What’s the Difference Between a Low-Carbon and Zero-Carbon Future? Survival

Governments, media and industry use ‘low-carbon economy’ frame to continue business as usual.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan celebrating LNG Canada’s investment decision as an investment in the low-carbon economy. They’re missing a critical point: we need a zero-emissions economy. Photo: BC Government Flickr

In a recent Vancouver Sun column describing the introduction of enabling legislation for the Shell LNG Canada project in the B.C. legislature, Vaughn Palmer ends with these words:

“The finance ministry reckons that even with the estimated $6 billion in relief over 40 years, the province would still reap $22 billion in revenues over the same period. Without the project, returns would, of course, be zero.”

It’s a compelling comparison. With the project we can pay for schools, hospitals and poverty reduction. Without it, we have nothing.

Yet it is fallacious, a comparison promoted by Big Oil and adopted by most governments. It takes our minds off alternatives.

The correct comparison is between revenues generated from $40 billion invested in fracking and fossil fuel production versus revenues generated from $40 billion invested in renewable energy, such as solar, wind and thermal.

Two similar-sounding phrases lie at the heart of this issue. One has gained predominance, the other relegated to the margins of climate change discourse. The first is “low-carbon economy,” an economy in which even fracking and liquefied natural gas have a role. The second is “zero-carbon economy,” an economy in which no more greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere. In this second framing, the goal must be an economy fuelled entirely by renewable, non-carbon-emitting sources. MORE

How Clean Energy R&D Policy Can Help Meet Decarbonization Goals

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With roughly a decade left to avoid locking in dangerous climate change, swift action is required to identify where the greatest emissions are coming from and then rapidly decarbonize those sources. The most effective path to decarbonization is cutting fossil fuel consumption, but developing and urbanizing countries require new energy and efficiency technologies – making clean energy research and development (R&D) critical.

The good news is that advances in the last two decades have cut renewable energy costs, making new renewables cheaper than operating existing coal power in many parts of the world.

Consider solar photovoltaics, which date to the 1950s, but were too expensive to be used commercially for many years. In 1977, the price per watt of crystalline silicon solar cells was $76.67, but over time, R&D drove down prices, making more commercial applications for solar feasible.  This accelerated deployment, starting a feedback loop that further reduced prices. Solar cell prices per watt reached $0.26 in 2016, a decline of 99.6% in 39 years. MORE

How to Cost-Effectively Withstand the Next Polar Vortex

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he 2019 polar vortex has passed, leaving behind many harrowing stories in its wake. The new Cold Climates Addendum of Rocky Mountain Institute’s Economics of Zero Energy Homes report illuminates how our homes can be better prepared for weather extremes cost-effectively, even in some of the coldest climates in the United States.

The average US home leaks so much cold air that at roughly 20 mile-per-hour winds, all of the air inside a home will be replaced every 6 to 10 minutes. This can lead to dangerous indoor conditions when outside air is coming in at -20 to -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Some cities still utilize older energy codes that don’t require significantly better performance (or have no energy codes at all), meaning that many homes built today will continue to be challenged by extreme weather events like the polar vortex over their lifetime.

The good news is that our recent research shows that highly efficient homes capable of surviving extreme weather conditions can be built cost-effectively for only a small amount more than standard construction, even in cold climates.

The first step in having a home that can deal with extreme temperature is to eliminate drafts and improve insulation. These measures are especially cost-effective for new homes. Lloyd Alter’s article “Lessons from the Polar Vortex” provides some examples of the benefits just from an improved envelope to provide extreme weather resilience.

Homes can be made even more resilient with a solar photovoltaic (PV) system, which, with the right equipment, can provide enough power to meet emergency electrical needs through extreme weather events even when electric grid power is temporarily lost. The more energy efficient the home is, the smaller the PV system required to keep it operating. Finally, for a truly resilient home, battery systems can be used to store solar power and keep those systems working even when the sun stops shining. MORE

How can Canada’s North get off diesel?

Diesel generation has outstayed its welcome in the North. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars per year while polluting the air, soil and water. But breaking the addiction is proving to be the challenge of a generation

Map of remote communities in Canada that are dependent on diesel.

The Northwest Territories and Yukon have energy grids that include large-scale hydro dams. In Yukon, fast population growth and increased energy demand from electric heating means the utility, Yukon Energy, is scrambling to bring in new power.

Its solution? Diesel and liquefied natural gas (LNG) generators.

“Maybe 10 months of the year now we’re burning LNG,”  explains Cody Reaume, energy analyst at the Yukon Conservation Society.

That isn’t much of a solution, according to Craig Scott, executive director of Ecology North, a non-profit that works on issues like climate change, waste reduction, water quality and food sovereignty.

“The focus is on electricity because it’s easy,” he says. “People can see it.”

But efficiency retrofits to homes and businesses, and switching to wood or wood pellet stoves, can be as effective as switching energy systems. MORE

 

 

Watch this great Green New Deal explainer video from The Leap

You’ve been hearing a lot about the Green New Deal, but you’re wondering what it’s all about? If you want a quick and chatty explainer, check out this video put together by the folks at The Leap, a climate action group.

The Leap Manifesto predates the Green New Deal, but the group has eagerly taken up the mantle. Here’s the central core of the Manifesto:

We could live in a country powered entirely by renewable energy, woven together by accessible public transit, in which the jobs and opportunities of this transition are designed to systematically eliminate racial and gender inequality. Caring for one another and caring for the planet could be the economy’s fastest growing sectors. Many more people could have higher wage jobs with fewer work hours, leaving us ample time to enjoy our loved ones and flourish in our communities.

We know that the time for this great transition is short. Climate scientists have told us that this is the decade to take decisive action to prevent catastrophic global warming. That means small steps will no longer get us where we need to go.

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Solar Farms Shine a Ray of Hope on Bees and Butterflies

A trend of planting wildflowers on solar sites could maintain habitat for disappearing bees and butterflies

Solar Farms Shine a Ray of Hope on Bees and Butterflies
NREL scientist Jordan Macknick and Jake Janski, from Minnesota Native Landscapes survey a pollinator test plot planted underneath the photovoltaic array at the Chisago Solar Site, part of the Aurora Solar Project in Minnesota. Credit: Dennis Schroeder National Renewable Energy Lab Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The tidy rows of gleaming solar panels at Pine Gate Renewables facility in southwestern Oregon originally sat amid the squat grasses of a former cattle pasture. But in 2017 the company started sowing the 41-acre site with a colorful riot of native wildflowers.

The shift was not merely aesthetic; similar projects at a growing number of solar farms around the country aim to help reverse the worrying declines in bees, butterflies and other key pollinating species observed in recent years.

Up to $577 billion in annual global food production relies on pollination by insects and other animals such as hummingbirds and bats, according to the United Nations. But more than half of native bee species (pdf) in the U.S. have seen their numbers drop sharply since 2005, with almost 25 percent now at risk of extinction. Meanwhile the North American monarch butterfly population has declined 68 percent over the past two decades, the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity says. Suspected factors include climate change, pesticide use and parasites—along with shrinking habitat, largely blamed on natural landscapes (such as scrublands or wetlands) being converted for agricultural use. MORE

Canada joins key global renewables agency

 

Canada has become a member of a key intergovernmental agency that promotes the adoption of solar, wind, geothermal and other forms of renewable energy.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has described Canada as an “important market” for renewables over the long term. Ottawa has been in talks since at least early 2017 to become a member of the group, and on Wednesday, the government made it official. MORE