Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/17/2018

Policy and Politics

The Trump administration’s proposed replacement for the Clean Power Plan is expected to be released by the EPA late next week, an agency source said on Thursday.  Politico says that the strategy for the plan is changing the way the costs and benefits are calculated.  After stating on Sunday that the California wildfires had “nothing to do with climate change,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke suggested on Thursday that climate change may have a role.  Last Friday climate scientist Kevin Trenberth had an article at The Conversation outlining the links between climate change and wildfires.  When Zinke took over as Interior Secretary, he instated a new requirement that scientific funding above $50,000 must undergo an additional review to ensure expenditures “better align with the administration’s priorities”.  The person overseeing that review is Steve Howke, whose highest degree is a bachelor’s in business administration.  During his confirmation hearing on Thursday, Lane Genatowski, President Trump’s nominee to lead the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) within DOE, told members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that he would be glad to run the agency if it continues to be funded.  However, he also supports Trump’s budget, which zeros out the program.

A federal judge in Montana on Wednesday ordered the U.S. State Department to do a full environmental review of a revised route for the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline.  On Thursday, the Southern Environmental Law Center and Appalachian Mountain Advocates filed a lawsuit with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the necessity of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. A review by the Charleston Gazette-Mail, in collaboration with ProPublica, showed that, over the past two years, federal and state agencies tasked with enforcing the nation’s environmental laws have moved repeatedly to clear roadblocks and expedite the Mountain Valley Pipeline.  Nevertheless, the strategy of environmental groups opposing the pipelines appears to be paying off.  A group of young climate advocates who sued the state of Washington to force it to reduce greenhouse gas emissions lost their case on Tuesday when King County Superior Court Judge Michael Scott sided with the state and agreed to dismiss it.  The lawyers for the young people said they will appeal.  Across the Atlantic, the People’s Climate Case, a lawsuit by families across Europe calling for stronger EU climate action, has gotten the go-ahead from the European General Court.

Ivy Main has a new post on her blog asking Dominion Energy Virginia to fully reveal their plans for modernizing the grid.  In a commentary in the journal Joule, climate scientist James Hansen and colleague examined the cost to future generations of carbon capture and storage.  In an opinion piece in The New York Times, Justin Gillis and Jameson McBride advocated for a national clean energy standard as an alternative to a carbon tax.  I was unaware until recently of an article in a 1912 New Zealand newspaper about how burning coal might produce future warming by adding CO2 to the atmosphere.  Snopes checked it out and found it to be true.


A new study, published in Nature on Wednesday, used satellite-based observations of sea surface temperature from 1982 to 2016 to detect a doubling in the number of marine heat wave days.  Furthermore, this number is projected to increase by a factor of 16 for global warming of 1.5°C and by a factor of 23 for global warming of 2.0°C.  Today, 87% of marine heat waves are attributable to human-caused warming, with this ratio increasing to nearly 100% under any global warming scenario exceeding 2°C.  Meanwhile, sea surface temperatures are increasing in the tropical waters of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, creating conditions for the development of an El Niño event beginning this fall.

One driver of sea level rise is the melting of glaciers in West Antarctica.  Part of that melting is due to warm ocean water washing against and under the face of the glaciers.  In a paper in Nature Geoscience, scientists reported that periodic arrival of the warm currents is due to natural variability in those currents, as explained by Daisy Dunn at Carbon Brief.  A study in Science Advances has found that sea level rise will allow tsunamis to reach much further inland, significantly increasing the risk of floods.  This means that tsunamis, associated with a given magnitude earthquake, that might not be deadly today, could wreak havoc in the future.  On the subject of sea level rise, when I first started studying climate change impacts it was a surprise to me to learn that sea level varied around the globe.  This clear, short piece from Science News explains why.

A new paper in Nature Climate Change examined the likely damages in coastal Europe over the rest of this century associated with sea level rise.  The authors found that the present expected annual damage of €1.25 billion is projected to increase by two to three orders of magnitude, ranging between €93 and €961 billion.  Furthermore, the current expected annual number of people exposed to coastal flooding of 102,000 is projected to reach 1.52–3.65 million.

In a new paper in Nature Communications, French and Dutch scientists have forecast that there is a 58% chance that the period 2018-2022 will be warmer than the global average trend, although that chance increases to 72% for the period 2018-2021.  Many high temperature records were set around the world during the month of July, with many exceeding 50°C (122°F).  Writing at The Guardian in a series on “Sweltering Cities”, Amy Fleming and coworkers wrote about the “cool haves and hot have-nots”, Jonathan Watts and Elle Hunt explored what cities will be like when such temperatures become commonplace, Oliver Milman explored heat in U.S. cities, and Philip Oldfield presented four ways to cool cities.   Prof. Stefan Rahmstorf, a prominent German climate scientist, wrote an essay for Politico explaining this summer’s strange weather in Europe.  In it he stated “Climate change does not just mean that everything is gradually getting warmer: It is also changing the major circulations of our atmosphere and ocean. This is making the weather increasingly weird and unpredictable.”


Germany has set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and another 15% by 2030.  Many analysts think the country will miss those targets.  Even though Germany is a leader in renewable energy, it has been shutting down its nuclear power plants, which emit no CO2, while continuing to depend on coal.  Nevertheless, one German startup is doing what it can to reduce emissions by integrating flexible solar panels into the body of its new EV.  (This article has a neat photo from inside the car.)

In a new study in Nature Communications, Anna Harper and colleagues found that expansion of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to meet the 1.5°C limit on temperature increases could cause net losses of carbon from the land surface.  Instead, they found that protecting and expanding forests could be more effective options for meeting the Paris Agreement than BECCS.

According to the Australian Energy Market Operator, South Australia is likely to source the equivalent of 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2025.  British renewable energy investor Quercus said it will halt the construction of a $570 million solar power plant in Iran due to recently imposed U.S. sanctions on Tehran.

Analysis of government data by Climate Home News has identified roughly 300 active and 200 abandoned coal mines that are the source of almost one-tenth of U.S. methane pollution, equivalent in warming potential to roughly 13 million cars.

A note released this week by the research firm Rhodium Group stated that absent “market interventions at a grand scale” — such as the Trump administration’s plan to force utilities to buy uncompetitive coal-fired power under the mandate of national security — the trends leading to coal-fired power plant closures are accelerating and could lead to the country’s coal fleet being nearly halved again by 2030.  Evidence for that comes from the Midwest where electric utilities in states such as Iowa, Kansas, Wisconsin and Michigan have recently announced goals to close coal-fired power plants and pivot toward cleaner resources.  However, as pointed out by Richard Newell and Daniel Raimi of Resources for the Future, the world still hasn’t started a transition away from fossil fuels.  While their percentage contribution to the total has decreased or remained stable, their absolute contribution is still increasing.

The UK is heavily dependent on natural gas, with the fuel meeting about two thirds of domestic heating demand.  However, meeting Britain’s 2050 climate goals will require the nation to wean itself off natural gas, but the nation’s electricity system probably won’t be able to cope without energy storage.  Consequently, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the heating sector is “one of the toughest challenges the country faces in its low-carbon transition,” according to a report published Friday by the UK Energy Research Centre.

A new report by GTM Research examined the changing landscape of EV charging infrastructure.  Currently, there are many participants, with no clear leaders.  Nevertheless, the report predicted that growth in EV sales worldwide is expected to boost demand for charging points, with up to 40 million being installed by 2030.  New England governors and eastern Canadian premiers say they will work together to build infrastructure for EVs and take other steps to address climate change.

Siemens Gamesa has signed a subcontract with Ørsted to supply turbines for the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project, initiated by Dominion Energy.  The blades for this project will be produced at the company’s manufacturing facility in Aalborg, Denmark, and the nacelle assemblies will originate from the Siemens Gamesa facility in Cuxhaven, Germany. Once in Virginia, the turbine components will be installed by Ørsted on monopile foundations. Deliveries are expected to begin in mid-2020.

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.