Global interdependence: The case for large-scale green energy

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by Lee Temple 

CSP uses mirror fields to focus solar energy on a tower receiver near the center of the array of mirrors. Steam from boilers in the tower drives a turbine, generating electricity for the transmission grid.

CSP uses mirror fields to focus solar energy on a tower receiver near the center of the array of mirrors. Steam from boilers in the tower drives a turbine, generating electricity for the transmission grid.

This is the first in a two-part series examining the energy sector’s role in healing climate change.  I’m investigating both large- and small-scale energy projects—two major approaches whose often conflicting, polarized mindsets genuinely reflect the larger complexity of community and world transformation today.  I seek the ever-elusive “bigger-picture” perspective that might bring a synergy to both, and perhaps add some clarity amidst the confusion.   This month’s article is primarily about the large-scale; next’s will cover the small.

The global context:  The IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) identifies 2015 as “the tipping point,” the time after which no human activity will forestall catastrophic global climate change (CC), although human carbon emissions won’t peak until around 2030.  CC detractors still largely disregard CC science.

Of Earth’s 7+ billion humans, nearly 1% are homeless today.  Many are “climate refugees,” including 20+ million victims (four hundredtimes our valley’s population) from the 2010 Pakistani monsoon event alone.  We’ll have an estimated 200 million climate refugees by 2050, so beyond politics, it’s actually a real survival issue.  CC detractors usually aren’t among the homeless!  Pew Research reports that 84% of the world believes CC to be real, and majorities in all countries surveyed believe humanity is to blame.

Tomorrow's large-scale, multi-bio-regional green-energy systems will provide greater resilience for more extreme climate change. The African/European Desertec Supergrid Project will link electricity generated in Africa to consumers in Europe and employ multiple renewable fuel-sources that will generate 100GW by 2050.

In all this data, surely the most powerful headline is the “dead”-line: FOUR YEARS LEFT!  It elicits unpredictable, powerful feelings and emotions: grief, dread, fear, anxiety, anger, despair, helplessness, and hopefully, a greater sense of urgency—the motivation to do all we can, in time.  Many folks, lead by activists like Tim DeChristopher and Bill McKibben, have adopted direct civil disobedience against massive fossil-fuel energy projects in response.  It’s radical decision-making and action-time!

In this context, Global-Interdependence Philosophy sees all aspects of civilization as interrelated, especially energy usage, recognizing that global problems like CC require global solutions.  It uses collaborative, interdependent relationships among governments, utilities, corporations, and developer/financiers to implement quick, effective, large- and mega-projects.  It also empowers small ones—as the underlying corporate infrastructure providing essential small-scale solution-ingredients like the solar panel.

Yet such obvious large/small interdependence doesn’t defuse their quarrel concerning appropriate project scale and associated local impacts. Large projects are criticized for greater local disruption, while small ones are less disruptive (and less carbon-reducing).  Sometimes we’re culpable no matter what we do (100 million of the billion birds we kill each year die colliding with glass).

Bio-regional interdependence sees our valley (SLV) non-autonomously, as an individual bio-region in the larger continental family and global community of bio-regions, a key contributing participant in the larger, organic whole.   It recognizes that neighboring bio-regions aren’t always so renewable-energy-fortunate.  Being a good bio-regional neighbor means sharing our “solar wealth” with less fortunate neighboring bio-regions.  Large-scale projects and relationships help make such important sharing happen.

Keeping Crestone and the SLV pristine requires massive environmental degradation elsewhere today. If we don't make renewables-based power, we directly support a Colorado coal power plant like this one. Ours is the Craig Station (1,274 MW).

Large-scale renewable-energy systems include hydrogen, bio-fuels, solar, wind, hydroelectric and geothermal energy. These renewable energy sources lead to fuel-cell transportation, 120,000 megawatts (MW) of wind-power, and many 100,000’s of MW’s of solar and geothermal projects worldwide.

Some ideological pivoting is required for small- and large-approach advocates to enter into authentic, mutually-respectful partnership.  The Occupy Movement demonstrates our mistrust of global corporate manipulations that seek individual rights but reject obvious responsibilities. Yet such self-protective corporate behaviors are part of human nature.  We all seek to protect ourselves and the things we value—in our case, this precious valley and a balanced, whole, nature-loving life.  But even in our treasured remoteness, we live in profound interdependence with the corporations providing our housing, workplaces, energy/fuel, transportation, clothing, healthcare, communications, entertainment and leisure.  Eliminating just one large-scale corporate enterprise (fossil-fuel-based trucking, for example) could decimate the resiliency afforded by our food/fuel/supplies in days.  Clearly, our sustenance takes a global corporate village today.

The large-scale approach thus seeks fair, balanced trade between the valley and the larger world, a sharing of the corporate infrastructure burden, and accepting at least some of the responsibility for sustaining it here.  Thankfully, multi-decade transformative leadership by far-sighted visionaries like Paul Hawken, Al Gore, Amory Lovins, William McDonough and Jeremy Rifkin pioneered green commerce models that have improved the global business activities of established corporations and new ones like SolarReserve.

The current (2010) global carbon footprint is over 36.8 metric gigatons/CO2/year (gty), with (coal-intensive) power generation (46%), transportation (23%), and industry (19%) leading the emissions parade.  Large-scale efforts in these major sectors will thus mitigate the lion’s share, followed by multi-scale global energy-efficiency improvements, smart growth, land-use-practice improvements, and the small-scale approach, over the next 20-30 years.  Clearly, more approaches are better than one!

SLV now hosts ca. 40-45 MW of medium-scale photovoltaic (PV) solar, so we’ve still miles to go.  SolarReserve is currently SLV’s only larger-scale, high-effectiveness, quick-turn-around option.  Each of its two planned 100 MW phases (75% of SLV’s peak load ea.) take 2.5 years to build.  When fully completed, it would single-handedly mitigate the majority of SLV’s carbon footprint—2.4 million/tons/CO2/yr!  Most or all the power will stay here short-term, enhancing our electrical resilience, self-reliance and energy-independence while small-scale projects ramp up.

A proven technology, SolarReserve has similar Power Tower projects under construction in Utah, Spain and California.  It will require less water than existing on-site agricultural uses, and become SLV’s sole provider of commercial, full-cycle solar power (night and day).  Other benefits include: appropriate siting away from wetlands/flyways, 50 long-term jobs, significant, sustained, county tax-base revenue-enhancement, and not requiring any community effort, organizing, fundraising or up-front costs.

Concerns/criticisms include tower height and glow, potential salt-pond environmental issues and possible avian impacts.  For more info., please review Matie Belle Lakish’s Eagle article (January 2012, page 28), or websites: www.solar-reserve.com, www.saguachecounty.net (for 1041 information/other information).   Although not requiring EPA review, SolarReserve’s on-site biological survey, literature review, etc. are available in the 1041 documents.

In the bigger picture, SolarReserve will greatly support the health and vitality of the larger whole, the global interdependence of humanity and nature.  If we still had lots of time, and the SLV was an idyllic, autonomous world unto itself, we could legitimately wait for superior technologies and/or small-is-beautiful methodologies to save the day. Unfortunately though, time is short, we don’t live in a vacuum, and we can’t continue shirking the CC heavy-lifting.  Although it’s imperfect, one trait makes SolarReserve admirable and worthy of our support:  its huge, global-interdependence-recognizing, carbon-saving paradigm is doable, right here, right now, and hopefully, in time.

Next month I’ll investigate the much-loved small-scale approach to Earth-healing.

A long-time Crestone sustainability advocate, writer, community organizer and consultant, Lee Temple has been living the low (carbon) life and continuously producing “100% Genuine SLV Solar Power” since 1993.  These exciting topics and more are covered in his forthcoming book, The Inherent Unity of All Things, Healing the World with Mindfulness, Understanding, and Loving Kindness.

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3 Responses to Global interdependence: The case for large-scale green energy

  1. Thanks Lee Temple, for your big-picture perspective on this very important topic. Here’s my thinking on this: If NIMBY-ism prevents this safe, proven technology from being utilized here in the SLV’s perfect “cool sun” environment, then where the heck will it be implemented? We’ve spent billions of taxpayer dollars developing this technology. Let’s use it! And, if not now, when the earth and mankind needs these kinds of big ideas, then when? The smaller is better idea (i.e. distributed generation) just doesn’t work in today’s economic climate, where industry and government have removed nearly every incentive for clean energy. The energy industry can be made to do solar right, on a large scale, where it can have a big impact. This project, which allows for solar energy storage, is a beacon in the smog created by Big Coal and can slow down the mining industry’s penchant for fracking our way to so-called energy independence. This is the SLV’s chance to literally and figuratively “shine.” Let’s work together to make this happen!

    sunfarmer
    January 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm

  2. Response to “Global interdependence: The case for large-scale green energy” by Lee Temple, from Ceal Smith, Founder, San Luis Valley Renewable Communities Alliance and co-founder, Solar Done Right.
    “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking that created them.”
    Albert Einstein
    Taking a closer look reveals that there is no free lunch in ecology, we have better (faster, cheaper, smarter) choices and taking the first thing offered, just because someone else is offering it and its easy, may not be a real solution. If we truly wish to address global climate change, we may have no choice but to take our energy future in our own hands by insisting on policies that promote a more democratic, decentralized energy system.
    “Large projects are criticized for greater local disruption, while small ones are less disruptive (and less carbon-reducing)”
    Ceal response: On a per megawatt basis, point of use distributed generation (DG) is 7-20% more efficient and cost-effective than remote, industrial renewable energy (see Betting on the Wrong Solar Horse, by Bill Powers). The cost and inefficiencies of transporting electricity over long distances is considerable. New transmission can cost $ millions per/mile, impact the environment and incur line losses up to 15% in hot areas. In Colorado, these losses effectively negate the net gain of generating solar for export purposes in the San Luis Valley.
    “It recognizes that neighboring bio-regions aren’t always so renewable-energy-fortunate. Being a good bio-regional neighbor means sharing our “solar wealth” with less fortunate neighboring bio-regions.
    Ceal response: Wind and sun are available virtually everywhere, so renewable energy can be economically harnessed at small scales across the country, state and community. According to Energy Self-Reliant States, Colorado has the resources to be 100% energy independent using available solar, wind, small hydro, geothermal and biofuel resources. By creating path dependencies, remote, corporate-owned industrial solar primarily benefits the 1%, while depriving local communities of the opportunity to develop, and benefit (beyond a handful of unskilled jobs) from their own renewable resources.

    Lee is ignoring the seriousness of the potential negative impacts of a large-scale industrial project that will inevitably have a massive ecological footprint. Nothing like it has ever been built in Colorado or on the face of the earth. His assumption that SolarReserve will lead to a net-reduction in C02 emissions is unproven. How much concrete will be produced to build two 656’ towers, how much diesel fuel burned to transport all of the material and supplies to our remote location?

    What is the footprint of the additional transmission needed to move SLV energy to the front-range? Sulfur Hexafluoride/SF6 is a green house gas 23,900 times more potent as CO2. Most SF6 emissions are generated in long-distance transmission of electrical power, the more remote a new facility is, and the more additional miles of transmission line needed to deliver its power to the grid, the higher the SF6 burden of each new generating facility will be. In 2010 the EPA estimated average emissions of between .58 and .89 kilograms of SF6 for every mile of transmission line per year over the last decade. Please see: Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Industrial Solar. Scientists at the University of California, Riverside have reason to believe that the industrial solar may have a larger footprint than people think. More research is needed before we plow ahead blindly with massive industrial development.

    I agree with Lee that we don’t have time to do the research to know if industrial solar really will result in emissions reductions, but we can’t afford to give it the benefit of the doubt, so wouldn’t it me wiser to go with distributed generation where there is no doubt that its faster, cheaper, more efficient and incentivizes energy conservation?

    Will the solar energy generated remotely actually replace fossil fuel use, or will it simply be an add-on to the ever-growing energy pie, perhaps even encouraging people to use ever more energy, because, hey, its clean! Locally generated solar has obvious and tangible built-in incentives that are proven to reduce energy consumption at the point of use.

    We know that power towers kill birds but the only study we have is on a 10 MW pilot plant long since decommissioned in CA. It is possible this facility could cause the death of hundreds of thousands of migrant birds and bats over its lifetime. But most of the impacts of SolarReserve are unknown; microclimate impacts, visual (including retinal effects of glint and glare from 35,000 – 25 foot square helistat mirrors), groundwater, fire, other wildlife impacts and more.

    “The large-scale approach thus seeks fair, balanced trade between the valley and the larger world, a sharing of the corporate infrastructure burden, and accepting at least some of the responsibility for sustaining it here. Thankfully, multi-decade transformative leadership by far-sighted visionaries like Paul Hawken, Al Gore, Amory Lovins, William McDonough and Jeremy Rifkin pioneered green commerce models that have improved the global business activities of established corporations and new ones like SolarReserve”
    Ceal Response: I find the statement to be enormously naïve. The energy industry, in particular, has amassed more political power than any industry, at any time in history. Industry tycoons like the Koch brothers have effectively undermined global efforts to combat climate change and move aggressively towards a clean energy economy. The proponents of industrial solar and wind are, for the most part, the same Wall Street corporations (BP, Chevron, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, et al.) who are responsible for our global environmental and economic crisis. Solar is simply a good business deal as long as the federal government continues to hand out massive subsidies.
    Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, Jeremy Rifkin, Bill McKibben and energy visionaries are, in fact, calling for massive deployment of distributed generation and Energy Democracy. Please see:
    Jeremy Rifkin, the Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral (i.e. distributed) Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy and the World
    Emory Lovins, Small is Profitable
    Hermann Scheer, the Solar Economy
    Al Weinrub, Community Power (endorsed by Bill McKibben, Angelina Galiteva, Paul Gipe, James Woolsey, John Farrell, Randy Hayes and others)
    John Farrell, Democratizing the Electricity System – A vision for the 21st Century Grid
    “Large-scale efforts in these major sectors will thus mitigate the lion’s share, followed by multi-scale global energy-efficiency improvements, smart growth, land-use-practice improvements, and the small-scale approach, over the next 20-30 years. Clearly, more approaches are better than one!”
    Ceal Response: Please see, 4 Myths about Large-scale Solar, by Janine Blaeloch.
    “SolarReserve is currently SLV’s only larger-scale, high-effectiveness, quick-turn-around option. Each of its two planned 100 MW phases (75% of SLV’s peak load ea.) take 2.5 years to build. When fully completed, it would single-handedly mitigate the majority of SLV’s carbon footprint—2.4 million/tons/CO2/yr! Most or all the power will stay here short-term, enhancing our electrical resilience, self-reliance and energy-independence while small-scale projects ramp up”
    Ceal Response: A very undesirable side-effect, ignored by Lee is that it would require a $.5 billion new transmission line and open the door to the large-scale industrialization of the San Luis Valley.
    Relative to 2.5 years, it takes almost no time to permit and install distributed solar. With the right policies (Property Assessed Clean Energy and German style Feed-in tariffs), there is no limit to how much distributed generation could be installed in the SLV. A recent report by Colorado Harvesting Energy Network revealed that San Luis Valley farmers could generate 2,500 MW, using just the pivot crop circle corners. This would generate magnitudes more economic benefit for the valley while still allowing for up to 800 MW export on the upgraded existing transmission system.
    Germany is the world’s leader in solar energy, with 7,400 MW of solar installed in 2010 alone, 80% of Germany’s solar generation is owned locally by small farmers, businesses and communities.
    FunFactoid: The entire continental US has more solar energy than Germany, even rainy Seattle, WA has 15% more solar than Germany!
    Please see, 4 Myths about Large-scale Solar, by Janine Blaeloch.
    In the bigger picture, SolarReserve will greatly support the health and vitality of the larger whole, the global interdependence of humanity and nature. If we still had lots of time, and the SLV was an idyllic, autonomous world unto itself, we could legitimately wait for superior technologies and/or small-is-beautiful methodologies to save the day. Unfortunately though, time is short, we don’t live in a vacuum, and we can’t continue shirking the CC heavy-lifting. Although it’s imperfect, one trait makes SolarReserve admirable and worthy of our support: its huge, global-interdependence-recognizing, carbon-saving paradigm is doable, right here, right now, and hopefully, in time.
    Ceal response: While this path may well be the easiest, it is clearly not the fastest, smartest, most cost effective or efficient. It will serve to drive the cost of solar energy up (thus limiting how much we will generate), perpetuate our dependence on far-away energy sources and the same consumption-driven old energy system that got us into the global warming mess in the first place. Einstein was right when he said, “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking that created them”. It’s time for a new energy paradigm.

    Ceal
    January 30, 2012 at 4:44 pm

  3. Ceal
    January 30, 2012 at 4:56 pm