Monthly Archives: December 2015

Sea levels don’t rise like water in a bath tub! It’s more dangerous than that, and it’s accelerating! #AGU15 #COP21

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If, like me, you thought sea level rise was as simple as ice melting and the ocean rising, like a five pound block of party ice melting into warm kiddies pool, then you need a rethink about sea level rise. Even though the ocean is rising overall, complex forces cause sea levels to rise in some places and drop in others. Yet out of a bewildering array of factors, scientists have determined that Global Mean Sea Level (GMSL) rise is picking up speed.

Dr. Carling Hay, a leading researcher in the field, presented results by a team of experts that evokes a sobering view of what the future may hold. She presented her report at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Annual Meeting in San Francisco last week.

Dr. Carling explained that our old idea of ice melting and the seas rising uniformly is wrong. Big ice sheets like those in Greenland exert gravitational attraction on the oceans nearby, and when an ice sheet melts away its reduced gravity causes the nearby ocean waters to drop and sea levels farther away to rise. Every large ice store has its own “signature” of such water loss and gravitational effects, and sea levels both locally and across the planet change unevenly. Even so, such “static effects” are only one of a number of factors that affect sea levels in a given locale. Dynamic effects like the water’s thermal expansion, atmospheric process, ocean currents, and other factors can all contribute to uneven local effects. Thus sea levels can rise faster, slower, or sometimes even go down for a given island chain or coastline, depending on a host of factors. Still, the overall trend for most of the world is decidedly up.

Earlier estimates of sea level rise were based on sparse tidal measurements that started in the mid-19th century. Until recently records did not cover enough locations across the globe nor did researchers have a sufficient theoretical understand of the problem’s complexity to get an accurate picture of what was happening. In the last 20 years measurements have improved dramatically with the advent of satellites that measure the exact altitude of ocean surfaces. With such measurements, plus other refined techniques, various theories and estimates of sea level rise have come into strong agreement. Better data and better models have led Dr. Hay’s research team to find that GMSL rise for the period 1900 to 1990 was about 1.2 (plus or minus 0.2) mm/yr, a revision downward of about 20% from earlier scientific estimates. Things change rather dramatically, however, beginning around 1990. During the period 1990 to 2010 there has been an marked acceleration, with seas rising at an average of 3.0 mm (plus or minus 0.7 mm) per year. Coastal communities in Alaska, Pacific Ocean island nations, and other places are already experiencing dramatic effects from rising seas and warming temperatures. An acceleration of rising waters with the magnitude shown by the new data may portend dramatic new problems soon.

Authors of the research cited in Carling Hay’s presentation include:

Carling Hay: Rutgers University New Brunswick and Harvard University
Eric Morrow: Rutgers University New Brunswick
Robert Kopp: Rutgers University New Brunswick
Jerry Mitrovica: Harvard University

Oil Prices in Free Fall While Many Wall Street Pundits Hope that “Consolidation” Will Save Fossil Fuel Investments #COP21 #Oil #Solar #AGU15

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As I’ve reported, the climate agreement reached in Paris may lead to a permanent collapse in oil prices as countries compete to sell glutted production in the face of diminishing demand. Conventional Wall Street wisdom says that Saudi Arabia is pumping oil at high levels in a bid to drive other producers from the market and regain market share. However, this interpretation is at best only part of the story due to the fact that so much USA and other production has recently come on line and will continue to produce as much oil as possible to cover repayment of financing used to drill new wells. Saudi Arabia has long made clear that they have enough reserves to pump oil for decades, and that country appears to be undertaking a long term strategy to squeeze as much revenue as possible from their store before all underground oil becomes a stranded asset. A new wrinkle is that China has announced they will not reduce domestic gasoline pricing any further in a bid to reduce the growth in vehicle emissions. This could be a major obstacle to any recovery of oil prices in the short and long term.

It appears likely, therefore, that oil prices will continue to fall for the foreseeable future, and if worldwide demand continues to fall due to environmental policies like those instituted by China, there are bleak prospects for an oil price recovery. The flood of bad news for oil continues today in the news that Congress will renew tax breaks for the installation of rooftop solar, wind and other renewable energy projects. Despite the surly rhetoric of conservatives and the apparent attempt at a new “inquisition” directed against climate scientists by Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy Chair Lamar Smith, most politicians can clearly see the writing on the wall. Last one to leave turn off the oil well pump!

Big News from California! CPUC Keeps NEM, Takes Big Steps Toward More Solar Energy #COP21 #AGU15 #Solar #POTUS

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) today published their long awaited proposed decision on setting new tariffs under the net energy metering (NEM) tariff regime that is called for by California Assembly Bill 327. That bill allowed for the extension of the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and called for the extension of the state’s net energy metering program, which has been a boon to household installation of solar energy. The details of implementing AB 327 were left to the CPUC, and many solar industry companies and renewables advocates feared the CPUC would obstruct more household solar energy installations by creating an unfavorable tariff structure for the sale of household rooftop energy to the grid. Those fears appear to be unfounded, as the CPUC indicates it will move toward maintaining favorable tariffs for the sale of rooftop solar energy.

Other provisions of the CPUC’s proposed ruling appear to advance the ball farther toward proposals advocated by activist groups. Among them is a proposal to allow virtual net metering (VNM) to be be allowed for clusters of individual houses in low income communities. Virtual Net Metering allows households to obtain solar credits on their utility bill from solar generation at sites not on that household’s property. Under the ruling, groups of low income houses could benefit from a solar array created to serve them, possibly with favorable financing schemes. This development heralds the wider acceptance of “solar gardens,” where groups of individual households might invest in and reap the benefits from solar arrays not situated on their properties. This expands on previous regulations that only allowed VNM for multifamily dwellings.

#COP21 Could Lead to the Collapse of Oil Prices. Perhaps Permanently

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The climate agreement reached in Paris today could herald a permanent collapse in oil prices as countries compete to sell glutted production in the face of diminishing demand. Swing producers, like Saudi Arabia, stand to lose big if the movement to leave oil in the ground makes progress, and may try to forestall losses by flooding the market while demand is still relatively high. Such countries already continue at high production levels despite the oversupply of oil in world markets.

Government measures to reduce fossil fuel use will exacerbate heavy losses already suffered by producers that have come on line in recent years. Even those that have successfully started new production will have no choice but to continue to maximize production to in order to repay loans.

Falling oil prices will reduce the incentive to switch from oil to renewables. This creates an enhanced environment for instituting a revenue neutral carbon tax, which could follow a Democratic Party victory in the 2016 USA presidential election. That, plus anticipated increased incentives to develop renewables and focus on this sector by a wide range of financial institutions may truly bring about a new energy paradigm. If only we’re not too late.

British MET Office Report to #COP21: 2015 World Temp reaches Near Full One Degree C rise over Pre-Industrial Times

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In a special report for the COP21 conference in Paris, the British MET office reports that the worldwide average temperature in 2015 is near a full degree C above pre-industrial levels. This means that humanity has, for the first time, experienced a year where the average temperature is about one half of the allowable global warming that can occur before extreme impacts are expected to occur.

The MET office’s report, presented in a brochure and online, is clear about the cause of the observed trend, stating: “This year’s record temperature is partly due to the influence of a strong El Niño event taking place in the Pacific, but the long-term warming trend due to human influence is by far the dominant cause.

Worryingly, the MET also observes that “A recent new analysis shows that the much-discussed “slow-down” in the rate of global temperature rise is no longer as prominent in the observations.”

The British MET office is the equivalent of the USA’s NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). It tracks data that consistently show that climate patterns and weather events have trended in significant alignment with scientifically accepted models of climate change. Among a wealth of data offered in the MET report are these data points:

-“In northern China, the spring of 2014 was the third warmest since reliable records began in the late 1950s; 2.2 °C higher than the 1961-90 average.”

– “A study in 2004 on the severe heatwave in western and central Europe in summer 2003 showed that human influence at least doubled the odds of such an event.”

– [In another reference to the record breaking heat event in Europe in 2003 that killed more than twenty thousand people, the MET states] “Observations of the summer temperature across Europe over the years since 2003 suggest that we are continuing along a track where, by the 2040s, more than half of summers are projected to be warmer than that seen in 2003 if emissions of greenhouse gases continue on their current rising path.”

– [Referring to heavy rainfall in the UK, the report states:] “Anthropogenic climate change has made extreme rainfall over 10 consecutive winter days around seven times more likely.”

– “The chances of a colder than average winter (according to 1961-90 long-term averages) are about 20% by 2020, but they drop to 4% by 2100.”

The MET report offers specific data that reveals the “death by a thousand cuts” nature of climate change (and that helps make political arguments on the issue so contentious). The report also reviews the impacts on food security as well as dangerous feed-back mechanisms due to carbon releases from wetlands and permafrost as temperatures warm.

The MET’s complete report can be viewed or downloaded here.

International Solar Alliance Created by France and India at COP21 – will promote international solar development

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France and India have established a steering committee to bring about an “International Solar Alliance.” The alliance is said to consist of about 120 countries that support widespread development of solar energy through a range of investment mechanisms. The declaration of the new alliance, announced on November 30, is as follows:

“Declaration on the occasion to launch the international solar alliance of countries dedicated to the promotion of solar energy:

Recognizing that sustainable development, universal energy access, and energy security are critical to the shared prosperity and future of our planet, and acknowledging that clean and renewable energy needs to be made affordable for all, we do hereby declare our intention to support India’s proposal to launch an international solar alliance as a common platform for cooperation among solar resource rich countries lying fully or practically between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.

United by a shared vision to bring clean, affordable and renewable energy within the reach of all, we affirm our intention to join the international solar alliance as founding members to ensure the promotion of green, clean and sustainable energy, and to draw on the beneficence of the Sun in this endeavor.

We share the collective ambition to undertake innovative and concerted efforts with a view to reducing the cost of finance and cost of technology for immediate deployment of competitive solar generation assets in all our countries and to pave the way for future solar generation, storage and good technologies adapted to our countries’’ individual needs.

United by our objective to significantly augment solar power generation in our countries, we intend making joint efforts through innovative policies, projects, programmes, capacity building measures and financial instruments to mobilize more than 1000 Billion US Dollars of investments that are needed by 2030 for the massive deployment of affordable solar energy. We recognize that the reduced cost of finance would enable us to undertake more ambitious solar energy programmes to bring development and prosperity for our people.

We intend working together towards the development of appropriate benchmarks, facilitating resource assessments, supporting research and development and demonstration facilities, with a view to encouraging innovative and affordable applications of solar technologies.

Desirous of establishing an international alliance of countries dedicated to the promotion of solar energy as an effective mechanism of cooperation, we agree to create an International Steering Committee, open to interested counties, to provide the necessary guidance, direction and advice to establish the international solar alliance.”