Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/8/2020

Politics and Policy

Congressional Republicans are planning to launch a counter pressure campaign against the country’s largest banks after several of them ruled out financial support for oil drilling projects in the Arctic.  Such a campaign may be largely posturing because according to Inside Climate News, the banks’ pledges may be largely symbolic.  In Pennsylvania, Republican lawmakers have called on Democratic Governor Tom Wolf to rescind his executive order including Pennsylvania in the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.  He rejected the idea.  A coalition of public interest, social justice, watchdog and environmental groups are joining forces to hold Duke Energy, the largest investor-owned U.S. electric utility, accountable for its policies. 

A new working paper has found that trade barriers worldwide are generally lower for carbon-intensive goods than cleaner products, creating a large “implicit subsidy to CO2 emissions” of $550 billion to $800 billion annually.  In a comment published by Climate Home News, three authors of last winter’s “Production Gap Report” argued that to meet climate goals and avoid further market chaos, governments need to plan the decline of coal, oil, and gas production, with support for workers.

Economists: Spending coronavirus recovery money on climate-friendly “green” policy initiatives could not only help shift the world closer to a net-zero emissions pathway, but could also offer the best economic returns for government spending.  Europe is facing a recession and governments are pumping out cash to keep economies afloat, but the EU’s Executive Commission has pledged not to roll back its climate ambitions.  Rather, the EU will use its “Green Deal” to drive the bloc’s economic recovery from the pandemic.  In a letter sent to senators Thursday, the Treasury Department said it is considering ways to let solar, wind, and other alternative energy developers continue to qualify for tax incentives critical for paying for the building of wind turbines and solar panel arrays – even if construction is put on hold.  Ten states and Washington, D.C., are asking FERC to postpone its approvals of any new fossil fuel infrastructure, including natural gas pipelines, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Writing at Vice, Geoff Dembicki laid out how former Vice President Joe Biden could become an unlikely climate saviorE&E News examined the climate records of five contenders for the Democratic VP nomination.  Progressive organizations are calling on Biden’s campaign to oust Larry Summers from his advisory role, citing concerns over his stances on environmental issues.  In an interesting opinion piece in Politico, sociology professor Dana R. Fisher wrote: “New results from a survey conducted at the end of April show that the vast majority of climate activists will vote for Biden.  But the data also suggest that they won’t support him blindly—and are prepared to cause trouble if he dismisses their concerns.”  Young conservatives are working to persuade their Republican elders to put forward a climate agenda, without sacrificing traditional GOP principles like market competition and limited government.  As the economy melts down because of the coronavirus, Republicans are testing a political response for this fall: saying Democratic climate policies would bring similar pain.

Climate and Climate Science

The vast majority of humanity has always lived in regions where the average annual temperatures are between 6°C (43°F) and 28°C (82°F), which are ideal for human health and food production.  Now, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that over the next 50 years, 1 to 3 billion people will live in extreme heat – defined as an average temperature of 29°C (84°F) or above.  Mark Maslin, Prof. of Earth System Science at University College, London, discussed the article at The Conversation.  In addition, an article published in Science Advances reported that a comprehensive evaluation of weather station data showed that some coastal subtropical locations have already reported a wet bulb temperature of 35°C (human’s upper physiological limit) and that extreme humid heat overall has more than doubled in frequency since 1979.  According to research published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, with 2°C of global average warming, the average farm worker will experience 39 days of unsafe heat each year. 

New data, released Tuesday from the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, indicated that April was tied with April 2016 as the hottest April on record.  A contorted jet stream is cleaving the U.S. into two seasons this weekend, with record heat in the West and Southwest, and record cold in the Midwest, Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast.

Scientists have been studying the coronaviruses of southern China for years and warning that swift climate and environmental change there — in both loss of biodiversity and encroachment by civilization — was going to help new viruses jump to people.  Taken together over the long term, seasonal allergies present one of the most robust examples of how global warming increases health risks.  Allergies, which are already a major health burden, will become an even larger drain on the economy.  (This article has a good table comparing the symptoms of COVID-19 with allergies, the flu, and the common cold.)

Climate change has been influencing the locations at which tropical cyclones occur, according to new NOAA-led research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Since 1980, the number of tropical cyclones has been rising in the North Atlantic and Central Pacific, while declining in the western Pacific and the South Indian Ocean.  Sea-level is rising faster than previously believed and could exceed 3 feet by the end of the century unless global emissions are reduced, according to a survey of 106 specialists published in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science.

The rapid collapse of mountain glaciers can have devastating impacts downslope of them.  Such rapid collapse appears to be increasing in frequency because of a warming climate, but could be due to the greater availability of satellite images.  Shrinking snow caps in the Himalayas are causing the spread of toxic green algae blooms in the Arabian Sea, a new study has found.


One of the challenges of obtaining all electricity from wind and solar is providing for the seasonal shift, i.e., production is greater in summer and demand is greater in winter.  Technology firm Wärtsilä proposed that the problem be solved by employing power-to-gas technologies by which excess electricity if converted into either hydrogen or methane, which can be stored until needed.  Green hydrogen’s advocates say its time has come.  Shell and Dutch energy company Eneco confirmed that they had submitted a bid in last week’s Dutch offshore wind tender through their new joint venture CrossWind, which plans to develop 759 MW of capacity feeding a 200-MW electrolyzer to produce green hydrogen.  Australia’s energy minister said that the government was setting aside $191 million to jumpstart hydrogen projects as the country aims to build the industry by 2030.

Three of the four biggest U.S. oil and gas producers posted multimillion to multibillion dollar losses in the first quarter of 2020.  About half of Louisiana Oil and Gas Association members expect to file for bankruptcy because of the market collapse.  Insolvent or overly leveraged firms, including oil drillers and oil services firms, won’t be able to tap the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending program, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan said Wednesday.  One side effect of the economic problems in the oil and gas market will be an increase in the number of orphan wells when the companies owning them go out of business.

The coronavirus crisis is not only battering the oil and gas industry; it’s hurting businesses trying to move the country toward cleaner sources of energy.  The 2.25 GW Navajo Generating Station shut down in November, leaving unemployment and underutilized electrical transmission infrastructure in its wake.  Now, startup Navajo Power wants to build massive solar power plants while channeling the proceeds into electrification and economic development for Navajo communities.  Wind, solar, and hydroelectricity produced more electricity than coal for 40 straight days in the U.S. this year, topping the previous record of nine consecutive days.  Dominion Virginia’s new integrated resource plan sets a goal of nearly 16 GW of solar, more than 5 GW of offshore wind, and 2.7 GW of energy storage over the next 15 years.  Augusta County (VA) Public Schools will be receiving more solar energy thanks to Secure Futures Solar, which recently signed an agreement with City National Bank to provide an $8 million loan to finance the construction of solar projects in several schools.

Southern California Edison is procuring a 770 MW/3,080 MWh package of battery resources to bolster grid reliability, in what will be one of the largest storage procurements made in the U.S. to date.  Dan Gearino has details.  The levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for battery storage has been falling.  Andy Colthorpe of Energy Storage News took a deep dive into the details of how the LCOE is determined for batteries.  Minnesota utility Great River Energy confirmed that it will pilot Form Energy’s novel super-long-duration energy storage technology.  The 1 MW project will be able to discharge at full power capacity for up to 150 hours, an unprecedented achievement.

The auto industry logic about electric vehicles (EVs) is that transforming the worst gas guzzlers and CO2 emitters will save more energy than nominal gains for smaller cars that use relatively little gasoline, explaining why most of the new EVs are big SUVs and pickups.  According to a new Wood Mackenzie report, by 2030, there will be 8.6 million EV charging outlets installed in Europe, 9.8 million in China, and 10.8 million in North America.


Climate scientist Michael Mann has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors given to a scientist in the U.S.  MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel has launched a new interactive website entitled “Climate Science, Risk and Solutions: Climate Knowledge for Everyone”.  At Yale Climate Connections, Michael Svoboda presented more than 70 climate fiction films you can choose from for your stay-at-home viewing.  Climate fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson had a wonderful essay on The New Yorker’s website last Friday.  Even though it doesn’t fall within this week, I’ve included it because it is so thought-provoking.  Bill McKibben encourages you to read it.  SueEllen Campbell has a short essay at Yale Climate Connections addressing the question of whether individual or collective action is more important for fighting climate change.  In it she provides links to several articles, including one by Michael Grunwald in Politico, who wrote “while individual change alone can’t fix the climate, the climate can’t be fixed without it.” 

Closing Thought

Congratulations to the staff of The Washington Post who won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in explanatory reporting for its series on climate change, “2°C: Beyond the Limit”.

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.