Climate and Energy News 3/2/2018

Policy and Politics

Robert J. Samuelson devoted his weekly economics column in The Washington Post this week to the BP report I linked to last week.  His message was not a happy one.  Without a price on carbon, the best that can be achieved by the reductions in fossil fuel use projected by BP is to keep up with population and economic growth.  Therefore, it is interesting that on Wednesday, a coalition of 34 student groups from around the country announced the formation of Students for Carbon Dividends, a bipartisan group calling for adoption of the Baker-Schulz carbon fee and dividend plan.  A new report by the Stockholm Environment Institute argues that it is insufficient to try and limit demand for fossil fuels.  Rather, it will be necessary to limit supply.  Using California as a case study, they illustrate the impact of supply limitation.  One factor influencing fossil fuel extraction is government subsidies.  A new report from the OECD combined figures obtained by them and by the International Energy Agency to provide a more comprehensive estimate of global subsidies.  The estimate is $373 billion for 2015.  While this value is substantial, it is less than the estimate for 2014.

Time has a detailed look at what the EPA website looks like after a year of climate change censorship.  Last October the EPA quietly released a report on the development of a Climate Resilience Screening Index (CRSI) that looks at a number of factors that influence resilience.  The report examines the CRSI of each county in the U.S.  A Silicon Valley startup will use new and better modeling techniques to help companies anticipate the impacts of climate change in their business decisions.  Generation Z has been in the news a lot recently about gun control, but they are also active about climate change, planning a nationwide series of climate marches on July 21.

Department of Interior emails obtained by The New York Times reveal that the location and availability of fossil fuel reserves was a key factor in the Trump administration’s decision to roll back protections for the Bears Ears National Monument.  Congress must pass a new spending bill by March 23 to avoid a government shutdown.  More than 80 anti-environmental-policy riders are included in either the House-passed version of the new bill or in Senate drafts.  I have referred to Virginia’s interest in joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).  Now Environment America, in collaboration with the Frontier Group, has analyzed the economic impact of RGGI and found it to be highly successful.

Climate

A new report published in February by the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station cautions that “Forests in Vermont and across the northeastern United States are under increasing stress from changing temperatures and precipitation regimes and increasing prevalence of invasive insects and disease.”  One way precipitation is changing is by becoming more intense.  For example, analyses done by Climate Central showed that nationwide trends of days with one-, two-, and three-inch rainfalls are increasing.

The weather continues to be strange, with Europe being colder than many places in the Arctic.  Warming has been unprecedented there, causing some to ask whether it has reached a tipping point.  Meanwhile, in the U.S., spring is running 20 days or more ahead of schedule in parts of the Ohio River Valley and the Mid-Atlantic.

Articles this week examined the possible impacts of climate change on two charismatic penguins: Adélie and king penguins.  Adélie penguins living along the Antarctica Peninsula’s western side are having difficulties because of climate change, but the recent discovery of a huge colony in the Danger Islands on the Peninsula’s eastern side holds out hope for the species.  King penguins breed on islands that are far enough north to be ice free, but travel to the Antarctic Polar Front (APF) to obtain food for their chicks.  As the planet warms, the APF will move south, increasing the distance they must travel, ultimately making that travel untenable.  Thus, they will be required to move to new breeding grounds, but their availability is an open question.

According to a new paper in Nature Climate Change, 2% of global mangroves, which are excellent carbon sinks, were lost between 2000 and 2012.  Furthermore, the amount of carbon released by clearing mangroves amounts to 27m tons of CO2 per year, equivalent to the annual emissions of Myanmar.

According to a new report released Monday by the Center for Climate and Security, more than 200 coastal military installations had been flooded by storm surges, compared to about 30 in 2008.  One place with a U.S. military connection being impacted by rising seas is the Marshall Islands in the Pacific.  Life there is difficult for many reasons.  In a three-part series, Mashable follows several Marshall Islanders as they grapple with an uncertain future: Part I, Part II, Part III.

Energy

The Virginia legislature has passed a bill that brings Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power under a new rate review scheme that also imposes new restrictions on their regulators at the State Corporation Commission.  The legislation allows the two utilities to offset profits above their authorized rate of return with spending on eligible projects, which must be approved by the commission in advance.  In a guest post at Power for the People VA, Thomas Hadwin explained why it is important for Virginia to get those projects right.

A new paper published Tuesday in the journal Energy and Environmental Science shows that a conversion to an 80% solar and wind-based energy system is possible in the U.S., but it will require significant advancement in energy storage technologies or hundreds of billions of dollars of renewable energy infrastructure.  Renewable energy resources were as important as natural gas in driving down CO2 emissions in the U.S. over a seven-year period beginning in 2007, according to a new peer-reviewed study in the journal Energy PolicyData published on Tuesday by the not-for-profit environmental impact researcher CDP found that 101 of the more than 570 cities on its books sourced at least 70% of their electricity from renewable sources in 2017, compared to 42 in 2015.  Utility Dive’s “2018 State of the Electric Utility Survey” of more than 600 U.S. and Canadian electric utility professionals shows utilities expect to add more solar, wind, and natural gas resources, while nuclear stagnates and coal declines.  Rocky Mountain Institute released a new report on the benefits of community-scale solar.

Statoil’s floating wind farm achieved a capacity factor of 65% from November through January.  For comparison, the U.S. on-shore wind fleet had an average capacity factor of about 37% last year.  General Electric will develop a new off-shore wind turbine in France.  The new turbine will be the largest on the market, will produce 12 MW, and stand 853 ft tall.  One concern with wind farms, whether off-shore or on-shore, is bird mortality.  New research using satellites is providing better data about flyways and bird hotspots on the U.S. east coast that can be used by wind farm developers to reduce mortality.

New analysis from The Brattle Group concludes the U.S. market for energy storage could reach 50 GW, as long as battery prices continue their decline and state and federal policies encourage the resource.  One problem with lithium ion batteries is that they perform poorly when they are cold.  A team of Chinese scientists has developed a new battery that works well at temperatures as low as -70°C, but it produces only a low voltage.

Silicon-based solar cells have a theoretical maximum efficiency of 29%.  Consequently, because perovskite absorbs solar energy in another part of the spectrum, layering silicon and perovskite solar cells has the potential to harvest more energy from the sun.  Adam Vaughan explored this and other ideas about what might happen next in the solar power industry.

China used 0.4% more coal in 2017 than in 2016, the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday in its annual National Social and Economic Development communique.  This was the first increase since 2013.  However, as a portion of total energy consumption, coal usage fell 1.6% to 60.4% last year, while clean energy, including natural gas and renewables, rose 1.3% to 20.8% from 2016.

Last week the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute sponsored a panel discussion entitled “The Future of Energy Infrastructure in the U.S. and Implications for Clean Energy” and the Energy News Network summarized the major points, which help explain why building long-distance electric transmission lines is so complicated.

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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