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Deep Decarbonization News

David Victor of UC San Diego to Co-Chair Climate Action Commission

A new initiative of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences will help drive bold climate solutions

By Emerson Dameron | UC San Diego News

news-home_decarbonization-power.jpgSAN DIEGO, CA – David G. Victor of the University of California San Diego will bring his years of leadership experience to a new initiative from The American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the Commission on Accelerating Climate Action.

The commission is a nonpartisan, multidisciplinary, multiyear project that will focus on identifying barriers to climate action and recommending how the United States can accelerate climate mitigation and adaptation for all Americans.

David Victor is the co-director of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative and professor of Innovation and Public Policy at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of UC San Diego. He will serve as one of the commission’s four co-chairs.

“At the Deep Decarbonization Initiative, we are focused on producing scholarship at the intersection of science, technology and policy,” said Victor. “Our work focuses on grand challenges in the transformation of energy systems, from decarbonization of the electrical grid to transportation systems and delivering energy for all. The Academy’s new commission is a natural tie-in to the research happening here at UC San Diego.”

With the goal of developing a shared understanding of climate change issues facing people nationwide, Victor and his fellow co-chairs – Christopher Field (Perry L. McCarty Director, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University), Catherine Coleman Flowers (Founder, The Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice and Rural Development Manager, The Equal Justice Initiative) and Patricia Vincent-Collawn (Chairman, President and CEO, PNM Resources, Inc.) – are engaging a diverse group of leaders who recognize the urgency of the situation and the importance of developing an inclusive approach to accelerating action. More than a dozen experts, from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, have already agreed to participate.

Victor added that the commission will publish its recommendations and actions in a policy report made available to the public.

The Commission on Accelerating Climate Action is an extension of a statement issued by the Board of the Academy, attesting to the reality and urgency of climate change and committing the Academy to confront this existential threat. From the statement: “All of us – scientists, engineers, humanists, lawyers, social scientists, educators, artists and individuals from the private sector and government – must work together to limit and respond to climate change. In these efforts, we need to collaborate with national and international companies, organizations and institutions.”

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences is both a membership society that honors excellence and a nonpartisan research organization engaging leaders from across disciplines, professions and perspectives to work on pressing issues.

The Deep Decarbonization Initiative is a combined effort of faculty across UC San Diego working at the intersection of science, technology and policy. It is focused on helping the world cut emissions of warming gases given the very real technology, economic and political constraints that exist. The initiative was founded in partnership by UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering and School of Global Policy and Strategy. More information can be found at

CO2 Emissions Are Rebounding, but Clean Energy Revolutions are Emerging

Climate change has worsened each year, but across the globe there are promising signs of real decarbonization, according to UC San Diego researchers

June 3, 2021 | Read the original story on UC San Diego News Center

There are encouraging signs in emerging clean energy
technology “niches”—countries, states or corporations—
that are pioneering decarbonization. Credit: Petmal/iStock.

At the upcoming Conference of the Parties (COP26) in November, ample discussion is likely to focus on how the world is not on track to meet the Paris Agreement’s goals of stopping warming at well below 2C. According to a new University of California San Diego article published in Nature Energy, world diplomats will, however, find encouraging signs in emerging clean energy technology “niches”—countries, states or corporations—that are pioneering decarbonization.

“In certain areas, adoption rates for solar and wind turbines, as well as electric vehicles are very high and increasing every year,” write the authors of the opinion piece Ryan Hanna, assistant research scientist at UC San Diego’s Center for Energy Research and David G. Victor, professor of industrial innovation at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy. “It’s important to look to niches because this is where the real leg work of decarbonization is happening. In fact, one can think about the entire challenge of decarbonizing as one of opening and growing niches—for new technologies, policies and practices, which are all needed to address the climate crisis.”

The glimmers of hope for decarbonization will be critical for diplomats at COP26, who may be set for disappointment as they begin an official “stocktaking” process of reviewing past emissions. This year, each country will report on emissions accounting for the last five years and issue new, bolder pledges to cut greenhouse gasses.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, global fossil fuel emissions had been rising at about one percent per year over the previous decade. Over that same time, U.S. fossil fuel emissions fell by about one percent per year; however, that slight dip is nowhere near the decline written into the U.S.’s original pledge to the Paris Agreement.

“The abundant talk in recent years about ‘the energy transition’ has barely nudged dependence on conventional fossil fuels, nor has it much altered the trajectory of CO2 emissions or put the world on track to meet Paris goals,” write Hanna and Victor. “Instead, policymakers should measure the real engine rooms of technological change—to niche markets.”

They point to a growing number of markets where clean technology is being deployed at rates far above global and regional averages.

“Norway and California are leading on electric vehicles, Ireland on wind power and China on electric buses and new nuclear,” write Hanna and Victor. 

Today’s pioneers in energy are those who are actually doing the hard work of creating low-carbon technologies and getting them out into the world. These leaders developing and trialing new technologies are typically small groups; however, they are critical to the climate change crises because they take on risk and reveal what is possible, thereby lowering the risk for global markets to follow.

For example, beginning in 2010, Germany launched a massive investment in solar photovoltaics, which pushed down costs, making photovoltaics more politically and economically viable around the globe. Hanna and Victor credit Germany’s leadership for the expansive photovoltaic market the world has today.

Still, eliminating at least one-third of global emissions will require technologies that are, at this time, prototypes. To get more clean energy technologies deployed on a global scale requires new investments in research and development (R&D), notably in novel technologies related to electric power grids.

These investments are strong in China, mixed in Europe and are lagging along with other R&D expenditures in the U.S. 

“In the U.S., a new administration serious about climate change may allow for renewed pulses of spending on R&D for example, through a prospective infrastructure bill that could gain legislative approval this autumn as innovation is one of the few areas of energy policy bipartisan consensus,” the authors write.

The need is dire, as limiting warming to 1.5°C, per the Paris Agreement, has become increasingly out of reach. Meeting the goal now requires continuous reductions in emissions of about 6 percent annually across the whole globe.

“That is a speed and scope on par with what was delivered by global pandemic lockdowns, but previously unprecedented in history and far outside the realm of what’s practical,” write the authors.

They conclude that COP26, if handled by diplomats thinking like revolutionaries and not a diplomatic committee, is an opportunity to start taking stock of the industrial and agricultural revolutions that will be needed for decarbonization.

A Climate in Crisis Calls for Investment in Direct Air Capture, New Research Finds

Wartime-level funding for a fleet of CO2 scrubbers could slow warming, but stopping climate change still requires deep cuts in emissions

Jan. 14, 2021 | Read the original story on UC San Diego News Center 

Rendering showing ‘first look’ of what will be the world’s largest DAC plant. Courtesy of Carbon Engineering.

Rendering showing ‘first look’ of what will be the world’s largest DAC plant. Courtesy of Carbon Engineering.

There is a growing consensus among scientists as well as national and local governments representing hundreds of millions of people, that humanity faces a climate crisis that demands a crisis response. New research from the University of California San Diego explores one possible mode of response: a massively funded program to deploy direct air capture (DAC) systems that remove CO2 directly from the ambient air and sequester it safely underground.

The findings reveal such a program could reverse the rise in global temperature well before 2100, but only with immediate and sustained investments from governments and firms to scale up the new technology.

Despite the enormous undertaking explored in the study, the research also reveals the need for governments, at the same time, to adopt policies that would achieve deep cuts in CO2 emissions.  The scale of the effort needed just to achieve the Paris Agreement goals of holding average global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius is massive.

The study, published in Nature Communications, assesses how crisis-level government funding on direct air capture—on par with government spending on wars or pandemics—would lead to deployment of a fleet of DAC plants that would collectively remove CO2 from the atmosphere. 

“DAC is substantially more expensive than many conventional mitigation measures, but costs could fall as firms gain experience with the technology,” said first-author Ryan Hanna, assistant research scientist at UC San Diego. “If that happens, politicians could turn to the technology in response to public pressure if conventional mitigation proves politically or economically difficult.”

Co-author David G. Victor, professor of industrial innovation at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy, added that atmospheric CO2 concentrations are such that meeting climate goals requires not just preventing new emissions through extensive decarbonization of the energy system, but also finding ways to remove historical emissions already in the atmosphere.

“Current pledges to cut global emissions put us on track for about 3 degrees C of warming,” Victor, also an adjunct professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said. “This reality calls for research and action around the politics of emergency response. In times of crisis, such as war or pandemics, many barriers to policy expenditure and implementation are eclipsed by the need to mobilize aggressively.”

Emergency deployment of direct air capture

The study calculates the funding, net CO2 removal, and climate impacts of a large and sustained program to deploy direct air capture technology.

The authors find that if an emergency direct air capture program were to commence in 2025 and receive investment of 1.2–1.9% of global GDP annually it would remove 2.2–2.3 gigatons of CO2 by the year 2050 and 13–20 gigatons of CO2 by 2075. Cumulatively, the program would remove 570–840 gigatons of CO2 from 2025–2100, which falls within the range of CO2 removals that IPCC scenarios suggest will be needed to meet Paris targets.

Even with such a massive program, the globe would see temperature rise of 2.4–2.5ºC in the year 2100 without further cuts in global emissions below current trajectories.

Exploring the reality of a fleet of CO2 scrubbers in the sky

According to the authors, DAC has attributes that could prove attractive to policymakers if political pressures continue to mount to act on climate change, yet cutting emissions remains insurmountable.

“Policymakers might see value in the installation of a fleet of CO2 scrubbers: deployments would be highly controllable by the governments and firms that invest in them, their carbon removals are verifiable, and they do not threaten the economic competitiveness of existing industries,” said Hanna. 

From the Civil War to Operation Warp Speed, the authors estimate the financial resources that might be available for emergency deployment of direct air capture—in excess of one trillion dollars per year—based on previous spending the U.S. has made in times of crisis.

The authors then built a bottom-up deployment model that constructs, operates and retires successive vintages of DAC scrubbers, given available funds and the rates at which direct air capture technologies might improve with time. They link the technological and economic modeling to climate models that calculate the effects of these deployments on atmospheric CO2 concentration level and global mean surface temperature.

With massive financial resources committed to DAC, the study finds that the ability of the DAC industry to scale up is the main factor limiting CO2 removal from the atmosphere. The authors point to the ongoing pandemic as an analog: even though the FDA has authorized use of coronavirus vaccines, there is still a huge logistical challenge to scaling up production, transporting, and distributing the new therapies quickly and efficiently to vast segments of the public.

Conventional mitigation is still needed, even with wartime spending combating climate change

“Crisis deployment of direct air capture, even at the extreme of what is technically feasible, is not a substitute for conventional mitigation,” the authors write.

Nevertheless, they note that the long-term vision for combatting climate requires taking negative emissions seriously.

“For policymakers, one implication of this finding is the high value of near-term direct air capture deployments—even if societies today are not yet treating climate change as a crisis—because near term deployments enhance future scalability,” they write.  “Rather than avoiding direct air capture deployments because of high near-term costs, the right policy approach is the opposite.”

Additionally, they note that such a large program would grow a new economic sector, producing a substantial number of new jobs.

The authors conclude it is time to extend research on direct air capture systems to real-world conditions and constraints that accompany deployment—especially in the context of acute political pressures that will arise as climate change becomes viewed as a crisis.

Making Climate Policy Work

Dec. 21, 2020 | Read the original story on GPS News Center

David Victor

David Victor and coauthor Danny Cullenward discuss their new book on how market-based approaches to cutting emissions fall short

Making Climate Policy Work,” David G. Victor’s latest book, co-authored by Danny Cullenward works to solve the puzzle behind why climate policy and commitments from governments and firms around the world have yet to result in actual decreased emissions. With CO2 levels still rising steadily, and the goals outlined in the Paris Accords becoming more and more out of reach, the book outlines how the failure can largely be attributed to an over reliance on market-based approaches to climate policy, such as cap-and-trade. 

Following the U.S. release on Dec. 14, Victor and Cullenward spoke to David Roberts of Vox in a special three-part interview, part of Roberts’ new newsletter on clean energy and politics. The in-depth conversation covered the attraction of carbon pricing and its failings, the political problems with carbon offsets and finally, the solution to effective climate policy: sector-specific industrial policy

“You show up at the village and you’ve got this beautiful carbon market on the façade,” Victor told Roberts. “But when you look behind the facade, what you see is that the regulations are doing the work.”

Victor underscored the importance of government regulation and high-quality intervention to solve the climate problem in another interview on the book with David Dollar of Brookings Institution. He spoke of the barriers the Biden administration will need to overcome in order to make real progress on climate change. 

“The politics of the last electoral cycle points to the fact that climate is obviously not the only concern that people have and so it’s going to be very careful political engineering process to link climate to other things that people care about income inequality, racial injustice, environmental injustice, etc.,” he said. 

Victor added another major concern is the fragile Democratic coalition in the U.S. Senate —even if the party wins control in the Georgia runoff. 

“It’s going to create a conservatism about what’s possible on the legislative front, and therefore a lot of attention to regulation.” He points to a key argument in the book: climate policy has proved most effective via government regulation. “We have to look closely at the regulations that are going to stick that can’t easily be undone by a different administration in the future.  Making climate policy work requires credible long-term signals.” 

To learn more about “Making Climate Policy Work,” see this webinar featuring Victor and Cullenward from the Center on Global Energy Policy. 

California Cities Top List of New Report Ranking U.S. Climate Action Plans

Oct. 22, 2020 | Read the original story on UC San Diego News Center 

Despite achievements, most cities need to cut emissions by 64% to reach their respective goals

A new report evaluating the efficacy of climate action plans and commitments of the 100 largest U.S. cities finds the leadership of these municipalities stands as an important counter to the federal government’s rollback of climate policies and departure from the Paris Agreement. Yet, despite genuine achievements by some, roughly two-thirds of cities are currently lagging in their targeted emissions levels, and, on average, all cities in the report need to cut their annual emissions by 64% by 2050 in order to reach their respective goals.

Of the top 100 most populous cities in the U.S. as of 2017, less than half (45) had climate action plans. Those plans include an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, the establishment of reduction targets and reduction strategies as well as monitoring efforts. California contains the most activity with 11 Climate Action Plans (CAPs). Half of the top six cities that have already achieved the biggest emission cuts are in the state, including San Diego.

Percentage of change in emissions in US cities.

This figure summarizes the difference between the most recent Green House Gas (GHG) inventory and baseline emission levels for each city. Los Angeles has experienced the largest decrease in emission, while Tucson, Ariz. has experienced the largest increase in emissions amid sprawling growth, followed by fast-growing Madison, Wis..

Los Angeles experienced the largest decrease in emissions (about 47%), as of the time of analysis, followed by followed by San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Durham, Greensboro and San Diego. Cities in California are also the only ones in the report with binding reduction targets, as the fifth largest economy has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2045. The state is also unique in that its cities have chief sustainability officers.

The findings, with synergies with University of California San Diego research, reveal that collectively, the total annual reduction in emissions that would be achieved by the 45 cities in the report (in their respective target years) would equate to approximately 365 million metric tons of cuts—about the same as removing 79 million passenger vehicles from the road.

“These actions city by city could add up to a powerful approach to climate mitigation,” said David Victor, co-author of the report and professor of international relations at the UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy. “Cities make great laboratories for combating climate change because some of the hardest tasks in cutting emissions involve activities such as urban planning and rebuilding transportation infrastructures—areas where cities are on the front lines. What’s needed is for these leaders, like San Diego, to make their successes more visible—so that more cities here and abroad follow.”

The report, released by The Brookings Institution, finds that CAPs across the U.S. tend to align with the 80%-decrease-by-2050 mitigation pathway to which the U.S. previously committed under the Paris Climate Agreement. However, these plans also are likely to fall short of the mitigation pathways that limit warming to 1.5° C modeled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“It’s important to take the pulse of what the country has been actually saying and doing on climate change and this requires looking far beyond the gridlock of Washington,” Victor and co-authors write. “Cities’ Climate Action Plans have been celebrated as an important counterpoint to national drift. However, U.S. cities' pledge-setting is sub-optimal in its coverage and design, with less than half of large cities setting targets, and most targets remaining non-binding.”

In all, 12 cities met their targeted level of emissions for the year of their most recent inventory, while 20 cities had higher emissions levels than what the target level should have been for their most recent inventory. For example, Tucson has experienced the largest increase in emissions amid sprawling growth (up 39%), followed by fast-growing Madison.

Greensboro performed the best relative to its targeted emissions level with emissions 30% below its target and Chicago performed the worst with inventoried emissions 50% higher than target levels.

US cities positions on emissions reduction.

America’s 100 largest cities by stated commitment on emissions reductions, 2017.

With Washington gridlocked, cities are on the front lines combating climate change

The authors found that the places that were highly committed to action on climate before the pandemic are likely to remain committed, while places that were reluctant to put much priority in climate earlier will be even more reluctant in the midst of economic uncertainty and uncertain priorities.

They conclude that the development and implementation of city greenhouse gas emissions plans and pledges—while important and encouraging—leaves room for improvement in terms of reach, rigor and ambition.

“Change—that starts with decentralized action—requires diligent review and assessment to learn what really works,” they write.

Thus, to make the nation’s “bottom-up” climate commitments more effective, the authors recommend creating a system for improving the quality of pledging, new incentives for emphasizing implementation, and stronger systems to encourage learning and review with an eye toward enhancing “followership.”

Though the cities in the report only make up a fraction of U.S. emissions (about 6% percent in 2017) their demonstration of leadership on this issue is critical, while there is gridlock and polarization in Washington.

They add, commitment to action in places from the heartland of America, such Greensboro and Durham in North Carolina, Cincinnati, and Richmond can help the U.S. achieve more credibility on the& world’s stage, should the country shift to engage in international diplomacy on climate change again.

The report Pledges and Progress: steps toward greenhouse gas emissions reductions in the 100 largest cities across the U.S. was conducted by a systematic review of reports, documents and information produced by the cities. More specifically, details about the greenhouse gas reduction targets, or lack thereof, for each city were gathered via a combination of internet searching, review and search of the official websites of cities, and a review and search of websites and reports from organizations such as ICLEI-USA (Local Governments for Sustainability) and the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.

Co-authors include Samuel A. Markolf, Inês M. L. Azevedo and Mark Muro.

How Stimulus Dollars are Spent will Affect Emissions for Decades

June 13, 2020 | Read the original story on UC San Diego News Center

To tackle COVID-19 and climate change, government spending must deliver jobs and growth alongside deep decarbonization

Stimulus Dollars

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have led to a record crash in emissions. But it will be emission levels during the recovery—in the months and years after the pandemic recedes—that matter most for how global warming plays out, according to a new Nature commentary from researchers at the University of California San Diego.

While the skies have been noticeably cleaner, countries like the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and others have recently relaxed laws controlling pollution and vehicle energy efficiency standards.

“This trend is worrisome because policy decisions being made now about how to save economies will determine how much CO2 enters the atmosphere over the coming decade,” said Ryan Hanna, lead author of the Nature piece and assistant research scientist at UC San Diego.

Some economies are already ticking upward, and so too emissions. Coal consumption in China, for example, has already returned to pre-pandemic levels.

History shows that recoveries can spur green or dirty industrial turning points

Key in determining post-pandemic emissions is how governments choose to spend stimulus monies—whether they use it to prop up fossil fuel incumbents or bolster clean energy transitions already underway, according to Hanna and co-authors David Victor, professor of international relations at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy, and Yangyang Xu, assistant professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University.

Economic shocks, the authors note, can be critical industrial turning points. Past shocks have led to both increases and decreases in the growth of CO2 emissions. After the 1998 Asian financial crisis, emissions doubled largely due to growth of China’s heavy manufacturing and exports, all fueled by coal. By contrast, after the global financial crash of 2008, emissions growth halved over the next decade, aided by stimulus for green technologies—up to $530 billion in 2020 USD, or 15 percent of the total global stimulus. That’s promising as it shows that structural change and lower emissions are possible if governments provide support.

Whether the coming recovery is green or dirty will have an outsized effect on climate. According to the authors’ analysis, this year’s crash in emissions, by itself, would lead to levels of  atmospheric CO2 in 2050 about 10 PPM lower than the trajectory the world was on before the pandemic. By comparison, whether the recovery is green or dirty amounts to a difference of 19 PPM in the atmosphere by 2050—nearly double the impact on the climate.

Ensuring a green recovery will require government action. Yet, government responses have so far been mixed. The European Union and South Korea remain largely committed to their respective “Green New Deals,” while other governments are falling short.

The Trump Administration in March rolled back U.S. auto fuel economy rules, committing the nation to higher transport emissions—now the largest source of warming gases in the U.S. In the same month, China authorized more coal power plants than it did in all of 2019.

Indeed, many governments have signaled a narrow focus on immediate concerns of the pandemic, such as securing health, jobs and the economy, rather than protecting the planet.

That’s bad news for planetary warming. As the authors note, meeting the goals of the Paris agreement—limiting warming to well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels—would require cutting emissions by an amount similar to that delivered by the current economic catastrophe every year for the next decade.

Charting a course that protects both jobs and the climate

How do you align the public’s urgent needs with the need to also limit warming? “Political leaders—and climate activists who want to help them succeed—should filter policy actions for the climate by what’s politically viable,” said Hanna. “In short, that means coming up with projects that deliver jobs and revenues quickly.”

Investing in sectors like renewables, energy efficiency and preserving the existing feat of zero emission nuclear plants can set the economy on track and deepen cuts to future emissions. Bolstering these sectors can deliver and save hundreds of thousands of jobs.

At the start of this year, more than 250,000 people worked in solar energy in the U.S. The pandemic has since wiped out five years of job growth in that sector — jobs that could return quickly if credible investment incentives were in place.

Investing in energy efficiency and infrastructure construction, such as erecting power lines and conducting energy retrofits for buildings and public transportation, is another large potential employer.

“The trillions devoted to stimulus, so far, have been about stabilizing economies and workers,” said Victor. “With a fresh focus that looks further into the future, the next waves of spending must also help to protect the climate.”

The EU Green Deal as a model for stimulus

Hanna, Victor and Xu write, “The European Green Deal is a good model for stimulus packages. It is a massive, €1-trillion (U.S. $1.1-trillion) decade-long investment plan that combines industrial growth with deep decarbonization and efficiency and has maintained political support throughout the pandemic.”

Existing firms will need to be involved in a green recovery because they are ready to restart, the authors recommend.  And a savvy political strategy would isolate only those companies whose actions egregiously undermine climate goals, such as conventional coal, and would ensure their workers are treated justly and retrained in new areas of employment.

The authors also recommend a sector by sector approach to decarbonizing the economy, as the policies needed to rein in the largest emitters in each sector differ.

“On our current path, emissions are likely to tick upwards, as they have after each recession since the first oil shock of the early 1970s,” said Victor. “The historic drop in recent months was too hard won to be so easily lost.”

To read the full Nature piece, go to the Nature website.

Report Released at COP 25 Provides Roadmap for Deep Cuts in Highest Emitting Sectors

Dec. 9, 2019 | Read the original story on UC San Diego News Center 

Courtesy of iStock by Getty Images

UC San Diego professor David Victor and co-authors make the case for stronger international action and radical technical change

The 25th Conference of the Parties, or COP 25, run by the United Nations (U.N.), is underway in Madrid until Dec. 13 and many University of California San Diego faculty and scholars are playing key roles in the event where 200 countries have converged to discuss how the world’s governments should tackle the climate change crisis. The meeting comes amid new reports from the U.N. that global emissions continue to rise—up nearly three percent in the last year.

Released today at COP 25, new research by David G. Victor, professor of international relations at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, and colleagues outlines the need to rapidly speed progress toward deep decarbonization.

The report titled “Accelerating the Low Carbon Transition: The case for strong, more targeted and coordinated international action” provides a road map for governments and businesses to accelerate deep decarbonization in today’s world economy, with specific calls to action for 10 of the highest emitting sectors.

“What is new in this study is our focus on exactly how governments and firms can create technological revolutions in all the major sectors that emit warming pollution,” said Victor. “I don’t see how we make deep cuts in emissions—to zero, and quickly—without radical technological change. In nearly every sector, that kind of radical change will not emerge from governments acting alone because the systems for technological innovation are now global and many high-emission products, like steel, are traded in global markets. What is also new in this study is that we show how countries and firms can cooperate across borders to get the job done.” 

Victor and co-authors worked to highlight where decarbonization efforts can have the greatest impact by understanding how technology transi­tions happen – drawing on lessons from historical shifts such as from horses to cars, coal to gas, and wells to piped water system, etc.

In addition, the authors looked at how international cooperation has succeeded in the past in matters of trade, security and the environment and finally, they offer application of these insights to the main greenhouse gas emitting sectors: power, agriculture and land use, cars, trucks, shipping, aviation, buildings, steel, cement and plastics.

Victor added that while some progress has been made in the electric power sector, emissions are still on the rise for nearly all other sectors, and international action is urgently needed for the world to be within striking distance of the emission-cutting goals outlined in the Paris climate accord.

“The world is long overdue in focusing on how to create the systems that will be needed in each sector to get firms and governments to cooperate around the testing and deployment of new technologies,” Victor said. “In a few sectors, like aviation, international organizations exist that are focused on that mission, but their efforts are still erratic. In many sectors, like plastics and cement, there is practically no meaningful cooperation.”

The study was commissioned by the United Kingdom’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and supported by the Energy Transitions Commission and The Brookings Institution. Co-authors included Frank W. Geels, professor of system innovation and sustainability at the University of Manchester and Simon Sharpe, research fellow and honorary lecturer at University College London.

To read the full report, go to this website.

When Will We End Global Warming?

Nov. 21, 2019 | Read the original story on UC San Diego News Center 

David VictorAt the intersection of science, technology and policy, UC San Diego’s David G. Victor offers answers

On the heels of the Trump administration’s formal withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate accord, more than 11,000 climate scientists signed a declaration calling climate change an "emergency" and urging for new ways to measure the effects of global warming.

David G. Victor, professor of international relations at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy was an academic reviewer of the declaration. Victor’s work on this issue involving science, technology and policy has made him one of world’s top experts on gauging the globe’s progress on mitigating climate change, and what countries and industries need to do individually and collectively to save an increasingly warming world.

While the lack of leadership from the federal government mitigating climate change is cause for concern, progress on policy to reduce emissions has been made on many other fronts. However, humanity has never been in greater danger from the consequences of climate change than it is now, said Victor.

“You see climate change policy efforts almost everywhere you look,” Victor said. “There are up to a dozen climate change policy conferences that occur every year now. You see it in the actions of companies, even big oil and gas has invested heavily in a range of new emission cutting strategies. Evidence of climate change policy is everywhere, except where it matters most: the data on the environment. Last year, emissions rose by almost 3 percent.”

Developing solutions rooted-in-reality to make deep cuts in carbon emissions

Victor regularly shares his expertise on the imminent dangers of climate change with policymakers, NGOs, business leaders, journalists, intergovernmental agencies and others. However, much of his work is focused on providing pragmatic solutions for societies to transition to clean energy sources on a large scale. Victor co-leads UC San Diego’s Deep Decarbonization Initiative with George R. Tynan of the Jacobs School of Engineering. The initiative, launched in 2016, is designed to help humanity avoid the worst consequences of climate change by reducing global carbon emission with the combined perspectives of the social sciences, engineering as well as physical and biological sciences.

In recognition of these efforts, Victor was selected as the inaugural holder of the Center for Global Transformation Endowed Chair in Innovation and Public Policy. The faculty chair, funded from a gift by Joan and Irwin Jacobs, will support Victor’s teaching, research and service activities at the school. The chair will allow the GPS Center for Global Transformation to recruit and retain outstanding faculty to participate in research that focuses on understanding and quantifying the consequences of global economic changes and technological growth.

“Joan and I are thrilled with the boundary-breaking work David Victor and the School of Global Policy and Strategy carry out across disciplines to address the critical challenges of our time,” said Irwin Jacobs. “Victor’s focus on helping the world cut emissions, given the very real technological, economic and political constraints that exist, is exactly the kind of research the world needs now.”

Jacobs added, “We can think of no better endeavor to support than helping societies link the best science and technology with politically realistic economic strategies for putting new energy systems into place.”

What will save us from climate change? Effective leadership

The sobering reality is that deep decarbonization requires a total transformation of existing energy systems. Unfortunately, those systems are likely to be much more expensive than existing energy systems, which is why it is unlikely that the climate change problem will solve itself through market forces on its own. Thus, Victor and collaborators are focusing on how business and government, working together, can overcome some of these hurdles and create new markets for low emission technologies. For example, an upcoming paper studies how new firms with zero-emission energy systems can secure the capital they need from investors to get off the ground. Many firms of this nature have been imagined, but are often perceived as an investment too risky to become a reality.

As Victor points out, while consensus, political gridlock and lack of international cooperation have acted as steadfast barriers to progress on cutting emissions, some places have been willing to lead and spend the capital necessary to yield global benefits, and understanding their behavior is key.

“The core challenge is that the places that are inspired to lead the most are almost intrinsically places that are a tiny fraction of the total world emissions,” Victor said. “So the game to play here is a leadership one: Everything we do to control emissions should be judged against the question of whether our leadership is generating followership. This is true especially at the global level. Companies, organizations and countries should measure progress, not in terms of goodwill, but whether it raises the odds of followership.”

Science meets science fiction—the future of climate change research

One of Victor’s growing areas of research interest may inspire Hollywood screenwriters—he has been exploring how governments could act in a possible third world war where the common enemy is increasingly volatile climate.

“You can get society to rally and act around a crisis,” Victor said. “While the dangers of climate change may feel abstract and far into the future for many of today’s policymakers, we have to look ahead to when the consequences could begin to happen on a large, irreversible scale.”

He added that major disasters which have a low probability now—such as Greenland melting or the entire Amazon forest incinerating—could force governments to address climate change as a true crisis. As if it were war.

“We could reverse climate change in a few decades on a war-time footing,” he said. “In a war, there is constant spending. Climate change has been a peripheral issue to most U.S. politics because the real dangers are not yet seen as existential to the society. That may be changing now.”

Victor says he still is optimistic over the long term, when it comes to the question of whether we will invent and apply new technologies needed to stop global warming. Meanwhile, we can still expect C02 and other gasses to continue to build up in our atmosphere and for much more warming to occur, which societies will have to manage.

Supporting Stellar Faculty

An outstanding faculty is the hallmark of any great university. Endowed faculty chairs are vital to help UC San Diego stay competitive in attracting and retaining distinguished scholars, Nobel Laureates, Pulitzer Prize recipients, academic leaders and innovators of all kinds.

Since the launch of the Campaign for UC San Diego in 2012, donors have established 92 endowed faculty chairs. Once established, endowed chairs provide a dedicated source of funds, in perpetuity, for the chair holder’s scholarly activities as well as support for faculty salaries and graduate fellowships. Donors who endow chairs are not only ensuring excellence in higher education today, but also contributing to the university’s future growth, innovation and success.

Visit the listing of UC San Diego endowed faculty chairs, including the purpose, chair holder and donor for each.

Public’s Dread of Nuclear Power Limits its Use

April 24, 2019 | Read the full story on UC San Diego News Center

Nuclear Power Plant

New research suggests fear of the zero-carbon energy source diminishes its potential contribution to decarbonization

In the ongoing effort to decarbonize U.S. energy production, there is one energy source that often attracts great controversy. Nuclear power has been a part of the American energy portfolio since the 1950s and still generates one in every five kilowatt-hours of electricity produced in the country. Still, for a number of reasons, including the association between radiation and cancer, the general public has long felt a significant dread about it. And this fear, suggest Carnegie Mellon University Department of Engineering and Public Policy Assistant Research Professor Parth Vaishnav, and Ahmed Abdulla of the University of California San Diego School of Global and Strategy, may cause people to want less of this zero-carbon energy source in the nation’s electricity generation mix than they otherwise would.

In their peer-reviewed paper, “Limits to deployment of nuclear power for decarbonization: Insights from public opinion,” published in Energy Policy, Vaishnav and Abdulla set out to quantify just how much this sense of dread is negatively impacting decision making around nuclear power.

To do this, the team asked a sample of over 1,200 U.S. respondents, to build their own power generation portfolio, aimed at cutting CO2 emissions. These respondents were split into two groups: half of the sample was shown the power sources they could choose from by label (solar, natural gas, nuclear, etc.), while the other half was shown how much environmental and accidental risk the technology posed. Crucially, the researchers showed all respondents information about the number of deaths that had historically occurred in the worst accident associated with the technology. This is important for nuclear power, since accidents are rare but can have dire consequences if they do occur.

“Despite decades of analysis focused on public attitudes about nuclear power, there remains a gulf in understanding the difference between the technology’s actuarial risks and the dread it evokes,” the team writes in the paper. “Experts often emphasize actuarial risk levels—for example, the often-cited claim that radiation releases from the Fukushima nuclear accident didn’t kill anyone—with the hope that better public awareness will yield greater political support for the technology.”

The results of their research, however, suggest that engineering efforts to make the technology safer and communicate this improvement to the public, while admirable, will not by themselves persuade people to choose more nuclear power. The respondents who were shown the names of the energy sources consistently deployed less nuclear energy than those who were only shown the risks. This occurred despite the fact that both groups had the same statistical information. This suggests that respondents’ anxiety around nuclear energy caused them to shy away from its use.

“Our results suggest,” the team writes in the paper, “that dread about nuclear power leads respondents to choose 40 percent less nuclear generation in 2050 than they would have chosen in the absence of this dread.”

With these results, the team hopes to be able to quantify just how much nuclear power the American public might be willing to accept, if the fear associated with it could be reduced or eliminated. While the researchers note that the study only focuses on nuclear power, the methods by which they use survey to disentangle the root causes of public opinion are more widely generalizable to other important decarbonization technologies, such as carbon capture and sequestration.

For more information about UC San Diego's efforts to help guide a transition in the global economy toward net-zero carbon emissions, go to the Deep Decarbonization Initiative website.

Switching to a Home Battery Won’t Help Save the World from Climate Change

Dec. 6, 2018 | Read the full story on UC San Diego News Center

Nuclear Power Plant

At least until utilities charge less for energy coming from renewable power sources

Home battery systems might save you money, but under current policies, they would also often increase carbon emissions. That is the conclusion reached by a team of researchers at the University of California San Diego in a study published recently in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Conventional wisdom may suggest that household batteries, such as the Tesla Powerwall, could be instrumental in weaning ourselves off greenhouse gas-emitting energy sources. But deploying them today, without making fundamental policy and regulatory reforms, risks increasing emissions instead.

If residents use these systems to reduce their electricity bills, the batteries would buy energy when it is cheapest. And because utilities don’t structure how much they charge with the goal of lowering emissions, the cheapest power often comes from power sources that emit carbon, such as coal. In addition, batteries do not operate at 100 percent efficiency: as a result, households that use them draw more power from the electric grid than they actually need.

For the systems to actually reduce carbon emissions, utilities need to change their tariff structures substantially to account for emissions from different power sources. They would need to make energy cheaper for consumers when the grid is generating low-carbon electricity, researchers said.

The first-of-its-kind study, conducted by a research team from UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy and Jacobs School of Engineering, modeled how residential energy storage systems would operate in the real world. The study modeled deployment across a wide range of regions, utilities and battery operation modes, accounting for a large proportion of U.S. households.

“We sought to answer: what if consumers on their own or in response to policy pressure adopt these systems? Would greenhouse gas emissions from the electric power system go down, and at what economic cost?” said lead author Oytun Babacan, a postdoctoral scholar at the School of Global Policy and Strategy.

The systems are so new that they are not in many homes. But this year saw a substantial increase in installations, with sales tripling from January to September of 2018.

When the systems are set up to operate with the goal of cutting emissions, they can indeed reduce average household emissions by 2.2 to 6.4 percent. Researchers found that the incentive required by utility companies to encourage customers to adopt this emission minimization objective is equivalent to anything from $180 to $5,160 per metric ton of carbon dioxide avoided by consumers—making these batteries an expensive strategy for directly reducing emissions.

“Most households adopting energy storage are likely to choose equipment vendors and operation modes that allow them to minimize electricity costs, leading to increased emissions,” Babacan said. “Thus, policymakers should be careful about assuming that decentralization will clean the electric power system, especially if it proceeds without carbon-mindful tariff reforms that aim to reduce residential energy bills and energy consumption associated CO2 emissions.”

What happens without tariff reform?

Absent tariff reform, policymakers could still encourage environmentally beneficial operation of the devices by ensuring that system developers and equipment vendors favor clean energy use by tracking and adjusting to variations in marginal emissions across the bulk grid, the authors noted.

Although the systems do not encourage cost-effective emissions control at the moment, authors were quick to note that the advantages of batteries should not be overlooked.

“There is an enormous upside to these systems in terms of flexibility and saving households money,” the authors said. “While the increase in home batteries deployment is underway, we need to work on multiple fronts to ensure that their adoption is carbon minded.”

Researchers selected 16 of the largest utilities companies in the country and dug into their tariff structure, carrying out the first systematic analysis of how much utility companies charge residential customers to forecast the economic and environmental impact of these systems, if they were to be widely deployed across the country.

The residential energy storage systems market

Residential energy storage systems present a promising avenue for policymakers and companies such as Tesla seeking to decentralize electric power systems, reducing costs to consumers in the process.

In addition to Tesla, companies such as Evolve have invested heavily in residential energy storage systems. There also is an increasing interest in states such as New York and California to decentralize energy, both to empower consumers with greater control over their energy choices, and to create competition in a sector traditionally structured around regulated monopolies. With energy storage widely expected to play an integral role in efforts to deeply decarbonize the electric power system, organizations like the California Energy Commission are also actively advocating for their use.

Co-authors of the study include Ahmed Abdulla from the Center for Energy Research and fellow at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, Ryan Hanna, a postdoctoral scholar from the School of Global Policy and Strategy as well as professors Jan Kleissl from the Jacobs School of Engineering and David G. Victor from the School of Global Policy and Strategy.

Battery storage at the center of energy policy

Jan. 3, 2018 | Read the full story on GPS News Center


GPS students look at battery storage options in Florida in a study designed to solve real-world problems

During spring quarter Professor David Victor and Professor of Practice James Lambright co-teach Advanced Energy Systems and Policy at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS). A vital component of the capstone course is producing consulting projects for real-world clients in the energy sector.

“We want students to gain practical experience working with real clients on strategic problems,” said Victor. “At GPS, we give students tremendous technical and analytical skills. But real-world application of those skills requires a lot more.” 

Students form teams over the quarter to focus on these consulting projects. This past year, GPS students Daniel Falk, Rick Ferrera, Travis Lindsay and Taylor Marvin, joined by David Larson from Jacobs School of Engineering, produced a public report that allowed the team to get a glimpse inside the process and outcomes of energy policy.

Titled “Battery Energy Storage in Florida: Value, Challenges, and Opportunities”, this report explores new strategies for the transformation of the electric power grid. Research studies routinely look at renewable power like solar and wind, however energy storage is a growing need for the low carbon energy ecosystem.

“I came to GPS aspiring to work in the energy space, and this project was a valuable part of my energy coursework,” said Marvin. “I’m enthusiastic about how GPS is improving its energy curriculum, offering a competitive advantage in energy over many other international affairs and public policy programs.”

Read the full story on the School of Global Policy and Strategy news center.

U.S. Nuclear Power: The Vanishing Low-Carbon Wedge

July 2, 2018 | Read the full story on UC San Diego News Center


U.S. Nuclear Power: The Vanishing Low-Carbon Wedge

Could nuclear power make a significant contribution to decarbonizing the U.S. energy system over the next three or four decades? The answer: probably not and that’s cause for major concern, according to a recently published paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

Authored by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP) and Ahmed Abdulla, fellow at the University of California San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy, the “U.S. nuclear power: The vanishing low-carbon wedge,” paper examined the current U.S. nuclear fleet, which is made up of large light water nuclear reactors (LWRs). While for three decades, approximately 20 percent of U.S. power generation has come from these LWRs, these plants are aging, and the cost of maintaining and updating them along with competition from low cost natural gas, makes them less and less competitive in today’s power markets. 

In place of these LWRs, the team asked whether advanced reactor designs might play a significant role in U.S. energy markets in the next few decades. They concluded that they probably would not. Then, the team examined the viability of developing and deploying a fleet of factory manufactured smaller light water reactors, known as small modular reactors (SMRs). The team examined several ways in which a large enough market might be developed to support such an SMR industry, including using them to back up wind and solar and desalinate water, produce heat for industrial processes, or serve military bases. Again, given the current market and policy environments, they concluded that the prospects for this occurrence do not look good.

In the article’s conclusion, the team writes, “It should be a source of profound concern for all who care about climate change that, for entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy, over the next few decades.” 

Lead author on the paper was M Granger Morgan, Hamerschlag University Professor of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon. He was joined by Ahmed Abdulla, Adjunct Assistant Professor in EPP and Research Scientist at the University of California San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy; along with recent EPP Ph.D. graduate Michael J. Ford (U.S. Navy Retired), now a Postdoctoral Researcher at Harvard; and current EPP Ph.D. student Michael Rath.

Getting to a Zero Carbon Future

Meng Lab

Avoiding the worst consequences of climate change by reducing global carbon emissions to as close to zero as possible is one of humanity’s most pressing challenges. The University of California San Diego has launched the Deep Decarbonization Initiative to do just that. And they plan to do so in the real world — where costs matter.

Meng LabThe initiative is a collaborative effort of UC San Diego faculty from across campus working at the intersection of science, technology and policy. It embeds the study of modern societies — economics, politics and social organization — within expert technical research on energy systems. The goal is to understand not just how energy systems function, but also how policy and social movements can transform energy and protect the planet.

UC San Diego researchers are working to radically re-invent the electric power grid, one of the central challenges to decarbonization. They’re exploring alternative fuels and battery storage for the entire transportation system. And they’re addressing the ever-increasing demand of providing clean energy for the entire planet, helping to grow access to fuel while drastically cutting pollution.

“UC San Diego is stepping up to help guide the difficult process of decarbonizing world energy and transportation systems in a way that is inclusive and comprehensive, and also feasible,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “This is exactly the kind of pressing, boundary-breaking work that defines UC San Diego.”

Deep Decarbonization Research & Education

Through the Deep Decarbonization Initiative, UC San Diego will leverage its tremendous research strengths across campus to serve as an academic hub, connecting students and faculty who are working on issues relevant for decarbonization from different perspectives.

Leading the initiative are George R. Tynan of the Jacobs School of Engineering and David G. Victor of the School of Global Policy and Strategy. Tynan, an associate dean and professor of mechanical engineering, is the head of the PISCES Research Program focusing on nuclear fusion as an energy source. Victor is a political science and policy expert, and co-directs the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation that studies how international laws actually work in the real world.

Transportation“I could see us building a new kind of model that allows us to understand not just how technically you decarbonize, but also the social and political constraints and opportunities,” Victor said. “UC San Diego also has a phenomenal micro-grid that is a demonstration case for some of the world’s most interesting and advanced energy systems, and a test bed orchestrated by Byron Washom, Bill Torre and others who have deep expertise in the energy system.”

The aim is to help real societies link the best science and technology with politically realistic strategies that put new energy systems—electricity, wind, plant-based, nuclear, to name only a few—into place on the scale required to make a difference in global carbon emissions. At the same time, this needs to be done while meeting the increasing energy needs of the world.

“How do we drive the costs of low-carbon or zero-carbon energy technologies down to the point where they become competitive with, or perhaps even cheaper than, the fossil fuels? That is one of the challenges in front of the engineers,” Tynan said. “The questions for policy folks are ‘What are those costs?’ and ‘Where are the policy knobs that can be turned to try to enhance or speed that transition?’”

What's at work at UC San Diego

As part of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative, faculty members from across the UC San Diego campus will bring their expertise to help governments and experts around the world meet that daunting challenge.

For example, nanoengineer Ying Shirley Meng of the Jacobs School and Oleg Shpyrko of the Department of Physics work together through the Sustainable Power and Energy Center to solve key technical challenges in generating and storing energy. Their energy-storage research has implications for many areas including electric vehicles, wind turbines and wearable power devices.

Mayfield LabAt the Center for Energy Research, currently led by Jacobs School professors Farhat Beg, Carlos Coimbra and Jan Kleissl, teams of researchers are advancing fusion energy, solar-energy forecasting and advanced energy storage. They are also developing fuel cells, which are devices that produce energy through chemical reactions that don’t result in as much pollution as burning coal or gasoline.

Stephen Mayfield of the Division of Biological Sciences leads Food & Fuel for the 21st Century, a research unit on campus developing innovative and sustainable solutions for renewable-energy production using green plants and algae. Mayfield, a world-renowned researcher in biofuel production, is also director of the California Center for Algae Biotechnology.

Verification will also play a key role in emerging global carbon-emission reduction efforts. For decades, researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography have been leaders in measuring concentrations of CO2, trace gases and aerosols that contribute to global warming, led by atmospheric scientists Ralph Keeling, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Kim Prather and Ray Weiss. Keeling is director of the Scripps CO2 Program, home of the famous Keeling Curve that continues to track carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. He and Weiss lead an effort to look at how data already being collected about greenhouse gases can be used to verify international commitments that countries are making to cut those emissions.

“One goal is for everyone to learn about how other researchers in other disciplines think about what’s going on in the world,” Victor said. “From here, we can start to see interdisciplinary collaborations emerge.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Seventy Percent of Climate Pact Signatories Include Oceans in Their Climate Change Action Plans

Negotiators at a 2015 UNFCCCSmall island countries score highest in new survey; large countries including U.S. do not mention oceans in plans

On the eve of international climate talks taking place in Bonn, Germany, a new study led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego evaluates the extent to which parties to the historic Paris Agreement on climate have considered the oceans in their plans to address climate change.

The study shows that while many countries include the oceans, a striking number do not.

In 2015, under the terms of the Paris Agreement, nearly 200 countries made commitments to manage climate change through a series of measures known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Scripps Oceanography PhD student Natalya Gallo and colleagues created a metric to quantify the extent to which protection of the oceans is addressed in those commitments. The researchers found that 70 percent of the countries that filed their NDCs mention the oceans in their commitments.

Using the metric they created, called a marine focus factor, they found that small island developing states worldwide – from the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean to St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean and Kiribati in the South Pacific – were most concerned with ocean issues in their NDCs.

“The purpose of the analysis is to better understand the current political landscape of how marine issues are recognized in national climate plans and to identify gaps that could be remedied during the subsequent revision of NDCs,” said Gallo.

Gallo said another goal of the research was to understand what drives the observed differences in marine focus across NDCs. The study tested an array of explanatory variables, including those pertaining to the amount of national marine territory, sea-level rise vulnerabilities, fisheries value, and others, to determine their ability to explain differences in marine focus. The results showed that countries more vulnerable to sea-level rise had a stronger marine focus. Political negotiating affiliation (whether the country is a highly developed country or a small island developing state) is also an important factor.

“Climate negotiators need to understand the role of the oceans in what they are trying to achieve, not only from the standpoint of the impact of emissions on the ocean, but more importantly the role of the oceans in determining the success of actions,” said Scripps Oceanography Director Margaret Leinen, who leads the delegation that represents the University of California at COPs. “This study is a step in the right direction as it allows us to understand how countries are currently considering oceans in their climate plans.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

New climate risk classification created to account for potential ‘Existential’ threats

Projected warmingResearchers identify a one-in-20 chance of temperature increase causing catastrophic damage or worse by 2050

A new study evaluating models of future climate scenarios has led to the creation of the new risk categories “catastrophic” and “unknown” to characterize the range of threats posed by rapid global warming. Researchers propose that unknown risks imply existential threats to the survival of humanity.

These categories describe two low-probability but statistically significant scenarios that could play out by century’s end, in a new study by Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a distinguished professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, and his former Scripps graduate student Yangyang Xu, now an assistant professor at Texas A&M University.

The risk assessment stems from the objective stated in the 2015 Paris Agreement regarding climate change that society keep average global temperatures “well below” a 2°C (3.6°F) increase from what they were before the Industrial Revolution.

Even if that objective is met, a global temperature increase of 1.5°C (2.7°F) is still categorized as “dangerous,” meaning it could create substantial damage to human and natural systems. A temperature increase greater than 3°C (5.4°F) could lead to what the researchers term “catastrophic” effects, and an increase greater than 5°C (9°F) could lead to “unknown” consequences which they describe as beyond catastrophic including potentially existential threats.

The specter of existential threats is raised to reflect the grave risks to human health and species extinction from warming beyond 5°C, which has not been experienced for at least the past 20 million years.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Facilitating a ‘family affair’

How Jeff Rector ’97 is making a point to involve the School of Global Policy and Strategy in a new venture erecting energy microgrids in off-grid communities of Sub-Saharan Africa

Dust can settle on a lot of things over 20 years, but as Jeff Rector ’97 can attest, quantitative training from the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy is not one of them.

“This is the most exciting thing I’ve done in my career, and it took 20 years to be able to say that.” — Jeff Rector ’97

Jeff RectorIt’s probably why the statistic that two out of three Sub-Saharan Africans lack access to electricity startled him so.

“That’s roughly 600 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Rector enlightened. “A large portion of them can be most economically or sustainably served with clean energy microgrids. We don’t need some technological breakthrough for this to work. Renewable energy is finally cheaper than conventional energy. We know that. So why aren’t these being built? They should be.

“Lack of affordable financing is the primary barrier to deployment of this technology — and throughout my career I have learned the techniques that can be applied to facilitate the flow of cheaper debt and equity finance into frontier markets. I can see a solution to this complex problem that few others can and even fewer will act on. In a way, I feel responsibility to do something.”

And so he has, launching Millennium Microgrid this spring.

Running on Rector’s decades-honed adeptness in advising on development and financing for energy and other infrastructure projects, the company develops decentralized clean energy microgrids in Sub-Saharan Africa and arranges long-term debt and equity financing for them.

Big-picture impacts of Millennium Microgrid aside, the company also serves as a memento to Rector’s commitments to the School of Global Policy and Strategy and his education.

“Now is a very interesting and auspicious time for an initiative like this … changing the world by leveraging private capital, which is abundant, and focusing on new technologies for important social purposes,” said Deep Decarbonization Initiative co-founder David Victor, who also is a formal adviser for Millennium Microgrid. “What Jeff is trying to do is a beautiful combination of technology, smart schemes for finance and development.”

Read the full story at the School of Global Policy and Strategy.

Solar Fuels Conference Comes to Campus

Despite progress in the renewable energy sector, U.S. researchers brace for a 70 percent cut in federal support

More than 300 researchers from around the world will travel to UC San Diego next month for an international meeting designed to showcase new biological and chemical approaches to utilizing solar energy for direct fuel production.

Officially billed as the second biannual International Solar Fuels conference, the scientific meeting is being held on U.S. soil for the first time.

Organizers of the first conference, held two years ago in Uppsala, Sweden, chose UC San Diego as the venue for the second solar fuels conference because of its leadership in algae biofuels and artificial photosynthesis research — specifically the work of Stephen Mayfield, a professor of biology, and Clifford Kubiak, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Both Mayfield and Kubiak are affiliates of the UC San Diego Deep Decarbonization Initiative.

“This meeting is about jobs, the thousands of jobs that will come from the technologies that will be described in this meeting,” said Mayfield. “This meeting is about the development of technologies that will turn sunlight and CO2 into valuable products—products like fuels, feeds and even food. Products like renewable plastics, medicines and even clean water.”

More information about the conference, which will run from July 6 to 10, as well as a July 9 public lecture on “Creating CO2-based Products,” can be obtained at

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Nuvve and UC San Diego to Demonstrate Vehicle-to-Grid Technology Through Energy Commission Grant

The United States is home to more than half a million electric vehicles. What if all those vehicles could be turned into virtual power plants, feeding energy back into the grid while connected via a charger? Thanks to a $4.2 million grant from the California Energy Commission, San Diego-based Nuvve Corporation will demonstrate how this technology could work on a large-scale with help from UC San Diego. Nuvve and its partners will provide additional funding to cover the $7.9 million total project cost.

Nuvve will deploy its “Vehicle to Grid” charging platforms on 50 new UC San Diego electric vehicle chargers. Vehicle to Grid technology allows a parked electric vehicle to become part of an electric grid – you can charge your vehicle at night, drive it to work in the morning and then charge the energy back into the grid when you park. Charging and discharging is flexible and based on real-time requests from the grid operator. Drivers would be paid every time the grid operator uses energy from their cars while still being guaranteed the expected level of charge needed to operate the vehicle.

“After successfully commercializing our services in Denmark, we are delighted to launch our NUVVEgives™ technology platform in California with the support of the California Energy Commission,” said Gregory Poilasne, Nuvve CEO. “We are going to tailor our platform to California’s specific needs and, with our partners, we will demonstrate the strong benefits generated by Vehicle to Grid technology.”

As part of the demonstration project, Nuvve will also use UC San Diego’s solar forecasting technology to inform its electric vehicle charging schedule. This technology includes weather models, machine learning tools and sky imagers – fish-eye lenses that capture a 360-degree view of the horizon and generate a 3-D model of the clouds they observe. The devices are connected to a sophisticated forecasting system that uses what it observes to predict solar power output in 15-minute increments.

“If the morning is cloudy, but the afternoon is forecast to be clear then charging will be delayed so that solar energy can be used directly,” explained Jan Kleissl, an environmental engineering professor at UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering and Deep Decarbonization Initiative affiliate who created the sky imagers and their algorithms. “Integrating solar forecasts into the charging schedule will allow Nuvve and the electric vehicle owner to make more informed decisions about when to charge or provide energy to the grid.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Advanced Technology and the 'Energy Revolution'

UC San Diego energy expert outlines new trends in global production, advocates for policy change to provide benefits for all

Three years ago, oil prices crashed from more than $100 per barrel to about half that, and a growing number of experts and analysts think prices will stay lower for longer. But why are oil prices so low?

A central answer to this question is technology, says energy expert David G. Victor of the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy. Some of the most profound effects of advanced technology will actually be felt in the traditional energy industries, most notably oil and gas. Similar changes are also transforming the electric power industry.

Victor expands on this argument in the new essay “The Next Energy Revolution: The Promise and Peril of High-Tech Innovation.” Coauthored by Kassia Yanosek, associate partner in McKinsey & Company’s Global Energy and Materials practice, the essay appears in the July/August 2017 issue of Foreign Affairs, available online June 13 and in print June 20.

The authors focus on the impacts of advanced technology in unlocking new supplies of oil and gas. The effects will be most profound, they argue, in countries whose polices are inviting to innovation — in particular, the United States.

“The coming transformation of the energy industry is, for the most, good news for the world,” they write. “But as the revolution unfolds, it will profoundly change politics, economics, and the environment. Policymakers and business leaders will need to tread carefully.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Investing in Carbon-free Energy Systems

George Tynan and Ahmed Abdulla from the UC San Diego Deep Decarbonization Initiative recently wrote an opinion article in the San Diego Union-Tribune titled “California should rethink everything when it comes to climate change.” The article discusses, among other issues, the need to rethink and invest in safer, new nuclear power, and a series of related issues. The article, linked above, ran on April 28, 2017.

George Tynan is associate dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, where he is a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Tynan is co-director of the UC San Diego Deep Decarbonization Initiative and a member of the UC San Diego Center for Energy Research. Ahmed Abdulla is Jacobs post-doctoral fellow at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy.

Scientists Complete First EPA-Approved Outdoor Field Trial for Genetically Engineered Algae

Experiment pushes toward the promise of algae as a clean, renewable food and fuel source

Scientists at the University of California San Diego and Sapphire Energy have successfully completed the first outdoor field trial sanctioned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for genetically engineered algae.

In a series of experiments funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the researchers tested a genetically engineered strain of algae in outdoor ponds under real-world conditions. As reported in the journal Algal Research, the researchers conclude that genetically engineered algae can be successfully cultivated outdoors while maintaining engineered traits, and, most importantly, without adversely impacting native algae populations.

“Just as agricultural experts for decades have used targeted genetic engineering to produce robust food crops that provide human food security, this study is the first step to demonstrate that we can do the same with genetically engineered algae,” said Stephen Mayfield, a professor of biology and an algae geneticist at UC San Diego. Mayfield is an affiliate of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Economists Price BP Oil Spill Damage to Natural Resources at $17.2 Billion

BP oil SpillStudy published in Science improves valuation techniques that drive policy decisions

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was the largest maritime oil spill in U.S. history. Almost seven years to the day after the start of the environmental disaster, researchers have published a price tag of the damage done to natural resources: $17.2 billion.

The paper, in the April 21, 2017 issue of Science, puts a monetary value on injuries to natural assets that don’t have a market price, caused by the April 20, 2010 accident on the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform. Before the blowout on the well was capped in August of that year, it released 134 million gallons of oil into the ocean, polluting the water, soiling beaches and marshes, and killing marine life.

CarsonEnvironmental economist Richard Carson of the University of California San Diego was one of the principal investigators on the valuation study.

“This is the biggest research project ever done in environmental economics and defines the state-of-the-art for valuating ecosystem services,” said Carson, a professor and former chair of the Department of Economics in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences. Carson is an affiliate of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative.

The study was undertaken on behalf of state and federal trustees of the Gulf’s natural resources and conducted under the guidance of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It was initiated in May 2010 and ran concurrently with assessments by natural scientists. Estimates from the valuation study, Carson said, were available in advance of the settlement reached out of court in 2016.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Research to Help Mitigate Future Shocks to State’s Water, Food and Energy Supplies

Photo by Lance Cheung/USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.The California drought may be unofficially over, but that doesn’t mean it won’t return. Policymakers, businesses and the agriculture industry can best prepare for that possibility by applying what they have learned from past droughts to future events.

UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy professor and Deep Decarbonization Initiative affiliate Jennifer Burney aims to help. She, along with researchers at UC Irvine and UC Davis, want to offer guidance to mitigate severe, future shocks to the state’s water, food and energy supplies — three key sectors, or “systems,” that they say are increasingly interdependent.

Jennifer Burney“California represents a critical opportunity for us to discover how to model, monitor and manage these three systems,” Burney said. In addition to Burney, principal investigators on the project include Steven Davis, Amir AghaKouchak and Jack Brouwer of UC Irvine, and Frances Moore of UC Davis.

The researchers received a combined five-year, $2.72 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and National Science Foundation (NSF) to study “The California Crucible: Monitoring and Managing Food, Energy and Water Systems Under Stress.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Center for Energy Research Shares $13.5M Grant for Campus-National Lab Collaborations

The Center for Energy Research (CER), an organized research unit at the University of California San Diego, will share a $13.5 million, three-year University of California grant to encourage collaboration between the UC campuses and the Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories.

BegFarhat N. Beg, professor of engineering physics at UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering, CER Director and Principal Investigator for the university’s High-Energy-Density Physics (HEDP) Group, will use the UC funding on projects involving research at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Los Angeles, UC Santa Cruz, Lawrence Livermore, and Los Alamos. The CER’s share of the grant is $4.1 million over three years.

“The Center for Energy Research has been among the nation’s leaders in forward-looking energy research,” said Sandra Brown, Vice Chancellor for Research at UC San Diego, who oversees the university’s organized research units, including the CER. “The UC investment will help ensure that our nation continues to develop technologies with powerful promise for improving lives.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Understanding and Protecting the Planet Town Hall

As part of the broad goals set out in the university's strategic plan cultivating collaborative research, the Understanding and Protecting the Planet (UPP) coordinating committee sponsored a Town Hall to showcase interdisciplinary UC San Diego within the UPP focus area. The talks featured at the town hall reported on some of the efforts that were funded last Spring in response to our call for interdisciplinary efforts in UPP as well as other efforts developed by faculty and researchers.

The recording of the Oct. 24 Town Hall may be accessed at:

Read the original UC San Diego campus notice.

Creating a New Kind of Climate Warrior

Scripps researchers help rural women in India improve health and slow global warming through clean cookstove use

Project SFor several months out of the year, a band of brown haze almost a mile thick blankets northern India, trapped there by the Himalayas. It produces smog dense enough to be visible indoors in Delhi and other urban centers.

And daily, Indian women who are among the world’s poorest people add mass to the choking pollution cloud when they feed kindling to homemade stoves. They spend several hours a day preparing meals huddled over the fire, breathing in smoke and increasing their risk of respiratory illness.

Now, a multiyear experiment launched nearly a decade ago by a researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego may have hit upon just the right combination of technology and financial incentive to thin the haze and lift the lid on a problem causing societal ills on multiple levels.

Project Surya, introduced by Scripps climate scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan, found that women in poor Indian villages would more readily replace traditional polluting cookstoves with new clean-burning ones if the women could be more easily compensated for using such stoves and the stoves were easier to repair. If the use of cleaner stoves were scaled up, a very large but relatively short-lived contributor to global warming could be substantially diminished.

The discovery of what works and what doesn’t “opens the door for rewarding rural women for becoming climate warriors,” Ramanathan said.

An analysis by Ramanathan and others appeared in the journal Nature Climate Change on Oct. 31.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

UC San Diego Scientists Advocate Combining Technical and Social Expertise to Combat Climate Change

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Less than two weeks before global leaders meet in Marrakech, Morocco at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, scientists from the University of California San Diego offer their expert advice: bring scientists and policy makers together now to help ensure success in combating climate change in the future.

Charles F. Kennel of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and David G. Victor of the School of Global Policy and Strategy say combining science and policy is the answer to the world’s most pressing problem. Their article “Making climate science more relevant,” coauthored by Stephen Briggs of the European Space Agency and European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications, appears in the Oct. 28 issue of Science magazine.

Scince magazine“With the 2015 Paris Agreement [on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions], governments launched a process that can move beyond setting agendas to coordinating national policies to manage the climate,” the authors write in Science. “Managing this complex, highly decentralized process must engage all levels of government and the private sector.”

Calling for better indicators for climate risk management, the authors see great opportunity in combining expertise. Assessments of physical climate change risks and more profound systemic risks are more successful when scientists have a seat at the table.

“The scientific community should judge its relevance by whether it helps these decentralized actors and its processes craft and implement more effective policies,” they write.

Kennel, director of Scripps Oceanography from 1998 to 2006, is an expert in climate science, with research focused on the California environment, global change and global environmental monitoring. He said the time is right to develop new analytical tools and methods needed to manage climate risk.

“Climate science can help diplomats keep track of the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but beyond that, it can help policy makers understand the risks to economies and societies,” Kennel said. “By grappling with the great diversity of regional climate change impacts, and understanding the needs of communities and industries, it can deliver relevant knowledge to a huge variety of decision makers.”

Victor, a political scientist and author of “Global Warming Gridlock: Creating More Effective Strategies for Protecting the Planet,” said the time is now for the scientific community to play a large political and policy-relevant role. He co-directs the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, and is a leader in the newly formed Deep Decarbonization Initiative at UC San Diego, a combined effort of engineers, climate scientists, and physical and social scientists across UC San Diego working to help cut global emissions of warming gases given very real technology, economic and political constraints that exist.

“The real potential for scientists lies with helping policy makers address climate change in ways that will have a tangible, actual effect. Decision makers need the hard science to understand how their actions work, and scientists need governments, businesses and other important societal actors to implement their work,” Victor said.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

'Climate change may speed democratic turnover'

UC San Diego News CenterWhile writing his Ph.D. dissertation at UC San Diego’s Department of Political Science and affiliated with faculty from the Deep Decarbonization Initiative, Nick Obradovich researched the political effects of extreme weather in electoral democracies. Looking at elections across 19 countries since 1925, he found that voters used extreme weather as a cue that politicians were not performing adequately.

His work, published in the leading field journal Climatic Change, builds on a long tradition in political science that explores how voters obtain information about whether their elected leaders are doing their jobs. Most of what elected leaders do is not visible to voters who must rely, instead, on proxies for behavior — the Obradovich work suggests that in the future, one of those proxies might be extreme weather, including weather triggered by climate change.

Read Obradovich's "Climate change may speed democratic turnover" in Climatic Change.

Read the UC San Diego News Center article on Obradovich's additional work, "How to Talk About Climate Change So People Will Act."

New California Law to Curb Climate Pollutant Emissions Based on Scripps Science

Meng LabCalifornia Governor Edmund “Jerry” Brown signed into law today new state restrictions on the emissions of so-called short-lived climate pollutants such as methane, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in refrigeration, and soot and other forms of black carbon. The new law was inspired by decades of research by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego Climate and Atmospheric Scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan. The work uncovered the potential for such curbs to have a nearly immediate effect in slowing the pace of global warming.

Ramanathan attended the ceremony in Long Beach at which Brown signed state Senate Bill 1383, which requires a 40-percent reduction of HFCs and methane, and a 50-percent reduction of black carbon below 2013 levels by 2030.

“Through SB 1383, the State of California has thrown a lifeline for its people and to the 7 billion people on the planet,” Ramanathan said. “The policies that California is implementing, if achieved worldwide, would cut the expected rate of global warming in half by 2050, save millions of lives, avoid millions of tons of crop losses per year, and slow down dangerous climate feedbacks such as melting ice caps and rising sea levels. The cost benefits of such a policy can far exceed the cost of enacting it.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

UC San Diego part of new DOE consortium to revolutionize electric car battery performance

Meng LabResearchers at the University of California San Diego are part of the new Battery500 consortium led by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) aiming to almost triple the energy packed in electric car batteries and make them smaller, lighter and less expensive. This would allow manufacturers to make more affordable electric vehicles that can travel two to three times farther.

The consortium will receive up to $10 million a year over five years from the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy and Renewable Energy, the White House recently announced.

“Our goal is to extract every available drop of energy from battery materials, while also producing a high-performance battery that is reliable, safe and less expensive,” said consortium director and PNNL materials scientist Jun Liu. “Through our multi-institutional partnership, which includes some of the world’s most innovative energy storage leaders, the Battery500 consortium will examine the best options to create the most powerful next-generation lithium batteries for electric cars.”

“We are excited to partner with some of the leaders in the battery research community to develop the next generation of battery technologies,” said nanoengineering professor Ping Liu, the principal investigator of the UC San Diego team, which is comprised of researchers from the university’s Sustainable Power and Energy Center (SPEC). “We’ll be taking advantage of our different areas of expertise to try to reach this project’s aggressive goal and timeline.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Largest university solar power project pushes UC toward carbon neutrality

FivePoints locationA ribbon-cutting in Fresno County Aug. 18 marks the opening of the Five Points Solar Park, a 60-megawatt solar power installation built to supply renewable energy to the University of California. The power supplied by the new solar farm represents roughly 14 percent of the total UC system’s electricity usage, and is a key step toward the university’s goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2025.

An additional 20-megawatt installation is set to come online by mid-2017, for a total of 80 megawatts, the largest solar purchase by any university in the U.S. The full output from these two power projects will be going to UC under a 25-year power purchase agreement with project developer Centaurus Renewable Energy.

Nearly a quarter of the solar power will go to UC Davis, while the remainder will be shared among the other UC campuses and medical centers served by the university’s Wholesale Power Program. In addition to helping the university reach its goal under the Carbon Neutrality Initiative, the new solar power installations will also provide research and education opportunities for UC faculty, students and staff.

“As a national leader in sustainability, the University of California is taking on bold, new goals and transforming our approach to procuring and using energy in more sustainable ways,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “Our partnership with Centaurus Renewable Energy will ensure that UC has a steady supply of cost-effective, climate-neutral electricity.”

Read the full story at University of California News.

Downtown Change Makers event features ‘professor algae’ Stephen Mayfield

Stephen MayfieldUC San Diego’s Professor Stephen Mayfield, a pioneer in exploring the uses of algae for fuels, medicine, food and other purposes, is the featured speaker at the inaugural launch of the “Change Makers” series, set for 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 24 at the Downtown San Diego Partnership, 401 B St., Suite 100.

Registration is free, and the public is invited to attend.

Mayfield will speak on engineering algae for the production of therapeutic proteins and biofuels, as well as photosynthetic bio-manufacturing in his address, titled “Algae, Food and Fuel for the 21st Century.”

The Collaboratory for Downtown Innovation and Cleantech San Diego are co-sponsoring the event.

“The Collaboratory for Downtown Innovation is the first step in strengthening the connection between the Torrey Pines Mesa and Downtown’s emerging tech ecosystem,” said the Collaboratory’s Kris Mitchell. “We are thrilled to host Professor Stephen Mayfield for this inaugural Change Makers event.”

Mayfield, recently featured in Forbes magazine in an article titled “How Scientists Are Engineering Algae to Fuel Your Car and Cure Cancer,” says the humble aquatic weed “offers tremendous potential for the large-scale production of bio-products, as algae require only sunlight as an energy source and sequester CO2 during the production of biomass, and algae can be much more efficient than terrestrial plants in fixing CO2 and producing biomass.”

Using custom-designed photosynthetic microorganisms, he says, “we have the opportunity to develop a production platform for fuel, food, and biomaterials that has unmatched efficiencies and productivities. In order to fully exploit the productivities of algae we need to develop the biological and engineering processes that will enable algae as a commercial bio-products platform.”

The Collaboratory for Downtown Innovation, a partnership between UC San Diego and the Downtown San Diego Partnership, is designed to deliver the resources needed to ensure that entrepreneurs and downtown innovators are connected with the research and development that is shaping new economic opportunities and promoting the growth of this burgeoning urban innovation ecosystem.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

UC San Diego named SDG&E energy champion

Award reflects university’s commitment to achieve energy innovation and efficiency

The University of California San Diego was honored as an Energy Champion of Higher Education at SDG&E’s 11th annual Energy Showcase. UC San Diego, along with 10 other local organizations, was commended for its “remarkable commitment to sustainability, energy efficiency and conservation.” The university was recognized for its continued search for innovative and diverse energy sources to support the needs of its residents, laboratories and learning and medical facilities as part of the University of California System’s larger mission to be carbon neutral by 2025.

“We are honored to receive this award,” said Gary C. Matthews, vice chancellor for Resource Management and Planning. “SDG&E’s recognition of UC San Diego’s commitment to energy efficiency highlights the university’s role as a living laboratory in the world of energy, promoting the principles of research and innovation to find novel and varied sources of energy.”

Supporting approximately 45,000 employees and students and 16 million square feet of buildings, UC San Diego requires a strong energy infrastructure to support the needs of its community. Though the university already generates approximately 85 percent of its energy onsite, it is still a net importer of peak electricity. With the help of SDG&E incentives, the campus has implemented a series of energy retrofits and technological advancements to reduce its reliance on expensive and inefficient energy.

This story first appeared on the UC San Diego News Center.

New ocean current simulations alter view of climate change impacts

SDSC’s ‘Gordon’ used to model dynamics of California current

California CoastA “more realistic” computer model, created with the aid of Gordon at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at UC San Diego, paints a new picture of global warming’s impact on the complex processes that drive ocean mixing in the vast eddies swirling off the California coast.

The new model, published in the July issue of Nature Geosciences, more accurately describes how global warming affects the winds and circulation in the California Current system that runs parallel to the coast, and how previous models, based largely on offshore winds generated by global warming, misrepresented what was actually happening.

Information like this is critical since the California Current provides a habitat for one of the most populous and species-diverse regions in the world, while providing a bounty of seafood and tourism jobs for the state.

“Climate change could intensify coastal winds, but that does not imply it would increase the production of nutrients,” said Lionel Renault, an atmospheric and oceanic sciences researcher with UCLA, and lead author of the paper. “This research gives us a more realistic overview of the different ‘upwelling’ systems, the mechanisms that drives productivity (of nutrients), and how climate change can impact those mechanisms and productivity.”

‘Upwelling’ is a condition in which winds push surface water offshore and are replaced by deep waters, circulating nitrates, phosphates, and trace metals from below where they provide nutrients for the marine food chain.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Researchers improve performance of cathode material by controlling oxygen activity

GSIR modified cathode materialAn international team of researchers has demonstrated a new way to increase the robustness and energy storage capability of a particular class of “lithium-rich” cathode materials—by using a carbon dioxide-based gas mixture to create oxygen vacancies at the material’s surface. Researchers said the treatment improved the energy density—the amount of energy stored per unit mass—of the cathode material by up to 30 to 40 percent.

The discovery sheds light on how changing the oxygen composition of lithium-rich cathode materials could improve battery performance, particularly in high-energy applications such as electric vehicles. The findings were published July 1 in Nature Communications.

“We’ve uncovered a new mechanism at play in this class of lithium-rich cathode materials. With this study, we want to open a new pathway to explore more battery materials in which we can control oxygen activity,” said Shirley Meng, nanoengineering professor at the University of California San Diego and one of the principal investigators of the study.

Meng leads the Laboratory for Energy Storage and Conversion and is the director of the Sustainable Power and Energy Center, both at UC San Diego. A hallmark of her group’s research efforts is understanding the science behind battery materials—at the level of single atoms and molecules, and at the interfaces. Her group is one of the first to focus on the activity of oxygen atoms in battery materials. Typically, the focus has centered on lithium and transition metal atoms. “Now we’re showing that oxygen also plays a significant role in battery performance,” Meng said.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Insights from UC San Diego Sustainable Power and Energy Center research summit

Student specialistThe Sustainable Power and Energy Center (SPEC) at the University of California San Diego recently held a Research Summit for interested industry partners. Attendees from a variety of industry sectors gathered at UC San Diego to interact with faculty and graduate students, tour the UC San Diego microgrid and attend the Jacobs School’s Research Expo in the afternoon.

“Our center is quite unique in the sense that it includes engineering, physical sciences and social sciences,” said Shirley Meng, the faculty director of the Sustainable Power and Energy Center and a nanoengineering professor at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. “We are working to engage public policy experts on campus as well, so that together we can work on sustainable power and energy from different angles.”

Center faculty are also training and mentoring tomorrow’s workforce for green and advanced energy.

“Our graduate students are often hired before they have even graduated,” said Meng. “Why is this happening? Because innovation in energy storage and conversion requires rigorous training in things like advanced materials chemistry and physics.”

Some of this rigorous training was on display at the summit when graduate students gave their 90-second research presentations during the summit’s fast break poster pitch competition.

First prize went to nanoengineering PhD student Shen Wang for his pitch on additives in solar cells. Wang is part of Shirley Meng’s Laboratory for Energy Storage and Conversion.

Wang used the analogy of a human heart to explain his research. “We can control the efficiency and stability of solar cells with additives, much like doctors use tools to improve the function of a human heart.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Stretchable, flexible, wearable solar cells take top prize at Research Expo 2016

Expo WinnersSolar cells that are stretchable, flexible and wearable won the day and the best poster award from a pool of 215 at Research Expo 2016 April 14 at the University of California San Diego. The winning nanoengineering researchers aim to manufacture small, flexible devices that can power watches, LEDs and wearable sensors. The ultimate goal is to design and build much bigger flexible solar cells that could be used as power sources and shelter in natural disasters and other emergencies.

Research Expo is an annual showcase of top graduate research projects for the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego. During the poster session, graduate students are judged on the quality of their work and how well they articulate the significance of their research to society. Judges from industry, who often are alumni, pick the winners for each department. A group of faculty judges picks the overall winner from the six department winners.

This year, in addition to solar cells, judges recognized efforts to develop 3D skeletal muscle on a chip; a better way to alleviate congestion in data center networks; a nano-scale all-optical sensor; fiber optic strain sensors for structural health monitoring; and a way to predict earthquake damage in freestanding structural systems.

Students are chosen both for the quality of their research and their ability to communicate their work clearly, said George Tynan, associate dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego. “It’s not enough to have great ideas and great solutions,” he said. “You have to be able to communicate the impact of your work.”

Timothy O’Connor, a nanoengineering Ph.D. student in the research group of professor Darren Lipomi, and winner of the overall best poster award, certainly did that during an interview after the poster sessions. “The greatest challenge of our time is the way that we acquire and distribute energy,” he said. “I honestly believe that if the human race doesn’t get a grip on the way in which we do this, we’re going to play the end game for all of us.”

O’Connor is part of a team of researchers in Lipomi’s lab that is working to create extremely cheap but still efficient solar cells that can be printed roll-to-roll, much like a newspaper, and can easily be deployed on everything from solar farms, to buildings, to clothes and even the human body.

To make the solar cells, O’Connor first needed to determine the best recipe to get optimal electronic performance and flexibility in the same material. He and colleagues discovered a series of rules for molecular design that allowed them to develop solar cells capable of producing 1000 microWatts of power over more than 1000 cycles. That is enough to power a digital watch and LEDs, as well as other wearable biomedical devices. By contrast, the lab’s previous version of these cells could only function for five to 10 cycles.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

Cutting Aerosols will help secure world’s water supply

UC San Diego scientists outline policy solutions to reduce atmospheric dimming

A landmark accord was reached at the United Nations 2015 Paris Climate Conference. Now comes the difficult process of implementation. Countries must find ways to cut emissions that cause climate change, and then prepare to adapt directly to the large number of changes that will inevitably occur.

As countries grapple with the practical realities of the Paris process, they must also recognize that pollution has many distinct effects. For there is more to climate change than higher temperatures, say UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy political scientist David G. Victor and Scripps Institution of Oceanography climate and atmospheric scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan in the essay “The Next Front on Climate Change: How to Avoid a Dimmer, Drier World.”

Coauthored by Jessica Seddon, founder and managing director of the India-based Okapi Research and Advisory, the essay appears in the March/April 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs, available in print Feb. 23.

“Whereas greenhouse gas emissions will bring about relatively distant and diffuse danger, aerosols cause immediate and localized harm,” the authors write. “As states sharpen their pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years, they should also make distinct pledges to cut aerosols.”

They explain how many of the pollutants that affect the climate also dim the planet. Some of these pollution particles — known as aerosols — reflect sunlight back to space. Others absorb sunlight before it reaches the Earth’s surface. Dimming has a profound effect on the water cycle, leading to decreased rainfall and even drought. In societies that depend heavily on agriculture, much of which is fed by natural rainfall, the result can be threats to food security and increased poverty.

“Many of the activities that cause greenhouse gas emissions … also yield ultra-small particles known as aerosols, which blanket vast areas in a haze that blocks and scatters sunlight,” the authors write. “By reducing the solar energy that reaches the earth’s surface, aerosols reduce evaporation and slow the water cycle that governs where, when, and how much rain falls.”

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.

UC San Diego’s big ideas for 2016 — and beyond

Replace petroleum-based plastics with biodegradable plastics made from algae

Stephen MayfieldStephen Mayfield, professor of biology, director of the California Center for Algae Biotechnology

“Algae are the most important photosynthetic organisms on Earth,” Mayfield says. “They capture more solar energy and produce more oxygen than the sum of the rest of the plants on our planet.” Mayfield’s lab has been developing strains of algae that can produce sustainable transportation fuels capable of replacing fossil fuels in the future. Earlier this year, in partnership with Oceanside-based Arctic Foam, the largest surfboard blank manufacturer in North America, the researchers developed the world’s first sustainable algae-based surfboard using oil from algae. “But let’s not stop there,” he says. “Let’s replace all of our petroleum-based plastics with sustainable biodegradable plastics made from algae. Surfboards are just the start!”

Read all 14 visionary ideas from across campus on the UC San Diego News Center.

Jennifer Burney: Change agent

Professor and National Geographic ‘Emerging Explorer’ sets out to address food production’s footprint on global climate change

BurneyWhat are some unforeseen damages caused by air pollution? How do we solve the problems of climate change? How do we feed the billions of people suffering from chronic hunger, and do it without causing further harm to the environment? These are just some of the questions that drive Jennifer Burney.

Burney, a professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, conducts research that focuses on simultaneously achieving global food security and mitigating climate change.

“We are a world of plenty, but 800 million or so people still go to bed hungry every night,” she says. “At the same time, the way we produce, distribute and cook food contributes tremendously to climate change. Finding a way to lift the world out of perpetual hunger without creating an even worse climate crisis is an intricate, interwoven problem.”

Burney studies the environmental impacts of food production and consumption and climate impacts on agriculture. A physicist by training, she designs, implements and evaluates technologies for poverty alleviation and agricultural adaptation. Much of her current research focuses on the developing world.

A trailblazer in the field

Fieldwork has led Burney to develop technologies to help farmers in Africa and Brazil adapt to climate change. “Having more money is not the only thing they need; we have to explore what adaptation looks like,” she says.

In lands baked by sun, Burney makes sunshine the answer. She helped develop solar irrigation systems that enable African and Brazilian farmers to grow more fruits and vegetables year round, boosting nutrition and income. Unlike motorized systems powered by fuel that’s too costly and unreliable, the systems Burney studies require no batteries, gas or kerosene.

In addition to devising methods to help improve food production, which only solves part of the climate equation, Burney looks at how cooking also contributes to the problem. “Cooking uses about 8 percent of global energies,” Burney says. “The biggest footprint comes from developing nations.” To study this often forgotten impact and how to reduce it, she worked on a project in India when she was post doctoral fellow at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Burney and a team of scholars from Scripps replaced highly inefficient, traditional cook stoves in Uttar Pradesh with new more eco-friendly stoves and conducted a series of tests to understand how emissions changed, and how they were linked to larger-scale impacts.

Read the full story on the UC San Diego News Center.