If we want to avoid drastic global warming this century, we need to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time. For the previous three years, emissions had been holding steady, but last year, global emissions from the use of coal, oil and natural gas increased by 1.4%. According to the International Energy Agency, this unfortunate new data should serve as a strong warning that we need to increase our efforts to combat climate change.
As low-cost solar and wind energy become increasingly pervasive, the prospects for hydrogen-based transportation systems are improving. The reason is that cheap electricity makes it practical to produce hydrogen by breaking down water rather than getting it from reforming natural gas, which results in carbon dioxide emissions. The real goal is for hydrogen to be a renewable and carbon-free fuel.
American Electric Power (AEP) is investing $4.5 billion to build the largest wind farm in the United States at a site in the Oklahoma panhandle. Known as the Wind Catcher Energy Connection, the 2-gigawatt wind project will include 800 2.5-megawatt wind turbines built by General Electric.
Cities are responsible for 70% of the world’s energy-related CO2 emissions and it appears that they are taking responsibility for reducing them. Over 7,000 mayors around the world have signed up to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, thereby pledging to act on climate change.
When we think about Texas, we think of oil and conservative politics. But Texas is also earning a reputation as a leading state for integrating renewable energy into its electric grid.
Last year was the first year in which more electricity in Europe was generated from the combination of wind, sun, and biomass than from coal. The combination of all clean energy sources (which adds hydropower to the mix) surpassed coal several years ago.
There is big money going into renewable energy and energy-smart technologies and half of that is going into solar power. In 2017, global investments in green energy reached $334 billion and $161 billion of that was in solar.
According to a new study from the Pentagon, nearly half of United States military sites are threatened by wild weather linked to climate change. The U.S. Department of Defense states that drought, wind, and flooding that occur due to reasons other than storms topped the list of natural disasters that endanger 1,700 military sites around the world – everything from outposts to large bases.
When considering the greenhouse gas emissions associated with any energy source, it is important to look at the total life cycle emissions both from the direct use of the energy source and from the indirect emissions associated with building the system, producing and transporting fuels and other supplies and, ultimately, decommissioning the system. Taking all of this into consideration is necessary in order to have a full accounting of the carbon impact of power sources.
There are many scary stories floating about with regard to dire potential consequences of climate change, but one that should really strike fear into many of our hearts is the prediction from scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that cacao plants are likely to go extinct as early as 2050 as a result of the changing climate.
Many power plants in Europe and elsewhere are replacing coal with wood. For example, the Drax Power Station in Britain was its largest coal-burning plant and is now using wood pellets shipped from the southern U.S. in its boilers. According to the carbon accounting rules at the EU and elsewhere, the process is considered to be “carbon neutral.” But is it?
The idea is that new trees are being planted in the forests where the trees are cut to be burned in power plants. So, there is carbon neutrality. In principle.
European countries have embarked on a massive effort to switch to generating power from renewable energy. While there has indeed been major growth in wind and solar power in the 28 countries of the European Union, much of the new “green” power has come from burning wood in converted coal power stations.
A group of 200 scientists wrote to the EU last September insisting that bioenergy from forest biomass is not carbon neutral and that there must be tighter rules to protect forests and their carbon. Wood burning has become a loophole in controlling carbon emissions.
There are problems with the claims of carbon neutrality. There is no way to know whether enough new trees are actually being planted to replace those being burned. And then there is the time lag for tree replacement. Trees don’t grow overnight. There are also the carbon emissions associated with harvesting, processing and transporting wood.
There are most certainly ways in which burning biomass can be carbon neutral and can represent real progress over the use of fossil fuels. But caution must be taken to avoid exploiting loopholes in current climate rules that might actually result in increased carbon emissions.
Photo, posted April 26, 2014, courtesy of Flickr.