Tag Archives: USA

Small nuclear power plants no use in climate crisis

Governments are investing in a new range of small nuclear power plants, with little chance they’ll ease the climate crisis.

LONDON, 24 March, 2021 − Claims that a new generation of so-called advanced, safe and easier-to-build nuclear reactors − small nuclear power plants − will be vital to combat climate change are an illusion, and the idea should be abandoned, says a group of scientists.

Their report, “Advanced” is not always better, published by the US Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), examines all the proposed new types of reactor under development in the US and fails to find any that could be developed in time to help deal with the urgent need to cut carbon emissions. The US government is spending $600 million on supporting these prototypes.

While the report goes into details only about the many designs of small and medium-sized reactors being developed by US companies, it is a serious blow to the worldwide nuclear industry because the technologies are all similar to those also being underwritten by taxpayers in Canada, the UK, Russia and China. This is a market the World Economic Forum claimed in January could be worth $300 billion by 2040.

Edwin Lyman, who wrote the report, and is the director of nuclear power safety in the UCS Climate and Energy Program, thinks the WEF estimate is extremely unlikely. He comments on nuclear power in general: “The technology has fundamental safety and security disadvantages compared with other low-carbon sources.

“Nuclear reactors and their associated facilities for fuel production and waste handling are vulnerable to catastrophic accidents and sabotage, and they can be misused to produce materials for nuclear weapons. The nuclear industry, policymakers, and regulators must address these shortcomings fully if the global use of nuclear power is to increase without posing unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and international peace and security.”

Cheaper options

Lyman says none of the new reactors appears to solve any of these problems. Also, he says, the industry’s claims that their designs could cost less, be built quickly, reduce the production of nuclear waste, use uranium more efficiently and reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation have yet to be proved. The developers have also yet to demonstrate that the new generation of reactors has improved safety features enabling them to shut down quickly in the event of attack or accident.

Lyman examines the idea that reactors can be placed near cities or industry so that the waste heat from their electricity generation can be used in district heating or for industrial processes.

He says there is no evidence that the public would be keen on the idea of having nuclear power stations planted in their neighbourhoods.

Another of the industry’s ideas for using the power of the new nuclear stations to produce “green hydrogen” for use in transport or back-up energy production is technically feasible, but it seems likely that renewable energies like wind and solar could produce the hydrogen far more cheaply, the report says.

“Nuclear reactors are vulnerable to catastrophic accidents and sabotage, and they can be misused to produce materials for nuclear weapons”

In reality the nuclear industry is shrinking in international importance and is likely to continue to do so, Lyman says. According to the International Energy Agency, at the end of 2010, there were 441 operating nuclear power reactors worldwide, with a total electrical power capacity of 375 gigawatts of electricity (GWe).

At the end of 2019, there were 443 operating reactors − only two more than in 2010 − with a total generating capacity of 392 GWe. This represented a decrease of over 20% in the share of global electricity demand met by nuclear energy compared with 2010.

Lyman says the US Department of Energy would be more sensible trying to address the outstanding safety, security and cost issues of existing light water reactors in the US, rather than attempting to commercialise new and unproven designs. If the idea is to tackle climate change, improving existing designs is a better bet.

The report notes that it is not just the US that is having trouble with nuclear technology: Europe is also suffering severe delays and cost overruns with new plants at Olkiluoto in Finland, Flamanville in France and Hinkley Point C in the UK.

Lyman’s comments might be of interest to the British government, which has just published its integrated review of defence and foreign policy.

Military link declared

In it the government linked the future of the civil and defence nuclear capabilities of the country, showing that a healthy civil sector was important for propping up the military. This is controversial because of the government’s decision announced in the same review to increase the number of nuclear warheads from 180 to 260, threatening an escalation of the international arms race.

Although Lyman does not mention it, there is a clear crossover between civil and nuclear industries in the US, the UK, China, Russia and France. This is made more obvious because of the few countries that have renounced nuclear weapons − for example only Germany, Italy and Spain have shown no interest in building any kind of nuclear station. This is simply because renewables are cheaper and produce low carbon power far more quickly.

But the link between civil and defence nuclear industries does explain why in the UK the government is spending £215m ($298m) on research and development into the civil use of the small medium reactors championed by a consortium headed by Rolls-Royce, which is also one of the country’s major defence contractors. Rolls-Royce wants to build 16 of these reactors in a factory and assemble them in various parts of the country. It is also looking to sell them into Europe to gain economies of scale.

Judging by the UCS analysis, this deployment of as yet unproven new nuclear technologies is unlikely to be in time to help the climate crisis – one of the claims that both the US and UK governments and Rolls-Royce itself are making. − Climate News Network

Governments are investing in a new range of small nuclear power plants, with little chance they’ll ease the climate crisis.

LONDON, 24 March, 2021 − Claims that a new generation of so-called advanced, safe and easier-to-build nuclear reactors − small nuclear power plants − will be vital to combat climate change are an illusion, and the idea should be abandoned, says a group of scientists.

Their report, “Advanced” is not always better, published by the US Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), examines all the proposed new types of reactor under development in the US and fails to find any that could be developed in time to help deal with the urgent need to cut carbon emissions. The US government is spending $600 million on supporting these prototypes.

While the report goes into details only about the many designs of small and medium-sized reactors being developed by US companies, it is a serious blow to the worldwide nuclear industry because the technologies are all similar to those also being underwritten by taxpayers in Canada, the UK, Russia and China. This is a market the World Economic Forum claimed in January could be worth $300 billion by 2040.

Edwin Lyman, who wrote the report, and is the director of nuclear power safety in the UCS Climate and Energy Program, thinks the WEF estimate is extremely unlikely. He comments on nuclear power in general: “The technology has fundamental safety and security disadvantages compared with other low-carbon sources.

“Nuclear reactors and their associated facilities for fuel production and waste handling are vulnerable to catastrophic accidents and sabotage, and they can be misused to produce materials for nuclear weapons. The nuclear industry, policymakers, and regulators must address these shortcomings fully if the global use of nuclear power is to increase without posing unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and international peace and security.”

Cheaper options

Lyman says none of the new reactors appears to solve any of these problems. Also, he says, the industry’s claims that their designs could cost less, be built quickly, reduce the production of nuclear waste, use uranium more efficiently and reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation have yet to be proved. The developers have also yet to demonstrate that the new generation of reactors has improved safety features enabling them to shut down quickly in the event of attack or accident.

Lyman examines the idea that reactors can be placed near cities or industry so that the waste heat from their electricity generation can be used in district heating or for industrial processes.

He says there is no evidence that the public would be keen on the idea of having nuclear power stations planted in their neighbourhoods.

Another of the industry’s ideas for using the power of the new nuclear stations to produce “green hydrogen” for use in transport or back-up energy production is technically feasible, but it seems likely that renewable energies like wind and solar could produce the hydrogen far more cheaply, the report says.

“Nuclear reactors are vulnerable to catastrophic accidents and sabotage, and they can be misused to produce materials for nuclear weapons”

In reality the nuclear industry is shrinking in international importance and is likely to continue to do so, Lyman says. According to the International Energy Agency, at the end of 2010, there were 441 operating nuclear power reactors worldwide, with a total electrical power capacity of 375 gigawatts of electricity (GWe).

At the end of 2019, there were 443 operating reactors − only two more than in 2010 − with a total generating capacity of 392 GWe. This represented a decrease of over 20% in the share of global electricity demand met by nuclear energy compared with 2010.

Lyman says the US Department of Energy would be more sensible trying to address the outstanding safety, security and cost issues of existing light water reactors in the US, rather than attempting to commercialise new and unproven designs. If the idea is to tackle climate change, improving existing designs is a better bet.

The report notes that it is not just the US that is having trouble with nuclear technology: Europe is also suffering severe delays and cost overruns with new plants at Olkiluoto in Finland, Flamanville in France and Hinkley Point C in the UK.

Lyman’s comments might be of interest to the British government, which has just published its integrated review of defence and foreign policy.

Military link declared

In it the government linked the future of the civil and defence nuclear capabilities of the country, showing that a healthy civil sector was important for propping up the military. This is controversial because of the government’s decision announced in the same review to increase the number of nuclear warheads from 180 to 260, threatening an escalation of the international arms race.

Although Lyman does not mention it, there is a clear crossover between civil and nuclear industries in the US, the UK, China, Russia and France. This is made more obvious because of the few countries that have renounced nuclear weapons − for example only Germany, Italy and Spain have shown no interest in building any kind of nuclear station. This is simply because renewables are cheaper and produce low carbon power far more quickly.

But the link between civil and defence nuclear industries does explain why in the UK the government is spending £215m ($298m) on research and development into the civil use of the small medium reactors championed by a consortium headed by Rolls-Royce, which is also one of the country’s major defence contractors. Rolls-Royce wants to build 16 of these reactors in a factory and assemble them in various parts of the country. It is also looking to sell them into Europe to gain economies of scale.

Judging by the UCS analysis, this deployment of as yet unproven new nuclear technologies is unlikely to be in time to help the climate crisis – one of the claims that both the US and UK governments and Rolls-Royce itself are making. − Climate News Network

Poorest people will suffer worst from cities’ heat

As ever, the poorest people will most feel the heat in a hotter world. But a green growth initiative could help them.

LONDON, 9 March, 2021 − As the summer thermometer soars, and the cities of the US Southwest are caught up in extremes of heat, the poorest people who live in the least prosperous districts may find their streets as much as 3°C hotter than those of the wealthiest 10%.

And in Los Angeles, one of the richest cities in one of the richest states of the world’s richest nation, citizens in the most heavily Latin-American districts could be as much as 3.7°C hotter than their white, well-heeled neighbours.

Excess heat is linked to heat stroke, exhaustion, respiratory and cardiovascular problems and of course death: one US group has identified 27 ways in which heat can kill, and several sets of researchers have independently established that potentially lethal heat waves are becoming more likely, more extreme and more widespread.

Californian geographers report in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that they mapped summer temperatures in 20 urban centres in California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

“The study provides strong new evidence of climate impact disparities affecting disadvantaged communities”

They looked at the data for median household income, and for ethnic origin, to identify the ratio of Black, Latin and Asian populations in each.

They also took into account education levels. And then they looked at satellite data for radiant and atmospheric temperatures on the warmest summer days and nights.

The greatest disparities in street temperature were in California. But on average the poorest 10% of neighbourhoods in a conurbation would be 2.2°C hotter than the wealthiest 10% both on average summer days and during extremes of heat.

There is a term for this: the inner city becomes a heat island. As global temperatures rise, crowded cities become increasingly inhospitable. Paved streets and car parks absorb and retain the sun’s radiation.

Ending ‘thermal inequity’

The suburbs and the high-amenity residential districts will have tree-lined streets, private gardens, parks, flower displays, lawns and even fountains or pools, all to help lower the local temperatures.

Using the constrained language favoured by science journals, the authors write: “The implication would be that programs to increase vegetation within disadvantaged neighborhoods and reduce or lighten pavements and rooftops could help reduce thermal disparities between neighborhoods of different socio-economic characteristics.”

The researchers can hardly have been surprised by their own results: a look at published research had shown them that other groups have found evidence of what they call “thermal inequity” in Hong Kong, New York and Chicago, as well as in Santiago, Chile and in the crowded cities of Britain’s West Midlands.

“The study provides strong new evidence of climate impact disparities affecting disadvantaged communities, and of the need for proactive steps to reduce those risks,” said John Dialesandro, of the department of human ecology at the University of California Davis, who led the research. “There is a strong need for state and local governments to take action.” − Climate News Network

As ever, the poorest people will most feel the heat in a hotter world. But a green growth initiative could help them.

LONDON, 9 March, 2021 − As the summer thermometer soars, and the cities of the US Southwest are caught up in extremes of heat, the poorest people who live in the least prosperous districts may find their streets as much as 3°C hotter than those of the wealthiest 10%.

And in Los Angeles, one of the richest cities in one of the richest states of the world’s richest nation, citizens in the most heavily Latin-American districts could be as much as 3.7°C hotter than their white, well-heeled neighbours.

Excess heat is linked to heat stroke, exhaustion, respiratory and cardiovascular problems and of course death: one US group has identified 27 ways in which heat can kill, and several sets of researchers have independently established that potentially lethal heat waves are becoming more likely, more extreme and more widespread.

Californian geographers report in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that they mapped summer temperatures in 20 urban centres in California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

“The study provides strong new evidence of climate impact disparities affecting disadvantaged communities”

They looked at the data for median household income, and for ethnic origin, to identify the ratio of Black, Latin and Asian populations in each.

They also took into account education levels. And then they looked at satellite data for radiant and atmospheric temperatures on the warmest summer days and nights.

The greatest disparities in street temperature were in California. But on average the poorest 10% of neighbourhoods in a conurbation would be 2.2°C hotter than the wealthiest 10% both on average summer days and during extremes of heat.

There is a term for this: the inner city becomes a heat island. As global temperatures rise, crowded cities become increasingly inhospitable. Paved streets and car parks absorb and retain the sun’s radiation.

Ending ‘thermal inequity’

The suburbs and the high-amenity residential districts will have tree-lined streets, private gardens, parks, flower displays, lawns and even fountains or pools, all to help lower the local temperatures.

Using the constrained language favoured by science journals, the authors write: “The implication would be that programs to increase vegetation within disadvantaged neighborhoods and reduce or lighten pavements and rooftops could help reduce thermal disparities between neighborhoods of different socio-economic characteristics.”

The researchers can hardly have been surprised by their own results: a look at published research had shown them that other groups have found evidence of what they call “thermal inequity” in Hong Kong, New York and Chicago, as well as in Santiago, Chile and in the crowded cities of Britain’s West Midlands.

“The study provides strong new evidence of climate impact disparities affecting disadvantaged communities, and of the need for proactive steps to reduce those risks,” said John Dialesandro, of the department of human ecology at the University of California Davis, who led the research. “There is a strong need for state and local governments to take action.” − Climate News Network

Carbon emissions slow, but not nearly fast enough

Global shutdown during Covid-19 has forced down carbon emissions. But no inadvertent pause can replace global resolve.

LONDON, 8 March, 2021 − Five years after a planet-wide vow to reduce carbon emissions, it happened. In 2020, the world’s nations pumped only 34 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a drop of 2.6bn tonnes on the previous year.

For that, thank the coronavirus that triggered a global pandemic and international lockdown, rather than the determination of the planet’s leaders, businesses, energy producers, consumers and citizens.

In fact, only 64 countries have cut their carbon emissions in the years since 195 nations delivered the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015: these achieved annual cuts of 0.16bn tonnes in the years since. But emissions actually rose in 150 nations, which means that overall from 2016 to 2019 emissions grew by 0.21bn tonnes, compared with the preceding five years, 2011-2015.

And, say British, European, Australian and US scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change, the global pause during the pandemic in 2020 is not likely to continue. To make the kind of carbon emissions cuts that will fulfill the promise made in Paris to contain global heating to “well below” 2°C by 2100, the world must reduce carbon dioxide emissions each year by one to two billion tonnes.

That is an annual increase of ten times the cuts achieved so far by only 64 out of 214 countries.

“It is in everyone’s best interests to build back better to speed the urgent transition to clean energy”

Researchers have, since 2015, repeatedly made the case − in economic terms, in terms of human safety and justice, in terms of human health and nutrition − for drastic reductions in the use of the fossil fuels that, ultimately, power all economic growth.

They have also repeatedly warned that almost no nation, anywhere, is doing nearly enough to help meet the proposed goal of no more than 1.5°C warming by the end of the century. The world has already warmed by more than 1°C in the last century, thanks to human choices. Soon planetary temperatures could cross a dangerous threshold.

And although the dramatic pause in economic activity triggered by yet another zoonotic virus, the emergence of which may be yet another consequence of human disturbance of the planet’s natural ecosystems, is an indicator of new possibilities, the planet is still addicted to fossil fuels.

“The drop in CO2 emissions in response to Covid-19 highlights the scale of actions and international adherence needed to tackle climate change,” said Corinne le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK, who led the study.

“Now we need large-scale actions that are good for human health and good for the planet. It is in everyone’s best interests to build back better to speed the urgent transition to clean energy.”

Inching towards cuts

The latest accounting suggests that there has been some movement, though simply not enough. Between 2016 and 2019, carbon emissions decreased in 25 out of 36 high income countries. The USA’s fell by 0.7%, the European Union’s by 0.9% and the UK’s by 3.6%, and those emissions fell even after accounting for the carbon costs of goods imported from other nations.

Of the middle income nations, Mexico’s carbon emissions dropped by 1.3% and China’s by 0.4%, a dramatic contrast with 2011-2015, when China’s emissions had grown by 6.2% a year. But altogether, 99 upper-middle income economies accounted for 51% of global emissions in 2019, and China accounted for 28% of the global total.

Even in the US and China, money is still going into fossil fuels. The European Union, Denmark, France, the UK, Germany and Switzerland are among the few countries that have tried to limit fossil fuel power and implement some kind of economic “green” stimulus.

The message is that, after a series of years in which temperature records have been repeatedly broken, years marked by devastating fire, drought, flood and windstorm, nations need to act, and at speed, to honour the Paris promise to cut their carbon emissions.

“This pressing timeline is constantly underscored by the rapid unfolding of extreme climate impacts worldwide,” said Professor Le Quéré. − Climate News Network

Global shutdown during Covid-19 has forced down carbon emissions. But no inadvertent pause can replace global resolve.

LONDON, 8 March, 2021 − Five years after a planet-wide vow to reduce carbon emissions, it happened. In 2020, the world’s nations pumped only 34 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a drop of 2.6bn tonnes on the previous year.

For that, thank the coronavirus that triggered a global pandemic and international lockdown, rather than the determination of the planet’s leaders, businesses, energy producers, consumers and citizens.

In fact, only 64 countries have cut their carbon emissions in the years since 195 nations delivered the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015: these achieved annual cuts of 0.16bn tonnes in the years since. But emissions actually rose in 150 nations, which means that overall from 2016 to 2019 emissions grew by 0.21bn tonnes, compared with the preceding five years, 2011-2015.

And, say British, European, Australian and US scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change, the global pause during the pandemic in 2020 is not likely to continue. To make the kind of carbon emissions cuts that will fulfill the promise made in Paris to contain global heating to “well below” 2°C by 2100, the world must reduce carbon dioxide emissions each year by one to two billion tonnes.

That is an annual increase of ten times the cuts achieved so far by only 64 out of 214 countries.

“It is in everyone’s best interests to build back better to speed the urgent transition to clean energy”

Researchers have, since 2015, repeatedly made the case − in economic terms, in terms of human safety and justice, in terms of human health and nutrition − for drastic reductions in the use of the fossil fuels that, ultimately, power all economic growth.

They have also repeatedly warned that almost no nation, anywhere, is doing nearly enough to help meet the proposed goal of no more than 1.5°C warming by the end of the century. The world has already warmed by more than 1°C in the last century, thanks to human choices. Soon planetary temperatures could cross a dangerous threshold.

And although the dramatic pause in economic activity triggered by yet another zoonotic virus, the emergence of which may be yet another consequence of human disturbance of the planet’s natural ecosystems, is an indicator of new possibilities, the planet is still addicted to fossil fuels.

“The drop in CO2 emissions in response to Covid-19 highlights the scale of actions and international adherence needed to tackle climate change,” said Corinne le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK, who led the study.

“Now we need large-scale actions that are good for human health and good for the planet. It is in everyone’s best interests to build back better to speed the urgent transition to clean energy.”

Inching towards cuts

The latest accounting suggests that there has been some movement, though simply not enough. Between 2016 and 2019, carbon emissions decreased in 25 out of 36 high income countries. The USA’s fell by 0.7%, the European Union’s by 0.9% and the UK’s by 3.6%, and those emissions fell even after accounting for the carbon costs of goods imported from other nations.

Of the middle income nations, Mexico’s carbon emissions dropped by 1.3% and China’s by 0.4%, a dramatic contrast with 2011-2015, when China’s emissions had grown by 6.2% a year. But altogether, 99 upper-middle income economies accounted for 51% of global emissions in 2019, and China accounted for 28% of the global total.

Even in the US and China, money is still going into fossil fuels. The European Union, Denmark, France, the UK, Germany and Switzerland are among the few countries that have tried to limit fossil fuel power and implement some kind of economic “green” stimulus.

The message is that, after a series of years in which temperature records have been repeatedly broken, years marked by devastating fire, drought, flood and windstorm, nations need to act, and at speed, to honour the Paris promise to cut their carbon emissions.

“This pressing timeline is constantly underscored by the rapid unfolding of extreme climate impacts worldwide,” said Professor Le Quéré. − Climate News Network

Solar power’s future could soon be overshadowed

Despite its recent runaway success, solar power’s future as a key way to counter climate chaos could soon be at risk.

LONDON, 12 February, 2021– As more households and industries have opted to harness the sun’s energy, a small but definite shadow is nagging at the many manufacturers who have put their faith in solar power’s future.

Prices have fallen dramatically: according to the International Energy Agency, the cost of producing electricity from solar energy dropped 80% over the past decade. But a mix of international economic rivalries and human rights issues could hamper the onward expansion of solar around the world.

Up till 15 years ago companies in Europe and Japan dominated the solar manufacturing industry. That has all changed: as with so many manufactured products, China now accounts for the bulk of solar equipment produced globally, with about a 70% share.

China itself is also by far the world’s biggest market for solar: about half of all solar power installed round the globe is in China.

China-based companies have invested heavily in sophisticated manufacturing facilities and in research and development. The country’s dominance of the solar manufacturing sector has caused concern in some countries.

“We’ve been telling all solar companies operating in the Xinjiang region to immediately move their supply chains. We’d ask all solar companies to immediately leave the region”

Manufacturers of photovoltaic panels and other solar products in East Asia, the US and Europe have alleged that cheaper, state-subsidised goods from China have hampered development of home-grown solar industries.

The former Trump administration in the US voiced increasingly strident opposition to what it saw as unfair trading practices by China: in early 2018 Washington slapped a 30% tariff on solar imports from China.

The resulting setback for the US solar market – and China’s exporters – was only temporary. The appetite in the US and elsewhere for solar power continues to grow.

In many countries solar energy is out-competing fossil fuels on price. Meanwhile new technologies and more efficient batteries mean large amounts of solar power can be stored for use in periods when the sun doesn’t shine.

Waiting for Biden

In 2019 there was a 24% increase in the number of solar installations in the US, with utility companies, particularly in sunnier and more environmentally progressive states such as California, leading the solar surge.

Whether or not the new Biden administration in the US will soften the hard line taken on China by former President Trump is uncertain.

Some feel that, while Biden might seek to ease trade tensions, there could be more emphasis on human rights issues, particularly in relation to the widely reported actions taken by Beijing against the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the north-western province of Xinjiang.

This could have serious implications for the solar industry, not only in China but worldwide. A number of China’s big solar manufacturers, some in partnership with foreign companies, have concentrated their operations in Xinjiang. The province accounts for the bulk of China’s production of polysilicon, one of the most important base materials for solar panels.

There have been reports not only about Uighurs and other groups in Xinjiang being forcibly herded into so-called re-education camps, but also of local people being used as forced labour in solar and other industries.

Human rights concern

Reacting to reports of widespread repression in the region, the US recently banned the import of tomatoes and cotton from Xinjiang.

The US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) – a trade body representing the US solar industry and a sector employing an estimated 250,000 people – said it was taking the reports very seriously.

“Forced labour has no place in the solar industry”, said the SEIA. “Since the fall we’ve been proactively telling all solar companies operating in the Xinjiang region to immediately move their supply chains. We’d like to reiterate this call to action and ask all solar companies to immediately leave the region.”

Beijing has described the reports of forced labour in the province as “the biggest lie of the century”. – Climate News Network

Despite its recent runaway success, solar power’s future as a key way to counter climate chaos could soon be at risk.

LONDON, 12 February, 2021– As more households and industries have opted to harness the sun’s energy, a small but definite shadow is nagging at the many manufacturers who have put their faith in solar power’s future.

Prices have fallen dramatically: according to the International Energy Agency, the cost of producing electricity from solar energy dropped 80% over the past decade. But a mix of international economic rivalries and human rights issues could hamper the onward expansion of solar around the world.

Up till 15 years ago companies in Europe and Japan dominated the solar manufacturing industry. That has all changed: as with so many manufactured products, China now accounts for the bulk of solar equipment produced globally, with about a 70% share.

China itself is also by far the world’s biggest market for solar: about half of all solar power installed round the globe is in China.

China-based companies have invested heavily in sophisticated manufacturing facilities and in research and development. The country’s dominance of the solar manufacturing sector has caused concern in some countries.

“We’ve been telling all solar companies operating in the Xinjiang region to immediately move their supply chains. We’d ask all solar companies to immediately leave the region”

Manufacturers of photovoltaic panels and other solar products in East Asia, the US and Europe have alleged that cheaper, state-subsidised goods from China have hampered development of home-grown solar industries.

The former Trump administration in the US voiced increasingly strident opposition to what it saw as unfair trading practices by China: in early 2018 Washington slapped a 30% tariff on solar imports from China.

The resulting setback for the US solar market – and China’s exporters – was only temporary. The appetite in the US and elsewhere for solar power continues to grow.

In many countries solar energy is out-competing fossil fuels on price. Meanwhile new technologies and more efficient batteries mean large amounts of solar power can be stored for use in periods when the sun doesn’t shine.

Waiting for Biden

In 2019 there was a 24% increase in the number of solar installations in the US, with utility companies, particularly in sunnier and more environmentally progressive states such as California, leading the solar surge.

Whether or not the new Biden administration in the US will soften the hard line taken on China by former President Trump is uncertain.

Some feel that, while Biden might seek to ease trade tensions, there could be more emphasis on human rights issues, particularly in relation to the widely reported actions taken by Beijing against the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the north-western province of Xinjiang.

This could have serious implications for the solar industry, not only in China but worldwide. A number of China’s big solar manufacturers, some in partnership with foreign companies, have concentrated their operations in Xinjiang. The province accounts for the bulk of China’s production of polysilicon, one of the most important base materials for solar panels.

There have been reports not only about Uighurs and other groups in Xinjiang being forcibly herded into so-called re-education camps, but also of local people being used as forced labour in solar and other industries.

Human rights concern

Reacting to reports of widespread repression in the region, the US recently banned the import of tomatoes and cotton from Xinjiang.

The US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) – a trade body representing the US solar industry and a sector employing an estimated 250,000 people – said it was taking the reports very seriously.

“Forced labour has no place in the solar industry”, said the SEIA. “Since the fall we’ve been proactively telling all solar companies operating in the Xinjiang region to immediately move their supply chains. We’d like to reiterate this call to action and ask all solar companies to immediately leave the region.”

Beijing has described the reports of forced labour in the province as “the biggest lie of the century”. – Climate News Network

Carbon-free future is in reach for the US by 2050

America could have a carbon-free future by 2050 with a big switch to wind and solar power, say US government scientists.

LONDON, 11 February, 2021 − The US − per head of population perhaps the world’s most prodigal emitter of greenhouse gases − can reverse that and have a carbon-free future within three decades, at a cost of no more than $1 per person per day.

That would mean renewable energy to power all 50 states: giant wind power farms, solar power stations, electric cars, heat pumps and a range of other technological solutions.

The argument has been made before: made repeatedly; and contested too. But this time the reasoning comes not from individual scientists in a handful of US universities, but from an American government research base: the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with help from the University of San Francisco.

To make the switch more politically feasible, the authors argue, existing power plant could be allowed to live out its economic life; nobody need be asked to scrap a brand new gasoline-driven car for an electric vehicle.

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the US, as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries”

Their study − in the journal AGU Advances − looked at a range of ways to get to net zero carbon emissions, at costs as low as 0.2% of gross domestic product (GDP, the economist’s favourite measure of national wealth), or as high as 1.2%, with about 90% of power generated by wind or solar energy.

“The decarbonisation of the US energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation,” said Margaret Torn, of the Berkeley Lab, one of the authors.

“It means that by 2050 we need to build many gigawatts of wind and solar plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings, while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.”

The economic costs would be almost exclusively capital costs necessitated by the new infrastructure. That is both bad and good.

Jobs aplenty

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the US, as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries.

“There’s no question that there will need to be a well thought-out economic transition strategy for fossil fuel-based industries and communities, but there’s also no question that there are a lot of jobs in building a low carbon economy.”

The study also suggests the US could even become a source of what the scientists call “net negative” emissions by mid-century, taking more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than is added.

This would mean systematic carbon capture, investment in biofuels, and a lot more electric power; which in turn would cost inland and interstate transmission lines. But, the authors argue, this would be affordable to society just on energy grounds alone. − Climate News Network

America could have a carbon-free future by 2050 with a big switch to wind and solar power, say US government scientists.

LONDON, 11 February, 2021 − The US − per head of population perhaps the world’s most prodigal emitter of greenhouse gases − can reverse that and have a carbon-free future within three decades, at a cost of no more than $1 per person per day.

That would mean renewable energy to power all 50 states: giant wind power farms, solar power stations, electric cars, heat pumps and a range of other technological solutions.

The argument has been made before: made repeatedly; and contested too. But this time the reasoning comes not from individual scientists in a handful of US universities, but from an American government research base: the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with help from the University of San Francisco.

To make the switch more politically feasible, the authors argue, existing power plant could be allowed to live out its economic life; nobody need be asked to scrap a brand new gasoline-driven car for an electric vehicle.

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the US, as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries”

Their study − in the journal AGU Advances − looked at a range of ways to get to net zero carbon emissions, at costs as low as 0.2% of gross domestic product (GDP, the economist’s favourite measure of national wealth), or as high as 1.2%, with about 90% of power generated by wind or solar energy.

“The decarbonisation of the US energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation,” said Margaret Torn, of the Berkeley Lab, one of the authors.

“It means that by 2050 we need to build many gigawatts of wind and solar plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings, while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.”

The economic costs would be almost exclusively capital costs necessitated by the new infrastructure. That is both bad and good.

Jobs aplenty

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the US, as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries.

“There’s no question that there will need to be a well thought-out economic transition strategy for fossil fuel-based industries and communities, but there’s also no question that there are a lot of jobs in building a low carbon economy.”

The study also suggests the US could even become a source of what the scientists call “net negative” emissions by mid-century, taking more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than is added.

This would mean systematic carbon capture, investment in biofuels, and a lot more electric power; which in turn would cost inland and interstate transmission lines. But, the authors argue, this would be affordable to society just on energy grounds alone. − Climate News Network

Bolsonaro’s Brazil is becoming a climate pariah

Bolsonaro’s Brazil cuts environment funding despite rising forest losses and fires in the Amazon and elsewhere.

SÃO PAULO, 1 February, 2021 − At home and abroad, the environmental policies being adopted in President Bolsonaro’s Brazil are leaving the country increasingly isolated, especially now his climate-denying idol Donald Trump has been replaced by the climate-friendly President Biden.

After two years of record deforestation and forest fires, the government’s proposed budget for environment agencies in 2021 is the smallest for 21 years, according to a report by the Climate Observatory, a network of 56 NGOs and other organisations.

The Observatory’s executive secretary, Marcio Astrini, believes this is deliberate: “Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy and sabotaged the instruments for protecting our biomass, being directly responsible for the increase in fires, deforestation and national emissions.

“The situation is dramatic, because the federal government, which should be providing solutions to the problem, is today the centre of the problem.”

Greenpeace spokeswoman Luiza Lima says the problem is not, as the government claims, a lack of funds: “Just a small fraction of the amount which has gone to the army to defend the Amazon would provide the minimum needed by environment agencies to fulfil their functions.”

Ecocide alleged

And she recalls the existence of two funds, the Climate Fund and the Amazon Fund, which have been paralysed by the government because of its anti-NGO stance, expressed in Bolsonaro’s phrase: “NGOS are cancers”.

Not only has Bolsonaro attacked NGOs, but he is also accused of deliberately neglecting Brazil’s indigenous peoples, who number almost a million. He has refused to demarcate indigenous areas, even when the lengthy and meticulous process to identify them, involving anthropologists and archeologists, has been concluded.

Invasions of indigenous areas in Bolsonaro’s Brazil increased by 135% in 2019, with 236 known incidents, and it is these invaders, usually wildcat miners, illegal loggers or land grabbers, who have helped to spread the coronavirus. Rates of Covid-19 among indigenous peoples are double those of the population in general, and 48% of those hospitalised for Covid-19 die, according to one of Brazil’s top medical research centres, Fiocruz.

The green light given by the government, aided by the prospect of impunity thanks to a drastic reduction in enforcement, which will be made worse by the budget cuts, caused massive deforestation in some indigenous areas − exactly when the virus was spreading. Indigenous areas are often islands of preservation, surrounded by soy farms and cattle ranches.

This situation led indigenous leaders Raoni Metuktire and Almir Suruí to file a complaint at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, calling for an investigation of Bolsonaro and members of his government for crimes against humanity, because of the persecution of indigenous peoples.

They also denounced his environmental policies and asked the court to recognise ecocide – the destruction of the environment causing danger to human life − as a crime against humanity.

“Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy”

William Bourdon, a French lawyer who presented the accusation, said: “We have exhaustive documentation to prove that Bolsonaro announced and premeditated this policy of the total destruction of the Amazon, and of the community protected by the Amazon.”

At the same time, nine former environment ministers sent a letter to the prime ministers of France, Germany and Norway, with an “urgent cry for help”, saying the Brazilian Amazon is being devastated by a double public calamity, environmental and health.

They wrote: “In 2020 the region suffered an unprecedented increase in deforestation and fires, the worst in a decade. Large-scale criminal fires during the dry periods enormously worsened the respiratory problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, contributing to the high death rate in the Amazon.”

Many of those who died were holders of traditional knowledge about its natural resources, they said. The ex-ministers asked for donations of hospital equipment and oxygen cylinders for Amazon hospitals.

On another front, the Climate Action Network − CAN, representing over 1300 organisations, has sent a letter to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), expressing its “deepest concerns” with regards to the updated NDC submitted by Brazil on the 9th of December 2020.

Under the Paris Agreement of 2015 NDCs are intended to show how individual governments will cut their carbon dioxide emissions to help to achieve the internationally agreed target of preventing climate heating from exceeding 1.5°C above its historic level. Brazil’s NDC clearly falls short of that target.

Biden’s new direction

CAN says: “As the sixth-largest global greenhouse gas emitter, Brazil has an important role to play in tackling climate change. Being a regional leader and an important economy in Latin America, it has the necessary resources to step up climate action”.

Instead, it says, the NDC now submitted is a regression from the previous one and was decided without consultation, transparency or the participation of civil society, scientists and other stakeholders.

CAN asks the UN body not to accept Brazil’s NDC, which would send the wrong signal to other countries, but to ask Brazil to improve its targets.

Finally, and probably the most important contribution to the isolation of Bolsonaro’s Brazil as a climate pariah, is the change in direction of the US government under President Joe Biden.

During the election campaign, he said that there would be economic consequences for Brazil if it did not protect the Amazon rainforest. At the summit of climate leaders Biden is planning to host on Earth Day, 22 April, Bolsonaro could find himself in the dock for his policies. − Climate News Network

Bolsonaro’s Brazil cuts environment funding despite rising forest losses and fires in the Amazon and elsewhere.

SÃO PAULO, 1 February, 2021 − At home and abroad, the environmental policies being adopted in President Bolsonaro’s Brazil are leaving the country increasingly isolated, especially now his climate-denying idol Donald Trump has been replaced by the climate-friendly President Biden.

After two years of record deforestation and forest fires, the government’s proposed budget for environment agencies in 2021 is the smallest for 21 years, according to a report by the Climate Observatory, a network of 56 NGOs and other organisations.

The Observatory’s executive secretary, Marcio Astrini, believes this is deliberate: “Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy and sabotaged the instruments for protecting our biomass, being directly responsible for the increase in fires, deforestation and national emissions.

“The situation is dramatic, because the federal government, which should be providing solutions to the problem, is today the centre of the problem.”

Greenpeace spokeswoman Luiza Lima says the problem is not, as the government claims, a lack of funds: “Just a small fraction of the amount which has gone to the army to defend the Amazon would provide the minimum needed by environment agencies to fulfil their functions.”

Ecocide alleged

And she recalls the existence of two funds, the Climate Fund and the Amazon Fund, which have been paralysed by the government because of its anti-NGO stance, expressed in Bolsonaro’s phrase: “NGOS are cancers”.

Not only has Bolsonaro attacked NGOs, but he is also accused of deliberately neglecting Brazil’s indigenous peoples, who number almost a million. He has refused to demarcate indigenous areas, even when the lengthy and meticulous process to identify them, involving anthropologists and archeologists, has been concluded.

Invasions of indigenous areas in Bolsonaro’s Brazil increased by 135% in 2019, with 236 known incidents, and it is these invaders, usually wildcat miners, illegal loggers or land grabbers, who have helped to spread the coronavirus. Rates of Covid-19 among indigenous peoples are double those of the population in general, and 48% of those hospitalised for Covid-19 die, according to one of Brazil’s top medical research centres, Fiocruz.

The green light given by the government, aided by the prospect of impunity thanks to a drastic reduction in enforcement, which will be made worse by the budget cuts, caused massive deforestation in some indigenous areas − exactly when the virus was spreading. Indigenous areas are often islands of preservation, surrounded by soy farms and cattle ranches.

This situation led indigenous leaders Raoni Metuktire and Almir Suruí to file a complaint at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, calling for an investigation of Bolsonaro and members of his government for crimes against humanity, because of the persecution of indigenous peoples.

They also denounced his environmental policies and asked the court to recognise ecocide – the destruction of the environment causing danger to human life − as a crime against humanity.

“Bolsonaro has adopted the destruction of the environment as a policy”

William Bourdon, a French lawyer who presented the accusation, said: “We have exhaustive documentation to prove that Bolsonaro announced and premeditated this policy of the total destruction of the Amazon, and of the community protected by the Amazon.”

At the same time, nine former environment ministers sent a letter to the prime ministers of France, Germany and Norway, with an “urgent cry for help”, saying the Brazilian Amazon is being devastated by a double public calamity, environmental and health.

They wrote: “In 2020 the region suffered an unprecedented increase in deforestation and fires, the worst in a decade. Large-scale criminal fires during the dry periods enormously worsened the respiratory problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, contributing to the high death rate in the Amazon.”

Many of those who died were holders of traditional knowledge about its natural resources, they said. The ex-ministers asked for donations of hospital equipment and oxygen cylinders for Amazon hospitals.

On another front, the Climate Action Network − CAN, representing over 1300 organisations, has sent a letter to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), expressing its “deepest concerns” with regards to the updated NDC submitted by Brazil on the 9th of December 2020.

Under the Paris Agreement of 2015 NDCs are intended to show how individual governments will cut their carbon dioxide emissions to help to achieve the internationally agreed target of preventing climate heating from exceeding 1.5°C above its historic level. Brazil’s NDC clearly falls short of that target.

Biden’s new direction

CAN says: “As the sixth-largest global greenhouse gas emitter, Brazil has an important role to play in tackling climate change. Being a regional leader and an important economy in Latin America, it has the necessary resources to step up climate action”.

Instead, it says, the NDC now submitted is a regression from the previous one and was decided without consultation, transparency or the participation of civil society, scientists and other stakeholders.

CAN asks the UN body not to accept Brazil’s NDC, which would send the wrong signal to other countries, but to ask Brazil to improve its targets.

Finally, and probably the most important contribution to the isolation of Bolsonaro’s Brazil as a climate pariah, is the change in direction of the US government under President Joe Biden.

During the election campaign, he said that there would be economic consequences for Brazil if it did not protect the Amazon rainforest. At the summit of climate leaders Biden is planning to host on Earth Day, 22 April, Bolsonaro could find himself in the dock for his policies. − Climate News Network

US pays rising costs for climate’s flood damage

America’s rainfall patterns are changing with the global climate − and making catastrophic flood damage even more costly.

LONDON, 21 January, 2021 − Climate change alone has cost the United States a total of $73 billion in flood damage in the last 30 years.

The figure is significant: floods are an expensive fact of life. But Californian scientists are now sure that more than one-third of the costs of US floods must be attributed to the global heating driven by human use of fossil fuels.

The news comes hard on the heels of a second finding: that over the last century, the count of what hydrologists call “extreme streamflow” events in Canada and the US has increased significantly. This confirms that droughts are on the increase − and so are floods.

Such findings matter to engineers and city planners, and to insurers, and each resolves some long-standing uncertainties.

Because floods and droughts are part of the challenge of living close to a constant flow of water, researchers have never been too sure whether costly floods are on the increase or are just more obvious because population growth and urban spread mean that more people with more expensive property are increasingly at risk.

“The shifts towards more extreme events are especially important given the age of our dams, bridges and roads”

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences settles the matter of rising costs: researchers looked at 6,600 reports of flood damage and rainfall data between 1988 and 2017 and then applied sophisticated mathematical techniques to tease out the contribution from higher precipitation driven by higher average temperatures, driven in turn by ever-higher ratios of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

They decided that of the $199bn flood damage costs during those years, human-triggered climate change could account for 36%.

“The fact that extreme precipitation has been increasing and will likely increase is well-known, but what effect that has had on financial damages has been uncertain,” said Frances Davenport, of Stanford University.

“What we find is that, even in states where long-term mean precipitation hasn’t changed, in most cases the wettest events have intensified, increasing the financial damages relative to what would have occurred without the changes in precipitation.”

Higher temperatures mean more evaporation. Higher temperatures mean a bigger burden of water vapour in the atmosphere. So higher rainfall is inevitable.

Variable impacts

But repeated studies have found this will happen unevenly: those places already rainy will see more rain. Other regions can expect longer, more intense dry spells.

A second team of US researchers reports in the journal Science Advances that they looked at streamflow data from 541 North American stations since 1910.

They found that in the US west and south-east, the frequency of “extreme low-flow events” has been on the increase, particularly during summer and autumn. In zones where rivers were likely to be fed by melting snow, there was a discernible rise in flood events. Once again, this is a finding with practical consequences.

“The shifts towards more extreme events are especially important given the age of our dams, bridges and roads,” said Evan Dethier, of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. “The changes to river flows that we found are important for those who manage or depend on this type of infrastructure.” − Climate News Network

America’s rainfall patterns are changing with the global climate − and making catastrophic flood damage even more costly.

LONDON, 21 January, 2021 − Climate change alone has cost the United States a total of $73 billion in flood damage in the last 30 years.

The figure is significant: floods are an expensive fact of life. But Californian scientists are now sure that more than one-third of the costs of US floods must be attributed to the global heating driven by human use of fossil fuels.

The news comes hard on the heels of a second finding: that over the last century, the count of what hydrologists call “extreme streamflow” events in Canada and the US has increased significantly. This confirms that droughts are on the increase − and so are floods.

Such findings matter to engineers and city planners, and to insurers, and each resolves some long-standing uncertainties.

Because floods and droughts are part of the challenge of living close to a constant flow of water, researchers have never been too sure whether costly floods are on the increase or are just more obvious because population growth and urban spread mean that more people with more expensive property are increasingly at risk.

“The shifts towards more extreme events are especially important given the age of our dams, bridges and roads”

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences settles the matter of rising costs: researchers looked at 6,600 reports of flood damage and rainfall data between 1988 and 2017 and then applied sophisticated mathematical techniques to tease out the contribution from higher precipitation driven by higher average temperatures, driven in turn by ever-higher ratios of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

They decided that of the $199bn flood damage costs during those years, human-triggered climate change could account for 36%.

“The fact that extreme precipitation has been increasing and will likely increase is well-known, but what effect that has had on financial damages has been uncertain,” said Frances Davenport, of Stanford University.

“What we find is that, even in states where long-term mean precipitation hasn’t changed, in most cases the wettest events have intensified, increasing the financial damages relative to what would have occurred without the changes in precipitation.”

Higher temperatures mean more evaporation. Higher temperatures mean a bigger burden of water vapour in the atmosphere. So higher rainfall is inevitable.

Variable impacts

But repeated studies have found this will happen unevenly: those places already rainy will see more rain. Other regions can expect longer, more intense dry spells.

A second team of US researchers reports in the journal Science Advances that they looked at streamflow data from 541 North American stations since 1910.

They found that in the US west and south-east, the frequency of “extreme low-flow events” has been on the increase, particularly during summer and autumn. In zones where rivers were likely to be fed by melting snow, there was a discernible rise in flood events. Once again, this is a finding with practical consequences.

“The shifts towards more extreme events are especially important given the age of our dams, bridges and roads,” said Evan Dethier, of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. “The changes to river flows that we found are important for those who manage or depend on this type of infrastructure.” − Climate News Network

Chill out the easy way: science can cool you down

There’s more than one way to chill out. White paint and watery windows could help. So could the deep blue sea.

LONDON, 21 December, 2020 − It’s getting simpler and cheaper to chill out: US scientists have developed an ultra-cool white paint that can reflect more than 95% of the sun’s rays and keep the house cooler on the hottest days.

Across the Pacific in Singapore, researchers have developed a “smart window” clever enough to block the incoming sunlight and regulate the building’s internal temperature. It’s pretty good at blocking the noise from the streets, too.

And people who live on tropical islands and find the heat a bit much can cool their homes with a steady flow of cold seawater from the ocean depths.

Austrian researchers calculate that a cubic metre of water from 700 metres below the ocean surface can deliver the same cooling power as 21 wind turbines, or a solarpowered-farm the size of 68 football fields.

Prototypes tested

None of these developments is anywhere near commercial scale exploitation. But two have been tested in prototype and each is a reminder of the ingenuity and imagination at work in the world’s laboratories in bids to confront the energy crisis, limit climate change and find new and carbon-free ways to solve the planet’s mounting challenges.

One of the biggest of those challenges is the soaring thermometer: as global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use steadily drives up the mercury, yet more and more people, if they want to chill out, are being forced to invest in air-conditioning, a technology that demands even more energy use and heightens the temperature in the city streets.

So the case for passive, or sophisticated, or simply new ways to turn to stay cool is irresistible. Researchers from Purdue University in Indiana in the US write, in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science, that they have developed a technology that could be used in commercial paints, that could be cheaper to make, and that could reflect so much sunlight back into space that the surface of the property could be cooler than the air around it. And it used calcium carbonate − think chalk, or limestone − rather than the more difficult-to-find titanium dioxide to do the trick.

Tests in West Lafayette, Indiana found that when the sun was at its zenith the paint surface stayed 1.7°C cooler than the atmosphere around it. At night, the paint temperature dropped to 10°C below the ambient surroundings.

“Scientists in Singapore have developed a liquid sandwiched between two glass panes that in tests can cut 45% of the energy needed to heat, ventilate and air-condition a property”

Windows are vital in building design, but they can be the least energy-efficient part of any construction. Scientists at Nanyang Technical University in Singapore report in the journal Joule that they have developed a hydrogel-based liquid sandwiched between two glass panes that − in tests − can cut 45% of the energy needed in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning a property.

This could be big business: buildings account for 40% of global energy usage, and half of that goes out of the world’s windows. With savings on that scale possible, all will be able to chill out.

So researchers have been experimenting with glass coatings that cut down the infra-red traffic − the waves that carry heat − from within and without the building, but which do not regulate visible sunlight, which heats the interior as it shines through the glass.

The Singapore scientists found that their micro-hydrogel could respond to temperature change, and turn opaque when exposed to heat. So it could block incoming sunlight, and return to clear glass when things got cooler. At the same time, the trapped hydrogel water stored a lot of thermal energy rather than let it into the building during the heat of the day, but gradually released it at night.

District cooling

In midsummer noonday tests in Beijing, when a normal glass window registered 84°C, the smart window glass stayed at 50°C and saved 11% of the energy required to maintain the same indoor air temperature.

They tested the smart glass in Shanghai in China, Las Vegas in the US, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and in Singapore: in each case, it performed better than regular glass or low-emission windows. It also reduced noise 15% more efficiently than normal double-glazing.

And rather than cool indoor air, and pump the hot air back into the streets with an electric motor − the basis of most air-conditioning − scientists at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria report in the journal Energy Efficiency that for those who live on tropical or subtropical coasts, a short distance from the deep ocean, in places where electricity costs are high, it might be much cheaper to cool whole districts − universities, airports, data centres, hotels and resorts and so on − with pumped deep ocean water at temperatures of around 3°C to 5°C.

Stored tanks of cold seawater could even make chiller facilities more efficient, and reduce the costs of food storage. But, the IIASA team warns, there might be problems with the impact on coastal wildlife while returning the used seawater to the ocean surface. − Climate News Network

There’s more than one way to chill out. White paint and watery windows could help. So could the deep blue sea.

LONDON, 21 December, 2020 − It’s getting simpler and cheaper to chill out: US scientists have developed an ultra-cool white paint that can reflect more than 95% of the sun’s rays and keep the house cooler on the hottest days.

Across the Pacific in Singapore, researchers have developed a “smart window” clever enough to block the incoming sunlight and regulate the building’s internal temperature. It’s pretty good at blocking the noise from the streets, too.

And people who live on tropical islands and find the heat a bit much can cool their homes with a steady flow of cold seawater from the ocean depths.

Austrian researchers calculate that a cubic metre of water from 700 metres below the ocean surface can deliver the same cooling power as 21 wind turbines, or a solarpowered-farm the size of 68 football fields.

Prototypes tested

None of these developments is anywhere near commercial scale exploitation. But two have been tested in prototype and each is a reminder of the ingenuity and imagination at work in the world’s laboratories in bids to confront the energy crisis, limit climate change and find new and carbon-free ways to solve the planet’s mounting challenges.

One of the biggest of those challenges is the soaring thermometer: as global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use steadily drives up the mercury, yet more and more people, if they want to chill out, are being forced to invest in air-conditioning, a technology that demands even more energy use and heightens the temperature in the city streets.

So the case for passive, or sophisticated, or simply new ways to turn to stay cool is irresistible. Researchers from Purdue University in Indiana in the US write, in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science, that they have developed a technology that could be used in commercial paints, that could be cheaper to make, and that could reflect so much sunlight back into space that the surface of the property could be cooler than the air around it. And it used calcium carbonate − think chalk, or limestone − rather than the more difficult-to-find titanium dioxide to do the trick.

Tests in West Lafayette, Indiana found that when the sun was at its zenith the paint surface stayed 1.7°C cooler than the atmosphere around it. At night, the paint temperature dropped to 10°C below the ambient surroundings.

“Scientists in Singapore have developed a liquid sandwiched between two glass panes that in tests can cut 45% of the energy needed to heat, ventilate and air-condition a property”

Windows are vital in building design, but they can be the least energy-efficient part of any construction. Scientists at Nanyang Technical University in Singapore report in the journal Joule that they have developed a hydrogel-based liquid sandwiched between two glass panes that − in tests − can cut 45% of the energy needed in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning a property.

This could be big business: buildings account for 40% of global energy usage, and half of that goes out of the world’s windows. With savings on that scale possible, all will be able to chill out.

So researchers have been experimenting with glass coatings that cut down the infra-red traffic − the waves that carry heat − from within and without the building, but which do not regulate visible sunlight, which heats the interior as it shines through the glass.

The Singapore scientists found that their micro-hydrogel could respond to temperature change, and turn opaque when exposed to heat. So it could block incoming sunlight, and return to clear glass when things got cooler. At the same time, the trapped hydrogel water stored a lot of thermal energy rather than let it into the building during the heat of the day, but gradually released it at night.

District cooling

In midsummer noonday tests in Beijing, when a normal glass window registered 84°C, the smart window glass stayed at 50°C and saved 11% of the energy required to maintain the same indoor air temperature.

They tested the smart glass in Shanghai in China, Las Vegas in the US, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and in Singapore: in each case, it performed better than regular glass or low-emission windows. It also reduced noise 15% more efficiently than normal double-glazing.

And rather than cool indoor air, and pump the hot air back into the streets with an electric motor − the basis of most air-conditioning − scientists at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria report in the journal Energy Efficiency that for those who live on tropical or subtropical coasts, a short distance from the deep ocean, in places where electricity costs are high, it might be much cheaper to cool whole districts − universities, airports, data centres, hotels and resorts and so on − with pumped deep ocean water at temperatures of around 3°C to 5°C.

Stored tanks of cold seawater could even make chiller facilities more efficient, and reduce the costs of food storage. But, the IIASA team warns, there might be problems with the impact on coastal wildlife while returning the used seawater to the ocean surface. − Climate News Network

Major US pension fund plans fossil-free future

Goodbye to fossil fuels, says one major US pension fund: they’re no good for either the climate or the economy.

LONDON, 17 December, 2020 − In what’s being billed as “the biggest leap forward worldwide on climate finance action this year,” a major US pension fund has announced plans to move its money out of fossil fuels.

The New York State Common Retirement Fund has a portfolio of $226 billion worth of investments under its control. A substantial portion of that cash pile has been invested in the fossil fuel industry, including more than $1bn in the oil giant ExxonMobil.

Tom DiNapoli, the New York State comptroller, who oversees the state’s fiscal affairs, said the retirement fund was pulling its money out of fossil fuels not only for the good of the climate: the move also made financial sense.

“New York State’s pension fund is at the leading edge of investors addressing climate risk because investing for the low-carbon future is essential to protect the fund’s long-term value”, said DiNapoli.

“Divestment is a last resort, but it is an investment tool we can apply to companies that consistently put our investments’ long-term value at risk”

“We continue to assess energy sector companies in our portfolio for their future ability to provide investment returns in light of the global consensus on climate change. Divestment is a last resort, but it is an investment tool we can apply to companies that consistently put our investments’ long-term value at risk.”

The fund is the third largest public pension fund in the US, investing on behalf of more than a million past and present state and local government employees. Under the fund’s plan, investments in what’s termed the riskiest oil and gas companies will be withdrawn by 2025: by 2040 the fund aims to have no money invested in companies associated with climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.

It says it has already withdrawn investments in more than 20 coal companies. Earlier this year, the last remaining coal-fired power plant in New York State closed.

The fund is now reviewing its investments in tar sands projects and plans further analysis of its financial holdings in fracking companies, fossil fuel service groups, oil and gas transport companies and pipeline operations.

Sandy’s warning

Climate activists in New York State have been among those at the forefront of what’s grown into a global campaign aimed at persuading investors to withdraw their money from the fossil fuel industry.

In 2012 Hurricane Sandy hit the Caribbean, the east coast of the US, and Canada. In the north-east of the US alone more than 60 people died, and the overall cost of the damage caused was estimated at more than $70bn.

In the aftermath of Sandy, a coalition of various organisations, including 350.org, was formed with the aim of persuading institutions – from religious groups to universities to sovereign wealth funds – to withdraw investments in fossil fuel enterprises.

Other organisations, such as the UK-based Fossil Free group, have boosted what is now a worldwide fossil fuel divestment movement, which has successfully campaigned for several trillion dollars’ worth of investments to be withdrawn from the fossil fuel industry. − Climate News Network

Goodbye to fossil fuels, says one major US pension fund: they’re no good for either the climate or the economy.

LONDON, 17 December, 2020 − In what’s being billed as “the biggest leap forward worldwide on climate finance action this year,” a major US pension fund has announced plans to move its money out of fossil fuels.

The New York State Common Retirement Fund has a portfolio of $226 billion worth of investments under its control. A substantial portion of that cash pile has been invested in the fossil fuel industry, including more than $1bn in the oil giant ExxonMobil.

Tom DiNapoli, the New York State comptroller, who oversees the state’s fiscal affairs, said the retirement fund was pulling its money out of fossil fuels not only for the good of the climate: the move also made financial sense.

“New York State’s pension fund is at the leading edge of investors addressing climate risk because investing for the low-carbon future is essential to protect the fund’s long-term value”, said DiNapoli.

“Divestment is a last resort, but it is an investment tool we can apply to companies that consistently put our investments’ long-term value at risk”

“We continue to assess energy sector companies in our portfolio for their future ability to provide investment returns in light of the global consensus on climate change. Divestment is a last resort, but it is an investment tool we can apply to companies that consistently put our investments’ long-term value at risk.”

The fund is the third largest public pension fund in the US, investing on behalf of more than a million past and present state and local government employees. Under the fund’s plan, investments in what’s termed the riskiest oil and gas companies will be withdrawn by 2025: by 2040 the fund aims to have no money invested in companies associated with climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.

It says it has already withdrawn investments in more than 20 coal companies. Earlier this year, the last remaining coal-fired power plant in New York State closed.

The fund is now reviewing its investments in tar sands projects and plans further analysis of its financial holdings in fracking companies, fossil fuel service groups, oil and gas transport companies and pipeline operations.

Sandy’s warning

Climate activists in New York State have been among those at the forefront of what’s grown into a global campaign aimed at persuading investors to withdraw their money from the fossil fuel industry.

In 2012 Hurricane Sandy hit the Caribbean, the east coast of the US, and Canada. In the north-east of the US alone more than 60 people died, and the overall cost of the damage caused was estimated at more than $70bn.

In the aftermath of Sandy, a coalition of various organisations, including 350.org, was formed with the aim of persuading institutions – from religious groups to universities to sovereign wealth funds – to withdraw investments in fossil fuel enterprises.

Other organisations, such as the UK-based Fossil Free group, have boosted what is now a worldwide fossil fuel divestment movement, which has successfully campaigned for several trillion dollars’ worth of investments to be withdrawn from the fossil fuel industry. − Climate News Network

Fire and flood menace parts of US and Bangladesh

Fire and flood are on the rise. Bangladesh and New York face more flooding: the American West may see more forests burn.

LONDON, 14 December, 2020 − More extreme weather is on the way for the hapless residents of Bangladesh, New York and the western US,  facing the prospect of worsening fire and flood.

There is a new future for New York. By the close of the century, thanks to sea level rise and global heating, parts of it could be swept by hurricane-driven catastrophic floods almost every year.

Things don’t look much brighter for much of Bangladesh. Scientists have recalculated the risk of flooding by the Brahmaputra river system to find that, even without the climate emergency, they had under-estimated the likelihood of devastating floods across the crowded, low-lying landscape.

And far away in the American west, US citizens face yet more and more devastating seasons of fire. The area incinerated by severe fires has increased eight-fold in the last 40 years, thanks to intensifying heat and drought. And thanks to climate change, drought will become more extended and more frequent. The temperatures, too, will go on rising.

All this emerged in just another week of routine climate science, as researchers try to gauge the difficulties to come, for national and civic authorities, for foresters and for farmers.

“The increase in these once-in-a-generation floods is so dramatic because the impact of sea-level rise will create greater flooding, even if the storms today stay the same”

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the US to cause $70bn in damages, and even slammed unexpectedly into New York, to devastate parts of the city. It counted as a once-in-500 years event.

Researchers report in the journal Climatic Change that they looked at the probabilities of more flooding in Jamaica Bay, on Long Island, New York as sea levels rose, along with the sea surface temperatures that drive fiercer storm weather, through the century.

Floods that tend to happen every century could, by 2050, occur every nine years. By 2080 to 2100, they could become annual events. And 500-year events like the 2012 superstorm could by the end of the century happen perhaps once every four years.

“Future projections of the hurricane climatology suggest that climate change would lead to storms that move more slowly and are more intense than we have ever seen before hitting Jamaica Bay,” said Reza Marsooli, an environmental engineer at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, a co-author.

“But the increase in these once-in-a-generation or even less frequent floods is so dramatic because the impact of sea-level rise will create greater flooding, even if the storms we are seeing today stayed the same.”

Prepare for worse

The hazard that faces Bangladesh − much of which is at sea level, on fertile floodplain created by the Ganges-Brahmaputra river system − is more insidious.

One of the great waterways of the world, it rises in the Himalayan snows and swells in the monsoon season to flood the rice paddies and replenish farmlands with nourishing sediments. Occasionally the floods become devastating: in 1998, some 70% of the nation was submerged. Floods have recurred, in 2007, 2010 and 2020.

Engineers have been monitoring the flow since the 1950s, and thought they knew the flood probabilities. But US, Australian and Chinese scientists report in the journal Nature Communications that they studied the growth rings in ancient trees to find that Bangladeshis have been living in unusual times: for much of the past 70 years, on the evidence told by old trees along the watershed, the river flow has been unusually dry − the driest in the last 700 years.

“The tree rings suggest that the long-term baseline conditions are much wetter than thought,” said Mukund Palat Rao, of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York, who led the research.

“Whether you consider climate models or natural variability, the message is the same. We should prepare for a higher frequency of flooding than we are currently predicting.”

Forests’ future threatened

In the past 40 years, thanks to global heating driven by ever-higher emissions of greenhouse gases from the combustion of fossil fuels, the state of California has experienced a series of droughts that lasted for years. The fire season too has begun earlier and lasted much longer.

Ecologists report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they defined high-severity fires as those that killed 95% of all trees. They then counted the most severe episodes of burning in four great regions of the western US from 1985 to 2017.

They found that by 2017, the area wiped out by severe fires had risen eight times, to more than 2,000 sq kms or 800 sq miles. Much of the tree cover of the US west is adapted to episodes of fire. But the frequency and intensity of recent blazes threatens the future of the forests altogether.

“As more area burns at high severity, the likelihood of conversion to different forest types or even to non-forest increases,” said Sean Parks of the US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, and the lead author.

“At the same time, the post-fire climate is making it increasingly difficult for seedlings to establish and survive, further reducing the potential for forests to return to their pre-fire condition.” − Climate News Network

Fire and flood are on the rise. Bangladesh and New York face more flooding: the American West may see more forests burn.

LONDON, 14 December, 2020 − More extreme weather is on the way for the hapless residents of Bangladesh, New York and the western US,  facing the prospect of worsening fire and flood.

There is a new future for New York. By the close of the century, thanks to sea level rise and global heating, parts of it could be swept by hurricane-driven catastrophic floods almost every year.

Things don’t look much brighter for much of Bangladesh. Scientists have recalculated the risk of flooding by the Brahmaputra river system to find that, even without the climate emergency, they had under-estimated the likelihood of devastating floods across the crowded, low-lying landscape.

And far away in the American west, US citizens face yet more and more devastating seasons of fire. The area incinerated by severe fires has increased eight-fold in the last 40 years, thanks to intensifying heat and drought. And thanks to climate change, drought will become more extended and more frequent. The temperatures, too, will go on rising.

All this emerged in just another week of routine climate science, as researchers try to gauge the difficulties to come, for national and civic authorities, for foresters and for farmers.

“The increase in these once-in-a-generation floods is so dramatic because the impact of sea-level rise will create greater flooding, even if the storms today stay the same”

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the US to cause $70bn in damages, and even slammed unexpectedly into New York, to devastate parts of the city. It counted as a once-in-500 years event.

Researchers report in the journal Climatic Change that they looked at the probabilities of more flooding in Jamaica Bay, on Long Island, New York as sea levels rose, along with the sea surface temperatures that drive fiercer storm weather, through the century.

Floods that tend to happen every century could, by 2050, occur every nine years. By 2080 to 2100, they could become annual events. And 500-year events like the 2012 superstorm could by the end of the century happen perhaps once every four years.

“Future projections of the hurricane climatology suggest that climate change would lead to storms that move more slowly and are more intense than we have ever seen before hitting Jamaica Bay,” said Reza Marsooli, an environmental engineer at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, a co-author.

“But the increase in these once-in-a-generation or even less frequent floods is so dramatic because the impact of sea-level rise will create greater flooding, even if the storms we are seeing today stayed the same.”

Prepare for worse

The hazard that faces Bangladesh − much of which is at sea level, on fertile floodplain created by the Ganges-Brahmaputra river system − is more insidious.

One of the great waterways of the world, it rises in the Himalayan snows and swells in the monsoon season to flood the rice paddies and replenish farmlands with nourishing sediments. Occasionally the floods become devastating: in 1998, some 70% of the nation was submerged. Floods have recurred, in 2007, 2010 and 2020.

Engineers have been monitoring the flow since the 1950s, and thought they knew the flood probabilities. But US, Australian and Chinese scientists report in the journal Nature Communications that they studied the growth rings in ancient trees to find that Bangladeshis have been living in unusual times: for much of the past 70 years, on the evidence told by old trees along the watershed, the river flow has been unusually dry − the driest in the last 700 years.

“The tree rings suggest that the long-term baseline conditions are much wetter than thought,” said Mukund Palat Rao, of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York, who led the research.

“Whether you consider climate models or natural variability, the message is the same. We should prepare for a higher frequency of flooding than we are currently predicting.”

Forests’ future threatened

In the past 40 years, thanks to global heating driven by ever-higher emissions of greenhouse gases from the combustion of fossil fuels, the state of California has experienced a series of droughts that lasted for years. The fire season too has begun earlier and lasted much longer.

Ecologists report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they defined high-severity fires as those that killed 95% of all trees. They then counted the most severe episodes of burning in four great regions of the western US from 1985 to 2017.

They found that by 2017, the area wiped out by severe fires had risen eight times, to more than 2,000 sq kms or 800 sq miles. Much of the tree cover of the US west is adapted to episodes of fire. But the frequency and intensity of recent blazes threatens the future of the forests altogether.

“As more area burns at high severity, the likelihood of conversion to different forest types or even to non-forest increases,” said Sean Parks of the US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, and the lead author.

“At the same time, the post-fire climate is making it increasingly difficult for seedlings to establish and survive, further reducing the potential for forests to return to their pre-fire condition.” − Climate News Network