Energy and Global Warming News for December 14th: Bingaman opens door to ‘clean’ energy standard (with nukes and coal CCS); Security Council urged to tackle climate change; Building Israel’s first solar field

Bingaman cracks open door to backing ‘clean’ energy standard

A leading Democrat on energy policy signaled Monday that he’s open to a “clean” energy standard for utilities “” a GOP-backed proposal that’s favorable to new nuclear plants and low-emissions coal projects. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) has long championed a renewable electricity standard that would require utilities to supply escalating amounts of power from sources like wind and solar. Bingaman said in the Capitol Monday that he’d look at a wider standard that includes non-renewable forms of energy “” but only if it doesn’t crowd out the renewables.

“If you can design a so-called clean energy standard that still provided incentives to pursue renewable electricity … then it is certainly worth looking at,” he said. Bingaman has long opposed proposals for a “clean” standard, which were offered several years ago by former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) “” who was the energy panel’s leading Republican “” and more recently Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “The versions I have seen in the past have appeared to me to essentially wipe out any real incentive for things like solar and wind, other of the developing or maturing technologies,” Bingaman said, but added: “I am open to looking at other options, other ways to do it.”

Proposals by Bingaman and other lawmakers to create a renewable power standard have stalled on Capitol Hill amid significant GOP resistance, although a few Republicans such as Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) like the idea. Prospects won’t get any better in the new Congress, when Republicans will control the House and have greater numbers in the Democratic Senate. The idea of a “clean” standard that would credit power from nuclear plants, and coal projects that sequester carbon emissions (a technology not yet commercialized), got a shot in the arm last week.

U.N. Security Council urged to tackle climate change

Germany, which will join the UN Security Council in January, believes the body should start dealing with climate change as a potential global threat, its UN ambassador said on Monday. Peter Wittig told an audience at a think tank in Berlin that Germany shared the view of the more than 40 island states represented at the United Nations that global warming was an urgent security issue. “We are of the opinion that it would be worth the effort to consider strategically — in the Security Council as well — which effects climate change could have on the security situation in the broadest sense including defence assistance, resource assistance, the disappearance of entire island states, the rising of sea levels,” he said.

“In New York this is a current, and for some countries, existential problem and we would like to take up these issues and bring them before the Security Council.” He said however that the drive to have the Security Council tackle potential disasters caused by global warming would be a “challenge” because some of the permanent members did not see it as part of the body’s remit. Germany will join the Security Council from January for two years as one of 10 non-permanent members. Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States comprise the permanent members.

In May, a coalition of Pacific small island developing states at the UN called on the Security Council to immediately address the security threats posed by climate change. Small island states are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, which scientists project could increase by a metre (3.3 feet) or more by the year 2100. More than 190 countries meeting in Cancun, Mexico agreed on Saturday to set up a new fund to manage billions of dollars in aid to poor nations that experts say are already feeling the effects of climate change.

Construction to begin on Israel’s first solar field

Arava Power Company (APC) and Bank Hapoalim signed an agreement Monday securing financing for the first mediumsized solar field in Israel. The cost of the project is estimated at NIS 100 million, and Bank Hapoalim’s credit line extends to 80 percent. “A lot of belief and determination has brought us to this moment,” APC CEO Jon Cohen said in a statement. “The company’s founders saw before their eyes from the very beginning the first solar field in Israel being built at Kibbutz Ketura. Today, as a result of their vision and the courage of their decision, we are closing the first circle here.

“Today, we give the ‘go’ order to Siemens Israel, which will begin building the field immediately,” he went on. “This is just the first of dozens of fields APC will build across the Negev and Arava. We are grateful to Bank Hapoalim for their belief that APC can meet the goals it has set for itself.” Miryam Gaz, project finance department head at Bank Hapoalim, declared that the bank “has chosen to be a pioneer in assisting the transition to solar energy and has initiated a process over the last two years which will enable the business and the private sectors to fulfill their potential in using renewable energy. We hope that securing financing for the Ketura project will be an incentive toward completing more projects in the field of solar energy.”

APC traversed the bureaucratic gauntlet over the past three years and was the first company to finish the regulatory process. It signed a power purchase agreement with the state in late November. The 4.9-MW field is owned by Ketura Sun – a joint company of APC and Kibbutz Ketura. Siemens, which owns a 40% stake in APC, will be planning and building the field itself. According to APC, the field will be completed in nine months. It is expected to generate, in addition to electricity, revenues of NIS 12.5m. annually for the next 20 years – about NIS 250m. in total.

Chaos in China over saving energy

Shortages of diesel at gas stations, factories forced to suspend production, homes left without electricity. Hard to imagine that these could be the results of a government campaign, but that’s recently been the case in some parts of China. It’s the result of a last-minute effort to meet targets for reducing the country’s energy intensity””the amount of power consumed per unit of GDP produced.

In 2005, the government pledged to reduce energy intensity by 20 percent by 2010. Closures of energy-guzzling plants, notably inefficient coal-fired power stations and small cement works, saw some significant progress””until the financial crisis of late 2008, according to Wang Tao, a climate-change specialist at the Worldwide Fund for Nature in Beijing: “Then unfortunately a lot of the government’s stimulus package went into infrastructure, and into the heavy industries like steel and cement this requires””so this went against the trend of reducing energy intensity.”

Earlier this year, China’s central government called for redoubled efforts to meet the target. In many regions, local governments set energy-use quotas for officials””and warned them they could lose their jobs if they exceeded these. Many responded simply by switching off electricity supplies: in Henan province, steel works were ordered to close for days, and power was cut to homes in towns and villages. In other parts of the country traffic lights, and even hospitals, were left without electricity. It angered residents and frustrated businesses: “We were manufacturing at a factory in Guangdong and they suddenly told us the local government had ordered them to stop production,” says Gustavo Salinas, a Peruvian-Spanish businessman who sources textiles in southern China. “It was nothing to do with lack of capacity””that plant actually generated surplus power for the national grid!”

Adapting agriculture to climate change

The Global Crop Diversity Trust announced a major global search to systematically find, gather, catalogue, use, and save the wild relatives of wheat, rice, beans, potato, barley, lentils, chickpea, and other essential food crops, in order to help protect global food supplies against the imminent threat of climate change, and strengthen future food security. The initiative will work in partnership with national agricultural research institutes, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), is the largest one ever undertaken with the tough wild relatives of today’s main food crops.

These wild plants contain essential traits that could be bred into crops to make them more hardy and versatile in the face of dramatically different climates expected in the coming years. Norway is providing US$50 million towards this important contribution to food security. “All our crops were originally developed from wild species””that’s how farming began,” explained Cary Fowler, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust. “But they were adapted from the plants best suited to the climates of the past. Climate change means we need to go back to the wild to find those relatives of our crops that can thrive in the climates of the future.”

Crop wild relatives make up only a few percent of the world’s genebank holdings, yet their contribution to commercial agriculture alone is estimated at more than US$100 billion per year. One example dates back to the 1970s, when an outbreak of grassy stunt virus, which prevents the rice plant from flowering and producing grain, decimated rice harvests across Asia. More than 10,000 samples of wild and locally-cultivated rice plants were tested for resistance to the disease until scientists found it in a wild relative, Oryza nivara, growing in India. The gene has been incorporated into most new varieties since the discovery. “This project represents one of the most concrete steps taken to date to ensure that agriculture, and humanity, adapts to climate change. At a more fundamental level, the project also demonstrates the importance of biodiversity and genetic resources for human survival,” said Erik Solheim, Minister of the Environment and International Development of Norway.

Over a dozen states get WI and OH high speed rail money

As everyone is probably aware by now, the incoming governors of Ohio and Wisconsin, John Kasich and Scott Walker (respectively), have stated loudly and clearly that they don’t want high-speed rail (HSR) projects in their states. Even though these projects would create thousands of jobs, would help to modernize these states’ transportation systems, and federal funds would cover the majority of the capital expenses, Kasich and Walker have said that they don’t want the federal funds awarded to them for their major HSR projects.

Well, there are plenty of other states wanting that money and the federal government has not waited too long to redirect $1.195 billion from Wisconsin and Ohio to some of these other states. On Thursday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that this money would be redirected to the following states/projects in this manner:

  • California: up to $624 million
  • Florida: up to $342.3 million
  • Washington State: up to $161.5 million
  • Illinois: up to $42.3 million
  • New York: up to $7.3 million
  • Maine: up to $3.3 million
  • Massachusetts: up to $2.8 million
  • Vermont: up to $2.7 million
  • Missouri up to $2.2 million
  • Wisconsin: up to $2 million for the Hiawatha line
  • Oregon: up to $1.6 million
  • North Carolina: up to $1.5 million
  • Iowa: up to $309,080
  • Indiana: up to $364,980
  • I’m sure these states are happy to be getting a little more funding. “High-speed rail will modernize America’s valuable transportation network, while reinvigorating the manufacturing sector and putting people back to work in good-paying jobs,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “I am pleased that so many other states are enthusiastic about the additional support they are receiving to help bring America’s high-speed rail network to life.”

    Harvard researchers develop methane powered laptop

    Researchers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) are working on revolutionizing fuel cell technology by enabling portable electronics to operate using fuels like methane, for example. The research team is currently in development of solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), which convert chemical energy from hydrogen or hydrocarbon fuels into an electric current. Up until recently, the cost of materials and high operating temperatures have restricted SOFCs solely to laboratory use.

    Fortunately, the team has now developed a thin-film SOFC that uses nano-scale ceramic films “” both eliminating the need for expensive platinum electrodes and increasing stability. Scientists confirm that they are now working with a methane-fueled SOFC operating at less than 500 degrees Celsius, about 500 degrees less than traditional SOFCs. According to the researchers, 300-500 degrees Celsius are the ideal temps for applications in portable electronics and/or transportation vehicles. With budding alternative technologies continuing to emerge, its very exciting to think about the strides that we may all see in the coming years.

    Turning wastewater from oil and gas wells into an asset

    Oil and gas wells produce a lot of water. According to the Department of Energy, between 20 and 25 billion gallons of water are drawn up by wells each year in the U.S., creating a hassle for operators and sometimes shutting down production. Geothermal co-production can potentially alleviate that problem. By using generation units that produce energy from low-temperature hydrothermal resources, a handful of companies are looking at converting wastewater from oil and gas wells into electricity. The potential for turning that liability into a generation asset is huge; but so are the technical and economic challenges.

    The Binary Cycle and Organic Rankine Cycle technologies used to generate electricity from lower-temperature water (between 195 and 300 degrees fahrenheit) have been around for decades. These units utilize warm water to boil a working fluid, send the vapor through a turbine and generate electricity. Ormat has been the historic leader in the Binary-Cycle sector, with UTC and Fuji starting to catch up. There’s also ElectraTherm, a newer company working with co-production project developers to install its 50-kW Rankine Cycle “Green Machines” at oil and gas sites.

    The big question is not whether these technologies work, it’s whether they can work effectively at oil and gas wells, says Ann Robertson-Tait, the vice president of business development for Geothermex, a leading geothermal consultancy. “Could [companies] use that co-produced water for something? They could. Could it be a large grid-connected resource? That’s going to be a bigger challenge,” says Robertson-Tait.

    An answer to green energy could be in the air

    In Mark Moore’s world, long nanotubes reach into the clouds, serving at once to tether a turbine-vehicle flying at 2,000 feet, or 10,000 feet, or 30,000 feet (610, 3,050 and 9,150 meters); and also to conduct the power that vehicle can harvest from the wind back to Earth. Aloft might be a funnel-shaped blimp with a turbine at its back; or a balloon with vanes that rotate; a truss-braced wing; a parachute; a kite. Any and all of them are ideas being considered by nascent renewable energy industry that is flexing its imagination.

    Moore, who works as an aerospace engineer, centering his focus on advance concepts in the Systems Analysis Branch at NASA’s Langley Research Center, is using a $100,000 grant from the federal government to research what it will take to judge the value of any of those ideas. “It’s the first federally funded research effort to look at airborne wind capturing platforms,” Moore said. “We’re trying to create a level playing field of understanding, where all of the concepts and approaches can be compared — what’s similar about them? What’s different about them, and how can you compare them?”

    He likens the development of wind-borne energy to flight itself, adding that “this is like being back in 1903. Everybody’s got a dog to show. Everybody’s got a different way of doing it.” But the Wright Brothers didn’t have to deal with a crowded sky and the laws regulating it when they took off at Kitty Hawk. “Airspace is a commodity,” Moore said. “You have to be able to use airspace without disrupting it for other players. Smaller aircraft are still going to need to fly around. Larger airplanes, you can’t expect them to fly around every wind turbine that has a two-mile radius as a protected flight zone.”

    22 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for December 14th: Bingaman opens door to ‘clean’ energy standard (with nukes and coal CCS); Security Council urged to tackle climate change; Building Israel’s first solar field

    1. Prokaryotes says:

      Halliburton reportedly agrees to pay Nigeria $250 million to drop bribery charges against Cheney, firm

      The charges allege that engineering contractor KBR, until 2007 a subsidiary of Halliburton, was among companies that paid bribes to secure a $6 billion contract for a natural gas plant. KBR pleaded guilty to the same bribes in a US court in 2009, and agreed to pay a $382 million fine. The Nigerian charges appear to stem from the US case — though, in that trial, Cheney was never directly charged.

    2. Michael T. says:

      New NOAA Buoy to Help Close Gap in Climate Understanding South of Africa

      To better understand the effects of the ocean on global climate and weather, scientists from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, or PMEL, deployed an Ocean Climate Station mooring — an anchored buoy —on the edge of the warm Agulhas Return Current (ARC) southeast of South Africa. Although there is an array of climate buoys positioned in the tropics, this is one of only two deep ocean climate buoys positioned below the Tropic of Capricorn; the other is located south of Australia. The buoy is part of NOAA’s climate observation and monitoring efforts.

    3. Colorado Bob says:

      Another 10.47 inches falls in 24 hours in Queensland –
      UP to 100mm of rain has fallen in some parts of Queensland over the last 24 hours adding to flood woe from rising rivers across the state.

      Escott Station in the Gulf recorded 266mm within 24 hours to 9am yesterday – the highest in the state.

      Gamboola in the Cape received 112mm, 93mm fell near Taroom, 80mm at Tambo north of Blackall and 73mm was recorded near Blackall.

    4. Michael T. says:

      The paper by Hansen et al. called “Global Surface Temperature Change” was published in Reviews of Geophysics today.

    5. Michael T. says:

      Tornado hits small Ore. town, no injuries reported

      AUMSVILLE, Ore. – A tornado struck the small town of Aumsville on Tuesday, tearing roofs off buildings, hurling objects into vehicles and homes and uprooting trees.

      No injuries were reported. There were early reports that some people had been trapped in cars.

    6. Prokaryotes says:

      VIDEO Bitter cold lingers as storm moves to Canada, strands hundreds

      Canadian police and military teams were working Tuesday afternoon to rescue about 300 people stranded after what a local official termed the most brutal storm to hit the Ontario region in 25 years.
      Some people had been stuck in their vehicles for more than 24 hours following blinding snow that piled up so high it made it almost impossible to open vehicle doors.

    7. Colorado Bob says:

      Export losses from coal and grain in Australia have reached 3.6 Billion dollars.

      Some numbers about the cost of the floods in Canada this year –

      “Now that harvest is over, we have a strong indication of the degree to which the flooding has affected prairie farmers,” said Douglas Porter, Deputy Chief Economist, BMO Capital Markets. “While our estimate is lower, the losses of $1.5 billion remain a heavy weight on Prairie economies. In Saskatchewan, the 2010 grain harvest is estimated to have dropped 36 per cent below last year’s level. We believe that the decline in crop production alone carved more than 3 percentage points from real GDP growth in the province for the year,” added Mr. Porter.

    8. Colorado Bob says:

      The state’s cotton growers have been dealt a particularly savage blow. Almost the entire cotton crop in the Central Highlands — which was expected to fetch record prices at market because of unprecedented global demand — has been destroyed.

      Mr Mulherin yesterday toured the Central Highlands and estimated that 1000ha of dry-land cotton had been inundated.

    9. Colorado Bob says:

      Meanwhile in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, a months worth of rain poured within 12 hours, reaching a total of 124 mm.

    10. Prokaryotes says:

      Needed Or Not, Electric Car Noisemakers Are Going To Be Law

      Although the relative silence of electric cars and hybrids was originally touted as one of their key beneficial attributes, alarmists have been less than enamored with the perceived difficulty involved in hearing one coming, especially advocates of the blind and the seeing impaired.

      While critics have said time and time again that no actual data shows a hazard to exist, the alarmists have managed to convince the Senate to vote unanimously in favor of a new bill that would force automakers to install noise generating devices, a.k.a. noisemakers, on all vehicles that can operate without the use of an internal combustion engine, even if only momentarily.

    11. fj3 says:

      More on nanotechnology:

      3 nanotechnologies Secretary Chu thinks are poised to make a big impact on the energy sector:

    12. David B. Benson says:

      Easy to provde the incentive, require a FCOAD fee.

      Fossil Carbon Open Air Disposal

    13. Prokaryotes says:

      The U.S. Justice Department is expected to announce as early as Wednesday its first significant legal action stemming from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a federal government source familiar with the matter said.

      The source said the action involved the filing of civil lawsuits, rather than criminal charges, stemming from the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history and that it was expected to be announced at a news conference as early as Wednesday.

      The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday the Justice Department is expected to join the hundreds of civil lawsuits that have been filed as a result of the spill and will allege violations of environmental protection regulations, which could trigger penalties under such laws as the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act.

      “We’re not confirming it,” a Justice Department spokesman said of the newspaper report.

    14. Prokaryotes says:

      Aumsville Oregon hit by tornado and flood warning issued

      Oregon officials are requesting that people stay clear of Aumsville until crews can clean up the mess caused by a tornado and high winds. If the tornado, high winds and downed power lines weren’t enough reports say that extreme hail and thunderstorms could be on the horizon for Aumsville and surrounding areas.

      A tornado ripped through part of Aumsville Tuesday causing serious damage to a few businesses and tearing the roofs off buildings, fortunately the tornado hit just a small portion of the town or the damage could have been much worse. Luckily there were no reports of any missing or injured people after the tornado struck, but 6,000 people are without power in and around Aumsville.

      Wind and rain also helped wreak havoc on the small town just 20 miles Southwest of Salem Oregon, downing power lines and leading to the National weather service issuing a flood warning for the area. There are crews out attending to the downed power lines and the ODOT (Oregon department of transportation) is urging people to avoid Aumsville so they can get things cleaned up.

    15. Prokaryotes says:

      Michael, i think it makes sense to look at last year development and the threat level/anomaly impacts of circumstances, which are tied to NAO.

      Brrr: The AO is way low

      In the meantime, winter weather galore is unfolding throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Great Britain is now grinding its way through frequent snows and a prolonged freeze that’s tangled transportation and brought supplies of heating oil and road treatments to worrisome lows. Temperatures below 20°F (–6.7°C) could dive as far south as Spain this weekend, with more snow on tap for London.

      In a nutshell, the NAM characterizes how the mass of the Northern Hemisphere’s air is distributed from north to south. When the NAM is positive, there’s more mass (i.e., higher air pressure) in midlatitudes and less mass (lower pressure) further north, across the Arctic. This helps steer a strong west-to-east jet stream across the oceans and into the continents, typically bringing mild marine air in tow.

      On the other hand, a negative NAM means that pressures are higher near the poles than in midlatitudes. This weakens the west-to-east jet stream and allows giant mounds of high pressure to spill southward from the frozen polar regions directly into continental areas, leaving much of the Arctic (especially near Greenland) less cold than usual.

      As you might guess, the NAM is on the negative side these days, and that’s putting it mildly (or should that be coldly?). In December, the monthly average NAM value was –3.413, according to NOAA’s table of monthly values. This is by far the lowest average for any December in the NOAA table, which goes back to 1950.

      In a 2009 Journal of Climate paper, Deser and NCAR’s Adam Phillips note that some model simulations of latter 20th century climate reproduce the weak upward trend in the NAO. However, it’s not statistically significant compared to natural variability. Other studies that focus on 21st-century climate project a continued rise in the average NAO.

      According to the Hurrell and Deser paper, “One of the most urgent challenges is to advance our understanding of the interaction between greenhouse gas forcing and the NAO.” Yet even if the AO/NAO/NAM continues trending upward in the long run, shorter-term ups and downs will continue to unfold—just as they’re doing this winter.

    16. Michael T. says:

      Forest to be felled for Moscow-St. Pete’s highway

      MOSCOW – The new Moscow-St.Petersburg highway will be built through an ancient forest outside the capital as planned, a top official confirmed Tuesday, despite environmentalists’ outrage over the issue.

      The controversy over the Khimki oak forest is not just about irreplaceable trees. The fierce dispute has showcased Russia’s gravest social ill: the abuse of power and the dangers associated with trying to expose it.

    17. Prokaryotes says:

      17 January 2010 Hansen about the cool december 2009

      It is obvious that in December 2009 there was an unusual exchange of polar and mid‐latitude air in the Northern Hemisphere. Arctic air rushed into both North America and Eurasia, and, of course, it was replaced in the polar region by air from middle latitudes. The degree to which Arctic air penetrates into middle latitudes is related to the Arctic Oscillation (AO) index, which is defined by surface atmospheric pressure patterns and is plotted in Figure 6. When the AO index is positive surface pressure is high low in the polar region. This helps the middle latitude jet stream to blow strongly and consistently from west to east, thus keeping cold Arctic air locked in the polar region. When the AO index is negative there tends to be low high pressure in the polar region, weaker zonal winds, and greater movement of frigid polar air into middle latitudes.

      Figure 6 shows that December 2009 was the most extreme negative Arctic Oscillation since the 1970s. Although there were ten cases between the early 1960s and mid 1980s with an AO index more extreme than ‐2.5, there were no such extreme cases since then until last month. It is no wonder that the public has become accustomed to the absence of extreme blasts of cold air

      what is the effect of reduced Arctic sea ice on weather patterns? There is not enough empirical evidence since the rapid ice melt of 2007. We conclude only that December 2009 was a highly anomalous month and that its unusual AO can be described as the “cause” of the extreme December weather.

      If winter weather keeps to be this anomalous, one might conclude the lose of arctic ice could be the cause for the jet stream anomaly.

    18. Prokaryotes says:

      Control of methane, soot, and other short-lived climate-forcing agents has often been described as a cheap way to “buy time” to get carbon dioxide emissions under control. But is it really?

    19. Prokaryotes says:

      Medvedev Backs Khimki Forest Road
      Construction of the Moscow-St. Petersburg highway is too far advanced to be stopped and will run through the Khimki forest as originally planned, President Dmitry Medvedev said through his spokeswoman on Tuesday.

      The announcement comes as a bitter disappointment to environmentalists, who thought they had won a rare victory when Medvedev ordered a halt to road construction in August and set up a commission to consider alternative routes. But Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who chaired the commission, announced Tuesday that the commission recommended that the $8 billion highway should run through the Khimki forest as originally planned.

      “The decision will be fulfilled,” Medvedev’s spokeswoman Natalya Timakova told reporters later in the day

      AUGUST 27, 2010 Medvedev Halts Road Project
      Russian Leader Calls for More Talks; Forest Clearing Has Faced Years of Protests

    20. Paulm says:

      Canada getting hammered…

      Much of the country being hammered by extreme weather

    21. riverat says:

      That tornado in Aumsville hit close to home. I was only about 6 miles from it when it happened. But it was over the hill from me so all I saw was dark ominous skies. I’m glad no one was seriously hurt.