Meet the Senate leaders who plan to gut the EPA and approve Keystone

520-repubesWe recently told you about the new fossil fuel–loving senators who were just elected, but they’re not the ones who’ll be causing the most trouble. The more tenured senators who’ll assume the Senate’s leadership posts are the ones you really need to watch out for — and they’re just as prone to silly science denial as the freshmen.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and the new Republican committee chairs will dictate what bills and amendments get considered, and will help set the public agenda by holding hearings, producing reports, and pumping out press releases.

Most of the outgoing Democratic committee chairs, with the notable exception of Energy Committee Chair Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, are climate hawks. Last week, four of them sent a letter to President Obama urging him to press forward on reducing carbon emissions and forging an international climate agreement. They have good reason to worry: Their Republican replacements will do everything in their power to force Obama to give up on regulating greenhouse gases.

Here’s what you need to know about the Republicans who are likely to be elected to leadership positions with the most influence over climate and energy policy:

Republican Congress to Push the Keystone XL Today

520-keystone xl republicansCongress is trying to fast track the controversial Keystone XL project. A debate on the pipeline is scheduled to take place today (Friday, November 14)  in both the US House and the Senate. Both houses of the Republican led Congress are expected to approve the bill.

While the President has indicated he will veto the bill, there are steps that could be taken by the GOP to override his decision.

Republicans do not seem to care about the consequences or the costs. NASA’s top climate scientist, Jim Hansen, said that fully developing the tar sands in Canada (a necessary step in the development of the pipeline), would mean“essentially game over” for the climate. According to White House statistics, additional emissions from the tar sands pipelines could equal $128 billion in climate costs over the pipeline’s projected lifespan. By 2100 the costs of failing to reign in emissions from fossil fuels will surpass the costs of carbon reduction by $8 trillion.

Thus far a number of protests have succeeded in delaying the pipeline.  Reports show that these delays have already prevented at least $17bn in new investments in the Canadian tar sands. These investments would have had the equivalent carbon output of 735 coal-fired power plants.

Obama’s Deal With China Is a Big Win for Solar, Nuclear, and Clean Coal

520- solar-panel-mjThe plan announced Tuesday night for the United States and China to join forces in the fight against climate change is a big deal. It sets a new, more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target for the US (although the target will only bring emissions slightly below 1990 levels, which isn’t as aggressive as climate scientists have advocated). It establishes a goal for China to get one-fifth of its power from low-carbon sources by 2030. And it lays out what both countries will bring to the table at next year’s international climate negotiations in Paris. That should help other countries set their own goals, and it increases the likelihood that the talks will be productive.

The deal could also be a big win for the clean energy sector. It calls for more funding for research and development projects focused on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and clean vehicles. It also includes a major new pilot project in China to study carbon capture and sequestration, the controversial technology that—at least in theory—could help China curb its emissions while continuing to burn coal for electricity.

Historic US-China Climate Deal Is a Sign of Clean Energy’s Growing Political Strength

520-xi-obamaPresident Obama was supposed to be focusing on trade during his trip to Asia this week. No one expected him to pull off a landmark climate deal.

After nine months of talks, the White House announced this morning that the U.S. and China had agreed to historic joint targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

While the targets are not binding, the negotiations represent the first time China has agreed to a cap on carbon dioxide levels. Administration officials say the targets will create meaningful momentum as America tries to negotiate an emissions treaty with large developing countries in 2015.

The agreement is a reflection of the international pressure on China to address its growing emissions, as well as China’s own confidence in clean energy to help power its growing economy.

 

Republicans and Democrats on Climate Change

520-republicans and democrats on climate changeThere is a massive gulf separating Republicans and Democrats on the issue of climate change. Climate change and environmental issues did not keep Republicans from achieving gains in the Senate, the House of Representatives and many gubernatorial contests. When we take a look at voting patterns we once again see the stark partisan divide between Democrats and the GOP on climate change.

Exit polls from the November midterms show the climate divide breaks down along party lines. According to the New York times, exit polls show that 70 percent of Democrats nationally answered “yes” to the question “Do you think climate change, also known as global warming, is a serious problem?” While 84 percent of Republicans said no.

This poll is a reiteration of previous polls which show that supporters of the Republican party tend to disbelieve in anthropogenic climate change and tend to oppose action to mitigate and adapt to it. According to a 2012 Pew research poll, “Democratic voters are more than twice as likely to embrace the facts on global warming than their Republican counterparts.”

There is no other way to frame the issue other than saying that the Republicans are to blame for American inaction on climate change.

Post Carbon Institute: U.S. Oil, Gas Fracking Boom “unsustainable;” EIA Forecasts “extremely optimistic”

520-15542258908_af20458105According to the U.S. government’s latest long-term forecast, the country can expect a “56% increase in total natural gas production from 2012 to 2040,” with shale gas production “the largest contributor, growing by more than 10 Tcf” through 2040; and with “tight gas” production also growing sharply over that time period.

As for “tight oil,” the official U.S. government forecast has it growing through 2021, after which it gradually falls through 2040, at which point it is still nearly 1 million barrels per day higher than it was in 2012. In sum, the official U.S. government forecast for the U.S. oil and natural gas “fracking” boom is most definitely bullish, particularly for natural gas but also for oil. But is this actually true?

GOP Targets in their Impending War Against Climate Protections

520-gop climate targets

When the new slate of GOP candidates take office in January they will make good on their threats to go to war against climate protections.
Now that Republicans control both houses of Congress and have won governorships in blue states like Maryland, Massachusetts, and Illinois, we can expect them to wage a holy war against the climate.

Make no mistake about it, this is the most climate hostile Congress the world has ever seen.

Above all they will fight carbon reduction efforts. They will ignore the fact that most Americans support it, they will scoff at dozens of warnings based on peer reviewed science and they will ignore the economic costs of inaction.

President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be the GOP’s primary targets. They will focus on EPA initiatives related to clean air and water, above all they will try to strip the EPA of its power to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs).

They will try to kill the Clean Power Plan and assault WOTUS (a proposal to add streams and wetlands to the Clean Water Act). They will also try to destroy the EPA’s efforts to curtail ground-level ozone (an air pollutant that can cause respiratory problems). If Congress does not succeed in killing the EPA’s regulatory authority, Conservative governors will simply refuse to implement them.

In addition to their efforts to dismantle protections for clean air and water they will try to push forward fossil fuel initiatives that will add more emissions. This includes the Keystone XL which is a top priority issue for many Republican lawmakers. The new Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) may even force his love of coal back on the nation. They will also go after all forms of government support for renewable sources of energy.

If the Republicans have their way, the US will never be able to meet its emissions reductions commitments under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord and rather than combating climate change, the US will be the world’s leading contributor.

Environmental Alliances in the 2014 Midterms

environmental-alliances-2014-midterm-elections-520The US midterms are right are around the corner, but an analysis of environmental alliances shows the situation is far more complicated in 2014 than it was in previous election cycles. As the political theater unfolds, the clock is ticking down and we are rapidly running out of time to curb emissions and reign in climate change.

While some things have changed in 2014, others remain the same. Perhaps the biggest change involves the shift in strategy by a number of environmental groups. In some states, denying climate change is no longer a politically safe strategy. However, in other states, blocking action on climate change is the only way to get elected. One predictable staple of the 2014 midterms involves the oil industry’s support for climate denying Republican candidates.

Comprehensive Review of Climate Change Science from the Green Market Oracle

Climate-ChangeSolarFeeds note: We bumped into this Green Market Oracle post from 2012 and it was too good not to share. Republished (with permission) here in its entirety , the post inspired SolarFeeds to create a new category for not-so-new stuff worth sharing. The category is called “Awesome”!

The evidence for anthropogenic global warming is unassailable. In 2009, 18 scientific groups — including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Meteorological Society — issued a joint statement indicating that human activities are the “primary driver” of climate change. The National Academy of Sciences (the gold standard for objective scientific assessment) have also clearly supported the body of evidence on anthropogenic global warming.

“Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is due to human activities.”

Here are 33 articles, reports and studies that support the existence of anthropogenic climate change:

  1. No scientific body of national or international standing maintains a dissenting opinion on climate change
  2. September 2012 was the Warmest in Recorded History (NOAA)
  3. Strong Body of Evidence for a Changing Climate
  4. American Meteorological Society Corroborates Anthropogenic Climate Change
  5. More Scientific Support for Anthropogenic Climate Change 
  6. Science and Pernicious Ignorance of Climate Change Denial
  7. The Fifth Global Environmental Outlook Report
  8. Findings and Solutions in the Living Planet Report 2012
  9. A New Study Indicates We Are Reaching a Tipping Points
  10. Environmental Tipping Points
  11. Climate Change Science
  12. Top Four Climate Studies of 2011
  13. State of the Climate Global Analysis Nov 2011
  14. Interactive Map Reveals Warmer Spring 2012
  15. 2012 is but the Latest Year Marked by Heat and Drought
  16. Heat in the US Northeast and Drought Around the World IN 2012
  17. Temperature Data: 1880 – 2011 (Video)
  18. New NASA Video Graphically Illustrates that the Earth is Warming
  19. Popular Media is Distorting the Facts about Climate
  20. State of the Climate Global Analysis Nov 2011
  21. Debunking CO2 Myths and The Science of Climate Change
  22. Primer on CO2 and other GHGs
  23. Video: Why People are Confused about the Scientific Veracity of Climate Change
  24. Bill McKibben: Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math
  25. The Effects of Global Warming
  26. The human fingerprint in global warming
  27. Human activities produce in just 3 to 5 days, the equivalent amount of carbon that volcanoes produce globally each year
  28. Chronological history of atmospheric CO2, showing a massive spike from the Industrial Revolution onwards
  29. Strong correlation between atmospheric CO2 levels, man-made carbon emissions and the global average temperature
  30. The rapid decline in Arctic sea ice is between 70% and 95% due to man-made global warming
  31. A NASA study reports that changes in solar activity cannot be responsible for the current period of global warming
  32. 10-year average (2000–2009) global temperature anomaly relative to 1951–1980 mean

EU climate change act a missed opportunity for solar, says EPIA

EPIA-logoEuropean Council’s 27% renewable energy target for 2030 deemed too low to unlock solar’s full potential, but EPIA at least happy with “very small step” in right direction.

The 27% renewable energy target for 2030 is binding for the EU as a whole, but binding national targets remain beyond the scope of the EU.

European Heads of State on Friday agreed to set a binding target of 27% for renewable energy in the EU for 2030 – a decision that surprised few and disappointed many.

The binding nature of the renewable energy target at an EU level was welcomed, but the 27% goal was deemed too low by renewable energy advocates in the solar and wind industries. A non-binding energy efficiency target of 27% was also criticized, although the broader pact to cut greenhouse gases by 40% by 2030 was at least seen as a sign of ambition to act on climate change.

 

Reasons to be Optimistic about a Global Climate Agreement

optimism-climateDespite a number of remaining hurdles, there have been several positive developments that support the idea that we may succeed in securing a global climate agreement in 2015. Adding to the optimism of UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, we have seen constructive French diplomacy and national climate legislation in three countries. While there is much more that needs to be done there has also been some progress on the Green Climate Fund. Finally China has indicated that it would present its contributions and perhaps even cap its emissions and some less developed nations are also doing their part.

Ahead of the Bonn Climate Summit, Figueres pointed to the growing momentum towards a global climate agreement:

What Modern Cities Want From Their Utilities. (It Ain’t Pretty.)

bulb-turbineQuick Take: If you are based in the United States, you may not have noticed this trend. I spotted it because I serve as the Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. That puts me in touch with urban trends from around the world. Such as the powerful move in Europe to dramatically reduce carbon emissions.

 And how does Europe plan to achieve this? First and foremost, by dramatically reducing how much power they use. Second, by insisting that most (or even all!) of that power come from clean sources. If this trend catches on in the U.S., it will mean a wrenching change for today’s “traditional” utilities. They’ll have to radically increase their use of renewable energy, with all the cost increases that implies. Yet they’ll be selling far less electricity, with all the revenue decreases that implies. Spend more. Make less.

Today, most American cities trail behind their European counterparts in their energy efficiency and renewables ambitions. Tomorrow, they may look and act more like the two European cities described below. Both of them want to get 100% of their energy from renewables (counting hydro). Even if they have to “force” their utilities to make the investment.   – By Jesse Berst

 Malmo — from dirty and decaying to clean and carbon-neutral

Malmo is Sweden’s third largest city with a population north of 300,000. It formerly included decaying industrial areas such as the Vastra Hamnen district. As documented by the Rocky Mountain Institute, it is converting the area to a work/live center powered by 100% renewable energy.

The area features a residential housing project that gets 99% of its electricity from on-site wind and solar. It also has an innovative district heating and cooling system, according to RMI. “In the summer, cold water from the previous winter—stored 90 meters underground in aquifers—is pumped up (by wind-powered electricity) and run through a heat pump for district cooling. Once the water is heated it is pumped back down into the aquifers where it is stored for heating buildings in the winter. Over the course of a year over 5 million kWh of heat and 3 million kWh of cooling is produced.”

Malmo currently gets 30% of its energy from renewable sources, but its goal is 100% by 2030.

 Munich — the first 100% renewable big city?

Munich is aiming to produce enough green electricity at its own plants by 2025 to meet the power requirements of the entire municipality of Munich — at least 7.5 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) per year. This would make Munich the first city in the world with over 1 million inhabitants to achieve this goal.With a population of 1.35 million, Munich is the third largest city in Germany and one of the country’s most important economic hubs. In 2009 the city set the ambitious goal of achieving 100% renewable energy supply by 2025. As a result of those efforts, Munich recently won the Green Energy category at the inaugural C40 & Siemens City Climate Leadership Awards.

 “We forced our utilities company… to invest in renewable energy,” Hep Monatzeder, the former mayor of Munich, told CNBC’s Innovation Cities. “All the other big cities have to go this way, otherwise we will not protect the earth,” Monatzeder added.

The city-owned utility has also recently opened a virtual power plant — a network of several small-scale energy plants which are pooled and operated like a single system.

 Jesse Berst is the founder and Chief Analyst of SGN and Chairman of the Smart Cities Council, an industry coalition.

Fossil Free Investment Resources

caution: unburnable carbonThere are now a number of firms who are helping investors to move away from fossil fuels. While investing in fossil fuels and associated industries was once the bedrock of a sound investment strategy, there is a growing awareness that these investments are approaching the end of their life cycle.

Investors cannot ignore the overwhelming body of climate science that links the burning of fossil fuels to the economic catastrophe of climate change. Investors are also concerned about a large and growing number of governments, businesses, institutions and people who are demanding that we transition away from fossil fuels.

Governments around the world are also supporting emissions reductions efforts, carbon pricing schemes and support for renewable energy. The burning of fossil fuels is also a health issue which is clearly linked to asthma, coronary heart disease and respiratory disorders. That is why some healthcare professionals are at the forefront of divestment.

However, the strongest argument for fossil free investments is a purely financial one that is supported by a number of respected figures including the former SEC Commissioner Bevis Longstreth. As he explained investing in fossil fuels makes no sense in the context of expected governmental restrictions on carbon, advances in clean alternatives, growing public awareness about the dangers of high carbon fuels, investor actions to curtail high carbon investments and reputational risks.

Investors are beginning to change their focus. Driven by a new appreciation of risk assessment and concerns about investors are now integrating a wealth of additional considerations into their investment choices.

This new approaches increasingly factors sustainability into the value equation calculus. Investors are asking about the impact their investments will have on the environment and on people. They understand that investments that harm people and the planet are risky.

Going fossil free is one of the chief concerns from investors who are worried about three things:

1. carbon bubble
2. carbon budget
3. stranded assets and the carbon bubble.

A number of reports have made the case for fossil fuel divestment, warning against exposure to thecarbon bubble. When we talk about a carbon bubble we are talking about a situation where the true costs of carbon dioxide in intensifying global warming is not taken into account in a company’s stock market valuation. The result is the formation of an economic bubble.

The math driving concerns about the future of fossil fuels is known as a carbon budget. Between 2000 and 2050, the allowable “Carbon Budget” to keep global warming from spiraling out of control (2 degree Celsius of warming) is about 886 gigatons. One third of that amount has already been burned. To stay within our budget, we can burn an additional 565 gigatons by 2050. However, the 200 largest fossil fuel companies, combined with government-owned companies, currently have a total of 2795 gigatons.

This means that we will never be able to extract and burn 80 percent of these reserves if we are to have a hope of keeping global warming within manageable limits. Only 20 percent of the world’s total proven fossil fuel reserves can be burned, so those who do not divest will get stung by an inevitable correction that will result in the what as known as stranded assets.

According to Tim Ratcliffe, European divestment co-ordinator at the campaign group 350.org., “fossil fuel companies are currently grossly overvalued. Eighty percent of their oil, coal and gas reserves need to stay underground to limit global warming below 2C, which will turn them into stranded assets.” Ratcliffe added, “This makes these investments a highly risky gamble.”

This makes for an uncertain future for fossil fuels and investors deplore such uncertainty. A recent report described such investments as “Risky Business.”

Investing in fossil fuels also makes less sense in the context of a new slate of clean energy investments that are proving to be very lucrative. Impax Asset Management further concludes that even today, fossil fuel free portfolios that include cleaner sources of energy outperform the average portfolio.

In response to these concerns and opportunities there are now a number of firms that help investors go fossil free while at the same time maximizing their returns:

Here’s Gofossilfree.org’s list of financial planners:
Here are some fossil-free mutual funds from Greenamerica.org:

 

In Focus: The Future of Solar Technology

The solar PV industry rose up over the past seven-plus years largely due to massive capacity expansions, but scale alone won’t pave the way for solar PV in the coming years. What’s also needed are new technologies and methods to improve the energy performance of devices, and the efficiency of the systems around them, all ultimately helping to lower costs from upstream to downstream for solar PV.

“We’re getting close to the cost of coal,” noted Frank van Mierlo, CEO of 1366 Technologies, pointing to Austin Energy’s recent power-purchase deal for less than 5 cents per kilowatt-hour. But there’s no time to “order champagne and celebrate how far we’ve come,” he urged. “We need to make further cost reductions everywhere.”

As PV makers push ahead with gigawatt-scale expansions requiring massive capital investments, they are increasingly eager to embrace technology improvements that increase efficiency without increasing production costs. Equipment vendors “have wrung huge costs out of their equipment to deliver current processes,” acknowledged John Benner, executive director of the Bay Area PV Consortium. Now the challenge and interest among engineers is developing new processes that can be implemented in today’s production lines, including next-generation tools, to produce PV devices for much lower capex, especially in terms of upfront investments. How these new solar PV technology innovations will overlay with PV manufacturing operations over the next couple of years is the topic being tackled by a panel of experts, including Benner and van Mierlo, at the July 7th SEMI PV Advanced Manufacturing Forum at Intersolar North America in San Francisco.

Most of the technology innovations in silicon-based solar PV will build on the existing infrastructure in place, a trend confirmed by the latest version of the International Technology Roadmap for Photovoltaic. Manufacturers will increasingly embrace n-type silicon. Diamond wire saws are seen as likely to replace steel wire to slice wafers. Anti-reflective films on solar cell surfaces can enable higher efficiencies without investing a lot of capital, according to Fatima Toor, research analyst at Lux Research. Other specific sweet spots of technology/process improvements include high-performance encapsulants, backsheets, and metallization pastes, which can improve modules’ absolute efficiency by 1 percent to more than 3 percent, respectively. Focusing on PV improvements via exotic new materials “is a fool’s errand,” suggested van Mierlo; after billions of spending on development, “at some point you look at the data and move on.”

Silver consumption is another popular target. The industry has long sought ways to use less of the expensive material, and vendors have responded by sharply reducing silver content by as much two-thirds from just a few years ago. Copper could replace much of silver’s functionality at a fraction of the material cost; it also introduces some integration challenges, and a wholesale swap is debatable, though van Mierlo suggests “you just need good, hard work by brilliant R&D teams.”

Silicon itself remains a prime target of cost-cutting efforts. The industry has “done a fabulous job” of improving silicon’s quality and reducing costs over time, van Mierlo said, but there are “lots of ways to still do better,” from the emergence of high-performance back-contact devices to high-quality texturing, to further streamlining the wafer manufacturing process. That’s also the area of focus for 1366 Technologies and fellow Intersolar panelist Crystal Solar: ultra-thin silicon wafers just tens of microns thick, which require far less starting material and fewer associated costs such as energy, consumables, and subsequent waste post-processing. Bay Area PV Consortium (BAPVC) members are also working on ways to get light into those thinner structures more effectively, Benner added.

Several of these panelists agree on the need for diligence on these incremental improvements in silicon PV rather than new leaps ahead. Driven by the broader goals of competing with the cost of coal, as well as the DOE’s $1/W SunShot targets for total installed solar costs, it can be difficult to appreciate the individual contributions from improvements in silicon, cell efficiencies, balance-of-system technologies, etc. “People tend to underestimate incremental change,” mused Marcie Black, president and co-founder of Bandgap Engineering, a firm whose nanowires can boost solar cells’ efficiencies by roughly 1 percent absolute, swapping out only the surface texturing step of the cell manufacturing process.

PV companies won’t have to solve these cost and reliability issues alone. Industry and university researchers “have different perspectives on the problems,” Benner noted, and bringing those two groups together can “spark some great innovation.” That’s the approach used by BAPVC, a U.S. DOE-backed group led by Stanford University and University of California/Berkeley. BAPVC helps support and connect university research with industry needs, focusing on higher-performance cells, photon management, absorbers and cells (both silicon and thin film), encapsulation and reliability — all targeting a three- to five-year window to transfer to industry. The focus is not necessarily “drop-in ready” technology, but rather on allowing companies to blend and tweak the technology to their own needs.