Automakers leave internal combustion in the dust
Toyota will eliminate plain internal combustion cars from its line-up by 2050 in favor of fuel-cell vehicles and hybrids, it announced last week. Still reeling from its emissions scandal, Volkswagen said it will shift its focus to electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, while also equipping its diesel engines with emissions-control technology that actually works. Observers suggested that the pollution fraud at VW stemmed from an organizational culture that normalized rule-bending, as the engineers faced heightened demands for performance and pollution control that point inexorably to electric drive—and invite a complete redesign of the automobile. Millennials are exhibiting a different strategy for pollution control, driving significantly less than older generations.
Hawaii ends net metering, but sky won’t fall
New rooftop solar systems in Hawaii will no longer be eligible for net metering, state regulators ruled last week. The practice, which credits PV owners at the retail rate for surplus energy they feed onto the grid, fell victim to its own success, now that nearly 20 percent of customers have solar power. Under the new tariffs, solar surpluses will still be worth a respectable 15 to 28 cents per kilowatt-hour—not nearly so draconian a change as in Spain, where arrays over 10 kW will now get nothing for their excess energy. Consumers can get the greatest value for their energy production by shifting their demand to the brightest time of day or by storing it in batteries—strategies that are also rolling out in California with utility-dispatchable battery storage and solar cooling units that store ice to provide air-conditioning into the evening hours.
Canadian Conservatives turfed, heralding climate policy shift
Canada’s climate policy was poised for change as Prime Minister Stephen Harper lost his bid for re-election and the Liberal Party swept to a majority government. The Liberals’ victory is likely to steer the world’s tenth-largest CO2 emitter away from the fossil-fuel-dependent policies that Harper and his Conservatives embraced; activists had called for “strategic voting” to avoid the vote-splitting between Liberals and New Democrats that handed Conservatives the last election. The sinking fortunes of Alberta’s tar sands industry led Harper to avoid discussion of energy during the campaign, though viral Facebook posts and John Oliver’s trenchant commentary kept the issue alive.
Climate change buffeted about in election year
The Democratic candidates for president are all on the same page about climate change: it’s real and it’s a major existential problem to get serious about now. Not so much the Republicans, who fall over themselves to deny climate change, with Ohio Gov. John Kasich trumpeting a pro-fossil fuel agenda, calling for the repeal of limits on offshore drilling, removal of obstacles to oil and natural gas production, approval of the Keystone pipeline, and a reversal of the Clean Power Plan. Judging from their questioning at the first Democratic debate, to CNN’s reporters, climate change is merely an “environmental” issue that only the liberal left cares about.
The twilight of fossil fuels approaches
In a landmark admission, BP’s chief economist acknowledged last week that climate concerns will prevent some petroleum reserves from ever being burned. In Paris, 10 oil and gas firms called for a global climate deal, but stopped short of supporting a price on carbon, as six of them did earlier this year. Their statements came as the Obama Administration cancelled auctions for new Arctic oil leases, and Occidental Petroleum unloaded 300,000 acres of North Dakota shale oil reserves for $500 million, just one-sixth of what it had asked for the assets a year ago. Coal is crashing too, and has gotten so cheap in Germany that Greenpeace may buy mines and power plants just to retire them.
The mixed prospects of the atom
China will invest $79 billion by 2030 to build 110 nuclear power plants, according to the China Times, over four times as many reactors as it now operates. Its atomic optimism stands in contrast to nuclear power in the United States, where the closure of the Pilgrim nuke in Massachusetts was announced last week, and the Tennessee Valley Authority readied a reactor for start-up 43 years after its construction began. Other carbon-free electricity outpaced expectations, with Colorado deriving more than half of its electricity from wind for one day early this month, for instance. The IEA has consistently underestimated wind and solar power production, for reasons explored here.
Will Exxon have to answer for what it knew?
Two Democratic congressmen from California called on the US Attorney-General last week to investigate whether Exxon committed a crime by insisting publicly that carbon pollution was unrelated to climate change, even as its internal scientific findings demonstrated otherwise. The legislators compared the oil giant’s actions to tobacco companies that disputed the link between smoking and lung disease, for which they were also prosecuted under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Presidential candidate Gov. Martin O’Malley joined their call, and climate activist Bill McKibben was arrested for blockading a gas pump at a Vermont Exxon station under the banner #Exxonknew.
A team from Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey prevailed in the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, a contest to design an affordable, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing solar home. Check out the entries here.
Image: A concentrating solar power plant in southern Spain. Photo by Roberto Saltori, via Flickr.