CC NEWS FOR APRIL 2010
In the March 16 issue of the NY Times, Matthew Wald has an article titled, Underwater Cable an Alternative to Electrical Towers. In it, Wald points out that generating a substantial fraction of our electrical power from renewable energy sources is going to require a lot of additional transmission lines. A promising alternative to standard high voltage AC transmission lines and towers is high voltage DC cables underwater. A Toronto company is proposing a 370-mile long underwater cable from Canada to New Your City, along the bottom of Lake Champlain and down the Hudson River, bringing cheap hydroelectric power to the power-hungry city. A similar but longer cable offshore along the East Coast could tie together offshore wind farms from Maine to North Carolina, providing power to highly populated states all along the coast. Such a cable would not only have less environmental impact than a North-South transmission line on land, but by tying together many different wind farms in different areas, would provide nearly constant 24/7 baseload power – making it possible to replace coal and nuclear plants, operating or proposed. At:
On March 16 the Governor’s Wind Energy Coalition issued a set of recommendations in a report titled, Great Expectations – U.S. Wind Energy Development. The recommendations call for the following actions at the federal level:
· Adopt a renewable electricity standard.
· Develop new interstate electric transmission system infrastructure as needed to provide access to premier renewable energy resources both on-shore and offshore.
· Fully support coastal, deep water, and offshore wind energy technology and transmission research and development.
· Streamline permitting processes for both offshore and on-shore wind energy development projects.
· Expand the U.S. Department of Energy’s work with the states and the wind industry to accelerate innovation.
· Extend the Treasury Department Grant Program in lieu of the Investment Tax Credit, and adopt a long-term renewable energy production tax credit with provisions to broaden the pool of eligible investors.
John Blackburn, a PhD Professor of Economics Emeritus, Duke University, issued a report in March for the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) titled, Matching Utility Loads with Solar and Wind Power in North Carolina - Dealing with Intermittent Electricity Sources. The report concludes that wind and solar power – North Carolina’s largest renewable energy sources – together with smart meters and some energy storage can supply most of the state’s electrical requirements. Load control, price-induced demand shifts and vehicle batteries “permit the utility systems to operate with a complement of backup generation capacity which is smaller than the backup facilities commonly used in the present systems and their huge centralized coal or nuclear baseload plants.” At:
An ABC News report from last November that I had missed earlier said that gravity satellite measurements have now shown that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet – the largest mass of ice on the planet - is now definitely melting and will contribute more to sea level rise (SLR) than scientists had thought. The scientists projected that SLR may be 1 to 1.5 meter (40 to 60 inches) by 2100. At: http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2009/s2751232.htm
For the abstract of the original report, Accelerated Antarctic ice loss from satellite gravity measurements, in the Nov. 22, 2009 issue of Nature Geoscience, by J.L. Chen et al., see: http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v2/n12/abs/ngeo694.html
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) issued a news release on March 22 titled, Polls and Media Reports Exaggerate Climate Change Backlash, Says Stanford Polling Expert. Jon Kosnick, professor of communication, political science and psychology at Stanford University, told a Capitol Hill briefing that the percentage of Americans who think that global warming is real fell only slightly last year – from 80% to 75% - probably because the global average temperature in 2008 was a little cooler than in previous years. A majority of Americans (70% in 2009) still trust scientists, although only 31% that year thought that most scientists agree that global warming is happening. Part of that may be due to the failure of many scientists to communicate clearly with the public, but a lot can be attributed to the success of climate change skeptics in misleading the public about the extent of agreement among climate scientists. At: http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2010/0322climate.shtml
BusinessWeek ran an Associated Press story on March 30, reporting that the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission rejected a proposal by Deepwater Wind to sell power from eight turbines. The price was to be more than twice the current price from the National Grid. Though no price was given, the price per kWh can be substantially less for large wind farms than for small ones, because of economies of scale. The Power Purchase Agreement between Bluewater Wind and Delmarva Power, for 200 MW off the Delaware coast, was to begin at 11¢/kWh, increasing gradually for inflation. See:
The U.S. Department of Energy has an Energy Savers Blog with a page dated March 30 titled, Everything You Need to Know about Home Energy Assessments. It even has a video that describes the energy auditing process. At: http://www.eereblogs.energy.gov/energysavers/post/Everything-You-Need-to-Know-about-Home-Energy-Assessments.aspx
Oliver Sefrin in magazin-deutschland.de has an important article titled, The Start of a New Energy Age, announcing that Germany and eight other European countries plan to pursue a major new renewable energy initiative called the North Seas Countries’ Offshore Grid Initiative. Thousands of kilometers of high-voltage transmission cables will be laid beneath the North Sea to connect wind farms and other sources of renewable energy, such as hydroelectric plants in Scandinavia, tidal power plants on the Belgian and Danish coasts, and solar and wind plants in continental Europe. While such a large system is expensive (estimated to cost about 30 billion Euros), it can largely eliminate the intermittency problem associated with most isolated renewable energy sources – making it possible to eliminate most fossil fuel power plants and greatly reduce CO2 emissions. At: http://www.magazine-deutschland.de/en/artikel-en/article/article/sprung-in-ein-neues-energiezeitalter.html
The April 5 issue of Wired Science had an article by Janelle Weaver titled, Chain of Offshore Wind Turbines Could Power Atlantic Seaboard. It reported a study by Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware and others, using wind speed data over five years from 11 stations from Maine to North Carolina, showing that tying together wind farms over a long section of coast (over 1500 miles) can largely overcome the intermittency problem associated with wind power. Colored maps show that the wind resource along the coast tends to be best during winter months, suggesting that solar PV could be a nice complementary renewable resource during the summer and that excess winter-generated electricity could be used to heat buildings and power electric vehicles. At: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/04/wind-power-chain/
See also Offshore Wind Farms in U.S. Should Be Linked, Researchers Say, by Jim Efstanthiou of BusinessWeek. At: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-04-05/offshore-wind-farms-in-u-s-should-be-linked-researchers-say.html
For the original article see: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/03/29/0909075107
In March, Environment America issued a 65-page report titled, Building a Solar Future - Repowering America’s Homes, Businesses and Industry with Solar Energy. The technologies addressed include: photovoltaic (PV) power, concentrated solar power (CSP), solar water heating, passive solar heating and lighting, and active solar heating and cooling. The report suggests that the U.S. adopt a target of getting 10% of its total energy from the sun by 2030. At: http://www.environmentamerica.org/uploads/37/06/370684e48c4a60d6c25763175070f0ae/Building-a-Solar-Future.pdf
In March, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar released a report titled, The State of the Birds: 2010 Report on Climate Change. The report was prepared by several federal agencies and NGOs, including: American Bird Conservancy, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Klamath Bird Observatory, National Audubon Society, The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy. The report finds that “nearly a third of the nation's 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline.” Oceanic birds are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. At: http://www.stateofthebirds.org/
The Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen published a study on April 13 indicating that the rise in sea level during this century is likely to be close to a meter – much more than reported in the IPCC report of 2007. See: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/04/13/ipcc-sea-level-prediction-not-scary-enough/
The Department of Energy has reported in a post called, Recycling Energy Yields Super Savings, that in some cases high temperature waste-heat from industrial processes can be used to generate electricity – saving both money and energy. This is related to cogeneration – the idea of using waste heat from electricity generation for heating buildings or industrial processes instead of just wasting it. At: http://www.energyempowers.gov/post/Recycling-energy-yields-super-savings.aspx
I came across an excellent radio interview with Jeff Goodell by Terry Gross of NPR dated June 21, 2007, titled Big Coal’s Dirty Secrets. The broadcast lasts just over 37 minutes. At: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11254947&ps=rs
Goodell has written a book, Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future, now in paperback.
The following items are from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), Carol Werner, Executive Director. Past issues of its newsletter are posted on its website under "publications" at http://www.eesi.org/publications/Newsletters/CCNews/ccnews.htm
EESI’s newsletter is intended for all interested parties, particularly the policymaker community. For more information regarding either the newsletter or EESI please contact Amy Sauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CO2 at New Highs Despite Economic Slowdown
On March 15, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations at Norway’s Zeppelin station on the Arctic Svalbard archipelago rose to a median of 393.71 parts per million (ppm), up from 393.17 ppm the same time last year. Johan Stroem of the Norwegian Polar Institute said, “Looking back at the data we have from Zeppelin since the end of the 1980s, it seems like the increase is accelerating.” This year’s rise is less than the average yearly rise of 2 ppm, largely due to a reduction in industrial output and fossil fuel combustion. Carbon concentrations at Svalbard typically peak in April due to CO2 released from decomposing plants in the winter, and decline again when plant growth resumes in springtime in the northern hemisphere.
For additional information see: Reuters
Colorado Legislature Backs Bill to Cut Emissions from Coal Plants
On March 16, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter urged state lawmakers to back a framework for retiring or retrofitting coal-fired power plants, arguing it would likely be cheaper in the long run than reacting to a series of expected new emission rules from the federal government. Gov. Ritter said the costs of maintaining existing coal plants, which are at least 40 years old, would also grow if the federal government puts a price on carbon. Changes are coming regardless of whether Colorado decides to act now, he continued, "It's only a question of whether we do it smarter." Members of the House Transportation and Energy Committee voted 10-1 to endorse the bill, the Colorado Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, sending it on to the Appropriations Committee to review its costs. The legislation would require the state's two investor-owned utilities to cut emissions by at least 70 percent at some of its power plants over the next seven years. The firms would have to give priority to replacing old plants with ones fueled by natural gas, but they would also be able to consider using efficiency improvements and other cleaner energy sources, such as burning beetle-killed trees, or renewable energy. All the plans are subject to approval by the Public Utilities Commission, which will consider how much the transition would increase electric bills, particularly for low-income customers.
Open Letter from U.S. Scientists on the IPCC
On March 13, over 250 U.S. scientists issued an open petition to federal agencies stating their views on the overall validity and integrity of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4). The letter reaffirmed the consensus presented in the AR4 that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and that “most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-twentieth century is very likely due to observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.” The writers addressed recent attacks on the validity of the report and climate science generally. They lamented two papers found to have mistakes regarding Himalayan glacial retreat and flood risk in the Netherlands, qualifying that these two mistakes do not undermine the aforementioned conclusion or broadly implicate the other papers cited as suspect. The letter also explained the careful process for citing non-peer reviewed literature and the fully transparent documented process of crafting each portion of the report. So far the letter has been signed by over 250 leading researchers and scientists from universities and institutions in the United States.
For additional information see: Petition
U.S. Chamber Petitions EPA to Reconsider Greenhouse Gas Endangerment Finding
On March 15, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (COC) petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reconsider its endangerment finding for greenhouse gases (GHGs), which legally requires the agency to develop regulations to reduce GHG emissions. The COC chief legal officer Steven Law said, “The Chamber believes that the right way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere is through bipartisan legislation and comprehensive international agreements. The wrong way is through the EPA's endangerment finding, which triggers Clean Air Act regulation." The chamber is currently engaged in one of the 16 different lawsuits against the EPA regarding its endangerment finding. Law also voiced the concern that “[t]he EPA has admitted that such an unprecedented regulatory expansion would 'paralyze' and 'overwhelm' permitting authorities, leaving businesses waiting months or even years to get the permits they need to keep operating."
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has repeatedly stated that any regulation to be initiated by the EPA would be gradual to allow firms and regulators to prepare necessary changes and not overwhelm the regulatory capacity of the EPA. Jackson has also made repeated references to the fact that the biggest emitters would be regulated first, with smaller emitters coming under regulation in a minimum of five years later.
Australia '0.7 Degrees Warmer Over Past 50 Years’
On March 15, Australia’s top scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) released a report showing Australia’s average temperature has risen 0.7°C since 1960. Some areas of the country saw temperature rises of 1.5 to 2°C. The report further revealed that warming occurred most during spring months and least during summer months. Rainfall patterns were seen to change, with rainfall increasing in parts of Northern and Central Australia and decreasing across southern and eastern parts. "We are seeing significant evidence of a changing climate. We are warming in every part of the country during every season and as each decade goes by, the records are being broken," said Megan Clark, head of CSIRO.
Reduction in Solar Radiation Not Enough to Stop Warming
A study published in the March issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters concluded that even the most extreme decrease in solar irradiation will at most slow planetary warming by 0.3°C by the end of the century. This news comes from a study headed by Georg Feulner at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research. The sun is known to go through cycles of stronger and weaker radiation, typically on a period of 11 years. As was the case during a period of time known as the Little Ice Age from 1645-1715, the sun enters an extended period of low output. The authors point out, however, that even the most drastic potential cooling effect the sun could produce in the coming century would at best cool the earth by only 0.3°C. The maximum total change possible in solar energy output is around 0.25 percent. The net planetary warming effect will remain positive due to the much stronger effect of anthropogenic greenhouse gases. "This shows that any changes in the sun, even large changes, will only have a small impact in offsetting that warming," Feulner said.
EPA Proposes to Add Sources to Greenhouse Gas Reporting System
On March 23, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new rules that would expand the number and types of industries required to report greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The original rule was issued in October 2009 and required 31 industries covering 85 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions to report their emissions. The modification to the ruling will require reporting from oil and natural gas producers as well as industries that emit fluorinated gases or inject carbon dioxide (CO2) underground. Oil and gas producers emit a large amount of GHGs from the flaring, release, or leakage of methane. Methane is around 20 times more potent than CO2 and fluorinated gases are even stronger GHGs.
“Gathering this information is the first step toward reducing greenhouse emissions and fostering innovative technologies for the clean energy future,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “It’s especially important to track potent gases like methane, which traps more than 20 times as much heat as carbon and accelerates climate change. Once we know where we must act, American innovators and entrepreneurs can develop new technologies to protect our atmosphere and fight climate change.”
NASA Draft Analysis Finds Global Temperatures Rising Steadily in Past Decade
On March 21, draft analysis of temperature data released by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies found that global warming has neither stopped nor slowed in the past decade. The analysis, led by Dr. Jim Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, found that global temperatures over the past decade have "continued to rise rapidly," despite large year-to-year fluctuations associated with the tropical El Niño-La Niña cycles. The analysis also predicted, assuming current El Niño conditions hold, that 2010 will go down in history as the hottest year on record despite an unusually snowy winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
Study: California's Climate Change Plan Will Not Hurt Economy
On March 23, a report released by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) found that California’s overall economy will not suffer, and that many parts will in fact prosper, under the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32). Under the law, the state's emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) would have to decline 15 percent by 2020. The report, which takes into account the current economic downturn, concludes that California's gross state product will grow to $2.5 trillion over the next decade, only 0.2 percent less than it would without the legislation. Jobs will grow to 18.4 million -- 0.1 percent more than without the law, the report also found. "This shows we can implement the law and that growth in the California economy will be large and unabated," said CARB Chairwoman Mary D. Nichols, who acknowledged that "shifting the economy away from fossil fuels and toward more renewable energy means that some businesses, including green technology, will benefit, while others will see their costs go up.” Critics of the CARB projections reiterated their skepticism, however, and touted their own commissioned studies that predict more dire effects, particularly for small businesses. A group that includes the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Manufacturers & Technology Assn. and various other companies supported a report released in July 2009 by California State University, Sacramento, which found that implementing the climate law could cost California 485,000 jobs by 2020, a sharp contrast to CARB’s finding that the law would yield a net increase of 10,000 jobs.
Canada Reports Mildest Winter on Record
On March 19, Environment Canada reported that Canada had recorded the mildest and driest winter on record. The agency, which compiled data from 1948, determined the average temperature throughout the country was 4°C above normal. Meteorologist Andre Cantin said the country also saw 20 percent less precipitation than normal, also a record. El Nino, the climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean that influences global weather, was likely responsible for the unusual weather, according to Cantin, who noted that changes in climate may also have played a role. David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, warned that "the winter that wasn't" may have set the stage for potentially "horrific" water shortages, insect infestations and wildfires this summer.
Soils Emitting More Carbon Dioxide
On March 24, an analysis published in Nature found that soils around the globe have increased their emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) over the past few decades. The findings, which are based on an analysis of 439 studies, match predictions that increasing temperatures will cause a net release of CO2 from soils by triggering microbes to speed up their consumption of plant debris and other organic matter. The researchers found that soil respiration had increased by about 0.1 percent per year between 1989 and 2008, the span when soil measurement techniques had become standardized. In 2008, the global total reached roughly 98 billion tons, about 10 times more CO2 than humans are now putting into the atmosphere each year. The change within soils "is a slow increase, but the absolute number is so large, even a small percentage increase is quite a bit," said Ben Bond-Lamberty, a research scientist at the University of Maryland's Joint Global Change Research Institute.
The extra soil emissions could come from two types of sources: microbes and plants. If plant roots are emitting more CO2, the additional flux could be balanced by increasing rates of photosynthesis, resulting in no net increase in atmospheric CO2. In contrast, warming soils could prompt microbes to break down old sources of carbon that have been locked away for a long time. This would cause a net increase in the atmosphere's store of CO2. Although the study shows an increase in respiration, it cannot distinguish between the two potential causes.
NOTE: The statement, “the global total reached roughly 98 billion tons, about 10 times more CO2 than humans are now putting into the atmosphere each year.” gives the impression that humans are putting about 10 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. Actually the report in Nature refers to 98 billion tons of carbon. Carbon dioxide (CO2) weighs 3.67 times as much as carbon (the ratio of molecular weights). Thus human global emissions of CO2 were about 28 billion tons in 2006, not counting deforestation, which produced about 30% as much CO2 as fossil fuel burning. See:
Obama Administration Announces New Fuel Efficiency Rules
On April 1, the Obama administration announced a new set of fuel efficiency standards and tailpipe emission limits for automobiles. The joint ruling from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will set estimated corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards at 35.1 miles per gallon by the end of 2016 and require tailpipe emissions to be less than 250 grams carbon dioxide (CO2) per mile. The ruling will apply to cars beginning in 2012. The rules are expected to increase the upfront costs of vehicles sold in 2016 by about $985, but will save consumers $3000 over the life of the car due to reduced fuel consumption. In total, the program is expected to eliminate the equivalent emissions of 50 million cars and light trucks while conserving 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the regulated vehicles.
“These are the first national standards ever to address climate change,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Gina McCarthy. “Over the coming years, America will witness an amazing leap forward in vehicle technologies, delivering fuel efficiency that will save us money and protect the environment.”
Geoengineering Conference Concludes with Call for Commitment to More Research
On March 26, the Asilomar International Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies concluded that the world needs more conversations about research on geoengineering techniques, such as carbon sequestration and solar reflection, to prepare for possible action against rapid global warming. The conference was attended by a group of more than 175 scientists from 15 countries spanning geosciences, ethics, business, and political science. The conference called for deliberations among scientists, governments, and the public to ensure that research on the risks, impacts, and efficacy of climate intervention is conducted responsibly and transparently. A conference press statement stressed, however, that a strong commitment to emissions reduction and development of low-carbon technology is independent of whether geoengineering ultimately proves safe and feasible.
Among Weathercasters, Doubt on Warming
On March 29, the results of a survey conducted by George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication highlighted different perspectives between two groups regarding climate change: climate scientists and meteorologists, especially those who serve as television weather forecasters. Climatologists, who study weather patterns over time, were found to almost universally endorse the view that the earth is warming and that humans have contributed to climate change. There is less of a consensus among meteorologists, who predict short-term weather patterns. The survey, conducted by researchers at George Mason University and the University of Texas at Austin, found that only about half of the 571 television weathercasters surveyed believed that global warming was occurring and fewer than a third believed that climate change was “caused mostly by human activities.” More than a quarter of the weathercasters in the survey agreed with the statement “Global warming is a scam,” the researchers found. The split between climate scientists and meteorologists has gained attention in political and academic circles as polls show that public skepticism about global warming is increasing, and weather forecasters — especially those on television — dominate communications channels to the public. A study released this year by researchers at Yale and George Mason found that 56 percent of Americans trusted weathercasters to tell them about global warming compared to other news media or public figures.
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Chad A. Tolman
Coalition for Climate Change Study and Action