New York City is Planning to Go Fossil Fuel Free — So Why Not the Rest of the World?

greenhouse-gas-reductions-in-NYC-1-537x356

(New York City plans a number of measures to eliminate fossil fuel use and rapidly build climate change resiliency through 2050 including mass installation of solar energy on roof-tops, major reductions in energy use and increases in efficiency, painting roofs white to reduce the heat island effect, and providing both incentives and enforcement for those living within the city to make an energy switch and control consumption. Image source: New York City.)

As a city sitting at the edge of rising seas and in the path of almost certainly more severe storms, New York City faces the grim prospect of facing the brunt of impacts set off by human-caused climate change. This vulnerability was recently highlighted as Superstorm Sandy flooded 90,000 of New York’s buildings and inflicted 19 billion dollars worth of damages on the city alone.

The storm raced in on tides that were more than 1 foot higher than original New York City designers planned for. And the storm was likely enhanced by a combination of much warmer than normal ocean temperatures and a disrupted Jet Stream pattern that makes it more likely for tropical and polar air masses to come into confluence — increasing the energy potential of hybrid storms like Sandy.

And Sandy may just have been a warning shot across the bow.

Based on the city’s own figures, New York City is facing 4-10 inches of additional sea level rise before 2030 and 11-30 inches of sea level rise through 2050. Stark results of ocean current changes that are piling more water up on the US East Coast as well as an increasing number of destabilized and irreversibly collapsing glaciers in Greenland and West Antarctica that will likely provide ramping sea level rise through both this century and for many centuries to come.

80 Percent + Emissions Reductions By 2050 With The Ultimate Goal to Eliminate Fossil Fuel Use

Faced with these threats, New York City has put together a plan to completely eliminate fossil fuels as energy sources. To greatly increase energy efficiency measures and to shift the city to renewable energy sources entirely. The plan, in total, would reduce New York City’s carbon emissions by 83% below 2005 levels through 2050 with the ultimate aim of eliminating fossil fuel use altogether.

In pursuit of this goal, the city is providing a series of ten year planning measures aimed directly at both public and private energy users. The plans are broad based and set ambitious goals for both reduction in energy consumption and rapid adoption of renewable energy sources. For example, the city itself plans to install 100 megawatts of solar panels on public buildings even as it reduces building energy consumption by as much as 50 percent over the next ten years. Meanwhile the city plans to provide incentives and financing aimed at private solar installations exceeding 250 megawatts over the same period.

Other aspects of the plan include setting up an efficiency and renewables marketplace for the city, ensuring that the benefits of reducing energy costs are shared across the economic spectrum, providing standards enforcement for private buildings, transportation and consumption, and setting in place a scaling series of investments to build city resiliency for the climate-related troubles that are likely to worsen for the foreseeable future even if the world follows New York’s example and rapidly responds to climate change.

To this point, New York City joins New York State, California and the European Union as government bodies now pursuing broad policy goals to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions in their areas of responsibility by 80 percent or more. Responsible actions that should serve as models for cities, states, and nations around the world if we are to have much hope of confronting a growing climate nightmare set off by a reckless and irresponsible broader human-based carbon emission.

Links:

Please Read New York City’s Comprehensive Climate Action Plan Entitled: One City Built to Last

Why You Should Read the City’s Plan to Reduce Carbon Emissions by 80 Percent

New York State Executive Order 24: Climate Action Planning

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39 Comments

  1. Sarah Crean

     /  September 30, 2014

    Hi Robert- I’m the author of the piece you posted on the city’s 80-50 plan. I have read large sections of the plan, but not every word. The City states clearly that they want to phase out fossil fuels; but the 2050 deadline appears to be for the reduction of carbon emissions. Can you tell me where they state that they will phase out all fossil fuels by 2050? I think that’s really interesting. Thanks very much.

    Reply
    • Cheers Sarah, Thanks for the original article and the fact check.

      I’d read through the plan last night and obviously convoluted the 2050 80 percent emissions reduction goal with the clearly stated goal to eliminate fossil fuel use as well. On re-read, I don’t see a direct reference to a time-frame for total fossil fuel phase-out.

      Best and thanks for the fantastic work!

      -R

      Reply
  2. John

     /  September 30, 2014

    I think a realistic and actionable goal is rapid implementation of molten salt nuclear reactors. Photovoltaic and wind generation may be getting cheaper but they don’t address the problem of base load generation. Nuclear is the only viable non-carbon option for base load. I realize that nuclear energy has a very bad rap right now but the new technologies don’t require containment chambers or active cooling. The bad rap really belongs on the old style pressurized water reactors.

    The only alternative would be literally a quantum leap in battery technology. Our way of life requires a always available reliable electrical energy at a reasonable cost. If we transition to electrical vehicles (as we must if we are to cut back on carbon based fuels) the load on the grid during the evening hours will just get greater.

    Molten salt reactors can be modified to work with thorium when that technology permits.

    Molten salt reactors can be mass produced in factories at a fraction of the cost of pressurized reactors.

    Molten salt reactors are many times more efficient at fuel to energy conversion so this is the equivalent of suddenly finding we have thirty times more uranium than supposed. And if we can make thorium work we would have a relatively clean energy source with ample supplies of fuel.

    Last but certainly not least is that corporations can make lots of money pursuing this goal – and that’s a huge benefit when it comes to making things happen in the real world.

    The advantages of this approach are that:

    It’s positive rather than negative.

    It can be very profitable.

    It is reasonably safe.

    The old guard nuclear corporations like Westinghouse are not strong enough to create political resistance. The nuclear division of Westinghouse is not crucial to the corporation.

    Nuclear energy is not such a bogeyman for the right wing and the prospect of making money will not be lost on them.

    It solves the elephant in the room problem of base line production for when the sun isn’t shining and the win isn’t blowing.

    Congressmen can take contracts home – the pork barrel will be alive and well.

    It would send a strong message that upgrading our electrical grid is imperative.

    I suppose some of the above sounds cynical but I suggest a rereading of Cadillac Desert just in case you’ve forgotten how politics really worked and always shall in this country.

    Unless the base-load problem is resolved we’ll all end up just like Germany who is now desperately digging up and burning peat bogs to supplement their solar and wind.

    Reply
    • Cheers John.

      Almost every study I see shows that nuclear energy is more costly going forward than wind and solar — even if you include battery and smart grid based storage. NREL studies show that the cost of transition isn’t very high at all, overall. Can you show me the numbers on an operational thorium reactor or the price prospects over time going forward?

      As for Germany, they are still on the long-term track for rapid carbon emissions reductions (although the nuclear-coal switch did create a lag over recent years). That said, the digging up of coal to replace nuclear was certainly a bad choice when it came to carbon emissions. Although people’s fears of nuclear energy, some rather rational, I think are not something to be entirely overlooked.

      Overall, I find it rather odd that the right wing is now a big defender of centralized power systems.

      Reply
      • Colorado Bob

         /  September 30, 2014

        Overall, I find it rather odd that the right wing is now a big defender of centralized power systems.

        Not to mention , that nuclear power has suckled on the largest government teat in the history of the world. One thing about solar power, it doesn’t explode and spew long lived deadly elements across the world . I saw article about Chernobyl a couple of weeks ago concerning the build up of fuels in the forests around the plant, and the concern of a major fire releasing the radionuclides back into winds. It seems that the radiation has retarded the organic decomposition of dead plant material in the forest.

        Plus that whole tomb that was built by the Russians is about to crumble and fall down on itself. And the Russians could care less, because it’s Ukraine’s problem now.

        Maximus: Brothers, what we do in life… echoes in eternity.

        Reply
        • It’s high risk fuel source for reasons we all too well understand. Loading the environment with radiation pulses ever three decades or so due to inherent risks is not a good outcome. Overall, I’m highly speculative of claims of safe nuclear energy sources. Have heard a lot of talk-talk about Thorium, but it still only lives in reports and paper stacks. My understanding is that the hot liquid salt is very corrosive and increased costs/risks.

      • mikkel

         /  September 30, 2014

        There is no way that nuclear is going to be generally cheaper than solar/wind when it is done correctly, which means integrated reprocessing. Obviously there are no operational thorium or molten salt reactors to know for sure, but they are both significantly more complex in construction than boiling reactors (although simpler and much less error prone in operation).

        But it’s also not feasible to store more than a day or so of demand in batteries. It’s been shown the wind + solar (with a connected grid) can provide enough power in general cases, but 10-15% of the time it will fall short and the amount of batteries need would be enormous. Like most things in life, it is power law distributed, and leads to the Pareto rule where 80% comes from 20% (so 80% of the capacity needed would be utilized only 20% of the time). Even more, since it’s power law distributed, it is fractal. Meaning that 80% of the capacity for the top 20% exists in the top 20% of the 20% so: 64% of the total needed capacity is utilized for only 4% of the time. 50% is utilized only 0.8% of the time, etc.

        The problem with most summaries of analyses by NREL (or on the flip side, EIA touting fossil fuels) is that they have a poor handle of marginal cost near saturation. So, while it already makes sense to put solar in many places and is primarily being held back by business inefficiencies where it doesn’t currently make sense, this won’t continue to apply as solar (or wind) reach 60-80% of “upper bound” penetration.

        In short, as things currently stand, we need base load from nuclear in order to make things work, even if the nuclear contribution is relatively expensive. Or, we need to reduce power consumption by 70-80%, so that building out the current “every day” level of renewables would be an “overbuild” to the extent that those long tail requirements are met.

        I personally think we should focus on the latter, because it is a more holistic approach that reduces resource requirements around the board, instead of simply addressing the problem of power.

        Lastly, power law dynamics work the other way too. 80% of the cost of the fossil fuel system relies in 20% of the events, and (in the US) those are largely during the summer, when of course PV is at a surplus. The value of PV during these times is enormous and is easily 10x to even 100 or 1000x that of the “levelized value.” The problem is that a) it isn’t valued as such when selling to the grid (there should be bonuses based on spot rate) and b) the utilities have enormous sunk cost into their peaking plants.

        If PV was properly compensated based on its social value, then it would more than fund itself and we could turn off huge numbers of peaking plants; but then the “utility business model” would break. [The same goes for energy efficiency too, but affects all energy sources.]

        Reply
        • Thanks for the analysis, Mikkel. Good thoughts.

          I’d say those consumption cuts, at least on the order of 50 percent + should well be built in to these goals. It’s one of the reasons why I find the New York City plan so appealing. It takes broad advantage of efficiencies opportunities to drastically cut consumption while building in renewables for replacement energy sources. Looking at the plan, it’s an honest shot at sustainability. I hope SLR isn’t too aggressive, as I’d like to see this program given a chance to work.

  3. Colorado Bob

     /  September 30, 2014

    Watching Fox News Addicts Viewers And Misinforms Them On Climate Change

    A new study finds that both conservative and non-conservative media are addictive to viewers. But conservative media like Fox News is much more addictive. It is the “crack” of cable news.

    Of course, Fox News is also far more inaccurate on issues like climate change than non-conservative media (such as CNN and MSNBC — see figure below). Thus its viewers are far more misinformed on a broad range of issues, as many studies have found.

    Link

    Reply
  4. Phil

     /  September 30, 2014

    The local ACT Government (centred on Canberra and not to be confused with the Federal Government) in Australia is pushing for electricity to be sourced from 90% renewables. They have used an auction process where solar and wind generators have bid to meet this target, thus also locking in lower prices for consumers.

    The ACT is not that large – looking at around 500-700 MW of power.

    Reply
    • Phil

       /  October 1, 2014

      I should also mention that the South Australian state government also recentrly announced a target of 50% of electricity from renewable sources recently although that also depends on the National Renewable Energy target remaining largely in place, something the current national government would like to see scrapped.

      However, the stance of the national government (and like minded state government) seems to be attracting some blowback – the peak solar body is now targetting marginal seats of the federal and like-minded state governments. Will be interesting to see how that evolves over the next year or so.

      Reply
      • Interesting. Do you find the solar lobby developing clout?

        I wonder if a coalition of states and cities can eventually tip the scales? Not a good time for more delays.

        Reply
      • Phil

         /  October 1, 2014

        Judging from the political reaction of the federal and like-minded state Governments, they appear to have some impact. The federal government deliberately ended bi-partison support for renewables after their election and hand picked a climate change skeptic panel to review the national renewable target. They now appear to be trying to reverse that stance politically although are still trying to water down the target.

        From the review of the target, pretty much all the modelling came back saying that renewables had reduced wholesale electricity prices which went against the line the government had been spinning and around 98% of all submissions were in favour of the targets retention if not expansion. Notwithstanding this, the skeptics panel recommended either its removal (for small scale solar) or significant reduction for large-scale renewables, thus ignoring all evidence from their review.

        However, given that the modelling established that they reduce prices, insulate against impact of much higher gas prices, employ alot of people and bring investment especially to hard pressed rural areas, the proponents are now in a much stronger position to counter the mis-information of those against renewable energy.

        Whether this political pressure can be sustained remains to be seen.

        Reply
        • ‘Bring investment to hard pressed rural areas…’

          I can see a rather soft underbelly developing for conservatives here. Either they reverse their position on renewables or this becomes a wedge issue for their traditional constituents.

      • Phil

         /  October 1, 2014

        Yep potentially although this constituency has also been very unconcerned about the impact of climate change on their livelihoods. The big turn around has been the piercing of the aregument that renewables increase electricity prices which had been pushed by the Government. Hip pocket arguments attract attention.

        I should also note that the reduction in thermal coal prices has led to alot of job losses in coal mining in Australia – especially in Queensland. It main impact has been on small and medium size companies while the bigger companies have been absorbing the losses although the drop in iron ore prices is also affecting them as well. Will be interesting to see if these price trends and ‘pain’ continue.

        Reply
        • Falling coal price factors?

          1. Falling energy usage due to a proliferation of efficiency based tech.
          2. Glut due to overestimation of Asian demand.
          3. Low priced renewables provide downward price pressure through actual competition.

          1 and 2 will hopefully continue. Which poses a viable long term threat to coal. Good news.

          Australia should work to help the miners find new jobs…

  5. Colorado Bob

     /  September 30, 2014

    The revolution for the future tonight is in Hong Kong . The pictures are amazing.

    Reply
      • Colorado Bob

         /  September 30, 2014

        The CBS news tonight . Nothing like 25 years ago. The crowds are huge. They fill the entire space. . There is no place to move It rained on them they all had an umbrella.

        It’s the most amazing picture of umbrella’s in the history of the world.

        They used the umbrella to keep the tear gas from landing on them , then it really rained.

        Everyone has an umbrella.
        Life is a funny old dog. We never know where it’s going.

        The Umbrella Revolution , is well under way in China This may effect the the price of your over priced I-Phone.

        Reply
      • Colorado Bob

         /  October 1, 2014

        They can’t shoot all those people , now cam they ?

        Reply
      • rayduray

         /  October 1, 2014

        Perhaps this is a minority view, but some keen observers of the Hong Kong protests note the lack of continuity between Occupy Wall Street themes about economic inequality, lack of opportunity for youth, exploding student debt and the failure of government to prosecute obvious financial frauds in the 2011 NYC and related Occupy encampments and the rather narrow-focus of the Hong Kong student movement on the method of selection of candidates for the 2017 local elections.

        [Aside: The disputed method of having an elite committee vet candidates before the election in 2017 in Hong Kong, the main point of contention for the student protesters in central Hong Kong, very much resembles the U.S. Democratic Party “superdelegate” system, also designed to keep dangerous reformers away from the reins of power in Washington.]

        Also noted is the possible involvement of U.S. financed NGO agitation via quasi-public organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy and its subsidiary organizations among others.

        See: http://www.moonofalabama.org/2014/09/the-ned-hong-kong-riots.html

        It begs the question. How did the occupation of central Kiev in the dead of winter in 2013-4 get financed and fed? Certainly not by the participants of that movement. And how did it happen that thousands of umbrellas were delivered to central Hong Kong on a “just in time” basis, similar to the way that thousands of American flags were distributed in central Kuwait City just in time for the American TV evening news by Rendon & Assoc. at the end of the 100 hour Gulf War in 1991. [See John Stauber’s “Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry” for the details on Rendon & Assoc]

        Sometimes the hand of superior clandestine intel community based social engineering just seems so obvious that it begs the question, is the U.S. neocon elite intent on disrupting every stable society on the planet?

        Reply
  6. Colorado Bob

     /  September 30, 2014

    How to make a ‘perfect’ solar absorber

    Date:
    September 30, 2014
    Source:
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Summary:
    Researchers have developed a solar cell that can tap the sun’s full radiation spectrum. The material is a two-dimensional metallic dielectric photonic crystal, and has the additional benefits of absorbing sunlight from a wide range of angles and withstanding extremely high temperatures. Perhaps most importantly, the material can also be made cheaply at large scales.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140930113258.htm

    Reply
  7. Colorado Bob

     /  September 30, 2014

    Blades of grass inspire advance in organic solar cells

    Date:
    September 30, 2014
    Source:
    University of Massachusetts at Amherst
    Summary:
    Using a bio-mimicking analog of one of nature’s most efficient light-harvesting structures, blades of grass, an international research team has taken a major step in developing long-sought polymer architecture to boost power-conversion efficiency of light to electricity for use in electronic devices.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140930144258.htm

    Reply
  8. Colorado Bob

     /  September 30, 2014

    Quoting 180. Patrap:

    The last time the Earth Warmed 5C it took 12,500 years.
    Were on a path to do it in 300..with 150 of those years already behind us.

    Enjoy your evening !!

    It’s not like watching our understanding of geologic change as we knew it , it’s like watching pop corn pop. Trust me , there is nothing geologic
    about what is coming .

    Anyone who thinks the past is a plan for the future is a fool. Nothing has ever done what we are doing. As fast as we are doing it , it’s not the change , it’s speed we are doing it.

    Reply
  9. Colorado Bob

     /  October 1, 2014

    65 Years of Communism and One Red Hot Hong Kong

    Pro-democracy protests swelled in Hong Kong on the eve of a two-day holiday that may bring record numbers to rallies spreading throughout the city as organizers pressed demands for free elections.

    Thousands of people packed the streets waving mobile phones, umbrellas and singing songs as they listened to speeches by protest leaders, who put the crowd at 100,000. Hong Kong marks China’s National Day tomorrow, the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

    “It’s quite possible that at least more than 100,000, if not up to 300,000, 400,000 people, will join in the protest in a show of people’s power,” Willy Lam, adjunct professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong, said in an interview today. “They want to convince the Hong Kong government and Beijing that any use of force will be counter-productive. It will only galvanize more of the rest of Hong Kong’s 7 million people.”

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-09-29/hong-kong-protestors-block-roads-as-leader-sets-deadline.html

    Reply
  10. Jay M

     /  October 1, 2014

    Many trees seem stressed by lack of water and cessation of irrigation has condemned some other trees, shrubs and ground cover.
    San Francisco in the Sunset district is similar to Saudi Arabia, a paradise of sand dunes.
    There is die off here of various species: Monterey Pine, certain oaks become infected.
    trees looking poorly: redwoods abutting freeways in santa clara county, prunus species lacking water and exposed to winds.
    mass plantings of species are like agar maps of interactions between the genera

    Reply
    • Bernard

       /  October 1, 2014

      Shifting ecosystems. These plants no longer belong there. They can take a hit like that a few times in their life (i.e. they’re built to deal with statistical oddballs in their environment) but not the constant beating they’re seeing now. These things play out over longer periods of time: if the climate bounces back for a few years, so will the strongest of these plants, but they’ll be weakened. Another session of stress after that and it’s game over.

      One of the tell-tale signs to look out for next year is excessive flowering. It’s an attempt to broadcast their genes before they kick the bucket.

      Reply

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