SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
1. The Science on Climate is Still Clear, Now What Do We Do?
New IPCC report further confirms our conclusions on climate change
The International Panel on Climate Change just released the first phase of its 5th Assessment Report. The IPCC evaluated 9,200 current, peer-reviewed studies and synthesized the information into several Assessment Reports, a process that takes several years. These are widely considered to be the most influential scientific studies on climate change. The verdict? The planet is undeniably changing, and scientists have a 95 percent certainty that humans have a large role in how it has changed over the last 60 years.
What exactly does the report say?
Most of the information is standard ‘Global Warming 101′ material: the earth is warming, the seas are warming and becoming more acidic, sea level is rising, glaciers are melting, etc. It was widely reported (i.e. by the New York Times and BBC) that last month’s report would have a particularly conservative bent; that the report authors will err on the side of conservative projections rather than alarming ones. But while the scientists may be more conservative with climate impact projections, they have never been more sure about its causes. The authors state that they are now at least 95 percent confident that global warming is caused by man-made pollution.
The aforementioned Times and BBC articles also report that since the 2007 Report, the IPCC has revised its estimates on how much temperature rise can be attributed to increases in carbon in the atmosphere. Known as ‘climate sensitivity’, the new IPCC report says that a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might cause as little as a 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit temperature increase, rather than the minimum of 3.6 degrees it stated in 2007. This change could be partly due to slower-than-expected surface temperature increases in recent years or it could be the result of undue pressure from climate skeptics who are loud about the debunked “climate plateau” argument and various other inflammatory anti-science rhetoric.
So what now?
That’s the million-dollar question. IPCC Working Groups 2 and 3 will address climate change adaptation and mitigation in their reports scheduled for release in 2014, but we don’t have to wait for them to come out to know what we need to do. As we’ve known for quite a while, the vast majority of carbon emissions in the U.S. come from power-related activities (power plants, transportation fuel, etc.), so those are the best places to start finding and implementing solutions. Using less energy by increasing energy efficiency should be our first choice and it is the least expensive solution, although it can be difficult to convince some utilities of its merit. Hand in hand with reducing energy consumption is expanding the use of clean, renewable energy that can provide carbon-free power and has proven itself in energy markets worldwide. Reports estimate that the U.S. can supply 80 percent of its power with renewable resources by 2050 while generating wealth and promoting energy equity. Clean fuel technologies such as biofuels and electric vehicles can allow for low- or no-carbon transportation and are breaking ground on innovative energy storage strategies. We need local-, state-, and national-level policies to encourage clean energy development and a groundswell of popular support to stand behind clean energy champions.
You can find the Physical Science Basis’ full report and summary for policymakers here. For a list of some of the best commentary and summaries written about the recent report, visit our ‘wrap up’ blog here.
2. Coal Ash Meets Atlanta
First Southeast coal ash summit a huge success
On September 27, after months of planning by SACE and our partners, we hosted the first ever Southeast Coal Ash Summit. This event brought over 70 concerned citizens, environmental and public health advocates, and elected officials from across the Southeast and beyond to learn more about this issue and how attendees can forward their work to rid our region of this toxic threat.
A diverse offering of sessions covered topics from the latest scientific research on wildlife and environmental impacts of coal ash pollution to updates on the growing number of coal ash lawsuits across the Southeast. Several sessions focused on effective advocacy, and state coalitions had the opportunity to meet and strategize over breakfast on the second day of the Summit. Attendees heard from two state legislators; Georgia Representative Mary Margaret Oliver and North Carolina Representative Pricey Harrison on their work on coal ash and how we can better engage legislators.
The SACE team opened the Summit by showcasing the new and improved SoutheastCoalAsh.org. Updated information and website functionality make this resource easier than ever to navigate and use. We recently added several new pages such as dedicated state pages and a wildlife impacts page, redesigned the homepage to be more user-friendly and draw attention to our take action page. The website is now updated with the latest EPA data on coal ash impoundment conditions and hazard ratings and by creating unique web addresses for all power plant details pages, visitors can easily share information from the website. We have even created a widget allowing you to feature Southeastcoalash.org on your website!
In September, we kicked off a new blog series on electric vehicles. Electric vehicles seems like a myth to some, but the reality is they are rapidly growing and gaining market share. More than 100,000 EVs have been sold and this number will continue to grow as more options become available. Every major car manufacturer has or will have hybrid and/or electric as part of its portfolio within the next two to three years.
Our first blog in this particular series focused on the positive signs from the industry despite some the challenges this new industry is facing. We also addressed the concept known as “range anxiety.” Tesla has unveiled a technology that should cure EV-range anxiety from even the staunchest of electric vehicle critics. They have developed a robotic arm battery-swapping system that completely changes a depleted battery with a fully-charged battery in just over a minute and a half. See more here.
We also recognized National Plug In Day on September 29. Events across the U.S. and the Southeast region were held providing opportunities for the public to check out some of the EV options on the market. View our Flikr photos for a slideshow of the Atlanta event.
The transportation sector in the United States is responsible for nearly a third of our nation’s carbon pollution and our cars and light trucks account for about 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. We use roughly 121 billion gallons of oil in our passenger cars and trucks in the United States every year and send nearly $1 billion overseas each day.
All-electric vehicles have zero emissions and, even taking into account the emissions from the electricity produced to charge EVs, these vehicles emit less carbon dioxide than gasoline vehicles. The benefits are even better as we further develop renewable energy in our region. Electric and hybrid vehicles are also creating thousands of new American jobs. Across the country, the development of new advanced technology, batteries, chemicals, storage, other vehicles components and manufacturing are creating tremendous job growth. Tennessee is one of the states at the forefront of this industry with its Nissan LEAF manufacturing facility. And Georgia estimates that on average, each electric vehicle in Georgia will keep ~$1,400 in the state annually.
EVs are clearly here to stay. The technology is improving at an impressive rate and it won’t be long before everyone realizes that the future is now. We will continue to share information on EVs, clean fuels and transportation throughout the year. Please stay tuned. If you drive an EV and want to share your story with us, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We love to hear about and share information about clean technology at work.
A Note from SACE Executive Director, Stephen Smith: I’ve never really thought of squirrels as a major nuisance, but this summer my neighborhood squirrels seemed to have it out for my home solar system. After returning from a vacation, I noticed that my solar output had dropped dramatically. You can see a significant difference in output between July of this year and July of 2012. Suspecting that I had some sort of wiring issue, I contacted my friends at Green Earth Solar to come out and investigate.
It turned out that squirrels had extensively damaged the wiring underneath my system. Squirrels’ front teeth never stop growing and their constant gnawing keeps these teeth from growing uncomfortably long. Over the past few years, squirrels had nested underneath my rooftop panels and used my solar wiring as dental floss. The combination of leaves that had gathered under the panels and the damaged wires posed a threat of arcing electricity, so we shut the system down for a couple of weeks to repair the chewed wires. Green Earth Solar also tailored a creative fix involving installing a wire screen that keeps the furry fellows from gaining access to the area underneath the panels.
Not long after, I found a lengthy correlating article in the New York Times, documenting that squirrels regularly cause extensive blackouts and electrical damage nationwide, and not just on solar-powered systems. See this list for serious examples of P.O.C.B.S (Power Outages Caused by Squirrels, as dubbed by the New York Times) across the country and the Southeast, most notably an incident in which a squirrel chewed through lines powering a wastewater treatment facility in Tampa and forced the implementation of a city-wide boil water notice.
Just in time for fall, we are entering P.O.C.B.S busy season. Regional power provider Progress Energy, before their merger with Duke, had this to say in a past press release devoted solely to the squirrel scourge:
“Many outages during fall months are caused by squirrel activity around power lines and transformers. This time of year, before winter’s chill sets in, squirrels and other animals are actively storing nuts for the winter. This increased activity can cause both instantaneous outages as well as extended power outages.”
According to the New York Times piece, squirrels can’t resist the power system, with lines to grind their teeth, transformers that offer potential den sites, warm places atop poles to bask in the sun, and even food that is sucked into cooling fans at electrical substations. And they love leafy neighborhoods like mine. It’s disconcerting to think that squirrels have become so effective at creating large blackouts in so many different areas, all with an ill-timed chomp or scamper. So much for Smart Grid? I’d advise anyone to squirrel proof their systems from the get-go, especially in areas where large trees provide easy roof access. Other solar users have experienced similar problems, and I wouldn’t be surprised if occurrences become more prevalent as rooftop solar grows.