April 17, 2014

Extreme Weather Causing 10x more power outages

new report from Climate Central has found that major power outages have increased ten times over since the early 1980s — and extreme weather is by far the biggest culprit.

Climate Central broke down the trends in weather-related versus non-weather-related outages. The two diverge sharply beginning around 2000, as the former goes up while the latter remains almost unchanged.

Who says solar power can't supply energy at night?

The team behind the Solar Impulse project - a mission to fly around the world in a plane powered only by the sun - has revealed the plane in which the pilots will make their attempt. 

Its predecessor, Solar Impulse 1, has already been flown across America, and stored sufficient power in its batteries to fly all night.

With a wingspan of 72m (236ft), Solar Impulse 2 is the wider than a Boeing 747, but weighs about the same as a large car.
Its wings are covered in 18,000 solar cells to convert sunlight into electricity to power its motor and to store in its batteries. Here's a link to the story and a fun quote. 
"I mean, the airplane can fly a month. The question is, What can the pilot do?" 
"So we have a sustainable airplane in terms of energy; we need to develop a sustainable pilot now."

High-Low Pressure 'Dipole' Froze the East and Baked the West

A new study in Geophysical Research Letters (subs. req'd) takes the warming link to the California drought and the frigid east coast to the next level of understanding. 
The research provides "evidence connecting the amplified wind patterns, consisting of a strong high pressure in the West and a deep low pressure in the East [labeled a 'dipole'], to global warming." Researchers have "uncovered evidence that can trace the amplification of the dipole to human influences."

Top 5 Actions from IPCC's Climate Action Plan

The world's top scientists have released the most important projections and action plan for global warming in history. Here are the top five actions from the IPCC Climate Action Plan. 

1) The world must phase-out of fossil fuels and a shift to clean energy investments. While global emissions are still growing, some modern and innovative economies have already beaten the trend - moving from dirty fossil fuels to renewable energies, proving it can be done
2) Substantial shifts in annual investment flows between 2010 and 2029 are required, i.e. cuts in fossil fuel investments of USD 30 billion per year, while more than doubling the investment in renewables. Delaying mitigation action now implies higher costs of action later, says the IPCC, while the co-benefits of actions taken now can outweigh their costs.
3) Urban areas are expected to triple by 2030. This is directly relevant to climate change as urban areas account for roughly 70% of global energy use and global energy-related CO2 emissions. Since much of this urban infrastructure will be built in the next 20 years, there is massive potential for smart infrastructure choices, combined with low energy codes in new buildings, retrofits of the existing housing stock and more widespread use of already existing technologies and efficiencies.
4) Forests, agriculture, and land use could become a net CO2 sink by the end of the century. They currently account for about quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, and could become a net CO2 sink due to successful afforestation efforts, reduced deforestation, and better agricultural practices.
5) Energy efficiency offers massive potential and multiple benefits, as well as the need for improved demand side management. Of course it's vital to produce energy in a more sustainable way, but saving energy in the first place and avoiding unnecessary waste is even better.
And the report includes a surprisingly hopeful note:
The IPCC is clear that we can still keep global warming below the danger-threshold of 2 degrees C compared to pre-industrial levels, if we make bold and quick decisions towards deeper and faster cuts in emissions. Even keeping warming to 1.5 degrees C, as many developing nations have been urging, is not ruled out. 
Faith communities can make a difference. Did you know religious institutions are among the world's largest landholders? Faith communities own 7-8% of the habitable land surface of the planet, including 5% of commercially run forests worldwide.

IPCC: It won't cost much to save the planet

IPCC finds that ambitious climate actions will only cost 0.06% per year! 

The IPCC adopted their Working Group III report focused on emission reductions on April 12, 2014. The report consists of 16 chapters with more than 2,000 pages. It was written by 235 authors from 58 countries and reviewed externally by 900 experts. They also released the 33-page Summary for Policymakers (SPM) that was approved by all 193 countries. 

This report has two very important new offerings.
The 2-degree limit
For the first time, a detailed analysis was performed of how the 2-degree limit can be kept, based on over 1,200 future projections (scenarios) by a variety of different energy-economy computer models. The analysis is not just about the 2-degree guardrail in the strict sense but evaluates the entire space between 1.5 degrees Celsius, a limit demanded by small island states, and a 4-degree world. The scenarios show a variety of pathways, characterized by different costs, risks and co-benefits. The result is a table with about 60 entries that translates the requirements for limiting global warming to below 2-degrees into concrete numbers for cumulative emissions and emission reductions required by 2050 and 2100. This is accompanied by a detailed table showing the costs for these future pathways.

The IPCC represents the costs as consumption losses as compared to a hypothetical 'business-as-usual' case. The table does not only show the median of all scenarios, but also the spread among the models. It turns out that the costs appear to be moderate in the medium-term until 2030 and 2050. 

Translated into reduction of growth rate, these numbers are actually quite low. Ambitious climate protection would cost only 0.06 percentage points of growth each year. This means that instead of a growth rate of about 2% per year, we would see a growth rate of 1.94% per year. Thus economic growth would merely continue at a slightly slower pace. [Real Climate]

March 30, 2014

Wind energy booming in the Midwest

"It's an economic boom for the county the likes of which we've never seen before," said Rodd Holtkamp, a Primghar banker and member of the county economic development board. 

There currently are no commercial wind turbines in O'Brien County, Iowa, but that's about to change in a big way.

MidAmerican Energy Co. broke ground in November on a 500 megawatt wind farm, the largest single site in Iowa history. It calls for 218 wind turbines spread out over 70,000 acres near the O'Brien County seat of Primghar.

Dubbed the Highland Wind Energy project, it’s part of a $1.9 billion expansion of Iowa's wind generating capacity that the Des Moines utility announced last year.

The foundation work for the Highland turbines started last fall and should be done by the end of the year, with the turbines and the more than 650 blades set to go up by the end of 2015, MidAmerican spokeswoman Tina Potthoff said.

MidAmerican, owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, also is scheduled to begin work late this year on a high-voltage overhead transmission line that will start in northern O'Brien County, near Sanborn, and head east along the Highway 18 corridor into neighboring Clay County. The line is among several so-called “multi-value projects,” or MVPs, designed to alleviate congestion on the region's electric grid and provide a better route for sending Iowa and Minnesota wind power to the east.

Potthoff said the MVP 3 line will serve as a secondary line for the O'Brien County wind farm, which initially will connect to an existing line running diagonally through the county. Construction of a substation for the MVP line is scheduled to begin this year.

Another major high-voltage transmission line, called the Rock Island Clean Line, also is slated to start in O'Brien, just southeast of Sanborn. The 500-mile line will export 3,500 megawatts of wind-generated electricity -- three times more energy than the Hoover Dam -- from Northwest Iowa and bordering states to power-hungry customers in metro Chicago and other large cities to the east.

The developer, Houston-based Clean Line Energy, is awaiting approval from regulators in Iowa and Illinois before going ahead with the direct current line. The company estimates the line to be in service in 2017 following about two years of construction that would begin as early as next year in O'Brien.

Clean Line projects the $2 billion project will create 2,000 construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs, as well as spur development of 1,000 to 2,000 wind turbines within a 100-mile radius of the county.

At least three other companies are looking to develop wind-related projects in O'Brien but are not as far along in the process as Clean Line and MidAmerican, County Economic Development Director Kiana Johnson said.

California-based Eurus Energy has secured easements from landowners between Highways 60 and 59 for a wind farm called Hawkeye Point. The development is still in the planning stages, said Rich Crawford, a consultant working on the project.

Chicago-based Invenergy LLC, which developed the Highland Wind project and then sold it to MidAmerican last year, is working on a second project at a yet-to-be announced site in O'Brien County, Johnson said.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy, the nation's largest electric power utility, in a joint venture with American Transmission Co., is developing transmission lines to move wind-generated power more easily. One route is slated to run through far eastern O'Brien, with construction starting as early as 2016, Johnson said.


More than a decade ago, wind energy developers started scouting potential sites in O'Brien, which lies on the southern tip of the Buffalo Ridge, an ancient glacial formation stretching into southwest Minnesota that's known for its consistent strong winds. But the early initiatives stalled because of the bottleneck in the region's electric grid, Johnson said.

"That was the holdup all these years. There was nowhere to go if they did build it," she said.

Under the current schedules, construction on the Rock Island Clean Line and the MidAmerican line and wind farm would overlap beginning in 2015. At the peak, hundreds, if not thousands, of construction workers could be on site.

Skilled laborers from around the country are expected to flock to the rural county of around 14,000 to fill the temporary jobs.

"We are trying to prepare, but we really don't know what all to expect," Johnson said. "Housing will definitely be an issue for everybody. It will greatly impact all of Northwest Iowa, not just O'Brien County."

With the Highland project underway, the few hotels in the county already are starting to fill up. Some local residents are renting rooms in their homes to out-of-town workers. Others laborers are commuting daily to O'Brien County from larger cities such as Sioux City and Sioux Falls.

The workers are expected to spend money on everything from lodging and meals to fuel and clothing, giving local merchants a healthy boost in sales.

"The trickle-down of those dollars going through the community time and time again is just going to be amazing," said Holtkamp, executive vice president at Primghar Savings Bank.

The economic benefits would extend well beyond O'Brien. Clean Lean, for example, recently agreed to buy $200 million worth of utility poles from Sabre Industries, contributing to job growth at Sabre's factory in Sioux City.

When up and running, the wind farms and transmission lines are projected to create hundreds of permanent jobs in the region, mostly in sectors that would support and service the new wind farms, such as makers of towers, blades and other turbine components.

Clean Line anticipates hiring a handful of full-time workers to maintain a  station that would convert the wind power from AC to DC before sending it on the transmission line. The convertor station would be built at a cost of $250 million to $300 million, said Beth Conley, manager of the Rock Island Clean Line.


The slew of wind-related infrastructure also would generate millions of dollars in additional property taxes for local governments, as well as produce a new cash crop for local farmers like Haack, who has granted MidAmerican easements for two wind turbines on one of his farms.

Haack said he would collect annual payments of around $9,000 for each turbine and a service road.

The Rock Island Clean Line is offering to compensate owners for the value of their land, plus an additional structure payment, based on the number and type of poles or towers. Owners have a choice of a one-time payment or an annual upfront payment. For two poles and a half-mile-long, 145-foot-wide right of way, an owner would collect a one-time payment of about $100,000, Conley said. 

Farmers retain ownership and the right to till the land under both the lines and turbines.

Haack heads a newly formed landowners association that backs all the wind projects and offers legal assistance to guide dues-paying members through the negotiations with developers looking to build in the county.

A smaller vocal group of landowners is opposed to the Rock Island Clean Line. Critics fear Iowa's eminent domain law for utilities would allow Clean Line to force a sale and easement even if the landowners aren’t willing to sell.

But fifth-generation O'Brien County farmer Jay Hofland said he strongly supports the transmission line, which would pass less than a half-mile from his rural home. Hofland said the lofty job prospects helped convince him to option farmland for the Clean Line convertor station near Sanborn.

"We do not do a very good job of keeping our young people around here, Hofland said. "I'm hoping that through this economic development my sons or some other young people in the community can stick around and gain from these jobs."

Hofland said the county has the potential to generate far more wind power than its own residents would ever use.

"As a farmer, I sell hogs, cattle and corn and soybeans," he said. "We export all of those things. I'm strongly behind exporting some wind energy out of this area. It's another energy stream and it's a good opportunity." [Sioux City Journal]

Chipotle warns no more gaucamole if climate change gets worse

It’s your choice, America. Fix the climate, or the guac gets it.

Chipotle Inc. is warning investors that extreme weather events “associated with global climate change” might eventually affect the availability of some of its ingredients. If availability is limited, prices will rise — and Chipotle isn’t sure it’s willing to pay.

“Increasing weather volatility or other long-term changes in global weather patterns, including any changes associated with global climate change, could have a significant impact on the price or availability of some of our ingredients,” the popular chain, whose Sofritas vegan tofu dish recently went national, said in its annual report released last month. “In the event of cost increases with respect to one or more of our raw ingredients we may choose to temporarily suspend serving menu items, such as guacamole or one or more of our salsas, rather than paying the increased cost for the ingredients.”

Chipotle did say that it recognizes the pain it (and its devotees) would have to go through if it decided to suspend a menu item. “Any such changes to our available menu may negatively impact our restaurant traffic and comparable restaurant sales, and could also have an adverse impact on our brand,” the filing read.

The guacamole operation at Chipotle is massive. The company uses, on average, 97,000 pounds of avocado every day to make its guac — which adds up to 35.4 million pounds of avocados every year. And while the avocado industry is fine at the moment, scientists are anticipating drier conditions due to climate change, which may have negative effects on California’s crop. Scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, for example, predict hotter temps will cause a 40 percent drop in California‘s avocado production over the next 32 years. [Climate Progress]