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Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy


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Energy Generation Now & in the Future

I finished my last post with an important piece of data.  Out of 100 quads of energy the US generates every year, the vast majority of it (83%) comes from fossil fuel sources – sources that emit greenhouse gases when we burn them.  The same is true for the vast majority of other countries, and therefore for the global portfolio as well.  Here is a graphic showing global energy consumption distribution by fuel type from 1990 through 2010 and into the future:

 photo EIA-WorldEnergyConsumptionbyfueltype1990-2040_zps8d8ae886.png

Figure 1. Global fuel-type energy consumption, 1990-2040 (EIA 2013 Energy Outlook).

The global picture is somewhat different from the US picture: liquids’ energy (e.g., oil) exceed coal energy, which exceed natural gas.  All three of these carbon-intensive energy sources, which power our developed, high-wealth lifestyles, greatly exceed renewables (which hydropower dominates), which exceeds nuclear.  It is these type of energy forecasts that lead to the suite of IPCC emissions pathways:

 photo IPCCAR5RCPScenarios_zps69b8b0d5.png

Figure 2. IPCC Fifth Assessment Report Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) CO2-eq concentrations.

Note that our current emissions trajectory more closely resembles the RCP8.5 pathway (red) than the other pathways.  This trajectory could lead to a 1000+ ppm CO2-eq concentration by 2100, or 2.5X today’s concentration value.  Stabilizing global temperature increases at less than 2C by 2100 requires stabilizing CO2-eq concentrations below 450 and quickly decreasing, which is best represented by the RCP2.6 pathway above (green).  This pathway is technologically impossible to achieve as of today.  The only way to make it possible is to invest in innovation: research, development, and global deployment of low-carbon technologies.  We are not currently doing that investment; nor does it look likely we will in the near future.

Let’s take a further look at the recent past before we delve further into the future.  Environmental and renewable energy advocacy groups tout recent gains in renewable energy deployment.  We should quietly cheer such gains because they are real.  But they are also miniscule – far too little deployment at a time when we need exclusive and much wider deployment of renewable energy globally to shift our emissions pathway from RCP8.5 to RCP2.6.  Here is a graphic showing global use of coal in the past 10+ years:

 photo WorldCoalConsumption-2001-2011_zps68aea439.jpg

Figure 3. Global coal use in million tonnes of oil-equivalent 2001-2011 (Grist).

Climate and clean energy advocates like to report their gains in percentage terms.  This is one way of looking at the data, but it’s not the only way.  For instance, coal usage increased by 56% from 2001 to 2011.  This is a smaller percentage than most renewable energy percentage gains in the same time period, but the context of those percentages is important.  As you’ll see below, renewable energy gains really aren’t gains in the global portfolio.  The above graph is another way to see this: if renewable energy gains were large enough, they would replace coal and other fossil fuels.  That’s the whole point of renewable energy and stabilizing carbon emissions, right?  If there is more renewable energy usage but also more coal usage, we won’t stabilize emissions.  Here is another way of looking at this statement:

 photo GlobalEnergyConsumption-Carbon-FreeSources1965-2012_zps1a06c9a0.png

Figure 4. Global Energy Consumption from Carbon-Free Sources 1965-2012 (Breakthrough).

Carbon-free energy as a part of the total global energy portfolio increased from 6% in 1965 to 13% in the late 1990s.  This is an increase of 200% – which is impressive.  What happened since the 1990s though?  The proportion was actually smaller in 2011 than it was in 1995 in absolute terms.  At best, carbon-free energy proportions stagnated since the 1990s.  Countries deployed more carbon-free energy in that time period, but not enough to increase their proportion because so much new carbon energy was also deployed.  What happened starting in the 1990s?  The rapid industrialization of China and India, predominantly.  Are developing countries going to stop industrializing?  Absolutely not, as Figure 1 showed.  It showed that while renewable energy consumption will increase in the next 30 years, it will likely do so at the same rate that natural gas and liquids will.  The EIA projects that the rate of increase of coal energy consumption might level off in 30 years, after we release many additional gigatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, ensuring that we do no stabilize at 450 ppm or 2°C.

Here is the EIA’s projection for China’s and India’s energy consumption in quads, compared to the US through 2040:

 photo EIA-EnergyConsumption-US-CH-IN1990-2040_zps70837e84.png

Figure 5. US, Chinese, and Indian energy consumption (quads) 1990-2040 (EIA 2013 Energy Outlook).

You can see the US’s projected energy consumption remains near 100 quads through 2040.  China’s consumption exceeded the US’s in 2009 and will hit 200 quads (2 US’s!) by 2030 before potentially leveling off near 220 quads by 2040.  India’s consumption was 1/4 the US’s in 2020 (25 quads), and will likely double by 2040.  Where will an additional 1.5 US’s worth of energy come from in the next 30 years?  Figure 1 gave us this answer: mostly fossil fuels.  If that’s true, there is no feasible way to stabilize CO2 concentrations at 450 ppm or global mean temperatures at 2°C.  That’s not just my opinion; take a look at a set of projections for yourself.

Here is one look at the future energy source by type:

 photo GlobalEnergyByType-2013ProjectionbyBNEF_zps36f9806f.jpg

Figure 6. Historical and Future Energy Source by Type (BNEF).

This projection looks rosy doesn’t it?  Within 10 years, most new energy will come from wind, followed by solar thermal.  But look at the fossil fuels!  They’re on the way out.  The potential for reduced additional fossil fuel generation is good news.  My contention is that it isn’t happening fast enough.  Instead of just new energy, let’s look at the cumulative energy portfolio picture:

 photo GlobalEnergyTotalByType-2013ProjectionbyBNEF_zps88331d51.jpg

Figure 7. Historical and Future Total Energy Source by Type (BNEF).

This allows us to see how much renewable energy penetration is possible through 2030.  The answer: not a lot, and certainly not enough.  2,000 GW of coal (>20% of total) remains likely by 2030 – the same time when energy experts say that fossil fuel use must be zero if CO2 concentrations are to remain below 450 ppm by 2100.  But coal isn’t the only fossil fuel and the addition of gas (another 1,700 GW) and oil (another 300 GW) demonstrates just how massive the problem we face really is.  By 2030, fossil fuels as a percentage of the total energy portfolio may no longer increase.  The problem is the percentages need to decrease rapidly towards zero.  Nowhere on this graph, or the next one, is this evident.  The second, and probably more important thing, about this graph to note is this: total energy increases at an increasing rate through 2030 as developing countries … develop.

 photo EIA-WorldEnergyConsumptionbyfueltype1990-2040_zps8d8ae886.png

Figure 8. Global fuel-type energy consumption, 1990-2040 (EIA 2013 Energy Outlook).

The EIA analysis agrees with the BNEF analysis: renewables increase through 2030.  The EIA’s projection extends through 2040 where the message is the same: renewables increase, but so do fossil fuels.  The only fossil fuel that might stop increasing is the most carbon intensive – coal – and that is of course a good thing.  But look at the absolute magnitudes: there could be twice as many coal quads in 2040 as there were in 2000 (50% more than 2010).  There could also be 50% more natural gas and 30% more liquid fuels.  But the message remains: usage of fossil fuels will likely not decline in the next 30 years.  What does that mean for CO2 emissions?

 photo EIA-WorldEnergy-RelatedCO2Emissionsbyfueltype1990-2040_zps417bffc4.png

Figure 9. Historical and projected global carbon dioxide emissions: 1990-2040 (EIA 2013 Energy Outlook).

Instead of 14 Gt/year (14 billion tonnes per year) in 2010, coal in 2040 will emit 25 Gt/year – almost a doubling.  CO2 emissions from natural gas and liquids will also increase – leading to a total of 45 GT/year instead of 30 GT/year.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated in 2011 that “if the world is to escape the most damaging effects of global warming, annual energy-related emissions should be no more than 32Gt by 2020.”  The IEA 2012 World Energy Outlook Report found that annual carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels rose 1.4 percent in 2012 to 31.6 Gt.  While that was the lowest yearly increase in four years, another similar rise pushes annual emissions over 32Gt in 2014 – six years ahead of the IEA’s estimate.  Based on the similarity between our historical emissions pathway and the high-end of the IPCC’s AR4 SRES scenarios (see figure below), 2°C is no longer a viable stabilization target.

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Figure 10. IEA historical annual CO2 emissions and IPCC AR4 emissions scenarios: 1990-2012 (Skeptical Science).

The A2 pathway leads to 3 to 4°C warming by 2100.   Additional warming would occur after that, but most climate science focus ends at the end of this century.  A huge caveat applies here: that warming projection comes from models that did not represent crysophere or other processes.  This is important because the climate system is highly nonlinear.  Small changes in input can induce drastically different results.  A simple example of this is a change in input from 1 to 2 doesn’t mean a change in output from 1 to 2.  The output could change to 3 or 50, and we don’t know when the more drastic case will take place.  Given our best current but limited understanding of the climate system, 3 to 4°C warming by 2100 (via pathway A2) could occur.  Less warming, given the projected emissions above, is much, much less likely than more warming than this estimate.  Policy makers need to shift focus away from 2°C warming and start figuring out what a 3 to 4°C warmer world means for their area of responsibility.  Things like the timing of different sea level rise thresholds and how much infrastructure should we abandon to the ocean?  Things like extensive, high-magnitude drought and dwindling fresh water supplies.  These impacts will have an impact on our lifestyle.  It is up to us to decide how much.  The graphs above and stories I linked to draw this picture for me: we need to change how we approach climate and energy policy.  The strategies employed historically were obviously inadequate to decarbonize at a sufficient rate.  We need to design, implement, and evaluate new strategies.


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Can Researchers Do Simple Math?

An upcoming paper in Energy Policy challenges an affirmative answer to that question.  Here is the paper’s topic: “Examining the Feasibility of Converting New York State’s All-Purpose Energy Infrastructure to One Using Wind, Water and Sunlight,”.   That sounds great from an environmental perspective.  The authors claim that by 2050, NY state can transform its entire energy infrastructure so that the state will not use any fossil fuel sources.  Based on my knowledge of the climate system and having done some work in the energy infrastructure realm, I challenge the conclusions drawn in the paper.  According to Andy Revkin, who wrote about this paper, the authors issued the following as part of their press release:

According to the researchers’ calculations, New York’s 2030 power demand for all sectors (electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, industry) could be met by:

4,020 onshore 5-megawatt wind turbines
12,770 offshore 5-megawatt wind turbines
387 100-megawatt concentrated solar plants
828 50-megawatt photovoltaic power plants
5 million 5-kilowatt residential rooftop photovoltaic systems
500,000 100-kilowatt commercial/government rooftop photovoltaic systems
36 100-megawatt geothermal plants
1,910 0.75-megawatt wave devices
2,600 1-megawatt tidal turbines
7 1,300-megawatt hydroelectric power plants, of which most exist

Kudos to the researchers for generating an actual list which we can use for discussion.  It is this list on which I base by answer.  And here is why.  What do all the numbers mean in that list?  They mean that if construction on this infrastructure began to finish as of January 1, 2013, the following would have to be built every year until 2030:

236 onshore 5MW wind turbines (~1 per day)
7512 offshore 5MW wind turbine (~2 per day)
23 100MW concentrated solar plants
49 50MW photovoltaic power plants
294118 5kW residential rooftop PV systems (806 per day!)
29412 100kW commercial/government PV systems (81 per day!)
2 100MW geothermal plants
153 1MW tidal turbines

It should be relatively easy to see the magnitude of the task in front of the researchers’ claim.  The social and political landscape is currently not one that supports doing this.  Where will this infrastructure be built?  What policies will we put in place to ensure this happens?

Look at the residential rooftop PV systems number: 1471MW needs to be installed every year: 294118 * 5kW * 1MW/1000kW.

And the commercial/industrial rooftop PV systems number: 2941MW needs to be installed every year: 29412 * 100kW / 1MW/1000kW.

If we add these two together, NY needs about 4,412MW of solar PV systems installed per year, for a total of 75,000MW by 2030.  We can compare these numbers to installation numbers maintained by different sources.  I couldn’t find anyone who tracks number of system installs per year.  In 2011, New York installed 60MW of solar capacity across residential, commercial, and utility projects, or 1.4% of the researchers’ stated goal.  That is a huge discrepancy.

MW installation won’t have to double every year to achieve the 75,000MW goal – that’s the good news.  The bad news is the installation will have to grow by 150% every year for the next 17 years.  What could possibly get in the way of that achievement?

We can also look at the number of PV installations: 806 and 81 per day!  While the solar industry has certainly grown considerably over the past decade, are there 81 100kW commercial and industrial rooftop PV installations taking place every day in the the state of NY?  How about 806 residential systems?  Every. Day.  If installers are not doing this at that rate today, those systems have to be installed at some point in the future in order to achieve the goals.  Will 1,000 installations take place every day by 2030?  It might be nice to hope so, but that ignores a whole suite of policy requirements.  Any delay in installation in the near term imposes a higher required rate of growth in the future to meet 2030 goals.

Zero off-shore wind turbines were installed as of the end of 2012.  The numbers listed above translates to 63.85GW of installed wind by 2030.  That exceeds the national goal of 54GW announced by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Energy Secretary Steven Chu just two years ago.  Goals can and should change, but they require people with vision and insight to establish them and set a course to meet them.  What happens if future Interior and Energy secretaries some from the fossil fuel industry?  What roadblocks will NY face in achieving 64GW of off-shore wind by 2030?

On the practical side, where is natural gas in this energy portfolio?  Do the researchers make a credible assumption that recent natural gas finds will remain in the ground for the next 17 years while renewable energy infrastructure booms?  How will that happen?  What about energy efficiency and net energy reduction?  The authors make a huge assumption that efficiency gains of 5%/year are achievable.  A further assumption is made that New Yorkers will consume less net energy over time.  Is that realistic?  If not, the above numbers would have to grow in size even further.  What technological innovations have to occur?  How will NY handle renewable energy variability?

Are there abundant renewable resources across America?  Yes, there absolutely are.  The keys to harnessing those resources as quickly and efficiently as possible are available through smart policies – something that this paper should include since it is going to Energy Policy.  At best, this paper presents an interesting thought exercise.  I for one want to see a lot more work on the policy trends required to get NY to these goals.


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Can Carbon Emissions Be Reduced In Electricity Generation While Including Variable Renewables? A California Case Study

This is a class paper I wrote this week and thought it might be of interest to readers here.  I can provide more information if desired.  The point to the paper was to write concisely for a policy audience about a decision support planning method in a subject that interests me.  Note that this is only from one journal paper among many that I read every week between class and research.  I will let readers know how I did after I get feedback.  As always, comments are welcome.

40% of the United States’ total carbon dioxide emissions come from electricity generation.  The electric power sector portfolio can shift toward generation technologies that emit less, but their variability poses integration challenges.  Variable renewables can displace carbon-based generation and reduce associated carbon emissions.  Two Stanford University researchers demonstrated this by developing a generator portfolio planning method to assess California variable renewable energy penetration and carbon emissions (Hart and Jacobson 2011).  Other organizations should adopt this approach to determine renewable deployment feasibility in different markets.

The researchers utilized historical and modeled meteorological and load data from 2005 in Monte Carlo system simulations to determine the least-cost generating mix, required reserve capacity, and hourly system-wide carbon emissions.  2050 projected cost functions and load data comprised a future scenario, which assumed a $100 per ton of CO2 carbon cost.  They integrated the simulations with a deterministic renewable portfolio planning optimization module in least-cost and least-carbon (produced by minimizing the estimated annual carbon emissions) cases.  In simulations, carbon-free generation met 2005 (99.8 ± 0.2%) and 2050 (95.9 ± 0.4%) demand loads in their respective low-carbon portfolios.

System inputs for the 2005 portfolio included hourly forecasted and actual load data, wind speed data generated by the Weather Research and Forecasting model, National Climatic Data Center solar irradiance data, estimated solar thermal generation, hourly calculated state-wide aggregated solar photovoltaic values, hourly temperature and geothermal data, and approximated daily hydroelectric generation and imported generation.  They authors calculated 2050 load data using an assumed annual growth rate of 1.12% in peak demand and 0.82% growth in annual generation.

The Monte Carlo simulations addressed the uncertainty estimation of different system states.  As an example, the authors presented renewables’ percent generation share and capacity factor standard deviations across all Monte Carlo representations.  The portfolio mix (e.g., solar, wind, natural gas, geothermal, and hydroelectric), installed capacities & capacity factors of renewable and conventional energy sources, annual CO2 emissions, expected levelized cost of generation, and electric load constituted this method’s outputs.

A range of results for different goals (i.e., low-cost vs. low-carbon), the capability to run sensitivity studies, and identification of system vulnerabilities comprise this method’s advantages.  Conversely, this method’s cons include low model transparency, subjective definition and threshold of risk, and a requirement for modeling and interpretation expertise.

This method demonstrates that renewable technologies can significantly displace carbon-based generation and reduce associated carbon emissions in large-scale energy grids.  This capability faces financial, technological, and political impediments however.  Absent effective pricing mechanisms, carbon-based generation will remain cheaper than low-carbon sources.  The $100 per ton of CO2 assumption made in the study’s 2050 portfolio is important, considering California’s current carbon market limits, its initial credit auction price of $10.09 per metric tonne (Carroll 2012), and its a $50/ton price ceiling.  In order to meet the projected 2050 load with renewable sources while reducing emissions, technological innovation deserves prioritization.  More efficient and reliable renewable generators will deliver faster investment returns and replace more carbon-based generators.  Improved interaction with all stakeholders during the planning phase of this endeavor will likely reduce political opposition.

Carroll, Rory. 2012. “California Carbon Market Launches, Permits Priced Below Expectations.” Reuters, November 19. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/19/us-california-carbonmarket-idUSBRE8AI13X20121119.

Hart, E. K., and M. Z. Jacobson. 2011. “A Monte Carlo Approach to Generator Portfolio Planning and Carbon Emissions Assessments of Systems with Large Penetrations of Variable Renewables.” Renewable Energy 36 (8): 2278–2286.


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GE Suspends CO Solar Thin Film Plant Construction For 18 Months

The thin film plant was supposed to be the biggest of its kind in the US.  GE declared the suspension due to tumbling panel prices and a desire to boost the modules’ efficiency and conduct a redesign of the plant.

So, a piece of good news, not-so-good news (at least in the short-term).  350 fewer workers employed at this plant in the original time frame.  Higher efficiency panels could eventually be constructed at the redesigned plant.  Panel prices are falling rapidly – which is itself a good news, not-so-good news kind of story.

Interestingly, enough panels to power ~80,000 US homes were to be constructed annually at the plant.  That’s still a pretty low number, although each panel that is produced is that much less GHG emissions down the road.


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Arctic Will Be Opened To Drilling

Among the reasons: Russia, Canada and Norway will drill, so we should also.  This from a “Democratic” administration.  This development is the result of increasing  corporate control over a government.  When people voted for “Hope and Change” in 2008, did they really think that any part of Obama’s administration would stand up to fossil fuel drilling in the most sensitive areas left on Earth?  In Colorado, policy allows natural gas drill pads physically closer to elementary schools than are marijuana dispensaries.  All this is occurring just two years after one of the worst oil spills in world history – how short is our memory?  Maybe people figure as long as the oil only destroys an Arctic ecosystem instead of an ecosystem which Americans might personally experience, then it’s alright.

Shell will receive approval for drilling later this year, according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.  The article also includes a couple of reassurances that any potential spills in the future will be dealt with quickly because sufficient technologies will be in place already.  Once a spill occurs (as they always do), every politician and corporate executive interviewed will lament that nobody could possibly have foreseen an oil spill in the Arctic.

Solar panels and wind farms don’t explode or leak, to say nothing of the lack of carbon emissions from their energy generation.  The resources utilized are also common resources (nobody owns the sun or air – yet), so they directly threaten the obscene profits realized by a handful of corporations who now  have more rights than American citizens.


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Rep. Doug Lamborn (R TB-CO) Batty About NREL

From the Denver Post (links mine):

Colorado congressman Doug Lamborn is one of nine House members asking that funds be yanked from programs that finance the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.

[...] because they “have failed to live up to their supposed potential.”

I’ve never been a fan of Lamborn.  Up to this point, I haven’t been much of a critic either since he’s just another example of a privileged white male who thinks the 1650s were the best time in history.  Why waste my time on another idiot Teabagger?  But this request is batshit insane and I won’t ignore it.  Seriously, Rep. Lamborn, what the hell are you thinking?

Actually, I know what Rep. Lamborn is thinking.  He’s thinking of the miniscule campaign contributions that he’ll have to take from the dirty energy corporations to help get him re-elected.  Because $31,750 in his account is worth more to him than 5,500 highly skilled, well-paid Americans or the $714 million boost to Colorado’s economy that NREL provides (yes, he sells out Coloradans for less than a luxury vehicle. awesome.).  As a wild-eyed ideologue, those hard numbers don’t mean a thing.  Because his ideology says he needs to whore himself out to corporations on the cheap.

Rep. Lamborn would rather: wreck the stable climate our species has evolved in; keep Americans deployed across the world ensuring regions remain unstable enough to paradoxically justify their deployment; we remain enslaved to carbon-based power using a system that’s over 100 years old instead of de-centralizing and de-carbonizing.

But if you thought the above quote was lunacy, wait until you read this one:

The letter, written by California U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, says: “We should not follow the president’s poor planning in increasing the funding for these anti-energy boondoggles.”

What in the world is an anti-energy boondoggle?  Perhaps the biggest problem with Republican Teabaggers is because they’ve never been forced to think things through clearly, they live in a world where stringing together talking points sounds good to them.  Built on top of this problem is the corporate stenographer problem: do Yesenia Robles and The Associated Press think simply parroting this insipid quote qualifies as doing their job?  Apparently so.  The Iraq and Afghanistan invasions/occupations?  No, those weren’t boondoggles.  NREL is a boondoggle according to McClintock and dutifully parroted by Robles and the AP.  The ease with which our democracy is subverted is nauseating.

[Update]: I sent the Post article to a friend.  This is part of their reply (I wish I had thought to write it):

Let’ see, where could we begin with NREL’s future impact analogy?…..how about the Internet (NSF), wireless technology (DOE), Polio vaccine (NSF-DHS).

While it’s true that NREL’s potential hasn’t been fully realized as of today, just imagine if we had listened to idiots like Rep. Lamborn in the past.  There are good reasons why 1650 wasn’t such a great time.


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Bad Decision: Australia’s Energy Problem vs. Deficit

One region where global warming is starting to really make its influence felt is Australia.  They have experienced a deep and long drought in the past decade and what Australian officials called “biblical” floods in 2010.  Those floods were caused by rains from storm systems that had passed over record warm seas.  So what does the country do in response?  Well, by continuing to listen to the same “free-marketeers” that sent the rest of the world into the Great Recession in 2007/2008, they decided that the greatest threat facing their country was their deficit.  In so doing, they decided that cutting A$220 million from their Solar Flagships program, set up in 2009 to be able to provide 20% renewable power by 2020 would be good policy.

Pay less now and guarantee that more will have to be paid later.  What programs will Australia cut in the future (because we all know the rich pay too damn much in taxes already) in order to deal with worsening global warming effects because the Australians of today decided they didn’t want to have deal with it?


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New Reports: Climate Inaction More Expensive Than Action

For those of you who have followed this topic to a reasonable degree, you probably already knew what the lede had to say.  For those of you who don’t pay quite as much attention to this topic, this post is especially important.  The dirty energy worshippers have screamed about the costs of doing what’s required to keep our climate livable for some time now.  Left unsaid during that whole period (thanks for that, corporate media) is the alternative: what would doing nothing and hoping our climate remains livable cost?

Some basic studies have been performed to ask that second question in recent years.  They mainly deal with large-scale (national) economies and make a ton of generalizations and assumptions.  Part of the problem is too little fundamental research has been performed examining what kinds of benefits we enjoy in a livable climate and what they should be worth to us.

On top of that, I have spent a lot of time and effort detailing a lot of the disadvantages of the assumptions made and processes left out of climate research to date.  Keep that in mind: everything discussed here remains based off of data that contains too many unrealistic assumptions and therefore likely underestimates the problem at hand.  Unfortunately, that’s all we have to work with right now.  Some of those gaps will continue to be filled in the future, enabling more detailed and accurate cost analyses to be performed.

The American Security Project has released analyses for all 50 U.S. states’ costs as a result of doing nothing to stop our climate forcing.  The report for my state, Colorado (pdf), has some interesting results.

I will begin with an enormously important note underlying their entire analysis: the calculations performed do not include snowfall and icepack melts, which the study itself notes “Coloradans depend on for much of the water supply and recreation”.  That seems to me to be a critically important piece of information when judging what costs to society global warming will bring about: will we have water to drink or not?  It goes to basic survivability.  Nevertheless, the rest of the results have to be viewed through the lack of snowfall and icepack melt lens.

Temperatures are expected to rise 4-10ºF by the end of the century.

Water shortages could become a regular occurrence throughout the state.

Corn and wheat yields are projected to decrease by 8-33% as a result of water shortages.

Warmer temperatures and drier summers will lead to more fires throughout the state.

Colorado’s $1.9 billion ski industry—which employs 31,000 people – may become unprofitable as decreasing snowpacks will shorten the winter sports season by an estimated 30 days.

When global warming scenarios that are based on our current emissions path are considered, some notable differences appear.

Temperatures could rise by 13-18ºF by 2060.  That’s only 50 years from now, not 90.  So much hotter, much sooner.

Droughts could occur by 2060 that would make the Dust Bowl look moist by comparison.  We’re in line to witness weather extremes that nobody in our species’ existence has faced.

With those kinds of higher temperatures and extreme droughts, agriculture and ranching would be impossible to conduct in most areas where they take place today (an increase of only 3-4ºF would likely be enough to force ranchers to move herds out of the state; where they would go instead is an interesting question left unconsidered), wildfires could burn at least twice as much area per fire year (May-October) as they do today.  Of course, this year’s wildfire season started months early, thanks to the medium-term drought we’ve been in.  If  more snow falls as rain in the future, the ski industry will definitely become unprofitable by mid-century.

Some good news was also identified in the report:

Colorado has the potential to generate more than 35% of its electricity needs from geothermal energy. Its wind energy potential is even greater; the state could generate 1,100% of its current electricity use by employing this renewable source.

The state could also generate over 1000% of its current electricity use by leveraging solar energy potential.

Will it cost money to switch from dirty to clean energy sources?  Absolutely – nobody has ever seriously advocated otherwise.

But would the costs of not making that switch be even higher?  Yes.  According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the world will have to spend an extra $500 billion to cut carbon emissions for each year it delays implementing serious action on global warming. This would be on top of the $10.5 trillion investment needed from 2010 to 2030 to boost renewable energy development and improve energy efficiency.  And that’s just added costs to switching our energy infrastructure.  That analysis didn’t look at rising sea levels, rising temperatures, more severe droughts, acidified oceans, or geopolitical unrest as millions more climate refugees start moving around, etc.

Suddenly, the costs of switching to renewable energies and living more efficiently looks pretty cheap.

Cross-posted at SquareState.


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New Study Shows With Big Effort, World Could Go 100% Renewable By 2030

Yes, that’s correct, the world could be running completely on renewable energy by the year 2030.  There are no technological obstacles preventing it.  There are no economic obstacles preventing it.  Well, if that’s the case, you’re likely saying, then what’s preventing it?  The same thing that has prevented the world from going 100% renewable by 2000 or 2010 or any other year: political will.  Without political will, we will remain stuck near the 13% (including biomass) we’re at today.

A study released by Mark Delucchi, of the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California Davis, and Mark Jacobson, of the civil and environmental engineering department at Stanford University, adds to the growing body of literature demonstrating the feasibility of successfully undertaking an energy revolution within many of our lifetimes.  It won’t be easy.  Anybody who claims it will be easy has no idea what they’re talking about.  It is feasible, but challenging.  What would it take?

For instance, the world would need nearly 4 million wind turbines, and they’d be big ones—rated at 5 megawatts (MW). That’s two or three times the capacity of the majority of turbines on the market; 5 MW turbines were an innovation introduced offshore in Germany in 2006, and China just built its first 5 MW wind turbine last year.

The pair estimate that the world would need 90,000 large-scale solar plants, each with a capacity of about 300 MW—both those that rely on photovoltaic panels that make electricity directly, and concentrated solar power plants that focus the sun’s rays to boil water to drive electric generators. At present, fewer than three dozen such utility-scale solar plants are in operation worldwide; most are far smaller.

And the big solar systems wouldn’t displace the need for rooftop power; the researchers estimate a need for 1.7 billion 3-kilowatt solar PV systems as well. Think of that as one rooftop PV system for every four people on the planet.

Note that this study does not address energy generation and transmission issues.  It simply lays out a case demonstrating some of the potential of renewable energy.  More work is needed on generation and transmission.  That work is currently underway.  I have very little doubt that such work will come to many of the same conclusions: technical or economic obstacles do not present significant enough problems to prevent us from achieving the goals necessary to keep the climate recognizable and amenable to contemporary ecosystems.  The only thing that will be missing – still – is the political will.  What a silly thing to plunge the world into a new climate regime.


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China Is Cleaning Our Climate Action Clock Today

China recently released plans to get 500GW of renewable power tied into their grid by 2020 – just 9 short years away.

The United States, in comparison, decided to let the dirty energy industry control its government in the 2nd half of the 20th century.  Even under the Obama administration’s Recovery Act plan, renewable energy in the U.S. will only provide 16GW by 2020, and that’s if Republican Teabaggers don’t block any funds once they take back the House next month.

China’s approach is clearly more serious than the U.S.’s when it comes to acting on global warming.  Even if they don’t implement the 500th GW by or during the year 2020, does anyone seriously think they’ll get too far away from that goal?  This is the same country that revolutionized its industry in dramatically less time than it took the U.S. or any other nation to do the same.  China will soon have more modern renewable energy infrastructure than the U.S. will have.  Once that happens, we will no longer be able to use China as an excuse to continue inaction.  Of course, if we are inactive until that time, it will likely be too late to prevent catastrophic global warming anyway.

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