“How Renewable Energy Is Taking Over the Electric Grid” – The Motley Fool, 6 September 2014

Renewable energy might very well beat out coal, nuclear, and natural gas as our number one source of energy. This July, every new power generating plant that opened in the US sources renewable energy.

Renewable energy is seeing an upsurge because it’s the cheapest energy alternative. Natural gas is beating wind and solar power by only a small margin in this year’s installed capacity (MW). If residential and commercial rooftops using solar power — called distributed solar energy — were added to the equation, then the number of solar units installed would be equal to natural gas in 2014.

US Energy Information Administration

US Energy Information Administration

While the previous table tells us the source of electricity generation, we should note that wind and solar energy only make a small percentage of the energy we actually use in the US.

US Energy Information Administration

US Energy Information Administration

Renewable energy’s climb is slow, but the trend is showing that renewables will soon replace coal and nuclear power. Natural gas remains a favorable source because it is still low in cost and can retain renewables and other energy sources for future use.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) published further data that shows how the US’s electricity prices have grown over the year. While costs rose in New England and the Mid-Atlantic due to increased wholesale prices from electricity generators, costs decreased on the Pacific coast — California, Oregon, Washington — because these states have installed more solar energy in the last year.

Renewables are a superior energy source in comparison to fossil fuels. Not only can wind and solar energy become cheaper, but both also prevent more greenhouse gases from being released into our environment.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

September 8, 2014

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“Greens: Climate march shatters record” – Politico, 21 September 2014

Recently, Leonardo DiCaprio has joined the fight against climate change to promote clean and renewable energies. Last week, he addressed the UN Climate Summit after participating in a climate march that brought almost 400,000 people to the streets of New York. Al Gore, UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon, New York Major Bill de Blasio, scientist Jane Goodall, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and former Ohio Democratice Rep. Dennis Kucinich joined Leonardo DiCaprio at the protest.

While 350.org — the climate activist group that pounced on the Keystone XL pipeline proposal and shined a light on the repercussions the pipeline will have on the environment — launched the march, over 1,500 environmental groups coordinated the march, expecting only 100,000 protestors to be in attendance. However, the turnout exceeded their expectations four-fold, to the tune of almost 400,000 people; the march was the biggest climate-related protest to ever take place. The organizing environmental groups chartered almost 500 buses to bring people to New York. London, Berlin, Rome, Rio de Janeiro and Melbourne, Australia also staged protests that day. None were as big as New York.

Protestors marched along Central Park West from 59th Street to 86th Street, waving flags, banging on drums, and holding signs that read, “No More Climate Change” and “Climate Action Now.”

The march was intended to bring more attention to the worsening effects of climate change — protestors, activists, and environmental groups feel like the issue hasn’t been getting enough press or enough attention from the federal government.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

September 24, 2014

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The “War Of Words On Coal” Continues

Yesterday, the EPA presented new rules for power plants emissions, called the Clean Power Plan proposal. These rules are a small part of Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which he is pursuing through executive action. The four building blocks of the EPA’s proposal are:

    • Cut carbon emissions from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels;
    • Cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent as a co-benefit;
    • Avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days-providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits; and
    • Shrink electricity bills roughly 8 percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system.

(via EPA)

According to the EPA, carbon dioxide emissions from US power plants have decreased by 13 percent since 2005. While different states will be given different emissions quotas, 30 percent is the US’s nationwide goal. States have up to three years to draft plans to meet their goals. Initial compliance plans are due June 30, 2016, but some states will be allotted a one-year extension. States that form multi-state plans will be allotted a two-year extension. If a state decides not to formulate a plan, then the EPA will write one for the state.

The EPA will present a number of options that will help the states meet target goals, such as helping power plants to become more efficient and spending more on sources of renewable energy. Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Virginia, and West Virginia have already passed laws that permit their environmental agencies to create unique carbon-emission plans. Louisiana and Ohio are also following suit.

Conservatives have been battling Obama’s climate regulations for months. As the 2014 midterm elections loom right around the corner, conservatives and their industry allies will do anything they can to stir the political pot and anger voters. Voters in states like Kentucky and West Virginia are the determining factor in whether or not the Democrats retain the Senate majority. Many Democrats who are openly against the new rules represent coal-producing states, such as West Virginia Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall—96 percent of his state’s power comes from coal.

The coal industry contends that the new rules will have negative repercussions on the economy, including major damage to coal and manufacturing jobs, increased household electricity costs, and a rising number of brown-outs during extreme heat or cold. The US Chamber of Commerce—opponents of the new regulations—contend that the Clean Power Plan proposal will result in a loss of almost a quarter-million jobs through 2030, will force power plants across the US to shut down, and will inflict $50 billion in yearly costs.

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The US depends on coal for 40 percent of its electricity; however, 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions originate from electricity, and within that percentage, coal-fired power plants make up 80% of those emissions. Overall, coal-fired power plants expel 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

While conservatives, and some liberals, see the proposed regulations as an attack on the coal industry, Obama sees it as way to not only clean up our environment, but also as a way to avert a national health crisis. Current climate law is dictated by the decades-old Clean Air Act, which regulates pollutants like soot, mercury, lead, arsenic, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides, but not carbon pollution.

The EPA will permit comment on the Clean Power Plan proposal for 120 days after it is published in the Federal Register, and will also conduct public hearings in Denver, Atlanta, Washington DC, and Pittsburgh during the week of July 28. The EPA’s proposed rules won’t be finalized until next year.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

June 2, 2014

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“Imagining Coal Without Air Pollution” – Wall Street Journal, 8 January 2014

While many countries have been working together to reach global environmental goals—such as reducing emissions and increasing use of renewable energies—it often seems like China hasn’t gotten the memo. Due to a growing population, and thus a growing demand for energy, China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions. Over the last few months, many of China’s major cities have had issues with smog—a product of coal-burning power plants—and citizens have been forced to wear face masks.

The US faced similar problems with smog in the late 1960′s and 1970′s, which inspired the formation of the EPA and passed the Clean Air Act. Since then, US electricity utilities reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by over 80% and nitrogen oxides by over 75%, using lower-sulfur coal found in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Now that the government and utilities have successfully kept those emission levels down, they are tackling mercury and greenhouse gas emissions, which means new environmental regulations. As a result, many of the US’s coal-burning power plants will close, since upgrading the plants’ equipment isn’t profitable. Moreover, natural gas releases half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal, and natural gas costs have plunged since 2009.

New regulations on mercury has the potential to reduce emissions by almost 90% and cause more power plants to shut their doors. The EPA is handling greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide, by introducing regulations that will more or less disallow utilities to build new coal-burning power plants. The EPA is set to propose new standards for existing power plants and guidelines on greenhouse gas emission levels.

Scientists are trying to find a way to prevent carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal, as well as studying the method of cleaning coal prior to combustion. Both have proved costly, though countries with more access to coal and less to natural gas—like China, Pakistan, Indonesia and Australia—have expressed interest in these technologies.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

March 21, 2014

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