Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/31/2018

Policy and Politics

One question in the ongoing negotiations over NAFTA is whether Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will stick by his demand that climate change be recognized in it.  Last week I provided links to articles about the fall of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.  This week, Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic examined the possible connections between the climate positions of the Trump administration and the changing climate positions in Australia and Canada.  This is potentially quite important in light of a new report that found that while action by cities, states, regions, and businesses can go a long way towards meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, their actions alone, in the absence of national actions, are not enough to hold the global temperature increase to well-below 2°C.  Meanwhile, in spite of the EU’s strong actions on climate change, there are influential people who challenge the consensus on its causes.  A non-binding opinion written by a Member of the EU Parliament, John Stuart Agnew of the UK Independence Party, has shocked EU lawmakers for its dismissal of climate science – and the support he received to write it from mainstream rightwing and liberal political blocs.  Without first notifying his Prime Minister, environmentalist Nicolas Hulot resigned from his position as France’s minister of ecological and solidarity-based transition Tuesday morning during a live breakfast show on national radio.  A new report produced for the UN by Bios, an independent research institute based in Finland, has concluded that free market capitalism will not be able to meet the challenges posed by climate change and the need to move away from fossil fuels.  Rather some other, as yet unidentified, economic model will be required.

The California legislature voted on Tuesday to require that 100% of the state’s electricity come from carbon-free sources by 2045.  In a letter dated Wednesday, FERC cited a recent analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as justification for allowing construction to resume along most of the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s 303-mile route through West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.  A federal judge ruled that the coastal city of South Portland, Maine, did not violate the U.S. Constitution when it passed an ordinance that blocked Portland Pipe Line Corporation from bringing Alberta tar sands oil through its port for export.  Meanwhile, the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal on Thursday released its decision delaying the Kinder Morgan Trans Canada pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil to the Canadian West Coast.  In reaction, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said she is pulling her province out of the national climate change plan.

This week Yale Climate Connections presented 12 books illustrating authors attempts to meet the challenge of talking with children about climate change at different age levels, from pre-school to young adult.  Wes Granberg-Michaelson, former General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, wrote this week at Sojourners about the role of ecumenical Christians in the fight against climate change.  Ivy Main explained the Virginia Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Affiliates Act with respect to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Climate

According to a new paper in Earth Systems Dynamics, by 2035 we could pass the “point of no return” for reducing carbon emissions in order to limit global temperature rise to 2°C.  Furthermore, the authors determined that the deadline to stop global warming reaching 1.5°C has already passed, unless we commit to radical action now.

A new paper in the journal Science Advances reported that even if global average temperatures rise by as much as 4°C above pre-industrial levels, the damaging effects on fishing can be reduced through improved management of fisheries, allowing even greater catches.  However, without improved management, negative impacts will be severe.

A study published recently in Geophysical Research Letters used modeling to study the impacts of climate change on El Niño/La Niña events.  Summarizing their work, the lead author of the paper told John Abraham of The Guardian: “We can’t say from this study whether more or fewer El Niños will form in the future — or whether the El Niños that do form will be stronger or weaker in terms of ocean temperatures in the Pacific.  But we can say that an El Niño of a given magnitude that forms in the future is likely to have more influence over our weather than if the same El Niño formed 50 years ago.”

As documented in a new paper in Science Advances, scientists have discovered a new source of heat under the sea ice in the Beaufort Gyre of the Canadian Basin in the Arctic Ocean.  Summer sea ice has been absent from the Chukchi Sea for quite some time, allowing sunlight to directly contact the water, heating it.  That warm water is being carried under the sea ice into the Beaufort Gyre, but at a lower depth so that it doesn’t contact the ice above it.  However, should currents change, allowing the warm water to rise and contact the ice, its heat content is sufficient to melt the ice.

John Schwartz has a very interesting article in The New York Times, accompanied by beautiful photos and videos by Josh Haner, about the decline of Atlantic Puffins.  While climate change is involved, the interconnections are complex and difficult to tease apart.

While coastal cities in the U.S. face the risk of sea level rise as Earth warms, cities in the American Southwest face another hazard, extremely high temperatures.  This is requiring people to adapt in many ways.  California published its Fourth Climate Change Assessment this week, which includes a 67-page section on the state’s desert areas.  Sammy Roth summarized five major takeaways from the report.  The New York Times had an interactive graphic that allows you to enter your birthplace and year of birth and then see how the number of days with maximum temperatures exceeding 90°F has changed, among other things.  One way to lower temperatures in cities is to plant trees.  Unfortunately, nationally, 36.2 million urban trees are lost each year, along with a corresponding depletion of all their benefits, including carbon storage and cooling.

When we think about the impacts of sea level rise on Miami-Dade County, FL, the first things that comes to mind are the effects on roads, houses, and stormwater infrastructure.  Writing at Climate Changed, Christopher Flavelle argued that the main threat of sea level rise to the habitability of Miami-Dade is to its water supply.

Two articles published this week examined the impacts of warming on global food supplies.  One, published in Science, looked at losses of wheat, corn, and rice to insects.  It found that global yield losses of the three crops will increase by between 10 and 25% per degree Celsius of global mean surface warming.  The other, in Nature Climate Change, estimated that at atmospheric CO2 levels of 550 ppm, an additional 175 million people would be zinc deficient and an additional 122 million people would be protein deficient.  One South Korean company thinks the way around such problems is to grow non-commodity food crops in tunnels, while a company in Scotland says that their indoor farm is the most advanced in the world.  And another large study of global fossil and temperature records from the past 20,000 years suggests that Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems are at risk of drastic changes as Earth warms, especially if humans continue burning fossil fuels as in the past.

Energy

Some time back I provided a link to an article about the plans of Dyson to build an electric car.  The company has now announced plans to build a ten mile test track in Wiltshire, UK.  There are now more than a million electric cars in Europe after sales soared by more than 40% in the first half of the year.  Amy Harder at Axios sought to put Telsas and other electric cars in perspective in the fight against climate change.

By 2020, Facebook plans to power its global operations with 100% renewable energy and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 75%.  Orlando, FL, has set a goal of generating all of its energy from carbon-free sources by 2050, and they are going about doing it in some interesting ways.  In Australia, a new analysis says wholesale electricity prices will almost halve over the next four years because of the installation of renewables.  A household just outside of Berlin has become the recipient of the 100,000th grid-connected residential battery energy storage system in Germany.

Japan’s consumption of liquefied natural gas is set to fall as the country’s nuclear reactors restart, with output from atomic power set for its highest since the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.  Russia is almost ready to deploy its first floating nuclear power plant.  Needless to say, the idea is controversial.  On the other hand, the South African Department of Energy this week announced that the Cabinet has approved a draft updated Integrated Resources Plan which will see increased renewable energy generation in place of a planned nuclear expansion.

A high pressure system that stalled over Britain this summer was responsible for a decline in surface winds, causing electricity generation by wind turbines to decline.  On the subject of wind turbines, research published in the journal Ecology and Evolution has revealed that European pipistrelle bats are drawn to red lights.  Researchers say that to limit bat deaths by collisions with wind turbines, operators should install on-demand lighting that only turns on if an airplane approaches.

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.

 

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Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/24/2018

Policy and Politics

The big news this week on the policy front was the announcement of the Trump administration’s replacement for the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which substantially rolled back regulations limiting CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants.  Nevertheless, according to Brad Plumer at The New York Times, “… the reality on the ground for the nation’s coal industry remains bleak.”  One reason the Trump administration was able to propose a weak replacement for the CPP is that they used a much lower value for the social cost of carbon.  Brad Plumer also summarized the impacts on climate change of the CPP replacement and the proposed rollback of auto efficiency standards.  In addition, the EPA itself said the CPP replacement will result in 1,400 additional premature deaths each year due to pollution, with those deaths falling disproportionately on poor and minority communities in places like southwestern Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Missouri.  Several states were critical of the change and promised to challenge it in the courts.  Included in the CPP replacement is a change in the New Source Review program that will allow an increase in the total amount of pollutants emitted when an old power plant undergoes an upgrade.  The New York Times also fact checked President Trump’s claims about coal, the environment, and West Virginia.  Analysis by the Rhodium Group has revealed that 25 states are likely to beat their emission targets under the CPP despite its repeal, 10 states are close to meeting their targets, but could miss, and 12 states will likely miss their targets.  (Note: 3 states were excluded from the CPP.)

In what has to be the biggest example of chutzpah ever seen, Texas and its petroleum industry want the federal government to help pay for a nearly 60-mile “spine” of concrete seawalls, earthen barriers, floating gates, and steel levees on the Gulf Coast to help protect the industry from the consequences of climate change.  The price of carbon on the European Union carbon market is becoming high enough to impact fuel choices for power generation.  In a report published on Tuesday, think tank Carbon Tracker forecast the price hitting $29/t by the end of 2018 and averaging $41-$47/t over 2019-23.  After dropping a national policy to cut carbon emissions from the energy sector that was supposed to help Australia fulfill its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was still ousted by his own party and replaced by Scott Morrison.  Damien Cave examined why Australian politicians are divided even more on climate policy than U.S. ones.  The State Water Control Board in Virginia considered revoking permits for the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast natural gas pipelines during a hearing Tuesday, but in the end simply pushed for stricter enforcement of state regulations.  The Advisory Council on Environmental Justice recommended that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam rescind Clean Water Act certifications for the two pipelines and not issue any more permits in order to protect minority communities along their routes.  The Economist has addressed the question of how to design a carbon tax.

Millennial climate scientist Kate Marvel has written “Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending.”  Writing about her and other millennials, Eric Holthaus has concluded that “The aim of climate activism isn’t to erase the sins of the previous generations; it’s to ensure that future generations are handed a world that isn’t at the threshold of going to hell.”  Of course, climate change is not just something for future generations, it is already impacting many people, especially those that are marginalized.  It may be more difficult for millennials and others to take direct action because dozens of bills and executive orders have been introduced in at least 31 states since January 2017 that aim to restrict high-profile protests of fossil fuel projects.  Here is how things are playing out in Louisiana, which recently enacted such a law.   Female scientists are not immune to the sexual harassment experienced by women in many occupations.  Unfortunately, for female climate scientists, the harassment has been particularly vitriolic, leading many to fear for their safety.  If you are interested in what has happened in Puerto Rico since last year’s hurricanes, Wired has an article on it.

Climate

A study of the forests of Central Europe suggests the higher temperatures—combined with pollution from auto exhaust and farms—are making wood weaker, resulting in trees that break more easily and lumber that is less durable.  Speaking of plant growth, new research has found that over the past 30 years, the areas across the globe where cold temperatures limit it have declined by 16%.

With wildfires continuing in the western U.S., Bob Berwyn of Inside Climate News examined how they can affect climate change.  New research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found “previously unnoted” declines in summer rainfall across almost a third of forests in the western U.S. over the past four decades.  These declines are “strongly correlated” with wildfire increases.

On Sept. 15, NASA will launch the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) about 300 miles above Earth, where it will use six lasers to measure the changing heights of Earth’s polar ice over the course of its three-year mission, which can be extended to as many as 10 years.  The oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic has started to break up, opening waters north of Greenland that are normally frozen, even in summer.

Sea level rise is impacting home values along the East Coast, but so far it is mainly reducing the rate at which homes appreciate.  A growing body of research by economists and climate scientists shows that extreme weather will increasingly harm economic growth. Yet almost no mainstream economic forecasting model takes this into account, which could affect the accuracy of economic predictions.

Although the data can only be considered to be preliminary and the studies need to be replicated, scientists in both Siberia and Alaska have reported that in some regions the active layer above the permafrost did not refreeze this past winter.  If this represents the beginning of a trend, the implications are concerning.

A review paper in Nature Communications has examined the links between Arctic warming and summer weather in the Northern Hemisphere.  In particular, three hypotheses were reviewed: warming could weaken certain eastward blowing winds, cause the jet stream to shift southward, and cause the jet stream to meander up and down.

Energy

A floating tidal stream turbine off the coast of Orkney produced 3GWh of renewable electricity during its first year of testing at the European Marine Energy Center.  This is the greatest amount of energy produced by a tidal generator to date.

Jan Ellen Spiegel has an article at Yale Climate Connections reviewing the short history of off-shore wind energy in the U.S. and looking ahead to its hopefully rosy future.  Its message is reinforced by three new reports released Thursday on the state of U.S. wind power that show how the industry is expanding onshore with bigger, more powerful turbines that make wind energy possible even in areas with lower wind speeds.  Offshore, the reports describe a wind industry poised for a market breakthrough.

In the past I’ve provided links to articles about fully electric long-haul trucks.  Writing at Bloomberg, Brianna Jackson outlined some of the challenges they will face trying to unseat diesel engines as the power trains of choice.  Regarding passenger electric vehicles (EVs), experts suggest the freezing of CAFE standards through 2026 alone likely won’t slow EV growth, but the Trump administration’s proposal to roll back California’s waivers to institute stricter emissions rules and EV mandates could have an impact.

As an example of the continued penetration of battery storage into electric power systems in the U.S., a renewable energy developer filed applications with the Montana Public Service Commission to build 320 MW of wind and 160 MW/640 MWh of battery storage spread over four separate projects in the state.  A new report from GTM Research predicts that global lithium-ion battery deployments for utility-scale energy storage will grow by 55% annually over the next five years.  However, because of cost we can’t depend upon lithium-ion batteries for all the energy storage we will need if all electricity is provided by renewable sources.  An article from July 27 (which we missed) estimated it would cost $2.7 trillion for the U.S. to provide the needed storage with the batteries.  A Swiss startup says it can provide storage much more cheaply, just by stacking concrete blocks.  Or, perhaps someday we will be able to use lithium-oxygen batteries for utility-scale storage, at 1/10 the volume of lithium-ion batteries.  They are still a long way from application, but they are another example of what may come to pass.

Inside Climate News reported that the tariffs on imported solar panels imposed by the Trump administration six months ago have done little to dampen the booming solar market in the U.S.  In an effort to cut the cost of clean electricity, power utilities around the world are supersizing their solar farms, although there are limits.

Halogen lightbulbs will be banned across Europe on 1 September, to be replaced by LEDs.

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.

 

 

Rise for Community Climate Action

rise for communityclimateaction.600

Saturday, September 8, 1-4 PM
Pale Fire Brewing Company
217 S. Liberty St, Harrisonburg

Join the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, Renew Rocktown, and Virginia Clean Cities in sharing, celebrating, and supporting local climate resilience actions!

On September 8, thousands of rallies will be held in cities and towns around the world to demand our local leaders commit to building a fossil free world that works for all of us. This collective Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice is part of an effort by Peoples Climate Movement​ to show the world how many people think climate matters. And that we need to elect officials who will take strong, fast action — or take matters into our own hands.

In the Harrisonburg/Rockingham-area, we hope to bring together climate, sustainability, and justice-seeking allies to celebrate our community successes and build capacity for more initiatives that are grounded in local ownership, equality, and climate resilience.

We are calling on a number of organizations and groups to showcase their inspiring work at this event, but the central initiative featured at our ​Rise for Community Climate Action​ will be the Harrisonburg City Sustainability Action Plan. This plan has been under development by the Environmental Performance Standards Advisory Council (EPSAC)​ for many, many months. The plan calls to create a new sustainability coordinator position in City Council, conduct a Greenhouse Gas Inventory, increase in renewable energy, and set other community priorities for climate resilience. It is being supported in large part by Renew Rocktown​, a community coalition dedicated to climate action and resilience in the Harrisonburg area.

Join us Saturday, September 8th at Pale Fire Brewing Company​ in downtown Harrisonburg for a fun, informative afternoon of connecting with fellow community organizers and do-ers! You can learn about exciting projects underway by various sustainability and climate resilience allies and find out how to get involved in those efforts that interest you most!

  • Talk to EPSAC members about the Sustainability Action Plan and give feedback and support
  • Add your voice to the call for local climate action by joining a letter-writing coalition
  • Sign up to visit or volunteer at local Sustainability Success Sites
  • Check out electric vehicles brought to you by Virginia Clean Cities for National Drive Electric Week
  • Learn about other climate action, environmental justice, and sustainability efforts in our area

Community gardens, pipeline opposition, composting, compost/recycling pick up, restorative justice, organic agriculture, community policing, fossil fuel divestment, fair trade retail and cooperative ownership, waterway management, sustainable transportation, accessible housing, solar power installation — these are the kinds of solutions that we hope to promote at this event.

Please reach out if you are working on introducing or implementing an initiative that you’d like to be featured at this gathering! Interested parties are invited to set up a table and/or poster display of their work, or just show up and share your ideas for climate action and resilience!

Contact: Rosie Lynch rosielynch11 [at] gmail.com

Harrisonburg Rise for Climate Action Network event page

fb-art event page

Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/17/2018

Policy and Politics

The Trump administration’s proposed replacement for the Clean Power Plan is expected to be released by the EPA late next week, an agency source said on Thursday.  Politico says that the strategy for the plan is changing the way the costs and benefits are calculated.  After stating on Sunday that the California wildfires had “nothing to do with climate change,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke suggested on Thursday that climate change may have a role.  Last Friday climate scientist Kevin Trenberth had an article at The Conversation outlining the links between climate change and wildfires.  When Zinke took over as Interior Secretary, he instated a new requirement that scientific funding above $50,000 must undergo an additional review to ensure expenditures “better align with the administration’s priorities”.  The person overseeing that review is Steve Howke, whose highest degree is a bachelor’s in business administration.  During his confirmation hearing on Thursday, Lane Genatowski, President Trump’s nominee to lead the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) within DOE, told members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that he would be glad to run the agency if it continues to be funded.  However, he also supports Trump’s budget, which zeros out the program.

A federal judge in Montana on Wednesday ordered the U.S. State Department to do a full environmental review of a revised route for the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline.  On Thursday, the Southern Environmental Law Center and Appalachian Mountain Advocates filed a lawsuit with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the necessity of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. A review by the Charleston Gazette-Mail, in collaboration with ProPublica, showed that, over the past two years, federal and state agencies tasked with enforcing the nation’s environmental laws have moved repeatedly to clear roadblocks and expedite the Mountain Valley Pipeline.  Nevertheless, the strategy of environmental groups opposing the pipelines appears to be paying off.  A group of young climate advocates who sued the state of Washington to force it to reduce greenhouse gas emissions lost their case on Tuesday when King County Superior Court Judge Michael Scott sided with the state and agreed to dismiss it.  The lawyers for the young people said they will appeal.  Across the Atlantic, the People’s Climate Case, a lawsuit by families across Europe calling for stronger EU climate action, has gotten the go-ahead from the European General Court.

Ivy Main has a new post on her blog asking Dominion Energy Virginia to fully reveal their plans for modernizing the grid.  In a commentary in the journal Joule, climate scientist James Hansen and colleague examined the cost to future generations of carbon capture and storage.  In an opinion piece in The New York Times, Justin Gillis and Jameson McBride advocated for a national clean energy standard as an alternative to a carbon tax.  I was unaware until recently of an article in a 1912 New Zealand newspaper about how burning coal might produce future warming by adding CO2 to the atmosphere.  Snopes checked it out and found it to be true.

Climate

A new study, published in Nature on Wednesday, used satellite-based observations of sea surface temperature from 1982 to 2016 to detect a doubling in the number of marine heat wave days.  Furthermore, this number is projected to increase by a factor of 16 for global warming of 1.5°C and by a factor of 23 for global warming of 2.0°C.  Today, 87% of marine heat waves are attributable to human-caused warming, with this ratio increasing to nearly 100% under any global warming scenario exceeding 2°C.  Meanwhile, sea surface temperatures are increasing in the tropical waters of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, creating conditions for the development of an El Niño event beginning this fall.

One driver of sea level rise is the melting of glaciers in West Antarctica.  Part of that melting is due to warm ocean water washing against and under the face of the glaciers.  In a paper in Nature Geoscience, scientists reported that periodic arrival of the warm currents is due to natural variability in those currents, as explained by Daisy Dunn at Carbon Brief.  A study in Science Advances has found that sea level rise will allow tsunamis to reach much further inland, significantly increasing the risk of floods.  This means that tsunamis, associated with a given magnitude earthquake, that might not be deadly today, could wreak havoc in the future.  On the subject of sea level rise, when I first started studying climate change impacts it was a surprise to me to learn that sea level varied around the globe.  This clear, short piece from Science News explains why.

A new paper in Nature Climate Change examined the likely damages in coastal Europe over the rest of this century associated with sea level rise.  The authors found that the present expected annual damage of €1.25 billion is projected to increase by two to three orders of magnitude, ranging between €93 and €961 billion.  Furthermore, the current expected annual number of people exposed to coastal flooding of 102,000 is projected to reach 1.52–3.65 million.

In a new paper in Nature Communications, French and Dutch scientists have forecast that there is a 58% chance that the period 2018-2022 will be warmer than the global average trend, although that chance increases to 72% for the period 2018-2021.  Many high temperature records were set around the world during the month of July, with many exceeding 50°C (122°F).  Writing at The Guardian in a series on “Sweltering Cities”, Amy Fleming and coworkers wrote about the “cool haves and hot have-nots”, Jonathan Watts and Elle Hunt explored what cities will be like when such temperatures become commonplace, Oliver Milman explored heat in U.S. cities, and Philip Oldfield presented four ways to cool cities.   Prof. Stefan Rahmstorf, a prominent German climate scientist, wrote an essay for Politico explaining this summer’s strange weather in Europe.  In it he stated “Climate change does not just mean that everything is gradually getting warmer: It is also changing the major circulations of our atmosphere and ocean. This is making the weather increasingly weird and unpredictable.”

Energy

Germany has set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and another 15% by 2030.  Many analysts think the country will miss those targets.  Even though Germany is a leader in renewable energy, it has been shutting down its nuclear power plants, which emit no CO2, while continuing to depend on coal.  Nevertheless, one German startup is doing what it can to reduce emissions by integrating flexible solar panels into the body of its new EV.  (This article has a neat photo from inside the car.)

In a new study in Nature Communications, Anna Harper and colleagues found that expansion of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to meet the 1.5°C limit on temperature increases could cause net losses of carbon from the land surface.  Instead, they found that protecting and expanding forests could be more effective options for meeting the Paris Agreement than BECCS.

According to the Australian Energy Market Operator, South Australia is likely to source the equivalent of 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2025.  British renewable energy investor Quercus said it will halt the construction of a $570 million solar power plant in Iran due to recently imposed U.S. sanctions on Tehran.

Analysis of government data by Climate Home News has identified roughly 300 active and 200 abandoned coal mines that are the source of almost one-tenth of U.S. methane pollution, equivalent in warming potential to roughly 13 million cars.

A note released this week by the research firm Rhodium Group stated that absent “market interventions at a grand scale” — such as the Trump administration’s plan to force utilities to buy uncompetitive coal-fired power under the mandate of national security — the trends leading to coal-fired power plant closures are accelerating and could lead to the country’s coal fleet being nearly halved again by 2030.  Evidence for that comes from the Midwest where electric utilities in states such as Iowa, Kansas, Wisconsin and Michigan have recently announced goals to close coal-fired power plants and pivot toward cleaner resources.  However, as pointed out by Richard Newell and Daniel Raimi of Resources for the Future, the world still hasn’t started a transition away from fossil fuels.  While their percentage contribution to the total has decreased or remained stable, their absolute contribution is still increasing.

The UK is heavily dependent on natural gas, with the fuel meeting about two thirds of domestic heating demand.  However, meeting Britain’s 2050 climate goals will require the nation to wean itself off natural gas, but the nation’s electricity system probably won’t be able to cope without energy storage.  Consequently, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the heating sector is “one of the toughest challenges the country faces in its low-carbon transition,” according to a report published Friday by the UK Energy Research Centre.

A new report by GTM Research examined the changing landscape of EV charging infrastructure.  Currently, there are many participants, with no clear leaders.  Nevertheless, the report predicted that growth in EV sales worldwide is expected to boost demand for charging points, with up to 40 million being installed by 2030.  New England governors and eastern Canadian premiers say they will work together to build infrastructure for EVs and take other steps to address climate change.

Siemens Gamesa has signed a subcontract with Ørsted to supply turbines for the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project, initiated by Dominion Energy.  The blades for this project will be produced at the company’s manufacturing facility in Aalborg, Denmark, and the nacelle assemblies will originate from the Siemens Gamesa facility in Cuxhaven, Germany. Once in Virginia, the turbine components will be installed by Ørsted on monopile foundations. Deliveries are expected to begin in mid-2020.

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 8/10/2018

Policy and Politics

Last week’s Roundup started with an article by Nathaniel Rich, entitled “Losing Earth,” that comprised the entire issue of The New York Times Magazine for August 5.  Because of its conclusion, the article caused quite a stir.  Below I have listed some of the responses to it:

  1. Kate Aronoff, “What ‘The New York Times’ Climate Blockbuster Missed,” The Nation
  2. Emily Atkin, “Who’s to Blame for Global Warming,” The New Republic
  3. Alyssa Battistoni, “How Not to Talk about Climate Change,” Jacobin Magazine
  4. Peter Gleick, “Saving Earth: Don’t Fall into Climate Change Fatalism,” HuffPost Opinion
  5. Alexander Kaufman, “2018 Would Still Be a Climate Hellscape If We Acted 30 Years Ago,” HuffPost Environment
  6. Naomi Klein, “Capitalism Killed Our Climate Momentum, Not ‘Human Nature’,” The Intercept
  7. Joe Romm, “Scientists Aren’t Impressed with New York Times’ New Story on Climate Change,” Think Progress
  8. Rhea Suh, “The Moral of The New York Times Climate Story: We Need to Up Our Game,” Natural Resources Defense Council

President Donald Trump reportedly plans to fill a vacancy at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) with Bernard McNamee, executive director of DOE’s Office of Policy and a former top official at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a conservative research and advocacy group that advocates for deregulation.  The EPA is floating the idea of changing its rulemaking process and setting a threshold level of fine particles that it would consider safe.  Previously, it has considered no level safe.  The change would affect how EPA counts the co-benefits of reducing fine particles when making rules aimed at reducing other pollutants, like greenhouse gases.  California air regulators on Tuesday said they plan to keep tightening state vehicle emissions rules despite a Trump administration proposal last week that would strip the state of the ability to set its own limits.  The Heartland Institute’s second “America First” conference on U.S. energy was held Tuesday in New Orleans.  Inside Climate News covered the gathering and found many singing a very negative tune.

Nader Sobhani analyzed Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s Market Choice Act for the Niskanan Center.  A new study in Nature Climate Change has found that if a blanket carbon tax is applied across all sectors, agriculture will be especially hard hit, increasing food insecurity.  The authors emphasize “Agriculture should receive a very specific treatment when it comes to climate change policies.”  Pete Myers reflected on Buckminster Fuller’s “energy slaves” as depicted in Stuart McMillen’s comic.  Environmental writer Cally Carswell ruminated in High Country News on the question of why she and her husband moved to Santa Fe during a time of drought.  New York Times science writer John Schwartz reviewed William T. Vollman’s two volume Carbon Ideologies.  The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has a new set of climate opinion maps.

Climate

Probably the most written about scientific paper on climate change this week was the one by Will Steffen et al. in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).  The paper is pretty well summed up in the first sentence of the abstract: “We explore the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a “Hothouse Earth” pathway even as human emissions are reduced.”  The paper is labeled as a “Perspective” and is open access.  It can be read or downloaded hereJonathan Watts had a good summary, while Steven Salzberg and Jeff Goodell had interesting commentaries.  Skeptical Science presented a graphic that clarifies the various periods discussed.  On the subject of uncertain futures, Amy Brady interviewed debut novelist Harriet Alida Lye about her new book, The Honey Farm.

One of the authors of another study in PNAS told Carbon Brief “Our analysis of methane uptake around the globe shows that methane uptake in forest soils has decreased by an average of 77% from 1988 to 2015. We conclude that the soil methane sink may be declining and overestimated in several regions across the globe.”  Daisy Dunne discussed the paper and explained its significance at Carbon Brief.  A paper in Nature Communications reported on a study that found that maintaining existing forests may be more effective than bioenergy with carbon capture and storage as a strategy for reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Solar radiation management (SRM) is a form of proposed geoengineering in which sulfate aerosols would be injected into the upper atmosphere to reflect some of the incoming sunlight, thereby helping to cool Earth.  Most consideration of SRM has been theoretical, but now a group of scientists has examined the impacts of two 20th century volcanoes (which also spew large quantities of sulfur into the atmosphere) to estimate what the effects of SRM would be on agriculture.  They concluded that the positive and negative effects would cancel each other out, leaving little net benefit.

Unless you have been completely cut off from the news, you are doubtless aware of the severe fires in California.  ABC News queried climate scientist Michael Mann about the impact climate change has had on them.  Meanwhile, Zeke Hausfather at Carbon Brief performed a fact-check on the assertion that wildfires in the U.S. burned more acres in the early part of the 20th century than today.  Last week Quirin Schiermeier had an interesting article in Nature about the increasing ability of attribution studies to determine how likely it is that certain weather events (such as heat waves) have been caused or influenced by climate change.

As evidenced by Death Valley having the hottest month of any location in the world, ever, heat waves have been hitting all around the Northern Hemisphere, so writers at The Christian Science Monitor asked whether they have changed people’s attitudes about global warming.  Regardless of attitudes, actions haven’t changed all that much, with the result that people and governments are ill-prepared for a warmer world.  Unfortunately, problems aren’t limited to the Northern Hemisphere.  In the Southern, in the middle of the worst drought in living memory, Australia is also heating up due to climate change. Critics say too little is being done to prevent increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfall.

A study published in PNAS found that 43% of the bird species in the Mojave Desert in the early 20th century have been lost because of climate change.  Climate Central analyzed the number of days each year in the spring, summer, and fall with an average temperature between 61°F and 93°F.  This is the range for transmission of diseases spread by mosquitoes of the Aedes or Culex type.  Of the 244 cities analyzed, 94% are seeing an increase in the number of days, indicating a heightened risk for disease transmission.

Energy

Quartz had a feature about a new battery developed by Pellion Technologies, that utilizes lithium-metal technology, rather than lithium-ion technology.  Quartz explained why this could be significant: “Pellion’s battery can pack nearly double the energy of a conventional lithium-ion battery.”  Minnesota electric cooperative Connexus Energy has confirmed recent press reports that it is building 15MW/30MWh of battery energy storage, while another not-for-profit, Vermont Electric Cooperative, will build a 1.9MW/5.3MWh system in its service area.

Companies and agencies, excluding utilities, have agreed to buy 7.2 GW of clean energy worldwide so far this year, shattering the record of 5.4 GW for all of 2017, according to a report last Friday from Bloomberg NEFBloomberg NEF also reported that global wind and solar developers took 40 years to install their first trillion watts (terawatts) of power generation capacity, but the next terawatt may be finished within the next five years.  They estimated that the industry reached the 1-terawatt milestone sometime in the first half of the year.  Apple is leading the development of two new wind and solar energy farms in Illinois and Virginia that will not only help bring green energy to its own operations, but also those of Akamai, Etsy, and Swiss Re.

This week’s “Clean Economy Weekly” from Inside Climate News had several items of interest, including the low electricity price from the Vineyard offshore wind farm off Cape Cod and news that demand for Tesla’s Powerwall is exceeding supply.  Julia Pyper at Greentech Media reviewed the status of wind energy in the U.S. in light of the cancellation of the Wind Catcher project in Texas and Oklahoma.

Virginia has picked a Los Angeles firm, EVgo, to build and operate a network of electric-vehicle charging stations across the commonwealth, with the state planning to use $14 million from the Volkswagen settlement to cover its share of the public-private partnership cost.  Gregory Schneider summarized recent actions by federal judges against the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines.

By the end of this year, Siemens Gamesa and its research partners in Denmark plan to install at sea a prototype suction bucket foundation that could reduce the cost to construct and install offshore wind turbine foundations by 40% compared to existing technology.  The U.S. wind industry will face tough times post-2021 when the value of the Production Tax Credit drops to 60% in 2022 and 40% in 2023, before disappearing entirely in 2024.  Using data and analysis from its latest “North America Wind Power Outlook”, Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables presented five drivers that will sustain demand for new wind capacity additions in the market during this time.  In documents and sworn statements filed with the Ohio Power Siting Board on Thursday, the developers of the six-turbine Icebreaker Wind project planned for Lake Erie presented evidence that Murray Energy Corp. has been bankrolling anti-Icebreaker consultants, as well as lawyers representing two residents who have testified against the project.

More than 3,500 hydropower dams are being planned or built around the world.  This could double by 2030.  Most of these dams are in the planning stage, and the data don’t include dams primarily designed for water supply, flood prevention, navigation and recreation – so the total number of dams being built could be much higher.  Needless to say, the construction of such dams is a contentious issue.

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 8/3/2018

This week’s Roundup was prepared by H. Bishop Dansby.

POLITICS AND POLICY

Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change

The Weekly Roundup particularly recommends this landmark piece in the New York Times Magazine by Nathaniel Rich. It is a work of history, addressing the 10-year period from 1979 to 1989: the decisive decade when humankind first came to a broad understanding of the causes and dangers of climate change. Complementing the text is a series of aerial photographs and videos, all shot over the past year. Click here.

At last: A carbon tax proposal by a Republican

Citizens Climate Lobby and others around the world believe that a carbon tax is the best solution for climate change. Now, Florida congressman Carlos Curbelo, a Republican, will introduce legislation next week that calls for a gradually escalating carbon tax specifically designed to accelerate the decarbonization of the U.S. economy.

In exchange for the fee, the proposal would completely eliminate the gasoline tax and press pause on the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (that’s in jeopardy anyway under the changing Supreme Court). It would also devote most of its revenue to building new transportation infrastructure nationwide. That it raises money at all is controversial, since Citizens Climate Lobby and those few Republicans in favor of a carbon tax want a completely revenue-neutral proposal. Click here.

U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Youth Plaintiffs, Allows Juliana v. United States to Proceed to Trial 

Remarkably, this suit by Our Children’s Trust has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2015, a group of 21 kids aged 8 to 19 filed suit against the U.S. government in a District Court in Oregon. The complaint: The feds had violated their constitutional rights by deliberately allowing CO2 levels to skyrocket. The plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States argued the government should be held accountable for the harm caused by climate change.

On Monday, the Supreme Court denied the Trump administration’s plea to halt case proceedings, kicking it back to the District Court of Oregon, where the case is still pending. If successful, the suit would force the federal government to come up with a plan to reduce carbon emissions.

The suit proceeds to trial on October 29. Click here.

Virginia lawmakers consider fossil fuel lobbyist for energy regulator seat

On paper, Virginia’s sweeping new energy law should result in significant new investments in the state’s electric grid, as well as energy storage, efficiency, and renewable generation such as wind and solar. Now, even as Virginia lawmakers ask the State Corporation Commission to implement the comprehensive energy bill they passed this year, they’re also considering appointing a commissioner with close ties to the oil and gas industry who critics say will hurt the state’s clean energy transition. Click here.

Virginia Supreme Court rules in favor of customers in Dominion solar case

Dominion was attempting to overturn a State Corporation Commission ruling that allows big businesses or box stores to seek out non-utility power providers who offer 100 percent renewable energy, without the requirement of providing 5 years’ advance notice.

SELC attorney Will Cleveland says, “Time and again, we’ve seen Dominion throw up road blocks to prevent customers from directly accessing renewable energy. The Virginia Supreme Court today made clear that Dominion cannot control or impede the renewable energy industry…” Click here.

CLIMATE SCIENCE

Droughts, Heat Waves and Floods: How to Tell When Climate Change Is to Blame

Meteorologists, particularly those on TV, have always had a grand opportunity to educate the public on climate change, but they have generally refused to do so, either because of their own climate change denial or because climate change was not deemed part of the weather news. Now, the science is increasingly capable of sussing out what part of extreme weather is due to climate change, so that it is likely to become part of weather forecasting. Click here.

The world is hot, on fire, and flooding. Climate change is here. The worst ravages of climate change are on display around the world.

It’s the hottest month of one of the hottest years in the history of human civilization, and unusual wildfires are sprouting up all over the map. Sweden has called for emergency assistance from the rest of the European Union to help battle massive wildfires burning north of the Arctic Circle. Across the western United States, 50 major wildfires are burning in parts of 14 states, fueled by severe drought. In Greece, citizens have been forced into the sea to try to escape the flames. Heat waves in Japan have killed scores of people. The wildfires burning in Siberia earlier this month sent smoke plumes from across the Arctic all the way to New England. Last year, big wildfires burned in Greenland for the first time in recorded history. Click here.

ENERGY

Technology companies help drive solar growth in Virginia

Driving the growth is a huge appetite for solar-generated electricity from the nation’s biggest technology companies — Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook. They are setting up shop in Virginia and insisting on renewable energy to power their facilities.

Ashburn’s “Data Center Alley,” for example, now has the largest concentration of data centers in the world, with more than 70 percent of the world’s internet traffic passing through Loudoun County’s digital infrastructure.

Also driving solar energy growth is a steep drop in price. According to one industry source, the cost to develop a kilowatt of solar power has fallen from $96 in 1970 to 40 cents this year.

Ivy Main contends, though, that the General Assembly needs to do much more to unlock the potential of solar for multifamily housing, parking lots, airports, closed landfills, and other spaces. Click here.

N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center Releases the 50 States of Grid Modernization Report

The report provides insights on state regulatory and legislative discussions and actions on grid modernization, utility business model and rate reform, energy storage, microgrids, and demand response. Click here.

The $3 Billion Plan to Turn Hoover Dam Into a Giant Battery

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, an original operator of the dam when it was erected in the 1930s, wants to equip it with a $3 billion pipeline and a pump station powered by solar and wind energy. The pump station, downstream, would help regulate the water flow through the dam’s generators, sending water back to the top to help manage electricity at times of peak demand. The net result would be a kind of energy storage — performing much the same function as the giant lithium-ion batteries being developed to absorb and release power. Click here.

 

Weekly Roundup “Vacation Edition” 7/27/2018

The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News is briefly interrupted for a well-deserved week of vacation! In its place this week is a “Vacation Edition” of “Climate Music” from Doug Hendren.

About “Climate Music”:  About 5 years ago, I came to the disturbing conclusion that climate science, no matter how compelling, was no match for the remarkable psychological defenses people have against threatening information. Music was a powerful force in the 60s, why not today? Equipped with Apple’s “GarageBand” program, a quiet room and a few instruments, I started writing simple musical stories about climate change, water, clean energy, and of course various villains and heroes in the climate movement. It’s all up on my website, MusicalScalpel.com and meant to be shared freely. I think of these songs as “painless education,” and also entertainment for hard-working activists. Here are a few old and newer pieces. I hope you enjoy them!

THE BALLAD OF POPE FRANCIS Based on a true story– related by Michael Shank. While preparing his encyclical “Laudato Si” in 2015,  Pope Francis convened climate scientists and church leaders at the Vatican. Marc Morano, professional climate denier employed by the Heartland Institute, tried to disrupt the proceedings. He was caught by the Swiss Guard and shown the door. In considering the devious tactics and misinformation of the fossil industry, I was reminded of the folk wisdom about Satan’s verbal cleverness, for which “Get thee behind me!” is the only effective response.

THE SOLAR SPILL.  Somewhere I came across a bumper sticker reading “A Solar Spill is Just a Nice Day”, and I ran with it: “Who’s gonna pay the bill for a solar spill?”  We have gotten so desensitized to images of oil spills that it’s difficult to imagine a world free of them. Think of how many different “externalized costs” we have been putting up with related to fossil-fuel pollution!

BIOSPHERE.  Written as a “children’s song”, this one addresses the common misperception that the world seems so enormous, how could people possibly be changing it? The key point is that the biosphere is actually smaller than we think: “The space we’re living in / is as thin as your skin.”

WHAT’S IN A NUMBER? This was written to demystify some of the straightforward numbers associated with climate change. In particular, it challenges the misperception that a few degrees are insignificant: “Ninety-eight point six, or a hundred and five / can make all the difference in staying alive.”

FAKE WEATHER was written to try to capture the absurdity of Texas politicians being in the front ranks of climate change deniers, after five feet of rain falling on Houston last year. “We might have a problem here – the storm of the century every year.” Jeff Heie came over and shot an iPhone video on the patio.

SCOTT PRUITT’S EPA is a parody of the 1927 classic “Ain’t She Sweet”. I just put the finishing touches last week on a new CD containing this song: “Everyone Pollute America – E.P.A.!”  Asking some friends whether I should pull the song after Pruitt’s resignation, the verdict was to leave it in, since his ghost will probably be with us for some time.

THE SUNSHINE STATE is about Florida Power and Light, which is a lot like Dominion Energy – an 800-lb gorilla that likes to get its way. In this case, the Florida Tea Party beat FPL by framing solar energy as a “freedom” issue, popularizing the term “energy democracy”. As Bob Inglis, Erik Curren and others have long been saying, solar energy is a quintessential conservative issue! “It ain’t the Russians or Chinese / keeping people on our knees / It’s the way that corporations squeeze / clinging to monopolies!”

I’ll have another climate music CD coming out in a month or two. If you enjoyed this “vacation program”, email me your name and address, and I’ll be happy to send along a CD when they arrive. I like to make them available to promote climate education and activism. Sing loud!

Doug Hendren, MD
dhhendren [@] gmail.com
MusicalScalpel.com

Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/20/2018

Policy and Politics

In spite of a vote in the House condemning a carbon tax (which Dana Nuccitelli called foolish), Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) is preparing to introduce legislation next week that would pause federal regulations on climate change in exchange for an escalating tax on carbon emissions, according to a draft obtained by E&E News.  Although Curbelo’s proposed tax is not revenue-neutral, a recent study found that policies in which the proceeds from a carbon tax are returned to taxpayers will have little negative economic impact while effectively curbing carbon emissions.  America’s Pledge, an initiative co-founded by California Gov. Jerry Brown and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has released a report detailing “bottom-up” strategies for states, cities and businesses to take meaningful action on climate change.  A coalition of worker advocacy groups is calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create the country’s first national standard for heat stress, something the government has failed to do for over 40 years.

E&E News interviewed EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler.  (If you open the article, be sure to check out Wheeler’s suit.)  On Wednesday, the EPA pushed back the deadline for closing coal ash dumps that don’t meet water protection standards until 31 October 2020.  Wheeler said the changes would save utilities roughly $30m annually.  A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked a Trump administration policy that sought to ignore a regulation limiting sales of “glider trucks” that environmental groups called “super-polluting.”

Fossil fuel producers, airlines, and electrical utilities outspent environmental groups and the renewable energy industry 10 to 1 on lobbying related to climate change legislation between 2000 and 2016, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Climatic Change.  Today, airplane engines release about 1.5% of the CO2 that humans create by burning fossil fuels – as much as Canada’s carbon footprint.  They also release significant amounts of sulfur, oxides of nitrogen, and water vapor into the upper atmosphere, all of which impact warming.  To meet our climate goals, something must be done, but what?  The EU and China have signed a joint agreement on climate change as part of the EU-China summit in Beijing, but according to a report released on Thursday, China still needs to take significant steps to curb its own CO2 emissions.  Living shorelines can help slow or stop erosion in coastal areas.  Since Florida’s permitting rules on living shorelines were eased a little more than a year ago, 34 small living shorelines, typically under 500 feet, have been approved or built.

Ivy Main has published her Guide to Wind and Solar Policy in Virginia for 2018.  Roy Scranton, a professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, had an essay in The New York Times adapted from his new book We’re Doomed. Now What? Essays on War and Climate Change.  A new survey of attitudes about climate change and what to do about it has been conducted by ABC News, Stanford University’s Political Psychology Research Group and Resources for the Future.  Go here for a summary of the results.  Attorneys for 21 young activists suing the federal government over climate change urged a judge Wednesday to allow their case to go to trial while government lawyers argued that a court can’t direct national energy policy.  Meanwhile, a federal judge on Thursday dismissed New York City’s lawsuit against five of the world’s largest oil companies, stating that global warming should be solved by Congress and the president—not by the courts.  David Hasemyer has prepared a review of the various lawsuits against the federal government and fossil fuel companies, showing where they stand now.

Climate

California is not the only place experiencing wildfires.  At least 11 wildfires are burning inside the Arctic Circle, with Sweden being particularly hard hit.  In addition, high temperature records are being set across Scandinavia, Japan is sweltering, and in the U.S. an extreme heat wave is hitting Texas and surrounding states.  All in all, over a billion people are at risk in a warmer world, according to one study.  A paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that wildfires in the western U.S. are causing an increase in small particulate matter in the atmosphere, a particularly worrisome form of air pollution.

A paper published Thursday in the journal Science has reported that summers are heating up faster than the other seasons as global temperatures rise, especially in parts of the Northern Hemisphere, and the changes carry the clear fingerprints of human-caused climate change.  Canada’s Arctic is warming at one of the fastest rates of anywhere on Earth, with the annual average temperature on northern Ellesmere Island increasing by 3.6°C between 1948 and 2016.  This is causing significant melting of glaciers.

According to a new report from non-profit organizations GRAIN and The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, meat and dairy companies are on track to being the world’s biggest contributors to climate change, outpacing even the fossil fuel industry.

The large cities in India are among the hottest on Earth.  Somini Sengupta reported from New Delhi on conditions in several of them in the summer, when conditions are becoming unbearable.  Meanwhile, in Africa, the drought that threatened to turn off the taps in Cape Town was made three times more likely by global warming, according to a study released on Friday by World Weather Attribution.

A new study, published in the journal Nature, suggests that a slowing of the Gulf Stream (aka the “Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation” or AMOC) will lead to a period of prolonged warming because less heat will be carried into the deep ocean.  However, writing at RealClimate, climate scientists Stefan Rahmstorf and Michael Mann were very critical of the paper, stating “the idea that a weak AMOC promotes rapid global warming is in itself not supported by any convincing evidence.”

Antarctica is a strange place, as shown by a recent paper in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science.  For example, it is the only place on Earth where the surface is colder than the stratosphere.  This causes some of the greenhouse gases that warm the rest of the planet to cool Antarctica for much of the year.

Energy

The International Energy Agency has released its World Energy Outlook 2018, covering energy investments in 2017.  A major finding was that global energy investments fell 2% in 2017, with a “worrying” 7% decline in renewable energy investments.  On the other hand, a bright spot was the 54% increase in electric vehicle (EV) sales, which topped one million for the first time.

The Pacific island nation of Palau, which currently relies on diesel fuel to supply almost all its electricity, is in the middle of an experiment. Over the next year and a half, the country will shift to 100% renewable energy, at no cost to the government.  This will happen because of the efforts of Gridmarket, a predictive analytics and mapping company, and Trammell Crow, a Republican philanthropist committed to fighting climate change.  On a larger scale, Costa Rico, which already gets 80% of its electricity from renewable sources, is working to be carbon-neutral by 2021 through an incentive-driven plan that will focus largely on the transportation sector, its largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

The CEO of Deepwater Wind, the company that developed the first offshore wind farm in the U.S., said Monday the company is beginning the next, larger phase of development for offshore wind farms to supply power to Rhode Island and Connecticut, to Long Island, NY, and to Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  Meanwhile, MAKE Consulting has projected that onshore wind turbine size and capacity is on track to continue increasing at a steady pace, while offshore equipment will grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years.  Illustrating that nothing is foolproof, Britain is experiencing a “wind drought” that has reduced output from its wind turbines by around 40%.

The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state regulators erred in rejecting the proposed 780-mile Grain Belt Express electricity transmission project from developer Clean Line Energy.  The project would cross Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana to distribute Kansas wind power as far as Indiana and beyond.  Meanwhile, Duke Energy cancelled an RFP for Midwest wind energy because the price of the electricity was too high, presumably because of a lack of transmission options.

Last week I provided a link to a study arguing the likely demise of nuclear energy in the U.S.  Now, Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Rhodes has argued that nuclear energy must be a part of the energy solution.  In addition, David Roberts has analyzed the utility of natural gas as a bridge fuel to totally renewable energy.

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 7/13/2018

Policy and Politics

On Monday, President Trump nominated Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to fill the vacancy created on the U.S. Supreme Court by the resignation of Justice Anthony Kennedy.  Writing in The New York Times, Brad Plumer evaluated what his impact on environmental law is likely to be should he be confirmed.  Likewise, Robinson Meyer wrote in The Atlantic about Kavanaugh’s environmental opinions while serving as a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, where he has served since 2006.  Also on Monday the EPA sent its proposed replacement for the Clean Power Plan to the White House for review.  Amanda Paulson and Mark Trumbull of The Christian Science Monitor speculated about why it did so in the context of changes that have been occurring at the Agency.

California law requires that the state’s greenhouse gas emissions return to 1990 levels by 2020.  The California Air Resources Board announced that the goal has already been met; in 2016, in fact.  A centrist Democratic group, New Democracy, says the party’s climate and energy strategy should offer a vision that embraces the nation’s fracking boom alongside renewables and efficiency.  Meanwhile, the latest iteration of the twice-yearly survey conducted by the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College has found that 73% of people in the U.S. now think there is solid evidence of global warming and 60% believe that the warming is due, at least in part, to human influences.  Exxon Mobil said on Thursday it has ended its association with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has written an expert court report that forcefully supports a group of children and young adults who have sued the federal government for failing to act on climate change.

Bryce Oates had a very interesting essay in Civil Eats entitled “In Farm Country, Grappling with the Taboo of Talking about Climate Change.”  I highly recommend it because it provides information that may lead to a better understanding among nonfarmers of some in the farm community.  Another interesting essay appeared in Nautilus.  It was written by Mark L. Hineline and is entitled “Is Fixing the Climate Incompatible with American Ideals.”  On the subject of essays, former BP CEO John Browne made the case in Bloomberg Opinion for why the big oil and gas companies have a role to play in the energy revolution.  Dana Nuccitelli addressed the impact of climate change alarmists in contrast to climate change deniers.  Finally, World Resources Institute’s Liz Goodwin wondered if people will wake up to food waste in the same way they have waked up to plastic waste.

Climate

Scientists are finding that temperature affects the adult size of a variety of species, with higher temperatures being associated with smaller body size.  Although the exact consequences are unknown, it is possible smaller body sizes could have a number of impacts on species fitness, with a cascading effect through various trophic levels.  In addition, a study of sea birds revealed that the nutritional value of their prey, fish and squid, deteriorated during ocean warming events.  These are just two examples of the potential impacts of a warmer planet.  Another example of the complex interactions in nature that can be changed by increasing CO2 levels was revealed by a new paper in the journal Ecology Letters.  The authors studied the impact of rising CO2 on milkweed, the plant required for Monarch butterflies to reproduce, and found that beneficial chemicals produced by the milkweed decrease as CO2 increases, making the Monarchs more susceptible to an important parasite.

Nights have been warming faster than days.  Kendra Pierre-Louis and Nadja Popovich explained at The New York Times why that’s dangerous.  It particularly doesn’t bode well for those without air conditioning.  A new study published in PLOS Medicine found that during a heat spell, college students living in dorms without air conditioning scored between 4% and 13% lower than students in air conditioned dorms when tested on their response times and mental arithmetic shortly after waking up.  A new study, published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, illustrates another way to document changes in climate over time.  The authors selected 46 trees shown in television footage of the Tour of Flanders bicycle race in Belgium from 1981 to 2016.  The footage clearly showed that the trees budded and bloomed earlier each year over the period covered.

As Earth warms, it is important for people working outdoors to be mindful of the heat index, which combines temperature and humidity, to avoid heat stress.  A recent study revealed that severe heat stress, including death, can occur at a heat index of just 85°F, even though U.S. occupational safety standards warn that workers are at risk when the heat index reaches 91°F.

A new study, published in the journal Science Advances, found that in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, CO2 from microbial decomposition of soil organic matter is escaping into the air faster than plants are taking it back up.  Put another way, the soil microbes appear to be more temperature sensitive than the shrubs, suggesting that as Earth warms, the Arctic tundra will become a net contributor of atmospheric CO2, rather than a net sink.  Another paper, this one in the journal Nature Geoscience, examined the impact of melting permafrost.  The findings suggest that because of emissions of methane and CO2 from wetlands and melting permafrost, human-caused emissions will need to be cut by an additional 20% to meet the Paris Agreement’s limits of 1.5°C or 2°C temperature rise.

In the first of three articles in The New York Times’ Climate Fwd newsletter, Kendra Pierre-Louis wrote about the youth soccer players trapped in the cave in Thailand: “By now, it’s well known that their predicament was caused by rising floodwaters in the cave. What is less known is that the pattern of precipitation that ensnared them is in keeping with broader changes to the region’s seasonal monsoon that researchers have attributed to climate change.”

Energy

I’d like to start the Energy section this week with a gee-whiz article about a long shot energy technology that could provide an inexhaustible carbon-free power source.  The renewable fuel is ammonia (NH3) (yes, the fertilizer and cleaning agent) and the route to an “ammonia economy” is described well by Robert Service in this article from Science.  While full development has some ways to go, ideas like this are what give me hope for the future.

According to data released on Tuesday by the German Association of Energy and Water Industries, wind, solar, hydropower, and biogas met 36.3% of Germany’s electricity needs between January and June 2018, while coal provided just 35.1%, the first time this has occurred for such an extended period.  Here is an interesting idea from the UK: Use social media to turn energy conservation into a game and rewarding people monetarily for high achievement.

Pumped storage is a concept that has been around for a long time and has been used extensively at nuclear power plants to store excess energy at night when demand was low.  Now it is getting a second look as a means for storing solar and wind energy.  NPR’s Dan Charles recently visited the Bath County Pumped Storage Station owned by Dominion Energy in the Appalachian Mountains.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in early July examined the nuclear power industry in the U.S. and concluded: “Achieving deep decarbonization of the energy system will require a portfolio of every available technology and strategy we can muster. It should be a source of profound concern for all who care about climate change that, for entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy, over the next few decades.”  Likewise, according to the UK’s first “National Infrastructure Assessment”, published Tuesday by the National Infrastructure Commission, renewables can generate half of Britain’s power by 2030 without adding to consumer bills, potentially crowding out nuclear as a significant low carbon source of electricity.  Furthermore, the report concluded that the country can have low-carbon electricity, heat, and transport in 2050 at the same cost as today’s high-carbon energy system.

According to an in-depth article by Saqib Rahim at E&E News, the Trump administration has been very accepting of off-shore wind energy, leading him to speculate that by 2021 the U.S.’s first utility-scale off-shore wind project could be operational.  The question is, though, who will develop it, U.S. or European companies.  The latter have a lot more experience and see the U.S. East Coast as a new frontier after years of success across the Atlantic.

The average U.S. retail price of electricity is about 10.4¢/kWh.  Research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory examined the cost performance of utility energy efficiency programs, utilizing data from almost 8,800 programs across 41 states between 2009 and 2015.  They concluded that the average cost of saving electricity through efficiency programs was 2.5¢/kWh.

Investments in clean energy in India rose 22% in the first half of 2018 compared to the same period last year, while investments by China fell by 15%, according to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  At this rate, India is expected to overtake China and become the largest growth market by the late 2020s.  Nevertheless, it should be noted that absolute investment by China was much higher in the first half of 2018 at $58.1 billion, compared to India’s $7.4 billion.  In addition, globally, clean energy investment dropped 1% and totaled $138.2 billion in the first half of 2018.

Energy items of particular interest to Virginia readers:

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has accused the builder of the Mountain Valley Pipeline of environmental violations punishable by fines and repair mandates, saying the company’s failure to install and maintain erosion-control devices has fouled 8,800 feet of streams in six locations.  On the subject of gas pipelines, Columbia Gas Transmission has told federal pipeline regulators that a landslide was the apparent cause of the rupture and explosion of a new natural gas pipeline in Marshall County, WV, last month.

Augusta County Public Schools in Virginia has reached an agreement with Secure Futures Solar of Staunton to install 1.8 MW of solar panels on seven schools.  The panels will be owned by Secure Futures Solar and installed at no upfront cost.  The school district will buy the electricity generated under a power purchase agreement.  The “Solar Barn Raising” at Gift and Thrift in Harrisonburg, VA, got a nice shout-out on the Energy News Network.

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 7/6/2018

Policy and Politics

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned on Thursday.  Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, will serve as Acting Administrator until President Trump nominates a new administrator and the Senate acts on the nomination.  The Trump administration has drafted a new proposal to regulate CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants, one that is far less stringent than the Clean Power Plan.  The U.S. will fall far short of its pollution reduction goals under the Paris Climate Agreement, according to a new report from the Rhodium Group, a private market research firm.  Over 20 national and state conservative groups are urging the Trump administration to reject the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol that aims to reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants, which are potent greenhouse gases.  China’s CO2 emissions fell from 2014 to 2016 and might already have peaked, according to a study published on Monday in Nature Geoscience.  Ontario’s newly elected Progressive Conservative government announced on Tuesday it would end the province’s cap-and-trade program on CO2 emissions, fulfilling one of Premier Doug Ford’s election promises.

The four-day meeting of the Green Climate Fund collapsed with the abrupt resignation of the chairman and with no decisions on funding 11 proposals worth nearly $1 billion or on how to increase the main climate finance initiative’s dwindling resources.  China did not appear on a June 29 list of participants in the voluntary phase of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) deal, which requires airlines to limit their emissions or offset them by buying carbon credits.  Rhode Island on Monday became the first state to sue oil companies over the effects of climate change, filing a complaint in Providence/Bristol County Superior Court seeking damages for the costs associated with protecting the state from rising seas and severe weather.  David Hasemyer has provided a review of the major climate change lawsuits, indicating where they now stand.  Colorado has an innovative program of installing solar panels on the houses of low-income residents who have already had their homes weatherized, thereby lowering their energy costs even more.

Joseph Robertson, Global Strategy Director for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, had an opinion piece entitled “Declare energy independence with carbon dividends” in The Guardian and The Chicago Tribune had an editorial on the topic.  At Yale Climate Connections, Amy Brady interviewed Elizabeth Rush, author of Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore.  In the interview, Rush described her book as “a collaborative process where my responsibility was to the speakers and to their lived experience.”  Earther reported that Dulce, a ten-minute documentary short about climate change, is beautifully shot.  Architectural Digest had an interesting article about the ways architects are working to reduce energy use by buildings, which currently use 39% of the U.S.’s energy.

Climate

We are all aware that the northeastern U.S. went through a heat wave this past week.  So did Canada, where 33 people died in Quebec.  Climate Signals has reported that hot nights in the contiguous 48 states have been increasing, a sign that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations are driving the long-term trends in temperatures.  The U.S. is not alone in experiencing record high temperatures this summer.  So have many other parts of the world, including the UK, which has also been experiencing drought.

A new paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters explored the costs associated with sea level rise as the world warms.  If we miss the 2°C target, sea level would likely rise by 2.8 to 5.9 ft, with global annual flood costs without adaptation of $14 trillion to $27 trillion by 2100.

Carbon Brief had a guest post entitled “How use of land in pursuit of 1.5°C could impact biodiversity” by Prof. Pete Smith, a lead author on the IPCC’s forthcoming special report on climate change and land.  An important question to arise from their deliberations is whether and/or when to apply bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to achieve the negative emissions required to limit warming to 1.5°C.

In a report released on Thursday, Australia’s Climate Council warned that by the 2030s the Great Barrier Reef could see devastating mass bleachings as often as every two years unless greenhouse gas emissions are drastically reduced.  In addition, new research, recently published in Nature Climate Change, describes a series of sudden and catastrophic ecosystem shifts that have occurred recently across Australia.  These changes, caused by the combined stress of gradual climate change and extreme weather events, are overwhelming ecosystems’ natural resilience.

Raising cows and other ruminants has severe negative impacts on the climate.  Two articles this week reviewed ways to reduce those impacts.  One of the major problems associated with ruminants such as cows is that they belch copious quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.  Attacking the problem directly, scientists have discovered that adding a particular species of dried seaweed to cows’ feed can drastically decrease their methane production.  Another alternative is to eliminate animal production for food altogether by growing animal tissue (i.e., “fake meat”) in bioreactors in an industrial-scale facility.  Writing in Wired, Joi Ito reviewed the six levels of what he calls “cellular agriculture.”

Energy

Because of heavy rains and its inability to control runoff from construction sites, Mountain Valley Pipeline suspended work on the massive natural gas pipeline in Southwest Virginia.  On Tuesday environmental advocates filed a petition with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asking it to review a federal permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  The Virginia Supreme Court has upheld, for the third time, a hotly debated state law allowing natural gas companies to enter private property without landowner permission to survey possible routes for new pipelines.  Bills introduced by Virginia 9th District Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, to extend deadlines for the start of construction of hydroelectric projects at the Gathright Dam in Alleghany County and the Flannagan Dam in Dickenson County cleared the Senate last Friday, after the House passed them on June 12.

The Ohio Power Siting Board has recommended conditional approval of the $126 million “Icebreaker” six-turbine off-shore wind energy project in Lake Erie, proposed by the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp.  The project will be eight to ten miles northwest of downtown Cleveland.  The staff has included more than 34 conditions, including a bird and bat monitoring plan.  Recent studies have provided considerable information on minimizing the danger to birds and bats from wind turbines.

Swiss Re announced it is no longer providing re/insurance to businesses with more than 30% exposure to thermal coal across all lines of business.  It is joining other insurers that have decided to abandon investments in coal-based businesses and/or stop providing coverage for such risks.

A new paper in the journal Science Advances explored the possibility of storing CO2 in the unconsolidated sediment on the sea floor.  The researchers concluded that such storage was feasible, assuming that the subsea sediment remained intact and did not become fractured in the future.

Even though the UK government cancelled a large tidal energy project last week, there is still considerable interest in the idea.  Damian Carrington reviewed the large range of concepts currently under study for generating electricity with tidal power.  Fossil fuels supplied about 80% of the energy consumed in the United States in 2017, the lowest share since 1902, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy.

With more plug-in hybrids and EVs hitting the road, the question arises as to what to do with their batteries when they no longer have sufficient capacity to power the vehicles.  One answer is to apply them to less demanding tasks, such as energy storage in homes.  When they are no longer suited to that task, they can then be recycled and their elements recovered.  Also, because of the projected increase in EV sales, oil companies are eying EV charging as a way to maintain income as gasoline and diesel fuel sales drop.  The problem is, electric utilities also want that market, setting up a major competitive battle.

Pacific Gas & Electric is seeking approval for four energy storage projects totaling 567 MW/2.27 GWh. Among the four projects are two that would be the largest lithium ion batteries globally on their own and one that would be the world’s largest chemical battery.  Meanwhile, Chinese EV battery makers are frantically building lithium-ion battery gigafactories, including one that will be the largest in the world.

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.