source in the world. One large turbine can provide energy for more than 6000 homes.

Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center is a large wind farm with 735.5 MW capacity. It consists of 291 GE 1.5 MW wind turbines and 139 Siemens 2.3 MW wind turbines spread over nearly 47,000 acres of land in Taylor and Nolan County, Texas.

Panther Creek Wind Farm in Texas with a 457.5 MW capacity features 305 GE turbines. Built in three phases, the farm became operational in 2009, and provides enough electricity to power 135,000 average homes.

Buffalo Gap Wind Farm in Texas with 523.3 MW capacity was built in three phases called Buffalo Gap 1, 2 and 3, and consists of GE, Siemens and Vestas turbines. Phase one was developed by SeaWest WindPower, but is owned now by AES Wind Generation, who saw the completion of phases two and three.

Built in five phases, the Sweetwater Wind Farm in Texas features approximately 350 turbines provided by GE, Mitsubishi and Siemens and has a 585.2 MW capacity.

Built in two phases and on track for a possible third, Fowler Ridge Wind Farm in Indiana consists of 355 turbines provided by GE, Vestas, and Clipper. Built on 50,000 acres, the farm can power 200,000 average homes and is owned and operated by BP Alternative Energy North America Inc.

With 407 turbines—also provided by GE and Siemens—the Capricorn Ridge Wind Farm in Texas with a 662.5 MW capacity can generate electricity for roughly 220,000 homes and is owned and operated by a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources.

Roscoe Wind Farm in Texas is the largest completed wind farm in the world with a 781.5 MW capacity. The farm’s 627 wind turbines—supplied by GE, Siemens AG and Mitsubishi—cover 100,000 acres of land. The complex is capable of powering 260,000 homes. The $1 billion investment came primarily from GE Financial Services and a subsidiary of Wachovia Corporation, as well as E.ON Climate and Renewables, which currently owns and operates the farm.

The Alta Wind Energy Center in California with a 1550 MW capacity rises from the shadows of the antiquated Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm, one of the oldest and largest wind projects in the United States. Newer, larger and more efficient turbines are replacing the aging ones that fill the pass—remnants of California’s wind energy push over thirty years ago. The Alta-Oak Creek Mojave Project is currently under construction and will consist of 320 large high-capacity wind turbines generating 800 MW.

The project is headed by Terra-Gen Power, a renewable energy company with wind, solar, and geothermal projects throughout the United States. Terra-Gen owns and operates seven wind projects in the Tehachapi-Mojavi wind resource area with a total of 617 turbines. They broke ground on the new Alta-Oak Creek Wind Farm in mid-2010. Once complete, the combined farms will together comprise the largest wind farm in the world, providing power to more than 275,000 California residences, and offsetting 5.8 billion pounds of carbon dioxide, 28 million pounds of sulfur dioxide, and 13.2 million pounds of nitrogen oxide emissions annually.


So what do you get for a trillion dollars invested in wind power? You could replace 20% of the US energy supply with maybe another $200 billion to get the energy to where it’s needed.

Geothermal Could Provide All the US’ Energy Needs

Geothermal energy comes directly from the Earth’s heat, the only source that is not directly or indirectly dependent on the sun. Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) revolve around the simple idea that high temperature heat can be found almost everywhere if you only drill deep enough. EGS are engineered reservoirs created to produce energy from geothermal resources that are otherwise not economical due to lack of water and/or permeability. EGS technology has the potential for accessing the earth’s vast resources of heat located at depth to help meet the energy needs of the United States. This energy source is colossal. Total energy available within six miles of the earth’s surface is 130,000 times the energy needs of the entire US. There are more than a million geothermal installations in North America alone, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. Geo-exchange can change the face of heating and cooling. No other technology can touch it.

One such project is Planet Traveller, in downtown Toronto, where Tom Rand and his business partner Anthony Aarts have just built the greenest hotel in North America. Their goal was to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from a “business as usual” scenario. Located in downtown Toronto, accessing space to drill the boreholes proved to be a challenge. The building occupied the entire footprint of the property, so the City of Toronto made history by granting CleanEnergy access to the public laneway beside the building for installation of the ground loop. They buried 4000 feet of pipe in ten holes drilled into the publicly owned laneway. They went so far as to pass a resolution encouraging the use of Toronto’s public land for geo installations, setting up a task force to determine the process.

A MIT report established that there is more than enough accessible EGS energy to power the entire planet for thousands of years. By July 2008 a deep geothermal test well called Jolokia 1 had been drilled to a depth of 12,526 feet in Australia’s Cooper Basin.

So what do you get for a $1 trillion investment in geo-exchange? It could provide heating and cooling for 80% of US households generating the energy equivalent of more than 1.5 billion barrels of oil every year. For $1 trillion of EGS you would get 400 GW of capacity enough to fill three quarters of all US energy needs.

Biofuels like algae could fuel all the trucks in the US

This could happen with production on an area of land that is about half of 1% of the current farm land we now use. There is no other resource that even comes close in magnitude to the potential for making oil. This assumes that biofuels will stop competing with food crops for arable land, water and fertilizer.

With a little help from the Japanese corporation IHI, Alabama can now lay claim to the world’s first algae biofuel system that also treats municipal wastewater, resulting in a carbon-negative process. IHI’s Algae Systems LLC company has just completed a demo run on a 40,000 gallon-per-day plant that deploys floating photobioreactors in Mobile Bay at Daphne, Alabama.

What you do is to take long, durable plastic bags, fill them with a nutrient-rich growing medium (wastewater, in this case), throw in some algae, and let sunlight work its magic. The algae grow quickly in the closed environment, and there’s your biofuel crop.

The Daphne Utilities wastewater treatment plant chugs away at three million gallons per day, so there’s plenty of wastewater to spare for the new demo plant. That takes care of the water supply angle, which is something that bedevils conventional algae farming.

Renewable5The choice of local algae means that up-front costs are nothing compared to developing a proprietary strain. It also provides for lower running costs, since the local algae are already acclimatized and require no special environmental controls. That also translates into lower energy use.

The cost and energy consumption angles also come into play with the choice of floating the photobioreactors out in the bay, rather than building new infrastructure on land. The bay waters help to stabilize the internal temperature, and the waves provide a natural means of keeping the contents mixed for optimal growing conditions.

As the algae grow, they take up the nutrients in the wastewater, which would otherwise require an energy intensive treatment process. That’s the carbon-negative deal in a nutshell. According to IHI, after the algae is harvested, the result is clean water than can be discharged into the bay without risk of creating dead zones.

Estimates are that for $1 trillion you could get enough third generation biofuel, mainly algae and halophytes, to replace about half of the total world oil supply.

Hydropower is already in use most notably at the Hoover dam

The Hoover Dam was completed in 1936 as part of Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal.

It provides enough power for more than 2 million homes. Hydropower has been used for thousands of years. Water wheels were used by the Roman Empire. Grist mills dotted the early landscape of the United States. Millers were ubiquitous on small streams, creeks and rivers. Bringing them back along with small reservoirs could mitigate the flooding we have seen lately which will only increase due to global warming and also provide a source of clean water especially in the western drought regions.

The Grand Coulee dam on the Columbia River is the largest power producing facility in the US and the fifth largest producer of hydro electricity in the world. Only one fifth of the hydro power that is technically feasible has been harvested. Norway generates almost all its electrical power this way. These power plants have the potential for energy storage by pumping water uphill when demand is low and releasing it when demand is high.

Niagara Falls in addition to being a tourist attraction generates a huge amount of electrical energy. The biggest hydroelectric power plant in the world is on China’s Yangzte River – the Three Gorges Dam. It generates 22 times the power of a medium coal fired or nuclear plant.

There is the potential for run-of-the-river hydro power generation which generates power while relying on a river’s natural flow without the need for dams and reservoirs.

So what do you get for a trillion dollars? You could build about 250 GW of electric generating capacity, enough to replace two thirds of American coal-based or nuclear energy production.

Energy can be gotten from the ocean

either through harvesting the power of waves or from harnessing tidal flows. The French built a generator in the Rance Estuary that delivers enough power for 240,000 homes. Verdant Power’s free-flow tidal hydropower project on New York’s East River was the first grid connected array of tidal turbines. The tiny Channel Islands of Guernsey have the potential to generate the equivalent of 25 medium sized coal plants.

UK based Lunar Energy and South Korea’s Korean Midland Power are developing the world’s largest tidal power project off the coast of South Korea. The giant 300 turbine field is expected to be providing 300 MW of renewable energy by 2015.

For $1 trillion we could develop all the world’s potential tidal power. That’s equivalent to all US coal-based or nuclear electrical production.

Smart buildings and houses

like Germany’s Passivhaus reqire no active heating or cooling. A “Net-Zero” building generates as much energy as it consumes or maybe a little more. The government in the UK has announced that as of 2016 all new homes will be built Net Zero. Reskinning existing buildings can save dramatic amounts of energy.

LED lighting uses one tenth the energy of an incandescent bulb releasing almost all its energy as light and not heat, a huge improvement. They also last 50 times longer.

For $1 trillion you could re-skin condo buildings and office blocks that support a total of 50 million people.

Transportation options such as bicycles,

trains and electric cars will gradually transform the way we get from A to B. Local production and consumption could save fuel wasted by transporting food and consumer items over long distances.

For $1 trillion, if we split it in half allotting $500 billion to bikes and transit in the 50 biggest cities and $500 billion to high speed rail, we could revolutionize America’s transport system including 20,000 miles of high speed rail.


There are other great ideas too if only a funding mechanism could be found to implement them. Take high voltage DC current (HVDC) for example. We mainly use AC current. It is superior to DC for short distances. For really long distances, however, it turns out that DC is more efficient because there is less energy lost in the resistance of the power line. Swiss company ABB is currently building the biggest HVDC transmission line ever in China. It will carry 6400 MW of power over more than 1240 miles. ABB has also built the longest underwater HVDC cable a 360 mile link between Norway and the Netherlands.

Energy Internet

Renewable6All these forms of energy generation and transmission will need an Energy Internet or a smart grid to utilize them most efficiently. Right now energy transmission uses a dumb grid, the equivalent of the US highway system before the advent of the interstate highway system built under the auspices of President Eisenhauer.

Utility companies build enough power plants to accommodate peak power consumption so most of the time they sit idle. If we had a smart grid that could move energy efficiently, there would be no need for so many idle plants. Energy could just be moved to where it was needed instead of having to be generated locally. Dumb grids can’t hook into small renewable projects efficiently. They are designed to transport power away from a central generating plant outward like spokes on a wheel. With a smart grid, there would be two way communication between energy suppliers and energy users in the home, for instance, washers and dryers.

Europe is planning a network of underwater HVDC cables that would form a Supergrid linking offshore wind farms all over Europe from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The Supergrid is expected to increase the capacity of offshore wind farms from 40% to 70% as well as to provide a single continent-wide electricity market. The first phase covering the UK, Germany and Holland is expected to provide enough electricity for eight million homes. HVDC lines in the US could transport solar energy in the southwest and wind energy in the midwest to wherever it’s needed.

So what would we get for a trillion dollars? A smart grid that covers the US or Europe.

Renewable energy could be created almost anywhere and be efficiently store or transmitted almost anywhere else. Utilities could talk to customers in real time reducing demand by 50%.

All these ideas are good and some of them are great and far sighted. So why are we not implementing them full speed ahead? A supergrid would of necessity be something that would have to be planned at the national level just as the interstate highway system was. Regional cooperation would be a necessity. But there is no cooperative spirit among the various states and localities not to mention at the national level. The American government is dysfunctional. While lobbyists pursue their penchant for drilling loopholes in the tax code for their respective corporate overlords, public policies do little more than guarantee that private interests will trump public benefits. Individual self-seeking takes precedence over planning for the benefit of all.

Renewable Energy Systems Require New Storage Development Technologies

Conventional fossil fuel electricity generating plants do not have a means to store the electricity generated. Neither for that matter do wind and solar. That means that all electricity generated is used in real time or is wasted. The plants have to have the capacity for generating enough electricity for peak energy demands. For off peak demands that is clearly overkill. Renewable energy generation also has the drawback that 1) solar cannot be generated during night time hours and 2) wind energy cannot be generated when the wind is not blowing. A smart grid which could switch sources depending on energy needs at any particular time and what energy sources were currently available would go a long way to solving these problems. However, energy storage systems are a necessary component of the equation as well.


Batteries are being developed today which store electricity. There is also a technology called Electrical Thermal Storage (ETS) which stores excess electrical energy as heat which can be used later for heating and even other uses to which heat can be converted. Let’s discuss ETS first.

Electricians have been installing electric thermal storage heating systems for 30 years. These systems use “off-peak” electricity which is nothing more than the practice of using electricity when most others are not using it (ie when demand on the grid is low and electricity is plentiful). The leading manufacturer of electric thermal storage heating equipment in the US is the Steffes Corporation in Dickinson, North Dakota. Since it is well-known that the wind blows most strongly and consistently at night and in the winter, Steffes has been expounding for several years on the synergy between wind generation and ETS, which uses electricity at night to heat ceramic bricks to high temperatures. The heat is stored for use the following day during times of “peak” electricity use. This technology for using electricity to make and store heat was developed in Europe 50 years ago where it has been in continuous use for all that time. It is environmentally much friendlier than chemical batteris, and far less expensive to manufacture and install as well.

The storage medium of ETS is ubiquitous and environmentally safe, the principle components of which are ceramic brick, clay and silica (sand). The bricks can be safely disposed of when one has ceased using them by simply digging a hole in the ground and burying them! It does require intense heat to fire the clay into a hardened brick, the same heat as is required to fire any ceramic object. The cost of implementation is a mere fraction as compared to any battery storage system.

As far as scalability is concerned, ETS is what is called a “distributed” technology. Each ETS installation is sized according to the amount of stored heat that is required by the application being served. It is not typically used for large scale operations.

Chemical battery systems are under development which can store electricity as electricity so could perhaps be more versatile in the long run for more general applications. One advantage of ETS is that it is commercially available today.

The largest ETS units store about 500 kWh of energy. Certainly there can be a series of units ganged up to make a very large storage system. Today’s units aren’t designed to generate steam but conceptually this is achievable. Conversion efficiencies (from electricity to heat) need to be considered when comparing various systems. With regard to conversion losses, ETS has very high round trip efficiency (90+%), especially when compared to battery storage, and can have many years of deep cycling. Since ETS units are nearly always installed in a space where heat is needed, any heat lost from the unit is going into the same space so there really isn’t any loss at all.

In contrast, batteries would have round trip efficiencies between 50-80% with comparatively a much shorter life span. In the case of storing energy in an ETS unit as heat and then converting to steam to regenerate electricity, there could be a pretty significant efficiency hit. Grid scale storage with ETS could be achieved by installing many units at point of use (i.e. – residential homes, commercial buildings) and aggregating these loads. This would constitute a huge “thermal battery” that has super high round trip efficiency and the ability to impact the electric grid as much as any electric/electric storage system, and could do so at a significantly lower cost and longer life expectancy.

Since the growth in CO2 emission levels is dangerously far outpacing the global conversion to sustainable, non-polluting energy sources as a percentage of total energy consumption – making it impossible to avoid a 4°C temperature increase by 2050, we need all proven green solutions, semi-proven solutions, and promising break-though solutions to be on the table.

Chemical Batteries Are Being Developed by Tesla to Power Their Cars

Lithium-Ion batteries are being developed by Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, because they are a necessary component of electric cars. Similar technology is being developed by Ambri Corporation and others to store electrical energy off the grid. Ultimately, this will result in a cost savings from not having to build such huge capacity generating plants which must be capable of peak demand.

Big name investors are seeding the industry with big money. Ambri has the financial backing of Bill Gates and the French energy company, Total. Ambri’s battery consists of two liquid metals and a salt solution. It could be a multi-trillion dollar annual industry according to some forecasters. The perfect battery could store solar and wind energy as it’s being generated and integrate it into the existing grid. Much of the existing generating plants powered by fossil fuels are designed to provide power for the few hot days in the year when air conditioning is on full blast. To avoid this waste, energy storage is essential. Other companies in the race to make the perfect battery are Exergenics, Aquion, Urban Electric Power and EAS.

A report on December 26, 2014 by Ali Velshi on Al Jazeera was titled “The Great Battery Race.” Based on the report, there are 12 companies vying to come up with the best battery. According to Donald Sadoway, professor of Materials Chemistry at MIT, when you can draw energy from wind and solar and store it, this will create a game changer especially for developing countries.

Molten salt has also been used as a storage medium in California as mentioned previously. Solar power towers in the desert (Solar 1 and Solar 2) near Barstow, California have been successful with this. The unique feature of Solar Two was its use of molten salt to capture and store the sun’s heat. The very hot salt was stored and used when needed to produce steam to drive a turbine/generator that produces electricity. The system operated smoothly through intermittent clouds and continued generating electricity long into the night.

Another storage solution is using excess electricity to pump water uphill. Then when it is needed, it generates hydro electric power as it returns downhill.

Summary and Conclusions

The projected future energy demands particularly in India and China bode ill for the continued use of fossil fuel energy. The big oil companies project that fossil fuels will be the main source of energy generation in the 21st century. Yet some countries like Germany and Denmark are rapidly converting to renewables like solar and wind. Energy storage systems could revolutionize energy systems by making it unnecessary to use fossil fuel electrical generation as a backup. Large scale ramping up of renewables will be necessary to combat dire climate change. This means that renewable technology must be shared with India and China and the US must hasten the transition to renewable energy which is totally feasible except for the fact that lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry are doing everything in their power to prevent that and to slow down the transition.

Renewables11Germany’s 2010 renewable energy targets of 30% of primary energy and 50% of electricity from renewables by 2030 are far ahead of schedule. This is being accomplished mainly by wind and solar PV (photovoltaic), combined with other renewables, aggressive energy efficiency measures, and progressive storage solutions. The country’s impressive renewable energy and energy efficiency programs are democratizing clean energy supply. Excess homeowner electricity generated from a solar system can be sold back to the grid. Thus, you have the option of earning back your electricity payments. The results? Citizens, communities, and cooperatives now own more than half of Germany’s renewable capacity vs. less than 3-4% in the US because fossil fuel energy corporations consider this anathema to their profit margins. Distributed energy creation democratizes not only the generating of electricity but the profits therefrom as well.

Frank Thomas has done an amazing amount of research which shows that modest conversion to renewables will not prevent catastrophic global warming. The approach must be full steam ahead as countries like Denmark and Germany have been doing. They have shown the way, but in terms of the entire world, they represent a very small part of global warming mitigation. The US must lead the way not only in converting to renewables on a massive basis and on a short term time scale but also in terms of sharing the technology and resources with China and India both of which represent a huge amount of potential energy consumption. Whether that energy will be generated by fossil fuels or by renewables will likely determine the fate of Planet Earth.

Just on February 10, 2015, California lawmakers introduced sweeping new measures to increase renewable energy and cut fossil fuel use.Governor Jerry Brown also needs to ban fracking as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo did. While California continues exponential growth in solar energy with rooftop system installations for single family homes and businesses more than doubling in the past two years, solar installations for condos and apartments need to be facilitated.

The budding cordiality in the relationship between President Obama and India’s recently-elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, might just foretell a partnership to combat global warming. It’s too early to say if that’s the case but it’s starting to look that way. The two world leaders held a joint press conference and issued a joint statement—both referencing agreements regarding clean energy and climate change.

If a trillion dollars devoted to building renewable energy infrastructure seems like a lot of money, bear in mind that we devote that much every year to the military-industrial-intelligence complex. The more money we devote to war, the more enemies we create, the less peaceful the Earth gets and the less livable the Earth’s environment gets due to neglect and lack of funds. Trillions of dollars devoted to war and preparations for war in the 21st century have done little more than to destabilize the Middle East – making ISIS possible – and slaughter and render homeless, displaced and stateless countless civilians which in turn has created enormous anti-American sentiment. If this money were to be devoted to peaceful pursuits on a global basis such as building and sharing renewable energy technology, perhaps future climate change disasters could be averted and good will among nations fostered.

Next: Part 4 – Where We Have To Go and What We Have To Do Despite Political, Economic and Philosophical Opposition


Frank Thomas’ bio:

FranksmallA graduate of Bowdoin and Dartmouth colleges, I was an independent management consultant and entrepreneur working with Dutch international shipbuilding and offshore oil/gas contracting firms for many years. In recent years, I have been a trainer for such firms as ING, DSM, Siemens, the Dutch Ministries of Foreign and Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Justice in The Hague and have been a teacher/lecturer at The Hague University and NTI University in Leiden. Training and lecture subjects covered have included: finance, legal writing, commercial law, report writing and presentations, advanced English writing and conversation.

I’m an independent-minded Mainer, a liberal-conservative. Over some time, I have come to loath the mind numbing indoctrination inherent in the “ideological-pure-money-talks” game poisoning our national dialogue and directions on extremely serious structural problems. Such times of striking change call for a fusion of the “brightest and best” ideas/reforms for prudently balancing legitimate public interests, social concern for the common man’s welfare with a thriving market-innovative capitalism.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

sean M February 17, 2015 at 10:38 am

Its great if solar can cost as much as convemtional fuels but this piece neflects to mention that the ivanpah “solar” plant is producing less than half the power forecast through solar. Ivanpah received permission to make up the difference through its on site natural gas generator. It is also applying for a federal grant, ostensibly to pay back a federal loan. If ivanpah is the gold standard like this piece mentions, take the benefits for $1 trillion and cut them in half. The fossil fuel companies may compare this piece’s assumptions with ivanpahs actual performance as an indictment against renewable energy corporation lobbying.


SolarEyes February 26, 2015 at 2:04 pm

Stanford Plan for 100% Wind Water and Solar for all global energy purposes by 2030-2050.
Professor Jacobson presenting at NASA:
7.5 million 40-year Jobs created in the US, replacing 3.5 million lost jobs related to fossil fuels
3% of GDP improvement due to healthcare cost savings from cleaned air.
Greatly reduces water demand and contamination
Bio fuels cause as many or more air pollution deaths than gasoline
Nukes produce 9-25 times more CO2 than wind power per kWh

50 Plans for 50 States


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