Friday, May 25, 2018

Climate Change Is Putting Extra Pressure on New England's Forests

Add warming temperatures to the pile of problems.


Forests in the northeastern U.S. are lush and diverse. Towering oaks in southern Connecticut give way to majestic sugar maples in Maine.  D’Amato: “On a personal level, I certainly care a lot about the forest. It’s, from an aesthetic and spiritual perspective, something I gain a lot of strength and peace from.”  Tony D’Amato, director of the forestry program at the University of Vermont, says forests in the region provide beauty and support the economy. But they’re under pressure from many threats, such as deforestation for development, logging, non-native species, over-browsing by deer, and forest diseases.  D’Amato: “As you start to make a list of all the things that are threatening our forests, it’s hard not to get a little bit concerned.”  Climate change will only add more stress. For example, seeds from some trees need snow to germinate. But as the region gets warmer and wetter, there may be less snowpack. That also leaves young tree roots vulnerable to freezing.  D’Amato: “Climate change in its own right is quite daunting, but when you put it on top of everything else that’s affecting our forests, it’s really a challenging long-term dilemma that many managers and conservation groups have to deal with.”
Forests in the northeastern U.S. are lush and diverse.  Towering oaks in southern Connecticut give way to majestic sugar maples in Maine.
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Tony D’Amato, director of the forestry program at the University of Vermont, says forests in the region provide beauty and support the economy.  But they’re under pressure from many threats, such as deforestation for development, logging, non-native species, over-browsing by deer, and forest diseases.

D’Amato:  “As you start to make a list of all the things that are threatening our forests, it’s hard not to get a little bit concerned.”

Climate change will only add more stress.  For example, seeds from some trees need snow to germinate.  But as the region gets warmer and wetter, there may be less snowpack.  That also leaves young tree roots vulnerable to freezing.

D’Amato:  “Climate change in its own right is quite daunting, but when you put it on top of everything else that’s affecting our forests, it’s really a challenging long-term dilemma that many managers and conservation groups have to deal with.”

Read original at Climate Change Is Putting Extra Pressure on New England's Forests

New Theory Finds 'Traffic Jams' in Jet Stream Cause Abnormal Weather Patterns

Study explains blocking phenomenon that has baffled forecasters.


A study published May 24 in Science offers an explanation for a mysterious and sometimes deadly weather pattern in which the jet stream, the global air currents that circle the Earth, stalls out over a region.  Much like highways, the jet stream has a capacity, researchers said, and when it's exceeded, blockages form that are remarkably similar to traffic jams -- and climate forecasters can use the same math to model them both.

The deadly 2003 European heat wave, California's 2014 drought, and the swing of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 that surprised forecasters -- all of these were caused by a weather phenomenon known as "blocking," in which the jet stream meanders, stopping weather systems from moving eastward.  Scientists have known about it for decades, almost as long as they've known about the jet stream -- first discovered by pioneering University of Chicago meteorologist Carl-Gustaf Rossby, in fact -- but no one had a good explanation for why it happens.

"Blocking is notoriously difficult to forecast, in large part because there was no compelling theory about when it forms and why," said study coauthor Noboru Nakamura, a professor in the Department of the Geophysical Sciences.

Nakamura and then-graduate student Clare S.Y. Huang were studying the jet stream, trying to determine a clear set of measurements for blocking in order to better analyze the phenomenon.  One of their new metrics was a term that measured the jet stream's meander.  Looking over the math, Nakamura realized that the equation was nearly identical to one devised decades ago by transportation engineers trying to describe traffic jams.

"It turns out the jet stream has a capacity for 'weather traffic,' just as highway has traffic capacity, and when it is exceeded, blocking manifests as congestion," said Huang.

Much like car traffic, movement slows when multiple highways converge and the speed of the jet stream is reduced due to topography such as mountains or coasts.

The result is a simple theory that not only reproduces blocking, but predicts it, said Nakamura, who called making the cross-disciplinary connection "one of the most unexpected, but enlightening moments in my research career -- truly a gift from God."

The explanation may not immediately improve short-term weather forecasting, the researchers said, but it will certainly help predict long-term patterns, including which areas may see more drought or floods.

Their initial results suggest that while climate change probably increases blocking by running the jet stream closer to its capacity, there will be regional differences:  for example, the Pacific Ocean may actually see a decrease in blocking over the decades.

"It's very difficult to forecast anything until you understand why it's happening, so this mechanistic model should be extremely helpful," Nakamura said.

 Read more at New Theory Finds 'Traffic Jams' in Jet Stream Cause Abnormal Weather Patterns

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Thursday 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.

In Landmark Day, East Coast States Secure 1.2 GW of Offshore Wind for US

Block Island Wind Farm (Image credit: Deepwater Wind | Twitter)
Massachusetts and Rhode Island today selected two offshore wind projects for development, securing a total of 1.2 GW of offshore generating capacity along the East Coast.

“With today’s landmark decisions, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are ready to pioneer large-scale offshore wind development that will light the way for our industry and nation,” Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said in a statement.  “With world-class wind resources, infrastructure and offshore energy expertise, the U.S. is primed to scale up this industry and lead it.  Becoming a world leader for offshore wind will open tremendous new opportunities for U.S. workers, factories, and ships throughout our coastal states.”

Vineyard Wind won a competitive bid in Massachusetts with a 800-MW offshore wind proposal that includes a generator lead line.

Massachusetts law requires the state’s electric distribution companies to obtain 1.6 GW of offshore wind energy by 2027.  A request for proposals from the state called for long-term contracts for offshore wind generation and associated renewable energy credits totaling 400 MW, but bidders were able to submit proposals for up to about 800 MW.  Bids were evaluated and selected by the state’s distribution companies and the Department of Energy Resources.

“Vineyard Wind is proud to be selected to lead the new Massachusetts offshore wind industry into the future,” Lars Thaaning Pedersen, CEO of Vineyard Wind, said.

Thaaning said Vineyard Wind is grateful for the time and commitment shown by many stakeholders, including Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton and Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Judith Judson.

“We look forward to working with the Commonwealth, the communities of the Cape, Islands, and South Coast, and all stakeholders in together fully realizing the enormous opportunity of offshore wind,” he said.

Vineyard Wind is a joint venture of Avangrid Renewables, a subsidiary of AVANGRID Inc., which is majority owned by Iberdrola S.A. and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.

Deepwater Wind was named the winning bidder in a competitive offshore wind procurement process between Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  The company was selected to construct the 400-MW Revolution Wind project, which includes pairing the project with the Northfield Mountain pumped hydroelectric station operated by FirstLight Power Resources.

Deepwater Wind began commercial operations of the first U.S. offshore wind farm — Block Island — in December 2016.  Deepwater in 2013 won two leases as part of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s auction of the Rhode Island/Massachusetts wind energy area, which covers about 165,000 acres.

"Rhode Island pioneered American offshore wind energy, and it's only fitting that the Ocean State continues to be the vanguard of this growing industry," Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski, said.

The Orsted and Eversource joint venture, Bay State Wind, was not selected in the Massachusetts competitive bidding process.

Read more at In Landmark Day, East Coast States Secure 1.2 GW of Offshore Wind for US

US Launches Nuclear Initiative to Cut Carbon with Canada, Japan, UK

While the Trump administration generally avoids discussion of climate change, it is participating in a coalition to promote “clean, reliable” nuclear power.


A nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France (Photo Credit: Stefan Kühn) Click to Enlarge.
The US, Canada and Japan are to create a coalition aimed at promoting nuclear power as a carbon-free energy source around the world.

The UK is also taking part, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) confirmed to Climate Home News on Wednesday.

The Nuclear Innovation:  Clean Energy (Nice) partnership will be launched on Thursday at a ministerial summit being held in Copenhagen and Malmö.

In a blog post on his department’s website, US deputy energy secretary Dan Brouillette called for countries to work together for a “Nice Future”.

“If the world is serious about reducing emissions and growing economies, then the ministerial must consider all options when it comes to carbon-free power, including clean, reliable nuclear energy,” he said.

Read more at US Launches Nuclear Initiative to Cut Carbon with Canada, Japan, UK

EV Revolution Could Wipe Out $21 Trillion in Oil Revenue

Oil Storage (Credit: oilprice.com) Click to Enlarge.
Hardly a day goes by without a research company releasing yet another report forecasting the future of electric vehicles and all related industries, oil included.  Some of these are skeptical, but most predict a bright future for electric cars.  The latest is no exception: a UK-based company, Aurora Energy Research, has projected that the adoption of electric cars could wipe out as much as US$21 trillion in revenues for the oil, gas, and coal industry by 2040.

In oil, Aurora Energy Research predicts that revenues could fall from US$1.5 trillion in 2016 to US$1.1 trillion in 2040 on the back of fast EV adoption combined with major improvements in energy efficiencies.  Meanwhile, oil prices could plummet to as little as US$32 a barrel.

This is what could happen under a “Burnout” scenario developed by the research firm that envisages fast growth in EV adoption and equally fast growth in electricity demand on the back of digital tech use driven by the expansion of the Internet of Things.

Read more at EV Revolution Could Wipe Out $21 Trillion in Oil Revenue

Global Warming Made Hurricane Harvey More Destructive

Hot oceans fueled Hurricane Harvey, generating more intense rainfall.


The NOAA/NASA Suomi NPP satellite captures an infrared image of Hurricane Harvey just prior to making landfall on August 25, 2017 along the Texas coast. (Photograph Credit: Handout/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Last summer, the United states was pummeled with three severe hurricanes in rapid succession.  It was a truly awesome display of the power of weather and the country is still reeling from the effects.  In the climate community, there has been years of research into the effect that human-caused global warming has on these storms – both their frequency and their power. 

The prevailing view is that in a warming world, there will likely be fewer such storms, but the storms that form will be more severe.  Some research, however, concludes that there will be both more storms and more severe ones.  More generally, because there is more heat, there is more activity, which can be manifested in several ways.

Regardless, there is very little doubt that a warmer planet can create more powerful storms.  The reason is that hurricanes feed off of warmer ocean water.  In order to form these storms, oceans have to be above about 26°C (about 80°F).  With waters that hot, and with strong winds, there is a rapid evaporation of moisture from the ocean.  The resulting water vapor enters into the storm, providing the energy to power the storm as the water vapor condenses and falls out of the storm as rain.

Read more at Global Warming Made Hurricane Harvey More Destructive

Strict Curbs on Global Warming Would Buoy World Economy:  Study

Homes are severely damaged after a tornado hit the town of Emory, Texas, U.S., April 30, 2017. (Credit: Reuters/Brandon Wade/File Photo) Click to Enlarge.
Stringent limits on global warming would bolster the world economy by averting tens of trillions of dollars in damage this century from heat waves, droughts and floods, a U.S. study said on Wednesday.

The report, among the first to assess the economics of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, said the toughest temperature curbs would benefit 90 percent of the world’s population, especially in poor nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The world’s biggest economies - the United States, China, and Japan - would also gain if the world achieves the toughest targets, according to the study led by researchers at Stanford University and published in the journal Nature.

Russia, Canada, and Nordic countries, where rising temperatures could boost farm output and limit deaths from winter cold, would be among a few nations to [not benefit] economically from tough curbs on global warming, the study said.
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“The results should be interpreted with caution,” Bob Ward, of the London School of Economics and Political Science, told Reuters.  He said it was unlikely that “the impacts of future global warming can be simply extrapolated”.

The authors acknowledged many uncertainties about the future economy.  Wider use of air conditioning in the tropics, for instance, might lift worker productivity and GDP as it has already done in nations such as Singapore, Burke said.


The study also omitted some big potential benefits, for instance if a 1.5C ceiling could avert a thaw of Greenland or Antarctica that would drive up sea levels and swamp coasts.

Read more at Strict Curbs on Global Warming Would Buoy World Economy:  Study

Exxon to Cut Methane Emissions in Bid to Tackle Climate Change

A sign is seen at the entrance of the Exxonmobil Port Allen Lubricants Plant in Port Allen, Louisiana, November 6, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/Lee Celano) Click to Enlarge.
Exxon Mobil Corp said on Wednesday it was targeting a 15 percent cut in methane emissions by 2020, the latest effort by an oil major to reduce its carbon footprint and address climate change concerns.

Exxon, like oil and gas majors across the world, is working to placate environmentalists and governments who are concerned about pollution from fossil fuels.

BP said last month it would keep carbon emissions flat over the decade to 2025 to help tackle climate change.

Exxon, the world’s largest publicly traded oil producer, had said in September it would replace oil equipment and update technology to curb methane emissions from its U.S. shale facilities.

Exxon said leak-detection-and-repair efforts at XTO Energy, its shale-focused subsidiary, had reduced emissions of the gas by 2 percent in the past year.

The company also expects these efforts to cut natural gas flaring by about 25 percent by 2020, with most reductions expected in West Africa.

Read more at Exxon to Cut Methane Emissions in Bid to Tackle Climate Change

New Jersey Governor Signs Nuclear Power Subsidy Bill into Law

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy speaks after taking the oath of office in Trenton, New Jersey, U.S., January 16, 2018. (Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson} Click to Enlarge.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed several legislative initiatives on Wednesday to advance the state’s clean energy goals, including a controversial bill that would subsidize the continued operation of nuclear power plants.

The new nuclear law, which could cost about $300 million a year, establishes a Zero Emissions Certificate (ZEC) program to maintain New Jersey’s nuclear energy supply, which contributes close to 40 percent of the state’s electric capacity and is by far its largest source of carbon free energy.

Plants seeking to participate in the program would be required, among other things, to demonstrate that they make a significant contribution to New Jersey air quality and are at risk of closure within three years.

The four reactors operating in New Jersey are capable of generating over 4,100 megawatts (MW) of electricity.  Three are located at the Salem-Hope Creek nuclear plant and are operated by a unit of Public Service Enterprise Group Inc, the state’s biggest power company.  One megawatt can power about 1,000 U.S. homes.

The other reactor, Oyster Creek, is owned by Exelon Corp, which also owns part of the Salem reactors.  Exelon plans to shut Oyster Creek in October 2018 under a long-standing agreement with the state.

“Exelon commends New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy...by signing into law a package of legislation that will help to preserve 90 percent of New Jersey’s carbon-free power, protect 5,800 jobs and save residents and businesses $400 million on their electric bills,” Exelon said in a statement.
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Nuclear operators have shut several reactors over the past five years and plan to close more as cheap natural gas from shale fields has depressed power prices, making it uneconomic for generators to keep operating some nuclear plants.

The new law makes New Jersey the fourth state after New York, Illinois, and Connecticut to adopt a program to provide a new revenue stream to keep nuclear reactors in service to help meet the states’ greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Read more at New Jersey Governor Signs Nuclear Power Subsidy Bill into Law

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday 23

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.

World Temperature Rise Nears Danger Level

A 2°C rise would devastate the world’s poorest people. (Image Credit: Sudipta Arka Das, Dhaka, via Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
If world temperature rises more than another 0.5°C, the consequences will be catastrophic for millions of the poorest people.

With world temperature rise already 1°C above pre-industrial levels, new research shows that there is only a 0.5°C safety margin left in the system before the most vulnerable groups of people suffer severely.

The current political target, agreed in Paris more than two years ago, of aiming to prevent temperature from rising more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and certainly stopping a rise beyond 2°C, disguises the fact that we are already more than halfway to the danger point.

And scientists have now shown that there is a huge difference in the consequences to the human race if the 1.5°C limit is exceeded and temperatures allowed to reach 2°C.

Research to identify climate vulnerability hotspots has found that if the global temperature does rise by 2°C, then the number of people affected by multiple climate change risks could double the number affected by a rise of 1.5°C.

Because people living in poverty are much more vulnerable to climate change impacts, knowing where and how many of them are at high risk matters for developing policies to improve their lives.

Read more at World Temperature Rise Nears Danger Level

Poland’s Stunning Electromobility Plans

The Polish government has adopted a new law on electromobility aimed to turn Poland into an e-mobility leader in Europe.  The country wants to have 1 million EVs on the road by 2025.  Already home to electric bus manufacturing plants and a big EV battery plant, Poland is set to become the motor for electrifying transport in Europe.  “We are really pioneers”, says Marta Gajęcka, Head of Energy Advisors to the President of the Republic of Poland, in an exclusive interview with Energy Post.

At first glance Poland seems like an unlikely candidate to become an industrial powerhouse based on electric vehicles.  The country had only 324 public charging stations available in 2016, compared with around 7,000 in the UK.  About 1,068 EVs were sold in 2017, up from 556 in 2016.  Contrasting with this apparently unpromising start, the Electromobility Development Plan adopted by the Polish Council of Ministers in 2017 plans for one million EVs on the road by 2025.

Earlier this year, new legislation in the form of the ‘Act on Electromobility and Alternative Fuels’ was approved by lawmakers, setting out the legal framework for Poland’s EV ambition.  “There are not so many countries who are putting e-mobility forward as a central component of policy, we are really pioneers in this way,” says Marta Gajęcka, Head of Energy Advisors to the President of the Republic of Poland, in an interview with Energy Post.  “Electrifying transport has the potential to enable  cheaper and more reliable access to mobility.  Electro-mobility forms a central component of the EU’s ambition to decarbonize its economy in line with the Paris Agreement ,” she adds.

A building permit will not be required for charging stations or charging points.  Nor will the charging of electric vehicles be regarded as a sale of electric energy under existing legislation

“It’s also closely connected to energy security and reducing dependence on oil imports,” says Gajęcka.  Poland is almost entirely dependent on imported oil, most of which comes from Russia (76% in 2017, down from 96 % in 2012), to meet transport demand.

Charging as a service
Cleaner air is also a motivating factor:  Poland is among the many Eastern European countries struggling with severe air pollution.  On 22 February 2018, the European Court of Justice concluded that Poland had failed clean air obligations and infringed EU law (for PM standards).  Gajęcka comments: “Air pollution is a big problem, especially in urban areas. Transport is of course a factor, but energy poverty in terms of home heating is a serious problem. People use poor quality fuels to heat their homes and this is a big contributor to smog.  We are working on new measures to cope with poor quality fuel use as well as with energy poverty. Electrifying transport is one of many steps towards solving the problem.”

The new Act is the first set of rules in Poland on electrifying transport and is intended to promote electromobility and alternative fuel vehicles. It transposes a key European directive [Directive 2014/94/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 October 2014] on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure.
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Unlike other European countries such as Norway, there is no grant incentive for EV take-up. However, the Act does provide for the abolition of excise duties on electric vehicles, no property taxes for charging points, the use of bus lanes for electric cars and free parking in cities.

Read more at Poland’s Stunning Electromobility Plans

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tuesday 22

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.

E-buses to Surge Even Faster than EVs; Supply of Cobalt Potential Risk to the Pace of Growth

Annual global light duty vehicle sales. (Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance)  Click to Enlarge.
The electrification of road transport will move into top gear in the second half of the 2020s, due to tumbling battery costs and larger-scale manufacturing, with sales of electric cars surging to 28%, and those of electric buses to 84%, of their respective global markets by 2030.

The latest long-term forecast from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) shows sales of electric vehicles (EVs) increasing from a record 1.1 million worldwide last year to 11 million in 2025, and then surging to 30 million in 2030 as they establish cost advantage over internal combustion engine (ICE) cars.  China will lead this transition, with sales there accounting for almost 50% of the global EV market in 2025 and 39% in 2030.

The pace of electrification in transport will vary by country, particularly over the next 12 years as some markets jump ahead of others.  BNEF forecasts that in 2030, EVs will make up 44% of European light-duty vehicle sales, 41% of those in China, 34% in the U.S., and 17% in Japan.  However, a shortage of charging infrastructure and a lack of affordable models will hold back the market in India, so that EVs will make up just 7% of new car sales in 2030 there.

BNEF’s projections imply big opportunities for lithium-ion battery manufacturers.  China is already dominant in this market, with a 59% global share of production capacity in 2018, and this is forecast to rise to 73% by 2021.

The number of combustion engined (ICE) vehicles sold per year (gasoline or diesel) is expected to start declining in the mid-2020s, as EVs bite hard into their market.  In 2040 some 60 million EVs are projected to be sold, equivalent to 55% of the global light-duty vehicle market.  Shared mobility cars will be a small but growing element.

E-buses.  The advance of e-buses will be even more rapid than for electric cars, according to BNEF’s analysis.  It shows electric buses in almost all charging configurations having a lower total cost of ownership than conventional municipal buses by 2019.  There are already more than 300,000 e-buses on the road in China, and electric models are on track to dominate the global market by the late 2020s.

Read more at E-buses to Surge Even Faster than EVs; Supply of Cobalt Potential Risk to the Pace of Growth

Climate Change on Track to Cause Major Insect Wipeout, Scientists Warn

Insects are vital to ecosystems but will lose almost half their habitat under current climate projections.


The famous migration of the North American monarch butterfly is one of the most well-documented examples of an insect species affected by climate change. (Photograph Credit: Joel Sartore/NG/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Global warming is on track to cause a major wipeout of insects, compounding already severe losses, according to a new analysis.

Insects are vital to most ecosystems and a widespread collapse would cause extremely far-reaching disruption to life on Earth, the scientists warn.  Their research shows that, even with all the carbon cuts already pledged by nations so far, climate change would make almost half of insect habitat unsuitable by the end of the century, with pollinators like bees particularly affected.

However, if climate change could be limited to a temperature rise of 1.5C - the very ambitious goal included in the global Paris agreement - the losses of insects are far lower.

The new research is the most comprehensive to date, analyzing the impact of different levels of climate change on the ranges of 115,000 species.  It found plants are also heavily affected but that mammals and birds, which can more easily migrate as climate changes, suffered less.

“We showed insects are the most sensitive group,” said Prof Rachel Warren, at the University of East Anglia, who led the new work.  “They are important because ecosystems cannot function without insects.  They play an absolutely critical role in the food chain.”

“The disruption to our ecosystems if we were to lose that high proportion of our insects would be extremely far-reaching and widespread,” she said.  “People should be concerned - humans depend on ecosystems functioning.”  Pollination, fertile soils, clean water, and more all depend on healthy ecosystems, Warren said.

In October scientists warned of “ecological Armageddon” after discovering that the number of flying insects had plunged by three-quarters in the past 25 years in Germany and very likely elsewhere.

Read more at Climate Change on Track to Cause Major Insect Wipeout, Scientists Warn

Trump Administration Joins Fossil Fuel Companies in Climate Fight Against Cities

Arguing against cities that want Big Oil to compensate for climate damages, federal lawyers say such an outcome would curb fossil fuel production, a Trump priority.


San Francisco and Oakland have sued five major oil and gas companies in an attempt to hold fossil fuel producers accountable for the effects of climate change. Lawyers for the Trump administration have now filed a brief in support of the companies' efforts to have these cases dismissed. (Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Image) Click to Enlarge.
Just before a critical hearing to determine the fate of a pair of climate lawsuits in California, the United States government has weighed in as a heavyweight ally on the side of the fossil fuel companies.

Lawyers from the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division filed a friend of the court brief last week in support of five of the world's largest oil and gas companies, which are seeking to have lawsuits by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland dismissed.

U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup is scheduled to hear arguments on Thursday on a motion by the companies to throw out the cases.

Federal lawyers argue in their brief that if the two lawsuits succeed, it could stymie domestic and international energy production.

"The United States has strong economic and national security interests in promoting the development of fossil fuels, among other energy resources," according to the 24-page brief filed May 10.

The brief cites President Trump's March 2017 Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, suggesting the fight being waged by the two cities against the companies runs counter to the administration's support of unrestricted fossil fuel development.

"It's hardly surprising that Donald Trump's Justice Department is cozying up to Big Oil," said John Coté, a spokesman for the San Francisco City Attorney's Office.  "But this a legal matter, not a political one."

The sister cities filed suit last year against ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell, and BP, blaming them for the effects of climate change.  The parallel lawsuits seek billions of dollars to build sea walls and other coastal infrastructure to protect neighborhoods and property from sea level rise.

The lawsuits claim the companies produced fossil fuels in disregard of their own understanding of the consequences of global warming.

"This egregious state of affairs is no accident," according to the San Francisco lawsuit.

Read more at Trump Administration Joins Fossil Fuel Companies in Climate Fight Against Cities

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Solar and Wind Are Coming.  And the Power Sector Isn’t Ready. - By David Roberts

The rise in renewable energy will scramble the decision making of grid managers.


Here they come. (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
The US electricity system is at an extremely sensitive and uncertain juncture.  More and more indicators point toward a future in which wind and solar power play a large role.  But that future is not locked in.  It still depends in large part on policies and economics that, while moving in the right direction, aren’t there yet.

And so the people who manage US electricity markets and infrastructure, who must make decisions with 20-, 30-, even 50-year consequences, are stuck making high-stakes bets in a haze of uncertainty.


That uncertainty has increased markedly under the recent Republican administration (somewhat ironically, given its oft-stated goal of “regulatory certainty”).  Under President Obama, the feds established a consistent cross-agency push toward clean energy.  The long-term trajectory was clear.


Now it’s been thrown into doubt.  President Trump has embraced fossil fuels, and the owners of struggling coal plants are appealing to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for bailouts.


Should utilities and market managers bet that the Trumpian revolt against modernity will succeed in slowing the growth of renewable energy?  Or should they bet that it’s a passing phase and renewable energy will triumph?


A fascinating bit of new research from the energy geeks at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) sheds some light on the stakes involved.


In a nutshell, things will look different in an electricity system with lots of variable renewable energy (VRE) — different prices, a different shape of demand, different timing, different needs — and if the people managing the electricity system bet on low VRE and get high, they are going to screw up all sorts of things.


If the US gets serious about renewables, the electricity system will look very different

As of 2016, wind and solar power — VRE — provide 7.1 percent of US electricity. VRE affects utility and market decisions, but it is not yet central to them. The LBNL team (Joachim Seel, Andrew Mills, and Ryan Wiser) notes that “many long-lasting decisions for supply- and demand-side electricity infrastructure and programs are based on historical observations or assume a business-as-usual future with low shares of VRE.”

But what if VRE takes off?  What if it hits 40 or 50 percent of national electricity supply by 2030? (Climate hawks would prefer an entirely decarbonized power sector by then; neither goal will be possible without a serious national policy push.)  Would high VRE penetrations substantially change the decisions that energy regulators, policymakers, and investors need to make?


In a word, yes.  They would.


Wholesale Price Effects of 40-50% Wind & Solar (Credit: LBNL) Click to Enlarge.
The team modeled the effects of high (40 percent) VRE and found several notable changes relevant to the operation of wholesale energy markets.  Here they are all at once, in a giant, info-packed chart!

Now that your eyes are bleeding, let’s back up and walk through the changes.


The team modeled four 2030 scenarios:  a baseline, with VRE shares frozen at 2016 levels, and three high-VRE scenarios, one that’s wind at 30 percent share and solar at 10 percent, one that’s the reverse, and a “balanced” 20-20 scenario. They ran these four scenarios for each of four energy markets in the US:  the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) covering Kansas, Oklahoma, and portions of surrounding states; the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).


Here are some of the results, which will throw wholesale markets into a new equilibrium.

  1. VRE reduces average wholesale power prices.
  2. In all high-VRE scenarios, in all markets, average wholesale power prices go down.  Depending on the scenario and region, the drop is anywhere from $5 to $16.  Note that average prices fall the most under the high-solar scenario, in every market but ERCOT.  Unlike the other states, Texas is a bit isolated, running its own grid with few interconnections to other grids through which it can import or export power.  It has to deal with all that solar on its own (more on that later).  Lower prices are good for consumers but bad for owners of big, uneconomic coal and nuclear plants, who rely on high prices to keep running.  (Yes, it is a peculiar market in which most of the people responsible, including the president, view low prices as a threat.)
  3. VRE bumps fossil fuels off the grid.
  4. In high-VRE scenarios, markets see anywhere from 4 to 16 percent retirement in “firm capacity,” i.e., coal, oil, and steam turbines.  The exception is CAISO, which sees a small, 2 to 4 percent boost in firm capacity via the growth of natural gas.  (Natural gas also grows in SPP and NYISO, though it’s offset by coal and oil retirements.)  Notably, VRE reduces the amount of energy generated from fossil fuels (MWh) much faster than it reduces capacity (MW), anywhere from 25 to 50 percent (the most in NYISO).  Basically, every new kWh from VRE displaces a kWh from fossil fuels. 
  5. VRE makes periods of very low prices and very low emissions more frequent.
  6. Depending on the market and scenario, high VRE buildout reduces overall carbon emissions anywhere from 21 to 47 percent and “leads to an increase in frequency of hours with very low marginal emission rates ranging from 5% of all hours in CAISO (wind scenario) to 31% in SPP (solar scenario).”  Also more frequent under high VRE are periods in which wholesale power prices are extremely low, under $5 a MWh.  (It’s these periods that so wreck the economics of big coal and nuclear plants.)  The effect is especially pronounced in ERCOT under high solar.
Read more at Solar and Wind Are Coming.  And the Power Sector Isn’t Ready.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Friday 18

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.

Rising Sea Levels Putting Wildlife at Risk

Rising seas pose threats to wildlife habitat, and many species are losing important habitat for critical life functions such as nesting.


UC-Davis graduate student Mickey Agha poses with a pair of western pond turtles. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mickey Agha) Click to Enlarge.
Just as rising seas pose serious threats to coastal residents and human-built systems and structures, and cause human climate refugees to flee low-lying atolls, these seas are also threatening many diverse species of wildlife.

Coastal species are particularly affected, and some are losing habitat as rising water covers the beaches they rely on for important life functions, like nesting.  Another chief concern is the intrusion of salty sea water into freshwater habitats and the impacts that has on some species.

A recent University of California-Davis study predicts up to 90 percent of coastal freshwater turtle species will be at risk from sea-level rise.  The study was published in Biological Reviews in March.  If sea levels rise three feet by 2100 – a frequently cited estimate well within the range of NASA’s projections – salty seawater is likely to inundate many of the freshwater habitats these turtles need.

Read more at Rising Sea Levels Putting Wildlife at Risk

Urgent Climate Action Required to Protect Tens of Thousands of Species Worldwide, New Research Shows

Limiting global warming to 2 degrees and not the more ambitious 1.5 degrees would put far more species at risk of extinction.  Insects are especially vulnerable.

A mere half degree of extra global warming could mean profound risks for tens of thousands of the planet's species, scientists have found. (Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Humanity can powerfully improve the survival odds of tens of thousands of species, but only if nations dramatically raise their ambitions in the fight against climate change, according to new research published on Thursday in the journal Science.

One key to salvaging plant and vertebrate habitat and protecting the world's biodiversity is to limit warming to the most challenging benchmark established under the 2015 Paris treaty—1.5 degrees Celsius of warming—not to the treaty's less stringent 2 degree guardrail, the study found.

The study assessed, in more detail than ever before, a key measure of extinction risk:  the shrinking size of each species' current geographical range, or natural habitat.  It projected that for an alarming number of species, their range size would shrink by at least half as temperatures rise past the Paris goals.

If nations do no more than they have pledged so far to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions—and warming consequently shoots past 3 degrees by the end of this century—6 percent of all vertebrates would be at risk.  So would 44 percent of plants and a whopping 49 percent of insects.

But the dangers would be greatly reduced if warming can be limited to 1.5 degrees.  That might protect the overwhelming majority of the 115,000 species assessed by the researchers.  Just 4 percent of vertebrates would lose more than half of their current range.  Only 8 percent of plants and 6 percent of insects would face that risk.

Keeping warming to 2 degrees is not nearly as effective, they found.  The additional half degree of warming would double the impact on plants and vertebrate species, and triple the impact on insects.

Read more at Urgent Climate Action Required to Protect Tens of Thousands of Species Worldwide, New Research Shows

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Thursday 17

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.

New Rules on Ship Emissions Herald Sea Change for Oil Market

Shipping vessels and oil tankers line up on the eastern coast of Singapore in this July 22, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/Edgar Su/Files) Click to Enlarge.
New rules coming into force from 2020 to curb pollution produced by the world’s ships are worrying everyone from OPEC oil producers to bunker fuel sellers and shipping companies.

The regulations will slash emissions of sulfur, which is blamed for causing respiratory diseases and is a component of acid rain that damages vegetation and wildlife.

But the energy and shipping industries are ill-prepared, say analysts, with refiners likely to struggle to meet higher demand for cleaner fuel and few ships fitted with equipment to reduce sulfur emissions.
...
Will Everyone Follow the Rules?
Many vessels may try to dodge the new rules, unable to afford the cost of scrubbers and reluctant to pay the premium for cleaner fuel.  But how much of the industry will cheat is open to debate, with estimates ranging from 10 to 40 percent.

The IMO says it will ban ships that do not have scrubbers from carrying any fuel oil, making it easier to catch cheaters.

Oil major BP expects 10 percent of ships could cheat, while consultancy Wood Mackenzie expects a figure of about 30 percent when the rules launch in 2020.  Consultant Citac says industry polls indicate cheating could be in a range of 25 to 40 percent.

Can Refiners Meet New Demand?
The global refining industry needs to process an extra 2.5 million bpd of crude to make distillates for cleaner fuel, says Robert Herman, refining executive at Phillips 66.

Some refiners have invested in cutting sulfur in their output, but fitting hydrocracker or coker unit so that a refinery produces more distillates with lower sulfur content while reducing fuel oil output can cost about $1 billion, analysts say.

Small refineries, unable to afford the upgrade, may find they are churning out fuel oil without finding buyers.

A KBC consultancy survey showed 40 percent of Middle Eastern and European refineries are not prepared.  European plants, which tend to be less complex than those in other regions, produce more fuel oil and may face the biggest challenge.

Morgan Stanley says refineries of Spain’s Repsol (REP.MC), Turkey’s Tupras, India’s Reliance (RELI.NS) and U.S. independent Valero (VLO.N) are among the best prepared because they already produce high middle distillate and low high-sulfur fuel oil.

What Will Happen to the Crude Market?
The simplest way for refineries to produce fuel with less sulfur is to buy and process crude that contains less sulfur, a shift that could change demand for different oil grades and lead to greater oil market volatility.

For example, processing Iraq’s Basra Heavy grade with high sulfur content produces as much as 50 percent fuel oil, while using light, sweet North Sea crude with less sulfur produces about 12 percent fuel oil.

“There will be a bidding war for sweet crude,” said Stephen George, chief economist with KBC Advanced Technologies.

This could hike the price of sweeter crudes, including several grades used to make dated Brent, the benchmark for three quarters of the world’s oil.  Meanwhile, the cost of refining “sour” crudes with more sulfur, such as those from Venezuela, Mexico, and Ecuador, “could be more than its value,” he said.

Who Will Pay the Price?
Energy firms and shippers may face a squeeze on margins.  But, ultimately, extra costs are likely to fall on consumers of everything from household appliances to gasoline that are shipped around the world.  Roughly 90 percent of world trade is by sea.

Wood Mackenzie estimates that global shipping fuel costs are likely to rise by a quarter, or $24 billion, in 2020.  Others estimate extra costs for container shipping alone will be $35 billion to $40 billion.

In addition a surge in distillate demand by shippers could push up prices of other products, such as jet fuel and diesel.

“It’s going to make moving anything more expensive,” said AlphaTanker’s Wilson.

Read more at New Rules on Ship Emissions Herald Sea Change for Oil Market