Posts Tagged ‘greenhouse gas emissions’

Germany Runs Half the Country on Solar Power

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

During a spell of extremely sunny weather, – on Saturday, May 26 — the solar-energy record by sourcing nearly 50 percent of its daytime electricity needs from sunshine.  According to Germany’s Institute of the Renewable Energy Industry (IWR), solar power plants produced an unprecedented 22 gigawatts of electricity, approximately the same amount generated by 20 nuclear power stations operating at full capacity.  Even on days when it’s not setting records, Germany has formidable solar numbers.  On Friday, May 25, while its citizens were at work and its power-hungry factories were running, one-third of Germany’s power was produced by solar plants.  The German government plans to move to 100 percent renewable energy by 2022.

Germany decided to abandon nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, closing eight plants immediately.  They will be replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind turbines, solar and bio-mass.

“Never before anywhere has a country produced as much photovoltaic electricity,” said Norbert Allnoch, IWR director.  “Germany came close to the 20 gigawatt (GW) mark a few times in recent weeks.  But this was the first time we made it over.”  Germany has nearly as much installed solar-power generation capacity as the rest of the world combined and gets nearly four percent of its annual electricity needs from the sun alone.  Its goal is to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.

According to critics, renewable energy is not reliable enough nor is there enough capacity to power major industrial nations like Germany.  Chancellor Angela Merkel disagrees, noting that Germany is eager to demonstrate that is indeed possible.  The jump above the 20 GW level was due to increased capacity and bright sunshine nationwide.

Government-mandated support for renewables has helped Germany became a world leader in renewable energy.  The incentives provided through the state-mandated feed-in-tariff (Fit) are not without controversy, however. The tariff is the main support for the industry until photovoltaic prices fall further to levels similar for conventional power production.

Utilities and consumer groups have complained the tariffs for solar power adds about two cents per kW/h on top of electricity prices in Germany that are already among the highest in the world, with consumers paying about 23 cents kW/h, compared to New York, which pays 17.50 cents KW/h or Phoenix at 9.9 cents kW/h.  German consumers pay about €4 billion per year on top of their electricity bills for solar power, according to a 2012 report by the country’s environment ministry.  Critics also complain that employing increasing levels of solar power makes the national grid less stable due to fluctuations in output since Germany is not renowned for its sunny climate.

Bonn Climate Change Summit Has Its Own Storm Clouds

Monday, June 4th, 2012

Disagreement emerged early during the latest round of international climate change talks in Bonn, with the European Union (EU) and developing countries clashing over the future of the Kyoto protocol.  Under the terms of last year’s Durban Platform, the EU had agreed to sign an extension of the Kyoto protocol before it lapses at the end of this year in return for an agreement from all nations that a new binding treaty will be completed by 2015 and enacted by 2020.

Climate negotiators want to build on the progress achieved in Durban last year, like the agreement on a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty which limits the emissions of most developed countries but which expires at the end of this year.  The length of the second commitment period is one of the issues under discussion in Bonn.  Unfortunately, Kyoto plays an progressively more marginal role in the climate-change issue because it doesn’t include the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide and other gases that contribute to global warming.  The United States exited Kyoto, claiming it was unfair because it didn’t impose any emissions reductions on fast-growing developing nations such as China and India.  Canada also said it would withdraw from the treaty last year.

Last year’s United Nations (U.N.) climate talks in Durban supported a package of measures which would ultimately force the world’s polluters to take legally binding action to slow the pace of global warming.  Delegates agreed on the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” – a process that would apply to all parties under the U.N.’s climate convention.  A clear timetable and targets have not yet been set.  “Parties need to think between now and Doha how they want to organize their work between now and 2015 and how they will move towards that legal agreement,” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, said.  “My hope is they will establish milestones along the way so they are able to measure their progress.”

Figueres cited new research that predicts that the Earth’s temperature could rise by as much as five degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels on current pledges.  “We still have a gap remaining between intent and effort,” Figueres said.

Additional issues discussed in Bonn and at a larger climate change conference in Qatar later this year include implementing an extension to the Kyoto Protocol; how long that will last; how to raise ambition on emissions cut pledges, as well as raising long-term financing to help vulnerable countries adapt to the harmful effects of climate change.

The treaty currently being negotiated would require all nations to curb warming.  Identifying those requirements is the primary challenge, which is why negotiators are focusing on solving incremental, less contentious issues before moving on.  “First and foremost we have to ensure that there is no backtracking on what was agreed in Durban,” said Christian Pilgaard Zinglersen, a Danish official representing the European Union.  Climate activists warned that potentially disastrous consequences of global warming, including floods and droughts and rising sea levels, will be impossible to prevent unless the pace of negotiations accelerates.  “If you look at the science, we’re spending time we don’t have,” said Tove Ryding, Greenpeace’s climate policy coordinator.

We have all the means at our disposal to close the gap, and the long-term objectives of governments remain attainable,” Figueres said.  “But this depends on stronger emissions reduction efforts, led by industrialized countries.  A sufficient level of ambition to support developing country action, concrete and transparent implementation, today, tomorrow and into the foreseeable future, is the answer.  Progress here in Bonn can give countries the confidence they need to push ahead with national climate policies.  In turn, many countries are beginning to adopt ambitious climate change legislation, which is sending good signals to the international negotiations.  All of this can give society and businesses confidence to act faster themselves.”

Great Recession Had Little Impact on CO2 Emissions

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Worldwide CO2, emissions have risen by nearly 50 percent in the past several decades, with 2010 now holding the record as the year with the most greenhouse gas emissions on record.  Burning fossil fuels released more than 36 billion metric tons of CO2 in 2010, due primarily to growth in China, India, and the United States.  Deforestation is another core cause.

Going back half a century, nothing seems to have set back emissions for many years and that includes the Great Recession that started in late 2008, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Other studies indicate that mankind has burned approximately 50 percent of available fossil fuels if we don’t want the climate to warm by more than two degrees Celsius.  More to the point, we’ll need zero or negative emissions and emissions to peak sometime this decade to avoid any further warming.

Emissions rose approximately 510 million metric tons of carbon to reach 9.14 billion tons in 2010, the most in records dating to 1959, according to the Global Carbon Project.  That represents a 5.9 percent increase, the largest since 2003, when they jumped six percent.  The 2010 global emissions were 33.5 billion tons when converted to carbon dioxide.

“We’re going exactly in the wrong direction for limiting global warming,” said Corinne Le Quere, co-author of the Global Carbon Project’s report and a director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, England.  “Governments need to develop ways to boost the economy using renewable energy,” she said.

“Global CO2 emissions since 2000 are tracking the high end of the projections used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which far exceed two degrees warming by 2100,” Le Quere said.  “Yet governments have pledged to keep warming below two degrees to avoid the most dangerous aspects of climate change, such as widespread water stress and sea level rise, and increases in extreme climatic events.”

There’s growing evidence that 2011 will almost certainly be the 10th warmest on record, and the hottest featuring the La Nina phenomenon that brings cooler waters to the surface of the Pacific Ocean, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).  “There’s clearly a warming trend.  That’s supported by other indicators such as disappearing Arctic sea ice, melting glaciers and rising sea levels,” Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring at the U.K. Met Office, whose own temperature estimates feed into the WMO data, said.

“The global financial crisis was an opportunity to move the global economy away from a high-emissions trajectory.  Our results provide no indication of this happening,” according to the study’s authors.  The study was issued at a planet-warming gases panelat U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

Writing on Times’ Ecocentric blog, Bryan Walsh notes that “The study underscores just how little we’ve done to slow the increase in carbon emissions. Since 1990 –the base year for the Kyoto Protocol –carbon emissions from fossil fuels have increased by 49 percent, making a mockery of that global treaty’s ambition to cut emissions by at least five percent.  And it’s getting worse –on average, fossil fuel emissions have risen by 3.1 percent a year between 2000 and 2010, three times the rate of increase seen during the 1990s, even as global warming has become a global concern.

According to a Nature blog, “What’s new in this analysis is that it puts the recovery in context with previous global crises.  It also updates a novel type of carbon dioxide accounting pioneered by lead author Glen Peters, who is at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.  Usually, and under the Kyoto Protocol, carbon dioxide emissions are identified with the nation that produces them.  Yet rich countries have largely achieved cuts in CO2 emissions since 1990 by importing goods made elsewhere.  Around one-fifth of China’s emissions, for example, come from making goods demanded by consumers in other nations.  If you count the CO2 emissions embodied in final consumer demand, the study shows, Kyoto’s ‘developed’ countries are consuming more carbon dioxide now than they did in 1990 — although they report cuts in domestic production.  Even so, 2009 marked the first time that developing countries consumed more carbon dioxide than developed countries.  The crisis may not have fully passed, and it’s too early to tell whether the green stimulus packages introduced in recent years will have a positive impact, the study says.  For the moment it’s sobering to think that the pain caused by the financial crisis made but a small dent in global CO2 emissions.”

New Car Fuel-Efficiency Labels Mandated by EPA, DOT

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation (DOT) have directed that cars and light trucks carry labels comparing estimated five-year fuel costs with those of the average new vehicle following industry opposition to adding fuel-economy letter grades to the window stickers.  The labels, which will include yearly fuel-cost estimates, must be affixed to passenger cars and trucks starting with model year 2013.  The new stickers will rate vehicles on a scale of one to 10 for smog and greenhouse-gas emissions.  “These new window stickers are a win-win” for car buyers and the auto industry, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.  “They’ll help consumers make informed choices to save at the pump.”

Plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles must carry labels that specify how far a car can drive on electric power when charged.  The government decided to scrap plans for labels with letter grades after automakers, dealers and Congress said that consumers may avoid vehicles labeled with lower rankings.  Regulators abandoned the letter-grade proposal after being criticized by automakers and consumer tests indicating that some found the plan confusing, according to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.  “About half the people didn’t think the letter grade gave them all the information they needed,” Jackson said.  “And there was confusion that the letter grade was about the whole car.”

The labels will be quite detailed.  The estimated annual fuel cost is there, as are the standard miles-per-gallon figures for city and highway driving.  New features include the amount of fuel or electricity the vehicle will require to drive 100 miles, as well as the expected savings or cost of fuel over the next five years.  The miles-per-gallon range for same-class vehicles will be featured on the decals, as well as the highest fuel economy.  “The new labels…are the most dramatic overhaul to fuel economy labels since the program began more than 30 years ago,”  the DOT said.

The labels have some new features,  including a QR Code that allows smart phones users to access online information about how various models compare on fuel economy.  Consumers can enter information about their particular commutes and driving habits to get a more exact estimate of fuel costs.  The rule also finalizes new labels for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids to convert the use of electricity to a miles-per-gallon equivalent — and to allow users to compare charging costs to gasoline use.  In 2010, the EPA approved interim labels for the electric Nissan Leaf and extended range electric Chevrolet Volt, which it categorizes as plug-in hybrids.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers – the trade association representing Detroit’s Big Three automakers, Toyota and seven other automakers, praised the move and said the move complements labels between the federal government and California.  “Today’s announcement by EPA and DOT is a victory for consumers.  The average car buyer is a savvy shopper who gathers much information prior to buying a car, so the decision to go with informative MPG labels fits consumer needs well.  This label provides clear, visible data on fuel economy in a format consumers are already familiar with,” the group said.

Not everyone is happy with the move.  Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, said “The Obama administration caved to auto industry pressure and pulled the plug on a key consumer education proposal intended to help us determine which cars are cleanest.  This decision denies consumers clear information to help them make educated choices.”

The EPA created the new labels with the Transportation Department as part of rules adopted in 2010 requiring a 42 percent increase in average CAFE efficiency standards to 35.5 miles per gallon for 2012 – 2016 vehicles.  The agencies plan to require that 2017 – 2025 cars and trucks push efficiency goals to 60 mpg, a target automakers would likely resist.  Automakers, who supported the new labels, are retooling their production lines to meet government and consumer demands that they offer greater efficiency and cut pollution.

City of Chicago Issues Green Office Challenge

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Green Office Challenge did the same as taking 10,000 cars off the streets.  Chicago’s initial Green Office Challenge honored 34 property-management firms, companies and buildings in a contest to determine who has accomplished the most in terms of reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Sponsored by Mayor Richard M. Daley, the city’s Department of Environment and the non-profit ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA, the competition is part of the Chicago Climate Action Plan.

The action plan is an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent less than 1990 levels by 2020.  The built environment is responsible for approximately 70 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, with commercial buildings responsible for nearly 40 percent.  The city is determined to cut energy use by 30 percent in 40 percent of homes and achieve similar reductions in half of commercial and industrial buildings.

The 34 firms and properties cited achieved some remarkable milestones.  For example, they slashed energy use by more than 70 million kilowatt-hours of electricity – that’s equal to 45,000 homes or 125,000 barrels of oil.  More than 54,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide were not sent into the atmosphere, the equivalent of taking 10,000 cars off Chicago streets.  Water use was cut by five percent, and more than 1,200 tons of materials did not end up in landfills.

Distribution, Manufacturing Facilities Are Going Green

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Home Depot, NCR are greening their companies.  Home Depot, NCR are greening their companies. Fortune 500 companies are increasingly using energy-saving measures in their corporate real estate.  Some firms are retrofitting warehouses to conserve energy or are applying Japanese principles to building design and operation.

Home Depot, for example, has 2,245 retail stores comprising 235 million SF nationally, owns 89 percent of its real estate and is working to reduce its energy consumption.  In 2004, energy use for stores was approximately 25 kWh per square foot.  Today, energy consumption is just 21 kWh per square foot, a 16 percent reduction.

Since 2004, energy use has been cut by 2.6 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), enough to power 203,000 homes for a full year.  Home Depot’s objective is to reach a 20 percent reduction in kWh per square foot in U.S. locations by 2015.  The company also plans to cut its domestic supply chain greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 20 percent by 2015.

Yet another example is NCR Corporation, which used Japanese “lean” practices at its new 350,000 SF plant in Norcross, GA, where it manufactures ATMs.  The technique eliminates waste and streamlines production processes.  Because NCR recycled cinder blocks and carpeting at the facility, it is seeking LEED certification on the retrofitted building.  Additionally, NCR produces cash registers that use two-sided receipt printers that cut paper usage by as much as 45 percent and use less power.

Converting the plant to make it energy efficient was not easy, according to Beth McClurg, NCR’s director of corporate real estate, who notes that “It is taking extra cost to do, which may not have immediate payback in terms of our financials, but because of the importance, we’re proceeding and hope to have LEED certification soon.”

EPA Can Bypass Congress and Act on Climate Change

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

There may be only one way to enact climate-change legislation.Congress — wary of 2010 mid-term elections – appears to be unlikely to pass climate change legislation this year, writes Jeffrey D. Sachs in Scientific American.

According to Sachs, “The fracture lines are countless, but probably the most important one runs through public opinion.  A recent poll showed only 36 percent of Americans believing that the evidence of human-induced climate change is firm, down from 47 percent in early 2008.  The rise of unemployment has perhaps made people more reluctant to accept adverse news on living standards.  There is also considerable public confusion about climate science and possible remedies.”

The coal and oil lobbies are powerful; their opposition to climate-change legislation is well-financed and highly organized.  Environmental groups have difficulty reaching consensus, with many opposing nuclear power and coal use.  Conservationists have even fought renewable energy sources, such as wind turbines near farms and coastlines, solar thermal plants in desert states and high-voltage transmission lines close to homes.

Sachs believes that the Environmental Protection Agency – with the mandate provided by the Clean Air Act – could do an end run around Congressional inaction by imposing a schedule of emissions standards impacting electric companies and cars, trucks and buses.  Finally, a plan needs to be articulated because the public fears that climate-change legislation might impact jobs and living standards.  Although the Obama administration has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020, the public does not know how the government intends to meet that goal.