Yesterday’s post about our solar installation got me to thinking more deeply about the overall problem of renewables and that they are unlikely to be able to keep pace with the accelerating demand for energy.
The only place I differ with many environmentalists is that, while renewables make so much sense and we need to embrace them, I believe we also need to fully utilize nuclear energy. It turns out that there are ‘safe’ alternatives — and emerging innovations — to huge nuclear power plants and the threat of nuclear accidents like Three Mile Island or Chernobyl. Doing so can ensure we have a steady, reliable, demand-meeting, nighttime using, energy grid that doesn’t spew carbon in to the atmosphere.
Heck, even Stewart Brand, a guy who helped shape environmental consciousness back in the 1960s and 1970s, began calling for nuclear energy back in the early 2000s to be rekindled and used once again:
Brand calls for the rapid deployment of a new generation of nuclear power plants to combat global warming, arguing that technological advances have made nuclear energy safer and any potential danger from nuclear waste pales compared to the damage inflicted by burning coal.
“The air pollution from coal burning is estimated to cause 30,000 deaths a year from lung disease in the United States, and 350,000 a year in China,” writes Brand. “A 1-gigawatt coal plant burns three million tons of fuel a year and produces seven million tons of CO2, all of which immediately goes into everyone’s atmosphere, where no one can control it, and no one knows what it’s really up to.”
Co-founder and former CEO of Microsoft, Bill Gates, has also called for nuclear energy and has helped drive forward the current bipartisan legislation surrounding energy research:
If dollars were votes, newly reintroduced legislation aimed at boosting nuclear energy innovation and advanced reactors would be a winner, thanks to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ strong endorsement today.
The world’s second-richest person is the founder and chairman of Bellevue, Wash.-based TerraPower, a startup that’s working on next-generation nuclear fission reactors. Back in December, Gates listed nuclear energy research as one of his top policy priorities, and he reportedly followed up by promising lawmakers he’d invest $1 billion of his own money and line up another $1 billion in private capital if federal funds were approved for a TerraPower pilot project in the United States.
In the past, Gates has also tweeted this and others that are similar:
“Nuclear is ideal for dealing with climate change, because it is the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that’s available 24 hours a day.” – Bill Gates on why he believes in the potential of nuclear. https://bit.ly/2DSSXUS
WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT WHY NUCLEAR ENERGY NOW?
Here is a very good overview from Vox media that is worth a few minutes of your time to watch:
Solar power generation is awesome … especially when it enables a person’s electricity consumption to become nearly free within a handful of years. Solar is a smart investment for us personally in our new home and could be for you, too.
BUYING A SOLAR INSTALLATION WAS A NO-BRAINER FOR US
When we moved from Minnesota to California in June of 2018, we knew costs for everything would be higher. We expected that any new home we would buy would cost a lot more (our new home cost nearly double the value of the home we sold back in MN), but what we did not expect was the high cost of electricity!
In Minnesota we had Xcel Energy whose cost for electricity around-the-clock was 11.7 cents per kilowatt hour. Our new home here in southern California happens to be located in San Diego Gas & Electric‘s (SDGE) region, and it turns out that their electricity cost is the highest in the nation!
SDGE’s pricing plans are numerous, but the year-long average per-kilowatt hour cost — which prospective solar install companies used to calculate our solar system size — was going to be roughly 32 cents per kilowatt hour, nearly 3X what energy cost us when we were living in Minnesota.
On almost all of those SDGE plans there are off-peak, super off-peak and on-peak rates (and one plan even has a cheap car-charging rate from midnight to 6am of only $.09 per kilowatt hour). The on-peak rates are in effect during the summer months — which run from June 1 – October 31 during the 4-9pm time-frame — and what stunned us was the rate during those five hours each day can cost up to $.53 cents per kilowatt hour!
Because of that unexpectedly expensive energy, a few weeks after we closed on our new home we immediately set about learning everything we could about solar, what we needed and what it would cost. We then set about finding the four “best” solar install companies and have them propose a solar panel solution. We selected the best installer for our requirements, signed-up, and everything is in motion.
Within the next several weeks our new solar panel installation will be complete on top of our new home and, based on our projected energy use for the year, our break-even on our solar investment is expected to be 4.8 years. After that our only cost for electricity will be approximately $12 per month for the SDGE “interconnect fee,” which covers the electric meter on our house and account management by them.
Energy rates continue to accelerate and I’ve read numerous articles on the projected 20 year rates that SDGE has received agreement on with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). However, this article from less than a month ago said this:
If approved by CPUC commissioners, average electricity rates in SDG&E’s service territory would increase from 26.25 cents a kilowatt-hour this year to 27.4 cents next year, a rise of 4.54 percent. For a typical residential customer living in the company’s inland climate zone and using 500 kilowatt-hours a month, a bill during a summer month would increase $5.59, according to SDG&E estimates.
I’ve seen SDGE’s own projections and 4.5% per year price accelerator is expected. So as each year passes, our investment in solar energy will pay off even faster and continue to look like a very smart move on our part. But solar (or wind) alone will help combat climate change, but even if every one of the 2,500 homes in our development went solar, it wouldn’t make a serious dent in the emission of greenhouse gases in to the atmosphere.
For our system being installed, our estimated net electricity cost savings over 25 years will be over $82,000 (assuming a 4% per year utility price escalator). That’s why it was a no-brainer for us to get solar!
Obviously our solar generation will go back in to the grid and offset all of our energy use, including at night. In fact, we’ll be adding about 30% more energy back in to the grid than we consume, just in case we end up with two electric cars at some point and need that extra amount to offset an increase in our consumption.
WHAT ABOUT ENERGY STORAGE?
We drive hybrid cars (and I’m getting a plug-in hybrid in two weeks that will cover 90% of our driving needs on electric) since both my wife and I believe in climate change and that the United States must move forward toward a clean energy future and away from carbon emitting fossil fuels. Charging my PHEV from solar will be easy and free in the near-term, but with energy demand increasing monthly in the United States and around the world, we at least considered buying battery storage to run essential systems (e.g., the refrigerator and some lights).
As such, we also looked at the addition of solar energy battery storage in our garage. Unfortunately batteries are far too expensive and not worth the investment currently (e.g., one Tesla PowerWall is $12,000 and we’d need four of them to be completely energy self-contained) so we’re holding off on storage, perhaps permanently.
As part of our analysis and reading, my wife and I also talked about large-scale battery storage, just in case renewable energy creation does reach critical mass here in California and more energy from solar goes back in to the grid. What might happen if SDGE begins to embrace battery storage for solar-produced energy?
The green energy storage problem is too expensive right now, but we’ll keep an eye on it.
TRUMP & THE GOP DENIGRATING RENEWABLES
It pisses me off that the Trump administration continues to try to gut clean energy spending with his proposed budget that does exactly that. It is clear that this current administration, and Republicans who support Trump’s position on clean energy, continue to position climate change as a “hoax” and the oil & gas industry as “the future” of energy.
Remember when one of the key talking points for the GOP (for decades) was toward less dependence on foreign oil? That wasn’t positioning for renewables, that was positioning for more drilling (and now for fracking shale to squeeze out oil and get natural gas).
Do either Trump or the GOP think that all of their own base of supporters and constituents are too stupid to think for themselves? Such idiots that they don’t believe in science? Though I don’t think President Trump is even capable of thinking deeply about any issue, Republicans should at least realize that even corporations are calling for action on climate change and they’d better stop being dumbf*cks, sucking-up to the oil & gas industry.
Also, I’m glad I’m not alone in my outrage and found this hilarious:
I came across two fascinating articles today that actually make me even more concerned about what kind of world we will be leaving to our children and future generations:
“Last month, deep in a 500-page environmental impact statement, the Trump administration made a startling assumption: On its current course, the planet will warm a disastrous 7 degrees by the end of this century.”
“A tangible shift over the last two years is sharpening among the world’s biggest oil companies, including in America, to more readily acknowledge and address climate change.
The bottom line: The trend, fueled by investor and lawsuit pressure, is underway regardless of, and partly in response to, President Trump’s retreat on the matter.”
As sea levels rise, coastal areas slowly become uninhabitable, crop yields mean food shortages, economic losses accelerate and a global refugee crisis unfolds, the climate change naysayers will surely forget their short-term denials.
It’s likely too late already to reverse the changes by the end of this century, but if we don’t continue to discover ways to stop the burning of fossil fuels we can guarantee we’ll make this planet uninhabitable itself.
For Further Reading
- NASA Global Climate Change:
- Washington Post: One of the most worrisome predictions about climate change may be coming true
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Global Warming and Hurricanes: An Overview of Current Research Results
Can’t recall when I first heard this, but was listening to some tech pundits at a show and the moderator asked the panel, “So what do you think is the greatest technology invention in human history?” Each panelist answered until it got to the last guy who said, “the toilet.”
This conference was just after my family and I had returned from London and had toured a castle. In it was a room that, during the 1300s, royalty went in to and sat down on an outhouse-like hole to perform their bodily functions. The hole went all the way down several stories to who-knows-where. Even the tour guide helped us appreciate how important have a waste-collection system was and to the kids said, “Imagine if you didn’t have a toilet in your house today!”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation believes in the importance of sanitation in saving lives (and giving a quality of life!) and sponsored this delicate video to stress the importance of this device and the sanitiation systems it leverages:
I get so weary of climate deniers who seem to think climate change is some sort of liberal agenda item. I’ve tried hard to change minds, but it’s very hard to do. So I hold out little hope that yet *another* pro-business, pro-conservatism publication, Bloomberg Business, will get the deniers to understand. Bloomberg Business takes the data NASA released last week and presents it in these neat little interactive charts. Ones that climate deniers who skip the news and slept through science class should hopefully be able to understand.
The science didn’t do it since so many think science is BS and God will take care of us all, so we can just sit on our butts and do nothing. The Pope doesn’t think God will just handle it for us nor do these other 100 Catholic and Evangelical religious leaders (PDF) who support the Pope’s position.
Then, when that liberal organization called the Pentagon stated this in a 2014 report (PDF), the deniers ignored or pooh-poohed it:
The responsibility of the Department of Defense is the security of our country. That requires thinking ahead and planning for a wide range of contingencies.
Among the future trends that will impact our national security is climate change. Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.
In our defense strategy, we refer to climate change as a “threat multiplier” because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today – from infectious disease to terrorism. We are already beginning to see some of these impacts.
Sad that our education system has churned out so many functionally science illiterate people who just cannot comprehend the data or believe that 97% of scientists concur that climate change is real.
Often I wonder if the vast majority of people are just stupid. Or to be a bit kinder, perhaps they’re illiterate or they get their strategic decision-making “data” from watching the climate deniers on Fox News since that’s the only channel available to them.
But when I saw this in today’s Minneapolis StarTribune I shook my head in disgust and sadness that confirmed my worst fears about my fellow human beings:
“Loudest climate warning issued,” was replaced last evening online by a much clearer one: UN climate panel says emissions need to drop to zero this century to keep warming in check. It states that, “Climate change is happening, it’s almost entirely man’s fault and limiting its impacts may require reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero this century, the U.N.’s panel on climate science said Sunday.” That means NO greenhouse gases. You know…like the ONES PRODUCED BY BURNING FOSSIL FUELS IN BIG CARS!
From the report:
“Emissions have risen so fast in recent years that the world has used up two-thirds of its carbon budget, the maximum amount of CO2 that can be emitted to have a likely chance of avoiding 2 degrees of warming.”
Two degrees of warming would devastate the world’s coastlines…you know, like Florida’s (more on that in a moment).
So then I was taken aback when I saw this article on the front page of the StarTribune’s Business section that said, “Small-vehicle sales seen slumping as low fuel prices benefit SUVs. Larger SUVs are looking good to buyers as gas hovers near $3 a gallon in much of the nation.”
BUYING BIGGER CARS
Some quotes from that second article that illustrates why I said all that stuff about people in my opening paragraph:
“The price of gas per gallon is drastically low — I’m really celebrating and enjoying that at the moment,” said Andrea Turner, a Tennessee mother who last week bought a 2014 Buick Encore sport-utility vehicle. The Encore has extra space to fit her 5-foot-11 frame and 10-year-old son’s soccer gear.
“You just feel so much better when you look at the pump, and you’re pleasantly surprised,” said Jeff Schuster, an analyst for LMC Automotive in Troy, Mich., who sees a direct link between gasoline prices and small-car sales. “You say, ‘Maybe I’ll splurge on something and treat myself.’ ”
“Right now, gas mileage is not that much of an issue for consumer choice,” said Greg Williams, new-car sales manager at Holman Honda of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
It’s not gas mileage…it’s the carbon going in to the atmosphere dummy. Hope Greg Williams has plans to get out of Florida since this is what the National Geographic climate change map shows for Florida when all Arctic and Antarctic ice melts (the absolute worst-case scenario, I should add):
Foolin’ around this morning shooting video on my iPhone. After viewing it I really liked the haunting bird song, along with the moth flitting about back-n-forth, and it put a smile on my face so thought I’d share it.
Three years or so ago National Geographic produced a fascinating show called The Human Family Tree as part of its Genographic Project. If you haven’t seen it I don’t want to introduce any spoilers, but it was the first show like this I’d watched that told real stories about the amazing connectedness of humans. It also had surprises in it that obviously changed the worldview of some of its partcipants!
That show was a big deal to me since it was the first spark of my internal fire to learn more about DNA and my own family tree.
After this show I became very intrigued by the work going on at 23andMe. At the time, the ‘swab’ kit (for sending in your DNA) cost $499 so I decided against it at the moment. In the fall of 2011 they dropped the price to $99 so I signed up.
It was fun to see the results but the key with 23andMe is that the participants have to answer survey questions…over-and-over-and-over again. I’m willing to do it since I benefit from other people doing the same, but it did become a daunting task after awhile. Still, I was able to see what others in my maternal/paternal haplogroups suffered from so I have at least an idea of what sorts of illnesses I’m prone to having.
I’ve also connected with 3rd, 4th, and 5th cousins. One woman who is a 3rd cousin, for example, connected with me and she lives in California. I looked at her profile and, in a long list of surnames she was connected to, was the surname of my maternal grandmother’s parents! So my great grandfather’s family in Norway had a male who, um, ‘connected’ with a woman in her lineage and passed on that familial DNA. Cool.
Quite often I’ll get in to debates with friends and family about energy and we end up in conversations about why we choose to be a three Prius family and why I’m so hot on the Internet of Things and my investment in SmartThings‘ technologies. Where it gets tough, however, is justifying why we are replacing our incandescent light bulbs (and even compact fluorescents (CFLs)) with LED light bulbs since the costs of LEDs are still a bit high.
That LED bulb cost makes the return on investment (ROI) a little tougher to justify for purely economic reasons, except when you consider that one LED will last for ~25,000 hours and an incandescent for only 750-2,000 hours.
LED costs are coming down but, like my friend Eric said to me just last Friday, trying to time the purchase of doing a wholesale incandescent lightbulb replacement in your home is like “catching a falling knife.” Buy too early and you get hurt since the break-even will take too many years, though I’ll argue that the time is now to begin replacing incandescents (and CFLs) with LED bulbs.
For my wife and I it’s not just about cost, however. We strive to do our bit to minimize our energy footprint and try to positively impact human’s effect on the climate in a myriad of ways such as recycling more than anyone in our neighborhood. Our lightbulb replacement adventure is just starting but will add to our objectives of minimization. Every little bit helps.
So let’s take a look two examples of bulb replacement in my own home to give you a sense of what I’ve already done and what the results have been so far. Hopefully this will help you determine whether or not the time is right for you to “catch the knife” and replace your incandescent bulbs with LEDs.
Slowly but surely I’ve become a believer in thorium reactors as one potential energy source that is abundant, cheap and an element that is naturally present everywhere in the world.
We will need it and Bill Gates is on board and investing in thorium so you know there has to be something world-changing about this element to get him involved.
To give you an idea of why we need more major energy sources — and we won’t be able to satisfy demand with solar, wind or other renewables since the demand is so great globally — let me share with you one sentence that starts off the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s International Energy Outlook 2013:
“The International Energy Outlook 2013 (IEO2013) projects that
world energy consumption will grow by 56 percent between 2010 and 2040.”
Holy shit. A 56% increase in the next 37 years? Yep.
If you want to know more about thorium — and I’d hope you would at least ask your elected representatives about what the U.S. is doing with thorium research to make sure energy is top-of-mind for them — here is a link to a Wikipedia article on thorium and the video from that Bill Gates page here is about 28 minutes long, but is a great overview and I encourage you to watch it.