SciBlogs

Archive April 2012

Still warmin’ after all these years (Prat watch #5.6) Gareth Renowden Apr 30

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1967withlines

Courtesy of Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, a very nice graphical demonstration of why “warming” hasn’t stopped in the last decade (or two). Nielsen-Gammon took the GISS global temperature series, classified years as El Niño dominated, neutral, or La Niña, excluded the influence of the Pinatubo-cooled years in the early 90s, and then calculated the trends for each set. The graph really says it all, but his blog post provides all the analysis. The next El Niño looks as though it’s going to be interesting

[The author, composing.]

Rebutting myths and misconceptions about wind energy Bryan Walker Apr 27

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I’ve been listening to a lively keynote address given to the NZ Wind Energy Conference earlier this month. The speaker was Lawrence Jones from Alstom Grid. He’s an expert on integrating variable renewable energy sources into global power grids. It was a heartening talk for anyone concerned to see renewable energy, wind in particular in this case, advance rapidly to take the primary position it must do if we are to have any hope of staving off the worst effects of global warming. All the more heartening because it was based on a major research project conducted by Alstom Grid on behalf of the US Department of Energy exploring the challenges and best practices for grid integration in many countries of the world.

I’ll offer a brief overview of the talk here, but I recommend it as worth listening to in full. There’s an audio of it on the Wind Energy Association website, and the accompanying slides are on this pdf file.

The context in which Jones placed wind energy in this talk was not climate change but the needs of a growing world population for energy and overcoming the energy poverty of many regions. He explained in response to a question at the end of his talk that the fact that he didn’t mention climate change was not an evasion but simply because he took it for granted that it would be a major factor in the thinking of the people present.

Things are moving very quickly in the development of wind power, far more so than most were able to imagine. The distribution of wind generation around the world at the end of 2010 lists China as the leading country, a little ahead of the US. Yet five years earlier they didn’t even make the list of dominant players. They are now putting up 36 turbines a day.

Jones showed a graph of the growth of global wind power capacity over two decades: from 2GW in 1990 to 17GW in 2000 to 194GW in 2010. ’I challenge you to show me any other industry that has gone through such significant growth in a decade.’ The projections show 500GW by 2030. Looking at EU countries’ projections of wind power as a substantial percentage of total electricity demand by 2020 Jones comments that most of that will be from offshore, yet ’most people thought ten years ago offshore wind would never happen, was impossible’.  He pointed also to the rapid expansion of wind power in the US and the offshore developments planned there, noting that Google was among the companies wanting to invest.

Yet, in the face of this expansion, myths and misconceptions remain rife. Jones addresses some of them.

  • Wind power is very difficult to predict. That’s not true. You can predict it. The question is how close, how accurate you want your prediction to be.
  • Wind is very expensive to integrate in power grids.  A blanket statement that has to be put in context: Compared to what? In what systems? Under what operating conditions?
  • Wind power needs backup generation. Really? Everything we do in power generation requires some form of backup.
  • We need dedicated energy storage to handle fluctuations in wind power generation. A lot of systems round the world have been able to run high levels of wind generation without high levels of storage in the system.
  • Is there is a limit to the amount of wind that can be accommodated by the grid? No evidence as yet of any limiting factors.
  • Can grid operators deal with the continually varying output of wind generation? The answer is yes. This is the question that led the Alstom team into the study sponsored by the US Department of Energy to hear from a comprehensive mix of operators around the world, including Transpower in NZ, what their experiences were, what the challenges were and how they had been tackled. The message from them is: We can do it. The grid is not a limiting factor. Operationally we can find ways around resolving it. We need tools, we need different kinds of policies to be put in place, but it’s not a limiting factor. Interestingly Jones noted that the small operators are often able to teach the big ones.

Jones is enthusiastic about wind power, but with full recognition that handling wind power’s integration into the grid requires special skills and new technologies. He spent a good part of his talk on the factors which the operators taking part in the survey identified as vital to the continuing development of the industry. They include accurate forecasting down to very short term, the tools for incorporating forecast and uncertainty information into decision making and planning, clear operating policies, smarter electricity grids and technologies, skilled technicians and operators, system flexibility and so on.  Jones explains the various factors succinctly and emerges with a picture of an industry capable of managing a variable energy source much more effectively and successfully than might be imagined by those who haven’t engaged with the detail and hence haven’t grasped the range of new policies and new technologies.

What was most encouraging about his talk was that it was not based on remote theory but on current practice and the understanding of operators already achieving a measure of success in making a variable energy source serve a stable and dependable role in an electricity grid. Often it is the doubters and deniers who are the theoreticians on renewable energy. Pliny the Elder provided a most apt preface to Jones’ address:  ’How many things are judged impossible before they actually happen?’

Down by the seaside Gareth Renowden Apr 24

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This year’s NZ Climate Change Centre conference, to be held at Te Papa in Wellington next month, focusses on sea level rise, and how communities can adapt to the inevitable encroachment of the ocean. The organisers have laid on some excellent speakers, include Aussie oceanographer and sea level expert John Church, as well as many directly involved with the issues raised by sea level rise in New Zealand. The conference programme aims to:

  • Present the latest science of sea-level rise associated with climate change, including the role of polar ice-sheet melt
  • Present a synthesis of recent projections for sea-level rise and discuss the uncertainties associated with these projections
  • Identify anticipated impacts on New Zealand coastal environment and infrastructure resulting from climate change
  • Discuss whether adaptive risk management for adapting to sea-level rise will be adequate given the ranges projected and their uncertainties
  • Stimulate discussion of how end-users can manage present and future coastal issues and how social and bio-physical scientists, central and local government, and infrastructure operators can work together with communities to build resilient systems
  • Describe approaches that have been taken to planning coastal futures, which take into account community and resource-user needs underpinned by plausible climate change projections, adaptive approaches to manage uncertainties, and sound approaches to developing coastal policies.

Sounds like a very worthwhile couple of days. It’ll be interesting to hear what the “synthesis of recent projections for sea-level rise” suggests we’re in for, so if any HT readers are planning to attend, I’d be very happy to carry some conference reports.

For what it’s worth, in my view two numbers and one uncomfortable fact are of prime importance. We’re committed to warming, and therefore to sea level rise. The peak level of atmospheric CO2 that we reach (unless we can cut it very quickly after the peak by active carbon removal) will set the final quantum of sea level rise the planet will experience. The latest paleoclimate evidence suggests that current CO2 levels are putting us on course for an eventual 20 metres of sea level rise. Pick your final CO2 concentration, and calibrate against times past. At 300 ppm in the last interglacial, sea level was 6 metres higher than present.

The consequence of where we end up on the atmospheric carbon scale is a long term inevitable and uncomfortable commitment to continuously increasing sea level. It might be enough for some purposes to consider only a metre or two over the the next century, but if you’re planning to rebuild a city, perhaps you should look a little further ahead. Fascinating discussions are in store in Wellington, I confidently predict…

I was lucky enough to attend (and speak) at last year’s conference1, and I’m sure that this year’s effort will be just as worthwhile.

[Zep]

  1. The proceedings of last year’s forum are now available from the NZ CCRI.

Aquaflow: next-gen biofuels a commercial reality Bryan Walker Apr 22

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Positive news this week from the Nelson-based algae company Aquaflow whose fortunes we have followed on Hot Topic over the past three years. I last reported on them in August 2011, when they had signed an agreement for joint testing and evaluation with Texas-based CRI Catalyst Company (CRI). Now they have announced a full technology cooperation agreement with that company which they believe leaves them poised to make refining next generation biofuels a commercial reality in New Zealand and in overseas projects within the two to three years it takes to build a refinery.

That’s big news if it comes to fruition. Director Nick Gerritsen says: ’We should be able to produce renewable hydrocarbon fuel that is equivalent to fossil fuel at a cost that is highly competitive with the current per barrel price of crude oil.’ He adds that New Zealand could turn its biomass into enough carbon-neutral biofuel to meet its renewable fuels requirement within ten years.

The IH2 technology which will be used is usefully reported on the Green Car Congress  website and on the website of the Gas Technology Institute which invented the process. CRI has the global sublicensing rights to the technology. Gerritsen describes it as world-leading. ’This is a robust and highly integrated technology package which can leapfrog other biomass to biofuel technologies because it goes straight to blended fuel stock and avoids intermediate pathways.’ The process he regards as among the most economical for renewable hydrocarbon fuel production.

Aquaflow was initially focused on biomass conversion and started with algae as a feedstock for fuel. Its baseline now is multi-biomass conversion in which algae can be used wherever it is available as a feedstock. The inclusion of algae in a multi-biomass mix produces a long tail benefit in terms of achieving higher yields of diesel and jet fuel. Other feed stock can include wood waste, agricultural waste such as vine prunings, invasive weeds like gorse or broom and solid waste.

Importantly the process is self-sufficient. It can all happen on site. In simple terms, a road carrying in the feedstock, the factory on site, and a road out with the finished products ready to join existing infrastructure. Regional fuel refining has obvious advantages, and Gerritsen envisages the possibility of four regional refineries throughout the country producing up to 1 million litres of fuel a day (250,000 litres per refinery), or a total of 7,800 barrels of fuel per day.

The next step is money, and lots of it. Gerritsen is confident it will be there. It’s a viable technology, and it’s ready to go. It’s commercially competitive. It’s long-term infrastructure investment of a type which can attract good support.

We have to wait and see whether the needed investment is obtained and the venture made operational, but even at this stage the project is a cheering reminder of how much can be going on, little reported, in the exploratory area of renewable energy and with what encouraging prospects. It’s also a reminder that a small company in a small country can be a significant contributor on an international level. Even in a small country whose Government is more excited by exploration for fossil fuels than for renewable energy.

Renewable energy projects such as that pursued by Aquaflow have to demonstrate economic competitiveness against the benchmark of cheap fossil fuel, without fossil fuel being required to pay the cost of its damage to the climate and without any compensating subsidy being offered to clean energy for not adding to greenhouse gas pollution. The fact that renewable energy in a variety of forms is nevertheless beginning to emerge as economically competitive with fossil fuel is a testimony to the human inventiveness so crucial in the battle against global warming and also gives the lie to the claim that the cost of moving to a low-carbon economy will be crippling.

Hansen’s righteous cause Bryan Walker Apr 19

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The latest communication from James Hansen to his email list this week was a sharp reminder that the New Zealand Government’s commitment to the pursuit of unexploited fossil fuels is part of widespread malpractice.

The global stampede to find every possible fossil fuel is not being opposed by governments, no matter how dirty the fuels nor how senseless the energy strategy is from long-term economic and moral perspectives.

The specific case that Hansen focuses on is the Alberta tar sands. He has some chilling statistics.

Alberta tar sands are estimated to be 240 GtC (gigatons of carbon); see Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) Working Group 3 report. That is about seven times greater than the cumulative historical CO2 emissions from oil use by the U.S. (36 GtC). U.S. oil use was 28% of global oil use for the cumulative amounts over the past 200 years. So Alberta tar sands contain about twice the total amount of carbon emitted by global oil use in history.

This is the resource that the Canadian government is bent on exploiting for its claimed benefit to the economy. It may be far larger than anything New Zealand’s exploration is likely to reveal, but the same economic justification is offered by the NZ government for its commitment to find and exploit every last bit of fossil fuel that can be tracked down. The same too is the silence about what the burning of the fuel will mean for the global climate.

Hansen finds some comfort in a letter sent this week by the Norwegian Grandparent’s Climate Campaign, supported by 27 other organisations, to the partially state-owned Norwegian company Statoil urging it to withdraw its substantial funding for the Alberta tar sands project.  Statoil’s heavy involvement in the tar sands project is another example of a government which professes, and to some degree practices, engagement in emissions reduction but in contradiction allows its largely state-owned company to engage in the pursuit of unconventional oil.

A letter from a grandparents’ organisation seems unlikely to have much effect and Hansen acknowledges as much.

Given the stranglehold that the fossil fuel industry has on governments worldwide and their effective campaigns to misinform the public, this may seem to be a small step.

But as a motivated grandparent himself he holds fast to the importance of continuing to assert the moral imperative to move away from fossil fuel energy:

But do not underestimate the potential of people dedicated to a righteous cause to initiate a broader public recognition and understanding of where the public’s interest lies.

Righteous cause has an old-fashioned ring to it. I can hear the snorts of realpolitik practitioners. But Hansen is right to see this as a fundamentally ethical issue. It is also not hopeless to advance it on that basis. Not all of society is heedless of morality.

Note: The picture at  the head of this post was supplied to Hansen by one of the grandparents, with the accompanying note:

I am enclosing a photo from today’s presentation by Norwegian Grandparents Climate Campaign – GCC to Statoil main office in Oslo of letter signed by 28 organizations and political parties demanding that Statoil withdraw from Canadian tar sand. Grandparent Bente Bakke was joined by Anne Dalberg, chair of the Sami Church Council. Norway’s First Nation – the Sami – showing solidarity with Canadian First Nations. Money may rule, but morals may be stronger!

Asking the hard questions Bryan Walker Apr 17

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I watched TVNZ’s Q+A on Sunday with dismay.  Phil Heatley, the Minister of Energy and Resources, was interviewed about the New Zealand government’s intention to increase oil, gas and coal exploration and mining. The emphasis of the interview was on the environmental issues, yet not a word was said about greenhouse gases or climate change. The environmental questions discussed were not unimportant, but they were easy for the Minister to swat away with talk of how Taranaki’s environment has not been seriously impacted by drilling, of how fracking is confined to suitable deep rock formations, of how careful the Government is to balance the interests of the environment against the economic gains to be had from the exploitation of our mineral resources, and so on.

What would the Minister have said if he was asked how the Government can justify pushing for increased fossil fuel exploitation in the light of the global warming to which the burning of these fuels will contribute?  I have a fair idea what he would have said, but he wasn’t asked. The fact that he wasn’t bothers me as much as his likely answer if he had been. Because it seems to indicate that the overwhelming question is either not perceived or deliberately avoided by journalists running a major current affairs programme.

Not perceived? How can it be missed? At a time when one would expect governments to be putting major effort into the transition to low-carbon economies, hastening the day when we are able to manage without burning fossil fuels, our government is holding out the prospect of an influx of wealth from an enlarged fossil fuel industry.  The contradiction with an avowed concern over climate change ought to be apparent to any reasonably informed journalist. Climate change is the result of our burning fossil fuels. It can be limited by our ceasing to use those fuels as soon as we possibly can. Surely competent journalism would want to ask the Minister not only about the effects of fracking or the dangers of deep sea oil spills but also about why the Government is enthusiastically seeking out more fossil fuels in the first place, knowing the effect they will have in increasing greenhouse gases.

Deliberately avoided then? One can only speculate why that might be. Perhaps it was judged too big a question for viewers to cope with, or perhaps considered not to be sufficiently in the forefront of public attention to warrant the attention of a current affairs programme. Perhaps the journalists themselves lacked the confidence to ask the question because they didn’t know how to press it. Perhaps in comparative ignorance of the science they assume it represents an extreme position which doesn’t warrant a place in regular discussion. Perhaps, aware of how commonly the Government path is mirrored in the actions of many of the world’s nations, they thought it not worth nailing one small country for so widespread a practice.

Whatever the reasons for omitting the question from the programme the result was that Q+A appeared to be in some kind of collusion with the view that it is sensible and right to continue to search out fossil fuel resources and exploit them provided localised environmental effects are sufficiently managed. It is not. It is foolish and wrong. The fact that fossil fuel mining will bring us a good deal of money is immaterial alongside the damage it will cause to upcoming generations. The evidence from science mounts daily.  Climate scientist Ken Caldeira put the matter very clearly in a striking guest blog on Climate Progress on the same day that Q+A managed to avoid the topic altogether:

We are converting the climate of our planet to one that is similar to the hothouse climates that existed on this planet when dinosaurs were the top predators…

Economists estimate that it might cost something like 2% of our GDP to convert our energy system into one that does not use the atmosphere as a waste dump. When we burn fossil fuels and release the CO2 into the atmosphere, we are saying ’I am willing to impose tremendous climate risk on future generations living throughout the world, so that I personally can be 2% richer today.’ I believe this to be fundamentally immoral. We are saying we want to selfishly reap benefits today while imposing costs on strangers tomorrow.

Here is what we should be doing:

All I am asking is that we follow the golden rule: ’Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ This is fundamentally a moral issue, not an economic issue. Given what we know now, it is simply unethical to impose risk of grave damage on future generations just so that we can have a few more consumer products today.

The only ethical path is to stop using the atmosphere as a waste dump for greenhouse gas pollution.

It may be daunting for journalists in the New Zealand context to ask questions of Ministers about policies which are widespread and apparently accepted without demur by many of the world’s governments. But it is a dereliction of journalistic standards to leave the big questions unasked.  New Zealand politicians should not be shielded from facing their share of responsibility, small though it may be in the global setting.

Cuckoo cocoon (Prat Watch #5.5) Gareth Renowden Apr 16

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Something stirred inside the carefully cultivated cocoon of ignorance at Richard Treadgold’s Climate “Conversation” blog, but I don’t think it was the butterfly of understanding preparing to inflate its wings. Something much more subterranean, I suspect. Needled by my post about said cocoon (namely, Treadgold’s insistence that “global warming has not happened for about 15 years, unless you take a micrometer to the thermometer“), RT issues a bold challenge: Well, where’s your evidence, Renowden?

He heads his post with a graph lifted from JunkScience (that well known purveyor of same), showing the HadCRUT3 monthly temperature series from 1978 to date. Amusingly, Treadgold makes an error before he even begins the meat of his diatribe. The caption he provides to the graph includes this:

The graph that proves no significant warming for about 15 years — since about 1996. Measured by satellite, not the unreliable hand of man.

The HadCRUT3 global series is most assuredly not a satellite generated temperature record. But we’ll let that pass, shall we, and take a quick canter through an answer to his challenge. I shall ignore Mark Twain’s advice just this once, in the hope that some light may shine in to the dark corners of his misunderstanding.

The first, and most important thing to do is to define what we mean by global warming. Here’s my stab at a definition: the accumulation of energy in the climate system caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We know that CO2 and other GHGs are accumulating in the atmosphere, and we know where they’re coming from: we did it. The energy comes from the sun, and when the earth is neither warming nor cooling, the amount reaching the earth’s surface is balanced by the amount being radiated back to space.

So how do we measure the accumulation of energy in the system? It’s obvious — more energy means (to a first approximation) that everything will be getting warmer. So let’s take a look at where most people live — on land.

Yup. Looks like we’re warming. Even — perhaps especially — over the last 15 years1.

But most of the surface of the planet is not land. Seventy percent is ocean, and water is a very big player in the climate system, in all sorts of ways. In fact, the oceans are absorbing most of the energy accumulating in the climate system:

Let’s look at that another way:

So when we agonise about wiggles in the surface temperature, we’re ignoring the big player — the oceans. But global average temperature is an important metric of warming, much better documented that ocean heat content, so agonise we must. I downloaded the HadCRUT3 monthly data, and the annual averages for HadCRUT3 and the new HadCRUT4 series2, and plotted 1990 to date on this graph (click to embiggen):

HadCRUT3480

The graph says a lot, but perhaps the most obvious has to do with variability. Monthly global averages bounce up and down a lot. When you look at annual averages, you smooth the data quite a lot (because you’re taking 12 months and bunging them together), and this allows you to cut through the noise. Look at the monthly data (the grey line). It’s difficult to eyeball that and get a feel for any underlying trend. There’s too much wiggle going on. That is, of course, why Treadgold and his compatriots in climate denial like to present the data in that fashion: it confuses the issue.

The annual averages paint a less detailed, but more comprehensible picture. It’s pretty clear that warming has not stopped in either series, but most certainly not in HadCRUT4, where both 2005 and 2010 are warmer than 1998, the HadCRUT3 warmest year. In both series, it’s obvious that the 2000s were warmer than the 1990s3. The red line through the last 15 years of HadCRUT4 data shows quite clearly that the trend remains upwards.

But where do all these wiggles in the temperature come from? We saw earlier that the oceans are the biggest player in the global energy budget, and its well known that ocean cycles such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) can have a marked effect on global average temperature. El Niño events push a lot of heat into the atmosphere and create warm months and years, while La Niña events do the reverse. The 1998 spike in the monthly HadCRUT3 is associated with one of the strongest El Niño events in the record. Other sources of up and down influences are the 11 year solar cycle (warming and cooling) and volcanoes (cooling).

Can you estimate the effects of oceans, the sun and volcanoes and remove them from the temperature record to leave a picture of the underlying trend? Yes, you can, and that’s exactly what Grant Foster and Stefan Rahmstorf did in their recent paper Global temperature evolution 1979—2010, and this animated graph shows what’s left when you clean up the data…

Undeniable warming — or warming that’s undeniable to people that live in the real world.

But what about some confirmation that warming hasn’t stopped? We saw earlier that about 0.2% of the energy imbalance is going into the Greenland ice sheet. This is what it’s doing:

Not much sign of a slowdown there: the ice is melting, and so are the world’s glaciers…

The bottom line: global warming cannot stop until the greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere has peaked, and the climate system has had a chance to reach equilibrium — which will take 30 years as the oceans warm up4. Monthly and annual global average temperatures will continue to wiggle around the long term trend as ocean cycles move heat around, but barring major volcanic eruptions or the intervention of aliens, the accumulation of energy will continue until the planet is back in energy balance with space.

I leave you with one of Skeptical Science’s finest moments, which illustrates all too well the wishful thinking on display at Climate “Conversation”. Call me a realist…

[A very big tip of the hat to Skeptical Science's excellent graphics resource. Thanks John!]

[Genesis]

  1. It’s interesting to note that Treadgold’s preferred temperature series is the one that shows least warming. What, did someone mention cherries?
  2. The HadCRUT4 series is an improvement because it includes data from regions not covered in HadCRUT3, including many in high northern latitudes where warming has been most pronounced, and hence has less of a “cool bias” in comparison to GISS or NOAA, for example.
  3. The 1990s average anomaly was 0.22ºC, the 2000s 0.38ºC. In global temperature terms, quite a jump, and one well in line with expectations.
  4. For the “fast response” parts of the system. Sea level equilibrates over much longer time scales (we hope).

Weakened NZ ETS not responsible economic management Bryan Walker Apr 13

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Tim Groser, the new Minister for Climate Change Issues, is adamant in his defence of the intention to further delay bringing the agricultural sector into the Emissions Trading Scheme beyond the current date of 2015 unless there are adequate abatement options open to them by then and unless other countries step up to the mark with mitigation measures.  His remarks on Morning Report on Thursday made it clear that the interests of the overall economy were more important than mitigation of the 0.2% of the global greenhouse gas emissions that New Zealand is responsible for.  He spoke of the difficulty of managing the economy through tough times.

But he also claimed New Zealand was playing a very significant role in the Global Research Alliance on agricultural greenhouse gases and in the reform of fossil fuel subsidies. Indeed we’re probably playing a larger role in international negotiations than any single country.  It’s absurd, he concluded, to charge that we’re not pulling our weight.  The part New Zealand is playing in the international negotiations was also highlighted in a NZ Herald report on Thursday.

 With Kiwi diplomat Adrian Macey chairing last December’s Durban talks, Groser claims New Zealand “ended up with 100 per cent of the responsibility for the mitigation equation,” the core of the climate change debate.

As a long-serving diplomat and ambassador before entering Parliament, the International Trade and Climate Change Negotiations Minister said this achievement was “quite extraordinary in terms of my experience of international negotiations and New Zealand’s contribution.”

One can only be pleased if New Zealand is playing a positive role in international negotiations and the other initiatives Groser draws attention to. And it’s true that this is a global problem which needs global agreement to be dealt with effectively. But that doesn’t mean we should therefore be happy with the go-slow policy at home. Groser appears to be saying that action on emissions will put strains on the economy and that we will therefore only act when everyone does.  His stance is outdated and unhelpful. The economy can flourish with a different orientation. Why should the mild pressure that the ETS would put on agriculture not lead to changes in farming practice that would enhance New Zealand’s competitive position in world trade as well as lower our greenhouse gas emissions? What expert opinion says that lower emissions mean lower farming income? And even if it was lower, how much lower would it be, and how would that stack up against the benefits to the economy overall of reduced emissions?  Groser speaks of the government’s over-riding responsibility to manage the New Zealand economy soundly, and says dismissively that extravagant or overly costly solutions will not fly. No one will argue with sound management, but does that mean business as usual? There are plenty of reasons to say that business as usual is unsound and leading down a blind alley. It’s too easy to throw around adjectives like extravagant or overly costly. Groser is over-assertive.

Compare Groser’s stance with what Nick Clegg had to say in the UK this week.

There is a myth doing the rounds in political debate today: that, here in the UK, environmentalism has hit a wall, that green is for the good times, that we cannot up our efforts to protect our environment while simultaneously growing our economy, that we have to make a choice.

…this new wisdom, however widely held, is utterly wrong. Yes, right now climate change may be lower down some people’s thoughts. Yes, we need to be sensitive to businesses’ needs. But in so many ways, for so many consumers, for so many firms, going green has never made so much sense.

There is no choice, Clegg concludes, between protecting the environment and growing the economy. Groser, and the Government he represents, appears stuck with the notion that there is.

The other factor that weighs against Groser’s gradualism is the magnitude of the threat of climate change. Groser has made it clear in the past that he has no argument with the science. He will know then that global warming doesn’t slow down while the negotiators catch up. These aren’t leisurely trade negotiations working towards useful improvements. They are urgent, and if we are playing the significant role in them that Groser claims then our own actions at home ought to reflect that urgency. The science is pretty clear that if emissions reductions don’t begin very soon it must be doubtful that we can stay below a 2ºC temperature rise. It will be little cause for congratulation to have played an important role in negotiations which allowed that state of affairs to develop.

There was a suggestion in the radio interview that the smallness of our share of global emissions lessens any need for us to be overly concerned with mitigation. That is a contemptible notion. Anything New Zealand can offer by way of example, particularly in the area of agriculture, is of value and will surely only add to whatever status Groser claims we have in international negotiations. But in any case it can only be a solemn human duty to take every reasonable measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with all possible urgency. The continuing dilution of an already weak ETS is not the responsible economic management Groser asserts. It’s an evasion of responsibilities which we should be facing up to determinedly.

NZ ETS to be watered down (again), but emissions news good Gareth Renowden Apr 12

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New Zealand’s new Minister for Climate Change Issues and chief climate negotiator, Tim Groser, yesterday announced the government’s intended changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme following last years ETS Review. There will be a limited period for consultation (to May 11) on the proposals before legislation is put before Parliament. The consultation document (PDF) and meeting dates are available here. Key points:

  • Agriculture’s entry to the ETS may be delayed beyond 2015.
  • There will be no increase to the $25/tonne unit price cap.
  • The “two for one” transitional provision for big emitters will be phased out more gradually.
  • The government will give itself powers to auction emissions units.
  • There will be a review of the allocation of carbon credits to pre-1990 forests to take into account the changes to the forestry regime agreed in Durban last year.

Groser also announced the release today of New Zealand’s net emissions position for the 2008-12 Kyoto reporting period, now expected to be a surplus (that is, under NZ’s target) of 23.1 million tonnes, up from 21.9 mt in 2011.

News that agriculture may continue to escape carbon constraints is hardly surprising, given the government’s reluctance to annoy its heartland farming and agribusiness supporters, but it appears willing to risk confrontation with Maori forestry interests on pre-1990 carbon credit allocations. My view is that this tinkering around the edges of the scheme is designed to put the ETS into a kind of domestic political holding pattern until the shape of future international arrangements begins to emerge. Groser doesn’t want to frighten the horses until he absolutely has to, as this quote from Brian Fallow’s piece in the NZ Herald today might be taken to indicate:

Preferences for changing areas of the policy would vary a lot depending on what assumptions were made about the future carbon price, Groser said.

“If you think it will remain at the current low levels, you will reach one set of conclusions. Take a different view of the trajectory of the carbon price – and above all, this is a long game we are playing – and you may reach quite different conclusions.”

Getting international action on emissions reductions is certainly turning out to be a long game. We can only hope that it doesn’t turn into the diplomatic equivalent of a timeless test, and that the climate system is kind enough to give us time to play it. I’d not want to bet on either proposition.

The shape of wind to come Bryan Walker Apr 11

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The NZ Wind Energy Association (NZWEA) has a published a new report setting out their vision for the coming years, Wind Energy 2030: the growing role for Wind Energy in New Zealand’s electricity system (PDF). It reiterates their expectation that by 2030 wind energy will be supplying 20 percent of our electricity. This is double the amount forecast by the Ministry of Economic Development in their recent Energy Outlook, a forecast which the WEA protested  about at the time.

The report (or its summary) communicates some salient points about wind energy in New Zealand. There is plenty of reason to be upbeat about the prospects. New Zealand’s wind resource is one of the best in the world, with a potential that we have barely begun to realise. Our wind is predictable, able to be forecast accurately 24 hours in advance.  Seasonally, wind is actually more predictable than rainfall. And because wind is nearly always blowing somewhere in New Zealand wind farms in different parts of the country will contribute to overall grid reliability.

Wind meshes well with the hydro generation which supplies around two thirds of our electricity. As wind is increasingly used, hydro generation is likely to become more focused on filling gaps in wind generation — and our hydro lakes will be fuller for longer and hence more reliable.

The report describes wind energy globally as a large, mature and growing industry, with the new markets in Latin America, Africa and Asia now driving market growth. New Zealand is able to tap into global expertise, but also to contribute since our high wind farm productivity provides a good learning and testing environment for wind turbines and hopefully will lead to the development of exportable skills and technology.

Financially wind already makes for good investment in New Zealand, and will become even more profitable in the future. Ongoing running and maintenance costs are falling. Developers are improving their site assessments, reducing their development costs, siting turbines more effectively and sizing them more accurately. And the fuel continues to be free.

A wide geographical distribution of wind farms is likely, and the ample supply of onshore locations means that offshore production is not likely to occur before 2030. The anticipated 3500 MW of wind generation capacity by 2030 will cover 0.4% of New Zealand’s land area. The turbines themselves and servicing roads will occupy a much lesser space of 0.003% of the land.

The report points to the advantage of wind generation in that it can be deployed quickly and in different amounts. In times of low electricity demand growth smaller wind farms can be built. Similarly, if demand grows rapidly wind generation can be deployed quickly when consents are in place – in months rather than years. Thus, development of wind can reduce the electricity shortage/over-capacity cycle that New Zealand has traditionally experienced.

The difficulties in obtaining consents for some wind farms has been well publicised in recent years, but the report notes that resources consents are currently in place for a further 1700 MW of generation, giving a healthy pipeline of potential developments.

It’s good to see the NZWEA providing this kind of report, accessible for the general public, factual and justifiably positive about the future for wind generation of electricity in this country. The case it makes is understandably focused on the economic feasibility of the industry, and it is certainly important that the public understand that wind generation is already capable of standing on its own feet economically.

Although the contribution wind energy makes to combatting climate change is mentioned briefly, it is not a prominent feature of the report. It doesn’t need to be, of course. If wind can make its way on economic grounds, that will do fine. But the report sees a continuing role for natural gas generation, albeit at a lower level than Government forecasts, because of its ability to rapidly vary output for peak supply.

This is too comfortable a view from a climate change perspective. We have to be able to generate electricity reliably without recourse to fossil fuels of any description, and we have to move in that direction as rapidly as possible. We would have to do that eventually even if there were no climate change concerns because the fossil fuels would run out. The challenge is to do it long before that stage, since by that time terrible damage would have been done to the global climate. We need wind and hydro and geothermal and solar and tidal and wave power in place of fossil fuel, not alongside it.