The next frontier for climate action is the great indoors

“what happens inside doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Furnaces and water heaters have to vent their emissions directly outdoors, for example (stoves and ovens face no such requirements), and that pollution doesn’t just disappear. The consequences are exacerbated in communities of color, where homes tend to run on less efficient appliances and communities already bear the burden of greater outdoor particulate matter. One analysis by RMI found that Black Americans are 55 percent more likely to die prematurely from the impacts of fossil fuel appliance pollution compared to white Americans. Another study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances, found residential gas combustion and commercial cooking to be the largest drivers of the racial disparity in pollution exposure for people of color compared to white people.”

“As the grid is getting cleaner, buildings hooked up to electricity will also have a dwindling footprint and, hopefully, use less energy overall with more energy-efficient machines. But a building that runs on gas will always burn a fossil fuel for its heat. And today that footprint is considerably large: 13 percent of the nation’s climate pollution comes directly from these gas-burning machines.”

Consumers, not corporations, saved the power grid. What else can we do?

“when added up, thousands of small actions, like switching off lights during a heat wave, buying efficient appliances, or voting for politicians who will act on climate change, can become a larger force than what governments and businesses can muster on their own. Put another way, a comprehensive approach to climate change demands actions, both large and small.
“It’s a mistake to only focus on governments and big companies,” said Paul Burger, head of the sustainability research group at the University of Basel, who studies consumer decisions on energy. “It’s also a mistake to only focus on individuals.””

Japan Is Reopening Nuclear Power Plants and Planning To Build New Ones

“Speaking of Fukushima, according to the Financial Times, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced that the government plans to allow the restart of at least 10 more of the nuclear power plants it shuttered after the 2011 disaster. In addition, Kishida is pushing for research on and the construction of new safer nuclear plants as a way to protect Japanese consumers from erratic global fossil fuel markets and reduce his country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Kishida foresees Japan becoming a major exporter of nuclear generation technology to power hungry developing countries around the world.”

https://reason.com/2022/08/25/japan-is-reopening-nuclear-power-plants-and-planning-to-build-new-ones/

How the Western drought is pushing the power grid to the brink

“It takes a lot of water to make power.

From spinning turbines to hydraulic fracturing to refining fuel, the flow of water is critical to the flow of electrons and heat. About 40 percent of water withdrawals — water taken out of groundwater or surface sources — in the United States go toward energy production. The large majority of that share is used to cool power plants. In turn, it requires energy to extract, purify, transport, and deliver water.

So when temperatures rise and water levels drop, the energy sector gets squeezed hard. The consequences of water shortages are playing out now in swaths of the American West, where an expansive, decades-long drought is forcing drastic cuts in hydroelectric power generation. At the same time, exceptional heat has pushed energy demand to record highs. As the climate changes, these stresses will mount.

The United Nations Environment Programme warned..that if drought conditions persist, the two largest hydroelectric reservoirs in the US — Lake Mead and Lake Powell —could eventually reach “dead pool status,” where water levels fall too low to flow downstream. Lake Mead fuels the Hoover Dam, which has a power capacity topping 2,000 megawatts while Lake Powell drives generators that peak at 1,300 megawatts at the Glen Canyon Dam.”

Nukes and Natural Gas Are ‘Green,’ Votes E.U. Parliament

“Global known reserves of natural gas would last nearly 50 years at current rates of consumption. Burning natural gas to generate electricity emits about half of the carbon dioxide that coal does. This is why many environmental activist groups a little more than a decade ago hailed natural gas as “the bridge to the clean energy future.”

In fact, the mostly market-driven switch from coal to natural gas to generate electricity in the U.S. has served as a bridge to a cleaner energy future. The replacement in the U.S. of coal-fired power plants by those fueled by natural gas is responsible for a 32 percent reduction since 2005 in carbon dioxide emissions from that sector. Overall, annual U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by around 23 percent since 2005. Despite the undeniable role that the switch from coal to natural gas has played in significantly reducing U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, many environmental activists now perplexingly denounce natural gas as a “bridge to nowhere.””

“What about nuclear power? The fact that splitting atoms to generate electricity produces no greenhouse gas emissions should be enough to establish nuclear power as a “climate-friendly” energy technology. Last week, the International Energy Agency released a report arguing that global nuclear power capacity needs to double from 413 gigawatts now to 812 gigawatts by 2050 in order to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets set in international agreements addressing the problem of man-made climate change. Meanwhile, in response to pressure from environmental activists, Germany is going in the opposite direction, shutting down perfectly good nuclear power plants while firing up electricity generation fueled by coal.

The ecomodernist Breakthrough Institute has just released a new study setting out various scenarios of how the development and deployment of advanced nuclear reactors in the U.S. could unfold over the next 30 years. In the optimistic scenario, U.S. nuclear power generation capacity would rise from 95 gigawatts from conventional nuclear plants today to as much as 470 gigawatts generated by advanced reactors in 2050. Expanding nuclear power production would both help smooth out the intermittency of wind and solar generation and further cut climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions.”

Why Joe Biden is invoking a war power to build heat pumps and solar panels

“the president plans to use the Defense Production Act to boost clean energy in the United States by putting a two-year freeze on tariffs for solar panels coming to the country from Southeast Asia and simultaneously scaling up the domestic production of clean energy technologies.

This is the latest in a series of moves that show the White House is beginning to treat climate change and clean energy as national security issues. It’s also the kind of thing climate activists have been asking the Biden administration to do for months. The executive actions could bring thousands of manufacturing jobs to the country while also making the US less dependent on foreign oil and gas, particularly as the war in Ukraine continues.”

“Defense Production Act (DPA) authorization specifically targets solar technology, heat pumps, insulation, green hydrogen, and grid components like transformers. Those might not seem very similar to, say, repurposing automobile production lines to build tanks, but in the past few years we have seen the definition of national security shift to encompass more than just military spending. It now includes everything from the manufacture of equipment to treat Covid-19 to baby formula. Biden’s latest move sends a message that clean energy technologies are worth investing in because they are critical to the security of the country, and the government is willing to support their production even if the market would prefer cheaper imports.”

“More than 230,000 people work in the American solar industry as of 2020, mostly in installation, and “the vast majority of those jobs depend on solar imports,” according to Stokes, who is also the senior policy counsel at the electrification nonprofit Rewiring America.

Hundreds of solar projects around the country had been put on hold in the last two months while developers waited to find out if they’d have to pay billions in tariffs. The newly announced freeze, however, should allow those projects to move forward immediately, while also giving American solar manufacturers time to ramp up production to meet the needs of future projects.”

“the DPA authorization also includes funding to ramp up the production of four other technologies: green hydrogen technology, which can be used to store clean energy and clean up carbon-heavy industries; grid components like transformers, which will help build a more modern, resilient grid that can handle an influx of renewable energy; heat pumps, which use electricity to heat and cool homes more efficiently than fossil fuel-dependent systems like furnaces; and building insulation, which is an overlooked tool in fighting climate change, making homes more energy-efficient and keeping them heated and cooled for longer.”

The Texas grid is designed to fail

“The culprit is pretty clear. Recent research has shown climate change made the South Asian heat wave 30 times more likely to happen, and it’s very likely the same will be true for the European and American heat waves. The peak of summer could be even worse. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts above-average temperatures in June, July, and August for most of the lower 48.

Texas may be the most vulnerable of those 48. Most states in the continental US are connected to power grids that sprawl across state (and at times even international) lines. But Texas is, somewhat infamously, an energy island: It operates a power grid that’s mostly disconnected from the rest of the country. Depending on whom you ask, this has its advantages and disadvantages. Keeping the Texas grid disconnected from the rest of the country means it won’t fall under federal regulations, as grids that cross state lines do. But it also means Texas can’t borrow power from other states when its power infrastructure fails, as it did in February 2021 when Winter Storm Uri hit, knocking out power across the state for days. Hundreds of people died as a result.”

“A little over 20 years ago, Texas deregulated its energy market. And Texas is not unique in that; deregulation obviously has been kind of the story of American policy for decades. And it came to the electricity market in Texas, as it did to other states. But in Texas, it took a form that we do not see anywhere else. Essentially, they created a competitive market where supply and demand are the rule of the day. There’s no one power company that you go to, like there is in a lot of the country. You get these competing electric providers. But the real thing that makes Texas unique is that it is what they call an “energy-only market.”

In other parts of the country, a power plant, also known as a generator, gets paid to be around in case they’re needed. But in Texas, in an attempt to create this kind of perfect competitive market, they said, “No, you’re only going to make money by selling electricity at the time that it is needed, at its time of use.” So our generators only make money selling power on the market.

When you take that approach and you couple it with the law of supply and demand, what you’re doing is you’re creating a system that is run on scarcity. The less electricity that is available, the more expensive it will be. So in our market, we created a system where power plant operators make their margins by relying on moments of extreme scarcity that will drive up the price of electricity. And this will be their big payday. These moments may only come a handful of times a year but this is where you make your money.

Proponents of this market said that it incentivizes efficiency. Like, you cut out all the fat, and you don’t have any electricity generators that are getting paid to just sit around. They would claim that that creates an efficient market. The reality, though, is that when you need extra power on hand, you have less of it available.”

“One of the things that’s been really wild for me to see happen in the aftermath of the 2021 blackout is the rhetoric around this market. I’ve been an energy reporter for years and years, and the Texas system was always held up as a kind of point of pride by politicians in power and regulators and industry people. We had this unique thing that was uniquely Texan and had created this efficient market. And in the aftermath of the blackout, it didn’t take long for a lot of the same people to suddenly start saying, “Oh, we have a crisis-driven market. We need to overhaul this market, we need to reform things so that it is now more focused on reliability.”

They were making all these promises they were going to change things. But — and this is where it gets really kind of confounding — they wanted to change things without actually overhauling the system. So their argument is that we are keeping our unique energy-only market, but we are also going to provide greater reliability within that framework. But the question right now is like, how do you do that? Or even, can you do that? I’ve interviewed a lot of experts in the world of energy that just are not buying it right now.”

” There isn’t just one fix. There are a lot of different things put together that could really help the situation. I think the most obvious one — the one that you don’t have to be a grid engineer to understand — is increasing interconnections between Texas and other neighboring grids. I’ve read very convincing analyses that say that if we were better connected, we still would have had blackouts in 2021 but they would not have been nearly as catastrophic as they were. They would not have lasted as long because after day one, maybe day two, we could have started pulling more power from other states and gotten people’s lights back on faster, and the kind of intensity of that disaster could have been muted.”

“I don’t want to be too techno-utopian about this, but investing in things like battery storage that would allow us to make renewable energy more dispatchable seems like a no-brainer. Building out solar is huge because we usually use the most electricity in the summer. And the conditions that drive that high energy use (i.e. the state being baked by the sun) are the exact same conditions that create a ton of solar electricity. So that seems like a pretty obvious one to try to meet that super-high demand.

Another thing is energy efficiency. The energy efficiency goals in Texas are lower than most other states, and increasing our energy efficiency goals and programs would really help with grid reliability, because it would decrease the spikes in demand. I’m thinking of everything from insulation to more efficient appliances to energy efficiency at power plants, because it takes so much energy to produce power or drill for oil. If you have a better-insulated home, you’re just not going to be running the AC the same amount even on a hot day, so in aggregate it can make a huge difference statewide. And it’s so much cheaper than anything else.”