Thursday, December 31, 2015

  Thursday, Dec 31

Turning Paris Climate Agreement’s Bold Ambition into Reality - by Mindy Lubber

Click to Enlarge.
There’s been barely enough time for the ink to dry on the Paris climate deal — but we must begin charting a path forward if we’re going to meet COP21’s bold ambition in the years ahead.

Around the world, policy makers, companies, and investors are demonstrating that they agree:  There is no time to waste.

In the United States in recent days, we’ve seen American Electric Power unveil plans for 900 megawatts of wind and solar power in Ohio and a $160 billion pension fund take steps to drop its coal holdings.  Meanwhile, Congress approved a five-year extension of wind and solar federal tax credits — a step that Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates will spur an additional $73 billion in investments and nearly 40,000 megawatts of new wind and solar projects by 2020.

The post-Paris signals from the rest of the world have also been strong.  Take, for example, the Chinese company that began construction this week on a 1,000-megawatt solar PV power plant in Henan Province.  Meanwhile, a Japanese bank got the nod to build India’s first major solar project, and Morocco is about to turn on the switch to Africa’s largest concentrated solar power plant — a linchpin of the country’s goal of getting half of its power from renewables by 2030.  All of these projects are being abetted by tumbling renewable energy production costs that are making them increasingly cost competitive.

To be sure, these trends are encouraging, but realizing COP21’s binding long-term commitment to net zero carbon emissions and no more than 2 degrees Celsius of global temperature rise will require infinitely stronger, and long-sustaining, signals from all corners of the globe.
So what will it take to turn billions into trillions for clean energy — and relatively soon?

Here are a few of the keys:
  • Pension funds and insurance companies must scale up their investments:  Scaling clean energy globally will require massive levels of public and private investment.  One of the biggest untapped resources to date is the nearly $100 trillion controlled by pension funds, insurance companies, and other institutional investors in 20 developed countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. ...
  • Policy makers must support long-lasting policies:  The 188 countries that made carbon-reducing pledges as part of COP21 must follow up by establishing supportive regulations and policies that will catalyze projects.  In fact, achieving these goals will require an estimated $16.5 trillion of investment over the next 15 years, according to the International Energy Agency.  Countries such as Morocco and Mexico, which are phasing out fossil fuel subsidies while offering incentives for renewable energy, are providing roadmaps for other developing countries to follow.  It is also critical that countries avoid policy backtracking, such as the UK government’s recent cuts to renewable energy subsidies, which sends a damaging signal to the private sector.
  • Businesses must continue to demonstrate leadership:  Wide-ranging business and investor support for a strong climate agreement was one of the most remarkable stories throughout the two weeks of negotiations in Paris. ...
  • Sunset on fossil fuels:  The role of Big Oil and fossil fuel companies in the future global economy needs a dramatic overhaul.  The Paris agreement makes clear that the global oil demand is reaching its zenith and that oil and gas companies need to transform themselves to become diverse energy providers instead of fossil fuel-only providers.  European oil companies such as Total and Statoil are already shifting more capital to solar and offshore wind, but we’re not seeing the same from US oil firms like Exxon and Chevron. ...
With 2015 coming to a close, it is clear we have reached a historic moment in pivoting to a new low-carbon global economic future.  While there is much to celebrate, we must resolve to work even harder to hasten this transition so that COP21 is not just about ambition, but also about on-the-ground transformation.

Mindy Lubber is president of Boston-based Ceres, a nonprofit that is host of the Investor Summit on Climate Risk January 27 at the United Nations.

Read more at Turning Paris Climate Agreement’s Bold Ambition into Reality

Deep Snow in California Mountains Offers Hope in Drought

Frank Gehrke walks to one of the survey points during the first snow survey of winter conducted by the California Department of Water Resources in Phillips, California, December 30, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/Fred Greaves) Click to Enlarge.
A cold, wet start to California's winter has dumped nearly five feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains, state water experts said Wednesday, fueling hope that 2016 will bring enough precipitation to help offset four years of drought.

Snow surveyors headed to the mountains in Phillips near Lake Tahoe on Wednesday for the first manual check of the state's snowpack this winter, dipping a long measuring pole into a snow-covered meadow at seven different points to see how deep the white stuff was.

"There's hope that we will have much more than we had last year," said Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program.

His measurements confirmed data gathered earlier in the month by electronic snow sensors showing that the snowpack, which provides a third of the state's water when it melts in the spring, was above normal for the first time in three years.

At the Phillips Station monitoring site, snow was 54.7 inches deep on Wednesday, or about 136 percent of average.  At nearby Lyons Creek, snow was 58 inches deep, or 120 percent of average.

Statewide, electronic monitors showed that the water content of snow in the mountains was at 105 percent of normal, above average for the first time since 2012.

By comparison, the snowpack was just 20 percent of normal on Dec. 30, 2013, and 50 percent of normal on Dec. 30, 2014.

California is in its fourth year of crushing drought that has killed millions of trees and in 2015 alone cost the state's agricultural economy $1.84 billion and 10,100 jobs, according to the University of California, Davis.

The El Nino weather and oceanic phenomenon, characterized by a warming of the Pacific Ocean that often brings precipitation to California, may help ease the drought over the next few months, but experts caution that the state's woes are far from over.

A warm winter could cause snow in the mountains to melt too soon, leading to a shortage of water in the state's dry spring and summer.

Read more at Deep Snow in California Mountains Offers Hope in Drought

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Why We Need the Next-to-Impossible 1.5°C Temperature Target - by Simon Donner

The slogan “1.5 Degrees” is projected on the Eiffel Tower as part of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) on December 11, 2015 in Paris, France. (Photograph Credit: Chesnot/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
The emissions reduction commitments made by the participating countries are not close to sufficient to achieve these targets.  Carbon budget analyses show it will be next to impossible to avoid the 1.5°C limit without “negative emissions” – sucking carbon dioxide out of the air, using technologies that are unproven or not yet in existence. 

It is therefore understandable that Oliver Geden of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs would argue in his article, “Paris climate deal: the trouble with targetism,” that the temperature targets in the agreement are the height of hypocrisy. 

Yet Mr. Gedden and other critics of the Paris Agreement are missing the point of the climate negotiations.  The issue facing international negotiators is not the statistical odds of staying within stated temperature limits.  The issue is what happens if we do not.

After all, this is a global climate agreement.  And to many countries, passing those temperature limits could be a disaster.

The temperature targets were included in the agreement out of respect for developing countries and small island states like the Republic of Kiribati, where I have conducted climate research over the past decade.  In particular, the lower 1.5°C target is a signal to these countries that the world recognizes the existential threat that comes with more warming.
The critics are correct in arguing that the world is unlikely to avoid 1.5°C of warming, or even 2°C of warming.  Yet to dismiss the targets entirely is to dismiss the needs of countries that are full members of the international climate negotiations.

By agreeing on the temperature limits, we are officially recognizing the scientific evidence that harm will come with more warming.  This helps ensure that countries like Kiribati which are most at risk will receive the needed international assistance, a key tenet of international climate policy since the creation of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992.  Though they have not received much attention in the international media, the adaptation, capacity-building, and finance sections are as central to the Paris climate agreement as the sections on emissions and temperature targets.

In addition, enshrining temperature limits in the agreement is important in case it does become feasible to affordably extract carbon dioxide out of the air.  Without the temperature limits, those with access to the technology may not be compelled to deploy that technology at sufficient scale to avoid harm to the developing world. 

Read more at Why We Need the Next-to-Impossible 1.5°C Temperature Target

  Wednesday, Dec 30

Disappearing Coastlines and Rising Seas:   How the GOP Is Killing Florida

Miami flood (Credit: Siralbertus) Click to Enlarge.
Elizabeth Kolbert wrote about visiting Miami Beach in a recent issue of The New Yorker. What she saw there was frightening:  city streets that regularly flood with the high tide, with residents marooned on stoops and porches watching their trash cans bob in the street.  “For the past several years,” Kolbert wrote, “the daily high-water mark in the Miami area has been racing up at the rate of almost an inch a year, nearly ten times the rate of average global sea-level rise …. Talking about climate change in the Everglades this past Earth Day, President Obama said, ‘Nowhere is it going to have a bigger impact than here in South Florida.'”

South Florida, unfortunately, is also saddled with a state government that is unwilling to address climate change.  Tristram Korten from the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR) looked at how the state’s leaders have dealt with this monster in their midst, and it’s an excellent — though terrifying — example of how bad leadership in the face of climate change can damage both the land and the people:  Today, Florida is well-known for its ineffectual approach to climate change and sea level rise, but things could have gone much differently.  Korten writes that in 2005, then-state attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist sat down with presidential candidate John McCain, who told him that he needed to start paying attention to climate change, that it was a big deal:

That brief conversation in Miami would result in Florida becoming, however briefly, a pioneer in grappling with the effects of climate change — such as flooding and freshwater drinking supplies contaminated with saltwater.  After Crist was elected governor, he convened a summit, appointed a task force and helped usher in new laws intended to address a future of climate change and rising sea levels.  Crist and the Florida Legislature set goals to reduce emissions back to 1990 levels.

The effort didn’t last, and in a short amount of time, the U.S. state with the most to lose from a warming planet became a global laughingstock and a symbol of the polarized debate surrounding climate change.

After just one term as governor, Crist ran for senate as an independent in 2011, and lost to Mark Rubio, who is currently seeking the GOP nomination for president.  Republican businessman and Tea Party favorite Rick Scott replaced Crist as governor, and the Florida climate policies passed under Crist were quickly rolled back.  “In 2011,” writes Korten, “Sen. Alan Hays, a Republican from Umatilla, sponsored legislation to repeal the cap-and-trade program in the law.  A Climate Change Commission charged with implementing the new laws was disbanded and its powers transferred to the Department of Agriculture, where it is now called the Office of Energy.”

Perhaps most notoriously, Scott actually banned officials from discussing climate change after taking office, and when the FCIR analyzed the Office of Energy’s website, it found that “in 2010, the year before Scott was inaugurated, there were 209 references to climate change in documents on the website.  By March of this year, there were zero new references.”

With no state leadership on climate change, local governments have had to take action.  Four South Florida counties — Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach — came together in 2010 to form the bipartisan Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact to “coordinate mitigation and adaptation activities across county lines,” according to their website.  Practically, the group works on sea-level projections, protecting public infrastructure, setting goals for community-wide greenhouse gas reduction, and monitoring other threats from climate change like increased disease, drought, and flooding, writes Korten. The four-county partnership is one of seven regional climate change organizations in the U.S., and “Florida is in many respects the most advanced, most well known and admired,” Steve Adams of the Institute for Sustainable Communities told the FCIR.

But it’s not enough.  Without state, national, and global action on climate change, Florida will continue to disappear.  And with Scott and Rubio in office, action seems unlikely. “When the governor of the state is a full-out climate denier, the irony is just excruciatingly painful,” Al Gore told Kolbert.  And it’s the people of Florida — to say nothing of the species they share the land with — who will pay the price.

Read more at Disappearing Coastlines and Rising Seas:  How the GOP Is Killing Florida

The Strong Economics of Wind Energy - by John Abraham

Levelized cost to produce electricity outside of Europe (Credit: Bloomberg New Energy Finance) Click to Enlarge.
As a follow-up to a recent article I posted on renewable energy, this article discusses the economics of wind in both the developed and developing worlds compared to other renewable energy sources.  At the recent climate conference in Paris, 70 countries highlighted wind as a major component for their emissions-reduction schemes. 

I spoke with Giles Dickson who is CEO of the European Wind Energy Association(EWEA).  I asked him economic questions related to the wind industry and I also asked him to look into his crystal ball and describe the future of wind. Mr. Dickson is in a great position to answer these questions because his organization includes 600 members who represent wind industry manufacturers, operators, and companies comprising the full wind-energy supply chain.

First, I asked why companies were investing in wind.  His response was clear: wind is competitive economically.  He told me about the SolutionWind campaign which is a platform that gives industry leaders like Unilever, BNP, Aveda, IKEA, LEGO, Google, Microsoft, SAP, and others the chance to tell their customers and the general public why they have chosen wind.  SolutionWind includes interviews with these leaders (and case studies soon to be published) wherein the case is made that using wind energy adds value to these companies. 

Companies want to reduce their emissions and they want access to reliable, inexpensive power. Companies want to know how to achieve these two goals in a way that is quick and efficient.  For many of them, wind is the answer.  It’s inexpensive and emissions-free (aside from initial manufacturing and installation and service) and it gives the companies control over their energy supply. 

Globally, the average cost of wind is $83 per megawatt-hour.  This is the levelized cost of electrical delivery.  How does it compare to other energy sources?  Well the averages for coal and gas are $84 and $98, respectively.  In the USA, gas is slightly cheaper than wind but this is the only large economy where that is the case.  As a comparison, solar photovoltaic energy averages $122 globally for each MW-hour.

There are some additional system integration costs and market balancing costs that vary geographically.  The cost of balancing out the variable wind power is usually paid by the wind-power producers.  And of course there are the costs of reinforcing the grid, such as building transmission lines to wind farms.

Put together all these additional costs might typically amount to 30% of the total costs.  However, they are reduced with a properly functioning electrical market, which balances out variable power from power sources over a large geographical region. 

In Europe, for instance, while electricity is traded across borders, there is no single market.  That makes the system less efficient.  It’s important to include large regions in a single market because a quiet day in Spain may be balanced by wind gusts in Germany.  And the same is true for solar. Cloudy days in one region are often balanced by sun in others.

One of the things Mr. Dickson was most excited about was the continued decrease in cost and increase in capacity.  The economics of wind are going to continue to get better and installation will accelerate, particularly in the developing world.

Read more at The Strong Economics of Wind Energy

$10-Trillion Investment Needed to Avoid Massive Oil Price Spike Says OPEC

OPEC Oil barrels (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
Of course, some might argue that even that estimate—that the world will be consuming 110 mb/d in 2040—could be overly optimistic.  Coming from a collection of oil-exporting countries, that should be expected.  Energy transitions are hard to predict ahead of time, but when they come, they tend to produce rapid changes.  Any shot at achieving the world’s stated climate change targets will require a much more ambitious effort.

While governments have dithered for years, efforts appear to be getting more serious.  More to the point, the cost of electric vehicles will only decline in real dollar terms over time, and adoption should continue to rise in a non-linear fashion.  That presents a significant threat to long-term oil sales.

At the same time, OPEC also issued a word of caution in its report.  While oil markets experience oversupply in the short- to medium-term, massive investments in exploration and production are still needed to meet demand over the long-term.  OPEC believes $10 trillion will be necessary over the next 25 years to ensure adequate oil supplies.

“If the right signals are not forthcoming, there is the possibility that the market could find that there is not enough new capacity and infrastructure in place to meet future rising demand levels, and this would obviously have a knock-on impact for prices,” OPEC concluded.  About $250 billion each year will have to come from non-OPEC countries.
So what are we to make of this?  There could be plenty of oil supplies in the future, but as it stands, the industry is massively underinvesting?  This illustrates a troubling tension within the oil industry.  Oil prices will be set by the marginal cost of production, and recent efficiency gains notwithstanding, marginal costs have generally increased over time.  Low-cost production depletes, and the industry becomes more reliant on deep-water, shale, or Arctic oil, all of which require higher levels of spending.  In many cases, these sorts of projects are not profitable at today’s prices.

The price spikes seen in 2011-2014 sowed the seeds of the current bust, but the pullback today could create the conditions of another spike in the future.  OPEC could be a bit too sanguine with its call for $95 oil in 2040.

At the same time, future price spikes set up the possibility of much greater demand destruction, especially if alternatives become more viable.  This is the difficult balancing act that the industry must pull off over the next few decades.

Read more at $10-Trillion Investment Needed to Avoid Massive Oil Price Spike Says OPEC

  Tuesday, Dec 29

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015:  The Year Methane Leaked into the Headlines

Thanks to studies quantifying leaks from natural gas production and urban infrastructure, methane's climate impact got worthy scrutiny this year.

Members of the public rally and give testimony at an EPA hearing on oil and natural gas air pollution standards in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 29, 2015. (Credit: Mark Dixon, flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Scientists made significant progress in 2015 measuring methane emissions from the natural gas industry, continuing a years-long quest to quantify the industry's contribution to climate change.  What they found adds to a growing body of evidence that methane leaks are sporadic, difficult to predict, and often far larger than existing government estimates.

Many of the studies came from the Environmental Defense Fund's $18 million project.  Launched in 2011, it aims to measure emissions from every sector of the industry, including production, storage, transmission and natural gas vehicles.  The project has drawn praise for its scope, vision and scrupulous methods.  It's also been criticized for accepting industry funding and sometimes relying on collaboration with oil and gas operators to obtain measurements.

Over a 20-year period, methane is 86 times more powerful at warming the planet than carbon dioxide.  Over 100 years, its potency dwindles to 34.

This means that even small methane leaks throughout the system can erase any climate benefit of burning natural gas instead of coal.

The most recent EDF paper, released in December, found methane emissions from Texas' Barnett Shale were 90 percent higher than estimates from the U.S. EPA estimates.  The study marked the end of a massive two-year campaign to gather data through "top-down" and "bottom-up" techniques (collecting data from the air and on the ground, respectively)—two methods that often yield conflicting numbers.

EDF's study found greater agreement between the methods than previous studies, and the authors created a statistical analysis to more accurately predict the presence of "superemitters"—facilities that emit more than the expected volume of methane.  In the Barnett they found that half the emissions at any time came from just 2 percent of the facilities.  The emissions varied over time and by location, which will complicate efforts to find and fix the largest emitters.

Superemitters were also important in a separate EDF study, which found that natural gas storage sites and compressor stations, which pressurize the gas for transport, leak $240 million worth of methane nationwide per year.  In that case, more than 20 percent of the leaks came from 4 percent of the facilities.  The total amount released was close to EPA estimates.

Read more at 2015:  The Year Methane Leaked into the Headlines

The Biggest Energy and Climate Stories of 2015

The success of the Paris international climate talks in December was easily the biggest story of 2015, but the U.S. saw a year full of climate and energy milestones.  Here are five of the biggest:
  • Clean Power Plan is Finalized
  • A coal-fired power plant in Washington State. (Credit: Kid Clutch/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
    The Obama administration’s most sweeping climate policy, the Clean Power Plan, is meant to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants — the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions driving global climate change.  After more than a year of public wrangling over its details, the Clean Power Plan took effect in October when it was published in the federal register.  The plan is likely to be the policy that does the most to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. over the next decade as it pushes utilities to continue their switch from coal-fired power plants to natural gas-fueled power plants and renewables.  Combined with energy efficiency measures, the Clean Power Plan’s goal is to slash greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-fired power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
  • The Keystone XL Pipeline Dies
  • The Obama administration received pressure from both scientists and activists to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline from being built on U.S. soil.  (Credit: Light Brigading/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
    The Obama administration received pressure from both scientists and activists to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline from being built on U.S. soil.  Other than melting glaciers and extreme weather, few issues have symbolized the fight over climate change more than the proposed $8 billion 1,179-mile Keystone XL Pipeline, which would have carried more than 800,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands oil daily from Alberta to Texas.  In November, citing mainly climate concerns, the Obama administration denied the pipeline’s builder, TransCanada, a permit to build the international pipeline on U.S. soil. Keystone XL became a symbol of the fight over climate change and greenhouse gas emissions because of the tar sands crude oil it would have carried — a thick tar-like substance called bitumen that is much more carbon-laden and energy intensive to produce than most other crude oil.  Critics worried that if Keystone XL was approved by the Obama administration, it may have undermined American leadership at the Paris climate talks and signaled that the U.S. was not taking climate change seriously.   Keystone XL may have become less relevant over time, anyway.  TransCanada has begun using trains and other pipelines to transport its bitumen to refineries and crashing oil prices have thrown the future of the Canadian tar sands into question. In the end, though, climate change was the main reason the Obama administration cited for its demise.
  • Offshore Wind Emerges in U.S.
  • An offshore wind farm in the United Kingdom. (Credit: Statkraft/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
    There is enough space to build wind turbines in the waters off U.S. coastlines to nearly quadruple the total U.S. electric power generating capacity.  But unlike Europe, where more than 2,300 wind turbines twirl off the shores of 11 countries, not a single megawatt of wind power is being produced off U.S. coasts today — a huge missed opportunity for America, scientists say.  That began to change in 2015.  Construction began during the summer on America’s first offshore wind farm — the 30 megawatt, five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island.  Even though Europe has shown offshore wind can be successful, the Block Island project may prove that it can work in the U.S. and become a step toward meeting the Obama administration’s goal of generating 20,000 megawatts of renewable power on federally controlled lands and waters by 2020.
  • Solar Power Booms
  • A solar power matrix. (Credit: David Goehring/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
    Solar power, both rooftop and utility-scale, continued its boom in 2015 as panels became more efficient and solar panel prices continued to fall.  By the start of 2015, solar power sector employment had nearly doubled to 174,000 workers as more and more utilities and homeowners installed solar panels to take advantage of the low costs.  Since the late 1970s, the cost of a solar panel has fallen 99 percent.  Just in the past five years, the cost of a utility-scale photovoltaic power project has dropped to $1.68 per watt from $3.80 per watt in 2010, translating to about 6 cents per kilowatt hour today, Mike Carr, principal deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy, said.
  • Hawaii Sets 100 Percent Renewable Goal
  • Honolulu, Hawaii. (Credit: Cocoabiscuit/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
    Most states get some of their electricity from renewables, but no state gets all of its power from the wind and the sun. (Fossil fuels are the main fuel for power plants nationwide.) In June, Hawaii became the first state in the U.S. to set a goal of getting all of its electricity from the wind, sun and other zero-carbon sources. The Aloha State has until 2045 to figure out how to go 100 percent renewable. It’s joining other states focusing heavily on renewables, such as California and New York, and leading the rest of the country in innovation in low-carbon electricity. Hawaii is being driven to renewables mainly by cost and not climate change, though. The island chains’ isolation requires it to generate power using imported crude oil, which gives it the highest electricity costs in the nation. Those costs have prompted residents to generate their own electricity using solar power.
Read more at The Biggest Energy and Climate Stories of 2015

The 5 Biggest Wins for America’s Public Lands and Wildlife in 2015

New Federal wilderness area (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
Despite dozens of failed attempts by one of the most anti-environmental Congresses in history to roll back conservation laws, the Obama administration and lawmakers were able to secure several victories for America’s public lands in 2015.  Below are the top 5 biggest wins for conservation:
  • The creation of six new national monuments
  • An international climate agreement in Paris
  • Saving America’s best parks program and other conservation laws from congressional attack
  • Conservation measures for the greater sage grouse
  • The protection of the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness
Read more at The 5 Biggest Wins for America’s Public Lands and Wildlife in 2015

  Monday, Dec 28

Monday, December 28, 2015

Tax Credit Extension Gives Solar Industry a New Boom

Power plant using renewable solar energy with sun (Credit: Copyright Marco Prati) Click to Enlarge.
The United States solar market is wrapping up the best three-month period in its history, with a total of three gigawatts worth of solar photovoltaics capacity forecast to be installed from October through the end of the year.  In all, about 7.4 gigawatts of solar photovoltaics will be built in 2015, surpassing last year’s record total of 6.3 gigawatts, according to a new report released on December 9 by the Solar Energy Industries Association and produced by GTM Research.

That, however, is just a trickle compared to the flood of new projects expected to come online in 2016.  GTM Research forecasts that the market will more than double next year, reaching 15.4 gigawatts of solar power installed in 2016.  Worldwide, growth in solar installations is expected to rival the boom occurring in the United States.  Berlin-based research firm Apricum forecasts that 54 gigawatts will be installed worldwide in 2015, with new capacity additions reaching 92 gigawatts by 2020.  The largest market for solar photovoltaics will be China, with 180 gigawatts of total capacity installed by the end of 2020, followed by the U.S. (83 gigawatts) and Japan (57 gigawatts).

Prices for solar panels and other components continue to fall.  But the largest reason for the expected U.S. surge in 2016 was the scheduled expiration of the federal investment tax credit at the end of the year.  That changed when Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that includes a five-year extension of the investment tax credit for solar and wind power projects.

Established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the investment tax credit provides a tax credit of 30 percent of the value of solar projects.  Annual solar installations have grown by at a compound rate of 76 percent since the act was implemented in 2006.  Under the new scheme, the 30 percent solar tax credit will extend through 2019 and then decline gradually to 10 percent in 2022.  After 2022 the credit will be eliminated for residential solar installations and will continue at 10 percent for commercial ones.  Overall, the move by Congress will add an extra 20 gigawatts of solar power over the next five years, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance—more than the total installed in history up to the end of last year.

The wind credit will apply to projects that have come online since the start of this year and will continue through 2019, gradually diminishing each year, before going away in 2020.

The solar industry and its supporters lobbied hard for an extension of the credit—a possibility that seemed slim up until a few months ago.  Now, they are no longer racing to take advantage of the tax breaks while planning for a major contraction in the industry in 2017.  In fact, the extension could have the paradoxical effect of slowing down installations in 2016 as companies prolong construction schedules beyond the previous deadline of December 31, 2016.

And it will have the complementary effect of avoiding the big drop-off that loomed in 2017.  GTM Research foresaw installations in 2017 shrinking to just 5.5 gigawatts, which would be a 75 percent fall from the 2016 level.  That forecast is sure to be adjusted.

The new extension has boosted the share prices of solar companies, and their prospects.  But 2015’s turbulence had already forced solar developers to adapt and adjust their business models. Companies like SolarCity are moving from being strictly installers of solar arrays to providers of broad solutions that include energy storage systems and energy management tools in addition to solar panels.  And North American developers are looking to burgeoning foreign markets—particularly in Asia and Latin America—for new projects as the U.S. market cools after next year.  India, for example, plans to build 100 gigawatts of solar in the next seven years, much of it installed by North American developers such as SkyPower and SunEdison.

Even as prices for basic solar photovoltaic components fall, developers and utilities are adding smart inverters to better integrate solar arrays with the grid, and software to help manage distributed solar resources.  Solar power, still only a small fraction of the world’s energy mix, is likely to expand in the coming decades as the world weans itself off of fossil fuels.

Read original article at Tax Credit Extension Gives Solar Industry a New Boom

Carbon Levy Project – Joint Declaration to Springboard from Paris

Infographic: 90 oil, gas & coal producers are responsible for two thirds of our CO2 emissions in the atmosphere.
More than 60 organizations from around the world are calling for a carbon levy on fossil fuel extraction to help pay for the climate change impacts on the most vulnerable countries.

The Carbon Levy Project declaration argues that fossil fuel companies are causing approximately 70 per cent of the climate change experienced today.

As a result, these companies should have to help mobilise funds to provide compensation for the damage, it says.  This would be done through a tax on extraction (as opposed to emissions) the declaration explains.

Renowned climate scientist Naomi Oreskes, author Naomi Klein,’s Bill McKibben, and Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo, along with Ronny Jumeau, the Seychelles Ambassador to the UN, and Yeb Sano of the Philippines, have all signed the declaration following this month’s historic Paris Agreement.

On December 12, the world agreed to keep global warming to “well below 2°C” with the aim of trying to keep the global average temperature increase to just 1.5°C.

However, even these temperature goals will not stop some climate impacts already being felt by the most climate-vulnerable nations.

“Vulnerable communities on the frontline of climate change are already suffering worse droughts, more intense storms, and their homes are already being encroached upon by rising sea levels. They are already suffering loss and damage from climate change,” reads the declaration.

Not only are fossil fuel companies responsible for climate change, but many of them have, for years, supported campaigns denying climate science, in order to slow government action.

The most prominent example is ExxonMobil, which is currently being investigated in New York for its climate denial efforts.

“These big oil, coal and gas companies are continuing to reap millions in profit, while the poor are paying with their lives.  While the Paris Agreement sends a strong signal that fossil fuels must be kept in the ground, on the way to that goal, these companies should be paying for the damage they’ve already caused,” said Julie Anne Richards of the Climate Justice Programme, campaigning for a carbon Levy.

She added:  “We support work by allies on legal strategies to bring the fossil fuel industry to account for the damage their product is causing.  And it is crucial to ensure that fossil fuels are phased out and replaced by renewable energy by mid-century.”


The 8 Biggest Climate Storylines of the Year

We’re coming to the end of arguably the most influential year ever when it comes to climate change.  The agreements struck at the Paris climate talks gave the world hope that nations could finally get their acts together to cut carbon emissions and with them, the risks climate change poses.

And talk about a good timing.  On top of being the hottest year on record, 2015 also saw a significant carbon dioxide milestone passed, sea level rise projections raised and one of the strongest El Niño’s on record.

Next year will be a new chapter in the evolving story of our relationship with climate change.  But here are the main storylines that developed in 2015.

Read more at The 8 Biggest Climate Storylines of the Year

Toon of the Week - A Toast!

Toon of the Week - A Toast! (Credit:

Toon of the Week - A Toast!

Read original article at 2015 SkS Weekly Digest #52

Quote of the Week - “Bill McKibben compared the rising temperatures to “waking up in the first reel of a dystopian science fiction film.”

In a response to an emailed question, the climate activist Bill McKibben compared the rising temperatures to “waking up in the first reel of a dystopian science fiction film.”

“We’re living through history, and not of a good kind,” he said. “2015 didn’t just break the global temperature record — it crushed it. Think of the energy needed to raise the temperature of something as large as our planet by this much this fast.”

A Fitting End for the Hottest Year on Record by Jonah Bromwich, New York Times, Dec 23, 2015

Poster of the Week - "A robust agreement in Paris is essential in giving our kids and grandkids"

"A robust agreement in Paris is essential in giving our kids and grandkids the cleaner safer future they deserve."  (Credit:

"A robust agreement in Paris is essential in giving our kids and grandkids the cleaner safer future they deserve."

Read original article at 2015 SkS Weekly Digest #51

Sunday, December 27, 2015

  Sunday, Dec 27

Our Energy Transformation in 2015

Scenario-Based Cumulative PV Capacity Growth, 2015-2030 (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
2015 a series of events combined to drive what may well to be profound shifts—even turning points—in the history of the energy sector.

The ongoing decline in oil prices, which began as early as 2012, accelerated noticeably in 2015.  The benchmark West Texas Intermediate oil price fell to $34.53 a barrel on December 18, lower than it’s been since before the financial crash of 2008, with no floor in sight. Goldman Sachs has predicted that oil could fall as low as $20 a barrel, a development that would cripple most oil-producing economies and have geopolitical ripple effects for years to come.  At the same time, the price of natural gas remains near historic lows.  Cheap oil and natural gas are conventionally thought to be negative influences on the adoption of renewable energy, lessening the incentives of businesses and consumers to give up fossil fuels.  But that doesn’t seem to have slowed the shift away from fossil fuels in 2015.

Electricity generation from fossil fuels through the first nine months of 2015 barely climbed from the same period in 2014, while power from solar PV increased 48 percent.  And oil consumption in the United States, the world’s largest oil market, is on a long-term downward trend: between now and 2040, according to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook, U.S. oil consumption will fall by nearly four million barrels per day, returning to the levels of the 1960s.

Indeed, the adoption of clean energy hit record rates in 2015.  Analysts at GTM Research, in their report “The Future of U.S. Solar,” noted that total solar power installations to date in the United States reached 26 gigawatts at the end of 2015—and forecast that they’ll reach nearly 10 times that by 2030. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called for 140 gigawatts of installed solar capacity by 2020, a goal that would entail adding as much capacity each year for the next five years as had been installed, in history, in the U.S. up until the end of 2014. Because solar power is intermittent, its capacity factor—the percentage of generation capacity that is actually used—is low compared to, for instance, coal or nuclear plants. And solar will remain in the low single digits as a source of electricity. But it is by any measure the fastest growing segment of the electricity industry. As the International Energy Agency put it, “An energy sector transition is underway in many parts of the world.”

Read more at Our Energy Transformation in 2015

This Christmas Shattered Heat Records

Santa on surfboard (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
There was no white Christmas for the eastern half of the U.S. this year, far from it in fact. Record high holiday temperatures in several states — 86 degrees in Tampa, Florida, 83 degrees in Houston, Texas, 67 degrees in Boston, Massachusetts, 68 degrees in Burlington, Vermont and 66 degrees in New York City, just to name a few — are an exclamation point on the end of what will be the globe’s hottest year to date.

The heat is adding fuel to severe weather in several states, storms that turned deadly across the South.

Across the country, the weather has more closely resembled spring than typical December temperatures.  “According to preliminary data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), at least 2,693 record daily highs were tied or broken across the U.S. during the first 23 days of December.  An additional 3,912 record-warm daily low temperatures have been set during the same time period,” the Weather Channel reported.  “By comparison, just 147 daily record lows and 140 additional record cool highs were set in the same time frame.”

And the string of broken temperature records isn’t limited to the U.S. either.  NOAA recently announced that this November was the hottest in the 136-year period of record, “at 0.97 degrees C (1.75 degrees F) above the 20th century average of 12.9 degrees C (55.2 degrees F), breaking the previous record of 2013 by 0.15 degrees C (0.27 degrees F).”  Thus November became the seventh consecutive month that a monthly global temperature record has been broken.

Read more at This Christmas Shattered Heat Records

EPA Sees Exciting Future for Utilities as Clean Power Plan Takes Effect

This week, the Clean Power Plan passed a significant milestone when it took effect as US law.

It kicks off what will be an “exciting” decade for the utility sector, says Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the senior official with responsibility for the plan’s implementation.

The far-reaching scheme is a central plank of president Obama’s climate strategy, and aims to cut CO2 emissions from the power sector to 32% below 2005 levels, by 2025.

It faces multiple legal challenges and will not substantively impact on the power industry until states draw up their compliance plans by 2018.

When Carbon Brief spoke with McCabe earlier this month, she said EPA is “confident that it will survive legal challenge”. She also says that the utility industry “see it as an opportunity” and that it is in line with changes already underway, in what is set to be an “exciting” 10 years for the sector.

McCabe explains:
It’s for that reason, if for no other, that we’re all confident this whole programme will move forward, because it’s pushing along the activities that the businesses are already involved in…[Solar and wind] are becoming cost competitive with fossil fuels. That’s new and recent and very exciting. So that’s what the businesses are going to do, they’re going to go with the cost effective technologies.
Read more at EPA Sees Exciting Future for Utilities as Clean Power Plan Takes Effect

  Thursday, Dec 24

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Ted Cruz Vows Not to Honor Global Climate Deal as President

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks as he campaigns Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (Credit: AP Photo/Mark Zaleski) Click to Enlarge.
The United States will break its recent promise to approximately 200 countries to join in the fight against climate change if Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is elected president.

That’s according to Cruz himself, who on Tuesday said he would withdraw the U.S. from the historic climate agreement reached in Paris earlier this month.  That non-binding agreement saw nearly 200 leading nations unanimously embrace a plan that would leave most of the world’s fossil fuels unburned, thereby limiting global warming “to well below 2°C [3.6°F] above preindustrial levels.”

According to the Washington Post, Cruz said the international agreement was disingenuous — not really to fight climate change, but to gain “more and more government power.”

“Barack Obama seems to think the SUV parked in your driveway is a bigger threat to national security than radical Islamic terrorists who want to kill us.  That’s just nutty,” Cruz said.  “These are ideologues, they don’t focus on the facts, they won’t address the facts, and what they’re interested [in] instead is more and more government power.”

Though the Department of Defense and other security agencies do consider climate change a security threat, the Paris climate deal was intended to fight other harmful impacts of global warming, including catastrophic food shortages, sharply increased extinction rates, and irreversible sea-level rise, among other things.

Cruz, however, fervently denies that those impacts exist.  Earlier this month,  Cruz held an entire hearing to discuss what he believes to be inaccuracies in scientific data surrounding climate change.  Unfortunately, Cruz seemed to willfully misinterpret data — he conflated the Antarctic with the Arctic to make it seem like ice melt predictions were incorrect; he cited the work of a scientist who has publicly insulted Cruz for misusing his research; and he even discredited the scientific method by comparing climate scientists to flat-Earthers.

Though Cruz’s denial of mainstream climate science is in line with many members of the Republican party, his desire to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement is not.  A Reuters poll released Wednesday showed that a majority — 58 percent — of U.S. Republicans support working with other countries to solve the problem of global warming.

Read more at Ted Cruz Vows Not to Honor Global Climate Deal as President

Carbon Emissions Link to Regional Impacts Is Clear, Study Says

Three-wheeler goes past coal power station (Credit: AP Photo/Andy Wong) Click to Enlarge.
The link between manmade carbon emissions and global warming has been hotly contested, as a lack of research meant scientists couldn’t say that emissions created a specific damage.  That link however, has now been measured in various cases, according to a new study.

The paper is the first to systematically assess regional scale impacts of climate change and their relation to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, introducing a systematic evaluation of confidence levels … through a newly developed algorithm,” said Christian Huggel, a senior researcher from the University of Zurich, who was not involved in the study.

In the report published Monday in Nature Climate Change, researchers Gerrit Hansen and Dáithí Stone found that a connection between recent regional climate trends and man-made climate change, shows that many of the damages on natural and human systems can be attributed to global warming.

Past studies rarely connected impact to greenhouse gas emissions directly, said Stone, a research scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in an interview with ThinkProgress.  “Linking what’s happening locally to what’s happening globally is something that hadn’t been done in the context of looking at these impacts.”

The year-long study applied computational calculations, or algorithms, onto 118 suspected climate change impacts observed from 1970s to 2010, like coast line erosion, wild fires, ice loss, changes in range of species, and loss of agricultural output from all regions listed in the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.  Stone said the team found “a confident link that our emissions altogether had been an important contributor to the trends in at least two thirds of the cases,”

These results confirm widely believed notions in the scientific community that man-made climate change is damaging natural systems worldwide.  According to the study, the frozen water areas of the planet and marine systems showed the highest share of impact cases, with at least medium confidence, to man-made emissions.  Most effects linked to man-made climate change held at least a medium confidence level, although higher confidence levels were recorded too.

In the United States, the study links wildfires in the Alaska area, droughts in the west coast and effects to glaciers — to name a few — to man-made climate change.

Read more at Carbon Emissions Link to Regional Impacts Is Clear, Study Says

Unusual Winter Has Millennials Concerned About Climate Change

November 2015 Temperatures (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Unusual weather is dominating the conversation on social media for the holidays, especially among millennials, who are increasingly concerned about climate change.

Yik Yak, a location-based mobile app popular with millennials, surveyed its audience and found nearly 70 percent are worried about climate change.  More than a quarter of them say their concern has grown due to the unusual winter weather this year.

In New York City 65-degree-plus weather is predicted for Christmas Day, potentially breaking the record high of 64 degrees in 1982. In Europe, Alpine ski slopes are facing one of the warmest Decembers on record, and even glacial Moscow has been chalking up above-zero thermometer readings.

That's led to a jump in the number of people posting about climate change on Yik Yak.

"Climate Change is clearly an issue!  It's going to be 70 degrees in DC on Christmas Day... I mean if that's not proof, what is?" posted a Yik Yak user from Boulder, Colorado.

Another user from College Station, Texas, wrote:  "I feel like more people should pay attention to it.  It's a bigger deal than people make it out to be."

Of the 30 percent of respondents who said they were not concerned about climate change, 18 percent said they did not know or did not care about the issue, while just 9 percent thought it was myth.

About 6 percent said unusual weather was just a part of the earth's natural process, according to Yik Yak.

Nearly 21,000 users participated in the poll.  Yik Yak polls are often used to discuss hot topics among millennials, such as Star Wars or Netflix binge-watching.

The app turned to the serious topic of climate change after Saturday's U.S. Democratic presidential debate prompted an outpouring of Yik Yak user frustration that there were no questions about global warming and climate change.

According to the environmental advocacy group NextGen Climate, 74 percent of voters under 35 - approximately 80 million of whom are eligible to vote in 2016 - said they would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate with a plan to tackle climate change.

Read more at Unusual Winter Has Millennials Concerned About Climate Change

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

  Wednesday, Dec 23

AGU 2015:  Scientists Offer Latest Update on Worsening State of Arctic

Annual average surface temperature for Arctic land stations above 60N (blue) and global (red) for the period 1900-2015, relative to the 1981-2010 average. [Credit: Overland et al (2015) NOAA Arctic Report Card: Update for 2015] Click to Enlarge.
Scientists at this year’s American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, the largest coming together of earth and space scientists in the world, have issued their latest health-check for the Arctic.

Compiled by more than 70 authors in 11 countries, the annual Arctic Report Card put together by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is considered the most comprehensive overview of the state of the polar north.

This year’s instalment tells the familiar story of an Arctic in serious decline. Temperatures are rising and ice is retreating, with knock-on effects for Arctic ecosystems and wildlife.

Dr James Overland, an Arctic oceanographer with NOAA and one of the report’s authors, told Carbon Brief:

The importance of the report card is that almost every year we see new surprises in the rapidity of the types of changes that we’re seeing.

Here’s your one-stop-shop for understanding what’s been going on in the Arctic this year.

Read more at AGU 2015:  Scientists Offer Latest Update on Worsening State of Arctic

SpaceX’s History-Making Launch Could Be Eclipsed by Its Next Mission

Elon Musk’s private spaceflight company SpaceX made history on Monday night.  Ten minutes after launching a Falcon-9 rocket into orbit to deploy 11 satellites, the rocket’s first stage booster returned to earth, upright and intact.  It was the first time an unmanned rocket has successfully landed upright after a commercial launch; an achievement that many say will help dramatically reduce the cost of space travel.

The moment was a milestone, and particularly welcome after the catastrophic launch failure of another Falcon-9 last June.  But SpaceX’s next mission is arguably even more important than the last, because it is intended to study a phenomenon that threatens space travel itself.

For its next mission, SpaceX will partner with NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the French Space Agency (CNES) to launch a satellite called Jason-3.  It’s an ocean measurement satellite, meaning it will be used to measure the height of the ocean from space.  In other words, over time, Jason-3 will be able to track global sea level rise.

This is a map of five space centers threatened by sea level rise. Areas in red would be flooded with 12 inches of sea level rise. Sea level rise is expected to rise 5 inches by 2050.This is a map of five space centers threatened by sea level rise. Areas in red would be flooded with 12 inches of sea level rise. Sea level rise is expected to rise 5 inches by 2050. (Credit: NASA) Click to Enlarge.
Why is that so important?  Well, as it happens, sea level rise has long been threatening the viability of space travel in the United States.  The majority of NASA facilities are either on or very near the coast.  That’s because failures — spontaneous explosions, for example — present a smaller risk to the public when surrounded by water. But as climate change accelerates sea level rise, a problem has appeared that NASA likely didn’t anticipate:  Many of these space stations are at risk of drowning.
According to CNN, more than half of NASA’s infrastructure — places like laboratories, data centers, and launch pads worth more than $32 billion — is within 16 feet of sea level.

Fortunately, scientists are excited about the possibilities of Jason-3 and the next SpaceX mission.  Because not only will it be able to better track the phenomenon of sea level rise, the satellite will also be able to detect the influence of human-caused climate change, according to Eric Leuliette, a deputy project scientist at NOAA.

“All climate models predict there will be an acceleration of sea level change in the next few years… Jason satellites will enable us to detect that acceleration,” Leuliette said in a video explaining the importance of Jason-3.  “Only the Jason satellites have been designed to be stable and accurate enough to provide us estimates of climate change in sea level.”

In addition to sea level rise monitoring, the Jason-3 satellite is intended to provide critical data allowing weather forecasters to better predict severe weather events, like hurricanes and tropical storms.  That will be great for the general public, but also not bad for coastline space stations, which can be vulnerable to storm surges and flooding.

This is what makes SpaceX’s next mission so important — more important, arguably, than Monday’s huge success.  That mission’s point, after all, was to make space travel less expensive.  How can that happen if we have to move our space stations?  Or worse, build new ones?

Read more at SpaceX’s History-Making Launch Could Be Eclipsed by Its Next Mission

After Paris Accord, Most U.S. Republicans Back Action on Climate

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement on the climate agreement at the White House in Washington, December 12, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas) Click to Enlarge.
A majority of U.S. Republicans who had heard of the international climate deal in Paris said they support working with other countries to curb global warming and were willing to take steps to do so, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday.

The desire for action is notable for an issue that has barely made a ripple on the campaign trail among 2016 Republican presidential candidates.  Few of the Republican White House contenders have said much at all about the United Nations summit in Paris this month, though Democratic candidates, such as Hillary Clinton, have welcomed it.

More than half, or 58 percent, of Republicans surveyed said they approved of U.S. efforts to work with other nations to limit global warming, the poll showed.  Forty percent said they would support a presidential candidate who did so.

Sixty-eight percent, meanwhile, said they either somewhat or strongly agree that they are willing to take individual steps to help the environment, such as cutting down on air-conditioning or buying a more efficient car.

Republicans surveyed were split on whether they would support a candidate who believes climate change is primarily man-made, with 30 percent saying they would vote for such a candidate and 27 percent saying they would not.

Republicans were less enthusiastic about fighting climate change than Democrats, but more willing to address it than the party's presidential candidates.  Ninety-one percent of Democrats approve of the United States taking action.

In the run-up to the November 2016 election, Republican contenders have widely criticized President Barack Obama and leading Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for listing climate change as a critical national security issue, saying the assertion understated the threat of terrorism.

Read more at After Paris Accord, Most U.S. Republicans Back Action on Climate