Climate Letter #1145

Fred Pearce describes the vast energy consumption of the data processing industries (Yale e360).  “If the global IT industry were a country, only China and the United States would contribute more to climate change.”  At least the problem is well-recognized and there are plentiful opportunities for greening up.
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A new report describes the sources of the third most important greenhouse gas.  Laughing gas, or nitrous oxide (N2O), is much more potent than the other two, is growing but at a lesser rate and has relatively low atmospheric content but enough to be worrisome.  It is also the main driver of stratospheric ozone depletion.  This research discovered that large emissions of this gas occur when wet peatlands are drained and exposed to air-drying, which is another good reason for that common practice to be curtailed.
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Renewable energy had a good year of growth in 2017.  For the first time, solar capacity by itself outgrew all fossil fuels combined in the power sector.  Wind is doing well but can’t keep up with the pace of solar.  Falling costs are the competitive driver for both, which is likely to continue, as “the latest figures from BNEF suggest onshore wind and solar costs fell a further 18% in the first part of 2018.”  Also of note, “China is the engine of solar growth, installing more than half of all new capacity last year.”
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An interesting view on the future of wind and solar energy.  This was written by a pair of Australian academics, who believe that “Solar PV and wind are on track to replace all coal, oil and gas within two decades.”  They are talking about everything, not just today’s electric power sector.  All energy services will be electrified.  “Straightforward and cost-effective initial steps are: to hit 100% renewable electricity; to convert most land transport to electric vehicles; and to use renewable electricity to push gas out of low-temperature water and space heating. These trends are already well established, and the outlook for the oil and gas industries is correspondingly poor.”  They make a good case to back up this opinion.  Oh, there is one more point worthy of a quote:  “It is very hard to imagine humanity going to war over sunlight.”
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China is introducing an emissions trading scheme this year.  The plan, which will be small to start with and designed to evolve over time, has been evaluated in a new report.  Previous pilots of this type of scheme have been successfully implemented in China.
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A simple way to make biofuels from cellulosic waste is said to have been discovered.  A particular kind of bacterium can do the job, cheaply, with no complications and no emissions of greenhouse gas.  The end product, a form of butonal, has high energy density that provides a capability of directly replacing gasoline.
–Link to the full published study:  http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/3/e1701475.full
Carl
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