Converting To Renewable Energy

It seems to me….

In reality, Republicans have long been at war with clean energy. They have ridiculed investments in solar and wind power, bashed energy-efficiency standards, attacked state moves to promote renewable energy and championed laws that would enshrine taxpayer subsidies for fossil fuels while stripping them from wind and solar.” ~ Jeff Goodell[1].

Wind and solar power exceeded 10 percent of the total U.S. electrical energy generation for the first time in March 2017 and was projected to exceed 18 percent by the end of 2018. The national power grid has rapidly evolved and improved in recent years as utility companies have developed innovative ways to move electrical power around the country to account for weather fluctuations. Once the average price of green energy has been innovated down below the price of fossil fuels, further adoption will expand rapidly. Cost is already comparable in California (along with Arizona, Hawaii, and locations within several other states) and would be almost everywhere if power companies were not highly subsidized or if environmental costs and negative health effects were factored in.

Similar to many other issues, Liberals and Conservatives typically view environmental issues and energy production differently. Many liberals believe global warming is a critical consideration, that carbon-based energy is a major source of greenhouse gases, and that other non-polluting sources of energy need to be explored. That the government must produce a national plan for all energy resources and subsidize (partially pay for) alternative energy research and production. That support must be increased for development of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power. And that all government support of fossil-fuel industries should cease.

Conservatives believe that oil, gas, and coal are good sources of energy and abundant in the U.S. That oil drilling should be increased both on land and at sea. That increased domestic oil production creates lower prices and less dependence on other countries. That support of nuclear energy production needs to be increased. That wind and solar sources will never provide plentiful, affordable sources of power. And that we need to support private ownership of gas and electric industries.

Many opportunities to advance renewable energy development have been wasted. Solyndra, a recipient of an Energy Department loan guarantee declared bankruptcy in 2011, which was highly criticized at the time primarily by conservatives, though the funding was insufficient and took too long to approve to prevent the company from failing. Expanded research investment is necessary, not less. Only with public investing in developing technologies prior to their being commercially attractive to venture capitalists will such technologies ever become successful. Other such innovations are frequently initially funded through ARPA, NASA, or in federally supported university research labs. Mistakenly, there have been significant federal funded research reductions since 2007 and that must be reversed if the U.S. is to maintain its technological leadership.

I happen to be one who believes the investment in Solyndra was beneficial. Anyone driving by the old Solyndra headquarters on I-580 in Milpitas, CA, will see it still is a photovoltaic developer under a new name. Solar technology was originally developed here in the U.S. but President Reagan opposed it. In another instance of too little too late, China acquired the U.S. research rights and now the two leading solar providers are both Chinese companies (the third leading provider is German).

It’s not environmental politics that will sink the fossil-fuel industry but price. The cost of renewables has steadily declined and new carbon-fueled power plants risk becoming “stranded assets” before the end of their life cycles hinting at a looming tipping point against investment in fossil fuels.

In industrialized nations, growth has somewhat shifted from physical “things” to digital services which require much less energy consumption. This incredible technological progress could lead to a renewable-powered electrical grid and fully electrified transportation within the next 30 – 40 years. More importantly, cheap renewable energy could permit less-developed countries in Africa and South Asia, such as India, to follow a different, cleaner path to industrialization without sacrificing living standards.

Texas leads the U.S. in wind capacity with more than 20 gigawatts installed though California has ample wind and leads the nation in solar power plants and photovoltaic rooftops. One difficulty with solar energy is that collectors produce an electrical surplus beginning at sunrise every morning, sometimes more than the grid can absorb, and then terminate in the early evening when consumers still demand large amounts of power. Additional investment is necessary to better balance these incongruities.

California has officially become the first U.S. state to require new homes to have rooftop solar panels (though some economists doubt the rooftop rule will prove the most cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions)[2]. The requirement is part of new building energy-efficiency standards the California Energy Commission (CEC) passed earlier last year (2018). New homes under the revised building code, which takes effect starting in 2020, will use an estimated 53 percent less energy than existing homes built under 2016 standards and could cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by about 700,000 metric tons over three years according to CEC estimates.

The estimated direct impact of California’s rooftop solar initiative eliminating about 700,000 metric tons of emissions over three years remains considerably less than 1 percent of the state’s total annual emissions (about 440 million metric tons). The estimated emissions reduction will have approximately the same impact as removing 115,000 fossil-fuel vehicles from California’s roads. That comparison would still amount to slightly less than half a percent of the more than 25 million cars registered in the state. Emissions from homes accounted for just 7 percent of California’s overall greenhouse gas output in 2016 whereas transportation contributed 41 percent of all state emissions.

Unlike grid-scale solar farms, rooftop panels provide onsite power to homes in a way that does not require additional land or supporting infrastructure and rooftop solar’s distributed power approach could strengthen the grid’s resiliency against power failures, natural disasters, and wildfires.

Requiring rooftop solar panels will raise upfront costs for California homeowners at a time when San Francisco and other cities already struggle with the lack of affordable housing. The CEC estimates the new standards which also include energy-efficient lighting upgrades, will raise the cost of new home construction by about $9,500 but could save $19,000 in energy and maintenance costs over a 30-year mortgage. The requirement will most likely primarily benefit wealthier home buyers who can afford the upfront costs while saving money over the average length of home ownership.

For renewables to fully displace fossil fuels, it will also require major changes in the entire national energy distribution system. Energy generation, while a major consideration, is not the only remaining obstacle to full conversion to renewables. There also are infrastructure, political, and vested interests that must be considered.

Wind and solar power will not become the major energy sources until a nationwide transmission grid is designed based on local, daily weather variations[3]. If builders continue to ignore weather-driven variability, future grids will become increasingly challenging. What is needed is weather-smart grid design, directed by meteorology and built on long-distance transmission lines that can manage weather inconsistencies. Such a system could provide large quantities of renewable power across North America to link supply with demand regardless of weather, location, or time of day.

Heat waves and cold snaps produce the peak strain on a region’s grid. Typical planning boils down to ensuring the system can deliver during those most demanding hours of extreme weather days. The rapid scale-up of wind and solar power plants is forcing planners to greatly boost the grid’s weather intelligence. Unlike conventional coal, natural gas, and nuclear generators, wind turbines and solar panels strongly react to the weather adding a large variable that constantly changes throughout every day of the year.

The grid across the U.S. is divided into three large, isolated regions. This balkanization means each region must manage weather variability on its own. The Eastern Interconnection and Western Interconnection, the two alternating-current (AC) power grids that serve most of the U.S. and Canada and a bit of Mexico, exchange almost no power; they exchange even less with Texas which operates its own AC grid. Consumers are unaware of the mounting difficulty renewables may cause since all the wind turbines and solar arrays combined currently supply only a fraction of U.S. electricity. Grid operators still have thousands of conventional power plants they can ramp up and down to balance these gyrating sources. But renewables’ share is rapidly increasing. California has mandated that it will reach 50 percent by 2030 (not including large hydropower plants); Hawaii intends to hit 100 percent as soon as 2040. Unfortunately, most utilities and transmission operators are not attempting to design weather-wise grids to handle the coming demand for wind and solar power.

Computer simulations indicate the greatest benefit would come from uniting the Eastern-Western power grids that currently divide the two along their common border with either several large direct-current (DC) power lines or by crisscrossing them with a network of longer DC lines from the Pacific Coast to the Midwest with an additional main line from Louisiana to Florida. DC wires are preferable since their power loss is less than AC wires over long distances making distant connection more economically.

Converting the U.S. from fossil-fuel energy production to renewables is occurring more quickly than for which most energy utilities are capable of being fully prepared. Though the current Presidential administration is attempting to delay, if not reverse, such development, it is now obvious that it will occur regardless of official federal policies.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Jeff Goodell is an American author and contributing editor to Rolling Stone magazine. His writings are known for a focus on energy and environmental issues.

[2] Hsu, Jeremy. Experts Aren’t Taking a Shine to California’s Rooftop Solar Rule, Scientific American,, 13 December 2018.

[3] Fairley, Peter. Weather-Smart Electric Grids Are Needed For Wind And Solar Power To Surge, Scientific American,, July 2018.

About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
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3 Responses to Converting To Renewable Energy

  1. berlioz1935 says:

    You might be interested in this article, describing what is happening in the UK. It could be the parting gift of Theresa May to the UK and the world. In Australia, the situation is as bad as in the USA. Coal is still king here.–a-VYxePoTn-O2E#Echobox=1560587519


    • lewbornmann says:

      Hi Peter: Apparently some of your elected leaders in Australia share the same perspective about global warming as here in the U.S. It is encouraging that Theresa May was more enlightened though perhaps not as much regarding Brexit.

      As for fossil fuel reductions here in the U.S., it is encouraging that even given Trump’s opposition, progress continues. The renewable energy industry is undergoing remarkable expansion and there have been considerable changes within all aspects of the field. Invention is still the surest way to avoid the greatest impacts of climate change and the recent series of technical advances promise to make sustainable energy increasingly efficient and affordable. Technological improvements, economies of scale, increased supply chain competition, and political considerations have continuously driven down renewable energy costs.

      Advanced energy storage systems provide a wide array of technological approaches in managing the power supply, creating a more resilient energy infrastructure, and bringing cost savings economics to customers regardless of location, grid needs, regulations, rate structure, and nature of the application. Unfortunately, today’s commercially available renewable technologies are currently still unable to completely meet all energy demands regardless of how aggressively they are scaled; additional improvement are still needed.
      Given advances made within just the last several years, renewable energy systems should not have any difficulty meeting any foreseeable needs within the very near future.

      Hopefully here in the U.S. — as well as down there in Australia — there will be an administration change much more accepting of climate change and measures necessary to mitigate further degradation. I remain optimistic that will be the case.


  2. I was very pleased to discover this site. I wanted to thank you for your time just for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoyed every bit of it and I have you book-marked to check out new things on your web site.


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