Follow by Email

Friday, July 22, 2016

Australian heritage sites

Does it make sense for a country to cover up potential ecological damage from a changing environment to protect their tourism dollars?  Should we not try to fix the problem versus shrouding it in secrecy?

Initially you'd say, generally, fix it versus obscuring the reports.  Yet, in Australia's defense, what if there is no fix?  How wide spread do they want the information.

This is another ugly side of our failure to fully protect our eco-capital.  The financial ramifications are great and yet unseen.  We are sliding down a slippery and what could be expensive alteration to our environment.  Every single region is vulnerable to declining assets.

The good news is, restoring the balance between our natural base and economy represents our greatest single economic investment and gain as well.   Let's be up to the challenge and transform, as never before, into a sustainable business model that brings global stability and value.

Australian heritage sites wiped from UN climate report at government's request

by James Rogers

File photo - Great Barrier Reef (REUTERS/David Gray/File photo).
Australian sites have been controversially removed from a U.N. world heritage report on the impact of climate change at the request of the country’s government.

The heritage sites include the famous Great Barrier Reef, which is located off the coast of Queensland, Australia.

The “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate” was released Thursday and lists 31 natural and cultural world heritage sites in 29 countries that are said to be vulnerable to climate change. Risks to iconic tourist sites such as the Statue of Liberty, Venice, Stonehenge and the Galapagos Islands are described in the report.

However, no sites in Australia, such as the famous Great Barrier Reef, are mentioned. reports that the initial version of the report included references to the Great Barrier Reef as well as the Kakadu National Park and the Tasmanian Wilderness.

The Australian Department of the Environment confirmed to that it asked for references to Australia to be removed, citing a negative impact on tourism.

“Recent experience in Australia had shown that negative commentary about the status of world heritage properties impacted on tourism,” it said, in a statement. “The department was concerned that the framing of the report confused two issues — the world heritage status of the sites and risks arising from climate change and tourism.”

The department noted that the World Heritage Committee decided last year not to include the Great Barrier Reef on its list of world heritage sites in danger. The committee had also commended Australia for its Reef 2050 plan for protecting and managing the reef, it added.

However, the government’s move sparked criticism from Mark Butler, Australia’s shadow minister for the Environment, who said that climate change poses the biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef has been hit by widespread coral bleaching, which scientists say is a combination of El Nino and climate change.

A spokesman for UNESCO, which published the report with the United Nations Environment Programme and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), confirmed to that references to the Australian sites were removed at the request of the Australian government. However, the spokesman declined to add any further comment.

UCS has voiced its concern about the changes to the report. “I was disappointed that the final product ultimately omitted case studies on the Australian sites—the Great Barrier Reef, Tasmanian wilderness and Kakadu National Park,” said Adam Markham, deputy director of climate and energy at UCS, in a statement emailed to “It now seems this was due to pressure on UNESCO by the Australian government. Ironically, the Australian sites are some of the best managed World Heritage sites, so it is surprising that the government felt the need to make such a request.”

The case study on the Great Barrier Reef that was removed from the report has been published on the UCS website. “UCS believes conversations about the mounting threats to the Great Barrier Reef and other World Heritage sites need to happen and should be done publicly,” said Markham, noting that the report is “the tip of the iceberg” for sites at risk.

U.S. sites listed in the U.N. report include the Statue of Liberty and Yellowstone National Park. In Yellowstone, climate change “is threatening to radically change the region’s fire regime, with rising temperatures heavily influencing Yellowstone’s fire season,” it said.

Citing damage to New York’s Liberty Island during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the report also highlighted a risk to the Statue of Liberty. While Sandy’s flood waters did not harm the statue and its pedestal, the report noted extensive damage to facilities and infrastructure on Liberty Island, as well nearby Ellis Island. “As solid and invulnerable as the Statue of Liberty itself seems, the World Heritage site is actually at considerable risk from some of the impacts of climate change – especially sea-level rise, increased intensity of storms and storm surges,” the report said.

Earlier this year scientists warned that the West Antarctic ice sheet could collapse, potentially causing sea levels to rise more than 49 feet by 2500. The study, which was published in the journal Nature, cited the impact of greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades.

Skeptics, however, have largely dismissed fears over man's impact on global warming, saying climate change has been going on since the beginning of time. They also claim the dangers of a warming planet are being wildly exaggerated and question the impact that fossil fuels have had on climate change.

These elephant seals just taught scientists why Antarctica is melting so fast

This week we've been bringing you lots of stories on how watching mammals  and marine animals and wildlife can give us keen insight into environmental changes and how we can better manage our ecosystem.  This is a great example and one that brings tremendous value in a place we can not easily monitor behavior.

Now, the big question is, of course, what can we do to restore natural conditions and protect these precious areas?

These elephant seals just taught scientists why Antarctica is melting so fast


Scientists know Antarctica is melting, and they’re pretty confident that for the most part, the heat isn’t coming from above — but rather, from below.

The culprit is believed to be something called “Circumpolar Deep Water,” which, in the upside-down world of the South Pole, is a layer of warm salty water (warm being a relative term, as it’s only slightly above the freezing point) that lies deeper than a very cold water layer nearer to the surface.

The idea is that this Circumpolar Deep Water has been sneaking up onto the continental shelves that surround Antarctica and lapping at the bases of marine glaciers, melting them from below.

From a scientific perspective, what we’re talking about is one of the hardest phenomena to observe on the Earth. You have to somehow be in Antarctica; you have to be able to cross a vast field of sea ice; and then, you have to be able to travel hundreds of meters under the freezing ocean surface to boot. This is, needless to say, not a task very well suited for humans — not even even when they have extremely expensive ocean vessels equipped with subsea robots.

A new study in Geophysical Research Letters, though, documents a new and ingenious way of solving this problem using marine mammals that dive to the relevant depths, and, in effect, turning them into scientists by proxy.

To study the behavior of Antarctic waters, the research team, led by PhD student Xiyue Zhang of Caltech, turned to something called MEOP — Marine Mammals Exploring the Oceans Pole to Pole.

The program has installed non-invasive or scientific instruments, called tags, on southern elephant seals — the world’s largest pinnipeds — and other marine mammals in both the Arctic and Antarctic. And the result is 300,000 measurements of key ocean variables, and scores of scientific publications.

The program is part of a much broader trend toward using animals on land and at sea as monitors of the environment — a trend that has been enabled by technological advances that have led to sensor technologies that are so small as not to be invasive. “New technology has brought the study of animal movement into the realm of big data, and exponential increases in data volumes are expected to continue in the coming decade,” wrote one researcher in the journal Science last year, when the outlet published twin articles devoted to the subject of using animals as observing systems.

When it comes to the current research, the seals are outfitted with tiny sensors atop their heads, which do not interfere with their swimming behavior. “It’s really cool, and it usually lasts for about six months, and then when they molt, it falls off,” Zhang said. The sensors send data about depth, temperature and salinity of the waters the seals are swimming through.

Southern elephant seals are amazing creatures — they can stay underwater for as much as two hours and dive to depths of more than a mile. They swim down to collect food at the seafloor of Antarctic continental shelves, living off of fish and squid, spending the vast majority of their lives in and under the water.

The current study used nearly 20,000 dive measurements, from elephant and Crabeater seals, to study the water characteristics in the Bellingshausen Sea, off the coast from a string of glaciers that separate the Antarctic Peninsula from the fast melting Amundsen Sea region of West Antarctica. Particularly important is that many of the measurements were taken in winter, when the region is even more inaccessible than usual to human observers.

Beneath the surface, the Bellingshausen Sea is home to a feature called the Belgica Trough, an extremely deep underwater canyon that was dug into the seabed long ago by a vast stream of ice when Antarctica was even more massive than it is today (and the Earth, most assuredly, colder than at present).

When ice filling the trough retreated, it left behind a subsea landscape that reaches depths of more than a kilometer, and extends inland toward the Antarctic mainland for 250 kilometers. That’s more than deep enough for Circumpolar Deep Water to enter the trough and potentially travel toward the base of ice shelves and glaciers along the Bellingshausen coast — such as the Venable glacier, whose ice shelf has been observed to be melting steadily of late.

Sure enough, the study found that in general, Circumpolar Deep Water rests offshore between 400 and 800 meters below the ocean surface — but it was also making its way into the Belgica Trough, albeit at somewhat cooled temperatures (but still, warm enough to melt ice shelves). More specifically, the research found that the warm water entered the trough on its eastern side, formed a large and swirling undersea cyclone as it mixed with cooler water, and then traveled toward the icy coast. Then, it traveled back again and exited on the western side.

“What we found is that near the ice shelf, in the continental shelf in general, the water is as warm as about 1 degree C beneath the surface,” Zhang said. “And given that the melting point of seawater is about -1.8 degrees, given that there’s salinity in the water, this is already about 3 degrees warmer than the melting point of ice in that region. So this tells us that the heat of the ocean is able to melt the ice shelf in the region.”

Overall, then, the study certainly validates — via seals — the idea that warm water can get up onto the continental shelf and near the marine glaciers of the Bellingshausen Sea. Granted, in a region where little about the ocean is known, there is much more to discover. One key thing the study could not show was whether there was a trend, over time, in the waters’ behavior.
But for more research, well, there’s plenty more seal data available.

“Given that we have a lot more data produced by these seals, I think people could use more data to study the Southern Ocean,” Zhang said.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Far From Turning a Corner Global CO2 Emissions Still Accelerating

Something to think about as you consider Mr. Trump's comments and willingness to restore coal to its former level of use.  For so many reason, that is just bad policy and plan for a disastrous future.

Natural gas as a bridge fuel...yes.  Abandoning our desire to run our economy on

Far From Turning a Corner, Global CO2 Emissions Still Accelerating

The latest greenhouse gas inventory from NOAA shows CO2 and methane 'going completely in the wrong direction.'

A coal-fired generator powers a steel plant in China
The latest greenhouse gas index shows the world is still overwhelming its natural defenses with carbon emissions. Credit: Getty Images
The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not just rising, it's accelerating, and another potent greenhouse gas, methane showed a big spike last year, according to the latest annual greenhouse gas index released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

CO2 emissions totaled between 35 and 40 billion tons in 2015, according to several agencies. Some of that is absorbed by forests and oceans, but those natural systems are being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new CO2. As a result, the inventory shows, the average global concentration increased to 399 parts per million in 2015, a record jump of almost 3 ppm from the year before.

Methane levels jumped 11 parts per billion from 2014 to 2015, nearly double the rate they were increasing from 2007 to 2013. Methane, and other greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide and tropospheric ozone,  are measured in parts per billion because the concentrations are lower.

"This inventory shows the rate of releases are increasing. It's going completely in the wrong direction, with no sign that the planet as a whole has the problem under control," said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist in the climate analysis section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research who wasn't involved in compiling the inventory.

NOAA's chart measuring the upward trend of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere
The greenhouse gas inventory shows an accelerated rise in concentrations in recent years. Credit: NOAA
The index, now in its 10th year, measures how much of the sun's warmth is trapped in the atmosphere by gases like CO2, methane and nitrous oxide. The data is compiled from a global network of measuring stations, including the famed observatory atop Mauna Loa, known for having the longest continuous record of atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Mauna Loa's CO2 levels for the northern hemisphere are currently about 4 ppm higher than this time last year. Scientists there predict it may not dip below 400 ppm again.

NOAA's index shows that CO2 concentration has risen by an average of 1.76 parts per million since it was established in 1979, and that increase is accelerating. In the 1980s and 1990s, it rose about 1.5 ppm per year. Over the last five years, the rate of increase has been about 2.5 ppm, said Ed Dlugokencky, a senior scientist with NOAA's Earth Systems Research Laboratory who helped compile the inventory.

That means since 1990, global atmospheric CO2 has resulted in a 50 percent increase in its direct warming influence on climate, Dlugokencky said.

"This isn't a model. These are precise and accurate measurements, and they tell us about how humans are changing the balance of heat in the Earth system," said Jim Butler, director of NOAA's Global Monitoring Division, in a statement. "We're dialing up Earth's thermostat in a way that will lock more heat into the ocean and atmosphere for thousands of years."

Since humans started burning fossil fuels at the beginning of the industrial age—releasing gaseous carbon that had been locked up in solid form for millions of yearsthe concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been rising. At first, it crept up from 278 parts per million, where it had stayed for at least 20,000 years, and then began accelerating.

In the 1950s, when scientists first figured out a way to accurately measure greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the concentrations had already increased to the point that their heat-trapping effect was becoming apparent. Models have since shown this trend will kill forests and coral reefs, melt ice sheets and glaciers, turn fertile farm lands into deserts and swamp densely populated coastal areas with rising sea levels by the end of the century.

The number perhaps most potentially troubling from the current inventory is methane, which traps heat 25 times more effectively than CO2. It  accounts for about 10.6 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA, which has only recently begun cracking down on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

Dlugokencky said it's not clear if last year's spike in methane is the beginning of a new trend or a one-time aberration, because methane concentrations vary widely from year to year. He said annual changes can be linked in part to emissions from tropical wetlands. 

"It can change with weather. When we're in an El Niño, the tropics are drier, which means less methane. It's not absolute," he said. Concentrations of nitrous oxide, another potent greenhouse gas, are also building up at a faster rate in recent years, he added. The warming impact of gases other than CO2 are equal to an additional 85 ppm of carbon dioxide. In other words, the atmosphere is warming as if it contained 21 percent more carbon dioxide than it does today.

An Eye Toward Meeting Paris' Goals
All the measurements add up to bad news for global efforts to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius by cutting emissions of greenhouse gases.
"They're increasing in spite of things like the Kyoto Protocol just at a time when we need to bend this curve back down," Trenberth said. 

The warming effects of the greenhouse gases will be felt for centuries even if greenhouse gas emissions were to be cut to zero immediately.
"A fraction of them are going to remain in the atmosphere for millennia," Dlugokencky said. "Once we have a reduction in emissions, there are a number of different processes that take up CO2."  
For now, the oceans are still taking up a lot of heat, which will continue to warm the planet for centuries even if the blanket of greenhouse gases gradually starts to thin, he added.

Trenberth said it's important to view the inventory's data in the context of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

"There are two key aspects of this that are often confused by the public—the greenhouse gas emissions and the concentrations. We measure...the concentrations quite well, but how they connect to the emissions is a tougher problem," he said.

"Under the Paris agreement, all the countries are supposed to report what their emissions are. The problem is under-reporting of various kinds," he said, highlighting methane from fracking as particularly problematic.

"We know that methane escapes from wells and pipelines, but it's probably greatly under-reported how much is going into the atmosphere. And how good are China's numbers on emissions?" he said.

To meaningfully tackle global warming means tracking the emissions and rising concentrations of greenhouse gases to their sources. The best hope of doing that is via the satellites of NASA's OCO-2 orbiting carbon observatory, Trenberth said. Readings from sensitive instruments, combined with computer models, will help pinpoint where the heat-trapping pollution originates, and also identify which parts of Earth are helping remove carbon from the atmosphere.

TRUMP and Sustainability

Though we stay out of the political process, and believe any person from any party can support the shift to a low-carbon economy, we think it is instructive to look at each candidate's public comments on transformation so we know what to expect. We start with the Republican nominee.  Obviously our network stands on the opposite side of Mr. Trump on many of these decisions.  Let us know your thoughts:

Alex Hanson
This week kicked off the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, where the eyes of the world are looking at someone who may very well be the next leader of one of the most powerful and influential countries. And this may also be one of the most tumultuous times in the world's history, so the next President of the United States is going to have their hands full. We wanted to get a better sense of where Donald Trump stands when it comes to sustainability, renewable energy and the environment. These should be core issues for the next President, because as reported by the U.S. Department of Defense back in July 2015, "Global climate change will aggravate problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions that threaten stability in a number of countries."

The following are quotes and coverage of Donald Trump and his statements and actions on the renewable energy policies, including the Production Tax Credit for wind energy. RNN in no way endorses or supports any candidates and will also do a similar review of the Democratic nominee during that convention.

Trump: Hillary Clinton Wants To “Shut Down The Mines … I Want To Do Exactly The Opposite.” During a June 2016 speech in Monessen, Pennsylvania, Trump said, “Hillary Clinton wants to shut down energy production and shut down the mines, and she wants to shut down – she said it just recently – she wants to shut down the miners. I want to do exactly the opposite.” [American Bridge, 160628_MD_593_A (31:55), 6/28/16 (video available from American Bridge)]

Trump Wants To Re-Allow Drilling On Federal Lands. In a May 2016 speech to the North Dakota Petroleum Council, Trump said that in his first 100 days in office, he would “lift moratoriums on energy production in federal areas. We’re going to revoke policies that impose unwarranted restrictions on new drilling technologies.” [Donald Trump PressRelease, 5/26/16]

Trump Would Revitalize Coal. In a May 2016 speech to the North Dakota Petroleum Council, Trump said that in his first 100 days in office, he would “save the coal industry and other industries threatened by Hillary Clinton’s extremist agenda.” [Donald Trump Press Release, 5/26/16]

Trump Wanted To Bring Coal Jobs Back To Appalachia, But Did Not Have A Plan For How He Would Do So; “To Pull It Off, He Will Have To Overcome Market Forces And A Push For Cleaner Fuels That Have Plummeted Coal.” According to The Washington Post, “Donald Trump says he would bring back lost coal-mining jobs, and he is positioning for the November election in big coal states by portraying Hillary Clinton as a job killer. Trump, however, has yet to explain exactly how he will revitalize Appalachia’s coal industry. To pull it off, he will have to overcome market forces and a push for cleaner fuels that have pummeled coal. Coal’s slump is largely the result of cheap natural gas, which now rivals coal as a fuel for generating electricity. Older coal-fired plants are being idled to meet clean-air standards.” [The Washington Post, 5/5/16]

Donald Trump Affirmed His Support For The Renewable Fuel Standard After Touring The POET Biorefining Plant In Gowrie, Iowa. “Before attending the rally in Fort Dodge, Trump stopped at the POET Biorefining plant in Gowrie to tour the plant and discuss the renewable fuel standard with plant leadership and the co-chairs of America’s Renewable Energy. … That meeting was closed to the public, but afterward, Trump took two questions from a group of about 35 people who had been invited to a closed event. There, Trump affirmed his support of the renewable fuel standard. ‘I just want to tell you, you have my support,’ he said. ‘I’m with you.’” [Des Moines Register, 12/13/15]

Trump Was “Fine” With The Production Tax Credit For Wind Energy, Adding That Wind Is “Very Expensive,” And Will Need Subsidies. During a November 2015 campaign stop in Newton, Iowa, Trump was asked for his stance on the wind energy tax credit. He responded, “I’m fine with it. Any form of energy – we’ve got to get away from the Middle East. I will say, wind is a problem because it’s very expensive to build the towers – very, very expensive. As you know, when you have $40 oil, it’s not economic, so they’re going to have to do a subsidy, otherwise wind isn’t going to work. Wind is a very expensive form of energy, and it’s got problems of storage, and lots of other things. But, I want to see whatever you can do – ethanol, I’m totally in favor … Wind will need subsidies. It’s going to have to have subsidies.” [American Bridge, 151119_DMT_459_A (43:00), 11/19/15 (video available from American Bridge)]

HEADLINE: “Donald Trump Hated Wind Farms — Until An Iowa Voter Asked.” [Washington Post, 11/19/15]

Trump, On Wind Energy: “Windmills Look Nice, But They Kill A Lot Of Birds. Did You Know That?” During a November 2015 campaign stop in New Hampshire, Donald Trump took questions from the audience, including one from “twelveyear-old Annabelle Watson, a homeschooled student accompanied by her mother, who asked Trump about the benefits of fracking versus using wind energy. ‘Well, the windmills look nice,’ Trump told her. ‘But they kill a lot of birds. Did you know that?’” [National Review, 11/4/15]

Donald Trump Supported The Keystone Pipeline And Lifting The Ban On Crude-Oil Exports. “All of the GOP candidates for president support the Keystone pipeline and many, including retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, businessman Donald Trump and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, support lifting the ban on crude-oil exports to foreign markets.” [Wall Street Journal, 9/29/15]

Trump: “If I Am Elected President I Will Immediately Approve The Keystone XL Pipeline. No Impact On Environment & Lots Of Jobs For U.S.” [@realDonaldTrump, Twitter, 8/18/15]

Trump Called For Building The Keystone Pipeline Even Though “We Don’t Even Need It.” “Trump also discussed energy policy, where he said, ‘The Keystone Pipeline should be approved immediately. Not that I want it, because we’re bringing in oil from Canada, but you know what, it’s a lot easier than Saudi Arabia and some of these other places, and Canada’s been a great neighbor, et cetera, et cetera. But they should approve it. Number one, it’s jobs. Immediately, you’re building it, it’s jobs, it’s good. It’s not going to hurt anything in terms of environmentally. It’s hard to believe that that has not been approved. But get it approved. More oil coming in, the more we can have where we don’t have to go to foreign places, really foreign places to get the oil. So, there’s a simple one. it’s going to create jobs. It’s overall good. But we don’t even need it, in one sense, because we have so much under our own land we can do it, but we have to get rid of some of the restrictions.’” [Breitbart, 8/12/15; Hannity, Fox, 8/12/15]

Trump Urged Scottish Parliament To Cancel Proposal For Offshore Wind Farm Because They The Turbines Would Spoil The View At His Golf Resort; “They Are Ugly, They Are Noisy … If Scotland Does This, Scotland Will Be In Serious Trouble.” In April 2012, Trump urged Scotland’s parliament to “end plans for an offshore wind farm he fears will spoil the view at his exclusive new $750-million-pound ($1.2-billion) golf resort … ‘Scotland, if you pursue this policy of these monstrous turbines, Scotland will go broke,’ he said. ‘They are ugly, they are noisy and they are dangerous. If Scotland does this, Scotland will be in serious trouble and will lose tourism to places like Ireland, and they are laughing at us.’ … When challenged to produce hard evidence about his claims on the negative impact of turbines, Trump said: ‘I am the evidence, I am a world class expert in tourism.’” In September 2012, Trump tweeted,” English taxpayers should stop subsidizing the destruction of Scotland by paying massive subsidies for ugly wind turbines.” [Associated Press, 4/26/12; Donald Trump Twitter, 9/26/12]

Trump Criticized Environmental Restrictions That Prevented The U.S. From Tapping Its Coal And Natural Gas Resources. TRUMP: “First of all, they're also going very heavy into coal. If you look at what China is doing, they're going heavy into coal whereas the environmental restrictions make it almost impossible for us to do the coal thing anymore. We are a tremendous source of coal. We are called the Saudi Arabia of coal, but it's Saudi Arabia times 100. So, you know, we don't use our natural resources. Whether it is clean or not, the fact is clean coal is coming along and it is a great source of energy. So many other things we're not using, natural-gas, to the extent that we should be. You know, if you look at certain countries in the Mideast, they are getting rid of their gas. They're selling us oil because they don't want to use it because we're paying a lot and they're using natural gas. And we have a tremendous natural gas reserves. So there are so many things, Eric, that we are not doing, and it is inconceivable that they are not started.” [Follow The Money, Fox Business, 6/28/11]

Trump Opposed Restrictions On Drilling For Oil. KILMEADE: “Donald, do you have an opinion on the fracking and the natural gas, who you be going at? Do you have an opinion on drilling here at home?” TRUMP: “Well, I think we should  just drill. I mean this is crazy. They can't drill in the Gulf. They can't drill in Alaska. They can't drill anywhere and in the meantime, we're being held hostage by all of these foreign nations that are ripping us. So I think we should just open it up. I understand the environmental, I understand it probably better than any. I've received many, many environmental awards. But they are holding this country to a level that is impossible for us to do anything and if we're going to get back on track, we have to get oil down to $45, $50 or $60 a barrel. And right now, it looks like it's going up to $150. So we can never come back if oil is at these levels.” [Fox & Friends, Fox News, 4/25/11]

Trump Said He Would “Absolutely” Drill On ANWR. HANNITY: “You would drill on ANWR, you drill in the 48 states. ”TRUMP: “Absolutely.” [Hannity, Fox News, 4/14/11]
- See more at:

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Minnesota bill would support

We see renewables as kind to Mother Earth in many ways, and agree the sites provide nice habitat for all.

solar flowers

Minnesota bill would support bird, bee habitat for solar

A potentially first-in-the-nation bill has passed the Minnesota House that would permit owners of large, ground-mounted solar sites to publicly declare them beneficial habitat for birds and pollinating insects.

With no opposition, the Republican-led Minnesota House of Representatives passed House File 3353, which is now being considered by the Senate (UPDATE: the Senate approved the bill Sunday on a vote of 62-2).

Adherence to recommended habitat–maintenance standards would be strictly voluntary, said Greg Knopff, legislative analyst for the Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, which approved the measure on March 24.

Knopff says the bill grants solar-site owners permission to publicly claim they provide beneficial habitat if they can show they follow the Minnesota Board of Water & Soil Resources (MBWSR) Pollinator Plan.

“It’s just kind of a truth-in-advertising kind of a thing,” Knopff says. “If you follow these guidelines, then you can say that you are providing beneficial habitat to songbirds, pollinators and game birds.”

The legislation was backed by Fresh Energy, which publishes Midwest Energy News. Supporters of the bill include the Audubon Society, Andersen Windows, Minnesota Corn Growers, Minnesota Honey Producers, Enel Green Power, Minnesota Farmers Union, and others.

The law would apply to sites with a generating capacity of greater than 40 kilowatts. Its language says that such a site “may follow site management practices” that provide beneficial habitat and that reduce storm water runoff and erosion.

“There is not any mandating or anything like that,” Knopff says.

The bill’s only firm requirement is that, if an owner makes a beneficial-habitat claim after it meets BWSR guidelines, the solar site’s vegetation management plan must be provided to the public and submitted to a Minnesota nonprofit solar industry trade association.

Sen. Dan Sparks (DFL-Austin), chair of the Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee committee, is author of the bill’s Senate version. The House’s Agriculture Finance committee chair, Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake), is lead co-author of the identical House version.

While the House bill passed unanimously, 126-0, it did raise some objections in its original incarnation, according to Knopff.

The initial House and Senate versions of the bill both included a provision that would have allowed local governments to require solar developments to adhere to MBWSR’s site-management plans. It also would have permitted local authorities to require that habitat-friendly site management practices be maintained over time.

That provision was dropped before the bill received its first hearing, Knopff said.
“I think that Sen. Sparks thought that was an overreach and I am sure people in House thought so, too,” he said. “I am sure that they were hearing from some people, and that there may be some controversy there.”

To Knopff’s knowledge, the bill’s habitat-friendly provisions would be a unique development in the U.S. solar industry.

“I am guessing that nationally there is nothing like this,” he said. “I am guessing it is a fairly unique law.”

The Future of Big Oil? At Shell, It’s Not Oil

This is an illustration of the power of change and transformation.  Our migration away from a fossil fuel economy to one powered by renewables is, as seen here on Bloomberg, so strong it is completely changing the face of a major oil company.

For us it is good news.  Most people agree that natural gas is a good bridge fuel and, most likely, will be part of our energy mix for decades.  Yes the exploration, capturing, transportation and use of natural gas has plenty of environmental risk and emissions.  But it is a quantum leap ahead over coal and imported oil.  

Think about our ability to capture all the methane, now being released into the atmosphere, and converting it to energy.  The financial and ecological gains would be monumental.

Like Shell all companies should be looking to morph into a sustainable future.  Adapting to the world around us helps bring positive changes.  Let's accept the reality of a low-carbon economy and position to fully benefit and bring value to our community as well.


The energy giant is shifting to gas as the industry adapts to climate change.

At Australia’s Curtis Island, you can see Big Oil morphing into Big Gas. Just off the continent’s rugged northeastern coast lies a 667-acre liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal owned by Royal Dutch Shell, an engineering feat of staggering complexity. Gas from more than 2,500 wells travels hundreds of miles by pipeline to the island, where it’s chilled and pumped into 10-story-high tanks before being loaded onto massive ships. “We’re more a gas company than an oil company,” says Ben van Beurden, Shell’s chief executive officer. “If you have to place bets, which we have to, I’d rather place them there.”

Van Beurden is betting on gas projects such as Curtis Island to address the central challenge facing all oil giants: how to survive in a world moving ever faster toward new ways of producing and consuming energy. A crucial element of Shell’s pivot toward gas was its $54 billion takeover of BG Group. The deal, which closed in February, gave the company Curtis Island, other massive LNG plants, and gas fields from the U.S. to Kazakhstan. It now has a 20 percent share of the global LNG market, scores of giant gas tankers prowling the seas, and double the production capacity of its closest competitor, ExxonMobil.

For Shell, grappling with increasingly ambitious government commitments to slow climate change, gas has much to recommend it. It’s considered a crucial “bridge fuel” in the transition to a low-carbon future, because gas-fired power plants are far cleaner than those that burn coal. They’re also relatively cheap to build and easy to switch on and off, making them a natural complement to solar and wind generation. Shell is also working to create a market for gas-fueled vehicles, especially ships and heavy trucks that, unlike cars, won’t go electric soon. If Shell gets it right, gas is “not just going to be a bridge” but a lucrative part of the energy mix indefinitely, Van Beurden says.

Van Beurden

He faces substantial obstacles in his quest, including the high cost of production and the continued abundance of cheap coal. Investors such as Jim Chanos, president of investment firm Kynikos Associates, argue there’s a global glut of LNG, and in June the International Energy Agency downgraded gas growth forecasts, saying “markets will struggle to absorb” new supplies. The price of LNG for delivery to Northeast Asia, home to the biggest importers, is down 30 percent in the past year.

The most important long-term challenge may be the rise of renewables. In Mexico and Morocco, producers of solar and wind power have promised to supply electricity at some of the lowest rates from any source, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Global investment in renewables is outpacing that in fossil fuels 2 to 1, and batteries to store power when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow are getting cheaper and improving in capacity—which also bolsters the case for electric cars. “The transformation to a world led by renewables is going to be faster” than oil executives think, says Mark Moody-Stuart, a former Shell chairman who now serves on the board of Saudi Aramco.

Shell prides itself on taking a longer and more clear-eyed view of the future than its rivals. In the 1970s it began drafting “Shell Scenarios,” detailed analyses of global politics and economics, and their implications for energy demand. It’s been less hesitant than competitors such as ExxonMobil—the only private oil company that’s larger—to acknowledge the need to cut carbon emissions and invest in greener energy as a hedge. This year it created a unit for renewables, and Van Beurden in June told investors that Shell “strongly supports” global agreements to limit climate change.

As Shell plots a course through the new business environment, Van Beurden is pushing to deliver on the promise of the BG deal. That means discovering ways to drive down the cost of LNG facilities, by, for example, accepting a little less reliability in exchange for simpler designs, says gas business head Maarten Wetselaar. It will also require finding new customers to make up for lower-than-expected gas demand in countries such as China. Shell last year became Jordan’s first LNG supplier, making deliveries to a brand-new import terminal on the Gulf of Aqaba. Yet the company is postponing some projects: On July 11 it delayed building an export terminal on Canada’s Pacific coast, citing “global industry challenges.”

Those worries haven’t slowed the pace at Curtis Island, where a supertanker loaded with fuel departs every three days. Next to its two production units, the mangroves have been cleared for a third that could increase capacity by 40 percent. For such a sprawling operation, the facility is relatively quiet, with only 300 employees. Most of the time, the only noise is a muffled, high-pitched whir—the sound of miles of metal turning gas into cash, at least for now.

The bottom line: Shell’s purchase of BG Group increased its lead in LNG production, but the rapid rise of renewables makes that a risky bet.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

America Now Has 27.2 Gigawatts of Solar Energy: What Does That Mean?

Great article that does much more than give data on US solar size.  The writer breaks down current carbon levels and what it will take in renewables to seriously reduce that.  He also gives a nice over view of the US production versus other countries.

The US is in the middle of a presidential race.  Here we are asked if we have the will to invest heavily in solar and move quickly away from traditional fuels.  We don't see that type of passion and commitment in Washington, or in many states, but we'd love to hear your comments.

America Now Has 27.2 Gigawatts of Solar Energy: What Does That Mean?

Even with solar installations surpassing 1 million, the road to a carbon-zero energy economy is still long and daunting.

One million solar power installations now dot the nation’s rooftops and landscape. There were just a thousand such projects 16 years ago. Credit: U.S. Air Force photo of solar photovoltaic array on Nellis Air Force Base/Airman 1st Class Nadine Y. Barclay
One million solar power installations now dot America's rooftops and landscape, an achievement being hailed as a milestone by advocates of solar energy. There were just 1,000 such projects at the turn of this century, and only six years ago, going solar cost twice as much.

Still, those one million installations deliver just 1 percent of electricity in the U.S., the world's second-largest energy consumer after China. Globally, the figure is roughly the same. If the goal of keeping global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius is to be met, then climate-changing emissions will have to drop by as much as 70 percent by mid-century.

That will demand a wholesale, worldwide transformation to carbon-zero energy. And that means solar—rooftop panels on residences, commercial applications and larger-scale utility deployments—will have to accelerate, and soon.

"There's no question that solar has... huge potential to contribute to meeting climate change goals," said Jessika Trancik, a professor of engineering systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "But it's still an open question as to whether it will get there." 

Just to level off emissions over the next 50 years, the world's solar capacity would have to increase 100-fold, according to research by the Princeton-based Carbon Mitigation Initiative. Solar is one of several possible carbon stabilization "wedges." But for solar to be effective, seven other low-carbon wedges—in key areas like energy efficiency, wind power, coal-to-gas power switching, carbon capture and storage, biofuels, nuclear, and slowing deforestation—also must deliver huge reductions as well.

In Germany and China, the world's solar leaders, the race to combat climate change and curb air pollution has led to aggressive clean energy targets and federal laws that favor renewables. In the U.S., an investment tax credit, recently extended through 2023, has provided needed certainty for investors looking to finance solar projects. The biggest boon to solar deployment everywhere is technological and manufacturing innovation that has dramatically increased efficiency and pushed down prices. 

But serious roadblocks lie ahead, too. The U.S. lacks a federal clean-energy target. State- and city-level policies and goals vary wildly, and it requires too much time and money to navigate the uneven regulatory landscape. And while solar panels have become dramatically more efficient, without storage, they can still only supply power intermittently.

InsideClimate News talked to analysts and industry representatives to better understand where the U.S. stands on solar energy. 

Exactly how much solar is in the U.S.?

The U.S. hit 1 million solar installations at the end of February, amounting to roughly 27.2 gigawatts of solar power capacity, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a trade association based in Washington, D.C. That's enough power to supply about 6 million homes. 

By comparison, there were 285 gigawatts of coal capacity in the U.S. at the end of 2015 according to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. Natural gas, which is playing a much more prominent role in the U.S. energy mix, has a capacity of 440 gigawatts, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Government data also shows 98 gigawatts of nuclear capacity and 80 gigawatts of hydroelectric capacity in the US. The U.S. generated more wind power than any other country last year, finishing 2015 with 74 gigawatts of installed capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Most of the solar power in the U.S. is photovoltaic (PV), which converts sunlight directly into electricity through panels on rooftops or in large utility-scale arrays. Photons, which make up light, hit atoms in a PV cell and knock loose electrons to generate a current. Solar thermal energy (also called concentrating solar power) uses large fields of mirrors to concentrate sunlight on a single spot filled with water or other fluids. That generates steam which drives a turbine to generate electricity. There are only about 1.4 gigawatts of solar thermal capacity in the U.S., according to EIA.

How does that compare to other countries?
China recently outstripped Germany as the global solar leader with 43.2 gigawatts of capacity at the end of 2015. That's a lot of solar, but in a country of 1.4 billion people that relies heavily on coal, it amounts to less than 1 percent of the country's more than 1,500 gigawatts of total power generation capacity.  

Germany has also emerged as a leader in solar as it pursues its 'Energiewende', an ambitious plan to largely break from both fossil and nuclear energy by 2050. The country's 40 gigawatts of solar make up only 7.5 percent of the country's net electricity consumption. On particularly sunny days, however, solar has met 50 percent or more of momentary demand because grid operators are directed to prioritize solar as they balance supply and demand.

How much solar is there now in the world?
The figure at the end of 2014 was 278 gigawatts.

How much solar is needed globally to keep global warming within a safe range?
It depends on what is deemed "safe." For a long time, the international climate target was to keep warming below 2 degrees C. But there was a large push at the global climate talks in Paris last year to change the goal to 1.5 degrees because a 2-degree rise is too risky – particularly for the most vulnerable island states. 

One benchmark useful in measuring solar's progress is the International Energy Agency's 2014 Technology Roadmap for solar PV. The roadmap offers three possible scenarios: 1) a business-as-usual scenario in which global CO2 emissions from the energy sector rise 61 percent over 2011 levels by 2050; 2) a 2-degree C scenario that calculates the most economically efficient path toward achieving that goal; and 3) a scenario that assumes more rapid development of wind and solar power.
In the third scenario, solar power makes up 16 percent of global electricity by 2050, with an installed capacity of more than 5,700 gigawatts.

What about in the U.S.? How much solar is needed to address the climate crisis?
The more, the better.
In its best-case renewables scenario, IEA projects the U.S. could install 305 gigawatts of solar by 2030 and 737 gigawatts by 2050. That's more than a 1,000 percent increase over 14 years from today's capacity of 27.2 gigawatts.
It would require that the U.S. install an average of roughly 20 gigawatts of new solar capacity each year between now and 2030. By comparison, the U.S. added 7.3 gigawatts of new solar power last year, and that was a record.  

Is that much solar really doable?
"I don't think it's unrealistic," said Cédric Philibert, author of the IEA report. The outlook became much rosier, Philibert and other experts said, when Congress extended an important solar tax credit at the end of last year. That extension will result in more than 50 percent net growth in solar installations from 2016 to 2020, according to Greentech Media (GTM) Research. SEIA expects PV installations will reach 97 gigawatts by the end of 2020, which is still less than a third of the way toward IEA's 2030 figure. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, another widely cited source for projections, sees US solar capacity growing to roughly 288 gigawatts by 2030, which is 95 percent toward IEA's most optimistic assessment.

What's the U.S. solar target right now?
There isn't one.
In 2009, Congress considered a national renewable portfolio standard with a cap-and-trade emissions trading scheme, but it died in the Senate. Since then, many states have stepped in with targets of their own. California has some of the most aggressive policies to promote renewables, including a Renewables Portfolio Standard that requires utilities to supply a third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The Clean Power Plan unveiled by the Obama Administration last August sets individual state targets for cutting carbon pollution, but it lets states decide what kinds of low- or zero-carbon technologies to implement. In February, the Supreme Court issued a stay on the implementation of the plan, pending further judicial review.   

The first solar panels in the United States were installed in 1973. What took so long to get to 1 million?
Energy transitions are always long and laborious. Unlike information technology systems based on software that can transform overnight, the electric grid is made up of hardware and infrastructure fundamentally more difficult to shift. Even so, some countries have made remarkable leaps in relatively short periods of time. Germany, for example, increased its share of renewable energy from around 5 percent of the total mix in 1999 to 28 percent in 2014. Denmark was an early innovator in wind energy and the country of 5.6 million got a whopping 42 percent of its electricity from wind last year. It aims to get half of its power from wind by the end of the decade.  

There are also political, policy, finance, and technological challenges that experts say keep solar from expanding more widely. The industry must navigate a complicated, uneven, and constantly shifting regulatory environment. In some states, utilities are fighting to block residential solar growth to preserve their monopoly over electricity generation.  Meanwhile, annual global finance for solar and other clean energy technologies remains roughly $1 trillion per year below where it needs to be, according to Ceres, a Boston-based nonprofit that promotes sustainable business.

Is there a game-changing step ahead to unlock renewable power on a large scale?
In a word: storage.
Without it, solar can only generate power when the sun is shining. The race is on to develop batteries to squirrel away power at night and cloudy days. Electric carmaker Tesla Motors is building a gigafactory in Nevada to manufacture batteries for homes, businesses and utilities, and it's far from the only major corporation trying to dramatically improve energy storage.

"What storage can do is convert these intermittent resources into power plants that can provide energy on demand," Trancik of MIT told InsideClimate News. "In terms of the public policies needed right now, we do need continued support for the growth of renewables and a really big push on developing energy storage."