The Electrification of Everything

The Wall Street Journal gives an excellent overview of how most everything we use from the vehicles we drive to the homes and businesses we heat will be powered by electricity as the era of fossil fuels ends.

A main thrust of the article is: “The electrification of (almost) everything is coming, and we’re just not ready for it.”

We have to build a secure and reliable infrastructure to accommodate the increased demand for electricity, but if we pull it off, the environment and all of us will be better off.

Photo credit: “Electrical Plug” by One Tree Hill Studios is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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National Report: All Renewable Transition Possible by 2050

Inside Climate News, summarizing the final report of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Electrification Futures Study, concludes that by 2050:

a transition to mostly renewable energy is possible, but will require households and businesses to be flexible in how they consume electricity.

Ella Zhou, a senior modeling engineer at NREL and a co-author of the report, told Inside Climate News:

The transformation to a highly electrified economy is an opportunity for consumers and businesses because of the potential for cost-savings and for developing and selling new generations of products.

“This offers useful information literally for everyone, because electricity touches all of our lives.”

Here are some highlights from the four-year  project:

  • The United States already has the technologies it needs for the power system to reliably operate with high levels of electrification and high levels of wind and solar…
  • One of the keys to making the power system work will be flexibility in electricity demand, encouraging owners of electric vehicles to recharge them at times of low demand and offering incentives for households and businesses to reduce their power use whenever demand gets uncomfortably close to outstripping supply. Much of this flexibility can be run by software in ways that are barely noticeable to consumers.
  • A power system that is more flexible costs a lot less to operate than one that isn’t because it can avoid short-term spikes in demand that lead to high prices, and it can avoid big ramp-ups of electricity generation that put severe strain on equipment.

The Inside Climate News author Dan Gearino points out:

The growth in electricity consumption would require a massive build-out of solar arrays, along with onshore and offshore wind farms, with those resources providing about two-thirds of the country’s electricity generation. The remaining one-third would come from hydroelectric, natural gas, nuclear and other resources.

He adds:

Considering that many wind and solar projects face local backlash from residents, building on such a large scale would require some way of getting local people on board or overcoming their opposition.

So ultimately the success of reaching a nearly 100 percent renewable goal by 2050 will depend not just on politics, but also on everyday people like the residents of Sandwich, N.H.

For the wonks among us, the NREL will host a deep dive, final report webinar from noon to  1 p.m.  EDT on Thursday, June 17, 2021 with report authors Ella Zhou and Trieu Mai.

 

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Steps to Ensure Truly Green Electric Vehicles

The New York Times asks: How Green Are Electric Vehicles?

Its short answer is: Very green. But plug-in cars still have environmental effects. 

Here are some of the Times suggestions to ensure fully green EVs:

  1. “Electric grids still need to get much, much cleaner before electric vehicles are truly emissions free…” Eliminating coal powered electricity from the grid makes for the greenest choice.
  2. Electric vehicles rely on raw materials — like cobalt, lithium and rare earth elements. Now mining methods are unsafe for miners and the surrounding environments. Mickaël Daudin of Pact, a nonprofit organization that works with mining communities in Africa, told the Times:

If companies acted responsibly, the rise of electric vehicles would be a great opportunity for countries like Congo, he said. But if they don’t, “they will put the environment, and many, many miners’ lives at risk.”

3. Recycle lithium batteries. “99 percent of lead-acid batteries are recycled in the United States, estimated recycling rates for lithium-ion batteries are about 5 percent.” Recycling lithium batteries right now is problematic for the environment. However, another solution is reusing the batteries for electrical storage after their efficiency for running EVs has declined.

If done properly, though, used car batteries could continue to be used for a decade or more as backup storage for solar power, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found in a study last year.

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Climate Activists Force Exxon Board Changes

The New York Times reports:

Shareholders of Exxon Mobil dealt the company’s management a defeat on Wednesday by electing at least two of four candidates activist investors had nominated to its board — the first time that has happened, according to analysts who follow the company.

It adds:

A coalition of investors concerned about the environment had argued that Exxon had not invested enough in cleaner energy, which will hurt its profits in the future. And a majority of the company’s shareholders appeared to at least partly agree with that position, according to the preliminary results.

Reuters reports:

Exxon has lagged other oil majors in its response to climate change concerns, forecasting many more years of oil and gas demand growth and doubling down on investments to boost its output – in contrast to global rivals that have scaled back fossil fuel investments.

That approach boosted the company’s debt load by billions of dollars in recent years, leading to a record $22 billion loss in 2020 after years of underperformance.

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Keene Adopts Community Power, First in NH

“Keene has become the first New Hampshire municipality to adopt a community power program since the state began allowing them in 2019,” according to the Keene Sentinel.  In the story Keene’s mayor praised it as a citizen based, grassroots effort.

The story adds:

The City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to approve a plan for the program, which would allow Keene to purchase electricity on behalf of consumers. This would give the city more say over where the power used in Keene comes from.

Now the plan has to be approved by the N.H. Public Utilities Commission, which has a history, as one commentator put it, of “sitting on their hands.”

The Keene Community Power website says:

Keene Community Power (CP) is a City-operated group purchasing program that pools the electric use of residents, businesses, non-profits, and property owners to provide competitively priced electricity options. The program offers Keene electricity customers with a City-vetted alternative to Eversource’s default service and other third party electricity suppliers.

Eversource continues to deliver electricity and manage all billing. The only change will be the source and cost of electricity supply, chosen by the City of Keene through a competitive bidding process. The program is part of a larger effort to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050.

A draft of Keene’s final plan can be see here.

NHPR’s Exchange did a program in February 2021 entitled: Community Power: A New Way to Think About Your Energy Bill

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Biden, Climate & New Hampshire Initiatives

Learn how the Biden administration’s clean energy, infrastructure and jobs initiatives affect New Hampshire and what can we do to help move the process forward. Watch the YouTube video here. 
Please share with your friends interested in climate issues.
The Sandwich Climate Action Coalition (SCAC) hosted the Biden, Climate and Us Zoom discussion on Monday April 19, 2021 and now the one-hour YouTube video is ready for sharing. The presenters are  Rob WernerNH Director of the League of Conservation Voters, and Brianna Fiorillo, Senior Program Director, Clean Energy NH
Right now New Hampshire’s Gov. Chris Sununu and the Republican majority legislature are slowing progress and the state could be left behind as this inevitable clean energy revolution unfolds. So it will be up to individuals like us to push the issue and, if needed, work to elect more enlightened leadership. 
 
Please enjoy Earth Day, this year could be one of the most important in slowing global warming and we can be part of making that happen. Thank you so much for the important work each of you do. 
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Clean Energy Focus of Biden’s $4 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

The New York Times reports that “climate change has become the centerpiece” of President Biden’s $3 trillion to $4 trillion infrastructure rebuilding plan and no longer a side issue as in the past.

Joe Biden and Barack Obama both in dark suits, holding each other and smiling

Biden’s clean energy plan is more aggressive than Obama’s.

Administration officials say they view averting catastrophic warming and pursuing American dominance of the emerging global industries as inseparable.

The article continues:

accelerating a clean energy transformation underpins nearly every part of the plan, people familiar with it said. It includes building electric power lines that can deliver more renewable energy, building electric vehicle charging stations, capping oil and gas wells to reduce emissions and reclaiming abandoned coal mines. There is money to build a million new affordable, energy-efficient housing units and to make existing structures more energy efficient. Hundreds of billions of dollars would go toward “high-growth industries of the future,” such as advanced battery manufacturing.

Carbon fee and dividend proponents are critical of the proposal, with the Times reporting:

“Biden never made a carbon tax the center of his proposal,” said John Podesta, a former adviser to President Barack Obama on climate change. “I think he believed that the combination of investments and standards with a focus on equity was a winning formula both for the economy and was more politically viable.”

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When Will Electric Vehicles Take Over?

The New York Times has an in-depth story trying to anticipate when electric vehicles will rule the roads. Volvo and GM have goals of 2030 and 2035 respectively to end combustion engine production and others companies are sure to follow suit.

Car dump in Port Charlotte Islay

Even so, given that cars have a nearly 15 or more year lifespan, the times anticipates that combustion engine cars could be dominant on the roads even in 2050.

The article says:

If the United States wanted to move to a fully electric fleet by 2050 — to meet President Biden’s goal of net zero emissions — then sales of gasoline-powered vehicles would likely have to end altogether by around 2035, a heavy lift.

It adds:

In order for almost all cars on the road to be electric by 2050, new plug-in sales would need to quickly ramp up to 100 percent in the next 15 years.

In the opinion of this Sandwich Climate poster, Leonard Witt, the Times reporters are underestimating how rapidly change is going to occur. The big oil companies are already losing value, no one in their right mind would mega invest in gas stations now or even in their infrastructure or anything to do with combustion engines. So gas stations will begin to disappear quite rapidly and combustion engines will never get any better than they are today with all the R&D investment going into EVs. Who will invest $20,000 to $50,000, the cost of a car,  in a dying technology to which the manufacturers are going to pay less and less attention. In other words, the chances are high that by investing in a combustion engine car you will get a clunker with little infrastructure to help make it better. Even if the car is perfect, the resale value we will be much lower than an EV. Personally, I’m putting off any major car investment as long as possible to be part of the electric wave. Even if the car lasted 20 years, I don’t want to be in the minority of combustion cars on the road for all the reasons I mention above.

Here is the last paragraph of the Times story, which makes the most sense to me:

“It would not shock me if the transition eventually starts accelerating,” said Dr. Knittel of M.I.T. “Right now it can be inconvenient to own an electric vehicle if there are no charging stations around. But if we do get to a world where there are charging stations everywhere and few gas stations around, suddenly it’s less convenient to own a conventional vehicle.”

Photo credit: “Car dump in Port Charlotte Islay” by larsomat is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
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Biden Agency Advances Wind Farm Off Massachusetts Coast

Politico reports: 

The Interior Department said on Monday it had completed its environmental review for a massive wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts, a key step toward final approval of the long-stalled project that will play a prominent role in President Joe Biden’s effort to expand renewable energy in the U.S.

Phil Hollman from London, UK, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The article adds:

Vineyard Wind says the project will provide clean electricity to power more than 400,000 homes, creating thousands of jobs, and reducing electricity rates by $1.4 billion over its first 20 years of operation.

Liz Burdock, head of the non-profit group Business Network for Offshore Wind, told Politico:

This is the day the U.S. offshore wind industry has been anxiously awaiting for years. Today’s announcement provides the regulatory greenlight the industry needs to attract investments and move projects forward.

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Volvo Exec: No Future for Combustion Engines

The AP reports:

Volvo says it will make only electric vehicles by 2030….Henrik
Green, Volvo’s chief technology officer,  adds, “There is no long-term future for cars with an internal combustion engine.”Image 2 alt text

GM made a similar announcement earlier this year, with its all electric vehicle goal set for 2035.

The New York Times says Volvo’s decision is:

 one of the most ambitious proposals and ratchets up the pressure on others to follow suit.

The Times adds:

Where once automakers bragged about horsepower and acceleration, now they are competing to be the greenest.

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