- The International Energy Agency is an intergovernmental organization that advises member nations on issues related to energy and the environment.
- In its annual report, the IEA reported that the cost of solar is dropping more rapidly than previously thought, providing some parts of the world with historically cheap electricity.
- The IEA predicted that, over the next decade, renewables will meet 80 percent of global electricity demand growth, while the demand for oil will peak.
Electricity from solar energy is the cheapest it's ever been, thanks largely to technological improvements and policies that reduce the risk of investing in renewable energy.
That's one of the key takeaways from the World Energy Outlook 2020 report, which is published annually by the International Energy Agency (IEA), an intergovernmental organization that advises member nations on energy security, economic development and environmental protection.
"I see solar becoming the new king of the world's electricity markets," Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director, said in a statement. "Based on today's policy settings, it is on track to set new records for deployment every year after 2022."
The World Energy Outlook 2020 is out! It shows how the Covid crisis has brought deep disruption & uncertainty to t… https://t.co/if9yt1mHZc— Fatih Birol (@Fatih Birol)1602561688.0
The IEA's 2020 report notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it hard to predict the future of global energy demand, but it laid out several scenarios of what may happen over the next few years. In the main scenario, the international community is projected to generate 43 percent more solar power than the IEA had predicted in 2018.
That increase, as Carbon Brief first reported, is partly due to new analyses showing the cost of solar power to be 20 to 50 percent cheaper than the IEA thought in 2018.
Globally, the average cost of electricity from large-scale solar photovoltaic projects has dropped by magnitudes over the past decade, from 38 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to 6.8 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2019, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.
"Solar PV is now consistently cheaper than new coal- or gas-fired power plants in most countries, and solar projects now offer some of the lowest cost electricity ever seen," the IEA wrote in a press release. "In the [main scenario], renewables meet 80% of global electricity demand growth over the next decade. Hydropower remains the largest renewable source, but solar is the main source of growth, followed by onshore and offshore wind."
Solar energy and other renewables also pose a major threat to coal. The IEA report notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed a "structural fall in global coal demand," and that renewables and "cheap natural gas and coal phase-out policies, means that coal demand in advanced economies drops by almost half to 2030."
What's more, India, the world's second-largest coal producer, is projected to build 86 percent less new coal power capacity than the IEA predicted in 2019.
Here's a remarkable detail buried in @IEA #WEO20 India will build 86% less new coal power capacity than expected l… https://t.co/oBKGtDRzpT— Simon Evans (@Simon Evans)1602756526.0
While it's relatively easy to predict the near-term rise of solar and fall of coal, the future of oil remains more uncertain. The report notes that, without additional policy pushes, it's too soon to predict a rapid decline in oil demand and production. Yet, some industry experts do expect to see oil demand level out, if not rapidly decline, over the next decade.
"The era of global oil demand growth will come to an end in the next decade," Dr Birol said in a press release. "Based on today's policy settings, a global economic rebound would soon push oil demand back to pre-crisis levels."
One scenario in the report describes a pathway that would see the global community achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is the target of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
THREAD: The @IEA now has an aggressive 1.5°C scenario, reaching net-zero by 2050. It builds on the Sustainable Dev… https://t.co/Fjc86yHX3Q— Glen Peters (@Glen Peters)1602749021.0
To hit that ambitious goal, renewables would have to meet roughly 75 percent of global electricity demand in 2030, compared to 40 percent today, and electric vehicles would have to account for 50 percent of all passenger cars sold worldwide by 2030.
On the individual level, behavioral changes would also play a key role in this scenario. The report notes that up one-third of cuts to CO2 emissions would come from individuals doing things like:
- Working from home more often
- Line-drying laundry
- Driving more slowly
- Reducing use of air conditioning
- Flying less
It's one of the nation's worst oil spills on record.
- The accident occurred in the Siberian city of Norilsk.
- The company said thawing permafrost caused a fuel tank to collapse.
- Thawing permafrost poses a major threat to Russia's oil industry, which is the world's third largest.
Russian President Vladimir Putin recently declared a state of emergency after an industrial accident spilled more than 20,000 tons of diesel into the Arctic environment.
The accident occurred when a fuel tank collapsed at a power plant on May 29 in the Siberian city of Norilsk, located 1,800 miles northeast of Moscow. At least 17,000 tons of diesel fuel spilled into the Ambarnaya River, turning it crimson, while another 6,000 tons leaked into the soil.
Greenpeace Russia said it's the "first accident of such a scale in the Arctic," comparing it to the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska in 1989. That accident spilled 39,000 tons of fuel into the Pacific Ocean.
On Thursday, Russian officials said the leak had been contained with booms placed in the river.
"We have stopped the spread of the petroleum products," a spokesperson for the task-force in charge of the clean-up said. "They are contained in all directions, they are not going anywhere now."
Although the spill is contained, the accident likely caused long-term damage to the environment.
"The incident led to catastrophic consequences, and we will be seeing the repercussions for years to come," Sergey Verkhovets, coordinator of Arctic projects for WWF Russia, said in a statement. "We are talking about dead fish, polluted plumage of birds and poisoned animals."
Greenpeace said the clean-up won't do much good:
"The booms that were set up will only collect an insignificant part of the pollution, so we can assert that almost all of the diesel fuel will remain in the environment."
Norilsk Nickel, the owner of the power plant, said the fuel tank collapsed because of "abnormally mild temperatures" in the permafrost.
“The company is working painstakingly to understand what happened ... we suspect that abnormally mild temperatures… https://t.co/yg6svZvbBG— Nornickel (@Nornickel)1591116838.0
Alexei Knizhnikov, a leader with the Russian arm of the World Wildlife Fund, said that while climate change is affecting the nation's permafrost, the company could've prevented the accident if it had followed proper protocol. Russian law requires companies to install containment structures around fuel reservoirs.
"A lot of the blame lies with the company," Knizhnikov said.
During a teleconference on Wednesday, Putin criticized a Norilsk Nickel manager over the company's handling of the accident.
“I think decontamination will cost Nornickel billions of roubles, but I’m speaking not as a businessman, but as a h… https://t.co/DpArnia48m— Nornickel (@Nornickel)1591366244.0
"Why did government agencies find out about this only after two days?" Putin asked. "Are we going to find out about emergencies from social media now?"
Norilsk Nickel president Vladimir Potanin said the company would pay the costs of cleaning up the skill, estimated to be $146 million. At least one worker at the power plant has so far been arrested. He's charged with violating environmental regulations and faces up to five years in prison.
How climate change threatens Russian oil
Russia, the world's fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The nation is warming two and a half times faster than the rest of the planet, and in recent years it's suffered costly floods and wildfires.
Thawing permafrost in Siberian regions poses a major threat to Russia's oil industry, which is the world's third largest. One key reason, as evidenced by last week's accident, is that melting permafrost jeopardizes the structural integrity of oil-field infrastructure.
Of course, when oil infrastructure is jeopardized, so is the environment. That's why Greenpeace Russia is calling for increased environmental regulations and unscheduled audits of oil producers in the nation's Arctic region.
"Environmental control should be strengthened, and the operation of facilities should be under special control to prevent accidents, especially in the conditions of melting permafrost due to global climate change," the organization said in a statement.
A European start-up uses satellite data to pinpoint individual sources of abnormal methane concentration.
- Just 100 sources of methane emit 20 megatons each year.
- Thanks to satellite data, individual culprits can now be found.
- The new tech could be used to police 'abnormal' methane emissions.
Significant contributor to global warming
Nodding donkey in Midland, Texas. The oil and gas industry is a major emitter of methane.
Image: Eric Kounce TexasRaiser, public domain
Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas (after CO2), and its concentration in the atmosphere is increasing at around 1% each year. Because it absorbs the sun's heat even more efficiently than CO2, it's a significant contributor to global warming.
The first step to fight the rise in methane emissions is to track who's doing it. That's just become a lot easier. Paris-based tech start-up Kayrros can now find individual sources of abnormal methane emissions, all across the world. That's a first, and it's made possible by data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite.
Developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and launched in 2017, the British-built Sentinel-5 Precursor (Sentinel-5P) is the first satellite of the Copernicus program dedicated to monitoring air pollution, thanks to a spectrometer called Tropomi (short for Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument).
With a resolution of about 50 km2, this Dutch-built instrument can monitor atmospheric levels of aerosols, sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), formaldehyde (CH2O), ozone (O3) and methane (CH4).
High-volume methane leaks
Abnormal methane concentrations in 2019 – often found in regions of the world producing or processing oil and gas. Data provided by the Copernicus program, processed by Kayrros.
You may not have heard of Tropomi yet, but it's likely you've already seen its work. Earlier this year, Copernicus Sentinel-5P produced the images that showed substantially reduced NO2 levels across China, due to the coronavirus lockdown.
Tropomi also offers the most detailed monitoring of methane emissions presently available. Combining that data with other input from older-model Copernicus satellites Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2, and from other sources (including ground sensors, position tracking and even social media), Kayrros scientists can identify the size, potency, and location of abnormal methane leaks around the world.
According to Kayrros, there are around 100 high-volume methane leaks active around the world at any given time. Together, they release about 20 megatons of methane per year. About half of that volume is associated with mining for oil, gas or coal, or other heavy industries. Together, that amount of methane per annum is equivalent to CO2 emissions of France and Germany combined.
So, how precise is the Kayrros method? Here's a recent case study.
Plume over the Permian Basin
In December last year, Kayrros used data from Copernicus-5P to identify the source of a methane plume over the Permian Basin, which covers western Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Sitting on top of a part of the Mid-Continent Oil Field, the Basin's surface is dotted with hundreds of oil wells. Yet with a little help from Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2, Copernicus-5P managed to find the exact location, and the individual culprit.
For the first time, Kayrros tech and Copernicus-5P data make it possible to detect abnormal methane emissions in real time. Not only will this increase the precision of methane emission estimates, it will also allow regulators to find and fine the exact culprits, and if necessary, shut down their operations.
Found: the culprit
Strange Maps #1027
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Methane is 80 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.
- Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas on the planet.
- A recent study analyzed ice core samples from the pre-industrial era to measure the extent to which industry has played a role in increasing atmospheric methane levels.
- The researchers note that their results suggest action can be taken to stem methane pollution.
Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas. Colorless, odorless, and lighter than air, methane (CH4) is some 80 times more effective at trapping the atmosphere's heat than carbon dioxide. Scientists estimate it to be responsible for about 25 percent of current global warming. Since the Industrial Revolution, the amount of methane in the atmosphere has increased by at least 150 percent.
Still, it's been hard to determine the primary emitters, and the extent to which natural processes are to blame.
Now, new research suggests that methane emissions from fossil fuels have been "vastly underestimated" by as much as 40 percent. The study focused on fossil methane, which is emitted through natural and anthropogenic sources like geologic seeps and the production of fossil fuels including natural gas. Biological methane is the gas's other form, and it comes from natural sources like wetlands, and human activity like rice farming.
The findings, published in Nature, are based on analyses of pre-industrial ice samples obtained from glaciers in Greenland. Because these ice core samples show how much methane was in the atmosphere before the Industrial Revolution, the analyses can offer a more accurate estimate of the extent to which human activity has been responsible for the recent increases of atmospheric methane.
Hmiel et al.
The results show that, prior to the Industrial Revolution, fossil methane emissions were about 1.6 to 5.4 teragrams. For context, the current estimate of total annual methane emissions is 172 to 195 teragrams. So, if the results are accurate, the implication is that human activity is almost entirely responsible for methane emissions, while natural contributors like gas seeps play a smaller role than previously thought. The results also suggest that the industry is likely underreporting the amount of methane leaks coming from various points in the supply chain, including processing, production, and transportation.
But that's not all bad news to lead study author Benjamin Hmiel, a researcher at the University of Rochester.
Fracking rig site in Oklahoma
J Pat Carter / Contributor
"I don't want to get too hopeless on this because my data does have a positive implication: Most of the methane emissions are anthropogenic (human-caused), so we have more control," Hmiel told USA Today. "If we can reduce our (methane) emissions, it's going to have more of an impact. [...] Placing stricter methane emission regulations on the fossil-fuel industry will have the potential to reduce future global warming to a larger extent than previously thought."
Methane emissions come from all sectors of the fossil fuel industry. But natural gas seems to be an especially dirty contributor, mainly because of the large amounts of gas that's lost during the production process. This leakage challenges the idea that natural gas is a relatively clean "bridge fuel" that society can burn as it develops more renewable energy sources. For example, a recent study found that the methane leakage rate in the U.S. natural gas supply chain was much higher than previous estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency. The implication: Natural gas comes with steep hidden costs.
Reducing methane emissions
The good news is that methane has a relatively short atmospheric lifespan. Unlike carbon dioxide, which can linger in the atmosphere for about 200 years, methane vanishes after about a decade. Its heat-trapping power, however, makes it a serious climate threat over the short term.
"It's impossible to hit [the Paris agreement climate] targets with methane in the mix," Lena Höglund Isaksson, a greenhouse gas expert at Austria's International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, told National Geographic.
Although reducing methane leaks in the natural gas supply chain might be difficult, many experts argue that it's one of the more inexpensive and straightforward ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Beyond tightening regulations regarding leak monitoring and equipment surveys, a 2018 study published in Science recommended several ways gas companies can reduce methane leaks:
- Install less failure-prone systems
- Conduct on-site leak surveys
- Re-engineer individual components and processes
- Deploy sensors at individual facilities and on towers, aircraft or satellites
Researchers believe that war exacerbates climate change, threatening the environment and making future wars more likely.
- In times of war, otherwise atrocious crimes against nature become routine.
- The U.S. Department of Defense is one of the largest consumers of fossil fuels in the world.
- By polluting the earth to prepare for war, the Pentagon prepares a world in which war becomes more likely.
The '20s came roaring in with two explosive headlines: reports of Australia's inferno, and the speculation that the United States could be hurtling towards another war in the Middle East after the government's assassination of Iranian military leader, Qassem Soleimani.
The two events seem ominous harbingers of our future, if warfare and the inherent ecocide that comes with it continues into the next decade.
The environmental costs of war
Image Source: Wikimedia
As power struggles between nations escalate to armed conflicts and hot wars, the environment and ecosystems remain silent casualties. War radically changes the parameters for normalcy, and otherwise atrocious crimes against nature become not only justified, but viewed as necessary.
In war zones, land and natural resources are often contaminated by the oil from military vehicles and chemical weapons. Depleted uranium from ammunition rounds used in Iraq, for instance, left behind radiation that poisoned the soil and water in Iraq, creating a carcinogenic environment according to studies that linked the chemical residue of the weapons to increased cancer in the country. Furthermore, there's the pollution caused by toxic fuel spills that can happen at air force bases, and the oil and chemical leaks that happen when infrastructure is damaged in war zones. Another problem is the deliberate destruction of oil fields and military base garbage that goes up in flames in burn pits.
In war-zones, deforestation can be another major issue. When wars drag out for a long time, people in those regions become internally displaced and need to migrate. In those situations, people try to heat themselves during the winter, causing deforestation further facilitated by warlords. In Afghanistan, cutting down timber and capturing wildlife for sale (like tigers) is encouraged by the Taliban to raise revenue for the group.
Fueling an army
War comes with major ecological consequences in terms of greenhouse gases emitted from mobilization, training, and combat.
Though it has cut back, the U.S. Department of Defense is one of the largest consumers of fossil fuels in the world, and consequently one of the world's top greenhouse gas emitters. In 2017, the Pentagon's greenhouse gas emissions totaled more than 59 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. If it were a country, it would have carbon emissions larger than Sweden, Portugal, or Denmark.Buildings and fuel are the main culprits of CO2 emissions. Forty percent of the greenhouse gases emitted are a result of the over 560,000 buildings and around 500 domestic and overseas military installations maintained by the Defense Department. Military operations account for the rest. For instance, in 2016 the Defense Department consumed approximately 86 million barrels of fuel for operational purposes. According to the Watson Institute at Brown University, the petroleum-guzzling vehicles and aircraft used by the U.S. military produces many hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide as well as CO2.
War as a climate feedback loop
The justification for war is often to protect citizens, but human beings aren't separate from the web of ecosystems that they are threaded within. For each violent act of war, there is an equally devastating reaction. Those ripple effects could soon be reaching U.S. shores.
According to Dr. Neta C. Crawford, Department Chair of Boston University's Department of Political Science and the co-director of the study group Costs of War, military aggression and preparation exacerbates environmental problems that could lead to greater security risks and more war in the future as natural resources are depleted, causing a global refugee crisis.
"The Pentagon is very worried about the stresses of climate change leading to displacement... and they're concerned about climate war," Crawford tells Big Think in an interview. "They believe that it's coming to a neighborhood near you."
The problem, she notes, is that the Pentagon is a huge emitter of greenhouse gases and perpetrator of environmental destruction that increases the probability of war.
"They're preparing a world for which the risks and consequences that they fear are more likely," says Crawford, who believes that to decrease the likelihood of climate war, the Pentagon needs to be part of a large scale turn towards clean energy and the reduction of greenhouse gases. "But they don't think that way, they just think war is coming, it will be caused by refugee crisis and fighting over resources such as fresh water, and we have to be prepared for it."
The other option
Crawford believes that if humans can work out ways to prevent the worst consequences of climate change, and work to peacefully prevent any conflicts that are associated with increased environmental stress, war can be evaded.
"We can work out water agreements, we can negotiate prices, or we can provide, instead of a wall, to climate migrants, welcoming and care," she emphasizes.
As tensions escalate with Iran, new war would pour gasoline over an earth already engulfed in flames, increasing the chance for more armed conflict. Perhaps at no time in human history have the stakes for maintaining peace been higher.