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Insights from greenhouse gas research

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Written by: Alexa Stone

Scholars at leading universities are studying, quantifying, and predicting the impact of climate change. They are also publishing fresh ideas for limiting and mediating that impact.

Transition to renewable energy recommended

Research project at the University of Michigan

Coal Power Plant

In the United States, 28% of greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions are the result of generating electricity from fossil fuels. Solar and wind could generate much of that energy, but utility companies have determined renewables to be costly and inefficient.

Those companies are correct. The problem is not inefficient solar panels or slow wind turbines. In fact, renewable energy sources can produce more power than what is needed. Energy storage costs are the problem. On exceptionally sunny or windy days, excess power is wasted. The cost remains high.

If taxes were collected on carbon dioxide, investment in energy storage solutions might look better on utility company balance sheets. Solar and wind could replace fossil fuels.

The University of Michigan research considered the impact of adding up to 20 gigawatts of wind and 40 gigawatts of solar capacity after levying carbon dioxide taxes of up to $200 per ton. That could achieve a 72% carbon dioxide reduction in California. For Texas, better storage could bring a 57% emissions reduction. The research found that on a national scale, the shift to renewable energy could yield a 90% reduction in power plant GhG emissions.

A recent article at the University of Michigan News describes the project and its findings.

Unexpected  methane leaks found at petroleum rigs

Research team led by Princeton University

The study measured methane leakage at eight North Sea petroleum installations. Previously reported leakage, 0.13% of production, had appeared low. The researchers found an additional 0.19% occurred during normal operations. That is the equivalent impact of an additional 330,000 cars on the road.

Learn more about the survey results and their impact at

New project to predict effects of stratospheric particle release

Research at Harvard University

Solar Geoengineering

Solar geoengineering would change the stratosphere to reduce sunlight at lower altitudes and on the Earth’s surface. the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx) Project will investigate critical issues about that strategy to counter the effects of greenhouse gases:

What would happen if particulates were scattered in the stratosphere?

If enough sunlight were reflected into space, would that reduce the catastrophic results of climate change?

What are the risks and uncertainties of solar geoengineering?

Solar geoengineering was first proposed in the 1950’s. Proponents then reasoned that particles released in the stratosphere could reflect sunlight back into space. Before SCoPEx, the benefits had not been quantified and associated risks had not been researched. Ozone layer effects were not considered. There had been no consideration of possible disruption to the stratosphere.

The SCoPEx project will measure how a small quantity of particulate matter interacts with the upper atmosphere. A high-altitude balloon will hoist an instrument package aloft. The particulates will be released at an altitude of approximately 12 miles. Onboard instruments will measure aerosol density, atmospheric chemistry, and light scattering. Wind measurements will provide data that may give insight into ways that stratospheric turbulence is generated.

Visit the Harvard Solar Geoengineering Research Program website

Benefits and risks of solar geoengineering are discussed here:

Dig Deeper articles survey the recent reporting about climate change, smart technologies, and workplace wellness.

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