Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/28/2018

Policy and Politics

A new space station sensor that will lay the foundation for future long-term observations of Earth’s climate is moving ahead, despite repeated attempts by the Trump administration to kill it.  The Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures has issued its first status report, revealing that over 500 companies are now supporters of it, including the world’s largest banks, asset managers, and pension funds, responsible for assets of nearly $100 trillion.  On the subject of preparing for the effects of climate change, more academics are approaching questions once reserved for doomsday cults: (1) Can modern society prepare for a world in which climate change threatens large-scale social, economic, and political upheaval?  (2) What are the policy and social implications of rapid climate disruption?  In his Wednesday column in The Guardian, George Monbiot tackled the threat that continued economic growth poses to limiting greenhouse gas emissions.  A new study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, examined the cost of climate change to the economy of each country, as well as to the global economy.  They found the biggest impact to be on India, but that the global impact was much greater than the impact on any individual country.

Speaking to Oliver Milman of The Guardian, Drew Shindell, a Duke University climate scientist and a co-author of the upcoming IPCC report on the feasibility of limiting warming to 1.5°C, said “It’s extraordinarily challenging to get to the 1.5°C target and we are nowhere near on track to doing that. … While it’s technically possible, it’s extremely improbable, absent a real sea change in the way we evaluate risk. We are nowhere near that.”  Nevertheless, reviewers of the report are concerned that the “Summary for Policymakers” is being altered to make the dangers of climate change seem less alarming.  As a result, they say, policymakers could seriously underestimate the risks of global warming.  A new paper in the journal Annual Review of Environment and Resources, written by a group of UK academics after reviewing almost 200 published papers, concluded “Further delay in pursuing an emissions path consistent with 1.5°C likely renders that target unattainable by conventional means, instead relying on expensive large-scale CDR [carbon dioxide removal], or risky solar radiation management.”  Amazingly, the Trump administration appears to be using this situation as justification for freezing the Obama administration’s automobile fuel efficiency standards, stating in the environmental impact statement for the freeze, that things are going to be so bad that additional CO2 in the atmosphere will have a minor effect on the outcome.

Lawmakers are divided on whether to extend a popular tax credit for electric cars.  EV manufacturers face a cap of 200,000 vehicles that are eligible for the credit, a level now being reached by Tesla and General Motors.  The Washington Post published content from Siemens about the infrastructure that will be required for cities to accommodate large numbers of EVs.  According to The Hill, the EPA plans to merge its Office of the Science Advisor, a senior post that was created to counsel the EPA administrator on the scientific research underpinning health and environmental regulations, with the Office of Science Policy and place them under the Office of Research and Development.  This moves the Science Advisor one tier lower in the organizational structure.

Climate

Carbon Brief has produced a new map showing both how the temperature has changed up to present day and how it might change in the future for every different part of the world.  The map combines observed temperature changes with future climate model projections.  It breaks up the world into “grid cells” representing every degree latitude and every degree longitude.  Clicking on a grid cell produces a side bar with the temperature information for that location.

Beyond Meat –makers of meat-free burgers – commissioned a study with the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan to conduct a “cradle-to-distribution” life cycle assessment of its Beyond Burger and compare it to that of an uncooked quarter-pound beef burger.  They found that the Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy, and has 99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than the beef.

In its continuing coverage of the impacts of climate change on human heritage sites around the world, The New York Times published an article about the efforts to protect ancient archaeological sites in the Orkney islands of Scotland from sea level rise.  Closer to home ProPublica investigated the on-going costs and environmental justice issues of beach replenishment on the East Coast of the U.S.  A new study published Monday in the journal Environmental Research Letters has warned that climate change has adversely and uniquely affected many of the 417 national parks spread across the U.S. and its territories.  Eroding coastlines, recurrent flooding, increased temperatures, etc., will all act to cause Americans to move during the remainder of this century.  Writing in The Guardian, Oliver Milman looked at the impacts of the “climate migrants.”  A sea level research and communications group’s rapid analysis of the storm surge from Hurricane Florence has found that 1-in-5 of the homes impacted along the Carolina coast wouldn’t have fared so badly had sea levels not risen significantly since 1970.

We typically think of sea level rise as the main consequence of melting glaciers and increased CO2 and methane emissions as a major consequence of melting permafrost.  In mountainous regions of the world, however, those events can lead to slope destabilization, causing more landslides.  On the subject of melting permafrost, scientists have discovered that a lake in Alaska formed by it is leaking large quantities of methane.  It is also leaking other hydrocarbon gases typically found in gas wells, suggesting that at least part of the methane is from a fossil source, rather than being formed by microbial decomposition of organic matter in the lake bottom.

According to a study published Thursday in the journal Science, last year’s record hurricane season – which saw Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria cause devastation across North and Central America – was primarily driven by “pronounced warm conditions” in the tropical Atlantic Ocean.  On September 19 and 23, Arctic sea ice appeared to have reached its seasonal minimum extent for the year, at 4.59 million square kilometers (1.77 million square miles). This ties 2018 with 2008 and 2010 for the sixth lowest minimum extent in the nearly 40-year satellite record.

A recent paper in the journal Earth’s Future used modeling to estimate climate sensitivity (the warming associated with a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere) using the energy balance technique, but with corrections for the two weaknesses that have been discovered in the technique.  The results showed that the estimates were larger than previously calculated with the technique and were consistent with mainstream climate science estimates.

Energy

In earlier Roundups I have linked to articles about zinc-air batteries, potential competitors to lithium-ion batteries for energy storage.  Now NantEnergy has announced that it has made zinc-air batteries rechargeable and reduced their cost to $100 per kilowatt-hr, compared to $300 to $400 per kilowatt-hr for lithium-ion batteries.  Currently, there are still limitations on the applications of zinc-air batteries, but they hold promise for micro-grid and other utility-scale energy storage.

The Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) announced Wednesday that it will speed up the retirement of its coal-fired generation by as much as 10 years — planning to retire the majority of its remaining plants in the next five years and the entire fleet within 10.  In its place, NIPSCO is looking to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind coupled with battery storage.  Spanish electric utility Iberdrola SA, the world’s biggest wind power producer, plans to expand its renewable capacity in the U.S. by about 50% over four years as part of its global plan to reduce carbon emissions.

The unfinished nuclear power plants in Georgia and South Carolina are facing different fates.  In Georgia, the primary owners of Plant Vogtle say the project will continue after they resolved a disagreement about multibillion-dollar budget overages.  In South Carolina, the Office of Regulatory Staff argued that SCE&G should have abandoned construction of two more nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station more than two years before the project ultimately collapsed, and thus construction costs after March 12, 2015, should be disallowed as “imprudent”, freeing ratepayers from having to pay them.  Two federal appeals courts have now upheld state nuclear power plant subsidies, and in doing so, they have also helped to solidify the legal footing for state renewable energy programs across the country.

The UK, Canada, Denmark, and Spain have joined the now 19-strong global Carbon Neutrality Coalition, a group of nations striving to achieve net zero CO2 emissions during the second half of the century, in line with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.  China is aiming for renewables to account for at least 35% of electricity consumption by 2030, according to a revised draft plan from the National Development & Reform Commission.  Nevertheless, according to CoalSwarm, newly released satellite photos appear to show continuing construction of coal plants that China said it was cancelling last year.  Wind is set to become the European Union’s largest source of electricity by 2027, according to International Energy Agency.

Sunpreme, a California-based solar cell and bifacial panel maker, plans to open a Texas manufacturing facility in 2019.  Canadian solar panel manufacturer Heliene is opening a solar panel manufacturing plant in Mountain Iron, Minn.

Since 2012, Texas has approved 43 petrochemical projects along the Gulf Coast that will add millions of tons of greenhouse gas pollution to the atmosphere, according to an environmental study released this week by the Environmental Integrity Project.  The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative committed to cutting methane emissions to an intensity of 0.25% of the group’s total fossil fuel production.  Such a reduction would equate to 350,000 tonnes of methane annually.

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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