Monday, April 30, 2018

Monday 30

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. Top Court Rejects Constitution Pipeline over New York Permit

In this Feb. 2015 photo, a ribbon tied to a stake on Kernan family property marks the proposed path of the Constitution Pipeline in Harpersfield, N.Y. (Credit: Mike Groll / AP Photo) Click to Enlarge.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday dealt another setback to a proposed natural gas pipeline running from Pennsylvania to New York, rejecting Constitution Pipeline Co’s bid to challenge New York state’s refusal to issue a needed water permit for the project.

The high court left in place an August 2017 ruling by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of the state.  Partners in the 125-mile (201-km) pipeline project include Williams Cos Inc, Duke Energy Corp, WGL Holdings Inc and Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.

Read more at U.S. Top Court Rejects Constitution Pipeline over New York Permit

Icebergs Could Float to the Rescue of Cape Town Water Crisis

Iceberg (Credit: Reuters)  Click to Enlarge.
Marine salvage experts are floating a plan to tug icebergs from Antarctica to South Africa’s drought-hit Cape Town to help solve the region’s worst water shortage in a century.

Salvage master Nick Sloane told Reuters he was looking for government and private investors for a scheme to guide huge chunks of ice across the ocean, chop them into a slurry and melt them down into millions of liters of drinking water.

“We want to show that if there is no other source to solve the water crisis, we have another idea no one else has thought of yet,” said Sloane, who led the refloating of the capsized Italian passenger liner Costa Concordia in 2014.

South Africa has declared a national disaster over the drought that hit its southern and western regions after 2015 and 2016 turned into two of the driest years on record.

Tough water restrictions are already in place and Cape Town authorities have warned that taps could run dry altogether as soon as next year if winter rains do not come to the rescue of the port city’s 4 million residents.

Read more at Icebergs Could Float to the Rescue of Cape Town Water Crisis

Nitrogen from Rock Could Fuel More Plant Growth Around the World – but Not Enough to Prevent Climate Change [on Its Own] - by B. Z. Houlton

Rock Cut framing Longs Peak at night. Rocky Mountain National Park (Credit: TerraGalleria) Click to Enlarge.
Nitrogen is one of the most important resources for people, ecosystems and the planet.  It’s found in all sorts of essential molecules, including DNA, protein and cell walls.  Life - and humanity - cannot exist without adequate access to this precious nutrient.

For many years, researchers believed that essentially all of the nitrogen in the world’s natural plants and soils originated from the atmosphere, where it makes up about 78 percent of the air we breathe.  But in a recent study, my colleagues Scott Morford, Randy Dahlgren and I discovered that up to a quarter of the planet’s terrestrial nitrogen originates from weathering of bedrock.

As a global environmental scientist who has been studying nitrogen, climate and ecosystems for over a decade, I found this result surprising.  And it has big implications for people and the planet.  If there is more nitrogen available in Earth’s system than scientists have thought, it could fuel extra photosynthesis by plants, increasing the rate at which they pull carbon pollution out of the atmosphere.

But this isn’t a solution to climate change, contrary to what some prominent pundits have contended.  Rock weathering is no magic answer:  It simply does not supply nitrogen fast enough to radically slow warming over the next 100 years.

Read more at Nitrogen from Rock Could Fuel More Plant Growth Around the World – but Not Enough to Prevent Climate Change

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sunday 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.

The Northeast US Has a Carbon-Trading System.  It Is Boosting, Not Hurting, State Economies. - by David Roberts

RGGI is a net economic benefit for every state involved.

Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam has backed a bill that would have his state join RGGI. (Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
According to the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, some 42 countries and 25 subnational jurisdictions now price carbon.

None of these carbon-pricing systems is reducing enough carbon fast enough.  We still don’t know if it’s politically possible to get a price high enough to drive radical carbon reductions.

What we do know, what has been amply demonstrated, is that it’s possible to set up a transparent, well-run carbon-pricing system that economically benefits the jurisdictions where it’s implemented and is politically resilient.
The RGGI cap is not driving most of the electricity-sector emission reductions
Since RGGI started in 2009, the Analysis Group has periodically assessed its economic impact on participating states.  Its latest report, out last week, is of particular interest, as it covers the three-year compliance period from 2015 to 2017, a period that saw quite a bit of change.

The economics of renewable energy changed, pollution control regulations changed, and some of the rules that govern regional energy markets changed, but most significantly, in December 2017, RGGI states completed their second mandatory Program Review, which resulted in a number of revisions to the program.  Most notably, the regional carbon cap between 2020 and 2030 was reduced by 30 percent.

Actual CO2 Emissions in the RGGI States and Evolution of the RGGI CO2 Emissions Cap (Credit: Analysis Group) Click to Enlarge.
That last part is important because the dirty secret of RGGI is that, so far, the carbon cap on the electricity sector (the dotted line) has been far above the sector’s actual emissions (the solid line):
For now, emissions are still falling faster than the cap is declining. The cap is not driving that, for the most part.  At least not yet.  But the program is still working, thanks to three clever features built in from the beginning.

RGGI is paying economic dividends to participating states
First, the pollution permits distributed under the cap are not given out for free; they are auctioned.  That guarantees that each state receives a stream of revenue.

Second, no matter how little pressure the cap puts on emissions, the price of permits never falls below a set reserve price (just over $2 in 2017), so there’s always at least some revenue.

And third, much of the revenue goes to “consumer-benefit programs,” including energy-efficiency programs and direct bill assistance.  By agreement, 25 percent of the revenue is to go to such programs, but in practice, the total has been much larger.

“As in the prior years,” Analysis Group writes, “during the 2015-2017 period [RGGI] states received and spent the roughly $1.0 billion in auction proceeds primarily on energy efficiency measures, community-based renewable energy projects, customer bill assistance, other GHG-emission reduction measures, and on research, education and job training programs.”

The best way to think of RGGI, then, is as a relatively low carbon tax that transfers money from the owners of fossil fuel power plants to consumer-benefit programs.
For RGGI states, carbon policy has not been a sacrifice.

What can be learned from RGGI
As Analysis Group emphasizes, RGGI was not intended or designed to be an economic development policy.  Ultimately, it should be judged by its success in gradually ratcheting down emissions from the power sector.

Power sector emissions are down and the program is operating smoothly.  That RGGI accomplished both while imposing no economic sacrifice (the opposite, actually) has to do with the fact that emissions were already on their way down — and that energy-efficiency investments are smart because the savings compound over time.  Diverting money from fossil fuels to energy efficiency would produce a net economic benefit for any state, using almost any policy mechanism.

But right now, RGGI amounts to a small carbon price on a small portion of the region’s emissions.  It remains an open question how a program like RGGI would fare if it expanded into sectors less amenable to carbon reductions, like transportation or industry (sectors it is becoming increasingly urgent to address).

Theoretically, a rising price on carbon could eventually make gasoline vehicles so expensive that consumers are forced en masse to EVs.  But they might not be so sanguine about that as they are about small bumps in their electricity bills.  When it comes to more stubborn sectors, progress is unlikely to unfold in the benign, orderly way that RGGI has proceeded so far.

Basically, we don’t know what it looks like for a price on carbon to get high enough to emerge as a primary driver of rapid emission reductions.  What we do know, thanks to RGGI and other systems, is that carbon-pricing systems can get established, nudge emission reductions along, and build some political capital.

For the incrementalist political strategy to pay off, though, RGGI has to spend some of that capital and keep ratcheting up.  Its true test will only come when its reach gets broader and its prices get higher.

Read more at The Northeast US Has a Carbon-Trading System. It Is Boosting, Not Hurting, State Economies. 

The Trillion-Dollar Coastal Property Bubble Is Ready to Burst, per New Study

Rising seas hit U.S. coastal property values:  "A pricing signal from climate change."

Flooding driven by climate change is affecting home prices in Miami. (Credit: Wall Street Journal) Click to Enlarge.
The trillion-dollar coastal property bubble is ready to burst as global warming-driven sea level rise and storm surges threaten more and more property with flooding.

We are now seeing a pricing signal from climate change in the relatively depressed prices for the coastal property most at risk for flooding, as Harvard real-estate professor Jesse Keenan told the Wall Street Journal Friday.

Keenan is the lead author of a new study of Miami single-family homes that found the “rates of price appreciation in the lowest elevation” homes “have not kept up with the rates of appreciation of higher elevation” homes since about 2000 (see chart).  That is, the homes along Miami’s coast most at risk from climate change are seeing their value drop over time compared to homes less at risk of flooding.

A second, broader study, Disaster on the Horizon:  The Price Effect of Sea Level Rise, found that “Homes exposed to sea level” are being priced 7 percent lower than homes that are the same distance from the beach, but that are less exposed to flooding.

The study, which used Zillow data from around the country, concluded that the pricing gap between riskier homes and safer homes was being driven by the “more sophisticated investors.”  For that group, the gap is about “11 percent and has increased over time, coinciding with the release of new scientific evidence on the extent and timing of ocean encroachment.”

The trillion-dollar coastal property bubble is ready to burst
The economic risks from rising seas are enormous — but the Trump administration’s policies all but guarantee a worst-case scenario plays out.

A 2014 Reuters analysis of this slow-motion disaster calculated there’s almost $1.25 trillion in coastal property whose value is being propped up by the National Flood Insurance Program’s below-market rates.

The risk will rise as sea levels rise, and when that happens, you’d expect your property value to fall,” as Lloyd Dixon, the director of the RAND Center for Catastrophic Risk Management and Compensation, explained in October.  “At some point, the property becomes worthless.”

Moreover, the latest science and politics are both ominous.  On the one hand, the Trump administration’s policies — to abandon the Paris climate deal while working to gut both domestic climate action and coastal adaptation programs — make the worst-case climate scenarios more likely while undermining efforts by coastal communities to prepare for what’s coming.

On the other hand, the latest science makes clear such policies will destroy every last bit of U.S. (and global) coastal property in the coming decades.  That science was recently reviewed by scientists from 13 federal agencies in November’s National Climate Assessment (NCA), which the Trump administration reviewed and cleared before releasing.

Read more at The Trillion-Dollar Coastal Property Bubble Is Ready to Burst, per New Study

The Dangerous Belief that Extreme Technology Will Fix Climate Change

It boils down to a failure to question capitalism, civilization, and the notion of progress.

Some scientists have proposed dumping gas in the earth’s skies to cool its temperature. (Credit: Reuters) Click to enlarge.
Scientists have proposed solar radiation management, as it’s called, for decades as a form of global-scale geoengineering that could combat global warming.  But few have done what Smith, a partner at a private equity firm and former airline executive, has done ― turned pie-in-the-sky, back-of-the-envelope calculations into a full-fledged feasibility study, complete with a development and operating budget for his fleet of planes.

Encouraged by the attention he has been getting from researchers at institutions like Harvard, where he was recently invited to present his work, Wake Smith has worked out a 10-year operating plan for planes that would begin spraying SO2 in 2023.

The whole endeavor, Smith said, is far cheaper and simpler than he initially imagined.  There are no real barriers, he said.  The total cost of the project?  A measly $3.5 billion, he estimated.

“I think it’s bad news how cheap this is,” Smith told a small group last month in a conference room at Harvard’s Center for the Environment.  For that kind of money, Smith argued, it’s possible that any rogue nation, organization or individual could start experimenting with the climate.

The impacts of geoengineering on the global scale are unknown, in part because no massive geoengineering project has been undertaken ― apart from human-induced climate change.  But models are potentially troubling.  Some suggest geoengineering will disrupt rainfall worldwide and damage the earth’s protective ozone layer.  A Rutgers University study published in January suggested that suddenly stopping a large geoengineering project, once it has started, could lead to rapid warming, pushing species into extinction and accelerating climate change.

As global temperatures continue to rise, however, some researchers say geoengineering shouldn’t be dismissed. Helene Muri, a researcher at the University of Oslo geosciences department, said it shows promise as a way to reduce harm from climate change, but it is not ready. “We need to know more about the risks involved before we, if we can ever, deem it safe to use,” she said. “Solar geoengineering is in any case not a substitute for cutting CO2 emissions.”

Yet, with every year and climate conference that passes, a global-scale geoengineering project becomes more and more feasible. There’s virtually no regulation stopping a country or individual from trying this, Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, told me. In fact, from a legal perspective, it’s easier to seed the stratosphere than get a permit to remodel your home, he added.

“I think there is such a large chance that someone will try geoengineering that it really needs to be governed,“ said Gerrard. That’s why, together with Tracy Hester at the University of Houston Law Center, he just published a book, Climate Engineering and the Law, intended to help policymakers, technologists and lawyers better understand current regulations and science underlying big-scale geoengineering projects. 

Read more at The Dangerous Belief that Extreme Technology Will Fix Climate Change

One of the Most Worrisome Predictions About Climate Change May Be Coming True

Mertz glacier in East Antarctica. (Credit: Alessandro Silvano) Click to Enlarge.
Two years ago, former NASA climate scientist James Hansen and a number of colleagues laid out a dire scenario in which gigantic pulses of fresh water from melting glaciers could upend the circulation of the oceans, leading to a world of fast-rising seas and even superstorms.

Hansen’s scenario was based on a computer simulation, not hard data from the real world, and met with skepticism from a number of other climate scientists.  But now, a new oceanographic study appears to have confirmed one aspect of this picture — in its early stages, at least.

The new research, based on ocean measurements off the coast of East Antarctica, shows that melting Antarctic glaciers are indeed freshening the ocean around them.  And this, in turn, is blocking a process in which cold and salty ocean water sinks below the sea surface in winter, forming “the densest water on the Earth,” in the words of study lead author Alessandro Silvano, a researcher with the University of Tasmania in Hobart.

This Antarctic bottom water has stopped forming in two key regions of Antarctica, the research shows — the West Antarctic coast and the coast around the enormous Totten glacier in East Antarctica.

These are two of Antarctica’s fastest-melting regions, and no wonder:  When cold surface water no longer sinks into the depths, a deeper layer of warm ocean water can travel across the continental shelf and reach the bases of glaciers, retaining its heat as the cold waters remain above.  This warmer water then rapidly melts the glaciers and the large floating ice shelves connected to them.

In other words the melting of Antarctica’s glaciers appears to be triggering a “feedback” loop in which that melting, through its effect on the oceans, triggers still more melting.  The melting water stratifies the ocean column, with cold fresh water trapped at the surface and warmer water sitting below.  Then, the lower layer melts glaciers and creates still more melt water — not to mention rising seas as glaciers lose mass.

Read more at One of the Most Worrisome Predictions About Climate Change May Be Coming True

New Ray of Hope for Solar Fuel

Hydrogen evolution test (Credit: Scientific Reports) Click to Enlarge.
The quest to develop the 'Holy Grail' of affordable, viable, and environmentally-friendly fuels using sunlight has taken an exciting new twist.

A team of Renewable Energy experts from the University of Exeter has pioneered a new technique to produce hydrogen from sunlight to create a clean, cheap, and widely-available fuel.

The team developed an innovative method to split water into its constituent parts -- hydrogen and oxygen -- using sunlight.  The hydrogen can then be used as a fuel, with the potential to power everyday items such as homes and vehicles.

Crucially, hydrogen fuel that can be created through this synthetic photosynthesis method would not only severely reduce carbon emissions, but would also create a virtually limitless energy source.

The ground-breaking new research centers on the use of a revolutionary photo-electrode -- an electrode that absorbs light before initializing electrochemical transformations to extract the hydrogen from water -- made from nanoparticles of the elements lanthanum, iron, and oxygen.

The researchers believe this new type of photo-electrode is not only cheap to produce, but can also be recreated on a larger scale for mass and worldwide use.

The research is published in leading journal, Scientific Reports.

Read more at New Ray of Hope for Solar Fuel

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Saturday 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.

G20 Summit:  a Strong Show of Support for Climate from G19 but Words Must Translate into Action

Trump isolated as world leaders reaffirm commitments to tackle dangerous climate change (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Climate Action Network welcomes the G20 summit’s commitment to strengthen climate action.  This is the first time a G20 Summit has produced a detailed Climate and Energy Action Plan outlining a to-do list to jointly tackle climate change.  All countries, save one, recognize that this is about protecting people’s health, safeguarding ecosystems, promoting economic prosperity and global stability.

Unfazed by the US' intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the G19 stand united, supported by allies in numerous cities, regions and businesses, to forge ahead with a safe and clean future for all.  Civil society expects all countries to build on this momentum.  We call on them to implement the Paris Agreement, come prepared to assess their collective progress in 2018 and trigger a process to ratchet up climate ambition by 2020.  As the next hosts of the G20, civil society supports Argentina in taking forward a progressive climate agenda.

Members of Climate Action Network react to the outcome from the Summit:
Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, leader of WWF’s Global Climate & Energy Practice: “Despite US pressure, world leaders at the G20 Summit showed they are serious about creating an equitable transition to a decarbonized world by by sending a strong signal on the Paris climate agreement.  The Action Plan on Climate and Energy for Growth attached to the Communique is the most detailed climate to-do list we have ever seen from the G20.  Now it’s about taking concrete action within and between countries, building on existing efforts by business, cities and civil society and amplifying those through true governmental leadership.”
Read more at G20 Summit:  a Strong Show of Support for Climate from G19 but Words Must Translate into Action

The Missing Maths:  the Human Cost of Fossil Fuels

We should account for the costs of disease and death from fossil fuel pollution in climate change policies.

 Buildings and houses are covered with a thick haze in Seoul, South Korea in February 2014. (Photograph Credit: Ahn Young-joon/AP) Click to Enlarge.
Each year, 6.1 million lives are lost prematurely due to air pollution.  Though most acutely and visibly hampering megacities of the developing world, air pollution is a growing public health emergency that affects almost all of us in our daily lives, whether or not we are aware of it.  The Health Effects Institute estimates that only 5% of the global population are lucky enough to live in areas with air pollution levels below safe guidelines.  Though recent studies suggest there may in fact be no risk-free level of air pollution.

Why is this number relevant to climate policy?  Because one common culprit is responsible for the majority of both climate change and air pollution:  fuel combustion.  Burning coal, oil, natural gas, and biomass – for everyday uses ranging from electricity, heating, cooking, to transportation – releases hundreds of gases and particles, some of which disrupt the climate system or are harmful to human health, or both.  Climate change could also worsen air quality in the future.

Decades of research have revealed that air pollution is associated with a wide range of diseases and disorders, including asthma, cancer, heart disease, stroke, and premature birth.  There is also emerging evidence that pollution from coal combustion and motor vehicles can cause development delays, reduced IQ, and autism in children.  The societal and economic costs of air pollution are multifold.  There are costs to the affected individuals, to their families and to society in terms of direct medical costs, costs to healthcare systems, productivity losses, and lower economic growth (not to mention costs resulting from damages to ecosystems).

Yet almost none of these costs stemming from our fossil fuel reliance are included in the majority of cost-benefit analyses of climate mitigation strategies.  A recent study estimates that the health co-benefits from air pollution reductions would outweigh the mitigation costs of staying below 2°C by 140–250% globally.  Historical evidence paints a similar picture.  The EPA estimates that the U.S. Clean Air Amendments cost $65bn to implement, but will have yielded a benefit of almost $2tn by 2020 in avoided health costs.

Many public health expert groups have underscored the enormous opportunity for leaders worldwide to design policies and initiatives that will simultaneously tackle climate change and air pollution.  Examples include replacing the most carbon-intensive and polluting sources such as coal and heavy-duty diesel with lower-emission or renewable alternatives, ending fossil fuel subsidies, redesigning urban spaces to make it easier and safer to commute by foot, bicycle, and public transportation, and transitioning to a more circular and sustainable economy.  While the climatic mitigation effects of such measures are long-term and dispersed globally, the health benefits are immediate and local. 

Read more at The Missing Maths: the Human Cost of Fossil Fuels

Gauging the Effects of Water Scarcity on an Irrigated Planet

Growing global food demand, climate change, and climate policies favoring bioenergy production are expected to increase pressures on water resources around the world.  Many analysts predict that water shortages will constrain the ability of farmers to expand irrigated cropland, which would be critical to ramping up production of both food and bioenergy crops.

If true, bioenergy production and food consumption would decline amid rising food prices and pressures to convert forests to rain-fed farmland.  Now a team of researchers at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change has put this prediction to the test.

Study projects likely impacts on food prices, bioenergy production, and deforestation.

At Michigan State University’s W. K. Kellogg Biological Station, Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center researchers are evaluating the performance of a variety of novel bioenergy crop production systems for crop yield and quality, impacts on microbial-plant interactions, biogeochemical and biodiversity responses and water use. (Photo Credit: Kurt Stepnitz/Michigan State University Office of Biobased Technologies.) Click to Enlarge.
To assess the likely impacts of future limited water resources on bioenergy production, food consumption and prices, land-use change, and the global economy, the MIT researchers have conducted a study that explicitly represents irrigated land and water scarcity.  Appearing in the Australian Journal of Agriculture and Resource Economics, the study is the first to include an estimation of how irrigation management and systems may respond to changes in water availability in a global economy-wide model that represents agriculture, energy and land-use change.

Combining the MIT Integrated Global System Modeling (IGSM) framework with a water resource system (WRS) component that enables analyses at the scale of river basins, the model represents additional irrigable land in 282 river basins across the globe.  Using the IGSM-WRS model, the researchers assessed the costs of expanding production in these areas through upgrades such as improving irrigation efficiency, lining canals to limit water loss, and expanding water storage capacity.

They found that explicitly representing irrigated land (i.e., distinguishing it from rain-fed land, which produces lower yields) had little impact on their projections of global food consumption and prices, bioenergy production, and the rate of deforestation under water scarcity.  The impacts are minimal because in response to shortages, water can be used more efficiently through the aforementioned upgrades, and regions with relatively less water scarcity can expand agricultural production for export to more arid regions.

Moreover, the researchers determined that changes in water availability for agriculture of plus or minus 20 percent had little impact on global food prices, bioenergy production, land-use change, and the global economy.
Despite the small global impacts, the researchers observed that explicitly representing irrigated land under water scarcity as well as changes in water availability for agriculture can have significant impact at the regional level.  In places where rainfall is relatively low and/or population growth is projected to outpace irrigation capacity and efficiency improvements, water shortages are more likely to limit irrigated cropland expansion, leading to lower crop production in those areas.

Read more at Gauging the Effects of Water Scarcity on an Irrigated Planet

Friday, April 27, 2018

Friday 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.

New York City Aims for All-Electric Bus Fleet by 2040

NYC has more than 5,700 MTA buses.  Taking the fleet electric would reduce climate-warming emissions and cut fuel, maintenance, and health costs.

New York City is testing 10 electric buses this year and plans to go all electric by 2040. How quickly it reaches that goal depends in part on technology and EV charging infrastructure. (Credit: Chris Hondros/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
New York City plans to convert its public bus system to an all-electric fleet by 2040, if not sooner, a new target announced this week by NYC Transit President Andy Byford.

"It does depend on the maturity of the technology—both the bus technology and the charging technology—but we are deadly serious about moving to an all-electric fleet," Byford, who became head of NYC Transit in January, said at a Metropolitan Transit Authority board meeting on Wednesday.

Byford's comments follow an ambitious action plan released on Monday that seeks to address flagging ridership and sluggish service on the nation's largest municipal bus network.  The average speed of an MTA bus in Manhattan is among the slowest of large metropolitan systems at 5.7 miles per hour.  That means pollution from idling engines is much higher per mile than if the buses were going faster.

The plans calls for a "transition to a zero-emissions fleet to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
"It's a surprising development and a big deal big because this is the largest transit fleet in the country, with over 5,000 buses—that is the equivalent to over 100,000 electric cars," Kenny Bruno, a clean energy consultant, said.  "It's a big deal on climate change and public health.  All New Yorkers will benefit, not just drivers and passengers but everyone who lives along bus routes and depots, a lot of whom have high asthma rates."

A report released earlier this month by New York City Environmental Justice Alliance found 75 percent of bus depots in New York City are located in communities of color.  It noted that fossil-fuel-powered buses emit air pollution linked to respiratory distress, asthma and hospitalization for people of all ages.

"These communities have been overburdened by noxious emissions for too long," Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, said in a statement.  The announcement by the MTA "signals to us that the Authority has heard our call for a clean bus fleet.  We are pleased to receive MTA's commitment to zero emissions and applaud their efforts."

A study in 2016 by a researcher at Columbia University found that if New York shifted from diesel to electric buses, it could reduce health costs from respiratory and other illnesses by roughly $150,000 per bus.  The study also showed that fuel and maintenance costs would drop by $39,000 per year by shifting to electric vehicles, and the city could cut carbon dioxide emissions across the fleet by 575,000 metric tons per year.

The MTA, which has more than 5,700 buses in its fleet, already is testing 10 all-electric buses and has plans to purchase 60 more by 2019.  With these purchases representing only 1 percent of the entire fleet, the agency would have to significantly increase its electric bus purchases to meet its 2040 target.

Read more at New York City Aims for All-Electric Bus Fleet by 2040

Electrify America Will Deploy 2,000 350kW Fast Chargers by the End of 2019

484 new charging sites, split between 17 metro areas and highways in 39 states.

Electrify America's proposed charger network. (Credit: Electrify America) Click to Enlarge.
As its legion of comment-posting fans love to point out, Tesla's Supercharger network is a major part of that company's success when it comes to selling electric vehicles.  For over a century we've lived with cars that can be refueled in minutes, and old habits die hard.  Even though the optimal solution is EV owners plugging in each night, the thought of being stranded with a slow-charging EV but hundreds of miles to drive in a day causes enough terror to rule out such cars for many potential drivers.  If we want more people to make the switch, the answer then is more chargers and faster chargers.  And Electrify America evidently agrees.

An offshoot of the Volkswagen empire created in the wake of the diesel emissions scandal, Electrify America has a quite ambitious plan.  This week it announced it had picked suppliers for a new network of fast chargers across the country.  Between now and the end of 2019 it's going to deploy 2,000 fast chargers at a total of 484 charging stations.  There are still a mix of competing standards when it comes to EV charging, so Electrify America's approach is to offer them all.

That means 50kW CHAdeMO connectors and then dual-handle CCS1 chargers, capable of 50kW as well as either 150kW or 350kW (using liquid-cooled cables).  Vehicles capable of charging at that higher rate aren't on sale yet, but by sheer coincidence that matches the specs of forthcoming Battery EVs from... Volkswagen Group.

Audi's e-tron and Porsche's Mission-E will both be on sale in the coming months, and both are capable of accepting 350kW charges.  And a whole range of Volkswagen I.D. battery EVs will begin appearing in showrooms in 2020.

The charging sites will be in 17 metropolitan areas and on highways in 39 states.  The highway stations will offer between four and ten CCS1 chargers, with metropolitan locations having between three and six.  The latter will also offer good old J1772 level 2 chargers for drivers of older battery EVs or plug-in hybrid EVs that can't suck down fresh electrons at such prodigious rates.

"By placing our ultra-fast charging systems in locations drivers enjoy stopping at, we help reduce charging anxiety and increase the public acceptance of electric vehicles.  Dramatically increasing the charging speed by offering the first-ever certified cooled-cable 150/350kW DC Fast Chargers is also a significant step, meaning less time is spent refueling," said Mark McNabb, president and CEO of Electrify America.

Read more at Electrify America Will Deploy 2,000 350kW Fast Chargers by the End of 2019

Lockheed Says 'Flow' Battery Will Boost Use of Renewable Power

Lockheed Martin's logo is seen during Japan Aerospace 2016 air show in Tokyo, Japan, October 12, 2016. (Credit: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon) Click to Enlarge.
Lockheed Martin Corp hopes to launch a new “flow” battery made of inexpensive, nontoxic materials that can help utilities save money and use more renewable energy, company officials said on Monday.

“You open up a chance not only to make renewables more marketable and more useful, you might even change the structure of at least a portion of the utility market,” Leo Mackay, a senior vice president for sustainability and ethics at Lockheed, told reporters at the company’s Global Vision Center in Virginia.

Lockheed did not have an exact date for introduction of the battery or a cost, but Frank Armijo, vice president for energy initiatives, said the company hopes to introduce it in a “little more than a year.”

Flow batteries, which use chemicals dissolved in water, last longer than lithium ion batteries, which are usually solid.  That means they can help utilities meet consumer needs for longer periods during so-called peak demand times such as evenings, when residents use lights, televisions, and kitchen appliances.

A report in the utility industry press early this year said Lockheed hoped to introduce a flow battery by the end of 2018, but there were no details on what kind of materials it would be made of.

Unlike natural gas or coal, which can be burned anytime to generate power, wind and solar power are sometimes most active when consumer demand is down.  Affordable storage of power from renewables could help the industry grow faster, but has long been elusive.

Armijo said the company is developing a so-called flow battery using proprietary electrolyte chemistry that combines low cost earth metals with chemicals that are also inexpensive.

“The challenge with existing flow batteries is that they lean heavily on materials like vanadium and zinc bromide which are extremely expensive and toxic,” Armijo said.  “Ours is neither of that.”

Armijo said flow batteries can last six to 10 hours compared to about two to four hours for lithium ion batteries.  In addition, flow batteries do not have rapid degradation issues that lithium ion has.

Read more at Lockheed Says 'Flow' Battery Will Boost Use of Renewable Power

Arctic Currents Change As Ancient Pacific Did

Changes in Arctic currents today appear to reflect similar changes thousands of years ago – in the North Pacific. Scientists think they may be linked.

Climate change and ocean current changes are linked. (Image Credit: Javier G R, via Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
The recent discovery that Arctic currents have weakened significantly appears in some ways to be a repeat of what happened the other side of the Arctic in the distant past.

Thousands of years ago the circulation of the North Pacific ocean changed  substantially, releasing large quantities of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, scientists in Scotland have found.

The change they have identified helped to warm the planet and to end the last Ice Age.  It happened about 15,000 years ago, though, so it should be of little concern to us today – except for one factor.

Several weeks ago an international scientific study published new and harder evidence that one of the planet’s key heat pumps, the currents which exchange warmth between the tropics and the Arctic, are weaker today than at any time in the last millennium.

“Humans have driven CO2 rise in the atmosphere as large as the CO2 rise that helped end the last Ice Age, but the man-made CO2 rise has happened 100 times faster.  This will have a huge effect on the climate system”

While earlier studies of northern ocean currents had relied on computer simulations, this later study is different: it is based on direct observation of what is actually happening in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

And what’s happening there now is not markedly different from what took place long ago in the North Pacific.  The researchers think their findings are strong enough to suggest a possible link, one which if established could have essential information for this generation.

The Scottish study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, also found that the changes in circulation resulted in a reduction of the amount of oxygen in the deep ocean.  The findings will help scientists to understand the processes controlling the exchange of CO2 and oxygen between the ocean and atmosphere.

Read more at Arctic Currents Change As Ancient Pacific Did

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Thursday 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.

Falling Grid-Scale Storage Prices Create “Watershed Moment”

Energy storage (Credit: ESA) Click to Enlarge.
In remarks to the 28th annual conference of the Energy Storage Association held in Boston last week, ESA head Kelly Speakes-Backman was euphoric.  “This is a watershed moment, friends, this is our moment,” she said.  “On a regular basis, our teams are in contact with ISOs and RTOs who are seeking guidance in how to create markets and support rules that enable more storage on the transmission level, distribution level, in businesses, and in homes.”

RTO Insider reports she enthused that the energy storage industry will grow to 35 gigawatts by 2025 and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs along the way.  Energy storage will account for $4 billion in cumulative operational savings during that time while avoiding 3.6 million metric tons of carbon emissions.

Christopher Parent, ISO-NE’s director of market development, told the conference his organization had no storage in its interconnection queue a couple years ago.  Now it has more than 500 megawatts of grid-scale energy storage proposals in the queue, a number that has been growing even in recent weeks, he said.

“I think that speaks highly both to state policy in the region driving interest in storage,” Parent said, “but also to the fact that storage itself is becoming a more commercially viable product and can actually participate in the market, potentially on a merchant basis as its costs continue to decline.”

Dan Finn-Foley, senior energy storage analyst for GTM Research, said “energy storage costs have dropped dramatically over the past few years” and projected the trend to continue.  ESA figures show the costs for large-scale storage systems declined by 50% since 2014, and Finn-Foley estimates those costs will drop an additional 35% by 2022.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker opened the conference by saying the ability of energy storage to shave peak demand “may be greater than anything else.”  This past winter, New England experienced a period of unusually cold winter, during which local power companies burned through nearly two million barrels of oil — twice as much as was consumed in all of 2016.  Such high demand inevitably leads to higher prices.

“If you push storage all the way … you could be in a situation where you store during off-peak so that when you have a period like that, you’ve got enough capacity available to draw the storage and you don’t have to pay those huge prices during peak; you don’t have to use those far dirtier sources of energy,” Baker said.

Massachusetts has been aggressive about investing in measures to counteract the damage from climate change, including a proposed Clean Peak Standard that will require utilities to use a minimum amount of renewable energy to supply the peak hours when demand and prices are highest.  The standard amounts to make renewables responsible for 10% of all grid hours each year.

Read more at Falling Grid-Scale Storage Prices Create “Watershed Moment”

NY Gov. Cuomo Names New Energy Efficiency Target

Empire State Building and New York skyline (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced an acceleration of energy efficiency in New York, including a plan to achieve a new target for greenhouse gas emission reductions, decrease consumer energy costs, and create job opportunities.

Meeting the new energy efficiency target will deliver nearly one third of the greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed to meet New York's climate goal of 40 percent reduction by 2030.  This announcement is part of the governor's state of the state proposal to develop a milestone Earth Day energy efficiency target and strategy.

"Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way for New Yorkers to lower utility bills, curb harmful emissions, and battle climate change," Cuomo said.  "As the federal government abdicates its responsibility to safeguard our environment, we must continue our bold action to reduce emissions and protect all New Yorkers, today and in the future, from the devastating effects of climate change."

Read more at NY Gov. Cuomo Names New Energy Efficiency Target

California’s Next Megaflood Would Be Worse than Eight Hurricane Katrinas

San Jose flooding (Credit: Reuters/Stephen Lam) Click to Enlarge.
Worse than the 1906 earthquake.  Worse than eight Hurricane Katrinas.  Worse than every wildfire in California history, combined.  The world’s first trillion-dollar natural disaster.

A wintertime megaflood in California could turn out to be the worst natural disaster in U.S. history by far, and we are making it much more likely, according to an alarming study published this week in Nature Climate Change.

The odds are good that such a flood will happen in the next 40 years, the study says.  By the end of the century, it’s a near certainty.  (And then another one hits, and another — three such storms are possible by 2100).  By juicing the atmosphere, extreme West Coast rainstorms will happen at five times their historical rate, if humanity continues on roughly a business-as-usual path, the new research predicts.

The study’s lead author, Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a lifelong Californian, says the best way to understand what we’re doing to California’s weather is to think of earthquakes.

“A major earthquake on the Hayward Fault in the San Francisco Bay Area or on the San Andreas Fault east of Los Angeles is an inevitability in the long run, and either event would likely be devastating,” Swain says.  “Yet the big difference with the risk of a major flood event is that human activities are greatly increasing the likelihood of the physical event itself through the emission of greenhouse gases.”

Three years ago, much of the Pacific Northwest sat in stunned silence after reading Kathryn Schulz’s Pulitzer-winning description of “the really big one” — an unimaginably huge earthquake, a full-margin rupture of the Cascadia subduction zone.  Within months of that article, Congress held hearings and proposed new funding to prepare.

California’s looming megaflood would likely be much worse.

In terms of sheer destruction, displacement of human life, re-ordering of society, a California megaflood would be without parallel in modern U.S. history.  The state’s levees aren’t designed to attempt to hold back such a flood.  The blow to the world’s sixth largest economy would send shockwaves throughout the world.

On his blog Swain wrote:  “Climate scientists are sometimes accused of being ‘alarmist,’ but I would argue that alarm is a reasonable human response.”

In 2011 the USGS assessed the modern-day implications of a flood like the one that happened in the winter of 1862 — currently the worst flood in California history.  An unceasing onslaught of atmospheric rivers brought Los Angeles three years worth of rain, more than 36 inches, in a month and a half.  Floodwaters turned California’s Central Valley into an inland sea, from Bakersfield to Redding.  When it was all finished, the storms had destroyed one-third of the taxable land in California, and bankrupted the state.

Swain’s research considered the consequences of these megafloods on the state’s water management system and found the signs of catastrophe:
[S]uch events would be unprecedented in California’s modern era of extensive water infrastructure.  Few of the dams, levees and canals that currently protect millions living in California’s flood plains and facilitate the movement of water from Sierra Nevada watersheds to coastal cities have been tested by a deluge as severe as the extraordinary 1861–1862 storm sequence—a repeat of which would probably lead to considerable loss of life and economic damages approaching a trillion dollars.
Read more at California’s Next Megaflood Would Be Worse than Eight Hurricane Katrinas