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Nov. 5, 2021

Regeneration Part 9: Energy Use, Renewal and Storage As We Transition Away from Fossil Fuels and Electrify Everything

Regeneration Part 9: Energy Use, Renewal and Storage As We Transition Away from Fossil Fuels and Electrify Everything

Coverage of Paul Hawken's Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation


This is the 9th installment in our coverage of Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation by Paul Hawken – and today we’re going to feel the buzz of ENERGY as we discuss renewable energy – green energy. We’ll talk about electric cars and transportation methods, heat pumps to warm and cool buildings, and energy storage on large and small scales.

If you’re new to this series, I encourage you to go back to the introduction, and listen to the episode where I interview Paul, just before this book series began. That will provide all the context you need and get you thinking about what regeneration means to you.

To make your discovery process easy, links to each episode are included in chronological order below time stamps. You can also visit CareMoreBeBetter.com for access to the complete series simply by clicking on the Regeneration Category of podcasts.

Timestamps: 

00:00 Introduction

02:30 Defining Regeneration As It Relates to Energy

04:51 Solar Power

06:20 JP Morgan Chase: A Culprit In Sustaining Fossil Fuel Use

07:45 Electric Vehicles + The Problem of Elon Musk

10:10 Geothermal Energy and Heat Pumps

12:44 Electrify Everything

13:48 Energy Storage, Battery Improvements + More

17:00 Microgrids

19:33 Summary + Takeaways

20:48 Next Week's Deep Dive Into Regeneration: Industry including Big Food, War, Fashion, Plastics and Poverty (wow -- big topics -- and a lot to cover!)

 

References: 

Introduction to Regeneration: One Billion Climate Activists Strong: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/one-billion-climate-activists-strong/

Regeneration Interview with Paul Hawken: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-ending-the-climate-crisis-in-one-generation/ 

Regeneration Part 1 Oceans: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part-1-oceans/ 

Regeneration Part 2 Forests: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part-2-forests/ 

Regeneration Part 3 Wilding: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part-3-wilding/ 

Regeneration Part 4 Nexus: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part-4-nexus-climate-activism-tool/ 

Regeneration Part 5 Regenerative Agriculture: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part-5-land-regenerative-agriculture-and-soil-restoration-to-reverse-global-warming/ 

Regeneration Part 6 People: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part-6-people-indigeneity-and-our-role-in-reversing-global-warming/ 

Regeneration Part 7 Cities: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part7-cities-green-architecture-living-building-challenge/ 

Regeneration Part 8 Food: https://www.caremorebebetter.com/regeneration-part8-food-localization-and-decommodification-to-end-the-climate-crisis/ 

Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation was published on September 21, 2021 and is available at all your favorite booksellers. Visit the Regeneration website for details, resources, and valuable tools for anyone interested in becoming a climate activist. 

Regeneration + Nexus: https://www.regeneration.org 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/regenerationorg

 

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Transcript

Welcome regenerators! This is the 9th installment in my coverage of Regeneration: Ending The Climate Crisis In One Generation by Paul Hawken – and today we’re going to feel the buzz of ENERGY as we discuss renewable energy – green energy. We’ll talk about electric cars and transportation methods, heat pumps to warm and cool buildings, and energy storage on large and small scales.

If you’re new to this series, I encourage you to go back to the introduction, and listen to the episode where I interview Paul, just before this book series began. That will provide all the context you need and get you thinking about what regeneration means to you.

To make your discovery process easy, links to each episode are included in chronological order in the show notes for each Regeneration episode. You can also visit CareMoreBeBetter.com for access to the complete series simply by clicking on the Regeneration Category of podcasts. On caremorebebetter.com you’ll find full transcripts, YouTube videos of our guest interviews, guest bios with links to their social and contact details and ways that you can support the show.

And you can even leave me a voicemail and share your thoughts by clicking the microphone in the bottom right-hand corner – or send me an e-mail note from the contact page. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and any questions you might have for Paul Hawken. At the end of this series, I’ll be submitting a list of community questions to Paul so he can answer them directly through a blog on caremorebebetter.com.

And as I alluded, just a moment ago… This is a listener supported show. Every contribution helps us continue to produce great content. You can become a Patreon supporter for as little as $2 a month, buy sustainable merch – or even make a one-time donation via paypal.  

Energy

  1. Are you ready to feel that buzz that ENERGY that we’re going to learn all about today? Remember this: Paul defines regeneration as putting life at the center of every action we take every decision we make – and its with this lens that we’re going on today’s journey.

Paul commences the chapter with a simple sentence:

“Global warming will not be stopped and reversed without ending the use of fossil fuels.”

  • Paul Hawken, Ending the Climate Crisis In One Generation (p. 193)

That’s a reality that we all face – and the decisions me make in coming months and years as a collective society will have an impact on global warming, good or bad. We have to think about 3 things as we work towards solution:

  1. What is the source of the energy?
  2. What is it used for?
  3. How do we make use of it?

Many of the ways we currently use energy aren’t nearly as efficient as they could be. Many homes have insufficient insulation, outdated lighting and appliances that use much more energy than more modern options, and we waste energy.

Paul asks us to think of energy use in terms of the work it can do. He equates it to “servants”. When we look at it this way, an Indian Household uses 5 servants, while an American household uses 400. Coal, Gas and Oil make up 84% of global energy use today – and some of the deposits we’re capturing for energy production date back to 650 million years ago.

Emissions from use of coal, gas, and oil totals 35 billion tons per year. We’re borrowing resources from the past – and stealing from the future. To slow global warming and begin to repair the damage we’re doing we must reduce consumption from 35 to 11 billion tons by 2030.

Today renewable energy only comprises 5% of total primary energy use. Sources include solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal energy.

Solar Energy

Solar Energy is the largest contributor to our green energy at the present time. It’s also known as “photovoltaic energy” for any of you who want to geek out on research. What’s important to note is this – the sun is the most abundant energy source we have – but it’s still a finite resource. We need to develop more efficient capture and storage methods to ensure that we can sustain power over longer stretches. Costs of solar continue to fall, making it a more viable option as time goes on. Solar is at an efficiency turning point.

“In May 2020, renewably generated electricity in the United States topped coal for the first time. Three-quarters of the coal-powered plants in the United States could be shut down, mothballed and replaced with solar, and it would save money for the owners of those plants while lowering electricity rates for consumers. Coal has become a fossil fuel in the true sense of the word. It’s dead.”

  • Paul Hawken, Ending the Climate Crisis In One Generation (p. 199)

This lays before us what would seem a simple task. Shut coal down. Replace it with solar and other renewable energy. Do it now.

And you can play a part too. I learned in this chapter that JP Morgan Chase is the banker that is doing the most to finance fossil fuels – and so this leads me to today’s confession. Geez, to be honest, it feels like this exploration of regeneration leads me to quite a few of those.

I’ve been banking with Chase since 2010. And now I’m looking for another bank. So it looks like 2021 will be the year that ends. They also manage my Amazon Prime credit card – yes that very ecommerce giant that I’m also working to leave behind. One foot in front of the other. I’m changing how our household economies impact global emissions. So, let this serve as a mid-podcast reminder – you can vote with your dollars by making simple changes to who you bank with and who you shop with. Goodbye Chase. Goodbye Amazon. I may miss your convenience but I’m proud to leave you in my rearview. Earth matters more than convenience.

Electric Vehicles

  1. Moving on to Electric Vehicles. In 2020 alone more than 3 million electric vehicles (EVs) were sold worldwide – and many car manufactures have now publicly announced they plan to end production of internal combustion engine powered vehicles. GM will do so by 2035, and Volkswagon – the largest car manufacturer in the world – will do so by 2026. That being said, in 2019, the USA averaged 390 million gallons of fuel for vehicles per day. This startling figure, and the rampant fires we’ve been experiencing with extended fire seasons in California led Gavin Newsom to the easy decision to sign off on ending the sale of new gas- and diesel-powered vehicles by 2035. New Jersey quickly followed suit. As a result, our charging infrastructures will need to improve and new technology that enables batteries to be fueled more quickly – in as little as 5 minutes – will need to become more mainstream.

We’re on our way. And while The Model 3 Tesla is the best-selling electric vehicle worldwide, other EV options may be both more affordable and less resource intensive. I personally leased a Chevy Bolt for that reason. It may be less sexy, but it does the same job – and if we are going to really turn the tide, I believe it’s necessary to think more about function and efficiency and less about form. On October 29, Elon Musk became the first person to be worth more than $300 billion. Think about that for a moment.

The concentration of wealth at the top has become comical. How about this. Let’s make less centa-billionaires and build a more regenerative, circular economy.

Capturing energy to support our electric vehicle explosion will be one giant task, so harnessing the power of the sun and of the earth can help us get there.

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy is one great renewable option. As Paul notes on page 206:

“One of the electricity-producing renewable sources of energy is a traditional form of geothermal: very hot water.

“This geothermal energy is left over from the formation of the planet 4.5 billion years ago, and the heat generated from the decay of radioactive minerals. Temperatures at the earth’s inner core can exceed 5,000 degrees Celsius – roughly the same as the surface of the sun… Cracks in the crust, often found where tectonic plates meet, allow magma to rise close to the surface, heating reservoirs of water. These reservoirs are accessed by drilling bore holes. The water and steam are then piped up to a power plant, where they are converted into electricity. It can also be sued as a heat source to warm buildings. When the water has cooled, it is sent back to the reservoir, reheating, which makes it a renewable resource.”

  • Paul Hawken, Ending the Climate Crisis In One Generation (p. 206)

The beauty of geothermal energy is that it is not seasonally affected. It works around the clock, whether the wind blows or the sun shines. It’s constant, and it’s renewable.

And think about this, the very technology that Paul describes here is similar to a “heat pump”. Cool water drifts back down into the thermal vent where it is heated, and as it is heated, it rises back into the power plant to create more energy. Beautiful!

On page 209 in a photo caption, Paul describes how heat pumps work.

“Heat pumps pull heat out of the air or ground. Working like an air conditioner in reverse, heat pumps can supply a household or entire building with all the required heat and hot water and reduce energy use by 50%. If the electricity used to power the heat pumps is renewably sourced, they produce a 95+ percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions”.

Electrify Everything

We will need to electrify everything to remove our reliance on fossil fuels. That gas-fueled dryer and HVAC system poses long-term problems when we consider the impact of their fuel consumption. It’s therefore imperative that we begin this transition to electrify everything. Some counties in some states have developed building codes that require all new builds to be 100% electrified. Just across the highway from where I live there’s a new condo complex that boldly boasts “100% Electric” on the for sale signs for their units. It’s the wave of the future, for certain. But of course, 100% electric is only a really good thing if the resources we’re consuming are renewable. Solar farms, wind farms, geothermal plants and more will be needed to support ongoing energy needs. Improving efficiencies, reducing energy use will also be key – even though electric-only homes and buildings waste less energy than gas-fueled appliances.

“While electrifying everything ultimately reduces overall energy use, it requires doubling the amount of electricity needed from 2.3 terawatts to 4.8 terrawatts by 2050”.

Energy Storage

One of the challenges we must tackle as we build an infrastructure that can hold the requisite power is Energy Storage. In Iceland, most of their power is geothermal, and is produced year-round, even when cold, dark winters descend on their residents – but geothermal vents aren’t always close enough to the surface to employ this method – so we will need energy storage to support our energy consumption when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. By 2050, a totally renewable electrical grid will require a storage capacity of roughly 4.4 million gigawatt hours per year – and this is 275,000 more than current storage capacity. The current technology used to store most power is the lithium-ion battery. Thankfully costs of these batteries continues to fall, but they cannot meet all of our storage needs and their cost on the environment is high from a resource perspective. They have limited lives and the energy they store is meant to be used in hours, not days, weeks or even months – so they will not work for solar storage from the summer to carry you through a dark winter.

Thankfully engineers and scientists are busy creating inventive solutions from abundant materials. This is from page 211:

Researchers at the University of Southern California have created a new type of flow battery that uses iron sulphate, a waste product from the mining industry that can release energy over a longer period of time than traditional lithium-ion batteries. Form Energy is installing an “aqueous air battery system” in Minnesota that “leverages some of the most abundant materials on the plant” instead of using lithium and other metals. Others, like Noor Midelt in Morocco and Norwegian company Energy-Nest are implementing thermal batteries made from molten salt or crushed volcanic rock. Such systems work by using excess energy to heat insulated reservoirs, which can be used later to run steam turbines. The molten salt batteries are designed so that heat is lost slowly, enabling inexpensive storage – estimated to be thirty-three times less expensive per kilowatt-hour than batteries. MGA Thermal is exploring another option: to replace the coal in coal power plants with a block of blended metals, roughly half the size of a toaster, that is stackable like Legos, designed to store extraordinary amounts of heat. Instead of burning coal to boil water in a steam turbine, the alloys can be heated by renewable energy and added to or removed from the boiler to scale energy generation up or down to meet demand, replacing coal entirely while utilizing the same infrastructure.”

And there are more teams at work around the globe, looking to nature for inspiration and improving on existing systems – seeing if they can utilize existing ideas and power plants to convert them to a greener way of doing things.

Microgrids

In fall of 2019, many California residents, myself included, had their power shut off to reduce the risk of wildfires due to high winds. This has become the norm when the weather is dry here now. And while I have solar panels, I’m not “off the grid”. I don’t actually have battery backups on my property. I feed up to PG&E who spreads and stores the energy, crediting me for usage, and when the sun goes down, I pull energy from the grid. These days, I’m regretting the choice to build in this way, and wishing I had both installed enough panels to support our home’s energy needs, and invested in battery backups. While individual setups can work to move one “off the grid” microgrids are another really effective way to handle the challenges faced by large utility companies with monopolistic control.

Don’t get me wrong, the last thing I want is to have a fire start – and see the devastation it would pose to my community. I don’t want to be evacuated for another 10 day stretch – like I was in 2019.

The point is that renewable energy built to sustain smaller communities is possible, and can be just as reliable as a larger infrastructure. It limits the distance traveled from energy creation to homes, which limits power degradation over power lines. It connects with and supports the community which engages that community in thinking about their collective power use.

One really creative example is in Shakimali Matborkandi, where a microgrid corporation – SOLshare – installed a peer-to-peer sharing grid. It allows owners to buy and sell electricity from others in their community. They refer to it as a “swarm” because it scales easily and quickly. And I have to say, I love that it is focused on community engagement.

Summary
Drive less. Walk more. Use public transit. If you need to drive, consider getting an Electric Car. I’ve checked Carmax and am now considering a 2nd electric vehicle. The BMW I3 with low miles is available for about $15K – and I’d be putting a well-used vehicle back on the streets instead of buying new.

Convert to Electric Only. Install Solar Panels. And, if you’re with JP Morgan Chase, perhaps it’s time to change where you bank. And if you’re not… Ask questions about how your bank invests their resources. Every penny you put in that bank account has an effect after all.

This has been our 9th installment in our coverage of Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation by Paul Hawken. Next week we’ll connect on the topic of Industry, from revisiting the topic of Big Food to Healthcare, War, Fashion, and Plastics.

As we wrap up… I have three simple asks. The TLDL version is this:

  1. Share this Regeneration Series
  2. Leave us a written 5-star review on your favorite podcasting platform
  3. and if you can, become a Patreon member to support our efforts.

Thank you for coming on this journey. I hope you’ll ALSO send me a note with questions for Paul, or thoughts on what we can all do to support this regeneration movement. The subject of Regeneration is such an important topic – so please – share this series with your community. We’re all in this together, after all and it will take our collective effort to reverse global warming.

And remember, every action you take to support this show helps keep me motivated to keep chugging right along. Visit caremorebebetter.com for all the ways you can make a difference and support the show. And don’t forget to write that review! You’ll feel good doing it.

Thank you, listeners, now and always for being a part of this pod and community – because together, we really can do so much more. We can care more and be better. We can regenerate earth.