Meet Rep. Joe Barton: He understands global warming

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas is a former Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the chief author of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

I bet he knows his stuff about climate change and renewable energy, right?  I mean, to get to that post, and to author such important policy regarding energy, he must be pretty well informed, right?

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*sigh* Of course not.

This is paraphrased, the full quote is:

“Wind is God’s way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it’s hotter to areas where it’s cooler. That’s what wind is. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I’m not saying that’s going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something, you can’t transfer that heat, and the heat goes up. It’s just something to think about.”

Not as cringe worthy, as he made the thought hypothetical, but clearly doesn’t have a grasp of the scientific principles here.  Yet, he would tell you that there is NO way that humans are POSSIBLY responsible for Climate Change.  He would say it’s something more like Noah’s flood.

*sigh*

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Natural Gas – Better than Coal, still not great

Natural Gas is enjoying a huge renaissance right now, with production sky-high, and prices low.  Everyone seems to be advocating for more implementation of natural gas electricity production, heating costs are down, and some are advocating for development of cars that run on compressed natural gas (I spent some time in Argentina, where many cars run on CNG, and it is cheap!)

President Obama even included natural gas as a major component of his energy/climate change speech.

It’s true that natural gas is much cleaner than coal, and gathering the resource is less damaging to the environment (no mining, but shale gas? not so good).  We must remember, however, that its use still pollutes.

And it can catch on fire and explode.  As this disaster reminds us:

Hercules 265 Rig, Gulf of Mexico

Hercules 265 Rig, Gulf of Mexico

Gulf rig partially collapses as fire rages

Natural gas disasters happen all the time, check out NaturalGasWatch.org for a comprehensive week-by-week list of explosions.

We like natural gas for the energy that it gives us, but remember that it is dangerous and does pollute.  You know what abundant energy source doesn’t catch fire and explode? The wind (at least that I know of, that would be terrifying).  And for that matter, when was the last time the sun caught on fire?  Well, erm…I guess always, but we like it that way.

President Obama’s Act on Climate Change Speech

“We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.”

The President at Georgetown University June 25

The President at Georgetown University June 25

Tuesday, President Obama delivered a speech at Georgetown University unveiling his Climate Change Plan.  The message, overshadowed in the news by a couple of big Supreme Court cases, was a broad overview of his administrations ideas and commitments.  But what exactly did the President propose?  Does the plan have any teeth?

All in all, I feel that the speech was a good snapshot of our progress in the past few years.  There was some back slapping and celebrating because the US has decreased its carbon emissions more than any nation since 2006, and because over half of the new electricity production installed last year was renewable.  There were strong calls for more community led efforts, and more bipartisan cooperation as well.

But what did (or didn’t) the President commit to do?

Well, there were a few solid promises to take away:

-The EPA now has the go-ahead to create and impose carbon pollution standards, similar to limits the agency has put on mercury and arsenic in the past

-The Department of the Interior will permit building enough renewable energy on public lands to power 6 million homes by 2020

-Established a goal of installing 100 MW of renewable energy on federal housing by 2020

-Set a goal to cut carbon emissions by 3 billion metric tons by 2030

Despite showing strong support for lowering carbon emissions and increasing renewable production, it is clear that Obama’s energy plan includes plenty of support for natural gas.  In fact, he included natural gas in his definition of clean energy.  He also praised the beginning of construction of the first nuclear plants in 30 years in Georgia and South Carolina.  The inclusion of natural gas and nuclear power in his ‘clean energy’ speech led to his most enigmatic initiative of the plan:

-$8 billion in loan guarantees for “advanced fossil energy” and energy efficiency projects

This promise is what worried me the most.  These guaranteed loans could go to natural gas, “clean coal”, or fracking to produce shale gas and oil.  Or it could go to carbon recapture projects, or efforts to build better turbines.  In short, this is $8 billion that could hurt or help the environment.  We just don’t know where this money will go.

In my opinion, these new standards and goals won’t really mean much until we see how they are going to be put into practice.  The  big question is how the EPA will create and implement these restrictions on carbon pollution.  Obama pointed to the 1970 Clean Air Act, and how it limited certain types of airborne pollutants.  Back then, when it was introduced, industries cried foul and predicted the death of the automotive industry and economic ruin, but it ended up being a very effective bill.  New carbon standards are likely to follow a similar path of regulations.  On the other hand, the administration might try a new strategy, such as a carbon tax (which is favored by some economists).

The real strong point of the speech was in Obama’s messages to climate change detractors and those on the other side of the aisle.  He addressed those with economic concerns about his plan with examples from the past:

“See, the problem with all these tired excuses for inaction is that it suggests a fundamental lack of faith in American business and American ingenuity. These critics seem to think that when we ask our businesses to innovate and reduce pollution and lead, they can’t or they won’t do it. They’ll just kind of give up and quit. But in America, we know that’s not true. Look at our history.

When we restricted cancer-causing chemicals in plastics and leaded fuel in our cars, it didn’t end the plastics industry or the oil industry. American chemists came up with better substitutes. When we phased out CFC’s — the gases that were depleting the ozone layer — it didn’t kill off refrigerators or air-conditioners or deodorant. American workers and businesses figured out how to do it better without harming the environment as much.

The fuel standards that we put in place just a few years ago didn’t cripple automakers. The American auto industry retooled, and today, our automakers are selling the best cars in the world at a faster rate than they have in five years — with more hybrid, more plug-in, more fuel-efficient cars for everybody to choose from.

So the point is, if you look at our history, don’t bet against American industry. Don’t bet against American workers. Don’t tell folks that we have to choose between the health of our children or the health of our economy.”

Obama also pointed to some of our biggest corporations, and their carbon emission and renewable energy plans:

“Recently, more than 500 businesses, including giants like GM and Nike, issued a Climate Declaration, calling action on climate change “one of the great economic opportunities of the 21st century.””

“Walmart is working to cut its carbon pollution by 20 percent and transition completely to renewable energy. Walmart deserves a cheer for that. But think about it. Would the biggest company, the biggest retailer in America — would they really do that if it weren’t good for business, if it weren’t good for their shareholders?”

Then he addressed the fact that climate change has become a very bipartisan, divisive issue (although what issue isn’t these days), but reached across the aisle to encourage the Republican party to take part:

“I know some Republicans in Washington dismiss these jobs [in renewable energy], but those who do need to call home — because 75 percent of all wind energy in this country is generated in Republican districts. And that may explain why last year, Republican governors in Kansas and Oklahoma and Iowa — Iowa, by the way, a state that harnesses almost 25 percent of its electricity from the wind — helped us in the fight to extend tax credits for wind energy manufacturers and producers. Tens of thousands good jobs were on the line, and those jobs were worth the fight.”

“As I said before, climate change has become a partisan issue, but it hasn’t always been. It wasn’t that long ago that Republicans led the way on new and innovative policies to tackle these issues. Richard Nixon opened the EPA. George H.W. Bush declared — first U.S. President to declare — “human activities are changing the atmosphere in unexpected and unprecedented ways.” Someone who never shies away from a challenge, John McCain, introduced a market-based cap-and-trade bill to slow carbon pollution.”

As I mentioned, this speech was quickly overshadowed by the big Supreme Court decisions regarding DOMA and the Voting Rights Act, but we should start seeing the effects of this new climate change plan soon.  In fact, coal stocks have tumbled since the speech, and one can expect natural gas stocks to rise.  But, lets focus on the central message of reducing carbon emissions, and hope that this speech is the beginning of some real action.  In the President’s words,  let’s make the United States of America “a global leader — in the fight against climate change.”

Read the transcript of President Obama’s speech here

Which Countries Use the Most Renewable Energy? By Percentage

Last week I posted a list of the 5 Countries that produce the most renewable energy.  Not suprisingly, the countries on the list tended to be large countries that also consumed the highest amounts of electricity.  In fact, three of the countries on the list were also in the top 5 Coal consumers.

While it is definately worth recognizing those countries for increasing the amount of renewable electricity generation in their country and worldwide, I thought (and readers agreed) that we should take a look at which countries produce the largest portion of their electricity from renewable sources.  In this way, we can see which countries have invested the most in setting up a sustainable energy future, regardless of size.  So, with that I give you the Top 5 Renewable Energy Producer’s by Percentage:

note:  This ranking was tough to determine, based on several different sources, with different classifications of renewable energy, different data sets, and different publish dates.  So if you disagree with a ranking, or think that I left out a country, comment and let me know!

We’ll start with #5 and count down in order to create some suspense.

#5.  Germany

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to any to see Germany make this list, with their declaration in 2011 that they will close all of their nuclear power plants by 2022.  Germany has become the worlds largest producer of solar power, while diversifying their energy portfolio with large portions of wind and biomass electricity as well.  As of 2011, Germany generated roughly 20% of their electricity from non-hydro renewable energy, 8% from wind, 8% from biomass, and 3% from solar.  Since then, the country has expanded solar production to account for close to 10% of their average annual electricity needs!

Germany has acheived this through agressive subsidies and ‘feed in tariffs’, and it hasn’t been without criticism, but it certainly shows the country’s commitment to renewable energy and has made them a leader.

#4.  Spain

Spain has become one of the world leaders in wind power, and recently set the world record in wind electricity production.  In 2011, renewable energy accounted for 22.3% of Spain’s electricity production, with 15% coming from wind (now more like 20-25%), 3% from solar (now 5%) and 2% from biomass.

These recent increase could have placed them higher on the list, but the other entrants have been increasing the renewable portfolios as well.  It should be noted that Spain has added to their significant debt problem in building this infrastructure, but has also made strong investments for the future and placed them near the front of the pack for clean energy generation.

#3. Portugal

Portugal is another heavy hitter when it comes to wind production.  In 2011, wind accounted for 20% of the country’s electricity, added to biomass (5%), and some solar and wave production as well to bring their total renewable production to 25.3% of their electricity portfolio.

Wave Farm in Portugal via inhabitat.com

Wave Farm in Portugal
via inhabitat.com

Portugal had good reason to diversify their electricity generation:  In the past, the country depended on hydroelectricity for over half of their energy, but the output of those facilities varied greatly due to droughts.

#2. Iceland

Iceland is well known for its commitment towards sustainable practices, and has made good use of their unique resources.  The country is blessed/cursed with large amounts of volcanic activity (Eyjafjallajökull anyone?) that give the small island vast amounts of geothermal potential.  They harness this heat to produce steam and turn their generators, creating a whopping 26% of their electricity.

Eerie geothermal plant in Reykjavik via nationalgeographic.com

Eerie geothermal plant in Reykjavik
via nationalgeographic.com

Iceland might just have the most renewable energy production in the world when you take into account that they use the same geothermal resources to heat almost all of their homes.  If you count hydroelectricity, then the country is 100% renewable.  Not every country has the ability to harness geothermal the way Iceland does, but they are sure making the most of it!

and the country that gets the largest portion of their electricity from renewable sources is….

#1. Denmark

Denmark produces nearly half of their electricity from renewable sources (45%), making them the leader in renewable energy by percentage.  30% of their power comes from wind alone, and another 15% from biomass.  They aren’t stopping there either: the country plans to get half of their power from wind alone by 2021.

Offshore wind farm in Denmark via dvice.com

Offshore wind farm in Denmark
via dvice.com

Denmark is demonstrating to the world that wind power can in fact be a significant portion of a country’s electrical production.  By making use of offshore wind farms, there are reducing some of the land requirements and tapping offshore resources as well!

So there you have it.  Notice anything about the list?  All but one of the countries in the top 5 are European Union members.  That is due in large part to the European Commision’s goal of getting 20% of all power by 2020. (20 by 2020, catchy.)  As you can see, these five countries are already well beyond that goal, and helping to raise the average of their fellow EU members.  Another factor that can’t be ignored, however, is the fact that Europe has been dealing with much higher fossil fuel prices than other areas such as North America, and have much more incentive to embrace alternative energy sources.  As I mentioned, some of these countries have incuured significant debt in order to make these developments feasible, which can serve as a warning to others.  But, it’s also important to note that the citizens of these nations are willing to take on sometimes additional costs in order to make a major dent into the region’s carbon emmisions.  Let these countries serves as examples for the rest of us!

 

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/03/24/sunday-review/how-much-electricity-comes-from-renewable-sources.html?_r=0

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/02/08/germany-has-five-times-as-much-solar-power-as-the-u-s-despite-alaska-levels-of-sun/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_Germany

 http://www.dvice.com/2013-4-2/25-percent-denmark-now-powered-exclusively-wind 

http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2013/05/penetration-of-renewable-energy-in-selected-markets

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_power_in_Iceland

http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/geothermal-profile/

http://www.renewablesinternational.net/spain-sets-record-for-wind-power-production/150/537/60321/

http://ec.europa.eu/energy/renewables/index_en.htm

Which Countries Use the Most Renewable Energy?

As we head into this Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to write a quick post listing the countries that use the most renewable energy.

That question is proving to be a little trickier than I thought.  First of all, what is renewable, what is not?  Some statistics include hydroelectric and biomass, others do not.  Some indexes forget to include geothermal.  In addition, is it better to look at total energy production from renewable sources, percentage of overall production, or actual consumption of renewable electricity?

For this post, let’s look at TOTAL energy production from renewable sources including Wind, Solar, Geothermal, and Biomass.  (Why did I leave out Hydroelectricity? Based on overall environmental impact.  More on that later.)

Given these parameters, lets look at the Top 5 Renewable Energy Producers by country:

1. The U.S.A.

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‘merica.

That’s right, according to the Christian Science Monitor, as of 2011, the US produced more renewable energy than other nation, responsible for 24.7% of renewable energy production.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Germany

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Germany has made a huge commitment towards renewable energy, vowing to eliminate all nuclear by 2022.  In 2011, Germany accounted for 11.7% of global renewable energy.

 

 

 

 

3. Spain

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Though it is a net importer of energy, Spain is known for its wind energy production, and the nation accounts for 7.8% of the world’s RE.

 

 

 

 

 

4. China

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China has recently become the world’s largest energy consumer.  Although they are not known for clean energy policy, the are now leading the world in investment in renewable energy as well.       In 2011, they accounted for 7.6% of RE production.

 

 

 

 

 

5. Brazil

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Another burgeoning country, Brazil is building a lot of renewable energy to keep up with growing demand.  Accounting for 5% of global RE production in 2011, the country has promised to power the 2014 World Cup with solar power.

 

 

 

 

Now wait a second, does this list look funny to anyone else?  The US? Brazil?  CHINA?  When I think about clean energy, these are NOT the names that generally occur to me.  While it is worth noting that these countries produce the highest amount of renewable energy, it is important to note that they are also some of the biggest CONSUMERS of energy overall.  Three of the countries from this list are also in the top 5 Coal consumers:  China (#1), The US (#2), and Germany (#5).

Next week we will look at which countries produce the highest percentage of their electricity from renewables.