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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #10B

Posted on 8 March 2014 by John Hartz

  • 28 US Senators will stay up all night to talk about climate change
  • 20,000 megawatts under the sea: Oceanic steam engines
  • As temperatures climb, so does malaria
  • Climate change felt in deep waters of Antarctica
  • Climate change hampers fight against malaria  
  • Cut the 'weirdo words' and put a human face on climate change
  • Forging a new climate change narrative
  • Get ready for next climate phenomenon: El Nino
  • Keystone review assumes 'global failure to address climate change'
  • Report warns of 'cascading system failures'
  • Role of Arctic sea ice melt in mid-latitude cold extremes
  • Why women are the secret weapon to tackling climate change

28 US Senators will stay up all night to talk about climate change

A group of 28 senators will take over the Senate floor on Monday evening for an all-night talk-a-thon on climate change.

The senators plan to start their climate-fest on Monday, March 10, after the last votes, and continue until around 9 a.m. on Tuesday. The senators are part of the Climate Action Task Force, which was launched in January.

The event, said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), is meant "to show the growing number of senators who are committed to working together to confront climate change."

28 Senators Will Stay Up All Night Monday To Talk About Climate Change by Kate Shepard, The Huffington Post, Mar 7, 2014

20,000 megawatts under the sea: Oceanic steam engines

IF ANY energy source is worthy of the name "steampunk", it is surely ocean thermal energy conversion. Victorian-era science fiction? Check: Jules Verne mused about its potential in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in 1870. Mechanical, vaguely 19th-century technology? Check. Compelling candidate for renewable energy in a post-apocalyptic future? Tick that box as well.

Claims for it have certainly been grandiose. In theory, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) could provide 4000 times the world's energy needs in any given year, with neither pollution nor greenhouse gases to show for it. In the real world, however, it has long been written off as impractical.

This year, a surprising number of projects are getting under way around the world, helmed not by quixotic visionaries but by hard-nosed pragmatists such as those at aerospace giant Lockheed Martin. So what's changed?

20,000 megawatts under the sea: Oceanic steam engines by Helen Knight, New Scientist, Mar 3, 2015

As temperatures climb, so does malaria

Warming temperatures expand the risk area for malaria, pushing the disease farther uphill in afflicted regions, according to a new study.

Infecting more than 300 million people each year, malaria emerges from a tapestry of temperature, rainfall, vectors, parasites, human movement, public health and economics. Fighting the disease involves pulling on all of these threads, but scientists have a hard time figuring out which ones are the most important to predicting where the disease will go.

As Temperatures Climb, So Does Malaria by Umair Irfan and ClimateWire, Scientific American, Mar 7, 2014

Climate change felt in deep waters of Antarctica

In 1974, just a couple years after the launch of the first Landsat satellite, scientists noticed something odd in the  Weddell  Sea near Antarctica. There was a large ice-free area, called a polynya, in the middle of the ice pack. The polynya, which  covered an area as large as New Zealand, reappeared in the winters of 1975 and 1976 but has not been seen since. 

Scientists interpreted the polynya’s disappearance as a sign that its  formation was a naturally rare event. But researchers reporting in Nature Climate Change disagree, saying  that the polynya’s appearance used to be far more common and that climate change  is now suppressing its formation.

What’s more, the polynya’s absence could have implications for the vast conveyor belt of ocean currents that move heat around the globe. 

Climate Change Felt in Deep Waters of Antarctica by Sarah Zielinski Smithsonian Magazine, Mar 3, 2014 

Climate change hampers fight against malaria

Malaria risks spreading to high altitudes as global temperatures rise and further warming might cause a significant increase in malaria cases in highland regions where malaria is endemic, according to a study published on Thursday.

Unless disease-monitoring and control efforts are boosted and sustained, the disease will spread to new high-altitude areas, making populations living there particularly vulnerable because of a lack of immunity.

Climate change hampers fight against malaria - study by Magda Mis, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Mar 6. 2014

Cut the 'weirdo words' and put a human face on climate change

Scientists are making a huge effort to translate and humanise climate change - and cut out "weirdo words" the public and policymakers can't understand, the UN's chief climate official said yesterday.

Christiana Figueres told reporters that the UNFCCC, the body dedicated to reaching a global deal on climate change, needs to prioritise getting better at communication. But the way she tells it, there's a revolution going on.

Cut the 'weirdo words' and put a human face on climate change, says UN chief by Ros Donald, The Carbon Bried, Mar 5, 2014

Forging a new climate change narrative

A new narrative that is designed to encourage action to combat climate change must acknowledge the abstract nature of global warming. First and foremost we need to address the fact that people are not rational actors. Perhaps the most cogent approach to managing the Herculean task of communicating with an inherently irrational public is to focus on a narrative that deals with fostering the right mental attitude. A new narrative designed to change peoples’ mindset must deal with the following five psychological realities. 

Forging a New Climate Change Narrative: Addressing 5 Psychological Realities by Richard Matthews, Global Warming is Real, Mar 6, 2014

Get ready for next climate phenomenon: El Nino

For West Coasters sick of the ridiculously resilient ridge of high pressure and East Coasters tired of hearing about the polar vortex, get ready for a new climate phenomenon to dominate headlines. El Niño could be making a return this fall after a 4-year hiatus, changing rainfall and temperature patterns across the world. It could even boost the odds of 2014 being the globe’s hottest year on record.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an El Niño Watch on Thursday, indicating conditions are favorable for the climate phenomenon to develop in the next 6 months. “Neutral” conditions are likely through the summer, but by fall NOAA's joint forecast with the International Research Institute for Climate and Society puts the odds of an El Niño developing at more than 50 percent. It’s been nearly 48 months since the last El Niño formed.

Get Ready for Next Climate Phenomenon: El Nino by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, Mar 6, 2014

Keystone review assumes 'global failure to address climate change' 

As the deadline for public comment on the Keystone XL pipeline arrived on Mar. 7, environmental groups told the Obama administration that the State Department's analysis of the project was based on flawed assumptions that clash with the nation's commitment to mobilizing global action against climate change.

In its final environmental impact statement (EIS) issued on Jan. 31, the State Department asserted that no single project would have much effect on the growth of Canada's tar sands industry. It based its conclusions partly on business-as-usual projections that demand for oil and prices would rise amid continued worldwide inaction on global warming.

The Natural Resources Defense Council said in wide-ranging comments that the EIS "makes a fundamental error by relying on energy consumption scenarios which assume a global failure to address climate change."  

State Dept Keystone Review Assumes 'Global Failure to Address Climate Change' by John H Cushman Jr., Inside Climate News, Mar 7, 2014

Report warns of 'cascading system failures'

From roads and bridges to power plants and gas pipelines, American infrastructure is vulnerable to the effects of climate change, according to a pair of government reports released Thursday.

The reports are technical documents supporting the National Climate Assessment, a major review compiled by 13 government agencies that the U.S. Global Change Research Program is expected to release in April. Scientists at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory put together the reports, which warn that climate-fueled storms, flooding and droughts could cause "cascading system failures" unless there are changes made to minimize those effects. Island Press has published the full-length version of the reports, which focus on energy and infrastructure more broadly.

New Government Report Warns of 'Cascading System Failures' Caused By Climate Change by Kate Shepard, The Huffington Post, Mar 6, 2014

Role of Arctic sea ice melt in mid-latitude cold extremes

Don’t look now, but there’s a sensible, and perhaps even meaningful and healthy, debate among real climate scientists over a hot issue: It all involves research on the rapidly melting Arctic sea ice and the kinds of blustery weather that has made the winter of 2014 so miserable for mid-latitude areas across much of the U.S.

It’s not one of those made-for-cable “talking heads” yell-a-thons that climate scientists so rightly deplore. Nor does it follow the all-too-common mass media practice of pitting the flame-thrower on the far left and the wacko on the far right against each other. This one, warts and all, shows how serious science can work at resolving differences of interpretation and significance.

At Issue: Role of Arctic Sea Ice Melt in Mid-Latitude Cold Extremes by Bud Ward, The Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media, Mar 5, 2014

Why women are the secret weapon to tackling climate change

As countries around the world look to celebrate International Women's Day on Saturday, it is important to reflect on the unique position of women when it comes to climate change.

Although climate change affects all people, women often bear the brunt in places where the impacts of climate change are already being felt. This is due to their central role in their families and communities.

For example, most of the world's small-scale farmers are women, producing most of the food. This is especially true in developing countries where men often must leave their villages in search of work.

Why women are the secret weapon to tackling climate change by Christiana Figueres, Special to CNN, Mar 6, 2014 


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Comments 1 to 18:

  1. Very interesting news about the link of California drought and loss of arctic ice, that cannot be missed:

    Climatologist Who Predicted California Drought 10 Years Ago Says It May Soon Be ‘Even More Dire’

    the title sais it all. Interestingly, Jenifer Francis is not the only (or not even the first) person to have found how Arctic Ice melt contributes to extreme events at mid-latitudes.

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  2. I'm surprised no media (in my country and in US)  seem to care about:
    1 in 100y flood in CHC

    (perhaps the Malaysian Air disaster prompted it but I still argue that "1 in 100y" events deserve far more global attention than airplane crashes)

    People in CHC saying 0.5m SLR contributed to the event which may now be happening every few years or so. I wonder how come they're exagerating SLR to "0.5m"? The asnwer is that the recent earthquake that destrroyed the cathedral, among other things caused the city to "sink" a little bit, therefore increasing the effective local SLR.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] CHC = Christchurch, New Zealand

  3. A follow-up article to the one linked to by chriskoz above:

    Global warming warning after ChCh floods by Adrien Taylor, 3News, Mar 6, 2014 

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  4. chriskoz @2, 1 in 100 year floods happen frequently.  That is becuase they have a return period of 100 years for a given location, but there are far more than 100 locations on Earth such that their precipitation events are effectively independant.  I haven't looked carefully at the statistics, but there are probably 1 in 100 year floods every year, somewhere on Earth.

    For comparison, the 2011 Brisbane flood came of the back of rainfall with a return period of about 100-200 years averaged over the Brisbane River catchment from Sun through Tues, with a follow rainfall for tuesday with a return period also about 100- 200 years.  That is, we had two >100 year rainfall events in just one week.  Some individual stations recorded rainfall with return periods of 1 in 2000, and the Wivenhoe release that triggered excess flooding came from a 1 in 2000 rainfall event directly onto the dam (ie, without any chance of buffering of the flow by forest, etc).

    This is not to detract from the suffering of the people of Christchurch, who have copped an absolute hammering over the last few years.  They certainly have my sympathy, and I agree that the floods in Christchurch should have wider reporting - certainly in Australia.

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  5. The Los Angeles Times had an article on Agnotology, the study of cultural ignorance.  Most of this is funded currently by industry.  Doubt is Our Product is a good documentation of this type of activity.  There were some interesting points.  They recommended a strong news industry to counter industry falsehoods (good luck on that!)

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  6. I worked in fish culture research most of my working life so I know how tempting it is to go for exotic exciting solutions when simple solutions are right in front of you.  In our case we were using all sorts of sophisticated hormone treatment to get fish to spawn out of season when just by selecting batches of eggs that from time to time were spawned a little out of season, the same result was obtained.  The "Seampunk" is a case in point.  All we have to do to solve the carbon crisis is to make it worthwhile to put solar panels on the roof while at the same time being fair to the power companies.  The technology is adequate and the price is right.  All that is missing is the correct relationship between the small solar owner, the power company and the government.


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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Fixed link. Please learn how to do this properly. Using Sks to advertise your own blog while making work for moderators is poor form.

  7. william@6,

    what you are advocating for:

    correct relationship between the small solar owner, the power company and the government

    brings in a whole array of economic social and political issues, including energy generation and energy efficiency, gov regulations, energy retailers' new business model, to name just a few. I recommend a recent book

    Sustainable Energy Solutions for Climate Change

    by Mark Diesendorf from NSW Uni, who discusses all those issue at depth with numerous references. Very good starting point for anyone interested in the research of AGW mitigation. And a very positive one (i.e. zero-carbon energy future is very much possible with renewable technologies only, even excluding nuclear, cause Mark is very skeptical about nukes).

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  8. A little of topic, but could someone please direct me to the skeptical science page that explains how the heat is being transferred down to the deep ocean? I saw the page but forgot where. Thanks .

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  9. Michael, there have been several posts on the subject of ocean heat transfer. I think the most recent was this one.

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  10. Michael Whittemore - I need to get my butt into gear and finish the series of posts on deep ocean warming, but long story short; the stronger trade winds spin-up the subtropical ocean gyres - where surface water converges. Stronger surface convergence means stronger downward transport of heat down into the ocean interior because there is nowhere else for the water to go but down (taking heat from the surface with it). 

    When the trade winds undergo their typical multi-decadal weakening (the positive phase of the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation) expect weaker deep ocean warming.

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  11. Chriskoz@7

    A good start would be net metering - ie. a single meter which turns backwards when your generation exceeds your power use.  However, we must not try to deprive the power company of their profit.  After all they maintain the grid which eliminates the need to have your own expensive batteries which must be replaced from time to time.  A fair, transparent way would be to have a line charge but we must be careful here.  The line charge should be the same for the user and the user/generator or the power company will gerimander the fee so that is still won't be worthwhile to install solar panels.  Then the government could stop taxing solar in all sorts of ways.  After the moderators comments, I don't want to 'advertize' my own blog but if you go to it under @6, there are a couple of blogs about how the German government, much lauded, taxes the small solar power installer 7 ways to sunday.  (do you have this expression).  The technology is adequate although it has some way to go and the price is right.  It should be well worthwhile for everyone with, say, 2.5 or more daily peak hours, averaged through the year, to profitably put solar panels on the roof.  There are benefits to the power companies too.  Once we have smart meters which allow demand balancing rather than the present supply balancing, having a lot of solar, financed by the small customer, eliminates the need for the power company to invest in an expensive, seldom used power plant for peak shaving.

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  12. [PS] Put the links in properly and there will be no complaints.

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  13. A "wind the clock back" meter could only make sense if you were buying the power from the generator, not the supplier. This is essentially saying that you want the sell back to the retailer at the same price as you bought it, whereas the retailer is buying from wholesaler at much lower price. What business could do that? It is only realistic that you sell electricity back at the average price from other generators. Some of the buy-back prices offered in NZ look very generous to me.  Really realistic would be that you only get paid for your electricity what the current wholemarket price is. Now sometimes, in a dry winter, that could be really high, but often when there isnt much solar then to generate.

    While obviously the price difference includes profit for the retailers which could do with some scrutiny but it also includes the balancing act of giving consumers fixed prices while market price changes every 5 minutes, regulatory costs, line costs etc. There is a reluctance by government to lump those costs into a per-household "line charge" no matter how realistic because this amounts to a penalty for low-power users, stuck with high line charges and low usage costs. The current line charge is fraction of the real cost. There are going to have be a lot of solar generators harping about the difference before the government would reconsider the political cost of such a change.

    Generating companies building peaking power plants are generally divorced from electricity retailers. They are building them because they see they can make money at times of high demand. Increased micro-scale solar generation doesnt really threaten this opportunity at the moment.

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  14. scaddenp @13, absolutely agree about the need for whole sale pricing of domestically generated electricity sold back into the grid.  Indeed, more than retail pricing (mandated in some Australian jurisdictions) has the perverse effect of providing a maximum incentive for the domestic user to minimize use in the daytime when they are generating power on site, and maximizing use at night when there is minimal renewable supply.  That is, it maximizes inefficiency in using solar power, and minimizes the emmisions reduction from the extra generation.

    The only caveate I would place on the whole sale pricing is that renewable and non-renewably sourced energy are differently priced when sold to the consumer.  At least in Queensland, you can pay a premium to have a significant proportion, or 100% at a higher premium, of your energy from carbon free sources.  The "sell back" price of domestically generated solar electricity should also reflect that premium.  That could be accomplished by the sell back price matching the average whole sale price of renewable power, rather than the average price of power in general.

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  15. Tom@14,

    I wonder what's the current status of feed-in in QLD. What's the mandated FiT for early adopters and how long are their contracts lasting?

    In NSW, the FiT by previous govs (labor) were as incredibly high as $600MWh. They are mandated until end of 2016, creating the classic perverse incentives you describe. New govs (libs in 2011 I believe) immediately ceased the contracts so such overpriced FiT (because the industry was burning out on overdrive) and they even wanted to retospectively scrape the existing contracts: a very bold move, illegal IMO. But they met with the rage of contractees, so did not succeed. So, we need to wait for more than until the perversive FiT expire. I understand that the early adopters are elligible for the generous subsidies. But in 6this case it would be much better for the environment if those investors settled with the govs for some lump sum of money in exchange for scraping the perversive incentives. I've heard for example, that by turning on a 2kW AC unit on top of your peak-hour demand, you create ~$7000 cost for the retailer who must upgrade the network and bid the appropriate evergy amount at the extremal price, usually from gas-powered supplier to satisfy the demand. This situation could be perhaps remedied by a solid peak-demand charges. But instead, the retailers are recouping their losses by increasing fixed charges.

    Meanwhile, the true FiT for post-2011 home investors was mandated by the govs at $77MWh minimum, which was barely above the coal-fired baseload wholesale price of ~$50MWh. That was before carbon tax. For some reason, after CTax last year, the minimum FiT dropped to $66MWh, contrary to my expectations, so perhaps it is already at or below baseload wholesale price + CTax. And guess what: my retailer (Energy Austratia) pays me the exact minimum, not a cent more.

    As you see, lot of scenarios in energy market are swayed by politics and private greed of all players involved. There is very little actions/policies with the top goal of reducing GHG emissions in mind. Rather, the whole energy buiseness model does work in opposite direction.

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  16. Chriskoz @14, in Qld, there is a 44 c per kWh feed in tariff for those who installed their solar panels prior to a change of regulation under the new (coallition) government.  There is a 8 c per kWh feed in tariff for other domestic solar generators, which will expire on July 1st.  After July 1st, the 44 cent feed in tariff will remain in effect for those eligible, but the 8 cent rate will cease to exist.  Instead domestic producers will need to "negotiate" a feed in tariff with their retail supplier.  As in all cases where very small suppliers attempt to negotiate with large retailers, that will supress the feed in tariff well below the whole sale rate of supply from other sources.  IMO, it is a rather transparent attempt by the coallition government to kill renewable supply from domestic producers.  It would be hard to argue otherwise given that:

    1. The 2008 wholesale spot price for electricity in Qld averaged 8.8 cents per kWh;
    2. The 2012/2013 retail price in Qld was 25 cent per kWh; and
    3. The new regime is predicted to reduce retail prices, presumably by reducing the feed in tariff (first link).

    All this from a government that is increasing coal production with indecent haste.

    Under most circumstances, I am very proud to be a Queenslander, but Campbell Newman is making that very difficult at the moment (and don't get me started on his introduction of guilt by association, punishment by secret tribunal, and winding back of the seperation of powers and the rule of law).

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  17. Tom@16,

    Very useful links, thanks.

    I note the following from your QLD link:

    When will the 44 cent [FiT] rate expire?

    Under the Electricity Act 1994, the 44 cent rate is due to expire on 1 July 2028, for those who maintain their eligibility.

    That's far worse than NSW's until end of 2016. I wonder how many eligibles for such essentially free lifetime gift of monies are there. As I said before, govs would do far better by terminating those contracts and settling with some lump sum of money, rather than killing the growth of PV industry, as you describe. That's really sad news: the worst imaginable from the GHG emission perspective. I just cannot believe that it happens in such state as QLD, Australia where solar energy potential is the largest in the developed world :(( The only hope is that the storage alternatives become cheaper  and the competition from the comunity cooperatives will force the silly govs to quickly change their minds.

    The wholesale price report is quite old (2008) although still interesting to look at, esp. the spikes in prices over $4000MWh in summer. I'd like to get my hand on a newer report, from 2013, when every fifth household in OZ got their PV installed, and at the same time we hit the record hot summer nationwide. I know for example that grid penetration of renewables in SA (mainly wind) became very signifficant (perhaps some 30%+?), and the overall demand figures has fallen, condradicting the fossil-fueled "expert predictions", so the production picture looks very different now.

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  18. chriskoz @17, it is not as bad as the raw date suggests.  Upgrading the inverter, installing extra capacity if your inverter was less than 5 kW, closing your account, changing tennants, or moving house will all result in loss of eligibility for the 44c rate.  Consequently the number of people on the 44c rate will decline over time, with only a minority (probably a small minority) retaining eligebility for the full remaining 14 years.  I think the below wholesale feed in tariffs are a far larger impediment, as they essentially require installers of domestic solar power to subisdize other consumers electricity.

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