Ofgem awards clean power trio permanent price cap derogation

Image: Getty.

Image: Getty.

Clean power suppliers Good Energy, Ecotricity and Green Energy UK have been awarded permanent derogations from Ofgem’s price cap by the regulator.

Those agreements mean their respective standard variable tariffs will not have to comply with Ofgem’s controversial tariff cap in a move designed to prevent any hindrance to the procurement of renewable energy.

At the start of the year, the three suppliers were given temporary derogations until 31 March, agreements which were then extended until 1 September pending further work by Ofgem.

However, all three companies have today been issued enduring derogations from the price cap, which will last until the price cap is removed in 2023.

Juliet Davenport, chief executive at Good Energy, said the derogations were important so that individuals are “empowered to be part of the solution” to climate breakdown.

“We know customers want the ability to make that choice, and recently it has been complicated by energy companies taking shortcuts to offer cheap ‘green’ tariffs.

“When you choose a renewable tariff, you are choosing more than ‘net zero’ or some cheap certificates. You are choosing regeneration — support for the growth of clean energy. Ofgem’s decision recognises that Good Energy’s model does precisely this.”

Davenport has been a vocal critic of alleged workarounds or shortcuts to establishing clean energy tariffs, taking particular aim at Shell Energy earlier this year after it was able to switch all of its customers to clean energy supply overnight by purchasing Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin (REGO) certificates, rather than generating or procuring renewable power directly.

Last month Mark Hollands, energy strategy director at renewables developer BSR Energy, wrote for Current± on the subject of REGOs calling for a fresh approach to the system.


The next Prime Minister: Exploring Boris Johnson's enigmatic views on the environment

23 July 2019, source edie newsroom

Boris Johnson, the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, will be announced as the new Prime Minister on Wednesday afternoon (24 July). But what are his views on climate change, the environment, and sustainability?

MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip Boris Johnson: our next Prime Minister? (Image: Wikipedia/Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip Boris Johnson: our next Prime Minister? (Image: Wikipedia/Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

At first glance, it would appear Boris Johnson, an ex-mayor of London who is passionate about cycling, would be a prime candidate for being one of the greenest Prime Ministers in history. But dig deeper and you find a number of comments and policy decisions about the environment which perhaps don’t match the public persona.

Policy positions

His opposition to Heathrow Airport expansion as mayor of London is well known, but as with many issues to do with Johnson, the true picture is unclear. Was his opposition to Heathrow expansion because of the environment, or was it because he wanted his own “Boris Island” Airport in the Thames Estuary? He has also changed his mind about Heathrow in recent months, according to reports. What happened to the man who would “lie down in front of the bulldozers” over the scheme? Such is the green contradiction at the heart of the man entering Number 10 on Wednesday evening.

It is instructive to look at his voting record on climate issues to get past the rhetoric. As an MP, he has voted against policies to include a carbon capture and storage strategy and also against the implementation of emissions-based vehicle taxes. He also voted for applying the Climate Change Levy on electricity generated from renewable sources. Interestingly, Johnson has never voted on a new high-speed rail infrastructure.

As mayor of London, his environmental record is mixed. It was discovered in 2016 that he held back a report about air pollution impacting deprived schools, but he also planned the first Ultra Low Emission Zone and slapped an additional £10 on diesel vehicles to drive into the centre of London. He also committed to electrifying the bus fleet and improving the capital’s rapid charging network, spending £330m on hybrid buses, zero-emission taxies and trees. But he also scrapped the proposed western extension of the Congestion Charge Zone, which could have had a significant impact on vehicular traffic and air pollution throughout the capital.

More recently as an MP, he has backed calls for greater regulations on fracking, and spoken out against the US’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement. However, during hustings for the leadership of the Conservative Party, Johnson also didn’t refer to the “climate emergency”, which was passed by the House of Commons, and his language has often been more muted on climate change than Jeremy Hunt, his rival for the job.

Recent actions

A news story in June again illustrated the contradiction at the heart of Johnson’s views on climate. It was revealed that 60% of climate attaches around the world were cut by the Foreign Office, just at the time that Boris Johnson was the secretary for state. Professor David King, the former chief scientist, told the Guardian that although the cuts began just before Johnson took up the role, he did not reverse them, and when challenged by King on the issue, he begged him to not go public with it. Johnson said he was unaware of the cuts.

Additionally, Johnson has received donations from Terence Mordaunt, the director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a leading climate denial group established by prominent denier Lord Lawson, and who push for greater deregulation and oppose action to climate science.

One of the other more eyebrow-raising elements of Johnson’s climate scepticism is seen in his series of articles for The Telegraph newspaper, in which he promotes the work of Piers Corbyn – brother to Labour leader, Jeremy – who is a prominent climate science denier. Corbyn believes that rising temperatures are due to solar activity creating natural climate change cycles rather than being anthropogenic – a standard view of climate deniers. Concerningly, this wasn’t a one-off Johnson “gaff”, and he has made the same point three times in Telegraph articles – originally in 2010, another in 2013, and yet again in 2015.

Johnson wrote in his 2015 Telegraph article: “In the view of Piers and his colleagues at WeatherAction, it is all about sun spots, and he is on record as believing that we are now due for a new 'Maunder Minimum' – like the famous cold spell in the 17th century, when the Thames froze several times. Whatever is happening to the weather at the moment, it is nothing to do with the conventional doctrine of climate change.”

Green Brexit

One of the main reasons Boris Johnson will walk into Number 10 has been his support for Brexit.

Johnson has liked to position any potential environmental policy and shift in standards as “taking back control” and although there is hope that all EU environmental law will be ported into UK law – there is a concern that rather than keeping up with European standards, the UK may slip. This is particularly concerning under a Johnson Premiership as he has previously stated he is a fan of deregulation and reducing the role of the state. In 2018, Johnson indicated that any deal with the EU should include freedoms on the ability to change standards and legislation, including environmental laws.

Johnson has also emphasised that green growth post-Brexit “meant jobs”. He said: “We should be unabashed about talking about the achievements we are making in the environment and the jobs that we are creating in the economy. There is massive scope for employment in green technologies of all kinds.”

Speaking during a hustings event for the Conservative leadership election, Johnson said the party had “a fantastic record” on environmental improvements, and championed clean battery technology and air quality legislation. He said Tories had “done so many things…whether it’s reducing the use of plastic bags, or whatever”.

Johnson said the environment was “a winner for us” and jobs in clean technology would expand in years to come – and that was a message “we can really sell to young people”.

Lib Dems and Jo Swinson

The news about Boris Johnson becoming the next leader of the Conservative Party, and therefore the next Prime Minister of Great Britain, has coincided with the announcement of Jo Swinson as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Swinson does not necessarily have the green credentials that might be expected of a Liberal Democrat leader, despite describing it recently as the defining issue of our time. As a former member of the coalition government with the Conservatives between 2010 and 2015, she voted against a number of climate change issues. She has voted against a moratorium on fracking permits, in favour of cutting subsidies for renewable energy and also in favour of selling off national forests.

Swinson has already said that “Britain deserves better than Boris Johnson” and her first comments on the future Prime Minister were scathing: “I rage when Boris Johnson is more interested in sucking up to Donald Trump than standing up for British values of decency, equality and respect.

“He has shown time and time again that he isn’t fit to be prime minister. Boris Johnson has only ever cared about Boris Johnson. Just ask Sir Kim Darroch or Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Whether it is throwing people under the bus or writing a lie on the side of one: Britain deserves better than Boris Johnson.”

James Evison


A New Kind Of Geothermal Energy And Faster Charging Batteries Are Coming

July 18th, 2019 by  at CleanTechnica logo

 

Renewable energy and energy storage research is going on at hundreds of laboratories around the world, so it is no surprise that new discoveries are being announced almost weekly. Here are two of the latest.

Making Electricity From The Heat Of The Earth’s Crust

Image courtesy NREL

It’s hot underneath the Earth’s crust, hot enough to boil water and in some cases turn that boiling water into steam to run turbines that generate electricity. Getting to the source of the heat deep underground is filled with technical challenges which drive up the cost of any electricity produced.

A research team at Tokyo Institute of Technology led by Dr. Sachiko Matsushita reports success using sensitized thermal cells to generate electricity at temperatures below 100º C. If the research leads to commercial grade products, a limitless supply of electricity could become available.

“With such a design, heat, usually regarded as low-quality energy, would become a great renewable energy source,” says Matsushita. “There is no fear of radiation, no fear of expensive oil, no instability of power generation like when relying on the sun or the wind.”  He and his team are excited about their discovery because of its applicability, eco-friendliness, and potential for helping solve the global energy crisis.

The sensitized thermal cells consist of three layers sandwiched between electrodes — an electron transport layer, a semiconductor layer composed of germanium, and a copper electrolyte layer. According to a report by Science Daily, electrons go from a low-energy state to a high-energy state in the semiconductor by becoming thermally excited and then get transferred naturally to the electron transport medium. The results of their research have been published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry. Here is the abstract of the study.

You can find thermal energy everywhere in the world, including geothermal energy. Here we report an amazing battery that could supply power semi-permanently by simply burying the cell in a heat source and turning the switch on and off. We examined the discharge termination process of a sensitized thermal cell (STC), a new thermal energy conversion system for generating electrical power from heat previously reported by the authors.

To observe this termination process, we constructed a new STC system using a narrow-bandgap semiconductor, germanium (Ge), and surprisingly found that the battery characteristics were restored after discharging by placing or burying the battery in a heat source. This discovery should bring us closer to solving global energy problems.

A New Take On Solid State Batteries

Researchers at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium say they have discovered a new material they call LTPS — whose chemical composition is LiTi2(PS4)3 — that has the highest lithium diffusion coefficient (a direct measure of lithium mobility) ever measured in a solid. According to Science Daily, LTPS shows a diffusion coefficient much higher than in other known materials. The results are published in the scientific journal Chem from Cell Press. Here is a summary of that report.

“Solid-state materials with high ionic conduction are necessary for many technologies, including all-solid-state lithium (Li)-ion batteries. Understanding how crystal structure dictates ionic diffusion is at the root of the development of fast ionic conductors. Here, we show that LiTi 2(PS 4) 3 exhibits a Li-ion diffusion coefficient about an order of magnitude higher than that of current state-of-the-art Li superionic conductors. We rationalize this observation by the unusual crystal structure of LiTi 2(PS 4) 3, which offers no regular tetrahedral or octahedral sites for Li to favorably occupy. This creates a smooth, frustrated energy landscape resembling the energy landscapes present in liquids more than those in typical solids. This frustrated energy landscape leads to a high diffusion coefficient, combining low activation energy with a high pre-factor.

The increased lithium mobility is a direct result of the unique crystal structure of LTPS. This discovery opens new avenues of inquiry in the field of lithium ion conductors including the search for new materials with similar diffusion mechanisms.

The researchers say there is a need for further study to improve the material for future commercialization. If it is as successful in practice as it is in the lab, it could lead to new lithium ion storage batteries that can be recharged much faster than current li-ion batteries and eliminate the risk of fire or explosion inherent in today’s batteries.

There’s an interesting twist to this story. The research was conducted in collaboration with and financially supported by Toyota. Wouldn’t it be interesting if a company that has downplayed the significance of electric cars for years should be the one that fosters the solid state battery breakthrough that could make electric cars cost less and charge faster?


Citizens Advice: Government lacking 'credible' plan to decarbonise heat

12 July 2019, source edie newsroom

The Government's failure to implement a "credible" framework for the decarbonisation of heat for commercial and domestic use could undermine public confidence in the net-zero transition, Citizens Advice has warned.

The UK's heat networks currently serve about 500,000 customers, but this could rise to five million by mid-century 

The UK's heat networks currently serve about 500,000 customers, but this could rise to five million by mid-century

In a letter to Ministers today, the charity criticises the Government for leaving “large gaps” in policies surrounding the regulation of low-carbon technologies like heat networks.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has consistently claimed that heat networks could deliver up to 18% of UK heating demand by 2030. Taking notice of this, the Government has recently launched a £320m scheme to help accelerate the adoption of low-carbon heat networks across the UK's public, private and domestic sectors and an Energy Systems Catapult centre to assist small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) with decarbonising their heat systems.

While welcoming this progress, Citizens Advice is arguing that policy is not currently sufficient to protect consumers during the decarbonisation of heat and is likely to result in customer confusion, infrequent and inaccurate billing, and, therefore, overpayment. The charity is voicing concerns that, as most of the costs related to the decarbonisation of the energy system are currently paid for through energy bills, those on low incomes could end up paying a disproportionate share of that cost.

The organisation’s key recommendation for preventing this is the establishment of an independent commission on a “just” transition to low-carbon energy, including heat. It is additionally calling for a consultation on the Government’s upcoming Energy White Paper, to be made open to industry and the general public, as well as legislation to extend Ofgem’s regulation powers to cover heat networks.

Citizens Advice’s chief executive Gillian Guy has claimed that these moves need to be undertaken as soon as possible “to prevent the bad practice of today becoming the standard practice of tomorrow”.

“The way we heat our homes needs to undergo a major transformation, and how we manage that process and fairly distribute the costs needs the urgent attention of Government,” Guy said.

“An independent commission is the only way to make sure the pathway to net-zero is assessed in a rigorous, transparent and timely way.”

Industry progress

The UK currently plays host to around 14,000 heat networks, which collectively serve more than half a million customers – both business and domestic.

However, much more will need to be done in this space if the UK is going to meet its new 2050 target of a net-zero carbon economy, the CCC has claimed. Heating and hot water account for around 15% of the UK's overall carbon footprint, with the nation currently off-track to meet a key target of ensuring 12% of heat is generated using renewables by 2020.

Responding to Citizens Advice’s report, the Association of Decentralised Energy’s (ADE) head of operations Lily Frencham said: “Citizens Advice are right that there is a need for a credible plan from the Government, working with industry and other key interests, to decarbonise heat if net-zero is to be delivered.

“The building of more heat networks is widely acknowledged to be a key component to any future plans. They are key in urban areas, allowing towns and cities up to capture otherwise wasted heat and deliver it to homes and offices driving down emissions.  Appropriate regulation of heat networks is necessary, to provide customers with confidence and protection around issues such as billing, while giving businesses and local authorities confidence to make the necessary investment in the new heat networks that will be needed.”


UKPN, Piclo herald ‘significant milestone’ as winners emerge from maiden commercial flexibility tender

Image: UKPN.

Image: UKPN.

UK Power Networks (UKPN) and energy technology firm Piclo are celebrating the completion of a new flexibility auction, the first time the latter’s online platform has been used for commercial purposes.

The platform, years in development, has been tested extensively but has now been used at the commercial scale for the first time, helping UKPN procure 18.1MW of flexibility.

Contracts worth £450,000 have been awarded to AMP Clean Energy, Limejump, Powervault and Moixa, with the flexibility procured used by UKPN to offset more costly grid reinforcements in constrained areas of the network.

The Piclo platform creates a heat-map of areas of congestion, correlating them with providers of flexibility with resources such as demand side response, battery storage and behind-the-meter generation. Network operators can then contract this capacity to minimise these bottlenecks.

The auction was first announced in May this year, with details to follow “in due course”, and following its success, UKPN has now handed Piclo an ongoing commercial contract, the tech company’s second such contract having secured a similar arrangement with Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks earlier this year.

James Johnston, chief executive and co-founder at Piclo, said the company was thrilled from the results of its first auction, realised after “years of trials and ongoing development”.

“As renewables have boomed across the UK and internationally, grid congestion and the network flexibility required to affordably alleviate it have become top priorities for network companies.

“This first full, commercial auction will be the first of many as distribution companies across the UK and even internationally take UK Power Network’s lead in enabling the shift to a smart, flexible, low-carbon power system.”

Piclo continues to work with all six of Britain’s distribution network operators after penning an agreement with Western Power Distribution late last year, and the company also counts tens of flexibility providers in its ranks.

Sotiris Georgioupoulos, head of smart grid development at UKPN, said flexibility offered the DNO a “wealth of opportunities”.

“All of the bids we accepted in this tender round met our robust economic criteria to ensure they will benefit our customers by offering lower costs in comparison to the traditional approach of building new assets. The UK is a world-leader in smart grid technology and flexibility has a key role to play as we move towards a decarbonised, decentralised and digitised network that will offer significant benefits to our customers.”


Local smart energy systems key to net zero, says ADE

Image: Nottingham City Council

Image: Nottingham City Council

Local energy generation and flexibility are essential to reaching net zero, new analysis from the Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE) has argued.

Local onsite generation is key to a net zero future, the ADE says, advocating for smarter, more flexible energy systems supported by government and Ofgem. The association predicts that the traditional centralised approach will be replaced by a smart, user-led system, with local energy and consumers at the heart.

It argues that the way to achieve this future energy system is through on-site flexibility and energy storage, energy efficiency, implementation of heat networks and on-site combined heat and power systems.

The ADE points to estimates made by the National Infrastructure Commission that reducing peak demand through energy management by 5% would reduce power system costs by £200 million each year and give consumers £790 million a year in added benefits.

And that peak power demand could be reduced by up to 15% if the UK achieves comparable levels of flexibility to other markets such as Australia and the US.

It is now calling on the government and Ofgem to support this through opening up access to markets to ensure payment for local generation and flexibility, for example through changing the timings of energy use, storage or demand flexibility.

Lord Deben, chair of the Committee on Climate Change, said local onsite generation and energy management will play “a central role” in achieving net zero.

“Giving customers the power to help drive the UK’s low carbon transition is vital and we need credible UK policies, across government, that inspire a strong response from business, industry and society as a whole.”

Tim Rotheray, director of the ADE, said now is the time to focus on the role of local energy.

“If government puts customer-led energy at the heart of its policy making and works alongside business, we can put power back into the hands of customers and meet our net zero in a fair way.”


Consultation on Flexibility Services

‘Simpler is better’: Open Networks Project launches consultation to simplify flexibility services

Image: Arsenal FC.

Image: Arsenal FC.

Flexibility markets must be simple for stakeholders if the UK is to truly “unlock” the power of new energy technologies, the Energy Networks Association’s Open Networks Project has said.

The project, which aims to transform the way the country’s energy networks operate, has launched a new consultation aimed specifically at those nascent flexibility markets, intending to understand how network operators can best aid homeowners, businesses and communities benefit from them.

Having unveiled a landmark flexibility commitment late last year, network operators in the UK have been quick to embrace flexibility markets as a cost effective alternative to costly reinforcement works.

Earlier this week Western Power Distribution announced that it was seeking to procure more than 140MW of flexibility services through a regional tender programme, targeting areas of constraint, as it seeks to ramp up its own adoption of flexibility

Indeed, research compiled by the government’s National Infrastructure Commission has shown that a more flexible energy system could save consumers as much as £8 billion a year by 2030.

The ENA’s consultation also follows on from its recent ‘Six Steps for Delivering Flexibility Services’ document, and is seeking further detail on how those steps can be developed and used to bring together best practice guidelines and standardisation in the market place.

David Smith, chief executive of the Energy Networks Association, said that the launch of the consultation made a fundamental point regarding flexibility, that simpler is better.

Ease of access to flexibility markets for the widest possible range of people has to be right at the top of the agenda.

“That’s key so that Britain’s energy networks can access the deepest, most liquid flexibility markets possible to help connect more clean energy technologies to the grid at the lowest possible cost to the public, all whilst creating an environment that fosters the kind of smart energy innovation that Britain has become known for the world over.”

In addition to refining the six steps, the consultation is to narrow in on the end-to-end processes required when procuring flexibility services and the commercial arrangements that underpin them. While the work is expected to continue into next year, short-term changes are also being explored.

More information on the consultation, which is open until 23 August 2019, can be found here.


UK's biggest carbon capture project is step-change on emissions

The UK’s biggest carbon capture project will soon block thousands of tonnes of factory emissions from contributing to the climate crisis, by using them to help make the chemicals found in antacid, eyedrops and Pot Noodle.

Within two years a chemical plant in Cheshire could keep 40,000 tonnes of carbon from the air every year, or the equivalent of removing 22,000 cars from the UK’s roads.

The plant’s owners, a division of the Indian-owned Tata conglomerate, will then use the captured carbon to make the chemicals found in glass, baking soda or even medicine.

The project is a step-change in the UK’s battle to cut carbon emissions from heavy industry and will capture more than 100 times the carbon dioxide trapped by an existing trial at the Drax power plant in North Yorkshire.

The plans are backed by the government, which has agreed to give Tata Chemicals Europe a £4.2m grant towards the £16.7m cost of the project.

Drax will receive a £5m government grant for a pilot, which could keep up to 16m tonnes of carbon from the air by the mid-2020s.

In total the government plans to spend £26m to spur nine carbon capture projects which are “essential” if the UK hopes to reach its goal of cutting carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050. It is also spending £170m to create a net zero carbon “industrial cluster” in the UK by 2040.

Carbon capture effectively traps the emissions from power plants or factory flues before they enter the atmosphere and contribute to global heating.

The trapped carbon dioxide could be piped into permanent underground storage facilities, but it can also be purified to make products.

Tata plans to refine the carbon emissions to make a high-grade liquid version of carbon dioxide which will help make sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda.

The company is the only UK-based maker of baking soda which is in high demand by the pharmaceutical sector to help treat conditions from heartburn to kidney disease. It is also found in ear and eye drops.

Tata is also the only company in the UK which produces soda ash, or sodium carbonate, which is used to make detergents, lemon sherbet power and glass.

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Martin Ashcroft, head of Tata Chemicals Europe, said the “hugely exciting” project would help to “reduce our carbon emissions, whilst securing supplies of a critical raw material”.

Tata also owns one of India’s biggest energy companies and has promised to end investment in coal plants to focus of wind and solar power.

Chris Skidmore, the minister for energy and clean growth, said: “Cutting edge technology to capture carbon will cut emissions as we work towards a net zero economy, while creating new jobs – a key part of our modern industrial strategy.”


Barclays pledges to source 100% renewable electricity by 2030

6 June 2019, source, Sarah George at the edie newsroom

Transatlantic banking giant Barclays has pledged to source 100% renewable electricity by 2030, with an interim goal of 90% by 2025.

More than 170 companies have set 100% renewable targets under RE100 to date

More than 170 companies have set 100% renewable targets under RE100 to date

Given that the majority of its carbon footprint is currently accounted for by Scope 1 (direct) and Scope 2 (power-related) emissions, Barclays claims that the move will reduce its absolute global emissions by 80% by 2025.

In order to reach the new target, the company will sign a series of power purchase agreements (PPAs) with energy suppliers that own or operate external wind and solar projects across its two main markets – the UK and the US. These two markets account for 70% of the company’s total energy consumption.

Barclays has made the new commitment after joining The Climate Group’s RE100 initiative, which has garnered the support of more than 170 companies to date. This week has also seen Australian insurance major QBE join the RE100, setting its 100% renewable electricity target for 2025.

“Banks have broad environmental and social impact – both through our own operational footprint and through the ways that we mobilise capital, advise clients and develop products,” Barclays’ global head of sustainability and citizenship Alsa Palanza said.

“Joining RE100 and committing to sourcing 100% of our electricity needs from renewable sources enables us to minimise our direct carbon emissions while we continue to work with our clients to help facilitate the global transition to less carbon-intensive sources of energy”.

According to the latest RE100 progress report, Barclays is far from alone in choosing to use PPAs to decarbonise its electricity mix. In 2017, 16% of the renewable electricity consumed by RE100 members was sourced through PPAs.

(Green) power surges

As of November 2018, 155 companies across 140 global markets had joined the RE100 initiative, with the group collectively sourcing 188TWh of clean power annually. RE100 members leverage a combined annual revenue of $4.5trn or 5% of global GDP, making the group a powerful source of financing for clean energy infrastructure.

The likes of 3MMerlin Entertainments and Vodafone are among the newest additions to the scheme, with The Climate Group aiming for 500 RE100 members by 2020. Earlier this month, Landsec and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) became the first two companies to join all three of The Climate Group’s business initiatives – RE100, EV100 and EP100, the latter of which focuses on energy efficiency.


Latest greenhouse gas emissions data shows steep rises in CO2 for seventh year

5 June 2019, source edie newsroom 

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by the second highest annual rise in the past six decades, according to new data.

Readings from Hawaii observatory bring the threshold of 450ppm closer sooner than had been anticipated (stock photo)

Readings from Hawaii observatory bring the threshold of 450ppm closer sooner than had been anticipated (stock photo)

Atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gas were 414.8 parts per million in May, which was 3.5ppm higher than the same time last year, according to readings from the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, where carbon dioxide has been monitored continuously since 1958.

Scientists have warned for more than a decade that concentrations of more than 450ppm risk triggering extreme weather events and temperature rises as high as 2C, beyond which the effects of global heating are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible.

May is the most significant month for global carbon dioxide concentrations because it is the peak value for the year, before the growth of vegetation in the northern hemisphere starts to absorb the gas from the air. The seasonal peak and fall can be seen in the Keeling curve, named after Charles Keeling, who started the observations on Mauna Loa because of its isolation in the Pacific Ocean.

This is the seventh consecutive year in which steep increases in ppm have been recorded, well above the previous average, and the fifth year since the 400ppm threshold was breached in 2014. In 2016, the highest annual jump in the series so far was recorded, from 404.1 in 2015 to 407.66 in 2016.

As recently as the 1990s, the average annual growth rate was about 1.5ppm, but in the past decade that has accelerated to 2.2ppm, and is now even higher. This brings the threshold of 450ppm closer sooner than had been anticipated. Concentrations of the gas have increased every year, reflecting our burning of fossil fuels.

Ralph Keeling of the Scripps Institute, and the son of Charles, said: “The CO2 growth rate is still very high – the increase from last May was well above the average for the past decade.” He pointed to the mild El Niño conditions experienced this year as a possible factor.

Tuesday’s findings come from Mauna Loa and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has also made complementary independent measurements of greenhouse gas concentrations since the 1970s. NOAA’s Barrow observatory on Alaska’s North Slope showed an average of 417.4ppm over the period, but the Arctic typically has higher CO2 readings than the Mauna Loa series.

Pieter Tans, a senior scientist at NOAA, said: “It is critically important to have these accurate long-term measurements of CO2 in order to understand how quickly fossil fuels are changing our climate. These are measurements of the real atmosphere, and do not depend on any models, but they help us verify climate model projections, which if anything have underestimated the rapid pace of climate change being observed.”

Fiona Harvey

This article first appeared on the Guardian
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