Europe on the brink of war is the leading story just about everywhere. Underlying that is the puzzle of Vladimir Putin’s motives.
I’ve posted recently about Russia’s slow squeeze on European gas supplies. That strategy might have unintended blowback for Putin and his fossil oligarch circle.

Times has a good primer, worth reading the whole thing, I excerpt the money quotes here.

New York Times:

While Russia masses troops and military equipment near its border with Ukraine, parallel tensions have been building in world energy markets.

It is not hard to see why. Natural gas flowing through a web of pipelines from Russia heats homes and power factories across much of Europe. Russia is also one of the continent’s key sources of oil.

Now Western officials are considering what happens if Moscow issues a doomsday response to the tensions — a cutoff of those gas and oil supplies, in the depths of Europe’s winter.

The standoff over Ukraine comes at an inopportune time. World energy prices are already elevated as supplies of oil and natural gas have lagged the recovery of demand from the pandemic.

In Europe, record high prices are drawing tankers of natural gas from the United States, Qatar and elsewhere. On Tuesday, White House officials said discussions were underway to get more natural gas to the continent. Whether this will be enough to defuse the risk of an energy cutoff remains to be seen.

This winter Europe is living through an energy crisis, with soaring prices for natural gas and electricity. It started when storage levels of gas fell well below normal last year.

Natural gas is trading at about five times the price of a year ago. Although prices are now about half of the peak reached late last year, they are roughly seven times higher than levels in the United States. High gas prices raise electricity costs, threaten big increases in consumers’ bills and have pushed some energy-hungry factories like fertilizer plants and metal smelters into temporary shutdowns.

Russia has added to these woes. It has exported less gas than usual and has kept storage levels at European gas facilities owned by Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly, at rock bottom. Such tactics have helped raise anxiety about whether enough gas will be available to make it through a cold winter.

Russia supplies about one-third of Europe’s natural gas, and its prominence as a supplier has grown as the continent’s domestic output has declined.

Production in the Netherlands, once a major gas producer in the European Union, has been dropping sharply as the Dutch government gradually shuts down the huge Groningen field in response to earthquakes set off by gas production.

Gas is also growing in relative importance as coal-fired power stations are shut down in countries like Germany in order to meet environmental goals and nuclear plants are also closed there and in Britain.

Despite Europe’s big investments in renewable energy like wind and solar power, it still needs conventional sources of supply. Gas-fired power plants are one of the few options left.

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Elevating stupid bar-room level conversations to a wide audience is not the ideal model for climate communication.

Joe Rogan has done so much damage with his anti-vax nonsense, and generally destructive spotlighting of idiots and misinformation on his (wildly popular, apparently) podcast, that he is deserving of all the slams that have been coming his way. Does anyone know if Rogan has ever had a legit climate scientist on to actually inform his audience?

In the clip above, most of what’s wrong with his schtick is on display – he’s interviewing Fox New’s black best friend Candace Owens, (which is bad enough – Joe, you could be elevating people of real substance), when the conversation turns to climate change.

To his (ever so faint) credit, Rogan generally defends the scientific consensus, but in a clueless and teeth-grindingly circuitous way, (he’s not given this as much thought as say, hallucinogens) – meanwhile no matter how ignorant you thought Owens was, it’s much, much worse.


Posted with a trigger warning. Coffee down, bite blocks in.

UPDATE:
Then he does this. Gavin Schmidt weighs in.

USA Today has a good piece on the increasing impacts on insurers and property owners of extreme events fueled by climate change.
Natch, I’ve got covered this in a vid, which not enough people have seen.
It’s a long piece, money quotes here.

USAToday (paywall):

That outcome is one Americans face in growing numbers as climate change ramps up the destructive forces of nature. The financial mechanisms meant to help disaster victims – private insurance and government relief programs – have never covered all the costs of disaster, but the pain is multiplying as the number of costly disasters in the USA rises swiftly. 

How swiftly? Last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationcounted 20 billion-dollar disasters, totaling $145 billion in damages, third-most of all time. The country had averaged about seven such disasters, adjusted for inflation, every year since 1980. In the most recent five years, the average spiked to more than 17.

The disasters also kill; they took the lives of 688 people in 2021, the most in a decade.

It’s not just major events such as Ida that are on the rise. Carolyn Kousky, a disaster finance expert and executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Risk Center, said smaller events, such as localized flooding, also drive up costs.

FEMA claims bear that out. From 1980 to 1984, its flood insurance program averaged annual payouts of about $89 million, adjusted for inflation. Costs have been rising ever since. In the past five years, the program has averaged almost $1.6 billion in annual payouts.

“There’s now widespread recognition that this isn’t a one-off thing, that we are on a trajectory of ever-increasing risk,” Kousky said. “We’re going to be seeing this and a lot worse in the coming years. This is not sustainable.”

Experts who study the insurance industry said they understand those frustrations, but they point to an underlying, unfortunate truth: Many natural disasters are simply too expensive to fully insure.

“Will insurance, and even can insurance, ever completely provide coverage in a meaningful way for natural disasters? The answer to that is no,” said Donald Hornstein, a professor of insurance and environmental law at the University of North Carolina. “To do so would probably cause premiums to be so high as to be unaffordable.”

Hornstein said natural disasters such as tropical storms present “correlated risk,” which means they have the power to devastate wide swaths of policyholders, and thus wipe out insurance companies. That’s why private insurers almost never cover flood damage. After a string of huge losses in the mid-20th century, companies stopped covering floods, leading to the creation of FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program in 1968. 

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Corporations are people. And they have “free speech”, right?

At least that’s what the Supreme Court tells us. But is yelling “no fire” on a burning planet protected speech?
Exxon pushing the envelope of intimidation, threat and harassment of their critics.

Guardian:

ExxonMobil is attempting to use an unusual Texas law to target and intimidate its critics, claiming that lawsuits against the company over its long history of downplaying and denying the climate crisis violate the US constitution’s guarantees of free speech.

The US’s largest oil firm is asking the Texas supreme court to allow it to use the law, known as rule 202, to pursue legal action against more than a dozen California municipal officials. Exxon claims that in filing lawsuits against the company over its role in the climate crisis, the officials are orchestrating a conspiracy against the firm’s first amendment rights.

The oil giant also makes the curious claim that legal action in the California courts is an infringement of the sovereignty of Texas, where the company is headquartered.

Eight California cities and counties have accused Exxon and other oil firms of breaking state laws by misrepresenting and burying evidence, including from its own scientists, of the threat posed by rising temperatures. The municipalities are seeking billions of dollars in compensation for damage caused by wildfires, flooding and other extreme weather events, and to meet the cost of building new infrastructure to prepare for the consequences of rising global temperatures.

Rule 202 in effect allows corporations to go on a fishing expedition for incriminating evidence. They are able to question individuals under oath and demand access to documents even before any legal action is filed against them.

Exxon wants to use the provision to force the California officials to travel to Texas to be questioned by the firm’s lawyers about what the company describes as “lawfare” – the misuse of the legal system for political ends.

Exxon claims in a petition to the Texas supreme court that it is entitled to question the officials in order to collect evidence of “potential violations of ExxonMobil’s rights in Texas to exercise its first amendment privileges” to say what it likes about climate science.

“The potential defendants’ lawfare is aimed at chilling the speech of not just ExxonMobil, but of other prominent members of the Texas energy sector on issues of public debate, in this case, climate change,” the company claims in its petition.

The oil giant’s critics say Exxon’s attempt to use claims of free speech to curtail the first amendment rights of others follows a pattern of harassment toward those who challenge the company’s claims about the climate crisis.

Patrick Parenteau, a law professor and former director of the Environmental Law Center at Vermont law school, has described the company’s move as “intimidation” intended to make “it cost a lot and be painful to take on Exxon” whether or not the company wins its case.

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Our Next Energy (ONE):

NOVI, Mich. – Jan. 5, 2022 – Our Next Energy, Inc. (ONE), a Michigan battery technology company, has demonstrated a proof-of-concept battery that powered an electric vehicle 752 miles without recharging. The vehicle completed a road test across Michigan in late December with an average speed of 55 mph. The results were validated by a third party using a vehicle dynamometer where the test vehicle, a Tesla Model S retrofitted with an experimental battery, achieved 882 miles at 55 mph. 

“We want to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles by eliminating range anxiety, which holds back most consumers today,” said Mujeeb Ijaz, Founder and CEO of ONE. “We are now focused on evolving this proof-of-concept battery into a new product called GeminiTM, which will enable long distance trips on a single charge while improving cost and safety using sustainable materials.” 

Today’s electric vehicles have lower adoption due to range limitations. Even the highest range electric vehicles sold today lack the surplus energy required to overcome factors such as high-speed driving, extreme weather, mountainous terrain, or towing trailers in real world conditions. These factors can lead to a loss of more than 35% of rated range, causing inconvenience and anxiety on road trips. “The ONE GeminiTM battery aims to eliminate range as a barrier to electric vehicle adoption by doubling the available energy on board in the same package space,” said Ijaz.

Until now, the industry approach to solving the range issue is to add more charging stations. However, relying on fast charge stations presents other obstacles, such as waiting in long lines, not recharging as fast as advertised, and being limited to a partial charge, which results in the need to stop every 150 miles.

ONE has designed its solution, the GeminiTM battery, to avoid this experience altogether by offering enough range for every consumer to make an electric vehicle their only vehicle. 

Above, Patti Poppe, now CEO of PG&E, was formerly Chair at Consumer’s Energy, the nation’s 10th largest utility, based in Michigan.
In a lecture I recorded a couple years ago, she describes how a massive pumped storage power plant on the shore of Lake Michigan will help integrate variable clean energy into the electric grid.

Only 43 such units exist in the US, but recent survey’s show potential for much more.

governing.com:

While battery innovations get a lot of attention, there’s a simple, proven long-term storage technique that’s been used in the U.S. since the 1920s.

It’s called pumped hydro energy storage. It involves pumping water uphill from one reservoir to another at a higher elevation for storage, then, when power is needed, releasing the water to flow downhill through turbines, generating electricity on its way to the lower reservoir.

Pumped hydro storage is often overlooked in the U.S. because of concern about hydropower’s impact on rivers. But what many people don’t realize is that most of the best hydro storage sites aren’t on rivers at all.

We created a world atlas of potential sites for closed-looped pumped hydro – systems that don’t include a river – and found 35,000 paired sites in the U.S. with good potential. While many of these sites, which we located by satellite, are in rugged terrain and may be unsuitable for geological, hydrological, economic, environmental or social reasons, we estimate that only a few hundred sites are needed to support a 100 percent renewable U.S. electricity system.

Why Wind and Solar Need Long-Term Storage

To function properly, power grids must be able to match the incoming electricity supply to electricity demand in real time or they risk shortages or overloads.

There are several techniques that grid managers can use to keep that balance with variable sources like wind and solar. These include sharing power across large regions via interstate high-voltage transmission lines, managing demand – and using energy storage.

Batteries deployed in homes, power stations and electric vehicles are preferred for energy storage times up to a few hours. They’re adept at managing the rise of solar power midday when the sun is overhead and releasing it when power demand peaks in the evenings.

Pumped hydro, on the other hand, allows for larger and longer storage than batteries, and that is essential in a wind- and solar-dominated electricity system. It is also cheaper for overnight and longer-term storage.

Off-River Pumped Hydro Energy Storage

In 2021, the U.S. had 43 operating pumped hydro plants with a total generating capacity of about 22 gigawatts and an energy storage capacity of 553 gigawatt-hours. They make up 93 percent of utility-scale storage in the country. Globally, pumped hydro’s share of energy storage is even higher – about 99 percent of energy storage volume.

Pump hydro projects can be controversialparticularly when they involve dams on rivers that flood land to create new reservoirs and can affect ecosystems.

Creating closed-loop systems that use pairs of existing lakes or reservoirs instead of rivers would avoid the need for new dams. A project planned in Bell County, Kentucky, for example, uses an old coal strip mine. Little additional land is needed except for transmission lines.

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Bloomberg:

The long decline of Electricite de France SA isn’t only a political crisis for the government in Paris, it’s a growing economic threat for much of Europe.

The giant nuclear operator, once a source of national pride and reliable low-cost electricity, has become a nightmare for investors and an increasingly wobbly pillar of regional energy security. Technical problems at some of its largest reactors mean EDF is set to produce the smallest amount of atomic power in three decades, slashing France’s exports to neighboring countries. 

It’s a one-two punch for a region that’s already reeling from record natural gas prices, and shows little sign of abating. Instead of helping EDF deal with its problems, the French government is extracting billions of dollars from the company to shield households from high energy costs. 

“The generic issue with EDF’s reactors is leading to an unprecedented decline in production, which starts being worrying,” said Nicolas Goldberg, a senior manager in charge of energy at Colombus Consulting in Paris. “We’re going to have high prices on the European market for a while. Everybody’s going to pay more.”

France is located at the heart of Western Europe’s power grid. For decades, its fleet of nuclear reactors have been the continent’s largest electricity exporter, supplying the U.K., Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and Germany at times of peak demand. 

Now more than ever — with the price of coal, natural gas and carbon permits soaring — those countries could use some fossil-free electricity. Yet five out of EDF’s 56 reactors have been unexpectedly halted for checks and repairs related to corrosion and cracks on pipes in a key safety system. Traders are waiting anxiously to see whether safety reviews find similar flaws in more of the company’s plants. 

The timing is terrible, exacerbating what was already Europe’s most severe energy crisis since the oil shock half a century ago. Power prices in France are four times higher than usual for this time of year. That’s partly down to the surging cost of gas, but also due to scarce electricity supplies. 

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Once again, if you follow this blog, and my Yale Climate Connections video series, you understand and anticipate the headlines.

Financial Times:

The head of the International Energy Agency has accused Russia of throttling gas supplies to Europe at a time of “heightened geopolitical tensions”, implying that Moscow has manufactured an energy crisis for political ends.

Fatih Birol said on Wednesday that the IEA believed Russia was holding back at least one-third of the gas it could send to Europe, while depleting Russian-controlled storage facilities on the continent to bolster the impression of tight supplies.

“We believe there are strong elements of tightness in the European gas market due to Russia’s behaviour,” Birol said. “I would note that today’s low Russian gas flows to Europe coincide with heightened geopolitical tensions over Ukraine.” Birol added: “Russia could increase deliveries to Europe by at least one-third — this is the key message.”

The comments from Birol are his most pointed yet on Russia’s role in the energy crisis. They come as households in Europe expect steep increases in energy bills after wholesale gas and electricity prices hit record levels.

Worth noting that France’s famous nuclear program has not been a hedge against Russian gas manipulation this winter. Germany, with more renewable generation, taking a hit, but less so.

NPR:

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST: 

President Biden and his administration say if Russia invades Ukraine, there will be serious consequences for Moscow, meaning mainly economic sanctions. But instead of backing off, the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to mass troops near Ukraine, even as diplomatic efforts to end the standoff continue. So if possible new sanctions don’t deter Russia, what, short of a military response, would?

We’re going to start today with a look at another idea – to use climate and trade policies to put pressure on Russia’s financial interests in Europe. That proposal was put forth in a recent piece for foreign policy written by Senator Kevin Cramer, Republican from North Dakota, and Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, who served in the Trump administration as national security adviser from March of 2017 until his resignation in March of 2018. And General McMaster is with us now to tell us more. Welcome. Thank you so much for talking with us.

H R MCMASTER: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: So first of all, we should say that Russia makes a lot of money from exporting natural gas through a number of pipelines to Europe, and European governments are eager to not have that supply disrupted or shut off, especially in the middle of winter. So that being said, can you describe this idea of using climate and trade policy to put pressure on Russia? What exactly are you proposing?

MCMASTER: It’s really important to recognize that economic security is national security, and energy security is national security. And we can’t really compartmentalize these aspects of policy. They ought to be consistent with one another. We ought to reward economically those who produce energy sources in a way that reduces carbon emissions, and this is, in particular, natural gas production and shipment. Russia – the way that Russia produces natural gas is dirty itself. The United States, the way we produce and export natural gas with LNG and others is relatively clean, and this is a way to align economic incentives with using, in this case, natural gas as a bridge to renewables and zero-emissions energy sources. We know we can’t do it really any other way, Michel. I mean, this is why, you know, Europe can’t keep the lights on. And the fact that they are dependent on Russian gas has given Vladimir Putin tremendous coercive power over Europe’s economies.

MARTIN: What role should the United States be playing in this?

MCMASTER: The United States should play a leading role in ensuring that energy supplies are resilient and the supply chains associated with energy are resilient and don’t give authoritarian rival powers coercive power over our democracies.

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