Tuesday, April 26, 2016

April 2016 in BC

This month has seen some dramatic highs in the province and has been relatively dry.  

We have seen temperatures in mid April in Victoria that would be close to record highs at the end of May.   Record highs that have stood for decades, or in one case more than 100 years, have fallen by up to five degrees.

We have seen a dramatic number of wildfires in BC already.   We are just short of 15,000 hectares burned in BC.    This would be a very high large area burned at the end of June in most years.  It is in fact a larger area than what burned in 13 of the last 96 years.

Globally February and March were dramatically warmer than in the past.

So is this climate change?   Likely but it is also not the only reason for extremes.   We are in an El Nino which leads to warmer temperatures in some parts of the world.

We are experiencing the strongest El Nino on record.   This should mean BC is warmer and drier than normal, which seems to be the case, but the warmer temperatures of this spring are wildly out of the normal range.   El Nino should mean other areas are seeing cooler temperatures but this is not the case that I can see anywhere globally.

The extreme highs we saw in BC last week are well outside of any historical precedence - not only were records set, but those records were up to five degrees higher.   There is no way this can be placed on El Nino, no matter how strong,   This is clearly climate change.   The only significant change in the last century has been the increase in greenhouse gases from humans.

Friday, January 1, 2016

In 2015 -eating beef was 52% of my greenhouse gas impact

In my life the biggest source of greenhouse gases comes from eating beef and dairy.   If I want to reduce my impact on the world reducing beef and dairy will be the easiest way to do it.

Currently I have consumed the following beef and dairy per year

  • Beef - 50 to 60 kg per year - this is about equivalent to 1,250 kg of CO2 
  • Dairy - 230 to 255 kg per year comprising 
    • Milk - 150 to 200 litres per year about equivalent to 140 kg of CO2
    • Butter - 20 to 25 kg per year - about equivalent to 133 kg of CO2
    • Ice Cream - 25 to 40 kg per year about equivalent to 50 kg of CO2
    • Yougurt and Sour Cream - 2 to 4 kg per year about equivalent to 5 kg of CO2
    • Cheese - 10 to 15 kg per year - about equivalent to 53 kg of CO2
This means my CO2 equivalent from beef and dairy last year was about 1,630 kg

These numbers are all based numbers specific for BC.
I also eat about:
  • 25 kg of chicken per year, 40 kg CO2eq
  • 15 kg of pork per year,  38 kg CO2eq
  • 100 kg of wheat per year - 80 kg CO2eq
By far the biggest single source is from beef.  

My other sources of greenhouse gases in 2015
  • Car travel - 100 kg CO2
  • Transit  - 200 kg CO2
  • Other food 50 kg CO2
  • Electricity 180 kg CO2
  • Consumer goods 100 kg CO2
Making my 2015 greenhouse gas impact at 2.4 Tonnes CO2 eq.

2/3s comes from beef and dairy and 52% alone from beef.   

I am going to try and reduce the beef and dairy I eat this year.   If I can reduce it by 50% I should be able to reduce my 2016 CO2 equivalent to about 1.6 Tonnes.   My beef intact is already down 40% from what it has been in the past.  

This or course would be dramatically different if I fly anywhere this year or if I end up with a car again.  

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

BC Forest Fire Trend Indicates a Change in Climate

The data from BC forest fires seems to be showing a trend to more extreme fire seasons than previously seen.  

In 2003 we saw a change in the amount of forest burned in BC with the first very serious fire season in almost 20 years.  If 2003 had been a one off it would just be the normal occasional extreme fire year but six of the last 13 years have been extreme fire years and two more of them were bad fire years.  We have also see three instances of extreme fire yeas back to back.  The last time this happened at all was in the 1930s.

Extreme fire seasons from 1920 to 2012 (200,000+ ha) 20 of which nine were during the steam train era and six in the last 13 years.  In the 52 fire seasons from 1951 to 2002 there were only five extreme fire seasons
This graph of the rolling average of area burned over 10 years shows a dramatic rise in the last 12 years.  The spike from 1958 to 1967 is mainly due to one very extreme year.  Overall we had a general declining trend in area burned through to 2002 but since 2003 the trend has been upwards rather quickly.   The only cause for the fires seems to be due to dryer and warmer summers in BC.  The mountain pine beetle killed trees have not been a major contribution to the fires.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Graph of Rising Investment in Renewable Energy

I am amazed that solar power has fallen in enough in cost to be competitive with fossil fuels.   It would not take much more of a drop to make solar cheaper than this will reduce the demand for fossil fuels.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Cheap oil and gas will stop many developments

The price of oil and natural gas has dropped over the last years because supply has outstripped demand and this means the price has fallen.   For years people have predicted peak oil and the world coming to an end with the price constantly rising.  That has never seemed realistic to me because as the price rose cheaper alternatives would gain market share and technology would drive the amount of energy needed and the cost to produce it down.

Natural gas has benefited more from fracking than oil because there seem to be more opportunities to unconventional gas that has been opened up by the new technology.  Another change is the emerging global gas market.   Oil has always been a global commodity but natural gas has not been because it is not easy to transport without a pipeline.   Now with the massive global rise in LNG there is a global price emerging and the price is weak everywhere.   Natural gas is the best of the fossil fuels and has a near term future as there is a shift to electricity produced by natural gas, but in the long term it will be replaced by other sources of electrical power,

Oil has seen the addition of a lot of new supply from the tar sands in Canada but also because of fracking, which has lead to a huge increase in US oil production.   As I write this the price of oil is $76 to $80 a barrel, prices not seen since the depth of the global economic crisis in 2009, which was a temporary drop at that time.   From July 2010 to July 2014 the price of Brent oil was about $110 a barrel.   The WTI and Brent prices are not the Canadian prices,the Western Canadian Select price for oil is at $66.03 a barrel today.  

For years now the price of tar sands oil has been significantly lower than the WTI or Brent crude oil prices.   There is two reasons for this, tar sands oil is not as a nice a product as WTI and there is a constraint problem when it comes to delivery, Alberta produces more oil than the pipelines can move.

This lower price for oil makes building more pipeline capacity uneconomic at this time.  There are at least eight tar sands projects that require a much higher price of oil than the current market prices.   These projects represent about $40 billion of capital investment over the next ten years.   That is $4 billion less investment per year in Alberta for the next ten years..

Even the shale oil of North Dakota becomes financially questionable when the price is below $80, the cost to produce a barrel from North Dakota runs from $50 to $90.   The margins will be low, but not too low to stop an expansion of drilling.  

With an ongoing high price of oil for the last decade the public and businesses have found ways to use less oil.  Global demand for oil has been growing slower than rising supply, it has not even been growing as fast the global economy.

Supply is not likely to fall much soon.   As the boom fades the costs to drill for new oil will fall.   This is for two reasons, first the crazy prices that have to be paid for anything to do with drilling will fall and second the drop in price will push more technological advances.   At the same time the oil being produced in the tar sands will not go down because tar sands projects require large up front capital investments to start.  Once the projects have been built the operational costs per barrel is low enough to allow them to continue even with a significant fall in the price of oil.

At the same the cost to produce green electricity has been falling dramatically.   The price for wind, solar and geothermal is dropping quickly and is now rivaling the cost to produce to electricity from fossil fuels.   It seems probable that in the next five to ten years renewables will be cheaper than all the fossil fuels for producing electricity.   Electrical production is a major use of natural gas and coal, without this demand the price will drop.   The still cheaper natural gas and coal will displace some oil and help to keep the price of oil low.

The fossil fuel era will come to an end not through protests or government intervention, but through simple economics.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Do I use fewer resources to live than my parents?

Both my parents were born in Estonia in the 1920s.  Certainly I think it is clear that until the early 1960s my parents used fewer resources than I do now but after that I do use fewer resources than they did.

Where I am Ahead of Parents
Fuel use - As a kid my parents had a station wagon with a V8 engine.  I have no idea what the fuel consumption was but I am sure it was not very good.   They also drove a lot more kilometers ber year than I do now.   

Home heating - My parent's home was not that well insulated, not bad for the 1960s but not great.  It cost them a lot more to keep their home warm than the one I live in now.

Garbage - My family produced two full cans of garbage every week as I was growing,  When recycling came and all of us kids left home it fell to one not full can a week.  I fill an average garbage can about every three to four weeks.  

Electricity use - I may have more things that use electrical power but at the same time my newer fridge, stove, and washer use a lot less power to operate.  The improvement in the white goods along with no longer having vacuum tube screens has really reduced my power use in comparison to my parents.   The biggest difference is that my parents did not have a dryer till the mid 1970s. 

Flying - Starting the 1960s my parents took a major international flight in most years.  The planes from the 1960s and 70s used a lot more fuel than today.  I also happen to fly a lot less then they did.  

Where I am behind
Electronics - Not only do I have a lot more than they ever had, they do not last very long.   A computer that lasts for four years is very old and outdated.   The electronic waste I produce each year is astonishing

Batteries - I go through a huge number of AA and AAA batteries per year.  Growing up we never needed this many batteries

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

BC Hydro is not isolated from the rest of the grid

BC Hydo is part of a larger grid which means what we do here has an impact on the others, what they impacts us.   All the power we produce in BC is not just our power, it is part of the Western Interconnection.   People in BC need to understand we are not on our own.

In North America the grid is connected north-south as opposed to east west.    What we do in BC is more connected with LA than with Saskatoon.
Interconnections in North America

The idea that we can be power self sufficient in BC is a fallacy because we are part of a much larger grid.  We can produce more power than we need but that does not make us self sufficient.   Our connection to the rest of the interconnection is a benefit to us and the whole interconnection.

Since we produce most of our power from hydroelectric sources, we  are in a position to turn on and off the power.   Large scale coal and nuclear power plants can not shut themselves down overnight.   They have to continue producing power all night.   In BC was are in a position to buy this power over night which means their power is not wasted

Longer term what we can do in BC is displace a lot of coal power in the west.   Each time we add more micro-hydro to the grid, there is less demand from more coal power.    If we were adding the new green power faster, we could push the decommissioning of more coal fired power.

Large scale power plants are big capital investments, they need long term time frames to build.   For a nuclear or coal fired power-plant the initial capital investment means that once it is built you need decades of operation to defray that cost.   It is a reason we have not seen massive decommissioning but it is also a reason new capital intensive power-plants have not been common in North America.

We have seen an oversupply in electrical power in North America for some years now, this has been going on long enough to inhibit new "brown" electrical power.   When the prices do rise again, realistically only smaller scale green power will be able to meet the needs.   Here in BC there are numerous run of the river and wind projects that could be constructed rather quickly when the price does rise.