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Climate

AM Briefing: A Deadline Blown​

On the delayed Vineyard Wind 1 project, modular nuclear reactors, and America's sinking cities

Briefing image.
AM Briefing: BYD vs. Tesla
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Parts of northern France are flooded after Storm Henk • China confirmed 2023 broke extreme heat records • A California-bound ship carrying 800 metric tons of lithium batteries is stuck in Alaska, riding out a major winter storm.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Tesla and Rivian release Q4 sales numbers

Tesla and Rivian yesterday reported their production and sales figures for the final three months of 2023: Tesla delivered 484,507, besting expectations. Rivian, a newcomer still trying to secure itself a foothold in the market, delivered 13,972 cars over the same time period, missing estimates by a hair. “The two companies’ numbers serve as snapshots of both the promise and peril of auto electrification as we roll into 2024,” writes Matthew Zeitlin at Heatmap. Tesla, having been overtaken by BYD in the global EV market, must now focus on scaling beyond the early EV adopters. Rivian, however, is at a very different stage, Zeitlin says: “not the early days of using investor money to develop a new vehicle, but the next stage, where you have an actual car to sell but you have to figure out a way to make money doing it.”

2. Vineyard Wind 1 project misses 2023 grid deadline

One of America’s first large-scale offshore wind farms missed its deadline to start supplying energy to the grid by the end of 2023. The Vineyard Wind 1 project is situated about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and will eventually consist of 62 turbines that can power more than 400,000 homes and businesses in Massachusetts. Its first five turbines have been installed, and things were looking good for a December 31 launch. But at the very last minute a spokesperson said the project needed more testing. No timeline was given but the spokesperson said the goal was to “deliver power to shore soon.” The project was supposed to be fully operational by the middle of 2024 but developers have now “clarified” that the timeline is sometime within 2024. In December, the South Fork Wind project in New York became the first utility-scale offshore wind farm to generate power in the U.S.

3. U.K. fossil fuel electricity generation drops to 66-year low

The amount of the United Kingdom’s electricity that came from fossil fuels dropped by 22% last year to the lowest level since 1957, according toCarbonBrief. Electricity from coal, oil, and gas peaked in 2008 but has since plummeted thanks to the rapid expansion of renewables like wind and solar, a drop in electricity demand, and a boost in electricity imports. Coal use is down 97% since 2008; gas is down by 45%. Meanwhile, renewables output has increased six-fold, and last year renewable energy was the UK’s single largest source of power. “Overall, the electricity generated in the UK in 2023 had the lowest-ever carbon intensity,” CarbonBrief concludes.

On the flip side, UK power generation from nuclear plants dropped to a 42-year low last year as old stations were decommissioned. Without more nuclear power to fall back on during cloudy or wind-free days, the country may have to rely more on fossil fuels, explainsBloomberg.

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  • 4. Wyoming carbon removal project would rely on small modular nuclear reactors

    A major carbon removal project planned for Wyoming would rely on small modular nuclear reactors – a new kind of nuclear power plant that has never been built in the U.S. – prompting concerns about its feasibility, reports E&E News. Climate tech startup CarbonCapture recently received more than $10 million from the Department of Energy to explore plans for a direct air capture hub in Wyoming, dubbed “Project Bison.” Scientists say removing carbon from the air is necessary to help fight global warming. Small modular reactors could, in theory, provide carbon capture facilities with emissions-free power, but the nation’s first small modular reactors were axed last year as costs spiraled out of control. “It adds complication upon complication,” says Wil Burns, co-director of American University’s Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy. “You’re starting off with a complex new technology, and now you’re trying to wed another complex technology, including one that’s in transition.”

    CarbonCapture

    5. Study: Major East Coast cities are sinking

    New research from Virginia Tech and the U.S. Geological Survey finds that major cities on the East Coast – from New York to Virginia Beach – are sinking. The team analyzed satellite data to spot land subsidence and found that some areas are sinking by as much as 5 millimeters per year. This subsidence, when combined with sea level rise caused by climate change, means essential structures like roads to airports are at risk in many major U.S. cities. “The problem is that the hotspots of sinking land intersect directly with population and infrastructure hubs," says lead author Leonard Ohenhen.

    THE KICKER

    If you’re a journalist seeking comment on last year’s record temperatures, look no further than climate scientist Andrew Dressler’s “last year was hot” auto-response:

    X/AndrewDressler

    Yellow

    Jessica Hullinger

    Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London. Read More

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    Electric Vehicles

    Why 2024 Is a Make or Break Year for Rivian

    The all-American EV startup is cutting costs to survive.

    A Rivian.
    Heatmap Illustration/Rivian

    America’s most interesting electric-vehicle company is about to have the defining year of its life.

    On Wednesday, the company reported that it lost $1.58 billion in the fourth quarter of last year, bringing its net annual losses to $5.4 billion. It announced that it is laying off about 10% of its salaried employees, but — at the same time — promised that it has a plan to achieve a small profit by the end of this year.

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    Coal’s Slowdown Is Slowing Down

    Rising electricity demand puts reliability back on the table.

    Pollution.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    The United States has been able to drive its greenhouse gas emissions to their lowest level since the early 1990s largely by reducing the amount of energy on the grid generated by coal to a vast extent. In 2005, by far the predominant source of U.S. electricity, making up some 2.2 million gigawatt-hours of the country’s 4.3 million GWh total energy consumption, according to the International Energy Agency. In 2022, by contrast, coal generation was down to 900,000 GWh out of 4.5 million GWh generated. As a result, “U.S. emissions are 15.8% lower than 2005 levels, while power emissions are 40% lower than 2005 levels,” according to BloombergNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

    But the steady retirement of coal plants may be slowing down. Only 2.3 GW of coal generating capacity are set to be shut down so far in 2024, according to the Energy Information Administration. While in 2025, that number is expect to jump up to 10.9 GW, the combined 13.2 GW of retired capacity pales in comparison of the more than 22 GW retired in the past two years, according to EIA figures. Over the past decade, coal retirements have averaged about 10 GW a year, with actual retirements often outpacing forecasts.

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    Lifestyle

    Ron DeSantis' Beef With Lab-Grown Meat

    What Florida Republicans have against cultivated meat

    Ron DeSantis and a very large hamburger.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    In the Free State of Florida, Republicans have banned woke public investments, woke racial education, and woke books in school libraries. Now they’re trying to ban woke meat.

    Legislation that would criminalize the sale of cultivated meat grown from animal cells is wending its way through the state House and Senate, even though cultivated meat is not currently for sale anywhere in Florida — or, for that matter, anywhere else. Governor Ron DeSantis, eager to start owning libs again after his fiasco of a presidential campaign, has said he’s on board with banning the new technology, even though the federal government has already signed off on meat grown in fermenters rather than feedlots as safe.

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