Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Electric car batteries with five-minute charging times produced
- Trump administration jams in environmental rollbacks in final days
- Octopus leans into wind power generation
- Total deepens ties with India’s Adani in $2.5bn green energy investment
- If done right, tax rises can bring the economy back faster and greener
- Businesses aim to pull greenhouse gases from the air. It’s a gamble.
- Zonally contrasting shifts of the tropical rain belt in response to climate change
- Constraining human contributions to observed warming since the pre-industrial period
- The land–energy–water nexus of global bioenergy potentials from abandoned cropland
“Batteries capable of fully charging in five minutes have been produced in a factory for the first time”, says a story on the frontpage of the Guardian. The batteries were developed by the Israeli company StorDot and can be recharged for 1,000 cycles whilst retaining 80% of their batter capacity, the paper adds. The Daily Telegraph adds that the batteries “would allow a driver to travel for 250 miles” and that the key to rapid charging is that the new lithium ion phosphate batteries heat up to around 60C when charging and cool down when they are not in use. The i newspaper reports that an electric car fitted with the new battery could go from zero to 60 miles per hour in “under three seconds” and that, according to the lead author of the study, an EV fitted with the new battery “should cost about the same as a conventional petrol or diesel car”. Meanwhile, BusinessGreen reports on allegations that Vauxhall “cheated emissions tests”, meaning that drivers were “unknowingly emitting illegal levels of emissions into the atmosphere”. The outlet notes that Vauxhall “were swift to reject the allegations”. Separately, BusinessGreen runs a piece on a new charging app that aims to deliver “an innovative method of smart charging electric cars” that would bring lower prices to customers and “flexibility benefits to the grid”. MailOnline also covers the story. In other news, the Sun has an editorial headlined: “It would be madness to raise fuel tax by 5p a litre – it’s a fast road to ruin.”
With the inauguration of US president-elect Joe Biden fast-approaching, there is extensive media coverage of his plans to reform American climate change policy and of Donald Trump’s final actions before leaving office tomorrow. The Washington Post reports that “Trump, like other departing presidents, is trying to lock in his agenda before the term is up”, with measures including “rollbacks to energy and environmental restrictions”. For example, the outlet says, the Energy Department signed a petition from the natural gas industry keeping less-efficient furnaces and water-heaters on the market. Furthermore, “Obama-era” measures, such as increased royalties from oil, gas, and coal companies, have been overturned. However, the outlet adds that “Biden is preparing to sign a slew of executive orders on his first day in office”, including rejoining the Paris Agreement and cancelling the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. There is continued coverage of Biden’s plans to cancel the Keystone pipeline. The Guardian notes that Biden had previously vowed to cancel the $9bn dollar project if he became president and the Independent quotes a tweet from Bernie Sanders saying: “The Keystone pipeline is and always has been a disaster. I’m delighted that Joe Biden will cancel the Keystone permit on his first day in office.” The New York Times adds that the 1,200 mile-long pipeline would have transported 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada the US. Obama rejected the permit for the project in 2015, the outlet reports, but the Trump administration reversed the decision in 2017″. However, according to the Washington Post, “top officials in Canada” have urged Biden not to cancel the pipeline and may “seek legal damages”. BBC News, the Hill and Climate Home News also cover the story. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the US plans to “impose sanctions on a Russian pipe-laying ship involved in construction of the Russian-led Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany”. The project was nearly completed and would have doubled the capacity of the existing Nord Stream undersea gas pipeline, the outlet adds, but work was suspended in December 2019 “due to the threat of sanctions from Washington”.
The New York Times has published a list of executive orders that Biden plans to roll out in his first ten days as president, while the Wall Street Journal includes action on climate in its story: “What’s on Biden’s business and economic to-do list.“ The Hill reports that, according to experts, “Biden won’t be able to achieve his goal of putting the US on track to meet net-zero emissions unless many of the Trump regulatory actions are reversed.” However, it adds that Biden has already pledged to sign an order on day one to “block any ‘midnight rules’ from the Trump administration that have not yet taken effect” and that the Democratic majority in the Senate “opens new avenues for Biden to reverse many of Trumps last-minute environmental rollbacks”. One of these ways would be through using the “Congressional Review Act (CRA)”. However, according to the paper, Democrats are “reluctant” to use this method. The Wall Street Journal reports that Biden’s climate plan for reducing greenhouse gases emissions “to benefit auto makers, oil and gas producers, and utilities” will “get a boost from (the) democrat-led Senate”, but that the “razor-thin majority” held by Democrats will mean that “GOP and industry support” are likely to be needed. The Independent has a story entitled: “Meet Biden’s climate crisis army.” The outlets runs through the “megawatt names” of Biden’s new team, who will “lead on climate action”. These include Janet Yellen as Treasure Secretary and John Kerry as “climate czar”. Energy Monitor also has a piece entitled: “EU sees climate opportunity with Biden inauguration.” Meanwhile, the New York Times says that Europe is “eager for a political climate change”, but “won’t put its own agenda on hold” if Biden is consumed with domestic problems.
In other US news, the Financial Times reports that “New York state is forging ahead with hundreds of miles of new high-voltage power lines” in a move that “lean-energy advocates would like to see copied nationwide”, while Inside Climate News reports that much of the early communications infrastructure in the South “cannot withstand climate change”. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that Occidental Petroleum claims to be “doing more than Tesla to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” as it “seeks to build up its carbon management business”.
“Octopus Energy has made its first foray into power generation with the acquisition of two small wind turbines”, the Times reports. The outlet adds that Octopus is launching a tariff called the “Fan Club”, which offers customers a 20% discount on the unit price of energy, which drops to 50% when the wind picks up. BusinessGreen also covers this story, adding that, according to the firm, “each turbine can generate up to 500 kilowatts, enough to power 400 homes per year”. “Wind farms delivered their highest ever contribution to Europe’s power mix ” in 2020, according to BusinessGreen. Reuters adds that the increase in wind power generation has led to a dip in European electricity prices. This comes as a cold snap in Poland has driven power demand to a new record high, Reuters adds in another article. A further Reuters article on the German power grid reports that “German high-voltage grid operator Amprion is confident the country’s planned switch to renewable energy can be mastered by its network”.
“Analysts have raised their European carbon market average price forecasts for 2021 and 2022”, Reuters reports in another article. According to the newswire, this is due to growing confidence in the EU’s emission trading system, as well as “soaring gas prices” that have pushed up the price of carbon permits. Bloomberg also covers the story, reporting that “the resuscitation of the ETS has come in response to the limits on permits and expectations that the supply will soon shrink even faster”. In other news, Reuters reports that “a new high-voltage power line between France and Britain is expected to go live by the end of January”. This will be the second direct current connection between France and Britain, the newswire adds and will increase transport capacity by 1,000MW. Finally, Euractiv has an opinion piece stating that, in the run-up to COP26, the EU needs to “adopt a joint and ambitious approach to climate finance to ensure that EU countries stand by their financial commitments under the Paris Agreement”.
French energy company Total has acquired a 20% stake in the Indian group Adani Green Energy in a “$2.5bn deal that deepens the French energy major’s renewables push”, the Financial Times reports. This investment is at a discount of nearly 40% compared to Adani Green’s market rates and grants Total both a seat on the company board, as well as a 50% share in the 2.35GW portfolio of solar assets, the paper adds. BusinessGreen reports that Adani has “more operational solar capacity than any other company in the world and is aiming to grow its portfolio from 14.6GW to 25GW within the next five years”. Reuters adds that Total “aims to have 35DW of gross renewable energy generation capacity by 2025 from around 9 GW now.” The Times of India also covers the story. This follows news from this weekend (covered in more detail in yesterdays Daily Briefing) that Total has become the first oil major to end its membership of the American Petroleum Institute. In other India news, Bloomberg has a story entitled ,”India debuts largest nuclear reactor with more planned”, stating that “India is counting on its nuclear program to help meet its Paris climate commitments”.
Tax rises could bring the UK economy “back faster and greener” from the damage caused by the pandemic, writes Philip Aldrick, the economics editor of the Times. “Tax rises don’t have to slow the economy if they are carefully targeted,” he continues: “What if a corporation tax increase was accompanied by a large, temporary uplift in investment and R&D relief that, for many companies, more than offset the tax rise? By making the trade-off more valuable, there would be an even greater incentive to invest.” For example, “another beneficial levy would be a carbon border tax, as the European Union plans, to ensure that the carbon price on imports matches the carbon price in the UK”, Aldrick says: “Brussels is pitching it both as a ‘level playing field’ issue, to prevent dirty Chinese imports undercutting clean local producers, and a green initiative, to stop domestic companies exporting emissions.” He adds: “Given that the UK is both hosting the COP26 climate summit this year and trying to rebuild relations with the EU, the policy has clear attractions. Pre-announcing the tax could bring forward investment in domestic production to replace Chinese imports. The cost of carbon tariffs, a cost that business inevitably faces if Britain is to hit net-zero by 2050, would be borne later in the parliament, once the recovery is established.” (Carbon Brief has been tracking “green recovery” plans of countries around the world since last year.)
The idea of direct-air carbon removal is “gaining support from a surprising source: large companies facing pressure to act on climate”, write New York Times reporters Brad Plumer and Christopher Flavelle in a news feature. They continue: “A growing number of corporations are pouring money into so-called engineered carbon removal – for example, using giant fans to pull carbon dioxide from the air and trap it. The companies say these techniques, by offsetting emissions they can’t otherwise cut, may be the only way to fulfil lofty ‘net-zero’ pledges.” The writers cite a number of examples, such as: “Occidental Petroleum and United Airlines are investing in a large ‘direct air capture’ plant in Texas that will use fans and chemical agents to scrub carbon dioxide from the sky and inject it underground. Stripe and Shopify, two e-commerce companies, have each begun spending at least $1m per year on start-ups working on carbon removal techniques, such as sequestering the gas in concrete for buildings. Microsoft will soon announce detailed plans to pay to remove one million tonnes of carbon dioxide.” The hope, according to these companies, is that early investments can help drive carbon removal prices “to something more palatable – say, $100 per tonne or less – much as investments in wind and solar have made those energy sources cheaper over time”, the piece says. But “there are risks too”, the authors note: “As more companies pledge to zero out their emissions by 2050, some experts warn that they could hide behind the uncertain promise of removing carbon later to avoid cutting emissions deeply today.” Elsewhere, in BusinessGreen, freelance journalist Toby Hill takes a look at how carbon capture and negative emissions debates “are starting to heat up”. (See Carbon Brief’s explainer on “negative emissions technologies” for more information on these techniques.)
New research explores how the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) – a narrow band of heavy rainfall in the tropics – could be affected by a warming climate. Using 27 climate models and the SSP3-7.0 scenario, the study identifies a “northward shift over eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean and a southward shift in the eastern Pacific and Atlantic oceans” by 2100. The analysis “provides insight about mechanisms influencing the future position of the tropical rain belt and may allow for more-robust projections of climate change impacts”, the authors say.
A new attribution study estimates the contribution from human activity to global warming. Using climate model simulations from the Detection and Attribution Model Intercomparison Project, the researchers show that “anthropogenic forcings caused 0.9 to 1.3C of warming in global mean near-surface air temperature in 2010–2019 relative to 1850–1900”. They add: “Greenhouse gases and aerosols contributed changes of 1.2 to 1.9 C and −0.7 to −0.1 C, respectively, and natural forcings contributed negligibly.” (Carbon Brief published a piece in 2017 on how humans are responsible for 100% of global warming.)
New research uses a satellite-derived land cover map to determine the bioenergy potential of abandoned cropland. The authors identify 83m hectares of abandoned cropland between 1992 and 2015, with bioenergy potentials of “6–39 exajoules per year (11–68% of today’s bioenergy demand)”. Furthermore, “about 20 exajoules per year can be achieved by increasing today’s global cropland area and water use by 3% and 8%, respectively”, the study adds. For more on the water-energy-food nexus, see Carbon Brief’s guest post from 2019.
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