Dave’s Top 10 Clean Energy News Stories From August

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This continues my monthly report of 10 of the most compelling clean energy generation, energy conservation technology, and climate change stories encountered over the last month. Over a thousand articles were reviewed across the various clean energy platforms, 30+ were found to be of particular interest and are available in my newsletter upon request. Here is my pick of the “Top 10” that might have an impact on your business, your life, and the world we live in. Or, at the very least, might surprise you about what’s going on. And thanks to David Letterman for the “Top 10” idea. Articles are listed most important last.

10. China expresses “concern” about GHG emissions and citizen health from pollution and that they are constructing numerous (pollution free) wind and solar power stations. However, this report does not show a turning point until 2027, when China’s GHG emissions will peak, at which time their source of electricity from coal is estimated to decline from today’s 67% to 44%. Coincidentally, fossil fuels (coal and gas) also account for 67% of US electricity production today.

9. Here’s evidence that rising GHG emissions in CA are causing climate change: more forest fires, less precipitation as snow and less water in the Tahoe-Truckee watershed for sports, agriculture, and human consumption.

8. This U of M professor makes the case that bigger gains in reducing GHG emissions in transportation can come from controlling “upstream” sources, and less from innovations in new fuel and vehicle types. These include closing (converting) fossil fuel power plants (for EV plug-ins), amending farming methods, harvesting and shipping of biofeedstock (for ethanol or alternative fuel feedstocks), and mitigating methane leaks in natural gas production and piping.

7. Global solar energy installation grew by 58% in 2012, with the top four countries being Germany, Spain, Italy and China. Global wind installs grew 19% in 2012, with the top countries being US, Germany, Spain and the UK. Still, the combination of wind and solar only accounted for 1.7% of global energy consumed. Here’s a great chart showing the composition of (global) GHG emissions and where they come from by country and type of economic activity.

6. Claiming to be carbon neutral by applying the principles of photosynthesis from plants, a synthetic gasoline is being developed from hydrogen and CO2 by scientists from CalTech, Stanford, Berkeley Labs and 3 UC campuses with funding of $122M from the DOE.

5. Oregon leads 17 states considering charging motorists for miles driven vs. gas consumed. With vehicle fuel efficiency increasing due to hybrids, EVs, and the 54.5 mpg CAFE mandates of the EPA by 2025, less fuel is (and will be) consumed, reducing fuel tax funds needed by states for road construction and maintenance.

4. China hired IBM to develop a grid-scale weather forecasting technology — “Hybrid Renewable Energy Forecasting” (HyRef) — to better anticipate intermittency of wind and solar output for more cost effective integration into the utility power mix. With sales anticipated across Euro and the US, this could be a big win for “big blue.”

3. Once considered non-polluting sources of clean energy, hydroelectric damns — and the waters behind them — are being examined for the methane they release as a result of the organic sediments below. (Research tells us that methane is 20-25 times more harmful than CO2 in holding heat and contributing to global warming.) This “damn” discovery notwithstanding, it’s hard to image how to mitigate or capture the methane from 50,000 large damns and literally millions of smaller ones around the world.

2. Developed by Google nerds and dubbed by Fast Company as one of the TOP 10 data graphs, this wind map shows the velocity and direction of winds across the US — in real time. (Notably, for long-time CleanTechnica readers, CleanTechnica covered this wind map back in March 2012.)

#1 Most interesting (my opinion) clean tech news story of the month:

1. Other states and other countries considering energy cap-and-trade (C&T) are watching what appears to be a successful C&T program in CA. All of CA’s “offset” credits have been sold for 2013 and 2016. The program is a tax on energy and thus a revenue source for CA, but also is intended to help CA companies comply with AB32, enacted in 2006 to reduce GHG emissions 25% to 1990 levels by 2020. Environmentalists argue this gives companies permission to continue polluting. However, there’s been national success with previous C&T programs to reduce SO2 and NOx emissions.

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11 thoughts on “Dave’s Top 10 Clean Energy News Stories From August

  • On the dam methane issue, wouldn’t the rotting matter exude methane anyway into the atmosphere, albeit perhaps more slowly, if it was not washed into the water? If it was already present in the river anyway, again there would be the same methane output overall, just over a larger area?

    • I have the same question.

      What I’d really like is to have the methane issue put into context. Over the lifetime of the dam how will the methane/GHG released compare to ground left un-submerged? The organic material, if left on the ground, is going to be consumed by organisms which emit methane and CO2.

      Did they account for the full lifespan of the dam or only look at methane during the first few years when organic matter submerged by the initial flooding was cooking off?

      And what is the carbon offset from using energy produced by the dam rather than burning fossil fuels?

      Unfortunately the article is behind a paywall.

      • From the abstract…

        ” Our results suggest that sedimentation-driven methane emissions from dammed river hot spot sites can potentially increase global freshwater emissions by up to 7%.”

        OK, increased methane emission is not a good thing. But without context one can’t decide if this is a problem or not. How much less coal will be burned because the dam is generating electricity?

        • Sounds like an example of ‘I know what he sediment but not what the element!’

  • RE: China not reaching peak GHG until 2027.

    I won’t at all be surprised if China peaks years sooner.

    China’s economy is starting to slow. The demand for new electricity will begin to slow.

    China’s people are starting to get vocal about pollution. They are past the days of worrying about where their next meal is coming from and are now looking at other quality of life issues. The air quality in much of China is terrible. People are really complaining about coal plants and managed to get one relocated away from one of their cities recently.

    Often predictions are made by putting a ruler up to historical data and drawing a straight line into the future. Our future is rapidly becoming something different than was our past.

    In the past wind generation has been affordable and solar sort of expensive. Wind is becoming cheap and solar affordable. In just a few years solar should be cheap. Wind and solar will be cheaper than coal. And China has extensive hydro resources for filling in between solar and wind.

    China imports coal and imports fuel to haul their own coal to coal plants. This is a loss of capital and hurts their balance of trade.

    China’s leaders don’t seem to have a problem with putting their thumb on the scale to bring about large scale change. They are at the moment test driving several carbon pricing strategies. Once they have a good idea what works best it’s likely they will implement a nationwide carbon price that will make the economics of renewables even more favorable.

    Coal could start dying away very rapidly and soon.

    China has a significant fresh water problem. And China’s leaders understand that their problem is almost certain to get worse with climate change. A tremendous amount of fresh water is used in getting coal ready to burn and in cooling thermal plants. Using renewable to replace coal will free up a lot of water.

    Not long ago China was predicting their GHG peak in 2030. Now it’s rolled back to 2027. I expect we’ll see further roll backs.

  • Some might say that since its a German group behind the research and that Germany is so PV solar oriented, there might an ulterior motive to discredit hydro power. I’d rather believe that individual groups around the planet are not taking anything for granted — i.e. a safe hydro source — and are challenging all clean energy options. Because we’re examining, even debating, we’re the better for it.

    • I’m not saying that the researcher has a motive to discredit hydro. If the data is well collected data, then it is what it is.

      What I’m saying is that I can’t understand the meaning of the data from only the press release and article abstract. There needs to be some context supplied before the study’s data has any meaning.

      It’s like stating that wind and solar have measurable lifetime carbon footprints. They do. But until you put their footprints up against that of fossil fuels the measurement is meaningless.

      • Bob,

        Guess we’re talking about net benefit. First validate and quantify the methane escaping. Then compare to amount of CO2 displaced by that same hydro facility vs a coal plant. And then make the calculation that methane is 20+ more harmful than CO2.

        Like you said, the context is key, otherwise its just soft news, not particularly actionable.

        Thanks for your shared concern.


        • Exactly. Net cost/benefit. This study apparently measures only the amount of methane released by certain types of dams.

          We don’t know how much methane and CO2 would have been released had the organic matter been left on the forest floor to decompose.

          It doesn’t tell us how much CO2 is avoided via decreased coal burning.

          It’s not news. It’s data that might be used to create news if the rest of the puzzle pieces were present and told us something important.

          The problem I have with this study, not with this study but with how this study may be used, is the same one I have with the study of a shallow reservoir dam in South America. You can’t take what is given and claim that dams are bad as has been done with the SA study.

          It’s like stating that sticking someone with a sharp object is a bad time while not pointing out whether the sharp object might be a vaccine needle….

  • Weil said, Mr. Wallace. I wonder if China’s economic slowdown will cause them to fall back on their cheaper power source (coal), extending their GHG “turning point” out later, not sooner.

    • Coal is not necessarily cheap for China. They either have to import it or import fuel to bring their coal to their plants. And they have a huge water cost. I’m not sure they’re feeling a food pinch due to limited agricultural water, but if not yet, it’s coming.

      China’s government seems to have a lot of cash. And seems to have a good handle on the value of investing.

      They seem to be a lot more thoughtful than our corporations which concentrate on this quarter’s earnings and on many in our government who don’t want to spend to replace the infrastructure we’re using up.

      I can see them deciding to spend considerable amounts for wind and solar capacity in order to produce larger fossil fuel and food expenses in their near future.

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