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How a New Energy Policy can Save the EU | January 11, 2015
by John Brian Shannon
An accelerated switch to renewable energy is the path to EU jobs and prosperity
Europe is on shaky ground. There is even talk in some quarters that the euro, and consequently the Eurozone, may not last a year.
Critics of the European Union itself are predicting that continued austerity measures, the elections in Greece, petroleum price instability, and Russian moves in Ukraine, may all conspire to topple the Union.
Of course, this is a subject of ongoing debate. Eurozone backers say that the present economic morass will end and that the UK and other nations will join as full members in the coming months, resulting in a unified and complementary economic zone ready to take on all of the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
Success Stories Throughout History
Throughout history, various leaders have ‘risen to the occasion’ to provide visionary leadership — seemingly ‘rising out of nowhere’ to inspire great love among the public for a cause, and on account of their great vision and leadership impossible feats occurred on their watch due to the combined willpower of millions of thereby-inspired people.
People are individuals, and no matter how many individuals there are in a country or an economic union, at the end of the day every one of them are individuals living inside a larger society. Therefore, leaders must appeal to those things important to their citizens.
In Life; All a person really needs, is a person (or something) to love.
If you can’t give them that, give them hope.
If you can’t give them that, at least give them something to do.
Leaders who can inspire love for the country through their vision and charisma, have the effect of giving each individual in the country something to love. Or at the very least, give them hope.
Where would the United States have been without FDR?
The New Deal was a series of domestic programs enacted in the United States mainly between 1933 and 1938. They included laws passed by Congress as well as presidential executive orders during the first term (1933–37) of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The programs were in response to the Great Depression and focused on what historians call the 3 R’s: Relief, Recovery, and Reform.
That is; Relief for the unemployed and poor; Recovery of the economy to normal levels; and Reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression. — Wikipedia
The success of the New Deal is beyond dispute. Without it, the United States would not be half the country that it is today.
Where would Great Britain have been without Winston S. Churchill?
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was a British politician who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the 20th century, Churchill was also an officer in the British Army, a historian, a writer (as Winston S. Churchill), and an artist. Churchill is the only British Prime Minister to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature since its inception in 1901, and was the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the United States. — Wikipedia
In between lecturing Hitler and Mussolini via his weekly radio broadcast, Winston Churchill painted a realistic picture for Great Britain’s citizens of the sacrifices they would be forced to endure in order to win the peace, and painted quite a different picture for them of life under Nazi occupation.
Rather than be cowed by a more powerful aggressor, Churchill inspired his people to valour and sacrifice. And they responded powerfully.
What would our 21st century world have become had Mohandas K. Gandhi not perfected the art of non-violent protest?
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was the preeminent leader of Indian independence movement in British-ruled India. Employing nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. Indians widely describe Gandhi as the father of the nation.
Gandhi famously led Indians in challenging the British-imposed salt tax with the 400 km (250 mi) Dandi Salt March in 1930, and later in calling for the British to Quit India in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years, upon many occasions, in both South Africa and India.
Gandhi attempted to practice nonviolence and truth in all situations, and advocated that others do the same. Gandhi’s vision of a free India was based on religious pluralism.
Imagine if every protest movement since 1947 hadn’t been influenced by Gandhi. Almost certainly, the anti-Viet Nam protests and the civil rights movement in 1960’s America would have led to civil war.
Due to Gandhi’s example, individuals who were part of the anti-war movement or the civil rights movement protested — peacefully for the most part — and to great effect.
John F. Kennedy’s decision to not be cowed by the USSR’s Nikita Khrushchev, led eventually, to the end of the Soviet Union
Had JFK not stood up to Soviet adventurism in Cuba and South America, the geopolitical world would have evolved very differently The USSR would have, in short order, controlled the Western democracies completely.
By utilizing the economic advantage inherent to capitalism, by ordering a Moon shot, and by not backing down against the communists in Viet Nam, JFK neatly avoided playing the Soviet gameplan — and instead played a gameplan that favoured the strengths of the democratic West.
In short, he turned a negative situation into a positive one for the United States.
All of these visionaries gave citizens reason to love their country, to hope for a better future, to employ their good will and energies — towards solving the almost unsolvable problems of their time. (Love, Hope, Do)
Without that overarching vision promised by their political leaders, without that hope in their hearts, and without some means to express their goodwill and energy, citizens wouldn’t have united in large numbers to solve the near-insurmountable challenges of their era.
Now is the time for visionary EU energy leadership
Making the case for the European Union to adopt a ‘50% renewable energy by 2020’ portfolio:
Effectively this becomes an ‘air-quality and jobs mission’ for citizens and governments:
The vast majority of Europeans want a renewable energy future.
They know that the technological hurdles have been overcome, they know that many Pacific Ocean island nation-states and Indian Ocean islands now run on 100% renewable energy, they know that Norway is powered by 100% renewable energy and that Iceland has surpassed 76% renewable energy use.
They know that Sweden gets 51% of its energy from renewable energy, and that Latvia, Finland, Austria, and Denmark aren’t far behind. They see Estonia, Portugal, and Romania getting more than 25% of their electricity from renewable energy and they see Germany’s Energiewende setting records in renewable energy output every month.
Other nations in Europe have surprisingly advanced renewable energy programs and will surpass their renewable energy target before 2020.
Renewable Energy provides massive employment opportunities
And it is becoming apparent that when compared to the fossil fuel industry, the renewable energy industry provides thousands more jobs per million people. Always handy to have a job to go to.
Energy Price Parity and Subsidy Regimes
Not only has some renewable energy approached price parity with conventional energy, in some cases it has surpassed it. Especially when the massive global fossil fuel subsidies that topped $600 billion in 2014 ($550 billion in 2013) are factored in.
Meanwhile, global renewable energy subsidies barely hit $100 billion in 2014, the majority share of it in China.
Worried about fossil fuel subsidies?
They’re peanuts compared to fossil fuel externalities.
Fossil fuel subsidies of $600 billion (globally) are one thing. But it now appears that the economic totality of fossil fuel cost to healthcare systems, to livestock health, the agriculture sector, the global climate, regional climate (local drought or flooding) and damage to outdoor concrete and metal structures may now exceed $2 trillion dollars per year.
China reports 410,000 premature deaths per year are due to air pollution. The U.S. admits to 200,000 premature deaths by air pollution and as many as 400,000 premature deaths per year occur in Europe due to our overuse of fossil fuels.
How much renewable energy can we get for $2.6 trillion dollars, please?
It’s not that fossil fuels are intrinsically bad, or evil. It’s not that the people who run those companies are bad, or evil. It’s not the shareholder’s fault either.
It’s just that too many of us are using fossil fuel.
And nobody is forcing us to buy it. If there are reasonable alternatives to fossil fuel overuse, then citizens are making a conscious decision to pollute the air, rather than choose those alternative forms of energy.
But if no reasonable alternative exists for citizens to purchase (and yet consumer demand is there) that is primarily the fault of policymakers.
The solution to the fossil fuel subsidy and externality problem in the EU? Renewable energy
With the right vision and leadership, getting the EU to a 50% renewable energy minimum standard by 2020 is eminently possible.
There are no technological hurdles that haven’t been solved.
There simply exists no public outcry against renewable energy power plants.
Grid parity (with low subsidy) is now the norm — even against massively subsidized fossil fuel and nuclear power.
And several countries around the world already run on 100% renewable energy. One of them is in Europe — Norway. So it can be done.
It’s no longer about;
How much will switching to renewable energy cost us?
It’s now about;
How much will renewable energy save us?
Each euro spent on renewable energy installations (actual installations, not more endless research) could save two euros of fossil fuel subsidy and three euros of fossil fuel externality cost — although there is a time lag involved before healthcare systems, ranchers, farmers, and owners of infrastructure see declining costs.
Following the 1/2/3 fossil fuel subsidy and externality equation, we see that if the EU suddenly installed 10 billion euros worth of wind turbines and solar panels (displacing the equivalent amount of fossil electrical generation) the EU would save 20 billion euros of subsidy, and would over 25 years, save 30 billion euros in heathcare costs, costs to livestock health and agriculture, and outdoor concrete and metal infrastructure repair costs.
Spending 10 billion to save 50 billion — for a net save of 40 billion euros over 25 years. Not bad.
Spending 100 billion euros to save 500 billion — for a net save of 400 billion over 25 years, that works too.
So, denizens of Europe, how much fossil fuel electrical power production would you like to replace with renewable energy?
The EU should move to a 50% renewable energy portfolio by 2020 and make it Priority Mission #1 for citizens and governments — an energy ‘New Deal’ for EU citizens
In order to plan for a clean EU energy future, we need to look at where the European Union is today and make a responsible plan, one that displaces fossil fuel electrical power production without placing undue economic hardship on existing electrical power producers.
A ‘can-do’ attitude, one that doesn’t ignore the many positives associated with an EU-wide 50% renewable energy standard will be required to meet the challenge
The best candidate for an EU switch to renewable energy?
Malta is presently striving to meet its target of 10% of energy demand from renewable sources by 2020. However, Malta could easily convert to 100% renewable energy in as little as 24 months.
Malta is a tiny island nation and other tiny island nations have successfully transitioned to 100% renewable energy — and it took them only a few short months to accomplish that goal.
Malta’s electrical grid produces 571 MW at peak load and uses expensive imported fossil fuels.
Replacing Malta’s fossil fueled electrical grid with a combination of wind turbines and solar panels is well within our present-day technical capabilities and would save the Malta government millions of dollars per year in fuel and healthcare costs.
A low-interest loan from the EU to cover the capital cost of wind and solar power plants and some basic technical support is what Malta needs. Nothing more complicated than that.
How would replacing Malta’s present electrical power generation with 100% renewable energy benefit the EU and the residents of Malta alike?
The wind turbines and solar panels / inverters, etc. would be sourced from the EU. In fact, European sourcing could be a requirement of obtaining the EU financing for the project.
All of the engineering, manufacturing and installation / grid connection would be performed by EU workers.
Malta’s residents and visitors would thereafter enjoy clean air, lower healthcare costs, a better quality of life, and could say goodbye to toxic and expensive, imported oil.
From 10% to 100% renewable energy within 24 months — now that would demonstrate EU political and environmental leadership!
Granted, Malta has the smallest electrical grid in the EU. But it’s a place to start, a place to set a baseline for the learning curve to 100% renewable energy on a per country basis.
By converting island nations like Malta and Cyprus to 100% renewable energy first, solid standalone renewable energy power generation experience is gained, and upon completion can serve as models for standalone systems on the continent.
To get to 50% renewable energy in other EU states merely means scaling it up.
The Next Step for the EU
During the darkest days of recession in early 1980’s America, newly-elected President Ronald Reagan didn’t appear and suddenly solve America’s economic problems.
He told Americans (very convincingly) that they had it in their power to solve their own economic problems and arranged some temporary loans to Chrysler and other companies — and cheered by his vision and leadership, they responded powerfully — ending America’s recession.
Someone in the EU needs to step up now, leading the charge to improve EU air quality, to lower the rate of illness and premature deaths due to air pollution, to lower the damage to livestock / agriculture, and to concrete and metal infrastructure — thereby creating tens of thousands of well-paying jobs — by insisting on a minimum of 50% renewable energy standard by 2020 for all EU nations. Neatly ending the EU’s present recession.
And that great, overarching vision, in itself, will be the thing that EU residents will love, hope for, and willingly agree to do, for the next five years.
Let’s roll up our sleeves, people. We’ve got work to do.
- Total global renewable energy investment was $310 billion in 2014 (Bloomberg)
- Global Warming: More than Half of All Industrial CO2 Pollution Has Been Emitted Since 1988 (Union of Concerned Scientists)
by John Brian Shannon | November 24, 2014
Germany, a thriving economic powerhouse under the Chancellorship of Angela Merkel, is also a renewable energy superstar and a country that is loaded with potential.
Lately, the Germans have taken a break from aggressively adding renewable energy to their grid by ending a lucrative feed-in-tariff (FiT) subsidy program that ramped-up the adoption of solar, wind and biomass installations across the country.
Not that these so-called ‘lucrative’ subsidies approached anywhere near what fossil fuel and nuclear power plant operators receive and have received since the postwar period began, as all energy in Germany (like most countries) is heavily subsidized by taxpayers but only the (much smaller) renewable energy subsidies get the headlines. Go figure.
Chancellor Angela Merkel made the courageous decision to accelerate the shutdown Germany’s nuclear power plants in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in 2011 after stress tests of German nuclear power plants showed safety concerns existed within their nuclear fleet. She ushered in meaningful FiT subsidies to speed the German Energiewende program towards its goal of transition to renewable energy and greater energy efficiency — which had received only sporadic subsidies prior to Merkel.
Snapshot of the German Energiewende program
- A popular Germany-only program to move towards a highly industrialized, sustainable green economy
- Full phase-out of nuclear energy by 2022
- 80-95% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050
- Minimum of 80% renewables in the power sector
- 50% increase in energy efficiency by 2050
Germany’s utility companies haven’t seen change like this since WWII. After a century of serving conventionally-generated electrical power to a captive electricity market — approximately 1/3 of all German electricity is now generated via renewable energy if you also include biomass and hydro-power. That’s historic change by any standard.
Although solar panel outputs are lower during the winter months, over the late spring and summer of 2014 renewable energy generated more than 75% of total demand on many of those days. Not bad, for 5 years of relatively minor renewable energy subsidy euros provided by a (now ended) Feed-in-Tariff!
Another benefit of the switch to renewable energy was the added billions of euros of economic activity generated annually by European solar panel and wind manufacturing companies like Vestas, SolarWorld, Siemens, ABB, and the jobs created for hundreds of SME renewable energy installation companies in the country.
Exports of German solar panels and wind turbines went through the stratosphere — once Germany proved to the world that solar and wind could replace lost nuclear power generation capacity at a much lower cost than building new, multi-billion euro, nuclear or coal-fired power plants with their massive footprint on the land and their obscene water usage levels.
For Germany, installing their own solar, wind and biomass power plants proved to the world that large-scale renewable energy could add huge capacity to a nation’s electrical grid and that different types of renewable energy could work together to balance the over-hyped ‘intermittency problem’ of renewable energy.
It turns out that in Germany, during the long, hot days of summer when solar panels are putting out their maximum power the wind actually tapers off, but at night the wind blows at a very reliable rate. Karmic bonus! That about covers the summer months.
During the winter months in Germany, the wind blows day and night, adding significant amounts of reliable power to the national grid.
And now, all of that renewable energy capacity is operating without FiT subsidy — quite unlike the coal, nuclear, and oil and gas power generation in the country which require huge and ongoing subsidies every day of the year to continue operations. That’s every day since 1946, meine Freunde!
Also a factor with nuclear and coal-fired power plants are the massive healthcare spending to combat the adverse health effects of fossil fuel burning/air pollution on humans and animals, on the agriculture sector, and the hugely expensive security infrastructure necessary to counter the potential theft of nuclear materials, to defeat possible nuclear terrorism and to prevent nuclear proliferation.
While the rest of Europe (with the exception of notables like Norway, Sweden and Luxembourg) wallowed in recession or near-recession since 2008, the German economic powerhouse not only set global export records year-on-year, it bailed-out numerous other EU economies like Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and others, and began an unprecedented domestic renewable energy program. And now, Germany is an electricity net exporter.
That’s heady stuff, even for this industrious nation of 82 million.
Where to next?
Not only has Germany added many TeraWatt hours (TWh) of clean, renewable energy to its electrical grid to replace lost nuclear power generation, it is now an electricity net exporter — raking in millions of euros per year at present — and make that an electricity exporting superpower if they ever decide to revive their now defunct Feed-in-Tariff subsidy for renewable energy.
Replacing coal with renewable energy in Germany:
If Germany revived the previous FiT regime for 5 years, *all lignite-fired (brown coal) electrical power generation* could be eliminated within 10 years.
If Germany revived the previous FiT regime for 10 years, *all coal-fired electrical power generation* (not just lignite coal) could be eliminated within 10 years.
Replacing coal with renewable energy in Germany would save millions of Germans, Polish, Swiss, Austrians and others living downwind of German smokestacks from breathing toxic lignite-fired air pollution. Think of the health care savings and the taxes that must support it, especially as their demographic ages. Some people believe that the health care savings alone could far exceed the cost of any FiT subsidy.
Not only that, but as a result of leaving coal behind, historic buildings, concrete bridges and roadways would require less maintenance to repair the spalling caused by the acid rain from coal burning. Additionally, Germany would save the millions of litres of water consumed annually by the coal industry.
Replacing coal with renewable energy in Germany would create thousands more jobs for solar, wind, and biomass manufacturing and construction, the agriculture sector would begin to show ever-improving crop outputs and importantly, leave clean air to breathe for tourists, expats and German citizens!
A note about (renewable energy) Hybrid power plants
An energy policy stroke of genius for Germany could come in the form of a new subsidy (a FiT or other type of subsidy) that could be offered to promote the installation of Hybrid power plants — whereby 30% of electricity generated at a given power plant site would come from solar and the balance could come from any combination of wind, biomass, or hydro-electric generation. (30% solar + 70% various renewable = 100% of total per site output)
As long as all of the electrical power generation at such a site is of the renewable energy variety and it all works to balance the intermittency of solar power, then it should receive automatic approval for the (hereby proposed) Energiewende Hybrid Power Plant subsidy.
When all the different types of renewable energy work in complementary fashion on the same site, energy synergy (the holy grail of the renewable energy industry) will be attained.
More jobs, billions of euros worth of electricity exports to the European countries bordering Germany, lower health care spending, less environmental damage and better agricultural outputs — all at a lower subsidy level than coal and nuclear have enjoyed every year since 1946 — are precisely why Germans should renew their commitment to renewable energy.
Seriously, what’s not to like?
- Energiewende: energy transition in Germany (The Guardian)
- Sustainable Energy has Merit in Germany (JohnBrianShannon.com)
- German solar ambitions at risk from cuts to subsidies (The Guardian)
- German energy giant E.ON to focus on renewables (Deutsche Welle)
- Hybrid Energy Systems Key To Future Of Renewable Energy (CleanTechnica)
- Fraunhofer ISE Electricity production from solar and wind in Germany in 2014 (Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE)
by John Brian Shannon | September 16, 2014
There are hundreds of thousands of used, high-quality metal shipping containers taking up acres of storage land in port cities all over the world. Just sitting there.
Some enterprising companies have taken to creating domestic living spaces, commercial buildings or storage lots out of the huge surplus of the used containers which tend to accumulate in the developed world as it is too expensive to ship them back to China, empty. (We buy their stuff, they don’t buy ours)
Anyway, there are hundreds of thousands of them scattered around the world and can be had for as little as $1500-$3600. apiece (in ‘as is’ condition)
Shipping containers are the perfect containment architecture for vertical gardens
Shipping containers are engineered to be very strong and can be stacked up to 9-high without any additional supports. Windows can even be cut into the metal panels without weakening the structural integrity (most of the strength is in the corners where they lock together) so that daylight may enter the structure.
“Reusable shipping containers provide a cost effective and sustainable approach to building design.” — Public Sector and Local Government Magazine
Might as well get the roof working for you
Dramatically lower cost solar panels are available on the market today. A couple of decades ago it cost over $100 per watt (installed price) to get your power from solar panels during the daytime and without battery backup. As of 2014, it costs less than $4.00 per watt (installed price in the U.S.A.) and if you live in Europe it costs about $2.00 per watt (installed price in Europe)
If you’re wondering about the difference in price between the U.S.A. and Europe, it’s only the profit margin that makes the difference. All the solar panels are comparably priced, as are the inverter units, wiring, etc. and often come from the same manufacturer in China.
So far, we have super cheap and stackable containment for vertical gardens and we have low-cost daytime electricity
Now what about night-time electricity? We have some choices. We can tap the grid and pay the regular commercial electricity rate to run the grow lights and the heat, we can purchase building scale battery systems from a company like SolarCity or you can run a diesel powered generator (a gen-set) for electrical power.
The good news is that commercial battery systems to complement solar panel installations have fallen in price and are approaching price parity with other grid-alternative power sources
Also, diesel fuel prices have risen dramatically since the invention of the gen-set, but these units (although they do emit copious amounts of pollution and you can’t run them indoors) are very reliable and it is almost impossible that a crop failure could result from a gen-set failure as another unit could quickly be transported to the location and hooked up before much crop damage could occur.
Grid power is fine, but to prevent crop failure in the case of winter-time power outages, a gen-set or battery backup is a necessity.
So, it appears that college dorms and BBC broadcasting facilities (for two good examples) can be easily assembled using these massive Lego-like building blocks.
What would we need in order to build vertical gardens?
- Land area equal to one city block
- A number of stackable, used shipping containers
- Solar panel array installed on top of the shipping containers, equal in size to one city block
- Backup power via battery or gen-set
- Grid connection
- Located near any major city
- A number of grow lights per unit
- Hydroponic or low-soil agriculture
- Compost container
- A number of staff to perform seeding, care and harvesting of plants
- One maintenance person per location
The great thing about these super-strong building blocks, is that they can be arranged in any number of ways to suit individual site requirements. Standard container lengths start at 10 feet, 20, 40, 48 and 53 feet — but individual units can be welded or bolted together to arrive at any number of lengths.
Interior-wise, any number of efficient-space designs are possible. Growing indoors where there are no drought, flooding, pests, human theft, or other concerns can be hundreds of times more efficient than conventional farming — and growing indoors means year-round crops. Thanks to solar-powered grow lights.
None of it is rocket science and it makes so much sense to do this, that if this project isn’t taken on within 12 months — somewhere in the world — I will be the most surprised man on the planet.
‘BOXPARK’ Dubai’s Latest Lifestyle Experience (Arabian Gazette)
- The Next-Generation Greenhouse by Esther Dyson (Project Syndicate)
- Repurposed shipping containers may be building blocks for modular vertical urban farms (TreeHugger.com)