Our children must live in the real world. We cannot pretend we have fossil fuel replacements and “all that is needed is political will.” Eventually we will have energy cheaper than coal, but not today. Fossil fuels are a convenient energy source and can raise standards of living. If we are to phase down fossil fuel emissions rapidly, we must make fossil fuels pay their costs to society.
A viable strategy to rapidly phase down fossil emissions is an across-the-board (oil, gas, coal) rising carbon fee. These funds, collected from the fossil fuel companies, must be distributed, 100 per cent, to the public. Otherwise, the public will rebel, as ‘yellow vests’ demonstrated in France.
Merits of the carbon fee & dividend: it is progressive, as most low-income people get more in the dividend than they pay in increased prices. And, economists agree, it is, by far, the fastest way to phase down emissions. It stimulates the economy, creates jobs, and modernizes infrastructure.
The United States, China and the European Union are the big players on the global stage today. If, preferably, at least two of these three adopt a rising carbon fee, it can be made near-global via border duties on products from countries without such fee, and rebates to manufacturers on products shipped to countries without a fee. This would encourage most countries to have their own carbon fee, so they could collect the money themselves.
Will one of these three major players lead the way by initiating fee & dividend?
European Union: Citizens Climate Lobby, the Danish chapter, is spurring an initiative to collect one million signatures, which would force the European Parliament to vote on fee & dividend. They have a good start, 21,790 signatures, but they must get 1,000,000 by 6 May 2020.
Please visit https://citizensclimateinitiative.eu/ (add /dk for Danish version, /es for Spanish, /bg for Bulgarian, etc.) where it is possible to sign electronically – you must be European to sign.
It is hard to inform people about this one-by-one, but if enough organizations understand the carbon reality, they can get their memberships behind the ballot initiative.
Fig. 2. Cumulative per capita emissions in tons of carbon and cost of extraction in thousands of dollars per person from the air, assuming extraction cost of $123 per ton of CO2.
United States: Dan Miller and I submitted a response to a ‘Request for Information’ from the United States House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
Citizens Climate Lobby in the United States now has more than 500 Chapters with more than 170,000 members. I believe that they can eventually get Congress to adopt a rising Carbon Fee & Dividend. Please consider joining CCL and adding your support to their efforts.
China: The merits of a carbon fee in China will include a huge reduction of air pollution, as well as reduction of carbon emissions. If the dividend is distributed uniformly, as in other countries, it will increase social justice. Wealthy people will lose some money, but they can afford it. The population as a whole will be glad to see the government taking action to deal with pollution and rewarding financially those citizens who make an effort to limit their carbon footprint.
The West must understand that China does not owe us any special effort. China now has the largest annual emissions, but climate change is proportional to cumulative emissions. China’s cumulative per capita emissions are far less than those of the U.S., U.K. and Germany (Fig. 2).
China’s greatest emissions are from coal burning, as they have massive energy needs for power plants and industrial heat. Their best hope to phase down those emissions is modern, safe nuclear power plants that shut down in an accident, such as an earthquake or tsunami, and require no external power to cool the nuclear fuel. Data show that nuclear power has been our safest power source, with smallest carbon footprint, but major improvements are possible. For mutual benefit, the United States and China should cooperate to develop modular reactors that would drive the price of nuclear power below that of coal (see Cao et al., Science 353, 547, 2016).
The American part of the project could still be in service in 2020. Timing is unclear, though, after state utility regulators in Minnesota in October ordered further study on the potential effects of oil spills in the Lake Superior watershed.
The failure of pipeline expansions to keep up with growth in oilsands production has been blamed for steep oil price discounts in Alberta.
Upon full completion of Line 3, the pipe will have oil export capacity of 760,000 barrels per day (bpd).
“You’re kind of seeing a potential pathway out of [the] current … constraints in western Canada.”
In this 2018 photo, pipeline used to carry crude oil is shown at the Superior terminal of Enbridge in Superior, Wis. (Jim Mone/The Associated Press)
Birn said the U.S. portion of the project appears to be on track.
Of the other two major oil pipelines for Canadian crude, construction is proceeding on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to the B.C. coast. The Keystone XL pipeline has been delayed by court challenges in the U.S.
All three major pipeline projects have faced opposition over concerns about their environmental impact, including climate change, should Alberta’s oilsands continue to grow and add to industry’s carbon emissions.
Golden said the new line will be safer and more reliable, while also requiring less maintenance.
“It is incredibly important,” he said of the project. “It is bringing into service over 1,000 kilometres of new pipeline that is improving the safety of our operating facilities across the Prairies.”
After multiple delays, the Financial Post has learned crews are preparing to start construction work on the controversial pipeline in Alberta
CALGARY — After years of delays, pipeline construction is ready to begin on the Trans Mountain expansion project.
Large-diameter green pipes that will carry oil from Alberta to the British Columbia coast have been stockpiled at various points along the path of the Trans Mountain expansion project since the summer. The Financial Post has now learned that crews are preparing to start construction work on the controversial pipeline in Alberta.
Trans Mountain spokesperson Ali Hounsell confirmed there would be “pipe on the ground” with the intention of putting “pipe in the ground before Christmas.” She said an event was planned for Tuesday to mark the beginning of right of way construction on the pipeline project. MORE
FILE PHOTO: Smoke and steam billows from Belchatow Power Station, Europe’s largest coal-fired power plant operated by PGE Group, at night near Belchatow, Poland December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders meeting in Brussels next week will push to agree to put the bloc on net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, their draft joint statement showed on Monday, heralding a bitter fight looming at their gathering.
The Dec. 12-13 summit of the bloc’s national leaders will aim to endorse “the objective of achieving a climate-neutral EU by 2050”, according to the document seen by Reuters.
Previous attempts, however, were blocked by Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, who rely on highly polluting coal. They have previously said they oppose climate neutrality by 2050 for fear cutting greenhouse emissions will stifle their economies.
To convince the reluctant camp, the draft summit conclusions refer to “just and socially balanced transition”, the European Investment Bank’s announcement to unlock 1 trillion euros worth of green investment until 2030, the need to ensure energy security and competitiveness vis-à-vis foreign powers not pursuing such climate goals.
The draft, prepared in advance of the leaders’ discussions, may still change. But it will eventually need unanimous backing of all EU national leaders for there to be agreement at the summit.
The bloc’s new executive European Commission also aims to push for climate neutrality by mid-century and wants to make the EU’s 2030 climate targets more ambitious.
Current targets envisage cutting the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 from 1990 levels. The new Commission, led by Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen, hopes to raise the goal to at least 50%. SOURCE
PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY, ON – Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his provincial counterparts got into the holiday spirit by chopping down their own Christmas wind turbine.
Ford invited his friends and families visiting for the premier’s meeting to take home a sawed-off clean energy generator as a holiday gift courtesy of the Ontario government.
“This one is a little big, but if we trim 50 feet from the base, I should be able to fit it on the roof of my car,” said Ford to his colleagues, gazing at the towering structure ready to be harvested. “I usually get my wind turbines from a guy outside of a Canadian Tire parking lot, but this year was special.”
White Pines Wind Farm has nine majestic and recently decommissioned wind energy converters so young they didn’t even have the opportunity to produce electricity thanks to the Ontario PC government’s cuts.
“I always feel a bit guilty if I have to cut down a tree,” said Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe holding a large hacksaw. “That’s a living thing that should be harvested for its lumber or burned for its low-efficiency energy, not tossed away January 1st.”
“Timber!” yelled New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs as one of the turbines fell crushing a barn and any opportunity to help stave off an impending climate change disaster.
Ford said that cutting down Christmas turbines was worth the $100 million price tag, and Ontarians will be amazed to see the colourful display of lights and decorations.
At press time, the leaders sang old favourites such as O Christmas Fan and Nuclear Energy is Coming to Town. SOURCE
Suki Ferguson reviews the XR guide to climate activism
Extinction Rebellion at Oxford Circus. By Mark Ramsay, under a CC BY 2.0 license
Extinction Rebellion (XR) is many things at once: a hopeful mass movement; a commuter’s nightmare; a source of inspiration; an apocalyptic kick up the arse. Within the UK climate movement, it has become a Rorschach test. For some, its shock doctrine ethos flirts with eco-fascism. For others, the actions have become their life’s calling. This Is Not A Drill has been written to clarify, inform, inspire and equip the people who are undecided yet interested in moving deeper into the climate action zeitgeist XR has ingeniously catalysed.
The book is loud and proud. Its hot pink cover is impossible to ignore, and pages of the text are dedicated to vivid woodcut imagery and all-caps messages. The book contains a wealth of essays, anecdotes, and advice. All are short and generally unfussy: no footnotes here. They are written by people from a variety of backgrounds, united through their concern over climate breakdown. An Indian farmer and a Californian firefighter offer their perspectives; individuals working in academia, climate science, politics and other fields weigh in too. These include Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives; psychotherapist Susie Orbach; Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an indigenous rights campaigner from the Mbororo community in Chad; and visionary economist Kate Raworth, among many others.
Notably, XR is working to develop a deeper understanding of climate justice and the causes of climate breakdown. The Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva writes a powerful foreword stating explicitly that ‘ecocide and genocide are one indivisible process’, pointing to colonialism’s ravaging motive by quoting US President Andrew Jackson’s 1833 call for ‘a superior race’ to triumph over native people in America. She and other contributors make it clear that colonialism and capitalism comprise a pincer movement that is destroying life as we know it. This lays important foundations for conversations about what an ecologically healthy and socially just future needs to consign to history.
These big global overviews of climate breakdown and its impact on different communities are salutary reads for any reader. The more practical pieces that explore the logistics of effective direct action are excellent too. One, ‘Cultural Roadblocks’, shares the story behind how XR sourced a boat for activism purposes, and it conveys the mix of determination, absurdity, effort and camaraderie that collective action can involve. From branding textiles, to befriending journalists, to cooking on-site meals that won’t give everyone food poisoning, the best of these chapters share the qualities of being informal, smart, and motivating.
There is unexplored tension in the text. Horizontal self-organising is recommended throughout, yet the encouraged action, reiterated through a number of chapters, remains bafflingly prescriptive: disrupt transport in capital cities. Blocking bridges is a tactic, but is it the only option? According to This Is Not A Drill, it would seem so. The roots to this strategy can be found in the chapter written by XR co-founder Roger Hallam, where he states that disrupting cities is the only option: ‘That’s just the way it is.’ Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi, effective civil rights leaders whose work Hallam cites elsewhere, might have disagreed with this dogma; the Salt Marches in India and the Selma to Montgomery marches in the US, for example, were pivotal to their respective causes.
It’s worth noting that Hallam has form in presenting opinion as fact. When interviewed on the Politics Theory Other podcast, he was challenged on the claim that ‘most prison officers are black’, which appeared in the (now-deleted) XR prison handbook. Hallam doubled down on the claim, saying, ‘That’s just an empirical fact. I mean, I’ve been to prison several times and that’s the fact of the matter.’ Given that, in reality, over 94 per cent of all UK prison officers are white, it seems wise to take Hallam’s other ‘empirical facts’ with a pinch of salt, city roadblocks as a means to liberation for all being one of the them. MORE
Batteries were increasing carbon emissions (d’oh!), but new regulations and tech have fixed it.
These batteries have been behaving badly. Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images
In the popular imagination, energy-storage technologies like batteries are a key part of the effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and fight climate change.
But storage has something of a dirty secret:Its net effect is often an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The full causes and dynamics behind this are complex, having to do with what energy is being stored, what energy is being displaced when it is released, and what energy makes up for the energy lost (roughly 20 percent) in the round-trip journey to battery and back. If you want the full details, I wrote a deep-dive post on this last year.
Today I have a happier story to tell — about how California realized that its enthusiastic deployment of batteries was increasing emissions and figured out a way to solve the problem.
California batteries have been increasing emissions
The California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) has a program called the Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), which dates back to 2001 and the state’s energy crisis. Initially designed to reduce peaks in demand, the program has since been revised, reformed, and updated several times. In 2009, CPUC added the requirement that SGIP projects reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Though SGIP has always included a range of eligible technologies, from biogas to waste heat recovery to wind turbines, it has tended to focus on a few. In the early 2000s, SGIP mostly supported solar panels, spurring the enormous growth of that industry. Then, for a few years, it was big on fuel cells. In 2011, it made energy storage eligible. In 2017, it shifted the program’s funding so that 75 percent went to energy-storage projects, overwhelmingly batteries.
In 2015, the CPUC made explicit that the three goals of SGIP projects were to “improve reliability of the distribution and transmission system, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and lower grid infrastructure costs.” Note that’s an “and,” not an “or.”
The same year, the CPUC also boosted the required round-trip efficiency (RTE) of SGIP storage projects to at least 66.5 percent. The assumption was that batteries would be used to absorb excess renewable energy during the day and discharge it at night — in other words, reduce emissions — and thus, RTE was seen as a rough proxy for emission reductions.
But that is not how things went. As it turns out, if the only metric is financial benefit to the battery owner, batteries tend to charge with cheap, dirty power at night and discharge during the day for peak reduction (to reduce commercial demand charges) — that is, they tend to be operated in a way that increases emissions.
To the CPUC’s credit, it did not ignore the problem. It brought in research firm Itron to do a formal 2016 storage-impact evaluation (released in 2017). It found that while SGIP projects had reduced overall emissions, the storage projects had actually increased emissions. The net increase is relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things — less than 1,000 tons of emissions in a state with well over 700 million tons annually — but it clearly revealed that the program was not accomplishing one of its three goals with regards to storage.
When it comes to batteries and emissions, the report revealed that timing is everything. If they’re charging and discharging at the right times, even a low RTE will reduce emissions. If they’re charging and discharging at the wrong time, no RTE is high enough. In other words, RTE is not a good proxy for emissions impact.
A subsequent 2017 impact evaluation (released in 2018) confirmed the bad news was getting worse: It found that SGIP commercial-storage projects increased annual GHG emissions by about 1,436 metric tons, and residential-storage systems by another 116. Still relatively trivial, but still bad — that’s still a positive, not negative, growth in emissions.
CPUC figures out a fix — a combination of new rules and new data
Again to its credit, CPUC did not ignore the report. In 2017, it convened a working group to analyze possible solutions. (Here’s the group’s final report.) In May 2019, the CPUC issued an official decision approving the working group’s proposed changes, scheduled to go into effect in April 2020.
What are those changes, exactly? Remember, the problem is that battery operators are charging and discharging at the wrong times — they are optimizing for financial returns, which is not the same as optimizing for emissions reductions. They don’t have any incentive to optimize around emissions, and even if they did, they don’t have the information they would need to do so.
The solution is twofold: provide both the incentive and the information.
As for the incentive, under the proposal, new commercial-storage installations will still get the same amount of SGIP money — but only 50 percent will be paid up front. The other 50 percent will be paid out over five years based on demonstrated reductions in annual emissions, which must amount to 5 kilograms of CO2 for every kWh of capacity.
Residential-battery installations are eligible if they are paired with solar panels (from which they draw at least 75 percent of their charge), have a single-cycle round-trip efficiency of at least 85 percent, and are enrolled in some kind of time-varying rate program.
Legacy commercial projects will be subject to the same reduction requirements; legacy residential projects, meanwhile, are exempt if they join a time-of-use rate program.
That’s the incentive. But what about the information? That’s the really cool part.
The question is: Even if storage-project owners want to reduce emissions, how can they? How can they know when to charge and when to discharge? Sometimes there are more natural-gas generators online and the grid is dirtier; sometimes more solar and wind are online and the grid is cleaner. The exact mix is constantly changing.
After much discussion, the working group decided that what was needed is a “GHG signal” — real-time information about the carbon intensity, or dirtiness, of the grid, as well as a 24-hour forecast about the expected carbon intensity of the grid, available to all battery operators. That’s the information they need to plan their operations.
WattTime will make data on California’s greenhouse gas emissions available to everyone
The CPUC held an open bidding process to find the provider of the signal and the winner was WattTime, a nonprofit tech company that has, since 2017, been operating as part of the Rocky Mountain Institute.
Faithful readers may find the name familiar. Earlier this year, WattTime rolled out Automated Emissions Reduction, a consumer-facing program that uses exactly this kind of real-time grid-emissions data to help customers better manage their distributed energy resources (DERs). Then, in May, it announced a program whereby it would use satellites and AI to track real-time emissions data at every power plant in the world, which could enable DER owners the world over to maximize their GHG impact.
WattTime uses EPA data on the emissions of power plants — combined with wholesale market prices, fuel costs, wind and weather data, various other inputs, and a whole bunch of AI — to produce day-ahead forecasts of grid intensity at a granular level.
Best of all, WattTime is making its work open source in California. There’s an API that battery operators can tap into for free, which means forecasts are automatically included in their operation algorithms. (WattTime wrote a piece on the program that is worth reading.)
The good news is, WattTime’s modeling found that optimizing battery operation around even a modest GHG signal led to a 32 percent improvement in emissions performance with less than a 0.1 percent reduction in revenue. A broader look at this same question (the trade-off between emissions performance and revenue) published in the journal Energy found that “marginal storage-induced CO2 emissions can be decreased significantly (25–50%) with little effect on revenue (1–5%).”
It’s clear that operating storage purely based on revenue tends to increase emissions. The hope of everyone in California, especially those who sell battery systems, is that operating storage based on emissions performance will only modestly reduce revenue. It’s difficult to know for sure until the SGIP changes go into effect.
What a cool experiment, though!
By way of concluding, I want to briefly emphasize three themes that this story highlights.
1. In terms of emissions, the when-and-where matter
As more variable renewables and DERs come online, grid operation is becoming more fluid and complex, and the GHG impact of a given technology depends increasingly on time and place. Exactly when and where energy is being generated, stored, and released determines its effect on emissions.
Thus, maximizing emission reductions — not just for batteries, but for any flexible energy resource — crucially involves understanding the state of the grid on a minute-by-minute basis, what kind of energy is on it, what energy is available to it, and both its present and anticipated carbon intensity.
That’s the kind of information WattTime is making available. The company notes that forecasts — which it is working on extending to 48 or 72 hours — are somewhat easier in California, since there’s no coal or nuclear on the grid, only natural gas and renewables (which makes for fewer variables). It’s a more complex undertaking in other, more mixed grids, which is why the company charges a fee for access to that information.
But it is safe to say that this kind of information will eventually be available about all grids, representing a radical new level of transparency and empowerment for DER operators.
2. Storage isn’t a decarbonization technology
Eric Hittinger, a policy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, makes a point in this Twitter thread about the SGIP changes (and in the papers linked therein) that is worth emphasizing: It’s a mistake to deploy batteries, or energy storage in general, as though they will inevitably reduce emissions. They might or might not. Indeed, it’s probably a mistake to think of them as emissions-reducing technologies at all.
Rather, it’s better to think of storage as akin to transmission lines. Wires can carry both clean and dirty energy; their impact on emissions depends on local circumstances. Their primary purpose is not to reduce emissions, though, but to make the grid run more smoothly. They’re a grid tech, not a decarbonization tech. The same applies to batteries.
As it happens, making the grid more stable will have the effect of allowing more renewables to be integrated, thus reducing emissions. But they are nonetheless distinct tasks, and batteries should be deployed mainly with the first task in mind.
After all, it may be that some battery installations in California will want to provide grid services, emergency backup, or functions other than emission reductions. Being forced to reduce emissions might make it more difficult for storage to pursue those other revenue possibilities.
To be clear, Hittinger and I both think these SGIP changes are for the better. It’s good to use whatever policy tools are at hand. But in the larger picture, clean-energy types need to rethink where storage is categorized in their mental model.
3. Computers allow us to substitute intelligence for stuff
A theme I have returned to in several recent posts is: A big part of the clean-energy transition is going to be using computing power to enable technologies and techniques that allow us to obtain the energy services we need (transportation, heat, etc.) using less labor and material.
Computing power is one of the few things in the modern world that consistently and reliably gets cheaper and more powerful. As it does, it helps us better understand and predict complex systems (like an energy grid) in real time, which in turn enables us to produce energy services more efficiently.
California’s SGIP solution is a great example. Before and after both involve the same stuff, the same machines. What was added were new rules and new information that allowed those rules to be followed. That type of information, the kind WattTime is providing, is a result of computing power and algorithms unavailable even a few years ago.
In the end, just as much as money or policy, it is information that will accelerate the clean-energy transition.