Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What Scares Fossil Fuel Lackeys More Than Anything?

March 15, 2017 Gallup Poll of American Adults

What scares fossil fuel interests more than anything? What is the one thing that will leave carbon underground while still ensuring that people can continue to drive, to stay warm in winter and cool in summer, to enjoy modern life and rely on the advances that have given us so much?

Clean energy technology. Solar and wind electricity generation.* But not just solar and wind.

What is even scarier to the fossil fuel interests is the essential ingredients to turn solar and wind from “alternative” boutique energy sources to sources that can drive our economy in all seasons and at all times of the day and night:  efficiency, storage, long distance transmission and electrification of transport and heating/cooling.

It is hard for the fossil fuel lackeys to attack solar and wind directly because people consistently support solar and wind. A Gallup poll last week found that 71% of Americans think we should emphasize alternative energy. We have even seen alliance between the Tea Party and climate activists because of shared support for solar energy that translates not just into carbon free energy, but also the independence, decentralization and freedom inherent in individual ownership of electricity generation.

Of course, they do try to attack solar and wind directly, with distorted images of flocks of birds dropping from the sky from wind while discounting the costs to birds of 2C warming. NIMBYism is stoked by fossil fuel money when it is transmission lines carrying hydroelectric energy or putting wind turbines in view, but not when it is gas processing plants or pipelines carrying oil. Whole campaigns suggest that if you don’t support oil and gas, you don’t support energy.

This is a difficult argument for them to make, of course, when considering the beauty of solar and wind farms, the power of individual ownership of rooftop solar, the absence of dirty gas and oil pipelines and processing plants, and, most recently, the money savings from the quickly plummeting costs of renewable energy. Indeed, the Gallup poll shows they are losing that argument.

So how can fossil fuels best resist our march toward becoming a clean energy superpower? Attack where people don’t see you attacking.

While Trump’s budget proposal threatens all kinds of actions that will gut our current attempts to address climate, many of these threaten agencies and programs that are relatively unknown and therefore will likely go largely unopposed—agencies and programs that support transmission, storage, efficiency and electrification of transport and home heating and cooling.

Here is a list of just a few programs and agencies that will not simply be impacted but, if Trump gets his way, will be ELIMINATED:  Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program (ATVM), Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), State Energy Program (SEP), Energy Star Program, the State Department’s USAID Clean Technology Fund.

ARPA-E:  This Department of Energy (DOE) agency funds projects that are not ready for private investment, but have high potential, in energy storage (battery technology) and transmission (grid technology), among other technologies necessary for solar and wind and other clean energy. It has leveraged $1.8B in private funds since 2009.

ATVM:  This DOE program loans money to support the development of fuel efficient vehicles.
ATVM At Work
Notably, they’ve loaned money to Tesla and Nissan, and thereby directly supported electric vehicle development. It’s loans have allowed for over $50 billion in total project investment.

WAP:  This DOE program helps states provide weatherization services to low-income families, saving them money and reducing heating and cooling energy consumption and costs.  Over 7M families have been served.

SEP:  This DOE program helps states develop energy plans (in order to comply with federal law) by developing efficiency and clean energy technology. Here is just one example:  SEP helped Illinois install geothermal heating and cooling systems in schools.  The program has increased the energy efficiency of more than 19,000 buildings through the installation of energy upgrades and supported the installation of more than 40,000 renewable energy systems.

Energy STAR:  This is the most publicly known in the group. It is a voluntary labeling program that empowers citizens to incorporate efficiency concerns in our purchasing decisions and allows corporations to profit from efficiency. Despite being voluntary, it has been adopted by companies, states, individuals and others widely.

USAID Clean Energy Fund:  “USAID helps countries create policy environments that attract sustained private investment in clean energy.” Their focus?  Here is one small heading from their website:  “REPLACING FOSSIL FUELS AS BASE LOAD POWER:  Clean energy pioneers like Hawaii have proven that renewables can replace fossil fuels as base load power, but the transition requires changes in how utilities do business."

Why would the incoming administration target these programs?

Renewables will remain a constricted energy source until they consistently supply energy day and night through all seasons. Efficiency, transmission, storage and electrification are essential for large scale transition to renewables. I repeat…Without investment in these, we cannot rely predominantly on renewables.

I explored this in full in the past, but here I will quickly summarize. Wind and solar are intermittent. The sun isn’t always shining everywhere and at all times that electricity is needed, nor is the wind always blowing. There are several potential solutions to this problem. (1) Use electricity only intermittently (not viable or even desired), (2) store the energy for later use (batteries, pumped hydro or other), (3) move the energy from one place to another-transmission (a national grid could move energy from where it is produced to where it is needed) or (4) have another energy source that is “dispatchable,” that is, it can be turned on and off to complement the solar and wind (gas or oil).
Without transmission and storage, any use of solar and wind means continuing dependence on gas or oil.

Becoming a clean energy superpower requires solar and wind installation AND the work of groups like ARPA-E and ATVM. We must recognize their importance. The fossil fuel lackeys recognize it and they are attacking.

Seventy-one percent of Americans believe our energy solutions must emphasize “alternative energy.” The problem is that they will remain merely “alternative” if we do not emphasize the technology and innovation necessary to support them.

Climate activism does not simply mean demanding we keep it in the ground. It does not simply mean recognizing the beauty of solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal heating and EVs.

Climate activism also means educating each other on the crucial work of policy experts, scientists and engineers in ensuring we have the efficiency, grid and storage on which renewables depend. It means demanding policies that ensure this work continues.  It means recognizing that these technologies offer us opportunities no less engaging and essential than solar and wind themselves.

* I leave aside the discussion of nuclear energy for the purposes of this piece. I see nuclear as an essential piece of the puzzle. However, there can be no doubt, with or without nuclear, renewables are also an essential part of the puzzle. Their intermittency, whether we move forward with nuclear or not, poses challenges that we must address. That we can address. That offer us opportunities no less exciting than those of solar and wind.  Moreover, nuclear is not under threat by fossil fuel interests nearly to the extent that renewables is.  The reality is that nuclear is so heavily regulated, rightly or wrongly, from the left, that new nuclear is crushed under the weight of its own cost.  I therefore leave that discussion for other pieces.

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