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Weekly Roundup 3-17-2017

Your Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending March 17, 2017 follows.  Please forward the URL to anyone you think might be interested. 

Political news continues unabated.  The President unveiled his budget proposal for 2018.  Luckily, this is more of a philosophical statement than a concrete budget proposal because it is a disaster for science at all levels, as can be seen in this departmental-level summary.  Commentary can be found in the following for EPA, NOAA, NASA, and DOEThe Washington Post had a summary of all climate-related cuts while Climate Central analyzed the impacts on energy programs and Bloomberg Politics documented all of the independent agencies and programs that would be eliminated.  Finally, Science presented reactions from a number of sources.  As you read about the budget, remember that Congress controls the purse strings.  Last week I linked to an article about former staff of Senator James Inhofe joining Scott Pruitt’s staff at EPA.  This week, Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis had more information about that in The Washington Post.  Meanwhile, according to Reuters, the Trump administration has been contacting U.S. energy companies to ask them about their views on the Paris Climate Accord.  In addition, President Trump vowed to reopen the review of the 2025 CAFE standards for autos and light trucks while meeting with auto executives in Detroit.  Earlier in the week, the auto industry filed suit against the EPA to overturn their final determination last year on the standards.  Nevertheless, the leaders of two dozen Fortune 500 companies and roughly 1,000 others signed a letter addressed to Trump and Congress stating that “Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk” and scientists pushed back hard against the statements by Scott Pruitt about climate change.

On Wednesday, 17 House Republicans introduced a resolution that acknowledges the negative impacts of climate change and calls on the House to work on solutions for mitigation and adaptation.  You can read the resolution here

Climate

An important news article came out during the evening of March 9, but I missed it and didn’t include it last week.  Unfortunately, it is disturbing news; the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is undergoing another significant bleaching episode, which is unprecedented and could lead to widespread death of the coral.  As a consequence, a week-long survey of the entire reef is being done this week to better assess the extent of the current bleaching event.  Robert McSweeney at Carbon Brief has a good retrospective of the previous three bleaching events.  Also, this week the results of a study by an international team of scientists of prior bleaching was published in the journal Nature.  It concludes that the only way to save the reef is to stop global warming.  As if the coral bleaching wasn’t enough, Australia has also suffered from a massive die-off of mangrove forests, making their coastline more susceptible to erosion.

According to a new paper in the journal Science Advances, the extreme air pollution over Chinese cities is not just due to local emissions from their coal-fired power plants.  It is also due to climate change, which is causing Arctic sea ice to melt and snow falls to increase over Siberia, thereby altering winter weather patterns and making periods of stagnant air more common, trapping the air pollution.

Eleven national medical organizations have banded together to form the Medical Society Consortium on Climate Health to help accelerate the transition to a clean energy society.  Because doctors are seeing first-hand the impacts of climate change on people’s health, they thought it was important for them to speak out on the issue.  You can download their report here.  In addition to our physical health, climate change also impacts our mental health, as documented in this piece.

NOAA has announced that for the second year in a row, CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased at a rate of 3 ppm/year, bringing the level to about 405 ppm.  The rate of increase is the highest ever recorded.  Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency announced that global energy-associated CO2 emissions were constant for the third year in a row.

One side effect of a more global economy is a greater role for aviation, from rapid transport of critical products to increased tourist travel.  Many passengers have been concerned about the carbon footprint of their air travel, causing them to buy offsets for the emitted CO2.  A bigger problem, however, lies in the other emissions, which can have an impact on climate change several times greater than that of CO2.  Jocelyn Timperley has provided an “explainer” about those emissions at Carbon Brief.  Meanwhile, a new paper in the journal Nature reports that during cruise conditions jet aircraft burning a 50:50 blend of traditional jet fuel and biofuel produced 50–70% fewer particles, which are part of the “other emissions” problem.

A new study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that between 30 and 50% of the decline in summer sea ice in the Arctic since 1979 may be due to natural processes, with the remainder (50 to 70%) due directly to human-caused global warming.  The natural process of most importance is the air circulation over the Arctic, which helps distribute the heat associated with increased greenhouse gases.

Energy

Another example of innovation in energy storage comes from Germany where the state of North-Rhine Westphalia will turn the Prosper-Haniel coal mine into a 200 MW pumped-storage hydroelectric facility when it closes in 2018.  They will build a water reservoir on the surface above the mine.  When wind turbines and solar farms cannot produce enough electricity to meet demand, water will flow from the reservoir down shafts to a depth of 3,300 ft where it will turn turbines to generate the needed power before flowing into old mine tunnels.  Then when the wind turbines and solar farms are producing more electricity than needed, the excess will be used to pump the water back to the surface.  Would this work in southwestern Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and other Appalachian states?  Speaking of energy storage, will Tesla solve South Australia’s energy crisis with 100 MW of batteries?

The American Wind Energy Association in partnership with Navigant Consulting has issued a report examining the impacts of wind energy on the U.S. economy.  At the end of 2016 the wind industry had an installed capacity of over 82,000 MW and is expected to install another 35,000 MW and drive $85 billion in economic activity over the next four years.  Avangrid Renewables, the Spanish energy conglomerate that was the developer and operator of the Amazon Wind Farm in North Carolina, has won the lease to build an off-shore wind farm 24 to 49 miles off the coast of North Carolina near Kitty Hawk.

The mayors of thirty cities jointly asked automakers for the cost and feasibility of providing 114,000 electric vehicles for a variety of applications from police cruisers to street sweepers.  The intent is to provide electric vehicle manufacturers with reliable demand in the face of Trump administration policies.  Meanwhile, a quiet battle is going on at the state level over incentives for buying an electric vehicle and China is considering decreasing its quotas for electric vehicles required of its domestic car manufacturers.

U.S. rooftop solar installations increased 19% in 2016, which looks good until you consider that the average growth rate year-over-year from 2012 to 2015 was 63%.  Several factors were responsible for the decline, but the national solar association expects to see continued growth in both utility-scale and rooftop solar installations.  One driver of demand for both wind and solar is expected to be power purchase agreements with corporate users, according to Moody’s Investors Service.  On the subject of solar, a new study from the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, called Consumer Driven Technologies, found that 80% of survey respondents were willing to forgo net metering provided the excess electricity they produced from their residential solar PV system went to their communities to provide clean energy for everyone.  Unfortunately, in India the promise of solar power has not been met as attempts at using distributed electricity in rural villages via solar panels and batteries have fallen prey to theft and equipment failure.

President Trump’s budget proposal includes funds to restart the licensing for Nevada's Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, although Nevada lawmakers pledge fierce opposition to it.

A new study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology examined methane leakage from gas-fired power plants and refineries.  It found that methane leakage was 2-120 times higher for power plants and 11-90 times higher for refineries than calculated from data provided by facility operators.

On several occasions, I have provided links to articles about the difficulty developers of electrical transmission lines are having acquiring right-of-way for their projects.  This is essentially stranding renewable energy generated in the west or Midwest, preventing it from getting to markets in the east, where it is needed.  Now a new proposal to rejuvenate and electrify rail lines in the U.S. has as one component the use of the rail corridors as routes for electrical transmission lines.  The entire proposal is called Solutionary Rail.

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus