TIME Germany

Germany Now Produces 28.5% of Energy from Renewables

Wind Turbines
Wind turbines stand on June 17, 2014 near Wernitz, Germany. Sean Gallup—Getty Images

The country’s Energiewende energy transition has crossed another milestone

Germany set a new record on green energy in the first half of 2014, by producing 28.5% of its energy entirely from renewable sources, according to a report released Tuesday by the energy trade association BDEW.

The industrial powerhouse of Europe, Germany is undergoing a massive shift in the way it produces energy as it attempts to become a country powered almost entirely by solar, wind, hydro and biomass energy sources. In the first half of 2014, wind generation in Germany increased 21.4% while solar grew by 27.3%.

The state-subsidized transition to renewables, known as Energiewende, has not been without high costs. Energy prices are among the highest in Europe and greenhouse gas emissions have actually increased in the near term as Germany’s post-Fukushima drawdown of nuclear power has led to an increase in the use of coal to make up for lost production.

TIME Environment

Only 1/3 of Americans ‘Willing’ to Change Behavior for Environment

As Michael Grunwald noted in his piece on TIME’s recent energy poll, Americans lag far behind other nations in their willingness to help the environment. Here, only 33% of Americans say they “strongly agree” they would modify their behavior to reduce their carbon footprint, compared to 43% of people from other countries.

Americans Take Less Responsibility For Clean Energy

 

For more stories on the New Energy Reality, click here.

TIME Germany

Poll: Only Germans Think They Are Helping to Fix Global Warming

Germany Debates Its Energy Future
Wind turbines stand behind a solar power park on October 30, 2013 near Werder, Germany. Sean Gallup—Getty Images

Germans have a pretty high opinion of themselves when it comes to environmental stewardship, according to a recent TIME poll, but their pride might be a little premature.

From among six large countries surveyed in a recent TIME poll, only Germany sees itself as more a part of the solution to global warming (60%) than part of the problem (40%). Only in Germany did the majority of poll respondents report that their country has a “mostly” or “somewhat positive” role in combating global warming.

The TIME poll surveyed 3,505 online respondents between May 10 and May 22 from the Germany, the United States, Brazil, Turkey, India and South Korea, with an equal number of respondents in each country. The margin of error in the survey is 1.8%.

Despite their environmentalist pride, Germans are not optimistic about the ability of the world as a whole to change its polluting ways—just 19% of Germans think the planet can reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, compared to 37% of respondents overall.

The Germans’ pride likely stems from Energiewende, or “energy transition,” Germany’s closely-followed effort to ramp up energy production from renewable sources. The country has indeed significantly increased solar and wind power, and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy in April found Germany to be the most energy-efficient major economy on earth. Germany hit a new record around noon on a day in May this year, producing 74% of its electricity needs from renewable sources.

The problem is that, while solar power plants may be super-effective power producers at noon on a sunny day, without scalable energy-storage technologies they aren’t so effective producing power for other times—when it’s dark, for example. Because Energiewende has been accompanied by a rapid move away from nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster Germany has had to make up its energy deficit by increasing its reliance on coal for the first time in years. German CO2 emissions have actually been rising over past three years.

The country is continuing to perfect and expand its renewable energy portfolio and may one day succeed in cutting back again on its coal habit. For the time being though German perceptions aren’t quite in line with the reality.

TIME energy

Obama Approves Sonic Cannons to Map Atlantic for Offshore Oil and Gas

Offshore drilling in the Atlantic is up for debate
The Atlantic offshore territory has been off limits to U.S. oil drilling, but that could change Brasil2 via Getty Images

Over environmental objections, the Obama Administration moves forward with exploration that could yield new domestic oil and gas sources

The Obama administration reopened part of the Eastern seaboard Friday to offshore oil and gas exploration, promising to boost job creation in the energy sector while at the same time fueling the fears of environmental groups.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) estimates that 4.72 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 37.51 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas lies beneath the coast from Florida to Maine. The recent decision allows exploration from Florida to Delaware and could create thousands of new jobs supporting expanded energy infrastructure along the East Coast.

“Offshore energy exploration and production in the Atlantic could bring new jobs and higher revenues to states and local communities, while adding to our country’s capabilities as an energy superpower,” American Petroleum Institute upstream director Erik Milito said in a statement.

Environmentalists worry about damage to shorelines, and to the tourist industry. They also worry about the safety of ocean wildlife. The exploration will initially be conducted via seismic surveys that use sonic cannons to locate oil and gas deposits beneath the ocean floor. The cannons emit sound waves louder than a jet engine every ten seconds for weeks at a time.

“We’re definitely concerned,” Hamilton Davis, energy and climate change director for the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, told TIME. “The exploration activities lead in the direction of actual development of oil and gas, and from our perspective as a coastal organization that worries about our environmental ecological landscape as well as our [tourism] economy, the oil and gas industry certainly doesn’t seem to fit into that equation. Just the impacts from exploration activities on marine wildlife I think would give most people pause… You’re talking about hundreds of thousands of animals that will be negatively impacted as a consequence of these activities.”

BOEM said it approved the seismic surveys with the environment in mind. “After thoroughly reviewing the analysis, coordinating with Federal agencies and considering extensive public input, the bureau has identified a path forward that addresses the need to update the nearly four-decade-old data in the region while protecting marine life and cultural sites,” said Acting BOEM Director Walter D. Cruickshank in a statement.

Sonic cannons are already used in the western Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska, but many constituents and elected officials in the newly opened East Coast territory have expressed their concerns about the testing and eventual drilling. Congressional officials from Florida, including Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, and Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, signed a letter to President Obama opposing the decision.

“Expanding unnecessary drilling offshore simply puts too much at risk. Florida has more coastline than any other state in the continental United States and its beaches and marine resources support the local economy across the state,” the letter states.

The area to be mapped is in federal waters, not under the jurisdiction of state law. Energy companies will apply for drilling leases in 2018, when current congressional limits expire.

 

TIME energy

New Poll Shows Americans Won’t Give Up Their Cars

Stuck in Traffic
Cars stuck in traffic. Maureen Sullivan—Getty Images

Our car-crazy culture lags behind global competitors in using public transportation

Gas prices are high, roads are clogged and driving alone is worse for the planet. But Americans still prefer to commute in their air-conditioned cocoons.

A new global survey conducted for TIME on attitudes toward energy reveals that Americans are more reluctant than international counterparts to ditch their cars for public transportation.

Only 16% of Americans prefer using public transportation to get to work, compared with 41% of respondents overall in the poll, which compared U.S. attitudes toward energy and conservation with those in Brazil, Germany, India, South Korea and Turkey. Just 8% of U.S. respondents said they always take public transit instead of a personal vehicle, sharply below the overall total of 27%.

Americans’ reluctance to ditch their cars may be a symptom of their overall disinclination to take steps to reduce their carbon footprint. One in three U.S. respondents said they were willing to change their behavior in their name of conservation, 10 percentage points below the overall average and ahead of only South Korea.

Or it may stem from our long-running love affair with the automobile. A full 79% of respondents from the U.S. said they rely on their car for transportation, about double the overall average of 39%. (Germans were the second biggest gearheads, with 47% relying on cars to get around.) Just 9% of Americans said they lean most heavily on trains, metro systems or public buses.

The survey was conducted among 3,505 online respondents equally divided between the U.S., Brazil, Germany, Turkey, India and South Korea. Polling was conducted from May 10 to May 22. The overall margin of error overall in the survey is 1.8%.

TIME energy

Poll: Men and Women Think Differently About Energy

Energy Power Lines
Getty Images

A new global survey for TIME shows how attitudes toward conservation may be guided by gender

More women than men worldwide say energy conservation is a “very important” issue, while men report greater personal concern about global warming, according to the results of a new global energy survey conducted for TIME.

The survey polled online respondents in six countries—the U.S., Germany, India, Turkey, Brazil and South Korea—on their attitudes toward energy. It revealed that conservation habits and perspectives about energy challenges differ along gender lines, and not always in the ways you might expect.

Nearly 70% of women said energy conservation was a vital issue, compared with less than 50% of men. At the same, 65% of males reported that global warming was a very important issue to them, far outpacing the 37% of females who said the same.

The survey suggests that women are more leery of nuclear power (by a 48% to 40% margin), slightly more convinced the earth is warming (60% to 56%) and more likely to report high degrees of concern over rising sea levels, pollution and gas prices. By a couple of percentage points, women also took a more favorable stand on the oil-and-gas industry’s role in the issue.

Men, on the other hand, were more likely to say that rich nations should take the lead in the fight to reduce emissions (50% to 46%), and more likely to lay blame for the global warming crisis at the feet of the United States (45% to 38%), which has long held the ignominious title of the world’s largest carbon emitter.

The sexes were also split in their assessment of their home country’s role in the climate crisis. Sixty-three percent of women say their nation is part of the problem, compared with 54% of men. Men were more likely to say their country was part of the solution, by a 46% to 37% margin.

The survey was conducted among 3,505 online respondents equally divided between the U.S., Brazil, Germany, Turkey, India and South Korea. Polling was conducted from May 10 to May 22. The overall margin of error overall in the survey is 1.8%.

TIME energy

6 Simple Ways to Save on Your Energy Bill

Reduce your carbon footprint and keep more money in your pocket

+ READ ARTICLE

Unless you’re the Viking God and Marvel Comic character Thor, with the enviable ability to harness electricity—i.e. lightning—using your magic hammer, odds are you have to buy energy from other sources like power plants and gas stations.

Energy is a major expense for American families—about 22% of all energy consumed in the U.S. goes into running our households and all the modern conveniences we’ve come to rely upon, like our air conditioners, heaters, lights and computers.

Fortunately, there are easy ways to cut back on your energy usage, reducing your carbon footprint on the environment and your energy bill along with it. Here are six areas where cutting back on your energy usage is an easy way to put more money in your pocket.

TIME energy

Electric Cars Will Change the Way You Power Your Home

An electric charging cable is seen connected to the updated Nissan Leaf vehicle during a news conference in Japan, Tokyo, on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012.
An electric charging cable is seen connected to the updated Nissan Leaf vehicle during a news conference in Japan, Tokyo, on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012. Kiyoshi Ota—Bloomberg/Getty Images

How the homes of the future will generate and store their own electricity, turning your house into a mini-power plant

Electric vehicles are our fastest-growing alternative to oil-derived gasoline. Solar panels are our fastest-growing alternative to coal-powered electricity. They’re both getting less expensive and more effective, driving our clean-energy revolution. And there’s new evidence that these two great tastes can taste particularly great together, transforming how we consume and produce power in ways that will accelerate that green revolution.

The evidence comes from Opower, a firm that uses software and behavioral science to help utilities promote energy conservation — and has amassed the world’s largest storehouse of household energy data along the way. Opower studied the power-consumption habits of about 2,000 plug-in electric-vehicle owners enrolled in “time-of-use” pricing programs. That means they got discounted electricity rates from midnight to 7 a.m., when demand is typically low, but paid a surcharge during peak daytime hours, when demand tends to spike.

Grid managers have to balance supply and demand every second, so big gaps between peak and off-peak demand can create big inefficiencies by forcing them to turn power plants on and off to adjust supply. In theory, the combination of electric vehicles (which can be charged anytime) and time-of-use pricing (which encourages charging after midnight) could help reduce those gaps. It could also help prevent electric vehicles (which alleviate the problem of carbon emissions) from exacerbating the problem of overloaded daytime grids. And that’s basically what the data showed — with a twist.

Opower found that EV owners did respond to the incentives to charge during off-peak hours, using three times as much power as the typical household between midnight and 7 a.m. It’s notoriously tough to get consumers to adjust their behavior, even when it’s in their financial interest, so that’s good news. At first glance, the data from the rest of the day looks like bad news: from 7 a.m. until midnight, EV owners still used 21% more power than the typical household. But this was mainly because they’re richer than the typical household; their houses were bigger and more likely to have a swimming pool. They clearly did the bulk of their vehicle charging after midnight when power was cheap.

The most striking data was from EV owners who also had solar panels. From 7 a.m. to midnight, they used about one-fourth as much power from the grid as the typical household, because they were getting power from their rooftops and often selling power back to the grid. In other words, they took very little from the grid when demand was high — at times even helping to increase supply — and took much more from the grid when demand was low. They helped smooth out demand.

That’s very good news, not only because smoothing out demand is a kind of holy grail for utilities, but because EV owners were 6.6 times more likely to have solar panels than the typical household. Nancy Pfund, a venture capitalist who invested early in Tesla Motors, the hottest EV firm, and Solar City, the leading solar installer, calls EVs “the gateway drug to solar.” Once you stop using hydrocarbons to fuel your car, she says, you want to stop using hydrocarbons, period. “Together, they can be a huge tool for managing our energy load,” Pfund says. “And they’re both taking off.”

Before 2009, when President Obama poured $90 billion into clean energy through his stimulus bill, the U.S. had no EV or solar industry to speak of. It now has nearly 250,000 EVs and nearly 500,000 solar rooftops, and both industries are still growing exponentially; Tesla and Solar City, both Elon Musk ventures, have both enjoyed soaring stock prices since going public. EV battery prices are not yet truly competitive with gasoline, although they’ve dropped 50% in five years, but retail solar prices, which have plunged 80%, are now competitive with fossil fuels in half the country. And the more they’re deployed, the cheaper they’ll get.

EVs are still less than 1% of the U.S. auto fleet, and solar still provides less than 1% of U.S. electricity. In terms of reducing emissions, they are still less significant than hybrid vehicles or wind power or energy-efficient appliances. But they are what the Silicon Valley types like to call “disruptive.” When you put a solar panel on your roof, your home becomes a mini-power plant. When you buy an electric vehicle, you suddenly control an automobile-shaped energy-storage device. It won’t be long before homeowners with both can be mini-utilities, buying power from the grid when it’s cheap and selling power to the grid when it’s expensive. Willett Kempton, a University of Delaware professor, has created electric vehicles that communicate and interact with the grid in real time; they earn about $150 per car per month by storing excess power when the grid gets temporarily overloaded.

That would make the economics of EVs more attractive, accelerating the route to mass adoption. “Net metering” will be similarly important for solar, allowing homeowners to sell power to the grid at attractive prices; as the Opower study demonstrated, time-of-use pricing can also help shape electricity demand. All of this will help create a more flexible, less centralized energy system, incorporating more renewable power without sacrificing reliability when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, adapting instantaneously to changes in demand and supply with the help of modern information technology and Opower-style Big Data. Our cars (as well as other smart appliances) will optimize their power needs with our utilities, and we can intervene at any time over our iPhones.

You could imagine a future where solar panels and EVs (perhaps with additional backup storage, like the wall-mounted batteries Solar City and Tesla recently launched) help Americans declare independence from the grid, the way mobile phones have set us free from landlines. More likely, though, the clean-energy revolution will just change our relationship to the grid. Our utilities will be as dependent on us as we are dependent on them. And we’ll have power over our power.

TIME energy

This Is How Americans Feel About Different Energy Sources

Solar power is the most popular form of energy both in the U.S. and abroad, but Americans are more favorable toward less sustainable energy sources like natural gas, coal and oil than people in other countries.

 

energy3

 

Read Michael Grunwald’s analysis of the TIME energy poll here.

(MORE: New Energy Reality)

TIME U.S.

Oil Is The New Gold: Inside North Dakota’s Oil Rush

An oil derrick is seen at a fracking site for extracting oil outside of Williston
An oil derrick is seen at a fracking site for extracting oil outside of Williston, North Dakota March 11, 2013. Shannon Stapleton—Reuters

North Dakota is on the new frontier of a U.S. fuel economy, where more oil is produced domestically than imported.

North Dakota is now producing more than one million barrels of oil a day, part of a modern gold rush that holds both promise and uncertainty for the future of the state.

Oil production statistics released by the state’s Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) revealed that the state produced 1,002,445 barrels per day in April 2014, up from 793,832 the year before. The new statistics mean that North Dakota now joins the ranks of Texas, Alaska, California and Louisiana- the only states to ever generate more than one million barrels per day. (Texas is the only other one still producing that amount.)

North Dakota expects its production to climb: the DMR predicts oil production to peak at 1.5 million barrels per day around 2017.

This tracks a broader, national trend, as well: This year U.S. oil field production outpaced imports by about one million barrels a day.

Sudden turnaround

Just five years ago, North Dakota was producing less than 200,000 barrels a day. Alison Ritter, public information officer for the oil and gas division of the DMR, traces the beginning of the oil boom to the 2006 discovery of the Parshall Oil Field on the Bakken formation, the oil-rich shale rock material under the western part of the state. Using a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking,” workers initially extracted an impressive 463 barrels a day from the discovery well. “It wasn’t the first time this was used [in North Dakota],” Ritter says of the drilling strategy, “But it was the first time it was used well.”

Since then, North Dakota’s economy has exploded. The state now has the fastest growing economy in the U.S. and the lowest unemployment rate: 2.6% compared to a national average of 6.3%, according to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number is well below that in Williston, the town at the heart of the oil rush, which has an unemployment rate of less than 1%.

People eager to cash in on the boom have been flocking to Williston for years; the town’s population has doubled since 2010. Housing prices are skyrocketing, and construction is struggling to keep pace with the population. In the first quarter of 2013, Williston issued nearly $72 million in building permits, more than twice the amount during the same period of 2012.

Incomes in the town match the rising real estate prices- in 2014, Walmart hired entry-level workers in Williston at a staggering $17.40 per hour to compete with the salaries people can fetch on the oil fields.

“In some ways we would have had more trouble with this had the national economy been good when this started,” says Tom Rolfstad, executive director of Williston Economic Development. “We’ve benefitted. Going into this we were worried about where we were going to get workers… but because of the national recession, we have workers coming from everywhere and we have investors coming in from everywhere looking to invest.”

Growing pains

Yet the steady stream of hopeful workers into the small town means that, even with high wages, many are stuck living temporary housing facilities sprouting up in the Bakken oil region while they wait for more permanent housing to be built.

“They’re not as bad as people think,” Rolfstad says of the facilities, often called man camps. “They’re more like a college dormitory. But we realize that this is going to be a long-term proposition, so we’re more about trying to do things permanently than temporarily. We’re really trying to build a city that has quality and not just quantity.”

North Dakota also needs to expand refining facilities to accommodate the flood of oil. The state currently has only one refinery, capable of refining 68,000 barrels a day. Though two more refineries are in the works, for now most of the oil is shipped via railway and pipeline to other refineries south and east of the state.

But with all the excitement of new growth comes downsides, as well. Williston schools are overcrowded and emergency services are strained. Meanwhile, the character of the town and the state are changing. “When you go to a restaurant now, you might wait in line to get in and wait in line again to pay,” says Rolfstad. “These are big city things we’ve never experienced before.”

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