Newsletter: Time to kick that methane habit

The near-term climate fix that could save the planet — and make money doing it.
By Julian Spector

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By now you’ve probably seen the hubbub around the latest IPCC report from the U.N. and its assessment of just how far down the path of climate change we already are.

There’s a lot of good coverage out there on the science and its dire implications. Here at Canary Media, we dial in on the specific steps people can take to build a cleaner energy system, a project that, if handled expeditiously, could avert the more cataclysmic warming scenarios.

To that end, I’ll point you to Jeff St. John’s analysis of the potent planet-warming gas methane. Much of the success in lowering power plant emissions in the U.S. has come from switching out coal for natural gas (which is largely composed of methane). The problem is, when that gas leaks from wells and pipelines, it contributes far more to heating the planet than carbon dioxide does in the short term.

Cutting methane emissions is the single fastest, most effective way there is to slow the rate of global warming right now,” Ilissa Ocko, senior climate scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, said at a Monday press conference.

Methane gets more focus in the new report than ever before. Stopping it from leaking will be a vital part of any plan to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The good news is that we have a pretty clear playbook for drastically reducing leaks over the next decade.

That rate of leak prevention is not only entirely feasible but also potentially lucrative. Ocko highlighted EDF research indicating that four-fifths of the methane emissions reductions needed over the next decade could be achieved by the oil and gas industries at low or no net cost, simply by instituting practices that capture that methane for useful and revenue-generating work.

Methane itself is a commodity that can be sold if it isn’t released into the atmosphere. But the oil and gas industry hasn’t solved its leakage problem on its own — so there’s a clear need for policy directives here.

Reducing methane emissions also improves health outcomes for communities living near extraction sites, so there’s an environmental justice case as well.

How to build climate-savvy power plants

The investments we make in a low-carbon grid will have to weather whatever a changing climate throws at them. Some power companies are starting to incorporate that into their planning now, with the help of government supercomputers.

Jeff reports that the New York Power Authority, the country’s biggest state-owned utility, is using a sophisticated forecast from the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory that predicts future weather patterns across the country at resolutions of 12 kilometers per pixel.

The effort should guide NYPA’s investments to plan for heightened flood risk and intensified heat waves in specific locations. Which is important, because NYPA’s going to spend $6 billion on grid upgrades and clean energy projects over the coming decade.

Where do you site that energy storage? Where do we interconnect that offshore wind?” said Adrienne Lotto, senior director for enterprise resilience at NYPA. That has to be climate-informed.”

Speaking of climate-informed, we’re hiring two journalists to cover the energy transition

Our little Canary nest is growing. We’re looking for two reporters to join our nonprofit newsroom. The global transition to clean energy is a massive topic, and we need your help to cover it more fully.

The job description is up on our careers page. If you or anyone you know wants to take on this challenge, send in an application! And please share the posting across your networks. We want to cast as wide a net as possible.

I’ll just add that I find it thrilling to get up every day with a clear mission: to seek out the most vital stories at the cutting edge of clean energy and share them with the world. There are so many elements of this subject that deserve more journalistic scrutiny, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to dig in.

Joining the Canary Media team also means you’ll experience the thrill of a startup — we’re building this organization as we go, and having fun doing so. And you’ll get to be part of a nonprofit newsroom, where we’re crafting a sustainable model that puts the journalism first, rather than maximizing returns for profit-seeking investors.

If any of that sounds enticing, come join us!

(Lead photo: Ryan Song/Unsplash)

Julian Spector is a senior reporter at Canary Media. He reports on batteries, long-duration energy storage, low-carbon hydrogen and clean energy breakthroughs around the world.