|Illinois Renewable Energy Association|
|Host of the annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair|
Decarbonizing our energy system
Robert Vogl, Ph.D. and Sonia Vogl, Ph.D.
A conflicting range of policies is being put forth on how to deal with the threat of climate change. Given the complexity of sorting out the full range of options a new modeling tool has been developed which evaluates over 50 decarbonization strategies to meet the federal mandates from the Clean Power Plan. Known as the Energy Policy Simulator, it was developed by Energy Innovation of San Francisco and is the subject of an article by Gavin Bade.
The plan establishes that solutions exist and that they will be profitable. Unfortunately, there will be winners and losers. The plan will provide “policymakers ‘an objective, quantitative tool’ for evaluating different decarbonization strategies.” Many options are possible. It identifies the combination of policies which would meet the goals of the Clean Power Plan, producing $30 billion in savings by 2025 in the electrical sector. If public health and climate benefits are included the savings could reach $200 billion.
The policies include a nationwide 25% renewable standard, retiring 3 GW of coal plant production annually, a 50% improvement in building lighting efficiency, a 3% improvement in industrial efficiency and a 6% annual increase in coal generation efficiency.
The results of the model are national and not divided into regions or states. While the nation as a whole benefits, costs and benefits are not evenly distributed across the country which could give rise to strong resistance.
The financial and environmental benefits from these policies assume implementation will start in 2016. If delayed to 2020, emission reductions will be cut 25% by 2030.
Meeting the additional need to reduce carbon emissions stemming from an agreement with China will necessitate the development of another set of policies impacting the entire economy. The policies selected include stricter vehicles, building and industrial efficiency standards and rebates for efficient and electric cars. Implementing them is projected to produce $600 billion in savings but is likely to intensify resistance to such actions.
An additional policy scenario was constructed in which the U.S. achieves net zero carbon emissions by 2050. While the goal is technically possible political resistance is likely to be daunting. Perhaps an international agreement will be reached in Paris that provides a platform to guide international reductions in carbon emissions.
While further carbon reductions in other sectors by the U.S. and other countries are needed to control global climate change, the Energy Policy Simulator provides a reasonable tool to assess the major options.
The resistance to curbing carbon emissions comes from interests utilizing fossil fuels. Rather than attack the need to cut carbon emissions, Exxon links the use of fossil fuels to progress. Their paper, The Outlook for Energy: A view to 2040, postulates that the coming decades will enable roughly three billion people from China, India and other non-OECD countries to join the ranks of the middle class and benefit from modern technologies and energy. They see the combustion of oil, natural gas and coal as essential to economic progress through 2040 with nuclear power and renewables playing less significant roles.
As political wrangling over controlling carbon emissions persists, the utilization of efficiency, renewable energy and batteries expand as their costs and performance continue to improve. The question remains whether their use will expand rapidly enough to keep climate change below the 2oC target.
The Energy Policy Simulator is available at http://www.utilitydive.com/news/how-to-decarbonize-the-us-energy-system-in-14-charts/408669/ .
Return of the hydrogen future
Robert Vogl, Ph.D., and Sonia Vogl, Ph.D.
Prior to the early IREA Fairs which included presentations on the hydrogen economy we were linked with an effort to bring the Hydrogen Highway to northern Illinois. At the second Fair Thorstein Sigfusson described Iceland’s efforts to become the world’s first hydrogen economy. We later toured some energy installations there including geothermal and hydro facilities, their first hydrogen fueling station and the three hydrogen powered buses which travelled the streets of Reykjavik.
It was an appealing vision as it relied on renewable energy sources to produce hydrogen and appeared to offer a pathway to a clean energy future. The vision was tarnished as much of the low cost electricity was used to expand their aluminum smelting facilities for global markets. A large hydroelectric plant was installed in a formerly pristine area to increase the production of electricity. It is doubtful they will reach their original goal of being a hydrogen economy by 2040.
In Germany Siemens has developed an electrolyser to release hydrogen from water which can operate with the variable production of large scale wind generators. They see hydrogen as the only storage option that can reach the scale large enough to meet their needs. Germany now wastes 20% of the production from its wind farms because its lacks the grid capacity to shift the output to where it is needed.
In a 2014 presentation Pat Murphy, also a presenter at an earlier Fair, indicated he looked forward to the arrival of Toyota’s upgraded model of its hybrid electric vehicle. Of the 10 million hybrids in the marketplace, seven million were made by Toyota. He sees the hybrid as a relatively clean option for meeting auto transportation needs of the Midwest.
At this year’s Fair, Chris Schneider, the Hybrid Guru, shared Toyota’s short term vision of continued reliance on their highly successful hybrid and their long term vision of an auto fleet based on hydrogen fuel cell technology. Hyundai and Honda are also introducing fuel cell vehicles.
However, electric vehicle advocates are dismissive of a transition to fuel cell vehicles. They point to the high cost of building the infrastructure needed to refuel the cars in contrast to the low cost of expanding the grid to serve electrical vehicles. Another concern is that the likely source of the hydrogen is natural gas. Releasing hydrogen from the gas also involves the release of carbon dioxide. If the carbon is not sequestered it will contribute to climate change
In addition to competition from fuel cells, the well publicized effort of Elon Musk in creating an electricity based transportation system is also facing competition from China’s BYD efforts in electrified transportation. Both Tesla and BYD make electric vehicles and batteries to power them; BYD is the world’s leading battery manufacturer.
According to Mazor’s Edge BYD makes a full range of electric vehicles, including cars, buses, trucks and off road vehicles. They have introduced an electric bus using an iron-phosphate battery that retains 70% of its capacity after 10,000 recharge cycles. Some of their buses being made in California are operating in major cities along the west coast. The firm initiated a small transportation program in Chicago with Uber using their E6 crossover model which gets about 186 miles on a single charge, expected to reach 250 by 2016.
While the competition for the green car market has intensified, the outcome remains uncertain. But the expectation of an ever-expanding car based global transportation system is likely to undermine the environmental benefits of cleaner cars. Whatever the outcome, hydrogen will play a role in the energy future.
A busy week of Expos
It was a busy week for us. On Thursday we attended the Northern Illinois Renewable Energy Summit & Expo at Rock Valley College. It was good to return and remember that we initiated it two years ago when it was held at the Klehm Arboretum. It was also good to meet old friends and colleagues again. We were given one of the ”Leadership by Example” awards.
On Saturday we attended the McHenry County environmental program, as we have since the 1990s when it was held in spring as Earth Day; now it is in November as the Green Living Expo. After some confusion (we registered, but were left off the list and map, and had no table) we were escorted to a table which had been assigned to another group that cancelled.
We were placed across from an organic farm with a CSA. Next to them were Loyola University students displaying urban agriculture, banning hunger and organic mushroom growing. One of the coordinators of the sustainable mushroom project was excited by the potential of growing mushrooms on a 300 foot by 75 foot wide gulley we have been filling with wood chips and enriching with alpaca wastes. We exchanged emails and look forward to his making a presentation on urban agriculture and mushroom growing at the 2016 Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fair.
Almost immediately, several people stopped to chat and pick up the IREA Fair information page. Almost everyone who passed stopped to inspect our display. Maybe now that events have expanded to include sustainable lifestyles, interest has returned. We thanked them for their interest. A visitor to our Fairs encouraged us to keep it up.
Bob immediately went off to visit displays while Sonia stayed at the table and enlisted the people at the next exhibit to come to our Fair. They sell vertical gardens, a good idea for those with little space or who wish to continue their gardening into winter. They are eager to exhibit at the IREA Fair.
The new Rock Valley College ecology instructor whom we met at the Northern Illinois Expo stopped and confirmed that he would be at our Fair as a speaker.
To our right was a table loaded with items made from recycled materials, including old sweaters become mittens or toys, a pot scrubber decorative sheep and fanciful bird with crest made of nails. The vendor didn’t expect to sell much that day, and suggested that the event have a special section of items for sale so that people would come with the expectation of buying. We told him that we do just that. He might be an exhibitor at our Fair.
Long time friends and colleagues Steve and Carol Wenzel whom we met at our home during a Solar Tour, owners of the Blazing Star native plant nursery, told us of an innovative, low labor and low impact German organic gardening, Hugelkultur. Trees and/or branches are placed in a pile, dirt is heaped upon them, and the garden is planted. As the wood decomposes, it forms a natural fertilizer which aids in sequestering carbon. Having excess wood not suitable for heating fires, we might try the technique; if we do, we will report on it. Steve was also eager to try his new lithium-ion battery powered snow blower. It is so lightweight that he can pick it up in one hand.
We look forward to such events where we can re-connect and re-invigorate. In that way, they are like the IREA Fair.