Jun 11, 2019

How Europe can kick (half of) its coal habit

Steam rises from the cooling towers of the Neurath lignite-fired power plant in Grevenbroich, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Photo: Christophe Gateau/picture alliance via Getty Images

Existing natural gas capacity could replace up to half of the European Union’s coal-fired electricity, according to a forthcoming International Energy Agency study described to Axios.

Why it matters: While still a fossil fuel and thus controversial, natural gas emits 50% less carbon than coal. So in cases where gas is displacing coal, overall CO2 emissions go down.

By the numbers: In the analysis expected to be released in July, IEA analysts found that with gas, coal and CO2 prices hovering about where they are right now — 15-20 Euros per megawatt-hour for gas, 6-10 for coal and 20-25 per ton of CO2 — existing natural gas capacity could replace up to half of existing coal electricity.

Where it stands: Environmentalists and some politicians are increasingly opposed to natural gas because they worry it's locking in far too much global warming. Looking purely at the math and science of climate change, they're right. But in this case, it’d be existing — not new — natural gas infrastructure stepping in.

One level deeper: In a new report out last week, the IEA sees little growth for natural gas in Europe over the next five years (and probably more) due to competition from renewable energy. In the meantime though, leaders there say the fuel could provide backup for variable wind and solar.

What they’re saying: “Gas of course has a much lower carbon content than any other fossil fuel. Therefore, we think gas is very important as an intermediate balancing fuel,” Maroš Šefčovič, European Commission vice president, said in an interview in May.

Go deeper: Natural gas is helping combat climate change — but not enough

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Heat wave melts 20% of snow cover from Antarctic island in days

The effects of February's record heat wave on Eagle Island in Antarctica. Photo: NASA

Antarctica's Eagle Island now has a side that's almost ice-free following this month's searing heat wave, images released by NASA show.

Why it maters: "The warm spell caused widespread melting on nearby glaciers," NASA said in its report. It's the third major melt event of the 2019-2020 Southern Hemisphere summer, following warm spells in January and last November, according to the United Nation's World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Bernie Sanders wins Nevada caucus

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders waves to supporters at a campaign rally on Friday in Las Vegas. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders is projected to handily win the Nevada Democratic primary caucus, becoming the clear frontrunner among 2020 Democratic presidential primary election candidates.

Why it matters: Nevada is the first state with a diverse population to hold a nominating contest, highlighting candidates' abilities to connect with voters of color — particularly Latino voters.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

South Korea and Italy see spikes in coronavirus cases

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The novel coronavirus has spread to more nations, and the U.S. reports a doubling of its confirmed cases to 34 — while noting these are mostly due to repatriated citizens, emphasizing there's no "community spread" yet in the United States.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed at least 2,362 people and infected more than 77,000 others, mostly in mainland China. New countries to announce infections recently include Israel and Lebanon, while Iran reported its sixth death from the virus. South Korea's confirmed cases jumped from 204 Friday to 433 on Saturday and Italy's case count rose from 3 to 62 by Saturday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 6 hours ago - Health