Renewable Energy Policy can Save the EU

Originally published at JohnBrianShannon.com by John Brian Shannon

An accelerated switch to renewable energy is the path to EU jobs and prosperity

Europe is on shaky ground. There is even talk in some quarters that the euro, and consequently the EU, may not last a year.

Critics of the European Union are predicting that continued austerity measures, the elections in Greece, petroleum price instability, and Russian moves in Ukraine will conspire to topple the European Union.

Of course, this is a subject of ongoing debate. EU backers say that the present economic morass will end and that the UK and other European nations will join as full European Union members in the coming months, resulting in a unified and complementary union ready to take on the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

Success Stories Throughout History

Throughout history, various leaders have ‘risen to the occasion’ to provide visionary leadership — seemingly ‘rising out of nowhere’ to inspire great love among the public for a cause, and on account of their great vision and leadership impossible feats occurred on their watch due to the combined willpower of millions of thereby-inspired people.

People are individuals, and no matter how many individuals there are in a country or in a larger economic union like the EU, at the end of the day every one of them are individuals living inside a larger society. Therefore, leaders must appeal to those things important to their citizens.

In Life; All a person really needs, is a person (or something) to love. If you can’t give them that, give them hope. If you can’t give them that, at least give them something to do.

Leaders who can inspire love for the country through their vision and charisma, have the effect of giving each individual in the country something to love. Or at the very least, give them hope.

Where would the United States have been without FDR?

The New Deal was a series of domestic programs enacted in the United States mainly between 1933 and 1938. They included laws passed by Congress as well as presidential executive orders during the first term (1933–37) of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The programs were in response to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call the “3 Rs”: Relief, Recovery, and Reform.

That is Relief for the unemployed and poor; Recovery of the economy to normal levels; and Reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression. — Wikipedia

The success of the New Deal is beyond dispute. Without it, the United States would not be half the country that it is today.

Where would Great Britain have been without Winston S. Churchill?

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was a British politician who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the 20th century, Churchill was also an officer in the British Army, a historian, a writer (as Winston S. Churchill), and an artist. Churchill is the only British Prime Minister to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature since its inception in 1901, and was the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the United States. — Wikipedia

In between lecturing Hitler and Mussolini via his weekly radio broadcast, Winston Churchill painted a realistic picture of Great Britain for his citizens, and painted another realistic picture for them what life would be like under occupation.

Rather than be cowed by a more powerful aggressor, Churchill inspired his people to valour and sacrifice. And they responded powerfully.

What would our 21st century world have become had Mohandas K. Gandhi not perfected the art of non-violent protest?

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was the preeminent leader of Indian independence movement in British-ruled India. Employing nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. Indians widely describe Gandhi as the father of the nation.

Gandhi famously led Indians in challenging the British-imposed salt tax with the 400 km (250 mi) Dandi Salt March in 1930, and later in calling for the British to Quit India in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years, upon many occasions, in both South Africa and India.

Gandhi attempted to practice nonviolence and truth in all situations, and advocated that others do the same. Gandhi’s vision of a free India was based on religious pluralism.

His birthday, 2 October, is commemorated as a national holiday, and world-wide as the International Day of Nonviolence. — Wikipedia

Imagine if every protest movement since 1947 hadn’t been influenced by Gandhi. Almost certainly, the anti-Viet Nam protests and the civil rights movement in 1960’s America would have led to civil war.

Due to Gandhi’s example, individuals who were part of the anti-war movement or the civil rights movement protested — peacefully for the most part — and to great effect.

John F. Kennedy’s decision to not be cowed by the USSR’s Nikita Khrushchev, led eventually, to the end of the Soviet Union

Had JFK not stood up to Soviet adventurism in Cuba and South America, the geopolitical world would have evolved very differently The USSR would have, in short order, controlled the Western democracies completely.

By utilizing the economic advantage, by ordering a Moon shot, and by not backing down against the communists in Viet Nam, JFK neatly avoided playing the Soviet gameplan — and instead played a gameplan that favoured the strengths of the democratic West.

All of these visionaries gave citizens reason to — love their country, to hope for a better future, to employ their good will and energies — towards solving the almost unsolvable problems of their time. (Love, Hope, Do)

Without that overarching vision promised by their political leaders, without that hope in their hearts, and without some means to express their goodwill and energy, citizens wouldn’t have united in large numbers to solve the near-insurmountable challenges of their time.

Now is the time for visionary EU renewable energy leadership

The case for the EU to adopt a ‘50% renewable energy by 2020’ portfolio and make it an ‘air quality and jobs mission’ for citizens and governments alike:

The vast majority of Europeans want a renewable energy future.

They know that the technological hurdles have been overcome, they know that many Pacific Ocean island nation-states and Indian Ocean islands now run on 100% renewable energy, they know that Norway is powered by 100% renewable energy and that Iceland has surpassed 76% renewable energy use.

They know that Sweden gets 51% of its energy from renewable energy, and that Latvia, Finland, Austria, and Denmark aren’t far behind. They see Estonia, Portugal, and Romania getting more than 25% of their electricity from renewable energy and they see Germany’s Energiewende setting stellar records for renewable energy output every month.

Other nations in Europe have surprisingly advanced renewable energy programs and some EU nations will surpass their renewable energy target before 2020.

Renewable Energy provides massive employment opportunities

And it is becoming apparent that when compared to the fossil fuel industry, the renewable energy industry provides thousands more jobs per million people. Always handy that, a job to go to.

Energy Price Parity and Subsidy Regimes

Not only has some renewable energy approached price parity with conventional energy, in some cases it has surpassed it. Especially when the massive global fossil fuel subsidies that topped $600 billion in 2014 ($550 billion in 2013) are factored in.

Meanwhile, global renewable energy subsidies barely hit $100 billion in 2014, the majority share of it spent in China.

Worried about fossil fuel subsidies? That’s nothing compared to fossil fuel externalities

Fossil fuel subsidies of $600 billion (globally) are one thing. But it now appears that the economic totality of fossil fuel cost to healthcare systems, to livestock health, the agriculture sector, the global climate, regional climate (local drought or flooding) and damage to outdoor concrete and metal structures may now exceed $2 trillion dollars per year.

China reports 410,000 premature deaths per year are due to air pollution. The U.S. admits to 200,000 premature deaths by air pollution and as many as 400,000 premature deaths per year occur in Europe due to our overuse of fossil fuels.

If you add the global rising fossil fuel subsidies of $600 billion to the global externality cost of fossil fuels, it equals approximately $2.6 trillion (globally).

How much renewable energy can we get for $2.6 trillion dollars, please?

It’s not that fossil fuels are intrinsically bad, or evil. It’s not that the people who run those companies are bad, or evil. It’s not the shareholder’s fault either.

It’s just that too many of us are using fossil fuel.

And nobody is forcing us to buy it. If there are reasonable alternatives to fossil fuel overuse, then citizens are making a conscious decision to pollute the air, rather than choose those alternative forms of energy.

But if no alternative exists for citizens to purchase (and yet consumer demand is there) that is primarily the fault of policymakers.

The solution to the fossil fuel subsidy and externality problem in the EU? Renewable energy

With the right vision and the right leadership, getting the EU to a 50% renewable energy minimum standard by 2020 is eminently possible.

There are no technological hurdles that haven’t been solved.

There simply exists no public outcry against renewable energy power plants.

Grid parity (with low subsidy) is now the norm — even against massively subsidized fossil fuel and nuclear power.

And several countries around the world already run on 100% renewable energy. One of them is in Europe. (Norway) So it can be done.

It’s not about; How much will switching to renewable energy cost us?

It’s now about; How much will renewable energy save us?

Each one euro spent on renewable energy installations (actual installations, not more endless research) could save two euros of fossil fuel subsidy and three euros of fossil fuel externality cost — although there is a time lag involved before healthcare systems, ranchers, farmers, and owners of infrastructure see declining costs.

Following the 1/2/3 fossil fuel subsidy and externality equation, we see that if the EU suddenly installed 10 billion euros worth of wind turbines and solar panels (displacing the equivalent amount of fossil electrical generation) the EU would save 20 billion euros of subsidy, and would over 25 years, save 30 billion euros in heathcare costs, costs to livestock health and agriculture, and outdoor concrete and metal infrastructure repair costs.

Spending 10 billion to save 50 billion — for a net save of 40 billion euros over 25 years. Not bad.

Spending 100 billion euros to save 500 billion — for a net save of 400 billion over 25 years, that works too.

So, denizens of Europe, how much fossil fuel electrical power production would you like to replace with renewable energy?

The EU should move to a 50% renewable energy portfolio by 2020 and make it a priority ‘mission’ for citizens and governments alike. An energy ‘New Deal’ for EU citizens

In order to plan for a clean EU energy future, we need to look at where the European Union is today and make a responsible plan, one that displaces fossil fuel electrical power production without placing undue economic hardship on existing electrical power producers.

A ‘can-do’ attitude that doesn’t ignore the many positives associated with an EU-wide 50% renewable energy standard will be required to meet the challenge

Present EU renewable energy targets by 2020 could easily be ramped-up across-the-board to 50%. NOTE: Sweden is already there, with Latvia, Finland and Austria not far behind.
EU 2020 renewable energy targets could easily be ramped-up across-the-board to 50% renewable energy usage. NOTE: Iceland and Sweden have surpassed the 50% renewable energy threshold, with Latvia, Finland, Austria and Denmark not far behind.

The best candidate for an EU-financed switch to renewable energy?

Malta is presently striving to meet its target of 10% of energy demand from renewable sources by 2020. However, Malta could easily convert to 100% renewable energy in as little as 24 months.

Malta is a tiny island nation and other tiny island nations have successfully transitioned to 100% renewable energy — and it took them only a few short months to accomplish that goal.

Malta’s electrical grid produces 571 MW at peak load and uses expensive imported fossil fuels.

Replacing Malta’s fossil fueled electrical grid with a combination of offshore / onshore wind turbines and solar panels is well within our present-day technical capabilities and would save the Malta government millions of dollars per year in fuel and healthcare costs.

A low-interest loan from the EU to cover the capital cost of wind and solar power plants and some basic technical support is what Malta needs. Nothing more complicated than that.

How would replacing Malta’s present electrical power generation with 100% renewable energy benefit the EU and the residents of Malta alike?

It’s a given that all of the wind turbines and solar panels / inverters, etc. would be sourced from the EU. In fact, European sourcing could be a requirement of obtaining the EU financing for the project.

All of the engineering, manufacturing and installation / grid connection would be performed by EU workers.

Malta’s residents and visitors would thereafter enjoy clean air, lower healthcare costs, better quality of life, and could say goodbye to toxic and expensive, imported oil.

From 10% to 100% renewable energy within 24 months — now that would demonstrate political and environmental leadership!

Granted, Malta has the smallest electrical grid in the EU. But it’s a place to start, a place to set a baseline for the learning curve to 100% renewable energy on a per country basis, and a place to test out the actual economic inputs vs. outputs, with minimal investment.

By starting with island nations and converting them to 100% renewable energy, solid standalone renewable energy power generation experience is gained, and once completed, can serve as models for standalone systems on the continent.

To get to 50% renewable energy in other EU states requires similar measures but on a larger scale than Malta. (Low interest loans from the EU, requirement to source all equipment, materials, and labour from EU nations, and some amount of renewable energy expertise)

Some European Union nations wouldn’t need all that much investment to make the step up from their planned 2020 targets. Some will already have attained at least 30% renewable energy, assuming they hit their planned targets. Other nations have small populations, and therefore, wouldn’t need all that much capital to hit the 100% mark, let alone a 50% renewable target by 2020.

The Next Step for the EU

During the darkest days of recession in early 1980’s America, newly-elected President Ronald Reagan didn’t appear and suddenly solve America’s economic problems.

He told Americans (very convincingly) that they had it in their power to solve their own economic problems and arranged some temporary loans to Chrysler and other companies — and cheered by his vision and leadership, they responded powerfully — ending America’s recession.

Someone in the EU needs to step up now, leading the charge to improve EU air quality, to lower the rate of illness and premature deaths due to air pollution, to lower the damage to livestock and agriculture, and to concrete and metal infrastructure — thereby creating tens of thousands of well-paying jobs — by insisting on a minimum of 50% renewable energy standard by 2020 for all EU nations.

And that great, overarching vision in itself, will be the thing that EU residents will love, hope for, and willingly agree to do, for the next five years. Neatly ending the EU’s present recession.

Let’s roll up our sleeves, people. We’ve got work to do.

Related Article:

Air Pollution Cost Approaches $1 trillion in the West

by John Brian Shannon
(Originally published at JBSnews.com)

Air pollution has a very real cost to our civilization via increased healthcare costs, premature deaths, lowered productivity, environmental degradation with resultant lowered crop yields, increased water consumption and higher taxation.

However, air pollution is only one cost associated with fossil fuel use.

There are three main costs associated with energy

  1. The retail price that you pay at the gas pump or on your utility bill for example
    (which is paid by consumers)
  2. The subsidy cost that governments pay energy producers and utility companies
    (which is ultimately paid by taxpayers)
  3. The externality cost of each type of energy
    (which is paid by taxpayers, by increased prices for consumers, and the impact on, or the ‘cost to’ the environment)

Externality cost in Europe and the U.S.A.

A recent report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) states that high air pollution levels (one type of externality) in the EU cost society €189 billion every year and it’s a number that increases every year. (That’s $235 billion when converted to U.S. dollars)

To put that number in some kind of context, the cost of the air pollution externality in the EU annually, is equal to the GDP of Finland.

Let’s state that even more clearly. The amount of taxation paid by EU taxpayers every year to pay for airborne fossil fuel damage is equal to Finland’s entire annual economic output!

It’s getting worse, not better, notwithstanding recent renewable energy programs and incentives. Even the admirable German Energiewende program is barely making an impact when we look at the overall EU air quality index.

“Of the 30 biggest facilities it identified as causing the most damage, 26 were power plants, mainly fueled by coal in Germany and eastern Europe.” — Barbara Lewis (Reuters)

That’s just Europe. It’s even worse in the U.S., according to a landmark Harvard University report which says coal-fired power generation (externality cost alone) costs the U.S. taxpayer over $500 billion/yr.

“Each stage in the life cycle of coal—extraction, transport, processing, and combustion—generates a waste stream and carries multiple hazards for health and the environment. These costs are external to the coal industry and thus are often considered as “externalities.”

We estimate that the life cycle effects of coal and the waste stream generated are costing the U.S. public a third to over one-half of a trillion dollars annually.

Many of these so-called externalities are, moreover, cumulative.

Accounting for the damages conservatively doubles to triples the price of electricity from coal per kWh generated, making wind, solar, and other forms of non fossil fuel power generation, along with investments in efficiency and electricity conservation methods, economically competitive.

We focus on Appalachia, though coal is mined in other regions of the United States and is burned throughout the world.” — Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal by Dr. Paul Epstein, the Director of Harvard Medical School Center for Health and the Global Environment, and eleven other co-authors

The report also notes that electricity costs would need to rise by another .09 to .27 cents per kilowatt hour in the U.S. to cover the externality cost of American coal-fired electricity production.

The externality cost for solar or wind power plants is zero, just for the record

Dr. Epstein and his team notes: “Coal burning produces one and a half times the CO2 emissions of oil combustion and twice that from burning natural gas (for an equal amount of energy produced).”

There’s the argument to switch from coal to natural gas right there

Also in the Harvard report in regards to the intrinsic inefficiency of coal: “Energy specialist Amory Lovins estimates that after mining, processing, transporting and burning coal, and transmitting the electricity, only about 3% of the energy in the coal is used in incandescent light bulbs.”

“…In the United States in 2005, coal produced 50% of the nation’s electricity but 81% of the CO2 emissions.

For 2030, coal is projected to produce 53% of U.S. power and 85% of the U.S. CO2 emissions from electricity generation.

None of these figures includes the additional life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from coal, including methane from coal mines, emissions from coal transport, other GHG emissions (e.g., particulates or black carbon), and carbon and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from land transformation in the case of MTR coal mining.” — Harvard University’s Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal report

It’s not like this information is secret. All European, American, and Asian policymakers now know about the externality costs of coal vs. renewable energy. It’s just that until recently everyone thought that the cost of switching to renewable energy, was higher than the cost of fossil externalities.

It’s not only an economic problem, it’s also a health problem

“Air pollution impacts human health, resulting in extra healthcare costs, lost productivity, and fewer work days. Other impacts are reduced crop yields and building damage.

Particulate matter and ground-level ozone are two of the main pollutants that come from coal.

90% or more of Europeans living in cities are exposed to harmful air pollution. Bulgaria and Poland have some of the worst pollution of the European countries.

An estimated 400,000 premature deaths in European cities were linked to air pollution in 2011.” — CleanTechnica

Externality cost in China

Remember the Beijing Olympics where the city’s industry and commercial business were shut down to allow visitors and athletes to breathe clean air during their stay (and Wow!) look at their clear blue sky for the first time in decades. Great for tourists! Bad for Beijing business and industry, with the exception of the tourism industry (for one month) of course.

The Common Language Project reported in 2008 that premature deaths in China resulting from fossil fuel air pollution were surpassing 400,000 per year.

“China faces a number of serious environmental issues caused by overpopulation and rapid industrial growth. Water pollution and a resulting shortage of drinking water is one such issue, as is air pollution caused by an over-reliance on coal as fuel. It has been estimated that 410,000 Chinese die as a result of pollution each year.” clpmag.org

The die is cast since it is becoming common knowledge that renewable energy merely requires a small subsidy to assist with power plant construction and grid harmonization — while fossil fuels continue to require truly massive and ongoing subsidies to continue operations.

Subsidy cost of fossil fuels

Already there is talk of ending fossil fuel producer subsidies, which in 2014 will top $600 billion worldwide

Want to add up the total costs (direct economic subsidy and externality cost subsidy) of fossil fuels?

Add the $600 billion global fossil fuel subsidy to the to the $2 trillion dollars of global externality cost and you arrive at (approx) $2.5 trillion dollars per year. Then there is the more than 1 million premature deaths globally caused by air pollution. All of that is subsidized by the world’s taxpayers.

Compare that to the total costs of renewable energy. Well, for starters, the economic subsidy dollar amount for renewable energy is much less (about $100 billion per year globally) and there are no externality costs.

No deaths. No illness. No direct or related productivity loss due to a host of fossil fuel related issues (oil spills, coal car derailment, river contamination, explosions in pipelines or factories) for just a very few examples.

The fossil fuel industry is a very mature industry, it has found ways to do more with ever-fewer employees, and it gets more subsidy dollars than any other economic segment on the planet.

By comparison, the renewable energy industry is a new segment, one that requires many thousands of workers and it gets only relative handfuls of subsidy dollars. And, no externalities.

It becomes clearer every day that high carbon fossil electricity power production must be displaced by renewable energy

No longer is it some arcane moral argument that we should switch to renewables for the good of the Earth; Fossil fuel is proving to be a major factor in human illness/premature deaths, it sends our money abroad to purchase energy instead of keeping our money in our own countries, and the wholly-taxpayer-funded subsidy cost of fossil is out of control and getting worse with each passing year.

The time for dithering is past. It’s time to make the switch to renewable energy, and to start, we need to remove the worst polluting power plants from the grid (and at the very least, replace them with natural gas powered plants) or even better, replace them with hybrid wind and solar power plants.

To accomplish this, governments need to begin diverting some of the tens of billions of dollars annually paid to the fossil fuel industry to the renewable energy industry.

Germany’s Energiewende program was (and still is) an admirable first step. Once Germany has completed it’s energy transition away from oil, coal and nuclear — having replaced all of that generation capacity with renewable energy and natural gas, only then can it be hailed a complete success — and German leaders should go down in history as being instrumental in changing the world’s 21st century energy paradigm.

Dank an unsere deutschen Freunde! (With thanks to our German friends!)

If only every nation would sign-on to matching or exceeding the ongoing German example, we wouldn’t have 1 million premature deaths globally due to fossil fuel burning, we wouldn’t have almost 2 trillion dollars of externality cost, we wouldn’t need $600 billion dollars of direct subsidies for fossil fuel producers — and we would all live in a healthier environment, and our plant, animal, and aquatic life would return to their normally thriving state.

Taxes would reflect the global $2.5 trillion drop in combined fossil fuel subsidy and fossil fuel externality costs, employment stats would improve, productivity would increase, the tourism industry would receive a boost, and enjoyment of life for individuals would rebound.

It’s a truism in the energy industry that all energy is subsidized, of that there is no doubt. Even renewable energy receives tiny amounts of subsidy, relative to fossil.

But it is now apparent that over the past 100 years, getting ‘the best (energy) bang for the buck’ has been our nemesis. The energy world that we once knew, is about to change.

The world didn’t come to an end when air travel began to replace rail travel in the 1950’s. Now almost everyone travels by air, and only few travel by train.

And what about the railway investors didn’t they lose their money when the age of rail tapered-off? No, they simply moved their money to the new transportation mode and made as much or more money in the airline business.

Likewise, the world will not come to an end now that renewable energy is beginning to displace coal and oil. Investors will simply reallocate their money and make as much or more money in renewable energy.

Can Switzerland export its amazing success story?

byJohn Brian Shannon (This article first appeared at JohnBrianShannon.com)

Subalpine lake in Switzerland
Sub-alpine lake in Switzerland

Let’s look at Switzerland today, a tiny nation of 8 million people. Historically a neutral country, Switzerland isn’t a member of the EU, nor of NATO, but it is a member of the EU’s common security and defence policy (CSDP) and it became a member of the UN on September 10, 2002.

Some other notable facts about Switzerland are that it is ruled by direct democracy where citizens can block any law or get a new proposal heard and voted on with only 50,000 signatures, and the country has proximity to the largest market in the world, the European Union.

It is also one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Switzerland makes the best of its opportunities

Switzerland ranks in the top 5 places to live in the world, personal income ranks in the top 5 in the world, it ranks in the top 5 education systems and in the top 5 health care systems in the world. In many other measures Switzerland ranks among the top 10 globally.

How did little Switzerland with only 8 million people, few resources, and buried under a blanket of cold and snow for 6 months of the year, manage all of that and so much more?

As is often the case, the answer is good management!

  • With less than 2% of the world’s population Switzerland has attained 19th place (nominal GDP) and 36th place (PPP) out of 191 countries
  • It boasts one of the highest per capita incomes in the world at $137,094 median (PPP)
  • The country has the highest average wealth per adult in the world, at $540,000 (PPP)
  • Switzerland has low unemployment rates at 3.2% (2014 and 2013) and 2.9% (2012)
  • The Federal government not only runs a balanced budget, it often runs a tidy budget surplus
  • The public debt-to-GDP is a low 46.7% (2012)
  • Inflation ranged between .7% and .2% over the last 5 years
  • It is one of the world’s most stable economies
  • Noted as one of the most politically stable nations in the world
  • All the major credit rating agencies give Switzerland a AAA credit rating
  • Switzerland is the world’s 20th largest exporter at $308.3 billion dollars (CIA Factbook)
  • The Global Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum ranks Switzerland’s economy as the world’s most competitive
Labour productivity Europe 2012
Productivity in Europe 2012

Image by Monsieur Fou (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

What time is it? It’s always Swiss Time.

Rolex.com
Rolex.com The world’s finest Swiss timepieces

Historically covered by a thick blanket of snow for six or more months of the year, the Swiss had plenty of time on their hands. So they decided long ago to make some ultra-high quality clocks to mark time until the return of spring.

The Swiss clock and wristwatch industry exported $20 billion dollars worth of timepieces in 2011, making the Swiss #1 exporters of timepieces in the world. Exports of watches and clocks from Switzerland have been ticking upwards, some years showing a 14% increase compared to the previous year.

If you’d like to buy a piece of art that also displays time, you’ll recall these Swiss brand names; Rolex, TAG-Heuer, Hublot, Zenith, Swatch and International.

Switzerland, where the world’s banks do their banking

Owing to long-standing Swiss neutrality and the careful management of Swiss national sovereignty, a stable environment for the banking sector evolved which was observed by many foreign nations and their central banks, hence most of the worlds central banks maintain offices and conduct business there.

The financial sector in Switzerland contributes approximately 12% of Switzerland’s GDP and employs 200,000 people. It is known internationally as the world’s banking capital and all banks cooperate with the Bank of International Settlements, based in Basel, Switzerland. The country’s banks processed a grand total of 5.4 trillion Swiss francs in 2009.

On top of that, foreign banks operating in the country manage almost another 1 trillion Swiss francs worth of assets per year.

Nothing but fresh air in all directions

Switzerland is #1 (2014) and #2 (2013) in the world when it comes to creating a progressively cleaner environment. And not only visionary policy, but tangible results too! As the Swiss work to cut total energy consumption levels in half by 2050, they are using cleaner fuels, more renewable energy, and in 2011 decided to begin the process of decommissioning all of their nuclear and coal power plants, a process which will be completed by 2045. (OECD Swiss environmental link here)

Lucerne, Switzerland

Lucerne and Lucerne Lake, Switzerland. Image by Clare66 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Simple, but effective changes have showed promising results. The large amount of household waste set out for curbside collection was tackled via pre-paid stickers that must be placed on each bag to be picked up at the curb. This has dramatically reduced the amount of waste that must be processed.

A large number of complementary projects are underway in the country, which range from sustainable forestry practices (forests cover 31% of the country), to even more world-class transit systems (the spectacular views are complimentary), to the 2,000-Watt Society which aims to lower carbon footprints by cutting total energy consumption levels in half by 2050.

The 2000-watt society (2,000-Watt Society) is an environmental vision, first introduced in 1998 by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, which pictures the average First World citizen reducing their overall average continuous energy usage to no more than 2,000 watts (48 kilowatt-hours per day) by the year 2050 – without lowering their standard of living.

The concept addresses not only personal or household energy use, but the total for the whole society, divided by the population.

Two thousand watts is approximately the current world average rate of total energy use. This compares to averages of around 6,000 watts in western Europe, 12,000 watts in the United States, 1,500 watts in China, 1,000 watts in India, 500 watts in South Africa and only 300 watts in Bangladesh. Switzerland itself, currently using an average of around 5,000 watts, was last a 2000-watt society in the 1960s.

It is further envisaged that the use of carbon based fuels would be ultimately cut to no more than 500 watts per person within 50 to 100 years.

The vision was developed in response to concerns about climate change, energy security and energy supplies. It’s supported by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy, the Association of Swiss Architects and Engineers, and other bodies. — Wikipedia

Swiss Army Knife stats

The UN DESA list says Swiss citizens have the second-highest life expectancy in the world. Switzerland is also ranked #1 (tied) on the Bribe Payers Index indicating very low levels of business corruption. For the last five years the country has been ranked #1 in economic and tourist competitiveness according to the Global Competitiveness Report and the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report respectively, both developed by the World Economic Forum.

Zürich and Geneva have been ranked among the top cities with the highest quality of life in the world. Switzerland has very low tax rates as compared to other western nations. More Swiss citizens have won Nobel Prizes, than any other single country’s citizens.

Flag of the Red Cross
The monochromatically reversed Swiss flag became the symbol of the Red Cross Movement, founded in 1863 by Henri Dunant.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent, the United Nations (the UN Palace of Nations is the 2nd-largest UN facility in the world), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and about 200 other international organisations, including the World Trade Organization and the World Economic Forum in Davos all have their headquarters in Switzerland.

Furthermore, many sport federations and organisations are located throughout the country, such as the International Basketball Federation in Geneva, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) in Nyon, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and the International Ice Hockey Federation both in Zürich, the International Cycling Union in Aigle, and the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne.

There is a world-class scientific community that also thrives within the country, some of it centred around the CERN particle accelerator (the largest such device in the world) which is what recently confirmed the presence of the (up-till-then-theoretical) Higgs Bosun. Also, the World Wide Web began as a CERN project called ENQUIRE, initiated by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989.

The largest Swiss companies by revenue are Glencore, Gunvor, Nestlé, Novartis, Hoffmann-La Roche, ABB, Mercuria Energy Group and Adecco.

Also, notable are UBS AG, Zurich Financial Services, Credit Suisse, Barry Callebaut, Swiss Re, Tetra Pak, The Swatch Group and Swiss International Airlines. Switzerland is ranked as having one of the most powerful economies in the world.– Wikipedia

Healthcare in Switzerland

All Swiss citizens are required by law to carry private health insurance and the healthcare insurance companies are required to accept every citizen-applicant. It is an expensive system, but with high wages and even high-minimum-wages in Switzerland it is an affordable system for the Swiss. As noted above, citizens enjoy the 2nd highest life expectancy in the world and even that statistic continues to improve.

The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries has ranked Switzerland #2 in the world for overall healthcare outcomes.

The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries
The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries

Swiss President about town

To give you the best idea of how relaxed and civilized Switzerland is, the President of Switzerland, Mr. Didier Burkhalter, takes the train to work just like other citizens and was photographed recently at the train station waiting for the train.

That’s the way it is in Switzerland. The President of the country goes to the train station to catch the train like everyone else. He stands on the platform waiting for the train and texting on his SmartPhone and nobody there thinks a thing about it… yet in North America this is seen as a novel act and it goes viral on Twitter in only 8 minutes.

Switzerland summary

With only a tiny land mass, no sea access, a small population, minimal natural resources (compared to the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, Brazil or Argentina, for just a few examples) and long winters combined with fragile ecosystems, Switzerland has created a thriving and special society inside a very pure form of democracy — from little else than pure ingenuity. It’s no wonder the Swiss citizens have been awarded more Nobel Prizes than any other nation!

This doesn’t cover half of Switzerland’s achievements and all of this and much more is happening on only 15,940 square miles of land, and most of that is covered with Swiss Alps and glaciers.

Wind Power breaks records across Europe

Wind Power smashes records across Europe

Britain’s fleet of onshore and offshore wind turbines met 22% of electricity demand on Sunday, setting a new record and outperforming coal, which met just 13% of demand.

Wind Turbines UK Image courtesy of ReNews
Wind Turbines UK Image courtesy of ReNews

Across the Channel, Spain has reported high levels of summer clean energy output with over 55% of electricity generation coming from zero emission sources during July. And Germany has announced that it generated more than a third of its energy from renewable sources in the first half of this year, while energy from fossil fuel plants – gas and coal – declined.

“Wind has become an absolutely fundamental component in this country’s energy mix,” RenewableUK Director of External Affairs Jennifer Webber said today in an e-mailed statement. “Wind is a dependable and reliable source of power in every month of year including high summer.” — Bloomberg

These figures are the latest clear signals that renewables are increasingly stealing the limelight from outdated fossil fuels. Earlier this year, onshore wind was revealed as the cheapest form of new electricity generation in Denmark and wind met over half of the country’s power demand last December. Renewable energy is also becoming cost competitive elsewhere with solar power reaching grid parity in Italy, Spain and Germany. This trend clearly indicates to European getting ready to agree a climate and energy framework to 2030 that the transition from fossil fuels to renewables is happening and here to stay. For more on this story click here.

Wind to power 50% of Denmark’s demand by 2020

While other countries debate whether to install wind turbines offshore or in remote areas, Denmark is building them right in its capital. Three windmills were recently inaugurated in a Copenhagen neighbourhood, and the city plans to add another 97.

“We’ve made a very ambitious commitment to make Copenhagen CO2-neutral by 2025,” Frank Jensen, the mayor, says. “But going green isn’t only a good thing. It’s a must.”

The city’s carbon-neutral plan, passed two years ago, will make Copenhagen the world’s first zero-carbon capital. With wind power making up 33% of ­Denmark’s energy supply, the country already features plenty of wind turbines.

Indeed, among the first sights greeting airborne visitors during the descent to Copenhagen’s Kastrup airport is a string of sea-based wind towers. By 2020, the windswept country plans to get 50% of its energy from wind power. — For more on this story visit Newsweek

Siemens receives Norwegian order for 67 wind turbines

Siemens has announced that it has received an order from Norwegian energy utilities Statoil and Statkraft for 67 wind turbines for the Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm in the UK. The news comes just days after the UK installed their first 6 MW wind turbine at the burgeoning Westermost Rough offshore wind farm in the North Sea. Siemens will manufacture, deliver, install, and commission 67 of its direct-drive 6 MW wind turbines, each of which has a mammoth 154 meter rotor.

“We are proud to convince more and more customers about the advantages of our 6-megawatts-offshore machine”, said Dr. Markus Tacke, CEO of the Wind Power Division of Siemens Energy. “With Dudgeon we extend our project pipeline for this new turbine. This gives us the opportunity to further ramp up production capacity, which is a precondition to bring down the costs for offshore wind.”

The Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm will begin construction in early 2017, and upon completion is expected to provide electricity to more than 410,000 UK households. For more on this story, head over to CleanTechnica

Vestas reports healthy profits and order for 32 – 8MW Wind Turbines

One of the world’s largest wind energy manufacturers, Vestas Wind, reported healthy second quarter earnings for 2014, and is now waiting on DONG Energy’s final investment in a UK offshore wind project which would require the Vestas 8 MW turbines. Vestas reported a strong turnaround from their second quarter earnings a year previously with a 13% increase to €1.34 billion. The company reported a net profit in the second quarter of €94 million ($125 million), compared to a €62 loss a year earlier

The news came just a day before Vestas confirmed that they had entered into a conditional agreement with DONG Energy for the upcoming Burbo Bank Extension in Liverpool Bay off northwest England. Vestas would provide 32 8 MW V164 turbines for the extension project, and are awaiting DONG Energy’s commitment to the project before the deal is sealed.

“Larger and more cost-efficient wind turbines are key elements in the realization of Dong Energy’s strategy towards reducing the cost of electricity from offshore wind,” said Samuel Leupold, an executive vice president at Dong. “Competition among the offshore wind turbine manufacturers will increase.”

Offshore construction of the Extension is expected to begin in 2016, and upon completion it is expected the project will be able to provide electricity for more than 230,000 UK homes. — Bloomberg

Renewable energy replaces lost European nuclear capacity

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Nuclear reactors are starting to shut down in Europe

It began in earnest in the wake of the Fukushima disaster when Germany inspected its problem-plagued nuclear power plants and decided to take 9 of its nuclear power plants offline in 2011 and the rest offline by 2022.

There is plenty of public support in the country for Germany’s planned nuclear closures, even with the additional fee added to each German electricity bill to pay for nuclear power plant decommissioning, which completes in 2045.

Switzerland likewise has decided to get out of the nuclear power business beginning in 2015 and decommission their nuclear power plants by 2045.

Other European nations are also looking at retiring their nuclear power plants. But the news today is about the UK, Belgium, Germany and Spain.

Heysham_Nuclear_Power_Station UK operated by EDF
Heysham Nuclear Power Station in the UK which is operated by EDF of France. Image courtesy: CleanTechnica.com

In the UK, four (French-operated) EDF reactors built in 1983 have been shut down after one of them was found to have a crack in its centre spine. (EDF stands for Electricity de France which is a French utility responsible for managing many nuclear reactors)

At first only the affected unit was taken offline (in June) but upon further inspection it was determined that the other three were at risk to fail in the coming months. Whether or not these four reactors can be repaired economically — all were scheduled to be decommissioned before 2020.

The sudden shortfall in electrical generation due to these unscheduled nuclear power plant shutdowns has been met by 5 GW of new wind power generation, which has seamlessly stepped in to fill demand.

Additional to that, another 5 GW of solar power has been added to the UK grid within the past 5 years. And that’s in cloudy olde England, mates!

In Belgium, 3 out of 5 of their nuclear power plants are offline until December 31, 2014 due to maintenance, sabotage, or terror attacks — depending upon whom you talk to.

Belgium’s Doel 4 reactor experienced a deliberate malfunction last week and workers in the country’s n-plants are henceforth directed to move around inside the plants in pairs.

Also, their Tihange 2 reactor won’t be ready to resume power production until late March, 2021. See this continuously-updated (and long) list of nuclear power plant shutdowns in Belgium.

Further, the utility has advised citizens that hour-long blackouts will commence in October due to a combination of unexpected n-plant shutdowns and higher demand at that time of year.

Belgian energy company Electrabel said its Doel 4 nuclear reactor would stay offline at least until the end of this year after major damage to its turbine, with the cause confirmed as sabotage.

Doel 4 is the youngest of four reactors at the Doel nuclear plant, 20 km north of Antwerp, Belgium’s second-biggest city. The country has three more reactors in Tihange, 25 km southwest of the city of Liege.

Doel 1 and 2, which came on line in 1975, are set to close in 2015. Tihange 1, which also started operation in 1975 and was designed to last 30 years, got a 10-year extension till 2015.

The two closed reactors Doel 3 and Tihange 2 were connected to the grid in 1982 and 1983. Doel 4 and Tihange 3, which came on line in 1985, were operating normally until the closure of Doel 4 last week.

The shutdown of Doel 4’s nearly 1 gigawatt (GW) of electricity generating capacity as well as closures of two other reactors (Doel 3 and Tihange 2) for months because of cracks in steel reactor casings adds up to just over 3 GW of Belgian nuclear capacity that is offline, more than half of the total.

In Britain, EDF Energy, owned by France’s EDF, took three of its nuclear reactors offline for inspection on Monday after finding a defect in a reactor of a similar design. – Reuters

In Germany, the nuclear power generation capacity missing since 2011 has been met by a combination of solar, wind, bio, natural gas, and unfortunately some coal. But that sounds worse than it is.

According to the Fraunhofer Institute, renewable energy produced about 81 TWh, or 31% of the nation’s electricity during the first half of 2014. Solar production is up 28%, wind 19% and biomass 7% over last year.

Meanwhile, with the exception of nuclear energy, all conventional sources are producing less. The output from gas powered plants was half of what it had been in 2010 and brown coal powered plants are producing at a similar level to 2010-2012. – CleanTechnica.com

Let’s see what our friends at the Fraunhofer Institute have to say in their comparison of the first half of 2013 vs. the first half of 2014.

German electricity production H1 2013 - H1 2014
Fraunhofer Institute compares the different energy production between the first half of 2013 and the first half of 2014.

Although unspokenby power company executives operating in Germany, Spain, and some other European countries, the panic felt by traditional power generators is due to the massive changes in ‘their’ market since 2009.

Things move slowly in the utility industry — ten years is seen as a mere eyeblink in time, as the industry changes very little decade over decade. Recent changes must be mind-blowing for European power company executives.

European-union-renewables-chart
European-union-renewables by Eurostat — Renewable energy statistics. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons Keep in mind that this map displays results from 2012. The 2014 map will show significantly more ‘green’ energy, once that map becomes available in 2015.

It occurs to me that the end of the conventional energy stranglehold on Europe parallels the ending of Star Wars VI.

Help me take this mask off

It’s a mask to hide behind when conventional power producers don’t want the facts aired.

Fossil fuel and nuclear power generation have had (and continue to have) huge subsidy regimes in place which they don’t want publicly advertised — and they don’t want renewable energy power producers to have any subsidies. And conventional power producers don’t want fossil fuel externalities and nuclear power externalities advertised either. That’s a lot of hiding, right there.

Externalities are simply another form of subsidy to fossil fuel and nuclear power plant operators and their fuel supply chains, which usually take the form of additional public healthcare spending or environmental spending that is required to mitigate toxic airborne emissions, oil spills, etc.

Spain has ended it’s Feed-in-Tariff scheme for renewable energy, while keeping conventional power producer subsidies in place.

Not only that, suddenly homeowners aren’t allowed to collect power from the Sun or harvest power from the wind unless it is for their own use. Electricity cannot be collected by Spanish residents and then sold to the grid for example, nor to anyone else.

Spain’s government has taken it one step further in a bid to keep the conventional energy companies from drowning in their tears. After a meteoric rise in wind and solar capacity, Spain has now taxed renewable energy power producers retroactively to 2012 and ruled that renewable energy will be capped to 7.5% profit. Renewable energy profits over and above the 7.5% threshold instantly becomes instant tax revenue for the government. (Quite unlike conventional energy producers in the country which can make any amount of profit they want and continue to keep their subsidies)

While all of this has been going on, Spain and Portugal have quietly lowered their combined CO2 output by 21.3% (equal to 61.4 million fewer tonnes of CO2 emitted) since 2012, thanks to renewable energy.

But you’ll die

Not only has European renewable energy now stepped up to fill the voids due to nuclear power plant maintenance and sabotage shutdowns, it has scooped incredible market share from conventional power producers.

In January 2014, 91% of the monthly needed Portuguese electricity consumption was generated by renewable sources, although the real figure stands at 78%, as 14% was exported. – Wikipedia

Unwittingly, the German and Spanish power companies have provided the highest possible compliment to the renewable energy industry, and if publicized, it would read something like this;

“We can’t compete with renewable energy that has equal amounts of subsidy. Therefore, remove the renewable energy subsidy while we keep ‘our’ traditional subsidies, until we can reorient our business model – otherwise, we perish!”

Nothing can stop that now

Ending the European renewable energy Feed-in-Tariff schemes will only temporarily slow solar and wind installations as both have reached price-parity in recent months — against still-subsidized conventional power generators.

Even bigger changes are coming to the European electricity grid over the next few years. Nothing can stop that now.

Tell your sister; You were right about me

Conventional power producers in Europe provided secure and reliable power for decades, it was what powered the European postwar success story, but having the electricity grid all to themselves for decades meant that Europe’s utilities became set in their ways and although powerful, were not able to adapt quickly enough to a new kind of energy with zero toxicity and lower per unit cost.

Renewable energy, at first unguided and inexperienced, quickly found a role for itself and is now able to stand on its own feet without subsidies — unlike conventional power generators.

Considering the sheer scale of the energy changes underway in Europe, conventional energy has been superceded by a superior kind of energy and with surprisingly little drama.