Distributed Solar: The Democratizaton of Energy
Yeah, like many aspects of the biosphere, forests and their contribution to sequestering Carbon is complicated
From the newsletter of 14th October 2021:
Left are greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, and right are cumulative greenhouse gas emissions, 1751-2018. Don’t think it’s China.
Prior COPs have been characterized by self-delusion so blatant that one of us (JEH) describes the backslapping congratulations at the end of the COPs as a fraud. We cannot blame it all on the political leaders, however. We scientists deserve a large part of the blame.
Scientists were slow to realize how low the targets must be for greenhouse gas (GHG) levels and for global warming to achieve a stable, healthy climate for young people and future generations. We also should have made clearer the effects of lags (delayed responses) in the climate system, as well as the time required to replace energy systems that are the largest source of GHGs.
Political leaders were slow to even set a meaningful goal. At last, with the Paris Agreement at COP21 in 2015, they set a goal to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Global warming had already reached about 1°C, so 1.5°C was believed to be the lowest feasible warming limit. However, the leaders did nothing to realize the two essential actions that the target implied (see below). Instead, they went home and took actions and allowed policies that made the goal unachievable.James Hansen, Makiko Sato, 14th October 2021
The most extraordinary fact revealed in Fig. 2 is probably current emissions by the U.K. The industrial revolution began in the U.K. and for a long period the U.K. had the highest emissions per capita. Yet U.K. per capita emissions today are about one-third of those in the United States, and U.K. emissions are declining rapidly.James Hansen, Makiko Sato, 14th October 2021
I also offer the following from the same post, although I say loudly I completely disagree with it:
Two actions are essential if we are to phase down GHG emissions rapidly. The first, as described many places, most recently at Can Young People Save Democracy and the Planet?,1 is the need for a rising carbon fee as a foundation that will make all other carbon-reduction policies work faster and more effectively. The funds (collected from fossil fuel companies) must be distributed uniformly to legal residents – otherwise the public will never allow the fee to rise to the levels needed to rapidly phase down carbon emissions.
The second essential action is whole-hearted support for development and deployment of modern nuclear power. Otherwise, gas will be the required complement to intermittent renewable energy for electricity generation. Gas implies pipelines, fracking, air and water pollution, and emission of CH4 and CO2 that would assure climate disaster. Modern nuclear power, in contrast, has the smallest environmental footprint of the potential energies because of its high energy density and the small volume of its waste, which is well-contained, unlike wastes of other energy sources.
Nuclear power is already the safest of all major energy sources, based on deaths per kilowatt hour, but modern nuclear power is now far superior, with the ability to shut down in case of an anomaly and not require external power to keep the nuclear fuel cool. Nuclear power has also been the fastest way to deploy power to scale,12 which will be important for phasing out CO2 emissions in places such as China.James Hansen, Makiko Sato, 14th October 2021
The only way nuclear is a viable alternative is if the peoples of, for instance, New England suburbs — and their environmentalist supporters — continue to insist that solar farms and wind turbine constellations cannot be located close to where they live. If they do that, then modular nuclear power, distributed and small scale, is the only way forward to mitigate climate disruption.
Choose your poison, New England.
The following open letter was published on Thursday, 7th October 2021. Here is a link to the PDF original.
Anger. With love. But setting boundaries.
Anger is about defeated expectations.Seneca.
Solkjøring is a 2022 Nissan LEAF SV Plus. Claire named her Tesla 3 Greta, for obvious reasons, and to honor Maphiyata echiyatan hin wini. I searched for an appropriate name for the LEAF. I was tempted to name it “Svante” after Svante Arrhenius, but I thought “Too many first names.”
We have an electric home, powered mostly by solar PV panelsii. The exceptions are (a) a gasoline-powered water pump in case the neighboring wetlands and latent streams flood, never used, but just in case, (b) a propane-powered emergency backup generator, again seldom used, and (c) a propane grille. The rest of it, from stoves, to laundry to heat pumps heating and cooling, our hot water heat pump hot water heater, even our lawnmower, are all electric. There is an orphaned oil furnaceiii which exists in case temperatures drop below Civ.
Solkjøring means “sun riding” or “sun driving” in Norwegian. Since the LEAF is charged primarily using electricity from our solar panels, I thought that idea a compact description in a single word. I mean there’s the German sonne fahren but that’s not as compact.
So Solkjøring it is!
The only downside of the name I found is that the Nissan USA portal and app use a database which store words in ASCII. They don’t even use ISO 8859-x, let alone Unicode UTFv. Accordingly when I entered the name as properly spelled it was rejectedvi. So I chose to approximate it Solkjoering in those places, but Solkjøring is what the name is, properly spelled.
i “Woman who came from the heavens.”
ii We’re planning to power the remaining by getting more panels later this year or early 2022. More on that later.
iii Ironically as climate warms, that’s becoming less likely, even around Boston.
iv One for which we’ll probably never need to buy oil again.
v WordPress accepts them.
vi I’m used to such corruptions as my given name is “Jan.”
Since I was 15 years old, I have been convinced that, basically, humanity is hopelessly oriented to the short term, even if its own long term success or even survival was in the balance. In those days, as I worked through high school and college, majoring in Physics, I was delivered to a point where I needed to choose a graduate school path. I consulted. My choices were Artificial Intelligence or SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Major players advised me away from SETI, and while AI, in 1974, was a long sought capability, at least the skills attending the software and algorithms and engineering and computer science could earn me a living. For SETI, I would be a marginal astronomer or astrophysicist or, worse, exobiologist with engineering creds, and these would not make a living.
In the end I chose MIT and AI, but SETI has never been far from my mind.
And in the intervening years, with threat of nuclear war receding, and despite threat of impact of climate change increasing, posing a threat which could be much worse, I hoped humanity might get its act together.
I was deeply disappointed. It hasn’t. The slipshod international response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic of 2019-2022 demonstrates how badly off we collectively are.
So, I revert to my opinion of 1967: Humans are hopelessly short sighted. While we might blunder our way into some kind of equilibrium with climate disruption and eventually find some mix of curtailment, direct air capture, and suffering with which we can survive, it is far less an impressive performance by a group of hominids who think they are king of the hill in technology and science than those claims would suggest.
The hope in 1967, and increasingly now, is that a First Contact experience might shock us collectively into realizing where our place is, and the perspective we need to adopt. I do not mean an indirect inference of an extraterrestrial civilization as in Carl Sagan‘s Contact book and movie, but, instead, direct, in person contact, even if the extraterrestrials do not stick around for a long time.
The goals I have for such an encounter are similar to those of the Long Now Foundation. It’s not surprising that some of the principals of the Long Now also hold strong positions and are active at trying to deal with climate disruption due to human emissions of fossil fuels.
Welcome to our new 2022 Nissan LEAF SV Plus! Still need to pick a name for it …. Our Tesla 3 is called “Greta.” I was thinking of “Svante” but Claire thought that was too obscure.
Our Nissan dealer is Milford Nissan in Milford, Massachusetts, and the sales manager is Guy Bedau. Excellent experience!
Jeremy Grantham credits Greta Thunberg and XR for pressuring governments to finally do something to cut emissions
The Energy Transition Show with Chris Nelder has recently become my favorite podcast. I eagerly await each new episode and, as a paying subscriber, I enjoy the delightfully long and geeky assessments, analyses, and opinions from really stellar guests.
There are educational episodes as well, introducing audiences to how the electrical grid actually works, and how, recently, grid forming inverters work.
Episode 144 featured Jeremy Grantham, the billionaire investor and co-founder of GMO, a Boston-based asset management firm, who spoke about market bubbles and, of course, the energy transition. Mr Grantham has been working to stop climate change as well, referring to it as “the race of our lives” and calling for a Marshall Plan to deal with climate change (possible paywall at link).
Mr Grantham was asked a lot of things by Mr Nelder relating to finance, China, and Carbon pricing. In one segment Mr Grantham credits Greta Thunberg and XR for pressuring governments like never before to act on cutting emissions, and praising their success. That segment is linked below, and I urge you to listen to the entire interview.
I also recommend subscribing to The Energy Transition Show. It is entirely listener supported and it is a fabulous piece of journalism, far better than many other assessments of energy and climate I know.
From the American Solar Energy Society …
29th September 2020
The song was written by Scilla Hess, Ellie Wyatt, and Jonathan Owes-Yianomah:
LYRICS Welcome to the world Every boy, every girl This is your life your big adventure and your ticket is free they send you to school they’re gonna teach you the rules you’ll find out things are not quite what they seem take it from me the book they wrote is full of lies they says right is wrong and wrong is right so don’t believe the black and white cuz everything is shades of grey we got to learn from our mistakes Chorus: We got to pick up the pieces put them back together it’s down to us if we wanna make it better And try to find our long forgotten road pick up the pieces put them back together it’s down to us if we wanna make it better I’ll see you on the long forgotten road Welcome to the plan Every woman, every man They tell you there’s no price tag on your life they’ll have you believe That you have a voice You think that you have a choice Meanwhile they sell our future for a dollar, to a den of thieves We’re all under the same skies they got no answers to all our whys We speak the truth to all their lies Now we gotta gotta do what it takes And learn from our mistakes Chorus: We got to pick up the pieces put them back together it’s down to us if we wanna make it better And try to find our long forgotten road pick up the pieces put them back together it’s down to us if we wanna make it better I’ll see you on the long forgotten road Woah If we wanna Woah Then we gotta try to find our long forgotten road Woah If we wanna Woah then I’m gonna see you on the long forgotten road now we’re writing the book we’re not frightened to look see it with our eyes wide open we’re making our own rules Now we’re taking control old ways gotta go see it with our eyes wide open we’re making our own rules We’re making our own rules We’re making our own rules Pick up the pieces Put them back together It’s down to us If we wanna make it better I’ll see you on the long forgotten road Woah If we wanna Woah Then we gotta try to find our long forgotten road Woah If we wanna Woah then I’m gonna see you on the long forgotten road Gotta gotta do what it takes And learn from our mistakes Gotta gotta do what it takes And learn from our mistakes .
Biomes are too dynamic and intertwingled to be managed with simple political slogans: The case of Gnetum luofuense
Corners of the Environmentalist Establishment voice shrieks regarding what they call a biodiversity emergency, prompting even skilled journalists to claim the trend poses “as great a risk to humanity as climate change.” We went through the “insect apocalypse” fiasco, which turned out to be argued using bad evidence, specifically, insufficient sampling and improper statistics, including confirmation bias and sampling bias. Even UNEP shouts out about a “biodiversity emergency,” putting in hand-in-hand with the “climate emergency.”
A lot of this results from bad definitions and expectations. As Daniel Botkin observes in his book The Moon in the Nautilus Shell — Discordant Harmonies Reconsidered, many of our notions regarding species extinction and invasive species are grounded in myths regarding how biomes operate and interact:
… Environmentalism of the 1960s and 1970s was essentially a disapproving and in this sense negative movement, focusing on aspects of our civilization that are bad for our environment. It played an important role by awakening people’s consciousness, but it didn’t provide many solutions to our environmental problems, or even viable approaches to solutions. That environmentalism was based on ideas of the industrial age — the machine age — ideas that developed in the eighteenth century and expanded in the nineteenth, ideas that I will argue in the rest of this book are outmoded.
That environmentalism has been perceived as opposing technological progress, but both those arguing for progress and those arguing for protection of the environment have shared a worldview, hidden assumptions, and myths about human beings and nature that dominated the industrial era. In the large, neither science nor environmentalism has gotten to the roots of the issues, which lie deep in our ideas and assumptions about science and technology, and go even deeper in myths and ancient worldviews.(pages 8-9, Botkin, The Moon in the Nautilus Shell, 2012)
This is a growing opinion among professional biologists. It’s understandable why. A flawed understanding of how biomes work impedes proper conservation and management, and is often antithetical to the very idea of natural management. As Botkin argued in his earlier book, Discordant Harmonies, many of us have this idea that if people did not interact with natural systems, or interacted minimally, they would return to an equilibrium wherein “native species” would thrive. Botkin quotes George Perkins Marsh:
In countries untrodden by man, the proportions and relative positions of land and water, the atmospheric precipitation and evaporation, the thermometric mean, and the distribution of vegetable and animal life, are subject to change only from geological influences so slow in their operation that the geographical conditions may be regarding as constant and immutable.(G. P. Marsh, Man and Nature, 1864)
Botkin isn’t the only advocate of this view. There’s Peter Del Tredici, both in his article, “The flora of the future,” and in his book Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast — A Field Guide (2nd edition, 2020). There’s the late Steven Vogel’s Thinking Like a Mall — Environmental Philosophy After the End of Nature where Vogel argues the very concept of “nature” itself is flawed.
There’s a lot of concern about honey bees (Apis mellifera). No doubt with ubiquitous use of pesticides like neonicotinoids, habitat destruction, and fungal pathogens make life difficult. But honey bees are not the only natural pollinators, even though most popular discussion considers “natural pollinators” synonymous with Apis mellifera. There are bumblebees, stingless bees, mason bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, and sweat bees, as well as various moths. While environmental pressures create what are effectively “dead zones” for honey bees and some other bees, the general pattern is that wild bees thrive in other areas, even if these are inconveniently situated, at least from the perspective of farmers or apiaries. (See monitoring measures here and here.) Bee populations respond to some of these threats, including developing associations with bacteria like Bombella apis which suppress fungal pathogens.
Like so much else in biosphere dynamics, loss of species in one area is complemented by emergence or migration of other species in their place. This species rotation is typical, and should be expected due to phenological changes imposed by climate disruption. Even in the case of bees, climate disruption is apparently the most significant pressure, more than changes in landscapes or landscape quality, per
Kammerer, Melanie, Sarah C. Goslee, Margaret R. Douglas, John F. Tooker, and Christina M. Grozinger. “Wild bees as winners and losers: Relative impacts of landscape composition, quality, and climate.” Global Change Biology 27, no. 6 (2021): 1250-1265.
That suggests that if honey bees are to be protected, the best first step is to limit climate disruption by getting off fossil fuels and shutting their extraction and use down, even if that means conversion of some existing habitats to others, like felling trees to create solar fields.
In addition, and this is more or less the the point of this blog post, honey bees can be harmful to some plants. Consider the gymnosperm Gnetum luofuense. It evolved before bees so, as Alun Salt tells in his Botany One blog post about them,
It’s no surprise that the plant has no use for them. However, they still produce pollen, a food that bees like to eat.
Salt summarizes the report
Yang, Min, Tao Wan, Can Dai, Xiao‐Chun Zou, Fan Liu, and Yan‐Bing Gong. “Modern honeybees disrupt the pollination of an ancient gymnosperm, Gnetum luofuense.” Ecology (2021): e03497.
His subtitle tells the whole story:
Some people fixate on honey bees as essential for pollination. Reality is more complicated. For one species, honey bee visits actively harm its chances of pollinating a partner.
If active measures to promote biodiversity are taken, managers ought to understand matters first and well before stumbling into a place where they don’t know what they are doing. And people with concern for biomes and the general environment ought to appreciate that while slogans like “biodiversity emergency” might make great rallying cries to gain membership and financial support, their relevance to biological reality is limited.
zentouro and Raya Salter look at The Question, beginning with the work of Professor Mark Z Jacobson of Stanford University and colleagues. The report to which they refer is now summarized in a book by Professor Mark Z Jacobson. I’ve posted about Professor Jacobson’s work and his book a few times at this blog.
This is written from the perspective of New England, particularly southern New England, but the argument made by these charts is a bounding one. Namely, as CleanTechnica the original source of the story noted, “Germany has solar resources comparable to Alaska’s (not a joke).” The Levelized Cost of Energy (LCoE) noted here is done for Germany, not New England. But LCoE is free of subsidies, and Germany is a big, wealthy OECD country, so the results are comparable. (No one, to my knowledge, has done such a study specifically for New England.) New England is snowy, but not, in principle, as snowy as Germany.
Basically, we are here. That means that solar, wind, and storage are already cheaper than any fossil fuel source.
The second argument, presented in a single cost, is that EVs have matched the cost of Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles, and that sales of ICE vehicles have peaked. The perspective is international, of course, with an emphasis upon Europe, and not southern New England.
On EVs, I think people need to remember there are five drivers of take-up of EVs, setting aside their benefits for reducing emissions:
- Capital cost of EV after whatever incentives apply.
- Lifetime operating cost of EV relative to ICE vehicle, including energy and maintenance, primarily tires.
- Density of the charging network in driving areas of interest.
- Battery power density capacity for EV, meaning giving range of EV.
- Reliability of EV.
#3 and #4 are in tension. It’s long been expected that the 2020-2030 decade will see two or more breakthroughs on energy storage and capacity. As that happens, and these get rolled out to the marketplace, the pressure to provide dense charging networks will lessen. Similarly, the push to provide charging networks will lessen the pressure on battery innovation, and that froth of innovation will be applied to making EVs cheaper and being better vehicles.
I need to drop something in here. I have read, and I have heard from some so-called environmentalists that they are opposed to EVs, preferring electricity-powered mass transport. Why? They don’t like where and how the Lithium for EV batteries is sourced and where it is. They don’t bring up the obvious comparison question, given that people are not going to do without personal vehicles, where are the materials making the components of ICE vehicles sourced?
So moving on to zero Carbon energy and storage …
And sales of ICE vehicles have apparently peaked:
This essay was first publish at the blog of the Green Congregation Committee, First Parish in Needham, on the Parish Realm Web site and communications board. The views obviously are those only of its author, not of First Parish or the Green Congregation Committee. It is republished here in part to reach a broader audience.
A longer review of Botkin’s book will be published on my channel at Goodreads.
(*) I will be writing a detailed review of Botkins book at Goodreads: https://goodreads.com/ecoquant.
(**) S. Tatsumi et al. “Prolonged impacts of past agriculture and ungulate overabundance on soil fungal communities in restored forests”. In: Environmental DNA (2021). URL:
(***) Maybe California Actually Does Have Enough Water
(****) R. L. Ryan and M. B. Wamsley. “Perceptions of wildﬁre threat and mitigation measures by residents of ﬁre-prone communities in the Northeast: Survey results and wildland ﬁre management implications.” In: The public and wildland ﬁre management: social science ﬁndings for managers. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station, pp. 11–17. URL: https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/18648.
(*****) A. Szasz. How we changed from protecting the environment to protecting ourselves. University of Minnesota Press, 2007. URL: https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/shopping-our-way-to-safety.
(******) R. H. Whittaker. “Recent evolution of ecological concepts in relation to the eastern forests of North America”. In: American Journal of Botany 44 (1957), pp. 197–206.
Can we send the bills for additional weather and flood insurance to people who oppose zero Carbon energy facilities?
Any environmental organization whose policy inhibits or prohibits solar development wherever it can be placed is unworthy of the adjective “environmental.”