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Weekly Roundup 10-21-2016

Your Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending October 21, 2016 follows.  Please forward the link to anyone you think might be interested. 

There will be no Roundup next week.  The next will cover the week ending November 4.

Grist’s Ben Adler interviewed Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief John Podesta about her commitment to fighting climate change.

Climate

Its official, September was a very hot month.  NASA has it coming in as the hottest September since record keeping began, but only by 0.004°C, which means it is essentially tied with September 2014.  NOAA, on the other hand, has it coming in second, 0.04°C below September 2015.  Both NASA and NOAA project 2016 to be the hottest year on record.  Jason Samenow of the Capital Weather Gang has interesting comments about the records.  In addition, John Abraham has plotted the projected 2016 surface temperature on a graph showing both global temperatures from the four major data sets and projections from modeling.

Typhoon Haima, with sustained winds at 160 mph, became the fifth super typhoon of 2016 on Tuesday morning.  It made landfall in the Philippines on Wednesday, just days after another major storm, Typhoon Sarika, which was category 4.  Haima is the seventh category-5 equivalent of the year, globally.  Meanwhile, a study published in Nature Geoscience has found that over the past 37 years, typhoons that strike East and Southeast Asia have intensified by 12–15%, with the proportion of storms of categories 4 and 5 having doubled or even tripled.

A report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that the global farming sector has a big role to play in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to future climate change.  According to Rob Voss, director of FAO's Agricultural Development Economics division, "If we continue along the present pathways then we will not be able to [deliver] food security around the world and we will not be able to stabilize the climate."  In addition, the report states that “meeting the goals of eradicating hunger and poverty by 2030, while addressing the threat of climate change, will require a profound transformation of food and agriculture systems worldwide.”

Prior to a global conference on the world’s cities this week in Quito, Ecuador, the UN declared that the fight against climate change “will be won or lost in cities."  That is because they are disproportionately responsible for the planet’s emissions. While they cover less than 2% of Earth’s surface, they contain more than half of the world’s population, consume 78% of its energy, and produce 60% of its CO2 emissions.  Furthermore, it is expected that two-thirds of the global population will reside in cities by 2050.

Elizabeth Kolbert visited Greenland and had this to say in an article in The New Yorker: “In recent years, as global temperatures have risen, the ice sheet has awoken from its postglacial slumber.  Melt streams like the Rio Behar have always formed on the ice; they now appear at higher and higher elevations, earlier and earlier in the spring.  This year’s melt season began so freakishly early, in April, that when the data started to come in, many scientists couldn’t believe it. ‘I had to go check my instruments,’ one told me.  In 2012, melt was recorded at the very top of the ice sheet.  The pace of change has surprised even the modelers.  Just in the past four years, more than a trillion tons of ice have been lost.”

America's top beef buyers have failed to tackle deforestation in South America despite some companies' pledges to source "deforestation-free" beef, according to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.  Unfortunately, slowing deforestation in Brazil is not an easy task, as evidenced by the recent killing of an environmental official working to stop the practice.

The Hampton Roads area of Virginia is second only to New Orleans in its susceptibility to impacts from sea level rise.  For example, according to Climate Central, 56% of sunny day flooding in the area can be attributed to sea level rise.  Those impacts are amplified by subsidence of the ground, due in part to pumping from the aquifer underlying the area.  Ted Henifin, general manager of the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, wants to counteract that by pumping treated wastewater into the aquifer to recharge it.  Not surprisingly, there are still several hurdles to be cleared before that can be done.  Speaking of the Hampton Roads area, a pilot study of another sort, the Hampton Roads Intergovernmental Pilot Project, was recently the subject of a meeting at the World Resources Institute.  The items discussed there are applicable to other coastal areas around the U.S.

Energy

Although it was a while coming, South Carolina is moving quickly on solar energy, with a large increase in the number of panels installed from last year.  In addition, community solar will help low-income residents take advantage of solar energy opportunities.

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Lab have discovered a method for converting CO2 into ethanol, according to a paper in the open-access journal Chemistry Select.  Electricity is the energy source driving the reaction and the scientists have suggested that the reaction could be used as a way to store excess electricity from renewable energy sites.  Much work remains before that can be done, however, although it conforms well with the concepts of the Global CO2 Initiative.

The Tennessee Valley Authority completed the final power ascension tests and performance measures Wednesday morning to officially declare the Unit 2 reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant a commercial power plant.  It is the U.S.’s first new nuclear reactor of the 21st century, but it will likely be the last nuclear plant of its type built in the Tennessee Valley.  For example, at Idaho National Lab plans are underway to build a small modular reactor, which many see as the nuclear reactor of the future.  Meanwhile, in New York a lawsuit seeks to reverse a decision by the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to subsidize several struggling nuclear power plants.  Looking to the future, the dream of using fusion, rather than fission, to generate electricity just got a boost from a team at MIT that achieved the highest plasma pressure ever recorded on the last day of operation of their Alcator C-Mod tokamak reactor.

Last week I put in an item reporting that BP was not concerned about increasing penetration of electric cars into the automotive market and the subsequent impact on the demand for oil.  However, on Monday Statoil chief executive Eldar Saetre was much more pessimistic, telling an audience of industry executives that he expects oil demand to peak in the 2020s.  Rex Tillerson of ExxonMobil, on the other hand, expects global demand for energy to grow 25% over the next 25 years.  In addition, according to Fitch Ratings, batteries have the potential to “tip the oil market from growth to contraction earlier than anticipated.”  Nevertheless, many slimmed down “big oil” companies are poised to make money when crude oil prices increase.

Wind power is having a big impact on the European electricity system, with rapid expansion of both on-shore and off-shore wind farms.  In part, this has been driven by advances in turbine technology, with current off-shore turbines having a capacity of 8 MW, compared to 2 MW just a few years ago.  The main limitation on wind energy is an inadequate grid to transfer the electricity generated to the places where it is needed.  Since the U.S. is far behind Europe in deploying wind farms, perhaps we will be able to learn from the problems they have faced.

The Iceland Deep Drilling Project is attempting to drill down 5 km (3 miles) to tap the energy from supercritical steam that has been formed when intruding sea water contacts magma in an extension of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.  A well that can successfully tap into such steam could have an energy capacity of 50 MW, compared to the 5 MW of a typical geothermal well.

Scotland is moving forward with the world’s first large-scale tidal energy facility, which will be off the northernmost tip of Scotland, in an area called the Pentland Firth.  The project promises to provide carbon-free electricity with much greater predictability than is possible with wind turbines and is being built in phases, with the first four turbines expected to be in place by the end of this year.

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus