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February 03 2014

16:20

17 Foundations Divest from Fossil Fuels

Seventeen U.S. nonprofit grantmaking charities have announced they are divesting from fossil fuel investments.  For those new to this world, foundations are typically funded by endowments created by a benefactor or family legacy.  These funds are invested, usually in a combination of mutual funds, stocks, hedge funds and bonds.  The foundations distribute a portion of the profits as grants and use the rest to pay for operations and reinvestment into the endowment.

17 foundations are divesting their holdings away from dirty energy companies. Will the fossil fuel divestment movement grow to have real impact in our energy economy?As even the most novice investor would tell you, there are many different strategies for investing.  However, there is a growing belief that we can do good with our money by choosing investments wisely.  By investing in companies that are doing good, we are furthering our own values; be they social, environmental or community-driven.  By selling our shares in companies we perceive to be harming things we believe in, we can have a different kind of impact.  The latter strategy is called “negative screening” and the former “positive screening”.

Negative screening has been in the news a lot lately, in the form of prominent investors “divesting” in particular companies or funds.  350.org, perhaps the most notable grassroots organization fighting against climate change, has led the charge against institutional investments in fossil fuels and other environmentally harmful industries.

Named for the maximum safe concentration of carbon in the atmosphere (350 parts-per-million), 350.org has organized over 500,000 people globally in the fight against global warming.  Their latest win is successfully convincing 17 major foundations it was worth shedding their investments in dirty companies.  350.org and their partner gofossilfree.org maintain a list of the top 200 companies that deal in dirty fossil fuels.

So what’s the big deal if 17 of the thousands of foundations choose to shift their money?  Collectively they manage $1.8 billion in assets.  Not much next to Warren Buffet.  But quite a hefty amount of money nonetheless.

There is a strong argument from traditional investment advisors that divesting in a particular company has very little (if any) impact on that company’s behavior unless it is a magnitude of dollars very few people control.  This may be true.  But at this point, we are early in the institutional divestment movement and every action sends a message.

Recent efforts to convince the largest institutional investors such as Harvard and Yale to divest in fossil fuels have failed.  But the popular opinion is quickly shifting about these dirty fuel sources.  Some major donors to university endowments have actually started placing restrictions on their funds, limiting them to clean and/or renewable energy investments only.  Now that’s putting your money where your mouth is.

Image credit: Seven Days VT

The post 17 Foundations Divest from Fossil Fuels appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

January 14 2014

22:25

An Uptick in US Greenhouse Gas Emissions as Utilities Use More Coal

Greenhouse gas emissions rise slightly in 2013

Finalizing its 2013 report on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects an increase of 2 percent for the year, the first in three years. Looking out over the longer term, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have been in a downtrend, one that the EIA expects will continue, with emissions from energy generation declining four out of the past six years since their 2007 peak.

2013 national greenhouse gas emissions will come in at slightly more than 10 percent below 2005 levels, according to an EIA press release, “a significant contribution towards the goal of a 17 percent reduction in emissions from the 2005 level by 2020 that was adopted by the current Administration.”

2013 uptick belies longer term downward trend


The EIA attributes 2013′s expected rise in carbon and greenhouse gas emissions to a small increase in coal consumption in the U.S. power sector. With U.S. natural gas prices coming off lows, electric utilities have been using more coal this past year.

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions reached a peak in 2007. Since then, utilities switching to cheaper natural gas from coal, along with growing use of non-hydro renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, helped drive U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to a historic low in April, 2012, when they were 12 percent below 2005 levels.

The EIA identifies key drivers of a changing U.S. energy landscape in its press release:

  • Weak economic growth in recent years, dampening growth in energy demand compared to pre-recession expectations;
  • Continuously improving energy efficiency across the economy, including buildings and transportation;
  • High energy prices over the past four years, with the exception of natural gas, since about 2010;
  • An abundant and inexpensive supply of natural gas, resulting from the widespread use of new production technologies for shale gas (i.e. fracking);
  • Power sector decarbonization since 2010, as natural gas and renewables displaced coal.

Though coal regained some market share among electric utilities in 2013, the EIA forecasts that the downtrend in national greenhouse gas emissions will continue.

Rising tide of renewables

Renewable energy supply continues to rise in the United States

In its latest “Short-term Energy Outlook,” the EIA predicts that emissions-free hydropower and non-hydropower renewables for electricity and heat generation will grow at a 4.7 percent rate in 2014. Use of hydropower to generate electricity and heat will rise 2.2 percent, while non-hydropower renewables will rise 6.1 percent.

U.S. installed wind power capacity will increase 8.8% in 2014 to reach some 66 gigawatts (GW). The EIA pegs growth in 2015 at 14.6 percent, with total installed capacity reaching 75 GW. Wind-driven electricity generation will increase 2.2% this year and 11.4% in 2015, accounting for over 5 percent of the national total.

EIA also foresees ongoing growth in capacity and use of electricity from utility and end-user solar photovoltaic and solar thermal energy sources.

The EIA doesn’t forecast “customer-sited” solar energy capacity or use, though it does expect this largest segment of the solar power market to continue to exceed that for utility-scale solar power in terms of capacity and use. The EIA does track and forecast utility-scale solar power capacity and use, however. The EIA projects that utility-scale solar will increase through 2014 and 2015, though it will account for just 0.4% of overall U.S. electricity generation.

Utility-scale solar power installations more than doubled in both 2012 and 2013, the EIA highlights. It forecasts the sector will grow another 40% or so between year-end 2013 and year-end 2015, “with photovoltaic (PV) capacity accounting for 85 percent of that growth.”

EIA also highlighted the commissioning of the 280 megawatt (MW) Solana solar thermal power plant in Arizona. Designed and built by Abengoa, Solana is the first utility-scale solar thermal, or concentrating solar, power plant to come online since 2007.

Solana is unique: it’s the only solar thermal plant in operation in the U.S. with integrated storage capacity, which enables the system to store and distribute electricity at maximum capacity for up to six hours. EIA expects more of these to come online in 2014.

All images courtesy of Energy Information Administration

The post An Uptick in US Greenhouse Gas Emissions as Utilities Use More Coal appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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November 19 2013

23:21

Energy, Climate Scientists Call for a Moratorium on Coal-Fired Power Plants

Energy and climate scientists call for a coal moratorium, saying unabated coal is the road to climate catastrophe

Coal Sunrise over Beijing

An international group of 27 prominent energy and climate scientists are calling for a moratorium on construction of new coal-fired power plants, a policy they say has become a global imperative if “climate catastrophe” is to be avoided this century.

Their call comes amid renewed efforts by coal and power utility lobbies “to portray ‘high efficiency low emissions coal combustion’ as a climate solution.” Global carbon emissions are set to hit another new record high this year, according to a report released earlier this week as UN climate treaty negotiators meet in Warsaw. Ironically, taking place at the same time in the Polish capital is the Coal and Climate Summit.

The assertion that coal combustion to produce electricity should be considered a “climate-friendly” power technology flies in the face of the facts, all good judgment, and, needless to say, any semblance of adhering to the “precautionary principle.” Agreeing to it would set humanity and ecosystems around the world firmly on course for global warming of 6°C (10.8°F) , according to the scientists.

That’s three to four times the 1.5-2°C cap (compared to pre-industrial era levels) and climate warming threshold world leaders agreed to at the UN’s climate treaty negotiations in Cancun in 2010.

On the road to climate catastrophe

The world’s known coal reserves contain more than 2,000 gigatons (Gt) of CO2. Burning or combusting these reserves “would dramatically overshoot the remaining global carbon budget of about 1,000 gigatons CO2. This comes on top of oil and gas reserves accounting for more than 1600 gigatons,” the scientists highlight in a press release.

“The current global trend of coal use is consistent with an emissions pathway above the IEA’s 6°C scenario. That risks an outcome that can only be described as catastrophic, beyond anything that mankind has experienced during its entire existence on earth,” the scientists state.

Source:

Source: “New Unabated coal is not compatible with keeping
global warming below 2°C”

“The IEA’s medium-term coal market report (IEA, 2012) projects a further expansion of coal use that is even higher than IEA’s own 6DS scenario for 6°C warming in the long-term,” they elaborate.

“The 6DS scenario assumes around 4°C warming by 2100 (Schaeffer and Van Vuuren, 2012). As the Secretary General of the OECD warns: ‘Without CCS, continued reliance on coal-fired power is a road to disaster. (OECD, 2013)”

Source:

Source: “New unabated1 coal is not
compatible with keeping
global warming below 2°C”

“We are not saying there is no future for coal”, added Professor P.R. Shukla of the Indian Institute of Management, “but that unabated coal combustion is not compatible with staying below the 2°C limit, if we like it or not.”

Following is a short list of the main points of the climate and energy scientists’ statement:

  • Unabated coal is not a low carbon technology
  • Avoiding dangerous climate change requires about 3/4 of known fossil fuel reserves to stay underground
  • Current trends in coal use are harbouring catastrophic climate change
  • To keep global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial, use of unabated coal has to go down in absolute terms from now on
  • Alternatives are available and affordable
  • Public financing institutions and regulatory agencies are reining in unabated coal, but more is needed to prevent new unabated coal to be built

False claims, Sustainable energy scenarios

The group of scientists also noted that “false claims about ‘high-efficiency coal’ as a low-emissions technology” were made by the World Coal Association (WCA) in their recently released Warsaw Communiqué. In it the WCA “calls for ‘the immediate use of high-efficiency low-emissions coal combustion technologies as an immediate step in lowering greenhouse gas emissions.”

Contrary to such assertions, Dr Bert Metz, former Co-Chair of the IPCC’s Working Group on Climate Change Mitigation, stated,

“New or retrofitted coal plants without CO2 capture and storage will have a life time of 40-50 years. We need to dramatically reduce emissions over the next 40 years. That is not possible with unabated coal.”

“Alternatives to fossil fuels are already available and affordable. It is therefore up to the coal industry to show that coal-fired plants with CCS can compete with other zero carbon options.”

The scientists welcomed the growing number of prominent multilateral and international financing institutions and regulatory agencies, including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the U.S. Ex-Im Bank, to curtail or “rein in unabated coal.” Much more action is needed, and now, however, they added.

As Professor William Moomaw of the Fletcher School, Tufts University, USA pointed out:

“The trend of future coal use is changing rapidly. The World Bank, US development assistance and the US Import-Export Bank will no longer finance or support new unabated coal power plants internationally, except in rare cases.

“The United States Environmental Protection Agency has proposed carbon dioxide emission standards that rule out unabated coal power plants altogether. The European Investment Bank and Scandinavian countries have taken similar steps.”

Genuinely low-emissions alternative, renewable energy technology are readily available, competitive with fossil fuels, and continue to decline in cost, the scientists highlight. This stands out in stark contrast to trends in fossil fuels, which are increasingly costly in narrowly defined dollars-and-cents terms, and much more expensive over the long-term when their environmental, health and other socioeconomic costs, such as military interventions, are factored into the equation.

In their statement, the scientists lay out a range of alternative energy and emissions scenarios:

Source:

Source: “New unabated1 coal is not
compatible with keeping
global warming below 2°C”

For more on this topic, check out the scientists’ full statement on coal

 

Main and featured image credit: Shel Israel, courtesy flickr 

The post Energy, Climate Scientists Call for a Moratorium on Coal-Fired Power Plants appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

November 12 2013

20:19

Is Phasing Out Fossil Fuel Subsidies Even on the Agenda in Warsaw?

A sunny day in Beijing

A sunny day in Beijing

For all their potential promise, apparent earnestness and gravity – not to mention their possible effects and potential ramifications – it’s hard at times not to be cynical about high-level political negotiations. Such might be felt of the United Nations (UN) climate treaty negotiations which got under way this week in Warsaw, Poland.

People have good reason to be skeptical of the climate treaty process, not because global warming and climate change are based on faulty science or because viable options aren’t in hand, but because governments and societies around the world are so invested in fossil fuels that the thought that political leaders would collectively take aggressive action to phase out carbon and greenhouse gas emissions is nigh unthinkable.

Take, for example, that even as representatives from the 195 UN member nations party to the UN Framework on Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meet to establish the framework of an agreement to reduce global carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that G20 governments doled out $523 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel producers in 2011, the latest year such figures are available. What’s more, fossil fuel subsidies are rising, even as the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) just last week reported that global greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high in 2012.

To say such subsidies are counterproductive would be gross understatement. Perverse would be a better modifier. Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies would remove a perverse incentive that stands in the way of leveling the energy markets “playing field,” putting a true cost on carbon in an attempt to address global warming and climate change.

Releasing a report entitled Time to change the game: Fossil fuel subsidies and climate, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) documents “the scale of fossil fuel subsidies and sets out a practical agenda for their elimination in the context of the global goal of tackling climate change.”

Climate treaty negotiators convene in Warsaw

Against the backdrop of devastation in the Philippines caused by Typhoon Haiyan – reportedly one of, if not the largest and strongest, typhoon ever recorded – the 19th Conference of Parties (COP 19) to the UNFCCC is convening November 11-22 in (ironically enough) Warsaw, Poland, a nation with a government that has steadfastly resisted efforts to shift off coal and fossil fuels toward a more diversified energy mix centered on cleaner, renewable alternatives.

Convening at COP 19 in Warsaw over the next 11 days, representatives from the 195 UN member nations that are parties to the international climate treaty (the U.S. included) and the 192 that have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol (the U.S. excluded) will attempt to hammer out the framework of a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Full details of a new accord to reduce global carbon and greenhouse gas emissions are to be ready for signing by 2015 to go into effect in 2020.

Trying to make the negotiations as inclusive as possible, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) has become a major public event. At COP 19 in Warsaw, representatives of 195 UN member nations will be joined by a host of NGOs, civic groups, other public and private sector organizations, the press, and, more than likely, large numbers of demonstrators.

Enhancing the efficacy and credibility of global climate change action

The UNFCCC’s public credibility – not to mention its efficacy – would be greatly enhanced if the national governments party to the international treaty were to take one expedient, cost-effective step: eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, ODI asserts, and they are by no means the first to advocate taking such a step.

Source:

Source: “Time to change the game,” ODI, 11/2013

Straight from the executive summary of “Time to change the game: Fossil fuel subsidies and climate,” here are ODI’s key points:

  • Fossil fuel subsidies are expensive. They were at over $500 billion globally in 2011, and up to $90 billion in the OECD alone.
  • These subsidies are increasing and are a major obstacle to green investment, and seriously undermine attempts to put a price on carbon.
  • In developing countries the majority of benefits from fossil fuel subsidies go to the richest 20 percent of households.
  • Domestic and international support for fossil fuels dwarfs spending on health and education in a number of countries, and outstrips climate finance and aid.
  • Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies in G20 countries by 2020 (and globally by 2025), with proper safeguards for the poor, would enable the triple win of inclusive green growth.

Perverse incentives indeed, and the above is only a short list. According to ODI’s study, “international financial institutions (IFIs) also support carbon-intensive energy systems.

“Over 75 percent of energy-project support from IFIs to 12 of the top developing-country emitters went to fossil fuel projects. There has been no significant shift in this trend: in the last financial year alone (2012-13), the World Bank Group increased its lending for fossil fuel projects to $2.7 billion, including continued lending for oil and gas exploration (Oil Change International, 2013).”

As ODI goes on to state:

“If their aim is to avoid dangerous climate change, governments are shooting themselves in both feet. They are subsidizing the very activities that are pushing the world towards dangerous climate change, and creating barriers to investment in low-carbon development and subsidy incentives that encourage investment in carbon-intensive energy.

“Coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel of all, is taxed less than any other source of energy and is, in some countries, actively subsidized (OECD, 2013a). For every $1 spent to support renewable energy, another $6 are spent on fossil fuel subsidies (IEA, 2013).”

Following, in summary form, are the key actions ODI is urging G20 UNFCCC climate treaty delegates take in Warsaw:

  •  G20 countries use the Warsaw CoP meeting to agree a broad timeline for action
  • G20 governments call on technical agencies to agree a common definition of fossil fuel subsidies
  • G20 governments commit to phasing out all fossil fuel subsidies by 2020, with early action by rich-country members on subsidies to coal and to oil and gas exploration by 2015
  • that governments and donors work together to ensure that measures are put in place to protect vulnerable groups from the impact of subsidy removal.

Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies would be one of the most straightforward, cost-effective and effective steps world governments could take to address the profound threats and rising costs of addressing global warming and climate change. Will they muster the will and toughness to do so? Not likely, but one can at least hope for the best.

The post Is Phasing Out Fossil Fuel Subsidies Even on the Agenda in Warsaw? appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

October 29 2013

20:22

Phase-Out of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050 Technically, Economically Feasible

rosietheriveterCompletely phasing out net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 is not only technically feasible, but could be done at very manageable cost, according to a comprehensive study by Ecofys for the Global Call for Climate Action.

“It is technically and economically feasible to reduce emissions to zero for roughly 90% of current sources of GHG emissions with technological options that are available today and in the near future.” The remaining 10% of GHG emissions could be offset by enhancing carbon sinks, the Ecofys’ report authors conclude. The cost of doing so: around 5% of GDP per year.

Realizing this goal would effectively assure that mean global temperature would not exceed the 2ºC climate change tipping point theorized by the world’s leading climate scientists and agreed to by world leaders in the Copenhagen Accord of 2009. It would also improve the odds of keeping global mean temperature increase to 1.5ºC by the end of the century to 50%.

Phasing out GHG emissions by mid-century

Affecting the changes required to phase out net GHG emissions by 2050 would require globally coordinated action of unprecedented speed, scope and scale, the report authors rightly point out:

“Reducing net emissions close to zero by mid-century means fundamentally restructuring all of our economic sectors in the coming decades.”

“The energy system presents the greatest potential for emission reductions through efficiency savings and fuel shift,” the Ecofys report authors found. Use of fossil fuels for energy, transport, buildings and industry accounts for some 2/3 of global GHG emissions. The other 1/3 results from land use, raising livestock and industrial processes, they explain.

imageedit_3_5663497138

In their study, “Feasibility of GHG emissions phase-out by mid-century,” Ecofys modelled “several low emissions scenarios that result in (nearly) zero net GHG emissions by 2050…Thse are categorized as one of two types, reflecting two slightly different modelling approaches and resulting strategies:

  • Scenarios with (near) 100% renewable energy by 2050: These scenarios aim, at the outset, at a certain emissions target as well as a certain contribution of renewables. They find that 100% renewable energy by 2050 is possible. Saving energy is a key strategy in these scenarios because high efficiency facilitates an energy supply based almost entirely on renewable sources.
  • Scenarios with less than 100% renewable energy but carbon capture and storage (CCS): So-called integrated assessment models are commonly used to choose from different technological options to achieve a cost optimal global energy system within certain economic boundary conditions, e.g. very low emissions. Energy efficiency is modelled on a more generic level. Consequently, these scenarios result in a higher use of energy and a lower share of renewables. To still meet certain emissions targets, the models assume that carbon capture and storage (CCS), and possibly also nuclear power, are deployed on a large scale. The use of biomass with CCS enables these scenarios to sometimes reach net negative emissions in the second half of the century.”

The possible and the probable

While technically and economically feasible, the likelihood of such fundamental, globally coordinated change occurring is remote given current political, economic and social conditions and trends. While GHG emissions are on the wane in the world’s largest industrialized countries, including the EU and US, responsible for the bulk of anthropogenic GHG emissions in the atmosphere, they’re increasing by greater amounts in rapidly industrializing countries such as China and India.

Barring a series of climate-linked disasters, it seems clear that enacting anything remotely akin to a national strategic plan to phase out GHG emissions in the US would continue to be stymied in a Congressional quagmire of opposition and debate. For their parts, China, India and other large, emerging market economies are clearly unwilling to accept the uncertainty and take the risks of seeking to develop their economies and societies in ways that don’t require locking in their own dependence on fossil fuels.

In their report, Ecofys’ authors echo calls by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the conclusions reached in groundbreaking, comprehensive studies such as the “2010 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.” As the Ecofys report authors state,

“Initial steps taken to decarbonise need to be amplified drastically. The longer we wait to act, the more expensive change becomes. Whether a phase-out is politically feasible will be determined in the coming years.”

The post Phase-Out of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050 Technically, Economically Feasible appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

September 24 2013

15:30

More Wind & Solar Can Reduce Utility Costs and Emissions

renewable-energy-girlThose opposed to spurring development and adoption of renewable solar and wind energy resources continually assert that their intermittent nature not only reduces grid reliability and raises the cost of electricity, but negates the carbon and greenhouse gas emissions reductions that contribute so greatly to their rapid adoption in the first place.

While it’s true that bringing greater amounts of solar and wind-generated electricity on grids means utilities have to cycle more frequently – ramp down and ramp up or stop and start – fossil fuel generators to ensure a smooth, reliable flow of electricity, a study by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shows that the carbon emissions that result from cycling are negligible – less than 0.2% – of the carbon reductions realized by generating electricity from the sun and winds.

Not only that, but the research revealed that bringing “high levels of wind and solar power [on to the grid] would reduce fossil fuel costs by approximately $7 billion per year across the West, while incurring cycling costs of $35 million to $157 million per year.” That amounts to an increase in operations and maintenance costs of only $0.47-$1.28 per megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generation for the average fossil fuel power plant, according to a September 24 NREL press release.

How can this be?  The explanation lies in the fossil fuel costs utilities avoid by making greater use of solar and wind energy generation.

Avoiding fossil fuel costs, and pollution

According to Debra Law, the project manager for NREL’s study,

“Grid operators have always cycled power plants to accommodate fluctuations in electricity demand as well as abrupt outages at conventional power plants, and grid operators use the same tool to accommodate high levels of wind and solar generation.

“Increased cycling to accommodate high levels of wind and solar generation increases operating costs by 2% to 5% for the average fossil-fueled plant. However, our simulations show that from a system perspective, avoided fuel costs are far greater than the increased cycling costs for fossil-fueled plants.”

Besides determining that the carbon emissions associated with greater cycling of fossil fuel generating capacity is negligible (<0.2%) compared to the reductions from bringing wind and solar energy generation on to the grid, the NREL project team found that sulfur dioxide emissions reductions from wind and solar are 5% less than expected due to greater cycling of fossil fuel generators. Nitrogen oxide emissions reductions were 2% greater than expected.

This latest study, entitled “Phase 2 of the Western Wind and Solar Integration Study” (WWSIS-2), is a follow-up to NREL’s initial, May 2010 research into “the viability, benefits, and challenges of integrating high levels of wind and solar power into the western electricity grid.”

Source: Western Wind and Solar Integration Study, Phase 2; NREL

Source: Western Wind and Solar Integration Study, Phase 2; NREL

NRELchart_cycling_cost_system

Impacts of 33% renewable energy on the Western Interconnection grid

To calculate the emissions and cost of wear-and-tear, the NREL research team designed five hypothetical scenarios to examine generating as much as 33% of the U.S. portion of the Western Interconnection power system for the year 2020 from wind and solar energy. “This is equivalent to a quarter of the power in the Western Interconnection (including Canada and Mexico) coming from wind and solar energy on an annual basis,” the report authors explain.

The researchers’ model also assumes a future average natural gas price of $4.60/MMBtu – an optimistic assumption given the volatility and uncertainty inherent in natural gas prices – as well as “significant cooperation between balancing authorities, and optimal usage of transmission capacity (i.e., not reserving transmission for contractual obligations).”

Modeling the entire Western Interconnection power system at five-minute intervals for each year, the researchers found “that high wind and solar scenarios reduce CO2 emissions by 29%-34% across the Western Interconnection, with cycling having a negligible impact.”

The modeled reductions in sulfur dioxide (SO2) were 5% less than anticipated due to greater cycling, yet SO2 emissions would nonetheless be reduced by 14%-24% in the high solar and wind scenarios. Nitrogen oxide emissions would be reduced by 16%-22%, 1%-2% greater than expected. Added Lew,

“Adding wind and solar to the grid greatly reduces the amount of fossil fuel — and associated emissions — that would have been burned to provide power. Our high wind and solar scenarios, in which one-fourth of the energy in the entire western grid would come from these sources, reduced the carbon footprint of the western grid by about one-third. Cycling induces some inefficiencies, but the carbon emission reduction is impacted by much less than 1%.”

On average, it takes 4 MWh or renewables to displace 1 MWh of coal generation and 3 MWh of natural gas, according to the researchers, with the ramping up and down of coal-fired power plants having the biggest potential increase in terms of cycling.

Other key takeaways from the report include:

  • Because of sunset and sunrise, solar power creates the biggest ramping needs on the grid in this study. However, because we know the path of the sun through the sky every day of the year, system operators can predict these large ramping needs and plan accordingly. Solar variability due to fast-moving clouds is much less predictable, but it creates relatively smaller ramping needs.
  • Errors in day-ahead wind forecasts can make it challenging for operators to decide which power plants need to be online the next day. However, because forecast accuracy increases four hours ahead compared with 24 hours ahead, a four-hour-ahead decision on whether to start up those power plants that can be ramped up relatively quickly can help to mitigate these forecast errors.
  • Despite the differences between wind and solar in terms of grid operations, the study finds their impacts on system-wide operational costs are remarkably similar.

The post More Wind & Solar Can Reduce Utility Costs and Emissions appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

September 03 2013

18:09

A Roadmap of a Roadmap for a Sustainable, Fossil-Fuel Free Central America

Credit: Costa Rica News

Credit: Costa Rica News

A rapid transition to sustainable, fossil fuel-free Central American economies and societies powered and fueled entirely by renewable energy resources is not only technically possible and cost effective, but would be socioeconomically beneficial, according to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute, with support from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) and Costa Rica’s INCAE Business School.

Central American governments and societies continue to try to cope with, manage and address deep seated socioceconomic and environmental problems and improve overall living standards and quality of life for fast growing populations. While contributing little in the way of global greenhouse gas emissions (they’re in fact ‘frontrunners’ when it comes to renewable energy use), Central American countries – as is true for all nations around the world — are nonetheless increasingly challenged to address the effects and potential threats climate change and ecosystems degradation pose to their economies and societies.

Though unique in significant aspects, Central America can serve as a microcosm for the state of regional and global affairs when it comes to energy policies, markets, industry and investment, and their ramifications across societies and the ecosystems upon which they ultimately depend. While blessed with an abundance of untapped renewable energy resource potential, Central American governments continue to subsidize fossil fuels heavily. Energy policies, incentives and practices that lock in and assure ongoing fossil fuel dependence and more in the way of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions remain in place, increasing the threats and costs.

It doesn’t have to, and indeed should not, be that way, according to authors of “The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America.” Whether or not unaccounted for costs to the health and integrity of society and ecosystems are factored into policy and investment decisions, the high, and growing, costs of fossil fuel reliance are becoming increasingly clear and real. So are the benefits, and cost effectiveness, of making a rapid transition to complete reliance on a diversified mix of renewable energy resources.

A “Roadmap of a Roadmap” for sustainable energy, economies & societies

“The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America,” Wordlwatch Institute, CDKN, INCAE

The first phase of a holistic and comprehensive initiative to develop “a roadmap of a roadmap” for sustainable energy, economic and social development, “The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America,” assesses the status of renewable energy technologies in Central America, “scopes the improvements that need to happen with regard to the key components of a sustainable energy system and establishes the necessary methodology and groundwork for comprehensive national energy strategies,” Worldwatch explains in a press release.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Central America, long a frontrunner in hydropower and geothermal energy, is exploring its potential for expanding these technologies in a more sustainable manner while also developing other renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, biofuels, and agricultural waste. Costa Rica is leading the world in its ambition to be “carbon neutral” by 2021.
  • Still, as the economies of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama expand, use of fossil fuels is on the rise, while the use of fuelwood, primarily for cooking, continues to be unsustainably high.
  • Across the region, an estimated 7 million people still have limited or no access to electricity services. Renewables are the only convincing and affordable solution to provide underserved communities that are far from existing grids with access to modern energy services.
  • Central America’s non-hydro renewable electricity share is 13 percent, impressive when compared to the global average of only 5 percent. The urgent challenge for the region is to build on past successes and avoid locking in economically, socially, and environmentally costly fossil fuels for decades to come.
  • The potentials for renewables are enormous: Geothermal alone could satisfy nearly twice the region’s predicted electricity demand through 2020. Existing regional wind powerinstallations currently use less than 1% of the available resource potential. Solar and biomass have enormous potentials throughout the region.
  • Despite their sustainable energy ambitions and policy statements, the seven countries of Central America have been unable to comprehensively design, synchronize, and implement the program of work necessary to promote sustainable energy solutions to their full potential.
  • The full costs and benefits to society of specific energy development options remain unclear. What is evident, however, is that the region pays an enormous socioeconomic price for its reliance on fuelwood and imported fossil fuels.
  • Most Central American countries have been able to greatly improve their investment climate for sustainable energy. Still, powerful financial barriers remain, ranging from the unavailability of capital and the lack of human expertise, to investment insecurity and costly administrative processes.
  • Most countries in the region have concrete policy mechanisms in place for advancing renewables.These policies and measures, however, are not always sufficient to level the playing field with fossil fuels, which are subsidized (directly and/or indirectly) in all Central American countries.

Going beyond Levelized Cost of Energy

Source:

Source: “The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America,” Worldwatch Institute, CDKN, INCAE

The Worldwatch report authors devote a significant amount of time and effort in analyzing the comparative costs and benefits of renewable versus fossil fuel energy. They found that an increasing range of renewable energy resources are cost effective and yield greater and wider benefits whether they are evaluated on conventional levelized cost of energy (LCOE) terms, or broader, more holistic and comprehensive terms, using LCOE+, a methodology that factors in the effects of fossil fuel that are typically ignored, or shunted aside, for the public sphere to bear. As they note,

“A recent LCOE study of Central America by the World Bank compared geothermal, hydropower, and fossil fuel technologies and concluded that renewables are more cost competitive than fossil fuel energy sources.

“The report estimates the cost of geothermal power at 5–8.9 U.S. cents per kWh (kilowatt-hour) and the cost of hydropower at 7–8 cents per kWh. In contrast, for plants powered by heavy fuel oil, generation can beas high as 12–15 cents per kWh; costs of coal-powered generation are 10–11 cents per kWh.

They go on to highlight that,

“standard LCOE estimates still fail to include the true cost of energy due to externalities associated with power generation, as well as the market distortions caused by the heavy use of subsidies. In Central America, both fossil fuels and renewables currently receive subsidies,but the balance leans disproportionally in favor of fossil fuels despite their detrimental external costs.”

A methodology exists to account for these unaccounted for costs exists, however. “Extending the standard LCOE analysis to account for these externalities—through an approach known as LCOE+—can help address these missing factors. Te LCOE+ is an important tool for analyzing the real societal costs of fossil fuel energy and to demonstrate the actual cost gap between renewable and non-renewable electricity production.”

Making climate change mitigation and adaptation a core, strategic element of decision making across the government, public and private sector spheres is increasingly seen as an imperative. Similarly, extending current decision making frameworks and methodologies to account for the unaccounted for public, social and ecological costs of industrial and commercial decisions — as does LCOE+ — is imperative if climate change mitigation and adaptation is to be “mainstreamed.”

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July 29 2013

18:07

Enviro News Wrap: Young Americans Reject Denial; the Politics of Solar; Halliburton’s Slap on the Wrist, more…

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • Young people in America believe in science: when polled 73 percent say that global warming deniers are “crazy, out of touch and ignorant”
  • Solar energy is vulnerable to political attacks. Each state and local area has its own rules and laws that make solar possible. California has lead the charge for solar and also receives the most attacks, including a current round of attacks by lawmakers and conservative interests.  Despite the attacks solar is winning the battle in a dozen states.
  • Utilities hate solarmost utilities and their investors consider solar energy as a risk to their profit margins. Companies and investors respond in a big way when their bottom line is threatened. I just wonder if they will respond by trying to dominate the solar market or crush it.
  • After the Deepwater Horizon blew up in the Gulf of Mexico blew up in 2010 the three companies operating the rig – BP, Transocean and Halliburton – scrambled to prove their innocence and limit their liability. In that scramble Halliburton destroyed documents that were not favorable to their position. The truth has come out and now Halliburton has to pay for their crime, just a little though: three years of probation and a maximum fine of $200,000. A tiny drop in the bucket for the ginormous corporation. Certainly not enough to stop them from what they do best – profiting off of the destruction of the only environment we have.
  • Coal-fired power plants in Australia could be a thing of the past in Australia by 2040 if the current growth rate of the solar market doubles. Good luck Australia!
  • What does a hot America in 2100 look like? NASA is helping us conceptualize the future of global warming.
  • With the popularity of electric vehicles on the rise we need more charging stations. The growing pain of so many other industries, determining industry standards – in the case for charger standards – puts producers, designers, manufacturers – and consumers – at odds.
  • Climate change deniers claim that global temperatures have not increased for 15 years. The fact is that we had a really hot year 15 years ago, but that does not negate the upward trend of global temperatures in the past 50 years. It is sad that articles like this one by Benjamin Zycher push this lie and call it news.
  • China is trying to bring millions of people out of poverty and restore themselves as the superpower of the world. But, this is happening at the cost of their environment. If your economy is dependent on depleting the resources that provide the fuel for the economy then at some point you hit a breaking point.

 

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July 23 2013

21:25

Keystone XL: First Big Test of President’s Climate Change Action Plan

Keystone Tar Sands Pipeline: The destruction to communities and habitats outweigh the benefits of tar sands oil

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would transport liquefied bitumen from massive tar sands deposits in Alberta south through Midwest US watersheds and agricultural areas and on down to the Gulf of Mexico would significantly boost the carbon emissions that fuel climate change and thus fails to meet the criteria set out in President Obama’s recently announced National Climate Change Action Plan, according to a detailed analysis undertaken by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Just how polluting would Keystone XL be? The amount of additional carbon dioxide (CO2) that would be added to the atmosphere is staggering, even when compared to transporting conventional oil: Keystone XL would add as much as 1.2 billion metric tons more CO2 to the atmosphere over its 50-year life than if it were used to transport conventional oil. That’s more in the way of CO2 emissions than that pumped into the atmosphere by all the cars in the US in a year, according to an NRDC press release.

Looked at from another perspective, the additional CO2 pumped into the atmosphere by Keystone XL would offset all the reductions anticipated if all the new emissions reductions targets for heavy trucks and fuel efficiency set out in President Obama’s National Climate Change Action Plan were to be realized, NRDC says.

Keystone XL: Drawing a line in the Tar Sands

The Keystone XL pipeline project has become a key battle ground for those looking to literally and figuratively draw a line in the sand when it comes to just how far societies – Canada and the US specifically – will go to explore for and produce climate-changing fossil fuels. Pioneering climate scientist turned social activist Dr. James Hansen stated that exploiting the Athabasca Oil Sands would mean “it’s essentially game over” in terms of our chances of mitigating human-induced climate change.

Yet exploitation of Canada’s tar sands and other uncoventional fossil fuel deposits proceeds. In a recent Guardian article, environmental journalist Stephen Leahy provides an account of the Tar Sands Healing Walk recently organized by local First Nations’ community groups and international environmental activists including Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein.

Protecting the Sacred One Step at a Time – Tar Sands Healing Walk 2013 from Zack Embree on Vimeo.

Part and parcel of the Tar Sands Healing Walk, nearly 15,000 Canadians called on Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver and Alberta Premier Alison Redford to meet local community members being affected by Tar Sands exploitation face-to-face.

Conversely, NRDC estimates that 18.7 million-24.3 million metric tons per year of CO2 emissions would be avoided if the Obama Administration were to deny approval of Keystone XL. That, the environmental organization adds is “comparable to savings from new US heavy duty truck emissions rules – 27.4 million metric tons a year – and from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in New England the Mid-Atlantic – 11.9 million metric tons a year.”

Furthermore, denying approval of Keystone XL would greatly decrease the likelihood of further expansion of tar sands oil production, NRDC points out.

Tar sands expansion is not likely without the Keystone XL pipeline; the expanded development of tar sands oil it would drive; tar sands transportation alternatives such as other pipelines and rail; the destruction of peatland that naturally pulls carbon out of the air; and total new carbon pollution added to the atmosphere.

“Our analysis clearly demonstrates that the Keystone XL pipeline would dramatically boost the development of dirty tar sands oil, significantly exacerbating the problem of climate pollution,” director of NRDC’s international program Susan Casey-Lefkowitz was quoted as saying.

“Approve it, and our children’s future is jeopardized. Deny it, and we’ll avoid sending over a billion tons of additional carbon pollution into the air. The right choice is obvious: Keystone XL fails the president’s climate test and he should reject it to protect our national interest.”

The following is NRDC’s list of bullet points for its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project analysis, how and why it fails to meet the president’s National Climate Change Action Plan and other criteria, and hence why the State Dept. should deny approval of the project:

  • Over the project’s 50-year timeline, Keystone XL would add between 935 million and 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon pollution to our atmosphere. Today, the roughly 230 million cars on the road kick out about 1 billion metric tons of carbon pollution annually.
  • The extraction, production, and refining of tar sands oil is more carbon-intensive than conventional oil. The State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency both concluded that from the tar sands mine to the gas tank, tar sands emissions are 81 percent higher than conventional oil.
  • Keystone XL’s climate impact should be considered within the broader context of U.S. policy regarding high-carbon infrastructure. In addition to Keystone XL, the State Department is considering other tar sands pipeline projects that could increase carbon emissions by 16.2 million tons.
  • Due to limited refining capacity, Keystone XL is a necessary component of expansion of tar sands production – and its associated climate emissions. Because of refinery limits in the U.S. and Canada, Keystone XL is the only viable way to deliver tar sands oil to the Texas Gulf Coast to be refined and sold to overseas markets.
  • Export pipelines from the tar sands region are expected to reach capacity by 2014, and Keystone is the only major pipeline proposal for transporting bitumen in the near-term.
  • In the absence of pipelines, rail is not an economically viable alternative for heavy tar sands transport. The State Department was incorrect in its Draft Supplemental Impact Statement by asserting that tar sands development and transportation would happen regardless of whether Keystone XL is approved. Rail is expensive for tar sands crude, which is why it has been largely absent in the current crude-by-rail boom.
  • Industry and market opinion say Keystone XL is a linchpin for tar sands expansion.
  • Canada is not pursuing climate policy that would effectively counteract significant growth in greenhouse gas emissions, or meet its international climate target.

Main image credit: BPOffCampus.org

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July 11 2013

18:37

The Dangers of Transporting Fossil Fuels

Dangers of Transporting Fossil Fuels: A pipeline burns after an allision with tug boat Shanon E. Setton, near Bayou Perot 30 miles south of New Orleans, March 13, 2013. The Coast Guard is working with federal, state and local agencies in response to this incident to ensure the safety of responders and contain and clean up any oil that is leaking. (U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans)Recent events illustrate that fossil fuels cannot be safely transported. According to a Manhattan Institute report, petroleum production in North America is now nearly 18 million barrels a day, and could climb to 27 million barrels a day by 2020. The recent deadly explosion of rail cars carrying oil highlights the dangers associated with shipping petroleum. There are also very real risks associated with the transportation of fossil fuels, whether by train, truck, tanker, or pipe.

Rail

The shipping of fossil fuels by rail now accounts for only 3 percent of oil and gas shipments in the U.S., but these figures are rising dramatically. The Association of American Railroads reports that between 2008 and 2011 the total share of oil and gas rail shipments grew dramatically, from 2 percent of all carloads to 11 percent. As reported in the Washington Post, North America is increasingly shipping oil by train. Since 2009, the number of train cars carrying crude oil has increased nearly 20 times, to an estimated 200,000 in 2012. The Canadian Railway Association estimates that as many as 140,000 carloads of crude oil will be shipped on Canada’s tracks in 2013, up from 500 carloads in 2009.

Rail incidents release an average of 83,745 gallons of petroleum per year. The shipping of fossil fuels by rail shows an incident rate of 2.08 per billion ton miles per year. The fatality rate for operator personnel and the general public between 2005 and 2009,  averaged 2.4 people per year. The average spill volume of petroleum products shipped by rail is 3,504 gallons per billion ton-miles.

The tragic explosion of oil bearing rail cars early in July underscores the risks associated with transportation by rail. The explosion of oil cars that decimated the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killed 15 people, with dozens more still unaccounted for. At least 30 buildings were destroyed in the center of town, including the town’s library, irreplaceable archives and two thousand people were displaced from their homes (see video here). The Quebec disaster is the fourth freight train accident in Canada this year involving crude oil shipments.

Road

The shipping of fossil fuels by truck accounts for 4 percent percent of oil and gas shipments in the U.S. Trucking incidents release an average of 477,558 gallons of petroleum each year. Compared to other shipping modalities, truck transport of fossil fuels has highest rate of incidents, with 19.95 per billion ton miles per year. Trucking also has the highest fatality rate. The fatality rate for operator personnel and the general public between 2005 and 2009 averaged 10.2 people a year. The average spill volume of petroleum products shipped by truck is 13,707 gallons per billion ton-miles.

A dramatic illustration of the dangers of shipping fossil fuels by truck is illustrated by a 2010 explosion in the Congo where at east 204 people were killed when a tanker truck transporting oil flipped over and exploded (see video here).

Taken together train and truck transport are responsible for the majority of incidents (accidents and spills).

Tankers

Tanker and barge traffic accounts for 23 percent of oil shipments, according to the Manhattan Institute Study. While the dangers of shipping oil through rail and pipelines have received a lot of press, oil tankers are responsible for some of the largest oil spills in history. Here is a review of the three biggest tanker spills (quantities are measured in tonnes of crude oil with one tonne being roughly equal to 308 US gallons, or 7.33 barrels, or 1165 liters).

  1. The Odyssey was an oil tanker that spilled its load of crude oil 700 nautical miles (1,300 km; 810 mi) off Nova Scotia, Canada on November 10th, 1988. In total, it spilled an estimated 132,157 tons (43 million gallons) of oil into the ocean. An explosion caused it to sink and the resulting spill remains one of the largest oil spills in world history.
  2. The Exxon Valdez spilled 104,000 tonnes of oil in Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 24, 1989. It is considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters. The Valdez spill was the largest ever in US waters until the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in terms of volume released. The oil eventually covered 1,300 miles (2,100 km) of coastline, and 11,000 square miles (28,000 km2) of ocean.
  3. The MV Sea Empress was a single-hull oil tanker that ran aground near the southwest coast of Wales on February 15, 1996. A total of 72,000 tonnes of oil where spilled during the course of this incident. The ensuing oil spill affected a considerable area of nearby coastline, killing birds and soiling beaches.

Pipelines

Spills are an unavoidable corollary of oil pipelines. There are almost a half million miles of interstate pipelines that carry fossil fuels (crude oil, petroleum products, and natural gas) in the U.S. A total of 70 percent of crude oil and petroleum products are shipped by pipeline on a ton-mile basis in the U.S. Fossil fuel bearing pipelines are a safer alternative when compared to rail, truck and tanker, but this should not be construed to indicate that they are safe.

The dangers of fossil fuel pipelines is illustrated by a 2011 pipeline explosion in Nairobi, Kenya, where at least 120 people were burned to death when a pipeline burst into flames. More than 100 others were hospitalized.

In the U.S., between 1992 and 2011, oil and gas pipelines have caused 10,270 injuries and fatalities. The number of incidents has ranged from 339 in 1999, to 721 in 2005. Property damage has ranged from $53 million in 1995 to $1.3 billion in 2011.

A review of pipeline safety has obvious implications for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry tarsands bitumen from Alberta to Texas. TransCanada’s existing Keystone I pipeline, which would connect to the XL, has leaked 14 times in its first year of operation.

The Keystone XL pipeline can be expected to average almost 2 spills per year over the course of the fifty-year life of the Keystone line. Even TransCanada’s own conservative estimates indicates that it expects at least eleven spills over the life of the pipeline. Just one major spill on the Keystone XL pipeline could leak up to 1,000,000 barrels of oil, which could spread over thousands of kilometers.

Montana’s Yellowstone River oil spill by ExxonMobil released 63,000 gallons of crude into the local waterway and spread out over 240 miles. Early in July, 2013, almost two years to the day after the Yellowstone River oil spill, a gasoline pipeline outside of the small town of Lodge Grass on Montana’s Crow Indian Reservation spilled 25,000 gallons of gasoline. Over the last 20 years, there have been at least three spills from the 8-inch underground pipeline now owned by Phillips 66. In the same general area, the same pipeline spilled 2,300 barrels of gasoline in two separate spills in one week in 1997.

A significant portion of the Keystone XL pipeline will cut through Alberta. There are already over 399,000 kilometers of pipelines under the authority of the Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board.  Alberta’s pipeline network has spilled approximately 28,000 barrels (~4,452 cubic meters) equivalent volumes of liquid hydrocarbons every year since 2005. From 2006-2010, Alberta’s pipeline network leaked roughly 174,213 barrels of oil (~27,700 cubic metres). In 2010 alone, more than 21,000 barrels (~3,400 cubic meters) were spilled across the network.

In the last couple of years alone there have been some major spills in Alberta.  In 2011, 28,000 barrels (~4,452 cubic meters) of oil spilled on the Rainbow pipeline operated by Plains Midstream Canada near Little Buffalo, Alberta.

In late May 2012, an estimated 22,000 barrels of oil and water (~3,497 cubic meters) spilled across 4.3 hectares of muskeg in the northwest part of the province near Rainbow Lake from a pipeline operated by Pace Oil & Gas, Ltd.

On June 7, 2012, a major oil pipeline failure near Sundre, Alberta spilled between 1,000 and 3,000 barrels of light sour crude oil (~159-477 cubic meters) into Jackson Creek, a tributary of the Red Deer River. The river is one of the province’s most important waterways, providing drinking water for thousands of Albertans.

There have been many other spills in Alberta in recent years. For more details see Sean Kheraj’s review of pipeline spills in Alberta from 1970 to 2005 and his extensive summary of more recent oil spills from Alberta’s pipelines between 2006 and 2012.

The Manhattan Institute report states that “pipelines result in fewer spillage incidents and personal injuries than road and rail…” However, pipelines spill far more oil in terms of gross volumes than do any other form of shipping. The average pipeline spill is 19, 412 gallons, which is many times what we see in incidents associated with truck or rail transport. Further, pipelines are also worse than rail when spills are averaged according to the number of miles traveled (11,286 gallons per billion ton-miles compared to 3,504). Pipeline incidents release an average of 6,592, 366 gallons of petroleum per year which is many times more than any other transportation method.

All forms of fossil fuel transport whether pipe, rail, truck or tanker, comes with inherent risks. As explained by Kate Colarulli, of the Sierra Club, “To say we have to choose between rail and pipelines is cynical and defeatist,” she said, calling oil a “dangerous fuel” no matter how it is transported.

Factoring the risks associated with the transportation of oil and gas is an added incentives to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels while augmenting the relative value of clean sources of energy.

——————–
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: wikimedia commons

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July 09 2013

18:31

The EU: Climate Change Threats at the Water-Energy Nexus

Credit: European Environment Agency

Climate change poses a growing threat across European Union society – at the nexus of water and energy resource availability and use in particular. Warming water temperatures and reduced river flows will make thermal coal and nuclear, as well as hydro power, plants vulnerable to rising costs, reduced availability and decreasing output, according to long-term study published by the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

Warming water temperatures and reductions in mean annual river flow will reduce gross hydropower capacity and the water resources available for cooling thermal coal and nuclear power plants an average 4-5% across the EU between 2031 and 2060 as compared to 1971-2000, an international team of hydrological researchers from across Europe concluded. Large declines in southern and southeastern EU member countries will more than offset forecast increases in the northern EU countries of Norway, Sweden and Finland, according to their paper, “Water constraints on European power supply under climate change: impacts on electricity prices.”

Reduced water, hydro, coal and nuclear power availability, rising costs

Wholesale electricity prices will rise in most EU countries as a result relative to that during 1971-2000, the research team concludes. The highest increases will occur in Slovenia (12%-15%), Bulgaria (21%-23%) and Romania (31-32%). Increased water availability in Sweden and Norway, in contrast, will result in lower annual price averages as lower cost hydro power pushes out more expensive thermal coal, natural gas and nuclear power generation, they anticipate.

Seasonal factors have a substantial impact on electricity costs, however. “For most countries, the increases in wholesale electricity prices are higher for summer period than on mean annual basis, because restrictions in cooling water use for thermoelectric power and reductions in water availability for hydro power potential are highest during this season. Strongest increases in wholesale prices during summer are projected for Slovakia (14–19%), France (14–17%), Austria (22–25%), Slovenia (25–33%), Romania (55–60%), and Bulgaria (44–45%).”

Replacement of coal-fired power plants by more expensive natural gas plants is also expected to contribute to rising wholesale power costs, according to the report authors.

"Water constraints on European power supply under climate change: impacts on electricity prices,"  Michelle T H van Vliet et al 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 035010 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/035010 © 2013 IOP Publishing Ltd

Source: “Water constraints on European power supply under climate change: impacts on electricity prices,” Michelle T H van Vliet et al 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 035010
doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/035010
© 2013 IOP Publishing Ltd

Hydropower and water resource usage in the EU

Hydro power accounted for 10 percent of total electricity consumption and around 80 percent of electricity generated from renewable sources in Europe in 2006, according to the European Commission (EC). In addition to the direct use of water to generate electricity, thermal coal and nuclear power plants also make use of a large share of the region’s water resources for cooling purposes.
Renewable energy sources in the EU

“On average, 44 percent of total water abstraction in Europe is used for agriculture, 40% for industry and energy production (cooling in power plants), and 15 percent for public water supply,” according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The vast bulk of Europe’s hydropower comes from large-scale hydroelectric plants: some 16,800 small hydropower plants installed in the EU-27 had a total capacity of 11 gigawatts (GW) accounted for about 3% of total electricity generation, according to the European Small Hydropower Association (ESHA).

There’s not much water left to squeeze. The EC estimates that more than 82 percent of all economically feasible small hydropower (SHP) potential has been exploited in the former EU-15. In contrast, the SHP exploitation rate is much lower in EU-10, less than half that of the EU-15. It’s also very small, around 6 percent, in EU Candidate Countries, according to the EC.

Climate change’s varying impact on water resource use across the EU

Those countries with the highest SHP potential include Italy, France and Spain, along with Poland and the Czech Republic. These are among the countries where climate change poses the greatest threat to water resources and power plants, however, according to the study.

Moreover, thermal coal and nuclear, as well as hydropower plants, are vulnerable to a warming climate. In their study, the researchers conclude that “the combination of increased water temperatures and reduced summer river flow under climate change is likely to affect both hydropower and thermoelectric power generating capacity in Europe, with distinct impacts on electricity prices.

“Useable capacity of thermoelectric power is expected to be most strongly impacted in countries in the central, southern and south-eastern part of Europe, where strong declines in low summer river flow are projected in combination with large increases in water temperature. This is expected to increase environmental restrictions on cooling water uses, and can result in substantial reductions in power plant capacities during summer (up to 16–20 percent for Bulgaria and 15–21 percent for Spain for 2031–2060).

“Replacement in cooling systems and changes in sources of fuel (increased efficiency) reduce water demand of thermoelectric power plants for cooling, and therefore decrease the vulnerability to climate change and aggravated cooling water shortage. However, estimated reductions in power plant useable capacities for power plants with recirculation (tower) cooling systems were smaller but still non-negligible, especially for countries in southern, central and south-eastern Europe.”

Climate change adaptation at the Water-Energy Nexus

The researchers recommend the EU take several proactive steps to prevent or at least alleviate what appears to be a looming decline in water resource availability. The climate change adaptation steps they recommend include retrofitting or replacing existing thermal coal and nuclear power plants and diversifying the EU’s energy mix by relying more on renewable energy resources that are not dependent water availability and water temperature.

“Considering the high shares of hydro power, coal-fueled and nuclear-fueled power plants in most European countries, the vulnerability to declines in summer river flow and increased water temperatures can be high,” they wrote.

“Planned adaptation strategies are therefore highly recommended, especially in the southern, central and south-eastern parts of Europe, where overall largest impacts on thermoelectric and hydro power generating capacity are projected under climate change. Considering the high investments costs (EPRI 2011), retrofitting or replacement of power plants might not be beneficial from the perspective of individual power plant operators, although the social benefits of adaptation could be substantial.

“An increased diversification in the electricity sector, with a larger contribution of renewable energy resources that are independent from water availability and water temperature (e.g. solar PV, wind power), might reduce the vulnerability of the electricity sector to climate change, although wind power can also be negatively affected by climate change.”

Main image credit: European Environment Agency
Featured image credit: underclassrising.net, courtesy flickr

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July 05 2013

18:20

Making Good on Obama’s Climate Change Action Plan, Part 3

obama-climate-speech-2013This is the third of a three-part series on energy, environment and US law in light of the launch of President Obama’s National Climate Change Action Plan. Here in Part 3, we conclude our discussion regarding US climate change legislation with Robert B. McKinstry, Jr., Practice Leader for Ballard Spahr’s Climate Change and Sustainability Initiative, and move on to discuss the ramifications of the president’s National Climate Change Action Plan for the US energy industry with Darin Lowder, Associate in Ballard, Spahr’s Energy and Project Finance practice.

Limiting carbon, greenhouse gas emissions from existing, as well as new, power plants

Back in April 2012, the Obama administration EPA issued a proposed new rulemaking for federal standards to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, an action that the EPA had refrained from taking during President GW Bush’s two terms in office. Though required to issue a final rule within one year, the EPA, inundated with with more than 2 million comments, has yet to do so.

Legal actions from opponents also factored into the delay, McKinstry recounted.

“EPA got a lot of adverse comments from coal industry and coal state interests. They didn’t take action on existing source standards, and sat on the new source standards published in the Federal Register. When they missed the deadline, environmental groups filed suit to force their hand.”

The President took executive action on June 25, seeking to put the EPA’s initiative back on track with the launch of his National Climate Change Action Plan. Part and parcel of the national strategic plan, a Presidential Memorandum was issued directing the EPA “to work expeditiously” to finalize carbon and greenhouse gas emissions limits not only for new, but for reconstructed and existing power plants, as well.

Setting a definitive timeline for issuing new rules governing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, in the memorandum the President directs the EPA “to issue a new proposal by no later than September 20, 2013…and further direct you to issue a final rule in a timely fashion after considering all public comments, as appropriate.”

Furthermore, McKinstry noted, the President’s memorandum directs the EPA to:

  • issue proposed carbon pollution standards, regulations, or guidelines, as appropriate for modified, reconstructed, and existing power plants by no later than June 1, 2014;
  • issue final standards, regulations, or guidelines for modified, reconstructed, and existing power plants by no later than June 1, 2015; and
  • require states to submit implementation plans required under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act to the EPA no later than June 30, 2016.

The establishment of target dates for new EPA limits on carbon and greehouse gas emissions – which are also to include new limits on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – will result in another surge of legal activity on the part of coal and fossil fuel power plant owners and operators, according to Darin Lowder, Associate in Ballard Spahr’s Energy and Project Finance practice.

Spurring action across government and industry

The President’s National Climate Change Action Plan will spur and renew momentum not only at EPA, but across federal government departments and agencies, and not only when it comes to reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, but in terms of fostering further gains in renewable and clean energy, energy efficiency and clean technology, Lowder told GWIR.

“I’d expect HUD (the Department for Housing & Urban Development) to quickly come up with a policy to incentivize all this. The Department of Defense (DoD) has 3-gigawatts (GW) of clean energy installed on military installations.”

The military’s situation is a particularly interesting one, he continued, “because of additional value off-grid redundancy renewables provide. They’ve had a very robust discussion in the military about benefits of diversifying the energy supply chain, not only on bases and other facilities, but in the field as well.

“Grid power plus renewables makes life a whole lot easier and safer, even in the case of catastrophic attacks. The benefits are worth the additional cost, and though they don’t like to, they are authroized to pay the additional costs. Plus, they have some locations that are great for renewables.”

Fundamental shifts in mindset

The President’s climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives have spurred a shift in the military’s mindset and attitude when it comes to energy and the environment, he continued. In traditional fashion, branches of the US Armed Forces, and units within them, are now competing to see who can be the most energy efficient, who can best minimize resource use and ecological impacts, and who can deploy the most in the way of renewable energy resources, Lowder continued.

“All of a sudden, you see competitions over who’s the most energy efficient. It’s a very fundamental shift. The way they had it done in past, you had facilities that had just one meter for an entire base. That’s changing radically now, and for a lot of reasons. One of the mechanisms pushing this is the things we’re discussing. Things like energy performance contracts push that change. Measurement is the first step.”

That fundamental change in values and attitudes towards energy and the environment needs to be replicated across the energy, industrial, financial, government and public sectors if the President’s vision of building a greener, sustainable low-carbon society and economy are to be realized. Stakeholders across the economy and society need to come together in a genuine spirit of collaboration, overcome their differences and join forces in identifying and aggressively implementing practical solutions, Lowder said.

Such movement is already well under way, he added.

“There are huge opportunities in all this, and there are numerous examples of people trying to understand each other’s view and aggressively pursue common goals…You’re seeing a blending of diverse views and interests taking place around these opportunities. Housing authorities, for instance, have to satisfy banks and investors’ requirements. It’s not completely foreign to them, but it’s set in a new and different context.

“It’s similar with the military regarding contracting with private housing developers to install solar and renewable energy systems, which entails bringing project developers and banks into the picture as well, familiarizing them with federal procurement and compliance requirements, as well as raising their overall comfort level to the point they’re willing and able to move forward.”

Despite all the gains of the past decade and more, the entire movement toward building a sustainable, low-carbon society is still in its infancy, Lowder pointed out.

“Housing authorities, especially in New England have been using co-generation – capturing and using heat as well as using electricity. You can do that with natural gas. Some facilities are replacing old heating systems, fuel oil boilers that are literally 50-60 years old with new equipment and combined heat and power (CHP) systems. There are tax credits available for that. They’re less than that for solar, but the same potential exists for private developers to enter the field.

“Energy mangement, demand management, even fostering changes in behavioral patterns — like showing people how much power they’re using – there’s growth potential in all these areas. The same is true in the military. It seems basic in retrospect, but a fundamental shift in awareness and information availability is helping spur all this forward.”

Read part 1 and part 2 of this series

The post Making Good on Obama’s Climate Change Action Plan, Part 3 appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

June 17 2013

19:51

Enviro News Wrap: The Will for Climate Action; Exxon Spills Big, Pays Little; Distributed Power to the People, and more…

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • Climate Change is technically preventable. I’m not talking about historic climate change, not talking about natural fluctuations. I’m talking about the phenomenon of our environment changing due to human caused disruptions. We are pumping out waste, using up resources, transforming landscapes, increasing temperatures, killing off species, removing habitat, and Earth is responding. We could reduce our emissions of junk , we could change how we create and use energy, we could do large carbon capture projects, we could do a lot, and everyday, as our technology advances, it gets cheaper to accomplish these things. But, are our governments going to act in the next 10 years? I don’t think so, I think governments will get really involved when we clearly need a collective response to the devastating effects of climate change. We are on track to do very little prevention followed by a long saga of adaption.
  • ExxonMobil keeps spilling oil and only getting small fines for big damages. As long as they can profit off of damaging the environment illegally they will continue to do it.
  • Better Place was a company that had a great idea: provide a battery service to owners of electric vehicles (EV) making EV ownership easy. But their effort seems to have been made a little early to be successful. EVs will still rise in popularity in the next 20 years, but companies like Tesla are poised to be the ones that make a long term profit from electric vehicles.
  • Oil pipelines are not safe. They are built on the cheap and have minimal regulation, inspection and maintenance. Fossil fuels have an inherent problem, you have to transport, refine and distribute a toxic product thousands of miles and there are many opportunities for spilling.
  • Pharmaceutical drugs cycle back into nature and other animals consume them. Fish are high on prozac, oxycotin, benedryl, MDMA and so much more.
  • If urban density is better than country sprawl, how tall do our buildings have to get to accommodate population growth? Elevator lift technology is improving and will allow us to build super tall buildings, much taller than the skyscrapers in Dubai.
  • Sometimes the sun does not shine and sometimes the wind does not blow, this is a harsh reality for wind and solar power. To get electricity consistently each day we need other energy sources and often they are the dirty, like coal and natural gas. But, what if we had enough advanced batteries to provide consistent energy from renewable sources and could ditch dirty energy? California is leading the way by attempting to install a lot of batteries in a short period of time.
  • Energy created by users is called distributed generation, energy created by a utility and sold to users is called centralized generation. Utilities centralize generation where they hold the power and the users only have the power of government influenced by private interests. Distributed generation is becoming disruptive generation as utilities struggle to control a new power structure. I wonder if they will figure out how to get us back under their thumbs? The utility could only allow distributed generation that is leased by themselves and then pay subcontractors to do the installations.
  • The renewable energy industry is shifting its focus to the developing world where there is a lot of untapped potential for energy projects.

 

 

The post Enviro News Wrap: The Will for Climate Action; Exxon Spills Big, Pays Little; Distributed Power to the People, and more… appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

June 11 2013

18:33

UN, World Bank, IEA Gear Up to Achieve Sustainable Energy for All

The UN and World Bank seek to motivate the international community toward sustainable energy with the "Sustainable Energy for All" initiativeLast year UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon created and set in motion “Sustainable Energy for All,” a global initiative that aims to realize what to many may seem irreconcilable goals: mitigating climate change by fostering deployment of green, renewable energy systems and boosting energy efficiency while also stimulating socioeconomic development and growth by providing access to modern energy services for all those who lack it.

A year on, some 170 national governments have signed on to SE4ALL, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by doubling renewable energy capacity and energy efficiency, and providing access to modern energy services to all those living in their countries. Private sector businesses and other organizations have pledged to invest billions of dollars to achieve SE4ALL’s goals. Aiming to raise the public profile of the initiative, the UN General Assembly has declared the decade 2014-2014 a “Decade of Sustainable Energy for All.”

While notable gains in energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment have been made worldwide, rapid industrialization, population growth and ongoing growth in the use of fossil fuels has all but negated progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and stimulating green, responsible socioeconomic development. Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.4 percent in 2012 to a record high of 31.6 billion tons, that despite reductions in the world’s developed economies (emissions in the the US were at their lowest level since the mid-1990s), the IEA announced while presenting its latest annual World Energy Outlook in Stockholm this week.

An institutional “Sustainable Energy for All” framework emerges

Fossil fuels continue to account for more than 80 percent of the world’s energy mix, while “a population four times the size of the United States still lives without access to electricity,” according to the recently launched Global Tracking Framework, a multi-agency effort led by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the World Bank.

SE4ALL’s ambitious goals are to help foster a doubling of energy efficiency, a doubling of renewable energy capacity and universal access to modern energy services by 2030. Putting an institutional framework and mechanisms in place to monitor and track progress and share information is critical to success. To that end, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and World Bank launched the Global Tracking Framework.

“The Sustainable Energy for All initiative is a rallying cry to tackle the twin crises of energy poverty and climate change, and this Global Tracking Framework is an important first response,” Maria van der Hoeven, IEA executive director and a member of the Advisory Board of the SE4ALL initiative, was quoted in a press release.

“By measuring the scale of the challenge, it provides a crucial reference against which the partners of the SE4ALL initiative, and all of us, can track progress towards building a cleaner energy system for all. The IEA has advocated stronger action to tackle energy poverty for more than a decade as part of its World Energy Outlook, but more needs to be done to tackle the problem. It is a moral imperative and we cannot afford to ignore it.”

Local challenges to achieving global “Sustainable Energy for All”

Renewable energy made up 18 percent of the global energy mix and energy efficiency had increased an average 1.3 percent per year since 1990 as of 2010, according to the Global Tracking Framework’s initial report. An estimated 17 percent of the global population lacked access to electricity and 41 percent “still relied on wood or other biomass to cook and heat their homes.”

Focused, determined action is needed worldwide if SE4ALL goals are to be achieved, but “the nature of the challenge differs across countries and, for each of the SE4ALL goals,” the report authors note. Looking to address this, the report singles out “20 ‘high-impact’ countries that are crucial to making major progress.”

In addition, the IEA and World Bank found that realizing SE4ALL goals will require green energy investment increases of at least US$600 billion per year out to 2030 as compared to the current level. Of that total, investment in boosting energy efficiency will need to increase $394 billion, that for renewable energy by $174 billion per year, that for universal access to electricity by $45 billion per annum, and that for universal access to modern cooking by $4.4 billion per annum.

The post UN, World Bank, IEA Gear Up to Achieve Sustainable Energy for All appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

June 10 2013

19:02

Enviro News Wrap: Climate Denial and Conspiracy Theories; Helping Farmers Adapt; Fracking the Amish, and more…

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

 

 

The post Enviro News Wrap: Climate Denial and Conspiracy Theories; Helping Farmers Adapt; Fracking the Amish, and more… appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

March 25 2013

18:54

Enviro News Wrap: Growth in US Solar; Changing Perceptions of Global Warming; US Plays Catch-Up in Enviro Policy, and more…

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

 

 

 

The post Enviro News Wrap: Growth in US Solar; Changing Perceptions of Global Warming; US Plays Catch-Up in Enviro Policy, and more… appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

March 01 2013

20:54

Q and A: The Angry Economist

Because of its natural gas boom, the United States is ahead of Europe in fixing climate change, the Oxford economist Dieter Helm argues.
18:42

February 28 2013

18:53

European Climate Official Urges Keystone XL Veto

Killing a 1,700-mile pipeline intensely opposed by the environmentally minded would send "a very, very interesting global signal,” Connie Hedegaard says.

September 04 2012

18:09

Do as I Say, Not as I ...

The Energy Department fails to take some relatively easy low-cost steps to cut its energy consumption, an audit finds.
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