Friday, February 05, 2021

Greenland is careening toward a critical tipping point for ice loss

More model-based prophecy. Worthless

Frozen Greenland is on track to become significantly less frozen before the 21st century is over. By 2055, winter snowfall on the Greenland Ice Sheet will no longer be enough to replenish the ice that Greenland loses each summer, new research finds.

Rising global temperatures are driving this dramatic change. If Earth continues to heat up at its present pace, average global temperatures should climb by nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.7 degrees Celsius) by 2055. Regional averages in Greenland become even hotter, rising by about 8 F (4.5 C), scientists reported in a new study.

Under those conditions, Greenland's annual ice loss could increase sea levels by up to 5 inches (13 centimeters) by 2100 — unless drastic steps are taken, starting now, to curb greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming trends.

Ice sheets are any thick masses of ice that cover more than 20,000 square miles (50,000 square kilometers) of land, and they grow their icy layers from snow that builds up over thousands of years, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). During the last ice age (around 115,000 to 11,700 years ago), ice sheets blanketed much of North America and Scandinavia. But today, only two ice sheets remain — in Greenland and in Antarctica — holding around 99% of Earth's freshwater reserves, NSIDC says.

Ice sheets aren't static — their own weight pushes them slowly toward the ocean, where they discharge ice and meltwater from ice shelves, streams and glaciers. An ice sheet can remain stable only so long as its lost ice is replenished seasonally by winter snowfall.

The Greenland Ice Sheet is roughly three times the size of Texas, measuring approximately 656,000 square miles (1.7 million square km), according to NSIDC. If all of Greenland's ice were to melt at once, sea levels would rise by about 20 feet (6 meters). While that catastrophic scenario is unlikely to happen anytime soon, Greenland has been steadily losing ice for decades, at a rate of about 500 gigatons per year since 1999, another study published in August 2020 found.

Those scientists said that Greenland was already losing more ice than it gained every winter. Their models factored in ice loss from iceberg calving, which can be substantial; a massive iceberg that separated and drifted alarmingly close to a Greenland village in 2018 was thought to weigh more than 12 million tons (11 million metric tons), Live Science previously reported.

However, the processes that drive icebergs to separate from the ice sheet are complex and unpredictable, said Brice Noël, lead author of the new study and a researcher with the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research (IMAU) at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. For the new study, the researchers analyzed the Greenland Ice Sheet's surface to determine when melt would surpass snowfall, Noël told Live Science in an email.

"We explore the sensitivity of the Greenland Ice Sheet mass loss to atmospheric warming using a much higher resolution climate model — 1 km — compared to previous work (20 to 100 km)," Noël said. "Higher spatial resolution means that we can now better capture the high mass loss rates of small outlet glaciers;" this source of melt runoff was previously excluded from models, but contributes significantly to the total mass of ice lost, he explained.

"As a result, we can more accurately project the future evolution of the Greenland Ice Sheet mass loss and its contribution to sea-level rise," Noël said.

Why a hydrogen economy doesn't make sense

In a recent study, fuel cell expert Ulf Bossel explains that a hydrogen economy is a wasteful economy. The large amount of energy required to isolate hydrogen from natural compounds (water, natural gas, biomass), package the light gas by compression or liquefaction, transfer the energy carrier to the user, plus the energy lost when it is converted to useful electricity with fuel cells, leaves around 25% for practical use — an unacceptable value to run an economy in a sustainable future. Only niche applications like submarines and spacecraft might use hydrogen.

“More energy is needed to isolate hydrogen from natural compounds than can ever be recovered from its use,” Bossel explains to “Therefore, making the new chemical energy carrier form natural gas would not make sense, as it would increase the gas consumption and the emission of CO2. Instead, the dwindling fossil fuel reserves must be replaced by energy from renewable sources.”

While scientists from around the world have been piecing together the technology, Bossel has taken a broader look at how realistic the use of hydrogen for carrying energy would be. His overall energy analysis of a hydrogen economy demonstrates that high energy losses inevitably resulting from the laws of physics mean that a hydrogen economy will never make sense.

“The advantages of hydrogen praised by journalists (non-toxic, burns to water, abundance of hydrogen in the Universe, etc.) are misleading, because the production of hydrogen depends on the availability of energy and water, both of which are increasingly rare and may become political issues, as much as oil and natural gas are today,” says Bossel.

“There is a lot of money in the field now,” he continues. “I think that it was a mistake to start with a ‘Presidential Initiative’ rather with a thorough analysis like this one. Huge sums of money were committed too soon, and now even good scientists prostitute themselves to obtain research money for their students or laboratories—otherwise, they risk being fired. But the laws of physics are eternal and cannot be changed with additional research, venture capital or majority votes.”

Even though many scientists, including Bossel, predict that the technology to establish a hydrogen economy is within reach, its implementation will never make economic sense, Bossel argues.

“In the market place, hydrogen would have to compete with its own source of energy, i.e. with ("green") electricity from the grid,” he says. “For this reason, creating a new energy carrier is a no-win solution. We have to solve an energy problem not an energy carrier problem."

A wasteful process

In his study, Bossel analyzes a variety of methods for synthesizing, storing and delivering hydrogen, since no single method has yet proven superior. To start, hydrogen is not naturally occurring, but must be synthesized.

“Ultimately, hydrogen has to be made from renewable electricity by electrolysis of water in the beginning,” Bossel explains, “and then its energy content is converted back to electricity with fuel cells when it’s recombined with oxygen to water. Separating hydrogen from water by electrolysis requires massive amounts of electrical energy and substantial amounts of water.”

Also, hydrogen is not a source of energy, but only a carrier of energy. As a carrier, it plays a role similar to that of water in a hydraulic heating system or electrons in a copper wire. When delivering hydrogen, whether by truck or pipeline, the energy costs are several times that for established energy carriers like natural gas or gasoline. Even the most efficient fuel cells cannot recover these losses, Bossel found. For comparison, the "wind-to-wheel" efficiency is at least three times greater for electric cars than for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Another headache is storage. When storing liquid hydrogen, some gas must be allowed to evaporate for safety reasons—meaning that after two weeks, a car would lose half of its fuel, even when not being driven. Also, Bossel found that the output-input efficiency cannot be much above 30%, while advanced batteries have a cycle efficiency of above 80%. In every situation, Bossel found, the energy input outweighs the energy delivered by a factor of three to four.

“About four renewable power plants have to be erected to deliver the output of one plant to stationary or mobile consumers via hydrogen and fuel cells,” he writes. “Three of these plants generate energy to cover the parasitic losses of the hydrogen economy while only one of them is producing useful energy.”

This fact, he shows, cannot be changed with improvements in technology. Rather, the one-quarter efficiency is based on necessary processes of a hydrogen economy and the properties of hydrogen itself, e.g. its low density and extremely low boiling point, which increase the energy cost of compression or liquefaction and the investment costs of storage.

Biden Wants to Kill 80 Percent of America's Energy

When giving speeches and talking to audiences, I've often been struck by how few Americans, even those who are highly educated, have any idea where the energy they use in their home or business comes from. I've asked college students where the electric power is generated, and they shrug and then point to the electric socket in the wall. The electric currents just come magically through that plug.

For millennials, supporting green energy is cool and even virtuous. It's a popular and costless way to save the planet -- until the power doesn't flow through the grid. Then the laptops, hairdryers, Netflix shows, computer games and iPhones run out of juice.

That may happen one of these days -- and in the not-too-distant future (just ask Californians about blackouts), when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing.

Which brings me to President Joe Biden's take-no-prisoners approach to energy. The goals: kill fossil fuels; stop the building of pipelines; enter international treaties that outlaw fossil fuel use; end drilling on federal lands; strangle the oil and gas industries with regulatory assaults. And then throw billions and perhaps trillions of tax dollars at wind and solar farms.

So, let's go back to the question I ask students: How much of our energy needs today are met with fossil fuels -- the so-called dirty energy?

The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently released a chart showing the latest official data on U.S. energy production sources from the Department of Energy. Some 80 percent of all our energy comes from oil, gas and coal. Less than 5 percent comes from wind and solar. Somehow, Biden is going to magically flip these percentages around in five or 10 years? Even the federal forecasters who support renewable energy think that is highly unlikely.

Even if Biden were able to quadruple American production of green energy over the next decade -- a huge undertaking -- we will be meeting about 25% of our power needs. Where will we get the other 75% of our electric power and transportation fuels? Battery-operated cars such as Teslas and Chevy Volts need electric power to recharge the massive batteries.

As we produce less oil and gas domestically, two bad things will happen. First, gas prices are going to rise rapidly -- perhaps to above $4 a gallon. Prices have already started to rise at the pump to more than $2.50 a gallon in many markets. Second, we will make up for the lost domestic energy production by importing more energy from Saudi Arabia, Russia and OPEC nations.

We will reverse the energy independence achieved under former President Donald Trump to dependency on OPEC nations under Biden. This certainly isn't good for the U.S. economy and jobs here at home. But it's great news for the Saudi oil sheiks, Russia's Vladimir Putin and the communists in Beijing -- all of whom are going to make out like bandits. They can't believe their good fortune.

Maybe so, my younger and more idealistic friends say. But at least we will be doing our part to save the planet. Alas, no. China and India are building more than 100 coal plants as we shut ours down. China and Russia just signed a multibillion-dollar deal to build a pipeline from oil-rich Siberia to the big cities of China. Would Beijing invest in that infrastructure if they had any intention to stop using fossil fuels? Trump was right when he said that we have the toughest environmental standards in the world. So, shifting energy production out of America only increases greenhouse gases.

Perhaps over the next several decades, wind and solar power will be cheap enough to meet most of our energy needs. But are we to starve ourselves of energy in the meantime? Are Americans willing to pay $4 or $5 a gallon to fill up the tank with Saudi oil or Russian gas?

Wouldn't it be smarter, safer and, yes, more virtuous to get the energy we need from Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota or even Alberta, Canada, than from countries that hate us?

Australian government rules out subsidies in electric vehicle strategy

Australian businesses will be encouraged to invest in plug-in hybrid and electric car fleets in an attempt to increase private uptake by flooding the second-hand market with new vehicle technologies at lower prices.

The Morrison government has ruled out offering taxpayer subsidies for the private uptake of plug-in hybrids and battery electric cars, arguing in its long-awaited strategy that subsidies would not represent value for money in efforts to drive down carbon emissions.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor will argue a “fleet first” strategy for new technology passenger vehicles is the smartest way to help Australia’s “planned and managed” transition to low-emission cars, while ensuring charging infrastructure and the national energy grid can support a switch.

Low-emissions vehicles are a key plank in the government’s technology road map, which it will rely on if it is to meet both its Paris emission targets and a potential commitment to net zero by 2050.

Releasing a discussion paper informing the development of Australia’s Future Fuels Strategy, the federal government has identified five priority initiatives it says will make the most impact, including commercial fleets, essential infrastructure and improving information to motorists.

The strategy argues subsidising cars for private sales would cost taxpayers $195 to $747 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent, depending on the vehicle type and usage. It said that figure did not present value-for-money when compared to the Emissions Reduction Fund price of $16 per tonne of carbon emitted.

Mr Taylor said it was clear the future of road transport in Australia would be a mix of vehicle technologies and fuels and that Australians were already making the choice to switch to new vehicle technologies where it made economic sense.

“We are optimistic about how quickly the technology cost will reduce for other electric vehicles compared to traditional cars, making it an easier choice for consumers,” Mr Taylor said.

Hybrid sales almost doubled in Australia in the past year, increasing from 31,191 vehicles in 2019 to 60,417. Hybrids made up about 70 per cent of Toyota’s Camry and Rav4 sales, and about half of all Corolla sales in 2020.

Industry experts have criticised the federal government outlook for electric vehicle uptake over the next decade. They argue projections of 26 per cent in December’s Australian greenhouse gas emissions trends to 2030 were overly optimistic because it assumed numbers would spike despite a lack of policy and new state taxes slugging clean cars.

Several car manufacturers, including General Motors, have pledged to end production of petrol engine vehicles within the next decade while Britain has set a 2030 target to ban combustion engines.

The EV sector has also claimed the decisions by Victoria and South Australia to aim road-user taxes at drivers of electric vehicles would prevent the states from reaching their goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The plan justifies a focus on fleets because business vehicles generally travel greater distances than private vehicles, delivering better value-for-money through fuel and maintenance savings from new technologies and offsetting the price premium of buying the new technology.

“Supporting commercial fleet investment in new vehicle technologies will also drive uptake from private users, as fleet vehicles are generally replaced more regularly than private vehicles,” it says.

“This benefits the second-hand market and provides private consumers with second-hand vehicles at lower prices.”

Mr Taylor said the strategy would be underpinned by “significant” government investment, including the $74.5 million Future Fuels Package to invest in charging infrastructure at workplaces and in regional “blackspots”.

A move to electrify Australia’s passenger vehicle fleet was a centrepiece of the 2019 federal election campaign as the Morrison government aggressively criticised Labor’s election pledge that half of all new cars sold in 2030 would be electric.

How is Australia travelling with the switch to electric cars?
Mr Taylor said the Coalition’s policy was focused on enabling consumer choice and supporting natural uptake, with government modelling showing Labor’s EV policy would have increased the price of cars by up to $4863 to “force people out of the cars they love and into EVs”.

The transport sector makes up 18 per cent of Australia’s carbon pollution with passenger vehicle emissions projected to drop 1.2 per cent every year to 2030 amid greater uptake of hybrid, electric and fuel-cell vehicles in the national fleet.

Electric Vehicle Council chief executive Behyad Jafari has described the federal government as out of step with other leading economies over its electric car future.

Following leaked details of the strategy in December, he said Australia was “miles behind” in the transition.

“In the US, drivers are offered a $10,000 tax rebate for buying an electric vehicle, and American consumers get access to much cheaper electric vehicle options because of their long-standing vehicle emission standards,” he said at the time.




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