Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/20/2018

Policy and Politics

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt continued to be in the news.  If you want a summary of all the investigations of him, The New York Times has provided one.  The Government Accountability Office ruled on Monday that the EPA had violated the law when it installed a soundproof phone booth in Pruitt’s office at a cost of roughly $43,000.  A group of 131 Democratic representatives and 39 Democratic senators signed a resolution introduced Wednesday that calls for him to resign.  A number of nonprofit organizations not usually known for environmental advocacy, including the NAACP, are joining the calls against Pruitt.

According to a U.N. report released Tuesday, not nearly enough money is flowing into low-carbon investments to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.  Trump administration officials are reportedly considering using the 68-year-old Defense Production Act to keep struggling coal and nuclear power plants online.  In Canada, the federal government is preparing to counter British Columbia’s bid to control the flow of oil through the province with legislation that will enhance federal power to push through the Trans Mountain pipeline.  On Thursday, the Senate voted along party lines to confirm Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine (Okla.), as head of NASA.  Democrats argued that he was unqualified for the position because he wasn’t a scientist and because of his position on climate change, among other things.  Michael Catanzaro, who has headed domestic energy and environmental issues at the White House’s National Economic Council, plans to leave next week and return to the law and lobbying firm where he previously worked.  He will be replaced by 28-year-old Francis Brooke, who will come over from Vice President Mike Pence’s office.

In Colorado, the city of Boulder, plus Boulder and San Miguel Counties, filed a lawsuit in state court on Tuesday against two oil companies, Exxon Mobil and Suncor Energy, arguing that fossil fuels sold by the companies contribute to climate change, with its associated damages.  A group of eight young Florida residents — represented by Oregon-based Our Children’s Trust — is suing Governor Rick Scott to demand that the state begin working on a court-ordered, science-based “Climate Recovery Plan.”  RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, has generated $1.4 billion in net economic benefits over the past three years, even accounting for the costs it has added to the price of electricity, a study released Tuesday found.  The RGGI states, as well as the West Coast states, have reduced emissions from the power sector, but transportation emissions have continued to rise.  Ivy Main has a new blog post.  This one is about efforts toward 100% clean energy in Virginia.  Yale Climate Connections has launched a new twice-monthly ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) “feature highlighting critical climate-related readings that might have escaped one’s radar … but which warrant attention.”  Author, journalist, and war correspondent William T. Vollmann has released the first volume of a two-volume polemic called Carbon Ideologies.  Volume I, entitled No Immediate Danger, explores how our society is bound to the ideology of energy consumption.  Eric Allen Been interviewed him for Vox.

Climate

More and more, I keep running into the term regenerative agriculture, which is to farm in such a way as to improve the land.  Advocates of it refer to it as “win-win” because not only does it improve the health of agricultural soil, it also removes carbon from the atmosphere.  In a very readable article in The New York Times Magazine, Moises Velasquez-Manoff explains the technique and explores the evidence for and against it.  Some who are not concerned about the increasing CO2 in the atmosphere justify their position by asserting the existence of improved plant growth at higher CO2 levels, which would increase food production.  However, a study published this week in Science calls that assertion into question.  A study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One found that Americans waste nearly a pound of food per person every day, roughly equal to 30% of the average American’s daily calories.

Research published in the journal Nature shows that the record-breaking marine heatwave in 2016 across the Great Barrier Reef has left much of the coral ecosystem at an “unprecedented” risk of collapse.

New research, published in the journal Science Advances, has identified a new positive feedback mechanism that appears to be accelerating the melting of Antarctic glaciers.  Fresh melt water, being of lower density, forms a layer on the sea surface next to the glaciers, decreasing mixing and retaining a pool of warm water beneath the glacial ice shelf, accelerating its melting.  Another type of positive feedback mechanism is accelerating the surface melting of Greenland in the Arctic.  According to new research, published in the journal Nature Communications, warming melts the western edge of the ice sheet, releasing mineral dust from rock crushed by the ice sheet; the dust blows to the surface of the ice, nurturing the microbes and algae living there; those organisms produce colored pigments, reducing reflectivity, and increasing melting.  Arctic scientist Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, was interviewed by Katherine Bagely for Yale Environment 360 about the environmental impacts of the changes occurring in the Arctic.

The conclusion of a study that appeared in the journal Ecology Letters is that many forests of the Rocky Mountains aren’t recovering after wildfires burn them and some aren’t returning at all.

An article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported on a global meta-analysis of the biological timing of 88 species that rely on another life form.  It found that on average, as a result of climate change, species are moving out of sync by about six days a decade, although some pairs are actually moving closer together.

A new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council focuses on the impacts of climate change on health in Virginia.  It warns that as heat waves increase, the risk of heat-related illnesses and deaths in Virginia will grow.  Prof Helen Berry is the inaugural professor of climate change and mental health at the University of Sydney.  She wrote a guest post on Carbon Brief entitled “The impact of climate change on mental health is impossible to ignore.”

Energy

The New York TimesClimate Fwd” newsletter had two energy-related articles this week.  One dealt with the uneasy relationship environmentalists have with nuclear power.  The other concerned the blueprint adopted by a committee of the International Maritime Organization that sets the shipping industry on a course to reduce carbon emissions by container ships, tankers and other vessels by at least 50% by the middle of the century compared with 2008 levels.

Offshore wind farms are far less harmful to seabirds than previously thought because seabirds actively change their flight path to avoid them.  Onshore wind continues to grow.  Now, four states—Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota—get more than 30% of their in-state electricity production from wind, according a new report by the American Wind Energy Association.

In the first quarter of 2018, 142,445 electric vehicles (EVs) were sold in China, a 154% increase over the first quarter in 2017.  Writing at Vox, David Roberts argues that China is now doing with battery electric buses what it did with solar panels, that is, to ramp up production and drive the price down.  Volkswagen AG unit Electrify America will install EV charging stations at more than 100 Walmart store locations in 34 U.S. states by mid-2019 as part of Electrify’s plans to bolster charging infrastructure across the country.

Walmart plans to more than double the amount of renewable energy it uses in the U.S.  It has also announced that suppliers have reported reducing more than 20 million metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions in the global value chain as part of the company’s Project Gigaton initiative.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has embarked on a wide-ranging review of how interstate natural-gas pipelines are approved, including the use of eminent domain, how the need for a pipeline is assessed, and the extent to which greenhouse gas emissions should be taken into account in pipeline approvals.

New research, published Monday in Nature Climate Change, concludes that it may be possible to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures without using the controversial and largely untested negative emissions technology of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

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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Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/13/2018

Policy and Politics

Ethics charges against EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt continued to be aired this week.  As a result, he has a 29% job approval rating, according to a poll released Thursday.  The Senate voted 53-45 on Thursday to confirm Andrew Wheeler, a former energy lobbyist, to be deputy administrator of the EPA.  If the Republicans continue to control the House after the fall elections, then a big question will be who succeeds Paul Ryan as Speaker.  The major contenders are Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).  According to an analysis by E&E News, the two have few differences on energy and environmental issues.

A recent study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that Americans overwhelmingly support teaching our children about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to global warming.  And speaking of children, all around the globe, young people are joining together to demand action on climate change.  An October 29th trial date has been scheduled for the lawsuit filed by young activists who say the U.S. government is failing to protect them from climate change.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced on Monday that he had vetoed a bill that requires legislative approval before the state can participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program among Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states that mandates CO2 emission reductions in the power sector.  On Friday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court handed ExxonMobil another defeat in the company’s legal battle to head off investigations into whether it misled the public about the risks of climate change, ruling that Attorney General Maura Healey has the authority to compel it to turn over records showing whether its marketing or sale of fossil fuel products violated the state’s consumer protection law.  Writing at Yale Environment 360, Richard Conniff examined the split within the environmental movement over the provision in the recently approved federal budget that increases tax credits for projects that capture and store CO2.

Climate

Two new papers in the journal Nature deal with the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), which carries warmth into the Northern Hemisphere’s high latitudes.  One paper concluded that the AMOC has declined in strength by 15% since the mid-20th century to a “new record low.”  The other paper found that the AMOC has slowed over the past 150 years and is now weaker than at any time in more than a millennium.  These findings prompted an editorial in Nature.

In an article on Monday, Carbon Brief assessed nine new carbon budget estimates for limiting warming to 1.5°C released by different groups over the past two years.  Most show larger allowable emissions than were featured in the last IPCC report, but there is a lot of variability among the estimates.  Then, on Friday a paper in Nature Climate Change showed that it is possible to limit warming to 1.5°C without the use of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) by employing a suite of highly ambitious mitigation options.

A study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications found that heat waves over the world’s oceans are becoming longer and more frequent, damaging coral reefs and creating chaos for aquatic species.  The amount of sea ice off Western Alaska coasts this spring was the lowest in more than 150 years of record-keeping.  Writing at DW, Ruby Russel reviewed the state-of-the-art in determining whether extreme weather events are related to climate change.

Monarch butterfly caterpillars can eat only milkweed and doing so makes them toxic to predators because of the uptake of poisonous cardenolides from the plant.  A paper in the journal Ecology reported that the caterpillars prefer tropical milkweed, but this may prove to be a problem because tropical milkweed contains more cardenolides under warmer temperatures, which may overpower the caterpillars’ tolerance.  On the subject of plants and insects, a paper in Global Change Biology reported that drought reduces the overall number of flowers produced by plants.  Consequently, as drought increases due to climate change, there will be less food for bees and other pollinators.

North America is divided into two distinct geographic regions, with the west being dry and the east moist.  Historically, these regions have been separated by the 100th meridian.  Now, two papers in the journal Earth Interactions have shown that the dividing line has shifted eastward about 140 miles, to near the 98th meridian.

A new five-year study that will be published in the May 2018 issue of the journal Agricultural Systems suggests that cattle can be raised, fed, and slaughtered in a way that reduces their greenhouse gas emissions to a tolerable level.  Weather volatility is going to disrupt the agriculture world in the coming decades, bringing more frequent droughts, flooding and storms, according to a report from BMI Research on agriculture megatrends.  “Enhanced rock weathering” may be another way that significant amounts of CO2 can be removed from the atmosphere.  The process would involve pulverizing silicate rocks, like basalt, and adding it to farmland to speed the ability of minerals to store carbon in soil.  However, since this has never been tried on large scale, considerable research is required to be sure that it works and that there are no negative effects.

Energy

The Environmental Defense Fund on Wednesday announced plans to build and launch a satellite that will measure major global sources of methane, including 50 oil-and-gas regions that make up about 80% of production, as well as feedlots and landfills.  Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC announced Wednesday that it plans an extension of the 303-mile natural gas pipeline currently under construction, connecting with the project’s end point in Pittsylvania County, VA, and heading another 70 miles south into North Carolina.

Renewable energy holds great promise for allowing living standards to be increased globally while simultaneously reducing greenhouse emissions.  Like all manufactured items, however, the components that generate renewable energy have finite lifetimes.  What will we do with them when the end of those lifetimes is reached?  Two articles this week explored that question.  One focused on solar panels while the other looked at solar panels, batteries, and wind turbines.

Under a new international agreement, global shipping must at least halve its CO2 emissions by 2050.  The agreement, reached by the International Maritime Organization on Friday, is an initial step for one of the world’s biggest polluting industries.  Over the next five years, negotiators will develop a package of measures to fulfill the target, delivering a final strategy in 2023.  Another industry with high CO2 emissions is cement production.  According to a new report from the Carbon Disclosure Project, those emissions must be reduced sharply if the world is to meet the climate change goals set out in the Paris Climate Agreement.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has announced two wind energy leasing areas totaling nearly 390,000 acres off the coast of Massachusetts, along with additional acreage off the coast of New York.  The world’s most powerful wind turbine, at 8.8 MW, has been installed at Vattenfall’s European Offshore Wind Deployment Center off the coast of North East Scotland.  The center is set to be a testbed for new offshore wind technologies.  Thomas Brostrom is president of Ørsted North America.  Ørsted, which is headquartered in Denmark, develops, constructs, and operates offshore wind farms.  In a guest column in The Virginian-Pilot on Sunday, Brostrom said “Virginia has the chance to leverage its port assets, high-quality workforce and favorable business climate to become a major hub for the [offshore wind energy] supply chain. However, this must be coupled with strong public policy signals from state and local leaders that this industry is valued.”

GTM Research has released a report that provides a global overview of the energy storage market.  The U.S. is expected to remain the world’s biggest market until 2022, with China its closest rival.  The renewable energy market, however, is another story.  Last year nearly half of the world’s new renewable energy investment came from China, whose investment rose 30% compared with 2016, and was more than three times that of the U.S.

LG Electronics has deployed its new NeON 2 solar panels at a large facility in North Carolina.  The panels use an innovative wiring system that increases light absorption, as well as bifacial capability, to achieve an output of 395 watts/panel.  (By comparison, my four-year-old panels achieve around 250 watts each.)

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.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/6/2018

Policy and Politics

A new report by Oil Change International and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis claims that the International Energy Agency has wrongly guided governments into decisions about the use of oil, gas, and coal that are inconsistent with the long-term climate objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement.  The International Maritime Organization environment meeting in London is expected to set a concrete target for shipping emissions in the coming decades.  Because of the impacts that solar radiation management (SRM) activities are likely to have on developing nations, scientists from several of them have said that they need to “play a central role” in the conversation around SRM.  Because of a federal court ruling in August 2017 that found the EPA did not have the authority to regulate hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants, which are potent greenhouse gases, the California Air Resources Board adopted a regulation that prohibits their use.

On Monday, the Trump administration announced that the fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks are too stringent and must be revised downward.  (The New York Times had two good graphics comparing the U.S. standards to others around the world.)  The EPA also said it was considering whether to revoke the waiver that allows California to set its own, tougher emissions rules.  California officials promptly vowed to defend its standards in court, signaling that years of litigation and uncertainty could lie ahead, which is something auto manufacturing officials don’t want.  Behind the scenes, however, the administration and California were in quiet talks about a compromiseInside Climate News has a good history of the fuel economy standards as well as an analysis of the impacts of any reductions.  Interestingly, the phrase “climate change” does not appear in the 38-page document outlining EPA’s reasons for the change.  Similarly, National Park Service officials have deleted every mention of humans’ role in causing climate change in drafts of a long-awaited report on sea level rise and storm surge.  Fifteen attorneys general and the city of Chicago filed a lawsuit against the EPA and Administrator Scott Pruitt on Thursday for not controlling methane emissions.  Pruitt’s ethics were in the news this week, with revelations about his housing and his hiring practices.  E&E News provided some background on “administratively determined” hires, which were at the center of the hiring issue.

Writing at The Atlantic, environmental journalist Michelle Nijhuis explored questions such as “When are kids ready—both intellectually and emotionally—to learn about an abstract, global problem that may affect their future in very tangible, often disturbing ways?”  The second part of Yale Climate Connection’s series on books about energy features those that consider how renewable energies will reshape America and the world.  One policy aimed at reducing CO2 emissions that has not received much attention is restricting the supply of fossil fuels.  Prompted by the writings of a pair of economists, David Roberts examined the pros and cons of this approach at Vox.  Recently, climate change protesters in Massachusetts were acquitted by using the necessity defense.  Writing in The New Yorker, Carolyn Kormann explored the history and application of that defense.

Climate

New research, published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, used satellite data to analyze changes in the surface elevation of glaciers all around the Antarctic coastline.  It found that from 2010 to 2016, the continent lost about 560 square miles total of grounded ice.  Furthermore, nearly 11% of the glaciers around Antarctica are apparently retreating at a faster pace today than they were at the end of the last ice age, around 20,000 years ago.

Several papers addressed the different impacts that would be felt with 1.5°C and 2.0°C of warming.  Two published in Nature Climate Change found that, under 1.5°C of warming, Arctic waters could experience ice-free summers around 2.5% of the time, or one in every 40 years.  Under 2°C of warming, ice-free conditions could occur 19-34% of the time, or once every three to five years.  A new paper in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, A reported on the economic impacts of both 1.5°C and 2°C of warming.  Compared to a scenario without any warming, by 2100, median per capita GDP would be 8% lower with 1.5°C and 13% lower with 2°C of warming.  Other papers in the same journal addressed other issues, such as rising seas and food stress.

A new study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, has found that although food sources like plankton, insects, and vegetation have been appearing earlier each year, seabird populations are not matching their breeding and nesting patterns to adapt to this change.

Pet food represents as much as 30% of all meat consumption in the U.S. and is a significant source of greenhouse gases.  Consequently, at least one company is developing pet food using fake-meat technology.

At least seven countries set March high-temperature records late last week.  As the world heats up, cities will experience some of the worst warming because of the heat island effect.  In a feature article in Science News, Aimee Cunningham explored the impacts of hotter cities and things that can be done to lessen their warming.

Energy

Internal company documents uncovered by a Dutch news organization show that Royal Dutch Shell had a deep understanding, dating at least to the 1980s, of the science and risks of global warming caused by fossil fuel emissions.  On Wednesday, Friends of the Earth Netherlands (FEN) warned Shell that if it did not revise plans to invest only 5% in sustainable energy and 95% in greenhouse-gas emitting oil and gas, FEN is prepared to bring suit to force it to do so.  This is just the latest lawsuit against the oil and gas industry.  On Wednesday, Inside Climate News provided a summary of actions to date in the U.S.

A Danish off-shore wind company that has proposed projects in Massachusetts and Virginia will be opening an office in Atlantic City with the goal of supplying enough energy for 1.5 million homes.  On the other side of the country, Redwood Coast Energy Authority is the lead agency organizing a floating wind farm project near Eureka, CA.  The plan is to have 10-15 turbines 20 miles off-shore producing 100-150 MW of power.

Investors worldwide plowed a record $161 billion into solar energy last year, representing more than half the investment in all renewables apart from large hydroelectric projects, according to a report jointly published by the UN and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  Unfortunately, investment by developed countries in renewable energy has halved since 2011.

The world’s largest wind turbine maker Vestas is partnering with Sweden’s Northvolt to develop a lithium-ion battery for wind and solar power storage.

In some instances, the impediment to larger use of renewable energy has been the difficulty in building transmission lines from the places where the energy is generated to the places where it is needed.  SunZia submitted its application in March to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission for approval of transmission line locations and right of way widths for lines that will take energy into Arizona and other locations in the southwest.

For some time, the conventional wisdom has been that natural gas will serve as a bridge fuel until renewable energy can be developed sufficiently to supply the bulk of our energy needs.  However, technological advances and declining costs of wind and solar PV are challenging that “wisdom,” putting proponents of natural gas on the defensive.

JinkoSolar has confirmed plans to invest $50 million in a factory in Florida to supply NextEra Energy Resources with up to 2.75 GW of solar modules over four years. It’s the first move by a Chinese PV company to invest in U.S. manufacturing in response to the Trump administration’s 30% tariff on imported solar products.

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.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/30/2018

Policy and Politics

The results of the latest Gallup poll on climate change show that the partisan gap has widened slightly since last year’s poll.  The increase may be driven in part by the skepticism of the Trump administration, as evidenced by the “talking points” given to EPA employees this week, instructing them to emphasize the uncertainties concerning climate science, and negotiations to roll back automotive fuel efficiency standards.  Speaking of the EPA, Margaret Talbot has an in-depth article in The New Yorker entitled “Scott Pruitt’s Dirty Politics: How the Environmental Protection Agency became the fossil-fuel industry’s best friend”.  A coalition of environmental groups is teaming up for a multi-pronged campaign to try to get Pruitt fired or to resign.  With respect to fuel efficiency standards, a new blog post at the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate 411 site discusses five things we should all know about them.  The Obama-era rule limiting methane emissions from oil and gas development on public lands is fully in force for now, but oil and gas lawyers say companies can’t follow the standards because BLM doesn’t have the right systems in place for compliance.  U.S. District Court judge Brian Morris ordered Montana’s and Wyoming’s BLM officials to rewrite their plans for coal mining on public lands and factor in the impacts of climate change.

Thirteen years after it was created to limit CO2 emissions, Europe’s $38 billion a year carbon market is finally starting to work the way it was intended.  Energy Secretary Rick Perry still hasn’t given up on his attempt to prop up coal-fired power plants, now using the recent northeasters to argue for their necessity.  However, a study released Monday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that barely half of coal-fired power plants in the U.S. earned enough revenue last year to cover their operating expenses.  FirstEnergy Corp. petitioned Perry for an emergency order to save its coal and nuclear plants from closing, but competing power sources accused FirstEnergy of misleading the Energy Department and the public into thinking the electric grid is at a far higher risk of failure without coal and nuclear plants than it is.  A provision in legislation that passed last month to increase U.S. government spending limits is expected to cause new carbon capture and sequestration projects to be started.  As the demonstrated by the state of Washington, climate change policy is proving difficult to enact, even in liberal states.  Wells Griffith has reportedly been picked as President Trump’s senior advisor on international climate policy.  He would join the National Economic Council, coordinating White House efforts on international energy and climate issues.  E&E News has a profile.

Dana Nuccitelli has an interesting, if somewhat wonky, piece in The Guardian about the definition of “preindustrial” with respect to global warming and the carbon budget.  The issue is important for setting governmental policy to limit climate change (except in the U.S. right now).  Yale Climate Connections has compiled a list of books on energy and society.  Part 1 provides books that give overviews, fossil fuel development, and contrasting visions of fossil fuels’ future.  On the subject of books, science teachers have received books about climate change over the past year, some of which present mainstream science, and some of which don’t.

Climate

A new study published in Geophysical Research Letters has found that Greenland is melting at the fastest rate in at least the past 450 years, and possibly in the past 5,000 years.  Arctic sea ice reached its maximum extent for the year on March 17, attaining an area that was the second smallest in the 39-year satellite record, although just barely, being almost as small as 2017.

A new NOAA report projects that by 2100, high tide flooding will occur every other day, on average, along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the U.S., even under a moderate emissions scenario.  Still, there is some good news about sea level rise, as shown in this month’s Yale Climate Connections “This is Not Cool” video.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has released a series of reports assessing biodiversity for four major regions around the world, as well another examining global land degradation.  According to the reports, climate change, along with factors like land degradation and habitat loss, is emerging as a top threat to wildlife around the globe.

In a resolution adopted on Tuesday as part of a renewed mandate for assistance and peacekeeping in Somalia, the U.N. Security Council noted “the adverse effects of climate change, ecological changes and natural disasters among other factors on the stability of Somalia, including through drought, desertification, land degradation, and food insecurity”.  A study published Thursday in the Journal of Climate found that the Sahara Desert is expanding, in part due to climate change.

New research, published Monday in the journal Ecosphere, shows that half of Alberta’s boreal forest could disappear in just over 80 years due to wildfires and climate change.

Energy

On Monday, Royal Dutch Shell released its Sky scenario, whereby the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement can be attained.  Under the scenario, oil use would drop as cars become electric, a massive carbon storage industry would develop, and transportation would begin to shift toward a reliance on hydrogen as an energy carrier.  Carbon Brief provided an in-depth look at the report.  Also on Monday, a paper published in Nature Climate Change concluded that massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions will be required to keep global warming between 1.5 and 2.0°C, although it may not be necessary to eliminate all emissions.  Furthermore, if those cuts are made early enough, it may not be necessary to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.  China reached its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal last year, its government said.

Softbank Group Corp. and Saudi Arabia have signed a memorandum of understanding to create a 200 GW solar initiative in the country by 2030.  When coupled with the planned construction of several nuclear power plants, the initiative will greatly reduce the country’s reliance on oil and gas.

Trees were in the news along the routes of two proposed gas pipelines.  Along the route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), people were in the trees, as well as on a pole in the middle of an access road.  However, Virginia environmental regulators approved erosion, sediment, and stormwater management plans for the MVP, which is now authorized to begin construction in the state.  FERC denied a request from developers of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline to continue cutting trees along the project’s route beyond an initial deadline designed to protect birds and bats.  Meanwhile, pipeline construction is having a positive impact on jobs in West Virginia.

Natural gas has become the No. 1 power source in the U.S., but that status may be shifting, particularly in the west because of the low cost of wind energy.  Ivan Penn explored the forces influencing gas at The New York Times.

American Electric Power Company plans to build a 2 GW wind farm in the Oklahoma panhandle that will cover 300,000 acres.  To do so, they want to use a method of financing that has been used to build nuclear, coal- and natural gas-fired power plants, but not renewable energy facilities.  As America’s biggest wind farms age, their owners are starting to “repower” them with more efficient turbines, new electronics, and longer, lighter blades that can sweep more wind with each rotation.

Since 2009 the electric power grid has gotten cleaner, thanks to more use of natural gas and less use of coal for generation, and more solar and wind.  As a consequence, the emissions associated with electric vehicles (EVs) have decreased, so that today, on average, an EV has the equivalent emissions of a gas car that gets 80 mpg.  Maryland’s utilities propose spending $104 million on a statewide electric-vehicle charging network containing 24,000 residential, workplace, and public charging stations.

Yet another study has been published, this one in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, addressing the question of whether U.S. electricity needs could be met with wind and solar power alone.  This one looked at several mixes of wind and solar, finding that the mixes determined the percent of needs met.

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.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/23/2018

Policy and Politics

The omnibus spending bill that was passed early Friday morning contains funding for several science programs that the Trump administration wanted to reduce or eliminate.  On March 6, the judge in the California cities’ lawsuit against five of the largest oil companies sent both sides in the case a list of eight questions that he wanted them to address.  On Wednesday, a formal “tutorial” on climate change was held “so that the poor judge can learn some science.”  This isn’t the only climate lawsuit going forward, as summarized by Damion Carrington in The Guardian.  Virginia governor Ralph Northam will veto House Bill 1270, which would prohibit the governor or a state agency from establishing a CO2 cap-and-trade program or adopting a regulation that “brings about the participation by the commonwealth in a regional market for the trading of carbon dioxide allowances.”  At the federal level, even though flood risk is rising around the U.S., FEMA has dropped mentions of climate change and sea level rise from its strategic plan, a document that is supposed to guide the agency’s response to hurricanes, flooding, and wildfires through 2022.

Although the auto industry worked with the Obama administration to establish new emissions standards for cars, it now seems to have changed its tune.  Last month, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, argued in a regulatory filing that the basic science behind climate change is not to be trusted.  Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting had an interesting piece about geoengineering and why some climate skeptics have become interested in it.  In an article in Nature, a group of scientists has proposed new types of geoengineering to slow the melting of the glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica.

Speaking at an EU conference in Brussels, French President Emmanuel Macron said trade agreements “should be a way of spreading our standards. Anyone who signs an agreement with the EU should be committing to put the Paris Agreement into practice… Why should we sign a trade agreement with powers that say they don’t want to implement the Paris Agreement? We would be mad [to do so].”  He also said that Europe must set a minimum price on carbon, something that would require a new tax on imports from non-EU countries that are not doing enough to tackle climate change.  Sierra had a very interesting interview with Katharine Hayhoe, in which she addressed how to communicate with those who deny climate change.  Also, Paul Voosen had a fascinating article in Science about Vaclav Smil.  Never heard of him?  Read the article.  He certainly gives one a lot to think about.

Climate

Mountain glaciers all over the world are melting, with large impacts on downstream communities.  A new study, published in Nature Climate Change, has found that even if there were no additional warming of Earth, 36% of mountain glacial ice would still eventually disappear as the glaciers came to equilibrium with the new climate.  Another paper in the same journal examined the potential for methane production and release from melting permafrost and found it to be much greater than previously estimated.  Reducing short-lived pollutants like methane, HFCs, and black carbon offers a glimmer of opportunity to protect the rapidly warming Arctic and give the world more time to tackle the trickier problem of CO2.

Climate scientist Jennifer Francis had a Perspective piece in The Washington Post on Wednesday offering a possible explanation for why the eastern U.S. has been hit by four powerful coastal storms this March.  Her ideas are not universally accepted however, as pointed out in a report in The New Yorker.  Floods and extreme rainfall events have increased globally by more than 50% this decade, and are now occurring at a rate four times higher than in 1980, according to a new report by the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council.  Regardless of what is causing the increased incidence of storms, it is ironic that many states, including coastal ones, are relaxing their building codes.

A new report by the World Bank concludes that as many as 143 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America could be forced to migrate within their own country by 2050 due to climate change.  Speaking of internal migration, the Louisiana Office of Community Development announced Wednesday that it will spend $11.7m to purchase a 208-hectare parcel of high ground upon which to resettle about 80 residents of an island threatened by rising seas.  In Alaska, money is being allocated to move some of the residents of Newtok to a higher location nine miles away.  And along the Bering Sea, the Alaskan community of Little Diomede has been hammered by waves this winter because of the lack of sea ice, raising the question of how long the village will be habitable.

The U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization released its annual report on the global climate, finding that the past three years were the hottest on record and heat waves in Australia, freak Arctic warmth, and water shortages in Cape Town are extending harmful weather extremes in 2018.  After assessing 67 nations representing almost a third of the world’s nation states, 80% of the global population, and 94% of global gross domestic product, HSBC concluded that India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Bangladesh (in that order) are the nations most vulnerable to climate change.

According to a new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change, premature deaths would fall on nearly every continent if the world’s governments agreed to cut emissions of carbon and other harmful gases enough to limit global temperature rise to less than 1.67°C (3°F) by the end of the century, which is 0.33°C (0.6°F) lower than the target set by the Paris Climate Agreement.  Another paper in the same journal found that limiting warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) rather than 2°C (3.6°F) would cost three times as much and require earlier emissions cuts in the transport and buildings sectors.

A paper in the journal PLOS One found that over the next 20 years, as many as 11 states in the U.S. are predicted to see the average annual area burned increase by 5 times.

New research from the University of Michigan and Tulane University, published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found that 20% of American eaters account for nearly half of total diet-related greenhouse gas emissions, and that their diets are heavy on beef.  Coincidentally, McDonald’s announced on Tuesday that it is undertaking a new program to substantially reduce its carbon footprint.

Energy

If you want some inspiration, read Brad Plumer’s article about the ARPA-E conference.  ARPA-E is the program in DOE funding high risk/high payoff projects related to energy.  While President Trump’s budget proposal wanted to zero it out, Congress kept it going in the new spending bill.  Plumer’s article will give you an idea of the sorts of things that are being looked at for our energy future.

According to a new report released by the International Energy Agency on Wednesday, global energy demand increased by 2.1% in 2017, compared with 0.9% on average over the previous five years.  More than 40% of the growth in 2017 was driven by China and India; 72% of the rise was met by fossil fuels, a quarter by renewables, and the remainder by nuclear.  As a consequence, global energy-related CO2 emissions grew by 1.4% in 2017, reaching a historic high of 32.5 Gt/yr.  Brad Plumer of The New York Times outlined five reasons for the increased emissions.  Nevertheless, according to a report by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and CoalSwarm, the start of construction of new coal-fired power plants dropped by 73% between 2015 and 2017, the number of newly completed plants fell 41%, and the number of plants in planning dropped by 59%.  However, many of the existing plants will be running for quite a while.  So, what will lead to their closure?  That’s complicated, as discussed in this article from Utility Dive.

The U.S. solar industry had its second-best year on record for installations in 2017, installing 10.6 GW of solar photovoltaic capacity, according to an analysis by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association.  If all goes as planned, Microsoft will buy 315 MW of solar energy from a 500 MW solar farm to be built in Spotsylvania County, VA.  The energy will be used to power Microsoft’s data centers in Virginia.  Meanwhile, solar panels and batteries are playing a role in the recovery of Puerto Rico from last fall’s hurricanes, although current regulations make it unclear just how microgrids can be incorporated into the new system.  (Resilient Power Puerto Rico, the nonprofit that CAAV’s fall fundraiser contributed to, is mentioned toward the end of the article.)

In a setback for fuel cell powered vehicles, Linde-AG is shutting down its fuel cell car sharing service in Munich because it’s not “economically viable.”  Nevertheless, 78% of auto executives polled in 2017 thought that fuel cell vehicles represented the real future in electric transportation.

Sometimes I provide links to articles about solar energy that refer to the “duck curve” associated with net power demand when solar is integrated into a conventional power system.  If that terminology has baffled you, then this article by David Roberts at Vox is for you.  It explains the duck curve, the problems associated with it, and possible ways to solve them so that more solar (and wind) energy can be incorporated into the 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.

Climate and Energy News 3/17/2018

Les Grady is away. This week’s roundup has been compiled by Joy Loving. 

We headline this week’s roundup with some words from the late Stephen Hawking, who died March 14:

A Call to Care and Do Something:   “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/mar/14/best-stephen-hawking-quotes-quotations

Caring for the Planet:   “Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it,” he wrote. “To do that, we need to break down, not build up, barriers within and between nations.”
https://www.ecowatch.com/stephen-hawking-climate-change-2547368270.html

POLITICS & POLICY

1. The current Administration appears to be of multiple minds on whether and how to address risks from our warming climate.

Recently George David Banks, former Special Assistant to the President for International Energy and Environment, discussed the decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.  Although he advised against this action, he “personally thought the Obama administration’s pledge was just unattainable, and would have required burdensome regulations across their economy.”  http://energypolicy.columbia.edu/us-climate-policy-under-trump-administration

Some current actions within the Administration point to a serious lack of interest in environmental protections and even active collaboration with fossil fuel interests:
Industryhttps://thinkprogress.org/scott-angelle-meets-almost-exclusively-with-industry-f2e52ffb4a69/
Lobbyistshttp://augustafreepress.com/groups-sue-for-information-about-heartland-institutes-involvement-in-epa-climate-science-decisions/
Conflicts of Interesthttps://grist.org/briefly/the-epa-is-riddled-with-conflicts-of-interest-according-to-new-analysis/
Crank Bloggershttps://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/interior-climate-change-crank-blogs_us_5aa2df63e4b086698a9da922

The Interior Department (DOI) gives its employees easy-to-follow directions about presenting its initiatives:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/the-energy-202/2018/03/16/the-energy-202-interior-agency-gives-employees-vision-cards-depicting-oil-rigs/5aaaadcd30fb047655a06cbf/

Actions by DOI and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) point to a move away from both mitigation and adaptation strategies:
DOI plans to accelerate its plans for Utah’s Grand Staircase, following the recent decision to greatly reduce the protected area.  https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2018/03/report-trump-administration-making-controversial-expedited-plans-for-utahs-grand-staircase/
FEMA’s strategic plan no longer mentions “climate change”.  https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/03/15/594140026/fema-drops-climate-change-from-its-strategic-plan

On the other hand, within the President’s party there are proponents of a more climate-and-environment-friendly approach:
Young Republican campus push for a “carbon tax”https://www.facebook.com/republicen/videos/1155782204565099/
https://www.wired.com/story/thank-colleges-for-imminent-carbon-taxes-no-seriously-thank-them/

However, there is also debate about whether such a tax will come about:
What’s certain besides Taxes–https://grist.org/article/nothing-is-certain-but-death-and-maybe-carbon-taxes/

2. The Administration is facing several challenges to its policies and actions.

From the judiciaryhttps://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-epa-ozone/federal-court-orders-epa-to-implement-smog-rules-idUSKCN1GO2RB

From citizen groupshttp://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article204217279.html

From the stateshttps://www.utilitydive.com/news/new-york-petitions-epa-to-force-emissions-reductions-in-9-states/519057/ This New York State action is of particular interest because Virginia is one of nine states whose emissions New York says are contributing to its pollution, despite its efforts to curb them.  The others are Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

From shareholders:   https://insideclimatenews.org/news/07032018/shareholder-resolutions-climate-change-2-degrees-methane-lobbying-trump-administration

From environmental and social justice activistshttps://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-climatechange-lawsuit/u-s-government-sued-after-failing-to-submit-climate-change-report-idUSKCN1GP25H ; https://grist.org/article/koch-brothers-preached-the-fossil-fuel-gospel-in-virginia-then-black-churches-fought-back/

From within the Administration itself:

Climate Change Reporthttps://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/03/12/the-government-is-close-to-finishing-a-climate-change-report-trump-wont-like-it/

Some officials Fighting Global Warminghttps://www.reuters.com/article/us-trump-effect-climatechange/weathering-trumps-skepticism-u-s-officials-still-fighting-global-warming-idUSKCN1GR0F5

EPA and Coal Ash– https://insideclimatenews.org/news/15032018/epa-regulations-coal-power-plant-waste-ash-ponds-toxins-health-jeremy-orr-water-testing

EPA versus Chief of Staff Kelly–https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/09/climate/pruitt-red-team-climate-debate-kelly.html?mtrref=t.co

CLIMATE

1. What History Tells Us

Mass Extinction and Coal—Can It Happen Again?  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2018/mar/12/burning-coal-may-have-caused-earths-worst-mass-extinction

What Do the Oceans Tell Us?  https://www.hakaimagazine.com/news/when-it-comes-to-climate-change-the-ocean-never-forgets/

2. What about the Future?

    A. How Bad Is It Going to Be?

Pretty badhttps://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/12/climate-change-is-a-disaster-foretold-just-like-the-first-world-war
But there’s hope—if we can wait 400 years:  https://www.technologyreview.com/s/610457/at-this-rate-its-going-to-take-nearly-400-years-to-transform-the-energy-system/
Why Hurricane Harvey was so Wet:
https://grist.org/article/climate-change-made-hurricane-harvey-wetter-heres-how-we-know/ (Video)

    B. How About the Weather?

The Seasons

Spring, Anyone?  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/11/opinion/winter-early-spring-.html

Winter?  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/13/extreme-winter-weather-becoming-more-common-as-arctic-warms-study-finds

Blizzards?  https://insideclimatenews.org/news/13032018/global-warming-weather-data-winter-storms-arctic-sea-ice-jet-streams-ocean-temperature

The Oceans:

Iceland:   http://news.trust.org/item/20180310162428-945cl/

Hampton Roads:  https://pilotonline.com/news/local/environment/article_8c7de40e-261b-11e8-86b1-9f38ed9e53b8.html

Circulation:   https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/03/14/the-melting-arctic-is-already-messing-with-a-crucial-part-of-the-oceans-circulation-scientists-say/

    C. And Then There’s Fire
Peat/Bogs:  https://www.sciencenews.org/article/bogs-peatlands-fire-climate-change

3. Addressing What’s Coming

Can Technology Help?

Weather Satellites:    https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2018/03/americas-newest-weather-satellite-is-a-game-changer-for-forecasting-catastrophic-natural-events/

Geoengineering Polar Glaciers:  https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-03036-4

What about Trees?   https://grist.org/article/the-last-ditch-effort-to-save-the-worlds-forests-from-climate-change/

Disaster Planning, Anyone?  https://insideclimatenews.org/news/12032018/red-cross-disaster-relief-climate-change-attribution-studies-extreme-weather-science-trends

ENERGY

Coal Ash

Getting Rid of It:  http://www.greensboro.com/opinion/n_and_r_editorials/our-opinion-keep-the-rules-in-place-for-coal-ash/article_8cda656d-cda5-5da8-b146-c268c42c98dd.html

Virginia Legislature and Proposed Regulations

Dominion “Rate Freeze Repeal”:
Overhaulhttp://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/governor-signs-sweeping-utility-overhaul-affecting-million-virginia-ratepayers/article_ce65175d-c789-5517-bc0c-e4cbd5d2c554.html
Maybe Not a Good Deal for Every Virginianhttps://powerforthepeopleva.com/2018/03/06/virginia-buys-dominions-pig-in-a-poke/

Carbon Reduction:
Harrisonburg Speaks Up—  Supporters Back Carbon Regs

Offshore Drilling

Pros:
Economic Benefitshttp://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/377618-oil-industry-trumps-offshore-drilling-plan-could-contribute-590b-to

Cons:
Trump Rollbacks Target Offshore Rules ‘Written with Human Blood’https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/10/business/offshore-drilling-trump-administration.html
Clergy Oppositionhttp://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2018/03/09/nc-religious-leaders-voice-opposition-trumps-offshore-drilling-push/#sthash.d1N0gM1x.0tbhMn60.dpbs
Another BP Spill Could Happen-https://www.pnj.com/story/news/2018/03/11/panhandle-risk-bp-style-blowout-guestview/407853002/
“Economic and Ecological Folly”-https://news.mongabay.com/2018/03/analysis-u-s-call-to-drill-off-all-coasts-economic-and-ecological-folly
States Say Nohttps://www.politico.com/states/florida/story/2018/03/09/states-vow-to-fight-offshore-drilling-by-any-means-at-their-disposal-309656

Maybes:
Economically Beneficial or Not-http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/business/article_8916feae-23e6-11e8-a2da-33c5ad605708.html
Scale Backhttps://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/energy/ryan-zinke-suggests-riskier-offshore-drilling-plan-likely-to-be-scaled-back
Florida Exemptionhttp://www.graydc.com/content/news/Zinke-clarifies-offshore-drilling-stance-FLs-exemption-476588773.html
Georgia Pros and Cons: http://www.savannahnow.com/news/20180312/studies-compare-pros-and-cons-of-drilling-off-georgia
Washington/Oregon/California Exemption:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/03/13/zinke-oil-and-gas-exploration-off-the-pacific-coast-might-not-happen

Pipelines

Virginia:
Dominion “Loss” at SCC Hearing-http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/dominion-fails-in-attempt-to-bar-testimony-on-pipeline-s/article_fd1b3914-fd12-569e-9c58-77c82a0ab032.html
What the Pipelines Do for Virginiahttps://www.nrdc.org/experts/amy-mall/are-appalachian-pipelines-being-built-increase-exports
Governor Moving to Protect Virginia Water-http://augustafreepress.com/northam-announces-additional-powers-to-protect-virginias-clean-water/
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Enforcing Violations–http://augustafreepress.com/deq-takes-enforcement-action-against-atlantic-coast-pipeline-llc/

Maryland:
Baltimore Crude Oil Ban–https://thinkprogress.org/baltimore-crude-oil-ban-2a00dab1d1ec/

Canada:
Protest– https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/indigenous-environmental-leaders-protest-canada-pipeline/2018/03/10/8b4c689a-2430-11e8-946c-9420060cb7bd_story.html

 Coal

Future Parity:  https://rmi.org/news/net-zero-future-cost-parity-coal-heart-coal-country/

Fracking

Health risks:  https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/fracking-health-risk-asthma-birth-defects-cancer-w517809

Hopeful Closing

Will utilities finally embrace renewable energy?
https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/3/13/17108590/utilities-electrify-everything

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/10/2018

Les Grady is away for the next two weeks. This week’s roundup has been compiled by Doug Hendren. 

POLITICS & POLICY

Kids climate lawsuit moves forward. A federal court in San Francisco has rejected the Trump administration’s latest attempt to shut down Juliana v. United States. Says chief legal counsel for Our Children’s Trust: “The Ninth Circuit just gave us the green light for trial.”

Hard-hit by the two nor’easters in one week, Governor Charlie Baker is preparing to file a Massachusetts climate change bill. Speaking on WGBH radio, Baker stated: “We’re going to have to come up with a different strategy around resilience. And 35 Vermont communities have voted to support a statewide effort to combat climate change.

On March 21st, a federal court in San Francisco will hold the first-ever hearings on climate science. Oil giants, and the California cities suing them, will present “tutorials” about basic climate science, as well as who knew what, and when.

As Atlantic Coast Pipeline moves to construction, groups urge Northam to act. Northam has stated he is “confident in the public servants at the DEQ”, although the DEQ previously ceded the review of VA water crossings to the Army Corps of Engineers, and the DEQ’s performance has not inspired confidence in this process to date.

Wednesday, March 14th DEQ Air Pollution Control Board Hearing will take place at 4411 Early Road, Harrisonburg at 5PM. Hearing concerns the proposed carbon emissions cap for Virginia (joining the RGGI states).

CLIMATE

The polar vortex strikes again.  The north pole has been warmer than Europe in recent weeks. Arctic regions are overheating, with areas up to 35-50 degrees (F) above normal temperatures. Springtime is coming to the north far earlier than in the past. A recent study proposes a simple rule of thumb: For every 10 degrees you go north from the equator, spring is now arriving four days earlier than a decade ago.

Snowpack has declined 15-30% in the American west over the past century, partly because what once fell as snow now falls as rain. The amount of water normally stored as the region’s snowpack is roughly equivalent to all the water stored in regional reservoirs, including Lake Mead. Parts of the southwestern US depend heavily on melting snowpack during summer months.

Is mainstream news starting to talk about rising sea levels? A forthcoming report reviewed by NPR asserts that “today’s storm will be tomorrow’s high tide… it’s coming.” NOAA calculations indicate that in many coastal areas (including Norfolk, VA), tidal flooding “is going to become chronic rather quickly… It’s not going to be a slow, gradual change.”  And this week the Boston Globe reported: “The storms we’re seeing now, people thought this was decades in the future”. Increased flooding risk applies to inland areas as well: A new study finds 41 million Americans living in flood zones, over three times larger than FEMA’s official estimate.

A new study finds it still possible to hold global warming to 1.5°C by 2100, if global emissions peak by 2020, decline rapidly thereafter, and massive amounts of carbon are removed from the atmosphere in the second half of the century. At our current rate of global emissions, our carbon budget of 230GtCO2 for a 1.5C future will be exhausted in six years.

ENERGY

California set a new state solar record this week, briefly supplying 49.95% of electric grid demand from solar sources. Investors are eager to supply more, but regulators may put on the brakes while they figure out how to manage such rapid growth.

March 5-9 has been CERAWeek in Houston, an annual conference once described as “The Burning Man of energy”.  This year’s conference agenda is here. Reporting on the conference, Ed Crooks (Financial Times) opines that oil industry leaders seem to think of the transition away from fossil fuels the way most people think about dying…”They understand it intellectually, but hope it is a long way off.” The CEO of Saudi Aramco feels renewables will not compete with oil in cost or scale “for some time”, and BP’s CEO says “the world will need a lot of oil for a long time to come”.  Environmental Defense Fund’s Mark Brownstein offers a different view: “Everyone here seems to be certain the energy transition will be steady and orderly…but in the past few years we have seen the shale boom, and the plunging cost of solar power…we should be prepared for the possibility that it will be sudden and chaotic. Complacency is a strategic mistake.”

As expected, the US remains an outlier, even in an audience of fossil industry leaders, all of whom acknowledge growing concern about global warming. According to Financial Times’ Ed Crooks, Rick Perry was clearly “out of step with the industry in his refusal to engage with the issue in any detail”.

These are heady days for the US shale oil industry, with production (10 million barrels per day) on par with Russia and Saudi Arabia. Thanks to a late-2016 agreement to cut back production signed by leading global oil producers (including Russia and OPEC nations), world oil prices are up 15-20% from a year ago. Current prices are adequate to support the higher costs of fracking for US shale oil, and the US may surpass Russia this year as the world’s largest oil producer.

Does all this mean “peak oil” is dead? Don’t bet on it, warns Richard Heinberg. While declining world oil production has been “rescued” by US shale oil production, it has been the result of some economic sleight-of-hand. The fracking boom, Heinberg explains, occurred in the context of the 2008 economic collapse, and a subsequent flood of nearly 10 trillion dollars created by central banks in the US, Europe, England and China, making essentially unlimited, very cheap money available to the nascent fracking industry. The industry is, Heinberg explains, unprofitable on the whole.  Heinberg sees a huge bubble of debt hanging over the industry, foreseeing it will burst at some point with far-reaching consequences.

Another message from CERAWeek was the wide range of opinions about the impact of climate policies and electric vehicles on oil demand. Mary Barra, General Motors CEO, assert GM’s “commitment to an all-electric, zero-emissions future…regardless of any modifications in fuel-economy standards”. Stiil, execs agreed they “weren’t losing any sleep”,  voicing confidence in the low penetration of EVs to date. [For a very different view on how fast EVs might take over, check out Stanford professor Tony Seba’s vision of “Clean Disruption”.]

My general impression from reporting on CERAWeek is to side with the views expressed by Brownstein and Heinberg.  The US shale oil industry is dependent for its survival on two things:1) continuing international production restraint to prop up oil prices, and 2) the continuing river of cheap money that began after the 2008 meltdown. Both are risky assumptions. In addition, in 2008, it took only a 5% drop in US oil demand to drop gasoline prices from $4 to $1.80 or so. The industry is exquisitely sensitive to small changes. The climate window is indeed closing fast, and we are unlikely to have a shot at 1.5°C. But a lot of exciting things are happening, too.

Climate and Energy News 3/2/2018

Policy and Politics

Robert J. Samuelson devoted his weekly economics column in The Washington Post this week to the BP report I linked to last week.  His message was not a happy one.  Without a price on carbon, the best that can be achieved by the reductions in fossil fuel use projected by BP is to keep up with population and economic growth.  Therefore, it is interesting that on Wednesday, a coalition of 34 student groups from around the country announced the formation of Students for Carbon Dividends, a bipartisan group calling for adoption of the Baker-Schulz carbon fee and dividend plan.  A new report by the Stockholm Environment Institute argues that it is insufficient to try and limit demand for fossil fuels.  Rather, it will be necessary to limit supply.  Using California as a case study, they illustrate the impact of supply limitation.  One factor influencing fossil fuel extraction is government subsidies.  A new report from the OECD combined figures obtained by them and by the International Energy Agency to provide a more comprehensive estimate of global subsidies.  The estimate is $373 billion for 2015.  While this value is substantial, it is less than the estimate for 2014.

Time has a detailed look at what the EPA website looks like after a year of climate change censorship.  Last October the EPA quietly released a report on the development of a Climate Resilience Screening Index (CRSI) that looks at a number of factors that influence resilience.  The report examines the CRSI of each county in the U.S.  A Silicon Valley startup will use new and better modeling techniques to help companies anticipate the impacts of climate change in their business decisions.  Generation Z has been in the news a lot recently about gun control, but they are also active about climate change, planning a nationwide series of climate marches on July 21.

Department of Interior emails obtained by The New York Times reveal that the location and availability of fossil fuel reserves was a key factor in the Trump administration’s decision to roll back protections for the Bears Ears National Monument.  Congress must pass a new spending bill by March 23 to avoid a government shutdown.  More than 80 anti-environmental-policy riders are included in either the House-passed version of the new bill or in Senate drafts.  I have referred to Virginia’s interest in joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).  Now Environment America, in collaboration with the Frontier Group, has analyzed the economic impact of RGGI and found it to be highly successful.

Climate

A new report published in February by the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station cautions that “Forests in Vermont and across the northeastern United States are under increasing stress from changing temperatures and precipitation regimes and increasing prevalence of invasive insects and disease.”  One way precipitation is changing is by becoming more intense.  For example, analyses done by Climate Central showed that nationwide trends of days with one-, two-, and three-inch rainfalls are increasing.

The weather continues to be strange, with Europe being colder than many places in the Arctic.  Warming has been unprecedented there, causing some to ask whether it has reached a tipping point.  Meanwhile, in the U.S., spring is running 20 days or more ahead of schedule in parts of the Ohio River Valley and the Mid-Atlantic.

Articles this week examined the possible impacts of climate change on two charismatic penguins: Adélie and king penguins.  Adélie penguins living along the Antarctica Peninsula’s western side are having difficulties because of climate change, but the recent discovery of a huge colony in the Danger Islands on the Peninsula’s eastern side holds out hope for the species.  King penguins breed on islands that are far enough north to be ice free, but travel to the Antarctic Polar Front (APF) to obtain food for their chicks.  As the planet warms, the APF will move south, increasing the distance they must travel, ultimately making that travel untenable.  Thus, they will be required to move to new breeding grounds, but their availability is an open question.

According to a new paper in Nature Climate Change, 2% of global mangroves, which are excellent carbon sinks, were lost between 2000 and 2012.  Furthermore, the amount of carbon released by clearing mangroves amounts to 27m tons of CO2 per year, equivalent to the annual emissions of Myanmar.

According to a new report released Monday by the Center for Climate and Security, more than 200 coastal military installations had been flooded by storm surges, compared to about 30 in 2008.  One place with a U.S. military connection being impacted by rising seas is the Marshall Islands in the Pacific.  Life there is difficult for many reasons.  In a three-part series, Mashable follows several Marshall Islanders as they grapple with an uncertain future: Part I, Part II, Part III.

Energy

The Virginia legislature has passed a bill that brings Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power under a new rate review scheme that also imposes new restrictions on their regulators at the State Corporation Commission.  The legislation allows the two utilities to offset profits above their authorized rate of return with spending on eligible projects, which must be approved by the commission in advance.  In a guest post at Power for the People VA, Thomas Hadwin explained why it is important for Virginia to get those projects right.

A new paper published Tuesday in the journal Energy and Environmental Science shows that a conversion to an 80% solar and wind-based energy system is possible in the U.S., but it will require significant advancement in energy storage technologies or hundreds of billions of dollars of renewable energy infrastructure.  Renewable energy resources were as important as natural gas in driving down CO2 emissions in the U.S. over a seven-year period beginning in 2007, according to a new peer-reviewed study in the journal Energy PolicyData published on Tuesday by the not-for-profit environmental impact researcher CDP found that 101 of the more than 570 cities on its books sourced at least 70% of their electricity from renewable sources in 2017, compared to 42 in 2015.  Utility Dive’s “2018 State of the Electric Utility Survey” of more than 600 U.S. and Canadian electric utility professionals shows utilities expect to add more solar, wind, and natural gas resources, while nuclear stagnates and coal declines.  Rocky Mountain Institute released a new report on the benefits of community-scale solar.

Statoil’s floating wind farm achieved a capacity factor of 65% from November through January.  For comparison, the U.S. on-shore wind fleet had an average capacity factor of about 37% last year.  General Electric will develop a new off-shore wind turbine in France.  The new turbine will be the largest on the market, will produce 12 MW, and stand 853 ft tall.  One concern with wind farms, whether off-shore or on-shore, is bird mortality.  New research using satellites is providing better data about flyways and bird hotspots on the U.S. east coast that can be used by wind farm developers to reduce mortality.

New analysis from The Brattle Group concludes the U.S. market for energy storage could reach 50 GW, as long as battery prices continue their decline and state and federal policies encourage the resource.  One problem with lithium ion batteries is that they perform poorly when they are cold.  A team of Chinese scientists has developed a new battery that works well at temperatures as low as -70°C, but it produces only a low voltage.

Silicon-based solar cells have a theoretical maximum efficiency of 29%.  Consequently, because perovskite absorbs solar energy in another part of the spectrum, layering silicon and perovskite solar cells has the potential to harvest more energy from the sun.  Adam Vaughan explored this and other ideas about what might happen next in the solar power industry.

China used 0.4% more coal in 2017 than in 2016, the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday in its annual National Social and Economic Development communique.  This was the first increase since 2013.  However, as a portion of total energy consumption, coal usage fell 1.6% to 60.4% last year, while clean energy, including natural gas and renewables, rose 1.3% to 20.8% from 2016.

Last week the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute sponsored a panel discussion entitled “The Future of Energy Infrastructure in the U.S. and Implications for Clean Energy” and the Energy News Network summarized the major points, which help explain why building long-distance electric transmission lines is so complicated.

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.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/23/2018

Policy and Politics

California, Ontario, and Quebec have held their first auction of greenhouse gas emission credits under their joint cross-border cap-and-trade system.  Meanwhile, New Jersey has joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of 15 other states and Puerto Rico vowing to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement.  In a letter released on Tuesday, 236 mayors from 47 states urged EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt not to repeal the Clean Power Plan, saying they need its emissions rules to fight climate change and protect their cities.  In an interview published Thursday, Pruitt spoke about how his religious beliefs inform his views on the environment and environmental policy.  Physicist Mark Buchanan published an opinion piece about geoengineering at Bloomberg View.  In it he said that we should not “be lulled into thinking that humanity can engineer its way out of global warming, that we can get around it without radically changing the way we live.”

President Trump’s plan to phase out funding for the Energy Star program and fund it through fees charged to the companies that use it is meeting strong opposition by groups that represent manufacturers, retailers, utilities, environmentalists, and others who benefit from the program.  A coalition of business associations, conservative pundits, and Republican lawmakers is working to ensure that the Senate ratifies the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which calls for the phase out of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) because of their strong greenhouse effect.  Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill that would authorize EPA to ratchet down the production of HFCs.  The New York Times has reported that the Trump administration is considering Donald van der Vaart, the former secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, to be head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.  In an interview, van der Vaart expressed skepticism about the extent to which humans have contributed to climate change.  Regardless of U.S. participation, countries that ratified the Paris Climate Agreement will meet in Poland in December, where they are expected to put the finishing touches on transparency and verification measures that will ensure that industries and economies abide by emission rules.  Unfortunately, countries aren’t doing enough to live up to their Paris pledges.

A shift in public opinion, however gradual, has moved toward acceptance of human-caused global warming.  Livia Albeck-Ripka of The New York Times interviewed dozens of people to understand what is driving the change and presented six of their stories in a recent article.  One prominent person who changed his mind is Jerry Taylor, who is the focus of this month’s “This is Not Cool” video from Yale Climate Communications.  Last week I provided a link to an article about the “valve turners”.  This week Huffington Post has an article about how some consider such actions to be ecoterrorism.  Last fall author Megan Herbert and climate scientist Michael Mann launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish a children’s book they had written about climate change.  If you have children or grandchildren you would like to be aware of climate change and actions against it, then you may want to check out The Tantrum That Saved the World.  Or, you may want to give a copy to your local library.

Climate

A new study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, estimated how climate change could affect the risk of flooding, drought, and heatwaves in 571 European cities by the second half of the century.  The research showed that under a business-as-usual emissions scenario, every city studied will face an increased risk of extreme weather events as the climate warms.

As reported in the journal The Cryosphere, NASA scientists have greatly improved their ability to track and measure ice loss from Antarctic glaciers.  Their results have shown that the vast majority of the increase in ice loss has been from West Antarctica, whereas the ice flow from East Antarctica has been relatively stable.  In another new paper, this one in Nature Communications, scientists examined the effects of delaying present-day reduction of CO2 emissions on the amount of sea level rise as a result of melting Antarctic glaciers.  They found that each five-year delay in peaking of CO2 emissions will increase sea-level rise in 2300 by about 8 inches on average.  A research team led by a USGS scientist has found that west coast wetlands are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise because they are constrained by natural barriers and man-made obstacles from migrating inland with the rising tides.

In just eight days in mid-February, nearly a third of the sea ice covering the Bering Sea off Alaska’s west coast disappeared, so that the area covered by ice is now 60% below its average from 1981-2010.  As the Arctic was flooded with warm air, on Monday and Tuesday the northernmost weather station in the world, Cape Morris Jesup at the northern tip of Greenland, experienced more than 24 hours of temperatures above freezing.  Furthermore, high temperature records were shattered all along the east coast of the U.S. on Tuesday and Wednesday.  And in Siberia, melting permafrost has led to a “megaslump” that provides an opportunity for scientists to access up to 200,000 years of historical climate records.

Ocean acidification due to increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere is a threat to sediments that form the base for coral reefs, as well as to the reefs themselves, according to a new paper in the journal Science.  The paper said it was “unknown if the whole reef will erode once the sediments become net dissolving” and whether reefs “will experience catastrophic destruction” or merely a slow erosion.

Two authors of a recent paper in Nature Plants explain in Carbon Briefenhanced weathering” of silicate rock as a technique for removing CO2 from the atmosphere, while also decreasing ocean acidification and stimulating plant growth.

Writing in his column in The Guardian, climate scientist John Abraham explained how pollen data collected from sites across North America and Europe were used to show that Earth’s temperature had been cooling for around 2000 years before humans started burning sufficient fossil fuels to reverse the trend and warm Earth.

Energy

For the first time, BP’s Energy Outlook projects a peak in oil consumption, driven in part by the rise of shared and autonomous electric vehicles (EVs).  The peak is seen as coming in the late 2030s, by which time they project over 300 million EVs will be on the world’s roads.

Fueled by increased efficiency, consumer spending on electricity fell to 1.3% of personal consumption in 2017, the lowest in records dating to 1959, according to a report Thursday from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.  The drop in emissions from the energy sector in 2017 was due more to renewable energy and energy conservation than to the nation switching from coal to natural gas for electricity generation.  Nevertheless, according to data from the Sierra Club and the Energy Information Administration, more coal capacity closed in the first 45 days of 2018 than in the first three years of the Obama administration.

On several occasions, I’ve provided links to articles about using hydrogen (H2) as a fuel for cars.  But what about using H2 to heat homes, to cook with, and to heat water, in the place of natural gas (methane)?  Well, a UK gas company is planning to use the city of Leeds to test the idea at full-scale.  Ahshat Rathi at Quartz explains the idea, the plans, and some possible problems.  In addition, HyTech Power, a company in Redmond, WA, has some unique and innovative ideas for using H2 in transportation and energy storage.  David Roberts at Vox described their step-by-step approach.

Having gained experience in East Africa, off-grid, pay-as-you-go solar companies are now moving into West Africa.  They can provide solar panels and a battery that will produce 4 kWhr of electricity for less than the cost of kerosene, which most people without electricity use for lighting.  On the other hand, in Nigeria more minigrids are being put in place, using solar panels, batteries, and backup power.

Tim Profeta, Director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University, had an essay at The Conversation arguing that to meet its climate goals, the U.S. needs to address the economic problems facing nuclear power, perhaps by instituting a carbon tax.  The U.S. Department of Energy is conducting research and working with utilities seeking permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to allow nuclear reactors built in the 1970s to keep operating to 2050 and beyond.

Although Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke appears determined to replace the Obama-era BLM methane rule, on Thursday night a federal judge struck down his latest attempt.  According to a survey by the Energy Institute, most energy executives underestimate how much they can cut methane emissions as they extract and transport natural gas.

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.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/16/2018

Policy and Politics

Under a new policy, the EU will refuse to sign trade deals with countries that do not ratify the Paris Climate Agreement and take steps to combat global warming.  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said on Wednesday that energy taxes in major advanced economies are not doing enough to reduce energy use, improve energy efficiency, and drive a shift towards low-carbon sources.  In addition, the world’s biggest banks are failing to take climate change seriously in their business plans, according to research published Thursday by Boston Common Asset Management.  Business lobbies in Europe and the U.S. are pushing for a distinct, direct and formalized “business channel” into UN climate negotiations.  The nation’s intelligence agencies are warning, in the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment, of global instability if climate change continues unabated, according to a report submitted for a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

After the Paris Climate Agreement adopted 1.5°C as an aspirational goal for the maximum amount of global warming, the IPCC was charged with preparing a report on the feasibility of achieving that goal.  Now the draft report by the IPCC has been leaked and it says that the world has only 12 to 16 years’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions left, from the start of 2016, if it wants a better-than-even chance of meeting the goal.  However, since it would be impossible to curb emissions that fast without damaging the global economy, the report notes that it’s virtually unavoidable that the planet will “overshoot” 1.5°C.  Megan Darby has summarized 11 takeaways from the draft report at Climate Home.  Writing in The New York Times Magazine, Michelle Nijhuis presented an interesting profile of the Valve Turners, the five activists who took civil disobedience in the climate change battle to a new level by shutting down several oil pipelines.  As one said, “I’m not courageous or brave.  I’m just more afraid of climate change than I am of prison.”

The budget bill passed last week by Congress contains an extension and expansion of the tax credit for the capture and storage of CO2 underground.  Even though a president’s budget is just a blueprint that is often ignored by Congress, there are some items in President Trump’s proposed budget that could have important negative impacts on the U.S. capacity to understand, prepare for, and respond to climate change.  Furthermore, the proposed budget for DOE would give a big boost to nuclear energy at the expense of renewables and weatherization.  Meanwhile, on Thursday a federal judge in San Francisco ordered DOE to end a one-year delay on rules developed by the Obama administration to combat climate change by tightening energy-efficiency standards for portable air conditioners, building heaters, and other appliances.

Climate

The relationship between climate change and conflict is a topic that is being hotly debated.  A new paper in Nature Climate Change reports on a meta study that reviewed the literature on the subject.  Unfortunately, it appears to have inflamed the debate more than clarified it.  Writing at The Atlantic, Robinson Meyers looks at both sides of the argument.

A ship has made a winter crossing of the Arctic without an icebreaker for the first time.  This was possible because climate change has caused the region’s ice sheets to melt and thin.  A federal appeals court ruled on Monday that Arctic ringed seals must be protected under the Endangered Species Act because of their reliance on the disappearing sea ice.  Melting land-based ice in Greenland and Antarctica is a major contributor to sea level rise.  A new analysis of sea level data from satellites, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has revealed that the rate of sea level rise is accelerating.  According to a paper published in the journal Plos One, a combination of climate change and industrial-scale fishing is threatening the krill population in Antarctic waters, with a potentially disastrous impact on whales, penguins, and seals.  Yale Climate Connections presented descriptions of 13 books dealing with either the Arctic or the Antarctic.

Over the past year several papers have explored the need for negative emissions of CO2 to meet desired limitations on global warming.  One technique that has been proposed is “bioenergy with carbon capture and storage,” or BECCS.  It can have many impacts on a region, so a team of scientists has begun a study of the Upper Missouri River Basin to learn exactly what those impacts will be.  A paper published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances stated that even with countries meeting their pledges to the Paris Climate Agreement, we’re likely to see “substantial and widespread increases in the probability of historically unprecedented extreme events.”  Furthermore, the effects of this extreme weather will be seen “across human and natural systems, including both wealthy and poor communities.”

A new paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters helps explain why the Southeastern U.S. has been cooling in winter and spring even though CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have been increasing.  As you might expect, given weather reports in the past few years, it all has to do with the location of the jet stream.  Another example of regional weather changes is the Midwest, which has experienced cooler temperatures and more rainfall in summer than expected from climate models.  Now, a team of scientists at MIT has shown that this is due to the heavy agriculture in the region, which pumps more moisture into the atmosphere than would otherwise be there.

A new paper in the journal Global Change Biology reported that the arrival date of migrating bats at their summer home in Texas is around two weeks earlier than it was in 1992.

Most of the papers about the effects of climate change on corals have dealt with warm-water corals.  However, cold-water corals are also impacted by CO2 emissions, but in a different way.  Cold-water corals are found in deep, dark parts of the world’s oceans where they can thrive at depths of up to 2 km and water temperatures as low as 4°C.  The main threat to them is from ocean acidification caused by dissolution of CO2 from the atmosphere.  A paper in Nature reported that as the oceans acidify, more cold-water corals are being exposed to acidified waters, which can cause their hard outer layers to dissolve.

Energy

For the fourth time since 2002, the Edison Electric Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council have issued a joint statement at a meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.  The statement supports an accelerating clean energy transition that is defined by energy efficiency, reducing carbon emissions, and empowering states and customers.  Thus it is not surprising that the latest edition of Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Sustainable Energy in America Factbook stated that electricity generation from renewables reached its highest level ever in 2017, at 18% of the overall energy mix.

Four east coast states are pursuing off-shore wind farm projects.  Such wind farms use larger turbines than are used on land, but the U.S. does not yet have facilities for manufacturing large turbines.  Each of the various states would like to become the hub for large turbine manufacturing, but their competition could drive up manufacturing costs, putting the economics of the projects in jeopardy.  The world’s first floating wind farm was installed off the coast of Scotland last year.  Now Statoil, one of the project’s developers, has reported that not only has the farm survived winter storms, it has produced more electricity than expected.

Methane leaks from oil and gas sites in Pennsylvania could be five times greater than industry has reported to state regulators, according to a new analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund.  On the subject of methane leaks, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is seeking to wipe out the requirements that oil and gas well operators on BLM land monitor and detect leaks of methane, and capture and sell it instead of flaring it off or venting it to the atmosphere.

FERC voted unanimously on Thursday to remove barriers for batteries and other energy storage systems on the grid.  The new rule, first proposed in November of 2016, will require most grid operators to come up with a plan to amend their rules to fully integrate energy storage and allow it to compete.  Meanwhile, many consumers and businesses in areas that frequently experience severe weather are considering solar plus storage for the resiliency it provides.  Out in the desert southwest, Arizona Public Service was looking for a way to deliver power during peak evening hours in the summer.  First Solar’s bid with solar plus storage beat out conventional renewables, standalone batteries, and natural-gas peaking plants.

A new study in Nature Communications looked at the climate impact of a shift from truck-based to drone-based package delivery. It found that while small drones carrying packages weighing less than 1.1 lb would reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to diesel or electric trucks anywhere in the U.S., the same is not true for larger drones carrying heavier packages.

The debate over the Renewable Fuel Standard has heated up again.  Oil interests have claimed that ethanol mandates hurt profitability and have caused a major refinery to declare bankruptcy.  The ethanol industry has said that the program is working as intended.  In addition, the NHTSA is looking at a range of options to lower future fuel economy standards, including one that would permit an average fleetwide standard of 35.7 mpg by 2026, down from the 46.6 mpg under rules put in place by the Obama administration.

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.