Download Adobe Reader

Weekly Roundup 10-20-2017

The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending Oct. 20, 2017 follows.  Please forward the URL to anyone you think might be interested.

Policy and Politics

California recently enacted the Buy Clean California Act, which will serve as a first attempt to address the question of how best to handle the emissions imbedded in goods transferred over state lines or national borders.  The act requires the state to set a maximum “acceptable lifecycle global warming potential” for different building materials, such as steel, glass, and insulation, and prohibits the purchase of materials with imbedded emissions above that potential.  It is odd, therefore, that the oil produced in California has a carbon footprint almost equal to that of the oil from the Alberta tar sands.  Perhaps cleaning it up would have as big an impact as the Buy Clean California Act.  Speaking of California, five of the state’s biggest newspapers published editorials clearly connecting the dots between this year’s out-of-control wildfire season and climate change

Beginning on Nov. 6, representatives from the nearly 200 countries that signed the Paris Climate Accord will gather in Bonn, Germany, for the annual meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  The U.S. plans to send a small delegation, but what exactly they will do there is unclear.  In contrast to President Trump’s actions, at the opening of the Communist Party congress in Beijing on Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said China has taken a “driving seat in international cooperation to respond to climate change.”  DOE Secretary Rick Perry evidently wants the U.S. to drive backwards.  In response, eight former members of FERC, including five former chairmen, have filed a letter with the commission opposing his proposal that would give coal and nuclear power plants credit for resilience, so that they would have a better chance of beating solar, wind, and natural gas competitors.  EPA is also looking backwards, having removed dozens of online resources that could help local governments adapt to climate change.  Not to be outdone, GOP leaders in the House and Senate explored ways to expand drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) through budget rules that allow them to pass major policy changes on simple majority votes.  For example, on Thursday the Senate rejected an amendment that sought to block the Energy and Natural Resources Committee from raising revenue through drilling in ANWR.  Finally, if you wish President Trump would resign and let Mike Pence take over, you might consider that he was a strong proponent of the “No Carbon Tax” pledge that led to the scuttling of cap and trade legislation in 2009.

Seth Heald, Chair of the Virginia chapter of Sierra Club, wrote the cover article of the Nov./Dec. issue of Environment.  The subject is climate silence and moral disengagement, a problem that prevents us from having open and candid conversations about the impending climate crisis.  Upon reading it, my wife commented: “Best article I’ve read in a long time…”.  Peter Sinclair has another video at Yale Climate Connections, this one on climate change communication.

Climate

A new study, published in the journal PLOS One, found that the abundance of flying insects in nature reserves all across Germany has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years.  Although the cause of the decline is unclear, it is thought that climate change may have played a role.

Phoenix, Arizona’s, hot season — when temperatures exceed 100°F — starts an average of almost three weeks earlier than it did 100 years ago and lasts two to three weeks longer in the fall.  This has many people hurting and has the city working on ways to reduce the heat island effect, such as planting trees and painting roofs white.

A giant polynya, an ice-free zone surrounded by sea ice, with an area of almost 30,000 square miles appeared in September off of Antarctica.  Scientists are uncertain whether its appearance is related to climate change, but it is releasing a lot of heat from the ocean into the atmosphere.

In a moving piece in The Atlantic about Puerto Rico, author Vann R. Newkirk II wrote: ”Maria blew through the island in a matter of hours, but what was left behind wasn’t just traditional hurricane damage. The storm uncovered and intensified long-term environmental challenges that have long blighted Puerto Rico and now threaten its future.  And securing a viable future for the island will mean more than just rebuilding what was lost from the wind and rain—it will require addressing those challenges in sustainable ways.”  Writing at Yale Climate Connections, Bruce Lieberman reviewed ways in which Puerto Rico’s electrical system could be made more resilient.

According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, planting trees, restoring peatlands, and managing land better could play a major role in limiting global warming under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.  However, managing CO2 through forests can be tricky, as illustrated by the results of a NASA study.  During the 2015 El Niño event, atmospheric CO2 concentrations surged because of increased emissions from three tropical forest regions, each of which responded to the rising temperatures in very different ways.  But then, there are some who argue that increased CO2 levels will be beneficial because of its stimulatory effect on plant growth.  The bulk of evidence, however, suggests that increased temperatures and altered rainfall patterns will result in a net negative effect.

Solar radiation management (SRM) is a very controversial form of geoengineering to manage climate change.  Most research being done on it is happening in wealthy nations, but now a fund is being set up to provide grant money to scientists in developing nations to investigate the potential impacts of SRM on their countries.

Energy

Even though the number of people without electricity around the world has shrunk by 600 million since 2000, over a billion people still lack access.  A new report on energy access by the International Energy Agency has found that the number will shrink by a third by 2030, with 60% being supplied by renewables.  If the world commits to universal access by 2030, 90% of the additional two-thirds will be supplied by renewables.

On Wednesday, the world’s first floating offshore wind farm began delivering electricity to the Scottish grid.  The 30 MW installation will be coupled with a 1MWh lithium-ion battery to help regulate power delivery and optimize output.  The wind farm employs several innovative technologies, both in the anchoring devices and the turbines.  On a related topic, you’ve heard of the Jones Act and the necessity to wave it to expedite emergency relief to Puerto Rico.  Now Emma Foehringer Merchant has written about how it is hindering development of the U.S. offshore wind industry.  In a rather poetic essay, Paula Cocozza explored various aspects of the wind and our attempts to harness it.

Solar panels have proliferated in California, flooding the grid with power in the middle of the day when the sun’s out, and then quickly vanishing after sunset.  This making it increasingly difficult to maintain the reliability of the transmission system.  Now First Solar Inc. has proposed a pricing scheme that it claims will help solve the problem.  On the subject of solar panels, ConnectDER is a new technology that allows rooftop solar panels to be connected to the grid without the installer having to enter the home and rework the service panel, thereby reducing installation costs.

On Monday of this week, the U.S. State Department approved a permit covering a three-mile segment of Enbridge Inc’s Line 67 crude oil pipeline, allowing the company to nearly double capacity of the Alberta Clipper pipeline.  An Indigenous activist from the Secwepemc Nation in central British Columbia was in Europe this week to deliver a message to European banks based on a report by the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade.  She warned that the Secwepemc Nation will oppose expansion of the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline through their “unceded” territory.

A new study, published on Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, used airplane surveys to measure methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure in two regions in Alberta, Canada.  It found that the oil and gas industry could be emitting 25 to 50% more methane than previously believed.  According to energy experts at UK-based Wood Mackenzie, world demand for gasoline will peak by 2030, thanks to the impact of electric cars and more efficient internal combustion engines.

On several occasions I have provided links to articles about battery chemistries that are alternatives to lithium-ion.  Writing for Greentech Media, Jason Deign explored the possibility that the huge size of the lithium-ion infrastructure will make it impossible for alternative technologies to survive in the marketplace, even when they are less expensive, technologically superior, and more environmentally friendly.

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus