Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/5/2016

A special thanks to Joy Loving for covering the news last week while Joni and I were at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, NY attending a week of events examining humans and the environment.  The week was done in collaboration with National Geographic so the main lecture each day was given by either a photographer, an explorer, or a scientist associated with NG.  It was a very inspiring and rejuvenating week.

There is so much election news that it could dominate everything, hence I tend to avoid it in this summary.  One exception is the “U.S. Election Tracker” compiled by staff at Carbon Brief in the UK that summarizes what each presidential and vice-presidential candidate has to say on climate and energy, as well as the views of their energy advisers and their party platforms.  When there are significant updates I’ll let you know.

Climate

EPA recently released a report that shows evidence of long-term changes to our climate, and highlights impacts on human health and the environment in the United States and around the world.  The report, Climate Change Indicators in the United States, features observed trend data on 37 climate indicators, including U.S. and global temperatures, ocean acidity, sea level, river flooding, droughts, and wildfires.  Also, NOAA released its report on the State of the Climate in 2015, complied by more than 450 scientists from 62 countries.  Oliver Milman hit the high points for The Guardian, while Robert McSweeney took a deeper dive at Carbon Brief.  George Monbiot gives his view of what this all means from both the U.S. and UK political perspectives.

More bad news about coral reefs, this time around Guam, where bleaching events have occurred now for four straight years.  This has led to death of 50% of the coral in some areas.  This year’s bleaching event is expected to cause more coral death because bleaching has occurred for so many consecutive years.

The Obama administration has told federal agencies that they must consider the impact of their projects on climate change, in addition to the general environmental impacts that they also must consider.  As might be expected, Democrats and Republicans had differing opinions on the new guidelines.  Looking backwards, perhaps the federal government should have thought more about its assumptions when the military abandoned in place a facility under the ice in Greenland in 1967.  A recent study has found that it won’t be encased in ice forever, as assumed.

An outbreak of anthrax in the far north of Russia is suspected of having come from spores released as permafrost thawed due to high temperatures associated with climate change.  The outbreak killed a 12 year old boy, and sickened 40 other children and 31 adults.  It also killed 2,300 reindeer.

When we think about a warming world, polar bears get a lot of press.  But what about those iconic creatures on the other side of the globe, penguins?  Well, a recent study has examined how Adelie penguins will fare as Antarctica warms.  The bad news is that colonies will decline, but the good news is that the species won’t die out.

In a guest post on Carbon Brief Dr. David Barnes states: “Blue carbon is the term given to carbon stored in coastal or marine ecosystems. It typically refers to salt marshes, mangroves, and seagrass beds, which capture CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in their leaves, stems and in the soil.  A less well-known – but no less important – contribution to blue carbon comes from tiny organisms that live on the seabed.  These creatures, known as zoobenthos, take up carbon from the plankton they eat and the CO2 in seawater they use to build their skeletons. When the zoobenthos die, their bodies are eventually buried in the sediment of the seabed, sequestering carbon in the process.”  Dr. Barnes and a team of scientists are embarking on a voyage around Antarctica to measure the importance of blue carbon as a carbon sink.

Ellicott City, MD received over 6″ of rain in a two hour period last Saturday, causing devastating flooding downtown.  Such a rainfall is expected to occur only once in a thousand years, but is the type of event one would expect in a warming world.  As bad as that flooding was, it was not as widespread and disastrous as that in China, India, Nepal, and Pakistan where hundreds have died and millions have been forced from their homes.

Energy

One idea that is catching on in the power sector is the “virtual power plant”, a network of independent batteries, solar panels, and energy-efficient buildings that are tied together and remotely controlled by software and data systems.  The goal is to reduce customers’ energy demand at peak hours and provide renewable energy supplies in targeted areas, thereby allowing utilities to offset some of the needs for power from conventional sources and avoid disruption on the grid.  Maria Gallucci provides a tutorial about them on Yale Environment 360.  This article is well worth your time so you can tell Dominion what the future might look like.

A report on bird deaths at the Ivanpah solar energy plant in Southern California’s Mojave Desert suggests that they increased in the second year of the plant’s operation, although the authors of the report caution against comparing the two years because of differences in how data were collected.  While the numbers were in the thousands, they were still small in comparison to other human-related causes of bird mortality.

Joe Romm argues that cheap natural gas from fracked wells is the reason that half the nuclear power plants in the U.S. are no longer profitable – not the rise of solar and wind power as some have asserted.

If you like to travel by air, you might consider that replacing conventional jet fuel with carbon neutral alternatives would cost up to $60 billion a year from 2020 to 2050 and would require around 170 new bioenergy refineries to be built every year, according to the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, commonly know as RGGI, involves nine states in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont).  Since it was implemented in 2008, RGGI states have seen a 37% decrease in emissions from electricity production, while simultaneously decreasing consumer costs.  Now 70 companies have sent a letter to the governors of the RGGI states urging them to extend the program beyond 2020.  Unfortunately, attempts to get Virginia to join RGGI have been unsuccessful.

Will off-shore wind energy ever take off in the U.S.?  Well, the Massachusetts legislature passed landmark legislation last weekend betting that it will.  In fact, that legislation may well be the catalyst that gets things moving for off-shore wind farms.  Meanwhile, many questions remain to be answered before an off-shore farm of floating wind turbines can be built off the coast of California.

One impediment to electric vehicles (EVs) right now is a lack of charging stations.  So what does one do if the battery is getting low, but no commercial charging stations are within range?  Well, turn to the sharing economy, of course.  The app Plugshare maps tens of thousands of charging stations at private residences for EV drivers.  Regardless of where they are charged, however, Camille von Kaenel of ClimateWire has ideas about how EVs can be made cleaner and benefit the grid.

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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