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California – Current Progress of a Climate Champion

California – A Climate Leader


Learning From California’s Struggle to Balance Decarbonization With Energy Resilience

Since California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, marking its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), the state has continued to align itself with ongoing climate change initiatives and policies.

After the first decade of the initial policy’s implementation, California boosted its economy while diminishing carbon pollution with clean energy and new green technologies. However, more work needs to be done for California to reduce emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

Despite a few shortcomings, California’s success in combating climate change can teach other states a critical lesson in applying similar climate action measures.


California: A Work in Progress

California is no stranger to the effects of climate change. In 2021, California Fire and the U.S. Forest Service responded to 8,786 wildfires spanning 2,568,941 acres. The consequences of these frequent fires include lower air quality, reduced soil quality, and the destruction of the state’s ecosystems, homes, and livelihoods.

In other parts of the state, like the Sierra Nevada, hotter temperatures are melting the snow and releasing about 15 million acre-feet of water all at once. With this event occurring more frequently and earlier in the year, the state’s water storage facilities face increased pressure and generate fear of worsening floods and water shortages.

California has recognized the importance of securing its precious resources, including its energy. More fires and extreme temperatures are unavoidable due to climate change in the years to come.

The energy sector has changed dramatically over the years, from depending on natural sunlight to electrical grids to investments in renewable energy technologies. Populations and heavy industry have increased worldwide, and the demand for greener initiatives has, as well.

California has done the following in its effort to become more energy-efficient:

Powerful storms, strong winds, fires, tornadoes, and other natural events can knock out electricity grids for days, weeks, and even months on end. However, it’s essential to create substantial emissions-reducing legislation that tackles the climate crisis and allows for a more resilient power source.

What else can be done to progress the decarbonization of California and other states across the nation?


The Next Step: Decarbonizing Buildings

Buildings are responsible for generating nearly 40% of the world’s global greenhouse gas emissions, a majority of which are produced by operations and materials. California recently launched the Building Decarbonization Coalition (BDC) to continue balancing energy resilience with decarbonization.

Residential and commercial properties account for 25% (roughly) of California’s GHGs, including on-site fossil fuels and refrigerants for space cooling.

The BDC aims to cut 40% of structural emissions and adopt zero-emissions building codes by 2030. It has gathered experts in the energy sector, public interest advocates, building contractors, construction workers, local government officials, real estate agents, and investors for their input and industry knowledge.

The BDC released a guide that details set goals, philosophies, policies, and strategies that California intends to meet in its path toward building decarbonization. Highlights and recommendations from the report include:

  • Adopt an emissions-free building code for all new construction, removing the reliance on fossil fuels and shifting toward renewables instead.
  • Replace heat and hot water appliances in existing buildings with zero-emission alternatives over time.
  • Help increase the market share of clean, electric appliances by replacing all fossil fuel-burning appliances.
  • Ensure that building decarbonization is conducted in a cost-effective, equitable way to prevent burdening disadvantaged communities with excess costs.
  • Guarantee that efforts to decarbonize buildings aid the grid by incorporating renewable energy into the state’s power supply.

Barriers to Building Decarbonization

While California’s building decarbonization pursuits could be applied to emissions-reducing objectives in other states, the BDC and stakeholders recognize that several barriers need to be addressed for the state to reach its goals by 2030:

  • Government officials, industry experts, and the public currently lack interest in and understanding of building decarbonization technologies.
  • Gas utility companies and various labor unions are likely to deliver political resistance, particularly to decarbonizing commercial buildings.
  • A lack of coordination exists between like-minded emissions-reducing organizations throughout the state.
  • Customers and contractors are faced with higher upfront costs and little financial assistance or incentives to back renewable technologies for building decarbonization.
  • Many building decarbonization technologies aren’t available yet, requiring more states to manufacture green technologies, as well.
  • Existing energy policies and building codes need to be updated to meet the newer emissions-reducing goals of decarbonization initiatives.
  • Businesses and organizations don’t understand how they could realize energy savings through decarbonization.

The state needs to seek solutions to these obstacles for the next phase of California’s decarbonization actions to work.


A Model of Success

Climate change will continue to worsen and affect states differently. However, California continues to lead in its approach to decarbonization and energy resilience.

California’s climate policies’ collective political, economic, and social foundation serves as a model of its success. Other states can learn from it and replicate parts of its action plans.



Article by Jane Marsh

Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of –

Environment.co

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Climate Solution- Sustainable Ag.

Modern Farming


Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable agriculture turns farms into thriving ecological lands that produce food crops, in addition to using plants that increase farms’ biodiversity while sequestering atmospheric carbon. The health of ecosystems, including soil nutrition, on the farm, is a top priority when agriculture is managed sustainably

In most traditional farming of the past, a significant amount of nutrients are removed from the soil without being replaced. Major contributing factors to the depletion of healthy soil on farms globally are:

  • over-tilling the land
  • monoculture (just growing one type of crop on sections of farmland, not implementing crop rotation and planting a variety of crops)
  • synthetic fertilizers and pesticides

From processes like these, there is constant degradation of soil nutrients, leading to poor fertilization from year to year. On farms that use these unsustainable farming practices, there is an increase in weeds, bugs, and vermin. Basically, the farmer slowly loses control of the farm as a whole when the quality of the soil is not managed over time.

The solution to these ecological problems is sustainable agriculture. Sustainable ag. involves land-use practices that restore, protect, and maintain ecosystems and biodiversity on farms. Conventional farmlands are thus transformed into ecologically thriving carbon sinks.


Sustainable Ag. Techniques; Cover Crops, Polyculture, and more

It is important for the farmer implementing sustainable agriculture techniques to understand the relationship between all of the farm’s organisms and the farm’s environment. This understanding is needed in order to create biodiversity on the farm optimally. The sustainable farmer must focus efforts on maintaining nutrients within the farm’s soil, water, and air.

A few sustainable agriculture practices that increase soil health are:

  • seasonal use of cover crops
  • concerted efforts to maintain proper soil nutrition
  • no-till or low-till farming
  • crop rotation
  • polyculture (vs. monoculture)

Cover crops refer to a variety of crops grown on farmland during off-seasons in order to maintain soil health. Examples of cover crops include legumes like alfalfa, various grasses, and cereal crops like rye, oats, and barley, brassicas like turnips and radishes, and turnips and non-legume broadleaves like flax and spinach.

Polyculture is also a practice of introducing a variety of crops on farmland, including multiple species of plants. In the case of polyculture, crops and plants are rotated to different sections on the farmland year-round. Even if polyculture is implemented on a farm, crop rotation and low/ no-till farming should be continually practiced year-round in order to ensure the health of a farm’s ecosystems and soil.

Biodiversity of a farm’s crops, plants on the farm, and other ecosystems on the farm, as well as proper soil nutrition – deter pests. Polyculture also helps maintain a farmland’s healthy ecosystems; also reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.


Creating Carbon Sinks

Real-world examples of sustainable agriculture predominantly include farms that work to satisfy human food demand; while maintaining biodiversity and healthy ecosystems on the farmland. Sustainable agriculture transforms otherwise conventional farmland into environmentally-friendly carbon sinks.

Sustainable farms enhance environmental quality and agricultural economy through the enhancement of the health of a farmland’s natural resources. For example, carbon farming is a sustainable agriculture practice that maintains healthy soils and is common practice in most organic farming. Practices to maintain soil health are found in regenerative agriculture, as well as permaculture (see the section on permaculture below, and please see Green City Times’ article on Regenerative Agriculture). 


Project Drawdown recognizes these sustainable practices as top climate solutions – all of which serve to create agricultural carbon sinks:

  • “Land is a critical component of the climate system, actively engaged in the flows of carbon, nitrogen, water, and oxygen—essential building blocks for life. Carbon is the core of trees and grasses, mammals and birds, lichens and microbes. Linking one atom to the next, and to other elements, it’s the fundamental material of all living organisms.” FROM  –  drawdown.org/sectors/land-sinks
  • “Plants and healthy ecosystems have an unparalleled capacity to absorb carbon through photosynthesis and store it in living biomass. In addition, soils are, in large part, organic matter—once-living organisms, now decomposing—making them an enormous storehouse of carbon. Land can therefore be a powerful carbon sink, returning atmospheric carbon to living vegetation and soils. While the majority of heat-trapping emissions remain in the atmosphere, land sinks currently return a quarter of human-caused emissions to Earth — literally.”   FROM   –   drawdown.org/sectors/land-sinks
  • “Multistrata agroforestry systems mimic natural forests in structure. Multiple layers of trees and crops achieve high rates of both carbon sequestration and food production.”    FROM  –   drawdown.org/solutions/multistrata-agroforestry
  • “An agroforestry practice, silvopasture integrates trees, pasture, and forage, into a single system. Incorporating trees improves land health and significantly increases carbon sequestration.”    FROM   –   drawdown.org/solutions/silvopasture
  • “Pumping and distributing water is energy intensive. Drip and sprinkler irrigation, among other practices and technologies, make farm water use more precise and efficient.”  FROM  –   drawdown.org/solutions/farm-irrigation-efficiency
  • “Building on conservation agriculture with additional practices, regenerative annual cropping can include compost application, green manure, and organic production. It reduces emissions, increases soil organic matter, and sequesters carbon.”  FROM   –   drawdown.org/solutions/regenerative-annual-cropping

Shropshire Agroforestry Project – Shropshire, England



Soil Nutrition
The degradation of agricultural natural resources is the leading issue in depleting a farm’s soil nutrient levels and the health of farmland ecosystems. Sustainable agriculture makes efficient use of non-renewable natural resources. Synthetic pesticides, excessive tilling of the soil, and monoculture (re-planting the same crop, or same type of crop, on the same land season after season, lack of crop rotation) lead to degradation of a farm’s soil health.
A successful sustainable farm must focus a substantial amount of time year-round on healthy soil nutrition to help maintain long-term quality crop and plant growth.
Carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, phosphates, and other soil nutrients, are necessary proper for good soil nutrition. A healthy soil PH level, and healthy salt content in soils, as well as proper soil nutrients; all can be enhanced in farm soil simply by optimally reusing crop leftovers, farm plant debris, or even some ‘green’ livestock manure for natural fertilization.
Other important techniques to improve soil health on farms include the implementation of polyculture, cover crops (to keep the land productive vs. barren during off-seasons), and no-till or low-till farming. These sustainable agriculture techniques not only improve the health of a farm’s ecosystems but help fight climate change by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere; creating both healthy farmland and a healthy planet.

What are easy ways to reduce a farm’s carbon footprint?
In focusing on possible, easily overlooked, improvements in farms trying to successfully implement sustainable agriculture – issues with poor irrigation, and other water quality issues can always reduce the quality of agriculture. The use of treated, reclaimed rainwater and greywater, on a farm, are easily implemented sustainable agriculture practices; that also serve to save water resources. 
Another example of sustainable farming is the independent production of nitrogen through the Haber process; which uses hydrogen produced from natural gas or possibly created with electricity (ideally from renewable energy) via an electrolyzerThese farming techniques are a part of the emerging regenerative agriculture process.
In sustainable agriculture, it’s important to manage long-term crop rotations to improve soil nutrition. Sustainable farming still entails improving the farmer’s carbon footprint and the quality of ecosystems in their farmland. Natural fertilizer processes help with creating healthy soil. Natural resources are also an important consideration.
Farmers must manage natural resources (crops, plants, trees, rainwater, etc…), and manage the level of non-renewable energy resources used on the farm. With added efficiency on the farm, certain crops, plant and animal waste, tree, and plant croppings, etc… can also be used as sources for biomass/ biofuel production.

For information on how agricultural renewable resources (i.e. biomass) can be developed and optimally produced on farms, please see the following Green City Times’ articles: 

Cellulosic biofuel – fuel solutions

Anaerobic digestion – a proven solution to our waste problem

Renewable energy: biomass and biofuel


Besides increasing biodiversity on farms (through polyculture and agroforestry techniques, for example), maintaining healthy farm ecosystems, and a focus on soil nutrition; other critical considerations in sustainable agriculture are:

  • Managing water wisely
  • Minimizing air, water, and climate pollution
  • Rotating crops and embracing diversity. Planting a variety of crops can have many benefits, including healthier soil and improved pest control. Crop diversity practices include intercropping (growing a mix of crops in the same area) and complex multi-year crop rotations.
  • Planting cover crops. Cover crops, like clover or hairy vetch, are planted during off-season times when soils might otherwise be left bare. These crops protect and build soil health by preventing erosion, replenishing soil nutrients, and keeping weeds in check, reducing the need for herbicides.
  • Reducing or eliminating tillage.  Traditional plowing (tillage) prepares fields for planting and prevents weed problems, but can cause a lot of soil loss. No-till or reduced till methods, which involve inserting seeds directly into undisturbed soil, can reduce erosion and improve soil health.
  • Applying integrated pest management (IPM). A range of methods, including mechanical and biological controls, can be applied systematically to keep pest populations under control while minimizing use of chemical pesticides.
  • Integrating livestock and crops. Industrial agriculture tends to keep plant and animal production separate, with animals living far from the areas where their feed is produced, and crops growing far away from abundant manure fertilizers. A growing body of evidence shows that a smart integration of crop and animal production can be a recipe for more efficient, profitable farms.  [BULLET POINTS FROM  – ucsusa.org/what-sustainable-agriculture]


[As noted above, regenerative agriculture techniques and sustainable agriculture practices are key to reversing the global effects and negative trends of unsustainable ag. practices. Sustainable agriculture practices include increasing the use of permaculture; as well as urban and community gardening.]


Permaculture



The simulation of natural ecosystems, both in agriculture and green urban planning, has the potential to help reduce man’s carbon footprint on the earth.

Some fields of permaculture and urban gardening include Ecological Design, Ecological Engineering, Environmental Design, Integrated Water Resource Management, and Sustainable Architecture. All of these professions work with nature rather than against; working toward the goal of sustaining both nature and society for future generations.

The depletion of the earth’s resources due to the processes of mass production and consumption, inefficient waste management, and the destruction wrought on nature due to fossil fuel infrastructure development are reasons for the need for permaculture and urban gardening techniques in agriculture.

The need to work with existing resources in order to save the environment, and people alike, is a goal that has many nations working toward carbon neutrality in agriculture, as well as eco-conscious techniques in agriculture to preserve biodiversity. Chemical fertilizers and other environmentally hazardous methods like pesticides are the way of the past in agriculture. The future of gardening/ agriculture lies in sustainable methods like urban gardening (techniques that can easily be applied to larger-scale agriculture/ farms).


Urban gardening

Urban gardening, or urban agriculture, includes elements of the following practices:

  • Gardening for your residence
  • Rain gardening
  • Community, school, and rooftop gardens
  • Indoor gardening
  • Vertical farming

Here is a handy guide to urban gardening:

“City gardens need not be limited to growing just a few plants on the windowsill. Whether it’s an apartment balcony garden or a rooftop garden, you can still enjoy growing all your favorite plants and veggies. In this Beginner’s Guide to Urban Gardening, you will find the basics of city gardening for beginners and tips for handling any issues you may come across along the way.”

Read more at Gardening Know How: Urban Gardening: The Ultimate Guide To City Gardening


Other sustainable solutions for the global conservationist community; carbon offsets

In addition to sustainable agriculture practices by farmers, steps that can be taken by individuals to help with environmental sustainability include: going paperless, going vegetarian (or at least eating less red meat), recycling and buying recycled products, and using Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood products.

Other personal lifestyle solutions to help with global sustainability efforts include using more cloth and alternative products (like bamboo products for sustainable lifestyles), eating less fast food, and eating vegan meals as often as possible instead of meat.

Going with a more sustainable diet is a way of supporting the use of agricultural land for regenerative farming ultimately used in diet and manufacturing of consumer products. Regenerative ag. produces organic foods sold at farmer’s markets. Another easy way to support sustainability efforts is by shopping at, and supporting, farmer’s markets.

Paper products were once trees, so reducing your use of paper products in your daily life will really translate into saving trees. Additionally, meat, and fast-food restaurants, contribute to deforestation because deforested land is often land used for cattle grazing.

In many cases, carbon offsets are purchased by international companies in industries running polluting factories, using carbon-intensive fuel for energy, and manufacturing fossil fuel-intensive products; and this often includes companies involved in deforestation. However, carbon offsets can also be purchased by individuals – online, at retail outlets, gas stations, etc…


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The future generation of batteries

What are future generation of batteries going to be?


Advanced li-ion batteries

Next-generation lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries are being developed, and varieties are already currently in the marketplace. These next-gen li-ion batteries have 2-7X the efficiency of current batteries, often while reducing costs. New varieties of advanced li-ion batteries maintain a stable capacity for 20+ years. Next-gen li-ion batteries can charge in minutes, are rechargeable, have a higher capacity, and are more cost-efficient than previous battery generations.

The most common type of high capacity, widely used, advanced batteries being developed today are li-ion batteries made in combination with other metals. Developing advanced batteries ends up creating a unique battery technology (like li-ion cobalt oxide, which is frequently used today in portable devices – cell phones, laptops, etc…).

[Another metal commonly used in batteries for a wide variety of products and electric vehicles (EVs), and often combined with other metals and elements – is nickel. “Nickel (Ni) has long been widely used in batteries, most commonly in nickel-cadmium (NiCd) and in the longer-lasting nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries…”.]


Next-gen battery technologies

Here are a few other examples of advanced li-ion next-gen battery technologies currently in the market (but less widely commercially available than li-ion cobalt varieties. (Here is a YouTube video on li-iron phosphate batteries, also known as LFP batteries). Lithium-iron-phosphate batteries are currently a popular battery solution for some stationary battery applications. Other advanced battery technologies currently in development include:

All of these promising, best-in-class batteries based on advanced li-ion chemistry are more efficient than the products of previous li-ion battery generations; and are also lighter, longer-lasting, often still rechargeable while also developed to charge quickly; and have a higher energy capacity.

These cutting-edge li-ion batteries based on the latest battery chemistries are emerging into the mass marketplace; as they transition from R&D, beta-testing, and demonstration phases. Advanced next-gen li-ion batteries could revolutionize battery technology for:

  • smartphones, computers, tablets
  • EVs
  • grid energy storage
  • commercial/ municipal buildings
  • RVs, boats
  • aerospace applications, other industrial applications, and much more.

Battery recycling

The next step in ensuring that future generations of li-ion batteries are actually a sustainable solution is a concerted effort by battery manufacturers to develop batteries with future recycling options built-in the battery design. Here’s a snippet from C&EN about the importance of having future recycling requirements in mind as a priority for battery manufacturers:

Lithium-ion batteries have made portable electronics ubiquitous, and they are about to do the same for electric vehicles. That success story is setting the world on track to generate a multimillion-metric-ton heap of used Li-ion batteries that could end up in the trash. The batteries are valuable and recyclable, but because of technical, economic, and other factors, less than 5% are recycled today.

The enormousness of the impending spent-battery situation is driving researchers to search for cost-effective, environmentally sustainable strategies for dealing with the vast stockpile of Li-ion batteries looming on the horizon.   FROM –  cen.acs.org/materials/energy-storage/time-serious-recycling-lithium


Cobalt controversy

One glaring issue with li-ion batteries is the lack of sustainability in sourcing the critical rare earth metals used in li-ion batteries. Especially problematic is cobalt sourced from Congo (cobalt is frequently found in batteries in smartphones, portable computers, and EVs).

Cobalt sourced from Congo (which supplies roughly 2/3 of the world’s cobalt), and then used in li-ion cobalt oxide batteries (as well as other batteries – for issues such as battery durability and the like) are unsustainably and unethically sourced. Cobalt from Congo is the product of cobalt mining rife with human rights abuses (child labor, labor for insufficient wages, labor in hazardous, unregulated conditions), unmitigated environmental and social injustices, and other unsustainable practices.

Cobalt is found in many varieties of li-ion batteries, and even nickel-based batteries, and other batteries that use a combination of metals and elements. However, there are batteries with no cobalt or other unsustainable rare earth metals (such as those promising battery types mentioned above in this article). There are manufacturers producing li-ion cobalt-free batteries, as well as many battery manufacturers committed to using cobalt that is not sourced from Congo; but rather other parts of the world that do not have human rights abuses in cobalt mining.

Since child and slave labor have been repeatedly reported in cobalt mining, primarily in the artisanal mines of DR Congo, technology companies seeking an ethical supply chain have faced shortages of this raw material and the price of cobalt metal reached a nine-year high in October 2017, more than US$30 a pound, versus US$10 in late 2015. After oversupply, the price dropped to a more normal $15 in 2019. As a reaction to the issues with artisanal cobalt mining in DR Congo a number of cobalt suppliers and their customers have formed the Fair Cobalt Alliance (FCA) which aims to end the use of child labor and to improve the working conditions of cobalt mining and processing in the DR Congo.

Members of another ethical cobalt mining organization, the Responsible Cobalt Initiative, include FairphoneGlencore, and Tesla, Inc. Research is being conducted by the European Union on the possibility to eliminate cobalt requirements in lithium-ion battery production. As of August 2020 battery makers have gradually reduced the cathode cobalt content from 1/3, to 2/10, to currently 1/10, and have also introduced the cobalt free LFP cathode into the battery packs of electric cars such as the Tesla Model 3. In September 2020, Tesla outlined their plans to make their own, cobalt-free battery cells.FROM  –    wikipedia.org/wiki/Cobalt#Batteries


Summation of Current Advanced Battery Technologies

Widely commercially available advanced li-ion batteries (such as li-ion cobalt oxide, or the promising LFP batteries gaining popularity for home energy storage and EVs) remain the most prominent high capacity batteries widely available in today’s market. These advanced batteries are produced for smartphones, laptops, EVs; as well as small-scale (residential/ commercial building), and large-scale (grid, industrial) energy storage.

However, sodium-ion batteriesgraphene-based batteries, and zinc-air batteries represent cheaper, more abundant, more environmentally-friendly material than lithium; that could produce a less expensive battery with possibilities for long-term energy storage and applications for a wide range of products – if R&D in these technologies yields batteries that can be widely commercially marketed.

Lithium-vanadium phosphate batteries are a next-generation battery solution that shows promise; as they can extend the range of EVs, for example. These batteries potentially have greater power than advanced batteries found in many EVs today, but also greater safety than the batteries found in smartphones and laptops.

In addition, recharging lithium-vanadium batteries could be faster than batteries currently used in EVs and computers. Other promising advanced next-gen battery types with varying degrees of research and development, and at different levels of marketability, include various types of flow batteries.


Flow batteries

Flow batteries, such as vanadium flow and zinc-iron redox flow, have a longer battery life than conventional li-ion batteries. Flow batteries have a battery life of over 20 years, quickly charge and discharge; and easily scale up from under 1 MW to over 10 MW. Vanadium flow batteries represent high capacity energy storage, can be idle when solar and wind aren’t producing, and then discharge instantly. They have the unique ability to charge and discharge simultaneously and to release large amounts of electricity quickly.

As they are inexpensive to scale up, vanadium flow batteries represent an opportunity for reliable, affordable large-scale energy storage. At this point, many types of flow batteries are still in the R&D phase due to the expense of manufacturing these batteries; with only limited commercial availability. However, commercial deployment of flow batteries is seen in some areas worldwide today, including some large markets – such as throughout Australia and Asia.

Unlike vanadium flow batteries, which currently represent a great, realistic battery alternative, lithium-air batteries only theoretically represent a great battery alternative. Lithium-air batteries could triple the range of EVs; and could give fully charged EVs the same range as maximum range gasoline cars with a full tank. However, whereas vanadium flow batteries can charge and discharge repetitively with no problem, it has been notoriously difficult to manufacture rechargeable varieties of lithium-air batteries.



New, promising batteries are currently being manufactured with everything from:

  • li-ion + cobalt, phosphate, manganese, silicon
  • combining these elements, along with nickel – for lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxides, or NMCs as these batteries are known)
  • batteries based on vanadium, zinc, sodium, or even graphene.

Advanced R&D is being done on “superconductors“, flow batteries, solid-state batteries, and various metal or air-flow type batteries. Additionally, there are experimental combinations such as lithium-sulfur, lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt, and lithium-titanate oxide. New advanced next-gen batteries are quickly gaining ground both in terms of R&D, as well as deployment. Advancements in next-gen batteries will help add renewable energy storage to the grid, add charging capacity to our cell phones and laptops, and help extend the range of electric cars to compete with gasoline ones.



Please also see:

renewable energy storage


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Clean Hydrogen Power

Clean and GREEN H2 |


Hydrogen and the Clean Energy Transition

Hydrogen is one of the most promising emerging energy technologies to fill the rising global demand for clean low carbon and emission-free energy sources. The recent global societal shift towards environmental sustainability, and the global imperative for climate action, have significantly altered energy consumption patterns.

Clean and renewable energy companies are booming. Solar companies experienced their highest production and distribution rates in 2020, enhancing the national use of renewable power. In addition to solar, other renewable energies and emerging next-generation clean energy technologies (such as hydrogen and carbon capture) are also having breakthrough years. President Biden has influenced alternative energy sourcing by establishing ambitious sustainability standards in the U.S. – such as net zero by 2050, and a carbon-neutral electricity grid by 2035. The Biden administration also seeks to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 50-52% by 2030 (from 2005 levels).

Biden generated the Build Back Better (BBB) plan, seeking to invest in American society and the American clean energy sector. The proposed program allocates trillions of funding dollars for United States’ infrastructure (as well as other programs that benefit society), including funding for the clean energy industry, promoting technological advancements and system alterations.

The Build Back Better plan includes funding for hydrogen and carbon capture technological RD&D (as well as a variety of other next-generation clean energy technologies). Various parts of the BBB climate-related plan also include funding for clean energy infrastructure, EV charging infrastructure, financial incentives such as tax credits for renewable energy, and modernizing the US electrical grid (in addition to more clean energy programs). When the US diversifies production and use of clean energy (including clean hydrogen and carbon capture), national greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are effectively reduced.

Fortunately, Congress did end up passing a part of the original BBB plan – the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The IIJA does have some investment for technological measures described in this article and was signed into law by President Biden in November 2021. Unfortunately, it does not look like the rest of the original BBB will pass Congress during Biden’s first term. Still, both the development of hydrogen technologies and carbon capture technologies, have bipartisan support. The technological developments discussed in this article are set to continue advancing this decade (a bit more slowly than if the full BBB passed.)


Domestic Energy Production Challenges

Nearly 80% of America’s energy production and consumption (with the transportation sector included) is derived from fossil fuels. These finite natural resources (coal, oil, and gas) create atmospheric pollution during combustion (GHGs and other pollution). GHGs alter the planet’s natural temperature control process, degrading the global ecosystem. On the other hand, hydrogen represents clean energy; as hydrogen, itself, doesn’t release carbon or contribute to atmospheric pollution. 

The Earth absorbs sunlight, generating heat and warming the surface. The planet is capable of reabsorbing a finite amount of additional solar radiation or emitting it back to space. When GHGs invade the environment from the combustion of fossil fuels, they alter the atmosphere’s natural composition and change the process. GHGs have a higher sunlight-to-heat conversion rate and trap energy rather than sending it to space.

Over time, the entrapment and overproduction of heat raise Earth’s temperature. As the planet warms, the evaporation rate rises, oceans heat up, and global weather patterns are changed; resulting in extreme flooding in some global regions (from increasingly extreme storms), and elongated drought periods (causing wildfires, damage to agriculture, etc…) in others. Global warming also degrades aquatic ecosystems, causes rising sea levels, and adversely affects biodiversity worldwide (among other global adverse effects of climate change).

Hydrogen is a clean energy solution for energy storage and transportation to replace climate-change-causing fossil fuels. Right now, hydrogen can be used as a fuel source for cars and buses – and in the future, for long-haul shipping, heavy-duty trucks, and, hopefully, long-haul aviation.

Hydrogen can be used for energy storage. Hydrogen also represents a potential zero or low carbon emissions fuel source for HVAC in buildings; a zero carbon emissions solution for building heating. Hydrogen potentially performs all of these functions without contributing to global warming, air pollution, or climate change (zero carbon in the case of green hydrogen – whereas blue hydrogen represents a low carbon solution – see below for a description of the hydrogen production color spectrum).


What is Carbon Capture?

As the demand for zero and low carbon emissions energy sources rises, environmental engineers and scientists develop new clean production technologies. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) decreases GHGs in the process of producing hydrogen in natural gas power plants (as well as in energy generation from other fossil fuels, and other industrial processes). CCS + H2 production generates reliable low carbon power – hydrogen. After capturing the carbon emissions from methane reforming (in the blue hydrogen production process, described below), partial oxidation restructures the elements as they flow through a catalyst bed, creating clean hydrogen. The actual use of hydrogen for energy generates zero pollution and no carbon emissions.

Though carbon capture cannot directly generate hydrogen for sustainable energy uses, methane reforming in natural gas power plants can. Methane reforming in natural gas power plants combines Fahrenheit steam, combined with a catalyst. The process produces hydrogen and a relatively small amount of carbon dioxide (smaller than the natural gas energy-generating process). Carbon capture can be used to capture CO2 from the natural gas combustion, as well as the methane reforming cycle – a low carbon process to create clean hydrogen.

Environmental scientists and engineers develop carbon capture technology to reduce atmospheric pollution from manufacturing facilities and power plants. The technology can absorb 90% of carbon emissions, significantly decreasing GHGs.

Pre-combustion carbon capture turns fuel sources into a gas rather than burning them. Post-combustion capturing separates carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion emissions. The collection of CO2 travels to an alternate processing facility where individuals repurpose or store it, decreasing adverse ecological effects.


Hydrogen Production – the 3 Colors

Engineers have developed various methods of hydrogen production and differentiated them on a color spectrum. When companies create H2 from methane reformation without collecting carbon outputs, they generate grey hydrogen. This process releases 9.3 kilograms of GHGs for every kilogram of hydrogen. In order to create a sustainable, low carbon solution for future hydrogen production, the world must transition away from grey hydrogen to environmentally-friendly hydrogen production methods (grey hydrogen currently represents a vast majority of global hydrogen production).

Companies can capture carbon emissions in the methane reformation process, storing them to preserve the atmosphere, producing blue hydrogen. The CCS process can collect up to 90% of the CO2 emissions and place them underground for climate change prevention. The process is significantly more sustainable than grey hydrogen production.

The zero carbon emissions hydrogen production process uses renewable energy, electrolyzers, and water, generating green hydrogen. Advanced technological devices (electrolyzers) separate hydrogen (H2) from H2O using electrolysis. Solar panels and wind turbines power the systems, creating zero emissions throughout the practice.

Green hydrogen is the most sustainable version of the energy source. Industries can power their production using a 100% clean energy source (green H2), eliminating atmospheric pollution from the process.

The process of producing green H2 is much cleaner than the conventional, ecologically degrading hydrogen development practice of methane reforming. Traditionally, energy professionals generate H2 from fossil fuel sources, generating 830 million tons of GHGs annually. Producing green hydrogen from zero-emission sustainable sources can enhance its efficiency while reducing atmospheric degradation. Producing blue hydrogen still uses methane reforming, but by also using CCS technology, a cleaner method of producing hydrogen is being used.


Hydrogen Fuel Cell Energy
hydrogen fuel cell

The process of producing hydrogen can supply fuel for hydrogen-powered fuel cells, creating an alternate clean energy source for energy storage and transportation. The cells work like batteries, running off of the hydrogen inside of them. They contain one positive and one negative electrode, generating the cathode and anode.

The two electrodes contain an electrolyte. Hydrogen fuels the anode, and air powers the cathode, separating molecules into protons and electrons. The free electrons travel through a designated circuit, creating electricity. Excess protons move to the cathode, combining with oxygen and generating water as the output. Pure water is a sustainable alternative to other GHGs, and water is the only emission in hydrogen power generation.

hydrogen fuel cell bus – Berlin, Germany

Hydrogen fuel cells are used in energy storage, and hydrogen buses, as clean energy battery solutions. Read more about Europe’s extensive effort to expand the hydrogen bus presence on the continent here. The only emissions from hydrogen buses run by fuel cells are water.

Homeowners can also potentially utilize hydrogen fuel cells, shrinking their carbon footprints. Hopefully, hydrogen will be used in large home appliances in the future, such as electric HVAC units, electric furnaces, electric boilers, and other applications. Adopting electric home appliances can aid the transition away from fossil fuel-derived power sources. 

You can compare your carbon footprint and utility savings by first receiving an energy consultation. A professional energy consultant can unveil your property’s compatibility with hydrogen fuel cell power sources. They can also recommend energy efficiency practices, reducing your carbon footprint over time.


Benefits of CCS, Electricity, and Hydrogen Fuel Sourcing

President Biden set a national carbon-neutrality goal upon entering office. Meeting the objective requires a restructuring of the energy sector. Both hydrogen and carbon capture represent solutions to accelerate the low-carbon, clean energy transition. Biden plans on developing a carbon-neutral electric grid, sourcing 100% of U.S. electricity from clean energy sources.

Although still fairly expensive, clean hydrogen represents a highly efficient low-carbon power alternative. “Hydrogen can be re-electrified in fuel cells with efficiencies up to 50%, or alternatively burned in combined cycle gas power plants (efficiencies as high as 60%).”  [Quote from  –  energystorage.org/technologies/hydrogen-energy-storage]. We can effectively develop a carbon-neutral nation by diversifying our electricity sources.

Green and blue hydrogen development can provide sustainable support for the electric grid, be used in the transportation sector or energy storage (in hydrogen fuel cells), and even as a low carbon solution for HVAC units and other major appliances in buildings. CCS with hydrogen development (producing blue hydrogen) represents a low carbon source of clean hydrogen, while green hydrogen production represents a zero carbon source.

We can generate clean energy while eliminating further atmospheric degradation when we target significant pollution producers and replace dirty energy with clean energy sources like electricity and hydrogen. Both electric and hydrogen buses represent clean energy solutions. Utilizing electric vehicles (EVs) can increase society’s access to emission-less power. If you want to drive with zero emissions, you also have the option of choosing a hydrogen fuel cell car (although, currently, an EV represents the less expensive zero emissions option). With both electricity and hydrogen, ultimately the process of generating the energy must come from a low carbon or zero-emissions source in order to truly be a clean energy solution.

The process of using electricity and/ or hydrogen in buildings and transportation also reduces the enhanced greenhouse effect by decreasing atmospheric emissions. When we capture the elements before they reach the environment, we prevent the overproduction and entrapment of heat (as in blue hydrogen). Green hydrogen, or electricity powered by renewables, shrinks the carbon footprint of energy production closer to zero.


Enhancing Urban Sustainability

Many cities have recently increased their sustainability standards, regulating carbon emissions and pollution production processes. They are electrifying transportation, and buildings, requiring cleaner energy (as in renewable portfolio standards and clean energy standards). CCS used in combination with hydrogen power (blue hydrogen) production can support urban transformations towards clean, low-carbon energy. Green hydrogen power production can support the urban energy transition completely away from fossil fuel reliance towards zero-emission energy.


Article by Jane Marsh

Author bio:

Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of

Environment.co



 

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Nuclear – necessary energy

Clean Energy


Both nuclear and renewable energy are needed in the global energy mix to help fight climate change

In order to cut down on the share of fossil fuels in the world energy mix, nuclear is necessary. A total of WELL OVER 40% of the world’s energy mix for renewable and nuclear energies combined is needed to reach significant greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. Over 40% is not a final goal, but represents a realistic initial goal on the path towards the target of over 70% clean, zero-emission global energy generation.

To achieve a significant GHG emissions reduction target for the planet, the world needs nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is going to have to augment truly environmentally-friendly, renewable energy in the effort to dramatically reduce fossil fuel use.


How much of the world’s energy is nuclear?

Nuclear reactors provided 10% of the world’s total energy sources, on average annually, during the last decade. 13 countries get at least 1/4 of their energy from nuclear, including France (which gets around 3/4 from nuclear), Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, and Finland.

Nuclear energy is also put to great use in the US, France, China, Russia, and South Korea, among other countries. Now is probably as good of a time as any in this article to mention a couple of major drawbacks (to put it mildly) of nuclear energy.

Namely the danger- catastrophic disasters due to large-scale accidents like the one at Fukushima, Japan, enrichment of uranium in order to create nuclear weapons, and the difficult, expensive process of securely managing the disposal of nuclear waste.

The former major problems mentioned (and less waste generated by the nuclear process – Gen IV theoretically can just run on spent uranium) are resolved in the 4th generation nuclear reactor designs, discussed below.

Current reactors, mostly Gen I & II nuclear plants, along with several operational Gen III plants, rely on uranium and water (to cool the plants). Therefore, these nuclear plants still deplete water supplies, create nuclear waste, use a fuel source that can be enriched to convert the material into a bomb, and represent a source of potential danger.

The largest nuclear disaster in history was the Chernobyl disaster (although the risk of nuclear disaster is dramatically minimized in a Gen III plant, and eliminated in Gen IV nuclear. Some Gen IV designs dramatically cut the need for water to cool plants, as well).

Here’s a brief snippet from the World Nuclear Association summarizing nuclear energy’s current role in the global energy mix:

  • The first commercial nuclear power stations started operation in the 1950s.
  • Nuclear energy now provides about 10% of the world’s electricity from about 440 power reactors.
  • Nuclear is the world’s second largest source of low-carbon power (29% of the total in 2018). 
  • Over 50 countries utilise nuclear energy in about 220 research reactors. In addition to research, these reactors are used for the production of medical and industrial isotopes, as well as for training.  FROM  –  https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/nuclear-power-in-the-world-today.aspx

Advanced nuclear reactors

Safer, cheaper, still energy abundant and emissions-free designs that use relatively benign energy sources (thorium or depleted uranium), and much less water for cooling the reactor than previous designs and current operational nuclear plants, are being envisioned in 4th generation nuclear, and are currently available in a few 3rd generation nuclear power plant designs.

Using a small fraction of the water as previous designs, Gen IV nuclear plant designs, are safe, cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and still offer tremendous potential for energy production. Molten salt reactors using depleted uranium, nuclear waste from other plants, or thorium as a complete replacement of uranium, are being planned in Gen IV nuclear plant designs. 4th generation designs (and many 3rd generation plants, both planned and operational) are autonomous, smart plants, with heightened safety measures.

Thorium is being looked at as a fuel source for new nuclear reactors, as it is abundant, much less radioactive than uranium, and creates by-products from burning the fuel source that can be used again in the reactor. There is a higher level of thorium than uranium on the planet.

Thorium, as well as depleted uranium, are being designed with relatively lower up-front capital costs. Little manpower is needed to run and maintain future, advanced 4th generation nuclear plants, due to the autonomous computer technology set to be deployed in the plants.


Summation of the benefits of advanced nuclear reactors

Nuclear reactors designed to run on thorium, and depleted uranium, have a very low chance of being used to develop nuclear weapons, produce less radioactive waste, are abundant fuel sources; and are safer, more cost-efficient in addition to being energy-efficient, and cleaner vis-a-vis energy generation compared to current widely deployed nuclear reactors.

Thorium, in particular, is being looked at by developing nations like China and India because of the relatively low cost, increased safety, an abundance of the material, and tremendous energy potential of this energy source. The U.S. has huge amounts of thorium, in places like Kentucky and Idaho (as well as depleted uranium); and there are large quantities in countries like India, Australia, and Brazil.

The U.S., Europe, and even some of the aforementioned developing countries, also have large stockpiles of depleted uranium. More depleted uranium is being produced every day, which would work in many of the 4th generation designs. A few 3rd generation nuclear plants are already operating, and some more are projected to be developed and ready for operation by 2025. 4th Gen nuclear promises to produce abundant, low-cost energy safely, and with little environmental impact.

In order to meet increased demand for low-emission, safer, lower up-front capital investment, high-efficiency energy sources, there has also been an increased global interest in light water small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). Benefits of nuclear SMRs include-

Small modular reactors offer a lower initial capital investment, greater scalability, and siting flexibility for locations unable to accommodate more traditional larger reactors.  They also have the potential for enhanced safety and security compared to earlier designs. Deployment of advanced SMRs can help drive economic growth. From- USDOE Office of Nuclear Energy

One other “good” thing about nuclear energy production is that there are fairly low marginal costs. There are little to no negative externalities with regard to the actual energy production (i.e. little to no GHG emissions); however current nuclear power plants do generate toxic waste. Ongoing costs are fuel and maintenance of nuclear plants; the uranium to fuel the plants, and water to cool the plants, and toxic waste disposal facilities.

Large toxic waste disposal locations are necessary to bury the radioactive waste so people aren’t exposed to potentially cancer-causing radiation. Nuclear power plants do also carry high up-front capital costs.

The US Energy Information Administration estimated that for new nuclear plants in 2019 capital costs will make up 75% of the levelized cost of energy.

Even when looking at the downsides of current technologies for nuclear energy production, 4th generation nuclear promises to be safe, cost-efficient (cost of new nuclear fuel is low), and environmentally friendly, with a very high energy production capacity given a relatively small quantity of nuclear fuel need for energy production (whenever 4th-gen nuclear gets built).

New reactors can (theoretically) run on spent uranium and even thorium. 4th generation nuclear has entirely safe, cost-efficient designs. Actually, the levelized cost of energy production from new, advanced nuclear reactors that are already available, deployed, and generating nuclear energy, is looking viable.



For a comprehensive guide on public policy that increases nuclear energy globally, in order to help fight anthropogenic climate change, please see: Public policy proposal to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions


Please also see:

Renewable energy overview

 


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10 Ways to Reduce Food Waste

Reduce Food Waste: 10 Tips |

As the climate changes, global ecosystems experience debilitating effects. Resource depletion degrades the security of the global food supply. Society can adopt eco-conscious consumption strategies such as limiting waste and supporting agricultural stability.

A significant portion of food waste derives from cities. Urbanites can use food waste reduction methods and technologies to maximize the supply and reduce ecological degradation. City dwellers actually have abundant resources available to them to save food for future household consumption, to gather food for charity, and to compost food scraps (as described below). Below are 10 useful tips to reduce food waste:


1. Meal Prep

Individuals can reduce food waste and conserve resources by preparing meals for the week in large quantities. Rather than going to the store each time you need an ingredient, you can prep various items at the beginning of the week, mixing and matching them to create different meals. Increasing the ease of meal development by cooking ahead of time decreases waste production over time.

2. Plan Your Menu Before Going to the Store

A large portion of waste derives from duplicate ingredients. If you go to the store without a list, chances are you may purchase products you already have at home. The new items in your cart can expire before you finish the duplicates at home, creating food waste.

Professionals recommend two methods for developing grocery lists. First, you can plan your meals for the week and jot down the necessary ingredients you will need from the store. Then, residents may check their refrigerators and pantries, replenishing essential goods.

3. Organize Your Cabinet with FIFO

Another efficient method of reducing food waste follows the first-in, first-out (FIFO) rule. When you store leftovers in your refrigerator, you can label them with their dates and place them in front of new items. Additionally, when you purchase duplicate items at the grocery store, you may stack them behind the food with the earlier expiration date.

Organizing your fridge to align with expiration dates improves the efficiency of consumption. The FIFO method effectively reduces food waste and saves consumers money.

4. Donate Leftovers

If individuals have limited room for storing leftovers, they can donate them rather than throwing them away.

Various urban food recovery programs take food scraps and create meals to feed underserved community members. Many Americans experience hunger at some point in their lives, and food donations can provide relief and reduce waste.

Entire food boxes of fresh produce and wholesome edible goods can be donated to community food banks, to help make the most of food, reduce waste, and feed those in need. Feeling charitable? Consider urban food recovery programs or donating to food banks.

5. Use Overripe Produce for Baking

Individuals can also repurpose leftovers and overly ripe produce for baking. Some fruits actually increase in flavor and sweetness as they age. Brown bananas may seem unappealing for raw consumption, but they make the perfect ingredient for banana bread. Similarly, instead of throwing away wilting vegetables, you can use them to make vegetable stock.

Blending nearly expired produce can conserve resources and develop delicious alternatives to waste. Smoothies, ice cream, and salad dressings all represent opportunities to repurpose older fruits and vegetables, blending them into new products. Creating new items out of overly ripe ingredients significantly decreases waste production.

6. Save Leftovers for Lunch

An age-old method of limiting food waste derives from saving your leftovers. Rather than purchasing lunch out during the workweek, individuals can bring their excess food from the previous day’s meals. They can also decrease waste in the commercial sector by bringing reusable take-out containers to restaurants when they eat out.

Glass containers decrease landfill waste and help individuals repurpose leftover meals. Residents can make the most out of their home-cooked meals by freezing the excess. You can significantly enhance the longevity of leftovers by preserving them for future lunches.

7. Invest in Effective Storage Containers

Individuals can decrease waste by investing in practical storage containers. Stackable glass containers increase the efficiency of leftover preservation in one’s refrigerator. They also prevent pests from interfering with food storage better than plastic wrap or other methods.

Residents can also extend the longevity of dry items by transferring them into storage containers from non-sealable plastic bags or cardboard boxes. Pests invade cabinets, tampering with dried food items. Limiting their entry with optimal storage containers and techniques can significantly reduce waste.

8. Use Food Preservation Methods

Consumers can also extend the longevity of produce by engaging in food preservation methods. Pickling is the most notable technique of conserving fruits, vegetables (the most notable being the cucumber, however many other fruits and vegetables serve well as food items for pickling), and other items from home. The vinegar’s acidity in pickling juice prevents bacterial growth and provides an appealing flavor.

9. Differentiate Between “Sell By” and “Use By”

Individuals can also decrease food waste by enhancing their understanding of the “sell by” and “use by” dates. The “sell by” date refers to the amount of time a grocery store can display a product on its shelves. It is not a signifier of the item’s safety or quality.

The “use by” date refers to peak quality. When a product extends beyond its date, it may still be good for consumption, but the flavor may change. Infant formula is an example of an edible item that becomes unsafe after surpassing the “use by” date.

10. Build a Compost

Consumers can also decrease landfill waste by composting food scraps. Individuals may build a compost pile on their property or keep a small container in their home for weekly collections by local organizations. Residents can place almost all organic waste in their compost bins, returning excess nutrients to the soil for regrowth.


Where to Start

Urban regions can decrease food waste by engaging in individual scrap repurposing and reuse methods. Some cities are also utilizing smart technology, tracking consumption levels, and decreasing overproduction. Individuals can help reduce waste by offering their household consumption information to conservation programs.

People can also volunteer for waste recovery organizations, turning scraps into meals for underserved community members. Educating members of your household about food waste reduction methods also increases the sustainability of your home. Over time, small reduction efforts can significantly decrease resource exploitation and improve environmental conditions.


To give you a better idea of how widespread the problem of food waste is globally, here is a chart of worldwide food waste (top 10 countries for annual household food wasted per country and per capita). The food wasted globally each year amounts to billions of tons of food that could have been donated to feed the hungry, stored as leftovers providing future meals, or composted.

Chart FROM – www.forbes.com/2021/03/05/the-enormous-scale-of-global-food-waste-infographic

Article by Jane Marsh

Author bio:

Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of

Environment.co


 

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COP21 – good news for the planet

Paris Climate Accord, and New Net Zero Targets |


NDCs and Net Zero Pledges

At COP21, commonly referred to as the Paris Climate Accord, nations sent representatives to pledge greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) reduction targets (also known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs). At the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), national dignitaries & diplomats from every UNFCCC member nation convene to assess and calibrate their NDCs.

The first concrete NDCs by UNFCCC member nations were made at the COP21 in Paris 2015, and have since evolved with the latest scientific guidance from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); ideally to the most ambitious GHG reduction pledge a nation can possibly make – a carbon neutrality pledge (net zero GHGs).

In order to FULLY participate in the Paris Climate Accord, EVERY member nation to the UNFCCC must submit Intended Nationally Determined Contributions of GHG reduction pledges for their country;. These pledges must be approved by the UNFCCC, and then pledges turn into official Nationally Determined Contributions.

NDCs are encouraged by the UN to get increasingly ambitious each time they are submitted; and especially every 5 years, when every UNFCCC member is required to submit revised NDCs. Based on the latest scientific guidance from the IPCC, now many nations have net zero (carbon neutrality) targets in addition to their NDC.

As climate science has evolved over the last few years, GHG reduction targets have become more ambitious; and this is reflected in ambitious targets such as the European Union’s pledge to cut carbon emissions to 55% of 1990 levels by 2030; on its way to net zero by 2050. President Biden has pledged that the United States will have 100% carbon free energy on its electric grids by 2035; on its path to net zero.

Many developed nations, including the EU group of countries, the US, the UK, other European nations & Japan, have set ambitious targets to reach net zero GHG emissions by 2050; China has set their net zero target date at 2060.

The Paris Climate Accord is not legally binding, so actual binding NDCs must originate from national, state, and regional, governments (when not put forward by a national government, but rather by state or regional governments; these commitments are simply referred to as GHG reduction pledges, or carbon reduction pledges).

In the case of the EU,  NDC targets and net zero targets are codified into law by legislation that is passed by the European Commission. Several European governments have also independently passed ambitious climate legislation including NDCs and net zero targets.

The United States federal government has the executive commitment of President Biden to ambitious climate pledges (as of 2021), but Congress hasn’t yet passed legislation committing to NDCs or a net zero target like the EU (as well as several European nations independently).

However, individual states (such as California and several others) have passed GHG reduction targets and net zero targets state-wide; through State Congresses as binding legislation. It is expected that all NDC and net zero commitments that the Chinese national government makes, will be codified into legally binding law in China. In fact, over 100 countries worldwide have joined an alliance aiming for net zero emissions by 2050

China has set its net zero target for 2060; and soon thereafter, the US committed to net zero by 2050 (historically, China & the US are the 2 biggest emitters of GHGs); and both of these net zero commitments followed the earlier European carbon neutrality pledges. China set their net zero target in September 2020; while the US net zero pledge was made by President Biden upon taking office, in January 2021.

These net zero pledges represent ambitious goals to keep global warming well below 2°C (that’s 2°C rise above pre-industrial global temperature averages), and ideally to 1.5°C this century; making good on the latest IPCC climate targets. Here is a map from BloombergNEF with countries’ various degrees of progress to net zero:

Map of Global Net-Zero Progress from BloombergNEF

COP21 – The Paris Climate Accord

On December 12, 2015, high-level representatives from 197 nations, including many presidents and prime ministers, agreed to try to hold global warming “well below” 2 °C above pre-industrial temperatures. Clean and renewable energy targets, energy efficiency technologies for nations and industries, concerted efforts in green building, and sustainable mass transit; are among many means the UNFCC advises nations to invest in to help create a more sustainable planet. On November 4, 2016, the agreement took full effect (once nations representing a majority of the planet’s GHG emissions signed the agreement).

Unfortunately, the truth is that, even if the original Paris Climate Accord is carried out by every nation, and to the letter, global temperatures will still be on course to rise by around 2.7-3.1°C by the end of the century. Thus, the need for more ambitious GHG reduction pledges; ideally national commitments to net zero emissions, are necessary. Every world nation (with a few exceptions), UNFCC members, originally signed the agreement, and 190 have ratified and pledged NDCs.



The Breakthrough Energy Coalition

Breakthrough – The Paris Climate Accord did produce lasting positive momentum for global action on climate change. Arguably, the best news of the entire COP21 came on Day 1 of COP21, with the announcement of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition (breakthroughenergy.com). The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, known as Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), is a group of more than 20 billionaires started by Bill Gates (including Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg {CEO of Facebook}, and others), who have organized to invest substantial sums in innovative clean energy.

The Coalition wouldn’t be able to fund and meet all of its goals without the most important international commitment by governments to invest in clean energy to date; Mission Innovation. Mission Innovation (mission-innovation.net) is a group of 20 countries including the U.S., Brazil, China, Japan, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea; who have pledged to double government investment in clean energy innovation and to be transparent about its clean energy research and development efforts. In a statement from BEV, the importance of both groups is highlighted –

“THE WORLD NEEDS WIDELY AVAILABLE ENERGY that is reliable, affordable and does not produce carbon. The only way to accomplish that goal is by developing new tools to power the world. That innovation will result from a dramatically scaled up public research pipeline linked to truly patient, flexible investments committed to developing the technologies that will create a new energy mix. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition is working together with a growing group of visionary countries who are significantly increasing their public research pipeline through the Mission Innovation initiative to make that future a reality.”   – quote from The Breakthrough Energy Coalition


The High Ambition Coalition

The High Ambition Coalition (HAC) is a group of over 40 developing countries formed by UNFCCC members determined to create an equitable distribution of responsibility for ambitious climate action, and a fair distribution of UN clean energy resources; fairer distribution among poorer nations and richer, developed, industrialized nations. The HAC initially included smaller, poorer nations such as the Marshall Islands, the nation that originally formed the HAC.

“The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) formed the High Ambition Coalition in run-up negotiations at the UNFCCC to the Paris Agreement in 2015, helping to secure key elements of the deal, including the 1.5°C temperature goal, the net zero global emissions pathway by the second half of the century, and a five-year cycle for updating mitigation contributions.

Since then, the HAC has worked to realize the promises of the Paris Agreement it came together to deliver. The work has accelerated and expanded in scope, driving forward ambitious global climate action. And the science has only become clearer since Paris, underscoring the imperative of keeping global temperature increase to 1.5°C if we are to avert the most severe impacts of climate change.”   quote from – highambitioncoalition.org/work

Main contributions by the HAC include the ambitious target of 1.5°C, and the 5-year cycle for UNFCC members to submit revised pledges. COP26 in Glasgow is the first such mandatory revision of nationally determined contributions to GHG reduction, as 2015 was a low-profile virtual meeting due to COVID-19.

The European Union is the highest-profile, and richest, group of nations to join the HAC. The HAC consists mostly of developing nations; such as Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, and Ethiopia; and smaller, developing island-nations such as Jamaica and Fiji. With Canada joining the HAC in September 2020, the HAC is comprised of over 40 nations; but the focus of the coalition remains equity for developing nations in the Paris Climate Accord’s future dealings.

Historically, since larger, richer nations have profited from industrialization at the expense of the global climate; the responsibility for climate change is greater for developed nations, and these nations should bear more of the financial burden stemming from the global transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.



Current Climate Policies Projection

How are current climate policies worldwide, current GHG reduction targets (nationally determined contributions), going to actually reduce global GHGs as world nations try to achieve net zero GHGs (carbon neutrality) in order to stop global warming? This chart, from Climate Action Tracker (CAT), models current climate policy outcomes, as well as optimistic net zero targets, to 2100>>>

Current climate policies vs. optimistic net zero targets – CAT

Below are some major resources for more information on the COP21:

COP21 Paris – breakdown of the event

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How Safe & Clean is Nuclear ☢️ Energy?

CLEAN Energy: NUCLEAR


When looking at climate solutions for clean energy generation, it is prudent to look at all clean energy sources. Nuclear power also has the highest capacity factor of any energy source and is the most reliable, and efficient, source of energy. Clean energy solutions include both renewable energy (the obvious choice); as well as nuclear energy (which is non-renewable, and a not-so-obvious choice).


Nuclear Energy – A Potential Bipartisan Climate Solution

For the initial capital costs, nuclear is the most expensive form of energy. However, nuclear fuel (up to now – uranium, burned as fuel in current nuclear reactors) is an exponentially more dense fuel source than any other. Nuclear power represents by far, by a factor of a million – based on a similar quantity of nuclear fuel vs. coal (and coal is more energy-dense than renewable energy, but uranium is exponentially more energy-dense than other fuel sources) – the most energy-dense energy source on the planet.

The Power of Nuclear and Politics

Even with the high up-front costs to develop nuclear power plants, Republicans tend to back nuclear energy, and so do most Democrats in Congress. Thus, nuclear energy is a potential area of bipartisanship for Congress and the new U.S. Executive Administration.

Nuclear is a global incumbent energy source and is associated with a great deal of money and political influence worldwide. Therefore nuclear energy continues to have support from most politicians in the United States. The “good” thing about nuclear energy production is that there are little to no GHG emissions (no GHGs associated with the actual energy production from nuclear fuel).

However, it’s necessary to find suitable locations to safely secure the radioactive waste produced from the combustion of nuclear fuel. Next-generation nuclear fuels promise to burn fuel significantly cleaner. One other major consideration with current nuclear reactors is that we have to hope that there’s not a Fukushima-type catastrophe. Gen IV nuclear promises to be safer, as well as cleaner, than current nuclear reactors. However, this is only theoretical at this point, as Gen IV nuclear is still in this design phase.


Gen IV Nuclear

4th generation nuclear promises to be safe, clean; and a source of cost-competitive and efficient energy. New reactors being planned in advanced nuclear designs can run on spent uranium and even thorium. 4th generation nuclear has entirely safe, cost efficient designs. These reactors just need to get through R&D and demonstration phases, and become commercial viable alternatives in global mixes for countries.

Actually, the levelized cost of energy production from new, advanced nuclear reactors is looking viable. Nuclear is already a clean, efficient energy source – and future generations of nuclear energy production might prove to be perfectly safe, as well.


The major problems with the current generation of nuclear plants are: the potential for another Fukushima-type disaster, nuclear weapons proliferation, nuclear waste disposal, and the very high up-front capital cost of building nuclear plants. The US Energy Information Administration estimated that for new nuclear plants in 2019, capital costs made up 75% of the LCOE.

Economies of scale (ideally) will drive down costs of building the next generation of new nuclear plants – eventually over time. The remaining costs of developing and running a new generation of nuclear plants are projected to be cost-competitive with other “base-load” forms of energy generation, e.g. combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT). The probable, hopeful future cost-competitiveness of nuclear is another point that makes nuclear energy a viable energy solution for the future.



How Much Better Are Nuclear & Renewable Energy Than Fossil Fuels?

The reason that economic arguments tend to trump environmental arguments when finding solutions to anthropogenic climate change, is because many Senators are more likely to respond to economic arguments. You could simply say, “renewable energy is better than fossil fuels, because renewable energy is better for the environment, and is a more efficient energy source overall”.

However, odds are Senators won’t care until you also point out that the LCOE* (see below for LCOE definition) of renewable energy is less than the cost of fossil fuels. Many Senators already do want to support clean energy transition strategies. Finding ways to convince all senators to support clean energy investment is important. Republican Senators will also be needed to pass environmental regulatory laws – laws that support clean energy, and hopefully a majority of Senators soon support a federal carbon pricing system – that also supports clean energy.

Senators don’t necessarily have to want to protect the environment, or “give in” to the science behind anthropogenic climate change. Senators can simply vote for energy policies that represent a cost savings; which tend to be clean energy investments. That includes supporting both renewable and nuclear energy.

The cost of producing energy with a renewable fuel vs. fossil fuels is dramatically lower when just the cost of producing electricity (marginal cost) is considered. 4th generation nuclear promises to have a relatively low up-front capital cost, and a low marginal cost. Fuel for Gen IV nuclear designs promise to potentially run on spent uranium or thorium; which are cheap, abundant fuels that produces little waste,

When the costs of the negative externalities (damage to public health & the environment) associated with fossil fuel production are added in with the LCOE*, the relative cost of renewable energy sources (as well as Gen IV nuclear) vs. fossil fuels is lower still. In fact, producing energy from coal is no longer cheaper than renewables or gas, and is very harmful to both the environment and public health (negative externalities).

Overall, the lowest cost of energy production are wind and solar (which also have zero negative externalities) This is followed by natural gas (which carries the cost of negative externalities). Natural gas is followed by more renewable energy sources, most significantly solar thermal and offshore wind.

Other than solar and wind, nuclear and hydroelectricity represent the past, present, and future of global clean energy on a large-scale basis. In fact, historically, nuclear and hydroelectricity have been the largest sources of global clean energy. Hydroelectricity also represents a relatively low cost source of domestic energy for the United States. 

The following are snippets from articles listing reasons nuclear and renewable energy are the best options for future global energy sources:

“Nuclear power and hydropower form the backbone of low-carbon electricity generation. Together, they provide three-quarters of global low-carbon generation. Over the past 50 years, the use of nuclear power has reduced CO2 emissions by over 60 gigatonnes – nearly two years’ worth of global energy-related emissions.”   FROM  –  iea.org/nuclear-power-in-a-clean-energy-system


Renewable power is increasingly cheaper than any new electricity capacity based on fossil fuels, a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) published today finds. Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2019 shows that more than half of the renewable capacity added in 2019 achieved lower power costs than the cheapest new coal plants. 

“We have reached an important turning point in the energy transition. The case for new and much of the existing coal power generation, is both environmentally and economically unjustifiable,” said Francesco La Camera, Director-General of IRENA. “Renewable energy is increasingly the cheapest source of new electricity, offering tremendous potential to stimulate the global economy and get people back to work. Renewable investments are stable, cost-effective and attractive offering consistent and predictable returns while delivering benefits to the wider economy.   FROM –  irena.org//Renewables-Increasingly-Beat-Even-Cheapest-Coal-Competitors


Levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) is often cited as a convenient summary measure of the overall competitiveness of different generating technologies. It represents the per-MWh cost (in discounted real dollars) of building and operating a generating plant over an assumed financial life and duty cycle. 4 Key inputs to calculating LCOE include capital costs, fuel costs, fixed and variable operations and maintenance (O&M) costs, financing costs, and an assumed utilization rate for each plant.” – quote from the EIA.

* Examples of levelized costs of energy include:

  • up-front capital costs/ costs of initial investment (which are much higher for renewable energy than fossil fuel energy)
  • marginal cost of the fuel source (which is much higher for fossil fuels, and almost nothing for free, abundant sources of renewable energy like solar and wind energy, and very low cost for hydro, geothermal, and biomass)
  • cost of maintenance for the power plant/ energy farm/ dam, etc… 
  • cost of transporting the fuel (again, zero for most renewable energy)
  • costs associated with transmitting/ distributing the energy, insurance costs for the energy producing facility, etc…

Gen IV nuclear promises to have reasonable capital costs, and low marginal costs. Until Gen IV gets developed and deployed, we just have to hope the costs really are going to be low as advertised. So, other than a  relatively higher up-front capital cost than renewables, hopefully the rest of Gen IV’s LCOE data points should look roughly similar to renewable energy.


Please see:

Nuclear Energy- One Necessary Energy Source to Fight Climate Change

..for more on how nuclear energy can be a climate solution, providing a clean, efficient, viable source of energy to power the modern, sustainable world.


 

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Renewable Energy Jobs are UP, and RE cost is down

The Shining Future of the GREEN Economy


Employment in the clean energy sector features, first and foremost, jobs in energy efficiency (of the over 3 million U.S. clean energy jobs total). These include jobs in companies that feature EnergyStar products, as well as jobs in producing energy efficient technologies such as LED and CFL lighting and manufacturing electric vehicles (EVs). Jobs in smart grid, maintaining smart meters, clean energy storage, renewable energy, and in sustainable mass transit, are also included in the over 3 million clean energy jobs in the United States figure (cited below).

With regard to sustainable transportation, jobs in EV, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid vehicle production, in addition to jobs in sustainable mass transit, and in biofuel production, are also included in the U.S. clean energy jobs figures below. Clean energy jobs are also jobs in solar, wind, and other jobs in renewable energy (RE) production, managing RE, and distribution of RE.

California, Washington, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Washington DC have all committed to the goal of 100% renewable energy (100RE). A few other states plan to follow suit, and 26 states have passed Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (which includes RE, nuclear, and potentially highly efficient fossil fuel production with carbon capture).


Renewable Energy JOBS are UP

The wind/ solar/ clean energy industries provide Americans with over 3 MILLION jobs. So, purely from a standpoint of looking at renewable energy vs. fossil fuels from how the United States’ economy is grown by focusing more on a certain type of energy; especially regarding employment opportunities, renewable energy is quite a bit better than fossil fuels.

For example, coal provides Americans with less than 80,000 jobs; but only about half that number of jobs in the United States are in actual coal mining, the rest of the jobs in U.S. coal are in associated jobs. Jobs in transporting the coal and maintaining the coal mines, or in maintaining coal-fired power plants, could be transitioned to clean energy jobs.


It should be emphasized that there are more jobs in renewable energy than fossil fuels, but renewable energy is also more cost-efficient than fossil fuels, even in the Midwest United States.


The following is a snippet from E2.org on the clean energy job market in the U.S.-

“At the start of 2020, clean energy employment increased for the fifth straight year since this annual report was first released—growing beyond 3.3 million workers nationwide.

While California remained the nation’s undisputed leader in clean energy jobs, states as diverse in size and structure as Texas and Massachusetts also are in the top ten for clean energy jobs. Florida, North Carolina and Georgia continued to lead the South, while Michigan, Illinois and Ohio led the Midwest. On a per capita basis of statewide total employment, the Northeast claimed the top five spots with Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Delaware employing the largest share of clean energy jobs per capita in the country.”  FROM –  e2.org/reports/clean-jobs-america


Quote on how clean energy jobs pay more on average than the median wage for other job sectors in the U.S.-

“Overall, median wages in clean energy are significantly higher than median wages in sectors such as retail, services, recreation and accommodations, especially when it comes to entry-level wages.”   FROM –  solarpowerworldonline.com/clean-energy-job-wages-higher-than-national-median-report-finds


Clean Energy JOBS

Clean energy jobs continue to provide the most job opportunity; even in the middle of the country; the Plains states, the Midwest, and the Southern states.

Overall, when you add the rest of the clean energy jobs to jobs directly in renewable energy, there are over 3 million jobs in clean energy in the United States. This figure includes energy efficiency-related jobs, clean energy storage jobs, and clean transportation jobs. Employment that is directly in renewable energy in the U.S. features jobs in solar and wind; although jobs in hydroelectricity, biomass, and geothermal energy are also included.

Wind turbine technician is the single fastest-growing job in the United States. “Wind [and solar] farms—and the new jobs that come with them—have swept across the Midwest [and Southwest U.S.], where coal and traditional manufacturing gigs have vanished.” Quote from – motherjones.com/wind-iowa-energy-coal

Solar energy also has impressive employment growth statistics, with about 1 in 50 new jobs created in the United States coming from the solar industry. The fastest-growing job in solar is solar panel installer. Sustainability professionals, sustainable builders, and clean car engineers are also among the fastest-growing jobs in clean energy, and the United States as a whole.


 Clean Energy Jobs in the United States via Cleantechnica

To see recent clean jobs statistics, please see: eesi.org/files/FactSheet_Climate_Jobs


Green JOBS = Fast-Growing JOBS

There are 3 times more jobs in the clean energy sector than in fossil fuels. There are over 2 million Americans who have energy efficiency jobs; energy efficiency is the fastest-growing employment opportunity sector of the U.S. economy. The majority of jobs in energy efficiency are in construction and manufacturing, although many jobs in the energy efficiency sector are in Energy Star, smart grid, and energy storage. 1 in every 6 American construction jobs is in energy efficiency. The future of employment in the energy sector is in clean energy, energy efficiency, and renewable energy, not in fossil fuels.

This article in Mother Jones sums it up perfectly: 

Wind [and solar] farms—and the new jobs that come with them—have swept across the Midwest [and Southwest U.S.], where coal and traditional manufacturing gigs have vanished

In the “wind belt” between Texas and North Dakota, the price of wind energy is finally equal to and in some cases cheaper than that of fossil fuels. Thanks to investments in transmission lines, better computer controls, and more efficient turbines, the cost to US consumers fell two-thirds in just six years, according to the American Wind Energy Association.  

Still, not all windy states have a turbine-friendly climate. In Wyoming, for example, coal-loving legislators passed a tax on wind energy in 2010 and are also considering penalizing utilities for including renewables in their portfolios.  

The next few years will see a showdown between “rural Republicans who really want to get the economic boost [wind & solar, other renewables] offers to their district, versus Republican ideologues who don’t like renewables because they like fossil fuels”—and whose campaign contributions depend on protecting them.  

So farmers—and voters —will have to fight for wind [and other renewables] which, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency,  offer the greatest potential for growth in US renewable power generation. 

(Article by Maddie Oatman – Maddie Oatman is a story editor at Mother Jones. Read more of her stories here.)



The global growth in the employment market in renewable energy, especially solar, but also wind, biomass/ biofuel, and hydro, is impressive, as depicted in this chart-


Global job creation in renewable energy by RE source via IRENA (statistics published 2018)

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the renewable energy sector is adding over 1/2 million jobs annually worldwide, for a growth rate of over 5%, far eclipsing the potential for growth and employment potential in fossil fuels.


Renewable energy sources vs. fossil fuels

Forbes says that by switching from coal to renewable energy, the United States’ economy will save billions of dollars, in part by taking advantage of the lower levelized cost of energy (LCOE) of renewable energy sources vs. fossil fuels; and by avoiding the cost of negative externalities of fossil fuels (the cost of damage to public health and damage to the environment of fossil fuels).

The cost savings to the United States economy by transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy include, most significantly, reducing the cost of mitigation and adaptation to anthropogenic climate change by investing in sustainable technologies such as renewable energy and energy efficiency vs. fossil fuels. 

The renewable energy industry employs over 500,000 people in the United States. The coal industry is responsible for under 120,000 jobs in the U.S. (see: nytimes.com/interactive/climate/todays-energy-jobs-are-in-solar-not-coal). There is already billions of dollars invested in installed renewable energy capacity in the United States, including over $12 billion of private investment in 2018 US wind energy alone.

Individual states that are leaders in solar & hydroelectricity include coastal and southwest states, especially west and northeast coastal states for hydroelectricity, and southwest states for solar.  Wind energy production is dominated by states in the Plains and Midwest.


EIA expects wind’s share of electricity generation to increase.

[Please note that states like California create a lot of solar energy, but even more hydroelectricity. Hydroelectricity is produced in higher quantities as far as overall energy production in California (over 20% of the state’s energy is from hydroelectric sources), and that makes hydroelectricity the dominant form of renewable energy in the state. However, California produces a substantial amount of solar energy (over 11% statewide). California, Washington, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Washington DC have all committed to the goal of 100% renewable energy. A few other states plan to follow suit.]



For a set of policies focused on increasing the momentum of clean job growth in the United States, please see GCT’s Guide to Green Energy Public Policies



Renewable Energy costs are down

For your reference, here is Lazard‘s 2020 levelized cost of energy (LCOE) chart>> On the 2020 LCOE chart, it’s renewable energy sources (especially onshore wind farms and utility-scale solar) with the best overall price of all energy sources; and wind energy and utility-scale PV are now priced lower than coal; onshore wind and utility-scale PV are now even cheaper than gas combined cycle (when the full LCOE is taken into account)>>> 

Lazard‘s 2020 levelized cost of energy (LCOE)


Cost of renewable energy vs. fossil fuels

The cost of producing energy with renewable energy vs. fossil fuels is dramatically lower when just the cost of producing electricity (marginal cost) is considered. When the costs of the negative externalities (negative externalities of fossil fuels– damage/ cost to the environment and public health, climate change) associated with fossil fuel production are added in with the LCOE*, the relative cost of renewable energy sources vs. the cost of fossil fuels is lower still.

The negative externalities associated with coal are particularly dire; not only black lung in coal miners, also a general public health hazard in fine particulates, and other toxins, emitted into the air during the energy production process with coal. Those public health issues are in addition to coal’s significant contribution to anthropogenic climate change, and other forms of air, land, and water pollution associated with coal.

Overall, the lowest cost of energy production is onshore wind (which also has minimal negative externalities), followed by utility-scale solar, and natural gas (which carries the cost of negative externalities). Producing energy from coal is no longer cheaper than renewables or gas, and is damaging to public health and the environment.

[*Examples of levelized costs of energy include: up-front capital costs/ costs of initial investment (which are much higher for renewable energy than fossil fuel energy), the marginal cost of the fuel source (which is much higher for fossil fuels, and almost nothing for free, abundant sources of renewable energy like solar and wind energy, and very low cost for hydro, geothermal, and biomass), cost of maintenance for the power plant/ energy farm/ dam, etc…, cost of transporting the fuel (again, zero for most renewable energy), costs associated with transmitting/ distributing the energy, insurance costs for the energy-producing facility, etc…]

“Levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) is often cited as a convenient summary measure of the overall competitiveness of different generating technologies. It represents the per-MWh cost (in discounted real dollars) of building and operating a generating plant over an assumed financial life and duty cycle. 4 Key inputs to calculating LCOE include capital costs, fuel costs, fixed and variable operations and maintenance (O&M) costs, financing costs, and an assumed utilization rate for each plant.” – quote from the EIA.

 

In this chart, you can clearly see how much more expensive nuclear and coal are projected to remain in comparison to renewables-


Projected LCOE of US energy sources via Energy Innovation (statistics published 2018)


For the initial capital costs, nuclear is the most expensive form of energy. The “good” thing about nuclear energy production is that there are low marginal costs, and there are little to no negative externalities with regard to the actual energy production, i.e. little to no GHG emissions. 

With nuclear, it’s necessary to find secure locations to safely store the radioactive waste. Nuclear power plants must evolve to the point where there’s no chance for another Fukushima-type catastrophe.  However, future planned 4th generation nuclear power plants will be safe, autonomous, more sustainable than current nuclear plants, and more cost-efficient.

For the future the first half of this century, nuclear energy is going to remain an unlikely ally to clean energy in the fight against anthropogenic climate change. Coal is out for the reasons stated above; coal is no longer a viable, cost-efficient energy fuel source. Petroleum is mostly used to fuel vehicles around the world (although hopefully, the world population will continue to move toward electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and hybrid cars). It’s safe to assume diesel generators will still be used to produce energy, largely for third world countries, island nations, remote locations, and energy backup.

Renewable energy and natural gas are the future of energy production, as seen in this recent study by the University of Texas at Austin Energy Institute. Overall, renewable energy (and natural gas) are both cheaper sources of fuel for energy production AND better, larger sources of employment; thus, renewable energy is better for the environment AND the economy.



For more information on these, and similar topics, please see: 

greencitytimes.com/coal-vs-natural-gas


greencitytimes.com/what-makes-a-city-sustainable  


greencitytimes.com/economic-growth-vs-the-environment


greencitytimes.com/nuclear-one-necessary-energy-supply-to-fight-climate-change



 

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Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative GREEN Land-Use


The United Nations (UN) has advised that a global shift towards plant-based food will counteract the worst effects of climate change. Is going vegan really going to help in global climate action, and help the world meet net zero emissions targets?

Well, actually…the UN says that land-use practices that favor plant growth vs. a focus on animal grazing, as well as sustainable and regenerative agriculture practices, are among top climate change mitigation solutions. Regenerative agriculture creates environmentally-friendly carbon sinks; turning farms into thriving ecosystems that sequester atmospheric carbon, while also producing crops for food.  



Sustainable and regenerative agriculture

The UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out with a report in August 2019, about how the global community must switch now to sustainable land use in food production. All countries and farm industries globally must adopt sustainable agriculture practices, as the world begins transitioning to more sustainable food consumption habits.

Effective global climate action depends on sustainable land-use practices as the foundation for successful action.


For more information about sustainable agriculture practices, permaculture, and reforestation, please see>>>

Sustainable agriculture

Reforestation

[A quick note about the terms in this article; all regenerative agriculture is sustainable agriculture, but not all sustainable agriculture techniques and practices are considered the same as specific practices of regenerative agriculture]


What exactly is regenerative agriculture?

A major component of regenerative agriculture is a focus on proper soil nutrition. Crop rotation of a variety of perennial crops, and no-till farming, for example, are designed to increase soil health. Conventional animal grazing is a much less sustainable land-use practice and has almost no considerations for proper soil health, versus farmland used for regenerative agriculture.

Sustainable agriculture doesn’t necessarily mean that absolutely no animals are raised on farms for food (as an immediate global dietary shift seems to be highly unlikely).

Rather, sustainable land-use simply means that farms focus on “well-managed grazing practices [that] stimulate improved plant growth, and increased soil [health]“. However, the primary focus of regenerative agriculture remains diverse food crops, and land use dedicated to plant growth, biodiversity, and healthy ecosystems.


Regenerative agriculture focuses on farming done with the implementation of specific sustainable farming methods. Here are some key points in defining regenerative agriculture>>>

Strict regenerative agricultural practices include:

no-tillage

diverse cover crops

in-farm fertility (no external nutrients)

no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers

multiple crop rotations

polyculture

organic soil fertility


Cover crops, no-till or low-till farming, crop rotation, organic soil fertility, and polyculture (vs. monoculture) – are a few sustainable agriculture practices that increase soil health. Cover crops refer to a variety of crops grown on farmland during off-seasons in order to maintain soil health.

Polyculture is also a practice of introducing and maintaining multiple species of crops and plants on farmland. Polyculture involves the consistent year-round farming practice of creating diverse crop and farmland plant species.

Biodiversity of a farm’s crops and other ecosystems on the farm improve soil health, deter pests, and help to maintain healthy ecosystems.


Carbon farming and cover crops to improve soil health

Sustainable farms enhance environmental quality and agricultural economy through the enhancement of natural resources. For example, carbon farming is a sustainable agriculture practice that maintains healthy soils and is common practice in most organic farming.

Practices to maintain soil health are found in regenerative agriculture, as well as in permaculture. A sustainable farm must focus a substantial amount of time year-round on healthy soil nutrition to help maintain long-term soil quality.

the cover crop buckwheat shown juxtaposed to the same land without cover crops

One solution to help create more sustainable farms is for governments to simply subsidize farmers to implement sustainable farming practices.

Governments should consider legislating agricultural subsidies through increasing financial incentives, tax breaks, or direct payments, for farmers that practice sustainable ag. techniques; with the easiest practice to implement being cover cropping.

These financial incentives would be for farmers to adopt sustainable agriculture practices such as carbon farming and implementation of cover crops during off-seasons. Some governments worldwide already have legislation to support farmers that use sustainable agriculture practices, but more is needed.

After all, farmers that adopt sustainable agriculture practices are helping reduce global GHGs and fight climate change. Sustainable farms are carbon sinks; sequestering carbon and transforming conventional farmland into thriving, climate-saving, ecosystems.

Typically after farmland crops are harvested, and especially during wintertime, farmland just lays fallow. A few months later, when it’s time to sow seeds for a new harvest – weeds, pests, and unhealthy soil fill the land. Tillage, and synthetic pesticides and fertilizers only make the problem worse. The simple remedy for this problem is cover cropping. Cover crops keep weeds and pests at bay, and maintain soil health during the off-season.

Solutions, in order to encourage farmers to implement the widespread use of cover cropping, include: providing government subsidies to farmers that practice cover cropping, proving guaranteed investment of markets for the crops, or at least making sure farmers get detailed information about cover crops.

Cover crops not only maintain farmland health but provide a source of potential income, providing useful crops to the community. Examples of cover crops include buckwheat, alfalfa, annual cereals (rye, wheat, barley, oats), clovers, winter peas, cowpeas, turnips, radish, forage grasses such as ryegrass, and warm-season grasses such as sorghum-sudan grass.

Here’s a brief snippet from an article by The Union of Concerned Scientists on sustainable agriculture:

Environmental sustainability in agriculture means good stewardship of the natural systems and resources that farms rely on. Among other things, this involves:

  • building and maintaining healthy soil with low till or no till farming
  • crop rotation
  • use of cover crops during off-seasons
  • polyculture vs. monoculture
  • managing water wisely
  • minimizing air, water, and climate pollution
  • promoting biodiversity

There’s a whole field of research devoted to achieving these goals: agroecology, the science of managing farms as ecosystems. By working with nature rather than against it, farms managed using agroecological principles can avoid damaging impacts without sacrificing productivity or profitability.”     FROM  –    ucsusa.org/what-sustainable-agriculture


Land-use solutions; how to reduce GHGs from agriculture

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN believes that raising animals for food is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” This problem is largely due to deforestation to clear land; a significant amount of which is either directly or indirectly for the global meat industry. Another major contributor to the problem is land-use designated for grazing. Land used for grazing is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) than all of the world’s transport systems combined.

The world should stop the unsustainable practice of deforestation, but an immediate global climate solution is simply improving practices on existing farms. A realistic solution is for the global agriculture community to be encouraged to maintain focused efforts on regenerative farming practices.

The global transition to sustainable agriculture would be expedited if the global farming community was simply catering to a majority organic plant-based diet in the consumer food market. However, this ideal sustainable circumstance is far from realistic.

One solution that will remain politically unpopular for obvious reasons (as the vast majority of the world’s population have meat and dairy-intensive diets) – is a carbon tax on meat. It takes on average 11 times more fossil fuels to produce a calorie of animal protein than to produce a calorie of grain protein. That’s a considerable amount of GHGs released per calorie.

So much so that Chatham House, otherwise known as The Royal Institute of International Affairs, has called for a carbon tax on meat to help combat climate change. In fact, globally, raising cows for food ranks only behind the United States and China as a GHG contributing segment of the global economy. Raising cattle for food is the #1 source of GHGs from agriculture globally.

Going vegan, vegetarian, or at least eating less meat, helps reduce global GHGs by helping in the global transition to sustainable, plant-based agriculture. It helps fill the demand for a plant-based consumer diet as the global fight against climate change gains steam. It also helps to reduce your carbon footprint.


Meat & GHGs

An Oxford study published in the journal Climate Change found that the diets of meat-eaters who ate more than 3.5 ounces of meat a day – roughly the size of a pack of cards – contribute to GHGs significantly. These heavy meat eaters generate 15.8 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent each day; compared to vegetarians – 8.4 pounds, and vegans – 6.4 pounds. This is because the process of raising livestock for food on farms itself is carbon-intensive. Also, the majority of global deforestation is just to create land for cattle to graze.

The average meat-eater has a much higher carbon footprint than people who adopt a plant-based diet – 50-54% higher than vegetarians, and between 99-102% higher than vegans. Of course, there are other ways for individuals in society to contribute to lower emissions, but veganism may be a top solution. Research shows that, as Dr. Fredrik Hedenus of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden said, “reducing meat and dairy consumption is key to bringing agricultural pollution down to safe levels.” 

Raising cattle for meat and dairy ranks close to the top of the list as a segment of the global economy contributing to GHGs (mostly in the form of methane emitted from grazing cattle). There are a variety of innovative ways to reduce methane emissions from grazing cattle.

However, transitioning to a plant-based diet now is considered one of the best ways to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle, and to reduce one’s personal contribution to the problem of GHGs. A study from the University of Chicago posits that eating less meat (or none at all) is more effective at reducing one’s personal responsibility for GHGs than changing from a conventional car to a hybrid.  

According to PETA – “…the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has shown that animal agriculture is globally the single largest source of methane emissions and that, pound for pound, methane is more than 28 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in our atmosphere. The use of manure storage and of manure being used as fertilizer for crops and feed, which then generates substantial amounts of nitrous oxide, contributes greatly to the greenhouse gases affecting the global warming crisis.”

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The three most critical GHGs responsible for climate change are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide – and together they cause the majority of climate change issues.

Methane is a gas that can be produced from stockpiling of animal and human sewage, manure used as fertilizer, as well animal’s personal “gas emissions [for ex. cow burps and farts]”.  Methane is a potent GHG released from livestock in dangerous quantities exacerbating climate change, and is closely followed in significance by nitrous oxide in unsustainable agriculture practices.

Nitrous oxide is roughly 300 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and methane is roughly 40 times more potent than CO2. CO2 is the most well-known GHG because it’s the longest-lasting, and most significant GHG in terms of quantity of CO2 released in the common industries tracked for GHG emissions (energy generation, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, buildings).

Agriculture is the largest man-made source of nitrous oxide, with meat, dairy, and other animal-based food industries – contributing to 65% of worldwide nitrous oxide emissions. Nitrous oxide emissions are primarily direct emissions from fertilized agricultural stock, and manure, as well as indirect emissions from leaching of fertilizers and pesticides; which is when rainwater causes part of the nitrogen in fertilizers and pesticides to leach into groundwater and eventually into rivers. 

In basic terms, societies should begin to try and transition from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet today; and the global farming community absolutely must switch now to sustainable agriculture practices, in order for the global fight against climate change to be truly effective.

Food consumption habits greatly affect land-use/ agricultural practices. Project Drawdown ranks having the global community transition to a plant-based diet as one of the most effective climate mitigation strategies, albeit one that has gained very little global momentum (as eating meat and dairy remains very popular worldwide).

For reference, around 3% of the population in the United States is vegetarian or vegan, and the agriculture sector is responsible for 9% of GHGs from the United States. The U.K. is a lot better than the U.S. as far as the vegetarian portion of the population, with estimates that as much as a quarter of the population of the United Kingdom will be vegetarian by 2025

Dietary consumer choices directly influence land use and agriculture. One solution to the global climate crisis is to focus on changing cultural dietary choices and, in turn, help foster the transition to sustainable global land-use/ agriculture practices to effectively fight climate change.

Project Drawdown estimates that transitioning the global agriculture systems to sustainable practices can reduce global CO2 emissions by over 20 gigatons, stating that “bringing that carbon back home through regenerative agriculture is one of the greatest opportunities to address human and climate health, along with the financial well-being of farmers.”

Additionally, Project Drawdown ranks implementing sustainable agriculture practices, such as regenerative annual cropping, and transitioning the global community to sustainable land use turning farmland into land sinks, as top solutions in their list of most effective ways to fight climate change. Project Drawdown also ranks managed grazing as a top climate solution; offering the following key points-

Managed grazing imitates herbivores, addressing two key variables: how long livestock grazes a specific area and how long the land rests before animals return. There are three managed-grazing techniques that improve soil health, carbon sequestration, water retention, and forage productivity:

  1. Improved continuous grazing adjusts standard grazing practices and decreases the number of animals per acre.
  2. Rotational grazing moves livestock to fresh paddocks or pastures, allowing those already grazed to recover.
  3. Adaptive multi-paddock grazing shifts animals through smaller paddocks in quick succession, after which the land is given time to recover.

FROM – https://drawdown.org/solutions/managed-grazing

And here’s a snippet from World Resources Institute on governments subsidizing sustainable agriculture for farmers willing to adopt practices that actively sequester carbon on farmland (through carbon farming, cover crops, and/ or another sustainable farming practice discussed above) –

“To both feed the world and solve climate change, the world needs to produce 50% more food in 2050 compared to 2010 while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds. While government funding has an important role to play, a new World Bank report found that agricultural subsidies are currently doing little to achieve these goals, but have great potential for reform.

What is needed to mitigate the 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions contributed by global agriculture, including emissions from land use change? The good news is that many opportunities exist to boost agricultural productivity to provide more food on existing agricultural land while reducing emissions.

Opportunity one is to increase natural resource efficiency by producing more food per hectare, per animal and per kilogram of fertilizer and other chemicals used. Opportunity two is to put in place measures to link these productivity gains to protection of forests and other native habitats. Opportunity three is to pursue innovations, because reaching climate goals for agriculture — just like for energy use — requires new technologies and approaches.

Overall, governments around the world should redirect more agricultural funding to focus on mitigation and the synergies between reducing emissions and producing more food. A first step toward a sustainable food future is to make better use of the large financial support governments are already providing.”   FROM – wri.org/redirecting-agricultural-subsidies-sustainable-food-future