A Net Carbon Negative Future

Before we get into today’s topic, we need to familiarize ourselves with the Berkeley Laboratory and its role in our energy grid. The Berkeley Lab is a just one facility in a system of energy laboratories in a system of United States Department of Energy National Laboratories and Technology Centers all managed by the department of energy. Recently, the Berkeley Lab released a report about the feasibility of a carbon neutral by 2050 and even carbon negative going farther into the future.

For their most recent report the Berkeley Lab partnered with the consulting firm Evolved Energy Research to tackle the affordability of a reaching Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recommended goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 to limit the effects of climate change. The partnership concluded that the price tag for a carbon neutral United States would be one dollar, per person per day. What this would afford us would be a complete overhaul of our energy infrastructure. Berkeley Lab senior scientist Margaret Torn highlights the journey to a net zero energy grid as needing “to build many gigawatts of wind and solar power plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings – while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.”

Now this may sound like an overwhelming task that will see coal plant shutting down and people going without power as construction crews scramble to install solar panels in time, but luckily this is not the case and in fact, far from it. The Berkeley plan would require no “early retirement” of the infrastructure that we currently have in place, and instead on replacing aging infrastructure with green alternatives as the economic life of old plants and generators comes to an end. This way we only need to bridge the gap as new energy needs arise.

All this has been for the carbon neutral case, but at the beginning of this post I teased something even better, a carbon negative future. The carbon neutral pathway from above would cost roughly 0.4% of US GDP per year to achieve. By investing a little bit more, 0.6% of GDP to be exact, we would be able to sufficiently invest in restructuring our agriculture and forest management, increasing carbon capture, and generating greater amounts of electricity through renewable means. Though, this would also mean greater costs in terms of land use required.

If you’ve enjoyed these last few blogs, please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn (Arkadiusz Bolanowski) or follow me on twitter (@RKDSBolanowski). Also, if you think this story is interesting and you’d like to learn more, please visit the Berkely lab’s website at https://www.lbl.gov/ .

The Texas Blame Game

Trying to be as a political as I can be given today’s topic, I feel like I need to add my voice and look at possible solutions to situation in Texas. Leaders in Texas from Governor Greg Abbott to Rick Perry were quick to blame the power outages in Texas on the freezing of wind turbines. Governor Abbott himself was quoted saying that wind and solar made up “more than 10%” of the power grid in Texas, and according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas wind energy made up 15.9% of energy production in Texas in 2018. So how can a 10-15% drop in production cause statewide power outages? The true reason for the outages was not that the turbines froze, which they did, and no one is denying that, but it is because the energy grid all over Texas failed because deregulation of the energy grid in the 1999 has led to less strict standards of upkeep and preparedness.

Now that the elephant in the room has been addressed, lets look at ways that an emergency of this scale can be avoided and let us look at the renewable tools that can make it happen. Since wind turbines are in the forefront of the blame here, we will look at examples of various technologies and methods that turbines have modified to function in artic weather. Swedish researchers have been testing artic wind turbines for years now, with some testing having started as long as a decade ago. At Uljabuoda, Swedish Utility company Skelleftea Kraft AB was one of the first to experiment with wind turbines in the Arctic. The researchers created two solutions to the freezing blade problem. The first is to add a carbon fiber coating on the blades which can be heated to melt the ice. The second method is a system which would not heat the surface of the blades but heat them from the inside instead. Obviously, these upgrades to the wind turbines are costly, a 5% increase in price on average.

Now these methods have shown that wind turbines can be successfully operated within the arctic circle as temperatures as low as -22 degrees Fahrenheit. According to local ABC 13 news, the lowest temperature recorded in Houston during this winter storm was 13 degrees Fahrenheit. And now finally we have to look at the choice that Texas has to make. Is it time to regulate their energy grid more stringently? Would investing into winterproof wind turbines make sense? Was this storm a once in a century storm and do we not need to worry about artic temperatures in Texas any time soon? Or, is this going to become the new normal with climate change and will the investment now pay off in the future? At this time I am earnestly urging you to stay informed about all the facts when renewables get blamed and think about how there are still ways to move forward and not backwards on an unsustainable path.  

Most Powerful Turbine

This week is perfectly timed to start blogging about renewable energy innovations. Danish manufacturer of wind turbines, Vestas, just unveiled their newest and most powerful wind turbine. Now this turbine is not only the most powerful in Vestas’ production, but it is also the strongest wind turbine in the world. The new model is named the V236-15.0 MW and is specifically designed for installation in storm prone areas. I should clarify, that by storm I mean hurricane/typhoon strength storms. I think its clear to see why this is such an outstanding achievement. To be able to harness the power of something so destructive as a hurricane and utilize it for our collective benefit. This behemoth of a wind turbine posses three blades which are 115.5 meters long; for perspective an American football field of 100 yards is 91.44 meters long. While spinning the three blades cover an area equivalent to 10.6 acres.

Now, lets talk about the output of the world’s most powerful wind turbine. From Vestas’ own calculations, each turbine will be capable of producing 80 gigawatt hours of energy in a year. That amount is sufficient to power 20,000 homes. Also, the effects of not producing carbon emissions to create this energy is by itself a marvel. Each wind turbine has the capacity of removing 38,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. To provide some perspective on this. In 2017 Amazon’s entire fleet of delivery vehicles produced 19 million tons of carbon emission. Just 500 of these turbines built around the globe would offset the pollution created by our love of convenient shopping. Not to mention, 500 turbines would be able to power 10 million homes. Again, these numbers appear arbitrary so lets put it in perspective again. The entire state of Nevada totals 751 thousand households. The entire US population is 105 million people. This would mean that 500 turbines would be sufficient to power 1/10th of the US population while also offsetting the emissions from our insatiable need for next day delivery of play doh and reversable angry octopus plushies.

I’m not saying that this single turbine is going to be the solution to our energy problems going into the future, but what I am trying to point out are the possibilities for a greener and renewable future. The scalability is there, and this style of wind turbine could be a large piece of the puzzle moving forward. As we continue our conversation about renewables, we will explore more of the crucial pieces that I hope will one day make up our fully renewable energy grid.