Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/5/2018

Policy and Politics

Representatives of over 130 countries and about 50 scientists were meeting in Incheon, South Korea, this week to try and reach consensus on a report detailing what it would mean — and what it would take — to limit the warming of the planet to 1.5°C.  Climate Home News provided some insights into the U.S. position.  According to comments from a scientist who helped prepare the report, limiting warming to 1.5°C will be “a really enormous lift.”  This and the climate talks in Poland in December, have caused Fiona Harvey to declare the next three months as crucial to the future of the planet.  The role of forests in combating climate change risks being overlooked by the world’s governments, according to a group of scientists that has warned that halting deforestation is “just as urgent” as eliminating the use of fossil fuels.  On the brighter side, the Heinrich Böll Foundation has released a publication entitled “Radical Realism for Climate Justice” that lays out in eight chapters a path for limiting warming to 1.5°C.

President Donald Trump will nominate DOE official Bernard McNamee to the FERC seat left vacant by former commissioner Robert Powelson.  McNamee was one of the key architects of the DOE’s proposed rule to bail out nuclear and coal-fired power plants, which FERC rejected unanimously in January.  Last Friday, President Trump signed the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act, which is expected to speed up the development of advanced nuclear reactors in the U.S. by eliminating several of the financial and technological barriers standing in the way of nuclear innovation.  ProPublica, in partnership with the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail, reported that following a ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that blocked a key permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection began rewriting the state construction standards for pipeline river crossings that prompted the appeals court to block the plan.  The vast majority of Democrats and Republicans running for federal office do not mention the threat of global warming in digital or TV ads, in their campaign literature, or on social media.

The documentary Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow, will air October 13 on Discovery Channel and Science Channel.  In addition to focusing on NASA’s historic accomplishments in space, the film sheds light on the agency’s lesser-known, but vital, role in measuring the health of Earth.  To mark the film’s release, the writer and director published an opinion piece in The New York Times highlighting the latter role.  Another documentary, Living in the Future’s Past, was reviewed in the L.A. Times.  In The Guardian, Bill McKibbon had an opinion piece in which he discussed the link between the Trump administration’s policies on climate change and child refugee camps, while Leo Barasi argued that further progress on climate change will require people to begin to make changes in their lives, a much more difficult task than shutting down coal-fired power plants.  Fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg agrees with him.  That is why she is protesting outside of the Swedish Parliament.  Photographer Adriene Hughes presented some photos of icebergs in Wired that are sew great.  The October issue of National Geographic has an essay by Anne Lamott on hope, the subject of her new book Almost Everything: Notes on Hope.


Carbon Brief released an amazing new interactive, in which the authors extracted the key data and metrics from around 70 peer-reviewed climate studies to show how global warming is projected to affect the world and its regions across a range of temperatures.  The data cover a range of impacts, such as sea level rise, crop yields, biodiversity, drought, economy, and health.

A study published in Science Advances last month looked at tsunami impacts in a world of rising seas and found that as sea level rises, small earthquakes will cause tsunamis as devastating as those caused by large earthquakes today.  For example, today, it would take an 8.6-magnitude quake to flood Macau, but with 50 years of sea-level rise, an 8.2 quake, which is six times less powerful, would inundate the city.

The Guardian has a new series about drought in Australia entitled “The New Normal.”  Here are Part I and Part II.  New research in Nature Communications suggests that the summer fire season in Mediterranean Europe is going to get worse.  Under 3°C warming, the area that is currently burned every year would double.  Even more worryingly, 40% more area would be burned even if the Paris Climate Agreement is fulfilled and warming stays below 1.5°C.

A paper published this week in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science analyzed 13 ocean-based solutions to address climate change.  The study considered the effectiveness and feasibility of both global-scale and local solutions using information from more than 450 publications.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that global warming of 1.5°C would cause economic losses in China of $47 billion annually, whereas warming of 2°C would increase them to $84 billion.  Annual economic losses due to drought were $7 billion per year on average between 1984 and 2017.

If the effects of climate change go unmitigated, the world’s agricultural trade network will shrink dramatically by 2050, a group of researchers show in a new paper in the journal Palgrave Communications.  The U.S., which produced 30% of global food exports in 2015, would only produce 2% by 2050, if temperatures are left to rise by more than 2°C.


David Roberts published another column at Vox this week about the recent market research and polling done on behalf of the Edison Electric Institute on the subject of the public’s perception of 100% renewable energy.  Roberts’ summary of the public’s sentiment is: “We want clean, modern energy, and we’ll pay for it. We’re willing to let experts work out the details, but we don’t want to hear that it can’t be done. Just do it.”  In a second article, Roberts pointed out that “Silicon PV dominates the market more than ever,” so that most new technologies complement it, rather than replacing it.

Renewable energy companies are beginning to build hybrid wind/solar projects in the U.S.  The rationale is that wind and solar facilities complement each other.  They hit their peaks at different times of day and night, allowing them to provide a steadier output together than if each was alone.  On the other hand, three renewable energy companies are planning new solar projects in the California desert that will include battery storage to meet nighttime demand.  A new paper in the journal Chem presented the design principles for and the demonstration of a highly efficient integrated solar flow battery device with a record solar-to-output electricity efficiency of 14.1%.  The device integrates photovoltaics, storage, and energy delivery.  Energy Storage News reported on the pairing of energy storage with gas generators, which some call a game changer because it allows renewable energy to provide the base load with gas plus batteries serving peak loads.  Two new papers released on Thursday find that wind farms generate comparatively low power for the area they take up, and that installing lots of them could heat up the surrounding land.  The heating is localized, however, and others have criticized the conclusions about the energy generated per area taken up.

According to a study by the German group Urgewald released Thursday, 1,380 coal-fired power plants are under construction or development worldwide.  Export credit agencies such as the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, China Development Bank Corp. and Korea Trade Insurance Corp. were among the biggest supporters of those power plants.

The International Energy Agency has issued a new report entitled “The Future of Petrochemicals.”  In it they predict that direct greenhouse gas emissions from petrochemicals production would increase 20% by 2030 and 30% by 2050.  Furthermore, the main driver of the petrochemical industry’s growing climate footprint is plastics.  On Monday, the Swiss startup Climeworks opened its third plant removing CO2 directly from the air.  It will capture 150 tonnes of CO2, which will be converted to methane and used to power trucks running on “green gas.”

Oil prices have been rising lately, having increased 27% this year to more than $85 a barrel.  This is good news for auto makers, who will be rolling out new electric models over the next three or four years, beginning with the Paris Auto Show this week.  It also means there is a need for more charging infrastructure.  Virginia has entered into a public-private partnership with Los Angeles based EVgo Services to conduct the initial buildout of its electric vehicle charging network.  It is dedicating 15% of its Volkswagen settlement money, the maximum amount allowed, toward the project.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has released its “2018 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard” and John Rogers has written about it at the Union of Concerned Scientists website.  Gov. Ralph Northam released his 2018 Virginia Energy Plan on Tuesday and it emphasizes renewables, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, and modernizing the electric grid.

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.