Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy


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Climate and Energy Links – Jul 2014

Some things I’ve come across recently:
New mega-map details all the ways climate change will affect our everyday lives.  We’ll need more resources like this to help personalize climate change effects.  With personalization will come motivation to act.  It’s not a panacea, but a good start.

Is your state one of the 10 most energy-efficient US states?  Mine (Colorado) isn’t.  More context: the US is good at buzzwords, but lousy at implementing policies that increase energy efficiency.  Although it’s a good thing that China is currently ranked #4 globally – they’ll have much less legacy infrastructure than the US and other developed nations to upgrade in the future.

This might be news to some: climate models that did the best at portraying natural ocean cycles the best also did better than their peers when projecting the recent surface warming pause.  What most people don’t understand is that each climate model run portrays one individual potential outcome.  That said, scientists don’t claim that individual models make perfect predictions.  The recent warming trend is well within the range of available projections.  Many skeptics, of course, gloss over this important detail when they falsely claim the models are no good.  How much time do those same skeptics spend on financial projections, anyway?

This has the potential for misinterpretation and misuse: climate worriers don’t, on average, use less electricity than those who don’t worry about the climate (at least according to a very small UK study).  They use more.  This will continue the claims of hypocrisy by skeptics, and perhaps justifiably so.  My net utility use is 14% to 17% of the average American’s 903 kilowatthours (kWh) per month: 125-150 kWh per month during the past year.  That’s in a modern home with AC, computers, and smartphones.  People can use much less than they currently do with a modern lifestyle.  They just don’t prioritize it.

Continuing on the theme of energy efficiency and waste: we waste 80 billion USD per year due to inefficient electronic devices.  Wow.   And it doesn’t have to be that way: simple measures could save billions of dollars if we implemented them.  Priorities.

Random thought: poverty-wage employers always ask if people would be willing to pay more for products if they paid their employees living wages.  I haven’t come across an easy rebuttal: were customers asked if they were willing to pay more for products if they paid their executives millions of dollars with guaranteed golden parachutes?  Guess what most people would rather support?  That’s right, the folks in their communities, not executives in their fenced off country club homes.

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U.S. Building Energy Codes Improved

Americans will benefit from recently approved changes to building energy codes by the International Code Council.  New and renovated homes and commercial buildings will have to use 30% less energy than those built to previous standards.

An average homeowner will waste $500 fewer dollars annually than their neighbor who owns an energy wasteful house.  That number does factor in improvements’ capitalized costs, according to the DoE.  What is included in improvements?  Things like increased insulation, more efficient lighting, making buildings and ducts more air-tight and checking up on commercial buildings after they’re built.

How big a deal is $500 per homeowner per year?  Republicans are always touting reducing taxes as a way to put more money in homeowners’ pockets.  Well, they’ve missed a huge opportunity for decades now to do just that with energy codes.  The average American spends $2,340 in annual energy costs.  That compares to $1,897 in property taxes and $822 in homeowners’ insurance.  Knocking $500 off energy costs brings them down beneath average property tax numbers.  But instead of starving municipalities of much needed monies by slashing taxes, savings on energy can be put back into those municipalities when homeowners spend the money.  And they’re increasingly spending any saved money on necessities instead of consumer wants.

Saving energy isn’t just good for homeowners’ wallets either.  It’s very good news for our energy security and reducing our global warming forcing.  Less energy wasted means less dirty fuels burned.  Hopefully, it’s not too late to implement these and other easy solutions.

[h/t Climate Progress]


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The American Power Act – First Reactions

The Senate’s version of climate and energy legislation was formally introduced yesterday.  Titled “The American Power Act”, the draft is 987 pages long and includes darn near everything.  Reading any substantial amount of the bill is going to take a while; understanding it will take even longer.  Of course, by the time activists read and understand it, it will probably be in the process of being modified.  Regardless, here are two links that I’m looking at.  The first is the full bill; the second is a section by section summary.

S1733- The American Power Act (pdf)

21 page Section by Section summary (pdf)

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Energy-Related Items In Obama’s 2011 Budget

I wanted to know a little more about President Obama’s proposed 2011 budget as it related to energy items.  I’m wondering what priorities his administration has, for instance.  I can’t say that after taking a brief look around I’m totally pleased with what I found.  There is too much of a budget boost to legacy energy systems and not enough emphasis, in my opinion, to the energy systems of the future.  Those future systems are what I think the government should be funding.  Without a doubt, the subsidies to the dirty energy industry need to be cut off completely.  They’re mature to the point of being nearly monopolistic, which means they can stand or fall on their own merits now.  With that in mind, here is some of what I’ve found.

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Sen. Udall Reportedly Joins McCain On Nuclear Power

So says the Denver Post after Sen. John McCain joined Sen. Mark Udall on a tour of Rocky Mountain National Park to see firsthand some of the deleterious effects climate change has already wrought. The takeaway? “Bipartisan” support for nuclear power.

Really? Really, Sen. Udall – that’s what you’re going to work towards in the Senate? And again, we see a Democratic Senator pledge to work with their Republican colleague toward a policy solution when it is quite apparent what McCain really wants [emphasis mine]:

President Barack Obama must put forth a White House plan as soon as possible that congressional leaders can debate, McCain said.

Is this a continuation of the Cons’ view that executives make laws? Because if they do, then President Obama doesn’t need the Congress for anything. No, McCain and his Con buddies just want to continue to use President Obama as a smear target. Sen. Udall – you cannot work with these people until they demonstrate they want to work with you. And no, sliming Democrats at every opportunity and trashing the deliberative process in your chamber doesn’t count as working with you, in case you were curious or confused.

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Energy Lesgislation Write-Up Messes Up On Key Points

Now that the U.S. House has voted on H.R. 2454, the American Clean Enenergy and Security Act of 2009, and the Senate is loosely scheduled to take up their version of the legislation later this summer, a number of corporate media outlets have written something up on the effort to do something about how energy use will shift.  One such article, “Energy legislation could bring deep change” is one such article.  Unfortunately, like many other articles, it messes up on a number of key points.

Let’s start with the biggest problem: it omits any analysis on what would happen if the legislation hadn’t passed.  Leading up to the vote, very little of this kind of information could be found via the largest media entities, which is an incredible disservice to news consumers.  How are people to determine if the projected costs are worth incurring if they don’t have any similar numbers on what costs of inaction would be?  The information is available through a number of reliable, non-partisan outfits.  Today’s “journalism” is disappointing.

Next, read this paragraph:

Not all the higher energy costs would show up in people’s utility bills. Households, as well as business and factories — including those, for example, making plastic for toys — could use less energy, or at least use it more efficiently. The poorest of homes could get a government check as a rebate for high energy costs. That money would come from selling pollution allowances for industry.

Um, using energy more efficiently means that less energy is used for the same activity.  That’s a pretty basic concept that isn’t unique to this context of energy.  The fact that the article messes this point up is particularly glaring: the greatest amount of short-term cost reductions will be found by implementing higher energy efficiency technologies that are available today.  Indeed, so much energy efficiency is available for us to take advantage of that total energy usage should decrease in the next 20-30 years, even with additional population.  Our electricity system, for example, wastes the vast majority of energy it is supposed to deliver to users.  That electric grid needs to be completely replaced with newer, better, more efficienct technologies.  So households and businesses should have every reason to support this portion of the legislation – decreasing energy demand will decrease energy costs.  Will energy utilities pass those savings along to us?

The article goes on to point out that the complication to carbon sequestration from coal plants will be citizens’ hesitation to do so “in their backyard”.  This is absurd since there has been no demonstrated technology capable of even capturing the carbon from coal plants on a utility scale in the first place, despite being researched for over 20 years.  Where to store something you’re not even collecting is a ridiculous question.  Moving on to cite potential citizen complaints about that stored product is even more ridiculous.  The icing on this cake is no similar statements are provided for nuclear waste after the article points out that the nuclear industry will receive billions more dollars in funding.  That’s a product that is being generated today, and indeed nobody wants in their backyard – for obvious reasons.  Until the nuclear industry can demonstrate it can safely store nuclear waste for hundreds of thousands to millions of years, they shouldn’t expect taxpayers to foot the bill to subsidize their energy production.

The article doesn’t point out that the true costs of nuclear power aren’t included in the electric rates charged to consumers – Americans that don’t receive nuclear power are included in the corporate subsidization of taking care of the details under the rug.  These kinds of practices must stop.  Let’s get every energy source put their true costs on the table – as the mis-labeled “free market” is supposed to do.  Let’s get the government assistance out of the way and let each technology truly compete against one another.  Americans would quickly realize that clean energy technologies like solar, wind and geothermal look pretty darned attractive in the long-term.  The article’s refusal to mention anything close to this is telling.


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Water Efficiency Post Chock-Full of Amazing Numbers

Moving forward toward a greener future includes not only renewable energy and energy efficiency but efficiency in general.  We are a very wasteful society – largely because there was little downside to generating the waste when infrastructure was first put in place.  As more of us have swelled the size of society, that waste has become more important.  I wanted to share some results I read about in this Climate Progress water efficiency post, which started out about Santa Clara, California water conservation efforts and moved onto larger studies and examples.

The results have been impressive: a savings of 370,000 acre-feet of water in 13 years. (A typical household uses one acre-foot of water per year).

But perhaps even more significant have been the energy savings and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions: 1.42 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and 335 million kg of carbon dioxide, which is equal to taking 72,000 cars off the road for a year.

That’s right: water efficiency translates to energy savings.

In early March, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the Energy and Water Integration Act of 2009 sponsored by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The bill’s main emphasis is to study the impact of energy development on U.S. water resources, but it also calls on the Department of Energy to periodically assess the energy consumed in the delivery, treatment, and use of water.

That study is important: if nobody knows the extent of a potential problem, it’s harder to come up with potential solutions like crafting legislation to promote water conservation efforts.  We know governments at every level offer varying tax credits for energy efficient windows, new water heaters, solar paneling and geothermal systems.  Similar credits don’t yet exist on a large scale to assist consumers who want to buy water efficient items like dishwasher, clothes washers, faucets, toilets, etc.  To boost energy savings nationally; to reduce as much demand on fossil fuel plants as possible; to reduce our GHG pollution, water conservation measures should join energy efficiency measures as programs that need to be supported.

More information [emphasis mine]:

In “Energy Down the Drain,” a 2004 study of the hidden costs of California’s water supply, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pacific Institute found that the “end use of water–especially energy-intensive uses like washing clothes and taking showers–consumes more energy than any other part of the urban water conveyance and treatment cycle” and that “significant amounts of energy” can be saved through conservation. For example, one of their case studies found that if San Diego provided its next 100,000 acre feet of water through conservation instead of transporting it from northern California, the energy savings would be enough to supply 25 percent of San Diego households.

Separately, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that if just 1 percent of American homes replaced old toilets with water-saving ones, it would reduce energy consumption by 38 million kWh, enough to electrify 43,000 homes for a month. This of course translates into financial savings. Implementing just a few water efficiency measures could save up to $170 annually on water and sewage bills, which on average are about $500 annually for an American household. If each U.S. household had seven water-efficient appliances, it would save $18 billion annually, according to the EPA.

In contrast to projects that might be more popularized, such as solar panels and geothermal, water conservation projects are cheaper and return their cost faster.  That should make them more marketable in the short term, especially in our current recession.

In its publication “Water Efficiency for the Home,” the Rocky Mountain Institute offers some examples: In 10 years, an efficient showerhead will return 10-40 times its cost in saved energy alone, and inexpensive replacement faucets can reduce indoor water use by 3-5 percent and pay for themselves in less than a year.

[…]

Case in point: In a December 2008 study, the Alliance for Water Efficiency found that a $10 billion stimulus that focused on retrofitting homes with water-conserving appliances and fixtures, installing smart outdoor irrigation systems, and improving commercial and industrial water applications could create between 150,000 and 220,000 jobs and generate as much as $28 billion in economic output.

$10 billion can create over 150,000 jobs and generate $28 billion in economic output.  Those are incredible numbers.  Does the private sector have $10 billion sitting around?  If it does, is it willing to pony it up to create those jobs and that economic output?  If it is, why hasn’t it done it yet?  No – the only entity that has the money and the incentive to put it on the table is the government.  Anti-Obama-ites can mock and disparage the government all they want, but they don’t have access to those kinds of funds (or if they do, they’re unwilling to do something similar, which works out to about the same thing in the end).  Obviously, they don’t have the interest in generating those jobs either.  Those hypocrites who let the Bushies spend trillions of dollars occupying sovereign nations and are now “angry” at Obama spending money on America don’t want solutions.  To them, it’s ideology over country.  That’s why I’m glad Climate Progress, realists in the Senate, the NRDC, the Pacific Institute, a science-based EPA, the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Alliance for Water Efficiency and many others exist.  They’re doing the heavy lifting to make this country greater and help solve our water and climate crises.

Cross-posted at SquareState.