Climate Compass Blog

Using Climate Data in the Real World

Argonne National Laboratory's data center.

This season’s series of hurricanes and intense storms in the Caribbean and Gulf Coast highlights the importance of extreme weather resilience and planning that can help mitigate the impacts of climate change. Extreme weather as well as climate trends such as higher temperatures and more nuisance flooding have prompted government and business leaders to question whether they are prepared for the next disaster and the future climate. But many remain uncertain about sources of climate data, techniques to apply global-scale models to local conditions, and how uncertain forecasts can affect everyday corporate and community decision-making.

The collection and analysis of reliable data is critical to the business community and state and local leaders in decision-making. And, state climatologists, local universities and federally-funded research from institutions like the Argonne National Laboratory and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) are producing the type of high-quality forecasting the business community and local governments need to consider investments.

To address these questions, C2ES hosted a webinar to bring together experts from federal agencies and the energy sector to discuss available climate data, uses and limitations, and applications in decision making in the private sector. A number of communities and businesses cite lack of reliable data as a challenge in resilience planning, but the presenters showed that adequate data is available and advised that decision-making can occur despite imperfect information. The presenters emphasized that the key to using climate data in decision making is working with local experts, including state climatologists, local universities and regional centers of NOAA to help collect, analyze and interpret data for decision-making or planning.

Most federal observations of past and current climate conditions, for example, are archived in NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. NOAA also provides a number of regional products that interpret climate information in summaries, webinars and resources for various economic sectors. Visual tools to show temperature, rainfall, streamgage and other kinds of data are available, including the Sea Level Rise Viewer mapping tool that offers a visualization of community-level impacts from coastal flooding or sea-level.

Federal scientists are also developing cutting edge global climate models and downscaling techniques intended to provide fine scale resolution (10 – 100 kilometers) of future climate projections. Argonne National Laboratory is one example of this expert modeling and works to make data available to the research and business communities and others. Climate models use mathematical equations to describe parts of the climate system such as atmosphere, oceans and ice cover, and can be used to simulate conditions over hundreds of years. Over time, these models have accounted for a growing number of climate factors and increased the data resolution, providing more highly-detailed information for targeted areas.

While uncertainties in climate projections like the rate of future greenhouse gas emissions is especially tricky for communities, businesses and others to overcome, the hurdle can be significantly curtailed. With support from state climatologists and other regional climate experts, communities and business leaders can quantify and provide bounds for uncertainty by analyzing low- and high-emissions scenarios. Despite some lingering uncertainty, most data points to high-probability trends which allow for sufficiently-informed decision-making, especially on near-term projects.

The assistance of the experts at NOAA and national laboratories is crucial for communities, states, and businesses beginning to consider climate impacts in different aspects of planning.

With the assistance of NOAA regional offices, Southern California utility San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) uses downscaled climate data in their long-term planning, helping them to better anticipate how extreme weather events and climate trends could affect their assets and operations. SDG&E is carrying out assessments of the electric sector’s vulnerability to sea level rise and the exposure of natural gas lines and facilities to all climate impacts. To better understand which infrastructure could be threatened and when it could become vulnerable, SDG&E has worked with scientists and consultants to overlay facility locations with maps of projected climate impacts such as sea level rise maps and simulated 100-year storm flooding. SDG&E said the partnership with NOAA and the regional climate office was key to their resilience planning.  

NOAA’s collections of data can answer many questions you might have about your local climate, but SDG&E’s work also shows the added value of downscaled data accessed through the CalAdapt platform. CalAdapt is a site that synthesizes data and information produced by California’s scientific and research community to provide raw data, visualization tools and case studies. SDG&E also uses data from CalAdapt to inform design of a new compressor station and review their internal design standards for changes needed to prepare for rising sea levels. While this resource is unique to California, federal investments for improved climate monitoring and modeling can enable other states to have access to high-resolution data to inform resilience planning.

As the stakes for resilience planning are higher every year, it is also vital that the federal government continue to support climate experts at federal agencies to help communities and businesses who rely on accurate climate data. Cities and businesses today have the information they need to inform the no-regrets actions that should be taken, but improved and continually updated climate monitoring and modeling will still be necessary to reduce uncertainty and with long-term decisions.

To view the webinar online, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xY7nc9jAPYs

 

 

 

 
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From SunShot to a Carbon Capture Moonshot


C2ES President Bob Perciasepe speaks at a discussion higlighting the successes of carbon capture technology with Al Collins, Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs, Occidental Petroleum Corporation; David Greeson, Vice President of Development, NRG Energy; and Christopher Romans, Senior Manager for Government Relations, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America.

Last month, the Department of Energy announced the solar industry met an ambitious goal to make the solar electricity market competitive, a feat achieved three years ahead of schedule. The SunShot initiative, as it was called, is a great example of what that can be achieved with the help of federal and state policies that promote private sector investment. Now it’s time to apply that formula and commitment to other clean-energy technologies, including carbon capture, use and storage.

The Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory concluded that the country has already reached the SunShot initiative’s 2020 price goals of $1 per watt and less than six cents per kilowatt-hour for utility-scale solar energy. This is an impressive display of policy solutions in action, current International Trade Commission dispute notwithstanding.

This was achieved with the help of federal investments in research, development, demonstration and deployment (RDD&D), as well as a federal investment tax credit and a federal loan guarantee to support project financing. Meanwhile, strong state policies like the California Renewables Portfolio Standard supported deployment by enabling developers to enter into above-market power purchase agreements.

Carbon capture, like solar and other low-carbon technologies, will be essential to meeting our long-term emissions reduction goals. This versatile technology can be applied to coal and gas-fired power plants, as well as steel, cement, and fertilizer production plants and refineries.

2017 has already been a banner year for carbon capture. NRG Energy’s Petra Nova project came online as America’s first commercial-scale coal-fired power plant retrofitted with carbon capture and the largest of its kind in the world, and the ADM Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage project opened as the world’s first commercial-scale ethanol plant retrofitted with carbon capture. Even with these successes, more national investment in RDD&D and support for private sector commercialization is needed. The International Energy Agency warns that carbon capture technology is not on track to meet long-term emissions reduction goals necessary to stave off the worst effects of climate change .

To highlight current successes and the potential of next-generation technology, C2ES organized a policy briefing featuring U.S. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). As proof that bipartisan progress on energy policy is possible, the four in July introduced the FUTURE Act, which would extend and expand the Section 45Q tax credit for carbon capture. The Senate bill has 25 sponsors. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) also introduced legislation on 45Q in the House, and it also has substantial bipartisan support from 38 sponsors.

Speakers at the C2ES event highlighted the need for federal policy leadership to expand corporate investment in carbon capture technology and bring next-generation technologies to market. Carbon capture technology also needs overlapping incentives like federal tax credits, loan guarantees, and state portfolio standards that worked to help bring down the cost of solar energy.

Two days before the C2ES event, a hearing before Sen. Barrasso’s Environment and Public Works Committee highlighted opportunities to invest in pipelines for manmade carbon dioxide, to spur regional investment in carbon capture.

Carbon capture would also benefit from the use of Private Activity Bonds, often used for infrastructure projects like airports and water sewer projects. To this end, in April 2017, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced the Carbon Capture Improvement Act, and Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) and Marc Veasey (D-Texas) introduced a companion bill in the House.

Congress can also support carbon capture through the appropriations process, particularly through continued support for carbon capture RDD&D. For FY 2018, the House of Representatives appropriated $668 million for the Office of Fossil Energy, and it would be beneficial for the final appropriation to be close to this level. Support for large-scale transformational pilot projects (such as in the House’s FY 2017 Omnibus Appropriations bill) and using the loan guarantee program for carbon capture projects would also be helpful.

Looking ahead, DOE should develop a strategy and long-term roadmap—a “Carbon Capture Moonshot.” Building on the success of the SunShot initiative and the Petra Nova and ADM project milestones of 2017, it is the right time to invest in carbon capture to increase lower carbon energy production, reduce emissions, and grow our economy, while keeping and creating jobs in the process.

 

Mayors, Businesses Pick Up the Ball on Climate

C2ES President Bob Perciasepe speaks at a panel discussion with U.S. mayors at Climate Week NYC. Also pictured are Salt Lake City, Utah, Mayor Jackie Biskupski, Des Moines, Iowa, Mayor Frank Cownie and Santa Fe, N.M. .Mayor Javier Gonzales, chairman of the Alliance for a Sustainable Future.

The Paris Agreement sent a strong signal that the nations of the world are ready to address climate change. But, they are not alone. States, cities, and companies have been showing climate leadership, and they can make strong progress in the near term. 

In the absence of federal leadership on climate policy, local governments and businesses are pushing ahead efforts to reduce carbon emissions and spur the transition to a low-carbon future. In a meeting of The US Conference of Mayors (USCM) in June, the 1,400-member Conference pledged to support cities establishing targets of powering their communities with 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2035. Importantly, the question of how cities across the U.S. will reach such ambitious goals must be answered through a variety of practical solutions.

The full potential of local climate measures has yet to be realized. By working together with businesses and other cities, effective programs can be implemented more economically across the country. In a new nationwide survey by The USCM and C2ES, a third of participating cities revealed they are already working with businesses and other local governments to reduce emissions. And in a set of newly released case studies, we’ve captured how some of these partnerships are advancing climate action in communities around the country:

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

City governments can lead their communities in energy efficiency efforts, and most start with action in their own buildings. Two-thirds of surveyed cities have established efficiency standards for new and existing municipal buildings, and half have policies to promote efficient commercial and residential buildings. Cities are taking a variety of steps to reach all types of building sectors in their communities:

  • Kansas City promotes energy efficiency investments in residential buildings through an innovative PACE loan program. In conjunction with the Missouri Clean Energy District and Renovate America, the HERO program offers Kansas City residents loans to finance home energy efficiency and renewable energy investments. Since its launch in September 2016, the HERO program has approved 650 residential assessment applications and completed 538 projects with homeowners in the city, an estimated value of $5.2 million.
  • The Renew Boston Trust is ensuring that City of Boston buildings are as efficient as possible through an expansive, long-term energy service performance contract with Honeywell. As a first step all city facilities will undergo an energy audit (a step that 2/3 of surveyed cities report routinely pursuing to some degree), which will be followed by a focus on improvements to 38 pilot facilities.
  • While cities are leading efficiency efforts through policy measures, utilities are important partners in successfully cutting energy use. Duke Energy is working in North Carolina with the cities of Charlotte and Asheville to pioneer approaches to cut energy use in commercial buildings and establish a community-wide strategic energy planning process to meet community preferences to avoid additional natural gas generation.  

RENEWABLE ENERGY

The sustainability survey also revealed that cities large and small are supporting renewable energy in their communities, with 65% of responding cities purchasing renewable energy for municipal operations.

The potential impact of cities fully supplying their operations with clean power is tremendous: the aggregate electricity bill of just 74 surveyed cities sums to over $1.4 billion, representing a significant potential investment in the renewable energy industry. While some of these dollars are already going toward renewable electricity purchases, the ambitious renewable energy goals of a broad group of cities points to greater procurement expectations. For example, eighteen of the cities considering entering the renewable electricity market in the next few years spend a combined $123.5 million annually.

The following cities are pioneering programs to advance renewables in their community, providing examples that could be replicated across the nation:

  • Las Vegas powers 100% of its municipal operations with clean energy while greatly reducing electricity costs. The City has pursued energy efficiency projects and installed clean energy systems on municipal buildings. The remaining electrical demand is met by clean energy produced at the Boulder One solar facility, contracted through a simple but innovative Renewable Energy Agreement with utility NV Energy. Through these efforts, the city has reduced its emissions by 90% and cut annual electricity costs from $15 million in 2008 to just $9 million in 2017.
  • A new Santa Fe program aims to jointly address economic disparity and sustainability efforts. The city’s newly established Verde Fund ensures that the benefits of solar energy and energy efficiency reach disadvantaged communities through a unique fund for local non-profits. The inaugural Verde Fund recipients bring solar and energy efficiency technologies to moderate and low-income households, and integrate workforce development into their delivery models.
  • In August 2016 Salt Lake City and Rocky Mountain Power signed a Clean Energy Cooperation Statement pledging to work together to meet the city’s goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2032. The unique 5-year agreement requires the city and utility to report progress annually. This establishes more frequent check-ins than a typical 25-year franchise agreement, which is commonly held by cities and utilities.

The innovative local programs and policies described represent incremental steps towards an economy that provides Americans affordable and abundant clean energy, energy efficiency, and low-carbon transportation. These collaborative investments and strategies create environmental and financial benefits, and can also address economic and resilience issues that challenge communities.

Cities and businesses are experiencing the impacts of climate change now and want to reduce the risks of even greater harm in the future. That’s why they’re already demonstrating that elements of a low-carbon future are beginning to improve our communities, and there is plenty of room for greater action. Without the certainty and leadership of the federal government, partnerships will become increasingly essential to a successful and swift transition to a low-carbon future. Luckily, more than half of U.S. cities are interested in establishing new collaborations, and appear ready to lead the country toward a sustainable future for us all. 

Companies set their own carbon price to guide decisions

Business leaders know that climate change impacts are here and on the rise. They also know there are significant economic opportunities in the transition to a low-carbon economy. But factoring these risks – and opportunities – into corporate decision-making isn’t always easy.

An internal carbon price is increasingly being used by companies across sectors and geographies to translate the risks and opportunities of a low-carbon economy into business decisions.

Some companies set a theoretical price on carbon, or a “shadow price,” to evaluate investments, test assumptions, and guide business strategy. Some use a “carbon fee” to assign an explicit monetary value to emissions from business units to change behaviors and raise funds for clean energy and energy efficiency projects. Still others use a combination of these or other approaches.

A new C2ES brief, The Business of Pricing Carbon, examines how companies are using internal carbon pricing and why: to prepare for future regulation, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, respond to shareholder concerns, build more resilient supply chains, gain a competitive edge, and showcase corporate responsibility.

According to 2016 disclosures to the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), more than 1,200 companies worldwide are either pursuing internal carbon pricing or preparing to do so soon—up 23 percent from 2015. While most of these companies are based in North America and Europe, more companies in emerging economies, including Brazil, China, India, and Mexico, are exploring carbon pricing.

Among the leaders:

  • Since 2012, Microsoft business groups have paid a fee, from $5 to $10 per metric ton, on the carbon emissions associated with their electricity consumption and employee air travel. The revenue is used to buy renewable energy, increase energy efficiency and e-waste recycling, and buy carbon offsets. Microsoft has been carbon neutral in its global operations since July 2012.
  • Shell has used an internal carbon price of $40 to $80 per metric ton since 2000 to evaluate investment decisions. Its greenhouse gas Project Screening Value has influenced decisions to invest in carbon capture technology, natural gas, and biofuels. Shell reduced its direct greenhouse gas emissions from facilities by 2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from 2015 to 2016.
  • Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M), the world’s largest manufacturer of tractors, became the first Indian company to launch an internal carbon fee of $10 per metric ton in 2016. The funds help reduce waste, water usage, and carbon emissions through projects such as LED lighting, energy-efficient motors, and waste-to-energy projects. M&M’s goal is to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions intensity 25 percent by 2019 from 2016 levels.
  • Mining company BHP has had a shadow price of $24-$80 per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent since 2004 to inform decisions to improve energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its existing operations, and diversify its portfolio for a carbon-constrained future. The company reduced emissions 13 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Companies are using an internal carbon price to help advance their greenhouse gas reduction targets. For example, C2ES found that almost half of the companies committed to the RE100 (100 percent renewable energy) and Science-Based GHG Targets have adopted an internal carbon price or plan to do so in the next couple of years.

Most companies that have adopted a shadow price use a level higher than current government carbon pricing levels (which according to experts is $10 per metric ton) to prepare for a transition to a low-carbon world. This is particularly true for companies in the oil and gas and metals and mining sectors, which use shadow price ranges that are compatible with the levels recommended for governments by the High-Level Commission on Carbon Pricing ($40-$80 per metric ton by 2020 and $50-$100 per metric ton by 2030).

Setting an internal carbon price is just one tool in the toolbox for companies seeking to reduce their exposure to climate risks, increase their business opportunities in a low-carbon future, and show sustainability leadership to their shareholders, employees, and customers. We encourage more companies to explore the options.

Read the brief:.

Watch the webinar.

 

What Hurricane Harvey tells us about climate change

The heartbreaking consequences of Hurricane Harvey’s landfall in Texas and Louisiana over the past week have led many public figures to comment regarding the potential connection between hurricanes and global climate change. With Hurricane Irma bearing down on the Caribbean and Florida, this question will likely get another bump in the news cycle.

What does the science tell us about this connection? In 2014, the White House released the latest update of the congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment (NCA), a report produced by the relevant scientific agencies every few years. The NCA made the following statement:

The intensity, frequency, and duration of North Atlantic hurricanes, as well as the frequency of the strongest (Category 4 and 5) hurricanes, have all increased since the early 1980s. The relative contributions of human and natural causes to these increases are still uncertain. Hurricane-associated storm intensity and rainfall rates are projected to increase as the climate continues to warm.

That remains a good summary as far as hurricanes go, but there is a more fundamental point that I think decision-makers should be focused on as they consider how to direct investments to enhance our resilience to climate change: Precipitation extremes are intensifying and will continue to do so as the climate warms.

Consider the following:

  • In April 2014, southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle experienced a historic rainstorm that set local records for daily and hourly rainfall totals. In Pensacola, nearly 6 inches of rain fell in an hour and more than two feet of rain fell over two days, causing catastrophic flash flooding.
  • In October 2015, many areas of Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas experienced extreme rainfall and flash flooding. The greatest totals were south of Dallas, where more than 20 inches of rain flooded highways and derailed a freight train. Houston received around 10 inches and experienced flash flooding.
  • In March 2016, Louisiana experienced historic flooding and areas of Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas experienced extreme rainfall and flash flooding. More than 20 inches of rain fell in Monroe, Louisiana, with one reporting station recording nearly 27 inches over three days.

Now we have Hurricane Harvey.

These events are a small selection of a large number of major flood events to strike Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas recently. Gulf states have seen historic flooding disasters from extreme precipitation every year for at least four years running. Many of these events were associated with hurricanes (or tropical storms in general). All of them required an enormous source of atmospheric moisture to generate such extreme rainfall totals in a matter of hours to days. 

That moisture source is no mystery: It is the warm tropical waters of the North Atlantic (principally the Gulf of Mexico) and eastern Pacific oceans. These bodies of water have been warming over recent decades and are evaporating more and more moisture into the atmosphere along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. The atmosphere is also warming, and warmer air holds more water vapor. As the climate warms, therefore, more moisture becomes available to supply rainfall.

This fact is basic physics and there isn’t any real uncertainty about it. Moreover, it is well understood that the oceans and atmosphere are warming as a direct result of manmade greenhouse gas emissions. (Without those emissions, the climate system would actually be cooling slightly).

The consequences are not limited to the Gulf Coast. The National Climate Asessment chart below shows the percent increase in the amount of rainfall associated with the heaviest 1 percent of downpours in regions of the United States from 1958 to 2012.

So what does Hurricane Harvey tell us about climate change? It confirms that our risk is rising as the climate warms. Harvey also teaches us about our vulnerabilities and adaptation needs.

As Dan Huber and I have explained, individual weather events are unpredictable, but our overall risk from changing weather patterns is predictable. Reducing our climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions will limit how much we ultimately ratchet up that risk. However, since the climate is already changing and the risk of damages is rising, we also need to adapt to the changes that are in the pipeline. Both reducing emissions and adapting to unavoidable change are essential to managing the risk

Jay Gulledge, Ph.D., is a Senior Adviser to C2ES