Significant Renewable Energy Growth in U.S. Very Soon, New Estimates Predict
After revising its three-year U.S. power forecast, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has predicted major declines for fossil fuels and nuclear power alongside strong growth in renewables by 2022, according to a review of the data by the SUN DAY Campaign, a pro-renewables research and education nonprofit.
Battery cost forecast $87/kWh by 2025. (Will be earlier in my view, current cost at $187/kWh.) “Be ready to cancel… https://t.co/LMICHmc6Aw— Sohail Hasnie (@Sohail Hasnie)1572528626.0
"FERC's latest three-year projections continue to underscore the dramatic changes taking place in the nation's electrical generating mix," noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. "Renewable energy sources are rapidly displacing uneconomic and environmentally dangerous fossil fuels and nuclear power — even faster than FERC had anticipated just a half-year ago."
While the independent federal agency forecasts robust wind and solar development, it also predicts a large increase in natural gas capacity, which is consistent with the current public emphasis of the newly rebranded "natural gas and oil industry." The projected gains in natural gas power, however, aren't enough to offset the sizeable drops in coal and oil, resulting in an overall decrease in burning fossil fuels for power in the U.S.
As we have noted on DeSmog, the oil and gas industry is publicly selling natural gas as a cleaner fossil fuel and a climate solution. Renewables represent a threat to its growing market share, both economically and based on climate concerns.
According to FERC, net new gas-powered generating capacity (which accounts for power plants expected to close) is predicted to increase by 19,757 megawatts (MW) in the next three years. Wind capacity is projected to grow by 27,659 MW and utility-scale solar by 17,857 MW.
International Energy Agency Also Updates Renewables Forecast
Offshore technical wind potential vs. electricity demand. IEA Offshore Wind Outlook 2019
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has not been known for optimistic forecasts of renewables growth. In the past, IEA has been criticized by groups like the UK-based Environment and Climate Intelligence Unit for continuing to predict an oil and gas-dominated future, despite promising signs coming from wind and solar.
As DeSmogUK reported in April 2018, Dr. Jonathan Marshall, head of analysis at the nonprofit Environment and Climate Intelligence Unit, warned that the IEA's lagging forecasts on renewables growth created "a growing risk that commercial decisions are not based on the facts on the ground."
At this point, the cost of wind and solar combined with battery storage is cheaper than coal power, much cheaper than new nuclear power, and in many places also competitive with natural gas. In some areas, electric utilities are already moving from coal to renewables and skipping over the so-called "bridge fuel" of natural gas. The argument for a natural gas "bridge" to affordable renewable energy has been crumbling, and the economics of future power generation don't look good for this fossil fuel.
Even the skeptics at the IEA are starting to catch up. In recent reports, IEA now says renewables are expected to grow 50 percent in the next five years and offshore wind power is capable of producing more electricity than the world can use.
The International Energy Agency, @IEA, an oil watchdog, just admitted wind power set to be "game-changer" for energ… https://t.co/vH85t2ekme— Assaad Razzouk (@Assaad Razzouk)1571984819.0
In commenting on IEA's offshore wind report, Forbes noted, "The report carries particular weight not just for the enormous claims being made of wind power, but also because the IEA was long seen as skeptical about the potential of renewable energy."
It’s The Economics, Stupid
Renewables & storage undercut natural gas prices, increase stranded assets: RMI https://t.co/TJAHBS2bCb, check out… https://t.co/wT9tRQMuCo— PlantATree.urbieta.com (@PlantATree.urbieta.com)1572193203.0
Meanwhile, Murray Energy, the largest coal company in the U.S. (whose CEO is a big fan of asking the Trump administration for coal bailouts), recently declared bankruptcy. Forbes published a column explaining how that came about. The answer can be summed up in three words: "free market forces."
Another recent report highlighted those free market forces as it forecast potential losses for Europe's coal industry to the tune of $7.3 billion this year.
In a sign of how things are changing, Forbes interviews Robert Threlkeld, global manager for renewable energy at … General Motors.
"It is a business transformation," said Threlkeld. "Customers decide when they will use clean energy resources — not just wind and solar but also demand response and energy efficiency. It is a comprehensive solution."
Quick reminder: General Motors is currently siding with the Trump administration in the battle with California over fuel efficiency standards. This is not a company with a track record of being "green" on principle — it's all about the money.
Which is why natural gas and nuclear are fated to suffer the same fate as coal in the power generation sector.
While the IEA and FERC have taken their time catching up to the economic reality of renewables, the free market has already caught on.
Warren Buffett is widely hailed as one of the greatest investors of all time, and he invests to make money, not save the planet. Buffett recently loaned $10 billion for a major fracked oil company merger and has profited off of oil trains with his company BNSF for the past decade.
However, Buffett is also in the power generation business and owns utility company PacifiCorp, which in October announced long-term plans to shut down coal generation in Western states and replace it with renewables — not natural gas.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
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By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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