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July 26, 2012

Experts predict solar tech will hit tipping in 2016

2020 at the latest. As in, at that point the energy capture tech in solar will be efficient enough to be cheaper than fossil fuels, even with the mountain of subsidies fossil fuels get. Brave new world as solar PV heads to 50c/watt - reneweconomy.com.au : Renew Economy
Print Friendly US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu earlier this year suggested that solar PV without subsidies will be cheaper than both coal and gas if it could get its costs down to around $1/watt by the end of the decade – an event that would trigger a total re-examination of the way electricity was produced in the world’s largest economy. That meant cutting the cost of modules to round 50c/W, and then bring the balance of module costs down with it. The latest research says that the module cost target will happen by 2016. Which also means that forecasts by Chinese officials and the Indian government that solar PV would reach wholesale parity with fossil fuels by 2020 (or 2017 in the case of India) are likely to occur even earlier.

Climate instability is destroying our roads, our infrastructure

Growing up in Michigan I saw first hand what terrible damage a freezing and thawing cycle could do to basically everything. Roads there are in a constant state of repair for all of the warms months. Fixed just in time to crack and split and shatter again next year. I never realized how bad extreme heat and drought could be for roads, melting them or tearing away the foundation on which they are built. Rise in Weather Extremes Threatens Infrastructure - NYTimes.com
On a single day this month here, a US Airways regional jet became stuck in asphalt that had softened in 100-degree temperatures, and a subway train derailed after the heat stretched the track so far that it kinked — inserting a sharp angle into a stretch that was supposed to be straight. In East Texas, heat and drought have had a startling effect on the clay-rich soils under highways, which “just shrink like crazy,” leading to “horrendous cracking,” said Tom Scullion, senior research engineer with the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. In Northeastern and Midwestern states, he said, unusually high heat is causing highway sections to expand beyond their design limits, press against each other and “pop up,” creating jarring and even hazardous speed bumps. Excessive warmth and dryness are threatening other parts of the grid as well. In the Chicago area, a twin-unit nuclear plant had to get special permission to keep operating this month because the pond it uses for cooling water rose to 102 degrees; its license to operate allows it to go only to 100. According to the Midwest Independent System Operator, the grid operator for the region, a different power plant had had to shut because the body of water from which it draws its cooling water had dropped so low that the intake pipe became high and dry; another had to cut back generation because cooling water was too warm. . . .

July 25, 2012

We still have a few years to fix the climate, but we need to act fast

Global Warming's Terrifying New Math | Politics News | Rolling Stone
If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven't convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe. Meteorologists reported that this spring was the warmest ever recorded for our nation – in fact, it crushed the old record by so much that it represented the "largest temperature departure from average of any season on record." The same week, Saudi authorities reported that it had rained in Mecca despite a temperature of 109 degrees, the hottest downpour in the planet's history. Not that our leaders seemed to notice. Last month the world's nations, meeting in Rio for the 20th-anniversary reprise of a massive 1992 environmental summit, accomplished nothing. Unlike George H.W. Bush, who flew in for the first conclave, Barack Obama didn't even attend. It was "a ghost of the glad, confident meeting 20 years ago," the British journalist George Monbiot wrote; no one paid it much attention, footsteps echoing through the halls "once thronged by multitudes." Since I wrote one of the first books for a general audience about global warming way back in 1989, and since I've spent the intervening decades working ineffectively to slow that warming, I can say with some confidence that we're losing the fight, badly and quickly – losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in. When we think about global warming at all, the arguments tend to be ideological, theological and economic. But to grasp the seriousness of our predicament, you just need to do a little math. For the past year, an easy and powerful bit of arithmetical analysis first published by financial analysts in the U.K. has been making the rounds of environmental conferences and journals, but it hasn't yet broken through to the larger public. This analysis upends most of the conventional political thinking about climate change. And it allows us to understand our precarious – our almost-but-not-quite-finally hopeless – position with three simple numbers. . . .