Chicago Goes Green
Atmospheric CO2 has hit more than 400 parts per million (ppm), the highest peak in 800,000 years, which has caused global surface temperatures to rise about one degree Celsius (33.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880. 15 of the 16 warmest years in recorded history have occurred since 2001, and 2014, 2015, and 2016 have each taken the title of warmest year on record. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has acknowledged that climate change constitutes a serious problem for the U.S. government and merits a “whole-of-government response.”
Chicago is heeding that message, providing that response at the municipal level. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, leading a coalition of Chicago municipal agencies, announced on April 9 that the city has committed to transitioning all city buildings to 100 percent renewable energy use by 2025. Once this transition is completed, Chicago will be America’s largest city to supply its public buildings with 100 percent renewable energy.
In 2016, the city, Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the Park District, Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), and Chicago City Colleges (CCC) together used almost 1.8 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity — about eight percent of the city’s total electricity use. This amount of energy would take 300 wind turbines one year to generate and could alone power around 295,000 Chicago homes. The city plans to meet their ambitious commitment through a combined strategy of on-site generation, utility-supplied renewable energy via Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard, and acquiring renewable energy credits.
Cleaner Cities, Cleaner World
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution in many large cities around the world is well above guidelines, with almost 90% of people in urban centers breathing air that exceeds dangerous levels. In fact, around half of global urban populations endure pollution at least 2.5 times higher than what the WHO recommends.
Chicago and its agencies are working to ensure that its citizens are not among those statistics. In 2013, the city eliminated coal energy completely. CPS, CCC, and the Park District have been using solar arrays and other renewable energy sources since 2009 and they continue to expand their use of renewables. In addition, despite a 12% growth in jobs and a 25,000 person population increase between 2010 and 2015, the city managed to reduce its carbon emissions by seven percent.
One week before this announcement, Mayor Emanuel announced that the city’s Smart Lighting Project, which will replace outdated lighting fixtures with an energy-efficient management grid, will begin on the south and west sides of the city this summer. And, earlier this week, the city of Chicago was awarded a 2017 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Award by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its protection of the environment through outstanding contributions to energy efficiency.
“By committing the energy used to power our public buildings to wind and solar energy, we are sending a clear signal that we remain committed to building a 21st century economy here in Chicago,” Mayor Emanuel said in a press release.
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War has long gone high tech. While we may not yet have artificially intelligent robot soldiers, plenty of innovations have made our soldiers more reliant on electricity. Modern forces are in need of reliable sources of this power to successfully complete their missions around the world. The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Advanced Power Technology Office (APTO) is working on solutions to meet that need.
Working with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, they hope to create “a totally deployable, self-sustaining power system.” They are making significant progress with a mobile renewable power station. The station is housed in a 10-foot long trailer and relies on a combination of batteries and solar panels. “We are taking what we learned and applying it to a rapidly deployable system,” says Air Force 1st Lt. Jason Goins, a project engineer. “We are looking at something that will be set up and deployed in an hour. If you can power a shelter in 30 minutes with affordable solar and wind, that’s spectacular.”
Air Force photo by Donna Lindner
The system is known as a microgrid. According to the APTO’s description, “Monocrystalline silicon solar panels are placed on top of each tent for energy production. A trailer, at center, holds the hardware, software, and lithium ion batteries that form the smart grid and provide energy backup should the grid fail.”
Having such technology in the presence of military operations provides some unique obstacles that your average solar farm may not have to consider. For this reason, the APTO is also working on making the solar panels bulletproof.
Renewable sources of power allow for a lot more than just a cleaner Earth: fossil fuel power generation simply can’t produce the kind of power possible with this type of technology. Diesel generators require constant refueling, which would be a serious physical burden on any mission.
The APTO plans to continue testing the tech and work with the Army to provide the best energy solutions for the U.S. military.
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Value: Past Versus Future
On Twitter today, Elon Musk responded to critics who were skeptical of Tesla’s hot streak in the stock market. The Wall Street Journal tweet that began the debate noted that Tesla passed up Ford by market cap. Christopher Mims, a tech columnist at the WSJ, took this opportunity to comment:
Tesla: delivered 76,000 cars last year, deeply in debt
Ford: 20x more revenue, billions in profits on millions of cars each year
and yet: https://t.co/QUDCgQy3MU
— Christopher Mims (@mims) April 3, 2017
Walt Mossberg, executive editor for The Verge, responded to Mims with a tweet of his own:
— Walt Mossberg (@waltmossberg) April 3, 2017
Twitter user ForIn2020 then responded to both critics, eliciting agreement from Musk himself:
— ForIn2020 (@ForIn2020) April 3, 2017
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 3, 2017
Betting on the Future
The Twitter debate brings up two important points. The first is exactly what Musk noted. In a free market, value isn’t focused on the past. To do so would not only limit innovation, it would be foolhardy.
Value is based on what investors can see happening in the future. Past performance plays a part in that, but so do many other factors. It’s one of the reasons the stock market is risky. Not only can you not control what other investors will do, you also can never be sure what anything will actually end up being worth when you make an investment.
The second point is this: Ford is just a car company. Tesla is a technology and energy innovation company that creates solar roofs, electric cars, power storage solutions, and other breakthroughs. The company even changed its name from Tesla Motors Inc. to simply Tesla Inc. earlier this year to make this distinction clear.
That focus on widespread energy innovation is why Tesla is poised to reach its ambitious target goal of delivering 47,000 to 50,000 vehicles in the first half of 2017 and why the Powerwall is going to come standard in all new Arden homes in Australia. The Tesla “one stop shop” model for sustainable energy is only going to become more relevant as non-renewable sources of energy get more expensive and eventually completely fall out of favor.
It’s easy to understand why investors see a high earnings future for Tesla. Failing to see that the company is going to continue to shape the future is perhaps short-sighted. Failing to understand how the market values companies is a bit more mystifying. Either way, Tesla and its investors are going to be laughing all the way to the bank — whatever form “the bank” takes a few decades from now.
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Keeping It Up
Tesla has proven yet again that its share of the electric car market is no joke. According to the company’s earnings report for the first quarter (Q1) of 2017, it delivered approximately 13,450 Model S sedans and around 11,550 Model X sport utility vehicles. That total of more than 25,000 deliveries to date brings Tesla closer to hitting its goal of delivering 47,000 to 50,000 vehicles in the first half of 2017.
Tesla noted that these numbers could vary by up to 5 percent as they “only count a car as delivered if it is transferred to the customer and all paperwork is correct.” By the end of Q1, some 4,650 more vehicles were in transit to customers. Those will be counted under Q2 deliveries.
According to NASDAQ, this is the highest Q1 on record for Tesla, and it’s about a 69 percent increase over the same period in 2016. In terms of first-quarter production, Tesla built about 25,418 vehicles, which is another quarterly record for the company.
These numbers are good for Tesla, and the company expects to grow even more substantially as its lower-priced Model 3 draws closer to release. For now, its two existing vehicle models are doing fairly well in the market, and they may indeed help CEO Elon Musk hit his goals of delivering 200,000 cars by the end of 2017 and 500,000 by the end of 2018. For the latter target, the Model 3’s 200,000 pre-orders should make a significant contribution.
An Industry Leader
Building Tesla was no easy task for Musk, who was often met with skepticism over his famously optimistic goals. Over the years, he has repeatedly proven critics wrong, while simultaneously surprising Tesla enthusiasts. Though originally created as a vehicle manufacturer, Tesla has since grown into something greater — it’s become a renewable energy powerhouse.
“Tesla is not just an automotive company; it’s an energy innovation company,” according to its website. “Tesla Energy is a critical step in this mission to enable zero emission power generation.”
To that end, Tesla has built an ecosystem of energy products that include not just vehicles but also a home-battery system, the Powerwall, and a commercial energy storage system, the Powerpack. The company is also transforming energy on a utility-wide scale with an advanced microgrid model that combines its batteries with solar energy. That system has been tested to power an entire island.
Tesla is currently gearing up to roll out its solar roof shingles, a product of the company’s acquisition of SolarCity late in 2016. “We would be the world’s only vertically integrated energy company offering end-to-end clean energy products to our customers,” Musk said during the SolarCity acquisition offer announcement, and now they are.
Indeed, Tesla is no longer just a car maker. It’s become a leader in the renewable energy industry, working to putting an end to the use of fossil fuels, one car, roof, or battery at a time.
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Setting And Breaking Records
The California Independent System Operator (ISO) tweeted on March 23 that it hit an all-time peak percentage of demand served by renewable sources of energy at 56.7 percent that day at 11:25 am. About 60 percent of that renewable energy was provided by solar energy sources, which is especially impressive given that it was still only spring. Of course, this isn’t really that surprising to anyone who’s paying attention in California, because renewable energy has been setting and breaking records repeatedly lately in that state.
— California ISO (@California_ISO) March 23, 2017
In February California broke its record for percentage of peak power demand served by solar energy sources when almost 8,800 megawatts of solar power fueled the grid in a day. That record lasted less than a week — in wintertime, no less — as over 9,000 megawatts were generated in a single day. That record, too, was shattered almost immediately.
As solar costs continue to drop and wind remains among the least costly sources of energy available, California appears to be on track for making its 50 percent clean energy target by 2030 with ease. Getting to 100 percent is going to take some intervention, however, because the state is generating more power than it needs during daylight hours and not enough during peak hours after the sun goes down. And some California legislators have started to push for just that.
Legislating Green Solutions
A new bill is making its way through the state legislature that would require California’s utility companies to source at least 40 percent of their peak demand energy from clean sources by the end of 2027. This would essentially force the use of industrial batteries, pushing utilities and industry to work together to develop storage systems for solar power. The bill would also promote energy conservation and efficiency programs that reduce consumption of energy during peak times.
In a sense, the bill reflects California’s progress in its fight to limit Greenhouse Gas emissions. The state’s goals include reducing emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and then 80 percent by 2050. Achieving these goals will mean not just more renewables, but making better use of the renewables that are there, and running the grid without backup from fossil fuels.
Critics of the bill argue that the government should set the goals and then let the market work out how best to meet them. If fighting climate change is the goal, critics reason, then the government should mandate either increased use of renewables, reductions in emissions, or both, and then step aside to allow market-sourced solutions. They believe that energy storage wouldn’t be the market’s response, because it is relatively costly and indirect in terms of the end goal of fighting climate change.
However, although batteries are currently too costly for adoption on a larger scale, their proponents respond that incentivizing new technologies is a strategy that has historically succeeded in California, and that there is no requirement that implementation of batteries be completely in the black the moment the legislation goes online.
It remains to be seen which solutions will work best for California in the relatively short time frame that remains before the deadlines it has set for itself. There’s no doubt that the state has targeted aggressive goals, and while Californians are differing in the details of how to meet them, they appear united in the push to achieve them.
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A tree-shaped wind turbine would look right at home in your backyard.
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