Saturday, December 03, 2016

Groups Raise Alarm over Climate Denial Creeping into Trump's Team

Environmental organizations wrote a letter urging Senators to oppose Trump nominees who have a history of disregarding science.

Donald Trump is said to be considering former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for several administration posts including Secretary of Interior. (Credit: Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
As Donald Trump's transition unfolds, the names of more climate science deniers emerge daily as contenders for cabinet spots.  This prompted leaders of 30 environmental groups on Thursday to urge the Senate to block nominees who would reverse progress on global warming.

"If the president-elect...chooses to nominate individuals who deny climate science or would seek to gut our bedrock environmental protections or roll back recent climate progress, we urge you to vote against their confirmation," they said in a letter sent to senators.  "Climate change is one of the most pressing domestic and global challenges we face, and the president-elect's nominees should recognize the need for immediate action."

Blocking Trump's nominees will be an uphill battle, because only a simple majority of the Senate is required to approve them.  Republicans will have a 51-48 majority and Vice President Mike Pence will be able to break a tie, so at least three GOP votes would be needed to sink a nominee.  In the past it took 60 votes to confirm presidential nominees, but new rules adopted by the Senate in 2013 changed that.  Only nominations to the Supreme Court face the 60-vote hurdle.

It is a bitter pill for Senate Democrats, who lowered the bar when they were in the majority and were frustrated by the GOP blocking President Obama's nominees.  Under Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, they pushed through a rule allowing presidential appointees, except for Supreme Court nominees, to be approved by simple majority.  Now Trump will benefit from that lower bar.

Although Trump has not yet named nominees for the key environmental posts leading the Environmental Protection Agency, or the departments of Energy and Interior, the rumored names are deeply concerning to many environmentalists, said Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president for government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), one of the organizations that coordinated the letter.

She said the letter purposefully did not name names.  But Trump met with several potential EPA nominees in the past two weeks who have been outspoken critics of environmental regulation.
In their appeal to the Senate, it is clear that environmentalists are hoping to win over at least some GOP votes to block Trump nominees.  "There is a broad and bipartisan acceptance among the American people of the scientific facts that climate change is real and that it is greatly impacted by human activities," they said.

Read more at Groups Raise Alarm over Climate Denial Creeping into Trump's Team

Global Warming May Send More Hurricanes to Northeast U.S.

New research says storm tracks are shifting northward, making devastating catastrophes like Sandy and Irene even more common.

The major cities of the U.S. Northeast may have to bear the brunt of more hurricanes like Superstorm Sandy, which devastated New York and New Jersey. (Credit: Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
From a Central American cave comes research that holds a dire warning for the Northeastern U.S.:  global warming may be sending more hurricanes your way.

New research shows a long-term northward shift of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean.  By studying rainfall history derived from a stalagmite in a cave in Belize, scientists concluded that storms that once would have crashed ashore in Central America, the Gulf Coast or Florida are curving northward, a trend that puts major cities in the Northeast U.S. in the path of destructive storms.

Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Irene in 2011 are examples of the types of damage in store for the region more often, as increasing greenhouse gas levels affect the major air currents that steer tropical storms.  A team of climate scientists reported this conclusion recently in the journal Scientific Reports.

"It's important to try and protect vulnerable areas and the financial centers in the Northeast from the impacts of similar storms which could occur more often in the future," said author Lisa Baldini, an American climate researcher at Durham University in England.

The chemical signature of rainfall derived from the stalagmite helped show the shift was mainly caused by manmade greenhouse gas emissions since the late 19th century.  If the buildup of heat-trapping pollution continues, it could result in more frequent and powerful storms for the region, she said.
"I think the basic conclusion is in agreement with our research showing that the climate system is expanding toward the poles," said Yang Hu, of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, who has studied how shifts in key ocean currents are affecting storm tracks off the coasts of Africa, Asia and North America.  He said the new findings also support the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change global assessment, which suggests that tropical storm tracks will shift northward.

How many storms will form and whether they maintain strength near the Northeast coast is a different question, he said, because one of his recent studies suggests that cooling of the North Atlantic from melting Arctic ice could reduce the frequency of storms in that region.

Read more at Global Warming May Send More Hurricanes to Northeast U.S.

U.S. Oil Exports Skyrocket Despite Climate Pacts

An oil well in Colorado. (Credit: C.L. Baker/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Seven years ago, the U.S. exported its crude oil to just one country — Canada.  This year, 22 countries received American crude oil, marking a more than 1,000 percent increase in U.S. oil exports since 2009, according to U.S. Department of Energy data released this week.

Since Congress lifted restrictions on American oil exports a year ago, more and more U.S. crude oil has been streaming onto the global oil market to supply the world’s growing demand.  It’s happening even as the U.S. and Canada have agreed to cut emissions from oil and gas operations and countries agree to cut their greenhouse gas pollution under the Paris Climate Agreement.  The international pact aims to prevent global warming from exceeding 2°C (3.6°F).

The oil-friendly policies of the incoming Trump administration are not expected to significantly affect U.S. crude oil exports because the price of oil will largely determine the pace of  U.S. exports and production.  This week, OPEC announced it would cut its production in a move to raise global oil prices, which could boost U.S. exports even more.

Where crude oil is shipped and refined, and how it is burned, are major factors in the emissions that drive climate change.  Crude oil is the world’s second-largest source of carbon dioxide emissions — responsible for 33 percent of global carbon emissions.  Oil ranks just behind coal, which emits 46 percent of the world’s man-made carbon dioxide, International Energy Agency data show.

Congress imposed restrictions on U.S. oil exports in 1975 following the Arab oil embargo, preventing oil drilled from any U.S. state except Alaska from being exported overseas.  Amid slumping oil prices and flagging U.S. production, Congress lifted the export restrictions last year.

The effect has been dramatic.

During the first nine months of 2016, overall U.S. oil exports increased by about 8 percent over the same period in 2015 and more than 1,284 percent since 2009, according to EIA data.  Until this year, Canada received most U.S. oil exports.

Since restrictions were lifted last December, oil exports to Canada have fallen by more than half.  American crude is shipped to Curacao, China, South Korea, Italy, Spain, Singapore, the Netherlands and 16 other countries.

Though the U.S. is among the world’s top oil producers, it imports about 10 times more oil than it exports.  The U.S. has imported about 7.3 million barrels of oil every day throughout 2016, while U.S. oil exports have been rising from 364,000 barrels per day in January to 694,000 barrels per day in September, EIA data show.

Quantifying the full climate impact of U.S. oil being traded globally is complicated.  The Government Accountability Office reported in 2014 that the research it reviewed shows that lifting restrictions on U.S. oil exports would increase U.S. man-made carbon dioxide emissions by between 12 million and 22 million metric tons annually because of increased oil production. That’s a small fraction of the nearly 5.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide the U.S. emits each year from its energy consumption.

But oil exports also directly affect which country gets to count the oil against its carbon budget and emissions reductions commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement.

The agreement, which was ratified this year, requires countries to cut emissions from crude oil and other sources in order to keep global warming from exceeding 2°C (3.6°F).  The method the United Nations uses to attribute carbon emissions to specific countries allows each nation’s emissions to be counted where they occur, allowing countries to export fossil fuels around the globe without having to account for the emissions from burning them.

Read more at U.S. Oil Exports Skyrocket Despite Climate Pacts

Texas Hits New Wind Generation Record of 45% Total Electric Demand

Texas wind power (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Texas grid operator Electric Reliability Council of Texas announced that on Sunday, wind electricity generation hit a new peak record and represented approximately 45% of total electric demand at the time, topping 15,000 MW for the first time.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) made the announcement earlier this week, however, its website has been misbehaving ever since news of the record hit the wires.  According to S&P Global, which picked up the story on Tuesday, ERCOT set a new wind electricity generation record of around 15,033 MW on Sunday the 27th, at 12:35 pm, representing approximately 45% of total ERCOT electricity demand at the time.

Throughout the day wind played a significant role in providing electricity to ERCOT, ranging from about 35% to more than 46%, and averaging nearly 41% throughout the whole day.

Specifically, more than 8,800 MW came from wind farms in West and North Texas, 3,800 MW from South Texas, and around 2,300 MW from the Panhandle region.

“We saw high wind output throughout the day, ranging from just over 10,000 MW during the late night hours to this peak output during the noon hour,” said ERCOT Senior Director of System Operations Dan Woodfin.  “Over the years ERCOT has taken a number of steps, such as improving renewable generation forecasts, to allow us to operate the grid reliably on days like this.”

Texas currently has more than 17,000 MW of wind installed throughout ERCOT’s grid, and is expected to grow even further by the end of the year, topping off at 19,000 MW by the time the year ends.

Read more at Texas Hits New Wind Generation Record of 45% Total Electric Demand

Four Huge Cities Are Banning Diesel Cars

The clampdown will clean up the air and help spur electric vehicle adoption.

Cars sit in traffic in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photograph Credit: Brett Gundlock/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
By 2025, you’ll be able to breathe a little easier in Paris, Madrid, Athens, and Mexico City.  That’s because the four cities have decided to ban cars and vans that run on diesel.

The Guardian reports that the announcement, made at the C40 summit—the network of 40 international cities that have pledged to battle climate change together—is a bid to cut air pollution related to the use of diesel in their city centers.  Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, explained that the policy showed that the cities “no longer tolerate air pollution and the health problems and deaths it causes.”

While diesel cars aren’t particularly common in the U.S., they’re abundant on European roads. That’s because they burn fuel more efficiently than petrol engines, and fuel prices are significantly higher on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.  Diesel and gas cost around 60 and 64 cents per liter respectively in the U.S., compared to $1.30 and $1.50 in France.

But while diesel engines may be more efficient, the combustion of the fuel also produces larger quantities of soot and nitrogen oxides compared to gasoline.  And recent research showed that those particulates contribute to the deaths of over three million people each year around the world.

Attempts to clean up the act of diesel cars haven’t gone well.  Most famously, Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” automobiles were found to be nothing of the sort.  Instead, Paris, Madrid, Athens, and Mexico City will simply ban cars from using the fuel.  It’s currently unclear exactly how the initiative will work, as the cities haven’t said exactly which parts of their centers will be subjected to the rules, or how the ban will be phased in.

Despite being inspired by air quality, the rule will also have positive impacts on the climate. Mexico City mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera thinks it’s a chance to boost public transport provision, while the mayor of Athens, Giorgos Kaminis, sees it as part of a longer-term plan to bans car from cities altogether.

It will also help drive electric car adoption.  As MIT Technology Review has argued in the past, it is exactly these kinds of dramatic regulatory changes that are required to spur sustainable energy adoption.

Read more at Four Huge Cities Are Banning Diesel Cars

Friday, December 02, 2016

  Friday, Dec 2

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

“Dramatic” Solar Price Reductions Will Only Continue to Fall

EPC/Installer System Pricing by Market Segment ($/Wdc)(Credit: GTM Research) Click to Enlarge.
Solar prices have been in a sharp decline for several years now, due primarily to massive drops in PV module pricing, but a new report has shown that solar prices will only continue to fall as price reductions spread to inverters, trackers, and even labor costs.

The new report was published by GTM Research this week, entitled U.S. PV System Pricing H2 2016:  System Pricing, Breakdowns and Forecasts, and investigates the solar system pricing stack across market segments and the impacts that pricing drops will have.

Solar PV module prices have been dropping for some time, due primarily to a significant oversupply issue.  Module prices will also continue to fall, having already fallen 33.8% since the first half of 2016, affecting overall solar system pricing, particularly in the utility-solar market, where solar modules account for a much larger slice of the bill — fixed-tilt utility-scale solar have seen prices dropped 17.4%, while single-axis tracking projects have seen their prices drop by 14.9%.  The report also notes, however, that while solar module price drops have had a significant impact on utility-scale solar prices, “aggressive market entrants in the inverter and racking markets are also pushing prices down rapidly.”

The author of the report, GTM Research solar analyst Ben Gallagher, acknowledged quarter-to-quarter and year-to-year price drops for the solar industry have been the norm for some time now, but “in the past six months, these price drops have been more dramatic than anything we’ve seen since 2011 or 2012.”  Further, Gallagher adds that “It’s not just the price drop for modules, but the entire balance-of-system hardware ecosystem that’s seeing tremendous price pressure.”

Further price drops have been seen across several aspects of the chain, including $0.01/Wdc from the first half of 2016 to the second half for labor costs, while residential solar prices have fallen by 8.6%

Read more at “Dramatic” Solar Price Reductions Will Only Continue to Fall