March 31, 2017

Court holds TEPCO liable for Fukushima disaster

In the court ruling, the judges found that science-based evidence of major risks to the nuclear plant was "foreseen" but ignored and not acted upon by Japan's government and TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company).

Writing inside Ukedo elementary school near Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, March 1, 2017.

Judges in the Maebashi District Court in Gunma prefecture ruled that TEPCO and the government were aware of the earthquake and tsunami risks to the Fukushima Daiichi plant prior to the 2011 triple reactor meltdown, but failed to take preventative measures.
The company announced a plan to restructure their business to respond to the court ruling and the industry ministry's doubling of its estimated total cost for the nuclear disaster cleanup to ¥22 trillion ($197 billion).
Is this a warning that fossil fuel companies and governments may also be held liable for ignoring science based evidence of major risks and failing to take preventative action?

It certainly is a sobering warning that when companies go bankrupt as a result of ignoring science, that ordinary citizens and taxpayers are the ones who are left paying the price. 

March 29, 2017

Carbon free electricity by 2060?

Carbon emissions from electricity generation could be reduced 70 percent by 2050, and eliminated entirely by 2060, according to a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

So what would it take to eliminate carbon emissions entirely from making electricity?
The answer is both efficiency improvements, and a shift of the generating mix into renewable energy.
The study claims 90 percent of that reduction could be achieved by expanding renewable-energy use and by making improvements in a wide range of energy efficiency measures.

Renewable energy already accounts for 24 percent of global power generation, and 16 percent of "primary energy supply," according to IRENA.
But to achieve the necessary reduction in carbon emissions, it would need to reach 80 percent of power generation and 65 percent of primary energy supply by 2050, the study said.

Electric cars would need to become the "predominant" vehicle type by 2050, for example, and recharge largely on electricity from renewable sources.

Buildings would also need to convert to all-electric power, with a focus on energy efficiency.
A total of 2 billion buildings would need to be renovated or built new to achieve the necessary carbon-emissions reductions, according to the study.

Elimination of carbon emissions from electricity generation is a worthy and important goal, but environmentalists and policymakers will have to work hard to achieve the fairly ambitious goals called for by this study.

Madison, WI & Abita Springs, LA commit to 100% renewable

Madison, Wisconsin committed to getting 100 percent of its energy from clean, renewable sources in a resolution passed unanimously by the City Council on Tuesday. It became the 24th city to make such a promise, according to a tally by the Sierra Club, which has a "Ready for 100" nationwide campaign.
Madison's resolution calls for the entire city to get all of its power from clean renewable sources, starting with city operations. There is no target date specified, but the resolution mandates that a plan to get the city government's operations to all-renewable must be developed by January 2018, including specific dates and benchmarks. 
Surprisingly, Madison Gas & Electric endorsed the resolution. 
Madison residents have voiced overwhelming support for the resolution and renewable energy in general, with crowds attending multiple hearings about the proposed resolution and testifying in its favor.
A Sierra Club press release notes that on the same day the resolution was passed by Madison, with its famously progressive politics, the town of Abita Springs, Louisiana passed a similar measure. Abita Springs voters favored Donald Trump in the presidential election.
"Politics has nothing to do with it for me," said Abita Springs Mayor Greg Lemons in a statement. "Clean energy just makes good economic sense. By establishing a 100 percent renewable energy goal, we have an opportunity to use solar power that we can control in our community, for our community."

Tesla's Solar+Storage project saves money in Hawaii

  • Tesla has completed its fully dispatchable solar+storage project on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, installing a 13 MW, 52 MWh project that will help boost the amount of renewables.

  • Under the terms of a 20-year contract, KauaŹ»i Island Utility Cooperative will pay Tesla $0.139 / kWh—less than the current cost of oil, according to the utility.  
  • The project will allow solar energy to be delivered at night, helping the utility toward its goal to deliver 100% renewable power in line with Hawaii's renewable goal of 100% by 2045.

Huge cost overruns push Westinghouse into bankruptcy

Westinghouse Electric Co, a unit of Japanese conglomerate Toshiba Corp, filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday, hit by billions of dollars of cost overruns at four nuclear reactors under construction in the U.S. Southeast.

A Westinghouse project in Georgia remains unfinished, its future in doubt - Reuters

The bankruptcy casts doubt on the future of the first new U.S. nuclear power plants in three decades, which were scheduled to begin producing power as soon as this week, but are now years behind schedule.

The four reactors are part of two projects known as V.C. Summer in South Carolina, which is majority owned by SCANA Corp (SCG.N), and Vogtle in Georgia, which is owned by a group of utilities led by Southern Co (SO.N).

Costs for the projects have soared due to increased safety demands by U.S. regulators, and also due to significantly higher-than-anticipated costs for labor, equipment and components.

The bankruptcy could embroil the U.S. and Japanese governments, given the scale of the collapse and the $8.3 billion in U.S. government loan guarantees that were provided to help finance the reactors.

State regulators have approved costs of around $14 billion for each project but Morgan Stanley has estimated the final bill of around $22 billion for the South Carolina project and around $19 billion for the Georgia plant.

SCANA told investors on a conference call on Wednesday that 5,000 workers would continue working on its South Carolina site for 30 days while the company weighed options.

"Our preferred option is to finish the plants. The least preferred option is abandonment," said SCANA CEO Kevin Marsh.

March 4, 2017

Rooftop solar could generate 47% of Massachusetts' electricity

According to a report released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), rooftop solar could meet almost half of Massachusetts' electricity demand.  For the country as a whole, NREL estimates a suitable rooftop potential for solar of 1,118 GW. The 1,432 TWh this amount of solar could produce, would account for 39% of the United States' electricity sales

The study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory says the estimated potential from rooftop solar has been revised upwards by more than 80 per cent since the last study in 2008, mostly because of improvements of module efficiencies, building availability and solar modelling.

A cluster of New England states – Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts –  could generate more than 45 per cent of their electricity needs from rooftop solar PV, despite the below-average solar resource of these states.
The NREL says a common feature of the top six states – in terms of potential PV generation as a percentage of total sales –  is the significantly below-average household consumption, suggesting the role an energy-efficient residential sector could play in achieving a high penetration of energy from rooftop PV.
NREL points out that these are not predictions, just potential output. But is also says its own estimates could be highly conservative.
Firstly, it uses an average module efficiency of 16 per cent, when most modern rooftop systems have efficiencies of around 20 per cent. If this average was used, it would lift its figures by around 25 per cent, meaning that rooftop solar had the potential to meet half the country's electricity demand (and nearly 90 per cent in California).
The study also did not take into account the enormous potential of ground-mounted solar, nor did it take into account other installations such as car parks, or integrating solar PV into building facades. Only 26 per cent of "small  rooftop" spaces were considered suitable for solar PV.

Lessons from Oroville Dam

The evacuation of nearly 200,000 people near Oroville Dam is the kind of event that makes climate change personal. Like many extreme events, the Oroville emergency is a combination of natural weather likely intensified by climate change. 

Dams in the United States were built 50 years ago, on average. Since then, the Earth's surface temperature has warmed about 1.35°F, and there's now more than 5% more water vapor in the atmosphere as a result, which intensifies storms. With hotter temperatures, more precipitation falls as rain and less as snow, and California's Sierra snowpack also melts earlier in the year.

Our infrastructure was designed for yesterday's climate, not today's or tomorrow's. We know the climate is changing and we need to be prepared.

We already see fundamental changes in storm frequency and intensity, increases in the size and duration of droughts and rainfall events, disappearing snow packs, growing agricultural water demands with rising temperatures, and more.
We cannot afford the luxury of pretending climate change isn't real, and we cannot afford to ignore the risks to our water infrastructure posed by these changes. Any investment in infrastructure must take climate change into account through smart flexible design, integration of better weather-forecasting and modeling tools, and adoption of new standards for facility construction and operation.

Environmental groups warned the state about Oroville Dam in 2005, noting that in an intensely wet year like we've seen in 2017, its emergency spillway could erode, and thus should be coated with concrete. State agencies concluded that the cost of this project couldn't be justified given the low probability of such a wet season, but climate change increases the likelihood and intensity of extreme precipitation events.