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Three Countries Show How Near a 100% Green Grid Is

Three Countries Show How Near a 100% Green Grid Is

Juan Cole

The aspiration for a 100% green electricity grid is no longer a dream. It is regularly being achieved in the real world for weeks or months on end. This development is absolutely crucial, since burning fossil fuels at the rate we are burning them is rapidly changing the climate in ways that seriously harm our quality of life.


If global warming is now “feeding on itself,” as some climate scientists believe, that means that it is now TOO LATE for a Green Revolution to “save” our species. I HOPE that they are wrong, but . . . .

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Ever since Saint Ron removed Carter’s photovoltaic panels from the White House roof when he ascended the throne in 1981 the US corporate establishment and politicians they own have fought against renewable energy while promoting fossil fuels.

For the subsequent two decades Japan and Germany lead renewable technology and application advancement.

The past decade has continued to see a patchwork of ever changing regulations, incentives and disincentives among the 50 states and among the hundreds of electric utilities, while much of the rest of the world advances renewable technology and application. With the coal miner continuing to be Trump’s poster child, expect continued promotion of fossil fuel and fighting against renewable power generation, especially generation not owned by the Kochs, Waltons or other corporations.


Enthusiasm for “green” energy has to be tempered by the significant undeniable impacts that all forms of energy generation have. While better than fossil fuels, RI is struggling with “solar farm” proposals that will replace hundreds of acres of woodland with industrial scale electricity generation, desired hydro import from Quebec faces obstacles siting transmission lines across wilderness areas plus the concern about their dams flooding natural areas, off-shore wind is coming in at 3 times the cost of conventional power, other wind farms have killed birds and bats, and all have impacts from manufacturing, assembly, transmission, maintenance, and disposal. Hype about “clean energy” undermines attempts to emphasize efficiency, conservation, and reducing demand thru slowing human population growth.


“Slowing human population growth” indeed, however, we lost that battle decades ago.

When I was in college nearly a half century ago zero population growth (ZPG) was widely discussed in classes and clubs, and we had an appropriate technology (AT) club that included the evaluation of social and environmental impacts of various technologies.

Just as the subsequent decade witnessed corporate propaganda turning Ralph Nader into a pariah, corporations, their media and politicians concurrently turned ZPG and AT into taboo topics. By the time Saint Ron ascended the throne in 1981 anybody discussing ZPG or AT was considered a heretic.


Progress toward a green grid is being made but not nearly fast enough to do much about global warming. It is not clear how the transition can be made rapidly enough given all the political, economic, and technological obstacles that need to be overcome. Further advancements in battery storage are needed. Despite all the efforts over the past few decades about 80% of all energy still comes from fossil fuels. It is now so late in dealing with this situation that world needs to be operating on an emergency basis to have any realistic chance of avoiding world wide catastrophic climate change.

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The transmission challenges will only grow as more dense populations push back on transmission lines running near them.

The solution is to reduce the need for high capacity transmission lines by encouraging more decentralized generation which includes but is not limited to rooftop solar.

I have had rooftop solar installed in 1979 with a bigger array installed in 2005. I have been fighting a running gun battle with state regulations and the local electrical utility for nearly four decades. They loath decentralized generation because they need to deal with many entities rather than one big supplier. I recognize that California, Hawaii, and perhaps a few other states have embraced decentralized generation (at least in a relative sense), most states and electric utilities have not embraced decentralized generation.

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Republicans will take us back to the 60’s when are rivers were on fire, fishing were dying, our air was so polluted flying into LA you could not see the city. It was the early stages of global climate change but we cleaned it up but we did not completely mend our ways. 1979 Jimmy Carter’s energy speech said we would be not dependent on oil by 2000. Ronnie RayGun became President and took off solar panels and started the demise of middle class, Clinton did some more heavy lifting to secure the demise of the middle class and then war for profit took over with Bush and Obama continued the policies. Clinton and Obama were not rich like the others but are now.

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The trouble is, there are large regions of the country - for example the mid-southeast and southern Appalachians and Ohio valley, where, by virtue of climate, availability wind and solar power is low. So “localism” will leave such areas either dependent of fossil generation or they will face major economic disadvantages.

NIMBYism - often effused with mythical beliefs about totally unfounded health effects - both against power lines and particularly wind development, and even smart-metering, is a major enemy of renewable development.

And regarding net-metering fees, it seems unrealistic to me to expect to sell any bulk commodity - in this case electricity - for full retail price it is bought for. So it seems reasonable to me that, absent government renewable price supports such as feed-in tariffs (which I fully support until renewables are fully developed) that utilities be able to recoup the cost of the seller’s use of their electric distribution system. However, the utility is a common carrier, and the fees need to be reasonable and fair and not deliberate attempts to favor some sellers over others. The state utility commissions need to do their job and make sure this is so.

And note that everything I wrote would still be true even if the utility is publicly (government) owned and operated - which would be a fine idea too.

Microgrids are becoming a popular alternative to the grid. However, most include natural gas. If microgrids could be made very reliable using only renewable energy then they could serve as way to deliver electricity in the future without having to worry as much about widespread power outages when the grid goes down.

There should be ‘incentives’ to pay more for hybrid and all-battery EVs. Paying less for gasoline is fine but not the only nor best incentive. What about a plugged-in EV being an emergency power supply during a grid failure to keep the lights on, the fridge cool, the phone, radio, TV and computer communications up and running? EVs have a generally better safety record. They’re not overpowered therefore accidents speeding happen less. They have safer ‘regenerative’ brakes. They should match perfectly with rooftop solar arrays to ideally complement regional utility grids - plug-in hybrids more than all-battery EVs like the overpowered energy hog Tesla sport coupe. On that last item, utility companies should appreciate creating a more resilient grid, one that can recover from grid failure more readily, but seem more dedicated to electricity consumption profit margin than public safety. And don’t get me started on self-driving car nonsense, the taxi service monopoly scheme. Self-driving cars is a like putting the cart before the horse, and the horse is blind or badly abused. GM and Ford owe the public a new model paratransit lift van: easy boarding low-floor, low-emission with a more comfortable ride that seniors, disabled and all transit patrons need. Municipalities shouldn’t buy more 1970’s tech paratransit vans that discourage mass transit use as do 4mpg 40’ roaring, fuming, jostling standard buses likewise 1970’s tech.

In my area, what minor progress we did make is being reversed.

There is this abandoned RR tunnel through a ridge in my city that was converted to a vehicular tunnel and got federal transit funds with the intention that it would be used by buses, then upon completion they dropped that and made it to 3-person HOV, then 2-person HOV, now, it is open to single-driver cars.

The tiny smattering of EVs that were seen a few years ago are now gone, and the public EV charging stations are growing weeds.

Save for some minor service-hour improvements, public transit continues in a sorry state from the deep service cuts 12 and 7 years ago. Next…armed cops on the “T” and busway to enforce fares - which says volumes about how PAT and the city government views riders.

And our mayor’s attempts to make the city minimally more bike friendly (but still way behind other US cities) is ridiculed by many residents (mostly the suburbanites). he is called “Mayor Bike lane”.

Curious if anyone sees such trends where they live…

Actually, most electric cars on the road today outperform their IC engine equivalents. My electric Smart way outperforms a IC engine smart - its acceleration off the line can cause a neck injury. But yes, most of them, the 200 mph-capable Tesla Model X being the exception, have speed limiters in their control electronics that limit them to a top speed of 90 mph or so. But how many IC engine cars are driven that fast anyway?

Regarding the EV crash statistics, there are too few of them on the road to determine that - although I suspect that, save for the rich young Tesla-driving speed freaks, most EV drivers drive very conservatively.

And March was an exceptionally wet and windy month with mild temperatures. So hydropower produced 55 percent of net consumption, and wind produced 42 percent of net. But that’s only net percentages. There were still times of high consumption during March when renewables couldn’t keep up, and Portugal used coal plants and imports to make up the difference during the shortfalls.

“Costa Rica, a country of nearly 5 million, ran on renewables for 300 days of the past year. It has hydro and geothermal as well as having put in a lot of wind turbines.”

The breakdown for that was 78% hydropower, 10% geothermal, and 10% wind, which is great if you happen to be a small country that never gets cold with lots of wind, rain, mountains, and volcanic heat sources. Even so, all their hydropower put together is usually generating less than 2 GW. That would barely cover half of San Antonio’s consumption during cold weather (or at least, cold for San Antonio) and that’s with barely a quarter the population of Costa Rica. And this overlooks the problem that tropical hydropower is a significant source of greenhouse gases, and ultimately that’s the metric that matters in the big picture, not percentage of electricity from renewables.

“Scotland, with over 5 million people, got 68.1 percent of its electricity from renewables last year.”

And about 7% of that was greenhouse gas emitting biofuels. Wind and hydro combined averaged roughly 2.5 gigawatts (out of 9 gw capacity). This is also not a model for how to make an entire grid 100% green because Scotland is only a portion of a grid. (A portion which has more than 80% of all UK hydropower resources.) Electricity flows out of and into Scotland from the greater UK grid as needed to cover mismatches between production and consumption. Electricity is also a small portion of the Scotland primary energy sector, since so much home heating is not electric. For Scotland’s overall primary energy consumption, oil and gas supply around 90%.

A more overall picture of global trends toward 100% combustion free electricity would look more like this:

Or here’s the 2016 breakdown of electricity by source by group.

And of those three groups, electricity consumption is growing the most rapidly in the Asia / Oceania group.

Too bad that what Mr. Cole has written in this article is not, and can not, be true. It is categorically implying that in these countries either the wind is blowing, or the sun is shining (or both) 100% of the time, ie. 24/7. It isn’t. It may be implying that there is enormous storage capacity in these countries. - There is no such thing existing. Actual storage capability at this time, as far as existing technology, is miniscule compared to what would be needed to accomplish adequate storage capacity to meet the demand when the sun is not shining and/or the wind is not blowing. If hydro and/or geothermal can fill in all the blanks at such times, then clearly hydro and/or geothermal are stabile energy sources 24/7 amd the wind and solar are superfluous anyway.

That’s one of my jokes: The Smart Car that isn’t electric, isn’t smart! Ha!
I think the EV safety feature in question is speed control. Their torque curve is flat, which makes hard acceleration a little too easy plus no vroom-vroom-vroom sound effects. GM’s EV1 had a dashboard switch that went from performance-to-economy driving. It gave the driver a choice to go either faster or further. I still say the plug-in hybrid has more potential to reduce fuel/energy consumption than all-battery EVs based on the principle of more incentives to drive less. This is where my joke came from; the Smart Car battery pack offers a limited range, an incentive for short distance routine trips which become trips possible without having to drive. Small battery pack EVs are the better match to (smaller, simpler, less expensive) rooftop solar PV arrays, plus they complement regional utility grids better. Can you see what I’m saying?

Trump…“Solar Power is a wonderful thing to have in Scotland if it brings down the cost of electricity at my golf course, but it would never work in the U.S.”

I doubt if you’re wrong. What it would take to even slow the rate of change would require an immediate changeover in all aspects of energy production and use. Such a complete overhaul of “our way of life” would alter every aspect of everyone’s lives, all known human activities. Unless some persuasive and charismatic leadership appears and is able to do mass motivation on a scale that has never been done, the reluctance to believe in the need for changes and to agree to such major lifestyle alterations cannot be turned back on itself, especially since there is no way to be assured that the changes we would be hurriedly asked to buy into are really the ones that will deliver the needed results. How would we know if we were headed down a wrong track?

Right now there is I way of even knowing how long it will be before living conditions become intolerable.

Almost no scientists are saying that, and there’s no data that says anything of the kind. People like McPherson seem to revel in spreading despair; he and his acolytes use the same kinds of manipulative and dishonest arguments as the denying delayalists, and to much the same purpose, (and no doubt just as unconsciously). There certainly is no way to avoid great suffering at this point, but there are degrees of suffering, and every year we delay–whether through complacency or despair (2 sides of the same coin)–makes our suffering and that of our children and grandchildren much worse. There’s no doubt we’re near the cusp, but there’s no way to know where the point of uncontrollable runaway climate catastrophe is, and there won’t be until we’ve already passed it.

The only rational action is to implement a global US-WWII-level climate mobilization. We have to build clean safe renewable energy as fast as humanly possible; reforest the planet; transform chemical industrial agriculture to small-scale low-meat organic permaculture, and industry to benign, closed-loop biomimicing forms. We have to equalize politically and economically, and over the long term heal the psychological affliction behind all our problems and reduce population.(The last won’t make any difference in the time we have to solve the GHG crisis but will help long term.)

Or misjudgment. Sometimes we wind up fighting against viable options that might be able to help because we have beliefs about them that are at least partly based on something other than reason and evidence.

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