News

February 9, 2017

Great news from the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE)’s just-released 2017 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook. The U.S. GDP is booming while overall energy use—and emissions, and costs—are falling. New renewable energy generation is setting records and energy efficiency programs are working extremely well to reduce demand. It will be up to energy providers, large companies, and the states to keep momentum going in 2017 and beyond.

June 3, 2015

As humans emit more greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the Earth continues to warm. When I use the term “warm”, I mean there is an increase in thermal energy (heat) contained in the oceans and atmosphere of this planet.

We can measure warming by measuring temperatures; however, obtaining an accurate reading of the Earth’s temperature is complicated. Temperatures change with seasons, with locations, and there are natural long term variations that move heat around. So, we don’t expect temperatures just to continue increasing at all locations and at all times. We do expect the long term trend to be upwards, however, and that is what we’ve observed.

But if you follow the conversation about global warming, and particularly if you listen to cable news or online bloggers, you might have heard that there has been a hiatus or a halt to global warming. I’ve written before on this site that there is no halt, there never has been one. However there has been a vigorous debate about whether the increase in lower atmosphere temperatures has slowed down.

A new paper, “Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus” just published today in Science deals with this issue. In particular, the lead researcher Dr. Thomas Karl and his colleagues investigate the quality of the near-surface temperature records and ask whether they really show a slowdown.

Dr. Thomas R. Karl.
Dr. Thomas R. Karl. Photograph: Eric Bridiers./U.S. Missions.
The scientists make a number of improvements upon existing information. First, they focus on ocean surface temperature measurements from floating buoys and from ship-board sensors. We know that temperatures measured by ship sensors are often warmer than temperatures measured by buoys, in part because of the heat generated by the ship engine. A more thorough accounting of this effect has been implemented in the Extended Reconstructed Sea Surface Temperature data set version 4. This accounting is utilized in the paper.

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Second, there has been a historical change in how ships measure surface temperatures. Decades ago, temperatures were mainly measured by insulated buckets. Around the time of World War 2, there was a change from insulated buckets to temperature sensors contained within ship hulls. The ship hull sensors recorded warmer water temperatures compared to the bucket method. A more thorough handling of the changes from buckets to ship hull sensors was also included in the new paper.

Finally, the new study used more recent estimates of the land temperatures. The new estimates combine multiple temperature databases into a single integrated whole.

The end result is that the temperature trends over the past 17 or so years has continued to increase with no halt. In fact, it has increased at approximately the same rate as it had for the prior five decades. But the authors went further by trying to cherry-pick the start and end dates. For instance, they stacked the cards against themselves by purposefully picking a very hot year to start the analysis and a cool year to terminate the study (1998 and 2012, respectively). Even this cherry-picked duration showed a warming trend. Furthermore, the warming trend was significant.

I asked lead author Dr. Karl for his comments on the significance of the paper and he told me,

Considering all the short-term factors identified by the scientific community that acted to slow the rate of global warming over the past two decades (volcanoes, ocean heat uptake, solar decreases, predominance of La Niñas, etc.) it is likely the temperature increase would have accelerated in comparison to the late 20th Century increases. Once these factors play out, and they may have already, global temperatures could rise more rapidly than what we have seen so far.

So what does this all mean? Well we knew the globe was warming. The best evidence has always been by measuring the enormous amount of heat going into the oceans. But what this new paper shows is that the warming in the recent years has not stopped and has not even slowed down.

With 2015 so far running hotter than any year on record, and with May temperatures expected to be in the 0.79–0.84°C anomaly range, it becomes increasingly likely that we will set another all-time record this year. With hope, this will end the discussion of the so-called “pause” or “hiatus,” which never existed in the first place.

—From The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/201…

June 2, 2015

ON JUNE 2nd a group of scientists and economists announced plans for the launch of what they call the Global Apollo Programme in the hope of making new solar capacity cheaper than new coal-burning power plants by 2025. Countries which sign up to the project will promise to spend 0.02% of GDP on research into renewables, for a initial $15 billion in public spending. (Publicly funded research is currently $6 billion world-wide.) By comparison, the authors argue, the original Apollo moon programme cost a total of $150 billion in today’s money. Saving the planet, they argue, requires similar effort. But can renewable energy really make much of a difference?

Solar technology has already made significant progress in a short amount of time. Renewable power is gaining market share against other sources, especially in sunny and spacious places, and where other fuels are scarce or dirty. For solar, as one might expect, sun-drenched locations are the most competitive ones; California and Hawaii are trailblazers). Open, spare tracts of land (or sea) are better for the economics of wind power. Tax breaks help too: such as the 30% investment credit that Americans get for installing renewable capacity, for example the booming business of rooftop solar panels. Another subsidy is available to households that are able to sell surplus electricity to the energy company at favourable prices (such as the tariff paid for the electricity the company sells its customers). This is called “net metering” in America and in effect uses the grid—the poles, wires and generating capacity paid for by other consumers—as free storage.

Yet opponents of renewables say the level of subsidies involved shows that wind and solar investments are just boondoggles, salving the conscience of the green-minded and cossetting politically connected companies. That is true up to a point—governments have probably spent too much money on first-generation technology which is inefficient and expensive compared with what is now becoming available. But all energy is subsidised one way or another; users of fossil fuels don’t pay for the damage they do to the planet. Subsidies to renewable energy are around $100 billion a year. A recent IMF working paper estimated the subsidies to fossil fuels (including the uncompensated costs of air pollution, congestion and global warming) at $5.3 trillion. Perhaps more important, subsidies for renewables are dropping (at least on a per watt basis); America’s tax credit is being cut, and Britain is ending subsidies for onshore wind. Meanwhile renewables’ efficiency is rising fast. Unsurprisingly, renewable use is growing dramatically. According to the International Energy Agency (an energy agency created by the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries) renewables accounted for almost 22% of global electricity generation in 2013, a 5% increase from 2012. China and India are investing heavily in renewables (China, notably, in wind). Wind used to be the cheapest, but solar is now overtaking it in most markets. That trend will continue. Almost any external surface can generate solar electricity, and costs are plummeting (not just for the silicon wafers, but also for installation, electronics and storage needed to make the system work). Wind energy is getting cheaper too, with taller windmills erected more cheaply—but the potential gains are less dramatic.

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For renewables to play a meaningful role in slowing climate change, however, will require much more progress, much faster. The authors behind the Apollo project note that atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels are on track to reach a level in 2035 in which a rise in global temperatures of 2°C is highly probable (and temperature will keep rising, by 4°C, if policies do not change). To head off that dangerous possibility renewables will need to be cheaper than fossil fuels by 2025. That, in turn, would require technological breakthroughs in the near future—and much more research and development spending in the present. A carbon price might help, by making dirty fuels more expensive and encouraging private investment in renewables. At present private R&D expenditure in renewables industries is pitifully low: at just 2% of sales (the figure in pharmaceuticals is 5% and in consumer electronics 15%). Yet it was government research funding that got America to the moon in just a few short years. It stands to reason that another government boost will be necessary to make the world fully reliant on the sun.

—From The Economist, http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2015/06/economist-expl…

May 31, 2015

The world’s governments and businesses need to choose wisely and invest in low carbon energy, not the dirty fossil fuels of the past, according to the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

He said that climate change was striking faster than expected, but that the transition to clean energy was also accelerating.

Everything you need to know about the Paris climate summit and UN talks
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In an interview with the Guardian, Ban said previous slow progress on tackling climate change had spawned strong civil society movements, including a fast-growing fossil fuel divestment campaign. He encouraged citizens to press for action on global warming, which he said was a vital component of sealing a strong climate change deal at a crunch summit in Paris in December.

Ban also said, with a papal encyclical on climate change due to be published in June, that he welcomed the addition of Pope Francis’s moral voice to the debate. Ban stressed that the reduction of poverty around the world was inextricably linked to tackling climate change.

“I have taken the climate change issue as one of my top priorities since I took over my job in January 2007,” said Ban. “This is a defining issue of our time.”

“I have been urging all sectors of society to choose wisely and invest in the low carbon pathway,” he said. “Over the next 15 years, the world will make a massive investment in new infrastructures, in serious renewable energy. We can invest in the low carbon economy or we can invest in dirty technologies.”

“Climate change is happening much much faster than expected,” said Ban. But he said the transition to renewable energy was speeding up also, as businesses became increasingly aware of the advances in technology and falling costs. “We will see a much quicker pace of investment pattern changes,” he said. Last week, insurance giant Axa announced it was pulling €500m from the coal sector and putting €3bn into green investments.

Ban confirmed that Pope Francis, who he met last week, will speak at a UN meeting in New York in September. Ban added: “I’m looking forward to the Pope’s encyclical on the subject, which would add some moral voice on this issue.”

The branch of the UN tasked with delivering a climate deal in December has already added its “moral voice” to the fossil fuel divestment campaign, which is persuading investors from major financial institutions, charitable foundations, universities and churches to dump their fossil fuel investments.

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Current fossil fuel reserves are several times what can safely be burned, leading campaigners to argue that investing in companies that are searching for more coal, oil and gas is highly risky to both the climate and investors’ capital. The Guardian, whose parent company has divested, is running a campaign asking the world’s two biggest health charities to divest.

Ban said he was in agreement with the Pope that “ending poverty, embracing human dignity and addressing climate change are interlinked”. Ban said: “Climate change and sustainable development, they are the two sides of one coin.”

Some fossil fuel companies argue that restricting the burning of coal and other fossil fuels would hinder progress in reducing global poverty. But the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, produced by thousands of the world’s foremost experts and approved by 195 nations, concluded that climate change, driven by unchecked fossil fuel burning, “is a threat to sustainable development” and would “prolong existing and create new poverty traps”.

Ban said he was optimistic that the world’s governments would reach a climate agreement in December. “There is a strong sense by world leaders from governments and business and civil society that this is the time to reach an agreement,” he said. “There are still some significant hurdles to be overcome. However, all the countries … believe that they should do it and they can do it.”

I encourage citizens to press for climate action using peaceful and democratic means
Ban Ki-moon
“At this time, what is most required is political will by the world leaders of the governments and political will and wise investment by the business communities and also a strong support and engagement of civil society,” he said. “I encourage citizens to press for climate action using peaceful and democratic means.”

The UN climate negotiations resumed in Bonn this week, with officials attempting to pare down a draft text less than six months to go until the Paris summit.

—From The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/02/ban-ki-moon-urges-gov…

April 20, 2012
Happy Earth Day 2012

Happy Earth Day 2012 from Center for Resource Solutions and Buy Clean Energy. What better way to celebrate the day than by signing up for renewable energy? It’s fast, easy, and one of the most important things you can do to reduce your impact on the planet.