Each week we share the top sustainability news stories from around the world. Here’s this week’s round up:
This week, we explore how ocean circulation is leading to more extreme weather, an industry-changing hydrogen plant in Sweden and Energy companies declaring bankruptcy in the fallout of the recent Texas storm.
Atlantic Ocean Circulation at its Weakest in a Millennium:
The ocean circulation that underpins the Gulf Stream, which is responsible for keeping most of Europe warm and mild in climate despite its latitudes, is at its weakest in more than a thousand years, and the climate crisis is the probable cause. The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is one of the world’s biggest ocean circulation systems, carrying warm surface water from the Gulf of Mexico towards the north Atlantic, where it cools and becomes saltier until it sinks north of Iceland, which in turn pulls more warm water from the Caribbean. This circulation is accompanied by trade winds that help to bring mild and wet weather to most of Europe. The system could come irrevocably unstable if climate action isn’t taken.
With slower circulation, Europe will see an increase in storms, cold fronts, and heatwaves while the east coast of the U.S. will experience higher sea level rises than previously expected. The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who co-authored the study into this, stated that “in 20 to 30 years it is likely to weaken further, and that will inevitably influence our weather”. On the east coast, the rise in sea level will affect over one-third of America’s population, leaving the entire eastern half of the country more susceptible to stronger and deadlier hurricanes due to warmer ocean waters. In Europe, extreme weather will result in adverse effects on agriculture and other economic activities, costing countries billions of euros yearly.
While experts admit that the AMOC won’t completely collapse anytime soon, current climate change models indicate that the slowing down of the circulation will only continue to grow unless we address rising temperatures due to carbon emissions.
Sweden will soon be home to a major steel factory powered by the “world’s largest green hydrogen plant”:
A Swedish firm backed by investors including Spotify founder Daniel Ek plans to build a steel production facility in the north of the country that will be powered by what it describes as “the world’s largest green hydrogen plant”. The steel plant, known as H2 Green Steel, will focus on industry-changing manufacturing practices by going “fossil-free” with the aid of hydrogen energy.
According to the International Energy Agency, the iron and steel sector is responsible for 2.6 gigatonnes of direct carbon dioxide emissions each year, a figure that, in 2019, was greater than direct emissions from other sectors like cement and chemicals. Also, the steel sector is the largest industrial consumer of coal, which provides around 75% of its energy demand. Therefore, steel production is one of many industrial processes ripe for improvement when it comes to emissions and other metrics related to sustainability. Aluminium manufacturing has already begun to undergo sustainable improvement with companies like BMW now sourcing the material from plants producing it using solar energy. The size of H2 Green Steel’s hydrogen plant will be around 800 megawatts, with its end product replacing coal in the steel manufacturing process.
Hydrogen can be produced various ways, one includes electrolysis which involves an electric current splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen. If the electricity used in the process comes from a renewable source such as wind or solar then it’s termed “green” or “renewable” hydrogen. For the initial phase of the project, total financing will come to roughly €2.5 billion, however, will lay out a template to make the industry much more sustainable.
Texas Energy Co-op files for Bankruptcy After Storm, High Bill
*For more background information on the situation in Texas, check out our previous blog*
The largest power cooperative in Texas filed for bankruptcy earlier this week, citing a massive bill from the state’s own electricity grid operator following a notable winter storm earlier in February that left millions of people without heat and electricity for days on end. Brazos Electrics ays it received an unpayable $1.8 Billion bill from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (Ercot), which maintains much of Texas’ own statewide and under-regulated power grid. Electric generation equipment and natural gas pipeline equipment owned and managed by Ercot froze during the storm, causing the available generation within Ercot to dramatically decline.
This is the first of many subsequent electric companies that will presumably file for bankruptcy against bills owed to Ercot, with most other companies facing billions of dollars in charges because of the storm surge and demand. Ercot for days was charging electrical companies in some instances more than $25,000 per megawatt hour due to lack of regulation and price gouging.
Payers and politicians have been criticising Ercot’s leadership for failing to prepare for the storm in the wake of the fallout. The state run company has already begun to see resignations and hearings along with investigations into the company that will surely continue into the coming future. While the power has been restored, the bankruptcies are just beginning. Texas might soon see a massive overhaul of its energy system as result, which could lead to more renewable energy investment.
Tune in next week for another round of sustainability news from around the world.