Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/17/2016

There will be no Weekly Roundup next week.  The next one will be July 1.

Climate

John Abraham, writing in The Guardian, provides some insights into the causes of coral bleaching and the failure of “managed resilience” to protect against it.  Not all is bad news, however, as a study of 2,500 coral reefs has revealed certain “bright spots” that did not have as much bleaching as might be expected, providing information about how coral reefs might be protected.

This item may be of interest to folk in business or manufacturing that you might know.  There is a sense among some that the developed world will be less affected by the impacts of climate change than the developing world because developed countries have more resources that can be brought to bear on the problem.  A new study published in Science Advances challenges that.  Because manufacturing has become so globalized and inventories are kept to a minimum, disruptions at any point in the supply chain can have cascading effects.  Consequently, we are not as immune to climate change impacts as we might think.

According to scientists with the World Weather Attribution project, preliminary analysis indicates that climate change made the recent flooding in France 90% more likely, whereas the impact of climate change on the flooding in Germany was less clear.

Warmer temperatures and the just-ended El Nino are having an impact on CO2 levels in the atmosphere.  A new paper, published in Nature Geoscience, finds that as summers warm, alpine soils are losing carbon to the atmosphere as CO2 as a result of increased microbial activity.  In other words, they are becoming sources of carbon rather than sinks.  Furthermore, according to a new paper in Nature Climate Change, El Nino has dried out tropical forests and plants, thereby reducing their ability to take up CO2 and helping the concentration in the atmosphere to increase this year by 3.1 ppm (projected) compared to an annual average increase of 2.1 ppm in past years.  Finally, a milestone was passed when the CO2 level in Antarctica exceeded 400 ppm for the first time.

El Nino helped make May the hottest May in NASA records and the 8th straight warmest month on record.  Analysis by NOAA also listed May 2016 as the hottest May on record.  Because the El Nino event is over, it is likely that the streak of record-breaking months will end.  Nevertheless, May temperatures caused the World Meteorological Agency to warn of “fundamental changes” in the global climate.

The Wall Street Journal has a long record of presenting editorials and op-ed pieces that deny the role of humans in climate change.  As a counter to that, and to provide the business community with the facts about climate change, The Partnership for Responsible Growth is taking out ads on the Journal’s editorial page.  Background research on the Journal can be found here.

Greenhouse gases released from the growing of crops and livestock increased by a little more than 1% in 2014, compared with a year prior, according to data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, whereas burning fossil fuels for energy grew by about half that amount.

In 1955 there were 10 extreme weather events in the U.S. that cost more than $1 billion each; together they killed 155 people.  Whether they were caused by climate change is a question that scientists are seeking to answer through “attribution studies.”  It’s complicated.

Energy

A new forecast by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) plots out global electric power markets for the next 25 years and lists eight massive shifts that are coming to those markets.  Chief among them is that costs of wind and solar power are falling too quickly for gas ever to dominate on a global scale.  In addition, according to a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, the average cost of electricity generated by solar and wind energy could fall by up to 59% by 2025 if the right policies are in place.

A detailed study by MIT engineers, published in the journal Applied Energy looked at the potential role of energy storage in our future.  According to Greentech Media “The researchers found that it’s possible to meet stringent greenhouse gas limits without any energy storage. The energy mix in a no-storage scenario requires high levels of nuclear, though….  As the level of storage increases, it allows greater penetration of renewable sources by helping to balance the ups and downs of variable production.”  Another study from MIT examined different types of storage and found that some can be good investments, even with today’s technology and costs.

For a fascinating example of innovation with renewables and storage, check out this article about the Kodiak Electric association in Kodiak, Alaska.  It’s this sort of thing that keeps me optimistic that we can meet our energy needs in cleaner ways.

German automobile manufacturer Daimler will introduce a prototype of its new electric-powered Mercedes at the Paris Motor Show in October.  It will have a range of 300 miles.  Matthias Mueller, chief executive of Volkswagen, announced that the company plans to introduce 30 battery-powered electric vehicles over the next 10 years.  In addition, even Harley riders will be able to ride green within 5 years according to a company executive.  If advances in battery technology continue, electric cars can have a big impact on emissions from the transportation sector, provided they are charged with green energy.  This is important because transportation now emits more CO2 in the U.S. than power plants for the first time since 1979.  Furthermore, a new report from the Rocky Mountain Institute examines the impact on the grid of having large numbers of electric vehicles.  Surprisingly, many of the impacts can be positive, if energy regulators adopt appropriate regulations.

According to a report from the Department of Energy, for a variety of reasons U.S. coal production during the first quarter of 2016 fell to the lowest level seen in 35 years, when the nation was in the middle of a major coal strike.

Building transmission lines is one of the most difficult tasks in the power sector, requiring a great deal of coordination and planning, particularly if renewables are to be incorporated.  Thus it is disturbing that a new report from the Brattle Group finds that transmission planners are failing in their preparation for a new mix of energy generators.  As an example of the problems transmission planners face, in spite of having spent six years in the approval process, the Clean Line Energy project to transmit wind-generated electricity across Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee now faces blockage by a bill passed out of the Committee on Natural Resources to the full U.S. House.

For a variety of reasons, people of low income spend a greater percentage of their income on energy.  One of those reasons is that their homes often are poorly insulated, which is why CAAV is working to inform people of free weatherization programs.  What you may not realize is how bad the situation is in Virginia.  Look at the map in this article, zoom in on Virginia, and compare it to our surrounding states.  Looks like something is very, very wrong.

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.

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