November 12, 2015 – Volume 17, Issue 4

In This Issue

Flanigan’s Eco-Logic

El Nino Southern Oscillation

The Rise of Prosumers

Three Trillion Trees

Arctic Ocean Oil on Ice

Divesting Fossil Fuels and Prisons

EcoMotion Works: Energy Storage

Goldman Sachs to Invest $150 Billion in Clean Tech

Viewers to Volunteers

Flanigan‘s Eco-Logic: JPL’s Patzert on El Nino

Heard him on the news guaranteeing lots of rain. That’s crazy and hugely encouraging here in Southern California. Realized his credentials, and took note. According to Dr. William Patzert, the tell-tale signs of Pacific Ocean warming suggest that the El Nino now forming in the Pacific is too big to fail. According to NOAA, the strongest El Nino on record is expected to drench the southern half of United States this fall and winter.

The other day I had the pleasure of hearing William “Bill” Patzert speak at the Green California conference in Pasadena. Patzert is a rock star in SoCal. He’s JPL’s voice on this issue. He’s been all over the news predicting a hugely wet winter. In fact, he guarantees it! He’s got a great sense of humor, self-proclaimed “King of El Nino.” It was a pleasure to hear him and to meet him. He has a great style of sharing data and humor, and providing great perspective.

Bill Patzert got his B.S. in Physics & Mathematics from Purdue University; he got his Ph.D. in Oceanography from University of Hawaii. He is now a research scientist at JPL, NASA’s infamous Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There he specializes in the ocean’s role in climate variability; he is the NASA/JPL media spokesperson for ocean- and climate-related space activities. His passion is interpreting global TOPEX Poseidon/Jason sea level height data for the scientific community, “practical customers” and the general public.

Patzert’s talk was titled “Climate Whiplash,” featuring the “punishing drought we have been enduring in California for 15 years. The last four years have driven us to our knees.” Bill explained that we’ve had the driest four years on record… a total of 29.14 inches, or 7.5 inches a year. That’s half the average rainfall levels of the past 70 years (15″)… what we like to call “normal rainfall.”

But Patzert notes that there is no such thing as “normal” in climate science. That’s a dryer setting he quips! In fact, seven of the past ten years have experienced below average rainfall… buoyed up arithmetically by few wet years. What we experience is annual variability, overlaid with decadal variability. In the 13th Century, there was a 100-year drought.

“Our drought” is really not just about California. It runs from Texas, throughout the Southwest, and north up the California coast, through Oregon and Washington and the western seaboard of Canada, all the way to Alaska. The drought is huge, long and large, with temperatures getting hotter due to climate change. Patzert explains that droughts are slow, they take years to materialize and to develop. Long-term drought can be caused by 85% of normal rainfall for several years.

Snowpack provides 30% of Southern California’s drinking water. The year 2010 was a good snow year. This winter there was virtually no snowpack at all in the Sierras… 5% of normal. Thus California is getting hotter, the snowpack is shrinking and population is growing. Not a good recipe. Right? El Ninos can indeed double or even treble the snowpack.

Patzert’s monitor is Lake Mead. It measures the entire Colorado River watershed. Today the Lake “has a big round ring around the tub.” The ring is now 148 feet high. In the last 15 years, Lake Mead’s water levels have been dropping steadily. The Lake is now 30% full, its lowest level in history. Fully 30% of California’s water comes from the Colorado River… from which 7 states and 5 Indian nations take water, their allocations well above the levels now attainable.

In terms of water, Patzert explains that the American West is a roller coaster with drought and wet decades. “Droughts are normal,… the West is dry!” The situation is exacerbated by population. We’ve quadrupled our population in Southern California since the 1950s. “We have outgrown the water supply, or better put, we have outgrown the affluent lifestyle that uses too much water.”

NASA’s satellites have measured heat in the world’s oceans for two decades. The current temperature levels match the water levels just prior to the 1997 El Nino. In fact, we witness that the mass of warm water is even larger. This El Nino, by all accounts, is too big to fail. This warm mass of water will draw jet stream that take moisture from the Pacific and put it on the Southwest.

Prior El Nino years have produced over 30 inches of annual rainfall (31.01″ in 1997 and 31.28″ in 1982). Will another 30+ inches be punishing? Do we have a crisis on our hands? Patzert suggests that the media is playing this up. Will El Nino result in massive flooding, loss of property and life? “Not necessarily,” Patzert explained. Most El Ninos produce lots of water without catastrophic flooding.

What Patzert calls “Los Ninos” tend to be steady, “none too splendid.” Contrast that with what happened in a non-El Nino year, 1938. Then, more than ten inches in 24 hours created “punishing” results in the region, catastrophic flooding throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties. What is now the City of Irvine was under six feet of water.

After the 1938 flooding, the Los Angeles River was no longer a river. It’s a flood control channel. “It’s magnificent,” Patzert commented, “51 miles of concrete channel backed by 2,600 miles of storm sewers.” He explained that we’ve put billions into flood control in Southern California for 70-80 years. “We’re vaccinated against large-scale, regional flooding.” According to Patzert, the problems are local. He cited the homeless as those that really suffer. Gone also will be A-grade report cards from Heal the Bay measuring water quality along our beaches. Big rains will wash all sorts of debris to the mouth of the Los Angeles River and our beaches.

So will the drought be over if we have an El Nino year? No, Patzert explains that just as this drought has been 15 years in the making, it will take some 10 years of “normal” precipitation to return to normal conditions. In the meantime, we need to continue on the conservation path: “We’ve learned to conserve water, at our schools in our homes, and yards. That’s not tapering off; that’s our new lifestyle.”

Quote of the Week

“I love El Nino, it doubles rainwater and doubles snowpack.”
– Dr. William Patzert, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

El Nino Southern Oscillation

El Nino is an anomalous, yet periodic, warming of the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. Every 2 – 7 years this patch of tropical ocean warms for 6 – 18 months with far-reaching consequences.  (The subsequent cooling phase is known as La Nina.) This warming of equatorial Pacific water influences the atmospheric pattern from the western Pacific Ocean including Australia and Indonesia to North and South America, the Atlantic Ocean, and even parts of Europe and Africa. A British publication recently claimed that scientists are now certain that El Nino “will have catastrophic knock-on effects around the world including England.”

El Niño means The Little Boy, or Christ Child in Spanish. El Niño was originally recognized by fishermen off the coast of South America in the 1600s with the appearance of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean. The name was chosen based on the time of year (around December) during which these warm waters events tended to occur.

Today the term El Niño refers to the large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction linked to a periodic warming in sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific. Technically termed “El Nino Southern Oscillation” (ENSO), this warm body of water appears every 5 – 10 years with spectacular results. El Ninos benefit for some industries and setback others. For instance, ski resorts thrive while many communities suffer mudslides and flooding. For the West Coast and across the South, an El Nino most likely means heavy precipitation and snowfall. The East Coast and Northern tiers generally experience slightly warmer temperatures.

The Rise of Prosumers

Source: Honda Smart Home

They’re “mash-ups,” call ’em hybrids too: “Prosumers” both produce and consume electricity. They are a new breed wielding their influence in the electricity market. According to Frost & Sullivan, there will be 20 million American prosumer households by 2020. “These consumers seek to participate actively in the energy market. They’re wielding their growing ability to control or shift their usage, or to produce (and even sell) their own power, in order to save money and help the environment.”

According to Wikipedia, a prosumer is a person who consumes and produces media. The word is derived from “prosumption”, a dot-com era business term meaning “production by consumers”. These terms were reportedly coined by American futurist Alvin Toffler. (“Prosumer” also relates to a trade term for select high-end digital cameras, those of a price point between “professional” and “consumer” cameras.)
According to Amy Gahran of Energy Biz Insider, “energy prosumers are gaining control of what was once a rote utility expense.” They can now generate and even store their own power, playing arbitrage on utility rate structures. So how are prosumers affecting electric utilities?
First, prosumers are spending big on smart-home tech. Fast forward: When homes can operate self-sufficient energy systems, utilities will lose customers and revenues. Honda’s Smart Home U.S. program is about homes that produce enough solar energy to operate themselves and a Honda EV.
Prosumers want more distributed generation. For smart utilities, rather than viewing this trend as “disruptive,” this trend could signal a new revenue source. Arizona’s decision to allow utilities to directly lease customer rooftops for solar generation underscores the value that prosumers offer the utility business model.  In real time, prosumers are forcing utilities to streamline their customer service.

Accenture research shows that prosumers often prefer getting distributed generation products and services from utilities, but other service providers are gaining ground fast in this market. And like it or not, prosumers are forcing utilities to get better acquainted with them, and they’re putting pressure on regulators “to get hip” to today’s electric power trends, changing policies to support the transition to localized generation.

Three Trillion Trees

More than three trillion trees now grow on Earth, seven times more than scientists previously thought. But it’s also trillions fewer than there used to be.

A United Nations-affiliated youth group had a goal of planting one billion trees. Yale forestry researcher Thomas Crowther, was asked if planting that many trees would do anything to help combat human-made climate change. Trees capture and store heat-trapping carbon dioxide.

Crowther said first he had to figure out how many trees are on Earth. He did, published in the journal Nature, and that number was far more than anyone expected: 3.04 trillion trees. The previous estimate had been 400 billion trees based on satellite images. Crowther and colleagues used 429,775 ground-based measurements along with satellite measurements and computer models to get a more accurate figure.

“These things really dominate our planet,” Crowther said. “They are the most prominent organisms on our planet and there are 3 trillion of them.”

But Earth used to be covered with far more trees. Using computer models, Crowther and colleagues estimated that before human civilization Earth had about 5.6 trillion trees. So the number of trees on Earth has been chopped nearly in half. Crowther mostly blames people. He found that 15 billion trees are cut down each year by people, with another 5 billion trees replanted. At that rate, all of Earth’s trees will be gone in about 300 years. And he found that nearly 1.4 trillion of Earth’s trees are in tropical and subtropical forests, precisely where the rate of forest loss is the highest.

The upshot: The professor did conclude that given the number of trees on Earth (3 trillion), that a group dedicated to planting a billion trees won’t do much to fight climate change. But he said that didn’t stop the tree planters group; reportedly they just upped their goal. Plant for the Planet says its objective now is to plant 18 billion trees.

Arctic Ocean Oil on Ice

Environmentalists claim a major victory. Shell Oil announced this past month that it will terminate its oil exploration and development in the Arctic Ocean. Shell says it’s disappointed with the low production levels being discovered. The Sierra Club and others claim that Shell had not expected strong level of opposition found there and surrounding this issue. Now the U.S. Department of the Interior has announced that it is cancelling lease sales scheduled for 2016 and 2017. It is also denying Royal Dutch Shell’s request to extend its current leases. Sierra Club calls this “good news for polar bears.”

Divesting Fossil Fuels and Prisons

Eight months after becoming the first capital city to divest from coal, Oslo has announced it intends to divest its pension fund from all fossil fuels. According to Fossil Free Europe, the City of Oslo announced that it intends to divest its $9 billion pension fund from coal, oil, and gas companies.

Oslo’s city leaders stated that, “The time for climate action is now, and the new city government will address climate change both locally and globally. The reduction in pollution will make the city even better to live in, and ensure that we take our global responsibility.” Oslo’s announcement comes ahead of the UN climate negotiations in Paris to encourage other countries to push their own capitals to follow suit.

Go Fossil Free tracks institutional divestment – including the City of Christchurch, New Zealand, Fremantle and Moreland in Australia, and now Oslo in Norway, among more than 40 others – that have made such commitments. Go Fossil Free’s total figures currently have $2.6 trillion divested by 452 institutions worldwide. “We want to use our investments to promote more environmentally friendly energy and a more environmentally-friendly society,” said Oslo’s finance commissioner, Eirik Lae Solberg.

In related news, and according to CNN, Columbia University has divested from private prison companies following a student activist campaign. The decision means that the Ivy League school – with a $9 billion endowment — will sell its 220,000 shares in G4S, the world’s largest private security firm, as well its shares in the Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the United States. In 2007, Farallon, a company managing part of Yale University’s endowment, also divested from the Corrections Corporation of America after a student expose and campaign..

EcoMotion Works: Energy Storage

This past week, and at the request of City Councilmember and former Mayor Christina Shea, EcoMotion’s President Ted Flanigan briefed the Irvine City Council on the City of Irvine’s opportunities for Advanced Energy Storage. The 15-minute briefing featured a slide show depicting advances in storage, the lithium revolution, and strategic options for energy storage deployment.

Flanigan explained that like the Irvine Company – which recently announced a 10 MW storage partnership with Southern California Edison and Advanced Microgrid Solutions – the City’s storage options run from cash purchases, to leases backed with performance guarantees, to partnerships involving regional voltage support for the Southern California Edison grid, now absent the 2,250 MW San Onofre nuclear reactors.

To view the presentation, follow this link and advance the 4-hour proceeding to the 2:50 mark. For more information on briefings on storage for large commercial and institutional customers, contact EcoMotion.

Goldman Sachs to Invest $150 Billion in Clean Tech

Fortune magazine reports that financial giant Goldman Sachs has announced that it plans to invest $150 billion in clean energy projects and technology like solar and wind farms, energy efficiency upgrades for buildings, and power grid infrastructure. The bank previously had a target to invest $40 billion in clean energy technologies by 2012, and will now almost quadruple that amount by 2025.

Goldman Sachs has long been bullish on clean energy and was an early financier of solar and wind farms around the world. This summer the company signed a pledge, organized by the White House, to take measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions and invest in clean tech.

In September, Goldman Sachs managing director and head of the environmental markets group, Kyung-Ah Park, noted that the renewable energy sector has “reached an inflection point” with more renewable energy systems installed this year than conventional systems.

At the same time, Fortune notes that the market for solar and wind technologies “could take a hit” in the U.S. in 2017. The 30% federal tax credit for installing renewable energy systems is scheduled to drop to 10% at the end of 2016. Thus investors like Goldman Sachs plan to focus on financing projects outside of the U.S., similar to how alternative energy companies like SunPower and First Solar focus on booming overseas markets like China.

Despite the ups and downs of the clean energy market in the U.S., Goldman Sachs is still “going long” on the sector. Goldman Sachs’ Park said the transition to new energy technologies is still in the “early innings of an economy wide transition.”

Viewers to Volunteers

There’s a new app out there for those of you looking to make a change in the world – and it allows you to do so while you read the news or watch a video.  Viewers to Volunteers, the brainchild of CBS EcoMedia Inc, is an inventive platform that allows its users to contribute money towards non-profits without lifting a finger from their phone, and without spending a dime. “V2V is a unique new program that, at its heart, allows every viewer to be a philanthropist, but without spending their own money,” said Paul Polizzotto, longtime friend of Ted Flanigan and EcoMotion.

Available as an app (iOS and Android) and a website, users earn points. The points are then converted into cash value that is donated to the non-profit of your choice by one of Viewers to Volunteers’ sponsors.  Points can be earned in one of three ways: reading an article pertaining to the cause, watching a video related to the cause, or volunteering at one of many V2V-supported events. CBS EcoMedia is collaborating with award-winning writer and documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock to create original content to stream on the app and website. Thus far, over $621,000 has been donated to non-profits dedicated to wellness, education, the environment, and veterans.

Viewers to Volunteers is emblematic of the power of technology and social media to make a true impact on the world. By tapping into people’s daily habits-reading the news, playing games on their phone, V2V enables users to learn about and contribute to causes that matter, while maintaining their daily routine. V2V has truly accomplished their mission statement, “to transform the power of the advertising dollar into an engine for social change.”  Beneficiaries include Meals on Wheels America, Stand Up to Cancer,, and the National Recreation and Parks Association. The major sponsor thus far has been Toyota. In this day and age, when the world is more connected than ever and crucial worldwide issues can be shared by a tap of the finger, it only makes sense to be able to support these issues just as readily, connecting users, corporations, and non-profits and making a positive impact in communities across the nation.