Author: Paul Brown

About Paul Brown

Paul Brown, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former environment correspondent of The Guardian newspaper, and still writes columns for the paper.

Blue energy revolution comes of age

With green energy from wind and solar out-competing fossil fuels, governments now hope for another boost − blue energy from the oceans.

LONDON, 31 March, 2020 − The amount of energy generated by tides and waves in the last decade has increased 10-fold. Now governments around the world are planning to scale up these ventures to tap into the oceans’ vast store of blue energy.

Although in 2019 the total amount of energy produced by “blue power” would have been enough to provide electricity to only one city the size of Paris, even that was a vast increase on the tiny experiments being carried out 10 years earlier.

Now countries across the world with access to the sea are beginning to exploit all sorts of new technologies and intending to scale them up to bolster their attempts to go carbon-neutral.

Blue energy takes many forms. One of the most difficult technically is harnessing the energy of waves with devices that produce electricity. After several false starts many successful prototypes are now being trialled for commercial use. Other experiments exploit the tidal range – using the power of rapidly rising and falling tidal streams to push water through turbines.

The most commercially successful strategies so far use underwater turbines, similar to wind turbines, to exploit the tidal currents in coastal regions.

More ambitious but along the same lines are attempts to capture the energy from the immense ocean currents that move vast quantities of water round the planet.

“Our latest report underlines the considerable international support for the marine renewable sector. The start of this new decade carries considerable promise for ocean energy”

Also included in blue energy is ocean thermal energy conversion, which exploits the temperature differences between solar energy stored as heat in the upper ocean layers and colder seawater, generally at a depth below 1000 metres.

A variation on this is to use salinity gradients, the difference between the salt content of the sea and fresh water entering from a large river system. Some of these schemes are being used to produce fresh drinking water for dry regions rather than electricity.

The potential from all these energy sources is so great that an organisation called Ocean Energy Systems (OES), an offshoot of the International Energy Agency, is pooling all the research in a bid to achieve large-scale deployment.

There are now 24 countries in the OES, including China, India, the US, most European nations with a coastline, Japan, Australia and South Africa. Most of them have already deployed some blue energy schemes and are hoping to scale them up to full commercial use in the next decade.

As with wind and solar when they were being widely developed ten years ago, energy from the oceans is currently more expensive than fossil fuels. But as the technologies are refined the costs are coming down.

Profiting already

Already China has encouraged tidal stream energy by offering a feed-in tariff three times the price of fossil fuels, similar to the rate used in many countries to launch solar and wind power. One Chinese company is already finding this incentive enough to feed power into the grid and make a profit.

Among the leading countries developing these technologies are Canada and the United Kingdom, the two countries with the highest tides in the world. Canada has a number of tidal energy schemes on its Atlantic coast in Nova Scotia, with several competing companies testing different prototypes.

Scotland, which has enormous potential because of its many islands and tidal currents, has the largest tidal array of underwater turbines in the world. The turbine output has exceeded expectations, and the MeyGen company is planning to vastly increase the number of installations.

But this is only one of more than 20 projects in the UK, some still in the research and development stage, but many already being scaled up for deployment at special testing grounds in Scotland’s Orkney islands and the West of England.

OES chairman Henry Jeffrey, from the University of Edinburgh, said the group’s new annual report communicates the sizeable global effort to identify commercialisation pathways for ocean energy technologies.

Both Canada and the US can now see big potential, and political leaders across Europe have identified ocean energy as an essential component in meeting decarbonisation targets, fostering economic growth and creating future employment opportunities.

Lower costs essential

“Our latest report underlines the considerable international support for the marine renewable sector as leading global powers attempt to rebalance energy usage and limit global warming. The start of this new decade carries considerable promise for ocean energy,” he said.

However, Jeffrey warned that while the sector continued to take huge strides forward, there were several challenges ahead “centred around affordability, reliability, installability, operability, funding availability, capacity building and standardisation.

“In particular, significant cost reductions are required for ocean energy technologies to compete with other low-carbon technologies.”

Currently the cost of wind power, taking into account construction costs over the turbines’ lifetime, is being quoted as around €0.8-10 (one eighth to one tenth of a Euro, about £0.07-9 or US$0.9-11) per kilowatt hour, but this is still going down.

The European target is to get tidal stream energy down to €0.10 by 2030 and wave power down to €0.15, which would also make them competitive with fossil fuels if gas and coal were obliged to pay for capturing and storing the carbon dioxide they produce. − Climate News Network

With green energy from wind and solar out-competing fossil fuels, governments now hope for another boost − blue energy from the oceans.

LONDON, 31 March, 2020 − The amount of energy generated by tides and waves in the last decade has increased 10-fold. Now governments around the world are planning to scale up these ventures to tap into the oceans’ vast store of blue energy.

Although in 2019 the total amount of energy produced by “blue power” would have been enough to provide electricity to only one city the size of Paris, even that was a vast increase on the tiny experiments being carried out 10 years earlier.

Now countries across the world with access to the sea are beginning to exploit all sorts of new technologies and intending to scale them up to bolster their attempts to go carbon-neutral.

Blue energy takes many forms. One of the most difficult technically is harnessing the energy of waves with devices that produce electricity. After several false starts many successful prototypes are now being trialled for commercial use. Other experiments exploit the tidal range – using the power of rapidly rising and falling tidal streams to push water through turbines.

The most commercially successful strategies so far use underwater turbines, similar to wind turbines, to exploit the tidal currents in coastal regions.

More ambitious but along the same lines are attempts to capture the energy from the immense ocean currents that move vast quantities of water round the planet.

“Our latest report underlines the considerable international support for the marine renewable sector. The start of this new decade carries considerable promise for ocean energy”

Also included in blue energy is ocean thermal energy conversion, which exploits the temperature differences between solar energy stored as heat in the upper ocean layers and colder seawater, generally at a depth below 1000 metres.

A variation on this is to use salinity gradients, the difference between the salt content of the sea and fresh water entering from a large river system. Some of these schemes are being used to produce fresh drinking water for dry regions rather than electricity.

The potential from all these energy sources is so great that an organisation called Ocean Energy Systems (OES), an offshoot of the International Energy Agency, is pooling all the research in a bid to achieve large-scale deployment.

There are now 24 countries in the OES, including China, India, the US, most European nations with a coastline, Japan, Australia and South Africa. Most of them have already deployed some blue energy schemes and are hoping to scale them up to full commercial use in the next decade.

As with wind and solar when they were being widely developed ten years ago, energy from the oceans is currently more expensive than fossil fuels. But as the technologies are refined the costs are coming down.

Profiting already

Already China has encouraged tidal stream energy by offering a feed-in tariff three times the price of fossil fuels, similar to the rate used in many countries to launch solar and wind power. One Chinese company is already finding this incentive enough to feed power into the grid and make a profit.

Among the leading countries developing these technologies are Canada and the United Kingdom, the two countries with the highest tides in the world. Canada has a number of tidal energy schemes on its Atlantic coast in Nova Scotia, with several competing companies testing different prototypes.

Scotland, which has enormous potential because of its many islands and tidal currents, has the largest tidal array of underwater turbines in the world. The turbine output has exceeded expectations, and the MeyGen company is planning to vastly increase the number of installations.

But this is only one of more than 20 projects in the UK, some still in the research and development stage, but many already being scaled up for deployment at special testing grounds in Scotland’s Orkney islands and the West of England.

OES chairman Henry Jeffrey, from the University of Edinburgh, said the group’s new annual report communicates the sizeable global effort to identify commercialisation pathways for ocean energy technologies.

Both Canada and the US can now see big potential, and political leaders across Europe have identified ocean energy as an essential component in meeting decarbonisation targets, fostering economic growth and creating future employment opportunities.

Lower costs essential

“Our latest report underlines the considerable international support for the marine renewable sector as leading global powers attempt to rebalance energy usage and limit global warming. The start of this new decade carries considerable promise for ocean energy,” he said.

However, Jeffrey warned that while the sector continued to take huge strides forward, there were several challenges ahead “centred around affordability, reliability, installability, operability, funding availability, capacity building and standardisation.

“In particular, significant cost reductions are required for ocean energy technologies to compete with other low-carbon technologies.”

Currently the cost of wind power, taking into account construction costs over the turbines’ lifetime, is being quoted as around €0.8-10 (one eighth to one tenth of a Euro, about £0.07-9 or US$0.9-11) per kilowatt hour, but this is still going down.

The European target is to get tidal stream energy down to €0.10 by 2030 and wave power down to €0.15, which would also make them competitive with fossil fuels if gas and coal were obliged to pay for capturing and storing the carbon dioxide they produce. − Climate News Network

Efficient energy cuts UK electricity’s carbon output

The United Kingdom leads the way in cutting carbon output from electricity production, to the surprise of its political leaders.

LONDON, 24 March, 2020 – Carbon output from the power sector has been falling faster in the UK than anywhere else in the world – despite the British government’s belief that electricity consumption would rise.

Part of the explanation is the closing of coal-fired power stations and their replacement by renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels.

But the main savings have been in energy efficiency from the wholesale introduction of LED lighting to improved industrial processes.

This remarkable transformation has been repeated across many advanced countries in Europe and beyond. Even with many economies growing, communities have managed to reduce electricity use.

Emissions exported

Environmentalists and some academics would argue that part of the reason for the reduction is that Europe has exported some of its dirty energy-intensive industries, like steel-making, to China – so that China’s emissions have gone up while Europe’s have gone down.

This is partly true, but the UK’s Department of Environment says that even taking into account imported goods the UK’s overall carbon footprint has shrunk, not simply the energy sector’s contribution. The total of the three main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, peaked in 2007 and had dropped 21% by 2017.

Andrew Warren, chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, is highly critical of the way this energy revolution is being reported, saying the emphasis on the adoption of solar and wind technologies is misleading:

“The biggest decarbonising driver of the lot has not been the switching of supply sources (from coal to renewables). It has happened entirely as a result of investments in more energy-efficient technology.”

Constant drop

Writing on the Energyzine website, Warren says that from the beginning of this century energy consumption in the UK has been “falling. And falling. And falling. It is now over 20% lower than it was in 2000.

“In the case of the main heating fuel, natural gas, the impact has been even more pronounced. Sales have dropped by approaching one-third, largely due to better insulation and more efficient boilers and heating systems.”

He says this is totally contrary to British government predictions. As recently as 2010 the incoming Conservative government was officially planning on the doubling or even tripling of electricity consumption by 2050. But by 2010 sales were already falling, and they have continued to do so.

The 2005 White Paper, which set out the government’s proposals for future legislation, reckoned that by 2020 electricity consumption would have risen by 15%. In fact it has fallen by 16%; an error of more than 30% in forecasting.

“That old ‘Real Men Build Power Stations’ mentality still survives”

The same White Paper was used to justify the building of a series of nuclear power stations to satisfy the new demand – a policy that remains in place even though it is clear there is no need for the stations.

One station is under construction in the UK, but plans for up to five more are currently in limbo awaiting a government decision on whether to underwrite their cost with an electricity tax on consumers.

Despite figures showing that electricity consumption is continuing to fall, the government is still predicting that the demand for electricity will increase from 2025, particularly because of the switch to electric cars.

But Warren points out that many experts in the field, including the people who run the UK’s National Grid, doubt that this will happen.

Critical but neglected

Given how critical energy efficiency is in reducing demand when adopted across housing and industry, Warren says it is remarkable how little political attention is devoted to it. Very little is published about how and where critical savings are being made, and how much unfulfilled potential for improving efficiency there still is.

While some other western European nations have finally understood the importance of energy efficiency, sometimes called “the first fuel”, Warren says, many of the former Communist countries, even if they have now joined the European Union, still see building large new power stations as the way forward.

He told the Climate News Network: “The broad picture is that, over the past decade, most western European countries are seeing energy consumption stabilise, in many cases fall (even as GDP grows).

“But sadly too many of the old Comecon countries still can’t get their collective minds around demand-side management as a concept. That old ‘Real Men Build Power Stations’ mentality still survives.” – Climate News Network

The United Kingdom leads the way in cutting carbon output from electricity production, to the surprise of its political leaders.

LONDON, 24 March, 2020 – Carbon output from the power sector has been falling faster in the UK than anywhere else in the world – despite the British government’s belief that electricity consumption would rise.

Part of the explanation is the closing of coal-fired power stations and their replacement by renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels.

But the main savings have been in energy efficiency from the wholesale introduction of LED lighting to improved industrial processes.

This remarkable transformation has been repeated across many advanced countries in Europe and beyond. Even with many economies growing, communities have managed to reduce electricity use.

Emissions exported

Environmentalists and some academics would argue that part of the reason for the reduction is that Europe has exported some of its dirty energy-intensive industries, like steel-making, to China – so that China’s emissions have gone up while Europe’s have gone down.

This is partly true, but the UK’s Department of Environment says that even taking into account imported goods the UK’s overall carbon footprint has shrunk, not simply the energy sector’s contribution. The total of the three main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, peaked in 2007 and had dropped 21% by 2017.

Andrew Warren, chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, is highly critical of the way this energy revolution is being reported, saying the emphasis on the adoption of solar and wind technologies is misleading:

“The biggest decarbonising driver of the lot has not been the switching of supply sources (from coal to renewables). It has happened entirely as a result of investments in more energy-efficient technology.”

Constant drop

Writing on the Energyzine website, Warren says that from the beginning of this century energy consumption in the UK has been “falling. And falling. And falling. It is now over 20% lower than it was in 2000.

“In the case of the main heating fuel, natural gas, the impact has been even more pronounced. Sales have dropped by approaching one-third, largely due to better insulation and more efficient boilers and heating systems.”

He says this is totally contrary to British government predictions. As recently as 2010 the incoming Conservative government was officially planning on the doubling or even tripling of electricity consumption by 2050. But by 2010 sales were already falling, and they have continued to do so.

The 2005 White Paper, which set out the government’s proposals for future legislation, reckoned that by 2020 electricity consumption would have risen by 15%. In fact it has fallen by 16%; an error of more than 30% in forecasting.

“That old ‘Real Men Build Power Stations’ mentality still survives”

The same White Paper was used to justify the building of a series of nuclear power stations to satisfy the new demand – a policy that remains in place even though it is clear there is no need for the stations.

One station is under construction in the UK, but plans for up to five more are currently in limbo awaiting a government decision on whether to underwrite their cost with an electricity tax on consumers.

Despite figures showing that electricity consumption is continuing to fall, the government is still predicting that the demand for electricity will increase from 2025, particularly because of the switch to electric cars.

But Warren points out that many experts in the field, including the people who run the UK’s National Grid, doubt that this will happen.

Critical but neglected

Given how critical energy efficiency is in reducing demand when adopted across housing and industry, Warren says it is remarkable how little political attention is devoted to it. Very little is published about how and where critical savings are being made, and how much unfulfilled potential for improving efficiency there still is.

While some other western European nations have finally understood the importance of energy efficiency, sometimes called “the first fuel”, Warren says, many of the former Communist countries, even if they have now joined the European Union, still see building large new power stations as the way forward.

He told the Climate News Network: “The broad picture is that, over the past decade, most western European countries are seeing energy consumption stabilise, in many cases fall (even as GDP grows).

“But sadly too many of the old Comecon countries still can’t get their collective minds around demand-side management as a concept. That old ‘Real Men Build Power Stations’ mentality still survives.” – Climate News Network

Hunger threat as tropical fish seek cooler waters

As climate heating drives tropical fish to seek survival elsewhere, humans will be left without the protein they need.

LONDON, 2 March, 2020 − Stocks of tropical fish that have provided vital protein for local people for generations may soon disappear as the oceans warm, leaving empty seas in their wake, scientists believe. But there could be help in international protection schemes.

Already researchers have found that fish are voting with their fins by diving deeper or migrating away from equatorial seas to find cooler waters. But now they have calculated, in a study published in the journal Nature, that tropical countries stand to lose most if not all of their fish stocks, with few if any species moving in to replace them.

Although scientists have known that the composition of stocks is changing in many world fisheries, they have not until now fully appreciated the devastating effect the climate crisis will have on tropical countries.

In the North Sea, for example, when fish like cod move north to find cooler and more congenial conditions for breeding, they are replaced by fish from further south which also have a commercial value, such as Mediterranean species like red mullet. But when fish move from the tropics there are no species from nearer the equator that are acclimatised to the hotter water and able to take their place.

Now Jorge García Molinos of Hokkaido University and colleagues in Japan and the US have undertaaken a comprehensive study of 779 commercial fish species to see how they would expand or contract their range under both moderate and more severe global warming between 2015 and 2100, using 2012 as a baseline for their distribution.

“The exit of many fishery stocks from these climate change-vulnerable nations is inevitable, but carefully designed international cooperation could significantly ease the impact on those nations”

The computer model they used showed that under moderate ocean warming tropical countries would lose 15% of their fish species by the end of this century. But if higher greenhouse gas emissions continued, fuelling more severe heat, that would rise to 40%.

The worst-affected countries would be along the north-west African seaboard, while south-east Asia, the Caribbean and Central America would also experience steep declines.

Alarmed by their findings, because of the effect they would have on the nutrition of the people who relied on fish protein for their survival, the scientists examined existing fisheries agreements to see if they took into account the fact that stocks might move because of climate change.

Analysis of 127 publicly-available international agreements showed that none contained language to deal with climate change or stock movements to other waters.

Some dealt with short-term stock fluctuations but not permanent movements, and did not deal with the possible over-fishing of replacement stocks.

Global help

The scientists suggest an urgent look at the issue at the annual UN climate talks because of the loss of fish stocks and the financial damage that warming seas will do to the economies of some of the world’s poorest countries.

They go further, suggesting that poor countries could apply for compensation for damage to their fisheries during negotiations under the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM), and also raise the possibility of help from the Green Climate Fund, set up to help the poorest countries adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Professor García Molinos, based at Hokkaido’s Arctic Research Center,  said: “The exit of many fishery stocks from these climate-change vulnerable nations is inevitable, but carefully designed international cooperation together with the strictest enforcement of ambitious reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, especially by the highest-emitter countries, could significantly ease the impact on those nations.”

While the research relies on computer models to see how fish will react to warming seas in the future, the scientific evidence available shows that they are already responding. It also shows that keeping the world temperature increase down to 1.5°C, the preferred maximum agreed at the 2015 Paris climate talks, would help fisheries globally.

And the Hokkaido research demonstrates yet again how it is the poorest nations, which have contributed least to the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, that will suffer most from their effects. − Climate News Network

As climate heating drives tropical fish to seek survival elsewhere, humans will be left without the protein they need.

LONDON, 2 March, 2020 − Stocks of tropical fish that have provided vital protein for local people for generations may soon disappear as the oceans warm, leaving empty seas in their wake, scientists believe. But there could be help in international protection schemes.

Already researchers have found that fish are voting with their fins by diving deeper or migrating away from equatorial seas to find cooler waters. But now they have calculated, in a study published in the journal Nature, that tropical countries stand to lose most if not all of their fish stocks, with few if any species moving in to replace them.

Although scientists have known that the composition of stocks is changing in many world fisheries, they have not until now fully appreciated the devastating effect the climate crisis will have on tropical countries.

In the North Sea, for example, when fish like cod move north to find cooler and more congenial conditions for breeding, they are replaced by fish from further south which also have a commercial value, such as Mediterranean species like red mullet. But when fish move from the tropics there are no species from nearer the equator that are acclimatised to the hotter water and able to take their place.

Now Jorge García Molinos of Hokkaido University and colleagues in Japan and the US have undertaaken a comprehensive study of 779 commercial fish species to see how they would expand or contract their range under both moderate and more severe global warming between 2015 and 2100, using 2012 as a baseline for their distribution.

“The exit of many fishery stocks from these climate change-vulnerable nations is inevitable, but carefully designed international cooperation could significantly ease the impact on those nations”

The computer model they used showed that under moderate ocean warming tropical countries would lose 15% of their fish species by the end of this century. But if higher greenhouse gas emissions continued, fuelling more severe heat, that would rise to 40%.

The worst-affected countries would be along the north-west African seaboard, while south-east Asia, the Caribbean and Central America would also experience steep declines.

Alarmed by their findings, because of the effect they would have on the nutrition of the people who relied on fish protein for their survival, the scientists examined existing fisheries agreements to see if they took into account the fact that stocks might move because of climate change.

Analysis of 127 publicly-available international agreements showed that none contained language to deal with climate change or stock movements to other waters.

Some dealt with short-term stock fluctuations but not permanent movements, and did not deal with the possible over-fishing of replacement stocks.

Global help

The scientists suggest an urgent look at the issue at the annual UN climate talks because of the loss of fish stocks and the financial damage that warming seas will do to the economies of some of the world’s poorest countries.

They go further, suggesting that poor countries could apply for compensation for damage to their fisheries during negotiations under the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM), and also raise the possibility of help from the Green Climate Fund, set up to help the poorest countries adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Professor García Molinos, based at Hokkaido’s Arctic Research Center,  said: “The exit of many fishery stocks from these climate-change vulnerable nations is inevitable, but carefully designed international cooperation together with the strictest enforcement of ambitious reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, especially by the highest-emitter countries, could significantly ease the impact on those nations.”

While the research relies on computer models to see how fish will react to warming seas in the future, the scientific evidence available shows that they are already responding. It also shows that keeping the world temperature increase down to 1.5°C, the preferred maximum agreed at the 2015 Paris climate talks, would help fisheries globally.

And the Hokkaido research demonstrates yet again how it is the poorest nations, which have contributed least to the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, that will suffer most from their effects. − Climate News Network

US state plans fossil fuel tax to fund schooling

The US state of Maryland is proposing a fossil fuel tax to pay for pre-school education and to promote electric cars.

LONDON, 27 February, 2020 − Maryland, an eastern US state badly hit by climate change, wants to introduce a fossil fuel tax on polluting industries and gas-guzzling cars in order to fund improvements to its education system worth $350 million (£271m) a year.

The Climate Crisis and Education Bill is currently being considered by the Maryland General Assembly’s 2020 session. With a strong Democrat majority in both upper and lower houses of the state’s legislature, it could soon become law – even though the ideas behind it are extremely radical by US standards.

The bill would establish a Climate Crisis Council to develop an energy policy that reduces statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030, and 100% by 2040 – and trusts in achieving net negative emissions after that, using 2006 as a baseline.

There has been widespread concern in Maryland about falling education standards compared with other states, and an inquiry, the Kirwan Commission, has called for $350m a year to be invested in improvements.

These include extra funding for teacher salaries, additional counselling and career preparation, stronger health programmes, and money for pre-school activities.

“We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does”

The bill would introduce a gradually escalating fossil fuel fee, starting at $15 a ton for non-transport sources and $10 a ton for vehicles.

There would also be a graduated registration fee on new cars and light trucks that are gas guzzlers, revenues from which would be used to provide rebates to electric vehicle (EV) purchasers and to pay for the installation of statewide EV charging points.

Maryland has suffered more than most of the US from climate change and is severely threatened by sea level rise on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. Some small towns are already losing the battle against the sea.

The frequency of street flooding in the state capital, Annapolis, and larger cities like Baltimore has increased about ten-fold since the early 1960s.

Salt feeds concerns

Salinisation of farmland on the Eastern Shore is also a concern, as the salt water has begun intruding into the water table. Across the state the frequency of extreme weather events continues to increase, including events like flash flooding, heavy thunderstorms, extreme heat and droughts.

Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, the leading General Assembly supporter of the bill, said the state’s taxpayers had already been paying for damage caused by the climate crisis: “In the 2019 session, we passed an emergency appropriation in the General Assembly for one million dollars to mitigate flooding in Annapolis.

“That’s just one city in the entire state − one million dollars. Why should the taxpayers pay for that when fossil fuel companies make $400 million a day in profits?”

Emphasising the urgency of the situation and the need for immediate action, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Benjamin F. Kramer, said: “We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does.

“And the legislation is a win, win, win. It’s a win for our health, it’s a win for the environment, and it’s a win for education.”

Support detected

Both men are conscious that despite the concern of Democrats about the climate crisis, and the fact that the party has a large overall majority, their bill is radical and may meet some resistance. However, recent polling suggests that the public supports action on the crisis.

The bill is also up against legislators who favour other ways of paying for the education reforms, including taxes on gambling, alcohol and digital commerce.

In order to allay fears about new taxes on fossil fuels the provisions of the bill insist that the carbon taxes protect low- and moderate-income households, as well as “energy-intensive, trade-exposed businesses”, and help fossil fuel workers who may lose their jobs to find new ones in the clean economy.

There are also clauses that specifically prevent the fossil fuel companies from passing the cost of carbon taxes on to Maryland consumers. − Climate News Network

The US state of Maryland is proposing a fossil fuel tax to pay for pre-school education and to promote electric cars.

LONDON, 27 February, 2020 − Maryland, an eastern US state badly hit by climate change, wants to introduce a fossil fuel tax on polluting industries and gas-guzzling cars in order to fund improvements to its education system worth $350 million (£271m) a year.

The Climate Crisis and Education Bill is currently being considered by the Maryland General Assembly’s 2020 session. With a strong Democrat majority in both upper and lower houses of the state’s legislature, it could soon become law – even though the ideas behind it are extremely radical by US standards.

The bill would establish a Climate Crisis Council to develop an energy policy that reduces statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030, and 100% by 2040 – and trusts in achieving net negative emissions after that, using 2006 as a baseline.

There has been widespread concern in Maryland about falling education standards compared with other states, and an inquiry, the Kirwan Commission, has called for $350m a year to be invested in improvements.

These include extra funding for teacher salaries, additional counselling and career preparation, stronger health programmes, and money for pre-school activities.

“We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does”

The bill would introduce a gradually escalating fossil fuel fee, starting at $15 a ton for non-transport sources and $10 a ton for vehicles.

There would also be a graduated registration fee on new cars and light trucks that are gas guzzlers, revenues from which would be used to provide rebates to electric vehicle (EV) purchasers and to pay for the installation of statewide EV charging points.

Maryland has suffered more than most of the US from climate change and is severely threatened by sea level rise on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. Some small towns are already losing the battle against the sea.

The frequency of street flooding in the state capital, Annapolis, and larger cities like Baltimore has increased about ten-fold since the early 1960s.

Salt feeds concerns

Salinisation of farmland on the Eastern Shore is also a concern, as the salt water has begun intruding into the water table. Across the state the frequency of extreme weather events continues to increase, including events like flash flooding, heavy thunderstorms, extreme heat and droughts.

Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, the leading General Assembly supporter of the bill, said the state’s taxpayers had already been paying for damage caused by the climate crisis: “In the 2019 session, we passed an emergency appropriation in the General Assembly for one million dollars to mitigate flooding in Annapolis.

“That’s just one city in the entire state − one million dollars. Why should the taxpayers pay for that when fossil fuel companies make $400 million a day in profits?”

Emphasising the urgency of the situation and the need for immediate action, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Benjamin F. Kramer, said: “We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does.

“And the legislation is a win, win, win. It’s a win for our health, it’s a win for the environment, and it’s a win for education.”

Support detected

Both men are conscious that despite the concern of Democrats about the climate crisis, and the fact that the party has a large overall majority, their bill is radical and may meet some resistance. However, recent polling suggests that the public supports action on the crisis.

The bill is also up against legislators who favour other ways of paying for the education reforms, including taxes on gambling, alcohol and digital commerce.

In order to allay fears about new taxes on fossil fuels the provisions of the bill insist that the carbon taxes protect low- and moderate-income households, as well as “energy-intensive, trade-exposed businesses”, and help fossil fuel workers who may lose their jobs to find new ones in the clean economy.

There are also clauses that specifically prevent the fossil fuel companies from passing the cost of carbon taxes on to Maryland consumers. − Climate News Network

Renewable energy could power the world by 2050

Wind, water and solar sources − the renewable energy trio − could meet almost all the needs of our power-hungry society in 30 years.

LONDON, 19 February, 2020 − Virtually all the world’s demand for electricity to run transport and to heat and cool homes and offices, as well as to provide the power demanded by industry, could be met by renewable energy by mid-century.

This is the consensus of 47 peer-reviewed research papers from 13 independent groups with a total of 91 authors that have been brought together by Stanford University in California.

Some of the papers take a broad sweep across the world, adding together the potential for each technology to see if individual countries or whole regions could survive on renewables.

Special examinations of small island states, sub-Saharan Africa and individual countries like Germany look to see what are the barriers to progress and how they could be removed.

In every case the findings are that the technology exists to achieve 100% renewable power if the political will to achieve it can be mustered.

“It seems that every part of the world can now find a system that edges fossil fuels out in costs”

The collection of papers is a powerful rebuff to those who say that renewables are not reliable or cannot be expanded fast enough to take over from fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Once proper energy efficiency measures are in place, a combination of wind, solar and water power, with various forms of storage capacity, can add up to 100% of energy needs in every part of the planet.

Stanford puts one of its own papers at the top of the list. It studies the impacts of the Green New Deal proposals on grid stability, costs, jobs, health and climate in 143 countries.

With the world already approaching 1.5°C of heating, it says, seven million people killed by air pollution annually, and limited fossil fuel resources potentially sparking conflict, Stanford’s researchers wanted to compare business-as-usual with a 100% transition to wind-water-solar energy, efficiency and storage by 2050 – with at least 80% by 2030.

By grouping the countries of the world together into 24 regions co-operating on grid stability and storage solutions, supply could match demand by 2050-2052 with 100% reliance on renewables. The amount of energy used overall would be reduced by 57.1%, costs would fall by a similar amount, and 28.6 million more long-term full-time jobs would be created than under business-as-usual.

Clean air bonus

The remarkable consensus among researchers is perhaps surprising, since climate and weather conditions differ so much in different latitudes. It seems though that as the cost of renewables, particularly wind and solar, has tumbled, and energy storage solutions multiplied, every part of the world can now find a system that edges fossil fuels out in costs.

That, plus the benefit of clean air, particularly in Asian countries like India and China, makes renewables far more beneficial on any cost-benefit analysis.

The appearance of so many papers mirrors the consensus that climate scientists have managed to achieve in warning the world’s political leaders that time is running out for them to act to keep the temperature below dangerous levels.

Since in total the solutions offered cover countries producing more than 97% of the world’s greenhouse gases, they provide a blueprint for the next round of UN climate talks, to be held in Glasgow in November. At COP-26, as the conference is called, politicians will be asked to make new commitments to avoid dangerous climate change.

This Stanford file shows them that all they need is political will for them to be able to achieve climate stability. − Climate News Network

Wind, water and solar sources − the renewable energy trio − could meet almost all the needs of our power-hungry society in 30 years.

LONDON, 19 February, 2020 − Virtually all the world’s demand for electricity to run transport and to heat and cool homes and offices, as well as to provide the power demanded by industry, could be met by renewable energy by mid-century.

This is the consensus of 47 peer-reviewed research papers from 13 independent groups with a total of 91 authors that have been brought together by Stanford University in California.

Some of the papers take a broad sweep across the world, adding together the potential for each technology to see if individual countries or whole regions could survive on renewables.

Special examinations of small island states, sub-Saharan Africa and individual countries like Germany look to see what are the barriers to progress and how they could be removed.

In every case the findings are that the technology exists to achieve 100% renewable power if the political will to achieve it can be mustered.

“It seems that every part of the world can now find a system that edges fossil fuels out in costs”

The collection of papers is a powerful rebuff to those who say that renewables are not reliable or cannot be expanded fast enough to take over from fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Once proper energy efficiency measures are in place, a combination of wind, solar and water power, with various forms of storage capacity, can add up to 100% of energy needs in every part of the planet.

Stanford puts one of its own papers at the top of the list. It studies the impacts of the Green New Deal proposals on grid stability, costs, jobs, health and climate in 143 countries.

With the world already approaching 1.5°C of heating, it says, seven million people killed by air pollution annually, and limited fossil fuel resources potentially sparking conflict, Stanford’s researchers wanted to compare business-as-usual with a 100% transition to wind-water-solar energy, efficiency and storage by 2050 – with at least 80% by 2030.

By grouping the countries of the world together into 24 regions co-operating on grid stability and storage solutions, supply could match demand by 2050-2052 with 100% reliance on renewables. The amount of energy used overall would be reduced by 57.1%, costs would fall by a similar amount, and 28.6 million more long-term full-time jobs would be created than under business-as-usual.

Clean air bonus

The remarkable consensus among researchers is perhaps surprising, since climate and weather conditions differ so much in different latitudes. It seems though that as the cost of renewables, particularly wind and solar, has tumbled, and energy storage solutions multiplied, every part of the world can now find a system that edges fossil fuels out in costs.

That, plus the benefit of clean air, particularly in Asian countries like India and China, makes renewables far more beneficial on any cost-benefit analysis.

The appearance of so many papers mirrors the consensus that climate scientists have managed to achieve in warning the world’s political leaders that time is running out for them to act to keep the temperature below dangerous levels.

Since in total the solutions offered cover countries producing more than 97% of the world’s greenhouse gases, they provide a blueprint for the next round of UN climate talks, to be held in Glasgow in November. At COP-26, as the conference is called, politicians will be asked to make new commitments to avoid dangerous climate change.

This Stanford file shows them that all they need is political will for them to be able to achieve climate stability. − Climate News Network

UK airports must shut to reach 2050 climate target

All UK airports must close by 2050 for the country to reach its target of net zero climate emissions by then, scientists say.

LONDON, 18 February, 2020 − If it is to achieve its target of net zero climate emissions by 2050, all UK airports must close by mid-century and the country will have to make other drastic and fundamental lifestyle changes, says a report from a research group backed by the government in London.

With the UK due to host this year’s round of crucial UN climate talks in Glasgow in November, a group of academics has embarrassed the British government by showing it has currently no chance of meeting its own legally binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to nothing within 30 years.

Their report, Absolute Zero, published by the University of Cambridge, says no amount of government or public wishful thinking will hide the fact that the country will not reach zero emissions by 2050 without barely conceivable changes to policies, industrial processes and lifestyles. Its authors include colleagues from five other British universities.

All are members of a group from UK Fires, a research programme sponsored by the UK government, aiming to support a 20% cut in the country’s true emissions by 2050 by placing resource efficiency at the heart of its future industrial strategy. The report was paid for under the UK Fires programme.

As well as a temporary halt to flying, the report also says British people cannot go on driving heavier cars and turning up the heating in their homes.

“The UK is responsible for all emissions caused by its purchasing, including imported goods, international flights and shipping”

The government, industry and the public, it says, cannot continue to indulge themselves in these ways in the belief that new technologies will somehow save them – everyone will have to work together change their way of life.

Because electric or zero-emission aircraft cannot be developed in time, most British airports will need to close by the end of this decade, and all flying will have to stop by 2050 until non-polluting versions are available.

Electrification of surface transport, rail and road, needs to be rapid, with the phasing out of all development of petrol and diesel cars immediately. Even if all private cars are electric, the amount of traffic will have to fall to 60% of 2020 levels by 2050, and all cars will have to be smaller.

The report also suggests that ships, currently heavy users of fossil fuels, need to convert to electric propulsion in order to allow for necessary imports and exports.

Not enough time

The reasoning behind the report is that technologies to cut greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon capture and storage, will not be developed in time and on a large enough scale to make a difference to emission reductions by 2050.

Nor is it any use exporting energy-intensive industries like steel-making, because the emissions will still take place abroad.

Instead, homegrown industries need to be developed that use no fossil fuels but are powered by electricity. The report says blast furnaces need to be phased out and replaced by existing technologies that recycle steel using renewable electricity.

It calls for public debate and discussion about the lifestyle changes that will be essential. Although such luxuries as flying away on holiday and driving large cars will have to be foregone, and eating beef and lamb curtailed, the scientists say that life could be just as rich as today.

They say: “… sports, social life, eating, hobbies, games, computing, reading, TV, music, radio, volunteering (and sleeping!) We can all do more of these without any impact on emissions”.

Offsets won’t work

They want the public to help by lobbying for airport closures, more trains, no new roads and more renewable electricity.

The report insists that the government should not try to hide any of its emissions by importing goods: “The UK is responsible for all emissions caused by its purchasing, including imported goods, international flights and shipping.”

Nor can there be any meaningful “carbon offsets.” The only short-term option we have of reducing emissions – at least by 2050 – is to plant trees. “Even a massive increase in forestry would only have a small effect compared to today’s emissions.”

The authors comment: “There are no invisible solutions to climate change. We urgently need to engage everyone in the process of delivering the changes that will lead to zero emissions.” − Climate News Network

All UK airports must close by 2050 for the country to reach its target of net zero climate emissions by then, scientists say.

LONDON, 18 February, 2020 − If it is to achieve its target of net zero climate emissions by 2050, all UK airports must close by mid-century and the country will have to make other drastic and fundamental lifestyle changes, says a report from a research group backed by the government in London.

With the UK due to host this year’s round of crucial UN climate talks in Glasgow in November, a group of academics has embarrassed the British government by showing it has currently no chance of meeting its own legally binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to nothing within 30 years.

Their report, Absolute Zero, published by the University of Cambridge, says no amount of government or public wishful thinking will hide the fact that the country will not reach zero emissions by 2050 without barely conceivable changes to policies, industrial processes and lifestyles. Its authors include colleagues from five other British universities.

All are members of a group from UK Fires, a research programme sponsored by the UK government, aiming to support a 20% cut in the country’s true emissions by 2050 by placing resource efficiency at the heart of its future industrial strategy. The report was paid for under the UK Fires programme.

As well as a temporary halt to flying, the report also says British people cannot go on driving heavier cars and turning up the heating in their homes.

“The UK is responsible for all emissions caused by its purchasing, including imported goods, international flights and shipping”

The government, industry and the public, it says, cannot continue to indulge themselves in these ways in the belief that new technologies will somehow save them – everyone will have to work together change their way of life.

Because electric or zero-emission aircraft cannot be developed in time, most British airports will need to close by the end of this decade, and all flying will have to stop by 2050 until non-polluting versions are available.

Electrification of surface transport, rail and road, needs to be rapid, with the phasing out of all development of petrol and diesel cars immediately. Even if all private cars are electric, the amount of traffic will have to fall to 60% of 2020 levels by 2050, and all cars will have to be smaller.

The report also suggests that ships, currently heavy users of fossil fuels, need to convert to electric propulsion in order to allow for necessary imports and exports.

Not enough time

The reasoning behind the report is that technologies to cut greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon capture and storage, will not be developed in time and on a large enough scale to make a difference to emission reductions by 2050.

Nor is it any use exporting energy-intensive industries like steel-making, because the emissions will still take place abroad.

Instead, homegrown industries need to be developed that use no fossil fuels but are powered by electricity. The report says blast furnaces need to be phased out and replaced by existing technologies that recycle steel using renewable electricity.

It calls for public debate and discussion about the lifestyle changes that will be essential. Although such luxuries as flying away on holiday and driving large cars will have to be foregone, and eating beef and lamb curtailed, the scientists say that life could be just as rich as today.

They say: “… sports, social life, eating, hobbies, games, computing, reading, TV, music, radio, volunteering (and sleeping!) We can all do more of these without any impact on emissions”.

Offsets won’t work

They want the public to help by lobbying for airport closures, more trains, no new roads and more renewable electricity.

The report insists that the government should not try to hide any of its emissions by importing goods: “The UK is responsible for all emissions caused by its purchasing, including imported goods, international flights and shipping.”

Nor can there be any meaningful “carbon offsets.” The only short-term option we have of reducing emissions – at least by 2050 – is to plant trees. “Even a massive increase in forestry would only have a small effect compared to today’s emissions.”

The authors comment: “There are no invisible solutions to climate change. We urgently need to engage everyone in the process of delivering the changes that will lead to zero emissions.” − Climate News Network

Speeding sea level rise threatens nuclear plants

With sea level rise accelerating faster than thought, the risk is growing for coastal cities − and for nuclear power stations.

LONDON, 14 February, 2020 − The latest science shows how the pace of sea level rise is speeding up, fuelling fears that not only millions of homes will be under threat, but that vulnerable installations like docks and power plants will be overwhelmed by the waves.

New research using satellite data over a 30-year period shows that around the year 2000 sea level rise was 2mm a year, by 2010 it was 3mm and now it is at 4mm, with the pace of change still increasing.

The calculations were made by a research student, Tadea Veng, at the Technical University of Denmark, which has a special interest in Greenland, where the icecap is melting fast. That, combined with accelerating melting in Antarctica and further warming of the oceans, is raising sea levels across the globe.

The report coincides with a European Environment Agency (EEA) study whose maps show large areas of the shorelines of countries with coastlines on the North Sea will go under water unless heavily defended against sea level rise.

Based on the maps, newspapers like The Guardian in London have predicted that more than half of one key UK east coast provincial port − Hull − will be swamped. Ironically, Hull is the base for making giant wind turbine blades for use in the North Sea.

“It’s not just the height of the rise in sea level that is important for the protection of nuclear facilities, it’s also the likely increase in storm surges”

The argument about how much the sea level will rise this century has been raging in scientific circles since the 1990s. At the start, predictions of sea level rise took into account only two possible causes: the expansion of seawater as it warmed, and the melting of mountain glaciers away from the poles.

In the early Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports back then, the melting of the polar ice caps was not included, because scientists could not agree whether greater snowfall on the top of the ice caps in winter might balance out summer melting. Many of them also thought Antarctica would not melt at all, or not for centuries, because it was too cold.

Both the extra snow theory and the “too cold to melt” idea have now been discounted. In Antarctica this is partly because the sea has warmed up so much that it is melting the glaciers’ ice from beneath – something the scientists had not foreseen.

Alarm about sea level rise elsewhere has been increasing outside the scientific community, partly because many nuclear power plants are on coasts. Even those that are nearing the end of their working lives will be radio-active for another century, and many have highly dangerous spent fuel on site in storage ponds with no disposal route organised.

Perhaps most alarmed are British residents, whose government is currently planning a number of new seaside nuclear stations in low-lying coastal areas. Some will be under water this century according to the EEA, particularly one planned for Sizewell in eastern England.

Hard to tell

The Agency’s report says estimates of sea level rise by 2100 vary, with an upper limit of one metre generally accepted, but up to 2.5 metres predicted by some scientists. The latest research by Danish scientists suggests judiciously that with the speed of sea level rise continuing to accelerate, it is impossible to be sure.

A report by campaigners who oppose building nuclear power stations on Britain’s vulnerable coast expresses extreme alarm, saying both nuclear regulators and the giant French energy company EDF are too complacent about the problem.

The report says: “Polar ice caps appear to be melting faster than expected, and what is particularly worrying is that the rate of melting seems to be increasing. Some researchers say sea levels could rise by as much as six metres or more by 2100, even if the 2°C Paris targethttps://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement is met.

“But it’s not just the height of the rise in sea level that is important for the protection of nuclear facilities, it’s also the likely increase in storm surges. An increase in sea level of 50cm would mean the storm that used to come every thousand years will now come every 100 years. If you increase that to a metre, then that millennial storm is likely to come once a decade.

“Bearing in mind that there will probably be nuclear waste on the Hinkley Point C site [home to the new twin reactors being built by EDF in the West of England] until at least 2150, the question neither the Office of Nuclear Regulation nor EDF seem to be asking is whether further flood protection measures can be put in place fast enough to deal with unexpected and unpredicted storm surges.” − Climate News Network

With sea level rise accelerating faster than thought, the risk is growing for coastal cities − and for nuclear power stations.

LONDON, 14 February, 2020 − The latest science shows how the pace of sea level rise is speeding up, fuelling fears that not only millions of homes will be under threat, but that vulnerable installations like docks and power plants will be overwhelmed by the waves.

New research using satellite data over a 30-year period shows that around the year 2000 sea level rise was 2mm a year, by 2010 it was 3mm and now it is at 4mm, with the pace of change still increasing.

The calculations were made by a research student, Tadea Veng, at the Technical University of Denmark, which has a special interest in Greenland, where the icecap is melting fast. That, combined with accelerating melting in Antarctica and further warming of the oceans, is raising sea levels across the globe.

The report coincides with a European Environment Agency (EEA) study whose maps show large areas of the shorelines of countries with coastlines on the North Sea will go under water unless heavily defended against sea level rise.

Based on the maps, newspapers like The Guardian in London have predicted that more than half of one key UK east coast provincial port − Hull − will be swamped. Ironically, Hull is the base for making giant wind turbine blades for use in the North Sea.

“It’s not just the height of the rise in sea level that is important for the protection of nuclear facilities, it’s also the likely increase in storm surges”

The argument about how much the sea level will rise this century has been raging in scientific circles since the 1990s. At the start, predictions of sea level rise took into account only two possible causes: the expansion of seawater as it warmed, and the melting of mountain glaciers away from the poles.

In the early Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports back then, the melting of the polar ice caps was not included, because scientists could not agree whether greater snowfall on the top of the ice caps in winter might balance out summer melting. Many of them also thought Antarctica would not melt at all, or not for centuries, because it was too cold.

Both the extra snow theory and the “too cold to melt” idea have now been discounted. In Antarctica this is partly because the sea has warmed up so much that it is melting the glaciers’ ice from beneath – something the scientists had not foreseen.

Alarm about sea level rise elsewhere has been increasing outside the scientific community, partly because many nuclear power plants are on coasts. Even those that are nearing the end of their working lives will be radio-active for another century, and many have highly dangerous spent fuel on site in storage ponds with no disposal route organised.

Perhaps most alarmed are British residents, whose government is currently planning a number of new seaside nuclear stations in low-lying coastal areas. Some will be under water this century according to the EEA, particularly one planned for Sizewell in eastern England.

Hard to tell

The Agency’s report says estimates of sea level rise by 2100 vary, with an upper limit of one metre generally accepted, but up to 2.5 metres predicted by some scientists. The latest research by Danish scientists suggests judiciously that with the speed of sea level rise continuing to accelerate, it is impossible to be sure.

A report by campaigners who oppose building nuclear power stations on Britain’s vulnerable coast expresses extreme alarm, saying both nuclear regulators and the giant French energy company EDF are too complacent about the problem.

The report says: “Polar ice caps appear to be melting faster than expected, and what is particularly worrying is that the rate of melting seems to be increasing. Some researchers say sea levels could rise by as much as six metres or more by 2100, even if the 2°C Paris targethttps://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement is met.

“But it’s not just the height of the rise in sea level that is important for the protection of nuclear facilities, it’s also the likely increase in storm surges. An increase in sea level of 50cm would mean the storm that used to come every thousand years will now come every 100 years. If you increase that to a metre, then that millennial storm is likely to come once a decade.

“Bearing in mind that there will probably be nuclear waste on the Hinkley Point C site [home to the new twin reactors being built by EDF in the West of England] until at least 2150, the question neither the Office of Nuclear Regulation nor EDF seem to be asking is whether further flood protection measures can be put in place fast enough to deal with unexpected and unpredicted storm surges.” − Climate News Network

Fresh water from sunshine can keep thirst at bay

Seaside communities with plenty of sun can soon have ample fresh water without any need for electricity.

LONDON, 11 February, 2020 − An international team of scientists has developed a cheap way to provide fresh water to thirsty communities by making seawater drinkable without using electricity.

So long as the sun is shining, they say, their device will produce enough high-quality potable water to cover a family’s needs, at a cost of around US$100 (£77).

The scientists, from Massachusetts institute of Technology (MIT), US and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China, believe their brainwave offers a simple solution to thirsty islands and arid coastal areas which lack a reliable electricity supply but have access to seawater. It could even help to prevent some of the mass migrations expected with climate change.

The researchers report their work in the journal Energy and Environmental Science. Testing their prototype on a roof at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, they produced more than 1.5 gallons of fresh drinking water every hour for every square metre of solar collecting area.

Their device is cube-shaped, with multiple layers of solar evaporators and condensers piled one on top of another, surmounted with a layer of transparent insulation. Essentially it is a multi-layer solar still, similar to those used for centuries to make strong liquor and used today in many applications.

“This new approach is very significant. One of the challenges in solar still-based desalination has been low efficiency. This increased efficiency will have an overall impact on reducing the cost of produced water”

A solar still uses flat panels to absorb heat which it then transfers to a layer of water, which begins to evaporate. The vapour condenses on the next panel and the water is collected, while the heat from the vapour condensation is passed to the layer above.

Whenever vapour condenses on a surface, it releases heat; in typical condenser systems, that heat is simply lost to the environment. But in this multi-layer version the released heat flows to the next evaporating layer, recycling the solar heat and boosting overall efficiency.

The efficiency comes from using each of the multiple stages to remove salt from the sea water, with the heat released by the previous stage  harnessed instead of wasted. In this way, the team’s demonstration device achieved an overall efficiency of 385% in converting the energy of sunlight into evaporation.

Evelyn Wang, a co-author, said: “When you condense water, you release energy as heat. If you have more than one stage, you can take advantage of that heat.”

Cost trade-off

Although adding more layers increases the conversion efficiency of the system, each layer also adds cost and bulk. The team settled on a 10-stage system for their proof-of-concept device.

It delivered pure water that exceeded city drinking water standards, at a rate of 5.78 litres per square metre (about 1.52 gallons per 11 square feet) of solar collecting area. This is more than twice as much as the record amount previously produced by any such passive solar-powered desalination system, Professor Wang says.

And a big advantage of the system is that it has a self-flushing mechanism which will clean out the accumulation of salt each night and return it to the sea.

One possible way of using the system would be with floating panels on a body of saltwater. The panels could deliver constant fresh water through pipes to the shore so long as the sun was shining. Other systems could be designed to serve a single household, perhaps using a flat panel on a large shallow tank of seawater.

The team estimates that a system with a roughly one-square-meter solar collecting area could meet the daily drinking water needs of one person. In production, they think a system built to serve the needs of a family might be built for around $100.

Cheaper replacements

The most expensive component of the prototype is the layer of transparent aerogel used as an insulator at the top of the stack, but the team suggests other less expensive insulators could be used instead. (The aerogel itself is made from very cheap silica but requires specialised drying equipment during its manufacture.)

“This new approach is very significant,” says Professor Ravi Prasher of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley, who was not involved in the research.

“One of the challenges in solar still-based desalination has been low efficiency due to the loss of significant energy in condensation.

“By efficiently harvesting the condensation energy, the overall solar to vapour efficiency is dramatically improved … This increased efficiency will have an overall impact on reducing the cost of produced water.” − Climate News Network

Seaside communities with plenty of sun can soon have ample fresh water without any need for electricity.

LONDON, 11 February, 2020 − An international team of scientists has developed a cheap way to provide fresh water to thirsty communities by making seawater drinkable without using electricity.

So long as the sun is shining, they say, their device will produce enough high-quality potable water to cover a family’s needs, at a cost of around US$100 (£77).

The scientists, from Massachusetts institute of Technology (MIT), US and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China, believe their brainwave offers a simple solution to thirsty islands and arid coastal areas which lack a reliable electricity supply but have access to seawater. It could even help to prevent some of the mass migrations expected with climate change.

The researchers report their work in the journal Energy and Environmental Science. Testing their prototype on a roof at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, they produced more than 1.5 gallons of fresh drinking water every hour for every square metre of solar collecting area.

Their device is cube-shaped, with multiple layers of solar evaporators and condensers piled one on top of another, surmounted with a layer of transparent insulation. Essentially it is a multi-layer solar still, similar to those used for centuries to make strong liquor and used today in many applications.

“This new approach is very significant. One of the challenges in solar still-based desalination has been low efficiency. This increased efficiency will have an overall impact on reducing the cost of produced water”

A solar still uses flat panels to absorb heat which it then transfers to a layer of water, which begins to evaporate. The vapour condenses on the next panel and the water is collected, while the heat from the vapour condensation is passed to the layer above.

Whenever vapour condenses on a surface, it releases heat; in typical condenser systems, that heat is simply lost to the environment. But in this multi-layer version the released heat flows to the next evaporating layer, recycling the solar heat and boosting overall efficiency.

The efficiency comes from using each of the multiple stages to remove salt from the sea water, with the heat released by the previous stage  harnessed instead of wasted. In this way, the team’s demonstration device achieved an overall efficiency of 385% in converting the energy of sunlight into evaporation.

Evelyn Wang, a co-author, said: “When you condense water, you release energy as heat. If you have more than one stage, you can take advantage of that heat.”

Cost trade-off

Although adding more layers increases the conversion efficiency of the system, each layer also adds cost and bulk. The team settled on a 10-stage system for their proof-of-concept device.

It delivered pure water that exceeded city drinking water standards, at a rate of 5.78 litres per square metre (about 1.52 gallons per 11 square feet) of solar collecting area. This is more than twice as much as the record amount previously produced by any such passive solar-powered desalination system, Professor Wang says.

And a big advantage of the system is that it has a self-flushing mechanism which will clean out the accumulation of salt each night and return it to the sea.

One possible way of using the system would be with floating panels on a body of saltwater. The panels could deliver constant fresh water through pipes to the shore so long as the sun was shining. Other systems could be designed to serve a single household, perhaps using a flat panel on a large shallow tank of seawater.

The team estimates that a system with a roughly one-square-meter solar collecting area could meet the daily drinking water needs of one person. In production, they think a system built to serve the needs of a family might be built for around $100.

Cheaper replacements

The most expensive component of the prototype is the layer of transparent aerogel used as an insulator at the top of the stack, but the team suggests other less expensive insulators could be used instead. (The aerogel itself is made from very cheap silica but requires specialised drying equipment during its manufacture.)

“This new approach is very significant,” says Professor Ravi Prasher of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley, who was not involved in the research.

“One of the challenges in solar still-based desalination has been low efficiency due to the loss of significant energy in condensation.

“By efficiently harvesting the condensation energy, the overall solar to vapour efficiency is dramatically improved … This increased efficiency will have an overall impact on reducing the cost of produced water.” − Climate News Network

Europe fails to keep up on solar power

Europe needs new factories to harness solar power, with a huge effort to install the panels they’ll make, for the world to avoid catastrophic warming.

LONDON, 6 February, 2020 − Europe is falling well behind in the race to install enough solar power to keep the rise in global temperatures below dangerous levels, and to reach its own renewable energy targets. But it’s  not impossible.

Once a world leader in the technology and manufacture of solar panels, Europe now lags far behind China and other Asian countries. It faces shortages of supplies and disruption to them, according to the annual PV status report of the European Commission’s Science Hub.

The report says the installation rate of panels has to increase “drastically” − more than five times by 2025, and double that again if Europe is to convert to electric cars and fuels like hydrogen.

It says current policies in place to limit global greenhouse gas emissions are insufficient to keep the temperature increase below 2°C above historic levels, considered by governments to be the maximum acceptable to avoid dangerous climate change.

To keep below that level the decarbonisation of the energy system is the single most important element, but it is moving far too slowly.

“There are huge opportunities for PV in the future, but such developments will not happen on their own”

In order to reach the world’s climate targets the power sector has to be fully decarbonised – not by 2060, but well before 2050 – and photo-voltaic solar energy (PV) is one of the key technologies for implementing this shift.

“PV is a key technology option for decarbonising the power sector. It can be deployed in a modular way almost anywhere, solar resources in the world are abundant and they cannot be monopolised by one country”, said JRC director Piotr Szymanski.

The report’s author, Arnulf Jäger-Waldau, added: “Although (last year) the new installed capacity increased worldwide by 7% and solar power attracted the largest share of new investments in renewable energies for the ninth year in a row, a much more rapid increase in the installation rate is needed to decarbonise the power sector by 2050”.

Current capacity equips the EU to provide just under 5% of its electricity demand from solar PV. There was an installed capacity of 117 GW at the end of 2018, and in 2019 the EU lost further ground in the worldwide market.

Marked drop

Its share of global installed capacity was about 23%. This is a steep decline from the 66 % recorded at the end of 2012.

The report looks at the state of solar PV in individual countries across Europe and in large players across the world and shows how governments are failing to support the industry while they continue to subsidise fossil fuels on a large scale.

The report says that instead of lagging further behind, the EU needs to increase its solar capacity by five times to over 630GW by 2025, and then by five times again by 2050 if it is to cover all its electricity needs with renewables – and that is including the very large share of the market taken by wind and other technologies like hydro-power.

One of the problems for the EU is that it has lost all but a few of its panel manufacturers and needs to re-open solar panel factories or face a shortage of supply.

Until 2006 solar cell production was dominated by Japan and Europe, but in 2014 a new trend emerged which saw China and Taiwan rapidly increase their production capacities. Since then, other Asian countries such as India, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam have followed their lead.

Costs head downwards

The rapid cost reduction in PV manufacturing would merit a fresh look at the potential to bring PV factories back to Europe. The investment costs required by PV manufacturing have decreased by about 90% over the past 10 years, and the European manufacturing chain could be competitive with factories with an annual production volume from 5 to 10 GW.

“There are huge opportunities for PV in the future, but such developments will not happen on their own. It will require a sustained effort and support of all stakeholders to implement the change to a sustainable energy supply, with PV delivering a major part”, Dr Jäger-Waldau concluded.

The massive drop in the cost of producing electricity from solar power – about 80% in the last decade – makes it competitive with fossil fuels across the world. Regardless of how fast energy prices increase in the future, and of the reasons behind these increases, PV and other renewable energies are the only ones offering stable prices in future, or even a reduction.

The report says the main barriers to the changes needed include regulatory frameworks and the limitations of the existing electricity transmission and distribution systems. − Climate News Network

Europe needs new factories to harness solar power, with a huge effort to install the panels they’ll make, for the world to avoid catastrophic warming.

LONDON, 6 February, 2020 − Europe is falling well behind in the race to install enough solar power to keep the rise in global temperatures below dangerous levels, and to reach its own renewable energy targets. But it’s  not impossible.

Once a world leader in the technology and manufacture of solar panels, Europe now lags far behind China and other Asian countries. It faces shortages of supplies and disruption to them, according to the annual PV status report of the European Commission’s Science Hub.

The report says the installation rate of panels has to increase “drastically” − more than five times by 2025, and double that again if Europe is to convert to electric cars and fuels like hydrogen.

It says current policies in place to limit global greenhouse gas emissions are insufficient to keep the temperature increase below 2°C above historic levels, considered by governments to be the maximum acceptable to avoid dangerous climate change.

To keep below that level the decarbonisation of the energy system is the single most important element, but it is moving far too slowly.

“There are huge opportunities for PV in the future, but such developments will not happen on their own”

In order to reach the world’s climate targets the power sector has to be fully decarbonised – not by 2060, but well before 2050 – and photo-voltaic solar energy (PV) is one of the key technologies for implementing this shift.

“PV is a key technology option for decarbonising the power sector. It can be deployed in a modular way almost anywhere, solar resources in the world are abundant and they cannot be monopolised by one country”, said JRC director Piotr Szymanski.

The report’s author, Arnulf Jäger-Waldau, added: “Although (last year) the new installed capacity increased worldwide by 7% and solar power attracted the largest share of new investments in renewable energies for the ninth year in a row, a much more rapid increase in the installation rate is needed to decarbonise the power sector by 2050”.

Current capacity equips the EU to provide just under 5% of its electricity demand from solar PV. There was an installed capacity of 117 GW at the end of 2018, and in 2019 the EU lost further ground in the worldwide market.

Marked drop

Its share of global installed capacity was about 23%. This is a steep decline from the 66 % recorded at the end of 2012.

The report looks at the state of solar PV in individual countries across Europe and in large players across the world and shows how governments are failing to support the industry while they continue to subsidise fossil fuels on a large scale.

The report says that instead of lagging further behind, the EU needs to increase its solar capacity by five times to over 630GW by 2025, and then by five times again by 2050 if it is to cover all its electricity needs with renewables – and that is including the very large share of the market taken by wind and other technologies like hydro-power.

One of the problems for the EU is that it has lost all but a few of its panel manufacturers and needs to re-open solar panel factories or face a shortage of supply.

Until 2006 solar cell production was dominated by Japan and Europe, but in 2014 a new trend emerged which saw China and Taiwan rapidly increase their production capacities. Since then, other Asian countries such as India, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam have followed their lead.

Costs head downwards

The rapid cost reduction in PV manufacturing would merit a fresh look at the potential to bring PV factories back to Europe. The investment costs required by PV manufacturing have decreased by about 90% over the past 10 years, and the European manufacturing chain could be competitive with factories with an annual production volume from 5 to 10 GW.

“There are huge opportunities for PV in the future, but such developments will not happen on their own. It will require a sustained effort and support of all stakeholders to implement the change to a sustainable energy supply, with PV delivering a major part”, Dr Jäger-Waldau concluded.

The massive drop in the cost of producing electricity from solar power – about 80% in the last decade – makes it competitive with fossil fuels across the world. Regardless of how fast energy prices increase in the future, and of the reasons behind these increases, PV and other renewable energies are the only ones offering stable prices in future, or even a reduction.

The report says the main barriers to the changes needed include regulatory frameworks and the limitations of the existing electricity transmission and distribution systems. − Climate News Network

Rewilding the Arctic can slow the climate crisis

It would be a monumental task to start rewilding the Arctic, but the climate payoff could be mammoth.

LONDON, 29 January, 2020 − Releasing herds of large animals onto the tundra − rewilding the Arctic − to create vast grasslands could slow down global heating by storing carbon and preserving the permafrost, UK scientists say.

With no woolly mammoths available nowadays, the scientists, from the University of Oxford, suggest an alternative in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B − importing large herds of bison and horses to provide the mega-fauna that would prevent tree growth and create huge areas of grazing land.

These big animals, originally present in the Arctic together with the reindeer, wolves and other large creatures still living there, would create a natural geo-engineering project to alter the landscape, the researchers say. The idea is to preserve as much carbon in the soil as possible and reflect more sunlight back into space.

The scientists visited Pleistocene Park, a Russian experiment in north-eastern Siberia, which is an attempt to recreate the mammoth steppe ecosystem of the last ice age by re-introducing large grazing animals.

Trees that are growing ever further north as the Arctic warms are in turn leading to the melting of more permafrost by breaking up the snow which otherwise reflects sunlight away from the Earth. Instead, the snow absorbs more of the sunlight, enhancing the warming further.

“The Arctic is already changing, and fast. Taking a ‘do nothing’ approach now is a decision to allow rapid, irreversible changes to occur”

By removing woody vegetation, enhancing grass growth and trampling on snow in search of winter forage, the scientists say, large mammals increase the amount of incoming solar energy that bounces back to space − the albedo effect.

Unlike shallow-rooted trees, grasslands also favour the capture of carbon in the deep roots of grasses and enable cold winter temperatures to penetrate deeper into the soil. Altogether, they say, these changes would have a net cooling effect on Arctic lands and delay permafrost melt.

“The Arctic is already changing, and fast. Taking a ‘do nothing’ approach now is a decision to allow rapid, irreversible changes to occur”, says lead author Dr Marc Macias-Fauria, at Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment.

“Although the science of Arctic eco-engineering is largely untested, it has the potential to make a big difference, and action in this region should be given serious consideration.”

Big emissions savings

The study estimates that carbon emissions from thawing permafrost could be around 4.35 billion tonnes a year over this century. This is around half as much as fossil fuel emissions, and three times more than estimates of the emissions produced by current and projected land use change, for example in tropical forests.

One of the drawbacks to the scheme is the need to import large quantities of relatively scarce animals like bison into the vast expanses that would need to be rewilded. It would take time to build up the numbers of animals required.

The fossil record in the period the scientists are trying to recreate shows that each square kilometre contained an average of one mammoth, 5 bison, 7.5 horses, 15 reindeer, 0.25 cave lions, and one wolf. This is around the animal density of present-day African savanna game reserves. Rewilding efforts would initially focus on bison and horses.

The researchers believe the scheme could be economic, especially if the price of the carbon saved is reckoned in. They provide a detailed analysis for an experiment over a period of 10 years for the introduction and monitoring of three large-scale trial areas, which includes importing 1,000 animals for each of the three at a cost of US$114 million (£88m).  On an annual basis this alone would keep 72,000 tonnes of carbon in the ground.

The scientists believe that rewilding could be a cost-effective solution and bring extra benefits like new tourism and “carbon-negative wild meat”, which would cut the demand for farmed beef and reduce pressure on forested areas in the tropics. They also say the study constitutes a potential opportunity for UK-Russia cooperation on climate change mitigation. − Climate News Network

It would be a monumental task to start rewilding the Arctic, but the climate payoff could be mammoth.

LONDON, 29 January, 2020 − Releasing herds of large animals onto the tundra − rewilding the Arctic − to create vast grasslands could slow down global heating by storing carbon and preserving the permafrost, UK scientists say.

With no woolly mammoths available nowadays, the scientists, from the University of Oxford, suggest an alternative in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B − importing large herds of bison and horses to provide the mega-fauna that would prevent tree growth and create huge areas of grazing land.

These big animals, originally present in the Arctic together with the reindeer, wolves and other large creatures still living there, would create a natural geo-engineering project to alter the landscape, the researchers say. The idea is to preserve as much carbon in the soil as possible and reflect more sunlight back into space.

The scientists visited Pleistocene Park, a Russian experiment in north-eastern Siberia, which is an attempt to recreate the mammoth steppe ecosystem of the last ice age by re-introducing large grazing animals.

Trees that are growing ever further north as the Arctic warms are in turn leading to the melting of more permafrost by breaking up the snow which otherwise reflects sunlight away from the Earth. Instead, the snow absorbs more of the sunlight, enhancing the warming further.

“The Arctic is already changing, and fast. Taking a ‘do nothing’ approach now is a decision to allow rapid, irreversible changes to occur”

By removing woody vegetation, enhancing grass growth and trampling on snow in search of winter forage, the scientists say, large mammals increase the amount of incoming solar energy that bounces back to space − the albedo effect.

Unlike shallow-rooted trees, grasslands also favour the capture of carbon in the deep roots of grasses and enable cold winter temperatures to penetrate deeper into the soil. Altogether, they say, these changes would have a net cooling effect on Arctic lands and delay permafrost melt.

“The Arctic is already changing, and fast. Taking a ‘do nothing’ approach now is a decision to allow rapid, irreversible changes to occur”, says lead author Dr Marc Macias-Fauria, at Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment.

“Although the science of Arctic eco-engineering is largely untested, it has the potential to make a big difference, and action in this region should be given serious consideration.”

Big emissions savings

The study estimates that carbon emissions from thawing permafrost could be around 4.35 billion tonnes a year over this century. This is around half as much as fossil fuel emissions, and three times more than estimates of the emissions produced by current and projected land use change, for example in tropical forests.

One of the drawbacks to the scheme is the need to import large quantities of relatively scarce animals like bison into the vast expanses that would need to be rewilded. It would take time to build up the numbers of animals required.

The fossil record in the period the scientists are trying to recreate shows that each square kilometre contained an average of one mammoth, 5 bison, 7.5 horses, 15 reindeer, 0.25 cave lions, and one wolf. This is around the animal density of present-day African savanna game reserves. Rewilding efforts would initially focus on bison and horses.

The researchers believe the scheme could be economic, especially if the price of the carbon saved is reckoned in. They provide a detailed analysis for an experiment over a period of 10 years for the introduction and monitoring of three large-scale trial areas, which includes importing 1,000 animals for each of the three at a cost of US$114 million (£88m).  On an annual basis this alone would keep 72,000 tonnes of carbon in the ground.

The scientists believe that rewilding could be a cost-effective solution and bring extra benefits like new tourism and “carbon-negative wild meat”, which would cut the demand for farmed beef and reduce pressure on forested areas in the tropics. They also say the study constitutes a potential opportunity for UK-Russia cooperation on climate change mitigation. − Climate News Network