Category Archives: Climate & Energy

Why US Emissions Rose in 2018

The news isn’t good for 2018. US CO2 emissions are estimated to be up 3.4% from last year, from a new Rhodium report. The details of that report are really interesting.

Emissions per sector

Unpacking those in order, we’re doing a good job at electrifying everything, however where we get that electricity from isn’t keeping up with demand. In the past the building of new Natural Gas power generation basically was at the expense of Coal power. But, now we’re at the point where the bulk of new demand is being served by Natural Gas, as we can’t build zero carbon sources nearly fast enough to keep up with new demand (not even to mention retiring old sites). A carbon price would be really effective at changing this equation.

Transport is really interesting, because buried in the report is this really interesting graph:

Figure
Are we at peak car?

Even with all the growth, gas demand was down. This further supports the theory that we’re at peak car that’s been floated in a few other places. Transportation sector emissions are still growing though because shipping (via trucks) and air transport are still on a growth path.

Buildings were another area where things were problematic, and a big part of it was the polar vortex last winter. We had just converted over to geothermal, and the fleets of oil trucks running all over last winter were notable. The buildings sector really needs more performance standards/building codes, and pushes for enhanced insulation and heat pump conversions. Our conversion from fuel oil to geothermal last year took 7 metric tons of CO2 off the board, which was the single biggest change we could make as a family.

Industry was the last huge add. I do wonder if they will have deeper numbers on what actually was going on here. What gets in this bucket is not always what you’d expect:

What is industry anyway?

Close to 20% of it is petroleum refining, which means that a lot of this could be attributed to increased US exports of fossil fuels, and the push this administration has made there. It is one of those areas where we get a 2 for 1 if we reduce fossil fuel demand other places. A carbon price would help here quite a bit, and help more generally in the rest of the industrial sector as it would let each part of it figure out how to do what they are doing in a more carbon efficient way.

While the report is not good news, it’s at least helpful to see what actually was driving it to figure out what kinds of policies would help.

What Citizens’ Climate Lobby has Meant to Me

Over the past year and a half I’ve been volunteering with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a volunteer group with a laser focus on passing federal carbon pricing legislation in a bi-partisan manner. I got involved originally from a Communications perspective (handling monthly emails and social media), but then due to scheduling challenges with existing group leaders, ended up taking on the group leader mantle for our local chapter.

The Investment in Volunteers

Volunteers are being asked to do some pretty amazing things: self organize at a congressional district level; directly lobby their members of congress; reach out to members of the community can grow support; establish deep relationships with local media. How does an enthusiastic volunteer even do any of these things? Well, the national organization will walk you through it, with world class training.

This, hands down, is the thing I find most remarkable about the organization, it’s investment in volunteers. Multiple nights a week, every week, there are training sessions running for volunteers. When you join on as a group leader you are signed up for a weekly emerging group leaders program, that’s 12 weeks of 1 hour evening sessions going through the whole of the organization, the theory of change, the levers of political will, active listening. All interactive with other new group leaders, all with the ability to ask questions along the way.

After that there are skill building training sessions running at least once a week through Citizens’ Climate University. And if you can’t make the session live, it’s all recorded and made available as a webcast and a podcast to catch up at your leisure.

I’ve volunteered in other contexts, and not seen this level of support and investment in volunteers elsewhere. The only time I saw this level of investment from a work perspective was when I was part of a Leadership Excellence program at IBM back in 2006.

These skills, like active listening, are not specific to the CCL policy goal. They just make you a more kind and effective human. Understanding where people are really coming from. Focusing on the fact that interactions with others don’t need to be high stakes, it’s ok to just connect on whatever common ground you can find. And, getting lots of time to practice. I’ve already noticed this changing, for the better, some long standing relationships.

Engaging in the Community

In the last year working with CCL has given me this nudge and excuse to reach out all over the community in ways I never did before. I sat down with a neighbor of 14 years, that I never knew lived here, who chairs our town’s Conservation Advisory Committee. I reconnected with a college friend from 20 years ago who’s now a local Rabi. I’ve got to sit down with members of local city councils, and our county legislature, with some amazing local non-profits and small businesses. I’ve gotten to know other volunteers in neighboring CCL chapters, and built new friends there. And a few of us are now working on a list of local craft brewers we’re going to reach out to, which is going to make for an amazing 2019.

All these people have been here all along, but in circles I wasn’t aware of or engaged with. And now, with this excuse to talk about climate change solutions, it was motivation to reach out and find them, and sit down for a chat. And out of it I’ve already made some amazing new friends with some really incredible people. Those relationships I will value for years to come.

Diving Deep on Climate and Policy

In the past year I’ve read economic modeling studies, climate assessments, and many a policy paper. I now have a much better understanding of what the Clean Air Act actually does, and how it does it. What the Clean Power Plan really was, and why it could only be so effective. How energy markets work, especially the electricity sector. What NY state’s grid looks like, where we actually get our electricity from.

The part of my brain that consumes two books on React.js programming in a week to write a medium complexity application in a new technology, is loving diving in on all this industry specific knowledge. And understanding the complexity in these things also helps me understand what pathways are going to be effective to really decarbonize.

And the Successes

And, after a year that’s been amazing and engaging on learning and process, we also had some great successes. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividends Act was introduced into both the US House and US Senate during then end of the 115th congress. Both with bi-partisan co-sponsors. Both will be back next year.

I have to admit, when I joined the group and really internalized the Carbon Fee & Dividend model, I wasn’t really sure it would every happen. This isn’t a papering over and declare victory proposal. This is nothing less than a complete transformation of our economy off fossil fuels, with 40% reduction in emissions in 12 years, and 90% reduction from 2015 levels by 2050. It’s not just targeting the electricity sector, it’s really going to transform the whole economy.

It just seemed too ambitious to make it to the Hill, but it still was the best idea on the table, so I was happy to push on it. And when the bill landed, I was on an Adrenalin rush for a week.

And the best part is how this mechanism is symbiotic to all kinds of other solutions. This accelerates every single solution in Drawdown. It will make a Green New Deal easier to accomplish, and more impactful should it happen. It’s in line with the Paris agreement, and leaves the door open for lots more action to meet even more aggressive targets. And, because of the Dividend, it is something that doesn’t leave anyone behind.

Next Steps

I’m extremely enthusiastic about CCL’s work in 2019. A bill is a long way from a law, but you can’t have a law without a bill. My work schedule is going to get a bit busier in the new year, but we’ve collected such an amazing group of volunteers locally, it’s just an excuse to help folks grow more into roles and hand off some responsibilities. Both are good things to do.

If you are looking for a volunteer organization that is going to make a difference on Climate Change, and help you grow to become a better advocate for any issue, CCL is a great organization to be a part of. Introductory calls happen every Wednesday night. Our local chapter meets on the 2nd Thursday of the month at Beahive in Beacon, NY.

Come join us, make a new friend, and help slay the climate dragon.

Two Degrees: Cities, Architecture and Our Changing Environments

Source: Two Degrees: Cities, Architecture and Our Changing Environments | Commonwealth Club

There were a few things in this podcast that struck me. The first was the summary of the thesis of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Societies collapse because one of the 3 following things happen:

  • They don’t think there is a problem
  • They think there is a problem, but think it’s someone else’s to solve
  • They think there is a problem, know it’s theirs to solve, but take ineffective action

This describes how lots of things fail, not just civilizations. I’ve seen so many software projects fail on premise #1 and #2. It seems simple, but as a framing it’s pretty good at classifying where things are stuck.

Efficiency is not sufficient

A lot of the talk was about how we’re going to need to change the built world. We hear a lot of talk about efficiency, which is good, but not sufficient. When it comes to the efficiency of cities, dense infill near transit hubs ends up far surpassing any retrofitting of buildings. Building cities around the idea of decreased car miles is super critical.

Will pipelines carry Hydrogen in the future?

One thing I did not realize is that a lot of our city level infrastructure for the methane/natural gas network existed before natural gas was widely used. It used to carry Coal gas, which is a mix of a lot of things, but notably 70% hydrogen. This means that the city level infrastructure could be reused to supply hydrogen gas in a future where we don’t want to be burning methane. 

There was lots more in the episode, and I’ll have to listen to it a second time because it was so informative. Not everything fits in my brain going over it only once. You can listen to the whole episode on the Commonwealth Club site.

8 months in with Geothermal Heating & Cooling

Last summer about this time we made a big decision. We were going to work with Dandelion (a new geothermal company in the area) and replace all our Fuel Oil based forced air heating and hot water system with a Geothermal system. Instead of burning oil to heat our home, we’d use 1000 feet of water pipe, going up and down a  new 500 foot well to extract and compress heat from the earth.

How does Geothermal Heating work?

Once you get below 10 ft here in our corner of New York State, the ground temperature is about 50 degrees F. This is a giant renewable source where you can either extract heat (in the winter) or dump heat (in the summer), and it really doesn’t budge the ground temp. A compressor is used in the furnace to turn this 50 degree ground loop heat into 90 degree air in the winter, or 42 degree air in the summer.

The compressor is where all the energy is consumed. However,  moving heat is much more efficient than creating it, so heat pumps have efficiencies of over 100%. Typically ground source heat pumps will produce 4 – 5 units of heat for every 1 unit of electricity put in. For cooling it’s even better.

By the numbers

In the winter of 2016-2017 we spent about $2000 on fuel oil and service contract for our old system. That was based on a fuel oil price of about $1.90 / gallon as part of a really good group buy. It was also a relatively warm winter.

The new system went into place on Nov 22nd of 2017. Early in the heating season. This heating season included a 14 day cold snap starting at Christmas where it was 20 degrees below averages the whole time. Even with all of that our electricity add from the furnace was around $650 dollars for the winter (the Waterfurnace system we got has really detailed metrics in it that let me see it’s energy use). There is a harder to account for hot water heating part of the equation, especially as we also got an Chevy Bolt EV this year. Also the year in oil would have been much more than the year before (both in use and cost). But suffice it to say, we come out way ahead on operating costs no matter how you slice it.

Our June and July bills from Central Hudson are less than last years, even though it’s been a hotter summer, and we’re also charging an EV. It looks like for the month of July we’ll end up spending about $32 in electricity for cooling. Here is a graph of all the current number in kWh used.

What else we love about the system

There are lots of qualitative things we love about the system as well. First of it so much quieter. It has 2 stages on both heating and cooling, and stage 1 (the more efficient) runs with a low fan speed that means unless you are in the room adjacent to the furnace it’s hard to know it’s running. This lower fan speed also does a much better job of pushing the heat out to the edges of the house. The whole house got much more consistent.

Getting rid of the fuel oil system means we no longer have a fuel oil tank in our basement of indeterminate age rusting away in the corner. There is no whiff of oil smell at times. The primary risk of carbon monoxide and potential fires in the house is gone. And that 700 gallons of fuel oil we used the last year is no more, which is 3.5 tons of CO2 emissions not taking place (the CO2 from the increased electricity we used in the winter comes to about 0.7 tons).

We installed a whole house humidifier along with it, so now can keep the house comfortable in the winter without filling humidifiers through the house.

And lastly, our screened in porch got so much nicer. The old AC compressor was right outside it, and loud. Now it’s in the basement and can’t be heard outside.

We love it

While I knew on paper that a ground source heat pump like this would be great, having never experienced one before I had this niggling concern all the way through the process in the fall. What would it actually be like?

It’s been amazing. At least once a week I have a moment about how great this new system is. The quiet, the comfort, the savings are all pretty amazing.

CAFE standard of 55mpg seem high? It’s not the real number, and the real number is a lot more interesting.

If automakers complied with the rules solely by improving the fuel economy of their engines, new cars and light trucks on the road would average more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025 (the charts here break out standards for cars and light trucks separately). But automakers in the United States have some flexibility in meeting these standards. They can, for instance, get credit for using refrigerants in vehicle air-conditioning units that contribute less to global warming, or get credit for selling more electric vehicles.

Once those credits and testing procedures are factored in, analysts expected that new cars and light trucks sold in the United States would have averaged about 36 miles per gallon on the road by 2025 under the Obama-era rules, up from about 24.7 miles per gallon in 2016. Automakers like Tesla that sold electric vehicles also would have benefited from the credit system.

Source: How U.S. Fuel Economy Standards Compare With the Rest of the World’s – The New York Times

This is one of those areas where most reporting on the CAFE standard rollback has been terrible. You tell people the new CAFE standard is 55 mpg, and they look at their SUV, and say, that’s impossible. With diesel off the table after the VW standard, only the best hybrids today are in that 55 mpg range. How could that be the average?

But it’s not, it’s 55 mpg equivalent. You get credit for lots of other things. EVs in the fleet, doing a better job on refrigerant switch over. 2025 would see a real fleet average of around 36 mpg if this was kept in place.

More importantly is that in rolling back this standard it’s going to make US car companies less competitive. The rest of the world is going here, and US not just means companies that don’t hit these marks have a shrinking global market.

Electricity Map

In looking for information related to my ny-power demo (which shows the realtime CO2 intensity on the New York power grid), I discovered Electricity Map. This is doing a similar thing, but at a global scale. It started primarily focused on Europe but is an open source project, and has contributions from all over the world. I helped recently on some accounting and references for the NY ISO region.

You’ll notice a lot of the map is grey in the US. That’s because while most of the public ISOs publish their real time data on the web, private power entities tend not to. It’s a shame, because you can’t get a complete picture.

What also is notable is how different the power profile looks like between different regions in the US.

It’s also really interesting if you take a look at Europe

Germany is quite bad on it’s CO2 profile compared to neighboring countries. That’s because they’ve been turning back on coal plants and they shut down their nuclear facilities. Coal makes up a surprisingly high part of their grid now.

The entire map is interactive and a great way to explore how energy systems are working around the world.

Climate change goes to court

Alsup insisted that this tutorial was a purely educational opportunity, and his enjoyment of the session was obvious. (For the special occasion, he wore his “science tie” under his robes, printed with a graphic of the Solar System.) But the hearing could have impacts beyond the judge’s personal edification, Wentz says. “It’s a matter of public record, so you certainly could refer to it in a court of public opinion, or the court of law in the future,” she says. Now, Wentz says, there’s a formal declaration in the public record from a Chevron lawyer, stating once and for all: “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

Source: Chevron’s lawyer says climate change is real, and it’s your fault – The Verge

This week Judge Alsup held a personal education session for himself on the upcoming case where several California Cities are suing the major fossil fuel companies under the assumption that they knew Climate Change was a real threat back in the 80s and 90s, and actively spread disinformation to sow doubt. This is one of many cases going forward under similar framing.

What makes this one different is Alsup. He was the judge that handled the Oracle vs. Google case, where he taught himself programming to be sure he was getting it right. For this case, he had a 5 hour education session on every question he could imagine about climate change and geology. The whole article is amazing, and Alsup is really a treasure to have on the bench.