Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/16/2020

Politics and Policy

A proclamation released by the White House last weekend would increase tariffs on imported solar cells and modules in the final year of the tariffs and eliminate an exemption for two-sided solar panels.  While the Trump administration has tried to revive the coal industry, the German government set an exit date and made a plan to help coal communities survive, thereby providing lessons the U.S. could benefit from.  President Trump signed an executive order initiating the formation of the “United States One Trillion Trees Interagency Council.”  Several conservative climate groups have attempted to wrench the issue of climate change from the hands of the Democrats and shore up climate concern on the right, in part because of the impact of The Green New Deal and the fact that Americans are now nearly four times more likely to say they’re alarmed about the climate crisis than to be dismissive of it.  Vox’s Umair Irfan asked the Biden campaign six key questions about his climate change plans while GreenTech Media asked clean-energy experts and advocates what’s most likely to get done in the first 100 days of a Biden presidency.  Politico asserted that Biden and some Congressional Democrats want to use trade agreements to combat global warming, breaking from decades of U.S. trade policy that largely ignored climate change.

President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, said late during her confirmation hearing Tuesday that while she has read up on the issue of climate change, she did not have “firm views” on the subject.  However, her efforts to play it safe created perhaps the most tangible backlash of her hearings.  FERC issued a proposed policy statement on Thursday saying the panel has the authority and willingness to consider potential grid operators’ requests to incorporate a carbon tax into their rate structures.  DOE has awarded $80 million each to X-energy and TerraPower, with the potential for billions more in federal funding as they strive to build their smaller scale, more flexible advanced nuclear reactor designs by 2027.

According to recent research on adaptation to sea level rise in coastal communities, shoreline armoring is more common in areas that have low racial diversity and higher home values, household incomes, and population densities, whereas measures based around home buyout programs correlate with high racial diversity and low home values, household incomes, and population densities.  A paper published Monday at the National Bureau of Economic Research reported a decline in sales of houses in low-lying coastal areas of Florida beginning in 2013, followed a few years later by a drop in prices compared with houses in safer areas.  New research compiled by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac showed housing markets are beginning to respond to damages from climate change-fueled floods, storms, and disasters.  An executive board member of the Australian insurance regulators said in a speech that the cost of pre-emptive action to avoid the impact of disasters exacerbated by the climate crisis was far cheaper than dealing with the aftermath.

A new paper in the journal Science found that the world could get on track to avert catastrophic climate change by investing 10% of the planned $12 trillion in pandemic recovery packages to reducing dependence on fossil fuels.  JPMorgan Chase aims to support its clients in expanding investment in clean energy and work towards net zero-emissions by 2050, while HSBC will target net zero carbon emissions across its entire customer base.  A group of China’s top climate researchers released a plan whereby the country could meet the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.  A proposal by leading maritime nations to curb the shipping industry’s carbon footprint falls far short of both the International Maritime Organization and Paris Agreement climate goals, shipping experts have warned.

Climate and Climate Science

New research published in Nature showed that a holistic, global approach to healing ecosystems would be a big step in stopping the twin threats of extreme climate disruption and biodiversity loss.  Research published in Environmental Research Letters reported that protecting intact peatlands and restoring degraded ones are crucial steps if the world is to counter climate change.

Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that recent Atlantic warming is “unparalleled” in the past three millennia.  In addition, scientists have taken hourly temperature measurements in the deep (4762 to 15,600 ft) Atlantic over a ten year period, documenting heat buildup there.  With oceans absorbing more than 90% of global warming, marine heatwaves are becoming hotter, larger, and longer lasting, with major ecological consequences.  Meanwhile, in the Southern Hemisphere, half the corals on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have died over the past 25 years, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

This year, roughly a quarter of the vast Pantanal wetland in Brazil, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, burned in wildfires worsened by climate change.  Furthermore, almost half the land belonging to Indigenous people was among that burned.  According to ProPublica’s climate maps project, with climate change, California’s summer and fall fire seasons are growing longer and melding into each other, overlapping in time and space.  In northern Colorado, the Cameron Peak wildfire is officially the largest ever observed in the state.  Fires are becoming more frequent on Mt. Kilimanjaro, impacting the plant and animal species there.

Extreme weather events have increased dramatically in the past 20 years, taking a heavy human and economic toll worldwide, and are likely to wreak further havoc, the UN said in a report.  Also, the UN humanitarian chief warned that daunting problems in Africa’s Sahel region are getting worse and the region “is very close to a tipping point,” with climate change among the factors contributing to the situation.  Gloria Dickey reported in The Guardian that the Arctic is unravelling faster than anyone could once have predicted.  A study published in Science Advances showed that only a few degrees of warming in the Arctic is enough to abruptly activate large-scale permafrost thawing, which can release greenhouse gases at a massive scale.

The planet just recorded its hottest September since at least 1880, according to three temperature-tracking agencies.  Furthermore, 2020 is likely to be the hottest year when a La Niña event was present in the tropical Pacific Ocean.  On Wednesday, the temperature in Phoenix climbed to at least 100°F for the 144th time in 2020 (out of 288 days), surpassing 143 days in 1989 for the most instances on record.  Nearly half of the continental U.S. is gripped by drought, government forecasters said, and conditions are expected to worsen this winter across much of the Southwest and South.

Energy

According to the International Energy Agency’s “World Energy Outlook 2020”, the world’s best solar power schemes now offer the “cheapest … electricity in history” with the technology cheaper than coal and gas in most major countries.  In an update of its 2018 analysis, The Economics of Electrifying Buildings, RMI found that in every city they analyzed, a new all-electric, single-family home is less expensive than a new mixed-fuel home that relies on gas for cooking, space heating, and water heating.

The industry that operates America’s hydroelectric dams and several environmental groups announced an agreement to work together to get more clean energy from hydropower while reducing the environmental harm from dams.  Pumped storage has the ability to provide around-the-clock reliability for renewable energy projects, but is notoriously difficult to site.  Lithium-ion batteries now dominate energy storage at renewable energy installations, but competitors such as other battery types and nonchemical approaches could be better for intermediate-term storage, while hydrogen may be the answer for seasonal storage.  DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Dutch Government have issued a statement of intent for a hydrogen technology collaboration.  Japan plans to create a commercial hydrogen fuel supply chain by around 2030.

Sales of EVs in Europe are growing at such a pace that the continent looks increasingly likely to outpace China in the near future.  Arrival, a UK-based EV startup backed by Hyundai and Kia that’s preparing to make electric delivery trucks for UPS, is building a factory in South Carolina that will be able to make as many as 1,000 battery-powered buses per year.

According to satellite imagery analyzed by Paris-based private data firm Kayrros, so far this year the global number of methane hot spots has soared by 32%, while methane leaks in Algeria, Russia, and Turkmenistan have grown by more than 40%.  A study published in AGU Advances found that the warming associated with such leaks negates the benefits of shifting electricity production from coal-fired power plants to gas-fired plants.  The EU is considering binding standards to limit methane leaks throughout the natural gas supply chain, but some question whether they go far enough.

Dominion Energy announced on Wednesday that its two turbine, 12 MW, $300 million, Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind pilot project has successfully completed reliability testing and is ready to begin feeding electricity into Virginia’s power grid.  The CEO of MHI Vestas Offshore Wind said that the company is developing a new wind turbine that will rival those by competitors Siemens Gamesa and General Electric.  Mitsubishi Corp. continues to explore the possibility of building an offshore wind project in Lake Erie to deliver power for New York state.

Potpourri

The Atlantic is launching “Planet”, a new section devoted to climate change, along with “The Weekly Planet”, a new newsletter.  A recent survey found that nearly 80% of adults in Virginia expressed interest in reading about how climate change is affecting their communities.  In reviewing the documentary “I Am Greta”, BBC News chief environment correspondent wrote: “What Grossman has made is a coming of age movie wrapped up in a super-hero flick.  This is the story of how a troubled and lonely child discovers her hidden powers and uses them to change the course of the world.”  At The Daily Climate, Peter Dykstra proposed his list of missteps by the film industry when making eco-films.  Emily Atkin interviewed Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson, the editors of All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate CrisisGuardian environment correspondent Fiona Harvey recalled all of the successes of the environmental movement, arguing that it can also win the fight against the climate crisis.

Closing Thought

Here is an encouraging story from the intersection of philanthropy and technology, demonstrating how a unique type of foundation is helping new technologies bridge the chasm between invention and use.

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.