Global warming

Amidst the doom and gloom surrounding the news of global warming and climate change came some glimmer of positive activities in an attempt to alleviate it here in the USA. The first is extracted from a report by Maxx Chatsko, published on 26 August 2022 in The Street, titled: ‘Renewal energy is absolutely crushing fossil fuels in 2022’.

“The Inflation Reduction Act recently passed by Congress adds significant long-term certainty for electric utilities and power generators eager to transition to cleaner power sources, but the effects won’t be felt for a few years. That doesn’t mean industry is waiting around in the meantime.

In an astonishing trend, the USA added 462% more electricity from renewables than fossil fuels in the first half of 2022 compared to 2021, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Renewable energy accounted for 25.3% of the nation’s electricity generation in the first six months of this year, a full three percentage points above where things stood at the halfway mark of last year.

The first phase of the energy transition was powered by the rise of onshore wind farms, the decline of coal-fired power plants and the rapid build out of natural gas-fired facilities to plug in the gaps. From 2007 to 2021, the USA experienced virtually no change in total electricity generation, but the nation’s energy mix underwent historic changes:

  • Coal-fired power plants fell from 48.6% of national electricity production to just 21.6%.

  • Natural gas increased from just 21.6% to 37.8% in that span.

  • Meanwhile, total renewables jumped from 8.5% of the energy mix to 21%.

Here is another way to look at it: the USA lost 1117 TWh of electricity generation from coal between 2007 and 2021. That was replaced by 678 TWh of new gas-fired generation and 505 TWh of wind and solar generation.

The second phase of the energy transition – now underway – is being powered by similar trends, although the rise of utility-scale solar farms and peaking reliance on natural gas are becoming more important factors in the energy mix.

In the last three years or so, utilities and power generators raced to build onshore wind farms and utility-scale solar farms before tax credits expired or became less valuable. That led to a surge in new production capacity in 2021 and 2022. Many renewable power plants added in 2021 are contributing to energy production for the first time in 2022 and they are making their presence felt.

From the first half of 2021 to the first half of 2022:

  • The USA added 22.3 TWh of electricity from solar (including small-scale installations) and 47.7 TWh from wind.

  • By comparison, the nation added only 39.7 TWh from natural gas and saw coal-fired power generation decline by 27 TWh.

  • In total, the USA added 82 TWh from all renewables and only 14.6 TWh from all fossil fuel sources.

This is a remarkable shift compared to the first phase of the energy transition, when natural gas-fired power plants were responsible for most new generation. Here is another way to look at it: the USA could add over 90 TWh of electricity from wind power and 35 TWh from solar in 2022 compared to 2021. That nation only added 345 TWh and 160 TWh from wind and solar, respectively, in the 14 years spanning 2007 to 2021.

Whereas wind power production peaks in early spring and early fall, solar production peaks in summer. National energy consumption also peaks in summer due largely to air conditioning. That makes solar uniquely positioned to help renewables continue dominating the energy mix and put the final nail in the coffin of coal-fired power plants.

The third phase of the energy transmission, beginning near 2030, will be powered by all the same trends, although offshore wind power will begin to nudge natural gas-fired power plants off the grid. Nearly 30 GW of offshore wind capacity is expected to come online by 2030, up from virtually nothing today. These next-generation power plants can produce two- and three-times as much electricity per GW than onshore wind and utility-scale solar, respectively. They will also generate electricity for the country’s major coastal population centres, helping cities rapidly reduce their reliance on coal and natural gas facilities.”

The second piece of good news is that California air regulators have voted to approve stringent rules that would ban the sale of new gasoline cars by 2035 and set interim targets to phase the cars out. The measure is a historic one in the USA and would be one of the first such bans worldwide. It would have major implications for the USA car market, given how large California’s economy is and that several states are expected to implement similar rules.

Daniel Sperling, California Air Resources Board (CARB) member, told CNN: “This is the most important thing that CARB has done in the last 30 years. It is important not just for California, but it is important for the country and the world.”

The Board’s new rules would also set interim quotas for zero-emission vehicles, focusing on new models. Starting with 2026 models, 35% of new cars, SUVs and small pick-ups sold in California would be required to be zero-emission vehicles. That quota would increase each year and the expectation is that it would reach 51% of all new car sales by 2028, 68% by 2030 and 100% by 2035. The quotas also would allow 20% of zero-emission cars sold to be plug-in hybrids.

The US Postal Service has said at least 40% of new delivery trucks will be electric. The rules will not be immediate and will go into effect in 2026. Multiple states are expected to follow suit. 15 states, including Colorado and Minnesota, as well as states on the Northeast and West Coast, have already followed California’s previous zero-emission vehicle regulations.

There is resistance from states with a huge investment in petrochemicals, but it does represent positive action. So is it a ‘step in the right direction’ or a ‘drop in a bucket’? As we read daily accounts of drought, famine, wildfires, icebergs melting and other devastating news, it is a relief to see some positive actions to try and minimise the damage to earth for our future generations.

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