Biden launches plan to bring solar to low-income homes

“The initiative would connect participants in a federal program that subsidizes energy costs for low-income residents with developers of community solar projects, which sell subscriptions to households for renewable power with the promise of lowering their monthly electricity bills.

The Biden administration has big aspirations for the program, projecting it could spur the development of 134 gigawatts of new solar power capacity nationwide, the agency official said. To put that in perspective, total U.S. solar capacity today sits at 97.2 gigawatts, according to the Energy Department.

And it could lead to sizable savings, too: DOE estimated participants in the five initial pilot project states and the District of Columbia alone would save more than $1 billion on their energy bills annually.”

‘Green’ Germany Prepares To Fire Up the Coal Furnaces

“Somehow, Germany, a country where the government is firmly committed to “green” energy, is preparing to fire up coal-burning power plants. The move is even more remarkable given that officials stubbornly refuse to restart mothballed nuclear facilities, or even reconsider the timeline for retiring those that remain online. It’s an astonishing situation for a country that very recently boasted that it would soon satisfy all its energy needs with sunshine and cool summer breezes.”

“Germany’s problems predate the war in Ukraine and are closely linked to the goals the country’s political class made about their energy future in the absence of a realistic plan for getting there. In 2011, after an earthquake and tsunami triggered a disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the German government recommitted itself to closing all of its nuclear plants and getting its electricity from solar and wind. The decision was motivated by public fears of nuclear power, but also by loud insistence that the energy source had no place in a sustainable future.”

“But “nuclear power is very close to the same shade of green as that of most renewables” when you compare mining and manufacturing inputs to each approach, energy expert Gail H. Marcus wrote for Physics World in 2017. And nuclear is reliable—the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow, which means electricity produced by those sources ebbs and flows. That’s a big problem for electrical grids that require steady supplies of energy.
“Large amounts of intermittent electricity create huge swings in supply which the grid has to be able to cope with,” Bloomberg reported in January 2021.”

“Germany’s plight is disturbing testimony of where you can end up if you commit yourself to a vision of a “green” future that has no place in it for the most reliable source of clean-ish electricity. By contrast, neighboring France plans to build as many as 14 new nuclear reactors because of, not despite, its environmental goals. That attitude reflects energy analyst Marcus’s assessment and is shared by the inter-governmental International Energy Agency (IEA). “Long-term operation of the existing nuclear fleet and a near-doubling of the annual rate of capacity additions are required” to meet clean-energy goals by 2050, the organization specifies.

Visons of a cleaner future based on technologies that are more efficient and less polluting are praiseworthy and shared by just about everybody. But to get from here to there requires planning and realistic decisions. Unfortunately for the German people, most of their political leaders relied on strongly held wishes and pixie dust to bring a green utopia and are instead delivering literal lumps of coal.”

The air conditioning paradox

“The world is now 1.1 degrees Celsius — 2 degrees Fahrenheit — warmer on average than it was at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. But baked into that seemingly small change in the average is a big increase in dangerous extreme temperatures. That’s made cooling, particularly air conditioning, vital for the survival of billions of people.”

“These searing temperatures are just the latest in a pattern of increasingly hot weather. A heat wave that would have been a once-in-a-decade event in the 1800s is now hotter and happens nearly three times as often. Heat waves that used to occur once every 50 years are now nearly five times as frequent and reach higher temperatures. Heat records are broken so often they barely register as news. In its latest review of climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said it is “virtually certain” that heat waves have become more frequent and intense across most land areas since the 1950s.
Extreme heat events are also occurring over a wider region of the globe, from the depths of the ocean to the icy reaches of the Arctic. Heat waves are now such devastating events with long-lasting wounds that some countries say they should be named like hurricanes.

But the most severe risks from high temperatures are in places like India and Pakistan, regions closer to the equator that are already hot and have dense, growing populations. They also have less wealth, so fewer can afford cooling when thermometers reach triple digits.”

“The tactics for cooling can end up worsening the very problem they’re trying to solve if they draw on fossil fuels, or leak refrigerants that are potent heat-trapping gases. And the people who stand to experience the most extreme heat are often those least able to cool off.”

“There are many ways to curb the climate impacts of ACs. “The answer lies first and foremost in improving the efficiency of air conditioners, which can quickly slow down the growth in cooling-related electricity demand,” wrote Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, in a 2018 report. With greater energy efficiency, air conditioners do more with less. Also, homes and businesses need better insulation and sealing to prevent waste.

Another method is to manufacture more air conditioners that don’t use HFCs or other heat-trapping gases. Many countries, including the US, are phasing out HFCs. The US Senate will soon vote to ratify the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty that commits to cutting HFCs 85 percent by 2050.

At the same time, there is going to be a massive market for sustainable cooling technologies. “There are billions of people that aspire to be wealthy, and as your income starts going up, you’re going to want to have access to cooling,” Kyte said.

The electricity that powers air conditioners needs to come from sources that don’t emit greenhouse gases, so dialing down coal, oil, and natural gas power on the grid and ramping up wind, solar, and nuclear energy is crucial.”

To Beat Putin, Europe Needs America’s Clean Energy

“The European Union is dependent on Russia for almost half of its natural gas and a quarter of its oil. Germany alone imports 55 percent of the gas it consumes from Putin’s petro-state. As part of its invasion strategy, Russia thought it could use its natural gas and oil to blackmail Europe into passivity. Europe is belatedly beginning to shut off the Russian spigot, but it will pay a heavy economic price for the delay.

And for Europe’s energy switch to succeed, the United States must step up.

Just as we were the Arsenal of Democracy when fascism threatened Europe 80 years ago, today we must become the Arsenal of Clean Energy. That means we should finance and export clean energy to Europe in large quantities as quickly as possible. This approach would help protect our own security and economic interests, as well as the sovereignty, democracies, and economies of Europe, all while working to combat climate change.

Our goals should be: 1) make European energy secure; 2) help shift European countries to cleaner energy; and 3) create a massive clean energy market that strengthens supply chains and job creation in the U.S.”

“starts with an energy version of the “Candy Bombers” who supplied Berlin during the Soviet Union’s blockade in 1948. In this case, we could provide a temporary natural gas lifeline to Europe as they wean themselves off Russian energy. America has some additional capacity, and more coming online very soon, to send liquefied natural gas to Europe. We should combine a near-term increase in U.S. gas production and exports to Europe with assistance for European countries to, over the medium-term, reduce their reliance on natural gas by switching to other, lower-carbon fuels and increased energy efficiency.

Second, to ensure this lifeline leads Europe to a safe and sustainable future, the United States needs to create an American clean energy sovereignty fund. We should commit to $10 billion per year for the next decade to finance the export of U.S. hydrogen, nuclear, and carbon capture technology that can be deployed across Europe. The new technologies should be supported by both U.S. and European supply chains and workers to ensure economic growth across both continents. This government-backed entity would provide a significant cost-share for countries importing U.S. clean energy, particularly technologies that will be primarily made in and exported from the U.S.

As we are seeing now with Germany’s reconsideration of its decision to close its nuclear plants, even renewable-heavy countries need firm clean energy provided by technologies like nuclear power. This is even more important in industrial areas of Eastern Europe that need both the steady electricity and high heat that nuclear, or hydrogen, can provide.

Finally, as all of Washington knows by now, personnel is policy. To underscore the urgency of this mission, the Biden administration should create a new, senior position at the National Security Council to manage clean, firm energy and coordinate the alphabet soup of agencies involved. This position would oversee a new “Team Energy” of public and private sector experts who can cut through the bureaucracy.”

Germany Shuts Down Three Perfectly Good Nuclear Power Plants

“Electricity prices tripled in many European countries this winter, including in Germany, as renewable power supplies faltered and Russia seized the opportunity to boost the price of its natural gas exports. So, of course, the German government thought this was a fine time to permanently shutter three perfectly good nuclear power plants.
The closures are part of Germany’s famous energy transition, widely known as the Energiewende, to a low-carbon, nuclear-free economy. Germany aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045 chiefly by switching entirely to renewable energy generation to supply electricity to residences, factories, and transport. That goal would be much more easily achieved if the country not only kept running its carbon-free nuclear power plants, but also built more of them.”

“How will Germany make up for the power lost from shutting down the three nuclear power plants? A new analysis by the admittedly pro-nuclear Environmental Progress activist group argues that the expected addition of solar and wind capacity will not be sufficient to make up for the loss of the German nuclear plants. Consequently, the group observes, “Next year, the share of German electricity generation coming from fossil fuels could be as high as 44 percent, compared to 39 percent in 2021 and 37 percent in 2020.”

In contrast, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged in November that France will build more nuclear power plants. The new plants, he said, are meant “to guarantee France’s energy independence, to guarantee our country’s electricity supply and achieve our objectives, in particular carbon neutrality in 2050.””

The downside to Biden’s electric vehicle charging plan

“to build 500,000 chargers with half the budget, the Biden administration will have to opt for slower chargers. (The faster the charger, the more expensive it is to install.) The Biden administration’s plan, which draws on funds from the recently passed $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, prioritizes chargers that take hours to fully charge an electric car — a potentially hard sell for Americans who are used to filling gas tanks from empty to full in minutes. And while more chargers are great, the plan is an indicator of just how watered-down Biden’s energy policies have become over the last year. Democrats still haven’t been able to agree on a clean energy plan, and without one in place, those EV chargers could just end up getting their energy from fossil fuel sources.”

“There are currently three different types, or levels, of electric vehicle chargers. Level 1 chargers plug into a regular 120-volt power outlet and deliver power to electric cars at a glacial three to five miles of range per hour. At that rate, it would take a couple of days for most cars to go from empty to fully charge. Level 2 chargers convert the 120-volt connection to about 240 volts, charging cars around 10 times faster than Level 1 chargers and bringing a battery to full within a few hours. Level 3 chargers, also called DC fast chargers, are the fastest of the lot. They add anywhere from three to 20 miles of range per minute.That means your car can be about 80 percent charged in the time it takes you to use the bathroom and grab a cup of coffee at a rest stop.”

“industry experts say, we don’t really need every charger to be a fast charger — which is why the Biden administration’s charging framework just might work.
“There’s a temptation to recreate the gas station model, where we say, ‘Oh I’m low on fuel, I need to go fill up now and be on my way in five minutes,’” Joe Britton, executive director of the Zero Emission Transportation Association, told Recode. “That would be a mistake.” (Just don’t tell Harris, who said charging the Volt was “just like filling up your car with gas.”)

Instead, Britton said, it’s important to consider how most people actually use their cars on a regular day. Most folks aren’t driving hundreds of miles each day; they’re driving between home and work or running errands around town. For those folks, Level 2 chargers would work just fine. They can charge their cars at home, drive to a grocery store, plug in at the parking lot, and drive back home with a full battery. So while the Biden plan does include strategically installing faster chargers along highways and in rural areas, the focus on building lots of Level 2 chargers in local communities is a way to stretch that $7.5 billion a long way.”

“Despite being home to EV pioneers like Tesla and GM, the US lags far behind Europe and China in electric vehicle sales. The majority of American EV sales are also concentrated in major metropolitan areas, with nearly half of all EV sales in California alone.”

“Studies have shown that electric cars drawing power from coal-heavy grids can actually be worse for the climate than hybrids. And so far, the president’s attempts to clean up the grid have been repeatedly thwarted by Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who single-handedly gutted a proposal to replace coal- and gas-powered plants with solar, wind, and nuclear energy. Most of the energy policy that remains in Biden’s signature Build Back Better bill revolves around tax credits for clean energy, with few penalties for continued pollution-heavy energy production.”

Solar trade woes cast a pall over Biden’s climate goals

“Even the mere prospect of new trade restrictions has prompted solar installers, who are already facing supply issues and higher labor costs, to pull back on some projects. At the same time, Biden wants to avoid being seen to be weak on China — another centerpiece of his campaign pitch and early policy agenda.

The conflict pits parts of the solar industry against each other. American solar panel manufacturers are petitioning to expand existing tariffs on Chinese products to those coming from Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Backers of the tariffs and trade restrictions say they would allow panel makers in the U.S. to expand production. Added duties would also accomplish another of Biden’s goals: punishing China over the use of forced labor.

But the Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents developers that install panels and build solar projects, says imposing tariffs on those three nations would hit more than three-fourths of imports and about half of the total solar panel supply in the U.S. “That would have a pretty devastating impact on the solar industry,” said Abby Hopper, CEO of the trade group.”

“Other trade issues before the administration could also hamper solar build-out. Commerce is weighing whether to extend separate Trump-era tariffs on Chinese solar for another four years, and the Department of Homeland Security is considering whether to increase trade restrictions on Chinese panel components, like it did this summer.

In June, the Biden administration blocked the import of products containing silicon materials from a key Chinese supplier, Hoshine, over concerns it uses forced labor in its manufacturing. The company operates in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, where the ruling Communist Party has interned hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uyghur Muslims.

The policy has resulted in Customs and Border Protection detaining some shipments of solar panels coming in from China.”

Why the US isn’t ready for clean energy

“In the near future, the energy made in the US is going to be much greener. The country’s current goal is for solar plants alone to make nearly half of US electricity by 2050. But we can’t just build solar plants where coal and gas plants used to be. They have to be built where it’s … sunny. And wind turbines have to be built where it’s windy. But that’s not always where the people who need the power are.

The distance from energy source to energy need is about to get a lot bigger. And the US is going to need more high-voltage transmission lines. A lot more. As soon as possible. While solar plants can be built relatively fast, high-voltage transmission projects can take up to 10 years. So experts say we need to start proactively building them, right now.”

The ‘Green Energy’ That Might Be Ruining the Planet

“Here’s a multibillion-dollar question that could help determine the fate of the global climate: If a tree falls in a forest—and then it’s driven to a mill, where it’s chopped and chipped and compressed into wood pellets, which are then driven to a port and shipped across the ocean to be burned for electricity in European power plants—does it warm the planet?

Most scientists and environmentalists say yes: By definition, clear-cutting trees and combusting their carbon emits greenhouse gases that heat up the earth. But policymakers in the U.S. Congress and governments around the world have declared that no, burning wood for power isn’t a climate threat—it’s actually a green climate solution. In Europe, “biomass power,” as it’s technically called, is now counted and subsidized as zero-emissions renewable energy. As a result, European utilities now import tons of wood from U.S. forests every year—and Europe’s supposedly eco-friendly economy now generates more energy from burning wood than from wind and solar combined.”

“Nevertheless, the global transition away from fossil fuels has sparked a boom in the U.S. wood-pellet industry, which has built 23 mills throughout the South over the past decade, and is relentlessly trying to brand itself as a 21st-century green energy business. Its basic argument is that the carbon released while trees are burning shouldn’t count because it’s eventually offset by the carbon absorbed while other trees are growing. That is also currently the official position of the U.S. government, along with many other governments around the world.”

“critics of the industry have suggested an alternative climate strategy: Let trees grow and absorb carbon, then don’t burn them. Deforestation is a major driver of climate change, and the United Nations climate panel has warned that the world needs to end it worldwide to meet the ambitious Paris emissions targets for 2050.”

“European experience shows that general policies to promote renewables can spark a massive shift to wood-burning if biomass isn’t specifically excluded.”

“Enviva’s product would not exist without loggers who clear-cut forests into barren fields with motorized “feller-bunchers,” but the company tries to emphasize that its business is about growing trees as well as killing trees. Enviva requires the landowners who supply its wood to promise to replant their forests, and it uses GPS technology to track and trace every harvest to see if they comply. The company has also committed to help protect 35,000 acres of threatened bottomland hardwood forests and restore 5,000 acres of natural longleaf pine.”

“Jenkins wants the public to see the big picture: Southern forests are growing overall, with more trees being planted than cut, and Enviva’s demand for wood helps encourage landowners to keep their forests as forests. The Southeastern U.S. produces one-sixth of the world’s timber, and less than 4 percent of that harvest ends up as pellets.

“one thing both sides agree on is that it matters what kind of wood ends up in the pellet mills, and what would have happened to that wood otherwise. Policymakers and academics have made all kinds of theoretical assumptions, but it’s not hard to find the reality on the ground.”

“In the decade since Enviva started manufacturing pellets, the Dogwood Alliance has repeatedly exposed gaps between the company’s sustainability rhetoric and its actions. In 2018, for example, a Dutch TV station working with Dogwood followed some logs from another cypress swamp near the Virginia border back to Enviva’s mill. Smith and I returned to the scene three years later, and while the deforested high ground around the swamp had been recolonized by a thick tangle of grasses, bushes and scrub oak, there wasn’t much growing back in the low-lying wetlands, just some sad-looking stumps poking out of the murky water. Smith warns that if governments keep subsidizing the conversion of trees into energy, enormous swaths of environmentally valuable forests around the world will end up looking like that.

Enviva officials say they no longer accept any cypress wood at their mills, or for that matter any other wood harvested from ecologically sensitive areas. They say they now source only 3 percent of their wood from the increasingly rare bottomland hardwood forests that are such culturally resonant symbols of the South—and only from “non-sensitive” ones. But Jenkins admits the company made some questionable sourcing decisions in the past.”

“what’s clear from talking to people in North Carolina, and from a few hours standing outside two Enviva mills watching logging trucks come and go, is that much of the wood that gets pelletized isn’t unmerchantable waste wood. It’s pulpwood—whole pine and hardwood trees as well as wood chips that could otherwise be sold to paper mills. It’s not thick or unblemished enough to turn into telephone poles, houses or high-quality furniture, but much of it is fine for Amazon boxes, toilet paper and the fluff inside diapers; one member of Enviva’s sustainability team described it as Walmart wood rather than Gucci wood. I later spent an hour outside a nearby paper mill watching what kind of wood arrived there, and the trucks were bringing in the same kind of logs they brought to Enviva.

That means Enviva isn’t just cleaning up around the edges of the logging industry—it’s increasing demand for wood in the South. And that means additional trees would need to be logged to feed the paper mills that are losing trees to Enviva; the increased demand for pulpwood will require an increased supply of pulpwood. Even if new trees are planted in their place, many studies suggest they will take decades, and in some cases centuries, to absorb enough carbon to “pay back” the carbon debt from burning the older trees. That’s a problem, because scientists don’t believe the world can wait decades, much less centuries, to cut emissions.”