Wind Powered All of Scotland in October and Other Renewable Success Stories

The Trump strategy of slapping penalties on these technologies and giving fossil fuels subsidies has a very limited shelf life


From Scotland to Sweden, nations around the world and experimenting with renewable energy technology, including solar panels and wind turbines. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Wind and solar keep falling in price—each fell 6 percent in 2016. That fall was not as big as the two previous years, but there is every reason to expect price drops much bigger in coming years, as new technology makes the move from basic science to implementation. The Trump strategy of slapping penalties on these technologies and giving fossil fuels subsidies has a very limited shelf life, since there aren’t enough resources in the world to stand against this kind of inexorable progress.

Wind turbines in Scotland during the month of October, driven by unusually strong gales, generated enough electricity to supply 99 percent of the country’s power needs, taking into account residential, industrial, and business sectors! And if we just looked at the residential market, the wind turbines could have powered 4.5 million homes! One catch: Scotland only has about 2.45 million households!

On average through the year, Scotland now gets 60 percent of its electricity from renewables and is on track to get 100 percent from green sources by 2020. One impediment standing in the way is that the English-dominated government of the U.K. is deeply tied to BP and other fossil fuel companies and keeps trying to hobble green energy. In the U.K. as a whole, green energy only produces 29 percent of electricity.

And then there is Sweden.  GE and Green Investment Group have raised some $900 million. for the largest onshore wind farm in Europe. To be built in northern Sweden, it will have a name plate capacity of 650 megawatts and will be operational in only two years. With increasingly inexpensive battery storage or e.g., hydropump storage, such wind farms could generate up to half as much steady electricity as a small nuclear reactor. (Toshiba is putting in huge battery storage near a major wind farm in Texas.)

In Sweden, this one wind farm will increase the country’s wind power by 12.5 percent. Sweden is already a relatively low-carbon country for an industrial economy, though it can do substantially better. Some 83 percent of the country’s electricity comes from nuclear and hydroelectric power. Only 7 percent comes from wind at the moment.

Still, the average Swede emits over 4 tons of carbon dioxide a year. That is better than Europe’s average 6 tons and “way better than the U.S. average of 16 tons per year per person(!!!). But 4 tons a person is still huge, given that CO2 is like setting off atomic bombs in the atmosphere. The new Markbygden ETT wind farm will be an important step toward carbon-free Swedish electricity. Of course, that has to be combined with switching to electric vehicles and adopting low-carbon agricultural and building techniques if we are to move to a net carbon zero civilization.


This Renewable ‘Instant Coal’ Could Be The Fuel of The Future


It’s highly efficient.

By: David Nield

The world is shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy in a big way right now, but a group of scientists has come up with a new kind of material that works like a renewable substitute for coal.

This ‘instant coal’ biofuel brings the high energy efficiency of coal without the usual damaging side-effects – such as deep mining to collect it, and resulting pollution from burning it and releasing impurities.

What’s more, it doesn’t take eons to form underground, and is instead made from agricultural waste including wood and plants. That means we’ve potentially got a never-ending source of the stuff, according to the team developing it at the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI), part of the University of Minnesota Duluth.

“If you think about how Mother Nature made fossil coal, it’s time, pressure and heat,” says one of the team at NRRI, Tim Hagen.

“We’re doing those same processes, but instead of millions of years, we’re doing it in a few hours. And because minerals don’t get into the mix, we don’t have those potential pollutants.”

The BTU or British Thermal Unit is an indicator of stored energy: coal offers around 12,500 BTUs per pound, but this new biofuel is right up there with 8,000 to 9,500 BTUs per pound. A different variation, known as energy mud, can hit even higher levels.

These biofuel briquettes are produced using a process similar to coffee roasting, where raw biomass is dried and then heated up to 249°C (480°F) in a low-oxygen atmosphere, before being compressed. Technically it’s known as torrefaction.

“Maybe you like light roast coffee, it’s not as concentrated… or you can take it further and have a dark roast coffee. We can do the same thing here,” says one of the NRRI researchers, Don Fosnacht.

Meanwhile, the energy mud is made through an alternative system akin to a pressure cooker. Known as hydrothermal carbonisation, it removes the drying stage of the process. Between the two techniques, the Renewable Energy Lab is producing between four and six tons of biofuel a day.

It’s going to be some time before this ‘instant coal’ is ready for widespread and commercial use, but potentially it could reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants, power steam engines, reduce our reliance on mining coal for making steel and other iron products, and utilise natural waste from plants and trees at the same time.

As an added bonus these materials are easy to transport – they repel water and don’t rot.

Reducing our reliance on coal and fossil fuels can’t happen soon enough, with carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere now the highest they’ve been for some 3 million years. That in turn is driving temperatures up and up.

The Renewable Energy Lab is now busy looking for commercial partners to help them scale up the process of making their coal substitutes. We’re hoping the world’s industries can make use of it sooner rather than later.


Solar Compass Points Way to Renewable Energy

By: Dale Bass

The solar compass at Thompson Rivers University, as seen from above. BC Sustainable Energy Association photo

It may look like a compass, but the solar installation at Thompson Rivers University is designed to do more.

Ultimately, said Michael Mehta, it could point the way to integrating charging strips in roadways that could charge electric vehicles as they are being driven.

For now, however, the solar compass outside the Arts and Education Building on campus has other purposes, said Mehta, a geography and environmental-studies professor at TRU.

First, it’s to demonstrate how solar can be commonplace and not relegated to large panels on tops of buildings or out in fields. It’s also designed to show solar projects can also look good.

Mehta entered the project into the university’s sustainability grant competition. Once approved, he opted to use the existing compass design at the building, but build into it more than five dozen one-foot by two-foot solar modules, each producing 80 watts of power that ultimately should see it generate enough power per year to run about 40 computers and printers.

Just prior to the official unveiling of the compass on Thursday, with the city experiencing its first significant snowstorm of the season, Mehta kept an eye on the installation to see how people reacted walking on it. He didn’t expect to see a flurry of falls, he said, because the only real difference people might feel walking on it is the modules have a slightly different friction level than the sidewalks surrounding them.

He likened it to walking on a sidewalk and encountering a painted line or a grate. There’s a different feel underfoot, but nothing too significant.

The compass has been in place and generating energy since July, so students are likely familiar with its underfoot feel, he said.

The solar walkway is a first in Canada. The university invested about $30,000 in the project, which Mehta and other researchers will continue to monitor.

The panels were donated to the university by Solar Earth Technologies.


Scotland ‘On Target’ for 100% Renewable Energy by 2020

Citizens’ Assembly hears how Denmark became one of most efficient countries in world


By: Ronan McGreevy

Scotland is on target to generate all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, the Citizens’ Assembly has heard.

Under chair Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, the 99 assembly members, meeting in Malahide, Co Dublin are spending a second weekend debating on how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change.

Scotland has hit its 2020 emission targets five years early and has gone from delivering 10 per cent to 60 per cent of its electricity consumption from renewable sources over the past 15 years.

Prof Andy Kerr told the assembly members that the Scottish Assembly had set the most ambitious renewable targets possible. Instead of the UK goal of having CO2 emissions 32 per cent lower than they were in 1990, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) set a target of 42 per cent.

The switch to renewables has been achieved without a detrimental impact on the Scottish economy and there is no longer a choice to be made between the environment and the economy, he said.

Prof Kerr said Scotland’s “enviable reputation” on the issue of climate change has been achieved with cross-party support. The Scottish Assembly voted unanimously in 2009 for the higher target of a 42 per cent reduction in CO2 levels by 2020 – from 1990 levels, and 80 per cent by 2020.

It was also achieved with the support of some of Scottish biggest industries including the whiskey industry.

The general public have also been broadly in support with recent surveys indicating that 75 per cent of the population are in support of measures to curb climate change.

He also said Scotland had been clever in dealing with objectors to wind farms with grants to local communities which allowed them to take an equity share in developments.

The Scottish government set a target for 500MW of locally owned energy generation facilities across Scotland by 2020, but has already exceeded this. It is resetting this target at 1,000MW (1GW) of installed capacity.

“There is clear evidence in Scotland that supporting local communities to get involved in – and benefit from – the local energy system enables a range of related social and economic co-benefits,” he said.

Prof Kerr said climate change was not pitched as being “about polar bears” but about a more sustainable way of life into the future.


Former European commissioner for climate change Connie Hedegaard said her native Denmark was now, along with Japan, the most energy efficient country in the world.

Half of Denmark’s electricity is now generated from renewable energy sources. Since 1990, the CO2 intensity of Danish industry has dropped by more than half and the energy intensity (the amount of energy consumed by Danish industry) is down by a third.

Thirty per cent of all energy consumed in Denmark now comes from renewable energy sources.

Ms Hedegaard said the presumption that renewable energy sources would be more expensive than oil or gas has not come to pass.

Energy prices in Denmark are around the average in Europe both for industries and householders.

In addition, 60,000 jobs have been created in Denmark in clean tech companies, a significant number in a country of five million people, she said.

Ms Hedegaard, who is also a former Danish minister for climate, said taxation was crucial in changing behaviour.

She said the one thing that Ireland could learn from the Danish experience was ensuring that successive governments of whatever political persuasion should continue to implement a policy of climate change.

“There was no stop-go, there was just one major road,” she said.


Cigarette Butts Could be Reborn as Green Energy Storage

But that doesn’t mean smoking is good for the planet.

By: Rachel England

It’s no secret that smoking is seriously bad news for your health, but the impact of the habit on the planet’s health is pretty bleak, too. Every year nearly six trillion cigarettes are smoked around the world, generating more than 800,000 metric tons of cigarette butts. Something has to be done with them all, and they usually end up in landfill (or leaching into waterways). But now, scientists have discovered they may have a hidden potential: hydrogen storage.

Chemists at the University of Nottingham have found that exposing discarded cigarette ends to hydrothermal carbonisation — a process requiring only water and heat — creates a carbon product called hydrochar. When the hydrochar is activated, it generates oxygen-rich porous carbons that have a very high surface area which could, in theory, be used to store extremely high volumes of hydrogen. When burned to produce heat or reacted with air to create electricity, its only by-product is water, making hydrogen an attractive and sustainable fuel alternative.

The researchers believe this technique could then be developed in pursuit of the so-called “hydrogen economy”, replacing gas in cars or used as a heating fuel, but the findings have also offered up some interesting insight into hydrogen storage in general. The work is still in research stage though, so it’ll be a very long time before smokers can claim their habit is helping the environment.