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Tuesday, February 7, 2017


There are two dominating gorillas affecting the future of energy and the environment, or Planet Earth and Humanity.  First, the price of oil:

For five years or so petroleum wobbled around $100/barrel.  About mid-2014 there began a sudden decline, and oil has more recently hovered just above $50/barrel.  If this price holds for a few more years, renewable energy growth will suffer, especially biofuels.  Certainly, Rick Perry (Department of Energy), Rex Tillerson (State Department) and Scott Pruitt (Environmental Protection Agency) are pro-oil.  But will this matter, considering world dynamics?

Then there is President Donald Trump.  Here is an excerpt from an interview provided by Grist:

Trump: Our energy companies are a disaster right now. Coal. The coal business is — you know, there is such a thing as clean coal [False]. Our miners are out of work — now they’re just attacking energy companies like I’ve never seen them attack anything before.
They want everything to be wind and solar. Unfortunately, it’s not working on large-scale [False]. It’s just not working [False]. Solar is very, very expensive [False]. Wind is very, very expensive [False], and it only works when it’s windy [False].
About global warming:

Trump keeps saying global warming is a hoax, but part of this is because 75% of those who voted for him share his view.  Only 10% of Hillary Clinton voters felt that global warming was exaggerated.

There is a whole swarm of renewable energy newsletters I daily view.  I take the most interesting stories of the lot and report on them once a month.  Here is a quick update:

  • The largest concentrated solar thermal plant in the world, Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, is located in the Mojave Desert, just over the state line between Primm, Nevada and Nipton, California.  You can see the mirrors to the right as you're driving from Las Vegas (50 miles away) to Los Angeles.  It has a gross capacity of 392 megawatts, and should have been 440 MW, except that the final segment encroached upon the habitat of the desert tortoise.  It cost $2.2 billion and production was deemed poor until recently, when the 170,000 mirror system finally met contractual obligations.  Apparently, Ivanpah is now rated at 377 MW.
  • I've long been promising to update energy storage, for this potential is key to the development of intermittent solar and wind energy.  In South Africa, a 1,332 MW pumped storage hydropower system was brought into commercial operation.  Cost?  $3.5 billion, and it has taken more than a decade to reach this stage.  Interesting that once known to be the 1,333 MW Braamhoek project is now called the 1,332 MW Ingula system.  Ingula alludes to the creamy contents at the top of the milk gourd, whatever that means.
  • The deployment of energy storage will require a fundamental change in how markets treat this capability.  In 2016 the U.S. market grew by 284%.  However, by last year  there were only 2,276 MW of non-hydro (the one above is hydro), meaning batteries and the like.  The expectation is for a 47% growth this year.  However, through 2020, the prediction is for 29,400 MW of new storage capacity, a compound annual growth rate of 60%.  Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects battery technology to fall to $120/kWh by 2030, compared to $1000/kWh in 2020 and $300/kWh now.
  • Renewable energy developers try to say kind things whenever they can, but the reality is that the Trump administration will significantly curtail green energy expansion.  Wind energy, in particular, is in a difficult position with Trump, because he really hates that option.  He loves coal, and his administration is in the midst of promoting fracking, oil pipelines, releasing methane into the atmosphere and reversing everything President Obama did to promote green energy with the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Prior to the inauguration of Donald Trump, following up on the Paris Climate Change Agreement, Green and Resilience Banks reported that a sum of $13 trillion was required just to meet the pledges of the Agreement.  This transformation will require investments of $6 trillion/year for the next dozen years.  It is possible that the world will continue along this pathway, but my sense is that Donald Trump will throw a large wet blanket over these prognostications.
If I seem particularly pessimistic about the new White House administration, I was working in the U.S. Senate when Republican Ronald Reagan entered in 1980.  He was not particularly negative about solar energy, but he began by removing the solar water heater system on the roof, and almost totally decimated the renewable energy program at the Department of Energy.  Read my Huffington Post article written almost a decade ago on this subject.   Donald Trump will be worse, for he shows strong disdain for anything resembling solar energy and doesn't seem to care much about the fallout from fossil fuels, so the renewable energy industry will mostly suffer for years to come.  If petroleum continues to sell for around $50/barrel, Planet Earth and Humanity will suffer, badly.

But let me end with 35-year old First Daughter Ivanka Trump.  There are signs that she actually is pro-green and takes climate change seriously.  Can generational divergence make a meaningful difference in national policy?  Difficult for me to believe that she will be impactful, but I've certainly been wrong before.  At least there is some hope that family input and clear international trends will neutralize all the rhetoric of the past 18 days.


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