Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Wind Power's Big Bet:  Turbines Taller than Skyscrapers

Giant wind turbines (Credit: Dong energy, UK; Nextwind Inc.) Click to Enlarge.
Wind farm operators are betting on a new generation of colossal turbines, which will dwarf many skyscrapers, as they seek to remain profitable after European countries phase out subsidies that have defined the green industry since the 1990s.

The world's three leading offshore wind operators - DONG Energy, EnBW, and Vattenfall - all told Reuters they were looking to these megaturbines to help adapt to the upcoming reality with dwindling government handouts.

According to interviews with turbine makers and engineers, at least one manufacturer - Siemens Gamesa - will have built a prototype megaturbine by next year and the first farms could be up and running in the first half of the next decade.

These massive machines will each stand 300 meters tall – almost as high as London's Shard, western Europe's tallest building - with 200-metre rotor spans that will stretch the length of two football fields.

The wind power sector is at a critical juncture as the subsidies that have cradled it since its inception in the early 1990s, and underpinned its business model, disappear as politicians enact a long-planned push to make the industry more commercially viable and able to compete with other energy sources.

Read more at Wind Power's Big Bet:  Turbines Taller than Skyscrapers

Rising Seas Could Result in 2 Billion Refugees by 2100

Street under flood waters, Bangkok, Thailand. (Credit: © Tee11 / Fotolia) Click to Enlarge.
In the year 2100, 2 billion people -- about one-fifth of the world's population -- could become climate change refugees due to rising ocean levels.  Those who once lived on coastlines will face displacement and resettlement bottlenecks as they seek habitable places inland, according to Cornell University research.

"We're going to have more people on less land and sooner that we think," said lead author Charles Geisler, professor emeritus of development sociology at Cornell.  "The future rise in global mean sea level probably won't be gradual.  Yet few policy makers are taking stock of the significant barriers to entry that coastal climate refugees, like other refugees, will encounter when they migrate to higher ground."

Earth's escalating population is expected to top 9 billion people by 2050 and climb to 11 billion people by 2100, according to a United Nations report.  Feeding that population will require more arable land even as swelling oceans consume fertile coastal zones and river deltas, driving people to seek new places to dwell.

By 2060, about 1.4 billion people could be climate change refugees, according to the paper. Geisler extrapolated that number to 2 billion by 2100.

"The colliding forces of human fertility, submerging coastal zones, residential retreat, and impediments to inland resettlement is a huge problem.  We offer preliminary estimates of the lands unlikely to support new waves of climate refugees due to the residues of war, exhausted natural resources, declining net primary productivity, desertification, urban sprawl, land concentration, 'paving the planet' with roads and greenhouse gas storage zones offsetting permafrost melt," Geisler said.

The paper describes tangible solutions and proactive adaptations in places like Florida and China, which coordinate coastal and interior land-use policies in anticipation of weather-induced population shifts.

Florida has the second-longest coastline in the United States, and its state and local officials have planned for a coastal exodus, Geisler said, in the state's Comprehensive Planning Act.

Read more at Rising Seas Could Result in 2 Billion Refugees by 2100

Fires Rise in Arctic as 'Lightning Follows the Warming'

Climate change is driving lightning and wildfires farther north, according to new research. (Credit: Government of Alberta) Click to Enlarge.
Climate change is driving up the number of forest fires ignited by lightning, and it's pushing them farther north, to the edges of the Arctic tundra, researchers say.

Lightning-caused fires have risen 2 to 5 percent a year for the last four decades, according to a paper published yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change.  And as thunderstorms intensify and become more frequent, fires are increasingly occurring in the boreal forests, and even on the permafrost tundra.  Warmer temperatures encourage more thunderstorms, which in turn bring more lightning and greater fire risk.

The changes are part of a complex climate feedback loop that is only now becoming more clear to scientists, said Sander Veraverbeke of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the study's lead author.  A feedback loop is a series of interrelated phenomena that is worsened by climate change and continues to build upon itself with additional consequences.  In the north, fires release more carbon dioxide and methane from the permafrost, he said.

"You have more fires; they creep farther north; they burn in these soils which have a lot of C02 and methane that can be exposed directly at the moment of the fire and then decades after," Veraverbeke said.  "That contributes again to global warming; you have again more fire."

Scientists studied a spike in fires caused by lightning strikes in the Canadian Northwest Territories in 2014 and in Alaska in 2015.  Because there is so little human activity in both of those regions, researchers traced the fires in remote areas to lightning strikes.

Scientists have previously connected climate change to an increase in lightning.  For every degree Celsius of warming, lightning strikes are estimated to increase 12 percent, according to research published in the journal Science in 2014.  Based on projected warming, that could mean a 50 percent increase by the end of the century.  There are currently about 20 million lightning strikes over the continental United States, and about half of all wildfires are now traced to lightning strikes.

Researchers have connected increased drought conditions and increased extreme weather to more wildfires, but most of the earlier studies have focused on the lower United States.  The research published yesterday is the first to document the feedback loop of forest fires and lightning strikes in the Arctic.

Read more at Fires Rise in Arctic as 'Lightning Follows the Warming'

U.S. Mayors Back 100% Renewable Energy, Vow to Fill Climate Leadership Void

The U.S. Conference of Mayors Also Voted to Support Quick Electrification of Vehicles and Urged Congress to Back the Clean Power Plan and Paris Climate Agreement.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (right) and Michael Bloomberg address the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Bloomberg announced a $200 million grant program to support city initiatives in areas including climate change. (Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
As the nation's mayors closed their annual meeting on Monday in Miami Beach, they sent a clear signal that cities are looking for action on climate change and are eager to fill a policy gap created by the Trump administration.

The United States Conference of Mayors, which includes both Republican an Democratic mayors from cities across the nation, adopted a series of resolutions that are far more assertive than federal climate policy, including a pledge supporting cities' adoption of 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

"We are showing the world that cities and mayors can and will lead the transition away from fossil fuels to 100 percent clean, renewable energy," said Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Steve Benjamin, a co-sponsor of the resolution, in a statement.

Cities have been pushing for stronger action on climate change for years, but the efforts have taken on new urgency since President Donald Trump took office in January.  After Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, more than 200 cities joined with nearly a dozen states and hundreds of businesses to announce that they would remain committed to the goals of the agreement.

The resolutions passed Monday include ones that:
  • Urge Congress and the Trump administration to support the Paris Agreement and the Obama administration's stalled Clean Power Plan, which would cut carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector and which Trump has been working to repeal.
  • Call for a quick electrification of the nation's transportation sector.
  • Ask Trump and Congress to "develop a comprehensive risk management program to address future flood risks from sea level rise."
  • Support greater investment from all levels of government in wind energy.
  • Encourage Congress to reauthorize and fully fund the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, a defunct federal program that sent money to local governments.
A main theme of the annual meeting of the conference, which represents the mayors of 1,408 American cities, was that local government can take a larger role in shaping American policy on a range of issues, supplanting the federal government.

Read more at U.S. Mayors Back 100% Renewable Energy, Vow to Fill Climate Leadership Void

Obscure 2011 Law Creates Hurdle for Undermanned Trump Team

The Trump administration, eager to shred Obama-era priorities such as combating climate change, still has to comply with a 2011 law requiring it to weave its agenda into government operations. (Credit: Sean Hayford Oleary/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt may doubt the urgency of addressing climate change, but a key planning document on his agency's website proclaims otherwise.

"Climate change poses risks to human health, the environment, cultural resources, the economy and quality of life," says EPA's 2014-2018 strategic plan, which touts Obama administration initiatives like the Clean Power Plan that Pruitt wants to unplug.

A similar mismatch is on display at the Energy Department, whose long-term strategy — adorned with a photo of former Secretary Ernest Moniz — pledges to support "international efforts to achieve significant global greenhouse gas emission reductions" even as President Trump vows to pull out of the Paris Agreement.

And the Interior Department's plan sets a goal to "understand, communicate and respond to the diversity of impacts associated with climate change across the various landscapes of the United States."

Five months after Trump was sworn in, the disconnect testifies to the flip side of the White House's eagerness to shred President Obama's record on environmental and energy policy: a still-to-be-fulfilled legal requirement to come up with a detailed agenda of its own.

Under a 2011 law, the administration is supposed to update long-term strategies for EPA and other agencies by early next year.  The task, which could force Trump appointees to flesh out their vision for government, promises to be daunting.

While lawmakers wanted to give incoming presidents a chance to set their own priorities, "I'm not sure this dramatic a change was anticipated," said Robert Shea, who oversaw efforts to sharpen government performance during George W. Bush's administration and is now a principal at consulting firm Grant Thornton LLP, which works with agencies on meeting the law's requirements.

Under Obama, for example, cutting greenhouse gas emissions wasn't just a job for EPA, it was a governmentwide priority that summoned federal agencies to boost reliance on renewable electricity sources to 20 percent of consumption by 2020.  By contrast, Trump's DOE secretary, Rick Perry, has suggested that wind and solar power could be a threat to national security.

Read more at Obscure 2011 Law Creates Hurdle for Undermanned Trump Team

Air Pollution Casts Shadow over Solar Energy Production

Hardest-hit areas are big solar investors: China, India, Arabian peninsula

Duke Engineering Professor Michael Bergin (Left) Stands with Indian Institute of Technology-Gandhinagar Colleague Chinmay Ghoroi (Right) Next to that University's Extremely Dusty Solar Panel Array (Credit: Michael Bergin, Duke University) Click to Enlarge.
Global solar energy production is taking a major hit due to air pollution and dust.

According to a new study, airborne particles and their accumulation on solar cells are cutting energy output by more than 25 percent in certain parts of the world.  The regions hardest hit are also those investing the most in solar energy installations:  China, India and the Arabian Peninsula.

The study appears online June 23 in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

"My colleagues in India were showing off some of their rooftop solar installations, and I was blown away by how dirty the panels were," said Michael Bergin, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University and lead author of the study.  "I thought the dirt had to affect their efficiencies, but there weren't any studies out there estimating the losses. So we put together a comprehensive model to do just that."

With colleagues at the Indian Institute of Technology-Gandhinagar and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Bergin measured the decrease in solar energy gathered by the IITGN's solar panels as they became dirtier over time.  The data showed a 50-percent jump in efficiency each time the panels were cleaned after being left alone for several weeks.

The researchers also sampled the grime to analyze its composition, revealing that 92 percent was dust while the remaining fraction was composed of carbon and ion pollutants from human activity.  While this may sound like a small amount, light is blocked more efficiently by smaller man-made particles than by natural dust.  As a result, the human contributions to energy loss are much greater than those from dust, making the two sources roughly equal antagonists in this case.

"The manmade particles are also small and sticky, making them much more difficult to clean off," said Bergin.  "You might think you could just clean the solar panels more often, but the more you clean them, the higher your risk of damaging them."

Having previously analyzed pollutants discoloring India's Taj Mahal, Bergin already had a good idea of how these different particles react to sunlight.  Using his earlier work as a base, he created an equation that accurately estimates the amount of sunlight blocked by different compositions of solar panel dust and pollution buildup.

But grimy buildup on solar panels isn't the only thing blocking sunlight--the ambient particles in the air also have a screening effect.

Read more at Air Pollution Casts Shadow over Solar Energy Production

Monday, June 26, 2017

  Monday, June 26

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.

Sea Level Rise Accelerates as Melting of Greenland Ice Sheet Intensifies

Streams atop the Greenland ice sheet transport melt runoff to the ocean. (Credit: NASA/Goddard/Maria-Josè Viñas) Click to Enlarge.
A new study says that the pace of sea level rise has increased significantly over the past quarter-century, with the thawing of Greenland’s ice sheet playing a major role in the steady rise of the oceans.

Reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change, a team of scientists from China, Australia, and the U.S. said that the rate of sea level rise increased to 3.3 millimeters (0.13 inch) in 2014 from 2.2 millimeters in 1993.  If the 2014 rate were to continue, global sea levels would rise by 33 centimeters (13 inches) this century.  But scientists say that as the melting of glaciers and massive ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica speeds up this century as temperatures increase, the rate of sea level rise is expected to jump sharply, with many researchers predicting increases of 3 to 6 feet by 2100.

The latest study, released Monday, said that Greenland’s ice sheet accounted for more than 25 percent of sea level rise in 2014, compared to just 5 percent in 1993.  Melting of glaciers in the Himalayas, the Andes, and Antarctica also added to the faster rate of sea level rise, as did the thermal expansion of water as oceans warm.

“This is a major warning to us about the dangers of a sea level rise that will continue for many centuries even after global warming is stopped,” said Peter Wadhams of the University of Cambridge, who was not involved in the study. 

Read original at Sea Level Rise Accelerates as Melting of Greenland Ice Sheet Intensifies

For the First Time, Wind Power Will Be Profitable Without Subsidies

In Europe, new tech boosts the appeal of previously pricey offshore wind.

Big British Blades: A platform for installing one of the world’s biggest turbines stands off the east coast of England. (Photo Credit: Dong Energy) Click to Enlarge.
Europe’s offshore wind power industry recently achieved a major milestone: three projects to be built without government subsidy.  Bent Christensen, who is responsible for energy-cost projections for Siemens’s wind power division, credits industry-wide cost cutting that has outstripped expectations.  “We’re three to four years ahead of schedule,” says Christensen.

Projects taking shape in European waters this summer, meanwhile, will demonstrate the ongoing innovation required to deliver on those bids—innovations that could make offshore wind farms more attractive to both financiers and grid operators.

Detractors have long derided offshore wind power as a niche segment.  In spite of fantastically strong wind gusts, building offshore-ready equipment and installing it in the punishing marine environment has been pricey.

In 2013, when new projects were delivering electricity for about €160 (US $179) per megawatt-hour, the industry collectively set what Christensen calls a “realistic stretch goal” to squeeze that to €100/MWh by 2020.  Christensen, who is also senior vice president of Siemens’s wind turbine business, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, says that by his math the industry is already there.

Christensen’s estimate is echoed by the financial advisory firm Lazard, which projects the unsubsidized cost of newly commenced projects at €105/MWh ($118/MWh)—a 27 percent reduction since 2014.  Lazard’s December 2016 analysis finds that offshore wind is cheaper or on par with coal-fired generators, rooftop solar arrays, and nuclear reactors.

Recent bids for near-shore projects, meanwhile, rival the cost of onshore wind and utility-scale solar energy.  Several projects in Denmark and the Netherlands promise offshore wind power for less than €75/MWh, and then there are the subsidy-free German bids this April by Copenhagen-based Dong Energy and the German utility Energie Baden-Württemberg.  Ulrik Stridbaek, Dong’s senior director for regulatory affairs, estimates its projects’ power cost at €62/MWh.

According to Stridbaek, competition, innovation, and scale all contribute to the rapid cost declines that have been achieved throughout the industry’s supply chain—from turbine manufacturing to installation to power transmission.  But Stridbaek says that “the decisive factor is scale.”

Read more at For the First Time, Wind Power Will Be Profitable Without Subsidies

Giant Hailstones to Increasingly Strike North America Under Climate Change

Damaging large hail “events” may become more common across the central and central-western parts of North America, concludes a new study published in Nature Climate Change.

The paper also finds that a warming climate will reduce the number of small hailstorms, as more hail melts prior to hitting the surface.  However, the vast majority of hail damage comes from much rarer storms that feature large hailstones.

The changes to the climate across much of North America expected over the coming century will favor the formation of larger hail, the paper says.

Large hailstorms can be extremely damaging events.  In 2016 alone hail damage in northern Texas topped $5.5bn, with some hailstones the size of baseballs or larger.

Read more at Giant Hailstones to Increasingly Strike North America Under Climate Change

U.S. Rice Farmers Turn Sustainability into Carbon Credits, and Microsoft Is First to Buy

By changing how they use water, rice growers in Arkansas, Mississippi and California cut their methane emissions and opened a door for agriculture in carbon markets.

U.S. Rice Farmers Turn Sustainability into Carbon Credits, and Microsoft Is First to Buy
The world's largest software maker made a novel purchase recently—from a handful of rice farmers.

Microsoft bought carbon offsets from rice farmers in Arkansas, Mississippi, and California who had worked for the better part of the last 10 years to implement conservation measures on their farms.  Through a complicated measurement and verification process, these conservation steps ultimately translated to carbon offsets purchased by the software giant.

The transaction this month was the first of its kind and, in the complex and controversial world of carbon markets, it represents a milestone for agriculture.

"Now we know what it takes to do this," said Debbie Reed, director of the Coalition on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, a group that works with agricultural producers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  "It's not symbolic, so much as proof-of-concept."

For years, researchers, advocacy groups and private-sector environment-focused investment groups have eyed agriculture's potential contribution in carbon markets to help address climate change.  But carbon trading is complex under any circumstances, and particularly so when the entities generating the offsets grow rice or corn or raise cows.  Measuring emissions—or, rather, emissions reductions—accurately and consistently from agricultural sources can be more complicated than for wind energy or solar power projects.

"Developing a protocol with farmers that's verifiable and rigorous enough so you can sell it in the market—that takes a long time," Reed said.

Rice production emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas with significantly more warming power than carbon dioxide over a shorter period, though there is far less of it in the atmosphere.  Globally, methane accounts for about 16 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.  The largest human-caused methane source is the oil and gas industry (about 33 percent), but raising livestock comes a close second (27 percent), and rice production alone contributes 9 percent of methane emissions.

Read more at U.S. Rice Farmers Turn Sustainability into Carbon Credits, and Microsoft Is First to Buy

Renewable Energy Can Be Reliable

The San Francisco control room of NaturEner, which monitors the output of Montana wind farms and blends it with hydropower to create "firm" power. (Credit: NaturEner) Click to Enlarge.
Morgan Stanley Capital Group Inc., a trader in energy and metals, keeps an office in Vancouver and sells the output from NaturEner's wind farms to anywhere in the West that transmission lines allow.  It packages the energy into whatever form will fetch the best price. Sometimes what the market wants is firm power.

"Firm means that I show up," explained Sánchez Seara, offering an example.  "I will get you 100 megawatts, and if the wind doesn't blow, I need to figure that out.  I need to deliver what I promised you to deliver."

NaturEner is constantly estimating how much energy its wind turbines will produce two hours from now.  Those projections are often 20 to 30 percent off, too high or too low.  This means that when it enters into its firm contracts for an hour ahead of time, there is a good chance that the wind — and NaturEner — will fall short.

In those cases, Morgan Stanley makes a quick buy from an array of hydroelectric dam operators in Washington state that have something to sell.

A custom blend
In Portland, Ore. — about halfway between NaturEner's California control room and its Vancouver trading floor — is the headquarters of Avangrid Renewables, another company that is blending wind with other power sources to make it a solid block.

The challenge for Avangrid is different.  In the Pacific Northwest it owns 1,400 MW of wind turbines flanking the Columbia River as it wends through the states of Oregon and Washington.  Its partner is the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal agency that controls the majority of hydropower dams in this rainy corner of the country.

Avangrid's supplemental energy source isn't dams, though.  It's natural gas.  In Klamath Falls, Ore., it has a 540-MW co-generation plant and four small peaker plants that can turn on if supplies are tight.

"Bonneville sees a flat product from us.  If we tell them we are delivering 1,000 MW, we are delivering 1,000 MW because we are moving resources around," said Laura Beane, Avangrid's CEO.

Both Avangrid and NaturEner say that there's one main reason it makes sense for them to turn wind power into firm power:  They are located in the Pacific Northwest, one of the most Balkanized areas on the continent when it comes to sharing electricity.

Most of the country is served by a central system operator, such as California's ISO, the Midwest Independent System Operator, or the PJM Interconnection, which coordinates a huge swath of the Mid-Atlantic region.  They are blenders, taking inputs from a constellation of generators and dispatching them to users.
[BPA] is a microcosm for what those larger system operators have claimed, in response to the Trump administration's criticism that intermittent renewable energy undermines baseload. They have said that renewables, even a lot of them, can be reliable as long as they are carefully coordinated, like in the control rooms of NaturEner and Avangrid.

"If you can make it work there," said Michael Goggin, the research director at the American Wind Energy Association, "you can make it work anywhere."

Read more at When Wind Is the Firmest Thing

Organic Farming May Not Cut Climate Risk

An organic market in Paris: The planet needs even more far-reaching changes than this. (Image Credit: Sam Nabi, via Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
US scientists who have examined the planetary food production menu recommend that, to save the planet, organic farming needs to be backed up by resolute action to persuade humans to skip the hamburgers and try the vegetarian option.

They also recommend that people who opt for the fish diet should choose the line-caught or seine-netted dishes.  That is because the energy demand of dragging a trawl across the seabed imposes higher fuel costs and results in 2.8 times the release of greenhouse gases, compared with other fishery technologies.

And, they say, more “organic” methods of farming do not necessarily reduce the hazards of climate change.  They checked the emissions from grain-fed versus grass-fed beef and came to an unexpected conclusion:  grazing animals delivered more greenhouse emissions. 

And they found that, while organic farming systems used less energy, they offered no real advantage in lower greenhouse gas emissions.  That is because extensive rather than intensive farming demands more soil, with higher levels of taint and pollution in the rivers and lakes, per unit of food produced.

No revelation
None of this should be any great surprise.  Agriculture must feed 7bn people, and to do this already emits somewhere between 25% and 33% of all greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, to drive global warming and put future food supplies at hazard.  Agriculture exploits 40% of the land, and accounts for 70% of freshwater withdrawal.

By 2050 farmers will have to feed an estimated 9.7bn on the croplands and pastures available now, because to clear forests for more farms can only accelerate more dangerous climate change.

Researchers have repeatedly argued that a change in attitudes, a change in appetites and a change in farming approaches can save the world and keep the human race decently nourished.  But it will require a new global strategy, and a big shift away from the meat diet.

Read more at Organic Farming May Not Cut Climate Risk

Warming Brews Big Trouble in Coffee Birthplace Ethiopia

Coffee cherries, hand-picked in Africa. (Credit: rogiro/flickr)) Click to Enlarge.
Global warming is likely to wipe out half of the coffee growing area in Ethiopia, the birthplace of the bean, according to a groundbreaking new study.  Rising temperatures have already damaged some special areas of origin, with these losses being likened to France losing one of its great wine regions.

Ethiopia’s highlands also host a unique treasure trove of wild coffee varieties, meaning new flavor profiles and growing traits could be lost before having been discovered.  However, the new research also reveals that if a massive program of moving plantations up hillsides to cooler altitudes were feasible, coffee production could actually increase.

Coffee vies with tea as the world’s favorite beverage and employs 100 million people worldwide in farming the beans alone.  But climate change is coffee’s greatest long-term threat, killing plantations or reducing bean quality and allowing the deadly coffee leaf rust fungus to thrive.  Without major action both in the coffee industry and in slashing greenhouse gas emissions, coffee is predicted to become more expensive and worse-tasting.

The research combined climate-change computer modeling with detailed measurements of current ground conditions, gathered in fieldwork that covered a total distance of 30,000km within Ethiopia.  It found that 40-60 percent of today’s coffee growing areas in Ethiopia would be unsuitable by the end of the century under a range of likely warming scenarios.

But the study, published in the journal Nature Plants, also shows that major relocation programs could preserve or even expand the country’s coffee-growing areas.  “There is a pathway to resilience, even under climate change,” said Aaron Davis, at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in the UK, who conducted the work with Ethiopian scientists.  “But it is a hugely daunting task.  Millions of farmers would have to change.”

However, by 2040, such moves uphill will have reached the top of Ethiopia’s mountains.  “It literally reaches the ceiling, because you don’t have any higher place to go,” Davis said.
Both arabica and robusta coffee originated in Ethiopia and wild arabica plants are virtually unknown outside the country.  The wild arabica varieties may well harbor traits for disease and drought resistance that could prove vital for the future health of coffee crops.

Read more at Warming Brews Big Trouble in Coffee Birthplace Ethiopia

Sunday, June 25, 2017

  Sunday, June 25

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.

Renewables to Grab $7 Trillion of Global Power Investment, Says BNEF

"Let's Invest in Wind & Solar" sign (Credit: renewableenergyworld.com) Click to Enlarge.
Renewables will account for almost three quarters of global investment in power generation between now and 2040, according to a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

In its New Energy Outlook 2017, Bloomberg estimates that $10.2 trillion will be spent on power generation technology in the next 22 years, with clean energy grabbing $7.4 trillion.

“This year’s report suggests that the greening of the world’s electricity system is unstoppable, thanks to rapidly falling costs for solar and wind power, and a growing role for batteries, including those in electric vehicles, in balancing supply and demand,” said Seb Henbest, lead author of the report.

Of the $7.4 trillion Bloomberg expects to be invested in new renewable energy plants by 2040, solar will account for $2.8 trillion, which will provide a 14-fold jump in capacity, while wind gets $3.3 trillion and sees a fourfold increase in capacity.

“As a result, wind and solar will make up 48 percent of the world’s installed capacity and 34 percent of electricity generation by 2040, compared with just 12 and 5 percent now,” said Henbest.

The report states that the levelized cost of electricity from solar PV, which is now almost a quarter of what it was in 2009, is set to drop another 66 percent by 2040.  “By then a dollar will buy 2.3 times as much solar energy than it does today.  Solar is already at least as cheap as coal in Germany, Australia, the U.S., Spain and Italy,” said Henbest.  “By 2021 it will be cheaper than coal in China, India, Mexico, the U.K. and Brazil as well.”

Meanwhile the report forecasts that offshore wind levelized costs will “slide a whopping 71 percent by 2040, helped by development experience, competition and reduced risk, and economies of scale resulting from larger projects and bigger turbines.”  It predicts the cost of onshore wind will fall 47 percent in the same period, on top of the 30 percent drop of the past eight years, thanks to cheaper, more efficient turbines and streamlined operating and maintenance procedures.

Read more at Renewables to Grab $7 Trillion of Global Power Investment, Says BNEF

Exxon, Stephen Hawking, Greens, and Reagan’s Advisors Agree on a Carbon Tax

Nearly everyone other than science-denying Republican Party leaders understands the importance of a carbon pollution tax.

Survey results showing partisan support for a revenue-neutral carbon tax.  (Illustration Credit: Yale and George Mason Universities) Click to Enlarge.
What do ExxonMobil, Stephen Hawking, the Nature Conservancy, and Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Treasury and Chief of Staff have in common?   All have signed on as founding members to the Climate Leadership Council, which has met with the White House to propose a revenue-neutral carbon tax policy.

The group started with impeccable conservative credentials, bringing on cabinet members from the last three Republican presidential administrations (Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, and George W Bush), two former Secretaries of State, two former Secretaries of Treasury, and two former chairmen of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors.  It was founded by Ted Halstead, who explained the group’s proposed policy in a TED talk:

Ted Halstead revenue-neutral carbon tax TED talk  (Click to view).

Some of the world’s brightest scientific and economic minds have since become founding members, including Stephen Hawking, Steven Chu, Martin Feldstein, and Lawrence Summers.  So have ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell.  But it’s not just the oil industry joining the call for a carbon tax; GM, Proctor & Gamble, Pepsico, and Johnson & Johnson are among the major companies signing on.  As have environmental groups like the Nature Conservancy.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby, republicEn, the Niskanen Center, and the Weather Channel are among the Climate Leadership Council’s strategic partners.  It’s an impressively diverse and influential group. The proposed policy is similar to that of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, calling for a rising price on carbon pollution with 100% of the revenue being returned to taxpayers via regular rebate checks.  Research has shown that this policy would create jobs and stimulate the economy while quickly and affordably reducing carbon pollution.

It should be a no-brainer for Republican policymakers.  Over the past five months, they’ve exclusively pursued unpopular policies; particularly a health care bill with just 31% support that the GOP crafted in secret because party leaders thought it would be stupid to let Americans see their unpopular plan.

Read more at Exxon, Stephen Hawking, Greens, and Reagan’s Advisors Agree on a Carbon Tax

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s New Slogan Is Nonsense - by David Roberts

“EPA originalism” couldn’t be further from the agency’s original mission.

Pruitt plays conservative-slogan Madlibs. (Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Over at Politico, Alex Guillén has a nice story on “EPA originalism,” the alleged principle that Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is using to justify massive budget cuts and regulatory rollbacks at the agency.  The headline calls the principle “radical.”

Pruitt coined the term in an interview with Breitbart back in March, when he pledged to “re-focus the agency toward Congress’s original authorities.”  It’s part of his much-touted “Back to Basics” approach.

The approach is being warmly received by conservative media, of course, but make no mistake: “EPA originalism” is nonsense.

In spirit, it is diametrically opposed to the intent of the lawmakers who passed the laws that EPA now enforces.  They meant those laws, and the agency, to grow and evolve.

In practice, it means rolling back rules that took years of work to develop and reducing the agency’s capacity for science, research, and enforcement.  By doing this, Pruitt is not returning EPA to anything. He is rejecting its mandate, creating something radically new and diminished.

He will find himself restricted in how much of this devolution he can accomplish.  EPA rules are quite resilient, as is the agency’s budget.  But whatever his ultimate effect, no one should pretend that he’s acting in the spirit of EPA’s founders.  The Politico headline calls the idea “radical,” but really it’s just wrong.

America’s foundational environmental laws were designed to evolve
To understand the key dynamic at work in US environmental politics, it’s worth revisiting a 2010 journal article called Beyond Gridlock: Green Drift in American Environmental Policymaking, by political scientists Christopher McGrory Klyza and David Sousa.

Between 1964 and 1980, the “Golden Age” of environmental policymaking, 22 major federal environmental bills were passed and signed into law, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and many more.

Since then, aside from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, there has been almost total legislative gridlock.  Rising polarization has rendered Congress impotent on major environmental challenges.

And yet, US environmental law and regulation have stumbled forward over the years, rarely backward.  Why?  Answering that fully is complicated, but at root, as Klyza and Sousa write, it is because those visionary laws passed in the ’60s and ’70s were designed to evolve.

They were written broadly, instructing executive branch agencies to pass, in effect, whatever regulations were necessary to protect public health.  They mandated regular scientific reviews, to keep agencies appraised of the latest threats.  Most of them instructed agencies to pass regulations based on public health criteria, not on lowest-cost economic grounds.

The Clean Air Act has been updated as the science has improved
Take the Clean Air Act.  In Section 108, it specifies that air quality standards are meant to protect the public from “air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.”  That is quite vague, and deliberately so.  It was understood by lawmakers that science evolves and so regulations should evolve too, updating alongside our best scientific understanding.

That is the purpose of the regular scientific reviews mandated by the law.  And it is how the Obama administration was able to able to issue the Clean Power Plant rule, aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels.

When Pruitt “maintains that the agency’s Obama-era leaders vastly overstepped EPA’s authority by issuing regulations such as its greenhouse gas limits for power plants,” as Guillén writes, he is simply incorrect as a matter of law.

The legal question is whether greenhouse gases qualify as a “pollutant” under the Clean Air Act.  The Supreme Court decided that question, in 2007’s Mass. v. EPA.  It said, yes:  If EPA determines that they threaten public health, it can regulate greenhouse gases.  In its 2009 endangerment finding, EPA determined that, yes, greenhouse gases threaten public health.

So EPA is now bound by law to regulate greenhouse gases.  Unless Pruitt can overturn the SCOTUS decision (he can’t — the law isn’t on his side) or the endangerment finding (he can’t — the science isn’t on his side), he must regulate.

Read more at EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s New Slogan Is Nonsense

Saturday, June 24, 2017

  Saturday, June 24

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.

A New All-Electric Aircraft with a Range up to 600 Miles Unveiled at Paris Air Show

Eviation all electric aircraft (Credit: electrek.co) Click to Enlarge.
At the 52nd International Paris Air Show, Eviation Aircraft, a member of NASA’s on-demand mobility program, unveiled the first prototype of a new all-electric aircraft concept with a range of up to 600 miles (965 km) – pictured left. 

While it was the prototype’s debut this week, Eviation says that they are already flying proof of concept missions, and they plan to move into certification and commercialization as soon as next year.

Omer Bar-Yohay, CEO of Eviation Aircraft, made the announcement:
At a time when we are more connected than ever, our mobility options must adapt to reflect this new, efficient future.  Whether it is a zero emissions, low-cost trip from Silicon Valley to San Diego, or Seoul to Beijing, our all-electric aircraft represents a chance for people to move with the speed and impact our global economy now demands.
We have recently seen several new efforts to deliver electric aircraft, especially small VTOL aircraft like Lilium’s which got its first maiden flight earlier this year, but Eviation has the most aggressive timeline for commercialization for a plane that could fly 6 to 9 passengers plus 2 crew on long distances.

Electric air transport has been limited by the energy density of batteries, but it looks like several new companies are seeing the recent advancements and they are getting ready to act on it.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who revealed having his own design for a VTOL electric plane, says that such a system becomes possible once battery energy density reaches over 400 Wh/kg, while his Tesla vehicles are believed to be currently powered by battery cells with 250 to 300 Wh/kg.

Eviation claims that its electric aircraft is made possible by a new aluminum air battery:
Based on an aerial application of Phinergy Ltd’s Aluminum air battery, coupled with a high power rechargeable battery buffer, and managed by a clever mission specific power analytic algorithm, EViation’s energy system is unique, providing a true solution to both energy density and utilization, at a cost that beats gas, and with zero emissions.
Furthermore, the company seems to be positioning itself as a Uber-like on-demand transport service.

Mark Moore, Uber Engineering Director of Aviation, also commented on Eviation’s tech:
We are witnessing a new age in aviation as advances in energy storage and aircraft design bring electric, on-demand air transit within reach.  Our focus at Uber is in galvanizing the ecosystem necessary for urban VTOL electric vehicles to thrive for 20-60 mile trips that can provide massive time savings over ground transportation for long trips in cities.  In parallel, we are encouraged to see bold new players like Eviation tackling challenges in different sectors using electric aviation; these players will help catalyze demand for new battery and rapid recharging technologies that are crucial to enable electric flight.
Read more at A New All-Electric Aircraft with a Range up to 600 Miles Unveiled at Paris Air Show

Hot Spots

Climate change will not affect everyone equally.  A close-up look at seven regions poised to really feel the pain--and what they're  doing about it.

Hot Spots Map (Credit: edge.ensia.com/hot-spots) Click to Enlarge.
The evidence for the onset of climate change is compelling.  But who and where is it hitting the hardest? How fast will it come to Africa, or the U.S.?  What will be its impact on tropical cities, forests or farming?  On the poor, or the old?  When it comes to details, much is uncertain. 

Mapping the world’s climate “hot spots” and identifying where the impacts will be the greatest is increasingly important for governments, advocacy groups, and others who need to prioritize resources, set goals and adapt to a warming world.
For Wolfgang Cramer, scientific director of the Mediterranean Institute for Biodiversity and Ecology in Aix-en-Provence, France, climate change impacts are already visible not only in the vicinity of Murcia, but across much of the Mediterranean basin.  If pledges to cut emissions are not met, catastrophe looms.

He and colleague Joel Guiot, a paleoclimatologist, last year studied pollen locked in layers of sediment over the past 10,000 years and compared them with projections about climate and vegetation from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

If warming is allowed to rise to 2 °C (3.6 °F), the scientists concluded, much of southern Spain and the Mediterranean basin could become desert.

Their paper, published in Science, was shocking because it showed that even a small temperature increase could be enough to create ecological havoc in a very heavily populated region with relatively wealthy countries.

They warned that North African countries would see increased temperatures and drought that would drive the southern deserts further north; that deserts would expand in the Middle East, pushing temperate forests higher into the mountains; and that ecosystems not seen in the Mediterranean basin in over 10,000 years could develop.
Meanwhile, water stress, heat waves and an extended drought linked to climate change in the eastern Mediterranean has been widely implicated in the long Syrian war and an underlying driver of conflict in Middle East and North African countries.
New York state may seem an unlikely climate hot spot, but research confirms its status in the top league of potential change.  Drawing on the U.S. National Climate Assessment and research by leading federal agencies and academics, it calculates that temperatures statewide have risen about 1.3 °C (2.4 °F) since 1970, spring begins a week sooner than it did just a few decades ago, there is less winter snow, and more intense downpours.  Meanwhile, sea levels are rising at nearly twice the global rate and birds and fish populations are all moving north.

Even more dramatically, the latest scientific projections suggest trouble ahead.  By the 2050s, says the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, sea levels could rise nearly 30 inches (2.5 feet), storm surges and flooding will be more common in coastal areas, and West Nile virus and many other diseases could be prevalent.

But, says Carl Pope, former director of the Sierra Club and climate advisor to former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, if climate change is to be addressed, it must be led by big cities like New York, which release nearly 70 percent of the global emissions but also have the capacity to create solutions.

Read more at Hot Spots

New Best Friends:  GOP Governors and Renewables

A number of Republican governors, like Iowa's Kim Reynolds, support clean energy programs. (Credit: Amy Mayer/Iowa Public Radio Images/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
While President Trump sings coal's praises, efforts to green America's economy are receiving a boost from an unexpected quarter:  Republican-held governors' mansions.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is fresh off a legislative session in which he signed nine bills aimed at supporting the clean energy sector.  In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott recently signed a tax exemption that solar installers say is essential to jump-starting the residential and commercial market in the Sunshine State.  And in Iowa, where wind now accounts for 36 percent of the state's electricity generation, newly installed Gov. Kim Reynolds recently finished an energy plan that calls for growing the wind, biofuels, and solar industries.

"For years, our fields have fed the world.  Now, they energize it.  They produce products that fuel cars, and they host wind turbines that power our communities and businesses," Reynolds said in her inaugural address last month.  "And yet those fields are filled with untapped potential.  Our energy plan will help us continue to lead the way in wind energy and renewable fuels.  Working together, we can have the most innovative energy policy in the country."

The growing embrace of renewables by Republican governors stands in stark contrast to the president.  Trump's budget request for fiscal 2018 includes a 70 percent reduction to the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.  Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who has expressed concern about coal's decline and renewables' rise, has embarked on a grid reliability study.  And in speeches across the country, Trump has railed against renewables while promising to revive the coal sector.

Wednesday was the most recent example.

"We've ended the war on clean, beautiful coal, and we're putting our miners back to work," the president said during a campaign-style speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"I don't want to just hope the wind blows to light up your homes and your factories," he said.

But in states like Iowa and Nevada, which lack a local fossil fuel industry, Republican leaders are becoming increasingly comfortable with renewables.  Wind now employs more than 8,000 people in Iowa.  Two utilities in the Hawkeye State announced plans last year to invest $4.6 billion in new wind farms.

Reynolds follows in the footsteps of longtime Gov. Terry Branstad (R), an outspoken wind advocate during six nonconsecutive terms in Des Moines. Branstad stepped down this year to serve as the U.S. ambassador to China.

As lieutenant governor, Reynolds led efforts last year to complete an Iowa Energy Plan.  It calls for more ambitious renewable energy targets, best practices to help municipalities site turbines and grid modernization pilot projects, among other measures.

The state's wind industry has helped attract Facebook, Microsoft, and Google data centers to Iowa, said Brenna Smith, a spokeswoman for the governor.

"In general, renewable energy has provided for local energy production, job and business growth, increases in property tax revenue, and clean energy production in our own backyard," Smith said. 

Read more at New Best Friends:   GOP Governors and Renewables