Has renewable energy reached a tipping point?

The appearance of the Trump Presidency has rolled back consideration of and protection for the environment. Consequently, Trump’s actions appear to weaken the U.S. government’s support for renewable energy. Here are some  of the “presidential” actions:

  • Signed executive orders to expand offshore drilling and deregulate coal.
  • Ordered a review of national monuments with respect to fossil fuels exploration.
  • Introduced a budget with severe cutbacks for the EPA.
  • Appointed an enemy of the EPA as its head.
  • Reassigned climate change staffers.
  • Appointed a leading fossil fuel supporter as head of the Department of Energy.
  • Approved the Keystone XL Pipeline.
  • Questioned fuel efficiency standards.
  • Is considering withdrawal fro the Paris Climate Agreement.
  • And on and on!

Despite these actions, much of the media that supports environmental regulation and renewables have not panicked. In fact, many media supporters of renewables are claiming that some aspects of renewables are reaching their tipping point and will probably not be affected seriously by any of Trump’s actions.

What is a tipping point?

The closest definition to fit these circumstances comes from GLADWELL.COM: Tipping point—“That magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”

If renewable energy is reaching a tipping point, where are the signs? Remember that the renewable energy tipping point may not occur everywhere at the same time. The unique state of each country’s energy supply and of each type of renewable energy may determine individual tipping points. If a country with an abundant supply of wind has expensively-generated conventional energy, then the tipping point could occur quickly. However, let’s look at some indicators that renewables are rapidly approaching their tipping point.

Governments commit to renewables

Dozens of worldwide locales—cities, counties, states, and countries have made commitments to end their use of fossil fuels by switching to renewables. From Oxford County in Ontario, Canada to Atlantic City, New Jersey, local governments are making this commitment. Many of these locales are committed to complete dependence on renewables by 2050. Some have chosen 2040 and others  by 2030. For example, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit has announced plans to gradually power all of its trains with renewable energy by 2045. This makes sense both from reducing green house gas emissions and cutting costs.

Renewables more competitive with conventional fuels

Bloomberg reports that the Danish energy minister has stated that Denmark’s renewable energy industry will be able to survive on its own much sooner than originally expected. The minister said that wind power prices are becoming competitive and soon will not require any subsidies.

Green Tech Media reveals that solar power in five states is at or almost at parity with conventionally generated power. And in the American midwest and  plains states, Moody’s, according to Green Tech Media, says that renewables are threatening coal-generated electricity to the extent that they feel clean power, especially wind, could replace up to 56 Gigawatts from coal-fired plants.

Utilities accepting renewables

Utilities are becoming more confident with the growth of renewables. For example MidAmerica Energy, Iowa’s largest utility, is aiming to generate only renewable energy. It plans in the next two years to build another 1,000 wind turbines to join the more than 2,000 it has already. At that point, its renewable share would be at 90 percent. They project that another 550 turbines would achieve its 100 percent goal.

A Utility Dive survey reports that more than 80 percent of North America’s utility employees “expect renewable energy to increase moderately or significantly in their service areas over the next decade.” Advanced wind technologies are contributing to this attitude, and to actual decreases in the cost of wind power.

More indicators

Here are more indications of a tipping point:

  • An increasing number of Fortune 500 companies are pushing renewable energy targets to reduce their carbon emissions.
  • An estimated 500 people supported the transition to clean energy by participating in a climate march, not in NYC, but in Tampa, Florida.
  • In numerous countries, renewable energy industries now account for more jobs than the fossil fuel industries. Bloomberg reports that solar employs more than all of oil, gas, and oil combined in the U.S.
  • Renewables are becoming the best solution to energy poverty in developing countries.
  • A Kentucky coal company is planning to build a solar farm on a reclaimed strip coal mine site.

The ultimate irony or perhaps a victory for renewables is a coal-mining museum in Kentucky that decided to run on solar power to save money.

Read this before you complain about Ontario’s Cap-and-Trade

Frank Ross with Grid Alternatives, (left) works with youth from The Rising Sun Energy Center job training program as they install solar panels on the roof of a home in Richmond, Calif.

A typical objection from the backers of fossil fuels  (especially those one-percenters profiting from those same fuels) is that renewables are costly and are going to unfairly penalize the poor. They conveniently forget that fossil fuels have been around for a long time and in that time, not much has changed for the poor—certainly not some great humanitarian movement from that one percent. Nowhere is this more evident than in many African countries where poverty areas receive absolutely no service from electrical grids.

However, we don’t have to go to Africa to see this. CBC news pointed out that Betha Dortch and her family in one of the poorest areas of LA had a tough choice on hot days—“stay cool or eat.” If they used the air conditioner, they couldn’t afford groceries.

A real solution

Guess what? A state-funded program that gets its money from California’s cap-and-trade program provided free solar panels for her bungalow. This program applies to anyone who lives in a neighborhood that is designated as disadvantaged. The homeowner is expected to make a small contribution such as feeding the installation crews, but that’s all.

The cap-and-trade program taxes the carbon sources and provides funds so the poor can cope with their energy costs and contribute to mitigating climate change. Otherwise, it’s possible that the poor could be the only ones supporting the grid after all the well-to-do have installed solar panels.

What can Ontario learn?

CBC reported on this program yesterday, more than two years after its inception. Will this information help build support for the New-Year’s rollout for Ontario’s cap-and-trade program? The Ontario government must be sincerely hoping that this program will succeed after the mixed reviews for the Green Energy Act (GEA).

The GEA was planned to reward renewable energy rather than force non-renewables to include environmental and social costs in their pricing. Unfortunately, in spite of some significant successes (coal phase-out, over 4,000 megawatts of wind and solar energy, and thousands of green jobs) the GEA ignored warnings about some of its weaknesses from the German originator and ended up with results that are a cautionary tale for green-minded activists.

Can Ontario redeem its green programs?

I hope that Ontario learns from its own history, but also examines the positive results for California. The government must be absolutely transparent about the costs for cap-and-trade and must ensure that all program’s income goes to renewables and related programs. The citizens of Ontario will not accept any less and any indication that funds from the program are entering the general revenue stream will be suicidal for the Liberals who are already on life support.

The Union of Concerned Scientists  has proposed a list of economic benefits from cap-in-trade programs. The Liberal government must seriously consider these possible benefits and consider realistic steps that could benefit the people of Ontario and establish successes for their green programs.

  • Use rebates to low-income households to offset higher energy prices.
  • Provide assistance to fossil-fuel workers and dependent communities to transition through job training and investments.
  • Invest in renewable energy.
  • Cut other taxes.
  • Reduce the deficit.
  • Invest in “climate resilient” infrastructure.

Ontario can still turn this around, but these steps are absolutely essential. Premier Wynne show us what you are going to do with the revenue.

What’s developing in renewables?

windmills-984137_19202015 was an exciting year for renewables. The Guardian announced that the Renewables Global Status report found, ” Overall, more than twice as much money was spent on renewables than on coal and gas-fired power generation ($130bn in 20150).”

Lots of progress is happening in renewables—much of it is expansion of wind and solar farms, but there are more far-reaching developments going on. Batteries are getting better and cheaper, solar panels are more efficient, and new storage methods are being investigated. Here are some recent developments.

Solar

Sunflare has developed a thin-fim solar technology. Here’s what it offers:

  • much lighter weight—65 percent less than conventional panels
  • simpler installation—no mounting rack necessary
  • increased energy generation—produce up to 10 percent more energy
  • fexible—can be applied to any shape

Sunflare’s founder, Len Gao states that, “the panels can be secured to any surface with a special double-sided tape.” While the cells themselves are more expensive than conventional solar panels, you don’t need a mounting rack so the total price should remain about the same. The amazing thing about these cells is the variety of mounting possibilities.

Wind

A white paper from Mita-Teknik describes an Advanced Blade Pitch System: New blade pitch technology uses electricity instead of hydraulics, which is more reliable because of the absence of hydraulic fluid leaks. The pitch systems have also been improved, which means that the systems are more responsive to changing wind conditions. This is especially important in machines that are designed for extreme weather and for offshore wind farms. This control lets the turbines operate in higher wind speeds, permits longer blades, and reduces wear on the turbine components.

Geothermal

For Canada with a record of no geothermal projects something is finally happening—in Hinton, Alberta. According to the Hinton Voice, this project that brings Epoch Energy and the town together, is currently at what they refer to as, “the pre-feasibility stage.” The plan is to look at whether existing capped oil wells could be used to heat some public buildings in the town. Although, it’s not electricity generation, this is a first for Canada to investigate the use of actual geothermal energy, not geo-exchange, directly as a heat source.

The Financial Post on August 9 of this year reported that a provincial legislator had requested, “the Alberta government to allow an old well to be converted to geothermal energy to heat an 8,000 square-foot greenhouse.” He proposed this for a former oilfield water disposal well in Leduc. Additionally, DeSmog described what the Alberta government needs to do to seriously develop geothermal energy in the province.

Smart Electrical grids

A smart electrical grid provides two-way information and power exchange between providers and consumers so that all of the devices on the grid can be managed to maximize conservation, efficiency, and continuity of electricity. The addition of renewables with variable power output increases the need for a smart grid that can ensure that power is available where and when it’s needed. Data that tracks electrical energy in real time is essential to operate a smart gird. Smart meters can provide this data. Ontario installed them several years ago and the U.S. currently has 65 million of them.

Greentech Media announced that several companies are currently designing and building devices for the grid that can “actively manage voltage and power at the distribution circuit level.”

Good news

In a year that should have shown lower investments in renewables because of  low oil prices, the reverse happened. This is a good indication that renewables are here to stay.

When are we going to drop diesel in the North?

raglan-mine-wind-turbine-in-quebecNatural Resources Canada estimates there are more than 300 isolated communities in the North: All use Diesel. CBC News says a University of Waterloo study shows that the introduction of solar and wind is “not only possible and environmentally beneficial, but it will also mean big savings.”

Can we replace diesel?

Solar and wind power for these remote sites make a lot of sense. Solar would work well for the summer months especially when there’s 24-hour daylight. Wind, is also available in summer, but would be the main renewable source for the dark winter days. Due to the variability of both systems, diesel would still have to be the backup; however, the study predicted that its use could be decreased by up to 50 percent in some communities.

Will wind turbines work in the North?

Critics have questioned the suitability of wind turbines operating in frigid weather, and there have been instances where some wind turbines weren’t suitable for Northern conditions. However, more recent research, design, and construction have produced wind turbines that have demonstrated efficient and dependable operation in the North. Northern Power Systems from Vermont has designed a wind turbine to operate at the South Pole.

What are renewables’ advantages?

Here are some reasons to switch to renewables:

  • Cost savings—The University of Waterloo study predicts savings of up to 10 percent over a 10-year period.
  • Reduced use of diesel fuel— This reduction decreases harmful emissions and green house gas production.
  • Reliability of supply—The power source is within the community with diesel only as a backup.
  • Unreliable transportation for diesel—Climate change is melting the permafrost and shortening the season for ice roads. Both of these issues increase disruptions to ground transportation and drive up the cost of diesel. Flying the fuel in is much too expensive to be workable.
  • Stable costs for planning—As the transportation and supply of diesel is increasingly disrupted by the consequences of climate change, the costs will continually be increasing. One the other hand, once the renewables are installed at a known cost, the maintenance costs will be the only ongoing cost.
  • Rallying point for communities– Coming together to adapt and carry out a plan for renewables can be a unifying force in remote communities. Gwen Holdman, Director of Energy Research at the University of Alaska, has been involved with the introduction of renewables into Alaskan communities.  Her experience there showed her that the movement “ had to be community driven, and it was only after communities rallied that the government implemented a renewable energy fund.”
How local control made it happen

In Alaska, local control in some cases led to a microgrid. The experience there showed each community, in coming together, looked at the local resources for renewables such as wind solar, geothermal, and tidal or river power along with diesel as a backup. The development of a microgrid allowed the integration of these sources into a workable electricity source for the community.

Others do it—why not Canada?

“Don’t be afraid,” says Mariia Iakovleva, a researcher with experience in renewable energy technologies in Siberia. She explains that many communities there have been using renewables (wind and solar) for the last ten years.

What’s Canada afraid of?

Free Enterprise for the Masses—Socialism for the Koch Brothers

koch_subsidiesIn February 2016, The Huffington Post accused the Koch bothers of a multimillion dollar plot against electric cars. Now the plot has surfaced. Desmog reports the public debut of the campaign to rebrand fossil fuels, Fueling U.S. Forward. The campaign was unveiled at the Red State Gathering 2016 on Saturday, August 13. The newly-selected CEO and President of this organization, Charles Drevna, named (Guess what) fossil fuels as the “source of sustainable energy to ensure the future of the country.”

Koch Brothers—mining to undermining

According to Desmog, Fueling U.S. Forward’s purpose is to rebrand fossil fuel by focusing on the “positive” side of oil, gas, and coal: And this organization is funded by the Koch brothers. The Kochs have a history of supporting campaigns to make Americans doubt the science of climate change and have actively worked to undermine government subsidies for renewable energy and electric vehicles as well as attacking clean energy policies.

People in glass houses ….

Inevitably, the founding meeting produced lots of complaints about Tesla Motor’s and other electric vehicles’ government subsidies. The participants seemed to have completely forgotten about all the subsidies and tax breaks the fossil fuel companies receive from U.S. governments. Are they feeling threatened by low oil prices and the rise of electric vehicles?

Koch Bothers love the poor

A Koch brothers’ tactic claims that non-support of oil when the prices are low is an attack on the poor at a time when the rich/poor divide is increasing. So here we have another example of the opponents of clean air policy (and thus renewables) hiding behind a concern for the poor. These are the same Koch bothers who back campaigns that oppose any increase in the minimum wage or call for its complete elimination.

And they love minorities

In his introductory address, Drevna in addition to complaining about the subsidies for renewables and electric vehicles, claimed that Fueling U.S. Forward would be partnering with minority communities (black and Latino Americans?) He made the case that these are the people who are hardest hit by high energy prices. He neglected to mention that these same minorities are usually the hardest hit by the climate catastrophes (think hurricane Katrina). Use the poor for your argument when it’s useful.

The Truth?—you can’t handle the Truth

To counter the Koch brother’s complaints about subsidies for electric cars, Green Car Report in its September 22 issue reports on a U.S China reciprocal peer review of their countries’ fossil-fuel subsidies. The review revealed that China and the U.S. combined subsidies for fossil fuels amount to around $20 billion per year—$8.1 billion for the U.S. and 14.5 for China.

Do we need inefficient subsidies?

The review identified 16 subsidies in the U.S. and 9 in China. The reasons given for the subsidies included exploration, development, and extraction of fossil fuels. The really sad part of this story is that the review labeled these subsidies inefficient. The only subsidy they described as efficient was the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

Time proceeds

Actually, all of the G20 countries have agreed to remove their subsidies for fossil fuels, but the process is dragging, and the fossil fuel companies are fighting it. Meanwhile, climate change advances.

Does the Truth matter?

Apparently, the Koch brothers have a bit of money and they don’t mind spreading it around to buy all the influence they need. Who needs Truth when you can buy control of everything that you want or of anything that threatens you? That’s hard to fight—let’s hope they don’t win, because if they do—we lose.

Who gets to predict the future?

polar_bears

You got my attention, but I’ll ignore this

In a LinkedIn feature last week, John S. Watson, Chevron CEO, made some pronouncements about the future of oil and natural gas that made me cringe. Not surprisingly, as a fossil fuel executive, he predicted that oil and gas would be indispensable for the foreseeable future. Watson ignored climate change in his pronouncements. What else did he ignore?

John Watson—”our product makes life better”

First, NASA noted in the August 30, Guardian that the “planet is warming at a pace not experienced within the past 1,000 years.” NASA reported that the average global temperature peaked at 1.38C above 19th century values. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies predicted that, after 2015’s record, 2016 will be the warmest year on record.

Transformation of transportation?

Then, Treehugger announced that transportation is now the biggest source of CO2 in the USA—more than the electrical power generation sector. The industrial, residential, and commercial sectors have all managed to drop their rate of emissions. Transportation appears to be the laggard. Let’s see—what fuels transportation in the U.S.A.? What could it have to do with Chevron?

So what else can happen?

Some intriguing predictions appeared in Bloomberg, on June 20, 2016. These predictions appeared in an article discussing electricity generation rather than transportation,  The World Nears Peak Fossil Fuels for Electricity. Here they are for the next 25 (foreseeable future) years.

  1. There will be no Golden Age of Gas due to the rapid growth in renewables.
  2. Renewables attract $7.8 trillion, dwarfing fossil fuel investments.
  3. Electric cars rescue power markets.
  4. Batteries join the grid.
  5. Solar and wind prices plummet.
  6. Capacity factors for renewables improve, making them more attractive.
  7. India replaces China as the fastest-growing polluter.
  8. The switch to renewables continues, but the threat of climate change remains.
They’re not necessarily so

These predictions focus on the electricity sector, but item 3 is significant for transportation also. In transportation, the effects of the electric car will be slower than for electricity, but the electric car can trigger a disruption in the oil markets that will have major implications for fossil fuels.  According to Jalopnik, Bloomberg predicts that the 2020s will be the decade of electric vehicles (EV). Bloomberg bases this prediction on several factors:

  • Battery prices are quickly declining—the price dropped 35 percent in 2015.
  • Falling battery prices mean that EV prices could be comparable to internal combustion engine (ICE) cars within six years.
  • If the price is comparable, EVs could displace oil demand significantly.
  • The displacement of a significant demand for oil could trigger another oil crisis.
  • More than one-third of all cars will be electric by 2040. OPEC insists that figure will be one percent.

Much of this projection is based on a current rate of increase for EV sales of 60 percent (worldwide rate in 2015). The continuation of this 60-percent growth sounds overblown; however, even Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), with a more methodical approach, predicts that 2028 will produce an “oil-crash benchmark of 2 million barrels.”

Change can be fast

So many predictions are based on the idea that change is linear, but that’s not what’s happened in the past. Most charts showing the acceptance of new products over time are “S” curves, not straight lines rising steadily upward.

s_curveThe first part of the curve shows the slow acceptance of an innovation, but once the alternative no longer makes sense the curve goes almost vertical. This is why the share of the car market by 2040 for EVs could be as high as 25 to 50 percent.

 

 

And Watson’s pronouncements?

So John Watson, don’t be so sure about your pronouncements. Bloomberg’s predictions might be somewhat overblown, but think back to Kodak. In 1998, Kodak had 170,000 employees and sold 85 percent of all photo paper worldwide—within just a few years, after failing to switch to digital cameras, Kodak went bankrupt. Reflect and learn.

 

 

 

And now for an unbiased future energy prediction!!!!???

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Courtesy of Grinning Planet—Saving the planet one joke at a time

Millenials— heed my words

On August 30, 2016, John S. Watson, CEO at Chevron (Oil and Gas) replied to a question from LinkedIn Executive Editor Dan Roth. Roth wondered, “How Chevron could continue to attract employees—particularly millenials?” Predictably the title of Watson’s reply was, “Why I think oil and natural gas are indispensable for the foreseeable future.” Well, knock me over! I’m sure the harness manufacturers circa 1900 were predicting the horse to be indispensable for the foreseeable future. Watson quickly dispensed with the millenials and proceeded to an exposition of Chevron’s indispensability to the World.

I have absolutely no stake in this

Although he superficially addressed the question of climate change in the accompanying video, with comments such as, “Climate has always been changing,” he made absolutely no mention of it in his article. Stranger yet, while he dismissed the present technologies of solar and wind renewables as being inadequate, he entirely ignored geothermal energy, the renewable, which his company has pushed, especially in Indonesia. Why? Is this geothermal project  serious or is this a green wash project to satisfy some government regulations or to qualify for some grant? Or did he ignore it because he knows that geothermal is the only renewable besides hydroelectric that can be used as a base source? That’s one renewable that can’t be dismissed as intermittent.

Comparing Ferraris to Hyundais is fair

He quoted Bill Gate’s reference to the need for a “cheap, clean source of energy” to lift the poor of the world out of poverty. Isn’t it interesting that Watson, as the leader of an energy giant, uses the need for energy by the third world to attack renewables. Meanwhile, the poor are currently being bypassed by the energy suppliers because they can’t afford the grid infrastructure. He does this even while current fossil fuels are doing nothing to solve this problem. However, the first part of that statement isn’t entirely true because renewables on a local scale such as solar-powered lights are already offering off-grid poor the promise of 24-hour light and heat for cooking that are cheaper and healthier than sourced from fossil fuels.

Waiting for a miracle!

He referred to Gate’s prediction of a “game-changing technology breakthrough”. So it’s easier to believe in miracles than to make some real commitment to renewables and provide the real research that could increase their efficiency and practicality (Developments such as improved storage, better solar panels and the mapping of potential geothermal sites).

You best interest is our goal—NOT

Watson, talked about the great advance with the reduction of tailpipe emissions reductions, but he failed to mention that the fossil fuel companies and the car manufacturers didn’t make these changes out of some great benevolence and concern for human health. History shows that they were dragged along “kicking and screaming” by government regulation and that they opposed most environmental concerns.

Doing what we always did, but better?obviously

Watson referred to new ways for the oil and gas industry to “find more resources and ways to recover more of them efficiently, economically and safely. “ He failed to name any specifics. Ask BP about their new ways, such as their safety practices. Is he trying to whitewash environment-threatening projects such as fracking, the Alberta oil sands, and drilling in the Arctic Ocean? The costs—environmental degradation, human health threats, and loss of wildlife habitat—are rising steeply as the diminishing reserves are found in increasingly difficult circumstances.

We’ve got our priorites straight—have you?

Chevron’s CEO concluded by pledging to meet environmental priorities as wall as economic ones as the energy sector transforms. Unfortunately, because he didn’t mention climate change, we can assume it’s not one of Chevron’s priorities. Will LinkedIn do the right thing and offer an alternative presentation by the renewable sector to get answers for some of the questions raised here?

 

Technological breakthrough?

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Technology—only good when we know the owner?

Scientists have made a major breakthrough that could influence many aspects of renewables. Researchers from the University of California have developed a battery with a lifetime of more than 200,000 charging cyclces. Current batteries (no pun intended) usually fail after about 7,000 charging cycles.

Just the details

The breakthrough battery uses nanowire terminals, which have high conductivity and greater surface area. Nanowires have previously been used in batteries, but unfortunately the nanowire terminals crack with repeated charging. The researchers created a nanowire electrode with a manganese oxide shell and placed it in a Plexiglass-like gel electrolyte sheathing. The gel prevents cracking: they tested the gel through 200,000 charging cycles and it didn’t crack.

How does this help renewables?

Imagine the uses of this battery— electric vehicles with no battery replacements. This could also be a breakthrough for other forms of renewable energy. These batteries could make energy storage for intermittent renewable energy sources such as solar, much more practical.

Who knows if this discovery can become a practical solution? However, it makes me think that other discoveries are possible, and either this one or others could be a big breakthrough for renewables. I’ve talked about this before. Many people say that climate change is going to be solved by technology. In referring to technology, they often refer to climate engineering.

Can we trust technology to mitigate climate change?

Climate engineering brings a lot of concerns. One suggested method is to mange the amount of solar radiation—this idea is scary to say the least. First of all, the history of out management of many of the earth’s resources is terrible. Plus, if we start playing around with the amount of solar radiation reaching the earth, we could easily mess up the energy requirements for our food supply. Most of our resource management attempts have not ended well. Maybe our best technology to mitigate the effects of climate change is renewables. However, I think I’ll examine climate engineering in a future blog.

Why do we fear renewables?

Why would we consider a risky, possibly devastating approach such as climate engineering when we have trouble managing the “so-called” economic risk of switching to renewables? Even the most conservative step towards renewables receives considerable opposition. Is it because climate engineering doesn’t threaten fossil fuels, but renewables do? What is the process that translates threats to fossil fuels into distrust of renewables and attacks on them?

What do you call a massive solar energy spill?

Renewables, in addition to offering a chance to mitigate the effects of climate change, offer solutions to other critical problems of pollution and resource use. Renewables do not threaten the environment in the same way that fossil fuels do. Like the old joke,” Question: What do you call a massive, solar energy spill? Answer: A sunny day.”  We all know what happens with pipeline spills, and oil or gas well blowouts. Sunny they are not!

Has the time for renewables arrived in Canada?

windmills-984137_1920

DeSmog this week reported that the new federal and provincial policies are making it possible for Canada to “massively increase the amount of energy the country gets from renewable sources,” according to Clean Energy Canada.

An exciting time

Dan Woynillowicz, policy director at Clean Energy Canada, pointed out that Canada is in a great position because 80 percent of all Canadian electricity comes from non-Green House gas emitting sources. Some is from nuclear power while 75 percent is from hydroelectricity. However, both of these sources do present their own problems. Because our electricity grid is relatively clean (in the U.S., fossil fuels produce nearly 70 percent of the electricity), we have a different challenge.

The Canadian challenge

According to Woynillowicz, we have sectors that are extremely based on fossil fuels and renewables make up practically nothing in their energy mix. These sectors include transportation and home heating (a big sector in Canada). So Canada’s challenge is to get the electricity production up to 100 percent renewables, and then use that electricity to help the other areas switch to renewables.

More good news

Other good news also predicts a shift in the Canadian energy balance:

  • Even with low oil prices, 2015 was Canada’s second best year for renewable energy investments
  • Our installed renewables energy capacity increased by four percent.
  • The federal government is providing a platform for the provinces and territories to talk about the energy challenges
  • In the U.S., solar prices have dropped 80 percent over the last six years with a 60 percent drop in wind prices at the same time.
Ouch! That’s expensive

While renewable prices continue to drop, the cost of massive hydroelectric projects such as site C tend to escalate. According to Desmog, eight of the last ten global hydro projects have exceeded their budgets. The budgets of nuclear plant refurbishments in Ontario are staggering: $12.8 billion for Darlington and $13 billion for Bruce.

According to the Clean Air Alliance, past cost overruns for nuclear projects in Ontario have been on average about 2  to 2.5 times the original estimates, which would boost Darlington to more than $24 billion.

The bad and the bad

I’ve already discussed in my last two blogs why the assumption that hydroelectric power is a renewable is iffy. Meanwhile, the rush job on Site C continues. DeSmog reports that B.C. Hydro lawyers have told Peace Valley farmers and outspoken critics of site C, Ken and Arlene Boon, to vacate their third-generation farm by the end of this year. The dam is not scheduled to flood their land before 2024. Interestingly, B.C. Hydro has decided to reroute the present highway right through their farm buildings and home. You’re free to draw your own conclusions from this.

What’s renewable?

Pardon the diversion, but I wanted to draw attention to a problem: We need a redefinition of what energy sources qualify as renewables. Certainly the land that is being flooded by the Site C dam will no longer be renewable nor can the farms that are on that land be replaced. On the other hand, geothermal has a minimal effect on land use and according to the Canadian Geothermal Association ( CanGEA) is available in sufficient potential to handle the future electrical needs of B.C.

Investigate. Who me?

Ironically, 31 years ago when the Site C dam was rejected for the first time, B.C. Hydro was instructed to investigate the potential of geothermal. Since then B.C. Hydro has carried out minimal and limited investigations on geothermal. How do they get away with it? They ignore a specific instruction and are rewarded with what they wanted anyway.

Fracking + Site C = Costly F**k*p

 

slide

River Summer, 5, looks at the sludge left by a landslide on Brenot Creek. He can no longer play in the creek after the landslide leaked toxic metals into the water. Courtesy Darcy Summer

Much has been made about using natural gas as a transition energy source between “dirty” sources such as coal and renewable energy. The suppliers of natural gas want you to forget these two features:

  • Although natural gas burns cleaner than most fossil fuels, it is still a fossil fuel and produces green house gases
  • One reason that natural gas is getting cheaper is due to its increased supply. The increased supply is mainly due to fracking and this brings its own set of problems that the industry would rather deny than confront.
Hushed up landslide

DESMOG Canada reports that a series of landslides has been followed by toxic heavy metals such as barium, cadmium, lithium, and lead flowing into the Peace River. These unexplained landslides began almost two years ago in August, 2014. These landslides have killed fish along several kilometres of Brenot and Lynx creeks near Hudson’s Hope, B.C. No one has been able to explain the cause of these landslides.

Fracking and earthquakes

Fracking operations in the area began around 2008 as near as I can discover. A dozen earthquakes (between magnitude 1.6 and 3.4) occurred about 8 km from the two creeks between July 2010 and March 2013. The last of these occurred on March 7, 2013. Incidentally, on March 29, 2016 the Globe and Mail reported a study, which confirmed the link between fracking and earthquakes in Western Canada.

The causes of the landslides have not been determined, but there are many suspicions that they are related to the fracking operations due to the fractures that are created in the underground rock formations.

Nothing can go wrong ………nothing can go wrong

By the time of the March 7 earthquake, Talisman Energy suspected that wastewater was leaking from one of their huge “retention ponds” that store waste water from fracking operations. This wastewater is highly contaminated although it’s difficult to know what the exact contaminant is because the drilling companies aren’t required to reveal the makeup of the water they use in fracking.

Water still runs downhill

An investigation, paid for by Talisman, determined that contaminated water was escaping from between the double liners that were used to prevent the pond’s contaminated water from polluting the surrounding ground and water. Later, Talisman discovered that another pond had also been leaking toxic wastewater. No direct connection to the pollution entering the two creeks has been found because of lack of information about the water movement underground. However, Matrix, the environmental engineering firm conducting the investigation, noted that, “the release of toxic metals into the environment was predictable.” Matrix went on to say that although the flow direction wasn’t documented, groundwater generally moves downhill. Guess where the creeks are.

We have no proof, but we know what happened

The Oil and Gas Commission’s hydrologist concluded the landslide was natural and that the contaminants were commonly found in the surrounding soils. Unfortunately, although the B.C. Ministry of Environment said they would file a report, they had no plans for further studies.

Now add Site C to the mix and stir

Another troubling side to this story is that this area is part of the land that will be flooded by the Site C project. Hydroelectric reservoirs have a history of inducing earthquakes and land slides. The Three Gorges Dam recorded more than 3,400 earthquakes between the time it started to fill in 2003 and the end of 2009. That number was 30 times greater than before the reservoir started filling.

Why doesn’t the B.C. government want answers?

This story deserves more study because of the questions it raises about both fracking and the Site C dam. Why is the BC government pushing full steam ahead to get to a point of no return before any studies can be completed?