Climate News of the Week Roundup: Stanford Scholar Seba Says Solar Will Put Fossils and Nuclear on the Ash Heap of History by 2030

This week’s roundup features Al Gore arguing that we are approaching a climate policy tipping point, Stanford scholar Tony Seba predicting that solar will make fossil fuels and nuclear obsolete by 2030, the US’s top energy regulator being similarly bullish, various studies showing that renewables are increasingly cost-competitive, 100% of new energy installations in Australia being wind or solar, solar getting off to a rocket start in Japan, China investing more per GDP into clean energy than the UK, the solar manufacturing glut apparently being over thanks to surging demand from Asia, more and more countries adopting policies to promote renewables, France announcing a climate-energy levy, an article connecting Egypt’s crisis to its running out of oil, food and money, a hilarious commercial for public transport, and more.

Al Gore explains why he’s optimistic about stopping global warming. Al Gore sounded a highly optimistic note in an interview with the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein. In Gore’s view, climate policy is approaching a tipping point, driven by increasing numbers and severity of extreme weather events, the rapidly falling costs of low-emission solutions such as renewables, and increasingly strong domestic policies in increasing numbers of countries.

As for renewables, right on cue this week brought an avalanche of bullish news and forecasts underscoring Al Gore’s optimism.

How solar and EVs will kill the last of the industry dinosaurs. Giles Parkinson this week covered the work of Tony Seba from Stanford University, who has an extremely bullish outlook on solar. Seba predicts that falling costs of solar and electric vehicle batteries and simultaneously rising prices of fossil fuels will lead to a tipping point by the end of this decade that will eventually sweep the incumbents aside. By 2030, solar will in his view make the fossil fuel industry more or less redundant and electric vehicles will do the same thing to the oil industry. “I am incredibly optimistic that by 2030, nuclear, coal, gas, big hydro, and oil will be all but obsolete. The world will be mostly powered by solar and wind, and most new vehicles will be electric. The architecture of energy markets is going from centralized to distributed – in liquids and the electric market.” He has one caveat, though, politicians might still mess the thing up.

FERC Chair Jon Wellinghoff: Solar ‘Is Going to Overtake Everything’. Herman K. Trabish reports that the US’s top energy regulator, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chair Jon Wellinghoff, has a similar outlook. He notes that other resources have not seen the same steep cost decline that solar has. “Solar PV is $0.70 or $0.80 per watt to manufacture. Residential rooftop is $4 to $5 per watt. But they are going to drive that down to $2 and then to $1 per watt.” Cost of storage is coming down too, and “Once it is more cost-effective to build solar with storage than to build a combustion turbine or wind for power at night, that is ‘game over.’ At that point, it will be all about consumer-driven markets.”

Did anybody say it’s the end of the world as we know it?

Renewable energy increasingly cost-competitive, say industry experts. Tierney Smith synthesised a number of recent studies and statements about the declining costs of renewables. For example, UBS recently predicted an “unsubsided power revolution” – “Purely based on economics, we believe almost every family home and every commercial rooftop in Germany, Italy and Spain should be equipped with a solar system by the end of this decade”. The US Department of Energy recently found that US wind was broadly competitive with fossil fuels even in the era of cheap shale gas. Citigroup research has concluded that renewables would reach cost parity with conventional fuels in many parts of the world by 2020 and Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects that renewables could account for between 69 and 74% of new global power capacity by 2030 (see also my earlier post on Bloomberg CEO Liebreich’s keynote at Bloomberg’s annual energy summit earlier this year).

Renewables future no more costly than fossil fuels. Giles Perkinson reports that according to a new Australian government report there is no marked cost difference among scenarios with different levels of renewables expansion. Projected electricity prices in scenarios with high renewables expansion are basically the same as in scenarios with low expansion.

100% of new Australian power plants are wind or solar. Giles Perkinson also reports that actually 100% of all new electricity generation proposals received by the Australian energy regulator in the last 12 months were either wind or solar, and that despite removal of most subsidies.

Deutsche Bank sees Chile as first subsidy-free big solar market. Sophie Vorrath reports that according to Deutsche Bank Chile has already achieved grid parity in parts of the country despite having so far installed only 3.5MW, thanks to high power prices and high solar insulation. Permitting and other challenges remain, though.

Solar PV power output in Italy hits unprecedented high. Ilias Tsagas reports that Italian solar PV power production was almost 20% higher in the first seven months of 2013 compared to the same period of 2012. Conventional power generation was down 15.7%. The future outlook is uncertain, though, as Italy stopped the feed-in tariff for new installations in July.

20.91 GW of New Solar Approved in Japan Until May 2013. Former Japanese Prime Minister Noda wanted a “rocket start” for renewables and it seems the country is doing him the favour. Karl-Friedrich Lenz reports that until May Japan had approved solar installations totalling 20.91 GW, up from 12.2 GW until February. By comparison, Japan had only about 5.3 GW of solar installed at the end of 2011. Wind is still struggling to take off, though.

Is China actually doing more to tackle climate change than UK? Doug Parr looked at Chinese and UK clean energy investments relative to GDP and found that in the next years the UK aims to spend 0.69% of GDP per year on renewables, nuclear and grid upgrades, while China aims to spend 0.71% of GDP per year on renewables alone.

Solar Manufacturers May Boost Capacity as Demand Surges. Ehreen Goossens reports that the period of PV manufacturing overcapacity may be over thanks to the surging demand from Asia.

Policy Support for Renewable Energy Continues to Grow and Evolve. Underlining Al Gore’s point about movement in domestic policies, the Worldwatch Institute reports that 127 countries now have policies to promote renewables deployment. And 2/3 of them are developing and emerging countries.

Philippe Martin announces carbon tax: Geoffrey Livolsi reports (in French) that the French environment minister this week announced the introduction of a climate-energy levy. Details are still to be determined, though.

Four French ministers demand acceleration of the environmental transition. French Daily Libération reported (in French) earlier in the week that four French ministers had published an open letter positing that, “The question is whether we want to drive or suffer the environmental transition.”

Memo To Media: The Coal Industry Wants You To Believe the Internet Is An Energy Hog. It Isn’t. Media like to cover the increasing energy use connected to internet applications. Joe Romm argues that the net result is nonetheless less energy use.   For instance, while people nowadays download music, they previously used to get it physically on CDs, the result is emission reductions of 40-80%. More generally, information technology is opening completely new vistas of using resources more efficiently.

What Al Jazeera America Didn’t Say About Climate Change. Apparently it takes foreigners to do decent climate science reporting in the US. Max Greenberg reports that the new Al Jazeera America kicked off with best in class climate science reporting, devoting almost half an hour on its first day and steering clear of false balance and other problems that has plagued much of the reporting from the incumbent outlets.

How Resource Shortages Sparked Egypt’s Months-Long Crisis. A sobering article by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed argues that Egypt’s crisis is fueled by its running out of oil, food and money, trends also at work in many other Middle Eastern and North African countries. The article predicts broad collapse if these trends are not turned around soon. Seems to me that switching from fossil fuels to renewables should be a key ingredient of the solution.

Ecuador abandons rain forest protection to pay its China debts. Tim Fernholz did an interesting background article on Ecuador’s decision to abandon it’s Yasuni ITT initiative where it proposed to not drill for oil in the Yasuni national park if compensated for the lost revenue. Fernholz argues that the decision to abandon the scheme is connected to the country’s growing debt to China, which gave Ecuador direct loans of $7 billion – about 10% of Ecuador’s GDP – after it defaulted on its foreign debt in 2008, “turning the South American country into something of a client state”.  And since the Yasuni trust fund received hardly any money for keeping the oil in the ground, exploiting it was the only way out.

The Bus: THIS is how to do advertising for public transport:

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