The shelter in place orders that brought clean skies to some of the world's most polluted cities and saw greenhouse gas emissions plummet were just a temporary relief that provided an illusory benefit to the long-term consequences of the climate crisis. According to new research, the COVID-19 lockdowns will have a "neglible" impact on global warming, as Newshub in New Zealand reported.
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BP, the energy giant that grew from oil and gas production, is taking its business in a new direction, announcing Tuesday that it will slash its oil and gas production by 40 percent and increase its annual investment in low-carbon technology to $5 billion, a ten-fold increase over its current level, according to CNN.
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By Isabelle Gerretsen
"When I told people I was going to grow tomatoes in the desert, they thought I was crazy," Sky Kurtz, founder of Pure Harvest Smart Farms, told DW.
Water Scarcity and Fossil-Fuel Reliance<p>The technology uses minimal land and up to 95% less water than conventional agriculture. </p><p>The hydroponics system places the plants' roots directly into a water-based and nutrient-rich solution instead of soil. This "closed loop" system captures and recirculates all the water, rather than allowing it to drain away — useful for a country like the UAE suffering from extremely high water stress.</p><p>Globally, agriculture accounts for 70% of freshwater withdrawals, and UAE is extracting groundwater faster than it can be replenished, according to the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA).</p><p>"Water is very expensive over in the UAE, but energy is cheap as it is subsidized," says Jan Westra, a strategic business developer at Priva, a company providing technology to vertical farms.</p><p>The artificially controlled environment is energy intensive because the air conditioning and LED lights need a constant source of electricity.</p><p>This bringing forth of life in the desert could come at a high environmental cost. Most of that energy comes from carbon-emitting fossil fuels, even as the Middle Eastern country feel the effects of climate change.</p><p>By 2050 Abu Dhabi's average temperature is <a href="https://benthamopen.com/FULLTEXT/TOASCJ-13-56" target="_blank">predicted to increase by around 2.5°C</a> (36.5 F) in a business-as-usual scenario. Over the next 70 years patterns of rainfall are also expected to change.</p>
Integrating Renewable Energy<p>Although Pure Harvest is building a solar-powered farm in neighboring Saudi Arabia, its UAE operations get electricity from the carbon-intensive national grid.</p><p>Investing more in renewables "is a goal of ours," Kurtz told DW. He said the company has not set a clean energy target but is working on various green power projects, including a plan to integrate solar power generated in UAE into its operations. </p><p>However, Willem van der Schans, a researcher specializing in short supply chains at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, says sustainability and clean energy should be "inherent in the technology and included in plans when starting a vertical farm." </p><p>He argues that many vertical farming companies are not sustainable in terms of energy as they still view clean power as an optional "add-on."</p><p>Ismahane Elouafi, director general of the government funded ICBA in Abu Dhabi, acknowledges that vertical farming has some way to go before achieving "real sustainability," but she believes the innovations are "promising."</p><p>Improved battery storage, increasingly efficient LED lights and cheaper solar panels will help, she adds. </p>
Local Solutions<p>By 2050, the UAE government wants to generate almost half its energy from renewable sources.</p><p>Fred Ruijgt, a vertical farming specialist at Priva, argues that it's important to factor transport and refrigeration into the energy equation. Vertical farming uses more energy to grow crops than traditional agriculture, but because crops are grown locally, they do not have to be transported by air, sea or truck over long distances. </p><p>"The energy saving is difficult to calculate exactly, but the advantages of locally grown crops are huge," he says, adding that those grown in vertical farms not only use less water and pesticides, but that they also have a longer shelf life due to minimal transportation time. </p>
Food Security and Coronavirus<p>In 2018, the UAE set out its vision to become a hub for high-tech local food production.</p><p>Companies and investors have flocked to the region, attracted by the 0% corporate tax rate, low labor costs and cheap energy. With their help, UAE aims to reduce its reliance on imports and make its food system more resilient to shocks like climate change and pandemics. </p><p>Oshima from Aerofarms says the coronavirus pandemic has brought "greater appreciation of how fragile the supply chain is and raised questions about food safety and security."</p><p>When the UAE went into lockdown in April, imported supplies of perishable goods like vegetables fell and business boomed for local suppliers.</p><p>ICBA's Elouafi said they have helped keep the UAE well-stocked during the pandemic.</p><p>"With the help of local food production and adequate imports, there has been absolutely no shortage of food in the UAE," Elouafi told DW.</p><p>Climate change, however, poses an altogether more complex threat to the country in the long-term. Given climate change's likely impact on food production, she says vertical farming has shown it is "an economically viable proposition even with harsh climatic conditions."</p>
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The computer and phone giant Apple pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030, following the lead of other tech companies dedicated to mitigating their impact on the climate crisis. Apple's commitment extends to its massive supply chain, which supplies computers, tablets and iPhones to customers around the world.
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World Mayors Call for Car-Free Streets, End to Fossil Fuel Subsidies as Part of ‘Green and Just Recovery’
Mayors from some of the world's major cities have unveiled their vision for how the world can recover from the coronavirus pandemic while encouraging environmental justice and fighting the climate crisis.
Presidential hopeful Joe Biden announced a $2 trillion plan Tuesday to boost American investment in clean energy and infrastructure.
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By Jo Harper
Investment in U.S. offshore wind projects are set to hit $78 billion (€69 billion) this decade, in contrast with an estimated $82 billion for U.S. offshore oil and gasoline projects, Wood Mackenzie data shows. This would be a remarkable feat only four years after the first offshore wind plant — the 30 megawatt (MW) Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island — started operating in U.S. waters.
Corporates Shift<p>Helping to drive offshore growth, U.S. corporate buyers <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/cities-leading-the-transition-to-renewables/a-42850621" target="_blank">are increasingly relying on wind energy to power their businesses</a>. Walmart and AT&T are the two top corporate wind buyers, while 14 newcomers entered the wind market in 2019, including Estée Lauder and McDonald's.</p><p>"Oil and gas companies have jumped into the U.S. offshore wind market, where they can transfer expertise in offshore fossil fuel development to clean energy investments," says Max Cohen, principal analyst, Americas Power & Renewable research at Wood Mackenzie. Many international oil and gas companies have already recognized this huge potential and entered the US offshore wind market, including Orsted, Equinor and Shell.</p><p>"Given the recent tumult in oil prices, fossil fuel companies may more and more be looking to diversify their portfolios, particularly with assets that are contracted or offer returns uncorrelated with oil and gas," Cohen says. "Offshore wind is an area where they may have a comparative advantage, and they can then leverage the experience with that technology to make the leap to onshore wind, solar, and other renewable technologies," he says.</p>
East Coast leads the way<p>"There is enormous opportunity, especially off the East Coast, for wind. I am very bullish," said former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. "Market excitement is moving towards offshore wind. I haven't seen this kind of enthusiasm from industry since the Bakken shale boom," he said.</p><p>Offshore wind initiatives require excessive upfront spending: a 250 MW venture costs about $1 billion, based on International Energy Agency data, but as costs fall the tipping point after which costs fall faster gets nearer</p><p>"The opportunity has been created by Northeastern states seeing the large price declines for offshore wind in Europe," says Cohen. Onshore wind is historically the lowest cost renewable resource, but is at its most expensive in the Northeast, he adds. "But costs are falling slower than for other technologies," he says.</p>
Jobs and Coastal Revitalization<p>U.S. wind energy now supports 120,000 US jobs and 530 domestic factories. A study by the University of Delaware predicted that the supply chain needed to build offshore turbines to feed power to seven East Coast states by 2030 would generate nearly $70 billion in economic activity and at least 40,000 full-time jobs. An American Wind Energy Association's (AWEA's) March 2020 report estimated that developing 30,000 MW of offshore wind along the East Coast could support up to 83,000 jobs and $25 billion in annual economic output by 2030.</p><p>Having said that, not all of the jobs are American jobs. The offshore wind developers with commercial leases in the US are all foreign companies. There is growing interest from the shipbuilding sector in the Gulf of Mexico in partnering with offshore wind companies to provide services. As a result, some of the US oil trade associations have submitted comments supporting certain aspects of offshore wind. "However, it is unclear to what extent offshore wind developers plan to use US vessels and crew, and the existing projects did not incorporate US vessels or labor at all," Hawkins says.</p>
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By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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Storing large amounts of energy is key to using more renewable energy because the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine.
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By Meg Wilcox
As U.S. food assistance programs grapple with overwhelming demand during the coronavirus pandemic, some in New England are finding support from unusual partners—renewable energy companies.