Remember the EV1 – GMs experimental foray into electric vehicles? Although the EV1 was a failure in terms of mass market sales, it captured the imagination of both car and environmental enthusiasts. Tesla’s leadership has proven that EVs can indeed be a marketable product. Now, virtually every automaker has a selection of practical EVs and longer-range hybrids.
I’m still a big fan of high performance gas engines; it amazes me that power outputs have tripled since the early 70s, while fuel economy has improved and engine longevity is in the 200k mile range. I’m also a big fan of plug-in hybrids that permit family long trips without detailed planning for a charging pit stop. Nevertheless, except for certain niche applications (high performance, long range and car nuts) the die is cast and the gas engine is passé. Virtually all automakers are planning manufacturing facilities to transition to a mostly EV/hybrid fleet in 10-20 years.
Ironically, at the same time customer preferences are transitioning towards EVs, customers are also buying more SUVs and crossovers — which generally have worse gas mileage than sedans (I like the fact that you can haul around a 60 cell solar panel in an SUV). In early 2018 Ford announced that they would no longer manufacture sedans, with the exception of the Mustang. Recently, GM announced similar plans to effectively abandon the sedan market and focus on SUVs crossovers and trucks.
With favorable government policies in almost every country, inexpensive solar and wind electricity, and the need to reduce worldwide carbon emissions, the shift wards EVs is inexorable. Please listen up to this week’s Energy Show for more about the reasons our grandchildren will all ride in EVs, and will probably never change the oil or a spark plug.
We’re starting to see the impact that the 2018 congressional elections had on clean energy. Although the House of Representatives is now in Democratic control, many of the energy policies of the Trump administration are likely to continue.
Starting at the top, President Trump is unlikely to change is viewpoints favoring fossil fuels and ignoring global warming. As one would expect, his cabinet officials leading the EPA, Interior and DOE will continue on their path of loosening regulations, increasing oil and gas drilling, and supporting nuclear technologies while rolling back CAFE standards. From a congressional standpoint we can expect much more proposed legislation for clean energy technologies, but since the Senate must also support these efforts and Trump may veto them, I do not expect any significant clean energy legislative victories. Nevertheless, the Climate Solutions Caucus in the House of Representatives will continue to address risks from global warming — regardless of the prospects of success.
When it comes to state-level activities, the prospects for better solar and storage are much brighter. Seven states changed their gubernatorial party leadership, and all of these new governors campaigned in favor of clean energy. In fact, after president Trump’s disavowal of the Paris climate agreement, 16 states and Puerto Rico pledged to uphold the accord anyway and keep fighting climate change on their own.
While our country staggers drunkenly both forwards and backwards from a clean energy policy standpoint, the economics of clean energy continue to improve. Solar, wind, storage and energy efficiency continue to get cheaper, simpler and more integrated in our daily lives. At the end of the day, even bad policies are unlikely to counteract the incredibly positive economics of solar, wind and energy storage. Please tune in to this week’s Energy Show for the few glimmers of good news about our country’s transition to cheaper clean energy and be sure to check out the EPA Archives at www.RememberTheEPA.com.
The bad news about global warming continues unabated. This fall the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (fondly referred to as the IPCC) sent up an emergency flare. According to Amjad Abdulla an IPCC board member and chief negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, “The report shows that we only have the slimmest of opportunities remaining to avoid unthinkable damage to the climate system that supports life, as we know it.“ Obviously, small island states are at the most immediate risk. But if the earth’s warming trend continues, many populated areas around the globe will essentially be uninhabitable.
I read the entire report. It’s complex, dense, hard to understand and full of bureaucratese. There were two conclusions in the report that were especially surprising to me. First, unless the world acts immediately and intensively, there is almost no chance that global warming will be less than 1.5 degrees Celsius. The reason is that there is a lot of inertia in the earth’s climate system — we are already on a rapid warming trend. The second conclusion is that an immediate worldwide investment of roughly $900 billion per year will be required to stay below this 1.5% threshold.
On a positive note, I learned a lot of new TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms). My personal belief is that our grandchildren will be saddled with the economic and sociological disruptions that global warming will cause. Nevertheless, there is a large portion of our population that remains skeptical about global warming and its potential impacts. One reason for this global warming divide relates to economics. Some industries — particularly those dependent on fossil fuels — will be negatively impacted (“harmed” is the non-bureaucratic term). On the other hand there will be many industries that will benefit…not only solar and wind, but also from all the jobs created from the transition away from fossil fuels: EVs, heat pumps, more extensive electrical infrastructure, control systems and as yet undeployed new energy technologies.
As an solar enthusiast, I’m obviously biased. But the consequences of global warming are so severe that even the skeptics should consider immediate action as a form of an insurance policy. In case the skeptics are wrong about global warming, an investment now can avoid a disaster later. For more about the IPCC’s recommendations to stabilize and reverse global warming, listen to this week’s Energy Show.
Energy storage is critical to our ability to eliminate the use of fossil fuels. Basically, we need a way to store the abundance of daytime solar and use this energy at night. Although lithium ion batteries have been getting most of the attention, fuel cells provide another way to convert fuels into electricity.
A fuel cell is an electro-chemical cell that converts the chemical energy from a fuel into electricity through a reaction of hydrogen or another hydrocarbon fuel, such as gasoline or natural gas, with oxygen. The history of fuel cells goes back over a hundred years — in fact, their first commercial use came from NASA to power orbital space craft. Fuel cells are different than batteries because a battery produces energy from a chemical reaction that is already in the battery, whereas a fuel cell requires a continuous source of fuel and oxygen to sustain the chemical reaction. The great thing about fuel cell technology is they can continue to supply energy for as long as fuel and oxygen are supplied.
However, fuel cells can either be clean and renewable power sources — or just as polluting as fossil fuels — depending on their fuel source. Currently, most fuel cells use hydrogen as their fuel. Although the chemical reaction of hydrogen with atmospheric oxygen is emission-free (the only byproduct is water), the source of the hydrogen is problematic. Almost 100% of the hydrogen gas used for fuel cells and industrial processes comes from reforming natural gas. As a result, just as much CO2 is produced when hydrogen is used as a fuel, as if the natural gas were to be combusted directly. Nevertheless, future processes in which ordinary water is electrolyzed into its components hydrogen and oxygen can indeed produce hydrogen perfectly cleanly — as long as solar or wind are used to power the process.
More and more fuel cells are finding their way into the conventional power and transportation industries. Bloom Energy is successfully selling their natural gas-powered fuel cells to customers that need a reliable source of backup power. And Toyota has rolled out their Murai hydrogen fuel cell car in areas that have sufficient hydrogen filling stations (most of which are in California). For more about the underlying technology and opportunities for fuel cells, tune in to this week’s Energy Show.
These days you can’t watch TV, read a news story or listen to the radio without seeing catastrophic fires, hurricanes, and high temperatures. The world is getting hotter. To illustrate, Death Valley recorded the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. Temperatures averaged 108.1 degrees day and night, all of July 2018. That beat last year’s record monthly temperature. This is not just a U.S. only story, it’s a worldwide issue. During the month of July 2018 record high temperatures were set on every single continent in the northern hemisphere (it was winter in the southern hemisphere).
Politicians, policymakers and leaders all over the world created the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016 — which every country in the world joined except for outcast Syria. Syria stepped up to the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017 — and then during the same year President Trump withdrew from the Agreement. The U.S. is the only country in the world that is not a signatory of the Paris Climate Agreement, the intention of which is to avoid a likely slow motion global warming disaster. We have been euphemistically describing this problem as “climate change.” Yes, the climate is changing, and it is getting hotter. So I am back to describing this looming catastrophe as “global warming.”
There are a few scientists who still believe that this global warming is not caused by mankind, is part of a natural cycle, or is not really a problem (Iceland could be the new Costa del Sol). Nevertheless, according to ongoing temperature analyses conducted by climate scientists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about .8 degree Celsius which is 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. Two thirds of the warming has incurred since 1975 at a rate of .15 to .2 degrees per decade. Natural processes are generally not linear — this warming is speeding up. We may be getting close to a tipping point at which global warming dramatically accelerates, flooding coastal areas and creating conditions so hot in many countries that humans can no longer survive.
Please Listen up to this week’s Energy Show as we share various scientific and media perspectives on global warming. It’s time to panic and act.
California continues to lead the country when it comes to clean and inexpensive energy. Here is an example – In May the California Energy Commission passed a rule that goes into effect on January 1, 2020 that requires solar on all new homes. The rule applies to all new homes, apartments and condos under three stories tall. The rule also includes an option to include an energy storage system (which we believe will become a standard feature with all solar systems).
We have received a number of calls and emails from people both in favor of and against this new rule since it was passed. What we really like about this new rule is that new home buyers will definitely save money. We’ve done hundreds of installations on new homes and the monthly energy savings are always more than the monthly mortgage increase. Always.
According to data from the California Energy Commission, the cost of a new solar system would be an extra $40 per month on a typical mortgage. And that’s without the tax credit. The monthly savings on the homeowner’s electric bill would be $80 per month. So the net monthly savings is $40 per month, or almost $500 per year. So every new home that has solar on it is going to come out almost $500 cash flow positive every year. Based on our installation experiences, I think the CEC’s cost numbers are on the high side and savings number are low – so the benefits are even better. This New Solar Homes Mandate is good for home buyers, and will increase the awareness of solar on existing residential rooftops.
But there are some negatives about this new rule. Some people have a visceral reaction against mandates. They simply don’t want to be told what to do. Moreover, adding solar will slightly increase the cost of a new home. Nevertheless, our government mandates things like seat belts, clean air, new home warranties and energy efficiency. By mandating popular consumer safety and efficiency benefits, costs generally come down for everyone, to the overall benefit of society. For more about California’s New Solar Homes Mandate, Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show.
There is no doubt in my mind that the “All Electric future” is inevitable. The only question is how fast…20 or 50 or 75 years? Electric generation and storage technology is getting cheaper, while at the same time the problems with fossils fuels keep getting worse. Many of our new construction customers at Cinnamon Energy Systems want to power their entire homes with electricity. They will not need natural gas for heating, hot water, laundry or cooking. And with EVs, they will not need gasoline for their cars. Naturally, a bigger solar array is required. And battery storage for when the grid goes down — also to maximize savings with time of use rates.
Mankind has been using fossil fuels since we started burning coal thousands of years ago. What does it mean when our homes, businesses, industries and transportation systems operate primarily from electricity instead of coal or oil or gas? In some states our political leaders are pushing for this 100% clean energy transition. The solar and wind industries will obviously benefit – as well as electric utilities which can transition to fueling our vehicles as well as powering our buildings. The coal industry — and eventually other fossil fuels — will steadily decline as their polluting product also becomes too expensive compared to wind and solar. Breakthroughs with clean coal or inexpensive nuclear are becoming less and less likely as renewable power prices continue to decline.
Enabling this transition is a steady stream of new devices and appliances that substitute electricity for fossil fuels. A few examples include heat pump hot water heaters, induction electric stoves and electric vehicles. Please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show for more about this “All Electric future” — and what you can do now to best prepare your home and business.
Ours is a consumption economy: we buy electrical equipment, building materials, appliances, toys and innumerable ephemeral knick knacks. When these items no longer serve their purpose — or just become passé — we throw them out. They are almost never re-used and rarely recycled.
Ideally, we should recycle everything. Household waste streams are mostly recycled, But old electronics are the worst: think about that drawer of circa 1990s cell phones, box of 3.5” floppy diskettes containing precious data, or pre IP office phone systems that can still power up but are worthless without a dial tone. Unfortunately, this old electronic equipment is usually just thrown in the dump, becoming what we now call “E-waste.” Efforts are in place to prevent old solar panels from also becoming E-waste. Theoretically, the glass, aluminum, silicon and copper in the panels are extremely recyclable. But because of the 25-year durability of solar panels, there are few efficient ways to recycle, or even re-use, old solar panels.
There are a few new companies that are addressing the growing need to re-use or recycle E-waste. My guest on this week’s show is Lou Ramondetta, President of Surplus Services. Lou has been in the industrial, electronic and medical equipment industry for over twenty years, and is now working to recycle or — better yet, find a home for working but old electronics equipment. To learn more about how companies like Surplus Services are helping companies and local municipalities reduce and even zero-out their E-waste streams through repurposing of electronic equipment, Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show.
Barry Cinnamon has been blogging about the Solar Industry since 2007.
Barry hosts The Energy Show, a weekly 30 minute talk show that runs every Saturday at 1:30 PM on KDOW Radio AM in San Jose California.
Every week Barry provides practical money-saving tips on ways to reduce your home and business energy consumption.
Barry Cinnamon heads up Cinnamon Solar (a San Jose residential and commercial solar and energy storage contractor) and Spice Solar (suppliers of built-in solar racking technology). After 10,000+ installations at Akeena Solar and Westinghouse Solar, he’s developed a pretty good perspective on the real-world economics of rooftop solar — as well as the best products and services for homeowners, manufacturers and installers. His rooftop tinkering led to the development of integrated racking (released in 2007), AC solar modules (released in 2009), and Spice Solar (the fastest way to install rooftop solar modules).
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