Friday, March 30, 2018

Worldwide Degradation of Land and Nature Threatens Prosperity and Wellbeing

More than 3.2bn people are already affected and the problem will worsen without rapid action, driving migration and conflict.

Soil erosion in Tanzania. Fertile soil is being lost around the world at a rate of 24bn tonnes a year. (Photograph Credit: Carey Marks/Plymouth University) Click to Enlarge.
The world's prosperity and wellbeing are seriously being threatened by the degradation of land and nature.  Although there are opportunities to turn things around, fears of further deterioration in the coming decades must not be taken lightly.  That is concluded at the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which serves under the United Nations flag.

For the last three years, around 550 researchers, including experts from the Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving (Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency), Leiden University, and the University of Twente, have been working on providing insight into the effects of land degradation and the corresponding loss of biodiversity.

The final results of the study have been ratified by representatives of 129 participating countries at the eight day global UN conference in the Colombian city of Medellin.  The insights into the effects of humankind on land, nature, food security, water and climate have been drawn in four assessments on Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe, and Central Asia and a global assessment on Land Degradation and restoration.

Read more at Worldwide Degradation of Land and Nature Threatens Prosperity and Wellbeing

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Thursday 29

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.

Is Shell’s New Climate Scenario As ‘Radical’ As It Says?

Multicrystalline solar cells on the roof of the visitors center of the solar cell factory of Shell Solar, Germany (Credit: Friedrich Stark / Alamy Stock Photo) Click to Enlarge.
This week, Shell published a “radical” new climate change scenario, showing how the world could meet the “well-below 2C” goal of the Paris Agreement.

The oil-and-gas giant says this “Sky” pathway would involve “re-wiring the whole global economy in just the next 50 years”.  Global oil demand would peak in 2025 and gas in the 2030s. It says this is technologically and economically feasible – though it stops short of saying it is politically or socially possible.

Shell’s head of scenarios tells Carbon Brief this would be “very challenging” for the firm, but that the company could still “thrive”.  Others have criticized the work, arguing that it maintains fossil fuel use at today’s levels, for decades to come, thereby failing to genuinely test Shell’s existing business model.

In fact Carbon Brief analysis shows that Shell’s scenario is broadly consistent with other well-below 2C pathways drawn from the academic literature.  Almost all of these alternative futures share a heavy reliance on using unproven negative emissions technologies to suck excess CO2 from the atmosphere.

Read more at Is Shell’s New Climate Scenario As ‘Radical’ As It Says?

Rapid Emissions Reductions Would Keep CO2 Removal and Costs in Check

Surface mining at coal power plant Bełchatów in Poland. (Photo Credit: Thinkstock) Click to Enlarge.
Rapid greenhouse-gas emissions reductions are needed if governments want to keep in check both the costs of the transition towards climate stabilization and the amount of removing already emitted CO2 from the atmosphere.  To this end, emissions in 2030 would need to be at least 20 percent below what countries have pledged under the Paris climate agreement, a new study finds -- an insight that is directly relevant for the global stock-take scheduled for the UN climate summit in Poland later this year.  Removing CO2 from the atmosphere through technical methods including carbon capture and underground storage (CCS) or increased use of plants to suck up CO2 comes with a number of risks and uncertainties, and hence the interest of limiting them.

"Emissions reduction efforts in the next decade pledged by governments under the Paris climate agreement are by far not sufficient to attain the explicit aim of the agreement -- they will not keep warming below the 2-degrees-limit," says Jessica Strefler from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), lead-author of the analysis published in Environmental Research Letters.  "To stabilize the climate before warming crosses the Paris threshold, we either have to undertake the huge effort of halving emissions until 2030 and achieving emission neutrality by 2050 -- or the emissions reductions would have to be complemented by CO2 removal technologies.  In our study, we for the first time try to identify the minimum CO2 removal requirements -- and how these requirements can be reduced with increased short-term climate action."

Read more at Rapid Emissions Reductions Would Keep CO2 Removal and Costs in Check

Walmart Urges China Suppliers to Cut CO2 by 50 Million Tons by 2020

New Sustainability Commitments in China (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Walmart Inc launched a program on Thursday to help its Chinese suppliers cut emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gas by 50 million tonnes by the end of the next decade.

The move is part of a bigger push by the U.S. retailing giant that aims to remove 1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from its global value chain by the end of 2030, equivalent to taking 211 million vehicles off roads for a year.

Walmart said it had created a specific program for China that would begin with around 100 major Chinese suppliers and provide tools to measure emissions and set targets.

“We are working with our suppliers on areas such as energy efficiency, renewables, packaging, waste reduction, and thinking about areas like deforestation and improving energy efficiency,” said Laura Phillips, senior vice president for sustainability.

The company aims to eventually expand the program to its entire China supply chain.

Walmart has already enrolled 800 Chinese factories into an energy efficiency program launched in 2014, helping them cut costs by $40 million a year, said Bill Foudy, Walmart’s China-based vice president for global sourcing.

“It is often misunderstood that energy efficiency costs money, when we’ve found it to be the opposite,” he said.

China, the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gas, aims to cut its energy intensity - or consumption per unit of economic growth - by 15 percent over the 2016-2020 period.

Read more at Walmart Urges China Suppliers to Cut CO2 by 50 Million Tons by 2020

20K Solar Kits Headed to Africa for Off-Grid Power Support

Installing on African roof (Image credit: BBOXX | Twitter) Click to Enlarge.
Orange SA plans to distribute as many as 20,000 solar kits in four African countries in partnership with U.K.-based renewable-energy firm BBOXX as an increasing number of companies seek to roll out off-grid solar power on the continent.

Paris-based Orange is in talks with investors to expand its solar project in the coming years after its start in Madagascar, Senegal, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bruno Mettling, chief executive officer for Africa and the Middle East, told a conference on Tuesday.

The announcement comes as Orange is expanding its business in Africa to counter a drag on phone revenue in its home market. Mettling didn’t say when the distribution will begin, but said the company is targeting between 400,000 and 500,000 solar kits in the next five years.

MTN Group Ltd. said last year it’s expanding a partnership with Fenix International to make a solar-panel and battery system available to African consumers with no access to the electricity grid. Customers in countries such as Zambia can use MTN’s mobile-money app to pay for the system.

Orange is also rolling out mobile-payment systems in Madagascar and Mali this year, Mettling told the conference in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital, Abidjan. Mobile payments and data services already account for 20 percent of Orange’s revenue in Africa, he said.

  Read more at 20K Solar Kits Headed to Africa for Off-Grid Power Support

Buried, Altered, Silenced:  Ways Government Climate Information Has Changed Since Trump Took Office

By Morgan Currie, Stanford University and Britt S. Paris, University of California, Los Angeles

March for Science in San Francisco, California, on April 22, 2017. (Image Credit: Matthew Roth, CC BY-NC) Click to Enlarge.
After Donald Trump won the presidential election, hundreds of volunteers around the U.S. came together to “rescue” federal data on climate change, thought to be at risk under the new administration.  Guerilla archivists, including ourselves, gathered to archive federal websites and preserve scientific data.

But what has happened since?  Did the data vanish?

As of one year later, there has been no great purge.  Federal data sets related to environmental and climate science are still accessible in the same ways they were before Trump took office.

However, in many other instances, federal agencies have tampered with information about climate change.  Across agency websites, documents have disappeared, web pages have vanished, and language has shifted in ways that appear to reflect the policies of the new administration.

Two groups have been keeping a watchful eye on developments.  We both belong to the Environmental Data Governance Initiative, the organization behind the data rescue events.  The initiative now monitors tens of thousands of federal websites with the help of specialized tracking software.  In January the group published a report that describes sweeping changes to federal web resources.

Meanwhile, Columbia University’s Silencing Science Tracker documents news stories about climate scientists who have been discouraged from conducting, publishing or otherwise communicating scientific research.

These groups have documented four ways that climate-related information has become less accessible since Trump took office.

Read more at Buried, Altered, Silenced:  4 Ways Government Climate Information Has Changed Since Trump Took Office

Europe’s Coming Gigafactory Boom, Mapped

Across Europe a wave of gigafactories are coming online, ready to meet the battery demands of a continent-wide switch to electric cars.

Northvolt's $4.7bn battery plant has plans to be online by 2023 (Photo Credit: Northvolt) Click to Enlarge.
The race to electrify Europe is on.

By 2020 at least seven new gigawatt-size battery factories are scheduled to start operating on the continent, with another three developments rumoured.

Within a decade, these facilities will be churning out 80GWh a year.  More than three times the 2017 global production capacity of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles.

‘Gigafactories’, a term coined in the US by Elon Musk’s Tesla, produce batteries on the scale of more than 1GWh per year.  Until this year Europe had no factories of that size.

But with demand for electric vehicles on the continent predicted to surge (Dutch bank, ING, predicts that all new vehicle sales in Europe will be electric by 2035), a new battery infrastructure is coming for Europe.

Of the five leading global manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries, three are planning, or have begun building, gigafactories in Europe:  LG, Samsung, and the Tesla/Panasonic partnership.

The push from these established US, Japanese, and South Korean players has prompted a number of European companies to invest in the construction of their own regionally-based gigafactories.

Car manufacturer Daimler has two planned facilities in its home country of Germany.  Daimler is also working on plants in the US, China and Thailand.

A spokesperson for the company, which owns Mercedes-Benz, told Climate Home News the company would be investing more than €1 billion in a global battery production network.

Read more at Europe’s Coming Gigafactory Boom, Mapped

West Greenland Ice Sheet Melting at the Fastest Rate in Centuries

Weather patterns and summer warming trend combine to drive dramatic ice loss.

Record of melt from two west Greenland ice cores showing that modern melt rates (red) are higher than at any time in the record since at least 1550 CE (black). The record is plotted as the percent of each year's layer represented by refrozen melt water. (Credit: Erich Osterberg) Click to Enlarge.
The West Greenland Ice Sheet melted at a dramatically higher rate over the last twenty years than at any other time in the modern record, according to a study led by Dartmouth College.  The research, appearing in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, shows that melting in west Greenland since the early 1990s is at the highest levels in at least 450 years.

While natural patterns of certain atmospheric and ocean conditions are already known to influence Greenland melt, the study highlights the importance of a long-term warming trend to account for the unprecedented west Greenland melt rates in recent years.  The researchers suggest that climate change most likely associated with human greenhouse gas emissions is the probable cause of the additional warming.

"We see that west Greenland melt really started accelerating about twenty years ago," said Erich Osterberg, assistant professor of earth sciences at Dartmouth and the lead scientist on the project.  "Our study shows that the rapid rise in west Greenland melt is a combination of specific weather patterns and an additional long-term warming trend over the last century."

According to research cited in the study, loss of ice from Greenland is one of the largest contributors to global sea level rise.  Although glaciers calving into the ocean cause much of the ice loss in Greenland, other research cited in the study shows that the majority of ice loss in recent years is from increased surface melt and runoff.

While satellite measurements and climate models have detailed this recent ice loss, there are far fewer direct measurements of melt collected from the ice sheet itself.  For this study, researchers from Dartmouth and Boise State University spent two months on snowmobiles to collect seven ice cores from the remote "percolation zone" of the West Greenland Ice Sheet.

When warm temperatures melt snow on the surface of the percolation zone, the melt water trickles down into the deeper snow and refreezes into ice layers.  Researchers were easily able to distinguish these ice layers from the surrounding compacted snow in the cores, preserving a history of how much melt occurred back through time.  The more melt, the thicker the ice layers.

Read more at West Greenland Ice Sheet Melting at the Fastest Rate in Centuries

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Wednesday 28

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.

Runaway Arctic Ice Menaces Oil Rigs and Shipping as the Planet Warms

As Arctic sea ice breaks up, it’s starting to move southward faster, creating new and unexpected hazards.  More icebergs calving off Greenland add to the threat.

A massive iceberg floated off the coast of Newfoundland on April 26, 2017. The North Atlantic has seen four years of extreme iceberg seasons, and appears to be facing another. (Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty) Click to Enlarge.
As the planet warms, giant icebergs and sea ice that once would have remained trapped in the frozen Arctic are moving southward faster and more frequently, menacing shipping and oil and gas drilling operations.

In the North Atlantic, scientists say the number of icebergs spotted south of 48 degrees latitude—where they start to get into more shipping lanes—is up again this year, following a series of extreme iceberg seasons.

"So far, iceberg numbers crossing south of 48 degrees look to be higher this year than last, and last year saw a relatively high iceberg flux year—about 1,000 icebergs crossing 48 North, compared to the long-term mean of 450," said University of Sheffield geographer Grant Bigg, who studies icebergs and climate.

That ice can pose serious risks to ships and offshore oil and gas rigs.  Last year, strong storms sent a swarm of icebergs surging into the oil and gas drilling field at the Grand Banks off Newfoundland, marking the fourth extreme iceberg season in a row, according to International Ice Patrol Commander Gabrielle McGrath.
Another Warm Winter Raises the Risks
This past winter, persistent heat waves returned to the Arctic.  Scientists tracked a huge area of open water north of Greenland where the thickest ice typically would be.  Around the same time, there was open water north of Svalbard, in the European Arctic, and off the North Coast of Alaska—extreme conditions caused by climate change across the Arctic.  When the spread of Arctic sea ice reached its peak for the winter on March 17, it was at its second-lowest maximum extent on record.

Increased ice mobility is a sign that the Arctic climate system is likely to change in big increments in the next few decades, said University of Manitoba ice researcher Dave Babb, one of scientists who tested the sea ice off Newfoundland last year.

The sea ice pack is becoming mechanically weaker, Babb and his colleagues wrote in a new study describing their findings in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters.  Solid ice structures that once blocked the narrow Arctic Ocean channels and kept the ice pack bottled up are forming later in the winter as global temperatures rise, letting massive slabs of sea ice, some up to 20-feet thick, move south faster than ever before, they said.

Read more at Runaway Arctic Ice Menaces Oil Rigs and Shipping as the Planet Warms

Wood Pellets:  Renewable, But Not Carbon Neutral

Turning forests into fuel comes at an environmental cost.

A return to firewood is bad for forests and the climate.  So reports William Schlesinger, President Emeritus of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, in an Insights article published Tuesday in the journal Science.

In the race to meet clean energy standards, biomass energy is often touted as carbon neutral.  To satisfy European Union (EU) demand, forests in the United States are turned into wood pellets and shipped overseas, to the tune of 7 million metric tons annually.  When these pellets are burned in the EU, the electricity they generate helps fulfill Paris Agreement commitments.

The stage is also being set for a potential uptick in biomass energy in the US, as Congress may declare biomass carbon neutral in an effort to revive the American forest product industry.  A tax on fossil carbon would further incentivize US demand for wood pellets.

But turning forests into fuel has hard limitations.  Accounting for biomass energy often ignores the critical role forests play as a sink for carbon dioxide that might otherwise accumulate in the atmosphere.  As Schlesinger reports, each year, an estimated 31% of the carbon dioxide emitted from human activities is stored in forests.

Native forests store more carbon dioxide than their plantation counterparts.  Harvested pellets require fossil energy during manufacturing and overseas shipping.  As Schlesinger explains, "The benefits of wood power must be discounted by the loss of the carbon sequestration that would have occurred in the original forests if they had not been harvested."

He notes, "It makes no sense to have Europeans embracing wood pellets as carbon neutral, while overlooking the carbon dioxide emitted during shipment and the losses of carbon storage from forests in the United States."

Then there is biodiversity to consider.  In the southeastern US, pine plantations are a major source of pellet wood.  Yet pines are of limited value in preserving the region's rich biodiversity.  As demand for wood pellets rises, old growth forests are also put under pressure of harvest.  A myriad of species rely on these globally rare ecosystems.

Schlesinger concludes, "Ultimately, the question is what kinds of forests are most desirable for the future.  Recent research indicates that unless forests are guaranteed to regrow to carbon parity, production of wood pellets for fuel is likely to put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and preserve fewer species on the landscape during the next several decades."

Read more at Wood Pellets:  Renewable, But Not Carbon Neutral

Steel Tariffs May Hurt Growing Energy Storage Market

Costs Icon (Image credit: CC0 Creative Commons | Pixabay) Click to Enlarge.
The burgeoning battery-storage industry may become the latest to feel the sting of President Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Prices for lithium-ion battery packs dropped 24 percent last year as it became cheaper to make them, according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  But steel tariffs threaten to increase battery-installation costs by as much as 3 percent.  (The batteries typically are protected with structures made of metal.)

“The tariffs could slow down some of the aggressive cost declines,” Ray Hohenstein, market applications director at energy storage firm Fluence Energy LLC, said in an interview Wednesday at Infocast’s Solar Power Finance & Investment Summit in San Diego, California.

To be sure, that shouldn’t have much lasting impact on the industry as other manufacturing costs decrease, Kelly Speakes-Backman, chief executive officer of the Energy Storage Association, said in a phone interview Wednesday.  And there may be a workaround:  Concrete, which features in the shipping-container-like structures that protect batteries in larger projects, could be used for smaller battery packs.

Read more at Steel Tariffs May Hurt Growing Energy Storage Market

Thawing Permafrost Produces More Methane Than Expected

Sampling at the Lena delta in Siberia. (Credit: UHH/CEN/I.Preuss) Click to Enlarge.
Methane (CH4) is a potent greenhouse gas that is roughly 30 times more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide (CO2).  Both gases are produced in thawing permafrost as dead animal and plant remains are decomposed.  However, methane is only formed if no oxygen is available.  Until now, it was assumed that larger amounts of greenhouse gases are formed when the ground was dry and well aerated—when oxygen was available.  Christian Knoblauch and his colleagues have now demonstrated that water-saturated permafrost soils without oxygen can be twice as harmful to the climate as dry soils—which means the role of methane has been greatly underestimated.

Knoblauch has, for the first time, measured and quantified in the laboratory the long-term production of methane in thawing permafrost.  The team had to wait for three years before the approximately 40,000 year-old samples from the Siberian Arctic finally produced methane.  The team observed the permafrost for a total of seven years, an unprecedented long-term study.

They found that without oxygen, equal amounts of methane and CO2 are produced.  But since methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas, it is more significant.  Because methane production couldn't be measured, it was assumed that in the absence of oxygen only very small amounts of it can be formed.  "It takes an extremely long time until stable methane-producing microorganisms develop in thawing permafrost," explains Knoblauch.  "That's why it was so difficult to demonstrate methane production until now."

"By combining process-based and molecular-microbiological methods, our study shows for the first time that the methane-forming microorganisms in the thawing permafrost have significant influence on the greenhouse gas budget," adds co-author Susanne Liebner from the Helmholtz Center Potsdam—GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences.

The team has used the new data to improve a computer model that estimates how much greenhouse gas is produced in permafrost in the long term—and they've compiled a first forecasts.  According to the scientists:  The permafrost soils of Northern Europe, Northern Asia, and North America could produce up to 1 gigaton of methane and 37 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2100.  But there are uncertainties.  To what depth will the soil actually thaw by then?  Will it be wet or dry?  One thing, however, is certain: the new data will enable more accurate predictions about the impacts of thawing permafrost on our climate.

Read original at Thawing Permafrost Produces More Methane Than Expected

China Has Met Its 2020 Carbon Target Three Years Early

China's GreenGen coal-fired gasification power plant in Tianjin, which is designed to burn coal more efficiently and help develop carbon capture and storage techniques. (Credit: Asian Development Bank/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
China met its 2020 carbon intensity target — the amount of carbon dioxide it produces per unit of economic growth — three years ahead of schedule, according to the country’s top climate official, Xie Zhenhua.  In 2017 China cut its carbon intensity by 46 percent from 2005 levels, a drop of 5.1 percent from the previous year, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

Xie announced the milestone at the country’s Green Carbon Summit on Monday.

As part of the Paris Agreement in 2015, China, the world’s largest emitter of CO2, had pledged to reduce its 2005 carbon intensity by 40 to 45 percent by 2020.  It has a goal of reducing carbon emissions by unit of GDP by 60 to 65 percent by 2030, and to halt increasing its emissions after that point.

Read more at China Has Met Its 2020 Carbon Target Three Years Early

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Tuesday 27

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.

Judge:  Trump Admin. Must Consider Climate Change in Major Drilling and Mining Lease Plan

The plan covers 15 million acres in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming.  The ruling on it is the latest to cite risks of fossil fuels and global warming.

The Powder River Basin, which stretches across Wyoming and Montana, is the nation's largest coal-producing region. (Credit: Kimon Berlin/CC-BY-SA-2.0) Click to Enlarge.
A federal court has ruled against a U.S. Interior Department plan to open more than 15 million acres of public land and mineral rights to fossil fuel extraction, concluding that the government failed to adequately consider how the oil, gas, and coal development would affect the climate and other environmental resources.

The U.S. District Court decision Friday in Montana throws a new roadblock before the Trump administration's goal of expanding and accelerating fossil extraction from federal lands.

The case was filed in 2016 by a coalition of environmental groups over a plan by the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management to lease federally owned land in the Powder River Basin of eastern Montana and Wyoming.  While the BLM plan included the possibility of oil and gas development in the area, the Powder River Basin is the country's largest coal producing region.  About 40 percent of all the coal burned in the U.S. comes from the area, and it accounts for about 10 percent of the country's annual greenhouse gas emissions.

The plaintiffs contended that the fossil fuel development plans for the vast Miles City, Montana, and Buffalo, Wyoming, federal tracts violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to account fully for the damage the coal, oil, and gas would do to the environment, including the climate.

The area holds about 10.2 billion tons of coal and the possibility of 18,000 new oil and gas wells, the plaintiffs estimated.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris upheld the core assertion by the plaintiffs, although he ruled against other claims.  Morris ordered the BLM "to conduct new coal screening and consider climate change impacts to make a reasoned decision on the amount of recoverable coal made available" in the Miles City and Buffalo areas.

The Montana decision is the latest setback courts have dealt to federal coal mining plans in the Powder River Basin for failing to account for damage to the climate.  In August a federal judge stopped Signal Peak Energy from expanding a 176 million-ton mine in central Montana because the Interior Department did not comprehensively account for climate impacts.  A month later, a federal appeals court told BLM that it had to re-do its assessment of the climate consequences of four huge coal leases because they were economically "irrational."

Read more at Judge:  Trump Admin. Must Consider Climate Change in Major Drilling and Mining Lease Plan

Tesla Pushes Energy Storage in Resolution of SolarCity Lawsuit

Court Gavel (Image credit: CC0 Creative Commons | Pixabay) Click to Enlarge.
Tesla and Arizona utility Salt River Project (SRP) last week reached an agreement that resolves a lawsuit filed by SolarCity before its purchase by Tesla.

SolarCity claimed in 2015 that SRP’s new rates were designed to hinder solar deployment.

SRP earlier this month signed a memorandum of understanding on the terms of the agreement.  The U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to hear arguments for the case.

SRP said it has agreed to purchase a 25-MW/100-MWh battery energy storage system from Tesla for installation at the Agua Fria Generating Station in Glendale, Ariz.  The utility expects the battery to be placed in service in 2021.  In addition, SRP will initiate a Customer Storage Incentive Program, which will provide incentives to SRP’s customers towards the purchase of qualifying home energy storage systems.

"This program will provide an excellent opportunity to conduct research that will help us learn more about how battery storage can enhance residential use of rooftop solar technology," SRP General Manager and CEO Mark Bonsall said in a statement.  "The relationship with Tesla gives SRP the ability to work with and learn from a company whose experience and advancements with battery storage is well known."

The program will provide an incentive of up to $1,800 ($150 per DC-kWh) for residential customers who purchase and install qualifying battery storage systems — including Tesla Powerwall battery products.

Read original at Tesla Pushes Energy Storage in Resolution of SolarCity Lawsuit

From Billions to Trillions:  Pledge Calls for More Green Bonds

The Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI) annual conference in London on March 20 provided the backdrop for the launch of a new pledge for the use of green bonds for infrastructure investment.

Front cover of Der Spiegel 33/1986, ‘Die Klima‐Katastrophe’ (Source: Der Spiegel) Click to Enlarge.
Speaking at the conference, former UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres unveiled the new campaign for the pledge, which calls for public and corporate capital expenditure programs to be aligned with climate and emissions goals, according to CBI.

The Green Bond Pledge seeks to have cities, public authorities and the world’s largest corporate organizations commit to increase their use of green bond finance so that new infrastructure meets the challenges of climate change.  The declaration was created to reinforce the goals of the Paris Agreement.

More than a dozen entities, including CBI and the Office of the Governor of California, worked together to create the pledge.

CBI estimates the issuance of green bonds will reach US$250-300 billion this year.  CBI said that the theme of the conference in London was:  “How to take the green bond market from billions to trillions.”

In a statement, Figueres said that “organizations committing to the Green Bond Pledge will help the necessary acceleration of capital flows — before 2020 — to deliver on a sustainable future.”

Read more at From Billions to Trillions:  Pledge Calls for More Green Bonds

Global Carbon Emissions Could Be Cut 3 Percent by Following the UK's Example

Tampa Electric wants to convert 1,700 MW coal plant to gas (Credit: Wikimedia)  Click to Enlarge.
The UK cut its emissions from electricity production by 25% in 2016, using a strategy many countries could adopt to quickly lower carbon emissions.

The UK achieved an unprecedented drop in carbon emissions in 2016 by making full use of natural gas over coal.  Changes in the way electricity is generated meant the average Briton saved 400 kg of carbon dioxide -- equivalent to taking 1 in 3 of the country's cars off the road.

This saving came from using natural gas in preference to coal in power stations.  Natural gas produces less than half the carbon dioxide of coal when burned.  The UK has switched off many of its older coal plants, and government policy means it is now cheaper to burn gas than coal.

A new report published Monday by researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Sheffield shows that global carbon emissions could be cut by one gigatonne per year (3% of global emissions) in less than five years if other countries followed the same strategy.

Crucially, the strategy does not rely on building new gas infrastructure or increasing supply; only using existing infrastructure to its full capacity.

Co-author of the new report, Dr Iain Staffell from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, said:  "Switching from coal to gas is not a long-term solution, but it is an important step to start reducing emissions quickly and at minimal cost.  This will give us time to build up the required renewable energy capacity to permanently cut global carbon emissions."

Co-author Dr Grant Wilson, from Energy2050 at the University of Sheffield, said:  "Having a longer-term view, it is likely to prove vastly cheaper not to emit a tonne of CO2 into the atmosphere over the near-term, rather than to have to take it back out of the atmosphere after 2050.

"This is especially the case if the infrastructure has already been built but is underutilised.  This report suggests that the option of fuel switching in the power sector deserves greater consideration to reduce emissions."

The study found that the UK's success was based partly on having the capacity and supply chain available to allow the switch from coal to gas, but that the government's carbon pricing policy was the biggest driver.

In the UK, carbon pricing -- charging those who emit carbon dioxide -- has become much stronger in recent years, making it more profitable for power companies to use natural gas generation rather than coal.  This is helping the UK meet its commitment to be the world's first country to transition completely from coal generation by 2025, and to keep its coal resources unburnt in the ground.

Read more at Global Carbon Emissions Could Be Cut 3 Percent by Following the UK's Example

Monday, March 26, 2018

Monday 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.

U.S. Energy Storage Surges 46% in Q3; 2018 Could Be a Breakout Year for Vanadium Batteries

StorEn’s Vanadium Flow Battery (Credit: StorEnTech) Click to Enlarge.
  • U.S. energy storage increases 46% in third quarter.  Hawaii, California, Massachusetts aim to be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2045.
  • Global storage market to double six times by 2030 to a total of 305 GWh.  China reportedly started construction of world’s biggest 800 MWh battery and it's made with vanadium.
  • Lithium batteries' parasitic load factor and scalability may hamper growth.  Vanadium batteries could start dominating the utility energy storage sector due to their proven reliability and longer battery life.
  • With fierce competition amongst vanadium battery makers and without a clear winner, investing in vanadium mining company may be the best way to participate in the rise of vanadium usage in batteries.
  • Upside of vanadium mining company valuations can be seen when compared with uranium mining company valuations.
U.S. energy storage increases 46% in 3rd Quarter.  Hawaii, California, Massachusetts aim to be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2045.

Read more at U.S. Energy Storage Surges 46% in Q3; 2018 Could Be a Breakout Year for Vanadium Batteries

Taking Greenhouse Gases from the Sky:  7 Things to Know About Carbon Removal

Restoring degraded landscapes like this one in Costa Rica is a natural way of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. (Photo Credit: Luciana Gallardo Lomeli/WRI) Click to Enlarge.
With greenhouse gas emissions climbing and climate impacts becoming increasingly severe, the urgency to address climate change has never been greater.  Many of the solutions to date have focused on mitigation—ways to slash emissions as quickly as possible, such as by adopting renewable energy, promoting energy efficiency and stopping deforestation.  These efforts remain critically important, and we need to accelerate them.  Yet the science shows they will not be enough on their own to have a good chance of meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

To prevent the worst impacts of climate change, the world will need to reach net-negative emissions, a point at which we’re actually removing and storing more carbon from the air than we’re putting into the atmosphere.  This will involve deploying techniques that remove carbon from the atmosphere and permanently store it.

Here, we take a look at the latest science on negative emissions and carbon-removal approaches:

Read more at Taking Greenhouse Gases from the Sky:  7 Things to Know About Carbon Removal

Bloomberg Adjusts Its Tesla Model 3 Production Forecast Heading into Final Week of Q1

Tesla Registed VINs Model 3 (Source: NHTSA, Bloomberg) Click to Enlarge.
As we recently reported, Bloomberg has a new Tesla Model 3 production tracking and estimation tool.  Last week, it projected Tesla was building 810 Model 3 sedans a week.  In the broader electric car world, 810 cars a week isn’t bad, but it’s a long way from the 2,500 Elon expected by the end of the first quarter of 2018.  Essentially right after our coverage of the tool, the Bloomberg tool started showing a significant uptick in production — heading into the last week of the quarter.

Read more at Bloomberg Adjusts Its Tesla Model 3 Production Forecast Heading into Final Week of Q1

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sunday 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.

Congress Says Biomass Is Carbon-Neutral, but Scientists Disagree

Using wood as fuel source could actually increase CO2 emissions.

(Credit: Jean-Christophe Verhaegen, AFP and Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Lawmakers are once again pushing U.S. EPA and other federal agencies to recognize the burning of biomass as a carbon-neutral energy source.  But scientists say that could be a bad move for the climate.

A massive fiscal 2018 federal spending bill unveiled by congressional leaders Wednesday night includes a provision urging the heads of EPA, the Energy Department and the Agriculture Department to adopt policies that “reflect the carbon-neutrality of forest bioenergy and recognize biomass as a renewable energy source.”

The language has appeared in similar forms in previous spending bills the last few years, due to pressure from lawmakers in forest-heavy states.  This latest version follows recent comments by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt declaring biomass a carbon-neutral energy source.  He has billed the change as part of the administration’s broader efforts at “energy dominance.”

In a letter to New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) last month, Pruitt stated the agency’s decision was partly in response to concerns articulated by the forest and forest products industry.

But scientists have been expressing concern for years about the emissions produced by burning biomass.  Many experts suggest that declaring wood burning a carbon-neutral form of energy is not only inaccurate, but a potential step backward for global climate change mitigation efforts.

Read more at Congress Says Biomass Is Carbon-Neutral, but Scientists Disagree

Plight of Phoenix:  How Long Can the World’s 'Least Sustainable' City Survive?

Set deep in the Valley of the Sun, the lush and sprawling ‘megapolis’ has a problem – the rivers.

‘An urban bullseye for global warming’ … Phoenix, Arizona. (Photograph Credit: Dreamframer/Getty Images/iStockphoto) Despite year-round sunshine, Arizona only derives 2-5% of its energy from solar power. (Photograph Credit:  Deirdre Hamill/AP) Click to Enlarge.
Anthem, Arizona is part of a giant conurbation of satellite towns surrounding Phoenix, and is a classic example of why this metropolitan – or “megapolitan” – area is tempting fate.

To look around Anthem would be to imagine there is no such thing as a water shortage.  But the lush vegetation and ponds do not occur naturally.  Phoenix gets less than eight inches of rainfall each year; most of the water supply for central and southern Arizona is pumped from Lake Mead, fed by the Colorado river over 300 miles away.  Anthem’s private developer paid a local Native American tribe to lease some of its historic water rights, and pipes its water from the nearby Lake Pleasant reservoir – also filled by the Colorado.

That river is drying up.  This winter, snow in the Rocky Mountains, which feeds the Colorado, was 70% lower than average.  Last month, the US government calculated that two thirds of Arizona is currently facing severe to extreme drought; last summer 50 flights were grounded at Phoenix airport because the heat – which hit 47C (116F) – made the air too thin to take off safely.  The “heat island” effect keeps temperatures in Phoenix above 37C (98F) at night in summer.

Phoenix and its surrounding area is known as the Valley of the Sun, and downtown Phoenix – which in 2017 overtook Philadelphia as America’s fifth-largest city – is easily walkable, with restaurants, bars, and an evening buzz.  But it is a modern shrine to towering concrete, and gives way to endless sprawl that stretches up to 35 miles away to places like Anthem.  The area is still growing – and is dangerously overstretched, experts warn.

“There are plans for substantial further growth and there just isn’t the water to support that,” says climate researcher Jonathan Overpeck, who co-authored a 2017 report that linked declining flows in the Colorado river to climate change.  “The Phoenix metro area is on the cusp of being dangerously overextended.  It’s the urban bullseye for global warming in north America.”

One of those plans is Bill Gates’s new “smart city”.  The Microsoft founder recently invested $80m (£57m) in a development firm that aims to construct 80,000 new homes on undeveloped land west of Phoenix, and a new freeway all the way to Las Vegas.

Another firm wants to build a “masterplanned community”, like Anthem, south of Tucson, and modeled after the hilltop towns of Tuscany.  It envisages five golf courses, a vineyard, parks, lakes and 28,000 homes.  The promotional video contains no details about where all the water will come from, but boasts: “This is the American dream: whatever you want you can have.”

What these cities want is water.  The Phoenix area draws from groundwater, from small rivers to the east, and from the mighty Colorado.  The Hoover Dam holds much of the Colorado’s flow in the vast Lake Mead reservoir, but the river itself is sorely depleted.  That water has now dropped to within a few feet of levels that California, Nevada, and Arizona, which all rely on it, count as official shortages.  Lake Powell, the reservoir at the other end of the Grand Canyon, similarly averages half its historic levels.

And yet despite the federal Bureau of Reclamation reporting in 2012 that droughts of five or more years would happen every decade over the next 50 years, greater Phoenix has not declared any water restrictions.  Nor has the state government decided its official drought contingency proposal.

“There’s an enormous fight over all this,” says Jim Holway, vice president of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District.  “Climate change is having an impact but that’s a controversial, unsettled issue in the western US.”

The conversation in Arizona even turns periodically to the outlandish ideas of drawing water from the Great Lakes 1,700 miles away, or building expensive desalination plants on the Pacific Ocean, instead of imposing water restrictions.

Greater Phoenix is good at recycling waste water, but most of it is used for cooling the Palo Verde nuclear power plant to the west of the city, the largest in the US and the only one not on its own body of water.  Conversely, the water department is Arizona’s biggest electricity consumer, because it has to pump the water uphill from the Colorado along miles of canals into Phoenix and Tucson.  And most of that electricity comes from the heavily polluting, coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in the north of the state.

Meanwhile, despite enjoying more than 330 days of bright sunshine a year, Holway estimates that Arizona only derives 2-5% of its energy from solar power.

Phoenix is extreme but not alone.  “Most American cities use more resources than necessary and that’s the way they were designed,” says Sandy Bahr, director of the Arizona chapter of the Sierra Club.  “There is overconsumption and a disposable mentality.  Our waste is taken to remote landfill sites, the cities are designed for cars, and sprawl is the norm.”

In his 2011 book Bird on Fire, the New York University sociologist Andrew Ross branded Phoenix the least sustainable city in the world.  He says he stands by his assessment and warns of an “eco-apartheid”, whereby low-income neighborhoods on the more polluted south side of the Salt River (which once flowed vigorously through the city and is now a trickle) are less able to protect themselves from the heat and drought than wealthier citizens.

Read more at Plight of Phoenix:  How Long Can the World’s 'Least Sustainable' City Survive?

Morocco Awaits a Thirsty Future

Despite ambitious plans to improve renewable energy and water supplies, Morocco looks likely to be badly affected by North Africa’s rising heat.

Morocco, host of the 2016 United Nations conference on climate change and widely seen as one of the more enlightened among North African and Middle Eastern nations on environmental issues, is facing a range of problems associated with global warming, including ever-increasing water shortages.

In recent years drought in what is one of the most water-stressed regions of the world has caused severe damage to the economies of Morocco and neighbouring North African states.

In 2015/2016 a prolonged drought caused Morocco’s production of grain to plummet by more than 70%.  In 2017 water shortages became acute and the country’s king, Muhammed VI, issued a decree calling on the faithful at mosques throughout the country to pray for rain.

The droughts have led to social unrest in what till now has been considered one of the more politically stable countries in the region.

Protests over what has been seen as government inaction and incompetence have broken out in several areas; in November last year 15 people were crushed to death as hungry farming families queued for supplies of flour.

A bad situation looks likely to become worse.  Latest research by the Brookings Institution in the US predicts that climate change is going to result in average temperatures rising across the North African region by 3°C by 2050.

Rainfall over much of Morocco is anticipated to decline by 10% at the same time as water usage rates rise substantially.

“Higher temperatures, less rainfall and increased land salinity in a country that is already suffering from insufficient water resources do not augur well for the future of agriculture, unless urgent action is taken now,” says the Brookings research.

Desert spread
There is also concern that, along with warming, the Sahara desert could advance northwards, further threatening Morocco’s important agricultural sector, which accounts for 15% of gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 40% of the country’s workforce.

Read more at Morocco Awaits a Thirsty Future