By Claire L. Jarvis
A ruckus over biofuels has been brewing in Iowa.
For months now the Trump administration has been promising to deliver a new biofuels package that would boost the market for production of soy- and corn-based alternative fuels. The move would help American farmers hurt by the administration's tariffs, as well as ease their anger over changing regulations that have exempted several oil refineries from blending biofuels with their other fuels.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 mandated that all fuels produced in the U.S. contain a minimum volume of renewable fuels. Part of that came in the form of biofuels, derived from living, renewable sources such as crops or plants. The term "biofuels" generally refers to the gasoline substitute derived from corn, while "biodiesel" is a diesel substitute derived from soybean oil or animal fats.
At the time many experts predicted biofuels would provide a renewable source of energy, help reduce the use of fossil fuels, and lessen the risks of climate change. After the Act was passed, the biofuels market jolted into life.
"In 2000 we used less corn for ethanol than sweeteners in soda," said Jeremy Martin, director of fuels policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "By 2010 ethanol was up there with animal feed as the largest consumer of corn." Last year total U.S. biofuel production reached 16 billion gallons a year, and industry projections anticipate continued growth.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the expansion of the biofuels industry — as a share of the fuel market and a lobbying power — is that the general public hasn't really noticed. Compared with fracking or coal, biofuels aren't the subject of many policy reports or New York Times op-eds. Media coverage of the biofuels package has been limited.
But as President Donald Trump continues to make promises about the future of biofuels, two important questions loom: Should the rest of the country care about what's going on in Iowa and other corn-belt states? And is biofuel expansion something we should welcome or oppose?
Lobbying and Public Perception
The industry often referred to as "Big Corn" has a surprising amount of power and has actively intensified its lobbying efforts.
In 2018 several biofuel interest groups each spent more than $1 million to lobby the government over the Renewable Fuel Standard, an average increase from 2017 of around $200,000. This is obviously small change compared with what the fossil-fuel industry spends — the biggest oil companies each spend $40-50 million every year — but the biofuel groups' efforts have paid off to some degree. Although the ethanol lobby has not made headway reducing the number of small refinery waivers issued by the government, they're getting other desired results: The Trump administration favors raising the minimum ethanol volume in gasoline, something the oil and gas lobby opposes.
Critics say this lobbying has allowed the industry to successfully broaden its market without fully informing customers of the potential costs and concerns, which range from reduced gas mileage to increased air pollution.
Perhaps as a result, the public perception of biofuels — or what little we know about it — remains fairly positive.
Unsurprisingly, one place where public approval seems to be holding is Iowa, a state whose economy also depends on biofuels.
According to a public opinion poll by the Iowa Biodiesel Board, a state trade association, 65 percent of Iowans have a positive opinion of biodiesel, while just 4 percent have a negative opinion. Those numbers haven't changed much over time.
"It's holding pretty steady," said Grant Kimberley, executive director of the association.
A national voter poll by the American Biodiesel Board released in October 2019 paints a similar picture. More than half of survey participants said they believed the federal government should encourage the use of biofuels.
Outside of trade group polls, though, there isn't a lot of academic research on public attitudes to biofuels and biodiesel. Gallup and Pew Research opinion polls don't ask about them, so we don't know the true national consensus on biofuels, or whether biofuels are more popular than other nontraditional sources of energy such as fracking, solar or nuclear power.
What we do know comes from a few years ago.
Bret Shaw, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has researched public attitudes within his state. His papers from 2011 and 2012 (based on research conducted in 2009) are some of the most recent to document American opinion. Almost two-thirds of Wisconsinites surveyed told him they support the use of biofuels, which matches the Iowa poll. They correctly answered an average of 5 out of 9 questions about biofuels, demonstrating reasonably good knowledge.
However, Shaw's studies suggested that public opinion may be more malleable and precarious than those robust approval ratings imply. In his surveys he found that renaming "biofuels" as "ethanol" negatively affected the opinion of Democrats but didn't sway Republicans. Public opinion on both sides dipped when the surveys stated that adding biofuel blends could lower a car's gas mileage.
When asked about ethanol's impact on the environment, 41 percent believed it causes less damage than gasoline, 44 percent believed it was about the same and only 15 percent thought ethanol caused more environmental damage.
Shaw cautions that public attitudes may have shifted in the past decade, but his studies still present the clearest snapshot of public perception of biofuels — as well as the opportunity to better inform consumers about the products that go into their gas tanks.
So why should the public care, especially since they have so little choice in the matter?
What the Public Doesn’t Know Can’t Hurt Them — Can It?
Advocates of biofuels around the country tout them as better for the environment than fossil fuels, a fact that polls tell us the public doesn't disagree with.
Scientists, on the other hand, have begun to question some of those environmental benefits. According to some studies, biodiesels emit more of certain pollutants than regular diesel, and biofuels can have a larger carbon footprint than gasoline, depending on where you start in the production cycle. These findings don't seem to enter the public discourse.
Increased corn production can also harm farmland because it causes farmers to cut back on crop rotation, a process essential to maintaining soil quality and reducing pests. Farmers also have an increased incentive to plant corn in ecologically sensitive grassland or wetlands.
Corn stalks after harvest. Phil Roeder / CC BY 2.0
But the effects of biofuel production on wildlife and public health are subtle and hard to separate from the consequences of food production. This sets biodiesel apart from other sources of pollution and environmental health, such as fracking, which are often much more immediately visible. For example, images of brown tap water were enough to mobilize national opposition to fracking. Intensified corn production doesn't generate such arresting sights. Corn requires more fertilizer than other crops, and the toxic algal bloom caused by fertilizer runoff into the rivers is a visible consequence of increased corn production to meet biofuel demand. However, these blooms occur out of sight in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Union of Concerned Scientists advocates for cleaner energy, but stands neither for nor against biofuels.
"Our position is that all fuel producers should be cleaning up their act," said Martin. "More emphasis on 'how do we make biofuels better' rather than just 'let's have more biofuels'."
Although these problems have been identified and studied, if not widely discussed, some experts suggest that maybe they don't matter in the long term.
"When they passed the first Renewable Fuel Standard, every forecast was that demand for gasoline would rise forever with economic growth," said Martin. "Now most long-term forecasts reflect that gas consumption is likely to fall rather than rise. That means we're headed towards ethanol use falling."
He adds that wide-scale electric vehicle adoption, unthinkable in 2005, now looks closer to reality. Once that happens, ethanol use could go into freefall.
Back in Iowa, biofuels and biodiesel advocates remain bullish about market expansion, even though the government remains only partially on their side.
"In the near future we think we can easily double our industry," said Kimberley, who doesn't believe a widespread adoption of large electric vehicles in sectors like commercial trucking, where vehicles otherwise run on bio-blends of diesel, is coming anytime soon.
Meanwhile the drama in Washington continues. The House Energy and Commerce Committee recently held a subcommittee hearing on the Trump plan to exempt certain oil refiners from the Renewable Fuel Standard's biofuel blending requirements. That plan made oil companies happy but enraged Iowa farmers. For now, that tension may continue to grow.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
Production of hemp was banned in the United States in 1937 under the Marihuana Tax Act.
A strain of Cannabis sativa, its low concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) mean it won't get you high. The internet is abuzz, though, with claims that it's a green fix for a host of environmental ills.
Last year, the U.S. legalized hemp production under the 2018 Farm Bill and now farmers can finally grow their crop on an industrial scale. But can it really revolutionize everything from the textile industry to construction?
Researchers suspect some of the hype originated with a hemp lobby that's been sloppy with the science in its struggle to get the plant legalized. Still, studies also suggest that, with investment, it could replace some less sustainable materials.
So which claims stand up and which fall flat?
Claim one: Hemp was the first crop grown over 12,000 years ago.
Most evidence suggests humans first started domesticating plants around 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, but there isn't much evidence that hemp was grown quite that early.
Still, the history of humans and hemp is indeed long and intertwined. Archeological findings suggest it was grown in China more than 4,000 years ago to make paper, cloth and rope, and also for its oil.
Claim two: Hemp could be used in 25,000 products. Hemp is certainly a versatile plant in that the various parts, from the stem to the flower, can theoretically be used "to house and clothe yourself," according to Lawrence B. Smart, a professor at Cornell University's School of Integrative Plant Science in New York State who is researching the potential of cultivating the plant on an industrial scale.
It's also a great gluten-free and soy-free source of protein, and full of omega 3 and 6 oils usually found in fish, making it suitable both as a dietary supplement for vegans and as animal feed, Smart added.
"I think that claim of multiple uses including fiber and medicine is valid," he told DW. The question is whether those are "more cost-competitive or better or more sustainable than the ones in the market we're currently using."
Claim three: Hemp biofuels could power a green transport revolution.
Hemp as a biomass crop — its stems are high in cellulose — or hemp oil as biofuel, could compliment other renewable energy sources. But like other energy crops, there are inherent problems with growing on a mass scale. Despite claims that it doesn't need fertilizer, hemp, like corn, would require a lot of nitrogen.
"I just don't think we've done the proper life-cycle assessments to say hemp offers any advantages over using corn biofuels," said Smart. "It does produce a reasonable yield per acre but other crops are far more sustainable."
Smart's research group at Cornell is looking into a number of potential bioenergy crops. So far, their research suggests that willow, a perennial plant, could be more sustainable than an annual like hemp. That's because it can be planted once and then harvested for wood chips without disturbing the soil for 25 to 30 years. Every time a field is tilled or plowed, it releases carbon into the atmosphere.
The oil crushed from hemp seeds can go into everything from salad dressings to biofuels.
Claim four: Hemp grows in poor soil and doesn't require pesticides.
Another common claim is that hemp essentially grows itself. But because it wasn't cultivated on a large scale during the 20th century, there are few studies to show whether or not it grows easily in poor soil.
Initial smaller-scale tests in Italy and the U.S. show promising results on hemp extracting toxins from soil. Researchers also say because of its fast growth — when planted in the right conditions — it doesn't necessarily need herbicides.
Hemp also contains cannabinoids and terpenes, compounds that may deter insects. But Smart says people should be wary of claims that pesticides are never required.
"We've found a number of insect pests that will damage [hemp] and quite a few diseases, including some new species of fungi that are being defined," Smart said. Pennsylvania State University's agricultural analytical services lab also found that pests like aphids, mold and slugs can damage hemp.
"If you plant a little 20-by-20-foot garden plot, it's very unlikely that you'll experience the full range of pests and pathogens that you would expect on 20,000 acres," Smart added. Industrial farming of any monoculture crop leads to environmental problems, so it also comes down to how a crop is grown.
Claim five: Hemp could replace oil-based plastics and we could live in hemp houses.
Companies like Australian-based Zeoform and Kanesis in Italy are producing small amounts of hemp bioplastic. But right now, producing hemp plastics is complicated, energy-intensive and expensive, so it isn't going to usurp the petroleum-based varieties in the near future.
Still, hemp is proving a popular alternative to fiberglass for use in compressed panels — carmaker BMW is using hemp in its door panels — and as a sustainable building material.
The deceptively named "Hempcrete" isn't a replacement for concrete but an insulation material suitable for timber-framed houses. Most popular in France, it's pricier than conventional alternatives, but Pete Walker, a professor at the University of Bath's civil engineering and architecture department, says it has advantages.
"It's a renewable resource," Walker said. "You can grow the hemp in four months and then you're taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and locking it in this plant material." Its breathable structure also regulates a building's temperature and humidity, reducing energy consumption, he added.
Claim six: Hemp consumes a quarter/half the amount of water cotton does.
Recent comprehensive studies on cotton versus hemp are difficult to come by. One of the most extensive reports, which was published in the Stockholm Environment Institute in 2005, compared the two natural fibers with polyester, a synthetic material.
The study concluded that cotton needs around 50 percent more water in a growing season than hemp. Unlike hemp, cotton requires a lot of irrigation and is most frequently cultivated in parts of the world that are water-scarce, like Uzbekistan.
But it's not as simple as swapping one fiber crop for another. Hemp, while extremely durable, is also expensive and energy-intensive to work into a soft, wearable fabric. And its long fibers mean the process is completely different from working with short-fibered cotton, so the industry would essentially have to "retool" to make the switch.
Claim seven: The U.S. constitution was written on hemp.
The National Constitution Center and fact-checking website Politifact both completely refute one of the quirkier claims about hemp circulating on the internet. The U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are all written on parchment, which is treated animal skin.
But Constitution Center says drafts of these documents might well have been made on hemp paper, as the plant was widely cultivated in North America for rope and sails at the time. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson and the country's president George Washington grew hemp.
Can Hemp Become a 60 Million Acre Crop and Billion Dollar Industry? https://t.co/xGGxagwFmS— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch) October 4, 2018
Reposted with permission from our media associate DW.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Daniel Ross
The 150 mph winds that Hurricane Michael blasted through Tyndall Air Force Base last October left a trail of destruction, ruin and exorbitant financial loss at one of the Department of Defense's (DoD) key military bases. The damage could have been worse. Fifty-five of Tyndall's fleet of F-22 fighter jets had been flown to safety before the hurricane hit. Nevertheless, some of the 17 remaining F-22 jets — their combined worth a reported $5.8 billion — suffered damage, along with roughly 95 percent of the buildings.
But it's the fallout from these events at the airbase, along with the ensuing cleanup, that holds a mirror up to the complex set of forces confronting the military as it grapples with the global threat of anthropogenic climate change.
As an example of the complex set of factors the military must consider as the planet warms, Conger has written about the possibility of closing Tyndall due to its location in a hurricane-prone area. More broadly, he describes the military's climate change strategy as being "mission focused," meaning that the various branches look at it as a "constraint on their ability" to do their job. "It is a lot less about emissions and carbon, and a lot more on impact and resilience."
"This is a game-changer."
That said, there has been movement within the DoD to lessen its oil dependency. At the China Lake Naval Air Weapons station in the western Mojave Desert, for example, researchers are working on renewable diesels and jet biofuels that have the potential to significantly lessen the DoD's fossil fuel footprint. "This is a game-changer," said Marilyn Berlin Snell, a veteran investigative environmental reporter, about the biofuel research being conducted at China Lake.In her new book, Unlikely Ally: How the Military Fights Climate Change and Protects the Environment, Snell reports that these high density, high-performance biofuels could improve the "range" of the military's fleet of aircraft, ships and ground vehicles, all the while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 70 percent. A future iteration of the facility's research will be to adapt the beer-making fermentation process to create other biofuels. And while it's "not the role of the DoD" to commercialize these biofuels, the military is working with private companies to do just that, Snell said. "It'll take a long time," she added, "but that's the kind of innovative public-private effort we need."
Snell also discusses the efforts made at a number of military bases in California to adopt green practices. Indeed, at the installation level, "many military strategists are really working hard to figure out how to mitigate climate change on their bases," Snell told Truthout. At the Army National Training Center Fort Irwin in the arid Calico Mountains — "a god-awful rocky desert outpost," as Snell describes it — water conservation measures have cut consumption by nearly 40 percent, and a new state-of-the-art water treatment facility has taken efficiency from 50 to 99.6 percent.
Efforts at the base level to adapt to climate change aren't confined to California; take the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia, where its five dry docks are especially vulnerable to rising sea levels and worsening storms, according to an InsideClimate News series looking at the way climate change shapes national security and military readiness.
When Navy ships are secured within a sealed and emptied dry dock, their hulls are opened for repairs — a process that can leave exposed or vulnerable expensive electronics and mechanical systems, as well as the ships' nuclear reactors. To mitigate the threats that storms and rising sea levels pose to these ships mid-repair, the Navy has reportedly erected temporary flood walls to protect the docks and has elevated equipment. The Navy also hopes to conduct more maintenance at the facility as part of a $21 billion, 20-year improvement plan.
"Unleash the full potential of renewables."
What about the military's move toward renewables? "Some branches of the military have laid out pretty ambitious agendas for reducing their emissions, not for the sake of the planet, but in terms of saving money and having more resources for war," said Miriam Pemberton, a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank, mirroring Conger's assessment that the military is "mission focused."It was back in 2007 that President George W. Bush signed the National Defense Authorization Act committing the DoD to secure 25 percent of its energy used to power individual installations from renewable resources by 2025. In 2012, President Barack Obama upped the stakes once more, requiring three gigawatts of renewable energy — from things like solar, wind, biomass and geothermal — to be deployed on Army, Navy and Air Force installations by the same target date. Indeed, according to a report in Reuters, the military tripled between 2011 and 2015 its number of renewable energy projects. At the same time, the military's response to global warming is especially vulnerable to things like underfunding and lack of strategic planning. Another part of the problem, said Pemberton, is that the current White House is "doing whatever it can" to handcuff the government as it grapples with a warming world. In the first National Security Strategy released under the Trump administration, for example, there was no mention of the threat climate change poses to global security. Compare that to the 2015 National Security Strategy, released under the Obama White House, when climate change was described as an "urgent and growing" peril.
Impediments to the military's broad climate change strategy also exist at the state level. In her book, Snell tells the story of Miramar Air Force Base, in San Diego, where work continues on a microgrid — what is essentially a localized energy system — built primarily upon renewable energy sources, and supplemented with battery storage, diesel and natural gas. When fully operational, the microgrid at Miramar will have the capacity to power the entire base. California law, however, prevents facilities like Miramar from generating more renewable energy than is needed on base and pumping excess back into the grid.
Were that cap lifted, just four military bases alone located in the California desert could generate 7,000 megawatts of solar energy, the DoD found back in 2012. That's the equivalent output of seven nuclear power plants. "If people in California want to unleash the full potential of renewables in the state, they have to let the military produce as much renewable energy as they are capable of, because it is jaw-dropping," said Snell, who added that "this kind of symbiotic relationship is possible nationwide." Indeed, other bases have implemented their own microgrids, like a Navy shipyard in Maine that hopes to storm-proof its electrical supply.
Nevertheless, while state regulations are certainly an "important part of the puzzle," said John Conger, at large are a complex set of variables impacting the military's ability to wean off of fossil fuels. The issue of microgrids, for example, is "location specific," and is highly dependent upon expertise, he said. "Usually, the more sophisticated the system is, the more difficult it is for in-house staff to maintain it," Conger added. "They don't necessarily have the skills to maintain more complicated systems."
What's more, the military's $116 billion underfunded maintenance backlog has an even more profound effect on efforts to push forward with costly infrastructure projects. "DoD has historically underfunded its installations," Conger added. "And that problem has tendrils that reach into all these other pieces."
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
- The U.S. Defense Department Is Losing the Battle Against Climate ... ›
- Pentagon: Climate Change Is Real and a 'National Security Issue ... ›
By Alex Kirby
Companies selling products which contain palm oil need to be upfront about where it comes from, so as to relieve consumers of the burden of making sustainable choices, a UK study says.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge say companies should not rely simply on purchasers' own awareness of the need to make environmentally responsible decisions, but should publicly disclose the identities of their palm oil suppliers.
Palm oil production causes deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions from peatland conversion, and biodiversity loss, and the oil is found in many products, often without consumers' knowledge. It is a common ingredient in foods, body products, detergents and biofuels.
Dr. Rosemary Ostfeld is the study's lead author. "The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has made efforts to improve the sustainability of palm oil production by creating an environmental certification system for palm oil," she said.
"But currently only 19% of palm oil is RSPO-certified. This means the majority that finds its way into products people buy daily is still produced using conventional practices.
We wanted to find out if consumers were actively seeking to make a sustainable choice about palm oil. We also explored what extra efforts governments could make to ensure sustainable palm oil consumption."
Respondents were asked about their awareness of palm oil and its environmental impact; their recognition of "ecolabels" such as Fairtrade, the Soil Association and RSPO; and which ecolabeled products they included in their weekly household shopping.
The study found that UK consumer awareness of palm oil was high (77 percent), with 41 percent of those aware of it viewing it as "environmentally unfriendly." Yet almost no consumers were aware of the RSPO label that showed a product contained sustainably-produced palm oil.
"In terms of label recognition versus action, 82 percent of people recognized the Fairtrade label, but only 29 percent actively buy Fairtrade products," Dr. Ostfeld said.
"Only five percent recognized the RSPO label—the same as a fictional label we put into the survey as a control. Of that small number, only one percent said they actively include products with the label in their shopping."
The low recognition of the RSPO label could be caused by the scarcity of its use by consumer goods companies and retailers.
Action Not Guaranteed
"This may be due in part to reluctance to draw attention to their use of palm oil, or it may be because they fall short of the 95 percent physical certified palm oil content that used to be needed to use the label," Dr. Ostfeld said.
"Either way, we found that relying on consumers to consciously and regularly include certified products in their shopping has limitations. Our results show that even when consumer awareness of an ecolabel is high, action is not guaranteed."
To address this problem, the researchers put forward several policy recommendations. "Palm oil is more efficient to produce than other vegetable oils and plays a vital role in the livelihoods of millions of people, so banning it is not plausible," Dr. Ostfeld explained. "Instead, the goal should be to encourage sustainable palm oil production.
"We recommend governments require consumer goods companies and retailers to buy identity-preserved certified palm oil, which can be traced back to the individual plantation. If national targets must be met with identity-preserved certified palm oil, demand for it will increase. It will also enable unsustainable practices to be uncovered more easily."
Dr. Ostfel emphasized the benefits of transparent sourcing:
"Companies should also publicly disclose their palm oil suppliers. This will help consumers know if they're sourcing their palm oil from growers who use best practices.
We believe these measures could promote a more rapid move towards sustainable palm oil consumption, and higher levels of accountability throughout the supply chain."
Some campaigners argue that sustainability standards, including certification schemes, can have a wider effect by, for example, helping to shape governments' policies and to steer investment into research.
A year ago one major U.S. financial company, Dimensional, said it had divested two of its portfolios of all palm oil plantation companies.
Some good news: World's Largest Palm Oil Trader Ramps Up Zero-Deforestation Efforts #deforestation https://t.co/mgXJYZSsFe— LRFF (@LRFF)1544546114.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
Environmentalists celebrated the move as a victory for rainforests, the climate and endangered species such as orangutans that have lost their habitats due to palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia. It also sets a major precedent for other nations.
"The Norwegian parliament's decision sets an important example to other countries and underlines the need for a serious reform of the world's palm oil industry," said Nils Hermann Ranum of the Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) in a press release emailed to EcoWatch.
A 2017 report commissioned by RFN found that palm oil-based biofuel is worse for the climate than fossil fuels. The report, authored by low carbon fuels policy expert Chris Malins, concludes: "There is a large body of evidence that because of indirect land use change, palm oil biodiesel is worse for the climate than the fossil fuel it replaces—perhaps several times worse."
Norway's consumption of palm oil-based fuels hit all-time high in 2017, according to RFN. The country consumed 317 million liters of palm-oil based biodiesel, representing 10 per cent of its overall diesel consumption, the group said.
As the #COP24 #climatechange summit opened, Norway made a bold move. #Biofuels based on high #deforestation risk fe… https://t.co/Dz1bJe7qom— Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) (@Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN))1544115906.0
Last year, a majority of the Norwegian parliament actually voted to stop the government from purchasing palm oil-based fuels.
However, the parliamentary decision was never fully implemented, as the government opted instead to rely on voluntary measures, The Independent noted.
The vote that passed Monday is thought to be stronger and was supported by the majority of the government, according to The Independent. The resolution calls on the government "to formulate a comprehensive proposal for policies and taxes in the biofuels policy in order to exclude biofuels with high deforestation risk."
Wow! #Norway pledges to become first country to ban #deforestation! https://t.co/puW9qIMebo via @EcoWatch https://t.co/tZ1mFu89r6— Rainforest Alliance (@Rainforest Alliance)1465614030.0
The Indonesian government as well the country's palm oil producers have already expressed concern about Norway's vote this week.
"Although the impact will not be significant (on our exports), that will become a bad example for other countries," Fadhil Hasan, the director for foreign affairs of the Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association, told The Straits Times.
Oke Nurwan, director-general for foreign trade in Indonesia's Trade Ministry, worried that other countries may follow in Norway's footsteps.
"The policy will certainly amplify the negative impression about palm oil products," he told the publication.
Here is the full text of the resolution that passed in Oslo this week, according to RFN's translation:
"The majority [in Parliament] is concerned that indirect land use effects from palm oil production lead to deforestation. The majority therefore believes that the use of palm oil should be limited as much as possible. The majority points out that it is important to find solutions in order to limit and phase out palm oil, and the majority will follow developments closely. The majority therefore puts forward the following proposal:
"Stortinget [the Norwegian Parliament] requests that the Government formulate a comprehensive proposal for measures and taxes in the biofuels policy in order to exclude biofuels with high deforestation risk both within and outside the blending mandate. These framework conditions shall be put forward in conjunction with the national budget for 2020, and shall be introduced from 1 January 2020."
In an apparent effort to allay serious public and scientific concerns about contamination threats from genetically engineered (GE) trees, on Aug. 3 researchers at Oregon State University claimed they had genetically engineered sterility into poplar trees. The real story of the study, however, is that the risks of genetically engineering trees are too great and can never fully be known.
During the seven year field trial of GE poplars described in the study, small environmental variations resulted in significant differences between trees that had the same GE constructs and also found differences between GE trees over time. This all points to how trees cannot be reliably engineered to prevent contamination.
"This study confirms what we've known all along," said Anne Petermann, executive director of Global Justice Ecology Project and coordinator of the international Campaign to STOP GE Trees. "Trees are extremely complex, and fertility, which is one of the most important functions of any living organism, has been evolving in trees for millions of years. It is incredibly arrogant and dangerous to think that through genetic engineering we can override such a fundamental function as reproduction. Far from allaying fears, this research opens up serious new concerns."
The genus populus includes 25-35 different species of trees, many of which can breed with each other, and are found across North America and Europe. Poplars can also reproduce asexually and live for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. Therefore this seven year study on GE poplar trees is seriously inadequate.
"We still have no information about the potential long-term impacts of sterile or attempted sterile GE poplars on pollinators, birds and other wildlife that depend on fertile flowers and pollen to survive," added Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. "We know GE sterility traits are never going to be 100 percent reliable. What happens when sterility fails and allows GE trees to escape? Unreliable sterility technologies would enhance rather than remove the dangers of GE tree contamination."
BJ McManama of the Indigenous Environmental Network explained the implications of GE poplars for Indigenous Peoples:
"Aspen, cottonwood, and other poplar varieties are an integral part of our individual and collective history, physical well-being and spiritual ceremonies. For Native tribes in the U.S. Southwest, for example, the cottonwood is sacred and every part harvested is done so without killing or harming the tree. Freshly fallen branches provide bark used in teas, poultices, tinctures and salves and the leaf buds and flowers provide food in the early spring. Fundamentally changing these trees' genetic makeup violates Natural Law, our cultural traditions and subsistence rights."
Stars can be found in the branches of the cottonwood. Cottonwood Institute
Developing plantations of fast-growing trees like GE poplars for biofuel, biomass or other raw materials could lead to the accelerated destruction of forests for the development of these plantations, a trend identified in a study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Target areas for this expansion in the U.S. are the Pacific Northwest and Midwest, where many GE poplar test plots already exist.
Southeast Is Ground Zero for Genetically Engineered Trees https://t.co/jwMZoA8lMH @IENearth @StandingRockST @CenterForBioDiv @Greenpeace— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1498162997.0
By Hans Nicholas Jong
The report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) comes amid mounting debate about the use of palm oil, with the European Union seeking to phase out the use of the ubiquitous commodity in biofuels by 2030, citing environmental and human rights violations in the production of the commodity.
But existing vegetable oils that could theoretically replace palm oil would be far more damaging to the environment because they would need more land, according to the IUCN report "Palm Oil and Biodiversity."
The production of palm oil is characterized by its high yield relative to other vegetable oils, meaning more of it can be produced from a given area of farmland than other oil crops. The latter require up to nine times more land than oil palms to produce the same amount of oil.
Palm oil is currently produced from just 10 percent of all farmland dedicated to growing oil crops, yet accounts for 35 percent of the global volume of all vegetable oils.
"Half of the world's population uses palm oil in food, and if we ban or boycott it, other, more land-hungry oils will likely take its place," IUCN director general Inger Andersen said in a press release.
Indonesia and Malaysia are the world's biggest producers of palm oil, accounting for a combined 90 percent of global supply. However, the expansion of oil palm estates, particularly in Indonesia, has long been criticized for driving deforestation across much of the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, as well as stoking social conflicts over land and other resources with forest and indigenous communities.
Feeding global demand for vegetable oils with other crops would only shift the damage elsewhere, to ecosystems such as the tropical forests and savannas of South America, the IUCN report said. One such oil crop widely cultivated in South America is soy, which has already had a massive negative impact on biodiversity in the region. Studies have linked the cultivation of soy to lower bird diversity in Brazil and Argentina. Much of Brazil's soy production takes place in the Cerrado, a vast tropical savanna that's home to rare and threatened species found nowhere else.
A recent report by the global environmental campaign NGO Mighty Earth found that 30,000 acres of forest, or about 12,100 hectares, were being cleared to plant new soy fields in northern Argentina, which supply some of the companies producing soy-based biodiesel for export to the U.S.
"When we look at soybean use of production there, we [sent] a team to Argentina, and we found tremendous damage to the forest," Henry Waxman, chairman of Mighty Earth, said at a panel discussion at the Oslo Tropical Forest Forum in Norway on June 28.
The IUCN report emphasized that even though palm oil was the most efficient oil crop, it needed to be deforestation-free to halt the destruction of biodiversity in Southeast Asia and other regions where it's produced. The current practice of producing palm oil remains highly destructive, leading to the decimation of tropical rainforests and the species that depend on them, the report said. Orangutans, gibbons and tigers are among the 193 threatened species on the IUCN's Red List that would be affected by the continued expansion of oil palm plantations into forest areas—a menagerie of biodiversity representing half of the world's threatened mammals and almost two-thirds of threatened birds.
"Palm oil is decimating South East Asia's rich diversity of species as it eats into swathes of tropical forest," said Erik Meijaard, the report's lead author and chair of IUCN's oil palm task force. "But if it is replaced by much larger areas of rapeseed, soy or sunflower fields, different natural ecosystems and species may suffer."
Rainforest cleared for an oil palm estate in Indonesian BorneoSandy Watt for The Gecko Project
The report found that by far the biggest gains for biodiversity in an oil palm context are through avoiding further deforestation, which can be achieved through improved planning of new plantations and better management of forest patches left untouched in plantations.
The report also recommended stakeholders push for greater demand for sustainably produced palm oil, thereby putting pressure on producers to improve their practices.
"With most palm oil being supplied to India, China, and Indonesia, consumer awareness in these countries needs to be raised to ensure that this demand will materialize," the report read.
Adrian Suharto, the head of stakeholder engagement at Finland-based biodiesel supplier Neste Corporation, agreed with the report's recommendations.
"The most important thing is that what you buy is sustainable and you educate people and help support the local government in Indonesia and Malaysia, Thailand, Colombia, and everywhere else to understand the importance of having sustainable production [of palm oil]," he said at the Oslo Tropical Forest Forum.
The European Federation for Transport and Environment, an umbrella for NGOs working in the field of transport and the environment, said the best solution would be to completely remove biofuel mandates and incentives for crop-based biofuels that force people to use biofuel. It cited as a case in point the EU's 2009 policy requiring every EU member state to have 10 percent renewable fuels by 2020.
The EU is now revising its renewable energy policy, which will remove the incentives for crop-based fuels starting from 2020. It will also phase out the use of palm oil in biodiesel, which Laura Buffet, the manager for clean fuels at the transport and environment federation, said was a move in the right direction.
"I agree that if you keep the same drivers and the same high target, and you just remove one feedstock from the equation, it'll be likely to be filled by something else," she said at the Oslo forum. If those alternatives are soy or rapeseed oil, she added, "you will also look at indirect impact and deforestation, so it's not going to solve entirely the issue."
"That's why we're asking for reducing or completely removing the mandate, and that's going to be the best solution."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
On Friday, the 170+ nations in the International Maritime Organization set the first-ever emissions target for the shipping industry and agreed to halve CO2 emissions by 2050, based on 2008 levels.
The sulfur-laden oil is a significant source of black carbon or soot, which darkens snow and ice and speeds melting. Additional details are provided in an initial analysis of the deal from the International Council on Clean Transportation.
As reported by the Washington Post:
"Shipping in recent years has been responsible for about 800 million tons annually of carbon dioxide emissions, according to Dan Rutherford, the marine and aviation program director of the International Council on Clean Transportation, who was in attendance for the deliberations in London this week. That means shipping's emissions are 2.3 percent of the global total.
'If you counted it as a country, it would be the sixth-largest source of CO2 emissions,' said Rutherford, noting that 800 million tons of annual emissions is comparable to emissions from Germany."
InsideClimate News noted that the agreement was a compromise. Island states and climate advocacy groups sought more ambitious goals, while several countries insisted that proposed regulations would be too disruptive:
"Even relatively modest first steps would require considerable changes in how cargo ships are built, fueled and operated. At present, ships run almost entirely on fossil fuels, generally the dirtiest grades of oil, and burn them inefficiently to boot.
Meeting the new goals would require shippers to significantly increase fuel efficiency and to shift to low- and zero-carbon fuels such as biofuels or perhaps hydrogen, while adopting new propulsion technologies, some of them still unproven.
The next step is for the IMO to decide whether to make some of these short-term measures mandatory and determine how to enforce the rules. The deal is to be reviewed and perhaps tightened in five years."
For a deeper dive:
Washington Post, BBC, Bloomberg, Guardian, WSJ, InsideClimate News, Reuters, AP, The Canadian Press, Independent, Climate Home, GreenBiz, Platts, Maritime Executive, Heavy Fuel Oil/Sulfur: Reuters, Medi Telegraph)
By Andy Rowell
As the oil price recovers to over $65 a barrel last year, so do Shell's fortunes, with reported earnings of nearly $16 billion.
The days of Shell being on the rocks—pummeled by a low oil price—seem over. So much so that the company even has Big Oil's number one, Exxon, in its sights. Exxon's reported earnings are expected to be slightly lower than Shell's at a still significant $15.7 billion.
As Shell's CEO Ben van Beurden recently said, "At the moment we are number two and we are closing in on number one. We almost have the tiger by the tail."
As the two Big Oil companies battle it out for the number one spot, it is worth taking a step back and worth asking who will win the energy war not just in the next year, but in the decades ahead, which will be dominated by the upcoming renewable revolution, stranded assets and climate change. Many would argue that short term profits hide Big Oil's longer term problems.
There are signs that the company is also taking some small steps into carbon disinvestment: As Reuters reported this week, "Royal Dutch Shell has spent over $400 million on a range of acquisitions in recent weeks, from solar power to electric car charging points, cranking up its drive to expand beyond its oil and gas business and reduce its carbon footprint."
Before we all get too excited by this, there are two fundamental problems. One is that the investments are small change, as Reuters pointed out: "The scale of the buying spree pales in comparison to the Anglo-Dutch company's $25 billion annual spending budget. But its first forays into the solar and retail power sectors for many years shows a growing urgency to develop cleaner energy businesses."
In total, according to analysts, Big Oil has invested just over $3 billion on renewables acquisitions over the past five years, predominantly on solar. Again it is peanuts compared to the tens of billions the companies spend looking for oil.
And the other problem is the one we have just mentioned, gas. As Reuters noted, "The investments are not limited to renewables such as biofuels, solar and wind. Shell, as well as rivals such as BP, Exxon Mobil and Chevron, are betting on rising demand for gas, the least polluting fossil fuel, to power the expected surge in electric vehicles in the coming decades."
Indeed, Shell may be betting on gas just at a time when the future of gas is in trouble. "The end of natural gas is near" is the title of an article this month on GreenBiz by Danny Kennedy from the California Clean Energy Fund. It states:
"Natural gas is no longer a contender or pretender, just a relic of the past, likely to fall as far and as fast as Old King Coal, and maybe faster … But I think it's important to reflect that in 2017, for all its other problems in the clean-energy industry and our nation more broadly, the gas industry became, if not dead, at least a dead man walking."
It is questions like these—is the market for gas in trouble?—that are supposed to be predicted by Shell's long term planning unit. A really interesting article by Fortune looks at how this Big Oil dinosaur is desperate not to die out in the coming decades.
All the oil majors have scenario planning and Shell has been doing some serious head scratching. As Jeremy Bentham, Shell's scenarios leader, said, "I am tasked with making sure that Shell isn't a dodo." So will Shell become extinct in the upcoming energy transition or dominate the new energy landscape?
The article argues that when Shell disinvested from most of its stakes in the tar sands last year, it was over long term fears over the oil price, rather than climate, that was the real concern.
The Shell scenarios team, Fortune noted, concluded that "global demand for oil might peak in as little as a decade—essentially tomorrow in an industry that plans in quarter-century increments."
Hastened by the quickening uptake of renewables, Shell executives were alarmed by the dropping oil price:
"When the oil-demand peak came, Shell believed, petroleum prices might begin a slow slide, dipping too low to cover the costs of oil-sands production. This wouldn't be just another oil-price cycle, a familiar roller coaster in which every down is followed by an up. It would be the start of a decades-long decline of the Oil Age itself—an uncharted world in which, in a phrase gaining currency at Shell, oil prices might be 'lower forever.'"
As Fortune noted, "If Shell failed to prepare for this new energy landscape, it could wind up saddled with massive stranded assets: buried oil and gas that its shareholders paid billions to find, but that, because of softening demand, the company found itself unable to profitably drill and sell."
Ben van Beurden, Shell's CEO, told Fortune, "We won't be sitting ducks. We are going to adapt."
But adapt to what? "What is a challenge at the moment," Beurden said, "is that we don't know anymore where the future will go." Beurden, Fortune said, is making strategic bets to transform "Big Oil into Big Energy."
Finally it seems Big Oil has got the message. In response, many will argue it it too little, too late. Environmental groups have been telling the oil companies for decades of the need to disinvest from fossil fuels due to climate change, not just deny the problem of climate change.
But only now, when their very own corporate future is threatened by companies such as Tesla, have the oil companies finally decided to act. Will it be too late for them and us? Will Shell become a Dodo? Only time will tell.
100% Renewable Energy Worldwide Isn't Just Possible—It's Also More Cost-Effective https://t.co/ZLPK7gZqv6 via… https://t.co/vKICQOv3he— 100% (@100%)1515230641.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Oil Change International.
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By Edward Barbier and Terry Iverson
This was the final step of a process that began when two U.S. subsidiaries of foreign solar panel makers filed a rarely used kind of trade complaint with the International Trade Commission. Trump largely followed the course of action the independent U.S. agency had recommended to protect domestic manufacturers from unfair competition.
But far from protecting U.S. interests, the tariffs are bound to stifle the current solar boom, destroying American jobs and dragging down clean energy innovation. As economists who research climate and energy policies that can foster a greener North American economy, we argue the government should instead create targeted subsidies that support innovation and lower costs across the supply chain. This approach would do a better job of helping the U.S. industry fend off foreign competition without harming the industry itself.
A Booming Industry
The U.S. solar industry has enjoyed unprecedented growth in recent years, thanks to the rapidly declining cost to install solar systems and tax breaks for homeowners, businesses and utilities that have expanded demand but are being phased out. Prices have plunged to roughly $1.50 per watt from around $6 in 2010 due to both innovation that made it less expensive to make panels anywhere and cheap imports.
In 2016, 87 percent of U.S. solar installations used foreign-produced panels, also known as modules, primarily from China.
The problem is not unique. Other countries dependent on cheap solar imports, including Germany and Canada, are also grappling with how to sustain the solar boom while protecting their own domestic manufacturers from unfair foreign competition.
The trade commission sent Trump its recommendations in the fall of 2017, giving him until Jan. 13 to accept or reject its guidance. Later, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer asked the agency to draft a "supplemental" report, which effectively extended the president's deadline for setting the tariffs.
The request, observers surmised, may have signaled concern about the this case's potential to spiral into a broader trade dispute with China and other major U.S. trading partners.
That may explain why the duties imposed are not as steep as the maximum 35 percent rate the U.S. International Trade Commission had recommended. The tariffs will begin at 30 percent and then taper down in 5 percent increments over four years, ending at 15 percent in 2022. And they won't apply to the first 2.5 gigawatts worth of imported solar cells, which domestic manufacturers use to build panels made in the U.S.
Solar Job Growth
Solar job growth took off in 2010. By 2016, more than 260,000 Americans worked in the industry, up from fewer than 95,000 seven years earlier.
An uninterrupted solar boom would create even more jobs. The number of solar panel installers, for example, would more than double from 11,300 to 23,000 within 10 years at the current pace of growth, which would make it the fastest-growing profession, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another renewable energy mainstay, wind turbine technician, came in a close second.
Imposing tariffs on imported panels would cloud that outlook, largely because manufacturing accounts for less than 15 percent of U.S. solar jobs while installation amounts to more than half of them, according to the Solar Foundation's annual census. If panels get more expensive, the cost to go solar will rise and demand will fall—along with the impetus to employ so many installers.
Despite the robust growth in wind and solar employment and its official support for an "all of the above" energy policy that combines fossil fuels, nuclear power, biofuels and renewable energy alternatives like wind and solar, the Trump administration has sought to slash support for alternative energy through the federal budget.
We agree that the government should encourage solar panel manufacturing within the nation's borders. But there are better ways to support this important priority than by raising prices on imported equipment through punitive tariffs.
China's edge in solar panel manufacturing—apart from low wages—is driven by scale and supply-chain development, spurred by cost inducements like low-interest loans, technology development assistance and cheap land. Other newly industrialized countries like South Korea and Taiwan have followed China's lead by fostering their own solar manufacturing bases with targeted subsidies.
We believe the U.S. should follow suit. In addition to directing subsidies to reduce the costs of the solar supply chain, the government should also increase subsidies for private research and development for green innovation. Currently, federal financing for private solar R&D lags far behind levels seen in China and the European Union.
These subsidies could be funded by the tariffs the government was already collecting on solar panels imported from China and elsewhere before these new duties were considered.
If the U.S. government deems that additional restrictions are required, then it makes sense to follow a separate recommendation to freeze solar panel imports at 2016 market share levels. The government should then auction off the rights to import foreign solar panels to U.S. installers.
The government could spend the proceeds from these auctioned import licenses on domestic innovation and other efforts to cut supply chain costs for U.S. manufacturers of solar panels and related equipment.
While World Trade Organization rules limit the use of subsidies that explicitly promote a country's exports in global markets, the ones we are proposing would likely be WTO-compliant.
This is because their aim is to make the U.S. solar industry more competitive within the domestic market, given the government's earlier findings that cheap imported panels are being dumped—sold too cheaply—here.
Why Make an Exception?
Like most economists, we believe that subsidies should be avoided except in special circumstances. Here are three reasons why this industry is an exception.
First, when one nation subsidizes solar panel production and exports those panels, it makes it cheaper to go solar in other countries, effectively cutting the cost of implementing climate policies abroad.
Second, when solar energy replaces fossil fuels in one place, the declining carbon emissions benefit people around the globe. Climate change, after all, affects the entire world.
Third, R&D investments made in any one economy eventually add to the global knowledge base. Improving solar technology will ultimately benefit the entire industry worldwide.
The Trump administration's solar tariffs will yield none of these benefits. In fact, they could instigate a trade war over clean energy products with our trading partners globally.
That is why we believe that the smarter subsidies we are proposing are a better way to sustain the U.S. solar industry and protect jobs.
Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article published on Dec. 21, 2017.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
That's a 3 percent jump from 2016 and 7 percent short of the $360 billion record set in 2015.
In all, 2017 represented a record 160 commissioned gigawatts of clean energy generating capacity (excluding large hydro) around the world, BNEF estimated. Solar provided 98 gigawatts of that, wind was at 56 gigawatts, biomass and waste-to-energy was 3 gigawatts, small hydro was 2.7 gigawatts, geothermal was 700 megawatts and marine power (energy carried by ocean waves, tides, salinity) was less than 10 megawatts.
"The 2017 total is all the more remarkable when you consider that capital costs for the leading technology—solar—continue to fall sharply," Jon Moore, chief executive of BNEF, commented. "Typical utility-scale PV systems were about 25 percent cheaper per megawatt last year than they were two years earlier."
Solar power dominated half of 2017's total clean energy investments at $160.8 billion, mostly thanks to China's "insatiable appetite" for solar projects, a Bloomberg report noted. China invested $133 billion across all clean energy technologies, with $86.5 billion poured just into solar. The country installed a "runaway" 53 gigawatts of solar capacity last year, BNEF estimated.
Justin Wu, head of Asia-Pacific at BNEF, explained that China's solar boom happened for two main reasons.
"First, despite a growing subsidy burden and worsening power curtailment, China's regulators, under pressure from the industry, were slow to curb build of utility-scale projects outside allocated government quotas. Developers of these projects are assuming they will be allocated subsidy in future years," Wu Said.
"Second, the cost of solar continues to fall in China, and more projects are being deployed on rooftops, in industrial parks or at other distributed locales. These systems are not limited by the government quota. Large energy consumers in China are now installing solar panels to meet their own demand, with a minimal premium subsidy."
But China is not the only country ramping up clean energy investments. The U.S. invested $57 billion—the world's second-biggest backer of renewables despite President Trump's efforts to boost fossil fuels and slash coal regulations.
Large wind and solar project financings pushed Australia up 150 percent to a record $9 billion, and Mexico up 516 percent to $6.2 billion.
Below are the 2017 totals for other countries investing $1 billion-plus in clean energy:
- India $11 billion, down 20 percent compared to 2016
- Brazil $6.2 billion, up 10 percent
- France $5 billion, up 15 percent
- Sweden $4 billion, up 109 percent
- Netherlands $3.5 billion, up 30 percent
- Canada $3.3 billion, up 45 percent
- South Korea $2.9 billion, up 14 percent
- Egypt $2.6 billion, up 495 percent
- Italy $2.5 billion, up 15 percent
- Turkey $2.3 billion, down 8 percent
- United Arab Emirates $2.2 billion, up 23-fold
- Norway $2 billion, down 12 percent
- Argentina $1.8 billion, up 777 percent
- Switzerland $1.7 billion, down 10 percent
- Chile $1.5 billion, up 55 percent
- Austria $1.2 billion, up 4 percent
- Spain $1.1 billion, up 36 percent
- Taiwan $1 billion, down 6 percent
- Indonesia $1 billion, up 71 percent
By Paul Brown
Heating homes and offices without adding to the dangers of climate change is a major challenge for many cities, but re-imagined district heating is now offering an answer.
A district heating scheme is a network of insulated pipes used to deliver heat, in the form of hot water or steam, from where it is generated to wherever it is to be used.
As a way of providing warmth for thousands of homes, typically in multi-storey apartment buildings, district heating has a long history in eastern Europe and Russia. But the hot water it distributes typically comes from power stations burning coal or gas, which means more greenhouse gas emissions.
Tapping into other forms of producing hot water, from renewable energy, bio-gas or capturing waste heat from industrial production, supermarkets or IT systems, provides alternative sources of large scale heating without adding to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Sweden has pioneered the switch from fossil fuels to other ways of heating water. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency said the country has gone from almost exclusively relying on fossil fuels to being 90 percent powered by renewable and recycled heat in 2017.
Today Stockholm, the capital, which needs heating for nine months of the year, contains 2,800 km of underground pipes connecting to more than 10,000 buildings, said Erik Rylander from Fortum, an energy company active in Nordic and Baltic countries.
"As long as you have a water-based heating circuit in your building (which basically all bigger buildings in Sweden have), the connection is easy," he explained. "A heat exchanger is placed in the basement which connects the district heating system to the building's heating system."
The system uses biofuels—wood chips, wood pellets and bio-oil—as well as household waste and recovered heat from the city's data centers and industries. It also draws energy from the sea using large heat pumps, Rylander said.
Further south in Spain, where heating is mostly required only in the winter months, winning public acceptance for the need to install district systems has been more difficult.
The involvement of citizens is a key issue for smart city initiatives, said José Ramón Martín-Sanz García, energy efficiency engineer at Veolia, a partner in a Spanish project near Valladolid.
"One of the biggest challenges was convincing homeowners that it was necessary. It required a communication plan," he said. About 31 buildings, a total of 1,488 dwellings with more than 4,000 residents, have been retrofitted since 2014 to decrease buildings' energy demands by 40 percent.
Also in Spain, San Sebastian is in the final stages of installing a power plant that will heat 1,500 new homes. The construction falls under the umbrella of the European research initiative Project Replicate, which seeks to reduce primary energy consumption by 35 percent through a biomass-fueled district heating system. It will be finalized by this summer.
"This is the first project of its kind," said Ainara Amundarain, smart strategy and sector specialization technician for the city of San Sebastian. "Most of the buildings in the district heating area are being built in tandem with the district heating project, so retrofitting is not an issue."
However, 154 buildings already standing in the zone will have to accommodate the new technology. "They're quite old, from the 1960s, so what we are also doing is retrofitting these old buildings," she said. In the event of a longer or colder winter, the city has back-up measures in the form of gas boilers.
While many district heating schemes are quite large-scale, others can be much smaller, using waste heat from one building to heat another nearby. The strategy is that heat will be supplied from local sources of waste heat such as retail outlets, buildings and IT server rooms, as well as from renewable sources such as solar power and heat pumps—and often in combination with thermal storage.
"The results from our modeling studies demonstrate that by installing a low-temperature district heating grid, it is possible to reduce heat losses by a third," explained SINTEF researcher Hanne Kauko.
She said the term "district heating" is really rather misleading. "In these local heating grids, the sources of heat are in fact very close at hand, so in Norway the sector is introducing a new term for such systems—urban energy."
A low-temperature heat distribution grid linked to heat pumps or electric boilers, combined with thermal storage, will also facilitate electricity storage in the form of heat during periods of electricity overproduction from renewable sources.
Kauko believes that housing developers should consider low-temperature urban energy systems when planning future projects. "New buildings in particular are very well suited to low-temperature urban energy systems because they exhibit lower levels of heat loss than older buildings, and are often fitted with underfloor heating that is ideal for heat distribution at lower temperatures," said Kauko.
"Today, heat is distributed in urban energy grids at temperatures of about 100°C, but modern buildings simply don't require heat to be supplied at temperatures as high as this."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.