Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/17/2020

Politics and Policy

Former Vice President Joe Biden unveiled a proposal Tuesday to transform the nation’s energy industry, pledging to eliminate carbon pollution from power plants by 2035 and spend $2 trillion to turbocharge the clean energy economy.  In a speech Wednesday, President Trump displayed just how far apart he and Biden are ideologically on infrastructure and environmental matters.  As might be expected, the oil and gas lobby was not thrilled with several parts of Joe Biden’s new climate plan.  Author David Wallace-Wells interviewed Washington Governor Jay Inslee about Biden’s embrace of so many of Inslee’s ideas about tackling climate change.  Some of the world’s leading climate scientists have written to EU leaders demanding they act immediately to avoid the worst impacts of the unfolding climate and ecological emergency.  Their letter said that the response to COVID-19 has made it clear that “…the climate crisis has never once been treated as a crisis, neither from the politicians, media, business nor finance.”

On Wednesday, the White House finalized its rollback of one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws, the National Environmental Policy Act.  Later that day a federal judge in California blocked the rollback of a rule requiring reduction of methane emissions from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal lands.  The administration has been systematically underestimating the damage caused by carbon pollution according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.  At Yale Environment 360, Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellow Jonathan Mingle wrote: “The demise or delay of several major oil and gas pipelines in recent weeks, including the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, demonstrate how the Trump administration’s zeal for fossil fuel projects and flaunting of environmental laws has backfired and handed key victories to environmentalists.”  A lower court last week ordered the temporary shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline, but an appeals court on Tuesday stalled that order.

Official dietary advice across the world is harming both the environment and people’s health, according to scientists who have carried out the most comprehensive assessment of national dietary guidelines to date.  C40 Cities, a network of mayors committed to meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, has released a report arguing that urban economies need to prioritize green investments in order to create a more resilient society that can withstand global shocks.  COVID-19 is having a climate impact as commuters reject mass transit and embrace their cars.  At the Virginia Mercury, Sarah Vogelsong examined the question of how a network of electric vehicle charging stations in Virginia should be developed and managed, by the regulated electric utilities or a competitive marketplace.  Two clean energy advocates, CAAV Steering Committee member Sally Newkirk and Virginia Sierra Club’s Seth Heald, are challenging incumbents in electric utility co-op board elections this summer. 

On Thursday, FERC unanimously rejected a petition from the New England Ratepayers Association to declare all state solar net-metering policies illegal.  Some states and cities have adopted carbon neutrality goals, requiring the phase out natural gas.  Using New England as a case study, Emily Pontecorvo examined the complex interrelated questions that must be addressed while doing so.  Results from a study published in Environmental and Resource Economics showed that countries with carbon prices on average had annual CO2 emissions growth rates that were about two percentage points lower than countries without a carbon price.  Biomass currently represents almost 60% of the EU’s “renewable energy”, more than solar and wind power combined.  This makes it important that the biomass burned to get that energy is appropriate, so the EU is working on stricter sustainability criteria for bioenergy.  Ironically, in the U.S., the EPA is expected to propose a new rule declaring that burning biomass from forests can be considered carbon neutral, thereby loosening the sustainability criteria.

Climate and Climate Science

Papers published in the journals Earth System Science Data and Environmental Research Letters by researchers with the Global Carbon Project reported that from the 2000-2006 period to 2017, methane emissions from fossil fuel production and use increased by nearly 15% to 108 million tons per year while emissions from agriculture increased by almost 11% to 227 million tons per year.

Both NASA and NOAA agree that the first half of 2020 was the second hottest on record, trailing the first half of 2016 by only 0.05°C.  They also estimated that 2020 has a 36% chance of becoming the hottest year on record and a 99.9% chance of being among the top five.  According to a new report from NOAA, the increase in high-tide flooding along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the U.S. since 2000 has been “extraordinary.”

Researchers with the World Weather Attribution project have determined that the prolonged January-to-June heat wave across the Siberian Arctic was made at least 600 times more likely by human-caused climate change.  On the subject of heat, science editor David Shukman wrote at the BBC about impacts of extreme heat on humans and the role of “wet bulb globe temperature” as a guideline to recognizing unsafe conditions.  The official weather observing station in Death Valley, CA reached 128°F on Sunday, the hottest temperature anywhere on Earth since 2017 and only 1°F behind what experts say is likely the hottest temperature ever recorded.

The impact of climate change on wildfires is complex.  At Carbon Brief, Daisy Dunne examined how wildfires around the world are changing, the influence of global warming on them, and how risks might multiply in the future.

According to a paper published in the journal Nature, grinding up basalt rock and spreading the resulting powder across agricultural fields can accelerate Earth’s natural rate of CO2 absorption by “enhanced rock weathering.”

Energy

The International Energy Agency has issued its latest “Clean Energy Innovation” report, which seeks to determine whether the tools available for achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions are capable of doing so.  David Roberts did a good job of dissecting and summarizing the report at Vox.

In his “Inside Clean Energy” column this week, Dan Gearino covered several topics, two of which I found to be particularly interesting.  The lead article is about energy company PacifiCorp and their move toward more clean energy, an undertaking that requires them to satisfy regulators in a very diverse array of states.  The second article addressed the topic of what to do with solar panels when they reach the end of their useful life and referenced a paper that recently appeared in the journal Nature Energy

In 2019, California utilities implemented preventative blackouts as a way to eliminate the risk of grid equipment sparking fires.  Greentech Media examined the use of microgrids as an alternative strategy for reducing risk.  Also, a recent study by California’s three investor-owned utilities found that solar backed by four hours of storage can achieve nearly 100% reliability during the daytime.  Dutch scientists collaborated with the power company Liander to study the impacts of clouds on electricity production by solar panels and found that the highest power peaks occurred under partly cloudy conditions.  Rocky Mountain Institute issued a new report on reimagining grid resilience as we transform our electrical energy system.  And for a tutorial on changing energy markets, you might read this article by Gordon Feller.

Data on the greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, factories, cargo ships, controlled burns and every other human source on Earth could soon be part of the public domain, according to “ClimateTrace”, a consortium of technology companies and climate change nonprofits.  Recently, companies in the oil industry have announced plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions.  While the pledges sound impressive, many are misleading and misrepresent how much the oil giants are changing.  In fact, no company has committed to shrink its oil output this decade.

The continued availability of lithium is essential to the development of electric vehicles, electricity storage, and multiple other activities dependent on lithium-ion batteries.  Although most lithium is obtained by mining today, the oceans contain a vast amount of it, although at very low concentration.  Now scientists at Stanford University have devised a technique for extracting lithium from seawater, although it will require additional development before it can be applied.

Potpourri

Economist and Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz reviewed Bjorn Lomborg’s new book False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet, concluding with “…Lomborg’s work would be downright dangerous were it to succeed in persuading anyone that there was merit in its arguments.”  MacArthur Fellow and National Academy of Sciences member Peter Gleick reviewed Michael Shellenberger’s Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, stating “In short, what is new in here isn’t right, and what is right isn’t new.”  In July 2018, sustainability leadership professor Jem Bendell (Univ. of Cumbria, UK) self-published an article entitled “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy” after its rejection by a sustainability policy journal.  The article has been downloaded more than 600,000 times and has significantly impacted the ideology and strategy of climate movement organizations like Extinction Rebellion (ER).  Now, three young scientist members of ER have reviewed the science and conclusions of “Deep Adaptation” and found them to be deeply flawed.  U.S. ranchers are upset with Burger King over a video it released touting the benefits of lemongrass as a dietary additive for reducing methane emissions from cattle.  David Kaiser, who steered the Rockefeller Family Fund into a pitched confrontation with Exxon Mobil, died on Wednesday at a family home on Mount Desert Island, ME.

Closing Thought

Catherine Coleman Flowers is a senior fellow of environmental justice and civic engagement at the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, a rural development manager for the Equal Justice Initiative, and the only Black woman to serve on the Biden task force on climate change.

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 7/10/2020

Thanks to Joy Loving for this week’s News Roundup. Les Grady is out-of-town.

Politics and Policy

The House of Representatives weighed in with its Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy and Just America. The “report outlines a plan to reach the target of net-zero economy-wide emissions by 2050”. A joint Biden‑Sanders Task Force included recommendations around the climate “emergency” but did not explicitly reference the Green New Deal or include a fracking ban.  “The recommendations set a number of specific near-term benchmarks that Democrats would promise to reach.”  Grist concluded “it’s clear that Sanders’ camp had a meaningful influence on the platform”. 

Gizmodo highlighted a suite of policy proposals from the Movement for Black Lives indicating that they and “Environmentalists Are Finding Common Ground”.  The American Climate Contract website profiles Republican Members of the House of Representatives who have endorsed this set of proposals, billed as “The right way forward on climate change”.  Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam announced the “’Clean Energy Virginia’ Initiative to Drive Investment in Renewable Energy, Support Jobs of the Future”.

Rocky Mountain Institute announced the launch of its Center for Climate‑Aligned Finance to “enable FIs [Financial Institutions] to actively help shape the transformation of carbon intensive sectors alongside their clients on the journey to net zero global emissions by 2050.” Forbes reported on Amazon’s launch of “a new $2 billion venture capital fund … that will invest in clean energy and other technologies to reduce the impact of climate change”.

The Wall Street Journal reported on a Trump Administration request to “a federal judge to reject a settlement between the Sierra Club and a Michigan utility over alleged clean-air violations, arguing that the deal improperly goes beyond what the federal government has approved.”

The Hill said “A total of 352 facilities, including fossil fuel companies, water treatment plants and schools, made use of the EPA’s relaxation of Clean Water Act requirements”, noting also “Environmentalists are raising alarms over the number of facilities that aren’t monitoring their pollution levels, saying the damage could last well beyond the Aug. 31 expiration date of the temporary policy.”  The Guardian noted that “Over 5,600 fossil fuel companies have taken at least $3bn in US Covid-19 aid”.

The Houston Chronicle reported on the Secretary of Energy’s assertion that “COVID-19 brought oil and gas down, but Trump is powering a comeback”.

Reuters offered details on increasingly creative and effective legal strategies being employed worldwide to combat, and demand accountability for, climate change.

Climate and Climate Science

The Narwahl offered an in-depth piece called “One key solution to the world’s climate woes? Canada’s natural landscapes”.  The Revelator described projects to identify areas that could become “Climate Refugia”—“Areas with natural buffers from the effects of climate change” that could “play a vital role in conservation efforts”.  The Guardian told us that, after National Trust restoration, a “well known piece of the British landscape that had become depleted of flora and fauna because of years of intensive farming is alive with wildflowers, butterflies and birds this summer.”  The National Trust spent 2½ years returning rich grassland to the top of the white cliffs of Dover.

Mongabay reported that “Over the past 10 years, the World Bank’s private investment arm has sunk more than $1.8 billion into major livestock and factory farming companies across the world.”  Mongabay noted: “Livestock production is associated with a litany of environmental and biosecurity risks, including the pollution of waterways, rainforest destruction, and the emergence of new diseases.”

According to a Grist article, “Seed preemption bills have passed in at least 29 states ….”  A 2018 hearing on one such bill, quietly introduced in the New Mexico legislature, brought out a large number of proponents (“agribusiness lobbyists [and] large farm organizations”) and opponents (“small-scale farmers, seedkeepers, and tribal members”).  Although that bill was tabled, the state’s 200-page 2019 budget contained a single line aimed to strip local governments of their power to regulate seeds; the Governor vetoed that line item.

The Guardian cited scientists’ strategy of assisted migration to help forests and trees survive climate change.  The method:  plant species like the loblolly pine farther north, into what is hoped to be conditions more like the ones they have historically had in their current locations.

National Geographic described the connection between the Horseshoe Crab and Covid-19 treatment research.  There are concerns that the harvesting of hundreds of thousands of these crabs “may imperil the crabs and the marine ecosystems that depend on them.”

The New York Times noted that countries prone to extreme flooding and mudslides are not necessarily well-equipped to ensure the safety of their older populations, especially those in nursing homes.  Reuters cited evidence that “From sexual violence in displacement camps to extra farm work and greater risk of illness, women shoulder a bigger burden from worsening extreme weather and other climate pressures pushing people to move for survival”.  Inside Climate News asked:  “With Climate Change Intensifying, Can At-Risk Minority Communities Rely on the Police to Keep Them Safe?”

Reminding us about the US Southwest’s lengthy drought, the New York Times said the warm spring caused rapid melting of snowpack, and less than full reservoirs now are leading to renewed concerns about megadrought.

The Guardian warned that the Navajo Nation and Arizona, “Hit hard by Covid-19, [face] heightened danger from smoke, flames and possible evacuations”.

Bloomberg echoed previous warnings that “Oppressive heat will blanket the U.S. from California to the Northeast through at least the middle of next week, driving up energy demand, stressing crops and probably setting new records.”  Florida NPR station WJCP provided an illuminating story:  “Warming Brings Muggier Weather to Jacksonville, Threatening Most Vulnerable”.

The Associated Press reported on the UN weather agency’s warning: “World could hit 1.5-degree warming threshold by 2024.”  The agency noted “the target set in Paris, of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), [is] ideally no more than 1.5 C, by the end of the century.”  NBC News also reported on the agency’s concerns.  The Guardian said “The amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere is approaching a level not seen in 15m years…, [adding] Last time CO2 was at similar level temperatures were 3C to 4C hotter and sea levels were 20 metres higher.”

Energy

The BIG news this week was the decision by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy to abandon the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project that would have run over 500 miles through parts of WV, VA, and NC.  Many, many articles appeared, providing history and background of the ACP; details of the associated transactions, including sale of Dominion’s natural pipeline and storage assets to Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway; reactions of ACP opponents and proponents; and the implications for pipelines and utilities.  Here is a list of headlines, representing only a small part of the media items that appeared:

Richmond Times-Dispatch:  “Dominion cancels Atlantic Coast Pipeline, sells natural gas transmission business”

Fortune:  “Warren Buffett’s buy-on-fear strategy will be tested with his latest bet on fossil fuels”

The News and Advance:  “’We won the impossible fight’: Nelsonians react to news of Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s demise”

WDBJ7:  “Cancellation of Atlantic Coast Pipeline buoys opponents of another controversial project”

Utility Dive:  “Natural gas pipeline developers aim to differentiate from Atlantic Coast and avoid its fate”

Richmond Times-Dispatch:  “Dominion takes financial hit as company jettisons pipeline and gas transmission business”

Greentech Media: “As Fossil Fuel Pipelines Fall to Opposition, Utilities See Renewable Energy as Safe Bet.  Atlantic Coast and Dakota Access pipeline woes underscore trends pushing utilities toward clean power as a less risky business”

New York Times:  “The Next Energy Battle:  Renewables vs. Natural Gas”

Roanoke Times:  “Mountain Valley Pipeline’s ‘uphill climb’ gets a little easier”

The Virginia Mercury:  “With the Atlantic Coast Pipeline dead, it’s time to topple remaining fossil fuel monuments”

Bacon’s Rebellion:  “Brace Yourself for a Zero-Carbon Electric Grid”

The Wall Street Journal documented a debate raging about oil prices.  Noting the $0 per barrel price earlier in 2020, WSJ said “Investors and analysts are now trying to work out what the rest of the decade holds in store.”

Many oil and gas companies have declared bankruptcy because of the decline in prices, and that trend is likely to continue even with the recent rebound to $40/barrel.  Colorado Newsline talks about the environmental repercussions of abandoned oil and gas wells as companies declare bankruptcy. BP and Shell announced  “they plan to lower the official value of their assets by several billion dollars due to declining oil and gas prices”.  This may mean they will leave those assets in the ground for now.

Several environmental groups joined forces to sue West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection over inadequate funding for coal mine site reclamation. The groups believe the agency failed “to adhere to federal reporting requirements for a coal mine reclamation fund”.

The Barents Observer described fears of northern Finland’s Sámi families … in Tarvantovaara wilderness area … [that] the world’s hunger for metals to ramp up the green economy will destroy their indigenous way of life”.  This remote region has a reindeer population important to this peoples’ way of life and is also home to “nickel, copper, vanadium and cobalt, all being minerals highly demanded in the production of electric vehicle batteries”.

The Washington Post described a Lake Erie clean energy project that has some folks crying “fowl”.  The headline asserts the project “faces stiff head winds because of warblers and waterfowl”.  The paper also reported that “Spreading rock dust on farmland could pull enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to remove about half of the amount of that greenhouse gas currently produced by Europe.”

The Daily Climate cautioned: “Beyond the “silver lining” of emissions reductions: Clean energy takes a COVID-19 hit” and “With job loss and stifled development in the renewable energy sector, economists, politicians, and advocates say policy action is necessary to stay on track.”

The Indy Star reported solar developers are planting, interspersed with the solar panels, varieties of flowers that are beneficial to pollinators, hoping to help bee survival.

Potpourri

Check out this blogpost from The Plastocene by Christopher James Preston, environmental philosopher, about “Wizards, Prophets, and Profits…. (on the Way to Clean Energy)”.

Time presented a thoughtful piece addressing “Why the Larger Climate Movement Is Finally Embracing the Fight Against Environmental Racism”.

Rolling Stone brought us reflections on the Dakota Access Pipeline court decision by Adam Killsalive, based on his experiences as a young man from the Standing Rock Reservation.

Writing in the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo exclaimed “I’ve Seen a Future Without Cars, and It’s Amazing”.  He asked “Why do American cities waste so much space on cars?”

Grist told us about memes surfacing on the Internet signaling what folks jokingly say are ways the pandemic is helping Nature to heal.

The Southern Environmental Law Center linked us to a “Broken Ground” podcast that “takes listeners to two Southern coastal cities among the most threatened by rising tides: Norfolk, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina.”

Joy Loving for Les Grady
CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/3/2020

Special Event: Chautauqua Institution

The theme at the Chautauqua Institution this week was climate change.  Because of COVID-19 all of the lectures and other activities were moved online, instead of in-person.  If you go to https://assembly.chq.org/ you can start a 90-day free trial, which provides plenty of time to see what happened this week, as well as what will be going on this summer.  Once you are in, go to the Assembly and then scroll down to “Weekly Themes” where Climate Change will be the first one.  Click on it to go to the video library.  The main lectures are “Government, Economics, and the Climate”; “The Ocean and the Climate”; “How to Reduce Greenhouse Gases” (which was super); and “The State of Global Environmental Action.”  There are lots of other videos from the week to explore.  Enjoy the Chautauqua experience virtually.

Politics and Policy

Carbon Brief has updated its tracker of government “green stimulus” measures launched in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  Preliminary findings from a study by 14 research groups showed that as of 1 July, more public money commitments in response to COVID-19 went to fossil fuels than to cleaner energies in the U.S. and several others.  The 36 countries that sit on the council of the International Civil Aviation Organization agreed to postpone the date airlines have to start paying for carbon credits to offset a portion of their climate impact. 

Prominent environmentalists and Democratic activists said Facebook is “allowing the spread of climate misinformation to flourish, unchecked” and urged the company’s external oversight board to intervene.  At her blog, climate reporter Emily Atkin described the actions of the natural gas industry when trying to defeat the all-electric housing plan of the town of San Luis Obsipo, CA.  The group claiming status as a ratepayer advocacy group in its attempt to get FERC to override state net-metering rules has finally revealed the identity of one of its members.

On Thursday, Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, said in a statement that “The message is very clear: in the absence of much faster clean energy innovation, achieving net-zero goals in 2050 will be all but impossible.”  House Democrats’ “Climate Crisis Action Plan” lays out a blueprint for moving the U.S. toward net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.  At Vox, David Roberts discussed its twelve policy “pillars”.  House Democrats passed a $1.5 trillion green infrastructure plan that would increase funding to repair the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges while setting aside funds for broadband, schools, and hospitals.  In response, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said, “Naturally this nonsense is not going anywhere in the Senate.”  In an essay in The Guardian, Columbia University professor and Nobel laureate in economics Joseph Stiglitz argued for investing in the green economy.  Ireland’s new coalition government has set an ambitious goal to deliver steep greenhouse gas emission cuts every year to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.  The collapse of oil and gas prices has had a major negative impact on countries that depend on the industry for a large percent of their income, providing a preview of what can happen as the world moves away from fossil fuels.  In The Atlantic, the former U.S. Special Envoy for International Energy Affairs argued that the international community must be prepared to manage the fallout from such change in those countries.

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has issued a new series of maps that compare the views of Democrats and Republicans on several aspects of climate change.  In a commentary for the Orlando Sentinel, the president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship argued that conservatives should follow the example set by President Reagan, who, when faced with the destruction of the ozone layer, listened to the scientists, weighed all the facts, and chose to act.  Top House Republicans are backing a climate policy framework, the “American Climate Contract”, outlined by the American Conservation Coalition, a conservative youth climate group.

Climate and Climate Science

Recently, I’ve provided links to articles noting that many of the newest climate models project higher future warming than older models.  A frequently offered explanation lies in how they incorporate clouds.  Now, CBS News Meteorologist and Climate Specialist Jeff Berardelli has examined clouds and why they are so complex at Yale Climate Connections.  At Carbon Brief, climate scientist Zeke Hausfather has provided an explanation of how the rise and fall of atmospheric CO2 levels influenced the ice ages.

Climate change will make it much harder for tropical plants around the world to germinate, with temperatures becoming too hot for the seeds of 20% of them by the year 2070.  Also, a new study in the journal Science found that with medium-level climate change, by the end of the century the world’s oceans, rivers, and lakes will be too hot for about 40% of the world’s fish species when in their spawning or embryonic life stages.

Miami just experienced its hottest week on record, rounding out its warmest first half of the year ever observed.  Two out of every three days this year have featured a broken record of some sort somewhere in South Florida.  Also, a potentially historic heat wave is expected to hit more than two-thirds of the continental U.S. in the first several weeks of July.  The Northeast U.S. is the fastest warming region among the contiguous 48 states.  An examination of temperature reconstructions during the Holocene Epoch (the last 12,000 years) revealed that Earth started cooling about 6,500 years ago, but all of it has been erased by the warming since 1850.

An exhaustive report released Monday by the First Street Foundation shows that nationally, there are at least 6 million households that are unaware they’re living in homes that have a 1% chance of flooding each year.  Furthermore, the chance is increasing each year due to climate change.

Scientists said on Monday that the South Pole is one of the most rapidly warming places on Earth, with surface air temperatures rising since the 1990s at a rate that is three times faster than the global average.

Energy

At Inside Climate News, Dan Gearino took issue with Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette’s op-ed about coal in the Harrisburg, PA, Patriot-News.  Two more utilities, in Arizona and Colorado, are moving to accelerate closure of coal plants and replace them with renewable energy backed by batteries, joining a broader push in both states to shift to more cost-effective clean energy.

During the first half of this year, solar, wind, biomass, and hydroelectric generation together produced 55.8% of Germany’s electricity.  German lawmakers have finalized plans for the country’s long-awaited phase-out of coal as an energy source, which will make them the first major economy to phase out both coal and nuclear energy.  Battery manufacturer Varta will receive $338 million of German government funding to develop large format lithium-ion cells.

Utilities that are transitioning away from coal are starting to view the creation of a natural gas “bridge” to renewable energy as an unnecessary step.  The assumed useful life of utility-scale solar projects now averages 32.5 years, up from 21.5 years in 2007, thereby helping lower the levelized cost of energy from them.  More than 500 residential energy storage batteries will be aggregated into a virtual power plant by utility Portland (Oregon) General Electric.

The UK business secretary gave the green light on Wednesday evening to the 1.8 GW Norfolk Vanguard windfarm project, which will be more than 40 miles off the Bacton coast of England.  Meanwhile, in the U.S., Dominion Energy and its partner Ørsted have completed installation of the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind pilot located 30 miles off Virginia Beach.

Norwegian oil firm Equinor plans to build a plant in Britain to produce hydrogen from natural gas in combination with carbon capture and storage, so-called blue hydrogen.  With the EU set to announce its long-term hydrogen strategy in mid-July, one question has emerged at the heart of the debate: Should blue hydrogen be excluded from the plans?  China has developed its latest draft of the regulations that will govern the storage and transportation of hydrogen for powering vehicles.  The Economist published a very clear-eyed evaluation of the potential role of hydrogen in a carbon-free economy.

Potpourri

In her “Climate Curious” column at the Washington Post, Sarah Kaplan addressed the link between climate change and racial justice.  The Economist has a new series of “The world if” articles, focusing on climate change.  Each of the eight pieces is fiction, but “grounded in historical fact and real science”.  In a video at Inside Climate News, author James Edward Mills addresses the idea that access to nature and outdoor recreation are critical, underappreciated environmental justice issues.  Australian filmmaker Damon Gameau’s film 2040 has been called the “most upbeat documentary about climate change” in several years.  It is available for pay-for-view streaming until the end of July.

Closing Thought

How two nuns helped Southern Co. wake up to climate change.

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 6/26/2020

Politics and Policy

In an opinion essay in The New York Times, Paul Bodnar and Tamara Grbusic of the Rocky Mountain Institute warned that the government’s spending on climate-related disaster recovery is a “rapidly rising fiscal threat”.  Also in the Times, John Schwartz examined the question of whether the Supreme Court ruling on gay and transgender rights will strengthen the argument for using the Clean Air Act to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.  In an interesting article at Vox, David Roberts examined the latest poll of public opinion on climate change and clean energy by the Pew Research Center.  Because of a quiet decision by Facebook, the CO2 Coalition and other groups that attack consensus climate science can share content that climate scientists have labeled as misleading because Facebook will consider it “opinion” and therefore immune to fact-checking.  A tug of war between preserving living-wage, unionized coal jobs and addressing climate change is playing out across the country at every level of government, pitting environmental and clean energy interests against unions and fossil fuel companies.    

The state of Minnesota sued ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and three Koch Industries entities on Wednesday over climate change, claiming they knew about the impacts fossil fuels would have on the environment and misled the public.  On Thursday, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine sued ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron, asserting that they have engaged in a multimillion-dollar campaign over decades to deceive District consumers about the effects of fossil fuels on climate change.  

On Thursday, the California Air Resources Board voted unanimously to adopt a new Advanced Clean Trucks regulation that requires everything from small delivery vans to 18-wheelers to transition away from diesel engines to less polluting electric motors powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells, beginning with the 2024 model year.  Nevada will be the latest state to adopt California’s low-and zero-emission vehicle rules following similar announcements by Washington in March and Minnesota and New Mexico in September.  President Trump’s Interior Department has approved about half as many wind and solar energy projects on federal lands as the Obama administration had at the same point in its first term, according to a report published on Thursday by the Center for American Progress.  Over the past five years, more U.S. cities have started setting and acting upon renewable energy goals by signing deals that move their own municipal operations away from fossil-fueled electricity and toward renewable energy.    

Joe Biden further consolidated the support of mainstream environmentalists by scoring the endorsement of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Action Fund on Wednesday.  A report released Tuesday by a think tank founded by Stacey Abrams, the Southern Economic Advancement Project, offers a road map for the South to catch up to the rest of the country in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Also on Tuesday, Environment America unveiled an effort to establish residential solar mandates, similar to the requirement that went into effect this year in California, in 10 states across the country.  A working paper from the University of California, Berkeley’s Energy Institute at Haas found that, when controlling for year, income, household size, and city of residence, Black renters paid $273 more per year for energy than white renters between 2010 and 2017; Black homeowners paid $408 more.  A national coalition to address the challenges of the working poor released a sweeping legislative platform in a three-hour virtual rally last Saturday, including proposals to address mass incarceration, health care, wealth inequality, and climate change.  A “green bank” is a nonprofit institution that uses public money to help businesses invest in solar panels, wind farms, and energy-efficient building retrofits.  Although several states have developed state-level green banks, there is renewed interest in establishing a national one to help stimulate the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Climate and Climate Science

The thermometer hit 38°C (100.4°F) in the Russian Arctic town of Verkhoyansk on Saturday, a likely record.  Such warming has several impacts, as discussed by Matt Simon at Wired

Although 90% of the U.S. public is in favor of planting trees to fight climate change, two new studies published this week show how misplaced hopes for tree-planting have been.  Jeff Goodell examined those studies and reviewed the history of the tree planting idea at Rolling Stone.  A study published in Nature Geosciences, explored the consequences of more than 80,000 land purchases by private companies made from 2000 to 2018 across 15 countries in South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia, finding that they accelerated tropical deforestation.

With rising temperatures, the world’s food supplies are at risk, with decreasing yields in key staple crops.  Researchers and innovators are looking at more resilient crops and farm animals — from heat-resistant wheat, to drought-resistant rice, to Naked Neck chickens that stay cooler.  Somaliland is drying out faster now than at any time during the past 2,000 years.  As a result, pastoral life has failed, forcing hundreds of thousands of people off the land and into makeshift camps for Internally Displaced People.

According to research published in the journal Global Change Biology, droughts across the mountains and plains of Wyoming can cut the spring growing season from four months to two.  That dries up nutrient-rich green grasses and shrubs, just when they are needed most by migrating mule deer to replenish body fat after the winter and to rear their young.

Research published in Geophysical Research Letters suggests that the use of aerosols to reflect sunlight and cool the planet could weaken storm tracks in the temperate latitudes in both hemispheres, thereby reducing the severity of winter storms but also stagnating weather systems in the summer, which could lead to more intense heat waves, increases in air pollution, and changes in ocean circulation.

Energy

Amazon.com said on Tuesday that it will launch a $2 billion venture capital fund that will focus on technology investments to reduce the impact of climate change and support sustainable development.  David Iaconangelo at E&E News addressed the question of whether this will really help clean energy.  Amazon also said that activities tied to its businesses emitted 51.17 million metric tons of CO2 last year, the equivalent of 13 coal-fired power plants running for a year.  That’s up 15% from 2018, when 44.4 million metric tons were emitted.

Satellites are becoming increasingly popular for detecting methane leaks from pipelines and other natural gas infrastructure, and they are finding significant leaks all over the world.  British power company Drax is partnering with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) to test solvents developed by MHI for their ability to capture CO2 from the flue gas from power plants burning biomass.

On Wednesday, Ford Motor Co. announced a new goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.  A paper in the journal Joule provided a comprehensive estimate of fuel costs during the 15-year life of an EV compared to a gasoline model car, with specifics for each state.  The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has pledged $100 million in funding for the development of an industry-ready, heavy-duty, hydrogen-powered, fuel-cell truck.  Engineers at Washington University in St. Louis have developed a new direct borohydride fuel cell that achieves an operating voltage twice that of hydrogen fuel cells, thereby widening the number of possibilities that could be powered by fuel cells.  A new report released by The Brattle Group this week established that there could be anywhere from 10 to 35 million EVs on the road by 2030, and the U.S. electric power sector would need to invest between $75-125 billion to be able to serve 20 million.

The U.S.’s three separate power grids largely operate independently and exchange very little power, thereby preventing all sorts of efficiencies.  Last week, an effort was launched to address that: the Macro Grid Initiative, which seeks to expand and upgrade the nation’s transmission network.  With fewer and fewer fossil generators left in the UK generation mix, and with more and more renewables, the grid is under strain.  But more than 100 large wind farms are now providing grid services to balance out the variable nature of renewables.

China has nearly 250 GW of coal-fired power plants now under development, more than the entire coal power capacity of the U.S., a new study said on Thursday, casting doubt on China’s commitments to cutting fossil fuel use.  Oil and gas giants, mining interests, and coal-fired power plants have all received financial and regulatory relief as governments around the world enact pandemic recovery plans.  These moves threaten to create a dirty, high-carbon legacy that long outlasts the current crisis.

Potpourri

The authors of a new paper published in WIREs Climate Change explained the actors and factors behind online misinformation and why social networks are such fertile ground for misinformation about climate change to spread.  The coronavirus pandemic and climate change are both collective action problems; unfortunately, some Americans have trouble accepting the actions required to deal with such problems.  At Yale Climate Connections, SueEllen Campbell provided links to a number of articles about the common ground shared by activists for a livable climate, racial justice, climate justice, and environmental justice.  At the same site, Michael Svoboda brought together twelve books for our armchair travel this summer.  At Burning Worlds, Amy Brady interviewed poet Susan Barba about her new book, Geode.  A team from James Madison University earned first-place honors in the “project development” category at this year’s DOE’s Collegiate Wind Competition.

Closing Thought

This week, listen to a 17 minute conversation between Vicki Robin and Bill McKibben.

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 6/19/2020

Politics and Policy

Researchers at the University of Oxford surveyed 80,000 people in 40 countries to learn what they think about climate change.  In cooperation with the International Monetary Fund, the International Energy Agency (IEA) launched its Sustainable Recovery Plan in a “World Energy Outlook Special Report.”  The report lays out a series of measures that the agency says would ensure 2019 was the “definitive peak” for global emissions.  The Guardian quoted Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA as saying “This year is the last time we have, if we are not to see a carbon rebound.”  If you’re curious about what the rest of the world is doing to promote a “green recovery” from the economic slowdown associated with the coronavirus, you might want to check out Carbon Brief’s new interactive tracker, which will be updated on a regular basis.

A very thought-provoking opinion piece at The Hill outlined a strategy that the U.S. could follow to meet the triple challenges of the slow demise of the post-World War II international order; America’s massive inequality, poor public health, and economic insecurity; and climate change.  House Democrats unveiled a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan Thursday that includes $70 billion for clean energy projects.  In addition, a group of 180 Democratic lawmakers wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) asking for congressional action to help the “decimated” clean energy sector.  Ignoring objections from coastal residents, politicians, and government agencies, the Trump Administration is moving forward with its intent to conduct seismic tests for oil off the Atlantic Coast.  The American Council on Renewable Energy and Americans for a Clean Energy Grid on Wednesday launched a campaign to build support for a stronger U.S. electrical transmission system, including upgrades to interregional lines and the development of a nationwide, high-voltage direct current network.  The Democratic National Committee’s council on climate change irked party leadership when it published policy recommendations this month that ventured beyond presidential candidate Joe Biden’s plan, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Never heard of the Transportation Fairness Alliance?  Then you should read this piece at DeSmog that discusses them.  Mississippi’s House and Senate have passed legislation placing new penalties on protests against fossil fuel infrastructure, making them the 13th state to do so in the past three years; the governor is expected to sign the legislation into law.  Efforts to undermine climate change science in the federal government, once orchestrated largely by President Trump’s political appointees, are now increasingly driven by midlevel managers.

One impact of all of the things that have been happening lately is an increasing awareness of environmental justice issues.  For example, the National Black Environmental Justice Network is relaunching.  In a Q&A at Inside Climate News, Robert Bullard, often called the father of environmental justice, said he is more hopeful about the future of environmental justice than ever.  Still, from New York to Los Angeles, Minneapolis to the Gulf Coast, people of color are suffering disproportionately from pollution, callous government, and climate change.

Climate and Climate Science

Following a May that tied for the hottest on record, the U.S. is heading into a potentially blistering summer, with hotter than normal temperatures expected across almost the entire country into September, NOAA researchers said on Thursday.  This raises the question of how cities will cope with the dangerous combination of high temperatures, COVID-19, and high unemployment.  Meanwhile, wildfires are raging across parts of the desert Southwest and California, where scant rainfall, sweltering temperatures and wind are combining to create ideal conditions for rapid fire spread.  A prolonged heatwave in Siberia is “undoubtedly alarming”, climate scientists have said.  The freak temperatures have been linked to wildfires, a huge oil spill and a plague of tree-eating moths.

As reported in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, scientists have discovered that summer sea ice in the Weddell Sea area of Antarctica has decreased by an area twice the size of Spain in the last five years, with implications for the marine ecosystem.  In addition, around the world, glaciers are melting.  Consequently, climatologists and chemists are collecting and storing ice core samples for future analysis.

Americans are growing increasingly concerned about health risks linked to global warming, according to a newly released survey from Ipsos alongside Yale and George Mason researchers.  People living in the world’s tropical forest regions, from Brazil to Indonesia, face heightened risk to their health this year from a potentially deadly combination of forest fires and the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists warned on Wednesday.  According to research published Thursday in JAMA Network Open, pregnant women in the U.S. exposed to high temperatures or air pollution are more likely to have children who are premature, underweight or stillborn, and African-American mothers and babies are harmed at a much higher rate than the population at large.  Columbia Journalism Investigations and the Center for Public Integrity investigated the CDC’s “Climate-Ready States and Cities Initiative” to determine what they have done to help localities prepare for and respond to the impacts of increasing temperatures on citizens’ health.  Jeff Goodell at Rolling Stone reported on their investigation.

In the coming decades, the Arctic Ocean will absorb significantly more CO2 than has been predicted by climate models, according to new research published in the journal Nature.  The increased rate of ocean acidification, combined with other rapidly changing chemical conditions, could ultimately disrupt the entire Arctic food chain.

According to a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, climate change models have underestimated the amount of CO2 that will be emitted from thawing permafrost by as much as 14% because they don’t account for photomineralization of the released organic matter.

Energy

BP has released the 69th edition of its annual “Statistical Review of World Energy”, covering calendar year 2019.  Carbon Brief’s examination of the report revealed that renewables were the largest source of new energy in 2019, although there were still record highs for oil and gas consumption, and for CO2 emissions.  Gains for wind and solar, combined with a fall in coal output, meant that low-carbon electricity generation matched coal-fired generation for the first time.  On the other hand, the IEA warned that next year the world’s oil demand could climb at its fastest rate in the history of the market, and may reach pre-crisis levels within years, unless new green policies are adopted.  To the surprise of scientists studying them, global CO2 emissions have rebounded very quickly as countries have opened up their economies after the shutdowns in response to the novel coronavirus.

At BBC “Future Planet”, Lowana Veal examined a number of techniques being used in Iceland to remove CO2 from their industrial processes, many spurred by the unusual geology of the island.  Without major new subsidies from the American public, technologies for capturing heat-trapping CO2 from coal- and natural gas-fired power plants will remain uneconomical.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced plans Tuesday to develop a port and staging area to construct wind turbines for installations along the Eastern Seaboard.  The governor’s goal is for New Jersey to be the focal point for the off-shore wind industry in the mid-Atlantic region.  However, according to an interview with Dominion Energy’s vice president of generation construction, Mark Mitchell, Norfolk, VA, hopes to fill that role.  One day, someone will want to build U.S. offshore wind farms with floating turbines, in which case they may well use 3-D printing to build the anchors.

On Monday, the Supreme Court removed one hurdle for developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), but the natural gas project remains in legal limbo as a host of other obstacles stand in the way of construction.  Nevertheless, on Tuesday Dominion Energy asked FERC for two more years to complete the ACP, which the company now expects to enter service in early 2022.  In a special report, Reuters catalogued a litany of horror stories about methane leaking from abandoned oil and gas wells.  On a positive note, Dominion Energy is investing in systems to capture methane and other gases from the digestion of manure on dairy farms, clean it, and use the resulting green methane in natural gas systems.

Green-energy investing will account for 25% of all energy spending in 2021 and, for the first time ever, surpass spending on traditional fuel sources like oil and gas, Goldman Sachs predicted in a Tuesday note.  According to a study from the California Energy Commission, hydrogen prices in the U.S. are headed downward and could be as affordable as gasoline within the next five years.  Decarbonizing hydrogen will take time, thought, and investment, but Europe’s industry says it is committed.

Potpourri

Peter Sinclair has a new “This Is Not Cool” video at Yale Climate Connections, this one about the flooding events that have occurred around the country recently as a result of increased rainfall intensity.  High school students from the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn were among the grand-prize winners in the NPR Student Podcast Challenge for their episode about climate change and environmental racism.  “At War with the Dinosaurs” is a new documentary that explores the future of hydrogen fuel cells.  You’ve probably heard of “Climate Stripes”, created by climate scientist Ed Hawkins using annual temperature anomalies (the difference from long-term average).  Now, Climate Central has made them available for all 50 states and many cities.

Closing Thought

I’m ending this week with Bill McKibben’s column from The New Yorker, which provides a ray of hope as well as a shot in the arm from his interview with Jane Fonda about her weekly series of civil-disobedience actions that she calls Fire Drill Fridays. 

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 6/12/2020

Politics and Policy

On Wednesday, two House committees injected environmental justice into the larger national conversation about racism in America.  The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change heard that communities of color suffer disproportionate effects from pollution and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  The Natural Resources Committee hosted a forum on post-pandemic environmentally focused economic growth that touched heavily on racial disparities.  Even though clean energy has resulted in many new jobs, there is racial inequity within the industry.  At The Washington Post, Dino Grandoni reported on the impacts of recent Trump administration cutbacks of environmental regulations on communities of color.  Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management is considering a plan that would expand drilling into some of northern New Mexico’s last available public lands, threatening the desecration of sacred Native American sites.

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has released a new report “Politics & Global Warming” based on their most recent national survey completed in April.  Economist Stephanie Kelton, a leading proponent of “modern monetary theory” (MMT), has a new book about it.  Brian Kahn, managing editor of Earther, interviewed her about MMT and how it provides a path forward on climate change and other big issues.  (MMT is at the heart of the Green New Deal.  If you are like me and were unaware of it, I encourage you to read the interview.)  Rocky Mountain Institute has developed a new stimulus strategy that comprises four priorities: create jobs and grow the economy; support public health and reduce air pollution; enhance economic, energy, and climate resilience; and decarbonize.  A new study from UC, Berkeley, and GridLab concluded that the U.S. could transition to 90% renewable energy by the year 2035.  The changeover would cost no more than what the utility industry will spend during the next 15 years anyway and create a half million new high value jobs.  In addition, the wholesale cost of electricity would be 13% less than it is today.  At Bloomberg Green, Michael Bloomberg argued for leaders who recognize the opportunity to build a better, smarter future and can remake a devastating crisis into a turning point.  Also, Dorothy Gambrell and colleagues presented 26 ways to launch a clean energy future out of the pandemic recovery.  At Yale Environment 360, Professor David Victor of UC, San Diego, made the case for why Europe must lead the global green recovery.  On a related topic, Sonja van Renssen of Foresight: Climate and Energy examined the role of central banks in the energy transition, with particular reference to the European Central Bank.

The Trump administration is taking the first steps toward lifting restrictions on the financing of advanced nuclear energy projects for export by the Development Finance Corporation, thereby helping provide reliable, emission-free power to developing countries, while also helping the U.S. nuclear industry compete with China and Russia.  Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Friday vetoed a bill that would have stiffened penalties for trespassing on pipelines, levees, and a long list of other facilities in the state. 

The difference between President Trump and former Vice-President Biden on the environment is larger than their perceived differences to voters over race relations, the economy, and health care, according to recent polling.  A second term for President Trump would mean a more aggressive dismantling of environmental policy and an expansion of the fossil fuel industry, according to energy advisers who work closely with the White House.  U.S. taxpayers could be responsible for billions of dollars in climate-related property losses as the government backs a growing number of mortgages on homes in the path of floods, fires, and extreme weather.

Climate and Climate Science

Carbon dioxide emissions have rebounded around the world as lockdown conditions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have eased.  Emissions had fallen by a quarter when the lockdowns were at their peak, and are still down relative to 2019 levels, but only by 5% on average globally.  Be sure and look at the graphic of emission reductions at the Global Carbon Project.  On the subject of CO2 emissions, scientists who sampled dry streambeds at 200 locations around the world were surprised to find significant emissions from them, independent of location, climate zone, or type of waterway.

If you follow the weather, you are probably aware of times when the weather gets “stuck” and we get extended periods of clear blue skies or gray cloudy ones.  When that happens, the TV weather may refer to a “blocking” pattern.  Carbon Brief examined blocking weather events and asked whether climate change is causing more of them.  In a study published in the journal Climatic Change, researchers used the emerging science of climate change attribution to determine that at least $67bn of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 can be attributed directly to climate breakdown.

Nizhnyaya Pesha, on the Northwest fringes of Russia above the Arctic Circle, recorded a temperature of 30°C (86°F) on Tuesday afternoon, although temperatures there do not usually climb that high until July or August, if at all.  It is possible this early warming of the Arctic is due the reduction in sulfate aerosol emissions associated with the reduced energy use caused by COVID-19.

Brazil’s space research agency reported that 3,911 sq. miles of deforestation occurred in the Amazon from August 2018 through July 2019; a rise of 34.4% over the same period a year earlier.  Their government has renewed for 30 days a presidential decree allowing the deployment of the military to combat rising deforestation.  Based on new data for 2019 released by the University of Maryland and the World Resources Institute, Mongabay updated its analysis of forest loss since 2002.  As efforts grow to store more CO2 emissions in forests, one sector has been overlooked — small, family-owned woodlands, which comprise 38% of U.S. forests.  Now, a major conservation initiative is aiming to help these owners manage their lands for maximum carbon storage.

Although the Four Corners region began 2020 with a strong snowpack, after an exceptionally dry spring, drought has set in and is predicted to linger into summer, with forecasts of yet more heat waves, wildfire, and water supply shortages.  A recent study in Science concluded that global warming is responsible for about half the severity of the emerging megadrought.

Energy

Global investment in new clean energy capacity rose 1% last year to $282.2 billion according to research by the UN Environment Program and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  In terms of capacity, 184 GW of new clean energy was added last year, up 12% from 2018.  Unfortunately, most clean energy technologies worldwide are not advancing rapidly enough to meet the goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement, according to a new analysis by the International Energy Agency.  Some oil and gas companies claim to be investing in renewables, but this chart by Axios shows what is really happening.

Dan Gearino at Inside Climate News presented a detailed examination of Germany’s failure to address CO2 emissions from the transportation sector.  Ford Motor Co. plans to have all-electric versions of the Ford F-150 pickup and Ford Transit van to market by mid-2022.  The world’s 14 biggest carmakers are on course to miss globally agreed upon climate targets, a leading sustainable finance think tank said on Wednesday, urging investors to do more to pressure boards to change their production plans.  Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. (CATL), the Chinese company that makes electric-car batteries for Tesla and Volkswagen, is ready to produce a battery that lasts 16 years and 1.24 million miles, and would cost about 10% more than the batteries now inside EVs.

At Green Tech Media, Justin Gerdes had an interesting article outlining the issues associated with transforming buildings to all-electric operation.

The coronavirus pandemic and a very mild winter in the northern hemisphere have put global natural gas demand on course for the biggest annual fall on record, the International Energy Agency said.  In the U.S., the Energy Information Administration said Tuesday that electricity consumption will drop by a record 5.7% in 2020 due to business closures for coronavirus-linked lockdowns.  Thanks to the pandemic, Britain reached an energy milestone on Wednesday by going two months without any generation of electricity from burning coal.

Researchers at the nonprofit Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy studied nine states to identify which peaker plants have the greatest potential to be replaced by clean energy alternatives, such as battery storage.  One finding was that many in the northeastern U.S. are old, inefficient, and burn oil, making them ripe for replacement. 

Potpourri

Beth Gardiner interviewed activist Elizabeth Yeampierre, who sees the fights against climate change and racial injustice as deeply intertwined.  At The New York Times, Somini Sengupta put together a reading list about climate change and social inequities.  Also at the NYT, Jack Davis reviewed the new book, Disposable City, Miami’s Future on the Shores of Climate Change, by Mario Alejandro Ariza.  Travel to India with Joanna Slater to determine whether it can chart a low-carbon future.  Jenny Valentish reviewed the documentary “The Weather Diaries”, which premiered June 10 at the Sydney film festival, as part of their all-digital on-demand program, which runs until June 21.

Closing Thought

Last week I put Black climate expert Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s perspective from The Washington Post in the first paragraph of the Roundup.  This week, I’m closing with the bits that got left on the cutting room floor, thanks to Emily Atkin at Heated.

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 6/5/2020

Politics and Policy

Many articles this week addressed the intersection of climate and racism.  Here are a few that caught my eye: Black climate expert Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s perspective in The Washington Post addressed how “Racism derails our efforts to save the planet;” Somini Sengupta’s “Climate Fwd:” newsletter in The New York Times was devoted to a conversation with black climate activists about the connections between racism and climate change; author and activist Keya Chatterjee’s opinion piece at the Thomas Reuters Foundation news site declared “The climate crisis is, at its core, a racial injustice crisis;” a group of journalists at Inside Climate News reported on the way in which a variety of climate groups responded; and Claire Elise Thompson’s compilation of comments from five environmental justice leaders at Grist presented a variety of ideas on the issue.  You might also be interested in an anti-racist reading list

The U.S. is far behind other industrialized nations on environmental performance and now ranks 24th in the world, according to a new analysis by Yale and Columbia universities.  Hungary has set a climate neutrality goal for 2050, in a law passed by parliament on Wednesday, signaling support for the EU net zero emissions strategy.  There were several articles this week about the weakening of environmental regulations under the Trump administration.  One concerned a report by a group of former EPA employees called “Save EPA”, which wrote “Virtually all the changes that Trump has made have one thing in common: They help polluters and harm the public, now and in the future.”  A second, an article at Yale Climate Connections, asserted that “Most Trump environmental rollbacks will take years to be reversed.”  A third reported that President Trump signed an executive order on Thursday instructing agencies to waive long-standing environmental laws, such as the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, to speed up federal approval for new mines, highways, pipelines, and other projects, given the current economic “emergency.”  Also on Thursday, EPA released a proposed overhaul of how major clean air rules are written by changing the cost-benefit analysis process.  In addition, on Monday the EPA announced that it had limited states’ ability to block the construction of energy infrastructure projects by revising the rules whereby permits are issued under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act.  Finally, The administration proposed fast tracking logging on public lands, introducing two proposals that would limit the environmental review of new projects.

The Council on the Environment and Climate Crisis of the Democratic National Committee is pressing Joe Biden to back a plan to spend up to $16 trillion to speed the country away from fossil fuels.  In a rare collaboration on climate change, four senators (two from each party) on Thursday introduced a bill that would direct the Agriculture Department to help farmers, ranchers, and landowners use CO2-absorbing practices to generate carbon credits that could be sold on offset markets.  However, there is great uncertainty over the efficacy of regenerative agriculture, as well as how to certify the amount of CO2 offset.  Meanwhile, House Democrats rolled out a nearly $500 billion infrastructure bill Wednesday aimed at updating America’s aging transportation system.

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts vs. EPA held that greenhouse gases were pollutants that could be regulated under the 1970 Clean Air Act.  At Inside Climate News, Sam Evans-Brown, of New Hampshire Public Radio provided a history of the ruling and looked at threats to it from the Trump administration.  On Thursday, the Edison Electric Institute, the primary industry group for U.S. investor-owned utilities, confirmed that it is staying neutral on a controversial petition asking FERC to effectively declare net metering illegal.  On Monday, sustainable finance nonprofit Ceres released a new report entitled “Addressing Climate as a Systemic Risk: A call to action for U.S. financial regulators.” 

Climate and Climate Science

According to a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), severe rainfall that once happened every hundred years in North America now happens every 20 years, and events that once happened every 20 years now happen every five.  An E&E News analysis of federal flood insurance payments showed that flooding in the U.S. disproportionately harms African American neighborhoods.  Research published in Geophysical Research Letters examined rainfall-based drought using the latest generation of climate models and found that in the future southwestern Australia and parts of southern Australia will see longer and more intense droughts.  The number of people exposed to water stress could double by 2050 if population growth is high and efforts are not made to limit warming to 2°C.  Furthermore, even if warming is held below 2°C and population growth is low, the number of people exposed to water stress could still rise by 50% by 2050. 

Although the coronavirus pandemic slowed CO2 emissions, the reduction was insufficient to stop the amount in the atmosphere from increasing.  Consequently, the amount in May 2020 hit an average of slightly greater than 417 ppm, the highest monthly average value ever recorded.  Furthermore, a recent paper in AGU Advances revealed that the ocean is so sensitive to changes in the atmosphere, such as declining greenhouse gas emissions, that it immediately responds by taking up less CO2.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef suffered its most extensive coral bleaching event in March, with scientists fearing that it is not going to recover to what it was even five years ago, much less thirty years ago.  In addition, warming ocean temperatures and acidification are threatening the survival of glass sponge reefs unique to the waters of the Pacific Northwest.  In the Chesapeake Bay, as seagrasses photosynthesize, they form tiny crystals of calcium carbonate, which they hoard both inside and on the surface of their leaves.  As the external crystals wash off and flow down the bay, they help to neutralize the acidifying water.

Scientists with the Copernicus Climate Change Service announced on Friday that Earth had its hottest May ever last month, as 2020 is set to be among the hottest years ever, with a higher than 98% likelihood it will rank in the top five.  An analysis of weather records by Brian Brettschneider of the Capital Weather Gang at The Washington Post revealed that summers in Canada and the U.S. have increased by an average of seven days over the past 30 years, whereas winters have decreased by 15 days.

The sixth mass extinction of wildlife on Earth is accelerating, according to an analysis by scientists published in the PNAS.  More than 500 species of land animals were found to be on the brink of extinction and likely to be lost within 20 years.  A study published in the journal Science examined the ability of mangroves to withstand sea level rise and found that without significant reductions in CO2 emissions, by 2050 mangroves would be unable to keep up with the rate of sea level rise, causing their extinction.

Energy

At E&E News, Benjamin Storrow wrote: “Climate researchers increasingly believe 2019 may represent the world’s peak output of carbon dioxide, with a combination of the coronavirus pandemic and a rapid expansion of renewable energy putting a cap on emissions years earlier than expected.”  A report from financial thinktank Carbon Tracker asserts that the coronavirus outbreak could trigger a $25tn collapse in the fossil fuel industry, thereby posing “a significant threat to global financial stability”.  On the other hand, some analysts think that the current contraction may result in a strengthening of the major oil and gas companies through acquisition of wells and reserves at bargain basement prices.  Massachusetts’ Attorney General asked the state’s public utilities regulator to probe the future of the natural gas industry as the state moves away from burning fossil fuels.  The Sierra Club and Rocky Mountain Institute, along with Mothers Out Front and Physicians for Social Responsibility, have issued a report summarizing 20 years of studies on the impact of gas stoves on indoor air quality and calling for regulators to issue indoor air quality guidelines.

The International Renewable Energy Agency said that if energy companies replaced 500 GW of their most expensive coal-fired power plants with new solar power projects or onshore wind farms, they could save up to $23bn every year and wipe out 5% of global carbon emissions.  According to the International Energy Agency, if floating wind turbine technology were widely adopted, the industry would have the technical potential to eventually supply the equivalent of 11 times the world’s demand for electric power.  For this to be realized, however, both technical and economic problems must be overcome.

In a new study published in the journal Joule on Tuesday, scientists reported that two-sided sun-tracking solar panels produce an average of 35% more energy than immobile single-panel systems and are 16% more cost-efficient. 

At The Conversation, Tom Baxter, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Aberdeen, made the case for battery-powered passenger cars being more energy efficient than cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells.  Germany said it will require all filling stations to offer electric car charging to help remove range anxiety and boost consumer demand for EVs.  General Motors is developing an electric van aimed at business users, joining a growing list of carmakers planning EVs for the same segment.  Norsk Hydro and Northvolt have set up a joint venture that will focus on the recycling of both battery materials and aluminum from Norway’s electric vehicle sector.

A metal organic framework (MOF) is a human-made substance that contains a very large surface area per unit volume.  This gives them a large potential for absorbing things from air.  Now, engineers at Monash University in Australia have devised an MOF with the ability to take up large quantities of CO2 and then release it in concentrated form for storage, all with very low energy requirement.

Potpourri

At The Tyee, Andrew Nikiforuk wrote “Normal has become a pathological state.  After the random normlessness of this pandemic, I don’t want to go back to normal either.  Or its idiotic child, ‘the new normal.'”  A new documentary was released on June 5, World Environment Day.  It is from Australia and is entitled 2040.  According to a post on RealClimate, it is focused on hope and rational thinking.  You can watch the trailer here

Closing Thought

This week, take 4½ minutes to listen to some early morning birdsong or listen to 13 birds one can hear around NYC.

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 5/29/2020

Politics and Policy

The UN announced on Thursday that COP26, originally scheduled for November of this year, will be postponed until 1-12 November of next year.  The summit will take place in Glasgow as previously planned.  The European Commission announced its green recovery plan on Thursday and Damian Carrington of The Guardian wrote that “It sets a high standard for other nations.”  Reuters provided a list of its spending proposals.  Some were not excited about the plan because it relies heavily on borrowing.  Major European electricity groups issued a joint call urging the European Commission to prioritize renewable hydrogen in its pandemic recovery plan.  New research in the journal Environmental Science and Policy by European modelers and social scientists found that President Trump’s reelection would likely cause a significant delay in meeting global carbon emission reductions.  At the New York Times, Somini Sengupta sought to clarify what all of these changes mean for climate change.

At Vox, David Roberts argued that there is a broad alignment forming within the Democratic Party around a climate policy platform that is both ambitious enough to address the problem and politically potent enough to unite all the left’s various interest groups.  In a subsequent post, Roberts said that if former Vice President Joe Biden embraces a bold climate policy he has a good chance of turning out the voters he needs to win.  Two conservative clean energy advocates have said that Congress “should seize this opportunity to modernize the nation’s power system with investments that will pay dividends for the economy and the environment for generations.”  If Biden wins, he may have difficulty persuading Congress to adopt his climate program.  Timothy Cama examined his options in that case.  Twenty-three states sued the Trump administration on Wednesday over its reversal of fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks.  Furthermore, states have challenged virtually every effort by the EPA and other agencies to walk back Obama-era rules and have won 80% of the cases so far.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times (NYT), former Federal Reserve governor and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Sarah Bloom Raskin argued that the Fed should not be directing money to further entrench the carbon economy.  The U.S. Treasury Department released guidance Wednesday that offers onshore wind and solar projects more time to meet tax credit deadlines, an acknowledgment of the challenges brought by the coronavirus lockdown.  On Wednesday, the oil and gas industry lost appeals in two major climate damages cases brought by cities and counties in California.  The Bureau of Land Management abruptly postponed a scheduled auction of the right to drill for oil and gas on 45,000 acres in New Mexico scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday of last week.  The Rocky Mountain Institute published a translation of an op-ed that appeared in Caijing Magazine, an influential Chinese publication that covers social, political, and economic topics.  The op-ed reviewed China’s leadership in clean energy and urged the government to allocate sufficient COVID-19 recovery resources to support China’s transition to clean energy, just as the EU is planning.

The Ohio Power Siting Board ruled Thursday that the Icebreaker windfarm project in Lake Eire could move forward, but only if blades on the demonstration project’s six turbines are turned off every night for eight months of the year, a stipulation that “may well be fatal to the entire project.”  A federal appeals court on Thursday turned down the Trump administration’s request to revive a permit program for new oil and gas pipelines.

Climate and Climate Science

The human fingerprint on the climate is now unmistakable and will become increasingly evident over the coming decades, the UK Met Office has confirmed after 30 years of study.  Planting a trillion trees as a climate change mitigation strategy has gotten a lot of attention, but climate scientists say it’s not that simpleMongabay published an article about how indigenous people in the Amazon are experiencing and responding to climate change.  New research published in the journal Science found that rising temperatures, deforestation, development, and climate-induced disasters are causing bigger trees to be lost at alarming rates, making the planet’s forests shorter and younger.

According to new research in Nature Climate Change, the deep ocean will be warming rapidly by 2050 even if dramatic reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions were to happen today.  On May 19th a Russian liquefied natural gas tanker became the earliest east-bound shipment on the Northern Sea Route ever for this kind of vessel.  Research using autonomous underwater vehicles with high-resolution mapping capability has revealed that around 12,000 years ago some glaciers in Antarctica were retreating at a rate around ten times higher than even the most rapid retreat seen today.

Contrary to previous research, a new paper in Science Advances has concluded that marshes in the Mississippi River Delta have hit a tipping point and will likely drown this century due to sea level rise.

Research, published in journal The Lancet Planetary Health, revealed that over the past 11 years, the number of deaths attributed to excessive natural heat in Australia is at least 50 times greater than is recorded on death certificates there.

With the Siberian Arctic seeing record warm conditions in recent weeks and months, scientists monitoring wildfire trends are becoming more convinced that some of the blazes erupting in the Arctic this spring are actually left over from last summer, having survived by burning in dry underground peat formations.  A study in Nature Communications suggests that rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere are causing plants to lose less water throughout the Northern Hemisphere, which in turn causes temperatures there to warm even more than they would from climate change alone.  Atmospheric circulation patterns then transport that heat to the Arctic, warming it faster than it would otherwise.

Energy

Japanese scientists have designed a photocatalyst capable of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen gases with almost 100% efficiency when exposed to ultraviolet light.  Their work suggests that it should be possible to design a photocatalyst capable of doing the same thing with visible light, thereby paving the way for much more efficient systems than electrolysis for producing hydrogen from sunlight.  The U.S. Energy Information Administration announced on Thursday that in 2019 the U.S. consumed more energy from renewable sources like solar and wind than from coal.  

A Cessna Caravan, retrofitted with an electric engine, flew for 30 minutes over Washington state on Thursday, in a flawless maiden flight of the largest all-electric commuter aircraft yet.  On the ground, registrations of electric vehicles in Europe doubled during the first months of 2020, while overall passenger car registrations fell by 25.6% compared to the same period last year, according to data by the European Alternative Fuels Observatory.

Power companies have announced plans to close 13 coal-fired power plants this year, according to an E&E News review of federal data and companies’ closure plans.  Two others will be converted to natural gas.  Southern Company, which owns a number of utilities across the South, has joined other major utilities in setting a net-zero carbon target for 2050. 

The Botetourt County (VA) Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve the request by Apex Clean Energy to amend its permit for the Rocky Forge Windfarm to allow the construction of fewer, taller wind turbines.  Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy has announced that the 2.64 GW Dominion Energy Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project will utilize its SG 14-222 DD turbine, which has a capacity of 14 MW.  As a result, Siemens Gamesa said that it is considering establishing the first global factory for that turbine somewhere in the U.S.  Atlantic Wind Transfers will provide offshore marine support services for the offshore wind turbines.  The U.S. Coast Guard has concluded that the best way to maintain maritime safety and ease of navigation in the offshore wind development areas south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket is to install turbines in a uniform layout to create predictable navigation corridors.  In Europe, as locations for wind energy fill up onshore and near-shore, companies are deploying floating turbines that can be sited in deep waters, out of view from the coast.  Offshore wind market leader Ørsted will work in and around Copenhagen to decarbonize transport on land, at sea, and in the air by producing hydrogen, from which other fuels can be generated.

Improvements in energy efficiency have slashed carbon emissions from operations at the Empire State Building about 40% in the past 10 years and the owners aim to cut an additional 40% in the decade to come.  Now the owners of the other buildings in the city face the challenge of cutting their energy use.

Potpourri

Are you feeling “Cassandrafreude”?  John Schwartz defined it in the second article of the NYT’s “Climate Fwd:” newsletter.  Heather Grady, Vice President, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, wrote “…2020 can be a super year, not just for nature, but also for people.”  The latest Peter Sinclair video focused on the Florida Keys and whether the communities there can be saved.  Ironically, Sinclair lives in Midland, MI, and wrote about last week’s dam breach there.  On May 5, I included a review of Lydia Millet’s new novel A Children’s Bible.  This week Amy Brady interviewed Millet for “The Chicago Review of Books.”  YouTube has taken down the controversial Michael Moore-produced documentary Planet of the Humans because of a copyright infringement claim by a British environmental photographer.

Closing Thought

Treat yourself to 4½ minutes of stunning photography about “The Beauty of Pollination.”

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 5/22/2020

Politics and Policy

The Economist focused on the links between the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.  It explained how “the pandemic both reveals the size of the challenge ahead and also creates a unique chance to enact government policies that steer the economy away from carbon at a lower financial, social and political cost than might otherwise have been the case.”  Bloomberg reported: “European Commission President Ursula Von Den Leyen is set to transform her Green Deal strategy to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, into a coronavirus economic rescue plan that’ll rapidly drive private investment and create jobs across the continent…”  On a related front, on Wednesday, the European Commission released a proposed biodiversity strategy whereby at least 30% of EU land and seas will be protected by 2030 to halt the decline of plant and animal species and restore carbon sinks to address climate change.  Australia’s government on Thursday released a new plan to tackle climate change, targeting the use of gas, hydrogen, batteries, and carbon capture, while avoiding the contentious issue of setting a carbon price.  On the other hand, a cross-society collection of groups have banded together to warn that Australia’s prosperity depends on eradicating greenhouse gas emissions. 

In the U.S., things are not as forward looking.  For example, the Trump administration is starting to reduce royalty payments and suspend leases for oil companies drilling on federal lands, while at the same time imposing retroactive rent on wind and solar generators.  Democrats are not blameless.  Clean energy companies and advocates are blasting them for neglecting to give the industry any help in the House pandemic relief bills, even as the sector reports hundreds of thousands of job losses.  During last week’s “LEAD on Climate 2020”, organized by the nonprofit Ceres and supported by other sustainability-focused business groups, executives from 333 companies met with 51 Representatives and 37 Senators from both parties in a virtual lobby day.  According to documents shared with The Washington Post, the Trump administration ignored warnings from EPA career staff that its new auto fuel economy rule has serious flaws.  Fuel-economy improvements in U.S. “light-duty” vehicles have saved 17 Gt of CO2 since 1975, according to a new study in the journal Energy Policy.

Although China had been on track to meet its 2020 carbon emission goals prior to the pandemic, those goals are now in danger because the government is looking to heavy industry and carbon-intensive projects to shore up its coronavirus-stricken economy.

Americans’ positions on climate change have remained largely unshaken by the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis, according to a new national survey that showed acceptance of the reality of global warming at record highs in some categories.  Joe Biden would rescind President Donald Trump’s permit allowing the Keystone XL oil pipeline to cross the border into the U.S., a move that would effectively kill the controversial project.

Climate and Climate Science

According to a new paper in Nature Communications, scientists have completed the first survey of algal blooms on top of the snow on the Antarctic Peninsula, with almost 1,700 blooms of green algae being found.  Studies are planned to determine the algae’s impact on surface albedo.  Rising ocean temperatures will alter the distribution and life cycles of Antarctic krill in the coming decades, according to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change

A new study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the odds of major tropical cyclones around the world — Category 3, 4 and 5 storms — are increasing because of human-caused global warming.  The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is forecast to be unusually active, according to a seasonal outlook from NOAA.  In Asia, the most powerful cyclone to strike eastern India and Bangladesh in over a decade came ashore with a storm surge of 15 meters, killing at least 82 people, officials said. 

A new study published in Science has found that as long as global warming is limited to 2°C, tropical rainforests will be able to soak up “high levels” of CO2, provided they are left intact.  However, if temperature increases exceed 2°C, the ability of the forests to store CO2 will decline rapidly.  Deforestation in Brazil’s section of the Amazon in the first four months of the year was up 55% from a year ago, with the result that Brazil could produce 10-20% more greenhouse gases in 2020, in contrast to the rest of the world, which will drop because of the coronavirus.

According to a new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change, the combination of drought and heat waves that caused the dust bowl in the U.S. in the 1930s, which occurred with a frequency of once every 100 years then, is now likely to occur once every 40 years, or 2.5 times more likely.  Furthermore, the occurrence will become even more likely as global average temperatures rise.

Rising sea levels over the past 120 years are a result of man-made climate change and not variations in the Earth’s orbit, a study in the journal Science Advances has found.

Energy

Scientists with the Global Carbon Project reported that daily emissions of CO2 dropped by as much as 17% globally in early April as the world responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The study also projects that total emissions for 2020 will probably fall between 4 and 7% compared with last year.  New data from the International Energy Agency released Wednesday reaffirms earlier forecasts of lower wind and solar installations globally in 2020 due to coronavirus impacts.  Grist queried five experts on the future of renewable energy in the U.S. in a time of COVID-19.  Modeling by the Finnish energy firm Wartsila found that solar capacity reaching up to 4.3 times peak load in sunny regions, and wind capacity of up to 2.1 times peak load in windy regions, would form the basis of a least-cost all-renewables resource mix in regions across the U.S.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the U.S. has lost 594,300 clean energy jobs, according to a report issued last week by BW Research Partnership.  Of that total, 413,500, or 70% of the losses, were in energy efficiency.  While the COVID-19 pandemic is causing a short-term drop in CO2 emissions, the economic impacts of the pandemic are likely to cause a delay in or cancelation of capital projects planned to meet long-term CO2-reduction goals, particularly in the European chemical industry.

Siemens Gamesa on Tuesday launched the largest wind turbine ever publicly announced, a 14 MW model with a 222-meter rotor diameter meant for offshore wind farms.  This puts Siemens Gamesa back in first place in the rankings for the largest offshore turbines on the market.  In order to reduce emissions by 70% from 1990s levels by 2030, Denmark plans to build two “energy islands” totaling 4 GW of offshore wind capacity.  At Greentech Media, Karl-Erik Stromsta brought us up to date on Dominion’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind pilot project.  North Carolina has taken the first step toward establishing an offshore wind industry by issuing a request for proposals to analyze the state’s ports and manufacturing supply chain for their potential suitability.

The switch from coal to gas has driven down U.S. electricity emissions over the last decade. But the opposite has happened in Virginia, where a massive build-out of natural gas power plants has negated CO2 reductions associated with coal retirements.  In a guest column in the Virginia Mercury, Chris Meyer and John Semmelhack make the case for electrifying Virginia by replacing the use of gas for home heating, cooking, and water heating.

A zinc-air hybrid flow battery can store multiple days’ worth of energy, doesn’t degrade, can’t possibly explode, and is up to five times cheaper than lithium-ion, according to its developer, Zinc8, which is preparing to pilot the technology in New York state.  A new study, published in the journal Applied Energy, shows that used electric vehicle batteries could still have a useful and profitable second life as backup storage for grid-scale solar photovoltaic installations, where they could perform for more than a decade in this less demanding role.

As forests in California and the Western U.S. are hit by rising numbers of fires and disease outbreaks related to climate change, some experts argue that using dead and diseased trees to produce biomass energy will help to restore forests.  Automakers and analysts believe the pandemic will accelerate the move away from automobiles with gas-powered engines, with many more countries switching to electric vehicles around 2023-24.  In its latest effort to revive the U.S.’s nuclear industry, the Department of Energy (DOE) proposes to select and help build two new prototype nuclear reactors within 7 years. The reactors would be the centerpiece of DOE’s new Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.

Potpourri

In his New Yorker column this week, Bill McKibben provided links to an introductory video and a simulation model that you can play with to see the effects different policy options have on future global average temperatures.  Looks like a really interesting simulator.  Kristen Pope brought us up to date on the ice-bound MOSAiC Arctic expedition.  At The Arts Fuse, editor-in-chief Bill Marx asked “Why are America’s stages afraid of dealing with the climate crisis?”  Kendra Pierre-Louis compiled a list with excerpts of “The Hot Ten Climate Songs.”  The Tyee interviewed director Liz Marshall about her new documentary Meat the Future, the subject of which she describes as the “genesis phase of something that could change the world.”  S. David Freeman, who worked in energy policy under three presidents, ran some of the nation’s largest public utilities, and combined a deep understanding of energy issues with a passion for renewable energy and conservation, died on May 12th in Reston, Va. He was 94.

Closing Thought

Eve Turow-Paul and Sophie Egan founded the Food for Climate League, a new nonprofit organization, to redefine sustainable eating and help businesses, nonprofits, and governments promote food that’s good for both humans and the planet.

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 5/15/2020

Politics and Policy

Former Vice-President Joe Biden has named Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry as co-chairs of his climate task force.  A group of former climate policy staffers for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) is pushing his comprehensive climate plan with both congressional Democrats and Biden.  A group called Climate Power 2020, a joint effort of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club, will focus on bringing the Democrat’s climate message to swing states.  And on the other side of the aisle, a new group called “C3 Solutions” seeks to unleash clean energy innovation.  Those interested in why we have made so little progress in reducing CO2 emissions will find a guest post at Carbon Brief of interest.  In it the author writes: “[E]ach shift in target framing has opened the door to new hopes of future technological solutions…These promises both respond to, and enable, continued delays in mitigation, yet rarely deliver in practice.  We call them ‘technologies of prevarication’.”  Another researcher calls the hope in future technologies “technological optimism”, with the same outcome – delay in action.

The Trump administration is not planning specific financial aid to oil producers, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told Axios Wednesday, but the House coronavirus relief bill neither blocks such aid nor provides aid for renewable energy.  A coalition of oil producing states has asked for stimulus funds to hire laid off energy workers to plug abandoned wellsThe Guardian reported that fossil fuel companies and coal-powered utilities stand to gain from the Federal Reserve’s $750 billion coronavirus bond buyback program.  FERC has rejected a request from several states to pause approvals for new energy infrastructure projects such as natural gas pipelines.  EPA will propose changes to its decades-old methodology for measuring costs and benefits in Clean Air Act rulemakings, which if finalized could stymie efforts by future administrations to combat climate change.  Chief executives and other representatives from more than 330 businesses are calling on federal lawmakers to build a better economy following COVID-19 by including resilient climate solutions.  In an effort to stimulate its economy after the coronavirus shutdown, China will spend almost $1.5 billion to install 200,000 EV chargers throughout the country, 20,000 of which will be public chargers.

Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund is excluding several of the world’s biggest commodities firms from its portfolio for their use and production of coal.  Five years ago, the $1.1 billion Rockefeller Brothers Fund divested from fossil fuels.  Now the fund has outpaced financial benchmarks, defying predictions of money managers.

An article in Nature Climate Change states “A concerning body of evidence already indicates that climate hazards, which are increasing in frequency and intensity under climate change, are likely to intersect with the COVID-19 outbreak and public health response.  These compound risks will exacerbate and be exacerbated by the unfolding economic crisis and long-standing socioeconomic and racial disparities, both within countries and across regions, in ways that will put specific populations at heightened risk and compromise recovery.”

Climate and Climate Science

Daisy Dunne at Carbon Brief prepared a Q&A around the question of whether climate change and biodiversity disturbance could influence the risk of diseases being transmitted from animals to humans.  Logging and mining operations have accelerated the destruction of the Amazon rainforest during the coronavirus pandemic.  A new study in Nature Communications warns that mosquitos carrying diseases such as dengue, Zika, and yellow fever would likely colonize parts of southern Europe by 2030.

NOAA has agreed with the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service that, globally, April was the second warmest April on record, as was January through April the second warmest such period.  An El Niño-like weather system that has been dormant for millennia in the Indian Ocean could be restarted by warming sea-surface temperatures associated with climate change.

A pulse of unusually warm air, one of many observed in recent years, is surging toward the North Pole, paving the way for the Arctic ice melt season to begin.  This is particularly concerning this year because scientists have reported that a landslide in a fjord in Prince William Sound, about 60 miles east of Anchorage, could be triggered by an earthquake, prolonged heavy rain, or a heat wave, thereby causing a massive tsunami.  From 1996 to 2018, the grounding line along the western flank of Denman Glacier in East Antarctica retreated 3.4 miles.  The grounding line is the point at which a glacier last touches the seafloor before it begins to float and its retreat increases the potential for the glacier to undergo rapid and irreversible deterioration.

New research from DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory suggests that by 2050 roughly one-third of the U.S. population could feel the impacts of one or more extreme weather events annually.  During the first decade of this century, the Upper Missouri River Basin was the driest it’s been in 1,200 years because of rising temperatures linked to climate change that reduced the amount of snowfall in the Rocky Mountains in Montana and North Dakota.

According to a new report from the World Resources Institute, while regenerative agriculture can improve soil health and yield some valuable environmental benefits, it is unlikely to achieve large-scale emissions reductions from farming.

Energy

According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. is on track to produce more electricity this year from renewable power than from coal for the first time on record, even though overall demand is expected to drop.  On Monday, the Department of the Interior announced the approval of the $1 billion Gemini Solar Project in Nevada, a complex set to mix 690 MW of solar PV with a 380 MW/1,400 MWh battery storage component.  Unfortunately, the U.S. clean energy sector has lost 17% of its work force, or nearly 600,000 jobs, because of stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of COVID-19.  Yet, while the pandemic has put some new projects on hold, the underlying strengths of renewables remain strong, and analysts expect their economic advantage over fossil fuels will increase in the long term.

BMW plans are to invest more than $32 billion into research and development for hydrogen fuel-cell technology.  Jack Ewing of The New York Times wrote of what is coming for the auto industry under the headline “The Pandemic Will Permanently Change the Auto Industry”.

The Canadian-based space company GHGSat will set up a center to analyze the emissions of greenhouse gases around the globe, starting with methane, which it is already measuring.  A new analysis by scientists working with the Environmental Defense Fund has found that Pennsylvania’s shale gas industry leaked seven times more methane in 2017 than state reporting for the year indicates.  It also found that the conventional natural gas industry leaked an even larger amount of methane, despite producing a mere 2% of the state’s gas.  An independent analysis of six large European corporations that have pledged to drastically cut CO2 emissions has found that none are yet aligned with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

Cobalt is an important component in lithium-ion batteries, so as demand for them increases, demand for cobalt increases as well.  This raises concerns about the way it is mined and processed.  Late this month Tesla is expected to announce a new battery that will rely on low-cobalt and cobalt-free chemistries, and the use of chemical additives, materials, and coatings that will reduce internal stress and enable them to store more energy for longer periods.  These innovations are expected to allow Teslas to sell profitably at the same or lower prices than gasoline vehicles.  There was an interesting article in The Economist (free if you register) about wireless charging of electric vehicles.  Most applications to date have been for trucks and buses, but cars may not be that far off.

Perovskites are crystalline materials which can have high efficiencies of converting solar energy into electricity.  Unfortunately, they are not yet used in commercial solar cells for a variety of reasons.  Maddie Stone has a really good article in Grist reviewing the promise and status of perovskites in easy to understand language.

In Virginia news, utility regulators are preparing to reopen a popular program that allowed local governments, school systems, and churches to get their energy from non-utility solar developers.  The Botetourt County Planning Commission endorsed a plan Monday for the proposed wind turbines atop North Mountain to be increased in height from 550 ft to a maximum 680 ft, thereby allowing the number of turbines to be decreased.  A federal judge declined to lift his temporary ban on a permitting process for the crossing of streams and wetlands by oil and natural gas pipelines, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Potpourri

Climate scientist Kerry Emanuel has been elected as a foreign member of the UK’s Royal Society.  At National Geographic, two social scientists posit that to challenge misguided beliefs about science, you might try satire.  Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook have a new publication, “The Conspiracy Theory Handbook”.  Ron Charles reviewed Lydia Millet’s cli-fi novel A Children’s Bible for the Washington Post.  At Yale Climate Connections, Michael Svoboda collected twelve books on climate activismScience News staff members reviewed several climate change books published this year.  DW surveyed six of the most sustainable meat alternatives.  Chris Mooney of The Washington Post interviewed Shahzeen Attari, an associate professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, who studies the way people perceive their personal energy use and the decisions they make in their daily lives.  In preparation for what will likely be a hot summer, Sara Peach offered advice on “How to spot the symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion.”

Closing Thought

Consider the views of first-year college student Grace Lagan who wrote in The Guardian: “As a young person I’ve come to realize the power of hope in difficult times.”

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.