Voices: Benicia man explores greener world in book
By Irma Widjojo, 05/16/16, 7:18 PM PDT
Benicia >> Grant Cooke said he’s always been a writer, even after not being able to find a job as a reporter as a fresh college graduate in the 1960s.
Undaunted, the Benicia resident of 30 years went on to write four books with his writing partner, Woodrow Clark II.
Clark was one of the contributing scientists to the work of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
Most recently, the duo published “Smart Green Cities,” which provides a guideline for modern cities to move away from a carbon-intensive energy culture, Cooke, 69, said.
“The only way we can mitigate climate change and global warming is by addressing the issues going on in cities and mega cities,” he said.
The writers took about a year to write the book, visiting more than two dozen of the cities in the book, including Beijing, London, Paris, Copenhagen and Berlin for research.
Cooke did not always live in the center of technology.
Born in a “small farm town” in California’s Central Valley, Cooke eventually left the area for a college education in Berkeley.
After working as a college administrator for almost three decades, he helped a small engineering company to write and design projects for the California energy efficiency program in 2006.
He then started a mechanical engineering company in 2010, the Benicia-based Sustainable Energy Associates, but decided to scale down to focus on writing more books — combining his passion of sustainable energy, technology and writing.
“My field is emerging technologies,” Cooke said. “We are on the cusp of the beginnings of what I consider to be a technological and scientific renaissance. I think from what I understand and where I stand now the future is more interesting and full of technological breakthrough.”
Through his work, Cooke was also able to “witness a little bit of history.”
In December, Cooke was part of the United Nations conference in Paris on climate change.
“It was really fascinating,” he said. “I got to see U.S. and China, the two world’s biggest polluters, sit down and discuss ways to address this issue.”
He said the United States is slower than the European countries to adopt greener technologies and habits.
“America tends to be lazy and tends to be dominated by carbon-related wealth,” Cooke said, pointing to his own hometown. “In particular towns like Benicia and Richmond that are so dominated by their heavy fossil fuel industries.”
However, Cooke agrees that California leads the nation in addressing climate change and related issues, but he said more money needs to be injected into the industry.
“No major change of this magnitude is going to come about without money,” he said. “Global investors, of large quantity, have suddenly realized that we are on this cusp of green industrial revolution — that money could be made in green technology.”
Cooke’s latest, and other books, can be found on Amazon.com.
For Benicia business owner and writer Grant Cooke, the question isn’t whether crude oil should come in by rail, pipeline or tanker ship. Nor which is better, hybrids or all-electric cars.
Cooke is looking ahead to hydrogen-powered vehicles that are no more combustible than those powered by gasoline and emit water vapor, not carbon gases, as they travel down roads and highways.
Now, in collaboration with Dr. Woodrow W. Clark III, winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize as a contributing scientist to the United Nations Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change, Cooke has written about what he calls the “third industrial revolution” — a revolution based not on the carbon-intensive industries of the past but on energy sustainability.
The book, “The Green Industrial Revolution: Energy, Engineering and Economics,” is the third collaboration between Clark, founder of environmental and renewable energy consulting firm Clark Strategic Partners, and Cooke. But if not for an unexpected career change, it may never have happened.
Cooke originally planned to be a writer in a different genre. He earned degrees in journalism and political science at the University of California-Berkeley and a master’s degree in journalism at the University of California-Los Angeles.
But witnessing the demise of evening newspapers, Cooke said he realized he might do better in a different industry.
He went to work at Diablo Valley College in promotion and administration, marketing the college for 28 years. Then, in 2005, “I decided it’s time to leave,” he said.
He had been networking with some young engineers, and realized he, too, had “a knack for design.” The result was writing third-party utility-sponsored energy-efficiency programs for schools and colleges, with data centers in California, Texas and New York.
“It was a start-up company. We got bought out,” he said. That gave him the chance, in 2010, to start his own business, Sustainable Energy Associates, a mechanical engineering company focused on renewable energy and water conservation.
But along the way, he said, he wrote a sustainable energy program for Southern California Edison. That led to his connection with Clark. “He had become a leader in the sustainability world,” Cooke said.
Funding for the program got deferred, but the collaboration lasted. The duo have worked on three books so far; one, “Global Energy Innovation — Why America Must Lead,” primarily can be found in libraries, though it also is available through Amazon.com, where readers can learn that the book explains why the United States must leave behind lethargy and defeatism to take the lead in technological inventiveness in the areas of green jobs and carbon-neutral communities.
A second book, which experienced delays Cooke said were prompted by political change, isfocused on China and its “green” revolution. It is being translated into Mandarin before being released.
“The Green Industrial Revolution” has been out since Nov. 20, 2014, and Cooke called it “a major reference book of its type,” adding, “We are fairly serious scientists.”
The authors’ contention, Cooke said, is there is a “mega-trend change” in how energy is going to be generated.
For instance, he said, China “came of age” with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when it became what he called “an essential part of the world economy.”
He said that country is moving fast to set aside its dependence on coal and investing trillions of dollars to clean up its environment.
“China,” he said, “is more serious than the United States.”
But it isn’t just about the environment: “We’re talking about a social, political and economic transition.”
Cooke said the upcoming change is on par with such significant events as 17th century Industrial Revolution, the switch to steam engines, the 19th-century discovery of oil as a fuel and the development of the internal combustion engine.
“My contention is, we are on the verge of the third industrial revolution,” he said. adding that some places already already are involved. That third revolution will be powered by renewable energy, with onsite distribution and a change from centralized to a decentralized, smart grid system.
“We’re at the end of a carbon-intensive lifestyle,” he said.
The change needs to happen, he said, because weather patterns are becoming unstable: the American Northeast is being inundated with snow, ice caps are melting and “the atmosphere is a garbage can for heavy carbon users.”
Not only that, but the change can reduce the cost of energy, he said, and that includes reaching a zero marginal cost.
“We’re economics-driven,” he said. He compared it to the production of any item, such as shovels: If he produced 10,000 shovels, the first hundred could cost $9 each, because part of the production costs are about building the system, such as the assembly line that makes the shovel.
But once he had paid for the system, the cost of making those shovels diminishes, Cooke explained. “Eventually, the only cost is resources, so you make more profit per shovel. That’s what is happening in renewable energy.”
He cited Moore’s Law, developed by Gordon Earle Moore, co-founder of Intel Corporation, and said based on that law technology doubles in strength and capacity every 18 months.
“My contention is, the same law applies to the growth of renewable energy,” Cooke said. “At the moment, the world uses six percent renewable energy. Each 18 months, it doubles. As it increases, costs go down.”
Those who put solar panels on their homes pay the cost of that installation in seven to eight years, Cooke said. “Once you reach seven years, the cost to generate energy is no cost.”
He said the business model for sustainability is better than for carbon-intensive industries, which is “a failing business model. It will be supplanted by renewable energy,” adding that in 19 regions of the world, solar energy is less expensive than carbon-generated energy.
One reason that is happening, he said, is the supplanting of fossil fuel by hydrogen energy in the transportation sector. “Norway, Sweden and Germany have relatively small but effective ‘hydrogen highways,” roadways where motorists have access to hydrogen “refills.”
In 2016, he said, California will launch its own hydrogen highway, along Interstate 5 from Mexico to Oregon, capable of supporting the hydrogen-fueled vehicles he said are in development by all major automobile manufacturers.
“Each has a prototype car,” he said, and Toyota and Honda already have such cars in Southern California.
He said several investment banks are reporting that carbon-based industries are losing money, and are predicted to lose $28 trillion in revenues in the next 20 years.
Cooke, who also is writing “Smart Green Cities,” which will be published this year by Ashgate/Gower in England, recognized that Benicia depends on carbon-based industries for its economy, and the largest of these is Valero Benicia Refinery.
He said this city has “geographic advantages” that those who are knowledgeable about economics find attractive. Those people could help Benicia change from counting on revenues from carbon-based companies to what he called a “smart-driven economy.”
“It’s happening before our very eyes,” he said.
He said there are places in Solano County where wind turbines generate energy for a few pennies per kilowatt, and solar arrays do the same for a little more than a nickel per kilowatt. “The average resident or small business owner pays 19 cents a kilowatt,” he said.
He predicted that renewable energy would overtake industries based on petroleum, and Benicia needs to join that change. “It’s time. The industry is declining, and it’s starting to accelerate,” he said. “Renewable energy is overtaking petroleum. It made profits at $140 a barrel. Now it’s looking at $50 a barrel or less.” He said the petroleum industry will never return to the prices of old.
“As futurists, Woody (Clark) and I are looking at a world that’s coming,” he said. Europe and Asia — especially China and India — are making greater efforts toward sustainable lifestyles, he said, an area in which the United States is lagging because of politics.
“Leadership is so bogged down,” he said — even as millions die from pollution-related illnesses, the world economy loses $1 trillion in global gross domestic product, increased salinity affects the world’s drinking water supply and marginal farmland fails to produce, leading to famine.
If this country is going to get pushed into a higher gear regarding sustainability, he said, “it will have to come on a local level. California is starting take on a leadership role. New York, too — New York has banned fracking.”
Ultimately, he said, he hopes the books he and Clark write explain to people that the world in which they grew up is changing, significantly.
“The sooner they understand the world’s environment is in danger, the sooner they can mitigate the danger for subsequent generations and move to a carbon-less lifestyle.”
“The Green Industrial Revolution: Energy, Engineering and Economics” is available on Amazon.com.
Repost from The Benicia Herald [Editor: Benicia’s own Grant Cooke has written a highly significant three-part series for The Benicia Herald, outlining the impending fall of the fossil fuel industry and concluding with good advice for the City of Benicia and other cities dependent on refineries for a major portion of their local revenue stream.This is the second of three parts. Read part one by CLICKING HERE and part three by CLICKING HERE. – RS]
Grant Cooke: Big Oil’s endgame: While fossil fuel costs keep rising, renewable costs fall
October 4, 2014, by Grant Cooke
“The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil.” — Sheikh Ahmed-Zaki Yamani
THREE KEY FACTORS WILL PUT TO REST the fossil fuel industry and make the good Sheikh Yamani’s prediction come true. Two of them are discussed here.
The first is that the carbon emitters will be held accountable and made to pay for using the atmosphere as a garbage can. While still struggling to price the cost of pollution, most nations, as well as California, have come to realize that the heavy carbon emitters need to pay for the damage they have done. A cap-and-trade process is the first method to hold the emitters accountable. While imperfect and not nearly as effective as a straight carbon tax, this system is growing throughout the world. The European Union’s program, which started several years ago and was described by the fossil fuel interests as failing, is now deemed a success. It has become an established part of European culture and corporate practice. Various nations such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Korea and China have developed cap-and-trade programs as well.
California’s own program continues to grow, and our carbon offsets are tradable in parts of Canada as well. As it gains momentum, other states are watching California’s program and thinking about adopting their own. Impoverished state governments see cap-and-trade programs as a boon to their environment and a way to garner vital tax revenues. Since increases in personal income tax are so unpopular, cap-and-trade is seen as a way to bring new money into state treasuries without risking voter rebellions.
The pressure to make the major carbon emitters pay for their pollution is coming from the agreements made at the 2012 UN Conference on Climate Change in Doha, Qatar. At this conference world governments consolidated the gains of the last three years of international climate change negotiations and opened a gateway to greater ambition and action. Among the decisions was to concentrate on a universal climate agreement by 2015, which would come into effect in 2020. The 2015 conference will be held in Paris, and world governments are expecting much greater cooperation and agreement on carbon-reduction policies from the U.S. and other major emitters.
The world is slowly accepting the reality that the mitigation of climate change is a massive problem. A 2012 report by Climate Vulnerable Forum estimated that more than 100 million people will die and the international economy will lose out on more than 3 percent of GDP ($1.2 trillion) by 2030 if the world fails to tackle climate change. But because governments don’t want to use their funds for environmental cleanup and climate change mitigation, it will be the heavy emitters like the oil, coal and utility companies that will pay.
This cost for carbon cleanup, added to the increasing costs of extracting hard-to-get fossil fuel resources, will hit the oil industry hard. A 2013 Harvard University report showed that the cost externalities from coal were about 18 cents per kilowatt hour. Most U.S. end-users who rely on coal-generated electricity pay about 10 cents per kWh. If the external costs were added, those users would pay closer to 30 cents per kWh — which would severely impact those users’ lifestyles.
The second major factor hastening the end of today’s megalithic fossil fuel industries is “grid parity.” Grid parity is a technical term meaning that the cost to a consumer for electricity from a renewable source (without subsidies) is about equal to the cost from a traditional source — be it fossil fuel or nuclear. The Germans used grid parity to price their feed-in-tariff program, or FiT, that launched Energiewende.
Simply put, with PGE’s 2014 rate increase a Benicia resident or small commercial consumer pays about 20 (19.9) cents per kWh for electricity from traditional sources. If that same kWh came from a renewable source and cost the consumer an equal 20 cents, then the renewable source would be at “parity,” or equal to the cost of the traditional generation source.
However, the cost of traditional energy is rising, driven by higher extracting costs, increasing maintenance costs for natural gas pipelines and increases in operating cost at nuclear power plants. At the same time the costs for renewable energy — wind, solar photovoltaic and biowaste fuels — are declining.
The costs for wind generation have been and still are the lowest. However, the costs for solar are declining rapidly as its use spreads. Deutsche Bank reported in January 2014 that there were 19 regions around the world where unsubsidized PV solar power costs were competitive with other forms of generation. In fact, PV competes directly in price with oil, diesel and liquefied natural gas in much of Asia. This equality of costs with fossil fuel and natural gas is creating a worldwide solar boom in 2014-15.
In the U.S., almost 30 percent of last year’s added electricity capacity came from solar. In Vermont and Massachusetts, almost 100 percent added capacity came from solar. According to the U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association, more solar was installed in the U.S. in the past 18 months than in the last 30 years. Solar PV technology, which has been helped by the U.S. military, is improving so fast that it has achieved a virtuous circle.
As described by New York’s Sanford and Bernstein investment bank, we have entered an era of “global energy deflation.” This ratcheting down of energy costs may be slow to start, but as they argue, the fossil fuel-dominated energy market will experience a major decline in costs over the next decade. The market is entering a new order that will erode the viability of oil, gas and the fossil fuel continuum.
The report argues that the adoption of solar in developing markets will translate into less demand for kerosene and diesel oil. The adoption of solar in the Middle East means less oil demand, and the adoption of solar in China and developing Asia means less liquefied natural gas demand. Further, distributed solar in the U.S., Europe and Australia will likely reduce demand for natural gas.
They reason that while solar has a fractional share of the current market, within a decade solar PV and related battery storage may have such a large market share that it becomes a trigger for energy price deflation, with huge consequences for the massive fossil fuel industry that is dependent on continued growth.
Even the Saudis are betting on solar, investing more than $100 billion in 41 gigawatts of capacity, enough to cover 30 percent of their power needs by 2030. Most of the other Gulf states have similar plans.
Grant Cooke is a long-time Benicia resident and CEO of Sustainable Energy Associates. He is co-author, with Nobel Peace Prize winner Woodrow Clark, of “The Green Industrial Revolution: Energy, Engineering and Economics,” to be released in October by Elsevier.