Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/14/2017

I thought some of you might be interested in this site for climate change podcasts.

On the political front, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been facing increasing criticism from the right for his refusal to challenge EPA’s endangerment finding, which provides the legal basis for all climate change regulations.  Meanwhile, at a Pennsylvania coal mine on Thursday, Pruitt spoke as part of a new public relations campaign, gathering together the Trump administration’s EPA priorities into an effort called “Back 2 Basics,” which does things like reconsider the rule limiting the discharge of heavy metals in wastewater from coal-fired power plants.  Elsewhere on Thursday, Pruitt said the Paris Climate Agreement “…is something we need to exit in my opinion.”  On Monday, G7 energy ministers failed to agree on a statement supporting the Paris climate accord after the US delegation said it was reviewing its position.  On Tuesday, China, Brazil, India and South Africa urged industrialized countries to honor financial commitments made in Paris in 2015 to help developing countries fight against global climate change.  Younger Republicans increasingly say they believe climate change is a human-caused problem and that Americans have a responsibility to act on it, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation review of college Republican clubs across the U.S.

Climate

Carbon Brief has updated its data dashboard, summarizing key indicators on our climate, atmosphere, oceans, and cryosphere.  NOAA now has its Climate Explorer online.  It is a collaborative effort of several agencies and lets you look at both historical data and projections for two future emission scenarios for locations all over the U.S.  Unfortunately, the Trump administration has signaled a desire to eliminate funding for the NASA satellites that provide the type of data used to construct those images.  Henry Fountain discussed the concerns of climate scientists about such cuts.

A new study published in Nature Climate Change compared the amount of permafrost likely to be lost with 1.5°C warming to that likely lost with 2°C warming and found that the difference was an area equivalent to that of Mexico.  Although not quantified, the release of larger amounts of CO2 and methane would also result from the greater warming.  Meanwhile, a freezer malfunction at the University of Alberta in Edmonton caused ice cores from across the Canadian Arctic to melt, destroying them and the scientific information they contained.  Although this article about the impacts of climate change on Glacier National Park is over a week old, I thought the story it told is well worth its inclusion this week.

Using helicopter borne instruments, scientists have been able to measure the depth and configuration of the ice in the Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland.  Their findings show that the glacier extends farther below sea level than previously realized and that the depth increases the farther inland the glacier extends, forming a grounding with a “retrograde” slope.  This means that the glacier is susceptible to melting from warm sea water against its face and that the area exposed increases the more the glacier melts and retreats, leading to accelerating melting over time.  Another large Greenland glacier, the Petermann, has apparently developed a new crack in its floating ice shelf that could contribute to a future break, releasing a large ice island like those released in 2010 and 2012.  Mashable compiled a group of stunning photos from the Arctic and paired them with an interesting essay by Andrew Freedman about the fate of Arctic ice.

Most research on melting glaciers in Antarctica has been carried out in the western part of the continent, which contains only about 10% of the ice.  Now researchers are learning more about eastern Antarctica, thanks to better airborne sensors and a successful cruise along parts of the coastline.  Writing in Nature, Jane Qiu has summarized the surprising, and disturbing, new findings by the scientists.

Although the reason is not well understood, liana vines are proliferating in the world’s tropical rainforests and are having a negative impact on the storage of carbon by the trees.  Because climate models do not account for this effect, they may be overestimating the amount of carbon storage that will occur in the future.

Scientists just completed a 5,000 mile aircraft survey of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in which they found that 900 miles of its 1,400 mile length experienced severe bleaching at some point during the past two years.  Having two years of back-to-back bleaching greatly raises the possibility that the affected sections will die.  The 2017 bleaching occurred in the absence of an El Niño event, raising questions about the ability of the reef to recover.

Energy

A new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, has found that to keep global warming below 1.5°C the world economy would need to achieve net zero carbon emissions before 2040.  Net zero means that any CO2 emissions would be removed from the atmosphere, either through natural systems or carbon capture and storage (CCS).  To put the difficulty of achieving that into perspective, you might want to check out the World Resources Institute’s latest release of its CAIT Climate Data Explorer.

The Petra Nova CCS project at a coal fired power plant in Texas is now capturing 90% of the CO2 released from its combustion.  Meanwhile, the Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture Project, operated by ethanol giant Archer Daniels Midland, has launched.  It couples CCS technology with biochemical ethanol production, thereby removing CO2 from the atmosphere, making it an early application of BECCS.  Carbon capture technology is also being applied by NET Power, only they are applying it to a unique gas turbine design.  Brad Plumer at Vox has analyzed the possible future of CCS during the Trump administration.

You may recall that in an earlier Roundup I linked to an article about President Trump announcing that his administration would reevaluate EPA’s CAFE standards for light trucks and cars.  Associated with that is the question of whether California will continue to be granted a waiver to issue its own standards.  Writing at Yale Climate Connections, Bruce Lieberman provided the history of the California standards and the state’s willingness to fight to retain them.  On Tuesday, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers stated that it hoped to reach a deal with California and the Trump administration on the standards.  On another front in California, a state appeals court upheld the California Air Resources Board’s cap-and-trade program for controlling CO2 emissions.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk stated via Twitter on Thursday that the company will unveil a concept version of an electric semi-truck in September.  In addition, a Tesla pickup is also in the works and will be unveiled in 18 to 24 months.  But, the big question is still whether the cars and trucks of the future will be powered by batteries or by fuel cells.  If this new development in battery technology turns out to really be the breakthrough that it appears to be, then batteries may beat out fuel cells for cars.  It will also have a major impact on the energy storage field.

Although we tend to hear less about the shift from coal to renewable energy in India than in China, a significant shift has been occurring.  This piece by Keith Schneider chronicles the cancellation of plans for Ultra Mega Power Projects.  An example of circumstances driving the shift is the recent winning bid to build a 250 MW solar PV facility, which set a new record low for India at the equivalent of 5¢/kWh.  It should be noted, however, that China effectively controls the global solar panel market, and this can cause cascading effects on solar employment all over the world.

If you have ever wondered why the Southeast U.S. has so few wind farms, then this essay by Lyndsey Gilpin at Inside Climate News is for you.  Speaking of wind farms, Texas is the top state for wind energy jobs.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said energy-related CO2 emissions in 2016 from petroleum and natural gas increased 1.1% and 0.9%, respectively, while coal-related emissions decreased 8.6%, leading to an overall 1.7% decline in energy-related CO2 emissions.

On Tuesday, Advanced Microgrid Solutions announced it is working with Walmart to install behind-the-meter batteries at 27 stores in Southern California to balance on-site energy production and use, and to provide flexibility to utilities.  Speaking of batteries for energy storage, their size and weight combine to make it logical to build them near the facilities where they will be used.

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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