Monday, October 7, 2013

Luftmess: checking up on air and carbon pollution

I was recently informed that the government of Ontario is now claiming in quasi-legal tribunals that industrial wind turbines (IWTs) are necessary for clean air.
I went looking for reports I'd read of declining air quality in Germany, Ontario's model for it's ill-fated feed-in tariff program attached to the equally questionable Green Energy Act.

One of the things that popped out at me during the seach was the German word "luftmess", which Google translates as "air measured"; I've taken that as a sign to comment further (being both a Luft and a ....).

A couple of themes deserve comment.
The first is the idea of economic choice (opportunity costs, etc).  At it's simplest, there might be a choice between constructing IWT's to displace pollution from coal plants and cleaning up the smokestack of the coal plants.  As wind produces little much of the time (in Ontario 80% of all IWT generation occurs in ~50% of all hours), it's unlikely to reduce traditional pollutants as much as installing selective catalytic reduction (SCR) and scrubber devices at the coal plants.

German air pollution rises despite green zones | DW (Germany)

German air pollution levels were higher in 2011 than in previous years, despite environmental zones banning certain cars from urban areas. Authorities attribute the rise to weather and industry.
...the best way to tackle air pollution was to invest in alternative forms of transport for people, such as bike paths and better public transport .
Krzyzanowski said responsibility lay with individuals.
"People need to realize that there isn't just one big pipe going into the sky producing this pollution. Everyone plays a role when it comes to the atmosphere."
That from 2012.
The next article reveals a redefinition of the term "pollution", particularly by the President of the United States, his administration, and sympathetic news organizations like Bloomberg.
"Carbon pollution" has become a thing - which seems, to me, to be like saying the drowned were victims of water pollution, but ...

Merkel’s Green Shift Backfires as German Pollution Jumps | Bloomberg
Germany’s air pollution is set to worsen for a second year, the first back-to-back increase since at least the 1980s, after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to shut nuclear plants led utilities to burn more coal.
The nation, which is seeking to lead European climate-protection efforts, probably will produce higher greenhouse-gas emissions in 2013 on top of a 1.5 percent gain last year, according to the DIW economic institute, which acts as an adviser to the government.
Utilities led by RWE AG (RWE) and EON SE boosted hard coal imports 25 percent in the first quarter...
Bloomberg isn't talking about the air quality at all, but the emissions of greenhouse gases.  The difficultly with copping the phrase "pollution" to cover carbon emissions is that the most refutable voice on local air quality might come out and note improvements in air quality right after another claims rising pollution - as the German equivalent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did shortly after the Bloomberg article.

Slight decline in particulate pollution: Limits for air pollutants nevertheless regularly exceeded | UBA
Nitrogen dioxide and particulates continue to impact air quality in Germany, according to interim measurement data for 2012 provided by the Länder and the Federal Environment Agency. Nitrogen dioxide pollution remains high. Median concentrations of particulates - measured in PM10 - were at the same level in Germany in 2012 as in 2008 and thus well below the levels of the previous three years. The caps for particulates and nitrogen dioxide are still exceeded too often, in particular in cities and metropolitan areas... Since the many emissions reduction measures have had or have begun to show effect, emissions from small heating systems have become significant sources of air pollution. Intensive livestock breeding increases large-scale particulate pollution because of rising levels of ammonia output, and this is being felt in conurbations.
...pollutants are emitted by motor vehicles and are also the product of combustion processes in industry and households for the generation of energy and heat. The rising numbers of freestanding stoves has been proven to add to particulate pollution in the winter months. 
I'd think the decisions that lead to very high electricity rates in Germany might contribute strongly to a rise in heating the old-fashioned way (they did for me in Ontario).
Making poor economic choices might lead to consumers making economic choices that increase particulate matter in the airshed
"The development away from district heating towards more decentralised small heating systems in private homes and trade must not result in higher particulate pollution than that caused by modern, large-scale power plants."
The UBA notes regulations to keep dirtier cars out of designated areas/airsheds, and pending regulations to further reduce NOx emissions from diesel engines - the current engines currently marketed as "clean diesel" because of relatively low CO2 emissions.

Not that the Germans are going after the biggest gas guzzlers.

Germany Picks Up Allies in CO2 Emissions Battle | Compliance Week
Germany, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel and luxury car makers BMW and Daimler, has been leading the opposition to the emissions caps on passenger vehicles...

The phase-in plan would require only four out of every five new cars sold to meet the 95g/km standard by 2020, with a 5 percent increase in subsequent years. The sustainable development group Transport & Environment said the four-year delay would effectively result in a cap of 104g/km for 2020.
The Brussels-based group said it is clear Germany is “exerting considerable pressure on other member states to block and weaken the agreed deal,” noting that the latest proposal marks Germany's sixth attempt to weaken the emissions proposal.
There is a danger that equating carbon emissions with the emissions that impact health directly will have a negative impact on local health - which should be a far easier battle for governments to gain support on.

Emissions of airshed contaminants and carbon dioxide are economically different.   The cost of reducing acid rain has had a benefit in the jurisdictions that came to agreements to address the problem; costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as the German Council of Economic Experts noted some years ago (in a paper probably instrumental in revising the German feed-in tariff to try to control spirally costs, particularly from solar) are fundamentally different:
... as climate protection is a public good, the costs of its provision must be borne at the national level alone, whereas its benefits accrue to all nations. It follows that the European Union's pioneering role in respect of climate protection can only represent a transient situation and should not be pursued further unless it is guaranteed that other major polluters will, in turn, launch comprehensive initiatives to cut emissions. 

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