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DeLonge M.S.,Union of Concerned Scientists | Miles A.,University of Hawaii-West Oahu | Carlisle L.,University of California at Berkeley
Environmental Science and Policy | Year: 2016

Ecological impacts of industrial agriculture include significant greenhouse gas emissions, loss of biodiversity, widespread pollution by fertilizers and pesticides, soil loss and degradation, declining pollinators, and human health risks, among many others. A rapidly growing body of scientific research, however, suggests that farming systems designed and managed according to ecological principles can meet the food needs of society while addressing these pressing environmental and social issues. The promise of such systems implies an urgent need for increasing the scope and scale of this area of research - agroecology. Notably, agroecological systems have been shown to reduce input dependency and therefore related research is unlikely to be supported by the private sector. Yet, the amount of federal funding available for agroecology has remained unclear. To address this gap in knowledge, we identified projects beginning in 2014 from the USDA Current Research Information System (CRIS) database and searched key sections of project reports for major components emphasizing sustainable agriculture, including agroecology. Components were grouped into four levels according to their focus on: improving system efficiency to reduce the use of inputs (L1), substituting more sustainable inputs and practices into farming systems (L2), redesigning systems based on ecological principles (L3: agroecology), or reestablishing connections between producers and consumers to support a socio-ecological transformation of the food system (L4: social dimensions of agroecology). We identified 824 projects, which accounted for $294 million dollars: just over 10% of the entire 2014 USDA Research, Extension, and Economics (REE) budget. Using a highly conservative classification protocol, we found that the primary focus of many projects was unrelated to sustainable agriculture at any level, but the majority of projects had at least one relevant component (representing 52-69% of analyzed funds, depending on whether projects focused exclusively on increasing yields were included). Of the total $294 million of analyzed funds, 18-36% went to projects that included a L1 component. Projects including components in L2, L3, or L4 received just 24%, 15%, and 14% of analyzed funds, respectively. Systems-based projects that included both agroecological farming practices (L3) and support for socioeconomic sustainability (L4) were particularly poorly funded (4%), as were L3 projects that included complex rotations (3%), spatially diversified farms (3%), rotational or regenerative grazing (1%), integrated crop-livestock systems (1%), or agroforestry (<1%). We estimated that projects with an emphasis on agroecology, indicated by those with a minimum or overall level of L3, represented 5-10% of analyzed funds (equivalent to only 0.6-1.5% of the 2014 REE budget). Results indicate that increased funding is urgently needed for REE, especially for systems-based research in biologically diversified farming and ranching systems. © 2015 The Authors.

Gurwick N.P.,Smithsonian Environmental Research Center | Moore L.A.,Environmental Defense Fund | Kelly C.,Western Carolina University | Elias P.,Union of Concerned Scientists
PLoS ONE | Year: 2013

Background:Claims about the environmental benefits of charring biomass and applying the resulting "biochar" to soil are impressive. If true, they could influence land management worldwide. Alleged benefits include increased crop yields, soil fertility, and water-holding capacity; the most widely discussed idea is that applying biochar to soil will mitigate climate change. This claim rests on the assumption that biochar persists for hundreds or thousands of years, thus storing carbon that would otherwise decompose. We conducted a systematic review to quantify research effort directed toward ten aspects of biochar and closely evaluated the literature concerning biochar's stability.Findings:We identified 311 peer-reviewed research articles published through 2011. We found very few field studies that addressed biochar's influence on several ecosystem processes: one on soil nutrient loss, one on soil contaminants, six concerning non-CO2 greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes (some of which fail to support claims that biochar decreases non-CO2 GHG fluxes), and 16-19 on plants and soil properties. Of 74 studies related to biochar stability, transport or fate in soil, only seven estimated biochar decomposition rates in situ, with mean residence times ranging from 8 to almost 4,000 years.Conclusions:Our review shows there are not enough data to draw conclusions about how biochar production and application affect whole-system GHG budgets. Wide-ranging estimates of a key variable, biochar stability in situ, likely result from diverse environmental conditions, feedstocks, and study designs. There are even fewer data about the extent to which biochar stimulates decomposition of soil organic matter or affects non-CO2 GHG emissions. Identifying conditions where biochar amendments yield favorable GHG budgets requires a systematic field research program. Finally, evaluating biochar's suitability as a climate mitigation strategy requires comparing its effects with alternative uses of biomass and considering GHG budgets over both long and short time scales. © 2013 Gurwick et al.

A new analysis of the electric vehicle market from the Union of Concerned Scientists has found that a major barrier to wider, faster adoption of the technology is simply that auto manufacturers aren’t bringing enough models to market. Also, the electric vehicle (EV) models that are available aren’t widely available — and can be hard to find even for those who want to purchase them. The new UCS analysis found that, while “automakers vary widely in terms of how many electric vehicle models they offer and where they sell them, all automakers could be doing more to take full advantage of the potential EV market, especially outside of California,” according to an email sent to CleanTechnica. In particular, it’s noted that outside of California (where more than half of US EV sales occur) most models simply aren’t buyable — inter-state travel is often necessary for those looking to purchase certain models. “You can’t buy a car you can’t find,” stated David Reichmuth, a vehicles engineer at UCS and the lead author of the new study. “One of the biggest barriers to EV adoption is that too many automakers fail to make electric options available. The future is electric, but when automakers don’t put effort into building and selling these cars, they’re missing out on an evolving market.” So, how do the different auto manufacturers stack up? How you would expect them to based on EV sales — amongst the majors, GM, Nissan, and BMW are all noted to be making some effort; while Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, Honda, and Hyundai/Kia don’t seem to have done much to date. (Author’s note: Obviously, Hyundai/Kia has now begun to respond to market changes, though, and will be releasing a fair number of EVs over the coming years.) The email continues, noting that, “in 2015, BMW was second only to Tesla (which only sells plug-in vehicles); plug-ins made up 3% of its nationwide vehicle sales, and 7% of sales in California. GM and Nissan were early leaders in the market with the Volt and LEAF the top selling plug-in hybrid and battery electric models since 2010. … Toyota had some success with a plug-in version of its popular Prius model, but currently has no plug-in vehicle on the market. Fiat Chrysler has had success in selling its 500e plug-in model in Oregon and California, but does not offer the vehicle for sale in other markets. And Honda has only offered plug-in models in limited numbers over the past several years, with sales since 2011 lower than GM’s EV sales in a single month.” It’s kind of amazing when you think about it that a company like Honda would, presumably, miss the boat completely on EVs. What’s the reason? It really seems as though the company could have released a compelling alternative to the Nissan LEAF or Chevy Volt, couldn’t it have? Did the company simply have no need to do so because of its ability to already meet CAFE standards? Perhaps its leadership in hybrids and efficient gasmobiles made it complacent? Continuing: “While most automakers focus on the market for electric vehicles in California, consumers in the Northeast are missing out, with fewer models to choose from and fewer vehicles available on the lot. Even when plug-in models are available in markets outside California, finding one at a dealership can be a challenge. For example, in the first 6 months of 2016, Edmunds.com showed on average more than 2,800 electric vehicles for sale in the Oakland/San Francisco area, but only 317 in the Boston area.” “Electric vehicles have real potential, but they can’t succeed if automakers don’t give customers the opportunity to test drive and buy them,” commented Don Anair, research and deputy director for the Clean Vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “State and federal policies are helping drive the EV market forward, but automakers are in the best position to help Americans access the benefits of driving electric vehicles.” The bolded-text above is exactly why Tesla has been covered in such depth here at CleanTechnica over the last few years — most of the major auto manufacturers have shown no real interest in pushing the EV market forward, while Tesla has functioned very effectively as a sort of kick in the ass to get them moving.   Drive an electric car? Complete one of our short surveys for our next electric car report.   Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.  

News Article | September 12, 2016
Site: www.aweablog.org

Wind power is the biggest, fastest, cheapest way to cut carbon pollution. The U.S. and China recently ratified the Paris Agreement, further advancing efforts to combat carbon pollution. It’s also yet another sign that global economies and businesses are seeking zero-carbon solutions for their electricity needs. As Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists explains: “While China and the U.S. are top carbon emitters, they’re also the world’s two biggest economies and producers of renewable energy. With these two powerhouses ratifying the Paris Agreement, global businesses and investors have a clear market signal that the world is seeking to limit climate change impacts by getting on a low-carbon pathway quickly.” As a zero-emission energy source, wind power will play a large role in helping the two countries meet their commitments under the agreement. In 2015 alone, wind cut 28 million cars’ worth of CO2 pollution in the U.S. The U.S. and China are already the world’s largest producers of wind-generated electricity, and wind’s share in the American energy mix is expected to continue rising. By 2030, it could generate over 20 percent of the country’s electricity, and at that level, it would reduce electric sector carbon pollution by over 20 percent. Wind energy remains an attractive option because it’s the biggest, fastest, cheapest way to cut carbon pollution. That’s largely because of recent drastic cost declines; wind became 66 percent cheaper over just a six year period. Technological advances allowing wind turbines to reach stronger, steadier winds make it financially viable in more parts of the country, and wind is now the cheapest source of new electric generating capacity in many parts of the U.S., while remaining cost-competitive in many more. So as the U.S., China and other countries look to clean their electricity sectors to meet their Paris Agreement commitments, growing wind power will be one of the most cost-effective pathways to achieve their goals.

News Article | February 5, 2016
Site: www.theenergycollective.com

State renewable portfolio standards are widely recognized for their critical role in driving renewable energy growth. However, their full impacts on future renewable energy development have not been fully recognized, even by key government agencies. In a recent study, Benjamin Sovacool and I found that the Energy Information Administration has consistently under-projected renewable energy growth, due in part to improper modelling of state RPS mandates. Last year, the Union of Concerned Scientists similarly found that EPA’s modelling for the proposed Clean Power Plan did not fully account for state RPS policies in several states. These forecasts are critical to shaping perspectives about renewable energy and are major inputs in developing policy, particularly at the federal level. To develop a better idea of the future impact of state RPS policies, this analysis develops quantitative estimates of how much renewable is mandated by existing state policies. Although state RPSs are only part of a picture, this bottom-up approach is a first step in assessing how the future of renewable energy in the U.S. State RPS Policies Likely to Drive Continuing Gains in Renewable Energy To date, state renewable policies have been critical in driving renewable energy growth. By 2013, RPS-compliant renewable energy comprised almost 5% of total U.S. electricity generation, bringing in billions in economic and environmental benefits at limit cost. As states ramp up their RPS requirements in the next fifteen years, state RPS policies are likely to become even more important. Data from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory provides an initial indication of why. In addition to tracking compliance, LBNL provides estimates of how much renewable energy will be needed to meet current renewable mandates during the next twenty years. These projections indicate that at least 359,474 GWh of eligible renewables will be needed to comply with state standards by 2030. This nears 9% of total U.S. electricity generation and is more than double the amount of renewable energy required by RPS mandates in 2013. Notably, RPS-compliant renewable is not expected to grow uniformly between 2015 and 2030. Instead we see a rapid ramp up in RPS requirements between 2015 and 2021, with an annualized growth above 9% per year. This is a result of many state RPSs having final goals around 2020. Geographically, RPS-compliant energy to date has been very concentrated. Over the next fifteen years, RPS-compliant will become somewhat less concentrated. California is likely to remain a major RPS state – LBNL’s projections for 2030 indicate California would be responsible for around 26% of total RPS-compliant renewable energy in the U.S, near 2013 levels. However, the share of RPS-compliant energy from Texas, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania would shrink from 26% in 2013 to less than 11% in 2030. The remaining share of RPS-compliant renewable energy (63%) will become more geographically diverse, coming from the remaining 24 states with mandatory RPS policies. Critically, the above estimates from LBNL were last updated in July 2015 and hence do not include several major changes in state policies since then. Most dramatically, they do not include California increasing its RPS goals from 33% by 2020 to 50% by 2030. Similarly, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has directed the New York Public Service Commission to increase the state’s RPS to 50% by 2030 from its current 30% in 2015 level. Hawaii has also increased its RPS to 100% by 2045. One of the key findings in Benjamin Sovacool and I’s recent paper was that a dynamic policy environment is a challenge to estimating future levels of renewable energy. These new policies are prime examples. My ball park estimates indicate that the revisions in California and New York alone could increase the amount of renewable energy required for state RPS policies in 2030 by 70,000-80,000 GWh, depending on load growth. Thus, current state RPS policies would lead to around 11% of U.S. generation coming from RPS-compliant renewable electricity in 2030, up from less than 3% in 2010. This is more than a 20% increase from what RPS mandates would have required six months ago. Clearly, our expectations regarding the future of energy must be continuously updated as policies and technology change. Wind generation has been the primary compliance option for utilities to meet RPS goals in the last decade, primarily due to the relatively low cost of wind generation and federal tax credit support. Long term contracts and continued wind installations mean that wind will continue to play a major role in meeting RPS requirements moving forward. However, solar is likely to become a major compliance method for renewable standards for the next fifteen years. The primary reason are massive and rapid decreases in solar PV costs. In the past year, the rapid decreases in solar costs and corresponding increase in installations have been pretty thoroughly covered, so I’ll keep the discussion brief. Again, LBNL provides great in-depth analysis for utility-scale solar and distributed solar. In LBNL’s sample, the average price for power purchase agreements for utility solar have dropped from more than $100/MWh in 2011 to less than $50/MWh in 2015. These major cost decreases are driving solar installations to new levels. Installation levels in 2015 set new records, with as much as 3 GW installed in Q4 2015 alone. More dramatically, EIA data indicates that more than 8.3 GW of large-scale solar PV are planned for 2016. That’s excluding distributed generation less than 1.0 MW in capacity, which is likely to drive several more gigawatts of new solar. In many ways, solar is more attractive than wind. While wind generation is primarily concentrated in the Great Plains, solar PV resources are pretty good across most of the country. Further, most solar generation occurs during peak, daylight hours when wholesale electricity prices are higher. Even if solar costs somewhat more than wind on a per MWh basis, it usually offsets higher- cost electricity, making it more financially attractive. As solar reaches full maturity and commercialization nationwide, we are likely to see it be adopted even quicker than wind, with RPS policies providing major demand support. Already, solar is beginning to dominate new builds for RPS-compliance. Between 2013 and 2014, LBNL and NREL estimate that solar was responsible for 76% of new capacity installations to meet RPS requirements. RPS policies have been critical policy mechanisms to incentivize the development of wind and, increasingly, solar markets across the United States. This analysis indicates that existing RPS policies are likely to drive non-hydro renewables to more than 11% of total U.S. electricity generation by 2030, more than double current levels. Voluntary renewable markets, boosted by cost innovation from renewable deployment in RPS states, could lead to at least an additional 2-4% of U.S. generation coming from renewables by 2030. This provides a solid base from which renewables can become a central electricity source in the U.S. However, the recent extension of federal renewable energy tax credits only makes the future more bullish for both wind and solar. The 30% investment tax credit for solar has been extended in full for another three years before ramping down to a permanent 10% in 2022. Meanwhile, the wind production tax credit will be ramped down through 2020. This additional financial support, coming at a time when many state RPSs began to ramp up, will drive a major boom in both solar and wind installations. Critically, the new tax credits providing support through the beginning of Clean Power Plan implementation. Existing state RPS mandates, renewed federal tax credits, and the Clean Power Plan mean further cost reductions in both industries are likely in the next few years. Federal and state policies promise to be even more complementary in the future, with significant economic and environmental ramifications. As it becomes cheaper and cheaper to implement a RPS, more states may create mandatory standards or significantly strengthen existing ones. The recent moves by California, New York, and Hawaii could signal the beginnings of a new wave of RPS policies.

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