Why global emissions stalled last year [Recharge]

Worldwide emissions stall despite continued global economic growth; US solar has a banner year; China scales up on nuclear power. Catch up on global energy with Recharge.

Martin Meissner/AP/File
A wind turbine is pictured in the in front of a steaming coal power plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany.

Recharge is a weekly e-mail digest of energy news and analysis written by Monitor reporters David J. Unger and Jared Gilmour.

ProgressWorldwide carbon emissions flatlined last year even as the global economy grew, the IEA said this week. That hasn’t happened in 40 years, and is partly due to a curtailing of coal and improved energy efficiency in China. This may be just a one-year aberration, and emissions growth could resume in years to come. But even if that’s the case, 2014 may well be remembered as an early sign of genuine – if gradual – global energy progress.

Synergy: The world’s No. 2 carbon emitter is cutting back, too. New data shows US solar power production more than doubled last year, making 2014 a banner year for US solar – just like the year before, and the year before that. Solar remains a fraction of total power output, but it is now putting serious gigawatts onto the grid and is teaming up with natural gas to address intermittency. US wind power, too, looks poised to quickly grow from niche market to mainstream power source.

Technology transfer: Key to China’s plan to cut back on coal is its push to scale up on nuclear. On Tuesday, it approved the first two new reactors in years. It’s a small fraction of the 58 gigawatts of nuclear capacity it aims to build by 2020, up from about 20 gigawatts today. China has its eye on the nuclear export market, too. It’s building a controversial new reactor 20 miles from Pakistan’s most populous city, and is buying up Western technology for developing and selling its own homegrown designs.

In the pipeline

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Drill deeper

Do India’s Renewable Energy Targets Make Sense? [Council on Foreign Relations]
“[I]t looks like the Modi government may be using aspirational goals as a clever but risky tool to fast-forward development of its renewable energy sector,” writes Varun Sivaram, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Renewables may also be particularly convenient to rally the nation around a ‘win-win’ on energy security and environmental protection, though their value as the primary policy instrument for those goals is questionable.”

Battery Hackers Are Building the Future in the Garage [Bloomberg]
Intrepid battery hackers are jerry-rigging lithium-ion batteries from Teslas and other cars to store solar power generated on their rooftops. The hack overcomes one of solar’s biggest obstacles: How do you store solar power for home use when the sun’s not shining? Don’t be tempted to start any DIY tinkering yourself, though – one wrong move could trigger a “self-sustaining reaction that can cause violent explosions.”

How Falling Oil Prices Are Hindering Iraq’s Ability to Fight Islamic State[Wall Street Journal]
“We’re battling on two fronts, both ISIS and oil,” Mudher Salih, a financial adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, tells the Wall Street Journal. And each battle is complicating the other: Low oil prices mean Iraq has less money to spend combating Islamic State militants, and Islamic State-fueled turmoil could cut the amount of oil Iraq produces. Iraq’s revenue could fall 40 percent this year due to low oil prices.

Energy sources

  • EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy: "A few years ago, we put an air monitor on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and posted air quality data online. We did it so American diplomats could know when air pollution reached dangerous levels—and could protect themselves and their families. Well, it worked—and then some. It informed the Chinese public about air pollution risks. And it gave the Chinese government an opportunity to respond—by more effectively capturing data and cutting pollution in ways that align with climate and economic goals. Our embassy air monitor is a textbook example of soft diplomacy"
  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: "Thirty global test oils were modeled ... throughout the entire oil supply chain—oil extraction, crude transport, refining, marketing, and product combustion and end use. There is an over 80 percent difference in total GHG emissions per barrel of the lowest GHG-emitting ... oil and the highest."
  • IEA chief economist Fatih Birol on news of stalled global emissions: "This is both a very welcome surprise and a significant one ... It provides much-needed momentum to negotiators preparing to forge a global climate deal in Paris in December: for the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth."


Recharge is a weekly e-mail digest of energy news and analysis written by Monitor reporters David J. Unger and Jared Gilmour.

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