Download Adobe Reader

Weekly Roundup 9-16-2016

Your Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending September 16, 2016 follows.  Please share it with anyone you think might be interested.  

If you’re a fan of Tom Toles, the political cartoonist for The Washington Post, you may be interested to know that he and climate scientist Michael Mann have written a book entitled The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.  The book is liberally illustrated with Toles’ great cartoons about climate change.  They also have a piece in the Post about “The Deniers Club.”

Writing on Think Progress, Natasha Geiling reports on the likely impacts of Donald Trump’s economic plan, released on Thursday, on the climate.  A consortium of scientific organizations compiled a list of 20 questions about science, engineering, technology, health and environmental issues for the four presidential candidates.  Scientific American has compiled and published their answers.  Section 3 deals with climate change.

Climate

August has tied July for the distinction of being the hottest month since record-keeping began in 1880, NASA said in a news release on Monday.

Polar bears use sea ice as their main hunting grounds, waiting near the edge and grabbing seals as they surface for air.  A new study in the journal The Cryosphere helps explain why the bears have been having a difficult time.  It turns out that there has been a decline in the number of ice-covered days in every region of the Arctic where the bears live.  In fact, 2016 turned out to be tied with 2007 for second place in minimum ice extent.  On a related note, scientists at a Russian weather station on Troynoy Island, north of Siberia, have driven away 10 adult polar bears and a number of cubs that had besieged them for two weeks.

I put in articles last week on the impacts of climate change on the Louisiana rains and subsequent flooding.  Establishing the connection was possible because of advances in attribution studies.  Graham Readfearn discusses attribution studies and summarizes some recent results.

A coalition of 25 military and national security experts has warned that climate change poses a “significant risk to US national security and international security” that requires more attention from the US federal government.

Wheat is the single most important grain crop in terms of human consumption.  Thus, it is a concern that a new study, published in Nature Climate Change, finds that projections using three different techniques all agree that rising temperatures are going to be bad for wheat production.  An important caveat is that there may be offsetting factors, such as increasing CO2 levels, that reduce some of the impacts of temperature.

Barrow, Alaska is the northern-most town in the U.S., but it and the villages surrounding it face dire consequences as a result of rising seas, melting permafrost, beach erosion, and other changes associated with rising temperatures.  It is becoming apparent that it is only a matter of time before the town and villages must be moved.  Who will pay?

Energy

Laurens Electric Cooperative commemorated South Carolina’s first community solar farm on Tuesday.  It has a capacity of 108 kW, or enough to power around 27 homes.

South Carolina Electric and Gas is working with a private firm to develop a 10 MW solar farm in Jasper County.

The first sentence to a new post on Bloomberg Markets reads: “Rooftop solar, which has surged more than 1,000 percent since 2010, will barely grow at all next year.”  Residential installations are expected to only grow by 0.3% as utilities push back against mandates to buy the electricity and shifting tax policies curb demand.  Nevertheless, “America Has Seen 11 Consecutive Quarters with More Than 1 Gigawatt of Solar PV Installed,” although only about a third of that was residential.

The British government has approved construction of the Hinckley C nuclear power plant, which will supply 3.2 GW of electricity.  The proposal to build the plant has been highly controversial, from technical, economic, and national security perspectives because of the heavy involvement of China and France in the project.  In a piece posted July 28, Simon Evans of Carbon Brief provided extensive background information about Hinckley C in a Q & A format.  I have included this material because of the relevance of the economic and technical issues to new nuclear power plants in the U.S.  In addition, Debbie Carlson reviews the status of nuclear power in the U.S. for Guardian Sustainable Business.

A new report on world energy investments by the International Energy Agency looks at the global transition to a low-carbon energy system and finds a mixture of good news and bad news.  The good news is that “Wind, solar PV and electric-vehicle investments are broadly on a trajectory consistent with limiting the increase in global temperature to 2°C.”  Beyond that, things don’t look so good, particularly for investments in nuclear, carbon capture and storage, and alternative means of fueling transportation.  As Chris Mooney sums it up: “It all leads to a picture in which we are beginning to realize that while wind and solar and electric cars are great, they may also be the easy part.  We still have a great deal more to grapple with before we can get climate change under control.”

Because methane is a potent greenhouse gas, any climate benefits from shifting electric power generation from coal to natural gas (of which methane is the main component) depend on our ability to minimize fugitive methane emissions from natural gas drilling, collection, distribution, and storage operations.  Currently, the extent and trajectory of methane fugitive emissions are uncertain and a new study adds to that uncertainty.  Unlike some recent studies, it finds that methane leakage from fossil fuel activities was largely flat from 1984 until about 2000, and then increased sharply from that point on.

Wind energy is expected to contribute more to electricity generation as the country expands its renewable energy portfolio.  Thus, it is encouraging that a new study published in Nature Energy has found that costs are expected to decline, primarily as a result of larger turbines.  By 2030, the research finds, the average onshore wind turbine is expected to stand 115 meters tall (from the ground to the “hub,” where the rotor attaches) and to have a rotor diameter of 135 meters, generating 3.25 MW of electricity. Offshore turbines are expected to be even larger, at 125 meters tall with an average rotor diameter of 190 meters, generating 11 MW.  Relatedly, the Departments of Energy and the Interior released on Friday of last week a strategic plan to develop a national offshore wind industry

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus