Air Quality

Published on August 25th, 2014 | by Daryl Elliott


Renewable Energy Momentum Has Passed The Tipping Point

August 25th, 2014 by  

Editor’s Note: This is a great summary piece on the renewable energy revolution from one of CleanTechnica’s daily readers. Unlike with many of the recent reader articles we’ve published, this one doesn’t come from a frequent commenter but from one of the many, many lurkers who read CleanTechnica daily and silently. I’m happy he jumped in with this piece and dropped us one of the longest reader comments ever! I’m also happy to see so many of our stories + other sources compiled in such an interesting and useful way. Chime in with your comments and appreciation in the comments below!

By Daryl Elliott

1 Wind Solar License Free - Use Commercially Credit Tom Baerwald Solarpraxis

SECTION I: Evidence of Advancing Renewables

This is a declaration that here in the ides of August, 2014, that there exists clear, overwhelmingly convincing evidence that we have passed the tipping point for change into the renewable energy era. This article discusses various aspects of evidence and metrics used for this conclusion plus some transition discussion.

From an article by Bob Wallace on CleanTechnica, renewable energy is starting to replace utility-sized fossil fuel and nuclear plants in the US as shown in this graph.

2 Renewables by Year

This is likely to accelerate over time because newly added renewables have a cumulative effect. This is to say that each new renewable installation will supplant the energy demand of the older model energy sources of oil, coal, gas and nuclear.

Let us investigate some of the aspects of this shift in momentum from historically traditional energy sources to renewable energy production.

Countries with High Electricity Production from Renewable Energy Sources

Iceland 100%: This is from hydroelectric and geothermal.

Norway 98%: Norway produces more energy than the country consumes. Much of this is due to hydroelectric power.

Paraguay 90%: This is from hydropower at Itaipu dam, which also provides 19% of Brazil’s electricity.

Canada 64%: Almost entirely hydropower.

Denmark 45%

Scotland 40%

Germany 31%: This is based on the first half of 2014.

Portugal 25%

Spain 22%

China 17%

United States 13%

Renewable Energy Production of Electricity 5 incl Canada


Competing for Rich Revenue Streams

In the US, the most difficult first eighth is completed with many projects currently underway to get us closer to completing the 2nd eighth. We will then only need to repeat those accomplishments 3 more times to reach 100% renewable energy for our electricity demands. (Hydro is 2.8% in US.) In a very real sense, there is a rush to get a piece of this lucrative financial pie. The competition for these rich revenue streams has already begun.

7 Headlines that Point to the Future of Energy Production

  1. Solar Power’s Rapid Growth
    The opening line in this video from Rocky Mountain Institute is “Solar Power is scaling up even faster than cell phones.”
  2. More & More Coal Power Plants Are Being Retired
  3. Solar Industry Provides far More Jobs in Australia than Coal
  4. Beijing Plans to Ban Coal Power by 2020
  5. Solar Power’s Growth: Why Renewables Are Taking Over
  6. China Will Install More Solar This Year Than The U.S. Ever Has
  7. Mexico & Central American Clean Energy Investment Skyrockets

Note: China’s insatiable appetite for oil might be drying up in the next decade or so due to this shift since their national energy plans includes EV. Its plan is to have roughly a third of its vehicles by 2020 EV and PHEV.

How Many Headlines Does it Take for a Convincing Argument?

How many headlines are needed to understand that the trend toward renewables is strong and sees no end in sight? If you need more evidence, no worries, as there are plenty more headlines out there, and more of them with further evidence seem to appear every week.

Renewables Represent a Better Model

All Renewables

  • Renewables are safe, domestically sourced, and virtually unlimited.
  • They offer energy independence from foreign cartels.
  • They keep our nation sovereign, surely a topic that conservatives in power would in principle support.
  • Renewables are based on market economy pricing, free from oligopolistic pricing schemes that manipulate historically traditional energy prices.
  • Reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases, bringing hope to future generations.
  • Reduce water use.

4 Renewables Water Use Comparison

EV: The electric vehicle is a better automobile model. This is especially true as batteries improve to increase driving ranges. The reasons why it’s a better model is because:

  • EVs generate less pollution, even when their electrical energy is sourced from fossil fuel plants.
  • EVs are roughly $1,000 less per year to operate, reducing its cost of ownership.
  • EVs’ internal mechanics are simpler, which makes their maintenance easier and less expensive, again dropping the cost of ownership.
  • EVs reduce pollution in cities where vehicles are concentrated, improving air quality and reducing asthma and lung cancer and heart disease.

5 Wind Turbine 16,000 Solar Panels 5

Wind Power:

  • Offers clean, inexpensive, domestic, renewable energy.
  • Highly efficient. One commercial wind turbine can equal 16,000 solar panels.
  • Can be used for utility-scale generation or in small, democratic, commercial or residential units.
  • Typically doesn’t take up valuable space. The wind farms can be sited offshore or on farms where farmers can farm underneath the wind turbines.

6 Renewables Wind Energy by State NREL 2014

On the webpage linked above, the state-by-state annual growth of wind power installations can be seen.

Solar Power:

  • Solar power is efficient, clean, renewable, cost competitive and domestic.
  • US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse claims that there are now more people working in the US solar industry than in the coal industry. substantiates his claim.
  • Solar PV has had significant price reductions in the last half decade and installation soft costs are being reduced as well.
  • The historical lament by politicians about solar technology not being ready, intended to impede solar acceptance, is no longer working since solar power is a mature technology. This battle has been won.
  • Utility-scale plants are possible, and small democratic applications are springing up everywhere as is evidenced by the below map 12.

7 National Solar Database 8-13-14

Geothermal: This is one of the easiest energy savers to implement. Residential and commercial building geothermal involves digging a well-designed hole in the ground, running some pipe through it, and hooking it up correctly to heat and cool buildings in winter and summer, respectively. This contributes to our ability to produce zero energy buildings. Geothermal also includes energy from hot springs and other earth heat sources.

LEED Building Standards (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design): Recently, I went on a private tour to see some zero-energy homes here in Las Vegas. Since the heat can get as high as 45C/115F, it’s not such an easy feat to claim zero-energy use here, but it’s being done without too much trouble. Prices have been gradually dropping for these energy-efficient building materials and they are being made more widely available.

Energy Star–certified windows have come down in price significantly from when they were first introduced. Their pricing is slightly higher than regular window pricing, but when taking into account the energy savings, they are less expensive in the long run.

In 2013, there were 4,642 total building projects certified globally by LEED. This represents 21.07 million square meters (226.8 million square feet). The significance of this is that newer buildings will require less energy per square meter. Appliances are becoming more efficient so that, as appliances wear out and are replaced, the efficiency increases in this arena as well.

Oil, Gas, Coal and Nuclear Represent an Inferior Model

  • Oil spills cause environmental devastation and can wreak havoc for decades.
  • Nuclear meltdown disasters endanger citizens, crops, oceans and the environment.
  • Fracking for gas produced an estimated 1.05992 trillion liters (280 billion gallons) waste water in 2012, much of it contained “…cancer-causing and even radioactive material.”
  • Oil, coal and gas burn, which uses oxygen, causes air pollution, which is responsible for lung irritation (asthma and lung cancer), and they cause greenhouse gas emissions, which are responsible for climate disruption.
  • Nuclear plants are built on waterways so they can use the water to cool the plants and this causes thermal pollution in our waterways and oceans, which may exacerbate melting ice caps (Ever put an ice cube in hot tea?).
  • Oil, gas, coal, and uranium are finite resources, not renewable, so they only provide short-term energy contributions.
  • Oil is partially imported, causing trade imbalance, national energy instability, and price manipulation risk.
  • Nuclear plants are designed to operate for only about 40 years and yet the site will take a very optimistic 60 years to decontaminate.
  • Nuclear waste lasts 200 to 500 thousand years and there are no suitable, available repositories.
  • Nuclear plant byproducts can be used for nuclear bombs causing a security threat.
  • Long ramp-up and construction costs.
  • Nuclear is extraordinarily highly capital intensive and uses enormous subsidies and loan guarantees, burdening the government unnecessarily.
  • Coal mining is dangerous to coal miners from cave-in dangers and lung disease risks.
  • Transporting nuclear waste causes risks to communities, plus there is terrorist interception danger.
  • Nuclear plants are terrorist targets adding to societal risk and added security costs.
  • Nuclear waste burdens placed on future generations are unfair and unnecessary.

8 Renewables Spills Solar Wind Oil Nuclear2

This point is minor and was done mostly out of curiosity. We have long-existing energy industries and emerging renewable energy industries, so one might expect the historically traditional energy industries to have a significantly higher web search hit count, but renewable energies have roughly two-thirds as many search hits as the older energy industries.

Renewable Energy

Renewable Energy: 57.2 million hits
Solar Power: 140 million hits
Wind Power: 265 million hits
Electric Vehicles: 32 million hits
Hybrid Cars: 38.9 million hits
Fuel Cells: 21.4 million hits
Geothermal Energy: 2.8 million hits
LEED Building 19.6 million hits
Wave Energy: 25 million hits
Total: 601 million hits

Old Energy

Oil Energy: 72.9 million hits
Coal Energy: 114 million hits
Gas Energy: 659 million hits*
Nuclear Energy: 35.5 million hits
Total: 881 million hits

*There may be some methodologically unreliable skew associated with gas energy hits (might individual accounts somehow be counted for example).


Three Biggest Reasons Why There is a Shift to Renewables

1. People are making money with renewables. There is capitalist opportunity here.

2. These unlimited, renewable energy models make more sense than burning finite materials that pose many undue risks including energy instability, price volatility, price inflation, and pollution of the earth’s waters, ambient air, and upper atmosphere.

3. People are making money with renewables. There is capitalist opportunity here.

The Key Motivating Determinant

Interestingly, the reason why this trend will continue is simple. Capitalists want to make money. Sure, everyone wants to help the environment in the process, but if it weren’t profitable, it wouldn’t be happening. Here’s a capitalist metric that might be a bit surprising. The market cap for Tesla, which only sells EVs, is already $30.8 billion, while Ford, a 112-year-old blue chip stock firm, is $68 billion; and GM, also over a century old, is $54 billion. Tesla’s market cap is referred to as “market acceptance.” People are investing in this company because they believe it will provide a nice financial return.

Displacement March

The simple fact that there is a ton of money being poured into the renewable energy sector will continue to drive this growth. How far will it drive it? As far as it can be driven, which is to say until there is complete replacement of oil, coal, gas, and nuclear energy. This won’t happen overnight, but the march is inexorable. The writing is on the wall.

SECTION II: Tipping Point

How is the tipping point discovered? In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Tipping Point, he gives many examples of change from one modality or system to another. It’s not always obvious, but there are vegan bread crumbs to lead the way. Some, not all, of those indicators have been outlined in Section I. There is overwhelming evidence that we have passed the tipping point.

The Science of Tipping Points

According to the science of tipping points, yes, there is such a thing, the tipping points can be reached very quickly. Scientists at RPI claim that the tipping point can be as little as 10% adoption in the population. Polls show a high renewable energy favorability rating in the US population (and likewise in Europe). In the US, the rate is ~70% favorable over several polls.

The Favorability Percentage Doesn’t Matter

There is a key reason why this favorability percentage, while very high, is truly not that important. The reason is that capitalism is leading the way. People are making money with renewables. There is capitalist opportunity and companies are going after it in a big way.

Bringing People to Action

Bringing people in the state legislatures; Congress; and oil, coal, gas, and nuclear companies to take action on the evidence is another story. Climate disruption is an appropriate example to cite since the evidence is overwhelming yet the action has been little to date. For this to be an effective energy transition, it will take state and federal political will, and for corporations to take action.

SECTION III: Transition

Is there a way to make the transition velvet smooth? This section addresses a few ideas to reduce job disruption for workers, and to reduce revenue disruption for the oil, coal, gas and nuclear industries.

Tobacco Industry Lessons?

The tobacco industry has gone through significant change in the last 40 years; its response to its shrinking market has been defensive. Companies have consolidated for market position and have looked toward exports where there is reduced regulation. However, their case is different than this energy sector shift, so making any comparisons would be inappropriate, since tobacco’s US market is shrinking and the energy market is growing, but changing.

Redefinition, and Opportunity

In the energy world, no business is being lost, it is changing. The energy sector keeps growing. In other words, profits and jobs may be maintained in the historically traditional energy industries if there is awareness and leadership to embrace renewable energy models. Renewables are after all in the same market sector, with the only difference being the energy generation model.

Will segments of energy production shrink? Yes, oil and coal are seeing modest reductions now. This needn’t be a problem. The traditional energy firms have tremendous talent, leadership, cash reserves, and other resources in this arena, their arena, of energy production. To this extent, they have a huge head start over the emerging renewable energy firms. Will they capitalize on their strengths?

Some movement has already been made by historically traditional energy companies into the renewables field and more would be welcomed. Some of the wind energy is owned by oil money. Texas is the wind production leader by a factor exceeding 2 times over California and a significant portion of that is due to the oil industry. Another traditional energy firm that has become a wind energy leader, and a shining success in this transition, is General Electric.

Nuclear to Wind Turbines, Case Study

General Electric built the first commercial nuclear plant 55 years ago and has built about 100 of them in 13 countries. GE has been one of the largest nuclear construction companies. It has also been building wind turbines, lots of them. With over 16,500 of them in operation, GE has the most widely-deployed wind turbine count in the industry.

General Electric gets an A for embracing renewables. Its shareholders should be proud of its leadership. It has not abandoned the nuclear industry opportunity, it have expanded into renewables. Are you a shareholder of an oil, coal, gas, or other nuclear company? What are its executives doing to take advantage of the renewables opportunity? Are they embracing the future, or clinging to the past?

Coal Mines to Utility-scale Solar, Case Study

Three coal mine sites have been converted to utility-scale solar plants in the UK. It has been done in this instance and it can be done more easily the second time since a successful model is already in place.

Transition to Preserve Jobs and Revenue Streams

It is my hope that oil, coal, gas, and nuclear companies will partner with solar and wind companies or create independent spin-offs to bring jobs to coal and oil states. There is no need for retracting business segments to lose revenue for the firms in those segments or for jobs to be lost for the loyal employees… if renewable energy projects are started. The time to prepare is now to shift orientation to renewables.

9 Coal Mines by State Map 2010

Coal States — Jobs and Corporate and Tax Revenue

It’s time for the governors and other legislators in the big coal mine states of WV, PA, OH, KY, IN, IL, TN, and AL to start working to transition workers into clean energy jobs. Leadership is needed to forge the way. Attracting green jobs or working with existing energy companies to maintain jobs in states may require some transition to renewables. Politicians assisting traditional energy firms to transition to renewables with existing incentives would protect jobs and thus tax revenues.

What Can Readers Do to Facilitate this Transition?

Readers could, if you think it makes sense, contact legislators, governors and members of Congress. Political leadership is needed to avert any disruption of jobs or corporate or tax revenue. If you are a shareholder of a traditional energy company, you can bring up these topics at shareholder meetings. For firms that do not transition, you can divest their stock over time as transitions do take time.

Conclusion: Disruptive Technology Provides Opportunity

The disruptive technology of renewable energy is changing the planet, one project at a time, one EV at a time, one wind turbine at a time, one rooftop PV project at a time. This offers a streams-of-cash-flow opportunity stretching into the future. Jobs and revenue can be added, not lost. The time to act is now.

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

About the Author

I have followed and supported solar, wind, geothermal since the 1970s. After discovering its strong environmental benefits, became vegan in the late 70s. Go green.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Tim, I’d say you’ve spent far too much time in doomer-land. Time to look around and discover what is going on in the real world.

  • Tim Elliott

    Some important points

    Rare earth element bearing deposits, as used in “renewables” are only mined in China, not because the rest of the world has no deposits. Its that no other countries environmental restrictions allow them to be mined. They are the dirtiest deposits. There is close to a 1:1 ratio of rare earths to radioactive isotopes in the ore.

    Last year the renewables sector generated as much radioactive waste as a by product of rare earth refining, than the nuclear industry.

    The raw ingredients for “renewables” are mined. They do not pop into existence by magic. They must be dug up and smelted. This process has already hit the straps of its energy availability. Mining costs have risen to the point production is set to fall.

    Falling production, and an exponentially growing population means two things. If “renewables” could approximate the current free energy in the system tomorrow, it would not help one bit.

    That falling free energy, means falling mine production. Falling mine production makes every battery, every panel, and every wind turbine (with its huge neodymium magnets) an impossibility. You can’t make them out of thin air.

    Can any of the manufacturers in here say their raw materials are getting easier to get?

    Solar and wind need nuclear behind them, or they are not clean in any way. Given the rare earth dependency (12kg of Lanthanum in a Prius alone), and the correlation in nature between rare earths and radioactive isotopes.

    “Renewables” are utterly pointless. They are energy negative when mining is considered. They generate enough fissionable nuclear fuel, that is otherwise waste, that either burn it and get rid of some, or store it and make renewables even more ridiculous.

    They are great off grid power sources, but they need a huge base load energy jump, at least a 100,000X increase in the per capita resource allocation to be viable.

    • Bob_Wallace

      ” Its that no other countries environmental restrictions allow them to be mined”

      Actually, no. It’s entirely possible to mine and refine REEs in other countries.

      “Falling mine production makes every battery, every panel, and every wind turbine (with its huge neodymium magnets) an impossibility. You can’t make them out of thin air.”

      Actually, no. We make both solar panels and wind turbines without REMs.

      “”Renewables” are utterly pointless. They are energy negative when mining is considered”

      Actually, no. Wind and solar repay the energy use to manufacture panels and turbines very rapidly.

      “They are great off grid power sources, but they need a huge base load energy jump, at least a 100,000X increase in the per capita resource allocation to be viable.”

      Actually, that’s silly.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Here, Tim, some cradle to grave info on solar panels. Perhaps it will help flush some of the disinformation out of your head –

        Life Cycle of PV and Energy Payback Times

        The life cycle of photovoltaics starts from the extraction of raw materials (cradle) and ends with the disposal (grave) or recycling and recovery (cradle) of the PV components (Figure 2). The mining of raw materials such as quartz sand for silicon PVs, and copper, zinc, and aluminum ores for mounting structures and thin-film semiconductors, is followed by separation and purification stages. The silica in the quartz sand is reduced in an arc furnace to metallurgical-grade silicon, which must be purified further into solar-grade silicon (i.e., 99.9999% purity), requiring significant amounts of energy. Metal-grade cadmium and tellurium for CdTe PV is primarily obtained as a byproduct of zinc and copper smelters, respectively, and further purification is required for solar-grade purity. Similarly, metals used in CIGS PV are recovered as byproducts: indium and gallium are byproducts of zinc mining, while selenium is mostly recovered from copper production.

        The raw materials include those for encapsulations and balance-of-system components, for example, silica for glass, copper ore for cables, and iron and zinc ores for mounting structures. Significant amounts of energy are required for the production, processing, and purification of all these materials, as well as for the manufacturing of the solar cells, modules, electronics, and structures, and for the installation, sometimes the operation, and eventually the dismantling and recycling or disposal of the system components. Thus, the EPBT is defined as the period required for a renewable energy system to generate the same amount of energy (in terms of primary energy equivalence) that was used to produce the system itself.

        EPBT for the same type of systems installed in the U.S. Southwest are decreased in proportion to the solar irradiation ratio (1700/2380) between the U.S. average and Southwest solar conditions. Thus, for Southwest irradiation the EPBTs for the three PV technologies shown in Figure 3 are 1.2, 1.2, and 0.5 years and the corresponding EROIs are 0.04, 0.04, and 0.02, thus 50 times better than stated in the July PE article. And these EROI keep improving as systems and material utilization efficiencies continue to improve.

        It is noted that several PV LCA studies with differing estimates can be found in literature. Such divergence reflects different assumptions about key parameters, like product design, solar irradiation, performance ratio, and lifetime. The estimates also differ because of the different types of installation used, such as ground mounts, roof – tops, and façades. Also, assessments often are made from outdated information in the literature collected from antiquated PV systems.

        To resolve these inconsistencies, the International Energy Agency PVPS Task 12 has published “Methodology Guidelines on Life Cycle Assessment of Photovoltaic Electricity” ( These guidelines reflect a consensus among experts in the U.S., Europe, and Asia for conducting balanced, transparent, and accurate life-cycle assessments. The results presented in Figure 3are produced according to these guidelines.

        • Bob_Wallace

          And here, Tim, is research on wind turbines which finds the cradle to grave energy used to mine, manufacture, install and recycle turbines is recovered in 5.2 to 6.4 months.

          • Tim Elliott

            Does that take into account the changes in those numbers?

            I am not disputing the payback now.

            What I am saying, is the payback is predicted to get exponentially worse.

            Ore, is metal that can be extracted economically. And the key variable is energy. What makes a piece of rock ore is the amount of energy needed to get the metal out.

            The general consensus in the exploration industry, is we have found everything. I personally disagree with this, but it is what current plans are based on.

            Essentially, as free energy is falling, what is defined as ore is falling. Any increase in production to keep up with global population, if it does not come with an INCREASE in free energy, changes the definition of ore.

            This is why we say the equation does not work. Because the payback is in flux. And the consumption required for roll out, creates such a decrease in supply, that obviously it creates an increase in price.

            Thus, while the payback works not, as free energy falls relative to people, the payback gets exponentially worse.

            This seems to be something that is missing in most peoples thinking.

            Its not todays payback that matters. It is the trend in payback that matters.

            Even without its own consumption, the renewables sector i looking down the barrel of its payback getting exponentially worse.

          • Tim Elliott

            I’m not even considering “renewables” an option.

            From an extractives perspective, hydrocarbons have already failed us.

            People are should expect around a 2x increase in their living costs. This is what the mining industry is waiting right now, to start ramping production up again.

            We have had no real external capital input in two years, so our costs are going to be passed on, by with holdig supply and letting prices climb to where we are economic again.

            So you can double your payback right there.

          • Bob_Wallace

            If you’re not considering renewable energy an option then best you seek out your cave and go back to living with fire.

            The rest of the world is moving to renewable energy.

            As far as cost, wind is now our cheapest way to produce electricity and solar will soon be joining it.

            It costs about one third as much to power a vehicle with electricity as with petroleum.

            We’re not going to see an increase in energy prices in the long term. We’ll likely see a decrease. Plus we’re doing a lot with efficiency, lowering our energy needs.

      • Tim Elliott

        Of course it is possible to mine and refine rare earths in other countries. They are not actually rare. It is what I do for a living. I’m simply pointing out, the one thing stopping us is how incredibly dirty rare earth mining is. We actually don’t try to develop them, there is no chance of passing environmental checks.

        This is the basis of the renewables industry.

        Its not really an issue of REMs. They just make it worse. We are going to be dealing with a steady decrease in available resources over the next few years.

        No one, not even the renewables industry have been worrying about where their raw materials come from. Its been neglected. So if someone wants to go check the mining industries resource delivery predictions, then compare it to the required consumption to produce enough solar or wind to meet the worlds energy needs…………

        You may find the results sobering.

        The full energy budget, from extraction to production to maintenance to recycling, to remanufacture for “renewables”, as far as I know, has never been done.

        But as the mining industry is cheerfully planning to pass our huge and growing inefficiencies on to all other industries, its sort of a moot point.

        NIMBYism in a global world means everything is your back yard. The same environmentalists championing renewables have been battling the mining industry, and where we can work gets smaller and smaller.

        You can’t have it both ways. You can’t roll out giant turbines and huge batteries for 7 billion people if you already cut off your raw material supply.

        • Bob_Wallace

          “The full energy budget, from extraction to production to maintenance to recycling, to remanufacture for “renewables”, as far as I know, has never been done.”

          Tim, I’ve linked LCAs, cradle to grave studies for both wind and solar. You seem to be low on information, it’s very easy to find the studies on line you claim don’t exist.

          If China can’t/won’t supply the REMs we need we have two options:

          1) build turbines and panels without them – which we already do – or

          2) reopen our mines and refineries.

          “No one, not even the renewables industry have been worrying about where their raw materials come from.”

          Tim, that statement simply indicates how far out of touch you are. The issue of materials is widely discussed and studied.

          Go up to the “Search” app on the upper right of this page. Type in “rare earth” and hit enter. You’ll find several articles on this site, alone.

          • Tim Elliott

            Sorry mate, but I am a resource geologist. I spend around 8 hrs of my own time trawling data trying to answer these questions. My job involves the process of finding, then calculating the content of an ore deposit, plus predicting future mineral trends.

            If you can show me a cradle to the grave model for any renewable item, I would be very very grateful. Its not trolling, if those numbers exist I need them, to factor into my work. I know a large number of physicists and other types also eager for this data.

            Its common for people to say “just re-open the mines”. That is what we tried from 2004-2011. It failed. Expenditure reached record levels, and discovery of new metal fell.

            Greenpeace has been telling kids for a generation that mining is evil. We have had a good 30 years of negative recruitment. We are not debating in the resource sector if we can find metal.

            We are debating how we find enough people to do it. It is a complex job, with huge potential for inefficiency. My job is to tell you what is 300m under your feet, to the accuracy of a financial statement. If I am 100m out, that is another 100 cubic meters of rock, that has to be shifted with diesel.

            It is a skill that takes a decade to learn. We have not had poistive recruitment in exploration for a long, long time. We failed so miserably between 2004 and 2011 because we literally had graduates managing large exploration companies. It was a circus.

            The total area to search, the number of skilled searchers, and the available funding and the free energy for extraction and refinement are all plummeting.

            You can’t have your cake and eat it to. The resource sector has been gutted. We have our own massive problems, and every financial model on the planet, including the renewable sector seems to be assuming that

          • Bob_Wallace

            I gave you links for cradle to grave studies on solar panels and wind turbines.

            I also gave you links to rare earth mines and processing outside of China.

            Do you not check your email? You should be automatically subscribed to these threads when you make a comment.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “The resource sector has been gutted.”

            What does that mean? Are we running out of steel, aluminum, limestone, silicon and copper?

            “Greenpeace has been telling kids for a generation that mining is evil.”

            Greenpeace and many others have been telling all of us, for a long time, that irresponsible, dirty mining is evil. Even China recognizes that it needs to clean up its mining and manufacturing processes.

          • Tim Elliott

            Bob, I have personally added 180,000 tons of rare earth oxides to our reserves thus far (all in Australia).

            This is not the problem we have.

            The problem we have, is that poor people don’t care about the environment. They don’t have the luxury.

            The difference between an Ethiopian (where I sometimes live) and a New Zealand (where I sometimes live) is their per capita resource and energy allocation.

            With 7 billion people, exponential population growth and at best static or slightly increasing energy and raw materials delivery, you can now think of everyone on earth as getting exponetially poorer. 2x poorer this year 4x the year after, 8x the year after that. No one seems to grasp exponential numbers.

            We have crossed the tipping point. Not the renewable uptake one. The one where the resource production curve and the population curve part company.

            Its a mathematical impossibility for anything else to happen, unless we get an exponential increase in free energy.

            Mining extraction, and all post processing, and all manufacture, is energy limited. Exponential fall in freely available energy relative to people, is an exponential fall in all those things, relative to people.

            Village Earth is going to take some getting used to for some people.

          • Tim Elliott

            I did get the email. The issue is more what is meant to happen to those mines.

            Is the renewable sector offering an increase in free energy, or a decrease?

            Also, as coal, wood or nuclear are energy/kg and wind, solar, hydro and all the other renewables are energy/square meter.

            How many square meters are you going to need fort the footprint? The footprint being the total resources consumed, and the total area covered.

            Because the figures I have seen hover around “most of them”. Pablos Holman calculated wind would need to cover about a third of the US.

            The footprint is IMMENSE. This has its own implications.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Let’s play footprint, Tim.

            Suppose we wanted to power the US with nothing but wind power. (We wouldn’t want to use nothing but wind, but play along.)

            In 2010, the US used 4,143 TWh (terawatt hours) of electricity. (11,300,000 MWh per day.)

            The average wind turbine is around 3 MW in size and median capacity is now 43%. So, 3 MW x 24 hours x 43% capacity = 30.1 MWh per day from each 3 MW turbine.

            It would take 375,415 3 MW turbines to produce 4,143 TWh of electricity.

            The footprint of a wind turbine is typically around 0.25 acres. This includes the tower foundation, roads, and support structures. 375, 415 turbines would require 93,854 acres or 147 square miles.

            147 square miles is 0.004% of all US land area. 3.13 Disney Worlds. Or 6.5 Manhattan Islands. Or 39% of Los Angeles. Or 12% of Rhode Island. Or 0.7% of San Bernardino County, CA. Or 0.02% of Alaska.

          • Bob_Wallace

            What if we wanted to produce 100% of our electricity with solar? (We wouldn’t want to use nothing but solar, but play along.)

            2013 Total US Demand = 4,045,855 million kWh

            Average Daily Demand = 11,084,534,247 kwh

            Add 20% for Storage and Transmission Loss = 13,301,441,096 kWh

            Total Number 1 kW Panels (64 sq.ft. each) = 2,955,875,799 (Assuming 4.5 avg solar hours per day)

            Total Area for Panels = 189,176,051,142 Sq. Ft.

            Total Area for Panels (Square Miles) = 6,786 Sq. Miles

            Add 20% Area between rows of Panels = 8,143 Sq. Miles

            Square Miles in Lower 48 States = 2,959,064

            Percentage of Lower 48 to Gen 100% for all 50 States = 0.3%

            40% of all US power ~ 0.1% of contiguous 48 states.

            Let’s see where we could find those 8,143 square miles…

            It’s estimated that there are three nonresidential parking spaces for every car in the United States. That adds up to almost 800 million parking spaces, covering about 4,360 square miles. That’s 54% of what we’d need.


            According to the EPA we’ve got 23,400 square miles of brownfields. That’s 287% of what we’d need.

            Oh, did I forget rooftops? Played out farm land? Low value desert land?

            Trina Solar just announced a 24.4% efficient panel. If/when those panels come to market we could cut the land usage by 40%.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Let me be the first to break it to you Tim.

            We’ve got more free energy that we can ever use. All we have to do is to cobble together the devices we need to turn all that free sunshine and wind into electricity.

            And I’ll break some other news for you Tim.

            A lot of us understand exponential numbers and we see the growth of solar and wind power growing exponentially.

            Here’s some more news. We now have more wind-produced electricity on our grids than we use each year to manufacture more wind turbines. We also have more solar-produced electricity on our grids than we use manufacturing solar panels.

            We’ve bootstrapped wind and solar with fossil fuels. From here on out we’re manufacturing our new grid capacity with free sunshine and wind.

            Now as long as we’ve got the raw materials to make aluminum, glass and stuff like that we’re good to go.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Here’s the lastest information from Molycorp’s Mountain Pass rare earth mine and refinery in California.

      “The Denver-area company said with construction complete, it is now focused on optimizing operations at the newly revamped project as it works to increase production to nearly 20,000 tonnes a year.

      That optimization work caused production interruptions in the fourth quarter, with output coming in below company expectations at around 1,000 tonnes of rare earth oxides.

      The company sold 3,201 tonnes of product at an average sales price of $38.68 per kg in the fourth quarter, compared with some 3,102 tonnes at an average price of $43.28 per kg in the year-ago period.”

  • nirsnet

    Correction: the photo under “Nuclear Spill” is clearly meant to be Fukushima. But it’s not; that’s of an unrelated fire at a Japanese natural gas plant. There were no fires at Fukushima–just a lot of lethal radiation…..

  • Hi Kevin, Canada has been added to the chart per your request. Thanks, Zach.

    • Kevin McKinney


  • eveee

    Hi RLV. Waste energy is nowhere near the effect of carbon. It happens once. Carbon goes on day after day because it takes a long time for the carbon to finally be absorbed. So the carbon pollution from the power plant wins. That does not mean the heat plume does not matter, it really does. Its just not the larger effect in GW. The heat plume is about wildlife and water usage. With drought, we just don’t need more water loss and thermal PP have to shut down if its too hot.

    • Hi eveee, Thanks for your comment. Yes, carbon is the “gift that keeps on giving.” It does have long-lasting effects, we agree on that point.

  • Drew

    Flywheels don’t seem to get mentioned as a short-term energy storage system, even though they supposedly have pretty long lifetimes compared to batteries. Are they just too expensive per unit of energy storage?

    • Bob_Wallace

      There are a few in use. I’m not sure anyone has released a study of how cost effective they are.

    • Wayne Williamson

      Sounds like a good question. I think that the moving ones(in cars/buses/trains) have not worked out. I thought there was a company testing out several in the new york city area. Seems like a solar array or wind farm might be a better fit. Then again I don’t know why we haven’t heard from the other tries….

  • RawLasVegan

    Todd, as Bob pointed out, here’s an article and video on pumped storage hydro power and a case study of its use in Virginia. Thanks, Bob.

    Here’s another site, Ludington, off Lake Michigan.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Water is a major issue in inland China, India, the US SW and other parts of the globe.

    India, for example, is using significant amounts of water to clean and consume coal. They really need water for agricultural uses.

    China has talked about increasing water problems. That is, apparently, one of the reasons they decided to build no more reactors inland.

    • RawLasVegan

      Bob, Thanks for all of your comments. They are excellent.

  • RawLasVegan

    Hi Drew, Eliminating traditional energy sources in favor of renewables wouldn’t solve the water issues, but it would help. It’s hard to say to what extent though. My point was to bring together the wide number of benefits of renewables in one place.

    • Drew

      FYI, UCS claims “In 2005, the nation’s thermoelectric power plants—which boil water to create steam, which in turn drives turbines to produce electricity—withdrew as much water as farms did, and more than four times as much as all U.S. residences.” So quite a lot even as a percentage.

  • Renewable energy has definitely not passed the tipping point. Its in fact getting more revolutionized. Every day there is news on initiatives being taken on global level. In fact business leader Warren Buffet is investing heavily on solar energy.

    • RawLasVegan

      Hi SBC, Did you mean to say renewables have or haven’t passed the tipping point? Your opening comment states that it hasn’t, but your subsequent comments seem to suggest you think it has.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Stop and ruminate, Todd.

    We know pump-up hydro storage works. We started using it in the 1890s and we’ve built lots of it since.

    We know the wind blows and the Sun shines some of the time.

    Simple as ABC:

    A)Use wind and solar when they are working.
    B) Install extra and store the energy away with PuHS.
    C) Use the energy from PuHS when wind and solar are not providing.

    Can wind and solar be reliable 7×24 sources of electricity?


    The issue is not whether, but how to do the job for the least amount of money. (Use many renewable sources, not only two. Use varied storage methodologies. Use load-shifting.)

  • A Real Libertarian
  • Independent

    You might also point out that the supply of solar energy matches up well with consumer usage of electricity from air conditioning demand.

    • RawLasVegan

      Good point.

  • Colin

    “Don’t know if I appreciate being called a ‘lurker’ – sounds creepy.”

    I agree. I wish they would come up with a new term. It does sound creepy.

  • Colin

    “Tobacco Industry Lessons?
    The tobacco industry has gone through significant change in the last 40 years; its response to its shrinking market has been defensive. Companies have consolidated for market position and have looked toward exports where there is reduced regulation. However, their case is different than this energy sector shift, so making any comparisons would be inappropriate, since tobacco’s US market is shrinking and the energy market is growing, but changing…”

    Whilst I agree with the article in general this point needs clarification. Can you provide a link to substantiate this? As far as I know the tobacco industry is booming in developing countries. Over all the tobacco industry is doing fine. As shown by the fact that they seem to be having no difficulty in paying out the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA): “a minimum of $206 billion over the first twenty-five years of the agreement.”


  • Paul Turner

    Small correction – last year Spain got 21% of it´s electricity just from wind, the largest single source for the grid. From all renewables it got51% of it´s electricity.

  • spec9

    It is disturbing how many geographic policy maps like this end up looking so similar to U.S. civil war maps. :-/

  • Bob_Wallace

    “Scientists at RPI claim that the tipping point can be as little as 10% adoption in the population.”

    Carlos Ghosn, CEO at Nissan, has stated that when annual EV production hits 100,000 cars per year the price will fall to that of comparable ICEVs.

    In 2013 Nissan sold 5.1 vehicles. In this case the tipping point might be at 2%.

    • RawLasVegan

      Interesting. Thanks, Bob. There’s also refueling infrastructure that’s being built out. There’s range anxiety that’s being diminished by EVs having longer ranges. As Zach points out, the range issue is a canard in that people don’t need the long ranges for 95%+ of driving.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Hydro is higher than 2.9% of electricity in the US. 6.6% in 2013 and 6.9% for the first five months of 2014.

    • RawLasVegan

      I saw different figures on US hydro. Gave the reference for the one I used. Hydro has a higher pace in the spring months of the year than the rest of the year due to snow melt. Hydro is diminishing in the west due to drought. I wanted to use a conservative stat to reflect the trend.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I’m using production numbers from the latest EIA annual and monthly energy reports.

        In 2013 we generated 269,136 million kWh with hydro and a total of
        4,058,209 million kWh from all sources.


        The July monthly covers the first five months of the year and put hydro at 6.9%.

        That may drop some over the year as hydro tends to slow production in areas where summers are dry and where the snow pack melts out early.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Wind at < 4c/kWh doesn't really need a supplement.

    But if we were wise we'd continue to subsidize wind simply to get more on line faster. But that would take a majority in Congress that doesn't publicly deny climate change.

    • RawLasVegan

      Hi Bob, Agreed. It would be great to lubricate this transition with subsidies, but we can’t expect it. Congress is beholden to their “donor” constituency. (Thanks for your article and graphic, which I borrowed from at the outset of the article.)

    • Larry

      That would require congressmen who aren’t a wholly owned subsidiary of the fossil fuel industry

  • No way

    You really must look into it and cover it. If it’s true that the coal consumption in China is peaking or at least is flattening out then it’s the greatest news in the struggle against fossil fuels since…. ever…

    Just the thought of that possibly being the case makes me smile. 🙂

  • Bob_Wallace

    This doesn’t change the gist of your article, but there are a lot of countries that get 60% to 100% of their electricity from renewables. Mostly hydro.

    I’ll copy in the ABCs. And note that Paraguay is about 1,000%. It exports 90% of the hydro it generates.

    Albania (100% hydro in 2008).

    Angola (96.45% hydro in 2008)

    Austria (73.86% renewable in 2009, 12.5% of that non hydro)

    Belize (90.91% hydro in 2008) Update: REEGLE says only about 80%.

    Bhutan (99.86% hydro in 2008)

    Brazil (88.88% renewable with 4.93 non hydro in 2009)

    Burundi (100% hydro in 2008)

    Cameroon (77.31% hydro in 2008)

    Canada (61.95% renewable, with 1.86% non hydro in 2009)

    Central African Republic (81.25% renewable in 2008)

    Columbia (85.67% hydro in 2008)

    Congo (82.22% renewable in 2008)

    Costa Rica (93.11% renewable in 2008)

    • RawLasVegan

      Yes, I saw most of those. Tried, for the most part, to focus mostly on wind and solar. Didn’t want a huge list, just to show that it’s happening.

    • JamesWimberley

      Paraguay is an odd case. Itaipu was a Brazilian project, which happened to involve Paraguay because it owns the other half of the river Parana. Paraguay’s dictator Alfredo Stroessner was I guess more interested in the money from selling Paraguay’s share of the enormous 14 GW output than in economic development.

  • No way

    “Countries with High Electricity Production from Renewable Energy Sources”

    This headline desperately needs to be changed. It should be something more like “Electricity production from renewable enegy sources in a selection of countries ranging from very low to very high”

    There are at least 80 countries with better than 31% of electricity from renewables. And 13% puts you somewhere around the bottom 40 countries in the world.

  • No way

    Not SAAB. SAAB has never been close to bankrupcy and has a thriving business. The company with liquidity problem is NEVS, which has the permission from the real SAAB company to use the SAAB name on their cars even though SAAB has nothing to do with the cars.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Let’s put up the graph.

    I don’t know that I’d go as far as “peaked”. I’m more comfortable with “seems to be plateauing”. If one looks at the red line there’s definitely a slope change a few years back and now 1.5 years of no increase.

    There could be further small movements upward, but the Chinese government has been working to stop the growth of coal consumption and I expect they intend to make the line turn downward over the next few years.

    • Todd

      I do hope they slow down fast, but unfortunately, plateaued seems to mean 4 billion tons of coal burned per year

      • Bob_Wallace

        Got to stop the aircraft carrier before you can start reversing.

        Stopping in 2013, if that is what has happened. would be wonderful. It would be a few years earlier than what the Chinese government said they thought possible.

    • Larry

      Best news ever

    • Bob_Wallace

      Last night I dug into the BP World Energy whatever.

      It looks like China may not have flattened coal consumption in 2013. Greenpeace generated their above curve using coal production and import data. Apparently China burned some stockpiled coal in 2013 which made the curve rise a bit, but only at about one third of the average annual rate over the previous ten years.

  • MrL0g1c

    Gas/Biogas both bad.

    Producing 1 kWh of power from biogas generates 290 grams (g) of CO2


    Better storage and matching generation is hydro, pumped hydro, compressed air storage, battery storage, geothermal, solar thermal etc.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Biogas is carbon that is already in the carbon cycle.

      If we don’t use the biogas generated by sewage and landfills then it simply moves into the atmosphere as methane and does more short term damage.

      We should, IMHO, make maximum use of biogas as dispatchable backup. Cheaper deep backup.

    • johnBas5

      Use power to gas with direct air capture:
      Carbon neutral storage method, allows reuse of gas storage network. Very cost effective for seasonal storage.

  • JamesWimberley

    Generally I would agree. But is there a “science of tipping points” outside closed chemical or physical systems, rather than a successful book? I doubt if you can make strong tipping-point predictions in social science. Qualitatively, you can see tipping ex post if there are strong feedbacks, as in a stock market panic. The network benefits of mobile phones have created a situation where even people who dislike them feel they have to have one.

    Where are the feedbacks in renewable energy? if you build a wind farm, the only way it makes me more likely to build one is through the very small push you gave give to the learning curve. Solar and evs are still enjoying some demonstration effects (Gee! These things work!), but are common enough now for this effect to be fading.

    The one feedback I can see is the death spiral of fossil plants, created ironically by the variability of wind and solar that earns them so many brickbats. Wind and solar have zero marginal costs, so go to the top of the merit order – when they are available. So old fossil generating plants built for “baseload” must either stop running during these periods, or sell at a loss. This makes them unprofitable even at minority renewable penetration, as in Germany today.

    This will kill coal. But I see no reason to think that the replacement of oil and natural gas will be driven by magical “tipping points” but but by the hard slog of changing prices, laws and values.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I think oil will be (largely) killed when we have affordable ~200 mile range EVs. There’s some sort of a tipping point when the average new car buyer finds a very adequate EV at an attractive price.

      The tipping point for NG comes with lower priced storage. There will be a point at which utilities will start purchasing storage rather than gas plants. It may be a tipping point gradually reached via slowly improving technologies or it could happen more abruptly with the emergence of a new storage method or a reassessment of the amount of NG remaining at current prices.

      • JamesWimberley

        “There’s some sort of a tipping point when the average new car buyer finds a very adequate EV at an attractive price.” Not really. Car buyers are spread out on distributions on several dimensions of choice, of which range, price and recharging networks are probably the most important. As range and charging networks increase and price falls, an increasing proportion of consumers will opt for evs. But there’s no reason to think the change won’t be smooth. We could get discontinuities far down the transition if conventional gas stations start closing and cities ban ICE vehicles.

        • RawLasVegan

          James, I agree about multiple factors being involved for EV acceptance including range, price and recharging, but I agree with Bob that range is the biggest factor since recharging includes every house in America (while a public infrastructure is being built) and as for price, it seems that disproportionate attention is given to Tesla’s current high prices. As Zach points out in the following article, there are 11 EVs already priced below the average car price.

  • Excellent article and synopsis! Would you want to add Energy Efficiency, as in the Fifth Fuel, to your list of Renewable Energy sources?
    I did a quick google advanced search for “Energy Efficiency” ( and came up with 51,600,000 results…which is an interesting contrast to the same for “Gas Energy” ( which came back with 6,030,000 results.

    • RawLasVegan

      Hello stlane, Thanks for comments and info. As for energy efficiency, the article does discuss zero energy homes, which will reduce energy demand over time, but not so much in the near future.

  • Todd

    In 2011 in China, 79% of China’s electricity was generated by coal, and it has now stabilized, correct? (I suppose the percentage of coal may have reduced since)

  • RawLasVegan

    Hi Kevin, Thank you for this comment. You are correct. I did do a search for Canada specifically, but I didn’t see this page.

  • Amory Lovins discusses the storage necessity myth and how to choreograph high-renewables electricity systems.
    And an interesting podcast also discussing it:

    • Todd

      Can we wait until this actually comes to fruitition?

      • Bob_Wallace

        Nuclear is floundering. (I’m being kind. Nuclear is dying.)

        Nuclear’s latest attempt to stay alive is to try to latch onto renewable energy and make a case for “us, too”.

        We have a limited amount of money we are willing to spend to get fossil fuels off our grids. It’s foolish to spend any of it on expensive nuclear when we can get far more for our bucks with renewables.

        And get clean power on our grids and fossil fuels off years and years sooner.

    • Todd

      Also, interesting back and forth here, that Lovins video you mentioned is discussed in the comments.

      • Adam Devereaux

        Interesting back and forth? What a bunch of rediculous bluster. Reminds me of the old CPU debates I’d get into as a youngster, anyone remember arguing the merits of a PPC604 versus the Pentium Pro?

        I don’t have the stomach for conversation that centers around measuring body anatomy and appeals to authority anymore.

        I made it half way down that page hoping for something useful. Maybe it was in the last half, god knows I couldn’t go on.

        • Bob_Wallace

          God knows how you got that far.

          Atomic Insights is about as objective as Watt’s Up With That?

          Or Fox (Faked) News.

          • Adam Devereaux

            I do have a new found respect for Amory Lovins for being about to respond in a level headed manner though. I enjoyed him on the Energy Gang recently but wasn’t sure on how to take his mannerism. He comes across very level headed and playing the long game after I read more of his writings.

          • eveee

            Yes. You gotta love a guy who gets slandered viscously and responds with
            “mind your manners”.
            He has a way of rising above the riff raff and maintaining his dignity and self respect.
            A clue to his mannerisms, .. he has British roots.

  • Ha, funny, wonder where they got that idea.

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