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Archive for March, 2017

A Chinese-Backed Dam Project Leaves Myanmar in a Bind

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The unpopular dam poses a daunting test for Myanmar’s leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi: Going ahead with it would anger the public. Killing it would anger China.

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - March 31, 2017 at 2:01 pm

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Trump’s ‘Energy Independence’ Agenda and What’s Next for the Climate Movement

If you ask Brandon Hurlbut what he thinks of President Trump’s “Energy Independence” executive order, he’ll tell you, “This has nothing to do with energy independence.”

Hurlbut, former Department of Energy chief of staff under Secretary Steven Chu and partner at Boundary Stone Partners, pointed out that the U.S. generates its electricity from renewables, natural gas and coal — all of which are domestic resources. The executive order signed earlier this week triggers a review and rollback of federal regulations on carbon emissions and fossil fuels in the name of promoting energy independence, as well as economic growth.

“So I think the Trump administration is being disingenuous on that, just like they have on many other things, including the fact that he promised coal workers he would bring their jobs back,” said Hurlbut, speaking in GTM’s latest Facebook video interview. “That’s like saying we’re going to save the VCR industry. We have moved on. We have better technology out there.”

For Shane Skelton, former energy policy adviser to Paul Ryan and co-founder of S2C Pacific, the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan was always an imperfect way to address carbon emissions. After the failure of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill in 2009, the Clean Power Plan became Obama’s way of going at the climate issue alone, “and often when you do that in policy, you end up with something not very good,” Skelton said.

Trump’s new executive order is intended to weaken or throw out the Clean Power Plan through a review process. What the order did not address was the EPA’s 2009 “endangerment finding,” which made the EPA legally responsible for regulating carbon dioxide. The administration likely avoided it, to the frustration of some conservatives, because it would invite a lengthy court battle.

Environmentalists have pledged to fight Trump’s climate policy attack at every step. Several groups have already launched a lawsuit against Trump’s order to lift a ban on leasing federal land for coal mining. And the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and other allies filed a lawsuit today against Trump’s recent approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

What else is on the agenda for the climate and environment movement? Are there new fronts to fight on? We discuss all of this and more in the latest episode of GTM’s Facebook video show.


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - at 6:47 am

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Mid-Atlantic Grid Can Lose Coal and Nuclear, and Remain Reliable With Natural Gas and Renewables

Mid-Atlantic grid operator PJM has modeled a future with more wind and solar power, cheap natural gas, and retiring nuclear and coal power plants — integrated under projected peak conditions and in hypothetical heat waves and cold snaps — and found that this increasingly diverse generation mix doesn’t threaten grid reliability, at least in the near term. 

The model sets an upper bound of about 20 percent on how much renewable energy — wind, namely — that the 13-state transmission grid operator can take, before reliability issues start to arise. 

PJM’s analysis of reliability and fuel diversity (PDF), released Thursday, is among many across the country tackling the challenge of integrating intermittent renewable resources into the grid. In PJM’s case, however, it was triggered mainly by the growth of natural gas as a primary generation fuel, raising the question of whether that resource is reliable enough to replace retiring coal-fired and nuclear power plants. 

PJM’s resource mix has changed rapidly over the past decade. In 2005, coal and nuclear resources generated 91 percent of its electricity. But over the past six years, those figures have dropped to 33 percent for coal and 18 percent for nuclear, while natural gas has grown to represent 33 percent of the power mix. 

Meanwhile, renewables including hydro made up 6 percent of PJM’s 2016 generation mix. Demand response, which had accounted for roughly the same amount of capacity as renewables as recently as 2015, has shrunk a bit in the past two years after PJM implemented new capacity performance rules.


Source: PJM

Given these changes, PJM needs to find out “whether the resource attributes necessary to maintain system reliability will continue to be available in sufficient quantities,” given a variety of possible future scenarios, it wrote. 

To get there, the grid operator modeled 11 different types of resources — coal, natural-gas steam, natural-gas combustion turbine, oil steam, oil combustion turbine, nuclear, solar, wind, hydro, battery storage, and demand response — against a set of reliability needs, ranging from frequency response and voltage control to contingency reserves and dispatchable load following. 

It then ran them through a variety of forecasts, and grouped those into four broad portfolios. The first is PJM’s existing near-term portfolio out to 2021. The second accounts for “moderate” levels of coal and nuclear retirement, largely being replaced with natural gas. And two categories project high coal and nuclear retirements, one with natural gas taking up most of the slack, and the other filling the gap with renewables. 


Source: PJM

For the next four years at least, PJM’s analysis shows little to no reliability risk. “The expected near-term resource portfolio is among the highest-performing portfolios and is well equipped to provide the generator reliability attributes,” the report noted. 

To be sure, with less coal and nuclear baseload resources, some grid reliability metrics go down, such as “generator reliability attributes of frequency response, reactive capability and fuel assurance.” But others, such as flexibility and ramping attributes, increase, it noted — largely due to natural-gas power plants’ relative flexibility compared to nuclear and coal. 

PJM’s study did find reliability worsening in high wind and solar penetration scenarios, however. And growing beyond 20 percent renewables — a scenario most likely to occur through rapid growth of wind power — was deemed “infeasible,” because it could lead to “loss of load expectation” going beyond acceptable boundaries at night, when wind power is both a large share of load and is subject to intermittent dips and surges in production. 

“Nevertheless, PJM could maintain reliability with unprecedented levels of wind and solar resources, assuming a portfolio of other resources that provides a sufficient amount of reliability services,” the study noted.

But this study doesn’t get into how these new services could be provided: “This paper does not address any specific areas involved with the evolution of how prices are formed in the capacity, energy or ancillary service markets.” 

PJM has a lot going on to manage its changing grid. The list of related efforts includes: “Capacity performance, enhanced standards for inverter-based resources, centralized forecasts of wind, solar and distributed energy resources, business rules to support dispatchability of variable energy resources, ‘Pay for Performance’ regulation service, 15-minute interchange intervals, and the PJM Renewable Integration Study.”

It’s worth comparing PJM’s latest analysis to the aforementioned renewable energy integration study, conducted from 2011 to 2014. It found that, “with adequate transmission expansion (up to $13.7 billion) and additional regulation reserves (up to an additional 1,500 MW),” the grid “would not have any significant reliability issues operating with up to 30 percent of its energy (as distinct from capacity) provided by wind and solar generation.” 

The difference here is between energy, or how much electricity is produced over time, compared to reliability, which measures a host of requirements like 24/7 availability to perform critical tasks. In those terms, “we did see a renewable limit at 20 percent of operational capacity. That’s still significantly more than what we have now,” Mike Bryson, PJM’s vice president of operations, said in a Thursday conference call. 

On the original question of natural gas, the study found it could meet the model’s needs up to a hypothetical 86 percent of the entire resource mix, giving it “no upper bound” in terms of reliability. It did warn, however, that “additional risks, such as gas deliverability during polar vortex-type conditions and uncertainties associated with economics and public policy, were not fully captured in this analysis” — a risk that PJM has already faced in the 2014 polar vortex

Importantly, having a diversity of resources is as important as which resources they are, Bryson said in a prepared statement. “We found that the risk to the system wasn’t that resources couldn’t necessarily provide reliability attributes, but that the potential concentration of a single fuel source or low-probability, high-impact events could cause significant impacts to the system.”

Source: PJM

GTM Research analyst Elta Kolo noted PJM’s “seemingly robust approach toward achieving long-term resource adequacy and operational reliability by continuously striving for fuel mix diversity.”

Its Generator Reliability Attribute Matrix, the formula by which it translates its 11 different resources and multiple reliability metrics into a measurement that can be used to compare them against one another, “is one that can be adapted by other ISOs/RTOs to provide a high-level comparative assessment across systems.”

As for distributed energy resources, they’re largely beyond PJM’s control, since they lie behind the meter at the distribution utility level. At the same time, the growth of rooftop solar, which shows up as a loss of load on sunny days to PJM’s perspective, could be a problem in years to come: “Depending on the level of penetration, DERs could require increased de-commitment/re-dispatch of centrally dispatched resources or off-system schedules to meet the balancing obligations,” the report noted.  

PJM is working on DER integration rules and solar forecasting “to lessen the impact on existing resources and improve market efficiency.” These are early-stage DER integration efforts, compared to California grid operator CAISO, with its distributed energy resource provider product set to allow virtual aggregations of DERs to bid into its energy markets as early as this year. 

At the same time, PJM hasn’t yet come to face the real-world challenge of integrating double-digit percentages of renewables into its grid, as California has. Last month CAISO predicted that it could face the need to curtail up to 8 gigawatts of generation this spring, if must-take hydropower and midday solar power exceeds demand for energy. 


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - at 6:40 am

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Tesvolt Pulls Millions of Euros to Scale the World’s Longest-Lasting Lithium-Ion Battery

A German state-backed venture capital fund this week invested “several million euros” in Tesvolt, a startup that is claiming the world’s longest-lasting lithium-ion battery.

IBG Risikokapitalfonds III, a Sachsen-Anhalt state fund managed by Berlin-based venture capital investment house bmp Beteiligungsmanagement, announced the backing for Tesvolt after the three-year-old battery maker unveiled its new TS system this month.

“Tesvolt has developed an innovative storage system that features a new safety standard and a service life of 30 years,” noted bmp in a press release. “The IBG investments will go toward the further development of Tesvolt technology.” 

The cash injection will also help Tesvolt expand its production lines to meet predicted demand, as well as financing national and international marketing and sales activities, bmp said. 

Tesvolt’s TS system, designed for the commercial and industrial market, is due to go on sale at the close of the Intersolar Europe trade show in June this year. The company aims to shake up the lithium-ion battery market on several fronts.

Although it will come with a 10-year warranty, the system is mechanically designed to last for up to three decades, compared with 15 to 20 years for competing products. 

Tesvolt CTO and co-founder Simon Schandert told GTM this is important because for some applications, such as self-consumption, cycle rates might be as low as 250 cycles a year.

Since Tesvolt claims the TS can offer 6,000 cycles with 100 percent depth of discharge. This means the battery could in theory still be performing as new after a couple of decades of use, when other products might start to suffer from mechanical failure.  

The actual number of cycles covered by the warranty is 4,500 at 23ºC.

Outside this temperature range, the company will use a dynamic calculation process to offer warranty conditions for between -10ºC and 50ºC, “and not only between 18ºC and 28ºC,” Schandert said.

Tesvolt also claims a DC round-trip efficiency of 98 percent, with a warranted minimum of at least 85 percent after 10 years.

Schandert said Tesvolt could provide these warranty conditions by analyzing the state of each TS unit via data pulled from the battery management system and the inverter. The TS is being offered as a modular unit in sizes ranging from 15 kilowatt-hours up to 1 megawatt-hour.

For a “normal commercial system” of up to 50 kilowatt-hours, “we are nearly in the range of €600 to €700 [$650 to $760] per kilowatt-hour [of installed capacity] for the battery,” Schandert said.

Based on standard use, this would yield a cost of energy of around €0.10 to €0.12 ($0.11 to $0.13) per kilowatt-hour, he said. A 50-kilowatt-hour system could be installed within an hour, he claimed.

Tesvolt customers would have to buy an SMA Sunny Island or Sunny Central inverter (for low-voltage or high-voltage systems, respectively), on top of the battery system.

The all-in costs for an entry-level 15-kilowatt-hour system, including installation and a 4.6-kilowatt Sunny Island inverter, would be between €13,000 and €15,000 ($14,000 and $16,000), said Schandert.

This price could drop now that SMA has integrated its power measurement and energy management into a single Home Manager unit, he said. Even so, Schandert admitted the Tesvolt could not meet market leaders such as Tesla on upfront cost.

Nor is it trying to, he said. “We are not low-cost engineering. Our systems are a little bit more expensive than Tesla’s, but our cycle life is quite higher. When you compare all the technologies and costs, you will see the storage cost per kilowatt-hour for our system is lower than other solutions.”   

Like Tesla, Tesvolt gets its batteries from Samsung SDI. However, Tesvolt uses larger, prismatic cells that can be monitored individually and are equipped with safety features to prevent fire in the event of a puncture. 

Tesvolt also has a decent installation record for a company that only started shipping products in 2015. 

Last June, the company installed what it said was the world’s largest decentralized off-grid storage system, a 4-megawatt, 2.68-megawatt-hour project in Rwanda. And in November, it sealed a deal for 3 megawatt-hours of capacity in Mali.  

The backing from IBG will allow Tesvolt to build on this success, but Schandert said the company is not aiming for runaway growth or a stock market listing. “We want to grow very healthily,” he said. “We need capital for batteries but not for growing the company.”


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

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The Case for California to Engage in Grid Markets Across the West

California could expand its grid markets to other states across the Western United States, and find a home for gigawatts’ worth of solar and wind power that might otherwise be lost to curtailment. But it’s a tough political, economic and environmental balance to merge its green power goals with the brown power coming from states like Wyoming and Utah. 

Even so, a coalition of environmentalists, Silicon Valley investors and green power companies is demanding that the California legislature take up the cause this year. In a Tuesday press conference, the group pointed to the news of possible multi-gigawatt solar curtailments this spring — and the Trump administration’s attack on federal climate regulation — as a spur to action. 

“We’re seeing what I call a flashing light warning, with these increased curtailments,” Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of energy policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a Tuesday press conference. State grid operator CAISO said last month that it could need to curtail up to 8 gigawatts at a time of unneeded solar power onto the transmission system this spring, driven by “duck curve” imbalances between high solar generation and low energy demand. 

Creating a regional grid market structure could let those excess gigawatts serve the needs of utilities hundreds or thousands of miles away, and create more than $1 billion annually by 2030 in lower energy costs for California, he said — largely by finding an outlet for renewable energy that might otherwise be lost. 

Tuesday’s press event marks the start of an advocacy effort to get California lawmakers to pass a law giving CAISO the authority to create an independent board, open to any Western utilities within the 38 separate “balancing authorities” west of the Rockies, Cavanagh said. 

An independent board has been a key sticking point in negotiations between California and would-be partners, such as Rocky Mountain state utility PacifiCorp. The five-state utility, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, has said it won’t go forward with a shared balancing authority unless it’s led by a board with a governance structure independent of CAISO, and authorized to serve as a regional organization.

Today, these largely utility-run pockets of generation and transmission exchange energy through bilateral agreements — a far less efficient way of aligning grid needs than the interstate transmission grid markets run by ISOs and RTOs in the Midwest and Eastern U.S. A CAISO report found that implementing a regional energy market with PacifiCorp alone could reduce power-related carbon emissions by about 12 million tons by 2030, and save California ratepayers up to $894 million, with some $691 million of that attributable to regional renewable procurement savings.

There’s certainly value to utilities in joining a regional grid that offers the opportunity to buy and sell energy based on day-ahead markets. At the same time, Cavanagh said, “It’s important to state that all Western states and California will retain their policy-making power. We’re not singling out anyone or excluding anyone. The more, the merrier.” 

The idea of giving coal-heavy utilities like PacifiCorp a say in how a regional Western grid develops is worrisome to some. The Sierra Club has opposed the current plan on the grounds that it could allow coal-fired power plants to sell power and remain operational longer, adding to overall carbon emissions. 

This confluence of conflicts led to California Gov. Jerry Brown postponing the interstate grid effort during last year’s legislative session. In recent months, Rocky Mountain states have been balking at the idea of giving California more control over their energy policies, the Salt Lake Tribune reported in January. 

But NRDC’s Cavanagh argued Tuesday that the benefits of opening markets to cheap and plentiful renewable energy outweigh the potential for extending the life of coal power plants. It’s also an important way to help California achieve its renewable portfolio standard, which calls for 50 percent renewables by 2030, he said. 

“We do have to have a broader market to expand here in California, and if we don’t have a broader market, it’s going to be very difficult to move it forward,” said Jan Smutny-Jones, CEO of the Independent Energy Producers Association, a trade association for power project developers representing about one-third of the state’s installed generation capacity. 

A slow march from energy imbalance markets to regional balancing authority

CAISO is already operating some interstate energy markets. Since 2014, its Energy Imbalance Market, or EIM, has linked the state’s grid with a growing list of transmission utilities, starting with PacifiCorp and its grid covering much of Utah, Wyoming, southern Idaho and the California-Oregon border region, and expanding to Nevada utility NV Energy, Arizona Public Service, and Seattle City Light and Puget Sound Energy in Washington state. Portland General Electric and Idaho Power are slated to join in the next 12 months, and others are in discussions, CAISO spokesperson Steven Greenlee said in an interview last week. 

But the EIM has its limits. Specifically, it allows participants to trade energy in 5-minute increments, to fill in for the “final few megawatts of power to satisfy demand within the hour it’s needed,” according to CAISO’s EIM website. That’s a relatively thin slice of the total energy balancing demands faced by the Western grid, and it requires a higher level of sophistication from the generators of demand-side resources that would bid into it. 

Even so, EIM has helped California solar find a home, according to CAISO data that shows a spike in “avoided curtailments,” or power transfers at times when California has an excess of supply. 

Day-ahead markets offer a far simpler way to schedule and forecast energy supply and demand, opening the field to a far broader set of participants. That’s important to the companies represented by Tim McRae, vice president of energy at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a public policy trade association with a membership roster representing one of every three private-sector jobs in the high-tech hotbed. “An integrated Western grid allows California to reach a broader market” and will “allow our wind and solar plants to operate at full capacity,” he said.

It’s unclear how the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle federal clean energy programs and policies might affect the regionalization push. CAISO is regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has oversight over any plans to expand into a regional entity. Right now, FERC has only two commissioners seated, and while two of the three replacements must be Democrats according to FERC rules, there’s still the potential for new appointments who might challenge the concept. 

“That risk is there now, and it’s reinforced by the fact that the California Independent System Operator has the label ‘California’ on its back,” Cavanagh said. That’s an argument for regionalization, he added, since having more states and more utilities on board will help cushion CAISO from any interference based on hostility to the state’s green energy and carbon reduction efforts. 

IEPA’s Smutny-Jones sees less threat of federal action derailing the regionalization process. “Opponents of expansion are raising this issue, but in terms of holding it back, there isn’t any expansion of vulnerability to California seeking to expand its grid,” he said. “Other regional groups such as PJM on the East Coast and the Midcontinent ISO have states that have renewable energy portfolios and states that do not.”


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - at 6:22 am

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DOE Official Urges Staff Not to Talk About Climate to Avoid a ‘Visceral Reaction’ From Sec. Perry

Politico: Energy Department Climate Office Bans Use of Phrase ‘Climate Change’

A supervisor at the Energy Department’s international climate office told staff this week not to use the phrases “climate change,” “emissions reduction” or “Paris Agreement” in written memos, briefings or other written communication, sources have told Politico.

Employees of DOE’s Office of International Climate and Clean Energy learned of the ban at a meeting Tuesday, the same day President Donald Trump signed an executive order at EPA headquarters to reverse most of former President Barack Obama’s climate regulatory initiatives. Officials at the State Department and in other DOE offices said they had not been given a banned words list, but they had started avoiding climate-related terms in their memos and briefings given the new administration’s direction on climate change.

IEEE Spectrum: More Renewable Energy Means More Operating Reserves, Right? Wrong

How much does adding renewables to the grid change what operating reserves are needed and how they are dispatched during spikes of demand? That’s what our part in the Full Cost of Electricity project by the University of Texas at Austin Energy Institute seeks to understand.

While it seems obvious that reserve capacity must grow as the amount of installed renewable generation increases, we wondered how much it needed to grow and if this intuited response was in fact correct. So we tested our idea by examining historical data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Our conclusion: Although installed wind power has significantly increased over time, reserve requirements have actually decreased.

Bloomberg: UAE Sees $192 Billion Savings in Switch to Green Power From Gas

The United Arab Emirates forecasts that savings generated by switching half its power needs to clean energy by mid century will outstrip the investment costs.

The Gulf state plans to invest $150 billion in renewable power to 2050, weening the country from dependency on subsidized natural gas power in stages, Minister of Energy Suhail Al-Mazrouei said at a conference in Berlin. Clean energy sources will help it save $192 billion, he said.

Guardian: A Future After Oil and Gas? Norway’s Fossil-Free Energy Startups

Norway already produces a lot of renewable energy — 97% of electricity generated in the country comes from renewable sources, mainly hydropower, according to Innovation Norway.

But when it comes to the economy, petrochemicals are still king: About half of Norway’s exports relate to oil and gas.

The decline in revenues from crude oil — which dropped by more than 30% between 2014 and 2015, according to Norway’s statistics agency — was therefore a wakeup call, says Sigridur Thormodsdottir, a sustainability expert at Innovation Norway.

“It revealed that our economy was not sustainable in the long run. New technology supporting more sustainable urbanization is one area we think can become an export for Norwegian companies.”

The government clearly agrees. Since 2014, it has launched a number of “clusters” promoting startup innovation, including a new solar energy cluster, launched last year with three years of funding.

Vox’s David Roberts: The Federal Coal Leasing Program Is Ripping Off Taxpayers. Zinke Just Canceled Plans to Reform It

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about Donald Trump’s decision, as part of his executive order on energy and climate change, to lift the moratorium on the leasing of coal on federal land. I made a simple point: The moratorium itself is not that big a deal, since coal companies haven’t exactly been clamoring for new leases lately. The big deal is the broad, comprehensive review of the coal leasing program launched in 2015 by Sally Jewell, who was at the time interior secretary under President Obama.

The review, not the moratorium, will shape the future of federal coal policy, I said, so keep your eye on the review.

Well, as of this afternoon, we have an update: The review has been scrapped. So much for that!


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - at 6:18 am

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Removal of Energy ‘Burdens’ Could Have Huge Impacts

A provision of the “energy independence” executive order signed by President Trump this week is so broad in scope that legal experts say it could affect numerous government responsibilities far beyond those that deal directly with energy and climate change.

The order, which takes steps to rescind Obama-era climate regulations, calls for each federal agency to review all of its actions that have the potential to “burden” both the development and use of domestic fossil fuels and nuclear energy in the U.S.

Renewable energy research is theatened under President Trump’s proposed budget, and legal experts fear his energy independence executive order could affect the government’s future support of wind, solar and other clean energy.
Credit: Jerry and Pat Donaho/flickr

The review is part of the Trump administration’s broad effort to remove as many federal regulations as possible. It means that if any federal regulation or decision, such as limiting offshore oil drilling or protecting certain scenic areas, is seen to obstruct or somehow detract from the use of fossil or nuclear energy produced in the U.S., the agency must “review” the action and develop a plan to reverse it, so long as no laws are broken.

Federal agencies have six months to send their plans to the White House.

“If you ask in the most expansive way what federal actions affect fossil fuels production, DOE’s energy support — research and development support for renewable energy — could be construed as something potentially affecting oil and gas,” said Edward A. Parson, an environmental law professor at UCLA, referring to the U.S. Department of Energy. “The order could encompass a ton of actions in a ton of agencies that aren’t specific to climate change.”


The requirement to review agency actions is part of Trump’s executive order taking the initial steps to kill Obama’s Clean Power Plan and dozens of other climate-related orders, memos and reports, including a moratorium on federal coal leasing. It is in line with Trump’s recent federal budget “blueprint” that calls for killing off energy efficiency programs such as Energy Star and defunding clean energy research at the U.S. Department of Energy.

The order is the Trump administration’s attempt to make good on its promise to reverse most of Obama’s efforts to cut U.S. climate pollution and uphold America’s commitment to the Paris climate pact, which aims to prevent global warming from exceeding 2°C (3.6°F) — a level of warming that most of the world’s climate scientists consider dangerous.

White House officials say they haven’t decided whether the U.S. should remain a party to the Paris agreement. Even if the the U.S. remains in the pact officially, experts agree that with Trump’s actions overturning Obama’s climate policies, it’s unlikely that the U.S. would meet it emissions targets under the agreement.

Tuesday’s executive order is also part of an effort by Trump to deregulate fossil fuels and breathe new life into a coal industry hit hard by the availability of cheap natural gas. Trump suggested just before signing the order that America’s oil and gas industry is overly constrained and faltering. Yet, America has one of the world’s most productive fossil fuels industries. The U.S. is the world’s largest natural gas producer, second-largest coal producer and third-largest crude oil producer.

President Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.
Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr

While broad and detailed in its demand to swiftly sniff out roadblocks to fossil fuels production, Trump’s order isn’t necessarily unique among new presidential administrations. For example, early in his presidency, George W. Bush similarly ordered federal agencies to list all the ways agency actions negatively affect the supply and use of energy and then outline alternatives. Bush also ordered federal agencies to expedite energy-related projects and permitting nationwide.

Ian Lange, an assistant engineering professor at the Colorado School of Mines, said he worked for the Environmental Protection Agency in the Bush administration and assisted an EPA task force designed to remove regulatory roadblocks.

The task force wasn’t able to accomplish much because most regulations exist because they’re mandated by law, Lange said. Staffers discussed rules and regulations that they’d like to remove but couldn’t because of the way the law was written, he said.

“We can’t say, ‘Oh, we don’t want to do that anymore,’ ” Lange said. “The people in the government just don’t spend time and energy regulating something that has no purpose.”

Legal experts and energy economists say the provision of the order calling for agencies to root out policies that negatively affect energy doesn’t have much immediate legal weight because it only gives federal agencies marching orders to search for actions that don’t conform to Trump administration policy.

“The big development here is that we have a formal policy codified and a process setup for implementing that policy,” said Danny Cullenward, an energy economist and lawyer at the Carnegie Institution for Science and Stanford University. “What agencies do next and how they do it will be most relevant to the shape of litigation to come.”

Regardless of precedent and lack of direct legal weight, the order is likely to affect certain ways the government handles energy development within the bounds of the law, legal experts say.

For example, it could affect the speed with which the government permits oil and gas drilling, how much information about energy development the government provides to the public, and other decisions federal employees make on a daily basis. It may also affect the willingness of the government to allow wind and solar development to go forward because more use of renewable energy could lead to less use of fossil fuels.

The order could also lead to the suppression of scientific reports and information about the public health risks from fossil fuels, said Rachel Cleetus, climate policy manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

An oil well on federal land in Wyoming.
Credit: Bureau of Land Management/flickr

That’s already happening. Agencies are changing the language about climate change on government websites, and, in a separate provision, Tuesday’s order directly revoked several EPA scientific reports on the social cost of carbon.

The order could also lead to agencies giving oil companies cheap access to federal land and weaken the permitting process for those companies to drill there, she said.

Alan Krupnick, co-director of the Center for Energy and Climate Economics at Resources for the Future, a natural resources think tank in Washington, D.C., said the time it takes the government to permit an oil well is an example of the kind of decisions the order might be most likely to affect.

He said it takes the federal government about a year to permit an oil well, but it might take a state only one month to do the same on state or private land.

“The question you need to ask: Are these 11 additional months of review worth it relative to the states?” Krupnick said.

If agencies decide to undo policies and regulations that stymie fossil fuels development, they’ll have to follow long bureaucratic processes, exposing each one of the potential rollbacks to court battles.

“There are lots of ifs and buts, but the impact could be wide-ranging in effort, though it could take a long time to see impact,” said Robert Godby, an energy economist at the University of Wyoming.

Krupnick said the order’s requirement to review its energy-related actions means that the administration has decided in advance that there are no public benefits to any rule that might constrain energy development and use.

“What he’s telegraphing to the public is that the review process is a sham because he’s already concluded we’re going to relax the standards,” Krupnick said.



Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - at 6:05 am

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The Arctic Is Warm Again Because Of Course It Is

It’s the story that’s starting to write itself. Incredibly mild air is surging into the Arctic again, cranking up the heat as melt season gets underway.

Mild weather has been the norm for the region month after month for awhile now. But while these stories have become an almost monthly fixture, make no mistake. It is extremely abnormal for the Arctic — or any other part of the world for that matter — to be repeatedly blitzed by temperatures this far above normal and the impacts are reshaping the region.

Arctic heat.

The latest incursion of unseasonable warmth will see temperatures rocket as high as 54°F to wrap up the end of March and last into early April. The biggest anomalies will swirl around the Russian coast, an area where cracks in the sea ice are already forming. Warm air will also spill over Alaska and across the Beaufort Sea. Temperatures will average 5-7°F above normal for the Arctic as a whole.


Following the the third year in a row of record-low winter sea ice across the Arctic, the latest warm wave will cut into an already deficient ice pack even further. It’s a story that’s playing out with increasing regularity.

For the past few years, the Arctic has been in a tenuous state. Carbon pollution is having an outsize impact on the region, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. The heat has gone into overdrive recently, though.

August was the only cooler-than-normal month in the Arctic last year, with six months setting marks for being the warmest on record. The freezing degree day anomaly, a measure of how cold and conducive winter is to sea ice forming, has set record lows in each of the past two years, dwindling well below the previous record. Setting record-low anomalies in this case is not a good thing because it shows there are fewer days with cold weather, less extreme cold weather or a combination of both.

That has contributed to the record-low sea ice maximum, including this year when the Arctic lost 471,000 square miles of ice, roughly the equivalent of California three times over. Mild weather last year also helped drive sea ice to its second-lowest minimum extent on record in 2016.

Another look at the #seaice conditions in the East Siberian Sea as the crack continues to grow

(Graphic: Wipneus

— Zack Labe (@ZLabe) March 29, 2017

The current bout of mild weather around Russia will hit the Barents and Kara seas, both areas that are already missing large portions of sea ice. It’s much too early to say where the 2017 minimum will end up, but the early warm weather isn’t particularly helpful for keeping ice around.

Another factor likely to speed sea ice’s demise is its age. Multiyear ice, which is thicker and more resistant to melt, has been disappearing. In 1985, ice older than four years ice made up 20 percent of all Arctic ice pack. By last year, it was just 4 percent. The new ice replacing it is more fragile and susceptible to melting, which is one of the big reasons summer sea ice extent has dropped more than 13 percent a decade since record keeping began.

The mild weather and ice loss getting headlines now will likely become commonplace fairly soon. Research has shown that unless carbon emissions are curtailed, the Arctic could start having ice-free summers within the next two decades.



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Can We Please Move Beyond the America-Versus-China Narrative?

A lot of people think that U.S. clean energy technology leadership is under threat.

Joe Romm recently published a piece criticizing President Trump’s new budget cuts to climate and clean energy programs. In the piece, Joe suggests that America will lose out on millions of new jobs to China as a result of Trump’s recommendations. Most recently, Jeff Sachs just published his version of the same argument in the Boston Globe.

I have to say, I am pretty tired of the U.S.-versus-China narrative. 

This often comes up in R&D these days, when we are reminded of President Reagan’s strong support of the government’s role in helping early-stage scientific and technology research. While I fully subscribe to that idea, I think clean energy’s current trajectory will be hardly impacted by R&D spending. 

As Victor Hugo is credited as saying: “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

Let’s be clear. The Trump budget document is nonsense, and the good people of Congress should not cut clean energy R&D and climate funding. That said, deployment is already happening at scale. 

In 2016, 100 percent of all new net generating capacity (new plants built minus old plants retired) came from clean energy sources like solar, wind, nuclear and hydro.

Today, it is fully accepted by experts who study energy that the transformation of our energy system is already underway at scale. Wholesale power prices are falling due to massive renewable energy deployments — making it more difficult for coal plants to pencil out economically. Appliance standards and LED lighting are so energy-efficient that the U.S. economy is using less electricity now that it did in 2007. Electric vehicles still make up just a small fraction of the market, but they are increasingly being viewed as the inevitable direction that fleets will take since they offer lower maintenance costs than their internal-combustion alternatives.

Researchers with the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP) demonstrate that it is possible to drastically reduce the emissions of the highest-emitting countries by 2050 without harming countries’ economic growth targets and social priorities — using technologies that are already invented. 

So why do so many people push the U.S.-versus-China narrative — particularly when it comes to job creation? It’s not a zero-sum game.

America is a mature economy with mature energy supply chains that are being disrupted by clean energy technologies. China is still a fast-growing developing country that has to keep up with its rapid growth in energy use.

It is not surprising that China has chosen to deploy clean, resource-efficient technologies at scale — a $360 billion scale. On the manufacturing front, it is clear the Chinese are deliberately losing money on solar manufacturing in order to gain market share. So how would a DOE loan guarantee program for manufacturing plants fix that? China is begging American companies to come help it spend the $360 billion. 

Simply put: China’s success is not a negative for America and its innovative companies. 

In the U.S., we are deploying enough energy efficiency to zero out electricity growth; we’re replacing retiring coal and natural gas plants with clean energy; and we are electrifying more of our energy footprint through electric vehicles. 

The U.S. advanced energy market is now worth $200 billion — nearly double the revenue of the beer industry, more than pharmaceutical manufacturing, and approaching wholesale consumer electronics. In fact, the clean energy industry has created more jobs than any other industry since 2008. 

Today, Fortune 500 companies like Wal-Mart, Kohl’s and Staples are joined by the largest cities and universities in the country to deploy these clean, resource-efficient technologies at scale. With rapid cost reductions, it is making deployment a no-brainer for many businesses and residents.

The government certainly could — and should — accelerate these deployments to save consumers money and help our economy get back to President Trump’s goals of 3% growth rates. And as President Reagan stressed, investing more money into research and development is critical to keep America and its citizens in the lead. 

But after 40 years of R&D, we now have the right technology at the right time. We should stop pushing the simplistic America-vs.-China narrative. We should also realize that China relies on exported American ingenuity — and will continue to rely on it. That is a good thing for American workers and consumers.


Jigar Shah is the president of Generate Capital. He’s also the co-host of The Energy Gang podcast. 


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - March 30, 2017 at 6:55 am

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A Realistic Plan to Revive Coal Country: ‘Things Are Changing. Let’s Diversify Our Economy’ [GTM Squared]


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