By Jeff Goodell
The Earth's climate has always been a work in progress. In the 4.5 billion years the planet has been spinning around the sun, ice ages have come and gone, interrupted by epochs of intense heat. The highest mountain range in Texas was once an underwater reef. Camels wandered in evergreen forests in the Arctic. Then a few million years later, 400 feet of ice formed over what is now New York City. But amid this geologic mayhem, humans have gotten lucky. For the past 10,000 years, virtually the entire stretch of human civilization, people have lived in what scientists call "a Goldilocks climate" — not too hot, not too cold, just right.
Now, our luck is running out. The industrialized nations of the world are dumping 34 billion tons or so of carbon into the atmosphere every year, which is roughly 10 times faster than Mother Nature ever did on her own, even during past mass extinction events. As a result, global temperatures have risen 1.2 C since we began burning coal, and the past seven years have been the warmest seven years on record. The Earth's temperature is rising faster today than at any time since the end of the last ice age, 11,300 years ago. We are pushing ourselves out of a Goldilocks climate and into something entirely different — quite literally, a different world than humans have ever lived in before.
How hot will the summers get in India and Pakistan, and how will tens of thousands of deaths from extreme heat impact the stability of the region (both nations have nuclear weapons)? How close is the West Antarctic ice sheet to collapse, and what does the risk of five or six feet of sea-level rise mean for people living in mobile homes on the Gulf Coast? The truth is, no one knows for sure. We are in uncharted terrain. "We're now in a world where the past is no longer a good guide to the future," said Jesse Jenkins, an assistant professor of engineering at Princeton University. "We have to get much better at preparing for the unexpected."
By all indications, President Biden and his team understand all this. And it's hard not to feel that after 30 years of dithering and denial and hypocrisy, the fight to save the climate has finally begun in earnest. In the 2020 election, nearly 70 percent of Biden's voters said climate change was a top issue for them. Biden has staffed his administration with the climate A-team, from Gina McCarthy as domestic climate czar to John Kerry as international climate envoy. He has made racial and environmental justice a top priority. And perhaps most important of all, he sees the climate crisis as an opportunity to reinvent the U.S. economy and create millions of new jobs.
"I think in Obama's mind, it was always about tackling the climate challenge, not making the climate challenge the central element of your economic policy," says John Podesta, a Democratic power broker and special adviser to President Obama who played a key role in negotiating the Paris Agreement. "Biden's team is different. It is really the core of their economic strategy to make transformation of the energy systems the driver of innovation, growth, and job creation, justice and equity."
Of course, there have been hopeful moments before: the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, when the nations of the world first came together to limit CO2 emissions; the success of Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth in 2006; the election of Obama in 2008 ("This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal," Obama said in his speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination that year); the Paris Agreement in 2015, when China finally engaged in climate talks. But all of these moments, in the end, led to nothing. If you look at the only metric that really matters — a graph of the percentage of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere — it has been on a long, steady upward climb. More CO2 equals more heat. To put it bluntly, all our scientific knowledge, all the political speeches, all the activism and protest marches have done zero to stop the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.
But hope rises again. The economic winds are lifting Biden's sails: The cost of wind and solar power has plummeted by 90 percent or so over the past decade, and in many parts of the world it's the cheapest way to generate electricity. Meanwhile, fossil-fuel dinosaurs are tottering: Big Coal is collapsing in real time and may disappear from American life in the next decade or so. ExxonMobil lost $22 billion last year and in August was delisted from the S&P 500. GM, long the staunch fossil-fuel loyalist of the U.S. auto industry, has pledged to go all-electric by 2035.
Globally, the signs of change are equally inspiring. Eight of the 10 largest economies have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. China, by far the world's largest carbon polluter in terms of raw tonnage (on a per capita basis, the U.S. and several other countries pollute far more), has promised to become carbon neutral by 2060. Some 400 companies, including Microsoft, Unilever, Facebook, Ford, Nestlé, and Pepsi, have committed to reduce carbon pollution consistent with the United Nations' 1.5 C target, which scientists have determined is the threshold of dangerous climate change. Many of these same companies are now calling on the Biden administration to cut overall U.S. carbon pollution by at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, a goal consistent with the 1.5 C target.
Big Money is also waking up to the risks and benefits of climate action. In his annual letter to investors, Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, which manages $7.8 trillion in assets, challenged companies "to disclose a plan for how their business model will be compatible with a net-zero economy." In her confirmation hearing, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called climate change "an existential threat" and promised to create a team to examine the risks and integrate them into financial policy-making.
Still, these are only baby steps in a very long journey. And the clock is ticking. "When it comes to the climate crisis," says futurist Alex Steffen, "speed is everything." Every molecule of carbon we dump into the atmosphere is another molecule of carbon that will warm the climate for centuries to come, and in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, reshape the world we live in. The changes we are making are not reversible. If we magically stopped all carbon pollution tomorrow, the Earth's temperature would level off, but warm seas would continue melting the ice sheets and seas would keep rising for decades, if not centuries (last time carbon levels were as high as they are today, sea levels were 70 feet higher). Ocean acidification, caused by high CO2 levels, is already dissolving coral reefs and is having a major impact on the ocean food chain. Even after emissions stop, it will take the ocean thousands of years to recover.
Cutting carbon fast would slow these changes and reduce the risk of other climate catastrophes. But despite the world's newfound ambition, political leaders are not moving anywhere near fast enough. Even the goal of holding future warming to 2 C, which is a centerpiece of the Paris Agreement and considered the outer limits of a Goldilocks climate for much of the planet, is nearly out of reach. As a recent paper in Nature pointed out: "On current trends, the probability of staying below 2 C of warming is only five percent." If all countries meet the commitment they made in the 2015 Paris Agreement and continue to reduce emissions at the same rate after 2030, the paper argued, the probability of remaining below 2 C of warming rises to 26 percent ("As if a 26 percent chance was good," Swedish climate wunderkind Greta Thunberg pointed out in a tweet).
The great danger is not climate denial. The great danger is climate delay. Instead of pushing for changes tomorrow, world leaders and CEOs like to make virtuous-sounding statements about what they will do in 2050. And then in 2050, they will make virtuous-sounding statements about what they will do in 2070. Climate scientist Zeke Hausfather calls this the "empty radicalism" of long-term goals.
What's needed is action now. As climate envoy John Kerry put it at the World Sustainable Development Summit in February: "We have to now phase out coal five times faster than we have been. We have to increase tree cover five times faster than we have been. We have to ramp up renewable energy six times faster than we are. We have to transition to [electric vehicles] 22 times faster."
As an example of the seriousness of Biden's near-term ambition, he has proposed transitioning to 100 percent clean electricity by 2035, which means goodbye natural-gas plants, goodbye coal plants, and hello electric cars and battery storage. It's an astonishingly ambitious proposal, one that would require a remaking of the digital backbone of America at a breakneck speed. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, but if Biden is serious about getting it done, it will require retooling permitting laws and the environmental-review process that often stalls big infrastructure projects.
Demanding action now will also require shutting down the international financing schemes that support fossil fuels. China, Japan, and South Korea all claim to be doing their part in making carbon reductions at home, while at the same time they are financing 70,000 megawatts of coal power in places like Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Indonesia. In addition, state-run oil companies in places like China, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia are on course to spend more than $400 billion over the next decade to expand oil infrastructure and exploration.
The goal of net-zero emissions is also problematic. "Net zero" is not the same thing as zero. It means that carbon pollution is either eliminated or offset by other processes that remove carbon from the atmosphere, such as forests or machines that capture CO2. Some of these offsets and technologies are more legit than others, opening the door to scams that claim to eliminate more carbon than they do.
In a way, the economic chaos caused by the pandemic has created a historic opportunity for the Biden administration. As one White House adviser tells me, "If you are going to pump billions of dollars into the economy, why not use those dollars to help us transition away from fossil fuels?" This is one of the central ideas behind Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure bill, which is now being negotiated in Congress. The bill includes a wide variety of climate-related initiatives, shaped around the twin pillars of Biden-era policy: clean-energy jobs and climate justice.
Already the pushback is fierce, especially in states that have benefited from the fracking boom. "The climate fight going forward is really about natural gas," says Leah Stokes, author of Short Circuiting Policy, an analysis of how special interests have derailed clean-energy policy for 30 years. Shortly after Biden issued his first round of executive orders aimed at the climate crisis, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference in the middle of the gas fields "to make clear that Texas is going to protect the oil-and-gas industry from any type of hostile attack launched from Washington, D.C." In Florida, two bills were introduced that would preempt local governments from implementing plans to lower carbon pollution. In California and New York, residents are fighting transmission lines for offshore wind farms. Republicans, along with stalwart fossil-fuel allies like the Heritage Foundation, recently convened a private retreat in Utah to plot ways to "reclaim the narrative" on climate, while Republican Senators like Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn continue to recycle tired old rants about how the Paris Agreement is destroying American jobs.
None of this is surprising. And the fight will only get bigger and more ruthless as the clean-energy transition accelerates. Fossil fuels are emblematic of a culture, a way of life, a political hierarchy, and an empire of wealth that will not go quietly into the night.
Even among climate activists and progressives, there is wide disagreement about the best path forward. In Pennsylvania, Rep. Conor Lamb, a Democrat who supports Biden's climate goals, sees natural gas as indispensable. "You can't turn off natural gas in our society, at least in the Northeast of the United States at this time," Lamb tells me. "You just can't do it." Lamb advocates investments in expensive and unproven technology like carbon capture that could extend the life of fossil fuels. Then there are the eternal battles over nuclear power as a source of clean energy, which Lamb also supports. Others, like UC Berkeley energy professor Daniel Kammen, remain skeptical: "If low-cost, reliable, entirely safe nuclear can prove itself out, this is wonderful. . . . But there's a lot of big ifs."
More important, the fight for a stable climate is increasingly inseparable from a fight for justice and equity. Catherine Coleman Flowers, who was on a task force that helped shape Biden's climate policy during his campaign, grew up and works in Lowndes County, Alabama. "I see a lot of poverty here," Flowers says. "And I see a lot of people who suffer from the impacts of climate change — whether it is heat, or disease, or poor sanitation and polluted drinking water. You can't separate one from the other. They put sewage lagoons next to the houses of poor people, not rich people. They put oil pipelines through poor neighborhoods, not rich ones."
Internationally, rich nations of the world pledged to "mobilize" $100 billion by 2020 through the U.N.'s Green Climate Fund to help developing nations adapt to climate change. But only about $10 billion materialized. The U.S. was among the worst actors: Of the $3 billion President Obama promised, he funded only $1 billion before Trump canceled further payments (Biden has promised to make good on the commitment, and then some).
Whatever happens with Biden's climate and energy initiatives, we're living in a new world now. The faster we cut carbon, the more manageable the changes will be. But change is coming. The biggest fights of the future are less likely to be about natural gas and nuclear power than about sea walls and migration policies. "Adaptation is not sexy," says Alice Hill, who was an adviser to the Obama administration. "But it is inevitable." As climate impacts escalate, dangerous techno-fixes, such as solar geoengineering, which involves spraying particles into the stratosphere to reflect away sunlight and cool the planet, will likely become more tempting and more divisive, perhaps further diluting the will to quickly cut carbon pollution.
For more than 30 years now, scientists and politicians have been aware that our hellbent consumption of fossil fuels could push us out of the Goldilocks zone and force humans to live in a world we have never inhabited before. As Biden's push for climate action gets real, we will learn a lot about how serious human beings are about living on this planet, and how far the powerful and privileged are willing to go to reduce the suffering of the poor and vulnerable. If political leaders don't take the climate crisis seriously now, with all they know, with all they have been through already, will they ever? "Climate advocates keep saying, 'This is it, this is it, this is it,'" warns Podesta. "But this really is it. If we don't amp up and accelerate the energy transformation in this decade, we're goners — really goners."
This story originally appeared in Rolling Stone and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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By Jim Palardy
As 2021 dawns, people, ecosystems, and wildlife worldwide are facing a panoply of environmental issues. In an effort to help experts and policymakers determine where they might focus research, a panel of 25 scientists and practitioners — including me — from around the globe held discussions in the fall to identify emerging issues that deserve increased attention.
The panel, coordinated by the UK-based Cambridge Conservation Initiative, conducted a horizon scan — an effort to spot early signs of significant phenomena — of global biological conservation issues. For the resulting study, which was funded by the UK's Natural Environment Research Council and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the panel winnowed down an initial list of 97 topics, settling on the following 15 because of their novelty or their potential to move the conservation needle in either a positive or negative direction over the coming decade.
1. Seabirds Could Help Spot Illegal Fishing
Seabirds often follow fishing vessels to score easy meals. Now, scientists are hoping to exploit this behavior to help spot illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, which accounts for up to $23.5 billion worth of seafood every year, or 1 in 5 fish sold. Researchers have had some success attaching transmitters to seabirds to locate fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean, but more study is needed to validate the use of this tactic.
2. Marine Vessels and GPS Spoofing
Vessels plying the ocean navigate and transmit their locations and identities mainly through the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) and automatic identification system (AIS). The panel points out that a recent rise in GNSS spoofing and AIS cloning incidents could facilitate the trade of illegal goods and hamper authorities' efforts to identify vessels engaged in illicit resource extraction activities such as fishing and dredging.
3. More Corals May Suffer From Lack of Oxygen
Several factors — including climate-driven marine heat waves and nutrient runoff from land — can lower oxygen levels in the ocean. Corals in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans have died from this hypoxia, and, although those events weren't widespread, some scientists fear that the threat may grow significantly as climate change further warms the ocean. Research is needed to better understand the extent and impact of low oxygen conditions on coral reefs.
4. Understanding the Impacts of Increased Dissolved Iron on Coastal Polar Ecosystems
Coastal zones in polar latitudes are among Earth's most productive — that is, they create and support large numbers of organisms ranging from tiny marine plants to animals such as polar bears and seals — a characteristic driven by the availability of dissolved iron from glaciers and ice. Increased melting in the polar regions will result in higher iron concentrations, which in turn will probably fuel more intense phytoplankton blooms and enable organisms on the seafloor to capture more carbon and other nutrients. Such changes could have wide-ranging effects — including impacts on the structure of the region's marine ecosystems and on carbon sequestration — and warrants investigation.
5. What to Do With a Growing Number of Decommissioned Offshore Energy Platforms
It is estimated that 3,000 offshore oil and gas platforms will be decommissioned in the coming decades and that the number of offshore wind farms will continue to grow. Currently, decommissioning practices vary by country and include full removal, conversion of platforms to artificial reefs, and abandonment. As new offshore energy infrastructure is built and old platforms are phased out, nations will need to evaluate the immediate and long-term impacts of their decommissioning strategies on the marine environment.
6. A Drug Problem in the Water
When some chemicals used in pharmaceuticals and in garden and farm products are introduced into waterways — usually through runoff or via sewage systems directly or in human waste — they can cause changes in fish and other organisms, including altering the number of female to males in a population, lower fertility, and deformities. There is emerging evidence that the effects of exposure can be multigenerational, affecting organisms that were never directly exposed.
7. Changes in Low Cloud Cover
Low clouds shade sizable portions of the planet in subtropical regions. It is predicted that these clouds will become increasingly unstable if atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to rise at current rates. The resulting changes could have negative effects on wildlife and human communities.
8. Tree Planting as a Simple Carbon Sequestration Solution
Pledges to plant large areas of trees to help tackle climate change are often perceived as a win for conservation. However, tree planting must be planned and implemented with a clear understanding of regional ecosystems to avoid negative effects on biological diversity.
9. Logging to Reduce Fire Risk
As nations around the world contend with more extreme wildfires, some policymakers suggest that tree removal may be part of the solution. However, the effectiveness of such policies is uncertain, and any short-term gains from removing trees are often offset by the growth of non-native grasses and flowering plants, which may themselves be highly flammable.
10. Large-Scale Adoption of Sustainable Farming Techniques Across India
Driven by government policies and local innovations, sustainable farming practices are becoming more prevalent in India. The state government of Sikkim has adopted organic farming as policy, and the state of Andhra Pradesh, with 6 million farmers, plans to adopt natural farming practices by 2025. Other states across the country plan to follow suit. Early evaluations indicate that these large-scale transitions boost crop yields and incomes, improve the health of farmers, and increase women's access to microfinance. With such results, there is the potential for similar large-scale shifts in other parts of the world.
11. Low Earth-Orbiting Satellites May Mislead Animals Responding to Celestial Cues
More than 2,600 artificial satellites currently orbit the earth, a number that is rapidly increasing. Many species of mammals, insects, and birds use celestial cues to migrate long distances and to orient themselves in local habitats and could be affected by the proliferation of satellites.
12. Bitcoin Mining With Stranded Energy
An emerging use for stranded energy sources, such as low-value methane byproducts vented from oil wells and excess energy produced by wind turbines and solar panels, is to power computers used for Bitcoin mining — the process of creating new Bitcoin by solving complex algorithms. Monetizing stranded energy in this way is a mixed bag that decision-makers will probably have to evaluate. The practice could increase carbon emissions from marginal fossil fuel sources but also could incentivize the deployment of renewable energy by guaranteeing a minimum selling price.
13. Open-Source Investigations of Environmental Threats
Scientists demonstrated some success with using online videos, social media posts, and other open-source data to document the effects of the locust swarms in East Africa in 2020. As faster internet connections and access to smartphones continue to grow globally, the use of open-source data may become an effective tool for researchers.
14. Self-Healing Building Materials
The potential to engineer building materials made of chemicals, polymers, and bacteria that can fix themselves when damaged could reduce the need for repairs and shrink the environmental footprints of construction projects. Recently, scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder used a type of cyanobacteria found in the ocean, along with other materials, to engineer a living building material that can regenerate when fractured.
15. A Waterway to Connect the Baltic and Black Seas
A planned 1,200-mile inland navigable waterway connecting the Baltic and Black seas would alter the flow of cargo and trade in the region. However, the waterway, which would pass through Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine, could alter habitat in 70 wildlife areas and numerous international conservation areas, introduce non-native species, and change the region's rivers and wetlands. Additionally, dredging in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone could disrupt radioactive sediment.
Jim Palardy is a project director with The Pew Charitable Trusts' conservation science program. He served on this year's horizon scan panel and is a co-author on the resulting study.
Reposted with permission from The Pew Charitable Trust.
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The COVID-19 Delta variant has left businesses and schools across the country backpedaling from their goals for more integrated, in-person participation.
In many areas, virtual learning and remote work are becoming the norm once again, and often, this comes with a significant increase in residential energy consumption. For those concerned about increased electric bills and a greater carbon footprint, however, researchers say solar energy could prove effective in offsetting the costs of working and learning from home.
Turning Back to Virtual Learning
Although most school districts across the country opened back up with the intention of holding 100% in-person classes, spreading of the Delta variant has already forced many classrooms into stints of remote learning.
As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, "a cluster of three or more potentially linked cases at one school over 14 days could represent an outbreak and could lead to having a group of students or even a class quarantine at home."
As of August 24, at least 80 school districts have been forced to halt in-person instruction in some capacity due to viral outbreaks.
At the end of the last academic year, an elementary school teacher in Marin County, California, who had not been vaccinated against COVID-19 infected at least 12 students while experiencing mild symptoms, according to a recent CDC report. The majority of her class was ineligible for vaccination, due to their age.
Cases like this illuminate the obstacles that schools are facing in their efforts to protect students. Eight states have passed laws banning mask mandates in public schools, and because students younger than 12 years of age are ineligible for vaccination, classrooms can quickly become hotspots. This forces students to quarantine and learn remotely, which raises energy consumption within homes.
A Bright Future for Remote Work
Some of the most successful companies in the world have maintained and refined opportunities for remote work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these corporations are moving toward permanent implantation of remote and hybrid working models, especially in industries like software, finance and media.
Studies suggest that these models could prove wildly successful, even in a post-pandemic era, not only because they expose employees to fewer health risks, but also because they promote higher productivity and greater mental wellness.
According to LinkedIn's 2020 Workforce Confidence Index, about half of the country's working professionals believe that their industry can operate successfully in a remote setting.
Minimizing Energy Costs and Environmental Impacts of Virtual Meetings
Increased use of home appliances, electronics, heating and air conditioning all contribute to higher electric bills and a greater carbon footprint for those working and learning from home.
At the onset of the pandemic, residential energy consumption increased by up to 10% and energy bills for remote workers increased by up to $50 per month, according to a study by Dr. Steve Cicala, a research fellow for the National Bureau of Economic Research and associate professor at Tufts University.
"The relative energy intensity of heating and cooling the entire homes of employees rather than a single office suggests that the future of working from home is not as green as one might think based on reduced commuting alone," Cicala writes in the study.
Drawing from solar panels could actually be the cleanest, most energy-efficient and cost-effective strategy to offset the energy costs of working from home. But is it worth installing solar panels on your home to offset increased energy costs due to COVID-19 quarantining?
"If people think they might be working from home and using more electricity long term, this would be a good time to think about prospective efficiency improvements," Cicala says in an interview with Tufts, "LEDs instead of old bulbs and plasma TVs, rooftop or community solar to spin the meter back a bit, or perhaps updating some old power-hungry appliances around the house."
Although market barriers and soft costs limit the expansion of the solar industry, the average cost of solar panels has dropped by more than 70% in the last decade. Federal solar tax credits can further reduce the cost of installation by 26%, and some states also offer their own incentives.
Beyond slashing costs, powering homes with solar energy can support the electric grid through net metering. This credits residences that produce more energy than they consume and allows them to export excess energy to the grid, providing surrounding consumers with clean energy.
While the barriers for entry are higher in certain states, solar panels are becoming more universally accessible. As remote work and schooling become the "new normal" once again, solar energy could be vital in preventing further financial and environmental crises related to the pandemic.
Carbon offset programs provide a real opportunity to be part of the climate change solution. In 2021, there are a number of impactful carbon offset programs to choose from. The question is, which one allows you to make the biggest difference? Our review will provide an overview of carbon offset programs and recommend the best ones to help reduce and counterbalance your greenhouse gas emissions.
Our Picks for the Best Carbon Offset Programs
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best for E-Commerce - Shopify
- Best Online Calculator - NativeEnergy
- Best for Travel and Tourism - Sustainable Travel International
- Most Transparent - myclimate
- Easiest to Use - TerraPass
- Best for Certified Projects - Clear
- Best for Air Travel - atmosfair
- Best for Businesses - 3Degrees
What is a Carbon Offset Program?
What is a carbon offset program?
Every day, you engage in activities that leave behind an environmental footprint. You add to the world's carbon dioxide pollution every time you drive your car, purchase goods from a major manufacturer, and so forth.
When you purchase a membership in a carbon offset program, also offered as carbon credits, you invest in clean energy and carbon reduction efforts elsewhere in the world. The goal is basically for this environmental activity to offset your own carbon footprint. The ultimate objective is to become as close to carbon neutral as possible.
Both individuals and corporations can invest in carbon offset programs. While there are a number of options to choose from, many of them involve investment in eco-friendly initiatives in developing countries. Others help to offset the travel, shipping, or production that are part of other industries. The idea is to create an infrastructure that will allow these companies to work towards sustainability and emissions reductions well into the future, while effectively canceling out their carbon emissions in the meantime.
Historically, carbon offset programs have been fairly simple. For example, in some programs, your investment essentially goes to planting trees in reforestation efforts. More advanced carbon offset programs, however, allow you to help fund the development of important sustainability technologies, like efficient cookstoves in developing countries or methane capture at landfills.
How We Chose the Best Climate Offset Programs
Mischa Keijser / Getty Images
There are concerns among some activists that carbon offset programs allow certain countries or industries to pay to appear eco-friendly while avoiding actual efforts to reduce the amount of of carbon they produce. When used properly, however, carbon offsets can be a legitimate tool to help encourage sustainable development and reduce the use of fossil fuels.
We vetted a number of climate offset programs to find options making the biggest impact in our world. A number of factors have gone into our choices.
First, we looked for carbon offset programs that came with the endorsement of prestigious environmental stewardship groups. These organizations thoroughly vet all carbon offset projects for transparency, impact, and additionality. The carbon offset programs on our list are endorsed by prominent third-party organizations, including:
- The Gold Standard
- Climate Action Reserve
- American Carbon Registry
- Verified Carbon Standard
- Plan Vivo
- Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance
- Clean Development Mechanism
Additionally, we have been intentional about choosing programs that represent many different types of projects. And, we have considered factors such as the presence of easy-to-use online calculators; the convenience of making a transaction; and the total number of options that each carbon offset program presents.
The 8 Best Carbon Offset Programs
While Shopify is not a carbon offset program, they do provide a platform to help more merchants and buyers offset the carbon emissions of their e-commerce deliveries. For merchants and businesses, they developed an app called Offset that allows them to opt in and offset all of their deliveries. For customers, there is the Shop app, and for every order purchased using Shop Pay, Shopify will offset all of the emissions from the delivery. All Shopify carbon offsets are purchased from Pachama, a company that seeks to use technology and A.I. to help drive carbon capture and protect global forests. Shopify notes that "offsets are not a perfect solution—but they're a necessary tool." We appreciate that they are making it easier for more and more people to use this necessary tool to reduce carbon emissions with every purchase.
You can visit the Shopify site to learn more about their carbon offsets strategy.
NativeEnergy does a lot of pioneering work to reduce carbon emissions, promote biodiversity in ecosystems, and invest in regenerative agriculture across the world. We like them because they make it easy to get involved, either as an individual or as a corporation, via an intuitive online carbon calculator and a range of investment options. We'll also note that they have been around for more than 20 years, and in that time have taken on some high-level corporate partners, including Ben & Jerry's.
Learn more about NativeEnergy by checking out their website.
This organization made our list because their underlying premise makes so much sense: One of the best ways to support sustainability developments in ecologically vulnerable areas is to invest in their travel and tourism industries in local communities. Sustainable Travel International works with premier destinations, helping them develop their tourist trades while also enacting important environmental protections.
At their website, you can find a ton of information about the work Sustainable Travel International has done to minimize pollution and reduce carbon emissions. And of course, you can purchase carbon offsets to help subsidize their work.
There's a lot to appreciate about myclimate, but above all, we love this organization because of how easy they make it to purchase carbon offsets. When you go to their website, you will immediately see their carbon offset calculator, which will allow you to input information about recent travel (including flights and cruises), household activities, and more. Using this data, myclimate will provide you with an estimate of your total carbon footprint and show you some ways to invest in meaningful offsets.
If you truly want to offset your day-to-day carbon footprint in a calculated and precise way, head to myclimate and get going.
TerraPass is one of the leading names in carbon offsets, and it's not hard to see why. When you visit their website, you will find ways to get involved as an individual, as a small or mid-sized business, and even as a large enterprise. Not only do they provide a great carbon calculator, but they also have a lot of valuable information about embracing sustainability, both within your household and your business. Your investment with TerraPass can help fund energy efficiency through wind power, sustainable farming, and a range of other environmental projects.
You can explore some of the options by checking out the TerraPass website.
Clear is extremely well-regarded. Since 2005, this organization has developed a reputation for only supporting the highest quality projects, including sustainability measures that attain such standards as Certified Emission Reduction (CER) certification and Gold Standard VERs. This is actually the only organization where you can be sure that all carbon offsets are certified by the Quality Assurance Standard for Carbon Offsetting. Additional reasons to choose Clear include ultra-precise carbon offset calculators, fair and affordable pricing, and a range of opportunities for both individuals and businesses.
You can visit the Clear website to learn more about purchasing carbon offsets from them.
atmosfair is a non-profit organization based in Germany. The organization's stated goals are to offset carbon emissions, promote sustainable travel, and ultimately play a role in long-term energy transitions across the planet. They currently have projects in more than a dozen countries, and they rely entirely on carbon offsets purchased by individuals and by companies.
Their big emphasis is on offsetting the environmental impact of air travel, so if that's something that you're passionate about, we'd recommend taking a look at the atmosfair website.
Finally, we're really enthusiastic about all the good work being done by 3Degrees. This organization works with corporations across the world, helping them implement renewable energy sources, decarbonize their transportation, and more. Of course, they also have some options for you to support their work by purchasing carbon offsets. You can find out a lot more about what they do by visiting their website; they have a lot of detailed information about their different projects, including case studies.
Visit the 3Degrees site to find out more.
How to Find a Carbon Offset Program
Nick Brundle Photography / Getty Images
Clearly, there are plenty of ways to support green initiatives, and to counterbalance some of your own carbon emissions. As you seek to find the best carbon offset program for you, the primary factor to keep in mind is transparency. You want to make sure that the dollars you're donating actually go to high-quality projects that make a real-world difference in the amount of carbon produced each year.
That's one of the main reasons why we emphasize the importance of third-party verification. We mentioned a number of independent organizations above that do a lot of important work auditing and accrediting carbon offset programs. Their validation can give you confidence in selecting a carbon offset project to support.
The Benefits and Limits of Carbon Offset Programs
Before investing, it's worth pausing to consider just how much good a carbon offset program can do, and where these projects sometimes come up short.
To start with, here are some benefits to carbon offsetting:
- Carbon offset projects allow you to neutralize any negative impact you make on the environment, specifically in terms of the metric tons of carbon emissions, or CO2e, that contribute to global warming.
- Investments in developing nations can also help provide wages and other benefits to those who need them, while also preventing deforestation and supporting critical forestry projects.
- By backing carbon offset projects, you can incentivize companies to spend more money on sustainability and clean energy measures.
- Carbon offsets also help expedite the development of eco-friendly technology.
As for the potential limitations of carbon offset projects, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The effectiveness of carbon offsetting can fluctuate from one industry to the next.
- Sometimes, carbon offsetting can make it easy to excuse large or irresponsible carbon emissions.
- Without due diligence, it's all too easy to inadvertently back an unscrupulous or non-transparent carbon offset project.
Choose the Right Carbon Offset Program for You
The bottom line is that carbon offsetting, while imperfect, can nevertheless make a positive impact, especially if you choose your carbon offset program wisely. Purchasing carbon offsets shouldn't take the place of reducing your own carbon footprint, but they can make an impact.
Start your research with some of the options here and remember to augment your carbon offsets with other lifestyle changes at work or at home.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
Nearly 5 million electricity customers across the United States lost power over the weekend as extreme weather, including frigid temperatures and ice storms, drove up demand and shut down electricity generation.
The widespread outages underscore the vulnerability of the power grid to extreme weather events made more frequent, powerful, and unpredictable by climate change. "I cannot recall an extreme weather event that impacted such a large swath of the nation in this manner — the situation is critical," Neil Chatterjee, a member of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, told Bloomberg.
The outages are most dire in Texas, where nearly 4 million customers were still without power Tuesday morning. The state's grid operator said 34 gigawatts, as much as 40% of its generation capacity, was forced offline, sending electricity prices skyrocketing to the legal limit of $9,000 per megawatt-hour and forcing the implementation of rolling blackouts.
The lost generation capacity was driven in large part by the 27 gigawatts of coal-, gas-, and nuclear-generated electricity forced offline by the cold and ice. Wind generation exceeded the Texas grid operator's daily forecast through the weekend. The storms wreaked havoc on U.S. methane gas markets, as physical delivery gas prices in Oklahoma smashed previous records. More than 3 million barrels of daily oil-processing capacity also shut down Monday as the largest refineries in North America were forced to halt operations because of the cold.
For a deeper dive:
Bloomberg, Bloomberg, The New York Times, AP; Generating sources' performance during storm: Bloomberg, TechCruch; Oklahoma gas prices: Financial Post; Refineries: Bloomberg; Climate change links: The Washington Post, The Washington Post, The Weather Channel, Texas Climate News; Climate Signals background: Winter storm risk increase
- How Global Warming Can Cause Europe's Harsh Winter Weather ... ›
- Texas Grid Operator Overcharged Power Companies $16 Billion During Winter Storm - EcoWatch ›
By Tara Lohan
A key part of the United States' clean energy transition has started to take shape, but you may need to squint to see it. About 2,000 wind turbines could be built far offshore, in federal waters off the Atlantic Coast, in the next 10 years. And more are expected.
East Coast states from Maine to North Carolina are working to procure nearly 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2035 — a huge leap from the five turbines currently generating 30 megawatts in Rhode Island waters. If a regulatory backlog of projects awaiting approval from the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is finally unstuck — as experts hope will happen this year — the buildout of offshore wind will arrive during a crucial decade for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Spinning turbine blades on the watery horizon may be a welcome sight in the fight against climate change, but they still come with potential threats to marine wildlife. Many environmental groups believe the challenges aren't insurmountable if scientific study can help inform regulatory action and if we can learn — and adapt our practices — as we go.
"We believe that offshore wind can absolutely be developed in an environmentally responsible manner," says Francine Kershaw, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But that has to be incorporated throughout the whole process — from site assessment through development, construction and operations."
Threats to Birds
One of the gravest threats facing birds is climate change, according to Audubon, which found that rising temperatures threaten nearly two-thirds of North America's bird species. That's why the impending development of offshore wind is a good thing, says Shilo Felton, a field manager in the organization's Clean Energy Initiative, but it also comes with dangers to birds that need to be better studied and mitigated.
The most obvious risk comes from birds colliding with spinning turbine blades. But offshore wind developments can also displace birds from foraging or roost sites, as well as migratory pathways.
Along the Atlantic Coast four imperiled species are of top concern to conservationists: the endangered piping plover, red knot, roseate tern and black-capped petrel, which is being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
"Those four species are of utmost importance to make sure that we understand the impacts," says Felton. "But beyond that there are many species that are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act that could potentially see more impacts from offshore wind."
Northern gannets, for example, are at risk not just for collision but habitat displacement.
A northern gannet flying along Cape May, N.J. Ann Marie Morrison / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
"There's some evidence that they just won't use areas where turbines are, but that also excludes them from key foraging areas," says Felton. Researchers are still studying what this may mean for the birds. But a study published in December 2020 conducted at Bass Rock, Scotland — home to the world's largest northern gannet colony — found that wind developments could reduce their growth rate, though not enough to cause a population decline.
Other birds, such as great cormorants and European shags, are attracted to wind developments and use the infrastructure to rest while opening up new foraging areas farther from shore.
"There's plenty of potential for a bird to use a wind farm and still to avoid the turbines themselves," says Felton.
Birds like pelicans, however, are less versatile in their movements and are at particular risk of collision because of their flight pattern, she says.
But how disruptive or dangerous offshore turbines will be along the East Coast isn't yet known.
Federal and state agencies, along with nongovernmental organizations, says Felton, have done good research to try to better understand those potential impacts. "But these are all theoretical, because we don't have a lot of offshore wind yet in the United States."
Threats to Ocean Life
Birds aren't the only wildlife of concern. More development in ocean waters could affect a litany of marine species, some of which are already facing other pressures from overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction and climate change.
Scientists have found that marine mammals like whales and dolphins could be disturbed by the jarring sounds of construction, especially if pile driving is used to hammer the steel turbine platform into the seafloor.
The noises, though short-lived, could impede communication between animals, divert them from migration routes or cause them to seek less suitable areas for feeding or breeding. Research from Europe found that harbor porpoises, seals and dolphins may avoid development areas during construction. In most, but not all cases, the animals were believed to have returned to the area following construction.
The biggest concern for conservation groups in the United States is the critically endangered North American right whale. There are fewer than 400 remaining, and the species' habitat overlaps with a number of planned wind development areas along the East Coast.
"Offshore wind is in no way the cause of the challenges the whales face, but it's going to be another pressure point," says John Rogers, senior energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Researchers aren't sure how right whales will respond to the noise from pile driving.
"But we are concerned, based on what we know about how whales react to other noise sources, that they may avoid [wind development] areas," says Kershaw.
And if that displacement causes them to miss out on important food resources, it could be dangerous for a species already on the brink.
There are a few other potential threats, too.
Ships associated with the development — more plentiful during construction — also pose a danger. In the past few years cargo ships, fishing boats and other vessels have caused half of all deaths of North Atlantic right whales.
A juvenile right whale breaches against the backdrop of a ship near the St. Johns River entrance. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission / NOAA Research Permit #775-1600-10
And after construction, the noise from the spinning turbines will be present in the water at low decibels. "We don't quite know how the great whales will react to those sounds," says Jeremy Firestone, the director of the Center for Research in Wind at the University of Delaware.
Other marine mammals may also perceive the noise, but at low decibels it's unlikely to be an impediment, research has found.
And it's possible that wind development could help some ocean life. Turbine foundations can attract fish and invertebrates for whom hard substrates create habitat complexity — known as the "reef effect," according to researchers from the University of Rhode Island's Discovery of Sound in the Sea program. Exclusion of commercial fishing nearby may also help shelter fish and protect marine mammals from entanglements in fishing gear.
Ensuring Safe Development
Despite the potential dangers, researchers have gathered a few best practices to help diminish and possibly eliminate some risks.
When it comes to ship strikes, the easiest thing is to slow boats down, mandating a speed of 10 knots in wind development areas, and using visual and acoustic monitoring for whales.
Adjusting operations to reduce boat trips between the shore and the wind development will also help. A new series of service operating vessels can allow maintenance staff to spent multiple days onsite, says Kershaw, cutting down on boat traffic.
For construction noise concerns, developers can avoid pile driving during times of the year when whales are present. And, depending on the marine environment, developers could use "quiet foundations" that don't require pile driving. These include gravity-based or suction caisson platforms.
Floating turbines are also used in deep water, where they're effectively anchored in place — although that poses its own potential danger. "We have concerns that marine debris could potentially become entangled around the mooring cables of the floating arrays and pose a secondarily entanglement risk to some species," says Felton, who thinks more research should be conducted before those become operational in U.S. waters — a process that's already underway in Maine, where a demonstration project is being built.
If loud noises are unavoidable during construction, noise-reducing technologies such as bubble curtains can help dampen the sound. And scheduling adjacent projects to conduct similar work at the same time could limit the duration of disturbances.
The foundation installation of the off shore wind farm Sandbank using a bubble curtain. Vattenfall / Ulrich Wirrwa / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Once turbines become operational, reducing the amount of light on wind platforms or using flashing lights could help deter some seabirds, NRDC researchers reported. And scientists are exploring using ultrasonic noises and ultraviolet lighting to keep bats away. "Feathering," or shutting down the turbine blades during key migration times, could also help prevent fatalities.
"We need to make sure that offshore wind is the best steward it can be of the marine ecosystem, because we want and expect it to be a significant part of the clean energy picture in some parts of the country," says Rogers. "We also have to recognize that we're going to learn by doing, and that some of these things we're going to figure out best once we have more turbines in the water."
That's why environmental groups say it's important to establish baseline information on species before projects begin, and then require developers to conduct monitoring during construction and for years after projects are operational.
Employing an "adaptive management framework" will ensure that developers can adjust their management practices as they go when new information becomes available, and that those best practices are incorporated into the requirements for future projects.
Putting Research Into Action
Advancing these conversations at the federal level during the Trump administration, though, has been slow going.
"We didn't really have any productive discussions with the administration in the last four years," says Kershaw.
And when it comes to birds, Felton says the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's recently completed "draft cumulative environmental impact statement" covering offshore wind developments had a lot of good environmental research, but little focus on birds.
"Part of that comes from the current administration's interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act," she says.
President Trump has been hostile to both wind energy and birds, and finished gutting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in his administration's the final days, removing penalties for companies whose operations kill migratory birds.
There's hope that the Biden administration will take a different approach. But where the federal government has been lacking lately, Kershaw says, they've seen states step up.
New York, for example, has established an Environmental Technical Working Group composed of stakeholders to advise on environmentally responsible development of offshore wind.
The group is led by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, but it isn't limited to the Empire State. It's regional in focus and includes representatives from wind developers with leases between Massachusetts and North Carolina; state agencies from Massachusetts to Virginia; federal agencies; and science-based environmental NGOs.
New York's latest solicitation for clean energy projects includes up to 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind and requires developers to contribute at least $10,000 per megawatt for regional monitoring of fisheries and other wildlife.
Environmental groups have also worked directly with developers, including an agreement with Vineyard Wind — an 800-megawatt project off the Massachusetts coast that could be the first utility-scale wind development in federal waters — to help protect North Atlantic right whales.
The agreement includes no pile driving from Jan. 1 to April 30, ceasing activities at other times when whales are visually or acoustically identified in the area, speed restrictions on vessels, and the use of noise reduction technology, such as a bubble curtain during pile driving.
"The developers signed the agreement with us, and then they incorporated, most, if not all of those measures into the federal permitting documents," says Kershaw. "The developers really did a lot of bottom up work to make sure that they were being very protective of right whales."
Environmental groups are in talks with other developers on agreements too, but Felton wants to see best practices being mandated at the federal level.
"It's the sort of a role that should be being played by the federal government, and without that it makes the permitting and regulation process less stable and less transparent," she says." And that in turn slows down the build out of projects, which is also bad for birds because it doesn't help us address and mitigate for climate change."
Kershaw agrees there's a lot more work to be done, especially at the federal level, but thinks we're moving in the right direction.
"I think the work that's been done so far in the United States has really laid the groundwork for advancing this in the right way and in a way that's protective of species and the environment," she says. "At the same time, it's important that offshore wind does advance quickly. We really need it to help us combat the worst effects of climate change."
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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By Tara Lohan
How much of U.S. energy demand could be met by renewable sources?
According to a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the answer is an easy 100%.
The report looked at how much renewable energy potential each state had within its own borders and found that almost every state could deliver all its electricity needs from instate renewable sources.
And that's just a start: The report found that there's so much potential for renewable energy sourcing, some states could produce 10 times the electricity they need. Cost remains an issue, as does connecting all of this capacity to the grid, but prices have dropped significantly, and efficiency continues to improve. Clean energy is not only affordable but could be a big boost to the economy. Locally sourced renewables create jobs, reduce pollution, and make communities more climate resilient.
So where are the opportunities? Rooftop solar, the study found, could supply six states with at least half of their electricity needs. But wind had the greatest potential. For 35 states, onshore wind alone could supply 100% of their energy demand, and offshore wind could do the same in 21 states. (The numbers overlap a bit.)
The study follows a similar report conducted a decade ago and shows that the clean energy field has made substantial progress in that time.
The Revelator spoke with Maria McCoy, a research associate at the Institute and report co-author, about what's changed and how to turn all the potential into reality.
What's changed in the 10 years since you last looked at the potential for instate renewable energy?
There's definitely been technology improvements in all the energy sources, but especially solar. Obviously there's the same amount of sun, but the solar panels themselves have a higher percentage of solar photovoltaic efficiency. Most states, on average, had 16% more solar potential this time around than they did a decade ago.
And for the other technologies, it's a matter of either more space being available or the technologies themselves improving. Wind turbines now can generate a lot more energy with the same amount of wind.
Where do you see the most potential?
There's been a lot of development in offshore wind and I think it's on the cusp of really becoming a big player in the clean energy field. But regulations, including at the federal level, have blocked it from happening at scale in the United States. Whereas in Europe there's already some incredibly efficient offshore wind farms that are generating a lot of electricity. Those companies are just starting to move into the U.S. market.
But it's onshore wind that has the biggest potential. Our research found that some states could generate over 1,000% of their energy with onshore wind if they really took advantage of it.
Your report didn't consider the potential of large-scale solar. Why?
We looked at the potential of rooftop solar rather than large-scale solar because as an energy democracy organization, we're really focused on distributed and community-owned energy. But it's also because pretty much every state has enough capacity to completely be powered by large-scale solar. It just then becomes an issue of land-usage debates and other challenges.
Your research shows there's a ton of potential for renewables across the country. How do we realize that potential?
Graphic: ILSR, Energy Self-Reliant States 2020
Continued support for renewable energy is a big one. There are a lot of credits that are phasing out and without renewing those, it will make it a little bit tougher for the market.
We were looking at just the technical ability to produce the energy and not necessarily the cost effectiveness, but we did recognize in the report that the costs have come down. The cost of solar PV, for example, has dropped 70%. So this is not really a pie-in-the-sky goal. It's definitely gotten a lot more feasible and many cities are already doing it or planning to in the near future.
I think the will is there and people want renewable energy, it's just a matter of fighting the status quo. A lot of these utilities have been using the same business model for decades and they're not really keeping up with where things are going and where the community wants things to go.
They're holding on to their fossil fuel infrastructure and their business model that profits off building more fossil gas plants when solar plus storage is already a cheaper energy source for customers. And wind is very cheap. If utility regulators and state and national policy could hold these utilities accountable to serving the public, which is their job as regulated monopolies, we could finally get to see some of this potential becoming a reality.
Having the ability to generate energy locally and store it and use it locally will create jobs and provide a lot of resilience to the grid and communities. And with climate change, I think that's becoming more and more important.
Was there anything that surprised you about your findings?
We definitely expected things to be better but I don't know if we expected them to be this much better in 10 years. Seeing all this potential and these ridiculously high percentages — I mean, being able to generate greater than 1,000% of the electricity we need with renewables in some states is just a sign of how abundant clean energy is.
And it's kind of sad, I guess, that some states aren't even able to get to 25% or 50% clean energy goals in their renewable portfolio standards. I would hope that the train starts rolling a little faster.
And I hope our research can inspire others who think maybe their state doesn't have a lot of renewable energy capacity in their area to realize that they do, and it could provide for all that they need and more.
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.
On Tuesday, hundreds of flights were grounded, and schools were closed as Molave churned over the South China Sea. When Molave hits Vietnam on Wednesday, it will be the fourth storm to strike the central region in October. Those successive storms have caused floods and landslides that killed 130 people. Many are still missing, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
"This is a very strong typhoon that will impact a large area," said Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, as Reuters reported.
Molave is moving over a part of the South China Sea with warm waters, which creates favorable conditions for the storm to strengthen, according to AccuWeather.
Vietnam has a long coastline, which makes it particularly vulnerable to storms and coastal flooding. Phuc ordered boats to be brought ashore and for security forces to ready themselves for humanitarian efforts.
"Troops must deploy full force to support people, including mobilizing helicopters, tanks and other means of transportation if needed," he said in a statement, according to Reuters.
The storm is expected to move over Vietnam quickly and weaken as it moves inland, but its heavy rainfall will likely trigger widespread flooding and weaken mountain slopes, which increases the risk for mudslides. AccuWeather predicts up to 16 inches of rain in areas of the country that have already experienced extreme rainfall and flooding since Oct. 11.
"We must keep our guard up to protect the lives of the people. That is the utmost important task to get people to safe places," Phuc was quoted as saying in a meeting with disaster response officials, as the AP reported.
People in low-lying areas, who are vulnerable to the winds and coastal flooding, will head for shelter inland, according to the AP.
Typhoon Molave blew away from the Philippines on Monday, leaving flooding and a trail of destruction in its wake. There are 13 people missing in the Philippines, including a dozen fishermen who sailed out to sea over the weekend in violation of a no-sail order, according to the AP.
The storm, which traveled south of Manila, displaced at least 25,000 villagers. Its heavy rains swamped farming villages and the winds downed trees and power lines, according to Humerlito Dolor, governor of an affected province, as Deutsche Welle reported.
"Villagers are now asking to be rescued because of the sudden wind which blew away roofs," he said, as Deutsche Welle reported.
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By Gero Rueter
Solar energy has become extremely cheap. In the desert of Saudi Arabia electricity from solar modules is now generated for just $0.01 (€0.009) per kilowatt hour (kWh), and in Portugal for $0.014 cents per kWh.
An increasing number of large solar parks are being built across the globe to help solve the planet's energy needs.
Just how cheap is solar electricity?
Production costs for solar energy have dropped by 90% between 2009 and 2020, according to US investment bank Lazard.
In 2020, electricity from large-scale solar plants cost a global average of just $0.037/kWh. By comparison, the costs of generating electricity from new coal-powered plants was three times that at $0.112/kWh, while natural gas cost $0.059, nuclear $0.163, and wind $0.04/kWh.
"We're going to see solar power plants all over the world. It's the cheapest energy source in the world, with a few exceptions. In some places, wind power is still a bit cheaper," said Christian Breyer, a professor of solar economy at LUT University in Finland.
With large solar farms, Breyer says, production costs can be as low as $0.01 in locations with lots of sunlight, and up to $0.04 elsewhere. He and other experts expect that new and more efficient solar panels will lower costs even more, by 5 to 10% per year.
How big are large solar farms?
The world's largest solar parks have a capacity of 2,000 - 2,200 megawatts (MW), most are located in desert regions in China, India, and the Middle East, Egypt being a prime example. There are also big plants with over 500 MW in the US, Mexico, and southern Europe.
One of the largest solar parks, known as Al Dhafra PV2, is scheduled to begin supplying the United Arab Emirates' national energy provider beginning next year. Under construction to the tune of $1 billion, the 2,000 MW plant will be comprised of four million modules installed over an area of 20 square kilometers near the capital, Abu Dhabi.
Most other solar parks around the world are smaller than the giant facilities in the desert. Germany's largest solar park, for example, located in Weesow near Berlin, has an output of just 187 MW. Its 465,000 solar modules supply the electricity needs of about 50,000 households.
But even in densely populated countries like Germany, larger plants with a capacity of several thousand megawatts are conceivable. One place where they could be built are the quarries of abandoned open-cast lignite mines.
Where is solar power worthwhile for industry?
Globally, the industrial sector requires lots of energy. In Germany for instance it consumes about half of all electricity generated. To save costs, companies are turning to photovoltaics. International mining companies for instance have started replacing diesel power with solar power in remote locations. And more and more chemical companies, aluminum plants, car factories, cement manufacturers, and data centers are getting their power from solar farms.
One example is Facebook's data center in the state of Tennessee, located in the southeastern US, which will get about 110 MW of electricity from a solar park with a capacity of 150 MW. The park is being built and operated by the German power company RWE.
Another example: starting in 2022, several Bayer Group's chemical plants will run on 100% green electricity from a 590 MW-solar power plant in southern Spain.
The energy-intensive steel industry is also reorienting itself. Low-cost solar power is in demand there, as is "green" hydrogen generated by solar and wind power, which is needed for the blast furnace process. Low-cost energy supply is a decisive factor when planning the location of new steel mills.
Solar power is even proving to be worth the investment in regions with less exposure to the sun's rays. One example is Poland's largest solar park in Witnica, which has a capacity of 65 MW. It supplies the neighboring cement plant.
"This is the best proof that solar power, without any subsidies, can be competitive with power from conventional energy sources. Even in a European country as far north as Poland," says Benedikt Ortmann from power plant operator BayWa r.e.
Where should we build solar power plants?
Experts estimate that in the near future, photovoltaic plants with a total capacity of around 60 million MW will be needed to supply the entire world with cost-effective electricity. That's 70 times more than all the existing solar capacity so far.
The area required for solar panels would then be equivalent to 0.3% of the world's land area.
"On a global average, you don't have to worry about land availability," said Christian Breyer of LTU Finland. But if the energy is to be generated as close as possible to cities and large factories, he says, it's a bit more tricky, especially in densely populated regions.
One solution would be to use roofs and facades. According to Breyer, some 20% of the world's solar power demand could be generated there.
So-called agrivoltaics, with solar roofs installed above fields, are also becoming increasingly important.
Another option: building solar panels that float on water. According to a World Bank study, the global potential of floating PV is 400,000 MW even if only one percent of the area of reservoirs is used for this purpose.
So far, the largest solar plants on inland lakes have been built in China, India, South Korea, and Taiwan. There are also smaller plants on lakes and reservoirs in many other countries, including the Netherlands, Israel and Indonesia. India is currently planning a large-scale floating plant with 1000 MW.
Meanwhile, research is underway in the Netherlands to find solutions for installing floating solar farms in the rough North Sea to povide energy for the national grid. But salt water, strong currents and winds still pose huge challenges.
Smaller floating facilities in offshore waters already exist, such as in the Maldives, where they provide electricity to vacation islands.
This article was adapted from German.
Reposted with permission from Deutsch Welle.
Although you may think of solar energy and picture black boxes on a rooftop, solar panels can be installed on many types of surfaces. If you have a large enough piece of land that is not covered by shadows, ground-mounted solar panels may be a great option.
With ground installation, you can install solar panels with the ideal tilt and orientation for maximum sunlight. Ground-mounted solar panels work best in areas that are not shaded by obstacles like buildings, walls, signs, billboards or trees. Read on to learn more and decide whether ground-mounted solar panels are right for your property.
How Ground-Mounted Solar Panels Work
Ground-mounted solar photovoltaic systems use the same types of solar panels as rooftop systems, but with a different installation process:
- In a rooftop solar installation, the racking system is designed for an existing structure. On the other hand, when using ground-mounted solar panels, the support must also be constructed. The height of this structure can range from just a few inches above the ground to several feet tall.
- Electrical connections and protection devices are identical in both types of PV systems. The main difference is that ground-mounted systems need more wiring, since they must be located far enough to avoid any shadows cast by your home.
- Just like in rooftop installations, 60-cell solar panels are normally used in homes, while the larger 72-cell panels are used in solar farms.
Assuming the same sunlight conditions and total wattage, roof-mount and ground-mount solar panels will have the same electricity output. However, a ground solar panel installation can be designed with an orientation and tilt angle that will maximize the sunlight it captures, which makes the system productive. On the other hand, the tilt and orientation of a rooftop solar array is limited by your roof slope.
A ground-mounted solar panel system can also increase its energy production with a tracking mechanism, which keeps the PV panels angled toward the sun all day long. This way, you can increase your electricity output and electric bill savings without adding more panels. Solar tracking is not an option for most rooftop installations, since tracking devices are not designed for conventional roof structures.
Setting Up Ground-Mounted Solar Panels
There are two main types of structures for residential ground-mounted solar panels:
- A standard ground mount is anchored to the ground in several spots, similar to a canopy or pergola. The top of the structure is a tilted frame, typically made of steel, on which solar panels are installed.
- A pole-mounted system is attached to the ground with a single mast, similar to a small wind turbine or unipole sign. Solar panels are installed on a square or rectangular frame at the top of the mast.
Residential solar panels have a typical size of 65 by 39 inches (17.6 square feet), and the wind can exert a large force when blowing against them. Without an adequate supporting structure, solar panels can be blown away by a strong enough wind. A strong-enough structure (your roof) already exists when you install rooftop solar panels, but you must build one separately if you're planning a ground installation. This is normally achieved with a reinforced concrete base or driven piles, while the structure itself is typically made of steel beams.
Solar panels are more productive when they face the sun directly. Of course, the sun's position in the sky is always changing depending on the time of the day and the season. Sunlight comes from the east during the first hours of the morning, and from the west during the last hours of the afternoon. Also, the sun's position in the sky is higher during summer and lower during winter.
A roof-mounted solar power system has a fixed orientation, which depends on the slope of your roof. However, ground-mounted solar panels can be equipped with tracking systems, which increase the direct sunlight received by their photovoltaic cells. Solar trackers can be classified as single-axis or dual-axis systems, depending on how they move:
- To track the sun, solar panels can be rotated horizontally from east to west, and they can also be tilted up and down.
- A single-axis solar tracker can only perform one of these movements, while a dual-axis tracker can perform both.
- Among the two types of single-axis systems, east-west trackers achieve a larger production boost than north-west trackers.
- Dual-axis tracking systems have a higher cost than single-axis systems, since they use a more complex mechanism. However, they may be more cost-effective in the long run, as they can achieve a higher efficiency due to their increased accuracy.
Depending on your geographic location, dual-axis solar tracking can increase the electricity output of solar panels by up to 40% compared to a fixed installation. Single-axis tracking normally improves productivity by 25% or more. Solar tracking can be deployed more easily with pole mounts.
Ground-mounted solar panels are a popular choice for DIY solar panel projects, since their installation process is safer. Each solar panel weighs around 40 pounds, and installing many of them on a roof is a dangerous project without the right tools and training (and a supporting crew). However, the challenge of height is eliminated with a ground-mount solar system.
Is Ground-Mounted Solar Cheaper?
Ground-mounted solar panels are safer to install, since there is no need to work on a rooftop, and their maintenance is also simpler. However, the total project cost is higher. Here are a few reasons why:
- You must build a structure to support the PV panels. A rooftop solar installation has a lower cost because the roof itself is the supporting structure.
- The support structure for ground-mounted solar panels also increases the labor requirements for your installation.
- Ground installations also have a more complex permitting process, since they involve foundations and a structural design and are treated as an independent construction.
Keep in mind that while they are more expensive, ground-mounted solar panels are much more productive, and with a solar tracking system can achieve even higher power output. This means you can recoup your investment faster.
If you want to start comparing the cost of a ground-mounted system or rooftop system for your home, you can fill out the form below to get a free quote from a top solar company in your area.
Ground-Mounted Panels Vs. Roof Mounted Panels: Which Is Right for You?
When comparing roof-mounted and ground-mounted solar panels, each option has advantages and disadvantages. The ideal option for your property will depend on site conditions and design preferences.
A ground-mounted system offers you the following benefits:
- The installation is safer and easier to do yourself, since there is no rooftop work involved.
- Maintenance and repair is also simpler, as the solar panels and other system components can be easily reached.
- A ground installation can be removed and relocated if you need to use that area of your yard for other purposes in the future.
- If you don't like how solar panels look with your roof design or facade, a ground installation gives you clean, renewable energy without affecting your home's appearance.
- Ground-mounted solar panels achieve a higher electricity production, since they can be positioned optimally based on local sunshine. This increases your power bill savings.
- When ground-mounted solar panels are used on farms, the ground below them can be used to grow low-light plants or provide shaded grazing areas for livestock.
Like in any investment decision, ground-mounted solar panels also have disadvantages you must consider:
- Ground installations are more expensive because you must build a supporting structure. A rooftop installation skips this step.
- Ground-mounted solar panels are not allowed by many homeowner associations.
- Even when ground-mounted solar systems are allowed, they tend to have a more complex permitting process than rooftop installations.
- A ground installation takes up space that could be used for other constructions or yard features.
- Since they are accessible, ground-mounted solar panels are more exposed to tampering, damage from animals and other nuisances.
- A ground installation can be blocked from the sun by new constructions or growing trees, while a rooftop system is less likely to be shaded over time.
If you're considering ground-mounted solar panels, you must first determine if your property has the right conditions. In general, you will need an area that is not covered by shadows, and you should check if any neighboring constructions could block sunlight in the future. Keep in mind that each solar panel covers around 18 square feet, so if you plan to install 20 of them, you need around 360 square feet of unshaded space.
Although rooftop installations are more common, ground-mounted solar panels are often a better investment for some homeowners. They are ideal for large properties, especially if they have ample areas without obstacles casting shadows. A ground installation achieves a higher electricity production without increasing the number of solar panels you need to purchase, especially if you add a tracking system.
FAQ: Ground-Mounted Solar Panels
Do ground-mounted solar panels need planning permission?
The exact requirements for a construction permit will vary depending on where you live. However, ground-mounted solar panels tend to have a more complex permitting procedure, as they require you to build a supporting structure. Installation will involve processes like excavation and concrete pouring, which are not required for a rooftop installation and may require extra permissions.
Is it better to install solar panels on the ground?
It is better to install solar panels on the ground only when you have proper site conditions — including adequate ground space and approval from your neighborhood — as ground installation makes solar panels more productive.
When on the ground, solar panels can be installed with the ideal tilt and orientation for maximum sunlight, and you can add a solar tracker to make them even more productive. In a rooftop system, the panels are permanently fixed with the same orientation, which is not always the best direction for solar panels.
How far can ground-mounted solar panels be from your house?
Ideally, ground-mounted solar panels should be installed at enough distance to avoid shadows produced by your house. If you install them too close to your house, their electricity output will be reduced by shading.
The ideal location for ground-mounted solar panels is one that doesn't get any shading, from sunrise to sunset. As long as shadows are avoided, almost any spot on your property can be used for ground-mounted solar panels. However, installing them especially far from your house will increase the wiring distance, making the electrical installation more expensive.
What are the alternatives to rooftop solar panels?
If your home isn't well suited for rooftop solar panels, alternatives to power your whole home include ground-mounted solar panels, a solar carport or a solar canopy or pergola. You can also opt for a solar power system for specific home appliances, such as a solar pool heater, yard irrigation system or solar hot water heater. Keep in mind that many solar power options could be suitable for your home, which means you aren't forced to pick only one.
Leonardo David is an electromechanical engineer, MBA, energy consultant and technical writer. His energy-efficiency and solar consulting experience covers sectors including banking, textile manufacturing, plastics processing, pharmaceutics, education, food processing, fast food, real estate and retail. He has also been writing articles about energy and engineering topics since 2015.
By Tara Lohan
In 1999 a cheering crowd watched as a backhoe breached a hydroelectric dam on Maine's Kennebec River. The effort to help restore native fish populations and the river's health was hailed as a success and ignited a nationwide movement that spurred 1,200 dam removals in two decades.
The era of building large dams in the United States, which defined so much of the 20th century, is over. The prime spots for development were cemented decades ago, and the ensuing harm to fish and other wildlife has been well documented. Attention is now focused on removing obsolete dams and retrofitting existing hydroelectric dams to reduce ecological harm and increase energy efficiency.
Many other countries are in the same boat. Across Europe and North America "big dams stopped being built in developed nations because the best sites for dams were already developed, and environmental and social concerns made the costs unacceptable," found a 2018 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Canada appears to be the exception to that.
Large dams are still being built across Canada, from Muskrat Falls in Labrador to the generically titled "Site C" in British Columbia, despite cost overruns, outcry from some First Nations and even environmental concerns from the United Nations.
Hydroelectric power already supplies 60% of the country's energy. But the dam building isn't just to feed Canada's power needs. It's also become a hot export commodity.
As U.S. states look to meet new clean energy targets, imported low-carbon hydropower from across the northern border has become a larger part of the conversation — and the grid. New England already gets 17% of its energy from Canadian hydropower, Midwest states around 12% and New York 5%.
That number is likely to jump.
A new transmission project to bring 250 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to the United States just came online in Minnesota. Two more are in the works for Massachusetts and New York.
Proponents say we need large-scale hydro to grease the wheels of the clean energy transition. Others caution that it comes with a larger environmental cost compared to wind and solar and could open the floodgates for more dam building.
There's one shared bit of common ground, though: We need to act quickly and wisely to tackle the climate crisis.
"This is the decade for getting 50% of the way there on renewables, but also proving out the pathway to get to net-zero by mid-century, if not before," says Peter Rothstein, president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council.
How hydro figures into that process is still a complicated issue.
Clean Energy Demand Surges
The Northeast is one place where the energy transition is off and running.
All six New England states have pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80% over 1990 levels by 2050, and some are aiming higher.
Neighboring New York is also keeping pace. Last year the Empire State committed to achieving an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and 70% renewable electricity by 2030.
How will those goals be achieved?
For some, imported Canadian hydropower looks poised to play a big role, and two new projects appear close to breaking ground.
Transmission lines from the Churchill Falls generating station in Labrador. Douglas Spott / CC BY-NC 2.0
Champlain Hudson Power Express, a 330-mile-long transmission line, would deliver 1,000 megawatts of hydropower from Quebec to the New York metro area and could supply about a million homes — helping to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
The project — a joint venture of the province-run Hydro-Québec and Transmission Developers Inc., a subsidiary of the private equity firm Blackstone Group — has already received the necessary permits for construction, but no contracts for the power have been signed.
Construction, however, could still start next year, with the project scheduled to come online in 2025.
Massachusetts has an even bigger project in the works. New England Clean Energy Connect would bring 1,500 megawatts of capacity through a 145-mile-long transmission line running through Maine from Canada to Massachusetts. It too would come from Hydro-Québec, this time working in conjunction with Central Maine Power.
The project, which is projected to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 3 million tons a year in New England, has received its necessary permits from the state of Maine but still awaits federal permits from the Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Opposition groups, including some environmental organizations, are also challenging various aspects of the project in court. And a coalition of First Nations communities that have seen dams built on their ancestral lands have voiced their opposition. (You can read more about that transmission line in Part I of this series.)
More could be on the way. Nalcor Energy — the province-run hydro company of Newfoundland and Labrador — is nearing completion on its 824-megawatt Muskrat Falls hydro project on the Churchill (or Grand) River. Costs have just surpassed $13 billion — twice what was first estimated.
Some of the energy is already slated to be sent to other parts of Canada and then — hopefully, according to Nalcor — to New England.
What's the net impact of these planned projects? That's hard to say. Tallying the environmental benefit or harm from large-scale hydro is complicated.
One of the biggest metrics of assessing environmental impact is greenhouse gas emissions.
The first phase of emissions comes just from building its infrastructure. Large-scale hydropower involves the construction of generating stations, and often accompanying dams and reservoirs. And then there are hundreds of miles of transmission lines that need to be constructed to move that power.
What comes next, once a project comes online, depends on multiple factors. Research has shown that hydropower emissions vary widely based on the location, climate and area of land flooded. Hydro emissions are also highest when a reservoir is first flooded and then decrease in the following years.
All told, over the life cycle of a project, most hydropower is cleaner than fossil fuels, although not always as clean as wind and solar. A study in Nature Energy on the projected life-cycle emissions of energy sources put solar at 6 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour and wind at 4. The researchers estimated typical hydro at 97, but there's great variation between sites.
A 2014 report prepared by the research group CIRAIG on behalf of Hydro-Québec found the average life-cycle emissions of the company's fleet of 62 generation stations was between 6 and 17 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour.
Alain Tremblay, Hydro-Québec's lead scientist on greenhouse gas emissions, says tracking from their most recent complex of dams on the Romaine River shows emissions between 5 and 10 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour.
There are other environmental considerations beyond greenhouse gas emissions.
The nonprofit Natural Resources Council of Maine opposes the New England Clean Energy Connect, in part out of concern about fragmented habitat and critical wildlife populations, including brook trout. The transmission line would require clearing a 53-mile stretch of forest through the North Maine Woods.
In New York the nonprofit Riverkeeper reversed its earlier support for the Champlain Hudson Power Express and has now come out against that project, which would send its electrical cable down the length of the Hudson River.
"This sets a precedent that the Hudson is a conduit for extension cords from Canada or from anywhere," says John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper's vice president of advocacy. "It should be off limits to that kind of thing."
The Hudson contains legacy pollution from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) dumped decades ago and other contaminants that could be turned up as the cable is dug in the riverbed. Over the years some of that pollution has been remediated, but not all. And plans to avoid putting cable in the areas of the worst-known contamination aren't sufficient to protect the ecosystem, he says.
Atlantic sturgeon were brought to the brink of extension in the 20th century and are now are listed as an endangered species. NOAA
There's also concern that imperiled fish species, like endangered shortnose sturgeon and Atlantic sturgeon, could be harmed by the electrical cable. The river was designated as critical habitat for Atlantic sturgeon, but no Endangered Species Act review has been initiated to assess if the cable could threaten fish populations.
"Both of these fishes have nervous systems similar to that of sharks, which are incredibly sensitive to electric signals," says Roger Downs, conservation director of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. "It's a huge experiment to suddenly put an electrical signal down the backbone of this river."
Lipscomb shares this concern. After all the work that's been done in recent years to help restore the Hudson and its estuary, he says "it's heartbreaking that we still think of this river as a resource."
Hydropower may be renewable, he says, but from an environmental perspective it isn't sustainable. "Unless a river's value is zero," he says. "If a river has any value as an ecosystem, as a host for life, then hydropower isn't even a consideration."
Upstream Justice Concerns
In 1990 a group of Cree and Inuit protestors paddled the Hudson River to Manhattan to ask New Yorkers to oppose a power purchase agreement between the state and Quebec and the construction of a second dam in the James Bay hydroelectric project in northern Quebec.
They were successful. Now, 30 years later, a different group of First Nations is making a similar plea.
On October 7 the First Nations of Pessamit, Wemotaci, Pikogan, Lac Simon and Kitcisakik sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy stating their opposition to the Massachusetts transmission line. The groups wrote that one-third of Hydro-Québec's installed power is "produced in our respective ancestral territories from reservoirs, dams, power plants and various other installations, without prior consultation, without our consent and without compensation."
Over the decades of hydropower buildout in Canada many First Nations communities — but not all — have been consulted on projects and struck agreements with power companies.
Major hydroelectric projects have altered the flow of rivers and in some cases, the food and cultural resources used by Indigenous communities.
There are also health concerns.
A 2016 study by Harvard University researchers, published in Environmental Science and Technology, found that flooding reservoirs for hydroelectric projects in Canada would increase the risk of mercury poisoning in Indigenous communities at 90% of the dam sites.
When land is flooded for a reservoir, the microbes in the soil convert naturally occurring mercury into more dangerous methylmercury, which then works its way up the food chain. That puts anyone who relies on local wildlife such as fish, birds and seals at risk. In the northern reaches of Canada, that's largely Indigenous people.
The researchers looked at how three Inuit communities downstream of Nalcor's Muskrat Falls project would fare. And they found that, on average, risk of exposure for community members would double after the area was flooded. That could translate to higher risks for cardiovascular disease and neurodevelopmental delays for children.
The more people rely on local food sources, the more harm they're exposed to. And in this remote region where store-bought food is very expensive, that's a serious concern.
Near Happy Valley-Goose Bay on the Churchill (Grand) River downstream from Muskrat Falls. Douglas Sprott / CC BY-NC 2.0
"People have a very high prevalence of economic insecurity and that translates into insecure access to Western foods at the grocery store," says Ryan Calder, a co-author of the study and now an assistant professor of environmental health and policy at Virginia Tech. "Traditional food systems account for a smaller and smaller fraction of overall calories, but a wildly disproportionate fraction of nutrient intake."
Despite this, he doesn't think their research should be taken as a commentary on whether hydroelectric power itself is good or bad. "We really just criticized [the company's] risk assessment," he says.
Earlier studies by Nalcor claimed the effect on the Inuit would be negligible as the mercury would quickly dilute in downstream waters.
"They had no basis for saying there was going to be no impact," says Calder. "It was clear that they were trying to ignore their obligations — if not legal, then certainly moral — to Indigenous people."
The researchers also found that about half of the other sites they studied would have equal or greater concentrations of methylmercury than Muskrat Falls.
Roberta Frampton Benefiel of Grand Riverkeeper Labrador, who lives near the Muskrat Falls project, says she wasn't surprised by Nalcor's position. "Aboriginal people don't count to this government and so we have to make the Aboriginal people count," she says.
She has spoken to environmental organizations in the United States to help raise awareness about some of the local effects of dam development in Canada.
"I want people in the United States to understand that when they flip their light switch, if they accept these power lines from Canada, they're poisoning northern communities," she says.
New York and Massachusetts have been eager for hydropower from Canada as long as it doesn't mean the construction of new dams for the transmission projects.
Hydro-Québec says it has enough reserves for export to New York and Massachusetts without redirecting power from its existing United States or Canadian customers.
It's nearly finished with the last dam in the complex of four generating stations on the Romaine River, which along with other projects, has added 5,000 megawatts of capacity over the last decade. Although it does has the lowest reserve margin of utilities in the region, according to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation's 2019 assessment.
In previous years Hydro-Québec did preliminary work to explore the possibility of new dams on the Little Mécatina River, but company spokesperson Lynn St-Laurent says they currently have no plans for new dams and that project is no longer in their strategic plan.
Gary Sutherland, director of strategic affairs for northeast markets at Hydro-Québec, says that additional energy demand for export could be met with increased energy efficiency in Quebec and more wind projects. Quebec Premier François Legault tweeted last week that the province's next addition of capacity, if needed, would be the 200-megawatt Apuiat wind farm.
Elsewhere in Canada, however, dam building continues.
Manitoba Hydro and four First Nations are in the process of building the Keeyask project, a 695-megawatt hydroelectric generating station on the Nelson River.
British Columbia also continues to muddle along on development at Site C, a 1,100-megawatt dam on the Peace River that has faced mounting problems and protests.
Construction of the Site C dam in British Columbia in 2017. Jason Woodhead / CC BY 2.0
This includes, according to a report in The Narwhal, legal challenges from "landowners and First Nations who oppose flooding 128 kilometers of the Peace River and its tributaries, putting Indigenous burial grounds, traditional hunting and fishing areas, habitat for more than 100 species vulnerable to extinction and some of Canada's richest farmland under up to 50 meters of water."
New research by energy analyst Robert McCullough, who runs a Portland, Oregon-based consulting firm, found that if the project continues its likely to have surplus energy that will need to be sold outside the province at a loss to ratepayers.
But a poor financial outlook doesn't always mean the end of dam projects in Canada.
In Labrador Nalcor also has another large project planned — the 2,250-megawatt Gull Island dam, farther upstream from Muskrat Falls, which could be built if there's a buyer for the power.
It's a prospect Benefiel finds shocking, considering the company's most recent project was so over budget that it prompted a provincial Commission of Inquiry, which found that Muskrat Falls put the financial health of the entire province at risk.
Is Hydro Needed?
Considering all the complexities of hydro projects and the related transmission infrastructure, is it necessary to move U.S. states off fossil fuels and toward clean energy goals?
That depends on who you talk to.
Despite investment in wind and solar, "hydro has a couple of things going for it," says Rothstein of the Northeast Clean Energy Council. The first is that it's able to compete on costs, and second is the "dispatchability."
Thanks to decades of dam building, Canadian hydropower is ready to go — pending transmission capacity. It's also seen as less variable than wind and solar, although hydropower does fluctuate by season and by year, depending on precipitation.
"I think hydro will play a role, but it's not going to be the only resource," says Rothstein. Offshore wind holds the biggest potential for large-scale projects in the region, he says.
New York has already awarded contracts to procure 1,700 megawatts of offshore wind and in July put out a call to solicit another 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind and 1,500 megawatts of land-based, large-scale renewables.
Massachusetts is making strides toward wind energy, too. In 2016 Gov. Charlie Baker signed an energy bill requiring the state's utilities to procure 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind and could soon double that.
The Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island is the first U.S. offshore wind farm. Dennis Schroeder / NREL / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
All told around a half a dozen major projects now await a green light, pending permitting decisions by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
All down the East Coast, "there's a whole constellation of projects close to breaking water," says Rothstein.
In the past offshore wind has been stymied by NIMBYism, but he says both the public perception of wind has changed and so have costs. New projects being proposed are farther offshore and out of view. And more established, global wind developers are competing for projects, helping to bring down prices.
Sierra Club's Downs thinks northeast states could meet their goals without imported hydro. Instead he'd like to see more focus on large-scale solar installations in upstate New York on brownfields or fallow farmland, and more offshore wind.
"And then we need to be doing more and more programs for smaller, community-based wind and solar," he says.
Whatever mix of low-carbon power is secured, Downs hopes it doesn't turn rivers into transmission corridors and does account for the full environmental and social costs of power generation.
"We have an obligation to protect cultural rights, Indigenous rights and also the vast Canadian wilderness," says Downs. "We shouldn't be exporting our environmental problems."
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
By Jo Harper
Only 10% of global energy utility companies are expanding their renewable energy capacity at a faster rate than their gas or coal-fired capacity. That is the main finding of a study by Galina Alova from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford.
The study, published in research journal Nature Energy, found that of the 3,000 utilities studied most remain predominantly invested in fossil fuels. And of those prioritizing renewable energy growth, 60% had not halted expansion of their fossil fuel portfolios.
The companies with the slowest transition tended to be larger and from outside Europe, Alova told DW. "The renewables-prioritizing cohort of utilities that I identified comprises companies that are overall larger and own a larger market share in the countries where they operate, compared to the other companies," she said. "The key issue is that the majority of these companies continue in parallel to expand their fossil fuel-based capacity, although they do so at a slower rate."
Her research highlights a gap between what is needed to tackle the climate crisis and "the actions being taken by the utility sector," she added. These companies face the risk of carbon lock-in, given that a third of their fossil fuel capacity has been added in the last 10 years, so is here to stay for decades. "Unless it is retired early, it will render significant shares of their portfolios stranded," Alova said.
"Although there have been a few high-profile examples of individual electric utilities investing in renewables, this study shows that overall, the sector is making the transition to clean energy slowly or not at all," she said.
Alova believes inertia in the electricity industry is one key reason for the slow transition.
The Matter of Gas
The report found that 10% of utilities favored growth in gas-fired power plants, dominated by the US utilities exploiting the country's shale gas reserves, followed by Russia and Germany.
"Renewables and natural gas often go hand in hand," Alova said, adding that companies often choose both in parallel. "So, it might be just in media reports we are getting this image of investing in renewables, but less coverage on continued investment in gas."
It might also be the case that gas is viewed as a transition fuel, relatively less carbon emitting and providing load-balancing services to intermittent renewables generation, Alova said.
Dave Jones, senior electricity analyst for independent climate think tank Ember, agrees with Alova that utilities have hindered the transition by "misunderstanding the future of gas." Utilities have a mindset to build big centralized power plants, replacing a coal power plant with a gas power plant, he said. "Fortunately, most of the gas hype across the world is now dying down, as wind and solar now provide cheaper options for generating electricity," Jones said.
Green Movement Taking Place
Over a fifth of Europe's energy was generated by solar panels and wind turbines in the first half of 2020, according to a report by Ember. Denmark came out on top, generating 64% of its energy from these renewable sources, followed by Ireland (49%) and Germany (42%).
In Ember's half-year review released in July, renewables exceeded fossil fuel generation for the first time ever, producing 40% of the EU's power, with fossil fuels contributing 34%. However, globally only a tenth of all energy was generated by these sources during the first half of 2020.
Last year saw the use of coal to generate electricity around the world fall by a record 3%. In part due to COVID-19, coal generation in the first half of 2020 again broke records with a drop of 8.3%. In the EU, the drop was higher, as coal energy generation fell by nearly a third.
With many projects delayed by the pandemic, the global capacity to produce electricity from renewable sources is predicted to drop by up to 13% overall this year according to the International Energy Agency.
Slowly Getting There?
Utilities have been slow to understand how quickly wind and solar would drop in price, and also how quickly governments would want to move away from coal. "Many utilities have been caught off guard by the speed of the transition, and have suffered financially ever since," said Jones.
The world this year has generated one-tenth of its electricity from wind and solar, double from the 5% in 2015, and that increase has led to a fall in market share of coal generation, Jones added.
Valentina Kretzschmar from consultancy Wood Mackenzie says BP's recently announced strategy has created a new industry benchmark. BP plans to increase investment in its low-emission businesses, including renewable energy, by tenfold in the next decade to $5 billion (€4.5 billion) a year, while cutting back oil and gas production by 40%.
In July, Royal Dutch Shell won a deal to build a wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands, while France's Total has agreed to make several large investments in solar power in Spain and a wind farm off Scotland. Total also bought an electric and natural gas utility in Spain. Shell has said it will delay offshore oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico and in the North Sea.
US giants like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, however, have been slower than their European counterparts to commit to climate goals.
"I have seen a substantial shift between companies in the fossil fuel clusters toward renewables," Alova said. "This signals that the companies that have been growing fossil fuel portfolios in the earlier time periods might be switching to renewables more recently."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By James Bruggers
In Maine, state officials are working to help residents install 100,000 high efficiency heat pumps in their homes, part of a strategy for electrifying the state. In California, an in-demand grant program helps the state's largest industry—agriculture, not technology—to pursue a greener, more sustainable future. Across Appalachia, solar panels are appearing on rooftops of community centers in what used to be coal towns.
The Trump administration may have pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, but most states and many rural areas in America have developed their own plans for reducing carbon emissions and moving away from fossil fuels as they maneuver—often aggressively—to address the threat of climate change.
"Even if the U.S. government has decided to leave the Paris Agreement, we see in the U.S. an enormous movement in favor to climate action," United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in an interview with Covering Climate Now on Monday. "We see companies, we see cities, we see states, we see the civil society fully mobilized."
Many state and local officials, including those in rural areas, hope stimulus funds aimed at helping rebuild economies ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic will support renewable energy and other "climate smart" initiatives that cut carbon emissions, while often creating more jobs in emerging industries than traditional infrastructure spending.
The plans for decarbonizing America have been sown and exist like seeds in a parched field, waiting for a drenching rain.
Here are five examples.
In Maine, Federal Funding 'Would Make a Big Difference'
The fingerprints of climate change are all over the state of Maine, from the invasion of temperate species into the rapidly warming Gulf of Maine to summers that are now two weeks longer than they were a century ago. But despite all this change, one thing will stay the same: Winter in Maine will still be cold.
In a state that uses more home heating oil per capita than anywhere in the nation, Maine's climate hawks are looking to make a major change in the way people heat their homes, and help mitigate climate change at the same time.
In 2019, Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill with the goal of installing 100,000 heat pumps into homes in Maine by 2025. This would represent nearly a fifth of the homes in the state.
"It's clearly the electrification strategy," said Hannah Pingree, the state's director of the Governor's Office of Policy Innovation and the Future. "Electrify homes, electrify transportation. That's a strong theme of the Climate Council."
Maine's Climate Council—a group of scientists, industry leaders, local and state officials and residents—is charged with figuring out how Maine will meet a trio of ambitious goals: reducing emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and at least 80 percent by 2050; increasing the state's renewable energy portfolio standard to 80 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050; and making the state carbon neutral by 2045.
Heat pumps—which also cool homes—draw in air from outside and use the difference in temperature between inside and outside air to keep a home comfortable. They are run on electricity, and can be paired with clean energy sources like solar or wind power to eliminate the carbon footprint of home heating.
Mills' plan offers incentives for installing the pumps, thanks to state funding that's being supplemented by some federal low-income housing funds. The program is up and running, but it's something that Pingree said could benefit from an infusion of federal funds.
"The governor's heat pump program is already ambitious and innovative, but to really get to the full scale and take it even further, federal investment would make a big difference," said Pingree, who co-chairs the Climate Council. "Especially when it comes to people's homes, investments in transportation and housing stock, the federal government's participation is extremely helpful and it helps put people to work."
The heat pump program is part of a bigger picture of state and local governments working to get consumers to move away from using fossil fuels for heating. Some local governments in other states are banning natural gas hookups for new construction, and some electric utilities and clean energy advocates are asking California regulators to enact a statewide ban as part of the next update of the state's building code.
Heat pumps are just one part of Maines's strategy, which will likely include a massive expansion of offshore wind and community solar projects and a push to electrify the transportation sector. At a meeting earlier this summer, more than 230 people from six working groups presented ideas to the council—more than 300 actions in all—which are being weighed now.
"If you look at the recommendations from the working groups, one of the cross-cutting ones is finance. We do need to raise revenue, and we also need the federal government to step up," said David Costello, the clean energy director of the Natural Resource Council of Maine. "It's going to be hard for Maine to implement many of the actions that we'd like to implement without increased funding."
California's Grants for 'Climate Smart Agriculture' Are Successful—and Threatened
To say California farm country is central to its ambitious plans to combat climate change seems redundant. The $50 billion agricultural sector is a pillar of the state's economy, the world's fifth largest, encompassing 70,000 farms and ranches.
With such a vast and vital industry (which includes parts of every county in the state), California has created a suite of "climate smart agriculture" programs. The first-of-their-kind programs, launched in 2014 and expanded in 2017, are helping farms become more resilient to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve land and protect ecosystems and communities.
The programs provide grant funds and technical assistance to farms in four key areas: conserving agricultural land against non-farm development; increasing on-farm water efficiency; improving soil health and managing manure to mitigate its climate impacts. The programs, popular with farmers, are receiving at least twice as many applications as there are grants.
They are also popular with nonprofit environmental and agricultural advocacy organizations. The California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN), evaluated the programs' climate benefits and found impressive results. To date, the programs collectively have funded more than 1,250 climate smart agriculture projects and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1.1 million metric tons of CO2 e (carbon dioxide equivalent) over the life of the projects, the equivalent of removing 67,000 passenger vehicles from the road for a year. The water efficiency programs have saved more than 110,000 acre feet of water (the equivalent of more than 50,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools).
They are also affordable, costing between $43 and $100 per metric ton of CO2 reductions. In a pre-pandemic California, one with a budget surplus and climate policy priorities, the programs would be expanding. Instead, climate smart agriculture funding is in jeopardy. The state, still partially wracked by the coronavirus, is in a worsening recession. Supporters of climate smart agriculture programs worry the state will spend its funding on other priorities.
This at a time when the coronavirus has exposed the need for greater investment in farm country, said Jeanne Merrill, CalCAN's policy director. "We're seeing the pandemic impacts on farmers is clearly a major disruption," she said, "and it's a disruption that can point to weaknesses in our current system. We're taking the lessons learned from the pandemic and applying that to how we can prepare for greater climate extremes. Investing in resilient farming is key."
Across Appalachia, a New Post-Coal Economy Beckons
Coal mining jobs have been crashing for decades in eastern Kentucky, from roughly 30,000 in 1984 to about 3,000 now, undercutting what has long been among the most impoverished regions of the country.
For a long time, elected leaders held what turned out to be false hope that the coal industry would come back.
But a nonprofit based in Berea, Kentucky, the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, has been working toward a post-coal economy since 1976.
Among its programs: training entrepreneurs and providing low-interest loans to small businesses. In the past dozen years, MACED added energy efficiency and solar power to its mix of programs, saving clients money and cutting carbon emissions at the same time.
It's an ironic twist that rural Appalachian counties that helped power the nation with cheap—though dirty and climate warming—coal have seen residents' electricity bills skyrocket as coal has given way to cheaper natural gas and increasingly competitive wind and solar. Utility customers have been shouldering the costs of shuttering old coal-burning power plants and cleaning up the toxic messes they leave behind, while the power companies doubled down on more expensive coal.
Since May 2015, MACED has helped with 30 solar installations, saving almost $400,000 in energy costs, said Ivy Brashear, MACED's Appalachian transition director. And since 2008, MACED has helped hundreds of homes and businesses reduce their energy bills by scrutinizing them for errors and helping to pay for energy efficiency retrofits, she said. She added that it included, for example, helping a grocery store stay in business to prevent a rural area from becoming a food desert.
"We listen and collaborate with people who are living and working in these communities, and help advance that new economy in ways that are really just and really equitable," Brashear said.
In solar work, MACED has focused on Letcher County, with a population of about 22,000, where businesses, faith communities and nonprofits are tapping their cultural strengths to create a new economy.
Whitesburg-based Appalshop, the 50-year-old arts and education nonprofit, for example, partnered with MACED to put solar panels on its new outdoor performance pavilion, which opened a year ago, to power its headquarters building and reduce electricity bills.
"In the last decade, our energy costs have gone up by 50 percent and were expected to keep rising," said Alexandra Werner-Winslow, Appalshop communications director. "That was not sustainable."
MACED, she said, "was tremendously helpful with our construction," and with the low-interest loan. At the same time, Appalshop sees solar development and energy efficiency as an important economic engine for eastern Kentucky.
MACED's funding includes grants from government and philanthropic foundations. With Congress weighing further ways to help the nation recover from an economic recession caused by the novel coronavirus, it could further a transition to cleaner energy and energy savings in rural areas through targeted investments and tax rebates, said Peter Hille, president of MACED.
"Anything that can (bring) down the front-end cost makes a big difference since that also reduces interest cost on financing over the life of the loan," he said.
Mountain Towns in the West Hope for a 'Green Pathway' Stimulus
Jessie Burley is the sustainability director for the town of Breckenridge, Colorado, a posh, outdoorsy community in the Tenmile Range. Not only is Breckenridge a member of the statewide Colorado Communities for Climate Action but the town is also part of a national organization, Mountain Towns 2030, that's swapping ideas about how to meet a goal of net-zero carbon emissions within a decade, and one of many tourist towns focused on clean energy long before the coronavirus pandemic.
And the resulting economic downturn hasn't changed the goal, said Burley. Sustainability-minded communities recognize that jobs and businesses ought to be a focus of the Covid-19 recovery, since the pandemic has revealed how exposed existing economic systems are, she said.
"Whether it's a virus or whether it's global warming or whether it's some other kind of disaster, we are more susceptible," she said. "We also can't lose sight of the fact that going back to business as usual is not going to be enough."
Members of a Mountain Towns 2030 task force on Covid-19 are pressing for any new stimulus package to include provisions supporting "green pathway" programs, such as green infrastructure, electric vehicle charging or renewable energy jobs. In that spirit, although Breckenridge has suffered steep, pandemic-related revenue losses, a community solar program is pressing forward this year, its grants scaled back from 25 to 20.
Similarly, in Montana, where revenue from natural resource industries makes up 12 percent of the state's general fund and paychecks for 1.2 percent of the workforce, a task force is finalizing a statewide climate change plan this month, said Mark Haggerty, an economist with Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics and a member of the governor's climate task force. Planning is still underway to decarbonize Montana's electricity sector by 2035 and to decarbonize Montana's economy by 2050, he said.
"A lot of this needs to be done in recognition of the fact that [the energy transition] is already happening," said Haggerty, noting that the task force is diverse, including everyone from conservationists to energy officials.
"It is a broad-based challenge, and everyone is affected regardless of where you live or what your political affiliation is," he said of the new climate goals in a world also dealing with Covid-19's economic fallout. "But, also, we need everyone to buy into and ultimately benefit from the changes that we can enact and that will benefit the entire state."
Virginia is the South's First State to Commit to Carbon-Free Energy
In the wake of a political upheaval that put Democrats firmly in control of state government, Virginia in 2020 became the first state in the South to commit to 100 percent carbon-free energy and to join the northeast's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Most of the state's coal power would have to shut down by 2024 under the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which also lays the groundwork for a burst of new renewable energy construction. Lawmakers declared large amounts of solar and wind energy and energy storage to be "in the public interest," sweeping aside the regulatory barriers to new renewable energy projects.
This transition to renewable energy already has a footprint in the Hamptons Roads area, where the state plans to develop a wind industry hub to be overseen by a newly created state agency aimed at fostering offshore wind farms. The bill that created the agency stated Virginia's opposition to offshore drilling.
About 25 miles east, Virginia Beach is considering an array of plans to protect homes and businesses from increased climate-related flooding, storm surges and sea level rise, hoping for either state or federal funds to do everything from buying out flood prone homes to possibly building large floodgates to protect its shoreline.
In Norfolk, the state is supporting construction of new reefs using crushed concrete and granite that can serve as a habitat for the eastern oyster and also help shield the city against storm surges and erosion. The effort enabled state officials last year to declare the Lafayette River fully restored under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed agreement.
The Legislature, meanwhile, considered, but rejected, the idea of a Virginia "Green New Deal" public works-style program. Instead, lawmakers opted for a business-friendly approach that had the support of the state's big utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, by the time the legislation was signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam on April 11.
The new Clean Economy Act makes it easier for rooftop solar to spread across Virginia, by expanding "net metering" for households—giving electricity customers credit for the excess solar energy they produce and sell back to the grid. It enables Virginians for the first time to save money on their monthly electric bills by going solar.
If utilities fall short on their obligations to cut carbon energy and expand renewables, they will be subject to penalties that will go into an account to fund job training, with priority given to historically disadvantaged communities, veterans and individuals in Virginia's coalfield regions. Some critics note that this set-up means there is no assured funding for worker transition programs, which could be provided by stimulus programs from the federal government.
Virginia already has more solar jobs (4,489) than coal jobs (2,730), and the latter are concentrated in the rural southwestern part of the state, a Republican stronghold which has lost political power to the state's burgeoning northern suburbs. Diverse, highly educated and tech-heavy communities in the northern part of the state helped Democrats take full control of Virginia's Legislature in 2019, paving the way for passage of Northam's clean energy agenda. A chief challenge in implementing the law will be ensuring that the Republican-dominated, fossil fuel-dependent rural regions that have been resistant to change don't get left behind.
This story originally appeared in InsideClimate News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.