My column in the StarPhoenix today:
Renewable energy is emerging as the top new energy source around the world. Unfortunately, Saskatchewan is not in the game.
In 2014, renewable energy became the number one source of power production in Germany for the first time. Twenty-six per cent of Germany's power generation came from renewable sources such as wind, biomass and solar, replacing coal (25 per cent of supply) as the main energy source.
Germany hit multiple solar records in 2014. In June, solar energy met more than 50 per cent of Germany's total electricity demand for the first time, set a new peak power production record and hit new highs for weekly total output.
Electricity output from renewables has grown eightfold in Germany since 1990. Under an ambitious energy transition policy, known as the Energiewende, Europe's biggest economy aims to generate up to 60 per cent of electricity from renewables by 2035. This shift is being accompanied by an exit from nuclear power. All of Germany's nuclear plants will be switched off by 2022.
In the U.K., record amounts of clean electricity were generated by wind in 2014. Wind generated enough electricity to supply the needs of more than 6.7 million U.K. households last year, just over 25 per cent of all U.K. homes, all year round. Large wind farms and smaller sites connected to local networks provided 9.3 per cent of the U.K.'s total electricity supply in 2014, up from 7.8 per cent in 2013.
Records were broken in December with a new monthly high of 14 per cent of all U.K. electricity generated by wind. Scotland was even more impressive. Wind generated enough electricity to supply 3.96 million homes, equivalent to 164 per cent of residential demand. Scotland has more than doubled the amount of its electricity generated by wind turbines in the last four years. In 2013, wind turbines generated more than 20 per cent of Scotland's electricity.
Impressive, yet the Danes laugh at such statistics. In 2014, wind-generated energy made up 39 per cent of Denmark's overall energy consumption. The figure makes the country the world's leading nation in wind-based power usage. In January 2014 alone, power from wind made up 61.4 per cent of the Danes' energy consumption.
Denmark plans to be coalfree by 2015. It is firmly on track to meet its emissions and renewable energy targets for 2020, when 50 per cent of overall energy consumption has to come from renewable energy sources.
It is not just Europe that is turning to renewables. Solar power is beginning to take off in the U.S., where solar sales were more than 1.1 GW in the second quarter of 2014, a new record and 21 per cent over the same quarter in 2013.
The cost of solar has reached "grid parity" in 10 U.S. states already and will soon reach parity in 36 states, according to a Deutsche Bank report published in October.
In other words, solar will be no more expensive than other major power sources. The price of solar electricity sold to U.S. utilities has fallen by more than 70 per cent since 2008. One utility, Austin Energy, announced it would buy solar electricity for less than five cents per kWh, the least expensive solar contract to date.
Now major U.S. solar service providers are offering energy storage systems to their customers, with one company announcing that every customer will get battery backup within five to 10 years. This could have major implications for U.S. utilities.
Energy conservation and efficiency are also gaining ground, complementing the surge of renewables. For example, the number of "netzero" buildings, which produce as much energy as they use, is growing significantly. Japan and California are now considering net-zero requirements for new buildings. But Canada can't switch to renewables, can it? Go to live. gridwatch.ca/home-page. html and see where energy in Ontario comes from in real time. When I last checked, wind was supplying 11.2 per cent of Ontario's supply.
They can do it everywhere but in Saskatchewan, it seems. Saskatchewan used to be a Canadian leader in wind energy, but now renewables are shrinking as a percentage of energy supply. And Saskatoon routinely backs away from renewable options. Timidity rules.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
This is a piece I did for my newspaper column:
ELEVEN, my new book about the future of civilization, explains that the growth of the human population to 11 billion—the UN projection for 2100—poses an unparalleled threat to civilization. It’s not just our growing numbers, but the growing per capita demand on resources and the corresponding pollution, including climate pollution, that threatens our future.
Even so, the book is fundamentally optimistic. Why do I believe humanity will survive the threat? Here are 11 reasons to be hopeful:
1. It’s not how many but what kind of people – An 11-billion world peopled by rampant consumers has no future. Fortunately, a worldwide movement of people involved in creative, restorative ventures, large and small, is taking root. Population pressure will leave us no choice but to swell the ranks of the altruists and Earth healers.
2. We are waking up – The movement for social and environmental change, which has been described as “the largest movement in the world,” is raising fundamental challenges to the status quo.
3. Change is inevitable – “Panarchy” theory shows that every living system moves through a cycle that includes a traumatic but necessary stage of transformation. Accordingly, our global social-ecological system is due for a major pulse of transformation. During times of change, new ideas and behaviours can emerge and grow rapidly.
4. Ecosystem function first – Looking after ecosystem functions as a first priority produces more real wealth than resource extraction. The wide application of this principle would counteract the ecological deterioration that has spread to an area the size of South America, effectively adding a new continent to the planet.
5. Alternatives work – Evidence is mounting that social equity and ecosystem protection enhances the commonweal. Avoid and shift policies, demand-side management, resource efficiencies, full cost accounting, carbon charges, renewable energy, sustainable farming, urban agriculture, land reclamation, social investing, progressive taxation—all the elements of a fair and sustainable society—reduce costs and increase public goods.
6. Waste wealth can become regenerative wealth – Much of what we do as a society lies on a continuum between unnecessary and destructive. This is an opportunity. Not only would we be happier and healthier if we gave up many anti-social activities, letting go would free up wealth that could help transform the world.
7. Change triggers virtuous cycles - Most things that are good for the ecosphere are pro-social and vice versa; addressing problems effectively triggers virtuous cycles of social-ecological renewal.
8. Human consciousness is a powerful force – Human beings are not automatons entirely controlled by physical laws and selfish genes, as orthodox science suggests. We have free will to causally influence the course of physical events. Human consciousness is a creative force that will allow us to shape a future of our choosing.
9. Human unity can change the world – Cynicism about the human race is unfounded. Self-interest is not the fixed expressions of human nature. In fact, most human interactions are cooperative, even altruistic. We are noble beings, super-co-operators, not merely clever animals locked in a struggle for survival. History shows a gradual movement toward the oneness of humanity, as people progressively discard prejudices and move to wider circles of inclusion—even including other species.
10. The meaning deficit – The myth of affluence is being exposed. What was initially alluring turns out to be of limited value when we acquire it. Ultimately, people want something more profound from life, something with more meaning than chasing the chimera “more”. Research is also helping us discover the veritable sources of happiness, which are found mainly within ourselves and in authentic relationships.
11. Progress is evident – Everything that we need to do to make the world work for 11 billion has been done somewhere successfully already. Our knowledge of effective alternatives will provide a basis for action as population pressures mount. There is truth to Buckminster Fuller’s wry comment: “Humans beings always do the most intelligent thing…after they’ve tried every stupid alternative and none of them have worked.” Ultimately, we will do the right thing.
ELEVEN by Paul Hanley is available at local bookstores and through multiple online sources. More information at www.elevenbillionpeople.com and www.facebook.com/elevenbillion.
Here is my review of This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. An impressive book, with many ideas similar to this in ELEVEN. I like that she mentioned one of my heroes, Stan Rowe, for example.
“Capitalism is the astonishing belief that the nastiest of motives of the nastiest men somehow or other work for the best results in the best of all possible worlds.” So said John Maynard Keynes, the 20th century’s most influential economist, widely credited with “saving capitalism” by promoting government intervention to correct market failures.
Adding to its sins, star journalist Naomi Klein lays blame for endangering the climate squarely at the feet of nasty capitalism. Her new blockbuster book, This Changes Everything, Capitalism vs. The Climate, makes the case that people and their governments must intervene once again to correct the biggest of all market failures, climate change.
Klein’s book is chockablock full of alarming, convincing data to support her case that the plutocrats who control the levers of economic and political power are willing to sacrifice the commonweal for their short-term interests.
Saving the climate will require a radical transformation of the social-economic order and the nasty values behind it, says Klein. The current system “fetishizes GDP growth above all else, regardless of the human and ecological consequences, while failing to place value on those things that most of us cherish above all else—a decent standard of living, a measure of future security, and our relationships with one another.”
Here’s the rub. Saving the planet by embracing these more modest ambitions involves a profound challenge to growth, and the current system requires continuous growth to avoid unemployment. So significant is this conundrum that “Changing the earth’s climate in ways that will be chaotic and disastrous is easier to accept that the prospect of changing the fundamental, growth-based, profit-seeking logic of capitalism.”
Unregulated capitalism, according to Marx, is “a machine for demolishing limits.” How right he was, on this point at least. The key to the demolition project is the ever more risky extraction of oil, gas and coal. But the vast majority of currently identified fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground to prevent catastrophic climate change. That would result in the loss of trillions in corporate revenues, revenues that represent a massive incentive to keep barreling down the road to oblivion.
Klein puts her faith in mass social movements to block the demolition juggernaut. She documents in some detail a movement dubbed “Blockadia”, the efforts of local people to block extractive projects like oil pipelines. Other spanners in the works include the growing movement among public institutions to withdraw investments in the fossil fuel industry and reinvest in renewable energy; local laws banning high-risk extraction; and court challenges posed by Indigenous people to protect their lands from extractive industry.
Opposition to the wrecking machine is half the fight, but “there is no more potent weapon in the battle against fossil fuels that the creation of real alternatives.” And Klein shows how people are building alternatives, people like Henry Red Cloud, a Lakota social entrepreneur who is pioneering small-scale renewable energy as a development alternative in Native American communities.
Klein argues there is a way to shape an economy that helps achieve the goals of economic security without wrecking the planet and exploiting people. Alternatives may not be as profitable as extracting oil and gas, but they are job creators. Five billion invested in things like renewable energy, building retrofits and public transit could generate 30 times the jobs of a $5 billion pipeline.
Climate change is such a massive threat to the future of everything and everybody, especially the poor and disadvantaged, that it can “change everything.” And in one way or another it is linked to every unfinished social liberation movement of our time, from civil rights to feminism to Indigenous sovereignty. A “Marshall Plan for the Earth” has the potential to address the inequalities that give rise to a system that is also altering climate.
This climate challenge has the potential to pull together a range of movements for environmental and social change. Says Klein, “Climate change can be the force—the grand push—that will bring together these still living movements. A rushing river fed by countless streams, gathering collective force to finally reach the sea.”