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The Lead up to COP21 (Part 2)
From: The Guardian  Posted: November 25th 2015

Archbishop Desmond Tutu exhorts us to add our names to his petition to President Obama seeking a greater commitment to reduce GHG emissions. A hard task confronts us, but not taking action will exacerbate it.

A team from the University of Maryland and the US EPA have published a study that outlines the task and the hard choices that must be made. In particular they highlight the extraordinary effort that must be made to retire fossil fuel power plants and replace them by renewables if the pledges (INDCs) so far received are not activated until 2030. A far easier task would be to start now, but can renewables be integrated at scale yet?

Yes we are told, the technology exists and can be deployed rapidly. Roberto Verzola suggests a way forward and uses the Philippines as his example, whilst the Guardian sees the transition as a means to redistribute wealth. There are many parallels here for South Africa and now Eskom's research GM tells us that the parastatal's very survival may depend upon adopting renewables "in a big way".


Climate Change and COP21
From: Mother Jones  Posted: November 24th 2015

A new study by Justin Farrell analysed the 20 year output of 164 corporations and 4500 individuals that deny climate change and found that there is a correlation between those that received corporate funding, the consistency of their output's content and the way it changed over time. Meanwhile, the first EPA chief, who was a Republican, has criticised that party's presidential candidates for ignoring science in order to procure political gain.

Ugo Bardi looks at how Syria moved from being an oil exporting country to an importing one and wonders which country might be next and Damian Carrington tells us that the fossil fuel companies risk losing $2trillion in stranded assets if they continue their fight against renewable energy sources.

Thomas Piketty proposes a (€180 for business class and €20 for economy) flight tax to pay for climate adaptation, whilst the Guardian calculates that there is a $270billion gap between what countries have pledged for COP21 and what is needed. The World Bank proposes a $16billion fund for urgent climate change needs in Africa. Much remains to be achieved in Paris.


Resisting Drought
From: News24  Posted: November 22nd 2015

Jill Farrant of UCT, is probably the world's leading expert on 'resurrection' plants, which can survive several years of drought and spring to life again when the rains return. Jill is hoping to unlock the genetic codes of this group of plants so that new strains of extremely tolerant crops can be developed and expects the process to take 10-15 years. The worry is that by that time much of sub-Saharan Africa will be subject to multi-year drought.

One existing example of these plants is teff, which is a staple in Ethiopia. But it is subject to export restrictions because of a shortness of supply. Teff is similar to quinoa, but a much smaller seed, though outside Ethiopia it is more of a 'foodie' item than a staple due to its price. That could change if and when regular droughts are with us and new solutions are sought.

Our farmers are on the front line of the current drought and are worried. Our regional forecast for climate change suggests that droughts will become much more frequent over the coming years. If that comes to pass, many will face failure or give up. They need our understanding, not blame, for the many food price increases we are experiencing and which may become permanent. If this drought ends soon, let us remember it and prepare for a future that may contain many more.


Can We Afford the Future?
From: Richard Heinberg  Posted: November 19th 2015

Richard Heinberg tells us that in the US roads, bridges, water mains, airports, railways and power grids are ageing and communities are unable to find the funding to fix all of them. That sounds familiar. But with the advent of more expensive fossil fuels he posits that "we really and truly cannot afford much more of the kind of progress..... that we got used to during the last century." and that whilst renewable energy sources will come to the fore, they are not quite ready yet.

Today's Henry Hub gas price of $2.025/Mcf is a long way below the break-even price of $6.5/Mcf that Art Berman's colleague Lynn Pittinger tells us is needed for Haynesville shale gas. At that price, US exports of LNG would compete with Mozambique's LNG and likely constrain the future price of any SA shale gas, as will renewable energy sources. Art, himself tells us that only 1% of the Bakken land area comprising two 'sweet spots' is currently profitable, with little hope of imminent price increases. Gail Tverberg explains why 'supply and demand' doesn't work for oil.

A Reuter's analysis predicts that Europe will set future prices for LNG, but with Australia set to deliver huge quantities of LNG to Asia, the market could become highly volatile in future years, not a promising environment for shale gas price recovery. Wind and solar continue to increase their LCOE competitivenes, with onshore wind now clearly undercutting gas in Africa and utility solar hard on its heels. Many US shale gas producers are in financial difficulties and with hedges ending in Q1 2016, the outlook for them seems dark indeed.


Methane Matters
From: Michael Brune  Posted: November 19th 2015

The debate over the quantity of fugitive methane from shale gas production lumbers on. The industry's and EPA's estimate of 1.5% of production falls well below the generally accepted figure of 2.7% where unconventional gas production matches coal in its GHG damage. Independent research by direct measurement consistently comes up with much higher figures, the latest from Cornell University says 12% via NASA satellite data, though from only one satellite so far.

Eric Kort was the lead author of a 2014 study that highlighted a hot-spot of methane emissions at Four Corners in the US, which is currently under scrutiny. As ever, the gas companies shy away from accepting any fault, but nevertheless the emissions continue. In California a gas storage site is leaking methane at 50 tonnes/hour and curing the leak could take several months.

More research into the Yamal peninsular craters is compounded by new research into undersea 'pingos', which are humps in the seabed thought to expand then explode, releasing methane bursts. The amount of methane in our atmosphere is increasing and recently that increase appears to be accelerating. Whether that's caused by craters, pingos, permafrost melt or shale gas drilling, it is adding to climate change in the near term and each source must be tackled.


The Lead up to COP21 (Part 1)
From: PV-Tech  Posted: November 18th 2015

Whilst Barack Obama stressed the need for an ambitious deal at COP21, he pointed out the fact that tackling climate change does not necessarily have negative implications for countries' economies. "The old rules that said we cannot grow our economies and protect our environment at the same time, those are outdated." he told us at the APEC CEO summit in the Philippines. Our government seems not to understand this message and looks to others to finance our duty to shut down coal fired power stations. It plans to replace them with a technology which is little better, if at all, for the environment and carries risks of future stranded assets.

A survey by the Pew Research Center highlights how far global opinion has shifted on the seriousness of climate change whilst a World Bank study analyses who will suffer most. Laurent Fabian, France's foreign minister, sets out on his 4 country trail which includes South Africa in his contribution to ensuring the success of COP21.

El Niño has helped 2015 become the hottest year since records began, Skeptical Science (SkS) considers conceivable pathways, CCS and bioenergy. In its article Vaclav Smil outlines the practical and economic difficulties of implementing CCS. Then Newsweek takes a look at what cities can achieve with or without central support and Engineering News reports on what SA cities are doing.


Focus on Fossil Fuels
From: Renewable Energy World  Posted: November 16th 2015

Ernest Moniz, the US Energy Secretary has outlined his preferred solutions for carbon reduction to be discussed at COP21. Five technologies with recent dramatic decreases in costs are central: onshore wind, distributed solar PV, LEDs, electric vehicles and utility-scale PV. Note that natural gas and carbon capture and storage (CCS) are not included.

Michael Mann tells us that "if a lot of that natural gas is actually escaping into the atmosphere, and that natural gas is mostly methane which is a very potent greenhouse gas, it could actually be making the problem even worse.". That's worse compared to coal, but the science is not yet solid as to how much methane escapes, so the precautionary principle should apply.

The UK has a somewhat similar outlook to SA in terms climate change and energy policies. Both have high GHG emissions per capita, so neither can expect a smooth ride at COP21. The world is rapidly waking up to the folly of further investment in fossil fuel exploration, even the oil and gas industry. All, that is, except a few governments.


IEA Underestimating Solar Growth?
From: Clean Technica  Posted: November 16th 2015

The latest World Energy Outlook (WEO) was published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) earlier this month and it has attracted much criticism for the projections it makes for Solar PV installations. The Energy Watch Group (EWG) tells us that the IEA have based their projections on a linear model, where the volume of installations increases year by year by a fixed amount, whereas history tells us that the increase is exponential, recently increasing by over 6% year on year.

Also, COP21 will likely provide a boost for renewable energy and so the IEA scenarios tend to increase the importance of fossil fuels' role in coming years, plus government agencies tend to rely on the WEO's analysis. EWG tell us that "governments are advised to consider the expansion of renewables well over the WEO predictions in their energy policies in order to avoid misperceptions and stranded investments."

Michael Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, expects the annual growth rate of solar PV to be much higher largely due to its increasing competitiveness in terms of lifetime cost of energy (LCOE). However, their LCOEs do not include indirect costs such as health and emissions impacts. Even so, onshore wind is the most economical method of wind energy and solar PV is rapidly catching up.


Greenland Glacier now Unstable
From: University of California, Irvine  Posted: November 12th 2015

The enormous Zachariae Isstrom glacier began to accelerate in 2012. UC Irvine have visited its remote location and studied satellite photographs of it. They conclude that it has parted from the underwater sill that has earlier prevented rapid break up and that it will crumble into the ocean, raising sea levels by half a metre over the coming decades. Close by is Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden which, though currently protected by an inland hill, could contribute a further half metre to SLR. COP21 please take note.

Eric Steig at Real Climate analyses what is really happening to the eastern Antarctic ice sheet and how difficult it is to measure the small changes, whilst the Washington Post looks at the western ice shelves. Michael Rawlins similarly looks at net ecosystem productivity (gm C/m2/year) and postulates that we may be seeing a change from increasing CO2 before 2000 to a slight decline since then.

Yang Yong photographed for us the region where the Yangtze river has its source in another retreating glacier, whist the Pacific islanders ask for help from COP21 to preserve their homes.


Free Electricity from Wind
From: New York Times  Posted: November 9th 2015

TXU Energy in Texas is offering 'time-of-use' customers free electricity between 9pm and 6am. That's partly because Texas has led the race to install wind turbines in the US and partly because the Texas grid is more or less disconnected from other states, so has to use renewable energy as it is generated.

Both the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) exceeded 12MW of wind generated power in October, though on different days. Each of them would have provided around 40% of South Africa's needs on those days. Meanwhile a Dutch astrophysicist has designed a tethered drone turbine which could overfly the ground based turbines at heights where the wind power is 8 times stronger than theirs.

South Africa's capacity is only 8% of that generated by Texas, so considerable growth is possible and requires state funding only for any new grid connections. If the state is looking for low-cost solutions to Eskom's financial woes, then grid connections for renewables should be a priority.


5 Times Denser Storage
From: PCWorld  Posted: November 6th 2015

Prieto's battery can hold five times or more energy per litre than existing lithium-ion batteries and could be available in 2016. Amy Prieto's company has received substantial funding from Intel with the intention of including its batteries in wearables and computers by 2017, but she is also in discussions with another, unnamed partner with the goal of availability in the coming year. Thereafter the target will be storage for solar PV and wind energy.

Advances in battery technology continue to make headlines and here we feature 3. In Germany, a project is underway to integrate EV batteries into grid storage. Cambridge University are developing a lithium-air battery which may eventually equal the energy density of gasoline and Oregon State University are developing compounds for cheaper and more efficient storage of heat energy from thermal solar plants.

Tesla employees are being recruited by Sonnenbatterie, who have a major announcement later this month, perovskites get a boost from UCLA, integrated hardware and software via smart inverters is the way forward according to Deutsche Bank and graphene continues to garner interest. All in all we can see a massive industry emerging from small beginnings.


To Catch a Thief
From: EV Obsession  Posted: November 4th 2015

Police in Vancouver are smiling at the way a stolen Tesla was traced, whilst Mercedes-Benz are also smiling at the results of a one year pilot test of electrically driven light trucks, which clocked up over 100km. per day at around one third of the running costs of similar diesel engined vehicles. How long will it be before South Africa's fleet operators are talking to distributors here? How good will that be for smog, health and emission problems?

In Australia a prototype bus has driven from Melbourne to Sydney and claims a range of over 1000km. Now Christiana Figueres tells us why she thinks the VW scandal is a good thing.

Tesla has a better autopilot which is already driving more safely than a human and reports zero accidents from its public use in the US. Interesting details of its gigafactory are emerging and it will be a near zero emissions facility. In the shipping industry 2000-6000 mariners lose their lives every year, mostly due to human error, but autonomous ships are being designed to reduce those losses.


Stepping Beyond National Thinking
From: TomDispatch  Posted: November 3rd 2015

Michael Klare opines that COP21 is really a peace conference and that "the nations of the world will have to step beyond national thinking and embrace a higher goal: the safety of the ecosphere and all its human inhabitants, no matter their national, ethnic, religious, racial, or linguistic identities." Our Environmental Affairs Minister, Edna Molewa, does not favour this approach and has criticised developed nations for "failing to agree to ambitious measures aimed at limiting average global temperature increases to the targeted 2°C."

Now Joe Romm has stepped in to clarify the emission reduction pledges and we can see that the world's developing countries excluding China will account for double the combined emissions the US and the EU by 2030 and 3.5 times by the end of the century. South Africa has one of the highest emissions per capita of all the countries in the world, has been by far the largest emitter in Africa for many decades and therefore is not in a position to cast the first stone. Peace, Edna, please.

The governments of the world could raise $22billion a year by carbon taxes and here again, SA has a particularly weak plan and an 'I will if you will first' attitude. Edna calls for leadership whilst this is follower-ship. We should be going to COP21 in a spirit of co-operation, not self-interest.


Solar PV on the March
From: Solar Novus  Posted: October 30th 2015

Whether you are a home owner buying rooftop solar or a solar farm developer, you will be interested in the footprint of the solar modules you wish to install. Larger panels take more space, but more efficient ones produce more power. Recent advances have made it possible for high efficiency cells to be deployed at reasonable cost. However, the wafers that are their building blocks may be in short supply soon and their selling prices have increased slightly since June.

Countries around the globe are vying to build the biggest, cheapest and most efficient installations, so it's not surprising that demand is increasing rapidly and it bears comparison now with computer chips, digital photography and cell phones.

Utilities are finding a variety of ways to resist the growth of renewables - some omit the indirect costs (e.g. health impacts, GHG emissions) of fossil fuel plants from their levelised cost of energy (LCOE) calculations. Some seek unfair tax burdens on distributed electricity generation. Here we take a look at how an Australian utility distorts its demand reporting to the disadvantage of solar.


Exxon/Mobil's Deception
From: Resilience  Posted: October 30th 2015

Bill McKibben ponders what the outcome would have been had Exxon/Mobil published what it knew about climate change back in 1988, rather than setting out to deceive the public and falsely bring doubt to bear on good science for the sake of continuing their enormous profits.

Hillary Clinton has called for the company to be investigated, saying that "There's a lot of evidence that they misled". Mrs. Clinton's campaign has received funding from Exxon/Mobil's lobbyists, perhaps she should return it. She follows Bernie Sanders' lead in calling out the company. Sharon Eubanks was involved in prosecuting the tobacco companies for similar sins, back in 2005. Now she calls for the same law be applied to the oil and gas industry.

EDF and 48 other NGO's call for a full investigation of the facts whilst Republican politicians continue their witch hunt against good science in the US with requests for personal emails from NOAA's acclaimed scientists, but NOAA resists.


Oceans' Health Check
From: Think Progress  Posted: October 28th 2015

The Pacific coast of Washington State is home to several large shellfish hatcheries. Natasha Geiling's article in Climate Progress tells the story of how two of those hatcheries came close to disaster as billions of their larvae died out before they reached maturity over consecutive seasons. The article charts how the problem was first mis-diagnosed, then identified and a solution, albeit a temporary one, was eventually put in place.

The Guardian reports on the dramatic loss of cod on the other side of the US, whilst National Geographic (NG) informs us about how the current global bleaching of corals may develop. NG then ask us to support Dr. Sylvia Earle's campaign to raise the profile awareness of oceans' vulnerability to climate change. AAAS' Eurekalert investigates why right whale deaths have increased tenfold in Argentina.

Ryan Koronowski takes a look at what could happen with advancing climate change. A self-righting 'Datamaran' is all set to be used to record changes at the surface, but there is excellent news from the tiny Pacific state of Palau - a new marine sanctuary nearly half a million sq.km. in size.


Sea Level Rise Plus King Tides
From: The Island Packet  Posted: October 27th 2015

Hudson's SeaFood House on Hilton Head Island took in seawater yesterday from what they called a 'four barstool tide'. The old salts of the area, mostly shrimp fishermen, compared notes on the height of the tide. Several could remember nothing higher. But in the traditional US way, there were one or two who could top that. Whoever has the right of it, they all agreed that 'something is going on'.

Commenters from the scientific community rapidly followed up with their own interesting takes on just what. Consensus centres around multiple causes, rather than a single issue. It's a combination of a strong El Niño plus sea level rise plus the astronomical event called a 'super moon', whereby the moon is at or close to its closest approach to earth.

The better news was that 19 Republican representatives, 17 Democrats and a handful of Independents gathered together to begin to tackle the problems and no point scoring occurred. An interesting study of the power plants and substations that could be sufficiently affected by flooding to increase the likelihood of power-outs by the years 2012, 2030, 2050 and 2070 has been produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Their recommendation: replace the plants by renewable energy plants with storage and move to microgrids which can be connected to the grid or switched to 'island mode'.



Obama: ‘Opponents Standing in the Way of the Future’
From: The Guardian  Posted: August 25th 2015

"Every three minutes another business in America goes solar" and thousands of jobs were being created. But irrational opposition from fossil fuel interests was standing in the way of progress

"You do not have to share my passion for solving climate change to like renewable energy. People are doing it not because of tree huggers – even though trees are important – but because they are cost-cutters," he said.

" When you start seeing massive lobbying efforts backed by fossil fuel interests or conservative thinktanks or the Koch brothers, pushing for new laws to roll back renewable energy standards or prevent new clean energy businesses from succeeding, that’s a problem."

TEDX study reveals more detail about the dangers of gas drilling
From Ian Perrin  Posted: 14th November 2012

"The study shows that air sampling near natural gas operations reveals numerous chemicals in the air, many associated with natural gas operations. Some of the highest concentrations in the study were from methane, ethane, propane, and other alkanes that occur as a result of natural gas operations"

"Although concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in this study appear low, they may have clinical significance."

We thank them sincerely on behalf of all South Africans for the effort they are making to understand the effects of drilling and fracking for natural gas that will result in better protection for our workers and communities alike. [Ian]

Greenhouse Gas Theory explained
From Ian Perrin  Posted: 24th October 2012

You might have gained the impression climate change caused by rising amounts of CO2 in our atmosphere is a contentious theory added only recently to our scientific understanding.

Not so – we can trace the basis for it all the way back to Isaac Newton's work in the early 1670's and the first, generally accepted theory around 1859, more than 150 years ago."

Here's our plain English version of the history of its development and some detail on the scientists involved.

We Must Heed James Hansen
From: Joe Romm & Michael Mann  Posted: 9th August 2012

"During the hot, dry summer of 1988, Hansen announced that 'it is time to stop waffling…. The evidence is pretty strong that the [human-amplified] greenhouse effect is here.'" Much criticism followed.

"Hansen, it turns out, was right, and the critics were wrong. Rather than being reckless, as some of his critics charged, his announcement to the world proved to be prescient – and his critics were proven overly cautious."

"Given the prescience of Hansen’s science, we would be unwise to ignore his latest, more dire warning."

"The time for debate about the reality of human-caused climate change has now passed. We can have a good faith debate about how to deal with the problem – how to reduce future climate change and adapt to what is already upon us to reduce the risks that climate change poses to society. But we can no longer simply bury our heads in the sand."

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