A new analysis shows that replacing coal with gas in the power sector can bring significant benefits, but the climate-economy "win-win" seen recently in the U.S. may be hard to replicate – or even to sustain long-term.
The U.S. shale gas revolution has dramatically increased supplies of low-cost natural gas, upended U.S. coal markets, and led many electric utilities to switch from coal to natural gas, reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. While there remain concerns about some of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), the trend toward increasing use of natural gas is widely expected to continue.
The U.S. experience has heightened interest in natural gas as a potential "bridge" to a low-carbon energy future. Energy demand continues to rise rapidly around the world; without new policies, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that more than 1,000 GW of new coal power capacity will be added in 2013–2035 alone. Expanding the natural gas supply, many argue, could help avoid "locking-in" coal power by providing a cleaner, more efficient alternative while renewable technologies are scaled up.
Yet an analysis for the New Climate Economy project shows the climate implications of increased natural gas use are far from straightforward. While it could, indeed, help avoid "lock-in" of new coal power plants, it could also "lock out" other, lower-emission alternatives. Without carefully designed policy "guardrails", the authors warn, using a natural gas as a "bridge" could be very risky.
"Natural gas is inherently attractive to policy-makers – it has air pollution benefits, it's a conventional option, and if produced locally, it enhances energy security and creates jobs. So it's very tempting to see it as a climate solution in the short to medium term," says Michael Lazarus, senior scientist and U.S. Center director at SEI and lead author of the paper.
Click on the external link below to read the full story on the SEI website.
Michael Lazarus, who became Center Director on Jan. 1, has built his career at SEI. He joined the U.S. Center in 1989, when it was housed at the Tellus Institute in Boston, focusing on reform of the U.S. electricity sector and on energy planning and climate change mitigation capacity-building.
In the early 2000s, after moving to Seattle, he turned his attention to state and local climate action, working with stakeholders in nearly a dozen U.S. states. He has also worked extensively on international climate policy, including carbon markets, and served on the Clean Development Mechanism's Methodology Panel. Most recently, he has focused on what he calls "the vast gulf between energy policy and climate policy" - in particular between the push to exploit fossil fuel resources and support for a transition to a low-carbon, green economy.
Q: What led you to apply for the Center Director position?
ML: I care deeply about SEI and the U.S. Center, and I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to help it grow, in size, in global impact, and in workplace vibrancy and fulfillment. I have been with SEI since its inception, and have stayed on for three core reasons: the mission, the colleagues, and the ability to continuously reinvent and stretch oneself that SEI offers. SEI is great place to work, to explore intellectual passions, and to translate insights into policy change.
Q: What are your goals as director?
ML: Among my initial goals are to diversify our research capabilities, attract new talent, and increase our presence in both academic and policy-oriented publications. Ultimately, I want to amplify our collective contributions at the intersection of science and policy, where SEI fills a unique and highly valued role. That said, I see goal-setting for the Center as a very interactive process that builds on the ambitions and talents of our team, and we're putting a number of steps in place to strengthen that process.
One of SEI's greatest strengths is the breadth of our knowledge, skills and perspectives. We have a well-recognized global presence, at the level of international processes (climate, energy, water, etc.) as well as among national, regional and local institutions and policy-makers. The U.S. Center is home to one of the top experts on climate equity, as well as some of the world's most widely used energy and water planning software tools (LEAP and WEAP), with a global capacity building-programme. We also work closely with stakeholders and policy-makers in the states where we have offices – Massachusetts, California and Washington – to guide state and local water, energy and climate goals and policies.
In the lead-up to the Paris Climate Change Conference in December 2015, countries around the world are exploring what role they could play in global emission reduction efforts, which will be communicated as pledges called "intended nationally determined contributions" (INDCs).
As evidenced by the heated debates in Lima, which stretched the conference well past its scheduled ending, multiple factors will play into the scope and ambition of INDCs – most notably what governments perceive as fair and in their citizens' interests.
But at least as important is what is actually possible: some countries have ample renewable-energy potential, for example, while others do not; some still have large populations without electricity, and cooking with firewood; others are middle-income countries where increasingly, emissions are driven by the consumption of burgeoning middle classes.
Two major interlinked projects, CLIMACAP and LAMP (Latin America Modelling Project), sponsored by the EU and the U.S. government, respectively, have been exploring the potential for mitigation in Latin America – both across the region, and specifically in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. SEI is part of the CLIMACAP team, and it has also worked extensively with Latin American countries using the LEAP (Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning) tool.
On 12 December, SEI and the CLIMACAP/LEAP coordinators co-hosted a side-event to share project findings and discuss more broadly how international and national-scale models can inform more ambitious climate policies. Mónica Araya, co-founder of NIVELA and Costa Rica Limpia, two NGOs focused on low-carbon and sustainable development, moderated the event.
SEI's Charlie Heaps, developer of LEAP, focused his presentation on how national planners can develop similar studies in their own countries. To show key aspects of a useful national model, Heaps briefly demonstrated LEAP, showing how different policy levers could be adjusted to immediately gauge the impact of a measure on emissions, energy security and other factors.
The Lima Climate Change Conference ran from 1 to 13 December. This is the 20th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 10th Session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP10).
Eleven SEI staff, including three from SEI US, participated in events on low-emissions development, intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), adaptation knowledge-sharing, frontier landscapes and other topics, and shared SEI's latest work.
One of the biggest obstacles to climate action is the fear that it will stanch economic growth – and, in poorer countries, much-needed development. But a major new report co-authored by SEI shows that today's fast-changing economy offers many opportunities to improve economic growth and reduce carbon emissions at the same time.
In fact, the evidence shows, there are real benefits to tackling both together, rather than separately.
"The New Climate Economy report refutes the idea that we must choose between fighting climate change or growing the world's economy. That is a false dilemma," said former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón, chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, which comprises 24 leaders from government, business, finance and economics in 19 countries.
"Today's report details compelling evidence on how technological change is driving new opportunities to improve growth, create jobs, boost company profits and spur economic development," Calderón added. "The report sends a clear message to government and private sector leaders: we can improve the economy and tackle climate change at the same time."
The report is the product of an intensive year of research, analysis and consultations. It has been reviewed by an expert team of world-leading economists chaired by Lord Nicholas Stern, and was formally unveiled at a global launch event on 16 September at UN headquarters in New York, attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and government, business and finance leaders. Launch events were also held simultaneously in Stockholm and in Oslo and Addis Ababa.
A paper by SEI researchers published in Nature Climate Change has reignited debates about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and the need to look at the supply side of the fossil fuel economy.
The analysis applies a simple economic model to gauge the potential impact of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on global greenhouse gas emissions, based on its potential impact on global oil supplies and prices.
The authors, Peter Erickson and Michael Lazarus, find that for every barrel of increased production, global oil consumption would increase by 0.6 barrels due to incrementally lower global oil prices. Thus, depending on the extent to which Keystone XL led to greater oil sands production, its net annual impact could range from virtually none to 110 million tonnes CO2 equivalent annually.
This spread is four times wider than found by the U.S. State Department (1-27 million tonnes CO2e), which did not account for global oil market effects. Click on the external link below to read a Q&A with Erickson and Lazarus on the SEI website.
The newest version of SEI's Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning system includes a scenario explorer, enhanced graphics, a simpler interface, and multiple performance improvements.
LEAP is a powerful, versatile software tool for integrated energy planning and climate change mitigation assessment developed by SEI's U.S. Center, and distributed at no charge to academic, nonprofit and government organizations in the developing world and to students worldwide. In the last year alone, more than 2,000 people actively used the tool, and the LEAP online community has now grown to over 22,000 members in 191 countries.
LEAP can be used at a wide range of scales, from cities and states to national, regional and even global applications. It is fast becoming the de facto standard for countries undertaking integrated resource planning and GHG mitigation assessments, especially in the developing world, and for creating Low Emission Development Strategies (LEDS).
The newest version, LEAP 2014, released on June 6, makes it easier to share and discuss modelling results with non-technical audiences, with improved charts and results tables, and a new Scenario Explorer (see figure).
With the new Scenario Explorer, you can explore the implications of different policy choices, using slider bars that are connected to key parameters in the underlying LEAP data set. As you pull on these sliders, results are immediately recalculated and shown in overview charts. The tool can also be used to quickly switch on and off specific measures within an overall scenario, such as energy efficiency, fuel switching, renewables, or reducing process emissions, to decide which overall strategy is best in terms of overall costs, emissions reduction potential, energy security or how the measures contribute to key national development objectives. This, combined with dramatic speed improvements and a new Full Screen View, makes LEAP even more useful for use in interactive settings such as LEDS stakeholder workshops.
Follow the external link below to read the full article on the SEI website.
Learn more about LEAP2014 »
SEI is a partner in CLIMACAP, an EU-funded project that is helping four of the region's largest economies to enhance their energy and emissions modelling for better climate and development policies.
Governments and researchers across Latin America have used SEI's LEAP (Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning) system to model energy systems and identify opportunities for low-carbon development and climate change mitigation.
Now, as part of the CLIMACAP project, SEI is using LEAP in collaboration with seven Latin American and European institutions, building national and international models for Latin America and enhancing modelling capacity in the region. The work is funded by the European Commission. Follow the link below to read a Q&A with Jason Veysey, a senior scientist at SEI-US who is leading the national modeling work.
The U.S. Agency for International Development Low Emissions Asian Development (USAID LEAD) program, in collaboration with the USAID Indonesia Clean Energy Development (USAID ICED) program and the Asian Greenhouse Gas Management Center (AGMC), will host two regional events in March 2014 on using LEAP for greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation assessment.
1. Using LEAP for GHG mitigation at the sub-national scale
This four-day training workshop, which will take place on March 25-28, in Indonesia, is intended to develop capacity to apply LEAP at the sub-national scale (typically provincial- or city-scale modeling of GHG mitigation).
The workshop will be open to professionals based in Asia, with strong preference given to those who are actively engaged in GHG mitigation activities, who are proficient in LEAP system modeling, and who intend to use LEAP in their future work. Preference will also be given to staff from government agencies, research institutes, and NGOs. Participants will likely have professional training as scientists, engineers, or economists.
The workshop will enable participants to increase their knowledge and skills about the applications of the LEAP system model by:
A draft agenda is available here.
2. Strengthening the Asian community of practice on LEAP
This three-day roundtable workshop, to be held in Bangkok, Thailand from March 31 to April 2, will bring together policy-makers and practitioners to share knowledge and engage with peers working in the field of energy policy analysis and GHG mitigation. It is NOT intended to teach participants how to use LEAP.
This workshop will be open to professionals based in Asia, with strong preference given to staff of government agencies, research institutions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Participants will likely have professional training as scientists, engineers, or economists and must be experienced LEAP users.
Participants will strengthen the regional community of practice for LEAP by:
How to apply:
For both events, limited funding is available, courtesy of the USAID LEAD program, to cover some of the travel costs for selected individuals from the LEAD program countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. If you wish to apply for either event, please complete the application form, and return it to Benjarus Wattanapichedpong of the LEAD program.
Application forms are available in Microsoft Word and PDF formats. If using the PDF format, you will need to complete, print and then scan the file. The deadline for applications is Monday, March 3, 2014.
Learn more about LEAP on the COMMEND website »
A new SEI analysis finds that, to the extent that Keystone XL enables significantly greater development of Canadian oil sands, the pipeline's greatest impact on GHG emissions could be its effect on global oil prices and, in turn, consumption.
Climate policy and analysis often focus on energy production and consumption, but seldom consider how the choices we make about energy infrastructure – coal export terminals, oil and gas pipelines – might help shape future energy systems, energy use, and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.
The proposal to extend the Keystone XL pipeline, to connect Canadian oil sands production with refineries and ports in the Gulf of Mexico, has brought these questions to the fore. Environmental activists have argued that Keystone XL would strike a serious blow to the climate, and President Barack Obama has said he will only approve Keystone XL if it "does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution". Similar issues have been raised with regard to proposed coal export terminals in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
A new paper by Peter Erickson and Michael Lazarus, senior scientists at SEI-US, identifies a major gap in existing estimates of Keystone XL's potential emissions impact: they appear to pay little attention to the pipeline's effect on the global oil supply, prices and resulting demand.
Even if those effects are small in global terms, they could be significant in relationship to Keystone XL and U.S. climate policy. To gauge the pipeline's potential impact, they built a straightforward supply-and-demand model using publicly available supply curves and peer-reviewed demand elasticities (the extent to which changes in oil consumption have responded to changes in oil prices).
They examined three possibilities: 1) that if the Keystone XL permit were rejected, the same amount of oil (100% of Keystone capacity) would reach the market by other means; 2) that half of it would; or 3) that none would. For the latter two cases, they found that the pipeline's impact on global oil prices, though modest (less than 1%), would be enough to increase global oil consumption by hundreds of thousands of barrels per day.
If none of the oil would otherwise reach the market, Keystone XL could increase global oil use by as much as 510,000 barrels per year, or 62% of Keystone XL capacity, they found. Including those price effects, the pipeline's annual emissions impact would be 93 million tCO2e per year, four to five times greater than the GHG implications of simply displacing average crude imported into the U.S. with oil-sands crude. If half the oil would still reach markets anyway, the pipeline's GHG impact would be that much smaller.
Read the paper, Greenhouse gas emissions implications of the Keystone XL pipeline »
Read the full version of this article on the SEI International website »
Climate change is driven primarily by the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and sharply reducing CO2 emissions is the top priority in the effort to avoid dangerous long-term impacts. But pollutants that don't remain in the atmosphere for long, such as methane, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and black carbon (soot), play an important role in the short term, with particularly large impacts in urban areas and sensitive regions such as the Arctic. They also affect human health, crop yields and ecosystems.
In February 2012, aiming to catalyze rapid action on these pollutants, the governments of Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico, Sweden and the U.S. and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC).
Since then, the coalition has grown to 66 partners: 33 countries and 33 intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. SEI, which coordinated two major scientific reports on SLCPs that have guided much of the coalition's work, has been involved from the start, and has made it an institutional priority to support CCAC.
SEI Policy Director Johan C.I. Kuylenstierna, an expert in air pollution issues, sits on the coalition's Science Advisory Panel, and he also leads an initiative to help countries develop SLCPs National Action Plans, and is coordinating a new regional assessment of SLCPs in Latin America and the Caribbean.
As part of the planning initiative, SEI has developed a tool to assess the potential for mitigating SLCP emissions in each country, based on the institute's Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning (LEAP) system, which is already used by thousands of planners and researchers around the world.
The new LEAP-SLCP tool is part of a CCAC National Action Plans "toolkit" that also includes a Rapid Benefits Calculator developed by SEI's York Centre and the BenMAP-CE tool developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which focuses on the health benefits of reducing air pollution.
The toolkit got its first trial runs in the pilot phase of the national planning initiative, which began in January with four countries: Bangladesh, Colombia, Ghana and Mexico. Initial results were presented at a CCAC meeting in Mexico City on July 22-26, where the coalition also approved $1.9 million USD in new funding to support additional countries' national planning efforts.
CCAC members also approved more than $3 million in new funding for initiatives to address SLCP emissions from household cooking and heating, brick kilns and landfills.
"CCAC fits perfectly with SEI's mission," says Kuylenstierna. "It is trying to achieve action to reduce emissions, and helping developing countries reduce emissions while achieving development benefits – all closely informed by science."
The coalition's next scheduled meeting is in September in Oslo, Norway, with environment ministers and other senior officials from the partner countries. Both Johan C.I. Kuylenstierna and SEI Executive Director Johan L. Kuylenstierna plan to attend.
To learn more about CCAC, visit www.unep.org/ccac; a summary of the meeting is available here. To learn more about the LEAP-SLCP tool, email developer Charles Heaps. For an overview of the science of SLCPs and the benefits of addressing them, watch a video with SEI's Kevin Hicks.
SEI has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt, in Bogotá, Colombia.
The Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Research on Biological Resources, one of five government research institutes in Colombia, is in charge of biodiversity assessment at the national level. The new agreement, which covers an initial term of three years, creates a framework for collaboration on research, training and support for environmental policy management.
SEI has a growing presence in Latin America, in multiple realms, including water resources management and climate change adaptation. Marisa Escobar, a senior scientist at SEI-US and a native of Colombia, has examined how the water-energy-land use "nexus" approach can be used to understand socio-ecological transformations in the Orinoco River basin in Colombia, and she is also leading a project sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to build adaptation capacity among regional water resources management boards.
Through this new collaboration with the Humboldt Institute, SEI will contribute to the design of programs and projects related to environmental management systems, analysis of development patterns, climate change adaptation and transformation of governance and institutions.
Both institutions will explore opportunities to finance long-term research to develop the Orinoco River basin. They will draft joint proposals, exchange knowledge and organize conferences and workshops.
In the first step in the partnership, Escobar visited the Humboldt Institute with David R. Purkey, director of the SEI-US Water Resources Group, and Jack Sieber, developer of SEI's Water Evaluation And Planning (WEAP) system, for a workshop on 18 July. The focus was on development and implementation of a WEAP tool to model hydrology and climate change in the Orinoco region in Colombia.
A new version of SEI's Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning system (LEAP) is now available, with features improvements to LEAP's optimization calculations including support for modeling a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and support for more realistically modeling the different sizes (capacities) of different types of power plants by using Mixed Integer Linear Programming (MILP). The update also allows LEAP to be used simultaneously by multiple user accounts on a single PC.
The new RPS feature allows users to set targets for renewable generation as part of their optimization calculations. At the module level you can specify a Renewable Production Target variable as a percentage of total production from the module. At the process level you can specify for each process, what fraction of production is qualified for the RPS target using the Renewable Qualified variable.
For example, coal and oil would typically have a value of 0%, while wind and solar would have a value of 100%. Some RPS policies don't allow hydropower and biomass to be included. A coal plant fired with 10% biomass might have the Renewable Qualified variable set to 10%.
Users can also now set the minimum size of each capacity addition using the Minimum Addition Size variable. For example, wind power plants may have a minimum size of just a few megawatts, while a nuclear power plant may have a minimum size of a many hundreds of megawatts. If the variable is set to zero, there is no minimum and the optimization calculations will use a faster linear programming approach. If non-zero, the optimization calculations use the much slower technique of Mixed Integer Linear Programming (MILP). Note that this is still an experimental feature.
The Institute for Energy Economics of the Fundación Bariloche (IDEE/FB)is hosting the 12th Annual Workshop on Energy Policy for Sustainable Development and Use of the LEAP Modeling System. The workshop is designed for energy and environmental professionals and is open to participants from any country, but please be advised that sessions will be conducted in Spanish, so a high degree of fluency in Spanish is required. A limited number of scholarships are available to help defray the costs of attending.
For more information or an application, visit the COMMEND website.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Low Emissions Asian Development (LEAD) program will host a one-week regional training in New Delhi, India, on using LEAP to analyze low emission development strategies (LEDS). The training will also show how to construct marginal abatement cost (MAC) curves. The workshop is open to up to 40 LEDS practitioners from 10 LEAD partner countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. Participants will be selected based on their qualifications and how actively they are engaged in LEDS. The LEAD program will arrange for the travel and accommodation of the selected participants.
For more information or an application, download the event flyer.
SEI has released a new version of WEAP, available now for download. Highlights include:
• 3-D chart to show MODFLOW groundwater flow field vectors;
• Improvement of Mabia catchment method via a 2-bucket model;
• Enhanced display of background maps, including thematic coloring from geographic data;
• New Lookup function for expressions;
• Spanish translation complete; partial translations for Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, Greek, Korean, Lithuanian, Portuguese, Russian, Thai and Vietnamese;
• Numerous other improvements, optimizations and bug fixes.
Click on the link below for a complete list of changes. Current WEAP users should be able to easily update WEAP to this new version. When WEAP starts, it should find this update and offer to download and install it automatically. If not, go to the menu in WEAP: Help, Check for New Version.
Debates over equity – the fair distribution of resources, costs, and benefits – and a closely related topic, economic inequality, have arisen in the wake of the recent financial crisis.
If we are to build a prosperous society, does inequality do more to help or hinder the pursuit of that goal? As we simultaneously seek an equitable and just society, then what level of inequality is consistent with an equitable outcome?
As part of a major international project, SEI hosted a conference at Tufts University on Nov. 9-10 to address these questions – looking at equity and inequality through the lens of sustainability and, conversely, at sustainability from the point of view of equity and inequality.
The conference, co-hosted by Tufts' Center for International Environment & Resource Policy (CIERP), brought together sustainability, equity, and inequality researchers from four continents.
The agenda was built on three themes: notions of equity for sustainability; economic structures for sustainability, and inequality and equity in a sustainability transition – each framed by its own keynote address. At the end of the second day, all participants were invited to discuss important policy-relevant questions on the possibility of a "vicious circle" linking inequality and unsustainable practices, social equity in the green economy, and the political role of the equity debate in international agreements.
New releases of SEI's LEAP (Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning) system and SEI's Water Evaluation and Planning (WEAP) system, both used by thousands of planners and researchers worldwide, link the two tools to offer powerful new integrated modeling.
Climate, water and energy are intricately linked, so choices in any one sector can often reverberate across the others. To achieve the best possible outcomes, policy-makers need to understand the changing dynamics in each sector as well as cross-sector interactions and tradeoffs – the so-called "nexus". Thanks to extensive scientific research and analysis, the nexus framework is now fairly well understood. Yet applying it in practice has been difficult because of the lack of usable quantitative tools. The WEAP-LEAP linkage fills that gap.
The Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning (LEAP) system, used in more than 190 countries, is a powerful, versatile software system for integrated energy and greenhouse gas mitigation planning. It is widely used for energy assessments and Low Emission Development Strategies (LEDs), and has been applied in dozens of National Communications on Climate Change to the United Nations.
The Water Evaluation And Planning (WEAP) system is used in 170 countries worldwide for integrated water resources management and planning at a range of spatial and temporal scales. WEAP models both water demand – and its main drivers – and water supply, simulating real-world policies, priorities and preferences.
In a two-year project funded by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Sectoral Applications Research Program, WEAP developer Jack Sieber and LEAP developer Charles Heaps worked together to link the two tools to allow users to model evolving conditions in both water and energy systems and examine cross-sectoral impacts of different policy choices. The complete modeling suite was launched at World Water Week in Stockholm on August 30.
SEI is actively encouraging both WEAP and LEAP users to take advantage of the new linkage, which allows them to easily exchange key model parameters and results. For example, LEAP users can now import water availability projections from WEAP to see how much hydropower they can count on in any given month – and how much energy they'll need to supply from different sources. Similarly, LEAP can help WEAP users explore the energy and GHG emissions implications of desalinating seawater to meet growing urban demand.
SEI recently published the technical documentation for the National Bioenergy Investment Model, a scenario model that simulates decision-making by domestic and foreign investors whether to invest in biofuel projects in a developing country.
Now the model is available for download on our website. It is open-source and free.
The NBIM is useful for rapidly exploring the implications of broad types of policies by seeing how they perform in a simulation. It cannot be used to evaluate specific policies or to make projections, but it can be used to gain insight.
NBIM is a dynamic model that features "boom and bust" investment cycles. For this reason, you might see investment peaking and then falling. Also, you might see some land that was converted to biofuel feedstocks being idled as feedstock prices fall too low.
The UN Secretary General has named 2012 the year of "Sustainable Energy for All", and energy access figured prominently on the Rio+20 conference agenda. But what would achieving the UN's goals entail?
A new SEI report, Energy for a Shared Development Agenda, combines a global assessment of energy scenarios up to 2050, case studies, and an in-depth analysis of policy and governance issues to show how it could be done – and the massive changes required.
The authors explore three scenarios: business as usual; basic energy access (BEA), which seeks to meet household needs for lighting, heat and cooking, and shared development agenda (SDA), which examines the implications for energy systems if all nations achieve per capita annual incomes of at least $10,000 USD (at 2005 purchasing power parity rates).
Developing nations are already expanding energy access on their own, and the report shows that if current trends continue, global energy demand would rise from 365 exajoules (EJ) in 2010 to 775 EJ by 2050, with South Asia as the biggest consumer. Global CO2 emissions would rise to 64% above 1990 levels by 2020 and to 152% above 1990 levels by 2050, making it near-certain that temperatures will increase by more than 2°C.
In the BEA scenario, energy demand dramatically decreases due to concerted efforts to improve energy efficiency and sharply reduce the energy intensity of economies. Primary energy use continues to rise until 2020, peaking at 575 EJ but declining to 441 EJ by 2050. Global CO2 emissions increase by 38% in 2020 relative to 1990, but by 2050 decrease by 92% on 1990 levels.
In the SDA scenario, energy demand rises sharply across much of Africa, and to a lesser extent, in South Asia. Yet global energy demand is only 33.5 EJ (11%) higher in 2050 than in the BEA scenario, partly due to sharper reductions in U.S. and Canadian energy use, but with no major changes elsewhere. Carbon emissions are virtually the same as under BEA.
The authors' verdict: Sustainable energy access for all is attainable, but only if nations work together to transform global energy systems. Incremental changes are simply not enough, the authors stress, nor is this simply a technological challenge. Governance at all levels must be strengthened and improved, and effective policies must be adopted to guide public- and private-sector investment.
The scenarios were produced by SEI-US Director Charlie Heaps using the LEAP (Long range Energy Alternatives Planning) system, which has been used by governments, academics, NGOs, companies and energy utilities in more than 190 countries for energy policy analysis and climate change mitigation assessment.
"This is one of the first global energy assessments to be entirely open-source," says Heaps. "We hope that others will build on our work to continue to explore these important issues."
A new study led by Seattle-based SEI researchers combines "production-based" and "consumption-based" greenhouse gas inventories for King County, Wash., and shows how this and other local governments can track and reduce emissions. The project, one of the first of its kind in the United States, was commissioned by the county to update its prior greenhouse gas inventory and provide a more complete picture of how people in the county contribute to global climate change – and what local leaders can do about it.
Along with the two measures, the SEI report includes a new tracking framework that focuses on a "core" set of emission sources that can be most directly affected by local policies, and can be tracked with readily available data: local building energy use, vehicle travel, and waste disposal.
"Local governments have profound influence over the form of urban areas – from land use codes, to transportation systems and building energy performance," says Peter Erickson, an SEI senior scientist and lead author of the report. "This study sets up a new framework for King County to use to track progress over time in the sources of emissions that are most sensitive to local government policy. It also helps quantify the impact of consumption, and in doing so, helps shed light on how consumer actions – from eating less meat to buying less stuff – can help reduce global emissions."
A Bangalore native now based in SEI-US' Davis office, Vishal Mehta is now leading a project to map the city's resource use in the context of socio-economic and demographic trends, to help local decision-makers and stakeholders plan for a more sustainable future – and in the process, develop a model that could be replicated in other cities.
The project, Urban Metabolic Mapping: Securing the Biophysical Foundation of Indian Cities, is funded by SEI with Indian partners. The key policy tool it is developing is a modeling framework that treats cities as living entities that use energy and resources to generate useful products and waste.
Consumption data will be compared with social, economic and demographic information. Current and future development scenarios will be gauged against dimensions of economic efficiency, social equity and environmental sustainability, facilitating civic discourse on the nature and impacts of various development pathways of Indian cities, and engaging civic bodies at city, state and national level.
Along with Mehta and Eric Kemp-Benedict of SEI, the multidisciplinary team includes ecological economists and environmental scientists at the Indian Institute of Management and the Indian Institute of Science. Throughout the project, the team is also engaging closely with the diverse actors involved in crafting solutions: from government, to civil society.
As part of the project, on Feb. 2, Kemp-Benedict and Mehta presented the urban sustainability framework at the Bangalore World Water Summit. The following day, SEI and IIM co-hosted a day-long participatory planning exercise for stakeholders, Imagining Bangalore: A scenarios workshop on the city's long-term sustainability; participants included government agencies, academic scientists and NGOs.
Follow the link below to see early results from the project.
This blogpost applies SEI's Climate Impact Equity Lens tool to the Caribbean to show the wide range of projected impacts from climate change on people in the region. The authors note that the Caribbean islands include the countries with the lowest and highest average incomes in the greater Latin American and Caribbean region: Haiti, at less than $500 per year, and the Cayman Islands, at $52,000, and there is great income diversity within countries as well.
Impacts on individuals also differ greatly depending on their source of income, with higher projected damages among those who work in agriculture, fisheries, tourism, or other climate-vulnerable sectors. And physical vulnerabilities such as exposure to sea-level rise and water scarcity also vary throughout the region.
This diversity of experiences, the authors argue, shows how crucial it is for policymakers to look beyond the regional average in order to understand the severity of impacts on the most vulnerable.
The link below leads to the Climate & Knowledge Development Network blog, where the article first appeared; it was also reposted on RealClimateEconomics.
Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, Calif., recently went on a field trip with SEI and University of California-Davis researchers to learn firsthand about Chinook salmon in Butte Creek, whose survival is threatened by climate change.
The interdisciplinary research team linked SEI's WEAP system to a salmon population dynamics model to analyze tradeoffs between different ecosystem services, including fish habitat and hydropower.
Spring-run Chinook salmon used to be plentiful in California's Central Valley but are now an endangered species, down from about a million fish to only about 16,000, and limited to a handful of watersheds. Because adults over-summer in freshwater streams before spawning in the fall, they are particularly threatened by climate change.
The Butte Creek study found that without changes in water management, the water in the streams will become too warm within decades, and Chinook salmon will likely go extinct in Butte Creek and all of California. The study also found that halting the diversion of water from Butte Creek at one major dam during the critical July-September holding period could significantly improve the salmon's survival chances, but at the expense of large amounts of power generation.
Regulation of coal-ash disposal at the federal level would lead to a net job gain, not massive losses as industry claims, a new SEI policy paper shows.
The paper addresses claims made in an industry-sponsored study that regulating coal ash under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the stricter of two options being considered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, would lead to the loss of up to 316,000 jobs nationwide. SEI senior economist Frank Ackerman finds the study deeply flawed, on multiple levels.
Ackerman's own calculation, based on cost estimates from an industry-sponsored study and the IMPLAN model of the U.S. economy, shows a net gain of 28,000 jobs per year.
"The claim that hundreds of thousands of jobs would be lost, especially in such troubled economic times, would seem to suggest that we can't afford to regulate coal ash, no matter what the benefits might be," Ackerman said. "But this report shows that what we can’t afford is such careless and exaggerated calculations of job impacts."
"Despite industry's claims to the contrary, strict regulation of coal-ash disposal would have a net positive effect on jobs," he added. "That fact doesn't, by itself, clinch the argument for regulation. But it does free us of the unfounded fear of massive job loss, allowing us to evaluate the regulation on its merits."
Launched by SEI and the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute, CORE provides an up-to-date analysis and synthesis of the most influential carbon offset programs and activities. It reflects on lessons learned, and aims to inform consumers as well as offset program participants and designers.
The site includes three sections: in-depth information and analysis about offset design and policies; information for offset buyers; and information about GHG calculations from aviation for carbon offsetting.
With the re-launch, which is being phased in, the website is being updated to reflect recent program changes and policy debates. To learn more about the updates, click here.
SEI-U.S. research on California's spring-run Chinook salmon, how they are threatened by climate change, and the implications for hydropower, was featured at World Water Week 2011, a week-long conference held in Stockholm on Aug. 21 to 26.>
Wild Pacific salmon populations in California, Oregon, and Washington have been declining for many years, stressed by overfishing, changes in ocean conditions, water quality and habitat degradation, genetic mixing with hatchery stocks, and the damming of rivers.
Spring-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), which used to be plentiful in California’s Central Valley, are now an endangered species, down from about a million fish to only about 16,000, and limited to a handful of watersheds. And because adults over-summer in freshwater streams before spawning in the fall, they are greatly threatened by climate change.
SEI has used WEAP, its Water Evaluation And Planning system, in combination with other tools to project the long-term impact of climate change on Chinook salmon in California's Butte Creek. At the conference, SEI-U.S. researcher Marisa Escobar presented the study findings, which suggest that the only way to protect Chinook salmon from extinction by the century's end is to suspend water diversions for hydropower generation during the summer months.
More than 150 dams in California are set to be relicensed in the next decade, Escobar noted, and the conditions placed on those dams could make a difference between survival and extinction.
Leon J. 'Lee' Schipper, 64, an internationally renowned scholar in the fields of transport and energy efficiency, passed away in Berkeley, Calif., on August 16.
Schipper was a project scientist for the Global Metropolitan Studies Initiative at the University of California-Berkeley; senior research engineer for the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University; founder of the World Resources Institute's center for sustainable transport, EMBARQ; and a longtime contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
He was also the father of Lisa Schipper, a senior scientist at SEI-U.S., as well as a friend and occasional partner in SEI research.
Follow the link below to read a tribute on the SEI-International website.
A new SEI analysis raises serious questions about the U.S. government's estimate of the "social cost of carbon" – a calculation of the damage caused by each additional ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted into the atmosphere – and a key policy-making factor, used in cost-benefit analyses of everything from power plant regulations to car fuel-efficiency standards.
The figure the U.S. government has used since last year, developed by an interagency group, is $21 per ton of CO2. But that number, the report shows, is based on fundamentally flawed methodologies and grossly understates the potential impact and uncertainty of climate change. Making small adjustments to the models to address these issues leads to values as high as $893 per ton in 2010 and $1550 in 2050.
Comparing prior research on the cost of reducing emissions with the report's new findings on the cost of carbon, the authors conclude that it is highly likely it is costing the United States more to do nothing about climate change than it would to adopt mitigation measures.
Globalization has shifted a large share of U.S. carbon emissions abroad, but that doesn't make Americans' carbon footprints any smaller – we just have to measure them differently.
This webinar, held June 7, 2011, and attended by about 340 people, looked at how and why we measure the environmental impacts of our consumption, and how that measurement can inform us on our path to more sustainable patterns of consumption in our communities.
SEI researchers presented their work on the CBEI (Consumption-Based Emissions Inventory) model, which has now been applied to Oregon; King County, WA (Seattle), and San Francisco and California, and more broadly on greenhouse gas emissions inventories.
Version 3.1 of WEAP, SEI's Water Evaluation And Planning system, allows users to export results to Google Earth, providing a powerful and convenient way to package and share the materials. Click here for a demonstration. The new version also updates the linear program solver, allows users to constrain reservoir release due to a maximum hydraulic flow, and makes other small improvements.
This update follows a major new WEAP release in January that pulled together two years' worth of upgrades, adding improved analytical tools, more customization options, and full compatibility with Windows 7, including the 64-bit version. WEAP was created by SEI scientists more than 20 years ago and has been applied to water systems in countries around the world.
SEI, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR) and CATIE are hosting a 'writeshop' July 25-29 in Costa Rica for early-career researchers and professionals working in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. Sixteen participants will be selected. All costs, including travel, are covered by the organizers.
The writeshop will involve one-on-one work with facilitators to provide supplemental training on academic writing and argumentation, to help new authors reach a standard of writing suitable for publication in peer-reviewed journals. The writeshop will be held in Spanish; papers may be written in Spanish or English, and for anyone who wishes to have a paper translated into English, the cost will be covered.
The Latin America writeshop is the third in a series cosponsored by SEI and UN/ISDR that aims to bring more developing-country perspectives into the peer-reviewed journals that help shape climate policy worldwide. Read more about the initiative on the SEI International website.
Two years ago, the Initiative on Climate Adaptation Research and Understanding through the Social Sciences (ICARUS) was launched to bring together researchers, students, decision-makers and activists interested in social-science and humanistic approaches to climate change adaptation.
The ICARUS II Conference on Climate Vulnerability and Adaptation: Marginal Peoples and Environments was held May 5-8 at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and two SEI-US researchers, Lisa Schipper and Amanda Fencl, presented their work.
Schipper spoke about the wide range of definitions for "adaptation," and how to ensure that activities done under that name don't actually do more harm than good. The answer, she said, is not necessarily to create a single, specific definition of the term, but to agree that the overarching goal of adaptation is to stimulate change toward sustainable development.
Fencl's presentation focused on a case study completed by SEI researchers last year in Northeast Thailand, "Using social network analysis to understand innovation and diffusion of sustainable agricultural water resource management in a changing climate."
The Kingdom of Jordan is using SEI's WEAP system to monitor and manage all its aquifers and to develop a National Water Plan. The government unveiled the project at a WEAP regional conference May 3-5 in Amman that was co-sponsored by SEI, the Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands (ACSAD), the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, and the Ministry of Water and Irrigation of Jordan.
SEI has released a major new version of LEAP, the Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning system, its powerful, versatile software system for integrated energy planning and greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation assessment.
LEAP is already used by thousands of organizations in over 190 countries, including government agencies, academics, non-governmental organizations, consultants, and utilities, and is becoming the de facto standard for countries undertaking GHG mitigation assessments and creating Low Emission Development Strategies (LEDs).
The new release, LEAP2011, is more streamlined and easier to use than previous versions, but also adds significant new capabilities. For example, it includes optimization modeling – a technique that automatically calculates least-cost configurations of future energy systems under different conditions, such as specific GHG emission reduction targets.
LEAP2011 also includes more powerful tools for modeling seasonal and time-of-day variations in energy demand and supply, a crucial feature as energy planners seek to dramatically increase the share of power generated from renewable sources such as solar and wind power, which are intermittent by nature.
In addition, LEAP's code has been substantially reengineered, making it faster and more robust, allowing it to fully support any language. LEAP2011 also has a simplified, easier-to-use interface, with wizards that provide step-by-step assistance to users.
To learn more or to download LEAP2011, visit www.energycommunity.org.
China faces many modernization challenges, and responding to climate change may be the most pressing. China must find a new economic growth model that is environmentally sustainable, doesn't depend on fossil fuels, and can improve living standards for the population.
But what does such a model look like? And how can China best make the transition from its present macro-economic structure to a low-carbon future?
A new book based on a groundbreaking study led by SEI and the Chinese Economists 50 Forum tries to answer those questions. Leading international thinkers map out a deep carbon reduction scenario, analyze economic policies that shift carbon use, and show how China can dramatically reduce its carbon emissions over the next 40 years while maintaining high economic growth and minimizing adverse economic effects.
The book, rated among the top 40 sustainability books of 2010 by the University of Cambridge, argues that transitioning to a low-carbon economy is an essential part of China's development and modernization, and it would present opportunities for China to improve its energy security and move its economy higher up the international value chain.
Click here to learn more about the book and the project on which it is based.
A new SEI paper and policy brief show that potential double-counting of international greenhouse gas emission offsets, if not addressed, could reduce the ambition of 2020 pledges under the Cancun Agreements by up to 1.6 billion tons CO2e, and outline possible policy solutions.
The paper, The Implications of International Greenhouse Gas Offsets on Global Climate Mitigation, was presented by Michael Lazarus on March 29 in Paris, at a seminar on carbon markets and accountability hosted by the OECD and the International Energy Agency. It notes that to date, 42 developed countries have submitted emission reduction pledges, projected to reduce emissions by up to 4 billion tons (Gt) CO2e in 2020 from "business as usual," and over 40 developing countries have submitted nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs).
It's unclear, however, whether both developed (buyer) and developing (seller) countries will be able to count emission reductions from offset projects towards their respective pledges. Double-counting offsets, the paper shows, could effectively reduce the ambition of current pledges by up to 1.6 billion tons CO2e in 2020 – equivalent to 10% of the total abatement required in 2020 to stay on a 2°C pathway.
The paper outlines policy approaches that could reduce the risk of double-counting, which the authors said would enhance the credibility and environmental integrity of international offsets under the Cancun Agreements.
The important fields of water and energy policy are becoming increasingly connected. One emerging challenge is the provision of adequate water supplies to match the world's growing demands for energy. This will likely be difficult both with traditional approaches to energy production such as thermal power plants, which require huge amounts of cooling water, but also for some renewable energy systems such as solar power, which need to be sited in areas where sunshine is plentiful but water generally is not. In addition, our water supply systems' energy needs are growing rapidly and will continue to grow as we become more dependent on groundwater from steadily falling aquifers. A third emerging challenge is how best to manage the competing demands on our water systems, particularly with respect to how dams are managed for hydropower, agricultural irrigation and the protection of ecological systems.
Our day-long symposium, held on November 4, 2010 at Tufts University and attended by 80 participants, explored how these and other perspectives on water and energy can be assembled into a useful framework that can support the development of sustainable water and energy management policies in a changing world.
To read more and download the presentations, click here.