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Climate change may have driven early human species to extinction
Was Homo erectus driven extinct by climate change?The Natural History Museum/Alamy
Sudden climatic changes may have been a significant driver of the extinction of early human species.
Pasquale Raia at the University of Naples Federico II in Italy and his colleagues have used climate modelling and fossil records to determine the effect climate change had on the survival of the species in our Homo genus.
The researchers used a database of 2754 archaeological records of the remains of several species alive over the past 2.5 million years, including Homo habilis, Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens.
They cross-referenced these records with a climate emulator, which modelled temperature, rainfall and other weather data over the past 5 million years. The aim was to determine the climatic niche for each species – a range of conditions including temperature and precipitation that are optimal for survival – and how widely distributed the niche area was through time.
The team found that H. erectus, H. heidelbergensis and H. neanderthalensis all lost a significant portion of their climatic niche area just before they became extinct.
“Species are good at surviving when they have a large area at their disposal to live in,” says Raia. But when liveable areas decrease and the result is small patches that are geographically isolated from each other, species enter what is known as an extinction vortex.
The reductions in liveable area resulted from sudden climatic changes, the team found. H. erectus, for example, went extinct during the last glacial period, which began about 115,000 years ago. The researchers suggest this was the coldest period the species had ever experienced.
The team found that for the Neanderthals, competition with H. sapiens was also a factor, but that even without the presence of our species the effect of climate change alone may have been enough to lead to extinction. Even species with the ability to control their local environment – such as by wearing clothes or creating fires – were susceptible to the effects of climate change, says Raia.
But gaps in data may compromise the certainty of the conclusion that climate change was the primary extinction driver, say researchers who weren’t involved in the study.
Aside from Neanderthals, there is scarcely any fossil evidence for the other species studied, says Bernard Wood at George Washington University in Washington DC. “Individuals belonging to these taxa lived at times, and in places, not sampled by the existing fossil record,” he says.
“Plus, the first appearance date of a taxon almost certainly underestimates when a taxon appeared, and its last appearance date almost certainly underestimates when a taxon became extinct,” he says.
As species approach extinction, regardless of the cause – whether it be competition, being hunted or breeding problems – their range necessarily declines, says Corey Bradshaw at Flinders University in Australia. If a species’ range was already in decline, that could give the false impression that the climate niche area was also declining, he says.
“No species that we know of has ever gone extinct from a single mechanism. It’s always a combination,” says Bradshaw. “For example, in the case of many megafauna species in the late Pleistocene, it’s coming to light that there were a lot of interaction effects between human hunting and climate change.”
Journal reference: One Earth, DOI: 10.1016/j.oneear.2020.09.007
Heat pumps ‘critical’ to London’s 2030 net zero target
Image: The Carbon Trust
Heat pumps have a “critical role” to play in London reaching net zero according to a new report from The Carbon Trust.
The report, which was commissioned by the Mayor of London, is designed to help guide local authorities, social housing providers and others considering a heat pump retrofit.
Retrofitting will be of significant importance for London as at least 80% of its buildings are expected to still be standing in 2050, with a need to improve energy efficiency in buildings in order to deploy heat pumps at scale.
The report also stressed the importance of good practice system design, which it said will be “essential” for effective heat pump deployment.
Heat pumps are, however, the “primary technology choice for decarbonising heat in existing buildings” due to their efficiency, with The Carbon Trust stating that this, combined with the ongoing rapid decarbonisation of the grid, means the technology has the potential to deliver CO2 savings of 60-70% compared to conventional electric heating and 55-65% compared to an A-rated gas boiler.
They will also reduce fuel bills compared to conventional electric heating, but they could increase fuel bills compared to gas unless paired with energy efficiency, best practice system design and flexible use of heat.
This is despite the high upfront cost of heat pumps, although the report did continue to say that many building types will require additional up-front financial support.
However, the lifetime financial case for heat pump retrofit is already strong in some building types, according the report, citing examples of electrically heated buildings, buildings with a high cooling demand and buildings that already require major renovations, which are all building types that should be prioritised for heat pump retrofit.
Due to these findings, The Carbon Trust has created an action plan for heat pumps, including the recommendation to re-balance gas and electricity energy taxation to incentivise low carbon heating.
“As always, heat pumps are not a silver bullet solution, which is why we have provided a suite of policy recommendations, including investment in energy efficiency in buildings and flexibility in the energy system,” Tom Delay, chief executive of the Carbon Trust, said.
Other recommendations include reducing the upfront capital cost of heat pumps paid by the building owner, maximising the financial rewards for the flexibility of heat demand, catalysing the deployment of heat pumps in buildings where there is already a strong business case for it and rapidly escalating investment in thermal energy efficiency.
“Retrofitting heat pumps and improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings are key to achieving the Mayor’s ambitious target for London to reach net zero carbon by 2030,” Shirley Rodrigues, deputy mayor for environment and energy at the Greater London Authority, said.
“Not only will retrofitting heat pumps help support jobs and skills vital to a green, fair and prosperous COVID-recovery, they also reduce energy bills if designed well. However, delivering this at the scale needed will require the government to step up investment and implement strong supportive policies.”
European solar generation hit ‘all-time high’ in Q2 2020
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Generation from Europe’s solar PV fleet hit an all-time high in Q2 2020, according to analysis compiled by EnAppSys.
Driven by a collapse in power demand associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and ideal weather conditions, European solar generated around 47.6TWh throughout the three months ended 30 June. That figure is a 19% jump on the previous record of 40.6TWh set in Q3 2018.
Those generation figures helped renewables take a 45% share of the total electricity mix, equating to the largest share of any asset class.
And the difference between solar and fossil fuel incumbents could not be starker. While solar reached new heights, fossil fuel generators witnessed their lowest quarterly generation for nearly five years. By comparison, fossil fuels provided just under one-third (31%) of total power in Europe in Q2 2020, while nuclear provided 25%.
At 47.6TWh, European solar’s output in Q2 2020 is nearly 22% greater than the 39.1TWh it produced in Q2 2019 and 18.7% greater than the 40.1TWh it produced in 2018. It is also the highest percentage share of total power generation recorded to date at 7.8%. The closest equivalent share for solar was 6.3% recorded in Q2 last year.
While generation conditions in Europe, as was noted by stakeholders at the time, were favourable for solar, the impact of COVID-19 and associated lockdowns has also been highlighted by EnAppSys.
National lockdown measures, while enforced in March, remained in place for much of Q2, triggering a slump in power demand. The quarterly average power demand in the second quarter fell by 13% from 345GW to 298GW, far greater than any decrease associated with seasonality, EnAppSys said.
“By the end of the quarter, overall demand levels seemed to have stabilised after the initial drop. While demand was generally lower than historical levels, the differences became comparable in magnitude with the range of normal year-to-year variations, and the lockdown effects became less clear,” Jean-Paul Harreman, director at EnAppSys BV, said.
Renewable generation sees ‘largest year-on-year’ increase as it exceeds 40TWh in Q1
The UK’s renewable generation has seen the largest ever year-on-year increase, jumping by 30% in Q1 2020.
Following on from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) publishing its quarterly report, the department has now given in depth figures specifically for renewables.
It found that renewable generation climbed by 9.4TWh from 31.5TWh in Q1 2019 to 40.8TWh in Q1 2020.
Whilst its quarterly report found that capacity increased to 47.4GW, it has now detailed how two thirds of that increased capacity – 1.6GW – came from new offshore wind installations.
It pointed to the completion of the Beatrice expansion, as well as Hornsea One becoming operational in stages and the first stage of East Anglia One coming online, with all three of these being supported by the Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme.
Offshore wind, meanwhile, achieved the highest rate of growth of the renewables at 19%. Energy from waste was close behind at 15%, followed by anaerobic digestion (14%), onshore wind (2.5%), solar PV (1.3%) and plant biomass with an increase of less than 1%.
Despite solar PV increasing in capacity, it saw a decrease in generation by 11% to 1.9TWh. This was a result of a decrease in the number of sunlight hours compared to the “relatively high level” seen in Q1 2019, BEIS said.
Solar PV represented a 28.2% share of all renewable capacity by the end of the quarter, with onshore wind having the highest at 29.8%.
Offshore wind came in third with 21.4%, with bioenergy having 16.6% and hydro 4.0%.
Generation from offshore wind did, however, see a huge boost of 53% to 13.2TWh compared to Q1 2019, with onshore jumping 29% to 12.8TWh.
Overall, renewables generated a record 47% of the UK’s electricity, with the technology having never broken 40% before.
The load factor for all new renewables also hit a milestone, being the highest quarterly load factor since Q1 2014 at 39.5%.
In Q1 2020, onshore wind’s load factor was 41.6% (compared to 33.8% in Q1 2019) and offshore wind’s was 59.7% (compared to 47.8% in Q1 2019), with BEIS saying this increase is due to the average wind speeds, which were the highest since 2008.
Finally, BEIS also provided information on small-scale installations, although unsubsidised installations below 1MW that are not registered with the MCS are not featured in its statistics.
It found there were over 1 million small scale installations at the end of Q1 2020, with a total capacity of 6,712MW.
This accounts for 14% of total renewable capacity, with solar PV representing an “overwhelming majority” of small-scale installations, coming in at 99% as well as a “significant majority” of the small scale capacity at 81%.
61GW renewables and storage pipeline could bring in £125bn to economy
The UK currently has a pipeline of 61GW of renewables and storage that if developed could bring in £125 billion to the UK economy.
This is according to trade association Regen, which released new analysis of the UK’s pipeline. It found that this pipeline could provide 200,000 jobs and could add £125 billion to the value of the UK economy across the entire country.
This comes as many companies and organisations seek to highlight the benefits of a green recovery from COVID-19 to both jobs and the economy, with the IEA finding that worldwide millions of jobs could be saved and the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit finding that tens of thousands of UK jobs could be saved.
The pipeline breaks down into offshore wind scooping up just over half that figure at 31.7GW, with onshore wind (11.9GW), solar PV (8.6GW) and storage (8.5GW) splitting the remaining half.
Regen calculated that 18GW of this pipeline can be deemed “shovel-ready”, using renewable energy planning data to identify the projects ‘awaiting construction’, those that have received planning permission but not begun construction.
It calculated the total pipeline from the registers of ‘accepted to connect’ energy generation assets on the distribution and transmission electricity networks.
To help “unlock” these projects, Regen is calling on the government to implement three key policies that it said would remove barriers. The first of these is to publish the forthcoming energy white paper, which was originally set to be published in summer 2019 but has seen numerous delays.
Secondly, Regen is calling on the government to commit to annual Contracts for Difference (CfD) auctions. It was announced in March that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) was to consult on opening up the CfD to solar and onshore wind again. Making the auctions yearly would give investors confidence, Regen said.
Its final recommendation is to end what it described as anti-onshore wind policies in the English planning system.
Merlin Hyman, chief executive of Regen said that the “dramatic falls” in the cost of renewables and storage means the projects in the UK’s pipeline could be delivered by private sector investment which would enable public investment to be focused on “other green energy policies, such as the Chancellor’s home insulation grant scheme announced yesterday”.
March sees tripling of battery EV sales despite slumping new car market
Sales of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) soared in March 2020 to 11,694 despite a significant drop in sales of new cars overall.
In March, registrations of BEVs almost tripled, accounting for 4.6% of the market, according to new figures released by the SMMT. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) sales also saw a boost, growing 38% in the month, however they fell short of the numbers BEVs achieved, with 6,818 registrations compared to 11,694.
However, the new car market saw an overall drop in sales of -44.4%, a harsher fall than during the last financial crisis and the worst March since the late nineties, the SMMT said.
203,370 fewer cars were registered than in March 2019, a fall larger attributed to the closure of showrooms in line with government advice to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The reason why BEVs saw a huge spike despite the overall decline is likely to be attributed to several reasons, according to Cornwall Insight’s EV specialist Katie Hickford, one of which is the changes to Benefit in Kind tax which came into effect on 1 April, providing a strong financial incentive for fleet EV purchases.
Another large contributing factor is also likely to be the Tesla Model 3, Hickford said, which is “likely the 9th best-selling car model during March 2020”.
Whilst Tesla is not a member of the SMMT and therefore doesn’t report its data directly, “it is assumed that Tesla, and the Model 3 in particular, comprise the notable majority of the ‘Other’ category”.
“March data also reflects the larger volume of pre-order for the new March number plates. Taken together with the long lead time on many EV purchases, it is likely that April registration data may provide a clearer picture of the impact of COVID-19 on BEV sales,” Hickford continued.
March’s figures come on the back of a string of record-breaking months. January saw sales up 203.9% compared to 2019, with 4,054 BEVs registered during the month compared to 1,334 in the year previously.
The SMMT also announced it has downgraded its interim market outlook for the year to 1.73 million registrations – a -23% decline on the previous outlook made in January.
Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said that the overall decline has come as “no surprise” due to the UK’s lockdown.
“We should not, however, draw long term conclusions from these figures other than this being a stark realisation of what happens when economies grind to a halt.”
Britain hits ‘significant milestone’ as renewables become main power source
Renewables, especially wind, generated 5.4TWh between January and March.
In Q1 2020, renewables became Britain’s main power source for the first time ever, according to new analysis by EnAppSys.
Renewables hit a new milestone, generating 35.4TWh between January and March, more than fossil fuels combined. This also represents a significant increase from Q1 2019, when they produced 27.2TWh.
During this period 44.6% of total generation was produced by renewables, with the rest generated by gas-fired plants (29.1%), nuclear plants (15.3%), power imports (7.3%) and coal plants (3.7%).
This surge in renewable generation was largely due to weather conditions, as there was consistently high winds throughout the period. Output from wind farms was more than 10GW for 63% of the quarter, and more than 5GW for 85% of it.
Storms battered Britain at the beginning of 2020, bringing record breaking winds. Storm Ciara for example set two wind generation records, with wind turbines generating 56% of the country’s electricity at 2am on Saturday 8 February, the most at any one time, and accounting for 44.26% of power produced across the whole day.
The record breaking start to 2020 was aided by a recent drop off in demand, according to EnAppSys, caused by the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown. However, as this was only brought in towards the end of the quarter, it is likely to have a larger impact on Q2.
Paul Verrill, director of EnAppSys, called Q1 a “significant milestone” for Britain’s power industry.
“With weather likely to return to more typical patterns in future quarters, the 45% of electricity generation from renewable sources in the quarter is likely to be a temporary high. However, given recent trends which show that renewables are becoming an increasingly dominant player in Britain’s power mix, the continued build of offshore wind farms and the resurgence in onshore wind should see these levels being achieved more often in the longer term.”
The amount of renewable generation on the system meant that not only was there more generation from renewables than gas, there was more than gas and coal-fired generation combined for a whole quarter. This is another first for the country according to EnAppSys.
In the short term, with reduced demand due to coronavirus, we can expect renewables to provide a significant amount of the country’s energy mix.
However, Verrill added that: “Whilst levels of generation from renewables have been on the rise, Britain’s other clean power source – nuclear – generated its smallest overall volume of generation since Q3 2008, producing 12.2TWh in the quarter as older reactors saw increased levels of downtime as they move towards the end of their operational life.
“Levels of nuclear generation are set to continue to decline as plants close, although this will be offset by increased levels of renewable and gas generation as well as any new nuclear builds.”
UK has ‘record-breaking’ year for low carbon energy
Wind power generated a record 20% of the UK’s energy.
Last year saw renewables records broken across the board as renewables produced nearly 37% of the UK’s power, according to new data released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
In 2019, renewables generated a record breaking 36.9% of the UK’s electricity, it announced today (26 March). Of this, wind power contributed 20%, a further record, with 9.9% from onshore wind and 9.9% from offshore wind.
This amounted to 32TWh of generation from wind in 2019, the most ever recorded. Renewable electricity capacity grew to 47.4GW by the end of the year, a 6.9% increase (3.0GW) on a year earlier.
Across the board, low carbon generation increased in 2019, ensuring that renewables and nuclear together accounted for a record 54.2%. Nuclear provided 17.4%, while natural gas provided 40.9% and coal just 2.1%.
This growth in renewables have allowed greenhouse gas emissions to fall by 3.6% from 2018, and almost 28% since 2010.
Energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng welcomed the news, in particular during a period of uncertainty in the UK caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These new figures show the extraordinary progress the UK has made in tackling climate change, with emissions falling 45% since 1990. With record-breaking levels of renewable electricity on the grid we are well-placed to build on these efforts in the months and years ahead, while continuing to support the economy through the coronavirus outbreak.”
Overall, electricity production in the UK showed a small decrease in 2019 compared with 2018, with 324TWh produced across the year.
Energy efficiency measures contributed to this, but were also offset by the transition to electric vehicles and electric heating, increasing demand in an effort to decarbonise.
RenewableUK’s deputy chief executive Melanie Onn said that the figures showed how radically the energy system is changing, “with low-cost renewables at the vanguard”.
“This will continue as we build a modern energy system, moving away from fossil fuels to reach net zero emissions as fast as possible. As well as wind, we’ll use innovative new technologies like renewable hydrogen and marine power, and we’ll scale up battery storage.
“Low-cost renewables are central to the government’s energy strategy and our sector will grow rapidly in the years ahead, as our domestic supply chain expands and we continue to seize multi-billion pound export opportunities around the world”.
BEIS’s statistics today follow reports in January that renewables were on the cusp of becoming the main energy source in the country.
Research firm EnAppSys found that in 2019, 104.8TWh of Britain’s electricity came from renewables, just shy of the 115.1TWh produced by gas-fired power stations.
National Grid meanwhile celebrated low carbon power sources over taking fossil fuels in Britain in January. It found that throughout the twelve months of 2019, 48.5% of the country’s power came from zero carbon sources, including wind farms, solar and nuclear energy, alongside energy imported by subsea interconnectors.
Throughout the same period, 43% of Britain’s electricity came from fossil fuels, predominantly gas and the remaining 8.5% was generated by biomass.
It’s Too Late For Us To Fight Climate Change. Instead, Here’s How We’ll Spend Our Lives.
What Will Be Lost is a series of reported stories and essays exploring theways climate change is affecting our relationship to one another, to our senseof place and to ourselves.Last year was when the endless bush fires in Australia convinced me and mywife, Susan, that climate change was unstoppable. It’s also when we realizedthat we likely will avoid seeing the worst of the climate emergency.At 64 and 74 years of age, my wife and I believe there’s a good chance thatwe’ll be gone before coastal
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