Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Who'd have guessed? Increasing renewables really does decrease carbon emissions

Renewable energy, especially solar and wind are growing and supplying an ever greater percentage of the electricity in many countries. Common sense would tell you that as solar and wind increase and coal and gas generation goes down the amount of carbon pollution and other toxic gasses emitted from fossil fuel plants will decrease. Like anything in the climate and clean energy though, there are "skeptics" who don't agree with this, but data are better than opinions and the NREL lab at the Department on Energy in the US have crunched the numbers to find out.

The area of contention is that the intermittent nature of (some) renewables means fossil fuel plants need to fire up and then down more often (cycling). When you fire up a plant it tends to emit more, at that moment, than if it was running steadily. Kind of how like starting a car uses a burst of fuel. So what is the overall impact of this?

NREL found that:
"The negative impact of cycling on overall plant emissions is relatively small. The increase in plant emissions from cycling to accommodate variable renewables are more than offset by the overall reduction in CO2, NOx, and SO2."
"Emission Impacts of Cycling Are Relatively Small Compared to Emission Reductions Due to Renewables"
 NREL found that moving to 1/3 renewables from solar and wind would cause carbon emissions to drop by 1/3. Toxic gasses would also decrease. This is because although there might be a small increase in some emissions associated with cycling a plant on and off these are tiny compared to the decrease in emissions due to less fossil fuels being burnt, because 1/3 of the power is now coming from renewables. The claims of some "skeptics" is like claiming you should leave your car idling for an hour instead of turning it off and then on again an hour later because turning you car on uses more fuel that idling would at that second.

Here's the impact for 1/3 renewables:

So there you have it, increasing renewables decreases carbon emissions (as well as other toxic gasses that coal plants especially produce a lot of). Common sense right?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

TTKD October meeting: The Story of Stuff

Click on the image to see it full size:

October 2013 TTKD Meeting
The Story of Stuff
Thursday October 17
7.15pm for a 7.30pm start
Kenmore Library Meeting Room

Australian heat records keep tumbling

Another heat record has tumbled as Australia's year long heat wave continues. Australia has (again) broken the record for warmest 12 months on record after previously breaking it only last month.

The heat in September was something else, at +2.75 °C above the long-term (1961–1990) September average. Naturally this was the warmest Sept on record, what's more amazing is that in the last hundreds years of temperature records, no month has ever been more above the long term average. On in meteorology speak Sept 2013 "sets a record for Australia’s largest positive anomaly for any monthly mean temperature."

Friday, September 27, 2013

Australia has hottest 12 months on record

If you felt it's been hot where you live recently, you're right. Recently the Bureau of Meterology (BOM) announced that the last year has been Australia's hottest 12 month period on record.

This information is containing in a short report you can find here and summarised here. Along with the warmest 12 months, a host of other records have also been broken in individual towns and cities and right across the nation. Because Australia is so big it takes a massive buildup of heat to break countrywide records, some of the most important I've taken from the report and shown below.

"The last 12 months saw a large number of temperature records set across Australia, including:
  • Australia’s hottest summer day on record (7 January) 
  • Australia’s warmest winter day on record (31 August) 
  • Australia’s warmest month on record (January) 
  • Australia’s warmest summer on record 
  • Australia’s warmest January to August period on record 
  • Australia’s warmest 12 month period on record"
Here's a map from the Bureau showing how the whole country has been warmer than normal this past year.

Overall the last year has seen temperatures 1.11 ̊C above average. While that may not sound like all that much, across a whole country, for a whole year, this gives us weather that's noticeably hotter.

Since the first half of the 20th century (1900-1950) temperatures across Australia have risen by ~0.75  ̊C and between now and 2050 are likely to rise by another 2 ̊C or more. This mean's that by 2050 the temperatures we have had over this past year (including the record breaking summer heat) would by then be a much colder than average year. A normal year would be a least a degree hotter than the past 12 months and a record breaking year could see temperature anomalies 3 or 4 times greater than experienced over the past year. Something to think about as Australia goes about dismantling all its policies to combat global warming.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

TTKD Sept 13 Meeting: Fossil Fuels and Alternatives

Fossil Fuels and Alternatives 
Thursday September 19 
7.15pm for a 7.30pm start 
Kenmore Library Meeting Room 

Lloyd Hamilton will present information on fossil fuels, and Will Booth will present information from 350.org on the impact of these fuels and alternatives.

As usual the meeting will be followed by supper and conversation. Please feel free to bring along a plate to share (preferably locally produced or homemade!). No need to RSVP.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

2013 election: What the major parties will do about climate change, clean energy and public transport.

As you go into vote this weekend you may want to consider how the various parties rate on issues important to Transition Town Kenmore (TTKD) such as action on climate change and increasing resilience in the face of resource depletion (a good example of this would be policies on active and public transport). While TTKD does not endorse any particular political party I've written a bit of a guide to the policies of the major parties.

With regards to climate change both the Climate Institute (CI) and the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) have climate policy scorecards, which are very quick to look at.

See the CI pollute-o-meter here.
See the ACF environmental scorecard here.

Summary of policies on Climate and Public Transport
Price on Carbon:
Both Labour and the Green support price on carbon pollution where major polluters pay for each ton of carbon they emit. Total emissions of pollution are capped and decrease each year. Most people are compensated for price rises that occur as a result of polluting companies paying a carbon price. Such market based mechanisms are generally agreed to be the cheapest and most effective means of cutting pollution. The Green aim for a much more ambitious cut to Australia's carbon emissions.

The Coalition plan to scrap the polluter pays carbon pricing scheme and instead use general taxpayer revenue to pay major polluters to "decrease" the amount of pollution they emit. I say "decrease" because it is not totally clear to me if a polluter actually has to decrease their emissions. It may well be fine for a polluter to accept money to increase their emission, but by a smaller amount than they originally expected too. Credible estimates suggest by 2020 Australia's emissions will increase under this scheme. This is for 2 reasons. Firstly not a lot of money (in the scheme of thing) is available for grants to polluters and secondly because while some polluters will decrease their emissions using the grants, other companies not involved in the scheme will increase their emissions.
The Coalition also plan to fund a "green army" to plant trees and look after local environments.  This is unlikely to have an significant impact on Australia's carbon emmissions but may help in local re-vegetation and improve health of creek catchments etc.

Climate Change Authority:
Labour and the Greens plan to keep the Climate Change Authority (CCA), an independent body set up to advise the government on addressing climate change. The Coalition plans to scrap the CCA.

Clean Energy Finance Corporation:
Labour and the Green plan to keep the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which has $10 billion dollars to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency (ie: helping fund wind and solar farms, helping businesses to decrease their energy costs). The Coalition plans to scrap the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

2020 renewable energy target:
All major parties support the renewable energy target. However The Coalition plan to review the target in 2014.

Public transport:
The Greens will probably support any worthwhile public transport scheme and also support an eventual Brisbane to Melbourne (via Sydney and Canberra) high speed rail line.
Labour support new rail lines in Brisbane (ie: cross river rail), Melbourne and elsewhere, generally through these project being recommended by Infrastructure Australia as projects of national significance.
The Coalition will stop all federal funding for commuter rail. Locally this means Cross River Rail will not go ahead as it is very unlikely the State Government can afford the cost on its own. Without cross river rail much of the rail network will hit capacity in 2016 and not be able to take extra passengers at peak times.