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Deserts May Spread in Europe as Mediterranean Warms

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By Alister Doyle, Reuters

Global warming is on track to disrupt the Mediterranean region more than any droughts or heatwaves in the past 10,000 years, turning parts of southern Europe into desert by the end of the century, scientists said.

Average temperatures in the region have already risen by 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.3 Fahrenheit) since the late 19th century, well above the world average of 0.85°C (1.5°F), according to the study led by France’s Aix-Marseille University.

Cracked ground is pictured at the almost dried out Maria Cristina reservoir near Castellon, Spain, July 25, 2014.
Credit: REUTERS/Heino Kalis

Man-made climate change “will likely alter ecosystems in the Mediterranean in a way that is without precedent” in the past 10,000 years unless governments quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the researchers wrote in the journal Science.

With unchecked warming, deserts would expand in southern Spain and Portugal, northern parts of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia and other regions including Sicily, southern Turkey and parts of Syria, it showed.

And it would dramatically shift vegetation in the region, famed for umbrella pines, olive groves, and holm oaks.

Last year, almost 200 governments agreed in Paris to limit the rise in average world surface temperatures to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial times, ideally 1.5°C. Governments will meet in Morocco next month to review the accord.

Only the 1.5°C global goal would ensure Mediterranean ecosystems stay within bounds of the past 10,000 years, the study said. Debate about cutting emissions “is urgent for such sensitive regions,” lead author Joel Guiot of Aix-Marseille University told Reuters.

The Mediterranean is sensitive to global warming partly because Atlantic storms are likely to shift northwards, meaning more sun and less rain.

The scientists reconstructed past climates by studying pollen in layers of mud in lakes. More oak pollen, for instance, suggested humid and temperate climates while more fir and spruce pollen indicated chillier conditions, he said.

In history, some natural hot periods and droughts have coincided with social upheaval in the Mediterranean region, such as around 1400 when many people in the Ottoman Empire abandoned unproductive farms to become nomads.

Last year, a study in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said there was evidence that man-made climate change had added to a 2007-10 drought in Syria that was a contributing factor to the civil war.

And Thursday’s research did not consider other changes in farming that can hasten desertification, such as around Almeria in southern Spain.

Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Angus MacSwan


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - October 30, 2016 at 6:00 am

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Elon Musk Unveiled A Solar Roof and Didn’t Address Any Pressing Questions

For a launch event that was teased for a month, first slated for San Francisco, then moved to Universal Studios, Los Angeles, on a Friday night before Halloween weekend, Elon Musk’s solar roof pitch ended in a flash with no hard questions answered.

Yes, the solar shingles look pretty. They come dressed up as French slate and Tuscan clay tiles, and through clever manufacturing they don’t even look like solar cells when viewed from a low angle. And yes, Musk released the most elementary details about the new Powerwall 2.0. But he failed to address any of the serious, foundational challenges facing a car-company-turned-battery-and-solar-installer that wants to get a roof product to market.

“The goal is to have solar roofs that look better than a normal roof, generate electricity, last longer, have better insulation and have a lower installed cost than the price of a roof plus the price of electricity,” Musk said, getting as close to discussing relevant pricing specifications as he ever came in the brief public briefing.

Before revealing the shingles, Musk noted that the Powerwall 2.0 will start at $5,500 with 7 kilowatts power capacity and 14 kilowatt-hours of energy storage, twice as much energy as the previous model. That capacity is much better suited to the needs of a typical American household, noted Ravi Manghani, GTM Research’s director of energy storage. 

This model also surpasses the capacity of the 10 kilowatt-hour model that Tesla surreptitiously discontinued earlier this year. 

In a blog post Thursday, Tesla declared it has been shipping an updated version of its utility-scale Powerpack batteries since September. 

The company boasts the new version has twice the energy density as the first model and a newly integrated, house-made inverter that is “the lowest cost, highest efficiency and highest power density utility-scale inverter on the market.” Including the inverter should indeed simplify installation and generate cost savings. The post added that 300 megawatt-hours of Tesla batteries have been deployed in 18 countries.

Musk chose not to mention if the new Powerwall similarly integrates an inverter, so that customers don’t need to have another piece of hardware installed to actually use the battery. The company website later confirmed this does come with the new Powerwall, which is certainly an improvement. This also makes the Powerwall 2 about 40 percent cheaper based on energy capacity than its predecessor, which cost about $4,500 including an inverter for 6.4 kilowatt-hours.

The following are some complexities of the solar roof market that a chief executive might choose to address were she diligently trying to sell a new product in this difficult, nacent industry.

It’s like solar…but it’s a roof

First Tesla made electric cars. Then it added home storage systems to charge those cars. Now it’s trying to acquire SolarCity to sell the rooftop panels to charge those batteries. On top of that, the combined companies want to sell roofs that are solar panels.

The value proposition for solar integrated roofs is that they turn sunlight into electricity while looking just like a a roof. That means no metal and glass boxes sticking up into the air, marring an otherwise beautiful array of asphalt shingles, most of which aren’t visible from the ground to begin with.

The shingles Musk touted do succeed at this. He demonstrated several different styles of shingle, showcasing a range of aesthetics and colors. The French slate model, he noted, uses hydrographic printing to make each shingle a totally unique, “special snowflake tile.” The coloring looks varied and weathered, and admittedly beautiful.

Customers fed up by “messy” installs by solar lease companies are starting to crave the elegance of solar integrated roofs for their homes, explained Oliver Koehler, CEO of solar roof company SunTegra, in an interview earlier Friday.

SunTegra, founded in 2013, courts the new roof and re-roof market, which lets them leverage cost savings: you don’t have to pay for a new roof and then solar, and you don’t have to pay to take off the solar array when you replace a roof later on. It’s still more expensive than conventional PV, but most customers are willing to pay a 10 to 20 percent premium for the better aesthetics of the integrated roof, Koehler said.

As for the field of competition for Tesla-SolarCity, it’s slightly larger than the crowd of SolarCity suitors. Many a company has failed in this realm, most recently Dow Chemical Company, which shuttered its Powerhouse solar roof line this summer. That product relied on expensive and underperforming copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) technology, and shouldn’t be generalized to portend doom for all solar roofs. 

Remaining solar roofers include Michigan-based startup Luma Resources, CertainTeed’s Apollo product, and some other small firms. Eric Wesoff has a more complete list here, along with the names of the fallen. Koehler estimates that solar roofs account for 1 to 2 megawatts of installed capacity so far. SunTegra’s done 50 installs, so it’s safe to say this is still a growth market.

“There hasn’t been a runaway commercial success here, but that doesn’t mean the potential’s not there,” he said. “It is hard and you have to pay attention to the cost side and your channels to market.”

Why this will be hard for Tesla

There’s a market for new roofs — 5 million a year in the U.S., as SolarCity’s Lyndon Rive has pointed out. But people don’t buy roofs from solar installers. Solar companies don’t come with the expertise to install watertight roofs, so the product will require partnering with a new cast of companies from the roofing and homebuilder industry. Musk did not touch the question of what channels he would leverage to get the shingles to customers. 

“You’re looking to drive a completely new type of product through the very conservative roofing channel — and that’s a daunting marketing challenge,” as Wesoff described it previously on our site.

This also poses a challenge for SolarCity’s sales team, which will have to market a very different product. Selling no-money-down leases on solar modules that slip onto your house and start saving you power immediately is one thing; selling an entirely new roof to developers or homeowners is another.

“They go in and they sell savings on your bill,” Koehler said. “They like to sell the same thing time and time again… They might trot out an interesting product, but how they integrate it into what they’re doing is going to be tricky.”

In particular, the company will have to convince people that they should entrust something as fundamentally crucial as shelter from the elements to a brand new product from a Silicon Valley startup. There’s enough reason to pause before updating your iPhone software, to allow time for the kinks to be worked out. But what if that brand-new product was the one thing standing between your family and a thunderstorm. Would you be the first to give it a try?

Once SolarCity finds a team of laborers to actually install the shingles and some eager adopters willing to gamble the integrity of their homes, all the questions of the actual solar performance come into play.

Building-integrated photovoltaics have traditionally suffered from costing more and operating less efficiently than conventional PV. Elon did not deem it relevant to mention the efficiency of SolarCity’s product or how much it costs. Presumably those are things a customer might want to know. 

Elon checked one box of his stated goal — the shingles do look better than a typical roof. The rest of the claims are still up in the air.

Why now?

It’s bizarre to tease a product launch for so long and then have so little to show for it. It’s also bizarre to schedule such an event at a time when Californians are heading home from the work week and East Coasters are already kicking back for the weekend. 

On a grander level, this is a strange time to launch a whole new, mostly unexplained product. Shareholders are voting on the Tesla and SolarCity merger on November 17. As Teslarati put it before the event, “Friday’s upcoming announcement offers Tesla an opportune platform as it attempts to persuade shareholders that the merger has sound financial merit.”

If shareholders were looking for a business strategy or a product launch timeline, they came away with less confidence than they started with.

Many critics of the merger have pointed out that Tesla has its work cut out just scaling its car and battery production to meet company goals and consumer demand. The hard work of merging two very different companies distracts from that, as does launching tangentially related product lines with most of the details still up in the air.

Tesla’s announcement last week that all cars in production will be equipped with hardware for full autonomy was pretty cool. The company followed that up this week with a suprisingly good earnings call with an unexpected profit in the latest quarter. The recent revelation that SolarCity wants to bring in Panasonic for PV manufacturing, potentially sidelining the company’s much-touted in-house Silevo PV technology, was more of a cause for concern.

All of which is to say that Tesla wasn’t in dire need of making headlines at this moment. Headlines, though, were about all the company delivered today.



Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - October 29, 2016 at 6:01 am

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New York Resets Distributed Energy Rates, Maintains Residential Net Metering

The New York Department of Public Service released its long-awaited staff report on the value of distributed energy on Thursday, which is the first step in moving community and commercial projects away from retail-rate net energy metering.

For the past year, stakeholders have been at the table hammering out how to more fully value distributed energy generation, most of which is solar PV, while not completely upending the existing market.

“At the very highest level, we feel this is good progress,” said Melissa Kemp, policy co-chair of the New York Solar Energy Industries Association.

Among the recommendations, the report states that existing solar projects should receive the full retail-rate net energy metering (NEM) credit for 20 years from the date of installation. The report also calls for preserving retail-rate NEM for new residential and small commercial projects through 2020, then stepping down the credit until it aligns with the ultimate LMP+D value in the DER docket — in line with a settlement agreement reached between several utility and solar stakeholders earlier this year.

The entire aim of the docket is to move away from a traditional NEM policy. The staff report states that “NEM provides an imprecise and incomplete signal of the full value and costs of DERs. […] The purpose of this ongoing proceeding is to develop accurate pricing for DERs that reflects the actual value DERs create.”

It turns out that achieving accuracy is an incredibly complex process. While compensation for residential and small commercial DER projects will remain unchanged in the near term, the report establishes new interim compensation measures for commercial and industrial, as well as larger community distributed generation projects. The latter makes up a significant portion of New York state’s enormous net metering interconnection queue.

The transition path

For community-scale and C&I projects, the transition to new rates begins right away, but will evolve over time. The phase one rate is essentially a blend of an energy value, capacity value, environmental value and a market transition credit.

For projects that are already underway but will not come into service until after these new rates go into effect, they can be compensated under the current net metering policy if they pay 25 percent of the interconnection costs or execute an interconnection contract within 90 days of the phase one order being issued. Work on a phase two proposal will start immediately, and it will be filed in December 2018.

“We are encouraged to see the report set out a path that could finally get the community solar market off the ground in New York — it would allow an initial set of projects to proceed under current net metering rates, and start delivering savings to customers across the state,” said Jeff Cramer, executive director of Coalition for Community Solar Access. “We appreciate that it seeks to more accurately reflect locational values and societal benefits while also providing some degree of certainty. But this is a brand-new construct for the industry, and it is complicated.”

Although the phase one rate is complex, it is actually less complex than it was even a few weeks ago in a straw proposal. The energy value is perhaps the most straightforward, and will be calculated “the same way as charges for mandatory hourly pricing customers are calculated and will therefore include avoided losses,” according to the DPS proposal.

The capacity value is where significant disagreement comes in, although the solar industry is confident it will be a value they can work with. One previous proposal from the commission staff was to define the capacity value based on the peak hour in the previous year, multiplied by the capacity spot price in NYISO. But that would produce an incredible amount of variability, which the commission acknowledges, and would make project financing a nightmare.

So instead, the proposal suggests a capacity value that is the capacity portion of a utility’s supply charge for the service class, with a load profile that is most similar to the solar generation’s load profile. “It’s basically a capacity value that could be predictable,” said Kemp.

But, just to keep things interesting, the phase one proposal also offers an alternative: for the capacity to be assigned to specific summer hours. The proposal argues that it would produce a similar capacity value, but would encourage projects to be designed to address summer peaks. “Solar could lose significant value,” said Kemp, as peaks are often later than the time during which solar PV systems reach their peak output. “But this isn’t just about losing value. It’s about predictability.”

While stakeholders will undoubtedly be filing comments around the capacity value, there may be more agreement around the environmental value. The DPS staff admits that it will be a crude calculation, and essentially they are just trying to get a value that is equal to or greater than the social cost of carbon as calculated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For phase one, the environmental value will be defined using the price of Tier 1 renewable energy certificates in New York’s market. The commission will also take steps to ensure there isn’t double counting of RECs once this value is in place.

Another point of contention was defining the distribution value. On that issue the proposal essentially punts to phase two: “The Value of DER process has not produced a valuation methodology that identifies and includes all potential distribution system values and this is an area where significant evolution is expected during Phase Two.”

For phase one, there will just be the market transition credit (MTC) — except some projects will not get the MTC, and they will get some other form of additional compensation for value provided to the distribution grid. The latter compensation is incredibly complex, and involves taking a demand response rate and picking it apart to get a “locational system relief value” that is applied to the 10 highest hours per year. Many stakeholders will certainly take issue with the complexity proposed here, even though it may not affect most projects in the near term.

Most projects theoretically would just get the MTC. The MTC is expected to make the estimated compensation for a project equal to the existing net metering in the first tranche, 10 percent less than net metering in the second tranche and 20 percent less in the third tranche.  

For most utilities, tranches zero and one, which would essentially preserve compensation at net metering values, offer significant headroom. Staff determined a reasonable upper bound for possible net revenue impact during phase one to be 2 percent of a utility’s incremental net annual revenue. Based on that calculation, National Grid defines tranches zero and one as having more than 2 gigawatts of capacity. However, Central Hudson and Orange & Rockland, two utilities with significant community solar pipelines, have defined tranches zero and one at 39 and 76 megawatts, respectively.

“We want to make sure there’s enough room for projects to be able to be developed for the next two years,” said Kemp. Once the rate drops to 80 percent of retail net metering, it could be challenging in some utility territories to make community solar pencil out, especially when including low-income customers.

Some stakeholders have a concern about the complexity of the phase one rate and also the fact that community solar will be valued differently than on-site residential solar, which could unfairly cut low-income customers out of community solar. “The methodology is so complicated that consumers will never understand it, putting an end to [community solar] adoption by the mass market, and the inability to predict the value with any certainty will keep the investment community from wanting anything to do with financing [community solar] projects,” argues Robb Jetty, founder of Renovus Solar.

But other stakeholders are sure they can make it work. “Our members are digging into the models now to evaluate the impact on project economics across the state,” said Cramer, “and we will use the comment opportunity to provide final feedback we have on making sure this interim program can work for customers.”


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Wind Experts Think Prices Will Fall Faster Than Official Models Predict

A survey of experts in wind energy found they predict prices will fall faster than most published models expect, a new study found.

The speed with which wind energy burst onto the international scene makes it hard to predict how the sector will grow in the decades to come. Offshore and floating offshore wind are particularly nascent. The academic literature on cost modeling relies heavily on past data to establish learning rates, which can then predict future cost declines as the industry expands. Since there is limited data to make these predictions for wind energy, the authors, from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the National Renewable Energy Lab, looked to a different methodology.

The study performed what’s known as an “expert elicitation,” which basically means asking a bunch of pros what they think about the topic.

In this case, the population sampled was 163 wind experts from around the world, which the authors bill as “the largest single expert elicitation ever performed on an energy technology.” This type of study can’t eliminate bias on the part of individual members, but it’s a great way to establish credible estimates for trends that don’t have a lot of data to parse.

The pool of experts anticipates wind costs dropping faster than most of 26 recent published predictions from government, academic and industry sources. The literature review had a median prediction of 11 percent decline in levelized cost of energy by 2030 and 13 percent by 2050. The stable of experts, though, anticipates a 24 percent drop by 2030 and 35 percent by 2050. LCOE measures the total cost of energy produced over the life of a project, so it’s a more complete metric than just looking at upfront capital costs.

Figure: Change in LCOE Relative to 2014 Baseline

Image credit: Wise et al.

As explained in a blog post on the study by the Berkeley Lab, the survey respondents differ from the U.S. government’s projections as well. The Energy Information Administration’s outlook, for instance, has wind LCOE going up by 13 percent between 2018 and 2022, and then only dropping 16 percent by 2040.

“The U.S. EPA, in their assessment of the Clean Power Plan, seemingly predicts virtually no change in wind costs from 2016 to 2050,” the post continues. “And finally, even the U.S. DOE Wind Vision study’s ‘mid-point’ estimates of 16 percent reductions by 2030 and 22 percent by 2050 are more conservative than the survey results.”

This is wonky stuff, but it feeds right into calculations of what kind of role wind will play in the global energy mix, and that role is highly uncertain. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change analyzed 150 long-term energy scenarios and found the median climate mitigation scenario predicts wind producing 13 percent to 14 percent of the world’s energy in 2050. That said, the range spans from below 5 percent up to 50 percent.

If utilities, governments and industry plan for the future based on wind cost models that turn out to be overly conservative, they could lock in alternative investments, like gas generation plants, that turn out to be dirtier and more expensive than what wind projects could provide. Of course, there’s a danger with overly optimistic predictions as well — expecting more wind output than the markets can support won’t help anyone.

The good news is, with every new year of wind deployments, statisticians will have more numbers to crunch to produce a more reliable model of the future. Until then, the opinion of this collection of experts offers a glimpse of what the future could hold based on the best knowledge of the state of the industry today. And they think costs are quickly headed down and to the right.


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A Colorado Bank Offers a Powerful Case Study for Supporting Solar in Low-Moderate Income Communities

There has been a lot of recent effort put into broadening solar energy access, in particular to improve the availability to the low-moderate income sector. And a bank in Colorado is providing an example of how financing projects in this sector can work.

Historically, building solar in low-moderate income communities has been complex. Members of the low-moderate community frequently rent their homes, where there is generally a split incentive between the property owner and the tenant, who pays the utility bills. They may also have lower credit scores or simply less credit history on which a solar system can be underwritten. 

But recently, the White House announced a wide array of initiatives to open the low-moderate income market with specific focus on property-assessed clean energy and community solar. 

States are getting into the act as well. Colorado and others have leveraged the community solar business model to facilitate low-moderate income participation since 2010. Colorado requires community solar gardens to include at least 5 percent of this segment.

Clean Energy Collective (CEC), the market leader in community solar, has built 23 projects representing 12.8 megawatts in Colorado. Another eight CEC projects providing 12 megawatts are under development with Xcel, the largest Colorado utility. According to Tim Braun, CEC’s director of public affairs, securing long-term participants in the low-moderate income segment often comes with challenges that other customer segments do not have.

Enter Alpine Bank. With assets of $2.8 billion, it is an employee-owned community bank that serves western Colorado with 38 branches and over 130,000 retail, business and other customers. Alpine is also a unique entity in that it is fully committed to the environment, and sees that as a critical aspect to serving the beautiful landscape of its service territory. 

Since the bank branches have relatively small rooftops, Alpine sought to procure from local community solar gardens and saw a natural partner in CEC. The bank is powering 22 of its branch locations with 328 kilowatts purchased through six CEC facilities. 

Alpine also saw a natural partner in Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC), a local entity that provides a food bank, health insurance, parenting classes and financial counseling among its varied services for Summit County, Colo. residents. 

“By purchasing community solar and working with FIRC, Alpine Bank is demonstrating our commitment to the communities we serve and to the environment at the same time,” said David Miller, senior vice president and head of Alpine’s green team.

To help CEC meet the 5 percent requirement for low-moderate income customers, Alpine procured that portion of CEC’s Breckenridge Ullr Community Solar Array system (representing 82 panels for a total of 25 kilowatts) and donated it to FIRC, which in turn found families in the community to accept the donated power. Importantly, the community solar garden is established as a limited liability company, and thus designed to be financially self-sufficient.

The investment in the donated panels represents a valuable tax deduction for Alpine Bank, which consistently seeks to reduce its tax burden. It also allows the bank to meet its lofty environmental goals, and may be eligible to meet the bank’s Community Reinvestment Act requirements as mandated by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Comptroller of the Currency.

That office oversees how banks meet the requirements under the law to either invest in, loan to, or provide banking services to low-moderate income residences. Scores are factored into regulatory allowance decisions regarding a variety of bank business activities, and the banks take their scores very seriously. 

The bank regulator recently provided guidance on eligible community development loans and included those that “finance renewable energy, energy efficient, or water conservation equipment or projects that support the development, rehabilitation, improvement, or maintenance of affordable housing or community facilities” (see a recent SEIA webinar on the issue here). 

The guidance by Treasury is significant because banks are incredibly cautious entities — they will not venture into uncharted waters without sufficient regulatory clarity. 

Alpine’s investment and donation are eligible for the reinvestment act because they are seen as “supporting community services targeted to low- or moderate-income individuals.” According to Alpine’s Miller, such investment is clearly replicable by other banks. And now, banks may have even more opportunities to meet the requirements and finance solar energy systems.

Of course, education of solar developers, banks, and even regulators in the field needs to continue. But Alpine’s willingness to seek creative mechanisms to connect to its customers, do well, and meet regulatory requirements provides a great case study and valuable clarity to the broad U.S. banking industry.


Mike Mendelsohn is the senior director of project finance and capital markets at the Solar Energy Industries Association.


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A Conversation With Travis Kavulla on the Tough Decisions Utility Regulators Are Facing [GTM Squared]


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Shipping Industry Postpones Climate Plan Until 2023

A firm plan for potentially easing the shipping industry’s impact on the climate will be delayed for seven years under a roadmap drafted by a United Nations agency on Friday.

The lackluster outcome at the end of a week of environmental talks in London deepened the disparity between ship and plane operators and much of the rest of the world when it comes to tackling global warming. The shipping industry participated in the negotiations on behalf of some nations.

International shipping is responsible for 2 to 3 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions every year.
Credit: MaxGag/Flickr

The U.N. agency, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), described Friday’s agreement as “another good news story for the #environment” on Twitter — even as it was being broadly criticized by others.

“The fact that there’s a roadmap is good,” said John Maggs, a policy advisor at the nonprofit Seas At Risk who attended the talks. But he criticized it for lacking targets or meaningful timelines and for lacking ambition. “There’s nothing in the roadmap.”

Climate-changing pollution escapes from ships as they burn some of the most polluting types of fuel available. Ships are blamed for 2 to 3 percent of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide released each year and their emissions may grow by 50 to 250 percent by 2050.


Temperatures have risen about 1°C or nearly 2°F since the Industrial Revolution, causing seas to rise and amplifying heat waves, droughts, wildfires and storms. A global climate pact will take effect next week following talks in Paris last year, but it largely ignores ships and airplanes, which traverse national borders and are overseen by industry-specific U.N. agencies.

Under the agreement reached Friday, an interim strategy for addressing greenhouse gas pollution from ships will be released in 2018. That will be followed five years later by the potential publication of a timeline describing climate-protection measures that could be imposed on ship operators and owners. Owners of large ships will provide confidential information about fuel consumption to the U.N. beginning in 2019.

The roadmap did not set any targets for greenhouse gas reductions, such as those that have underpinned national climate protection strategies and pledges under the Paris climate agreement. Nor does the roadmap commit the sector to setting such targets in 2023.

“Not being prepared to agree to a reasonable short-term framework for developing a target is a bad signal,” Maggs said. “Having an objective is important.”

The European Union is considering expanding its cap-and-trade system, which limits greenhouse gas pollution and imposes fees to reduce fossil fuel demand, to cover ships docking at its ports. Maggs said that may have helped force the shipping industry to take global warming a little more seriously.

“Individual countries and regions making an effort builds pressure at the IMO,” Maggs said. “The view at the IMO is that it’s the only place where you can regulate the shipping industry. When others come along and start regulating regionally, the IMO doesn’t like it.”

Credit: chumlee10/Flickr.

The IMO also resolved on Friday to postpone any potential decisions that could force shipbuilders to produce more fuel-efficient vessels. Bill Hemmings, a clean energy campaigner with European group Transport and Environment who attended the talks, described that decision as “very disappointing.”

“There’s no logic behind that,” Hemmings said. “Making new ships more efficient is a no-brainer.”

The shipping industry was largely silent on Friday afternoon about the outcome of the talks, while the IMO issued a press release describing what it called an “important milestone on the road to controlling greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping.” The International Chamber of Shipping said it planned to issue a statement on Monday.

The IMO in 2004 imposed far-reaching restrictions on journalists covering its meetings. That made it difficult for reporters gathered in London this week to describe how countries and organizations were obstructing or supporting efforts to ease climate impacts.

Unusually for United Nations agencies, corporations have seats at IMO negotiations. The influence of individual countries at the IMO is based partly on the number of ships that fly under their flags. Countries such as Liberia were represented at the talks by groups that operate those ships.

The Marshall Islands, which is highly vulnerable to the effects of rising seas and under whose flag a large number of ships fly, led a push for more stringent rules on greenhouse gas pollution from ships. It was joined by a coalition of small island states and some European countries.

Opposition to stringent climate measures was led by large developing countries, such as India and China, and by countries at the ends of long trade routes — for whom importing and exporting goods by ship requires large amounts of fuel.

Unlike power plants and motor vehicles, which operate according to national rules, international ships and airlines often operate outside the direct regulation of any nations.

“The international nature of shipping and commercial aviation means that some, even most emissions take place outside of the legal jurisdictions of countries,” said Robert Stavins, an economics professor at Harvard who researches and tracks environmental diplomacy.

Stavins said nations and regions could reduce the climate impacts of ships and planes by including them in the growing number of carbon tax and cap-and-trade systems when they reach their ports.

While a U.N. agreement to reduce the use of climate-changing chemicals called HFCs this month was heralded as a sign that world leaders are ready to take the warming crisis seriously, an earlier International Civil Aviation Organization agreement to address global warming was broadly criticized for its weakness. It directs airlines to begin buying carbon credits in 2021 instead of reducing emissions from their aircraft.

“The costs of phasing out HFCs are trivial, as are the political challenges, compared with carbon dioxide,” Stavins said. “The number of countries involved is small, the cost of abatement is relatively low, and substitutes already exist.”

The outcome of this week’s talks shows that the shipping industry, like the aviation industry, remains reluctant to address its role in warming the planet, and it suggests global support for easy climate solutions hasn’t yet translated into strong support for tougher measures.



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World’s New Marine Protected Area is a Big Climate Win

The creatures of the Southern Ocean just got a lot more space to roam freely. On Thursday, 24 countries and the European Union agreed to set aside a 600,000-square-mile swath of ocean — roughly twice the size of Texas —  off the coast of Antarctica as a marine protected area.

It’s taken years of negotiations to get to this point, but the end result is the largest marine protected area ever created. More than two-thirds of the ocean set aside was designated a marine reserve, closing it to fishing and making it a particularly safe space for marine life to weather the pressures of climate change and overfishing. It’s a technique that’s had success in other parts of the world and in addition, scientists will also be able to use the Ross Sea as a baseline in the coming years to assess the impacts of climate change on the marine food web.

An Adelie penguin wanders on pack ice in the Ross Sea.
Credit: John Weller/Pew Charitable Trusts

“The fact that 25 governments came together gives us hope that more of the ocean can be protected and used wisely,” Jane Lubchenco, an ocean researcher at Oregon State and a founding Climate Central board member, said, praising the marine reserve aspect in particular. “Marine reserves are climate reserves.”

The new protected area will ensure biological processes can go on without the added pressure of fishing and other local impacts. It’s obviously harder to keep climate change out since it doesn’t respect boundaries. But by reducing other stresses, scientists hope that marine life will be able to better cope with the challenge of climate change. If nothing else, it also provides an important place to gauge how much climate change alone is impacting marine life.


“The Ross Sea is this physical location that creates this kind of special place for biology to happen,” Gretchen Hofmann, a marine biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said. “When you’re working there in austral summer, it’s a productivity party. It’s like boom, everything happens at once and there’s so much life.”

Much has been made of the penguins and whales that live in the Ross Sea. According to the United Nations, the Ross Sea represents only 2 percent of the Southern Ocean, but it’s home to 40 percent of Adelie penguins and 25 percent of emperor penguins as well as half of all Ross Sea orcas, a specific type of killer whale. The marine protected area is good news for them to be sure, but the biggest benefit will be to the base of the foodchain.

A minke whale swims in the Ross Sea.
Credit: John Weller/Pew Charitable Trusts

There are two factors that make the Ross Sea such a spectacular source of life. It’s home to a shallow coastal shelf area but also a deep bay that allows cold water to well up from the depths of the ocean. Add in 24-hour daylight in the summer and you get spectacular phytoplankton blooms, which form the base of the foodchain. Phytoplankton also suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, providing a substantial climate benefit as well.

From phytoplankton, tiny krill — essentially microscopic shrimp — are the next step up the foodchain followed by smaller fish and eventually those charismatic penguins and whales.

“We say we’re protecting the Ross Sea for the penguins, but really we’re protecting their food cupboard,” Hofmann said.

Adelie penguins on the edge of the ice in the Ross Sea.
Credit: John Weller/Pew Charitable Trusts

What happens to the cupboard is of intense interest to scientists. They already have a few ideas about what’s going on in other parts of the Southern Ocean. In the Weddell Sea, located on the other side of Antarctica, krill populations have declined by up to 80 percent over the past 40 years.

Recent research has shown that climate change could alter sea ice patterns and put future stress on krill productivity. Having long-term ocean monitoring in that region has given scientists a leg up on understanding what will come next there, and because the oceans are connected, elsewhere.

“In addition to its tremendous conservation value, the Ross Sea MPA is designed to be a natural laboratory for valuable scientific research to increase our understanding of the impact of climate change and fishing on the ocean and its resources,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement following the announcement.



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10 Years on, Climate Economists Reflect on Stern Review

Climate change is ultimately a problem of dollars and cents across generations. That’s because the actions society takes today to address climate change — namely cutting carbon pollution — won’t provide immediate benefits. Instead, those benefits will be reaped in the coming years and decades and even centuries in the form of fewer people dying from heat waves, cities not being submerged by rising seas, farmers dealing with reduced risk of megadroughts.

Weighing all these costs and benefits in terms that governments can create policies around and businesses can prepare for is no small task. Yet 10 years ago, that’s the Stern Review, a 700-page behemoth of a report, did.

The world’s economy will need to shift from one based on fossil fuels to one based on low carbon technologies.
Credit: dru/flickr

Commissioned by the British government and led by economist Nicholas Stern, the massive report was the first of its kind to quantify the costs to address climate change and its impact on the global economy vs. what would happen if the world continued emitting carbon pollution unchecked.

It found that cutting carbon emissions so that carbon dioxide peaked in the range of 450-550 parts per million would cost 1 percent of the GDP annually, but ignoring climate change could cause economic damage on the order of up to 20 percent of the GDP. Translated into real world numbers, the Stern Review put a price of about $85 per ton of carbon pollution emitted today, well above the current rate used by the U.S. of $40 per ton.

It’s a stark finding — though one that has yet to inspire major action — that was both heralded as a breakthrough and hotly debated in the intervening decade.


Since the Stern Review’s publication, other economists have made estimates of what it would cost to address climate change, but the Stern Review still stands out as a seminal document similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports on science.

With the 10-year anniversary coming up at the end of October, Climate Central reached out to a group of leading and up-and-coming climate economists dealing with the challenge of valuing climate action now and into the future. Their answers are below, lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

What’s the legacy of the Stern Review?
How have its conclusions held up over time?

Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute: The legacy is exceedingly important. Until then, economists didn’t really focus adequately on issues of climate change or at least they had a relatively naive review of things. What the Stern Review did is by careful way of marshalling evidence of costs and benefits, it provided a massive leap forward in our understanding of the economics of climate change.

The conclusions have stayed correct but the messages would be much stronger if it were written today than they were then. The case for action is much more clear today than it was back then. That’s partly because technology has changed, making the transition to a low carbon future much more cost-effective. Second, because we’re 10 years on, the problem has become more obvious. Essentially, the costs of inaction have gone up and costs of action have come down a lot.

Kate Gordon, vice chair of climate and sustainable urbanization at the Paulson Institute: The Stern Review was critically important in moving the climate issue from one of science to one of economics. It has inspired a huge amount of work afterward, including the Risky Business Project, which in its pilot phase was actually known as “the Stern Review for the U.S.” So its legacy is one of opening the door to a sober economic conversation about the implications of climate change, which is critically important. Its specific conclusions may be less useful as we move from climate diplomacy to the operational phase of climate mitigation, as those economic and workforce development strategies are profoundly local and must be done at a far more granular level than the Stern Review used.

Amir Jina, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago: Two main contributions stand out to me. First, maybe more than any other single publication, the Stern Review helped to reframe climate change as an economic issue, not just a scientific one. Second, it provided the research community with a strong motivation to discuss some of the thornier questions about climate change economics — the debate about how we value the future being perhaps the most obvious one. There’s a downside to the latter, in that it maybe made us focus too much in the past decade on issues that were in the review rather than all the evidence that wasn’t in there.

What’s the biggest leap that climate economics
has made in the 10 years since the Stern Review?

Andrew Steer: The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate put out a report (two years ago) that has shown that the tradeoffs identified 10 years ago don’t exist anymore. In other words, the Stern Review of today would emphasize that climate change actions will lead to more dynamism in the economy. It will lead to more technology and better competitiveness around the world. With smart policies, you can move directly toward an efficient, low carbon economy. That’s a big shift from 10 years ago.

Delavane Diaz, senior technical lead and economist at the Electric Power Research Institute: The last decade has seen a major shift in the research community toward interdisciplinary collaborations that bring together experts in the physical sciences, climate impacts and adaptation, and greenhouse gas mitigation. This means that researchers who have typically identified as belonging to Working Groups 1, 2, or 3 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are now collaborating across those boundaries to better understand the coupled human-earth system. A few examples of these efforts include the Integrated Assessment Modeling Consortium, the Inter-Sectoral Model Inter-comparison Project, and the Climate Impact Lab.

Gernot Wagner, economist at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences: A recognition of how much we don’t yet know, in particular about the full impact of climate damages. Sadly, most everything we know about what we don’t know — or can’t yet quantify — would push the correct carbon price higher still, pushing the $40 ‘consensus’ number ever closer to the original Stern number and perhaps well above. It’s those unknowns and perhaps unknowables that put the “shock” into my book “Climate Shock.” It’s one thing to quantify what we know. It’s another to insure ourselves against the unknowns and unknowables.

An offshore wind project near Wales.
Credit: Aaron Crowe/flickr

Are you hopeful the world will address
climate change in a cost effective, equitable way?

Kate Gordon: Yes. It’s impossible to do this work without having some level of optimism. I see businesses and investors, in particular, moving from skeptical observation to concrete action. But we need a strong policy framework to undergird that.

Delavane Diaz: Recent international achievements like the Paris Agreement, the Montreal Protocol HFC amendment, and the aviation emissions deal are promising signs. However, there is still far to go — very stringent mitigation efforts and effective adaptation will require substantial investments and changes in the economy and energy system, with different opportunities and pathways for different countries. While there will be considerable costs involved, taking action is not optional — addressing climate change is a societal and environmental imperative.

Gernot Wagner: It’s too late to be pessimistic. Sadly, it’s also too late to be able to say that there won’t already be a lot of climate hurt baked in. Economists like to insist on the cost-effective solution, but beggars can’t be choosers. Bottom line: we need to do much more than we are currently doing. Globally, we are still subsidizing carbon emissions rather than pricing them properly. In the end, we also need to realize that climate policy demands a portfolio approach. That includes mitigation and adaptation. It also includes carbon dioxide removal, which has very similar properties to mitigation in the first place. Lastly, it includes research into solar geoengineering, clearly not as a substitute but as a complement to the first three.

Does stabilizing the climate at 450-550 ppm still seem
feasible from an economic and/or scientific perspective?

Kate Gordon: It’s technically feasible, but it’s daunting. We need a major shift in our economic planning from geographically-based extraction and production activities to a much more distributed and low-carbon system that looks different in every location. As the Stern Report made clear, not doing this is unaffordable — so doing it is by definition economically necessary. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be politically easy.

Amir Jina: I think it’s possible from both perspectives, but maybe not from a policy one. I’m skeptical of threshold values as targets. Putting emphasis on 350 ppm, 400 ppm, or 2°C can be alarmist and can be demotivating when we pass one of those thresholds without the world ending. The question that I want to know the answer to is: “What does stabilization at 450 ppm look like in terms of economic damage and how much will it cost us to get there?” We really need some rational discussion of the costs and benefits in order to push the policy needle.

Gernot Wagner: Could we get there — technically and economically? Yes. Will we? That’s a different question. 450-550 ppm, of course, is a big range. Technically, 1.5°C might be achievable. Politically, it is not. So, aim for 1.5°C, but prepare for 2°-3°C or worse.

What are the big questions the world still needs a clearer
answer on when it comes to the economics of climate change?

Andrew Steer: The really difficult issues now are given that even though we now know it’s in nations interests economically to move toward a low carbon economy, that doesn’t mean everybody can. We have a lot of vested interests that would suffer. The really tough questions are of a political economy nature and how we compensate the losers. They may be poor people, they may be coal miners, they may be entire swaths of countries that were manufacturing goods in a high carbon way.

The nature of the question has changed a bit from not “what should we do” because we know what we should do to “how do we build coalitions so we can actually do it.” In economics, there is a phrase called path dependency. That means you embark on a path — for example, everyone is going to travel to work in automobile. So you build roads. It turns out 100 years into that, you realize this isn’t the smartest way to get into work. Now that we’re on that path, it’s very difficult to switch from one path to another. You’ve got locked in capital but you’ve got vested interests — automakers, gas producers, road engineers and so on. So if you want to get out of a path dependent system, you need to disrupt the system. The field of economics needs to focus on some of those issues, which involve thinking about how we retrain coal miners or how we make sure the Rust Belt doesn’t all vote for Donald Trump because they feel globalization has left them behind.

Delavane Diaz: 1) Adaptation to climate impacts: How humans plan for and respond to climate change will play a major role in the resulting economics of climate change, yet our understanding of both the rate and effectiveness of adaptation is extremely limited. Adaptation will incur its own costs, and may be subject to policy and institutional barriers or market failures.

2) Potential threshold responses and tipping elements in the Earth system: Examples include a disruption of the oceanic thermohaline circulation, sudden methane releases from the oceans or permafrost, or disintegrations of the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheets. The geological record shows evidence of such threshold responses in the Earth system, but the mechanisms, dynamics, and sensitivities are deeply uncertain.

3) Interactions and feedbacks between geographical regions and economic sectors: Impact assessments often focus on a single sector or region, and thus fail to capture possible interactions that could either exacerbate or alleviate the damage to society. Mechanisms can be both direct (migration in response to flooding or drought) and indirect (higher global food prices from declining agricultural yields in a given region). An extreme scenario could include cascading effects triggered by interdependencies between climatic, ecological, and human systems.



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Public Service Co. of Oklahoma to increase fuel charge

Public Service Co. of Oklahoma will increase the amount it charges customers for fuel


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