Can we save Europe’s ski slopes?

I know what you’re thinking. You have an excellent opportunity to broadcast any of the myriad of concerning climate change impacts, and you have chosen the decadent, first world problem of disappearing ski slopes.

You self-centred, amoral mouthpiece for the Roxy clad, couldn’t-care-less-what-impact-this-chopper-has-on-the-pristine-mountain-environment-so-long-as-I-find-the-powder, champagne sipping elite.

Here’s why: one of the fundamental aspects of climate change that makes it so difficult to solve is the inequality problem; those with the most power to take action are often those who will be impacted the least. So, understanding the scale of the impact that Europe’s ski resorts face from rising temperatures and mobilising the industry and its clientele into action is very important.

What have we seen so far?

The last three years have not been great for the ski industry. In December 2016, Switzerland saw the least snow for any winter month since record keeping began. Beneath this fact is a worrying trend: our ski seasons are getting shorter. A paper published in 2016 shows that the blame lies with earlier snow melt in Spring more than later snowfall in Winter, but the season is being chipped away on both sides. Compared to 1970, the snow season now starts on average 12 days later and ends 26 days earlier. The season continues to decline at an average rate of 9 days per decade.

decline-in-season

Figure 1. Snow onset, snow melt and snow cover duration between 1970-2015. Black lines represent the mean of 7-year running averages from 11 resorts (Klein et al. 2016)

How bad could it get?

A study by the OECD, a group of developed nations, remains one of the most comprehensive assessments of the threat faced by slopes from warming in the Alps. Published in 2006, the detailed report looks at the vulnerability of ski resorts on a case-by-case basis for a total of 666 resorts in France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy.

To measure the vulnerability of a resort, the study uses the 100 day rule which is based on the concept that for successful operation, a ski resort requires a snow-cover thick enough for skiing for at least 100 days per season. Although not a precise limit, the 100 day rule is widely accepted as a good rule of thumb and a resort with over 100 days of sufficient natural snow is referred to as having natural snow reliability.

In 2006, 90% of the 666 resorts assessed enjoyed natural snow reliability, with the remaining 10% operating in ‘marginal conditions’, i.e. at risk of closure without special measures.

oecd-natural-snow-reliability-europe

Figure 2. Resorts with natural snow reliability under different warming conditions, by region (OECD, 2006)

A 2ºC rise in global average temperatures, a target currently being chased by the majority of the world’s countries, will knock around 260 of these resorts below the 100 day threshold, putting them at risk of closure. However, this is may be an optimistic scenario. Not all of the scientific community is confident that we will manage to limit warming to 2 degrees.

If we continue on our current path of greenhouse gas emissions, warming is predicted to reach around 4ºC by the end of this century. In this case, 464 of Europe’s ski resorts could be put out of business, leaving only 30% of the resorts that we have today in operation.

Winners & losers

The impacts are not evenly spread throughout Europe. Home to some of the lowest resorts, Germany will be affected more than any other country with 80% of ski areas losing snow reliability at 2ºC and 95% at 4ºC. Austria is the next most vulnerable country followed by France, Italy and then Switzerland.

resort-altitutude-regional-oecd

Figure 3. Mean piste top and piste bottom altitudes by region (OECD, 2006)

However, the greatest variability exists within countries. For example, the Savoie region in France, one of Europe’s least vulnerable regions, supports some of the highest resorts in the Alps including Tignes, Val-Thorens and Les Deux Alpes where lifts will take you up well beyond 3000m into the troposphere.

Just 50km down the road is the Haute-Savoie region, which despite the name, is not quite so haute. It contains some of the most popular resorts for Brits such as Morzine, Les Gets and Avoriaz but the Haute-Savoie is one of Europe’s most vulnerable ski regions.

Haute-Savoie will lose natural snow reliability in 50% of its resorts after 2ºC of warming and 80% of resorts after 4ºC of warming. This compares to only 10% and 30%, respectively, for the Savoie region.

The consequences of this disparity, particularly when occurring in such close proximity, could be an exodus of skiers from lower to higher resorts. Higher resorts could stand to gain from climate change.

Make it rain snow

Although they may not be a sustainable solution, snow cannons are the preferred choice of weapon against climate change for most ski resorts. However, an organisation in Las Vegas, Nevada, may give us a glimpse of the future. The Desert Research Institute has been perfecting the art of cloud seeding, injecting silver iodide into the air to encourage cloud formation and increase precipitation. Their work in Wyoming proved the method could be economically viable. As the economics begins to stack up against some of the lower resorts in Europe, perhaps we will see this practice being imported to the Alps.

How to Choose Your Home Electric Car Charger

6 tips for choosing your home charge point.

What should you look into when it comes to choosing your home charger?

You’ve got your electric car (or looking at one) and now you’re wondering how to charge it?

One of the most amazing things about electric cars is that you can fill up at home – as if you have your own private petrol station. And even more incredibly, you can fill your car up for as little as £1.20 with the right combination of charge point and home electricity tariff.

In a recent Fully Charged episode, Maddie Moate installed her first home charge point. Here are six things for you to consider as you go on the same journey.

Let’s begin with the smart features (how you can save a lot of money and carbon) and then take a look at the physical stuff (like, how does it look…?).

Once you’re clued up, the Rightcharge website is a great place to compare options.

Smart features

The Government OLEV grant for up to £350 and the additional ‘EST grant’ for up to £300 in Scotland only apply to smart charge points, so these are often cheaper to install than their ‘dumb’ counterparts.

However, here are another three reasons why they’re a great choice:

  1. Smart charging. Charging is cheaper and cleaner overnight (less gas and more renewables means the grid is on average 25% cleaner). A smart charger will connect to your phone. Plug in, tell it when you need the car (e.g. 7am tomorrow morning), and your charger will calculate when to start and stop the charge for the lowest cost and carbon*. You will need to switch to a home electricity tariff with cheaper overnight pricing (often known as an ‘EV tariff) to make the most of this. The cheapest of these tariffs, like the Go Tariff from Octopus Energy, can be as low as 5p per kWh overnight. This lowers the energy bills of the average driver by over £200 a year compared to ‘dumb charging’.
  2. Solar charging. Do you have solar panels or are you considering them? I definitely recommend looking at a charge point with Solar Charging capability. If you start producing more solar power than you’re using in the home, the charger will start charging to absorb any extra electrons into the car. You can of course tell these charge points to charge up quickly and ignore the solar, when you need the car quickly. There are a few charge points with this feature and the most prominent of these is probably the Zappi charger from MyEnergi, a UK-based manufacturer, who were the first to create the Solar Charging concept.
  3. Fuse protection (also known as ‘load balancing’). Sometimes, charge points used to have to be limited to slower charging to avoid any risk of blowing a home’s fuse. Now, due to Fuse Protection, anyone can take advantage of the full power available (all home chargers are capable of ‘7 kilowatts’ or ‘7 kW’). Your installer will advise you on this, but it’s a good one to know about. It makes sure that most of the time you can charge at full speed, without ever worrying about your home’s fuse limit. Chargers with Fuse Protection temporarily lower the power to your car if they notice that you’ve turned on a lot of electrical appliances in the house.

*Your in-car settings might be able to schedule charging too. However, charge point software today is more convenient and accurate, which can mean a bit less cost and carbon compared to using the car’s timer.

Physical features

Once you’re happy with the smart features, the next three things to consider relate to how it will look on your wall and whether it makes sense to buy ‘tethered’ or ‘untethered’ (more on this below).

  1. Aesthetics. This is, of course, down to your preferences. Charge points come in different shapes, sizes and colours. It may be visible on the front of your house so it might make sense to get one that looks good! For those that value quality and looks, the Andersen A2 is at the premium end of the market and includes a compartment to hide the cable, capped with a sleek magnetic lid. For those looking for a more discrete solution, the EO Mini Pro is small and inconspicuous. And there are all sorts of options in between.
  2. The cable. ‘Tethered’ or ‘untethered’? Tethered means the cable that you plug into your car is attached to the charge point. Untethered means the charge point is a socket and you will use your car’s own cable to plug in. Tethered makes life a bit easier: unwrap the cable from around the charge point and plug in. Simple. The two downsides are that tethered can look a little less tidy, and it’s not a good option if you have an older car with a ‘Type 1’ socket. Cars used to have Type 1 sockets for home charging and now have switched to Type 2. If you have a Type 1 car now, your next car is likely to be Type 2. So, an untethered charge point, which can be used with both types, is the way to go.*
  3. Earth rod. Most charge points are earthed for safety using a metal spike that goes into the ground near the charger, known as an ‘earth rod’. However, some charge points have internal earthing, which can mean a tidier looking install on your home and no need to disturb your driveway or garden.

*You can find out if your car has Type 1 or Type 2 socket by clicking ‘Find my charger’ and checking the top of the results page on Rightcharge.

To wrap up!

So, in summary, so long as you’re happy to consider switching your home electricity tariff, a smart charge point can save you a lot of money and carbon every year. Keep an eye out for the Solar Charging feature if you have solar panels or are considering them, and check with your installer to see if they recommend choosing a charger with the Fuse Protection feature.

You can compare the aesthetics and prices of all options on Rightcharge, and check out whether your car (or perhaps your dream car) has a Type 1 or Type 2 socket, which will help you decide on the tethered versus the untethered option.

If you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch: charlie.cook@rightcharge.co.uk

The 2020s could see the end of fossil fuel cars and coal in the West – A chat with Jigar Shah, a Climate Giant

Jigar is a bit of a hero of mine. In 2003 he started Sun Edison, which grew to 7,300 employees & changed the status quo of the solar industry. He achieved this by introducing a new financing system known as a ‘PPAs’ (or ‘Power Purchase Agreements’) that allowed home owners to install solar on their roof without paying anything up-front.

From 2009 to 2012 Jigar was CEO of the Carbon War Room, a global organisation founded by Richard Branson, he’s the author of Creating Climate Wealth: Unlocking the Impact Economy, and he’s now the Founder of Generate Capital – a business that has invested over $1bn into sustainable energy, waste, water and transportation projects.

He’s also been a host on the Energy Gang, a podcast that I’ve been listening to for years.

Jigar’s is a voice that gives you an amazing view behind the scenes into the rise of renewable energy, the turbulent paths of oil & gas majors as they battle for their future, and the progress of everything from electric cars to heat pumps (see more below).

Jigar and I caught up on a zoom call today and at the end of the call I asked if I could pose a question about the coming decade to share with friends and family.

Here are Jigar’s thoughts…

Jigar, would you like to introduce yourself?

“Basically, I’m a guy who stumbled on PPAs back in the early days of solar power, and started a company called Sun Edison to help accelerate the market for solar.

Now, I spend my time running Generate Capital where we apply this and other financing methods to all areas of renewable energy, clean technology and sustainable projects.”

If we put ourselves 10 years into the future and look back at the decade of the 2020s, what do you think the main positive changes will have been from a climate perspective?

“Well, firstly I think it’s possible that we’ll see the ban of petrol and diesel cars in large parts of the world. It’s already being talked about in countries like the US, the UK and others in Europe and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we see these plans brought forward into the 2020s. The current situation is giving the world a glimpse of what life can be like with cleaner air and less noise pollution from vehicles and this could mean Governments feel more confident bringing these bans forward.

Secondly, I think we may pretty much see the end of coal in the western world. Over the last 10 years coal use has been declining quickly as a source of power generation. Countries have seen that coal can be reduced significantly without any negative impacts on electricity supply, so I expect to see coal decline to almost nothing in large parts of the world.

And finally, I think we could see a big change to the way we heat our homes and businesses. Look, as we enter a period of depression, not recession, the current situation of pumping cash into the economy to support people who furloughed or unemployed is not going to be feasible – and people won’t want to be forced to do nothing in return for this support. Governments may think “well, if we’re already paying salaries then let’s find things for people to do“, and start to look at ways to build a more sustainable system by creating work for people. And what better opportunity than to train some people to replace our heating systems that rely on fossil fuels with heat pumps and electric heating systems in homes across the country?”

Excellent, Thank you Jigar.

This article was written by Charlie Cook | Founder of Rightcharge (www.rightcharge.co.uk) | charlie.cook@rightcharge.co.uk

Can I charge my car from my normal home socket?

Yes, electric cars can be plugged straight into a normal socket in your house. Just like plugging in your toaster, kettle or iPhone, you just plug in and go. Most new electric cars will come with a cable for this, known as a ‘granny cable’ (slow speed…).

The key advantages of charging from a ‘3-pin socket’ (a normal UK socket) is that you don’t have to have a dedicated charge point installed at home to charge your car.

And there’s certainly drivers out there that find this solution works for them versus installation a home charge point:

tweet home socket charging

The downsides are that:

  • It will take more than twice as long to charge your car from than 3-pin socket than from a ‘Fast’ (7 kW) home charge point
  • You might have to thread the pull the cable through an open window or a letter box each time you charge
  • It’s not necessarily safe to draw power for as long as an electric car demands from a normal home socket

The first point and second points are entirely up to your preference. As above, we have spoken to drivers who say they get along fine by charging their car through a window and plugging into a normal plug.

However, drivers that use their car more often, or own a larger electric car, often find that the slow speed of charging becomes a limiting factor to being able to use their car as much as they need to.

The last point requires a bit more consideration. The general advice from electric car drivers online, is that this should not be your normal method of charging or you risk overloading and overheating the socket.

There are images that we have seen of sockets that have burnt out as a result of too much charging from an electric car. This one below (uploaded by a user of a Facebook group) shows cracking that could be due to overheating of the socket:

No photo description available.

So, in summary:

  • It is possible to charge your car from a 3-pin plug – it will be slow
  • A proper charge point adds convenience, safety and smarts e.g. scheduling for off-peak times
  • If you decide to charge from a 3-pin plug, be aware of the risks and consult a qualified electrician to be safe

 

Was this helpful?

Reach out to us at hello@rightcharge.co.uk

 

 

 

How to charge a Tesla Model 3 – Faster, cleaner, cheaper

The Model 3 is about to land in the UK. That is one of the most exciting sentences I’ve ever written.

If you’re not sure why, the Model 3 is Elon Musk’s master stroke to launch electric vehicles into the mainstream. Whilst other manufacturers were building cheap (not particularly fantastic) electric cars, Elon’s company Tesla were busy building luxury electric supercars – the Roadster, the Model S, and then the Model X – and they’ve built on that success to create the Model 3.

Are you one of the few owners of a Model 3 reservation? This quick guide will walk you through the clean, smart ways to charge your car when it arrives on your doorstep.

What is the best way to charge a Model 3?

This is what you’re here for, so let’s cut to the chase!

Two revolutions are happing in parallel in the name of climate change. We are overhauling our energy system to build renewable generation as fast as possible – the UK generated actually XX% of energy from renewable energy in 2018. At the same time we’re on the brink of a transport revolution. Only 2% of vehicle sales in the UK are electric today, but in the next 5-10 years, electric cars will flood our streets – they have to if we’re to meet our commitments to the Paris Agreement.

How you charge your car is at the centre of these two revolutions. The electricity grid is a dynamic beast. If all cars plug in at dinner time, National Grid

If you can charge at home, the best way to charge your Model 3 is to switch to an electricity tariff with an off-peak period (100% green, of course) and use some form of timing for your charge – this could be your charge point or the in-built timing feature in the Model 3. This method of charging will save you well over 50% in comparison to charging on a standard electricity tariff with a standard charge point. You’ll also be charging at night, when the grid is around 80% cleaner than during peak times.

Here’s the maths: a standard UK electricity tariff is around 17p/kWh (May, 2019). You can switch to a tariff with off-peak rates that are as low as 5p/kWh during the night. Perfect!

So you’re saving about 10p for every kWh that flows into your Model 3. If you drive 10,000 miles per year – in your envy inducing unicorn of a ride – you’ll whir through about 2,500-3,000 kwh, which means you could be saving between £250-300 on home charging every year using this method.

Now you just need to think about how you’re going to time your charge.  The Model 3 has it’s own in-built charge timing feature. However, it doesn’t give you the ability to both set a start time and a stop time – so you won’t be able to make sure that your charging never slips into peak hours.

There are a few charge points on the market that you can use to guarantee charging in your off-peak hours only. Some use an internal setting, that you can change manually, and others can be controlled remotely, by smart phone apps that schedule your charging for the cheapest hours or the hours when the grid is the cleanest.

We’ve compiled a list of these charge points for you here.

And we’ve built a quick tool for you to get quotes from the right charge point installers here.

If you don’t have a driveway or garage to charge at home don’t worry, all is not lost. The public charging network in the UK is growing rapidly – in some places you can even charge your car from a nearby lam-post. Check out Zap-map, a great resource to find your nearest public charging options.

Which charge points are compatible with the Model 3?

In fact, every charge point is. The Tesla Model 3 uses a ‘type 2’ connector, so just make sure you choose this option when you’re speaking to your installer.

If you already have another car that uses a type 1 connector, you can choose an ‘untethered’ charge point. This means the cable doesn’t come attached to the charge point and you have a socket instead, which allows you to alternate between using a separate type 2 cable for your Model 3 and then a type 1 cable for your other car.

Should I use the Tesla charge point

Well it will definitely look cool… plugging your Tesla into a Tesla charge point. And it comes with a button to remotely open the Model 3’s charging port – which again, is very cool.

But unfortunately it’s not the smartest charge point on the market and doesn’t yet come with any timing or smart features – so you’ll be relying on your car to do your best to get your charging in off-peak times. Unless you can pop out of bed at around midnight plug in, and again in the early hours of the morning.

If you’d like to get quotes for the Tesla charge point, or for any other charge point, you can use the Rightcharge portal to connect to the right installers, covering your area. We’ve picked the best of the bunch from over 1200+ registered installers.

Enjoy your Model 3! And I hope you can now charge cleaner and cheaper.

Charlie

 

Written by Charlie Cook,

the Founder of Rightcharge – the UK’s first comparison website for electric vehicle charging

 

 

 

The Growth of Solar Power, 2017 Update

Ray Kurzweil, the futurist and Director of Engineering at Google, predicts that solar power will grow at an exponential rate throughout the 21st century.

In his essay “The Law of Accelerating Returns”, Ray believes the growth of solar will resemble Moore’s Law: the doubling of computer capability every two years.

During an interview in 2011, Ray explained:

“Solar panels are coming down dramatically in cost per watt. And as a result of that, the total amount of solar energy is growing, not linearly, but exponentially. It’s doubling every 2 years and has been for 20 years. And again, it’s a very smooth curve. There’s all these arguments, subsidies and political battles and companies going bankrupt, they’re raising billions of dollars, but behind all that chaos is this very smooth progression.”

RAY KURZWEIL, GOOGLE

moores-law

Image source: Intel

This is a very exciting idea. In 2011, solar PV (meaning “photovoltaic” – the type of panel used to generate electricity, as opposed to thermal panels that generate heat) generated 60.6TWh or 0.27% of global electricity generation. Based on Ray’s simple number crunching, solar would generate enough energy to meet the entire world’s electrical needs of today by 2029 (putting the storage issue aside for a moment).

So, is solar PV still seeing consistently exponential growth six years on?

Global growth of solar since 2000 – in numbers

At the beginning of the 21st century, global installed solar PV capacity paled in comparison to today’s figures. Estimates put the total installed PV capacity in 2000 at around 1.4GW. To put this figure in perspective, China alone installed ten times this amount of solar PV in 2014.

cumulative-installed-solar-globally

Data source (years 2000–2013): Global Market Outlook for Photovoltaics 2014-2018 (EPIA, 2014). Data source (year 2014 – 2016): Global Market Outlook for Solar Power 2015-2019 (SSE, 2014),  Renewables Global Status Report 2017 (REN21, 2017)

For the next seven years, from 2000 to 2007, the world saw gradual but impressive double-digit growth of between 20%-40% year-on-year (YOY).

It is fair to say that 2008 to 2012 saw a boom in the global solar PV market – the rate of new installations almost doubled to between 50% and 75% YOY.

This was followed by a cooling off to previous growth rates between 2013 and 2014. At the end of 2016, it is estimated that around 74GW has been added to global PV capacity, bringing the global total to 303GW.

yoy-solar-growth

Where has the growth been coming from?

Germany was the solar PV leader up until 2014 with 40GW of solar (equal to around 20 coal-fired power stations). Then, the German energy program Energiewende was wound down, allowing China and Japan to overtake Germany, with the USA close behind. Incredibly, China matched Germany’s 40GW in 2015 and then almost doubled this figure again in a single year. The latest figures for the end of 2016 show that China has almost 80GW of solar PV installed. So much for China not pulling their weight on climate action, Donald.

Japan has achieved a steep increase following the introduction of a generous feed-in-tariff in 2012. Japan’s solar market grew almost as fast as China’s, but cooled off slightly between 2015 and 2016.

The USA has also managed to grow at an impressive rate since 2012, adding a record breaking 14.7GW of solar in 2016. Italy’s growth was impressive for a small country but has remained largely flat since financial incentives were removed in 2013.

The remainder of the top 10 is led by the UK, followed by France, Australia, Spain, Belgium and India, all with between 3.5GW to 11.5GW of installed capacity.

top-10-solar-countries

Germany and Italy were responsible for 72% of all growth In the boom years of 2008-2012. Today it is very much a story of China, Japan, and the USA. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few years.

How has solar compared to Moore’s Law?

To measure the growth of solar over fifteen years, we can use the compound annual growth rate (CAGR), which is similar to the way you would calculate your average interest on a bank account over a period of time.

For computing capability (or anything, for that matter), to follow Moore’s Law and double every two years, a minimum CAGR of 41.42% is needed. The CAGR of global solar PV installations from 2000-2015 was 42.13%, meaning it almost exactly tracked Moore’s Law. The CAGR has dropped slightly to 39.79% as of the end of 2016.

On average solar has been doubling every two years since the beginning of the 21st century, and so far, Ray Kurzweil’s prediction has been accurate. Let’s hope Ray continues to be right over the next 15 years. Or at least not far off…

Climate under the Trump Administration: The bad and the good news

A summary of the ‘President Trump’s Energy Policy’ episode from The Energy Gang podcast.

In December 2015 a global commitment to fighting climate change was agreed in Paris. The US is only one of the 193 countries that form the Paris Agreement. However, under the Obama administration the United States has been a leader in progress towards the agreement and represents 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As of February 2017, Trump will become the President of the United States, and the only leader in the world that thinks that human beings are not warming the climate.

The following is a summary of the discussion by Steven Lacey, Catharine Hamilton and Shale Con during the Energy Gang podcast episode, ‘President Trump’s Energy Policy’.

The Bad News

Obama’s climate policy can relatively easily, and probably will, be repealed or cancelled by a Trump/Republican administration.

  • In the US, presidents can use executive authority to put laws into place without requiring approval from the house or senate. However, laws passed by executive actions rank lower than those passed by the senate and can be easily repealed by a new president using the same executive authority. Barack Obama used executive orders to put the majority of policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into place, including the Clean Power Plan (carbon regulations for states) and the US signing the Paris Agreement.
  • It would take the United States 3 years to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. However, if the new republican administration wishes to, it could withdraw from entirely from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1 year. Furthermore, the agreement is non-binding, so even if the administration does not want to expend the political capital to completely withdraw, Trump can just do nothing to meet the US’s emission reduction targets.
  • The Clean Power Plan, Obama’s flagship policy for reducing emissions and enforced by the Environmental Protection (EPA), can be easily killed. Backed by the Obama administration, the plan is currently going through the court to determine whether the EPA should be given the power to enforce it, or not. The quickest way to kill the Clean Power Plan would be for Trump to simply contact the court and notify them that the administration will no longer pursue the proceeding. What’s more, Trump can appoint a solicitor general, the attorney for federal government, and it is in his/her power to decide to not support the EPA. Even if it gets to the supreme court, Trump can appoint a supreme court justice. Another option is to simply direct the EPA’s staff to not work on the Clean Power Plan.
  • Trump has appointed a climate change skeptic, Myron Ebell, as the Head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s transition team meaning that even if the EPA has the power to enforce the plan, they probably won’t.
  • The whole package of Obama’s climate policy named the ‘Climate Action Plan’, developed in 2013, which brought together new and existing regulations into a package to show to the international community that the US is committed to climate action, is at risk. This includes decade old regulations on reducing the emissions from cars and light trucks (the ‘CAFE’ regulations) to newer regulations such as the Clean Power Plan itself. Many of these were executive orders. The package also includes plans designed to curb the emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than C02. Trump and the republicans have said specifically that they wants to get rid of regulations curbing methane emissions.

The Good News

Market forces already underway and the growth and job opportunities of clean energy could counterbalance the repeal of regulation.

  • Clean energy represents a huge wealth and job creation opportunity. Trump’s win has been attributed to a large group of people in the US who feel they have been left behind, worse off from globalisation and are hoping for new industry and jobs to be introduced by Trump. There are opportunities for the clean energy industry to approach states and make it clear where possibilities lie to create new jobs and growth. Solar already accounts for 210,000 jobs, wind accounts for 80,000 jobs and ‘Wind Technician’ is the fastest growing job category in the US. The ‘advanced energy economy’ is worth $200 billion in the US alone, which is more than pharmaceuticals and almost as much as consumer electronics.
  • The economics of renewable energy vs. fossil fuels is increasingly in favour of renewables anyway. For example, large scale solar projects can be built for less than $0.50/W in the US and this number is falling. Solar is on track to be the cheap choice for new energy regardless of regulation. More than half of new solar capacity that will come online next year will have been built without the support of regulation.
  • It is likely that investment in clean energy technologies at the state level will occur anyway. States have already started deploying clean technologies, such as wind and solar, and understand that even if the Clean Power Plan is rolled back these technologies still form the future of energy in the US.
  • US Industry has begun shifting towards low carbon and may continue to move forward. Companies have already made investments to change their practices and their business models. For example, car companies are likely to continue to invest in electric vehicles and cleaner combustion engines because these are already a good business case, not because of regulation.
  • Trump is pro-infrastructure. This includes a desire to improve the electricity grid and work towards a smarter grid, with increased storage capacity and increased capacity to cater for renewable energy.
  • The level to which coal-fired power stations can actually be revived in the US is debatable. Also, Trump’s energy policy is to support the natural gas industry. Natural gas is in direct competition with coal. A focus on de-regulation could also help the nuclear industry. If Trump’s policies end up increasing the use of natural gas and nuclear, they may lead to levels of emission not far from the Paris Agreement targets.
  • States may take positive action without requiring federal direction. Even if the Environmental Protection Agency will no longer be able to force states to abide by the Clean Power Plan, states will still be able to uphold it by choice. It is likely that at least some states, who’s governors agree with the plan, will come up with a similar plan and legislate it.
  • Global leaders, including China, are already warning Trump not to back out of the US’s commitments to mitigating climate change. It could be argued that Trump will be a malleable president – he has shifted position on many issues on many occasions and has no experience of politics – and could be influenced to change his stance. There is no certainty that other countries will back down on their commitments made at Paris in the event of US withdrawal. A solution may be found to continue global efforts to mitigate climate change for four years without the US.
  • Internationally, the US could still show leadership on climate change through civil society means such as the actions and commitments of it’s companies and NGO’s.

In summary, many of Obama’s policies intended to reduce emissions such as the Clean Power Plan and the ratification of the Paris Agreement are relatively easy for Trump and his party to cancel or repeal. Trump has already appointed a climate skeptic as the head of the transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency, signalling that he is planning on repealing the progress made by the Obama administration.

However, market forces, including committed investment from businesses, continuously improving economics of clean energy and the wealth and job creation potential of the clean energy industry will work in the opposite direction to the repeal of regulation  by the new administration. Another positive factor is that although Trump plans to do nothing actively to reduce emissions, his energy policy  may well inadvertently lead to the US meeting it’s emission reduction targets anyway as a result of natural gas being cheaper and cleaner than coal.

The key question is how the international community will react to the United States’ withdrawal from it’s commitments in Paris. This will dictate the future of the agreement and our chances of avoiding catastrophic warming of over 2°C.

A Map to 100% Renewable Electricity

In order to know if you’re on track you need a destination and a map. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. As the Cheshire Cat points out to Alice.

If our destination is a world where global warming has been limited to 2.0°C, what does the map look like? And, what if we want to go further and limit warming to 1.5°C?

At least a quarter of the answer lies in how quickly we reach 100% renewable generation of our electricity. This post will describe the map, and a check to see how we’re getting on.

The Paris Target (the destination)

In December 2015, in Paris, 174 countries agreed to do whatever is necessary to limit the increase of the average global temperature of our planet to no more than 2˚C above pre-industrial levels. These countries have also agreed that ideally we should keep warming “well below 2˚C” and that they will meet every 5 years to ratchet down this target towards 1.5˚C.

An increase of 1.5˚C is the level at which the scientists at the UNFCCC have told us that “most terrestrial and marine species would be able to follow the speed of climate change; up to half of coral reefs may remain; sea level rise may remain below 1 m [39 inches]; some Arctic sea ice may remain; ocean acidification impacts would stay at moderate levels; and more scope for adaptation would exist, especially in the agricultural sector”. Many of these statements may not hold true in a 2˚C world. So, let’s focus on the 1.5˚C target.

We are already above 1˚C and to get a feel for how close we are to these limits, see this incredible animation produced by climatologist Ed Hawkins, from the University of Reading in the UK (via Climate Progress).

spiral_optimized

What do the Paris targets mean in terms of CO2 reductions? The “Feasibility of limiting warming to 1.5°C and 2°Creport by Climate Analytics has concluded that for us to limit global warming to 1.5˚C:

Global energy and industry CO2 emissions must reach zero by around 2050″.

So, that is our challenge, and it is monumental. Total carbon neutrality of global energy AND industry. Carbon neutrality of global electricity, transport, manufacturing, construction, agriculture and more… In just over 30 years!

This article will focus on decarbonising the production of electricity. The Electricity and Heating sector is only part of the story but accounts for the largest share, 25%, of global GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions by sector. See the chart below from the IPCC (2014). In this chart, the use of electricity from the grid by industry is included in ‘Electricity and Heat Production’. Therefore, every new wind turbine, solar PV panel or wave turbine attacks this 25% chunk of the pie.

global_emissions_sector_2015

The Theory

The demand for electricity is commonly split between “base load”, “intermediate load” and “peak load”. Simply, the base load tends to remain the same over a 24 hour period. The intermediate and peak loads are the reaction to increased need for electricity during the day or seasonal variation. Below is an example from two 24 hour periods in the UK in 2016, one during June (summer) and one during January (winter). You can see the continuous base load beneath the varying intermediate and peak loads above. The increase in winter is a result of the UK turning the heating on.

UKNATGRIDLOADSCharlieCook

The importance of all this is that the different types of demand require different types of power generation technologies to match the loads. Traditionally, the base load has been met using technologies that are not easy to turn on or off and trundle away continuously throughout the year, such as coal or nuclear. The intermediate and peak loads are met with power stations that can be ‘dispatched’ easily when needed, such as natural gas.

Models constructed by several researchers and institutes agree that 100% renewable electricity grids are capable of providing for national electricity demand day and night, 365 days a year and during extreme circumstances. Each propose a combination of technologies that together, are capable of replacing the fossil fuel alternatives mentioned above. The exact mixture of generation technologies differs from study to study but the conclusion is the same regardless of which country is the focus: 100% renewable electricity grids are technically possible. See the table at the bottom of this page for examples of a few.

The studies follow a common theme. By 2050, 100% of electrical power generation is derived from a combination of technologies including wind turbines, wave turbines and solar PV. Normally, it is assumed that extra technologies must be used to provide the base load power, biomass, biofuel, nuclear or carbon capture and storage (CCS).

However, In 2009, Jacobson and Delucchi published a plan in the Scientific American that proposed a scenario in which, as early as 2030, 100% of electricity is produced solely by a combination of wind, water and sun (coined WWS). This may be the most optimistic view in research, but knowing the most ambitious path helps to put alternative pathways into perspective.

In this scenario there is no need for biomass, biofuel, nuclear or CCS which are deemed more damaging technologies. A combination of wind, water and sun can meet the intermittent, peak and baseload electricity demand. In 14 years from today, wind turbines provide 50%, concentrated solar power 20%, commercial solar plants 14%, rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) 6%, hydroelectric plants 4%, geothermal plants 4%, wave turbines 1% and tidal turbines the final 1% of global electricity demand.

The following chart, the demand curve for a day in California, shows how WWS could potentially cope with the full range of demand without the need for nuclear, bio or CCS.

24-7 Generation

Around the world, this scenario requires:

  • 3.8 million wind turbines (19000 GW)
  • 49,000 concentrated solar power plants (14,700 GW)
  • 40,000 solar PV plants (12,000 GW)
  • 1.7 billion rooftop solar PV systems (5,100 GW)
  • 900 hydroelectric plants (1170 GW)
  • 720,000 wave turbines (540 GW)
  • 5,350 geothermal plants (535 GW)
  • 490,000 tidal turbines (490 GW)

(all GW values are installed capacity) (If you’re interested in climate solutions, you should check out the Solutions Project which was founded by Mark Jacobson, one of the two authors of this paper.)

So, how are we doing so far?

 

Deployment of Renewable Technologies (the map)

Let’s take a look at what’s currently installed, and the rate at which we would need to install each technology to reach the numbers set out by Jacobson and Delucchi.

My previous post described how, despite policy u-turns on subsidies from some governments, despite huge lobbying efforts to suppress renewables in some countries, and despite the collapse of some solar industries, the growth of solar power on a global scale has consistently doubled every two years for the past 15 years. Behind all of the drama is a very smooth, steep curve.

The same consistent nature is true for wind and water technologies. Since wind and solar account for 90% of generation in the 100% WWS scenario, we will focus on those.

The Map for Wind

As of 2015, we have 432 GW of installed wind capacity. This is 2.3% of Jacobson and Delucchi’s 2030 target of 19,000 GW.

Wind capacity 2

However, the good news is if we maintain the rate of growth that has occurred between 2000 and 2015, we will reach 19,000 just before 2033. A slightly increased growth rate could reach the required 19,000 GW by 2030. This implies some potentially unrealistic increases in the final years (641,000 turbines installed in 2032) but even at a much slower growth rate, we could see 19,000 GW of wind power by 2040 or 2050.

Wind growth projections 2.png

The Map for Solar

As of 2015, we have 237 GW of installed solar capacity. This is 0.9% of the 2030 target of 26,700 GW.

Cumulative solar

If if keeps up its current rate of growth of 140.6% (2000-2015) solar will fly past wind and reach the 26,700 GW target by 2029. A slightly slower growth rate of 137% will see solar reach the target in 2030.

Solar growth projections 2

 

Keeping Track

These two technologies alone account for 90% of the WWS generation. If we can follow the map and achieve these rates of construction we will practically elimate the 25% chunk of CO2 emissions from the Electricity and Heating sector. If the global car fleet switches to electric battery vehicles, the clean electricity grid will also be responsible for slashing the 14% of global CO2 emissions from the transport sector.

The trajectories for deployment of wind and solar are high. But s-curves for technology penetration are getting shorter and shorter. If these growth rates were achieved in a pre-Paris COP21 world, who’s to say the same can not be achieved in a post-Paris world with falling costs for renewables, increasing investment and far more pro-active global climate policy?

Bear in mind that the 100% WWS scenario puts almost all the responsibility on wind and solar in an attempt to achieve the cleanest possible energy mix. In reality, although it is possible that nuclear power plant installations may slow, it seems unlikely, barring a significant catastrophe, that the industry will grind to a halt any time soon. Any increase in nuclear, biomass, biofuel or CCS capacity would make up for shortfalls in installations of wind and solar.

Regardless of what we end up achieving, the purpose of this article was to present a map to our destination. Emissions reductions targets are abstract and difficult to follow. Installed capacity of wind and solar is the clearest way to keep an eye on our progress. Watch out each year for the figures for new wind and solar capacity, compare them to the projections on the graphs above, and you’ll know how well we’re doing at making the most significant technological transition since the industrial revolution.

 

 

 

 

ANNEX

Table 1. 100% Renewable Electricity studies, Jacobson and Delucchi (2009).

Study Energy Mix by Sector Time Frame Geographic Scope
Jacobson and Delucchi (2009) Electricity transport heat/cool (100% WWS) All new energy: 2030. All energy: 2050 World
Alliance for Climate Protection (2009) Electricity transport (100% WWS+Bm) 2020 U.S.
Parsons-Brinckerhoff (2009) Electricity transport heat/cool (80% WWS+NCBmBf) 2050 UK
Price-Waterhouse-Coopers (2010) Electricity (100% WWS+Bm) 2050 Europe & North Africa
Beyond Zero Emissions (2010) Electricity transport heat/cool (100% WWS+Bm) 2020 Australia
European Climate Foundation (ECF) (2010) Electricity transport heat/cool (80% WWS+NCBm) 2050 Europe
European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) (April (2010) Electricity transport heat/cool (100% WWS+BmBf) 2050 Europe

 

The Growth of Solar Power

Solar and Moore’s Law

by Charlie Cook

 

Solar power will grow at an exponential rate through the 21st century. This prediction has been made by the futurist and Director of Engineering at Google, Ray Kurzweil, on many occasions.

In line with the lesson from his essay, The Law of Accelerating Returns, Ray believes that the growth of solar will resemble Moore’s Law: the doubling of computer capability every two years. During an interview in 2011, Ray explained:

“Solar panels are coming down dramatically in cost per watt. And as a result of that, the total amount of solar energy is growing, not linearly, but exponentially. It’s doubling every 2 years and has been for 20 years. And again, it’s a very smooth curve. There’s all these arguments, subsidies and political battles and companies going bankrupt, they’re raising billions of dollars, but behind all that chaos is this very smooth progression.”

Moore's Law

source: Intel

Of course, this is a very exciting idea. In 2011 solar PV generated 60.6TWh or 0.27% of global electricity generation. Based on Ray’s simple number crunching, solar would generate enough energy to meet the entire world’s electrical needs of today by 2029 (let’s put the storage issue aside for a moment).

So, four years later at the end of 2015, is solar PV still seeing a consistently exponential growth?

 

Global growth of solar since 2000 – in numbers

At the beginning of the 21st century, global installed solar PV capacity paled in comparison to today’s figures. Estimates put the total installed PV capacity in 2000 at around 1.4GW. To put this figure in perspective, China alone installed ten times this amount of solar PV in just 2014.

Cumulative solar

Source (years 2000–2013): Global Market Outlook for Photovoltaics 2014-2018 (EPIA, 2014), Source (year 2014): Global Market Outlook for Solar Power 2015-2019 (SSE, 2014), *based on prediction by Mercom

For the next seven years, from 2000 to 2007, the world saw gradual but impressive double-digit year-on-year growth of between 20%-40% year-on-year (YOY).

It is fair to say that the years 2008 to 2012 saw a boom in the global solar PV market as the rate of new installations almost doubled to between 50% and 75% YOY.

This was followed by a cooling off to previous growth rates during the years 2013 to 2014. Now, coming to the end of 2015, it is estimated that 57.4GW has been added to global PV capacity, bringing the global total to 237.3GW.

YOY growth of PV

 

Where has the growth been coming from?

Official statistics for solar installations in 2015 are not yet available country by country. However, the growth up until 2014 is all we need to see where the action has been happening. It is good news that the 178GW of installed solar built since 2000 was been deployed all around the world.

Germany has been the largest contributor, increasing its capacity from 114MW to an enormous 38GW. Following closely is China which, although being one of the most coal hungry countries, has seen an incredible growth in solar since 2011. A similarly steep increase has been achieved in Japan, in particular since 2012 when a generous feed-in-tariff was introduced.

The USA and Italy are the 4th largest markets, both with around 18.4GW of installed capacity. Considering their relative size, this is a great achievement for Italy. However, new installations have become almost none existent in the past couple of years after cuts to the financial incentives.

The remainder of the top 10 is made up of France, the UK, Australia, Belgium and India, all with between 2.5GW to 5.5GW of installed capacity.

Growth of PV country by country

From these figures, it would seem as though Germany, China, Japan, Italy and the USA have been driving the global trend of solar PV growth. In the boom years of 2008-2011, Germany and Italy were responsible for 72% of all growth. Whilst, where Germany and Italy have been slowing in the past few years, China, Japan and the USA have been picking up the slack.

 

So how has solar compared to Moore’s Law?

To measure the growth of solar over fifteen years, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) can be used, which is similar to the way you would calculate your average interest on a bank account over a period of time.

For computing capability (or anything, for that matter) to follow Moore’s law and double every two years, a minimum CAGR of 41.42% is needed. The CAGR of global solar PV installations from 2000-2015 has been 42.13%.

So, on average solar has been doubling every two years since the beginning of the 21st century and so far, Ray Kurzweil’s prediction has been accurate. Let’s hope Ray continues to be right over the next 15 years. Or at least not far off…

Only Investment Can Free the Renewable Energy Industry from Political Whim

The Prince of Wales Delivers The Opening Address At A Conferenceon Inclusive Capitalism

 

At the Inclusive Capitalism Conference this week, Prince Charles told 200 business leaders that “We stand at a pivotal moment in history… we can chose to act now before it is finally too late, using all of the power and influence that each of you can bring to bear to create an inclusive, sustainable and resilient society”.

Currently, the renewable energy industry around the world relies on government subsidies to be economically viable. Investors and businessmen in all countries are analysing politicians’ every word and hoping the industry’s lifebuoy is not pulled away.

So far, government led policy has achieved small but reasonable increases in energy generation from renewable sources.

However, recent elections have seen a rise in climate sceptic parties in Europe, a fossil fuel hungry Republican government may soon enter the White House, Australia’s current Prime Minister is a climate sceptic and China’s growth continues to be fed by more coal. Every day politics introduces more uncertainty into the renewable energy market.

The time has come to stop relying on politics and force the change in how the world generates energy.

The challenge of mitigating climate change in the next few decades lies not with the world’s governments but with its business leaders, investors and engineers. With this challenge comes an immense opportunity to push fossil fuels out of the market and instate renewable energy in their place.

When before have engineers had such a clear opportunity to improve the lives of millions of people?  When before could money men invest in mitigating a proven, existential risk to humanity?

The key driver will be bringing the localised cost of electricity from wind, solar, marine and other renewable sources below that of fossil fuels. At that moment a giant transition to renewable energy will occur around the world.

Developing countries will no longer need to compromise between economic growth and a safe planet. Developed countries will no longer need to put the lives of the most vulnerable at risk to maintain their standard of life.

The renewable energy industry and the sustainable future of our planet will no longer be at the mercy of political whim.

To foster this change more rewards should be offered to universities working on renewable energy technology. Today’s youth are excited about the opportunities in renewable energy and keen to make a change.

This would help to ensure the industry has the talent it needs to meet the demands of the future.

Those companies with the most foresight are already investing in renewables. Google has invested $1.015 billion in solar and wind projects in America, Africa and Europe and has committed to invest a further $560 million in future projects.

Prince Charles has pointed out in that the short term these choices will be difficult but if investors “stand firm and take the kind of action that is needed… the rewards will be immense… our finances will be sustained and we can find new sources of profit”.

It is time to put the spotlight on the business leaders, investors and engineers that are creating a better, more profitable future for the planet.

What other initiatives can help push the transition to renewable energy? Please leave your comment below.

Thank you.