Tesla’s All-Electrical Spark is About to Grow Much, Much Brighter

Can a single venture born out of one man’s vision for a more sustainable future help to spark the complete transformation of global automobile markets, aid the U.S. and other nations moves toward energy independence, help tamp down the problem of human-caused climate change, spur a rapid influx of renewables in the electrical generation sector, and, all the while, compete toe-to-toe with nationally funded battery, automobile, and renewable energy companies emerging in China?

We’re about to find out.

Tesla, Daimler, China Invest in Gigafactories; Musk and Daimler Spar on Twitter

This week, large German automaker Daimler announced that it would invest 1 billion dollars in an EV battery production plant in Alabama. The move followed very heavy similar investment and policy announcements by China and a multi-billion dollar investment by all-electric automaker Tesla in the first of a number of planned battery gigafactories.

Elon Musk, noting the size of Daimler’s available capital for investment, made the following pithy remark on Twitter:

Daimler, appearing more than a little sensitive to the remark, replied that it would be investing 10 billion in EV development in total, with 1 billion going to batteries. Musk replied — “Good” — with Daimler stating that it had been developing electrical vehicles for more than 100 years.

Of course, Daimler, unlike Tesla, still primarily produces fossil fuel based vehicles. The company’s planned launch of EVs capable of competing with Tesla’s present offerings are slated for around 2020. By that time, Tesla is likely to be producing well north of half a million all-electric vehicles per year. Daimler would have to significantly increase investment to adequately meet such a major challenge by Tesla.

The history of Daimler is one in which it has mostly dabbled in electrical car production while instead dedicating the lion’s share of its efforts to producing unsustainable carbon emitting cars and trucks. In 2016, Daimlier sold 3 million vehicles — the vast majority of which were ICE-based. With Tesla gobbling up larger and larger market share as an electric-only vehicle supplier, that may soon change. A result that would be “Good” for everyone on the planet. Especially in the present situation where harms from human-caused climate change are rapidly ramping higher.

But despite Daimler’s 100 year history of experimenting with electrical vehicle designs, it has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to confronting a serious market competitor in the form of the all-electric Tesla.

Tesla Ahead in the Electric Race

To understand how serious, we need only look at Tesla’s growing suite of top-in-class vehicle offerings combined with an emerging fierce logistics chain of increasingly low-cost EV batteries.

Part of this story begins at Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory 1. To look at even the 1/3 complete Gigafactory is to behold the awesome potential of mass production writ large. Back in 2014 when Gigafactory 1 began construction under a partnership with Panasonic, the ultimate aim was to build a facility capable of producing 35 gigawatt-hours of batteries per year by 2018. That number has been raised to 50 gigawatt-hours — with an ultimate goal for this single factory in the range of 100 to 150 gigawatt-hours. By comparison, the entire global total of battery production in 2014 was around 35 gigawatt-hours. And total national production by battery giant China is presently at around 125 gigawatt hours — set to hit around 230 gigawatt-hours by 2023.

(Tesla Gigafactory 1 shows 9 of 21 planned modules complete by late August of 2017. Image source: Commons.)

Producing so many batteries in one facility will enable Tesla to leverage some serious economies of scale. This, in turn, will result in lower prices for the batteries it produces — allowing the automaker to sell electrical vehicles for less or make higher profits on models that are produced. Already, with about 15 percent of the planned gigafactory now producing batteries, Tesla is starting to see the benefits of this scaling. And recent reports indicate that it has pushed battery prices to below 140 dollars per kilowatt hour during 2017. Ultimately, many industry analysts expect the Gigafactory 1 to enable Tesla to produce batteries at near the 100 dollar per kilowatt hour mark before 2020 — substantially reducing base production costs for EVs in total.

Masses of Model 3s

This mass production of batteries is the cornerstone for Tesla’s expected mass release of its Model 3 vehicle.

To be very clear, Tesla’s spearhead Model 3 is the ultimate aim of all of the company’s efforts thus far. Each sale of the more expensive luxury Model X and Model S versions have gone to fund the more mass market Model 3. And recent cancellations of lower cost, shorter range Model S versions appear to have been aimed at creating space for the Model 3 in the 35,000 to 59,000 dollar market segment.

(This week’s Tesla Model 3 news.)

Present production of the Model 3 appears to be ramping up according to Tesla’s plans. More and more of the vehicles have been sighted on California highways. A forward-shifted delivery date spurred a rumor that the Model 3 was being produced faster than expected. Texas has already started to receive some of its Tesla employee-ordered Model 3s. Rising rates of battery production at the Nevada Gigafactory 1 site have been observed. And the appearance of VIN numbers above 700 earlier this week roughly jibe with a planned ramp to 1,500 Model 3s produced by end September.

A clearer picture of this critical production ramp may emerge over the next couple of weeks as Tesla analysts pick up on monthly Model 3 production information and the Tesla Q3 report begins to take shape.

Tesla All Electric Sales Tracking Toward 230,000 to 500,000 in 2018

By end of this year, Tesla expects to be producing 20,000 of these vehicles per month. By end 2018, Tesla is aiming for 40,000 Model 3s per month. Pre-orders in the range of 500,000 vehicles show that demand support for this level of production exists. And even conservative forecasts by investment firms like Morgan Stanley show Tesla vehicle production and sales more than doubling from an expected 90,000 to 100,000 in 2017 to over 230,000 in 2018.

Already Tesla sales appear to be edging higher — with Q3 expected sales in the range of 24,000 to 25,000 including the ramping Model 3 production. Meanwhile, Tesla’s own goals far outstrip expectations by forecasters like Morgan Stanley with the company aiming for 500,000 total sales in 2018.

(Tesla’s Model 3 planned production timeline. Image source: Tesla.)

Regardless of whether Tesla sells 230,000 cars or 500,000 cars in 2018, it will be the first automaker in a long time to see such rapid sales growth. According to Adam Jonas at Morgan Stanley, it has been generations since we’ve seen growth like this. It’s not just 2018 that forecasters like Stanley are looking at. By 2023, the investment firm expects 3 million Tesla cars to be ranging the world’s highways with that number growing to 32 million by 2040.

Tesla’s own goals appear to be significantly more ambitious. The expected 150 gwh ultimate production capacity of Tesla’s Gigafactory 1 alone could support an annual production of 2-3 million Model 3 type vehicles. And earlier this year Tesla announced plans to construct 3 more similar facilities with an ultimate goal of 10-20. Locations for the 3 new expected Gigafactories are set to be announced later in 2017.

Given the totality of this amazing undertaking, it’s unlikely that any present individual vehicle manufacturer is pursuing mass EV production at a quality and scale comparable to that of Tesla. Daimler may now be spending billions, but they are in a race to catch up. Meanwhile, it appears that Tesla may even rival China in its ultimate ability to scale battery production.

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Renewables Boom as China Halts or Eliminates Another 170 Gigawatts of Coal Power Plants

On Monday, China announced that it was halting or delaying another 150 gigawatts worth of new coal power plant construction through 2020. In addition, the world’s largest coal user also announced that it would eliminate 20 gigawatts of present coal burning capacity. These moves come on the back of China’s previous cancellation and closure of 103 coal-fired plants coordinate with three consecutive years of falling coal consumption from 2014 through 2016.

(China’s annual CO2 emissions primarily come from coal use. Rapidly reducing that coal use is essential to addressing global climate change. Image source: NRDC.)

According to the China News press release, the move was aimed at both avoiding overcapacity and ensuring a cleaner energy mix. China’s National Development Reform Commission went on to state that: “New capacity will be strictly controlled. All illegal coal-burning power projects will be halted.”

China alone burns about half of all the coal converted into carbon dioxide each year globally. So if the world is to effectively address climate change, then China’s massive coal consumption needs to start tapering downward. And the faster it does, the better things will be for us all. Outwardly, the country appears dedicated both to the notion of becoming a global climate leader while also working to address its serious air and water pollution issues. And to the latter point, China plans to revamp its existing coal plants in order to lower harmful particulate emissions. Digging a bit deeper we find that a worrisome high level of coal burning is slated to remain in place at least over the next decade. Even if the trend is moving in a generally helpful direction and even as renewable energy platforms popping up across China may enable the country to further cut its harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

(China’s coal targets through 2020 show continued steady reductions. Image source: NRDC.)

China’s move to halt or eliminate 170 gigawatts of coal burning follows a larger plan to keep total coal capacity below 1,100 gigawatts by 2020. How much below is still somewhat up in the air. But it’s worth noting that present coal burning capacity in China is 900 gigawatts and the best news for all involved would be if this capacity did not increase and that China’s rate of overall coal use continued to fall. This action is in keeping with a stated goal to reduce coal’s portion of the Chinese electrical power supply to 58 percent by the same year (down from 70 percent in 2010).

It’s a trend that follows major renewable energy build outs. A build that, taking into account China’s past economic over-achievements could accelerate to replace coal capacity at a faster than expected pace. Solar alone is well ahead of plan and is now expected to reach 230 gigawatts worth of capacity by 2020. Meanwhile, China is on track to have about 250 gigawatts of wind capacity installed by the same year. But there, too, an acceleration in off-shore wind capacity that could spike this number may also be in the offing. And as of August, China was selling about 45,000 zero-emitting electrical vehicles each month with a goal to have around 3 million EVs per year by 2020.

All serious trends that will, hopefully, further accelerate China’s rate of greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Given Trump’s various attempts to sabotage Obama’s positive legacy of climate response and renewable energy production here in the U.S., somebody in the world needs to take the role of global climate leader. Trump’s vacuous vision and overtly divisive nature has given China the opportunity to step it up.

Links:

China Halts Building Coal Power Plants

NRDC

Global and China Wind Turbine Industry Report 2016-2020

China’s Strict Electric Car Quotas

India and China Building Solar Like Gangbusters, Electric Revolution Continues as GM Sells EV for $5,300 in China, Tesla Plans 700,000 Model 3s Per Year

If we’re going to halt destructive carbon emissions now hitting the atmosphere, then the world is going to have to swiftly stop burning oil, gas and coal. And the most effective and economic pathway for achieving this removal of harmful present and future atmospheric carbon emissions is a rapid renewable energy build-out to replace fossil fuel energy coupled by increases in energy efficiency.

(To halt and reverse climate change related damages, fossil fuel based greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere need to stop.)

This week, major advances in the present renewable energy build and introduction rate were reported. Chiefly, India and China are rapidly adding new solar panels to their grid, the monthly rate of global EV sales surpassed 100,000 in June, GM is offering a very inexpensive electrical vehicle in China, and Tesla has ramped up plans for Model 3 EV production from 500,000 vehicles per year to 700,000 vehicles per year.

India and China Solar Gangbusters

In the first half of 2017, India is reported to have built 4.8 gigawatts (GW) of new solar energy capacity. This construction has already exceeded all 2016 additions. The country is presently projected to build more than 10 GW of new solar energy capacity by year-end. Large solar additions are essential to India meeting its goal of having 100 GW of solar electrical generation available by 2022. It is also crucial for reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuel fired power plants (coal and gas).

(Total solar capacity in India could hit 30 GW by end 2018. India will need to add solar more rapidly if it is to achieve its goal of 100 GW by 2022. Image source: Clean Technica.)

Further east, China added 24.4 Gigawatts of new solar energy in just the first half of this year. This pushed China’s total solar energy generating capacity to a staggering 101 GW. It also puts China firmly in a position to surpass last year’s strong rate of solar growth of 34 GW. China’s previous goal was to achieve 105 GW of solar production by 2020. One it will hit three and a half years ahead of schedule. China now appears to be on track to overwhelm that goal by achieving between 190 and 230 GW of solar generation by decade’s end.

(China has already overwhelmed its 2020 target for added solar capacity. Recalculating based on present build rates finds that end 2020 solar generation levels are likely to hit between 190 and 230 GW for this global economic powerhouse. Image source: China National Energy Administration.)

Such strong solar growth numbers in traditional coal-burning regions provides some hope that carbon emissions growth rates in these countries will continue to level off or possibly start to fall in the near future. Adding in ambitious wind energy and electrical vehicle build-outs in these regions provides synergy to the larger trend. If an early carbon emissions plateau were to be achieved due to rapid renewable energy build-outs in China and India, it would be very helpful in reducing overall levels of global warming during the 21st Century.

GM’s $5,300 EV for the Chinese Market

Adding to the trend of growing movement toward an energy switch in Asia this week was GM’s introduction of a small, medium-range electrical vehicle for the Chinese auto market. GM is partnering with China’s Baojun to produce the E100. A small EV that’s about the size of the U.S. Smart Car. The E100 has about a 96 mile all-electric range, a 62 mph top speed, and goes for $14,000 dollars before China’s generous EV incentives. After incentives, a person in China can purchase the vehicle for $5,300. GM states that 5,000 buyers registered to purchase the first 200 E100s hitting the market last month, while a second batch of 500 vehicles will be made available soon.

100,000 Electrical Vehicle Sales Per Month by Mid 2017

Globally, electrical vehicle sales have ramped up to 100,000 per month during June of 2017. This growth is being driven primarily by increased sales volumes in China, India, Japan, Australia, Europe and the U.S. as more and more attractive EV models are becoming available and as governments seek to limit the sale of petroleum-burning vehicles in some regions.

(Projected growth rates for EV sales appear likely to surpass present projections through 2020. Image source: Cleantechnica.)

Meanwhile range, recharge rates, acceleration, and other capabilities for these vehicles continue to rapidly improve. This compares to fossil fuel vehicles which have been basically stuck in plateauing performance ranges for decades. 2017 will represent the first year when sales of all EV models globally surpass 1 million per year. With a possible doubling to tripling of EV production through 2020.

Telsa Aiming for 700,000 Per Year Model 3 Sales

2018 will likely see continued growth as new vehicles like the Model 3, the Chevy Bolt, and Toyota Prius Prime provide more competitive and attractive offerings. This past month, the Chevy Bolt logged more than 1,900 vehicles sold in the U.S. in one month. If GM continues to ramp production, marketing, and availability of this high-quality, long range electrical vehicle, the model could easily sell between 3,000 and 5,000 per month to the U.S. market. Another vehicle — the plug in electric hybrid Toyota Prius Prime — is also capable of achieving high sales rates in the range of 5,000 per month or more on the U.S. market due to a combined high quality and low price so long as production for this model also rapidly ramps up.

But the big outlier here is the Tesla Model 3. By end 2017, Tesla is aiming to ramp Model 3 production to 5,000 vehicles per week. It plans to hit more than 40,000 vehicles per month by end of 2018. And, according to Elon Musk’s recent announcement, will ultimately aim to achieve 700,000 Model 3 sales per year. If such a rapid ramp appears, the Model 3 along with other increasingly attractive EVs could hit close to 2 million per year annual combined sales in 2018 and surpass 3 million at some time between 2019 and 2020. This is well ahead of past projections of around 2.2 million EV sales per year by 2020. Representing yet another early opportunity to reduce massive global carbon emissions coming from oil, gas, and coal.

Links:

India Installs 4.8 GW of Solar During First Half of 2017

China’s New 190 GW Solar Guiding Opinion Wows

China Could Reach 230 GW Solar by end 2020

GM Should Bring Baojun E100 EV to USA

EV News for the Month

Joint Venture for Baojun E100

Model 3 Annual Demand Could Surpass 700,000

World Food Security in the Cross Hairs of Human-Caused Climate Change: Mangled Jet Stream, Ocean Heat and Melting Sea Ice To Deliver 500 Year Drought to California? Brazil, Turkey, Australia and More to Follow?

California snow pack January 18 2013California snow pack January 18 2014

(California Snow Pack for January 18 2013 vs the California Snow Pack for January 18 2014. Note the near-zero snow cover for this drought-impacted region. Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

“We are on track for having the worst drought in 500 years.” — B. Lynn Ingram, professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Berkeley.

Remember the historic drought that swept the US in 2011-2013? It was the worse drought in 50 years for some areas. Thankfully, the blocking pattern, excess heat and evaporation that set off this drought and that almost ran the Mississippi River dry abated and lessened, shifting westward and, instead delivered wave after wave of wet and stormy weather to the Eastern US.

Not so with the American West. There the high amplitude Jet Stream pattern remained, keeping regions locked in warm, dry conditions throughout the winter of 2012-2013, on through the end of 2013 and into the early months of 2014.

Looking further back, it was not just these years that had delivered dry weather to the US West Coast. California, ground zero for the current climate change related emergency, has endured dry, hot weather ever since the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) went negative ten years ago suffering drought years with almost bi-annual frequency.

Now, as Dr. Ingram notes above, California is currently ramping up to its worst drought in 500 years.

A long emergency for California

We only have to scratch the surface for the symptoms of systemic climate crisis in California to crop up. California water authorities failed to honor contracts for the first time in 54 years. Sacramento, as of December was experiencing its worst drought in 130 years even as conditions continued to worsen through January and February.

According to the New York Times, as of February 1rst, 40,000 people were at risk of losing access to water within the next 60 to 120 days. And State officials warned that this number was likely to rapidly rise as The State Water Project announced on January 31rst that it did not have enough water to supplement the fading supplies of local providers to a total of 25 million customers. Meanwhile, State emergency planners were laying out contingencies that included shipping water over land by truck to parched communities.

The drought is also having a devastating impact on local farmers with about 1/3 of California’s farmland expected to lay fallow, at least 25,000 farm laborers expected to be laid off work, and agricultural businesses expecting losses to mount into the tens of millions of dollars. Already, livestock owners in both New Mexico and California, unable to support their animals, have been forced to sell, as fields that used to support four foot high grass are brown and cracked.

Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies noted:

“I have experienced a really long career in this area, and my worry meter has never been this high. We are talking historical drought conditions, no supplies of water in many parts of the state. My industry’s job is to try to make sure that these kind of things never happen. And they are happening.”

Climate change, climate change, and climate change

Far flung and dynamic changes to the Earth System appear to have resulted in a variety of factors that have amplified the California drought. First, increasing global temperatures have amped up the rate at which water evaporates into the atmosphere by about 6%, this increased rate of evaporation results in more extreme conditions when heat and dryness do occur. So a drought that may last a year is likely to be even more intense, due to enhanced evaporation, than a comparable drought that occurred 50 or 100 years ago.

In addition, loss of sea ice, snow, and permafrost plays a key roll in re-shaping the Jet Stream. According to Dr. Jennifer Francis and other polar researchers, receding sea ice cover is likely to result in more powerful and long-lasting Rossby Wave type blocking patterns. This happens as more heat becomes concentrated in the polar regions, causing the Jet Stream to meander in great swoops and whirls. These large waves can become fixed into blocking patterns for extended periods. In the up-slope of these waves, warmth and heat predominate. In the trough or down-slope, stormy, wet and cool conditions prevail.

And just such a blocking pattern has dominated the US West Coast for 11 months running. The result is extraordinarily intense dryness, even during the rainy season of November through March.

PNAS drought model US southwest

(Image source: PNAS)

Sadly, according to climate models, we can expect this kind of dryness to intensify over the US Southwest as human caused global warming grows more extreme. A report conducted by PNAS in 2010 and authored by Seager and Vecchi confirmed other model findings that the US Southwest would continue to dry as the climate warmed — the upshot being that the wet season for the West would eventually evaporate.

Above, the PNAS drought model shows evaporation beginning to increase during the first two decades of the 21rst Century. Then, by about decade 2, precipitation rates rapidly fall and evaporation rates gradually rise through to 2100. The red line shows the compounding effects of evaporation increase and precipitation decrease over 24 separate climate model essays.

Rossby wave over West Coast Weakens

(Rossby Wave over West Coast Weakens. Image source: University of Washington)

It is worth noting that on a positive, and slightly hopeful, note, the current blocking pattern over the US West Coast and related Pacific Ocean waters has weakened somewhat. This should allow some moisture to flow into the parched west over the coming days and weeks. And, in the forecast, we do see a proper storm or two emerging from this new pattern. Unfortunately, we’d typically expect about 20-30 storms of this kind during a typical winter season and with March bringing in the end to this year’s rainy season, along with the northward retreat of the moisture flow, it appears likely that California will have to endure at least another 6 months of dry conditions before seeing any hope of major storms returning next fall/winter. A remote potential to say the least given both long-term trends and current conditions.

‘Like a microwave on full blast drying the Earth:’ drought, drought, and more drought

Dr. Kevin Trenberth, one of the world’s premier climatologists, in an email to Joe Romm recently noted:

“The extra heat from the increase in heat trapping gases in the atmosphere over six months is equivalent to running a small microwave oven at full power for about half an hour over every square foot of the land under the drought. No wonder wild fires have increased! So climate change undoubtedly affects the intensity and duration of drought, and it has consequences.”

Under such conditions, we would expect both drought and wildfires to proliferate. And, in fact, this is exactly what we are seeing. As major wildfires impacted both California and Arctic Norway during winter time, Brazil, Turkey, China, Argentina and Australia were also all experiencing some of their worst or most intense droughts on record.

In Brazil, the least rain in two decades is spurring a cattle sell-off that would be very familiar to livestock farmers in California and New Mexico. The expected summer rains did not come and Brazil, a heavily meat-dependent nation was left with soaring food prices after the sell-off as stocks first surged, then plummeted. The epic drought for this region is also causing a number of other impact such as coffee shortages and a related reduction in hydro power as rivers run dry.

Nearby Argentina also saw severe drought-related shocks in recent months as a December drought inflicted serious harm upon Argentina’s corn crop. In a typical year, Argentina produces about 32 million tons of corn. But this year’s drought is estimated to have wiped out about between 7 and 14 million tons of the crop. Argentina is the third largest producer of corn and with the US revising estimates down for its 2013-2014 crop, supplies of the grain are being drawn ever-lower. Though very intense, the December drought had abated by mid-January, providing a respite for other crops such as soybeans.

In Turkey, Lake Sapanca, which provides water for hundreds of adjacent farms, was within a half meter of ‘dying’ as a combination of drought and water drilling had pushed the lake to its limits. Local farmers have, for decades, drilled the land to provide irrigation water for farms and livestock. Now, the drilling is sapping the lake bed. A period of drought had, as of late January, left the lake in such a state that local officials were claiming the lake would be dead after another half-meter fall. The lake which is nourished both by springs and ground water has been deprived of flows both by human climate change induced drought and by human drilling into the lake’s spring-bed.

In Australia, drought conditions are now worse for some locations than at any time since 2003, a tall order since the 2003 to 2009 drought was Australia’s worst in 1,000 years. For Sydney, that means the lowest rainfall totals in more than 70 years. This particular drought hit both hard and fast with Australia seeing normal conditions before Christmas, but after, very intense heat and dryness resulted in a rapid scorching of farmlands, crops, and grazing fields. The dire drought situation has resulted in government relief funds being released to affected farmers. NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson noted to the Sydney Morning Herald:

“Seasonal conditions are now deteriorating at a rapid rate across a large portion of NSW and both the severity and speed at which this drought is moving is astonishing. Primary producers in some parts of NSW have simply not had the opportunity to prepare for another severe downturn in seasonal conditions so quickly after the Millennium drought broke.”

Lake Poyang May 2014Lake Poyang Jan 2014

(A mostly full Lake Poyang as seen from Satellite on the left during May of 2012. A parched and almost completely dry lake Poyang as seen from Satellite during January of 2014. Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis.)

And, in China, the largest lake for that populous nation has now dried up. Poyang, a massive lake usually spanning 3,500 square miles has been turned into a sprawling field of earth parched and cracked by a combination of drought and water diversions resulting from the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. According to reports from The Guardian and Chinese News Sources, a drought stretching from 2012-2014 in the region of Poyang is now the worst in at least 60 years leaving lake refill almost non existent as upstream river flows to the lake were periodically cut off by water storage operations at the Three Gorges Dam. The result was an extreme lowering of lake levels and dry bed conditions that have driven farmers and fishermen in the region out of business.

Implications for world food security

Major droughts during 2011-2012 impacted many of the world’s primary agricultural basins, resulting in forward food supply dropping to as low as 72 days. Since that time, food supplies have slightly recovered but are well below previous levels last seen in the 1990s at 104 days. Food insecurity and failure to distribute food to the malnourished remains a priority at international agencies like the UN which has identified numerous countries including Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Somalia, Syria, Mali, Sudan and Nigeria, among others, as extreme risks for hunger and famine. Relief agencies have allocated billions of dollars to address this problem but the UN continues to identify climate change as a major threat to global food security with the potential to wipe out all previous progress moving forward.

The droughts in California, Turkey, Australia, China, Argentina and Brazil so far for 2014 put the world at risk for another bout of food insecurity later this year should major weather and climate related crop disruptions emerge in other primary food producers such as the bread baskets of the US, Russia, and Europe (The US, Brazil, China, Russia, and Europe are top food producers). It is worth noting that, in large part due to the ongoing southwestern drought, the US has revised a number of its crop projections downward for end 2014.

With polar amplification playing havoc with the Northern Hemisphere’s weather systems, with Australia sitting in a pool of expanding warm Pacific Ocean water that makes drought more likely there, and with the Eastern Pacific edging closer to La Nina, conditions warrant a continued monitoring of both weather and the state of world food supplies. The added global heat engine also impacts soils and crop growth in ways to which we are currently unaccustomed, resulting in more extreme instances of flash drought as well as flash flood. In this respect, the examples of Australia and Argentina are of particular concern.

Though global crisis has not yet returned, it lurks at the edges as drought, extreme weather and over-use of ground water supplies continues to threaten a wide swath of productive zones. So, at this point, the situation is one best described as tenuous with ongoing regional impacts over the Sahel region of Africa and in other sporadically vulnerable locales.

Links:

Historic Drought of 2011-2013

China Falls Under Suspicion of Covering Up Deaths as Ocean Heat Dome Expands to Blanket Korea and Japan

US Weather Fatalities by Type

US Weather Fatalities by Type

(Image source: NOAA)

According to recent reports from NOAA and the CDC, heat is the most lethal form of weather in the United States. Death and injury rates have been on the rise as human-forced temperature increases have expanded, surging northward into major metro areas such as New York City. The CDC report showed a growing number of heat deaths and injuries for this northern region, with the New York Metro area seeing an average of 13 deaths and over 440 heat injuries each year during the period from 2000 to 2011. Nationwide, the average number of heat fatalities surged to 117 during a period from 2003 to 2011.

Heatwaves have hit the NYC region time and time again over the past decade, driving the death and injury rate inexorably higher. However, the heat impacting that area is paltry when compared to the extreme and deadly temperatures that have broiled southeastern China since late July. For more than three weeks, the Shanghai region of China has experienced almost daily temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit and sweltered under very high humidity for such hot conditions. This combination has pushed wet bulb temperatures (a measure that simulates the temperature of human skin) into a range of 29 to 32 degrees Celsius, very close to the lethal human limit of 35 degrees C.

On Sunday, an extreme heat pulse sent thermometers soaring to 109 degrees Fahrenheit in the city of Shengxian — its hottest temperature ever recorded and a scorching 32.3 degree wet bulb temperature. Meanwhile, on the same day, Hangzhou had hit a new all time record high temperature of 105.8 degrees Fahrenheit, the twelfth time since July 24th that Hangzhou has tied or broken its old all time temperature record which, in some cases, was set just the day before.

High heat and humidity of this kind is deadly to humans because as temperatures approach 35 degree C wet bulb readings, it is nearly impossible for the human body to carry away the excess heat it generates through evaporation. Never has a wet bulb temperature of 35 degrees C been recorded by humans. However, climate scientists such as James Hansen have asserted that it’s just a matter of time under the current regime of human-caused warming before we hit that ominous mark.

So have thousands died?

Road Sing Burns in Shanghia Region

Road Sign Burns Under Record Heat in Shanghai Region

(Image source: Shenzhen Daily)

As reports of vehicle fires and sporadically smoldering infrastructure in the massive Chinese heatwave flared, suspicions emerged that Chinese officials are covering up what are potentially thousands of heat-related deaths.

According to Chinese news agencies, the official report is that about two dozen have died so far in Shanghai’s record-shattering heatwave. But similar heat in Europe and Russia resulted in tens of thousands of deaths over the past decade. At issue is the fact that China’s current record heat and humidity are at levels never before experienced in its weather history and that this event is even more intense than the deadly heatwaves of Europe and Russia. Add to this extraordinarily dangerous event the fact that more than 400 million people live in the region of China currently being socked by record heat and the vague reports coming out of China seem highly incongruent.

Never before has such high wet bulb temperatures hit a region of so dense a population. Yet China has only continued to report the vague ‘dozens’ estimate.  It was this discrepancy that caused WeatherUnderground Historian Christopher Burt to speculate that China may be covering up a catastrophic rash of fatalities:

Eastern China, where about 30% of the population of the country and 5% of the global population reside (approximately 400 million people) has undergone a heat wave unprecedented in its history. No one really knows how many have died as a result of the heat wave (Chinese news sources claim ‘about two dozen’), but statistically it is almost certain that many thousands must have perished as the result of the heat over the past month.

If Christopher Burt’s, quite rational, analysis ends up proving true, we can expect reports of fatalities to begin to slowly trickle out of China. Misreporting and under-reporting of Chinese heatwave casualties would also be yet one more instance of government officials and mainstream media downplaying and under-reporting the effects of catastrophic events related to human-caused climate change. Such under-reporting is yet one more manifestation of a dangerous and paralyzing denial that has so hampered an effective response to these increasingly dangerous and self-inflicted events.

Making such a call, however, is possibly premature as residents of this region are more acclimated to excessive heat than Europeans or Russians. As Burt notes:

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that it is ALWAYS hot and humid in eastern China during the summer (unlike Russia and Western Europe), so perhaps the population has learned to adapt to extreme heat.

The Ocean Heat Dome Expands to Cover Korea and Japan

Ocean Heat Dome

Ocean Heat Dome Over China, Korea and Japan

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

A sprawling heat dome high pressure system that has scorched a region stretching from coastal China to a large expanse of the Pacific Ocean shifted eastward into Korea and Japan over the weekend. Southern Japan saw temperatures surge into the 100s with Shimanto recording the highest temperature ever measured in Japan of 105.8 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius). Tokyo, meanwhile, broke the record for its hottest minimum temperature at 86.7 degrees Fahrenheit (30.4 C).

South Korea, over the same period, reported 8 deaths as temperatures soared to 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit (39 C) in Busan. Temperatures in Seoul hit the still hot, but more moderate, 90s (32 C +).

Both South Korea and Japan are surrounded on multiple sides by water. This geographic feature would usually provide a cooling effect as ocean temperatures are typically many degrees cooler than land temperatures. But, in this case, a massive heat dome is baking the ocean itself to unprecedented high surface water temperatures. As a result, a large area of open ocean now shows readings above 30 degrees Celsius ( 86 Fahrenheit). This extremely hot, near 90 degree water, has formed the central pulse of the current heatwave even as it has pumped extraordinarily humid air for such hot conditions over adjacent land areas. A shift to the north of this large and still growing region of extraordinarily hot ocean water led to the record steamy conditions over Japan and Korea during the past few days — both of which can expect little relief from the now, very hot, water.

Asia in Hot Water

Ocean Heat Dome Puts Asia in Hot Water

(Image source: Weather Online)

Forecasts for Shanghai, Korea, and Japan call for slightly less sweltering temperatures in the upper 90s with more isolated readings in the 100s as clouds are expected to move in and increase chances of rainfall by later this week. A slight improvement but a welcome change, nonetheless. Meanwhile, hot ocean conditions create a risk for continued very hot temperatures for much of this coastal region.

(Hat Tip to Colorado Bob for the head’s up)

Mangled Jet Stream Brings Worst Storms in Five Decades to Sichuan China; Approach of Super Typhoon Soulik to Result in Hybrid Rain Superstorm?

A persistent south-north flow of the Jet Stream has dredged moisture up from the Indian Ocean, India and Bangladesh and deposited it in a deluge that has persisted over Sichuan, China for at least the past five days. Rainfall in many areas were the worst seen since weather records began in 1954. In one example, the city of Dujiangyan experienced 37 inches of rainfall over the course of 40 hours.

The floods forced nearly 100,000 people to evacuate and have impacted at least 2 million people across the region. Over 200 people are feared dead or missing. With some towns buried under as much as 20 feet of water, thousands of homes and buildings have been destroyed or damaged with transportation brought to a stand-still in many of the effected regions. In hard-hit Dujiangyan, a local resort was buried when a hillside collapsed, burying the area to tree-top level in mud and debris and spurring the evacuation of 352 tourists. Raging floodwaters also caused a nearby bridge collapse that sent at least six vehicles into raging flood waters.

In the video below, provided by KIDgrownup, we can see the raging floodwaters washing away buildings and heavy equipment as people flee the disaster site:

Changed Jet Stream Causes Dangerous, Persistent Weather Pattern as Super Typhoon Approaches

A dwindling, but still significant, number of media sources continue to claim that we cannot attribute single events such as the most recent Sichuan Floods to climate change. Unfortunately, this claim is simply untrue. Climate is a measure of weather over a given area during a long period of time. As climate changes so does the weather. In Europe, for example, major flood events are now twice as likely as they were forty years ago. This 100% increase in floods can be directly attributed to changes in Europe’s climate and, as such, fully 50% of each new major flood is, therefore attributable to climate change. And the fact that the most extreme floods are getting more extreme can also be attributed to climate change. In this case, saying a single record flood event, like the current Sichuan flood, cannot be attributed to climate change is at least 50% untrue. Would a flood like this have occurred, eventually, if climate hadn’t changed? Probably. But it likely would have happened 50, 100, 200 years or more later. Would it have happened this year, the way it did, without climate change? Absolutely not.

At the micro level, we can also look at weather patterns and clearly point out how they are not normal and how they’ve changed as a result of human-caused climate impacts. In the example of this week’s Sichuan Floods, the Jet Stream created conditions where heavy rains, so far, have stalled over Sichuan to inundate the region.

Sichuan Floods July 8

(Sichuan Floods, July 8. Image source: Lance-Modis)

In the above image we can see a thick blot of clouds hovering over Sichuan in Central China. This dense band of clouds is the result of a cut off upper air flow of the Jet Stream forming a strong, persistent upper level disturbance. To the south, we can see a broad band of clouds and moisture being drawn into the system from the Indian ocean and over India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Vietnam. To the east, a tropical system in the Korean Sea also contributes moisture to feed this large storm.

What is most unusual about this particular weather pattern is that it doesn’t move. And we can see this when we switch to today’s Lance-Modis shot. The below image is 4 days later than the July 8 shot. But the storm over Central China has hardly budged.

Sichuan Floods July 11

(Sichuan Floods July 11. Image source: Lance-Modis)

In this shot, the cut off upper level flow in the Jet Stream remains, the dense cloud pack over Central China remains, the strong upper level low remains, and the moisture flow from the Indian Ocean and related regions remain. Ominously, the only marked difference in this shot is the looming approach of super typhoon Soulik from the China Sea. This major typhoon packs winds in excess of 140 miles per hour and could cause severe damage to Taiwan. However, it’s the ability of this system to deliver moisture into an already moisture rich upper level air flow that may result in even worse conditions for Eastern and Central China over the next few days as the storm is projected to make landfall in Eastern China, then track as far as 200 miles west of Shanghai. At this point, some weather models, including the ECMWF ensemble, show Soulik getting absorbed by the cut-off upper level low now parked over China. Were this to happen, the resulting rain event could be far more substantial than even the record floods seen over the past few days.

The Climate Change Link To Extreme Weather

So how did climate change create the conditions in which this dangerous situation emerged?

  1. The upper level Jet Stream was caused to meander due to a climate change induced loss of sea ice and summer snow cover.
  2. These changes resulted in a slower progression of weather patterns and more cut-off upper level disturbances.
  3. The added atmospheric heat content added both moisture and instability, adding fuel for storms like this one.
  4. Increased ocean temperatures made moisture and heat delivery from ocean systems and tropical cyclones more likely.

Without these conditions, the Sichuan floods were unlikely to have happened with such force, violence and to have been so persistent and long-lasting. And now, a bad situation is made worse via the ocean delivery of a super typhoon, just one of many more frequent storms to plague this region over the last 40 years. An increased frequency a recent scientific study also attributes to climate change.

Hybrid rain superstorm to form over China? Hopefully, not. But, at this point, things aren’t looking too good.

Links:

Lance-Modis

Rainstorms Flood Sichuan China

China Floods Death Toll Rises

Taiwan Evacuates 2,000 Tourists as Super Typhoon Soulik Looms

ECMWF

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” Romney Attacks GM in Final Days of Election; GM Defends Record From Romney Lies, Calls Them ‘Fantasy’

Before we get into the new morass of mud and muck dredged up by the Romney campaign and slung at the US auto industry, it’s important to establish a few facts. This effort is useful as the Romney campaign, with its almost daily distortions and flip-flops, has been the most fact-free bid for the Presidency of any election cycle in modern memory. Romney’s most recent smear campaign, waged against the US auto industry and, by extension, American workers, is just the newest in a daily stream of distortions, gimmicks, smears, and attempts to terrorize the US electorate.

First, in an op-ed to the New York Times entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” Mitt Romney, in his opening sentence, stated:

IF General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.

Coming into office and facing the worst economic decline since the Great Depression left behind by the Bush Administration, President Obama decided to act to save over 2 million American jobs by directly supporting the auto industry bailout. Though far less expensive than the TARP program to bail out the US financial sector, the auto bailout provided much more direct support to the US middle class by ensuring that auto industry and supply chain jobs were not lost and that key US industries did not collapse. Conservatives of every stripe immediately howled that such government intervention would result in an US auto industry ‘doomsday.’ And Mitt Romney added his voice to those claiming US automakers would fail if they accepted government assistance during the worst of times.

As the years passed, Mitt Romney and conservatives have been proven drastically wrong. The US auto industry has recovered. GM is again the number 1 seller of automobiles in the world. And the industry is in the process of adding US jobs and repatriating jobs from overseas. This dramatic success belies republican and Romney drama to the contrary. It shows that the leadership role Obama took to save the US auto industry is now beginning to pay off. And, most glaringly, it shows the deep, systemic, failure of the current, rigid republican economic ideology.

Meanwhile, the corporation Romney built — Bain Capital — is now preparing to dismantle a factory that manufactures sensors for the auto industry in Freeport Illinois and ship their jobs overseas. Nearly 200 workers at the Sensata factory which Bain bought-out will find their jobs outsourced to China before the end of this year. This is a result of the outsourcing and off-shoring legacy that Romney pioneered while head of Bain Capital. (See more about Sensata here.)

This dual narrative of Obama’s leadership and success combined with Romney still profiting from liquidating US factories and sending the jobs overseas has had devastating effect for Romney in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan who know all too well how damaging outsourcing and off-shoring have been to their economies. Loss of critical factories like the one at Sensata has resulted in the gutting of entire communities. Whole neighborhoods in Detroit are now ghost towns as a result of the kind of outsourcing Mitt Romney pioneered at Bain Capital. Some of these lost jobs may never come back, captured by 99 cent an hour Chinese workers and a country that is unwilling to establish laws to protect its own people from the abuses of vulture capitalists like Romney. China may as well have foisted a sign emblazoned ‘Robber Barons R’ Us.’ And, Romney, among many others, came flocking to exploit the slave wage labor there by dismantling US factories and sending them overseas.

Perhaps too late, Romney has realized how damaging these methods of employing equities firms and off-shoring practices to accumulate personal profit have become. But the realization appears to have now stuck with a vengeance. And, in typical Romney fashion, Romney is now waging a media campaign against the very business Obama was so successful in saving and that, since late 2009, has directly added thousands of US jobs.

The Romney campaign is now running a malicious and false advertisement claiming that Jeep plans to ship US jobs overseas to China. The ad comes as Jeep revealed plans to build two manufacturing plants in China over the coming years. But, contrary to Romney’s false assertion, Jeep’s China expansion is not coming at the cost of any US manufacturing. Unlike Romney’s Sensata, no Jeep facilities are being shut down. No workers are being forced to train their Chinese replacements, as Romney’s Bain is forcing Sensata workers to do so. In fact, Jeep and GM have pledged to take profits from the Chinese operation and use it to create more jobs in the US. It’s almost the exact reverse of the Romney model. Call it in-sourcing, or re-sourcing, or repatriating, or even re-shoring. But it’s definitely not the Romney/Bain model for outsourcing and off-shoring.

Since late 2009, Jeep alone has added over 4600 US jobs, showing, in fact, that Romney’s claims are patently false.

GM was quick to defend its record from Romney’s false attacks:

“We’ve clearly entered some parallel universe during these last few days,” GM spokesman Greg Martin said. “No amount of campaign politics at its cynical worst will diminish our record of creating jobs in the U.S. and repatriating profits back to this country.”

Crysler CEO Sergio Marchionne in an email to employees refuted Romney’s claims by simply laying out the facts:

“Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China,” Marchionne stated in the e-mail. “The numbers tell the story,” followed by specific investments Chrysler has made in Detroit, Toledo and Belvidere, Ill. “Those include more than $1.7 billion to produce the successor of the Jeep Liberty and hire about 1,100 workers on a second shift by 2013.”

The additional 1100 jobs are on top of the 4600 jobs Jeep has already added. In contrast, Romney’s Bain will, in the next couple months, send another 200 jobs to China. So the contrast couldn’t be more stark.

And the media is starting to pick up on Romney’s egregious assault of lies against the US auto industry and US workers. The Atlanta Journal Constitution recently called the Romney advertisements attacking the auto industry ‘economic terrorism.’ The Detroit Free Press has published this in-depth piece exposing Romney’s false claims. The conservative-leaning US News and World Report posted an analysis showing how the US auto expansion in China was helping to support jobs expansion at home. And FactCheck.org labeled Romney’s recent advertising blitz “flat wrong” stating:

“It’s misleading to suggest that Chrysler’s decision to expand into China will cost U.S. jobs — especially after the company has said it would have no impact on its U.S. operations.”

The fact-checking website noted a report from Bloomberg that Chrysler was considering “adding Jeep production sites rather than shifting output from North America to China.” Meanwhile Chrysler, in a dramatic refutation of Romney’s doomsday prediction for the US auto industry, just reported a third quarter profit of $381 million, up 80 percent from a year ago.

It seems likely that the Romney misinformation machine may have just bitten off more than it can chew. Considering the wide-ranging backlash taking shape from both the US auto industry and the broader media, it appears that Romney’s false attacks against GM and Jeep are about to erupt in his face. The US auto industry is firmly on its path to recovery, with each new report showing positive results. Further, the US auto industry is in the process of adding thousands of jobs here in America. Both of these points prove Romney dramatically wrong. Wrong in his ‘Let Detroit go Bankrupt’ op-ed and wrong now. Finally, these attacks only serve to call attention to Romney’s own record of sending US jobs overseas, the most recent example of which is Sensata.

Links:

http://www.freep.com/article/20121031/NEWS15/310310091/GM-and-Chrysler-Romney-is-wrong

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/19/opinion/19romney.html?_r=0

http://blogs.ajc.com/jay-bookman-blog/2012/10/31/gm-on-romney-campaign-politics-at-its-cynical-worst/

http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/rick-newman/2012/10/31/memo-to-mitt-romney-gms-success-in-china-is-good-for-america

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-34222_162-57542993/gm-like-chrysler-refutes-romneys-auto-industry-ad/

http://www.politico.com/blogs/burns-haberman/2012/10/gm-aide-romney-ads-part-of-parallel-universe-147753.html

http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2012/10/30/GM-Gap-between-Romney-ad-and-reality/UPI-56761351637557/

What Solar Panel Dumping Case Reveals About How Chinese Manufacturers Dominate Markets

Today the Federal Trade Commission ruled against Chinese solar manufacturers, finding that government subsidies harmed US companies. In the ruling, Chinese companies were assigned duties between 2.9 to 4.7 percent. The duties depended on the degree of subsidy assistance Chinese companies received. Another ruling will be made in June to determine the degree to which Chinese companies have been dumping solar panels on the US market. This additional ruling is expected to result in further duties and penalties.

The Solar Surge

These rulings and investigations come after a massive surge in amazingly cheap Chinese solar panel exports to the US since 2008. This influx, which almost everyone with any honesty is calling dumping, has resulted in average solar panel prices falling from $3 to less than $1 per watt over the same period. In fact, the lowest cost solar panels on the US market are now selling for less than 84 cents per watt. This extensive dumping has resulted in three US solar companies, including Solyndra, being forced to file for bankruptcy and has negatively affected every other US solar manufacturer.

The silver lining is that US solar energy consumers now have access to solar panels at much lower costs. And these panels are now rapidly closing the gap between fossil fuels, likely to beat coal on cost by 2015. But the rapidly falling prices may well drive all manufacturers except the Chinese out of this critical market. And this state-sponsored international monopoly may well be benevolent if not for the stark history of Chinese monopolization in other key areas. For example, Chinese state-sponsored industry moved to rapidly dominate rare earth metals and are now setting higher prices or denying access to rare earth metals altogether. Similar behavior with regards to solar panels may well prove disastrous in a world needing a rapid transition to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Government Spending/Perks Key to Chinese Dominance

So how do Chinese companies come so rapidly to dominate markets like solar? The answer is a combination of cheap loans, government payments on interest for the these loans, and predatory business practices. Cheap loans provided by the Chinese government resulted in the emergence of 700 new solar companies in China over the last ten years. In total, because of these loans, the Chinese now possess a capacity to manufacture 40 gigawatts of solar panels within one year. That’s enough solar panels to power all of New York State in just one year.

These state-sponsored loans may have provided the impetus for developing a world-dominating industry, but a number of other ‘perks’ aided the Chinese industry as well. For example, many Chinese manufacturers were able to purchase land directly from the state at 1/3 standard price levels. In addition, Chinese monopolization of rare earth metals has led to preferential pricing for raw materials feeding in to this state-sponsored industry.

But these aren’t the only advantages state sponsored Chinese companies enjoy. In addition to low interest loans provided to Chinese solar manufacturers, often the interest on these loans are paid, pro-bono, by the Chinese government.

So imagine you are a Chinese solar manufacturer. You receive nearly unlimited low interest loans from the government. You have much or all of that interest paid by provincial governments. The land for your plants is sold to you at major discounts and your raw materials are supplied to you at the lowest prices possible. This is all facilitated by the state-sponsored system. And, finally, you benefit from relatively low labor costs which give you a 3-4 percent price advantage. In fact, the other state-sponsored benefits are so great that the labor cost difference may as well be nil. In such a beneficial environment, it would require a stunning failure for you not to achieve market dominance.

Chinese Capitalize on State-sponsored Consumer Incentives

But what other benefits could a solar manufacturer in China look to gain from? Not just from the Chinese state, but from other states’ programs as well. Up until last year, the Chinese solar industry was almost entirely positioned for export. This strategy allowed them to benefit from state-funded programs that provided incentives for solar panel purchases. Already receiving so many benefits from the Chinese state, these solar exporters were rapidly able to dominate markets in Europe and the US, driving many other solar manufacturers to lay-offs and bankruptcies.

Meanwhile, the West suffers from an ideology that dramatically opposes the level of state assistance currently provided by the Chinese government. So most Western programs have been aimed at providing support for consumer purchases, not to providing seed funds for a fledgling industry, and, thus, those funds have been indirectly grabbed up by the surging Chinese solar industry.

Tariffs, Trade Barriers not Enough. Best Solution is Comparative Levels of Investment

In total, China is investing the equivalent to 90 billion dollars each year in alternative energy and efficiency. And this  investment will be enough to dramatically reduce prices for both wind and solar power by sheer scale alone. If the United States and other western governments wish to host industries that become anywhere near as competitive, they will need to provide comparative levels of direct funding, year after year. Otherwise, the Western manufacturers will fail and the key emerging solar and wind industries will be entirely ceded to the Chinese. Enacting trade barriers, penalties and tariffs would, at best, only slow the transition to Chinese state-sponsored monopolization.

 

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