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Category Archive: Energy

  1. Climate Change Could Take the Air Out of Wind Farms

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    December 11, 2017 Eric Niler  read full WIRED article here

    Big offshore wind farms power Europe’s drive for a carbon-free society, while rows of spinning turbines across America’s heartland churn enough energy to power 25 million US homes. But a new study predicts that a changing climate will weaken winds that blow across much of the Northern hemisphere, possibly leading to big drops in clean wind energy.

    That’s because the temperature difference between the North Pole and the equator, which drives atmospheric energy in the form of winds and storm systems, is shrinking as the Arctic warms. A warmer Arctic means less of a temperature difference and therefore weaker winds across the central United States, the United Kingdom, the northern Middle East, and parts of Asia. It’s just one of many weather-related effects that scientists forecast are likely to occur as concentrations of heat-trapping carbon dioxide continue to rise in the Earth’s atmosphere—from stronger hurricanes to weaker polar vortexes.

    Our results don’t show the wind power goes to zero, it’s a reduction of 10 percent over broad regions,” says Kristopher Karnauskas, a climate scientist at Colorado University Boulder and lead author of the new study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience. “But it’s not trivial.”…

    Karnaukas, K et al. Southward shift of the global wind energy resource under high carbon dioxide emissions. Nature Geoscience (2017) doi:10.1038/s41561-017-0029-9



  2. Transformation to wind and solar achievable with lower full life cycle GHG emissions compared to other energy technologies

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    • Electricity production from biomass, coal, gas and hydropower for instance induces much higher indirect greenhouse gas emissions than nuclear electricity, or wind and solar-based power supply
    • Scaling up wind and solar technologies would induce only modest indirect GHG emissions compared to other energy power technologies
    December 8, 2017 Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)  read full ScienceDaily article here
    Different low carbon technologies from wind or solar energy to fossil carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) differ greatly when it comes to indirect GHG emissions in their life cycle. The new study finds that wind and solar energy belong to the more favorable when it comes to life-cycle emissions and scaling up these technologies would induce only modest indirect GHG emissions — and hence not impede the transformation towards a climate-friendly power system….

    “Both fossil and non-fossil power technologies still come with a certain amount of greenhouse gas emissions within their life cycle — on the one hand because it needs energy to construct and operate them, on the other hand because of methane emissions, e.g. from coal and gas production,” explains lead author Michaja Pehl. “However, we found there are substantial differences across technologies regarding their greenhouse gas balance. Electricity production from biomass, coal, gas and hydropower for instance induces much higher indirect greenhouse gas emissions than nuclear electricity, or wind and solar-based power supply.”….

    ….”When it comes to life cycle greenhouse gas emissions, wind and solar energy provide a much better greenhouse gas balance than fossil-based low carbon technologies, because they do not require additional energy for the production and transport of fuels, and the technologies themselves can be produced to a large extend with decarbonized electricity,” states Edgar Hertwich, an industrial ecologist from Yale University who co-authored the study. Due to technological innovation, less and less energy will be needed to produce wind turbines and solar photovoltaic systems….

    Michaja Pehl, Anders Arvesen, Florian Humpenöder, Alexander Popp, Edgar G. Hertwich, Gunnar Luderer. Understanding future emissions from low-carbon power systems by integration of life-cycle assessment and integrated energy modelling. Nature Energy, 2017; 2 (12): 939 DOI: 10.1038/s41560-017-0032-9

  3. How do offshore wind farms affect ocean ecosystems?

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    • Some scientists say wind turbine areas are like artificial reefs, creating sanctuaries for marine life. But plenty of questions regarding their environmental impact remain.

    November 22, 2017  Reach Deutsche Welle article here

    The global shift to renewable energy is well underway, including large-scale deployment of offshore wind farms. There are already about 3,600 turbines operating along European coasts, with 14 more wind farms under development.

    Even more wind energy is needed to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement — but the push to boost European offshore wind power 40-fold by 2030 will change regional ocean ecosystems in profound and unexpected ways, according to researchers studying how the turbines affect the environment.

    Most of the research stems from northern Europe, where offshore turbines have been operating since 1991. Scientists say this research can help shape plans for deploying offshore wind turbines in other parts of the world.

    A recent study on the Mediterranean identified wind energy and wildlife hotspots, based partly on lessons learned in northern Europe. The science is also useful in places like Japan and the United States, where a boom in the development of offshore wind energy appears imminent….

    ….Harbor porpoises, for example, are especially sensitive to the frequencies generated by pile driving — the process of installing poles into the ocean floor for the wind turbine foundations. For up to six weeks, construction can push out marine mammals from large areas of their habitat, Todd said, explaining that offshore operators are bound to strict measures to try and ensure that marine mammals are not physically hurt…..once the installations are done, the animals return, she said, adding that scientists are seeing a similar process around some decommissioned oil and gas drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. There, the US government is promoting the growth of productive ecosystems with the Rigs to Reefs program.

    …The impacts of new offshore wind turbines should be considered together with effects from all other human activities, such as fishing, dredging, and oil and gas drilling, points out Bruna Campos, a marine and fisheries policy officer with BirdLife International, which has been watchdogging the wind industry for a while….

    …authorities are making progress on large-scale plans that consider wildlife impacts — but the pressure to fast-track offshore wind means that they sometimes fall short of their legal obligations. As a result, conservation advocates have challenged a few wind energy projects in court.

  4. Solar power crushes its own record for cheapest electricity ‘ever, anywhere, by any technology’

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    • The lowest price for solar power last year is the highest price now.

    see full ThinkProgress article here

    Prices for new solar power projects are falling so fast that the cheapest prices from 2016 have become the ceiling price for solar today.

    In April 2016, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reported that the record low unsubsidized solar energy price was 3.6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), in a March 2016 contract in Mexico….This month, every single bid that Saudi Arabia received for its 300-Megawatt (MW) Sakaka solar project was cheaper than that….

    The lowest bid price was 1.79 cents/kWh. For context, the average residential price for electricity in the United States is more than six times that, 12 cents/kWh.

    The jaw-dropping price of 1.79 cents is not about to become the new ceiling for solar bids — since the market conditions in Saudi Arabia are fairly unique and it’s not clear the bidder, Masdar (owned by the United Arab Emirates) and its French partner EDF would actually make money at that price.

    But, still, seven of the eight bids were below three cents — and the two lowest bids were “the lowest prices ever recorded at a global level,” as PV magazine noted,


  5. The world’s first “negative emissions” plant has begun operation—turning carbon dioxide into stone

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    Akshat Rathi October 12, 2017 read full Quartz article here

    …We produce 40 trillion kg of carbon dioxide each year, and we’re on track to cross a crucial emissions threshold that will cause global temperature rise to pass the dangerous 2°C limit set by the Paris climate agreement.
    …On Oct. 11, at a geothermal power plant in Iceland, the startup inaugurated the first system that does direct air capture and verifiably achieves negative carbon emissions. Although it’s still at pilot scale—capturing only 50 metric tons CO2 from the air each year, about the same emitted by a single US household—it’s the first system to convert the emissions into stone, thus ensuring they don’t escape back into the atmosphere for the next millions of years.
    …Climeworks and Global Thermostat have piloted systems in which they coat plastics and ceramics, respectively, with an amine, a type of chemical that can absorb CO2. Carbon Engineering uses a liquid system, with calcium oxide and water. …
    …Each of the startups has built a functional pilot plant to prove their technology, with the ability to capture hundreds of kg of CO2. And all boast that their tech is modular, meaning they can build a direct air capture plant as small or large as somebody is ready to pay for. Even at $50 per metric ton of capturing emissions, if we have to capture as much as 10 billion metric tons by 2050, we are looking at spending $500 billion each year capturing carbon dioxide from the air. It seems outrageous, but it may not be if climate change’s other damages are put in perspective—and that’s what these startups are betting on….
  6. Electric Vehicles Expected to Push Oil Demand Down

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    • With China now planning to phase out gas-powered cars, automakers are talking about an all-electric future. It could mean a big drop in emissions.
  7. In a Stunning Turnaround, Britain Moves to End the Burning of Coal

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    Britain is phasing out its coal-burning power plants, with the last one slated to be shuttered by 2025, if not sooner. It is a startling development for the nation that founded an industrial revolution powered by coal.

    ….The coal-devouring behemoth, and the endless trains of railroad wagons feeding it with fuel from coastal ports, is suddenly a relic of the past. In one of the greatest and fastest energy turnarounds in the developed world, the country that brought the world the industrial revolution – a revolution founded and sustained by burning coal – has cut the cord. King Coal is, almost overnight, being banished from Britain….

    …The collapse of coal, the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, has resulted in a sharp drop in Britain’s CO2 emissions from electricity generation. Those emissions fell 50 percent between 2010 and 2016. The average Briton is now responsible for only about a third the CO2 emissions of the average American…

    …Last year was the first during which Britain got more energy from wind than coal – 11.5 percent compared to 9.2 percent…

    The lingering effect is that Britain is responsible for 6 percent of all the industrial CO2 in the atmosphere today – more per head of population than any large nation, the U.S. included. Yet thanks to the demise of coal, Britain’s emissions are now lower than they have been for more than a century, and they continue to fall. The world needs to follow.

  8. The Great Decoupling: the story of energy use, economic growth, and carbon emissions in four charts.

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    July 2017 see article and visualizations at AnthropoceneMagazine here

    …For the past 15 years, global economic growth rose twice as fast as global energy demand and CO2 emissions. The changes have been the most dramatic since 2010. And within the past three years (2014–2016), emissions stabilized—at least temporarily—while the global economy continued growing. That is a first.

    ….Energy efficiency is responsible for most of the decoupling to date. But the transformation to zero carbon fuels must dramatically accelerate to keep up with growing energy demands and increasing world population. Only then will decoupling be complete….

  9. Utilities Grapple with Rooftop Solar and the New Energy Landscape; first steps toward decentralized energy

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    …The combat trope isn’t entirely wrong. The utilities have successfully waged battles to squelch rooftop solar in states such as Arizona and Indiana, mostly by wielding political muscle to reduce compensation to customers for electricity fed back into the grid. This has helped hobble solar companies, and after four years of growth that averaged 63 percent a year, U.S. rooftop solar growth dropped to 19 percent last year, and this year is projected to be flat.

    But the metaphor begins to break down here, since utility company opposition isn’t the only reason for the slowdown in rooftop solar. According to Shayle Kann, head of Greentech Media Research, a leading electricity market analysis firm, two of the nations’ three biggest rooftop installers, SolarCity (now owned by Tesla) and Vivint Solar, shifted the emphasis of their business models from growth to profitability. In addition, in California, home to nearly half the nation’s rooftop installations, rooftop’s growth has tapered off as solar companies have run out of early-adopter customers. In any case, the decline is almost certainly temporary: GreentechMedia projects that rooftop solar’s growth in the coming years will rebound to a healthy 10 to 15 percent annually…..

    …For all the conflict surrounding rooftop solar, solar energy last year generated just under 1 percent of U.S. electricity, and utility-scale solar farms have three times the generating capacity of residential solar installations. That disparity is likely to grow.

    While the shift to rooftop solar and other distributed energy sources presents a major technological challenge to utilities, their current business models provide them no incentive to meet it.

    …“It’s not just the utilities that need to change their business model,” Richard Kauffman, New York’s “energy czar” and REV’s leader, said in a telephone interview. “One of things we’ve been pleased about is the way that the solar industry has demonstrated a willingness to change its business model. The solar sector is beginning to view the utility not as the enemy, but as a customer and partner, in just the way that the utility needs to start viewing the solar industry.”….

    …“the utilities are going to have to either come to the table or they’re going to go out of business.”

  10. Worldwide 100% renewable energy needed and possible by 2050, per new publication

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    • A detailed roadmap for 139 countries outlines a path to a future powered entirely by wind, water and solar energy.

    • Such a transition could mean less worldwide energy consumption due to the efficiency of clean, renewable electricity; a net increase of over 24 million long-term jobs; an annual decrease in 4-7 million air pollution deaths per year; stabilization of energy prices; and annual savings of over $20 trillion in health and climate costs

    August 24, 2017  read full Cosmos article here and ScienceDaily article here

    Everybody wants to change the world. Few of us publish research detailing exactly how to do it.

    Stanford’s Mark Z. Jacobson, who led a 2015 effort to create a state-by-state plan for a US transition to 100% renewable energy, has published similar research on a much larger scale, examining scenarios in which 139 countries could be powered purely by wind, water and solar (WWS) by the year 2050.

    In scope and scale, the paper – published in the new energy journal Joule – is a significant expansion on Jacobson’s prior work. It isn’t limited to each country’s electricity sector – it examines the electrification and decarbonisation of transportation, heating, cooling, industry, agriculture, forestry and fishing. The authors chose the 139 countries, which between them cover 99% of the world’s carbon emissions, because the necessary energy data about them were available through the International Energy Agency (IEA).

    The latest roadmap to a 100% renewable energy future from Stanford’s Mark Z. Jacobson and 26 colleagues is the most specific global vision yet, outlining infrastructure changes that 139 countries can make to be entirely powered by wind, water, and sunlight by 2050 after electrification of all energy sectors. Such a transition could mean less worldwide energy consumption due to the efficiency of clean, renewable electricity; a net increase of over 24 million long-term jobs; an annual decrease in 4-7 million air pollution deaths per year; stabilization of energy prices; and annual savings of over $20 trillion in health and climate costs….

    ….“Both individuals and governments can lead this change. Policymakers don’t usually want to commit to doing something unless there is some reasonable science that can show it is possible, and that is what we are trying to do,” says Jacobson. “We are not saying that there is only one way we can do this, but having a scenario gives people direction.”

    His ideal policy outcome would see “governments in many countries of the world commit to 100% clean, renewable energy in all sectors by 2050 with 80% by 2030”.

    “To avoid 1.5 C global warming, we need 80% reduction of everything by 2030 and 100% by 2050. We think a faster acceleration is possible at reasonable to low cost.”

    ….Jacobson’s paper is designed to serve as a vision for future, but even Finkel’s proposal [a recent review authored by Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel] for a far less ambitious emissions reduction target has not been adopted several months after it was proposed….