Category: "Climate Change"

11/30/18

  07:50:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 947 words  
Categories: Climate Change

Climate Assessment Report: Dire Threat Largely Ignored

On Black Friday, the Trump Administration released the 4th National Climate Assessment report, presumably in the hope that most Americans would still be too stupefied  from their food coma and shopping binges to notice.  So here we are a week later, and hopefully woke.  Because the message of the report is a dire warning of what is already happening and what is to come. We ignore it at our peril.

From ClimateNexus:

This U.S. federal government report shows that:

  • Human activity, like burning fossil fuels, is the primary cause for the warming temperatures we are undoubtedly experiencing.
  • By the end of this century, fighting climate change will save hundreds of billions of dollars just in public health costs, and save thousands of lives a year.
  • Americans are already paying for climate change as it makes storms more damaging, heat waves more deadly, wildfires more common, allergies worse and some diseases more widespread.
  • The U.S. military, as well as many farmers, businesses, and local communities are already planning for and adapting to climate change.
  • Climate change is a clear and present danger to the health and wealth of the American people.

Topline findings of the report include:

Human activity, primarily burning fossil fuels, is causing climate change. There is no credible alternative to global warming emissions to explain the warming.

  • Global average temperatures have risen 1.8°F (1.0°C) since 1901, predominantly because of human activity, especially the emission of heat-trapping gases.
  • Globally, 16 of the last 17 years are the warmest years on record.
  • Depending on the region, Americans could experience an additional month to two month’s worth of days with maximum temperatures above 100°F (38°C) by 2050, with that severe heat becoming commonplace in the southeast by 2100.

Economic losses from climate change are significant for some sectors of the U.S. economy.

  • In some sectors, losses driven by the impacts of climate change could exceed $100 billion annually by the end of the century.
  • If emissions continue unabated, extreme temperatures could end up costing billions upon billions in lost wages annually by the end of the century, and negatively impact the health of construction, agricultural and other outdoor workers.
  • Many aspects of climate change – including extreme heat, droughts, and floods – will pose risks to the U.S. agricultural sector. In many places, crop yields, as well as crop and grazing land quality, are expected to decline as a result.
  • We may be underestimating our level of risk by failing to account for multiple impacts occurring at once, or not planning for impacts that will span across government borders and sector boundaries.
  • Our aging infrastructure, especially our electric grid, will continue to be stressed by extreme weather events, which is why helping communities on the frontlines of climate impacts to adapt is so crucial.

Americans are already responding to the climate change impacts of burning fossil fuels.

  • Increased global warming emissions have contributed to the observed increases in Atlantic hurricane activity since 1970.
  • Climate change doubled the area burned by wildfires across the West between 1984 and 2015, relative to what would have burned without warming. Climate change was a greater factor in area burned between 1916 and 2003 than was fire suppression, fire management or non-climate factors.
  • By 2100, annual acreage burned by wildfires could increase by as much as 6 times in some places. The U.S. spends an average of about $1 billion annually to fight wildfires, but spent over $2 billion in 2015 due to extreme drought. Costs exceeded $2 billion in the first 8 months of 2017.
  • The U.S. military is already working to understand the increased risks of security issues resulting from climate change-induced resource shocks (droughts causing crop failure, for example, which can contribute to civil unrest) as well as extreme weather events and direct impacts on military infrastructure, like sea level rise or extreme heat at military bases.

Storm surge and tidal flooding frequency, depth and extent are worsened by sea level rise, presenting a significant risk to America’s trillion-dollar coastal property market.

  • Global sea level has risen about 8-9 inches since 1880, 3 inches of which have come since just 1993. We can expect at least several inches more in the next 15 years, with 1-4 feet very likely by 2100, and as much as 8 feet physically possible by 2100.
  • Sea level rise has already increased the frequency of high tide flooding by a factor of 5 to 10 since the 1960s for some U.S. coastal communities.
  • Climate change is already hurting coastal ecosystems, posing a threat to the fisheries and tourism industries as well as public safety and human health. Continuing coastal impacts will worsen pre-existing social inequities as vulnerable communities reckon with how to adapt.

Every American’s health is at risk from climate change, with the elderly, young, working class and communities of color being particularly vulnerable.

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will, by the end of the century, potentially save thousands of lives annually, and generate hundreds of billions of dollars of health-related economic benefits compared to a high emissions scenario.
  • Allergies like hay fever and asthma are likely already becoming more frequent and severe.
  • Warmer temperatures are expected to alter the range of mosquitoes and ticks that carry vector-borne diseases like Zika, West Nile virus, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
  • Drier conditions in Arizona and California have led to greater growth of the fungus that leads to Valley Fever (coccidioidomycosis) while Cryptococcal infections were strictly tropical before 1999, but have moved northward, with Oregon experiencing 76 cases in 2015.
  • West Nile is projected to double by 2050, with a $1 billion annual price tag.

Transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources will reduce the risks of climate impacts.

  • A certain amount of warming is likely “locked in” so adaptation is still required.
  • The faster we reduce global warming emissions, the less risk we face and the cheaper it will be to adapt.

 

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11/16/18

  12:14:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 350 words  
Categories: Climate Change

NY Times asks: How much Hotter is Your Hometown than when You were Born?

Nothing warms the cockles of a data-geek’s heart more than seeing really cool data visualizations, and if that visualization  helps illustrate a vital subject in an easy-to-grasp manner, well that is a data geek jackpot.  Probably no one does data visualizations better than the folks at the New York Times, and their latest is amazing - driving home the impact of climate change in a way that is both personal and dramatic.

Titled, “How much Hotter is Your Hometown than when You were Born?” it allows the user to enter their hometown (Los Angeles, in my case) and year of birth.  According to their dataset, there were roughly 55 days when I was born where you could expect temperatures to reach 90 degrees (F).  Scroll down the page, and a graph is charted, showing the increase in days reaching 90 over the years, hitting 67 days in 2017, as you can see here:

 hotter in la

But if you continue to scroll down it gets even more alarming:

LA temps in 2089

Wow - at present trends, by 2089 there could be anywhere from 84 to 104 days of 90 degrees or better, with 93 days being the most likely number.  But these predictions assume that the world will adhere to the Paris Climate Agreement, and given recent developments in both the U.S. and Brazil, that is increasingly unlikely.

Of course it isn’t just the heat, it’s the humidity, and the visualization notes that areas with higher humidity than LA will feel the heat even more.

On the other hand, areas that experience dry heat, are likely to experience greater drought, and as we have so painfully seen these past few weeks, even more intense and deadly wildfires.

In other parts of the world the forecast is even more daunting.  Take a city like Jakarta - it already averages more than five months of temperatures above 90!

Map showing heat in Jakarta

According to those projections, by the end of the century, temperatures above 90 degrees in Jakarta, “may last for most of the year.

There is a lot more useful information there and I encourage you to check it out.  Would that all information about Climate Change were presented in an equally compelling manner - bravo, NYT!

08/06/17

  02:48:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 165 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Climate Change

100 Years of Global Warming in 35 Seconds!

As regular readers of this blog know, we are major “data geeks” here at Run on Sun, and there is hardly anything that lights our fires more than a brilliantly executed data visualization!  Well Antti Lipponen, a researcher at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, has just published what may be one of the greatest data visualizations ever, demonstrating 100 years of global warming in a mesmerizing 35 seconds! (H/T Yale Environment 360.)

Check it out…

Using temperature data from the world’s 191 countries, Lipponen’s stunning video turns a boring dataset into a compelling image of the rapid change that we are experiencing.  Using both color (warmer temperatures appear in warmer colors) and height (the length of each country’s bar is its departure from the averaged baseline), you can almost feel the pulse of the ever-warming Earth.

This visualization brings vividly home that we have a lot of work ahead of us, and such is the power of data used properly.  Congratulations, Mr. Lipponen, you are our new favorite data geek!

11/10/16

  11:25:00 am, by Laurel Hamilton   , 766 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, LADWP, Climate Change, Solar Policy

Ch-ch-ch-Changes to LA's Energy Mix!

LA City SolarLos Angeles doesn’t have a great reputation for being green. Sadly we are better known as a car-centric city frequently afflicted with smoggy skies. In fact, Los Angeles has been ranked the worst air pollution in the nation. Recently our fair city took one step closer to changing that! Last April the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to approve a motion asking the LA Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to develop a plan for how the city can move toward 100% renewable sources of electricity. LADWP - the largest municipal utility in the country - currently gets about 20-25% of its energy from renewables (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and waste). The biggest challenge to going 100% green will be to convert from a grid which relies on coal and natural gas, which can adjust supply to meet demand, to one which can handle the fluxuations of solar and wind. The largest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions - nearly 9 million metric tons - will be through DWP’s existing plan to eliminate coal-fired power plants from their energy mix by 2025. (Side note: Shockingly, Pasadena’s energy mix coming from Pasadena Water and Power, has an extraordinarily high percentage of power coming from coal at 34% compared to CA average of 6% with no plans as of yet to move toward renewables! Hopefully they’ll follow in LA’s footsteps!)

Another 7 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions result from the remaining energy sources in LADWP’s mix, largely natural gas. As we move away from coal we need to be careful to not be lured to just switch to cheap natural gas. Last year the Aliso Canyon gas leak disaster - the worst in US history - proved this fossil fuel is a very dangerous source of energy for our communities. 11,000 residents were evacuated and hundreds reported methane-related illnesses from the leak. Aliso released 100,000 tons of methane, which has a warming effect 80 times higher than CO2 over the short-term. Currently there are also natural gas storage facilities in Playa del Rey and Playa Vista. Obviously natural gas is a serious threat to our public health and the environment. If we are going to get to a fully clean power supply a commitment similar to the departure from coal needs to happen with natural gas… and the faster the better. 

With a 100-year old grid supplying 4 million Angelinos with power, LADWP is poised to make significant infrastructure investments. This is the perfect opportunity for the city to upgrade the system to accommodate the potential for a fossil-free future. Councilman - and co-author of the City Council motion - Paul Krekorian, emphasized the urgency for Los Angeles to move to clean energy:

“This is an enormous step forward that will help restore our environment and lead us to a sustainable, fossil-free future. For the third year running, Los Angeles was ranked as having the worst air pollution in the country, which is unacceptable and unhealthy for our families and neighborhoods. To reverse this trend we need big thinking and bold, smart action." 

While Mayor Eric Garcetti has already set a goal of reaching 50% renewable energy by 2030, this recent legislation is only a starting point to research how to get to 100% but has no set timeline. This is a crucial first step, however, we are really looking forward to hearing the results of DWP’s research. A realistic but ambitious time-bound roadmap to ending our reliance on fossil fuels is crucial to improving our chances of preventing climate change’s most damaging effects.

San Francisco and San Diego are also among eighteen other cities who have committed to 100% clean energy goals recently. Four cities are already proving it is possible with fully renewably powered systems! Los Angeles, as the 2nd most populous city in the country and most polluted, can serve as a particularly powerful role model for cities and jurisdictions across the country. These plans have the potential to both help stop devastating climate change impacts but also to boost economies in the process. Some opponents of a renewable transition worry that it will hurt the economy but the growth of renewable jobs in recent years and a growing local economy has proven that is a false threat. Last year’s solar census reported that 10% of solar jobs - over 21,000 well paid jobs - are in Los Angeles! Going green saves money in the long-term. A report from the New Climate Economy found cities could save $17 trillion by 2050 by pursuing low-carbon solutions such as public transport, building efficiency, waste management and ‘aggressive’ solar implementation.

Now is the time to kick our transition to clean energy into high gear at local and state levels! We look forward to being part of the solution!

06/29/16

  02:37:00 pm, by Laurel Hamilton   , 872 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Climate Change

Solar Power - Doctor's Orders!


LaurelWhen I came to the solar industry I had just completed my Master in Public Health. Some of you may be thinking, “Thats an odd career move! What does solar have to do with public health?” I still get this exact response when I tell people my background. But to me, solar power is one of the most exciting and valuable solutions to a myriad of public health challenges! Think about it. Traditional sources of energy like coal and fossil fuels are the primary causes of climate change. They emit more greenhouse gasses and use much more water than solar. The global public health impacts of climate change are enormous and well documented…extreme weather events, flooding, draught, and heat waves all take a toll on our ability to live full and healthy lives. On top of that, the more immediate and local impacts of air pollution from traditional energy plants include asthma, COPD, and other respiratory illnesses. 

While this simple logic proves to me that solar power is a vast improvement over burning fossil fuels, quantifying the environmental and health impacts of solar energy is not a straightforward task. However, determining the value of these external benefits is imperative to understanding the true costs and benefits of solar compared to other sources of energy. Thankfully the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) recently published a technical report on this very topic! “The Environmental and Public Health Benefits of Achieving High Penetrations of Solar Energy in the United States.” was commissioned by the Department of Energy as part of the On the Path to Sunshot series of studies to assess the progress of the SunShot Initiative at its midway point.

The SunShot Vision

The SunShot Initiative was launched in 2011 as a result of the Obama administration’s goal to make solar electricity cost-competitive with conventional sources of electricity by 2020. In the first five years, the initiative has invested in education, policy analysis, and research and development of solar technologies as well as programs fostering more highly skilled U.S. based jobs. Since SunShot’s launch, solar installations have grown more than tenfold with more than one million solar installations producing power across the U.S. and the cost of solar energy has dropped drastically. As a result, the industry is approximately 70% of the way toward meeting the SunShot 2020 goal to achieve $0.06 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) installed cost for solar energy systems.

Results

The researchers sought to unveil the cumulative environmental and public health benefits of the solar power that has already been installed, and what future benefits would result if SunShot’s targets - 14% of US electricity by 2030 and 27% by 2050 - are met. They found that health and environmental benefits could add approximately 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour to the “true” value of solar energy! Lets break down that number…

Compared with fossil fuel generators, photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar produce far lower lifecycle levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other harmful pollutants including fine particulates (PM2.5), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen oxides (NOx).

Benefits of Solar

Department of Energy

Greenhouse Gases: Achieving the 14% by 2030 and 27% by 2050 targets could reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the power sector by 10% between 2015 and 2050. This may not sound like a lot, but in dollars and cents this means 238-$252 billion in savings, or 2.0-2.2 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) of solar installed. These savings add to the 17 million metric tons of CO2, or $700 million, saved annually by solar already installed by 2014. 

Other Air Pollutants: Meeting the same targets through solar expansion would also reduce other power sector cumulative emissions of PM2.5 by 8%, SO2 by 9%, and NOx by 11% between 2015 and 2050. The monetary value of which they estimated at $167 billion in savings from reducing health and environmental costs, or 1.4 cents per kilowatt hour of solar. Not to mention avoiding 25,000-59,000 entirely preventable premature deaths! This builds on 2014 solar installations providing annual reductions in air pollutants worth $890 million. 

Water: Often we forget that traditional sources of electricity are also big water hogs. I even wrote a blog about the ways solar helps to conserve water. The researchers found reaching SunShot’s goals could result in cumulative water savings of 46 trillion gallons of avoided withdrawl (4% of total power-sector withdrawls) and 5 trillion gallons of avoided water consumption (9% of total power-sector consumption) between 2015-2050. This is definitely a non-trivial benefit given much of the big solar states are also arid states where water conservation is imperative. 

Dept of Energy

Environmental and health benefits from achieving SunShot vision. - DOE image

Put it all together and you get to the estimated 3.5¢/kWh-solar, equivalent to more than $400 billion in benefits due to SunShot-level solar deployment! Existing solar in 2014 provided $1.5 billion in annual benefits due to health and environment effects. Given the cost of going solar for residential properties in our neck of the woods is currently between 8 and 11 ¢/kWh, adding 3.5 ¢/kWh of value is a pretty big deal. The LBNL researchers noted that this is approximately equal to the additional LCOE reduction needed to make unsubsidized utility-scale solar competitive with conventional power generation today. 

Improving public health and the environment is a lofty goal near and dear to my heart and truly an important aspect of solar’s many benefits. Hopefully quantifying the magnitude of solar’s “external” impacts will help inform policy decisions by making the “true” costs and values of solar and its economic competitiveness with other energy options more explicit.

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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