Disclaimer. After nearly 40 years managing money for some of the largest life offices and investment managers in the world, I think I have something to offer. But I can't by law give you advice, and I do make mistakes. Remember: the unexpected sometimes happens. Oddly enough, the expected does too, but all too often it takes longer than you thought it would, or on the other hand happens more quickly than you expected. The Goddess of Markets punishes (eventually) greed, folly, laziness and arrogance. No matter how many years you've served Her. Take care. Be humble. And don't blame me.

BTW, clicking on most charts will produce the original-sized, i.e., bigger version.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Q1 new generating capacity in the US

This year 90% of new generating capacity so far installed has been green.  Only 10% has been in fossil fuels (gas).

Monday, April 20, 2015

EV sales have quintupled in 4 years

Electric vehicle (EV) sales have quintupled in four years.

And sales are likely to go on doubling every 2 years because battery costs are following the same steady declining path already taken by solar panels.  EV sales are now 0,5% of total global car sales, which means they are just 9 doublings (or 18 years) away from 100% of new car sales.  My guess is that it will go faster than that because it's obvious to everyone that global warming is real and a terrifying threat to our civilisation.

Read more here.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

China industrial production slows further

China's March industrial production fell to a new low growth rate, almost back at GFC (2009) levels.  Because Chinese New Year is peripatetic (i.e., sometimes it's in January, sometimes in February), the simple year-on-year % change is very "spiky".  Extreme-adjusting the data produces an altogether smoother and easier to interpret chart.

My guess is that growth is now weak enough that the Chinese govt will be inclined towards stimulus, though there is no doubt that they do not wish to go back to the helter-skelter growth rates of the early noughties because it brought so many problems in its wake (corruption, pollution, property speculation, dodgy loans, overbuilding, etc.)

I worked hard ....

... for nine months, and now my inheritance is subject to tax????

[ See more of Tom Toles' cartoons here]

Hottest March ever recorded

For the last 11 months we've seen global temperature records tumble, and now we have just recorded another month where temps have reached a new record, with the hottest March ever.

 Because there are random fluctuations in the data, you get a clearer picture by using a moving average.  The chart below shows the 12 month average to March each year.  The last big spike was in 1998, which was both a year of positive PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a 10-30 year cycle where heat gets absorbed into the Pacific only to be subsequently released) and a year of strong ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation).  Forecasters expect another positive ENSO this year, and as at the latest data, the PDO was becoming more positive.  So this spike is unlikely to reverse itself in the short term.

An even smoother picture is given using a 5 year (60 month) moving average.  Note how the famous "pause", so beloved of climate change denialists and demented plutocrats, is merely a slight slowdown lasting just a couple of years, no different to previous mini-cycles, and how, even with a five year moving average, global temps are now the hottest ever recorded.

Time to act.  Especially since renewables are now cheaper than or as cheap as fossil fuels.  Switching to renewables won't cost the earth.

[Source of world temperature data: NOAA; clicking on the charts gives a larger image]

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Going 100% renewable

Georgetown, Texas, has gone 100% renewable:

Georgetown didn’t pursue renewable energy for environmental reasons, but simply because it was the best investment for their customers. The 150 megawatts of solar PV and 145 megawatts of wind power will supply as much as double the town’s annual electricity use, ensuring sufficient supply year round even with fluctuations in sunshine and wind, and allow the town to sell the excess into Texas electricity markets. As attractive as the price—which was lower than the town’s current wholesale electricity costs—the solar and wind contracts have zero volatility because they have zero fuel cost, insulating Georgetown electric customers from rising fossil fuel prices.

It’s worth noting that the solar and wind contracts don’t mean that Georgetown will be completely reliant on the sun and wind. Their grid remains interconnected to the rest of the Texas electricity system, so in periods of zero wind and zero sun, the town can still tap into the ERCOT spot market for power. However, the wind and solar resource tend to balance one another. As the city’s press release notes, “This means that wind power can most often fill power demand when the sun isn’t shining.”

This study suggests that municipalities across the US could switch to renewables without increasing costs.   [Read more here]  And it implies that the only thing stopping that happening is vested interests.   Note also that they have no batteries. They are achieving grid stability in their town by relying on the larger grid, in their case ERCOT, the Texas grid.  But the variability of wind and solar offset each other, which is enough for a small plaey within a bigger sustem, but as more and more do this, battery storage will become more and more important.  Fortunately, battery costs continue to decline.

But the really important thing is that switching to 100% renewables can be done; it's no longer more expensive than coal-fired power; and it won't reduce growth or living standards.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Emissions by country

This table from CleanTechnica shows the CO2 emissions for the 20 largest  emitters.  Note that China now emits twice as much as the US and that the top 3 (China, US, India) are 50% of the total.  If you add the EU (roughly 10%) and Japan and South Korea, that's approximately 2/3rds of total emissions.  This is a relatively small group, and it will be much easier to achieve consensus among themselves than at a global forum where all 140 plus countries have a say   And note that all the tiddlers, producing roughly 1% or less, nevertheless make up 1/3rd of total emissions.  If the top 6 agree among themselves to slash emissions, and in fact they all have programs in place, the rest, including Australia, will be under intense pressure to follow suit.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Cost of installed solar over time

Another chart showing how installed solar panels costs (i.e., all costs; the panels themselves, installation, inverters, connection to the grid, finance, etc) are falling  over time.

Note that this is the cost per kilowatt of capacity, not per kilowatt of output.  At peak output, on the solstice, with the panel precisely aligned at 90 degrees to incoming solar rays it will produce close to nameplate capacity, for a couple of hours.  But obviously, at night it's not producing, on rainy days its output is less, etc.  Still, those factors are stable from year to year for each location, so the fall in cost of the electricity produced will have declined pari passu.  Note also that it is not a log scale, and since the decline over the period in arithmetical terms is broadly constant, it means that the rate of decline has speeded up.  On a log scale, the downward slope would have increased.  Solar is already similar in cost to coal and natural gas.  And the cost of solar power will almost certainly go on sliding.  The decline in the total cost of installed solar (i.e., all costs) has fallen about 8% per year over this period.  My guess is that as we get used to solar and move down the learning curve, everything will get a lot cheaper: panels, installation, connection, permitting, inverter, finance, and so on are a declining curve.


Rising sea levels

If you look across the evidence that global warming is real, everything is consistent: air temperatures are rising; sea temperatures are rising; glaciers are retreating; Arctic ice extent is at record lows; the Greenland and Antarctic icecaps are melting; and sea levels are rising.

On this page, NOAA shows the rise in sea levels.  Note that the average rise is now 3.2 mm per year.  Doesn't sound like much, does it?   But, for those who still think in inches, that an incredible one inch every 8 years.   Fine if you are 100 ft above sea level, right?  But not if you live in Miami, which in 1960 was 18 inches above sea level, and is now just 9 inches above sea level.  And it is likely that the rise is going to accelerate, as the melting of the west Antarctic ice shelves accelerates.  In fact, if I were into cherry-picking start and end points as the climate change denialists are, I could point out that over the last 3 years, the rate has been 8 mm per year.  An inch every 3 years.

Everything consistently points towards a warming earth.  Time to act.



Friday, April 3, 2015

Ultra fast charge and 20 year life

German heritage beech forest

A team at the Technical University in Singapore where the first lithium-ion battery was invented 30 years ago has developed a new lithium-ion battery which will charge fully in minutes and will last 20 years.

Scientists at Nanyang Technology University (NTU) have developed ultra-fast charging batteries that can be recharged up to 70 per cent in only two minutes.

The new generation batteries also have a long lifespan of over 20 years, more than 10 times compared to existing lithium-ion batteries.

This breakthrough has a wide-ranging impact on all industries, especially for electric vehicles, where consumers are put off by the long recharge times and its limited battery life.  With this new technology by NTU, drivers of electric vehicles could save tens of thousands on battery replacement costs and can recharge their cars in just a matter of minutes.

Commonly used in mobile phones, tablets, and in electric vehicles, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries usually last about 500 recharge cycles. This is equivalent to two to three years of typical use, with each cycle taking about two hours for the battery to be fully charged.

In the new NTU-developed battery, the traditional graphite used for the anode (negative pole) in lithium-ion batteries is replaced with a new gel material made from titanium dioxide. Titanium dioxide is an abundant, cheap and safe material found in soil. It is commonly used as a food additive or in sunscreen lotions to absorb harmful ultraviolet rays. Naturally found in spherical shape, the NTU team has found a way to transform the titanium dioxide into tiny nanotubes, which is a thousand times thinner than the diameter of a human hair. This speeds up the chemical reactions taking place in the new battery, allowing for superfast charging. 

Invented by Associate Professor Chen Xiaodong from NTU’s School of Materials Science and Engineering, the science behind the formation of the new titanium dioxide gel was published in the latest issue of Advanced Materials, a leading international scientific journal in materials science.
The technology is currently being licensed by a company for eventual production. Prof Chen expects that the new generation of fast-charging batteries will hit the market in the next two years. It also has the potential to be a key solution in overcoming longstanding power issues related to electro-mobility.

“Electric cars will be able to increase their range dramatically, with just five minutes of charging, which is on par with the time needed to pump petrol for current cars,” added Prof Chen.

“Equally important, we can now drastically cut down the toxic waste generated by disposed batteries, since our batteries last ten times longer than the current generation of lithium-ion batteries.”

The 10,000-cycle life of the new battery also mean that drivers of electric vehicles would save on the cost of battery replacements, which could cost over US$5,000 each.

Read more here

It's hard not to believe that Tesla's new gigafactory in Nevada will not be building these batteries given their advantages.  How long before electric cars are the norm?  My guess: 10 years.  Electric cars (EVs) are now where mobile phones were in 1986, just before they took off.

3 reasons to be optimistic

There are 3 reasons to be optimistic about renewables replacing fossil fuels soon, according industry insiders as reported ino this article, via JPratt's climate change blog.

  1. Politicians are supporting it [because renewables are now as cheap as or cheaper than fossil fuels and because the evidence of global warming has become incontrovertible]
  2. Storage is becoming cheaper
  3. Investment in renewable power is booming.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Other unsaved trash

So last decade


The argument that we can’t do anything about global warming because our living standards would plummet as coal is so much cheaper than renewables is so last decade.  The cheapest source of electricity in the US now is wind power.

In the case of solar power in the US, utility-scale solar power contracts are being signed to deliver power at between 5 and 7.5 cents per kWh, even after removing the investment tax credit worth roughly 2 cents per kWh.  So that before the tax credit, solar is now competitive with gas and new coal plants. Then there’s this (from a utility company’s annual report!). Extraordinary.

Even without a carbon tax, fossil fuels are no longer “cheap”. Even 3 years—2 years! —ago, you could have made that point and been correct. But the collapse (there is no other word) in the price of renewables is so dramatic that renewables are either cheaper or soon will be cheaper than fossil fuels. And if you add in the externalities (and you should) all the fossil fuels are much more expensive than renewables. Gas is still viable (though expensive), because peaking-power plant using gas can be easily and quickly started up when needed and then switched off later. Coal is no good for that (think of how long it takes you to get a coal fire going)

The coal spruikers go on and on about the “variability” of renewables. But the output of widely separated wind farms is uncorrelated, which means that two wind farms separated by five or six hundred kms can in effect act as base-load power generators.  And wind and solar power are negatively correlated if there is any correlation at all: it’s often windy when the sun isn’t shining (for example, when a cold front comes through, or during a thunderstorm)

Be that as it may, there are already several places in the world where renewables provide more than 40% of electricity generation without grid instability: for example, the state of South Australia, Denmark, Spain, and many where renewables are over 25%.  And that’s before batteries have started to play a role in stabilising the grid and provided for periods when both sun and wind are absent.  But—and this is key— battery costs are falling by 15-20% per annum. When Tesla’s gigafactory is completed in 2017, battery costs will fall by 2/3rds. Grid storage will be cheaper than installing new base-load capacity.
Coal is finished, even without a carbon tax/cap-and-trade. Last year, for the first time in 15 years, total coal demand in China fell, by 3%, and CO2 emissions by 1%. This at a time when real GDP grew by 7.6%, an extraordinary decline in the energy:GDP intensity of nearly 9%. In one year!!!!! And China is choosing renewables not just or even because it knows global warming is real and dangerous (it has no demented plutocrats funding denialist websites and political campaigns) but because renewables are clean and cheap and coal is filthy, and because renewables give China energy independence. China is by far the world’s largest consumer of coal, and of course, the world’s largest emitter of CO2. Most of the world’s 10 largest solar panel and wind turbine manufacturers are Chinese.  It makes sense from every possible point of view for the Chinese to switch to renewables.  And they already are.
In India, the great hope of coal barons, 25% of the population is not even connected to the grid. And they prolly never will be, because for under $100, small solar panels with an inbuilt battery, mobile phone charger and LED light are being sold to peasants outside the grid. Who needs an expensive to build and maintain grid?  In addition, India plans to install 100 gW of solar (currently 3 gW capacity is installed) to feed in to the grid. Of course, actual production from solar panels in those latitudes is only 30 – 40% of nameplate capacity, but already about 30% of India’s electricity is generated by renewables/hydro. This percentage will only rise—at the expense of coal.
No doubt existing coal-fired power stations globally will continue to pollute until they reach the end of their safe working lives. But no one is going to build new coal power stations, because the cost of the renewables triad (wind, solar, batteries) is falling inexorably and rapidly. No prudent investor will provide funding for the 30-year life of a new power station.  Frankly, no prudent investor would buy or invest in a coal mine. Certainly, I hold none in the portfolios I manage.
The denialists are still fighting last decade’s battles. No rational and informed person doubts the reality of global warming, and given the variability in likely outcomes, with risk multiplied by cost clearly to the upside (risk alone is not the best metric: saying temps will rise 2 C plus or minus 1 C doesn’t show that 2+1 is much more costly for the world than 2-1) prudent ppl will incline towards renewables especially if they are already cheaper.
The fall in renewables costs is so rapid that we keep on being surprised.  The latest data show incontrovertibly that even without a carbon tax, renewables are viable. And the crackpot climate change denialists have become irrelevant (though they remain infuriating) because the push towards replacing fossil fuels with renewables is no longer driven just by sentiment or ethics or fears about the state of the world or by the greens (I vote Green by the way) but by relentless economics. Hard-headed and -hearted finance and business people and politicians will choose renewables because that decision makes sense—despite the shrill denunciations of the coal-funded  denialists.  If these hard-headed people  can clothe themselves in virtue doing profitable things which also stop global warming they surely will.

I am not a scientist let alone a physicist. But I have been managing money for 40 years, and I can see an emerging trend. That is how I make money for my clients and myself. I don’t fully understand the technicals of climate science. But the broad thrust of the argument is (a) crystal-clear and (b) borne out by the data. Equally, the march of renewables is (a) obvious, (b) inevitable and inexorable and (c) driven by a compelling economic logic.