Climate and Energy News Roundup 1/6/2017

As we near the start of the Trump administration, Kate Aronoff of The Atlantic provides a rundown of the “eco-right” and how it might combat climate change.  Then for a reality check, you might want to read the article by Jennifer Dlouhy in Bloomberg Politics about the Institute for Energy Research and the associated American Energy Alliance, which appear to have Trump’s ear on energy matters, at least during the transition.

Climate

In a new paper, climate economist William Nordhaus has added his voice to the chorus pointing out the difficulty of holding global warming below 2°C.  After incorporating the newest information into his economic model, known as DICE, he concluded: “The international target for climate change with a limit of 2°C appears to be infeasible with reasonably accessible technologies – and this is the case even with very stringent and unrealistically ambitious abatement strategies.”

You may recall that in the summer of 2015 NOAA scientists became the target of Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Committee on Science, when they published a paper updating global temperature data by reconciling old and new techniques for estimating sea surface temperature.  The apparent problem was that the new record wiped out the “hiatus” in global warming and Smith thought the findings were politically motivated.  Now a new (and totally independent) study has shown that the NOAA scientists were correct.  John Abraham at The Guardian reports on the study while Robert McSweeney at Carbon Brief takes a deeper dive into the data analysis.  Also in The Guardian, Dana Nuccitelli explores the presumed “hiatus” and warns against its resurrection with 2016 as the starting point.  Finally, in his column, Abraham mentions Judith Curry, a climate scientist at Georgia Tech who has been a vocal critic of “climate alarmists.”  She has just announced her retirement because of the “craziness” in the field.  Scott Waldman at E&E News reports on an interview of her.

On Sunday, there was a fascinating article by Chris Mooney on the front page of The Washington Post about the efforts of two scientists to retrieve data from their instruments on the Petermann Ice Shelf on Greenland.  The electronic version contains an equally fascinating video.  A wonderful combination of human interest, science, and beautiful scenery; a must-see.  Scientists at World Weather Attribution have turned their attention to the Arctic warming that has occurred this fall and have concluded that it is both unprecedented and likely caused by climate change.  Although the study has not been peer-reviewed, other scientists contacted by Chris Mooney at The Washington Post agreed with its conclusions.  At the other pole, scientists watching the growing rift across the Larsen C ice shelf warn that at some point soon the ice shelf will shed an iceberg the size of Delaware.  This will have no impact on sea level, however, because the ice shelf is already floating, but it could well speed up the flow of the glacier toward the sea.

A new study published in the journal Nature suggests that when climatic conditions in the tropical Atlantic are conducive to the formation of hurricanes, they also create a buffer zone that weakens the storms as they approach the U.S. coast.  Conversely, during periods of low hurricane activity, those storms that do form are likely to become stronger as they approach the U.S. coast.

The ocean current known as the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) transfers a lot of heat from the south to the north Atlantic Ocean, thereby modulating temperatures in Europe.  Because there is concern about how accurately the AMOC is handled in climate models, a group of scientists has compared models with greater and lesser sensitivity to the AMOC to determine how important the AMOC is to future warming.  The results, published in the journal Science Advances suggests that climate models need to better represent the AMOC if they are to accurately predict changes hundreds of years from now.  A second study published in Geophysical Research Letters sought to determine the impact of meltwater from Greenland and determined that AMOC collapse could be avoided by CO2 mitigation.

In addition to likely being the hottest year on record globally (the final tally hasn’t yet been released), 2016 was also a record year in the U.S. for several categories.  For example, 98% of weather stations had a warmer than normal year, the largest percentage in 95 years of record keeping, and 85% of extreme temperature records were of the hot variety.  In addition, 19 separate floods occurred, the largest number since records began in 1980.  Furthermore, according to a new paper in Geophysical Research Letters, this trend is likely to continue, at least in the northeastern U.S.

One impact of warming global temperatures is on bird migration.  A new study, published in the Journal of Animal Ecology, which looked at hundreds of species across five continents, found that birds are reaching their summer breeding grounds on average about one day earlier per degree of increasing global temperature.  That may not seem like much, but arriving early can cause birds to miss out on valuable food sources, with dire effects.  In fact, this is thought to be one of the problems facing red knots, one of the Arctic breeding shore birds that are in decline.

Energy

Two reports projecting future energy use were released this week.  The U.S. Energy Information Administration released its Annual Energy Outlook on Thursday in which it projected that the amount of energy Americans use and the pollution from it are not likely to change radically over the next 30 years.  The most surprising finding was that the fate of the Clean Power Plan will have little impact on energy-related CO2 emissions through 2040.  The other report was the annual Outlook for Energy from ExxonMobil, which also looked out to 2040.  The company believes global energy demand will increase by 25%, but CO2 emissions will rise by only 10%, peaking in the 2030s and then declining, because of improvements in the efficiency of buildings, transport, industry, and power generation.

China’s National Energy Administration has announced its plan for the period 2016-2020.  During that period, they expect to invest $360 billion in new renewable power generation.

John Schwartz has an interesting article in The New York Times about two new carbon capture and storage (CCS) facilities in Texas and the potential fate of the technology during the Trump presidency.  Instead of CCS, Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals in India is practicing carbon capture and utilization (CCU).  Using a process developed by Carbon Clean Solutions they capture CO2 from a coal-fired boiler and convert it to baking soda, which can be sold.  While the market for baking soda is too small to have a significant impact on global CO2 emissions, the application is still important because it serves as an example of the use of the new technology from Carbon Clean Solutions, which I reported on in the Weekly Roundup of October 14, 2016.  The article is here.

On Wednesday, Tesla and its partner, Panasonic, announced the start of mass production of lithium-ion battery cells at Tesla’s giant Nevada battery factory.

The question of whether wood pellets are a carbon-neutral fuel for power plants is still unanswered, although the answer has strong implications for the future of forests in the southeastern U.S.  In its cover article, the journal Science explores the status of the question and what may lie ahead.  In addition, while many European countries have embraced waste-to-energy technology, in which trash is burned to generate electricity, the U.S. has not.  Writing in Salon, Diane Stopyra explores this controversial technology.

As the new year opened, 104 wind turbines scattered across 22,000 acres of farmland near Elizabeth City, North Carolina began producing electricity for Amazon Web Services.  This is the first large wind farm in the southeastern U.S.  The big question is, will others follow?

According to Bloomberg, solar power is cheaper than coal in some parts of the world, and in less than a decade, it’s likely to be the lowest-cost option almost everywhere.  However, others disagree, pointing out that the need for back-up systems during prolonged cloudy periods alters the economics.

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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