WASHINGTON — For the third time in a decade, the globe sizzled to the hottest year on record, federal scientists announced Friday.
Both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA calculated that in 2014 the world had its hottest year in 135 years of record-keeping.
Earlier, the Japanese weather agency and an independent group out of University of California Berkeley also measured 2014 as the hottest on record.
NOAA said 2014 averaged 58.24 degrees Fahrenheit (14.58 degrees Celsius), 1.24 degrees (0.69 degrees Celsius) above the 20th-century average.
But NASA, which calculates temperatures slightly differently, put 2014’s average temperature at 58.42 degrees Fahrenheit (14.68 degrees Celsius) which is 1.22 degrees (0.68 degrees Celsius) above the average of the years 1951-1980.
Earth broke NOAA records set in 2010 and 2005. The last time the Earth set an annual NOAA record for cold was in 1911.
NOAA also said last month was the hottest December on record. Six months in 2014 set marks for heat. The last time Earth set a monthly cold record was in December 1916.
“The globe is warmer now than it has been in the last 100 years and more likely in at least 5,000 years,” said climate scientist Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, who wasn’t part of either research team. “Any wisps of doubt that human activities are at fault are now gone with the wind.”
Texas A&M University climate scientist Andrew Dessler and other experts said the latest statistics should end claims by non-scientists that warming has stopped. It didn’t, as climate denial sites still touted claims that the world has not warmed in 18 years.
2014’s heat was driven by record warmth in the world’s oceans that didn’t just break old marks: It shattered them. Record warmth spread across far eastern Russia, the western part of the United States, interior South America, much of Europe, northern Africa and parts of Australia. One of the few cooler spots was in the central and eastern United States.
“Every continent had some aspect of record high temperatures” in 2014, said Tom Karl, director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.
Nine of the 10 hottest years in NOAA global records have occurred since 2000. The odds of this happening at random are about 650 million to 1, according to University of South Carolina statistician John Grego. Two other statisticians confirmed his calculations.
Climate scientists say one of the most significant parts of 2014’s record is that it happened during a year where there was no El Nino weather oscillation. During an El Nino, when a specific area of the central Pacific warms unusually and influences weather worldwide, global temperatures tend to spike. Previous records, especially in 1998, happened during El Nino years.
Every year in the 21st century has been in the top 20 warmest years on record, according to NOAA.
Temperatures have risen by about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since the mid-19th century and pre-industrial times, said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, where the space agency tracks warming temperatures.
“We are witnessing, before our eyes, the effect of human-causedclimate change,” said Pennsylvania State University professor Michael Mann.
Some non-scientists who deny man-made global warming have pointed to satellite temperature records — which only go back to 1979 — which show a warming world, but no record this year and less of a recent increase than the longer-term ground thermometers. But Mann, Dessler, Francis and others say there have been quality and trustworthy issues with some satellite measurements and they only show what’s happening far above the ground. They said ground measurements are also more important because it is where we live.
University of Alabama Huntsville scientist John Christy, who measures temperature via satellite, puts 2014 in a cluster of warm years behind 2010 and 1998. He said he is “puzzled that this difference between surface and deep atmosphere continues to occur as it has now for 36 years. Our theories can’t explain it. I don’t know what is going on.”
Georgia Tech professor Judith Curry, who is not in the mainstream of climate scientists, wrote that talk about the record implies that temperatures will get warmer, something she says won’t happen for at least another decade. But she added in a blog post in response to the NOAA announcement: “I’m not willing to place much $$ on that bet, since I suspect Mother Nature will manage to surprise us.”
NASA’s Schmidt says temperatures will continue to rise with year-to-year variations and he wouldn’t be surprised if 2015 breaks 2014’s record: “The increase in greenhouse gases is unrelenting and that in the end is going to dominate most things going on.”
This was the 38th year in a row that the world was warmer than the 20th century average, according to NOAA data. Most people in the world and the United States were born after 1976 and have never lived in a cooler than normal year.
“You want to understand what that (cooler) world is like and you wonder are you ever to going to experience that,” said Victor Gensini, a 28-year-old meteorology professor at the College of DuPage in Illinois.
A major threat to fossil fuel companies has suddenly moved from the fringe to center stage with a dramatic announcement by Germany’s biggest power company and an intriguing letter from the Bank of England.
A growing minority of investors and regulators are probing the possibility that untapped deposits of oil, gas and coal — valued at trillions of dollars globally — could become stranded assets as governments adopt stricter climate change policies.
The concept gaining traction from Wall Street to the City of London is simple. Limits on emissions of carbon dioxide will be necessary to hold temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius, the maximum climate scientists say is advisable. Without technologies to capture the waste gases from combusting fossil fuels, a majority of known oil, gas and coal deposits would have to stay underground. Once that point is reached, they become stranded.
With representatives from more than 190 countries gathered to discuss climate rules in Lima, the argument that burning all the world’s known oil, gas and coal reserves would overwhelm the atmosphere is moving beyond the realm of environmental activists.
Storebrand ASA (STB), a Scandinavian financial services company managing $74 billion of assets, announced last year that it would divest from 19 fossil fuels companies. That list has since expanded to 35, including 15 coal producers, 10 oil-sand miners and 10 utilities that predominantly use coal.
“It was a financial and climate-related decision, and there was very much a consideration of stranded assets,” Christine Torklep Meisingset, Storebrand’s head of sustainable investments, said by phone from Oslo. “Companies that specialize in carbon-intense projects are very vulnerable to climate policy and shifting regulations.”
Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore likens today’s fossil fuels to the subprime mortgages of the last decade that triggered the global credit crisis. Their value “is based on an assumption every bit as absurd,” specifically the notion that all known oil, gas and coal will be consumed.
“Investors who haven’t yet come to grips with the stranding problem are like the classic scene in the Road Runner cartoons where the coyote runs off the edge of the cliff, and his legs keep moving for quite a long time before gravity takes hold,” Gore said by phone from Nashville, Tennessee. “There are investors out there whose legs are moving in mid-air.”
Energy majors such as Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Chevron Corp. (CVX), Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) and Glencore Plc (GLEN)say they’re not concerned about stranded assets because demand is growing, and fossil fuels will be the only way to satisfy those needs cheaply and reliably for decades to come.
Even as oil prices have dropped sharply, some operators and regulators are taking note of the risks from exposure to fossil fuels. EON SE, Germany’s biggest utility and second-largest polluter, said yesterday it will spin off its fleet of dirty, aging power stations and oil fields to focus on renewable energy.
Hours later, a letter emerged from Bank of England Governor Mark Carney to a committee in Parliament stating that he had instructed his staff to review whether sizable losses from stranded coal, oil and gas reserves could hurt banks, investors, insurance companies and the rest of the financial system.
“The world is likely to strengthen its resolve on climate change,” Nicholas Stern, a member of the U.K. upper chamber, the House of Lords, and former chief economist at the World Bank, said in an e-mail interview. “Investments in fossil fuels should be seen as a rather risky activity.”
Any risks to investors will unfold over many years. A panel of climate scientists gathered by the United Nations estimates that a so-called carbon budget, a theoretical amount of carbon that can be burned without breaching the 2-degree threshold, will permit fossil fuel use to continue at current rates until 2033. At that point, though, only 15 percent to 30 percent of currently recoverable reserves will have been consumed, the panel said last month, leaving the bulk of known fossil fuels stranded.
The industry disagrees. BP this year said in its sustainability report that the concept of unburnable carbon “overstates the potential financial impact” on the value of oil explorers. Shell said rising demand will preserve the value of its assets.
Exxon told activist investors in March that it’s “confident” none of its reserves are in danger of becoming stranded. Chevron Chief Executive Officer John Watson, in a Sept. 30 interview, addressed the issue confidently.
“We’re going to be in the fossil fuels business for a long time,” he said.
Mark Lewis, an analyst at Kepler Cheuvreux SA in Paris, estimates a 2-degree pathway would spell lost revenue for oil, coal and gas companies totaling $28 trillion over the next two decades.
As a utilities analyst at another bank years ago, Lewis said he asked power companies how they would combat the threat to their fleet of coal-fired plants from wind and solar.
What threat? came the response.
The oil companies “are in denial in exactly the same way that the German utilities were 10 years ago,” Lewis said. “Not only did they not see the renewables revolution coming along, they dismissed it out of hand.”
Traditional power generation in Europe has been squeezed as European governments subsidized and prioritized wind and solar power to cut carbon emissions. Germany’s two biggest utilities, RWE AG and EON, have both lost about three-quarters of their values since peaking in early 2008. The German benchmark DAX index gained more than 20 percent since then.
Lothar Lambertz, a spokesman for RWE, and Markus Nitschke, an EON spokesman, both cited renewables as hurting the profits of fossil fuel-fired power plants in Germany. The two companies are closing or mothballing more than 19,000 megawatts of coal and gas plants over four years, citing reasons including air pollution regulations.
The German utilities are “on their knees,” said Lewis. “These things can happen much more quickly than you think.”
When analysts at the Carbon Tracker Initiative in London wrote about carbon budgets in a 2012 report called “Unburnable Carbon,” it caught the eye of U.S. environmentalist Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, which campaigns to fight global warming. He began mobilizing students to lobby universities to divest their endowments from fossil fuels, much as they had withdrawn funding from Apartheid-era South Africa.
Storebrand’s decision to divest shows how the concept of stranded assets and general environmental concerns can become intertwined. Divestment pledges by 181 institutions and 656 individuals represent more than $50 billion of assets, Washington-based Arabella Advisors said in September.
That’s a drop in the ocean compared with more than $5 trillion in global market value for over 2,000 oil, coal and gas companies, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Those companies have long-term debts totaling almost $2 trillion.
“The plan here is not to bankrupt the fossil fuel industry. We can’t do that,” McKibben said. “The plan is to politically bankrupt them. When honored institutions do this kind of thing, it weakens their legitimacy.”
Institutions opting to divest now include Stanford University in California and The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, built with profits from Standard Oil Co.
“The world has changed when the Rockefeller family decides that they are going to divest from fossil fuels,” the UN’s top climate diplomat, Christiana Figueres, said yesterday in Lima.
Many more are debating getting out. At the University of California, Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Baccher is reviewing the investment strategy for the school’s $91 billion portfolio, which is about 10 percent invested in fossil fuels. He hasn’t yet ruled divestment in or out, and is considering wider strategies to invest in carbon-cutting technologies.
“We’ve thought about stranded assets and looked at carbon budgets: we all agree there is a risk,” said Baccher. “How can you ignore the issue?” He said he has sought advice from Gore.
The biggest weakness in the argument for stranded assets lies in its central assumption that the world will adopt policies to limit temperature gains to 2 degrees Celsius.
The UN Environment Program estimates that to meet that goal, annual emissions must not exceed 44 gigatons in 2020. Current pledges to reduce emissions would only lower them to 52 gigatons to 54 gigatons.
The International Energy Agency estimates the planet is on track to warm by 3.6 degrees Celsius. Investment in renewables needs to quadruple to an average of $1.6 trillion every year through 2040 to meet the 2-degree target, IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol said.
The conference in Peru’s capital is designed to lead to a climate deal in Paris next year that would come into force in 2020, replacing the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set targets only for rich countries.
Whatever happens to carbon limits, the best-known road to salvation for the fossil fuel industry lies in an elusive technological approach called carbon capture and storage, which involves trapping carbon emissions and storing them permanently underground. This would permit continued burning of oil, gas and coal, but only about a dozen of these sites currently exist around the world because of high costs.
Inaction so far makes more dramatic policies necessary in the years ahead to avoid breaching the 2 degree threshold. Stiffer limits would pose even greater dangers to the conventional energy industry and its underground troves.
“Before very long there will be a widespread recognition that most of these assets are never going to be burned,” said Gore.
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Check out the IRES Network website for some unique, technical insights into issues of integrating renewables with power and natural gas grids. http://iresn.org/ While there sign up for their email newsletter, Insights. IRESN is run by Gerry Braun, one of the nation’s foremost authorities on these issues and a member of VCAC’s Board of Directors
According to the Director of the California Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, the state’s model can help meet the president’s climate goals.
Devra Wang: July 18, 2013
California’s 40 years of remarkable success in using energy efficiency to avoid dirty power generation and save utility customers billions, as detailed in a new NRDC fact sheet released this week, offers valuable lessons to help meet President Obama’s climate action plan.
Cutting energy waste by improving the efficiency of America’s homes and businesses — and the appliances and electronic devices within them — is essential to reduce the nation’s need to build new power plants and to cut dangerous emissions from existing ones. Power plants are the largest source of America’s carbon pollution, and the president is ordering his administration to take steps to help curb it.
California’s energy efficiency achievements over the past four decades can serve as a model for how to avoid those dirty emissions. And, as we know well in California, investing in energy efficiency programs to allow us to do more with the same or less energy — such as upgrading our lighting or weatherizing our homes — also costs less than half the price of fossil-fuel alternatives. Efficiency also drives innovation and creates jobs.
NRDC is publishing a new fact sheet that highlights the enormous economic and pollution reduction benefits California has reaped thanks to its longstanding and bipartisan commitment to energy efficiency. Our paper also busts some of the myths about the reasons behind the state’s significant progress.
Efficiency’s huge benefits
California’s energy efficiency efforts over the past several decades have helped:
Despite the state’s clear success, some naysayers incorrectly claim that it all would have happened even without our efficiency policies. But California policymakers and utilities know the facts: that’s why they continue to invest around $1 billion every year to expand on the state’s success with energy efficiency.
Utilities are required to turn first to energy efficiency to “keep the lights on” before investing in more expensive sources like natural gas-fired power plants. And the state sets standards for new buildings and appliances to minimize energy waste. Thanks in part to these efforts, California’s per capita electricity consumption has remained nearly flat over the past 40 years, while the rest of the United States increased by 50 percent.
California’s efficiency success can’t be “wished away”
Nonetheless, there are those who try to “wish away” California’s efficiency success by trying to prove that energy efficiency isn’t the only factor responsible for our flat per-capita consumption. Everyone knows multiple factors affect electricity use, but energy efficiency is a critical one. And just as you don’t have to be an only child for your parents to love you, efficiency doesn’t need to be the only contributor for it to represent an invaluable example to other states looking to cut utility bills and curb pollution.
NRDC’s new fact sheet debunks some of the “myths” detractors have used in an attempt to minimize efficiency’s importance, such as recent claims in a paper by Arik Levinson published by a nonprofit group called the National Bureau of Economic Research. It attempts to credit the per capita consumption disparity to the state’s mild weather while the population in the rest of the country shifted to hotter climates. However, this ignores that California’s population has also shifted into hotter climates in Southern California and the Central Valley.
The paper also contends that the state’s mild climate avoided air conditioning increases in contrast to other parts of the country, but the facts show otherwise. For example, only a quarter of new homes built in California in the 1970s had air conditioning compared to 95 percent of houses built in recent years, expanding home air conditioning’s 5 percent share of the state’s electric demand to about 25 percent.
The lesson from California’s experience
As our fact sheet shows, California has demonstrated that energy efficiency can help keep the lights on, generate jobs, cut pollution, and lower utility bills. The state’s integrated effort to support research and development of new efficient technologies, utility programs that help consumers lower their bills, and minimum standards that ensure new buildings and appliances are not energy-guzzlers have been a resounding win for California.
The lesson from California’s efficiency efforts is clear: it works. And that’s a good lesson to learn for the sake of our communities and our nation as we join the president in taking the next big step to fight climate change.
Devra Wang is the Director of the California Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. This piece was originally published at NRDC’s Switchboard and was reprinted with permission.
Early in 2012, science students of Rebekah Rottenberg at DaVinci High School in Davis, CA, made it a class project to fill in some of the gaps in information available to homeowners who are considering upgrading their houses with energy efficiency or renewable energy upgrades. Below are their spreadsheets for different types of home RE/EE upgrades. We’ll be updating and augmenting these charts. This first version was completed by the following students:
Derek Tully, Owen Filmer, Sean Smith, Andre Almeida, Brenna Mockler, Rowan Stewart
Joshua Cunningham, a member on the VCAC board who is Air Resources Engineer at the California Air Resources Board, sent an email around sharing the results of his research into efficient water heaters. There’s a lot here.
We’re signed up for an upgrade to our home through the EnergyUpgradeCA program and it’s limited 0%/15yr loan incentive program. Because we did a big upgrade in 2008, our home is pretty efficient. But we’re now upgrading the two appliances we didn’t replace at that time – the AC and the WH appliances.
I did a little digging over the weekend from old notes and websites to learn more about water heaters. We’ve all heard the typical modern choice of efficient tank WH vs. a tankless WH. But it turns out there are a lot more options that emerged into the residential market in the past few years.
Click on the links below.
A nice article on the trade-offs between the new “condensing tank WH” and a “tankless WH” is attached below.
Generally what I learned is there are several new technology categories. For gas systems, there is a heat recovery system that captures heat from the exhaust gas, creating a condensate that needs to be drained. For electric systems, there is a heat pump system that captures heat from the surrounding air and adds it to the water.
All these technologies come at a price. Generally, equipment costs for an efficient tank system is pretty cheap, a tankless system is moderate, and heat pump or condensing systems are expensive (close to $2,000). But installation costs are much higher for tankless systems, and the heat pump or condensing systems are as easy to install as efficient tank systems. For old home retrofits that have an existing tank system, upgrading to a tankless system requires a larger gas line and expensive new flue duct. For new construction, installation costs can all be similar.
For examples of all these options, A.O. Smith is a large supplier that offers all these technologies.
We’re either going to install an efficient regular tank system, or the condensing tank system. Depends on total install+equip costs. A tankless system would be too complex/costly to retrofit into our existing home setup.
I’m sure there are some more expert thoughts from this crew, I would enjoy learning more!
On Tue, Nov 29, 2011 at 9:26 AM, Knox, William@ARB wrote:
Thanks, Joshua – glad to see that the number of options is growing. Did you consider solar with backup from gas tank? Years ago I planned to install a breadbox solar heater with large diameter pipe going through roof to prevent freeze. Never got around to installing it – but very simple. Would have captured significantly less solar energy that a much more expensive dual liquid solar heater with pump(s), but the concept was cheap and do it yourself, using existing tank heater as winter backup.
While many European countries have “feed-in” tariffs which pay utility customers to generate electricity for their power grids, the U.S. has been slow to adopt these programs. State public service commissions, like the California PUC, are charged with minimizing the price of electricity to all customers at the same time they encourage renewable energy.
But California utilities will take a baby step in this direction next year when they begin to pay for surplus electricity their customers generate with solar panels or wind turbines.
John Mott-Smith explains how it works in his Davis Enterprise column which can be found by clicking: http://search.davisenterprise.com/display.php?id=59464
Under the current rate schedule, you can only sell as much electricity to PG&E as you buy. At the end of the year, any surplus is donated to the utility. I wish to thank you on behalf of all of us who haven’t made this investment.
Under a new state law self-generators will now be paid for their surplus at a price to be determined by the CPUC. And there will be a cap on the amount any utility is required to buy. It can’t be any more than 2.5% of peak generating capacity.
The new program could encourage customers to put in more solar or wind capacity than they can use. But only if the price is right. The Valley Climate Action Center will follow the PUC proceedings to keep you informed for any action you might think appropriate.