10 Responses to May 5 News: Clean energy poised for 20-fold growth by 2050; Gas prices rise, demand continues to drop
Wind and solar power are among six renewable energy options that have the potential to outstrip total world energy needs and may grow as much as 20-fold over the next four decades, a draft United Nations report said.
Geothermal, biomass, solar, wind, hydropower and electricity from the ocean’s waves and tides could more than meet the global energy needs for power, heating and transport based on 2008 demand, according to the study by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.
In practice, less than 2.5 percent of that potential will be used, the panel said, basing the finding on four scenarios out of 164 examined in the UN’s biggest assessment of alternative energy. A shift to low-carbon energy will require a global investment of as much as $12.3 trillion by 2030, it said.
Gas prices have gotten so high that in six states they’ve reached a new record above the levels set in 2008.
Prices in West Virginia inched above their 2008 record today, with the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline edging above $4.15, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. Four Great Lakes states – Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio – topped their 2008 records yesterday. Hawaii first exceeded its all-time high April 20.
Two other Great Lakes states – Minnesota and Wisconsin – are within an eyelash of beating their 2008 records.
The rise in prices nationally, of course, has been instability in the Middle East. But the Midwest’s rise has been caused by a confluence of events closer to home over the past week: production problems at two midwestern refineries; tornado-driven power outages at seven refineries in Texas, Alabama, and Pennsylvania; flooding along the Mississippi River and elsewhere that has kept barges from reaching the upper Midwest; and the seasonal switchover from winter-blend to summer-blend fuels.
Gasoline demand continues to fall in the U.S. as pump prices keep climbing.
Reports from government and industry groups show motorists have been cutting back on the amount of gas they put into their tanks for more than a month. That could signal trouble for the economy since Americans typically cut spending on other activities before they do less driving.
Since January, the national average for a gallon of regular unleaded has risen 91 cents, or 30 percent, to $3.98. The main reason is a 20 percent gain in the price of oil this year. Gas rose more than 30 cents in April alone, as refinery problems led to an unusually big drop in supplies.
Gas is now above $4 per gallon in 13 states and Washington D.C.
Reports this week provided more evidence that with prices so high motorists are spending less on gas.
Renewable energies such as wind or solar power are set to surge by 2050, and expected advances in technology will bring significant cost cuts, a draft United Nations report showed on Wednesday.
The most comprehensive U.N. overview of the sector to date said renewables excluding bioenergy, which is mainly firewood burned in developing nations for cooking and heating, could expand by three to 20 times by mid-century.
“The cost of most renewable energy technologies has declined, and significant additional technical advancements are expected,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a draft obtained by Reuters, based on a review of 164 scenarios.
“Further cost reductions are expected, resulting in greater potential for climate change mitigation and reducing the need for policy measures to ensure rapid deployment,” it said. The IPCC is to meet in Abu Dhabi from May 5-13.
Texas is getting another wind farm.
BP Wind Energy on Wednesday announced construction has begun on its 90-turbine Trinity Hills wind farm in Archer and Young counties. The site is about 90 miles northwest of Fort Worth, near Olney (AHL’-nee).
BP Wind Energy says the complex will have a generating capacity of 225 megawatts, producing enough electricity to support more than 65,000 homes.
Two of BP’s wind farms became operational in 2008. The third is expected to be in commercial operation by the end of 2011.
Following are findings by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in a draft report about renewable energy (RE).
TOTALS – RE accounted for 12.9 percent of global primary energy supply in 2008. The top contributor was biomass (10.2 percent) — mainly firewood used in developing nations — ahead of hydropower (2.3), wind (0.2), direct solar energy and geothermal (0.1 each) and ocean (0.002 percent).
RECENT EXPANSION – Of about 300 gigawatts of new electricity generating capacity added globally in 2008 and 2009, 140 GW came from RE. Developing countries host more than 50 percent of global RE power generation capacity, with China adding more capacity than any other country in 2009.
OUTLOOK – “Studies have consistently found that the total global technical potential for RE is substantially higher than both current and projected future global energy demand.” Solar power has the highest technical potential.
Spending cuts by cash-strapped European governments and cheap gas are denting the profits and prospects of renewable energy companies, quarterly reports from two major sector players showed on Wednesday.
Vestas, the world’s biggest wind turbine maker, and Norwegian solar industry group REC said they saw earnings hit by lower power scheme subsidies and heightened competition.
Countries including Germany and Italy are reining in spending to pay for bailing out their banks and are cutting the guaranteed prices for solar power, reducing the incentives to install solar panels.
Some utilities, such as RWE, are also reducing renewable investments due to lower earnings, while gas, the fossil fuel with the lowest carbon dioxide emissions, becomes more attractive due to low prices, dragging investment away from wind.
Scientists at a major conference on Arctic warming were told Wednesday to use plain language to explain the dramatic melt in the region to a world reluctant to take action against climate change.
An authoritative report released at the meeting of nearly 400 scientists in Copenhagen showed melting ice in the Arctic could help raise global sea levels by as much as 5 feet this century, much higher than earlier projections.
James White, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, told fellow researchers to use simple words and focus on the big picture when describing their research to a wider audience. Focusing too much on details could blur the basic science, he said: “If you put more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, it will get warmer.”
Prominent U.S. climate scientist Robert Corell said researchers must try to reach out to all parts of society to spread awareness of the global implications of the Arctic melt.
“Stop speaking in code. Rather than ‘anthropogenic,’ you could say ‘human caused,'” Corell said.
Advocates of stringent curbs on greenhouse gas emissions sued the federal government on Wednesday, arguing that key agencies had failed in their duty to protect the earth’s atmosphere as a public trust to be guarded for future generations.
Most of the individual plaintiffs in the suit, filed in United States District Court in San Francisco, are teenagers, a decision apparently made to underscore the intergenerational nature of the public trust that the earth’s atmosphere represents. More novel, however, is the suit’s reliance on the public trust doctrine, which dates to Roman times.
That doctrine has been invoked in cases involving the protection of Chicago’s lakefront and of Mono Lake in the Sierra Nevada.
Two environmental groups have challenged the air pollution permit for a $750 million iron plant in southwestern Louisiana, which is the first project that was approved under the greenhouse gas regulations that were implemented by U.S. EPA in January.
The petition (pdf), which was filed yesterday by the Sierra Club and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, asks EPA to throw the brakes on a $3.4 billion complex being developed in southeastern Louisiana by Charlotte, N.C.-based Nucor Corp.
The groups argue that when the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality signed off on a final permit for the direct reduced iron (DRI) plant in late January, it was required to combine the project with a pig iron plant that got approval from state regulators last year. Their petition also claims that the amount of greenhouse gases the plant would be allowed to release is “considerably higher” than it should be.
More stringent demands from U.S. energy regulators aren’t much of a worry for GE, but rather a welcome development, a top executive says.
The push for tougher equipment oversight and better offshore drilling data in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon accident is in line with demands the company already faces, said Claudi Santiago, president and CEO of GE Oil & Gas.
GE works in heavily regulated industries such as aviation and nuclear power, where the standard is highly engineered equipment that goes through rigorous testing, Santiago said Wednesday in an interview on the floor of the Offshore Technology Conference at Reliant Center.
“All of this ties in well with our desire to bring this aviation mind-set to all our oil and gas businesses,” he said.
The company’s OTC booth has seen a good deal of traffic this week as GE representatives promoted new technology to monitor blowout preventers and other seafloor drilling and production equipment, including systems that provide data even after the equipment is disconnected from the surface, as occurred during the Macondo well blowout.
To an untrained eye, the fields of Iowa have a reassuring solidity. You cannot tell that the state has lost half its topsoil in the past century. According to a new report from the Environmental Working Group, Iowa’s soil is washing away at rates far higher than anyone realized.
For Iowa “” and other Corn Belt states facing similar problems “” this means an increasing loss of fertility that has to be replaced chemically. It marks a failure of stewardship, since these soils will have to feed future generations. And every particle that washes away causes problems downstream, including sedimentation “” which can increase the risk of flooding “” and the alarming dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, the result of runoff of the chemical fertilizers farmers apply to make up for lost fertility.
The Agriculture Department says that a “sustainable” rate of topsoil loss for most of Iowa is 5 tons per acre per year, and the actual average soil erosion is 5.2 tons. But using Iowa State University statistics and an aerial survey, the Environmental Working Group concluded that average annual soil loss in much of Iowa is double the federal government’s estimates. This pace of erosion is caused partly by an increasing number of intense storms. As the report says, it has been exacerbated by a fundamental bias in federal farm policy and supports. In the dozen years before 2009, Iowa received nearly $17 billion in subsidies that fostered high-intensity farming and less than $3 billion to support conservation. In the recent budget battles, conservation programs were the hardest-hit farm programs.