Dangers of a warming Earth are immediate.

If you think of climate change as a hazard for some far-off polar bears years from now, you’re mistaken. That’s the message from top climate scientists gathering in Japan this week to assess the impact of global warming.

In fact, they will say, the dangers of a warming Earth are immediate and very human.


Energy Firm Stranded Assets

A stranded asset is an asset that has become obsolete, or non-performing and must be recorded on the balance sheet as a loss of profit.

The question I ponder then is how many years will it be before energy firms will need to write off their oil and carbon reserves as stranded assets? There is no possibility that we will be able to safely burn and consume all the worlds accessible reserves and carbon deposits without creating increasingly significant climate change problems. These changes will become untenable, too painful and too costly for societies to bear. The increasing prevalence of mega storms, droughts, fires, floods, will eventually wake up societies to not accept the course that we are currently on. The deniers will loose their capacity to fight reason no matter how much money they spend trying to obfuscate the truth.

The very survival of the large energy companies and their multi billion dollar valuations is hanging in the balance. The question is how many years away is it before these companies will be forced to downgrade their reserves as stranded assets and de-value their firms.

They are spending millions to obfuscate the truth and to deny that climate change exists.
They have much to loose and will not go down without a fight. This was a similar tactic used by big tobacco, denying that there was a link between smoking and cancer. At some point big energy will have to write off their reserves as stranded assets. The question is how many years away is this? And will it be too late?

Department of Commerce warns of salespeople pitching energy savings from radiant barriers.

Department of Commerce warns of salespeople pitching energy savings from radiant barriers
Due diligence urged in seeking most cost-effective energy improvements

April 10, 2013

For Immediate Release:

SAINT PAUL, MN – The Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources has issued an alert to consumers who are considering the purchase of radiant barriers in their attics. The Commerce Department, which has received recent reports of salespeople pitching the radiant barrier product in flyers and at free dinners throughout Minnesota, warns consumers that radiant barriers are not a cost-effective way to reduce heating or cooling loads in Minnesota.

“Radiant barriers in attics may be valid for homes in southern states,” said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman, “but they save very little energy in Minnesota homes.”

Radiant barriers consist of a reflective film, usually aluminum, laid over the top of attic insulation in existing homes. They are sold as an energy-saving product, with claims of significant reductions in both heating and cooling costs. However, their potential benefit is primarily in reducing air conditioning cooling loads in warm or hot climates and in buildings with little or no insulation. A Radiant Barrier Fact Sheet compiled by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy shows that the benefits of radiant barriers decrease significantly as one travels north. In southern cities like Miami, Fla., or Austin, Texas, radiant barriers could reduce one’s utility bill by as much as $150 per year using average residential electricity prices. But by the time you reach colder climate states such as Minnesota, where air-conditioning loads are considerably less, savings drop to only $10 to $40 a year. If there are no ducts or air handlers in the attic, the savings are much less.

So, consumers need to be aware that with the price of installation for a radiant barrier is $2,000 or more with a savings of $20 per year, it would take 100 years to pay back the investment. It is also important to note that radiant barrier products have negligible benefit in reducing heating costs. It is unlikely that most Minnesota consumers would realize any measurable energy savings from radiant barriers in attics.

“We strongly urge all consumers to be cautious, conduct due diligence, and explore other proven means to make their homes and businesses more energy efficient,” said Rothman. “Don’t be misled by ‘deals’ or ‘pilot programs’ available for a limited time only. Get input and bids from atleast three contractors, and make sure those contractors are reputable.”

The U.S. Department of Energy and the Minnesota Department of Commerce agree that, in Minnesota, implementing air sealing and adding conventional attic insulation would be considerably cheaper and much more effective for saving energy than installing a radiant barrier. In fact, as attic insulation levels increase, the potential benefits from a radiant barrier decrease. Getting a home energy assessment through your gas or electric utility is also encouraged as a first step to identifying cost-effective energy improvements.

For more information on insulation and other energy-efficient measures to improve your home, contact the Division of Energy Resources at 800-657-3710 or 651-296-5175 or visit http://mn.gov /commerce/energy. The website offers free downloadable home energy guides, including the “Home Envelope” consumer guide that includes information on energy efficiency and choosing a contractor

Natural Gas Wells are a Major Source Of Green House Gases, Cornell Study Finds

New York / Heidelberg

Natural gas from shale contributes to global warming

New study demonstrates that shale gas is not the planet-friendly gas it is thought to be

Natural gas extracted from shale formations has a greater greenhouse gas footprint – in the form of methane emissions – than conventional gas, oil and coal over a 20 year period. This calls into question the logic of its use as a climate-friendly alternative to fossil fuels, according to Robert Howarth and colleagues, from Cornell University in New York. Their work (1) is published online in Springer’s journal, Climatic Change Letters (2).
Shale gas* has become an increasingly important source of natural gas in the United States over the past decade. Howarth and team evaluated the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas, obtained by high-volume hydraulic fracturing of shale formations, focusing on methane emissions. They analyzed the most recently published data – in particular, the technical background document on greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas industry (EPA 2010), as well as a report on natural gas losses on federal lands from the General Accountability Office (GAO 2010).
They calculated that, overall, during the life cycle of an average shale-gas well, between four to eight percent of the total production of the well is emitted to the atmosphere as methane, via routine venting and equipment leaks, as well as with flow-back return fluids during drill out following the fracturing of the shale formations. Routine production and downstream methane emissions are also large, but comparable to those of conventional gas.
Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but methane also has a 10-fold shorter residence time in the atmosphere. As a result, its effect on global warming falls more rapidly. Methane dominates the greenhouse gas footprint for shale gas on a 20 year horizon, contributing up to three times more than does direct carbon dioxide emission. At this time scale, the footprint for shale gas is at least 20 percent greater than that for coal, and perhaps twice as great.
Robert Howarth concludes: “The large greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas undercuts the logic of its use as a bridging fuel over coming decades, if the goal is to reduce global warming. The full footprint should be used in planning for alternative energy futures that adequately consider global climate change.”
*Shale gas is extracted by a high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process. Large volumes of water are forced under pressure into the shale to fracture and re-fracture the rock to boost gas flow. A significant amount of water returns to the surface as flow-back within the first few days to weeks after injection and is accompanied by large quantities of methane.
(1) Howarth RW et al (2011). Methane and greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations. Climatic Change Letters. DOI 10.1007/s10584-011-0061-5
(2) Climatic Change Letters is an additional section of the journal Climatic Change.
The full-text article is available to journalists on request.
Contact: Hanna Sigmann, Springer, tel +49-6221-487-8414; [email protected]
Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations

Heating Degree Days in Minneapolis

The Heating Degree Days (HDD) for a city,  is a metric for quantifying the amount of heat that a building in a location requires over a period of time, such as a year.  ”HDD“, are a measure of how much (in degrees), and for how long (in days), outside air temperature was lower than a specific base temperature.  Typically the base temperature used is 65 degrees.

Over the last 120 years HDD figures have been tabulated.  And the warmest period on record was the 2011-2012 season.

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

Yet again, the Rolling Stone published a poignant and insightful piece, this time by Bill McKibben titled Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.

Bottom line is that the CO2 numbers are off the chart and getting worse. At issue is that the large energy concerns have built their valuations in large measure by the energy that they have in their stored reserves. The reserves are energy stores that these companies draw against and are assets that show up on the companies balance sheet. Bill argues that the fundamental reason why the energy companies, Koch brothers and similar fight any form of CO2 emission regulation is that this is a direct threat to the companies asset base and would reflect in a devaluation of their stock prices.

” We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We’d have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. “.

If these energy companies paid attention to the climate scientist and wrote off these assets they would have to write of approximately $20 Trillion in valuation (which makes the housing bubble pale by comparison).

There is however sea-change happening amongst energy company leadership. There was previously wide spread denial about global warming. Now energy company leadership is warming (no pun intended) to the indisputable fact that we are affecting the climate.

“They’re clearly cognizant of global warming – they employ some of the world’s best scientists, after all, and they’re bidding on all those oil leases made possible by the staggering melt of Arctic ice. And yet they relentlessly search for more hydrocarbons – in early March, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson told Wall Street analysts that the company plans to spend $37 billion a year through 2016 (about $100 million a day) searching for yet more oil and gas…. Tillerson late last month, on the same day the Colorado fires reached their height, told a New York audience that global warming is real, but dismissed it as an “engineering problem” that has ‘engineering solutions.’

I suppose they are smart enough to recognize that you can’t defend and deny what is happening when the impacts are so wide spread such as  melting glaciers, sea ice in the arctic opening up, 100 year droughts in the south, etc.. People are smarter than this. If they see daily on the news massive early season hurricanes, huge fire storms, floods, they’ll soon wake up and recognize …”something ain’t right”.

This is unlike smoking where the tobacco industry execs one by one lied before Congress. With energy, you can’t so easily fool the people since this is affecting them directly….like 55 degree temps in a Minnesota January (smoking is primarily a problem with the other guy).

And so what is the new tact being taken by the energy company leadership? Don’t deny it…but rather take the position that people will learn to adapt to the changes that will happen to them.

The energy company leadership recognizes that they are negatively impacting the globe, but their greed and need to pump up corporate profits is driving us all over the cliff. I encourage you to read this article.


Will Drought Cause the Next Blackout?

Published: July 23, 2012

WE’RE now in the midst of the nation’s most widespread drought in 60 years, stretching across 29 states and threatening farmers, their crops and livestock. But there is another risk as water becomes more scarce. Power plants may be forced to shut down, and oil and gas production may be threatened.

Our energy system depends on water. About half of the nation’s water withdrawals every day are just for cooling power plants. In addition, the oil and gas industries use tens of millions of gallons a day, injecting water into aging oil fields to improve production, and to free natural gas in shale formations through hydraulic fracturing. Those numbers are not large from a national perspective, but they can be significant locally.

All told, we withdraw more water for the energy sector than for agriculture. Unfortunately, this relationship means that water problems become energy problems that are serious enough to warrant high-level attention.

During the 2008 drought in the Southeast, power plants were within days or weeks of shutting down because of limited water supplies. In Texas today, some cities are forbidding the use of municipal water for hydraulic fracturing. The multiyear drought in the West has lowered the snowpack and water levels behind dams, reducing their power output. The United States Energy Information Administration recently issued an alert that the drought was likely to exacerbate challenges to California’s electric power market this summer, with higher risks of reliability problems and scarcity-driven price increases.

And in the Midwest, power plants are competing for water that farmers want for their devastated corn crops.

Unfortunately, trends suggest that this water vulnerability will become more important with time.

Population growth will mean over 100 million more people in the United States over the next four decades who will need energy and water to survive and prosper. Economic growth compounds that trend, as per-capita energy and water consumption tend to increase with affluence. Climate-change models also suggest that droughts and heat waves may be more frequent and severe.

Thankfully, there are some solutions.

The government can collect, maintain and make available accurate, updated and comprehensive water data, possibly through the United States Geological Survey and the E.I.A. The E.I.A. maintains an extensive database of accurate, up-to-date and comprehensive information on energy production, consumption, trade and price. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent set of data for water. Consequently, industry, investors, analysts, policy makers and planners lack the information they need to make informed decisions about power plant siting or cooling technologies.

The government should also invest in water-related research and development (spending has been pitifully low for decades) to seek better air-cooling systems for power plants, waterless techniques for hydraulic fracturing, and biofuels that do not require freshwater irrigation.

We should encourage the use of reclaimed water for irrigation, industry and the cooling of equipment at industrial operations like smelters and petrochemical complexes. These steps typically spare a significant amount of energy and cost. The use of dry and hybrid wet-dry cooling towers that require less water should be encouraged at power plants, since not all of them need wet cooling all the time. As power plants upgrade their cooling methods to ones that are less water-intensive, these operations can save significant volumes of water.

Most important, conservation should be encouraged, since water conservation results in energy conservation, and vice versa.

New carbon emissions standards can also help save water. A plan proposed by the Obama administration (requiring new power plants to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour generated) would encourage utilities to choose less carbon- and water-intensive fuels. Conventional coal plants, which are very thirsty, exceed the standards proposed by the president. But relatively clean, and water-lean, power plants that use wind, solar panels and natural gas combined cycle, would meet them. Thus, by enforcing CO2 limits, a lot of water use can be avoided.

Because rivers and aquifers can span many states (or countries), because there is no alternative to water, and because water represents a critical vulnerability for our energy system, governments at all levels have a stake in working with industry to find solutions. The downsides of doing nothing — more blackouts — are too serious to ignore.

Michael E. Webber is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and the associate director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas, Austin.

The shift to natural gas from coal has some benefits, as reported by National Public Radio

This past week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report linking climate change to some of the extreme weather events of 2011, like the devastating drought in Texas and record high temperatures in Britain.

None of this bodes well for the future, but there is a glimmer of hope. It turns out that U.S. carbon emissions are down nearly 8 percent since 2006.

Much of that has to do with the weak economy — people are consuming less electricity. But another part could be related to the decline of coal and the rise of cleaner-burning natural gas. This boom in natural gas has been killing the Appalachian coal industry, but it also has environmental impacts both good and bad.

Extreme Weather

Philip Mote is the director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University and one of the authors of the NOAA report. He and a team looked at last year’s drought in Texas and compared what happened there with climate models going back five decades.

They wanted to figure out the odds that the drought was indeed related to climate change, and he tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz that it was an extreme event that was beyond anything that had happened before, but is likely to happen again.

“Certain types of extreme weather events, it’s pretty clear, are increasing and will increase as the climate changes,” Mote says. Extreme heat events being one, he says, as well as extreme rainfall. There have been some extreme cold events, however, but he says they shouldn’t be mistaken for evidence against global warming.

“One incorrect conclusion is that global warming is not happening,” he says. “Another incorrect conclusion is that global warming is making our weather more extreme in every respect. The correct conclusion is probably that that cold event happened despite global warming.”

Mote’s hope is that this report gives us a better understanding of what’s happening in the world. In this case, he says, we’re talking about events that are part of a larger portrait of how we’re changing the climate.

“Even without climate change, in some respects, the ever-growing human race is very unprepared for extreme events,” he says. “But we should certainly be prepared for those events we think of as unlikely and they’re actually getting more likely.”

Worth The Risk

The question now is whether human behavior can halt the pace of climate change. President Obama has set a goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by the end of this decade.

Another study suggests that goal might actually be feasible. Not because of tough new regulations or even legislation, but because of the increasing use of natural gas to generate electricity.

Gas is one of the cheapest sources of electricity generation, now half the price of coal. Much of this a recent development, the result of advances in hydraulic fracturing or fracking, the controversial process by which gas is extracted from deep under rock formations. Fracking now produces a third of all U.S. natural gas.

Lawrence Cathles, a professor at Cornell University who wrote that study, took a close look at natural gas usage and he found that replacing coal with natural gas would cut about 40 percent of carbon emissions linked to global warming.

“When you burn natural gas it’s a cleaner burning fuel,” Cathles tells Raz. “But the more significant thing … natural gas can generate electricity with almost twice the efficiency in terms of conversion of energy content of fuel.”

Natural gas is made up largely of methane, and some of it can leak as the gas is extracted and transported. Cathles says leakage of gas from well site to customer through pipes and compressors is about 1.5 percent of total production of gas.

“So we are losing gas, but it’s not significant from a climate point of view,” he says.

Even with that 1.5 percent or even 2 percent leakage — which Cathles does think is too much — he says if natural gas replaces coal, greenhouse gas emissions would decrease by up to 40 percent.

As far as the danger to water supplies, which critics cite as one of the issues with fracking, Cathles disagrees.

“You can’t smell, you can’t taste [methane]; you really don’t know it’s there [and] it’s not harmful to you,” Cathles says. Methane does pose an explosion danger in higher concentrations, however.

The risk of methane escape, Cathles says, is in tapping out a shallow gas pocket, something that would happen even if you drilled a water well. He says that risk is worth it.

“[If] we can get 40 percent of the distance we need to by accepting new availability of natural gas … I think it makes just good sense to do it,” he says.

Slowing Climate Change

Even with the reduction in U.S. carbon emissions in recent years, is it enough to slow down climate change? David Victor, a fossil fuel expert at the University of California, San Diego, says the jury is still out.

“While there’s been a big reduction in U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide because of this shift to natural gas,” Victor says, “it hasn’t led to the kind of reductions you need to stop global warming, which is a 50 percent to 80 percent reduction.”

Victor agrees that the gas revolution is not all roses, and that the U.S. needs to be vigilant about the environmental side affects, including small earthquakes from wells and the potential dangers to local water supplies.

“If the best practices aren’t used on the well then some [waste]water can leak into ground water and be spilled on the surface and so on,” he says. “There are air pollution concerns associated with fracking as well, so we need to find ways to address those.”

Continued monitoring of natural gas production methods is important, Victor says, in order to make sure that we aren’t accidentally making the problem worse by shifting to fracking and natural gas. At its best, he says, natural gas is a bridge to a future where we have lower emissions.

“It’s better to have a bridge than nothing,” he says.

For now, natural gas is on a rapid ascent. Last month, for the first time in U.S history, gas generated as much electricity as coal, now one-third of all our power. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Proposed HOMES Act will provide rebates

With Congress struggling to find consensus on most issues, Reps. David McKinley (R-W.V.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) today found common ground by introducing bipartisan energy efficiency legislation that will create jobs, save homeowners money and benefit the environment.

The Home Owner Managing Energy Savings (HOMES) Act will provide rebates to homeowners who invest in energy efficiency improvements. Homeowners who demonstrate a 20 percent energy savings will receive a $2,000 rebate. For every 5 percent in additional energy savings, they can receive another $1,000 – up to a total of $8,000 or 50 percent of the project’s cost. The legislation is modeled after the Welch-authored Home Star Energy Retrofit Act (H.R. 5019), which passed the House with bipartisan support in the 111th Congress.

The amount of energy that goes into the manufacture of different materials varies widely

Embodied energy is the amount of energy that goes into the manufacture and shipping of various building materials.  Cellulose insulation is amazing in that it has the lowest embodied energy of all other major insulation and building materials.  Cellulose has only 3002 BTU’s / cubic foot, whereas fiberglass consumes 9 times the energy to make (26996 BTU’s/cubic foot).

Synthetic carpeting….holy cow!  It takes 2.3 million BTU’s/cubic foot.  Aluminum is 13 million BTU’s /cubic foot.   It is no wonder why aluminum smelters are located where electrical energy is cheaper, like Columbia River or Iceland.

Reading about embodied energy in cellulose makes me pleased that this is what we have been recommending to most of our clients.  Not only is cellulose great for sealing air leaks, its healthier than other insulation and the lower energy required to make it lowers our carbon footprint.