Agrivoltaics Advancing

Solar panels on Paul Knowlton’s farm in Grafton, Mass. Cattle will graze below the panels, which rise to 14 feet above the ground. Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

The concept of agrivoltaics has been an occasional topic in our pages over the years, most recently as we have prepared to plant thousands of coffee saplings. Ellen Rosen focuses our attention on how the advances in technology, and entrepreneurship in this space, are addressing the challenges:

Can Dual-Use Solar Panels Provide Power and Share Space With Crops?

Companies like BlueWave are betting on it. But the technology has its critics.

Mr. Knowlton preparing the soil between the panels before he plants butternut squash and lettuce. Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

In its 150-year history, Paul Knowlton’s farm in Grafton, Mass., has produced vegetables, dairy products and, most recently, hay. The evolution of the farm’s use turned on changing markets and a variable climate. Recently, however, Mr. Knowlton added a new type of cash crop: solar power. Continue reading

Clever Climate Work Perk

(Adam Maida / The Atlantic ; CSA Images / Getty)

If you have not been reading Robinson Meyer’s excellent newsletter, take a look at this week’s and you might want to sign up over at The Atlantic:

Corporate Climate Action Is an Employee Perk

In February, Bank of America offered its employees a notable perk: If they had worked at the bank for at least three years, and made less than $250,000, then it would give them $4,000 to buy a new electric car. (Employees interested in merely leasing an EV could claim $2,000.) The move, attached to a company-wide round of salary increases, wasn’t the first time that the bank had made the offer; it had made a similar one in 2015, and again in 2020, although those incentives had also applied to gas-electric hybrids. Continue reading

Rural Wind & Gold

Thanks to Josh Gabbatis and the folks at CarbonBrief:

Windfarms raise incomes and house prices in rural US, study finds

Wind turbines have increased local incomes by around 5% and house values by 2.6% in parts of the US, according to a new study.

The research, published in the journal Energy Policy, found benefits in terms of jobs, taxes and land payments associated with renewable energy. Continue reading

100% Renewable California Energy Milestone

Solar and wind power projects have been booming in California, like the Pine Tree Wind Farm and Solar Power Plant in the Tehachapi Mountains, but that doesn’t mean fossil fuels are fading away quickly. Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Recovery from a long-term addiction to fossil fuels was never going to be easy. Necessary? Yes. But it will still be a long haul even with milestones like this one in the western USA. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this news:

California just ran on 100% renewable energy, but fossil fuels aren’t fading away yet

On a mild Sunday afternoon, California set a historic milestone in the quest for clean energy. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing and on May 8th, the state produced enough renewable electricity to meet 103% of consumer demand. That broke a record set a week earlier of 99.9%. Continue reading

Nature’s Energy Storage Potential

Decarbonization would be easier if we could bank clean energy for later. Illustrations by Hudson Christie

Thanks to Matthew Hutson for the article in the current edition of the New Yorker titled The Renewable-Energy Revolution Will Need Renewable Storage:

Can gravity, pressure, and other elemental forces save us from becoming a battery-powered civilization?

We need to vastly expand our energy-storage capacity if we’re to avoid climate catastrophe.

The German word Dunkelflaute means “dark doldrums.” It chills the hearts of renewable-energy engineers, who use it to refer to the lulls when solar panels and wind turbines are thwarted by clouds, night, or still air. On a bright, cloudless day, a solar farm can generate prodigious amounts of electricity; when it’s gusty, wind turbines whoosh neighborhoods to life. But at night solar cells do little, and in calm air turbines sit useless. These renewable energy sources stop renewing until the weather, or the planet, turns. Continue reading

Climate Policies To Cheer On

(Washington Post illustration; Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post; iStock)

I am heading to Ithaca tomorrow for family reasons, so the third item described in the story that follows is of particular interest. But every one of the items is worth reflecting on, in a news world without enough such stories. Our thanks to the Washington Post Staff who put this list together:

10 recent climate policies that could make a difference

Stories from the past six months that show what local and national policy change can look like

The most recent IPCC report makes it clear: There is no one silver bullet that can address global warming. Instead, nations, businesses, communities and individuals all have a role to play in helping to create a safer and more sustainable future. But without action from the world’s wealthiest countries, the nations and people who are least at fault for fueling climate change will be the ones who suffer the most, the scientists behind the report warn. Continue reading

Tidal Power

An impression of a £1.3bn tidal lagoon project, which the government refused to back in 2018. Photograph: Tidal Lagoon Power/PA

Most of our attention to ocean water is focused on the climate,  and the few renewable energy stories with oceans featured have been about offshore wind projects. Today’s news corrects the deficit of attention to the power of tidal waves:

Could Anglesey’s tidal energy project drive a new energy revolution?

Experts say Wales has huge potential for generating renewable marine power, yet, so far, ambitious schemes have been ignored

South Stack lighthouse on Holy Island, north Wales: construction on the island’s tidal stream project has just begun. Photograph: Getty Images

On the stunning and craggy coastline of Holy Island in north Wales, work has started on a construction project to generate energy from one of the world’s greatest untapped energy resources: tidal power.

The Morlais project, on the small island off the west of Anglesey has benefited from £31m in what is likely to be the last large grant for Wales from the European Union’s regional funding programme. It will install turbines at what will be one of the largest tidal stream energy sites in the world, covering 13 square miles of the seabed. Continue reading

Carbon, Sequestration & Hope

(Brandon Thibodeaux / The New York Times / Redux)

When I read about a promising new technology related to carbon sequestration, I am ambivalent based on the experience of many past false hopes. Carbon is a very large problem. Finding new methods of sequestration is a very challenging puzzle.

I track such developments every week by reading the newsletter that Bill McKibben posts on Substack. Most weeks I post something here from that, and do my best to balance the terrifying and enraging with the more hopeful news he occasionally shares there.

The only other newsletter I read regularly is Robinson Meyer’s newsletter for the Atlantic, called The Weekly Planet. Here is one of his worth reading for a bit of encouragement (when you click the hyperlink it will go to the current newsletter, which until April 20 is this one; after April 20 scroll to find this edition):

The Biggest Investment Ever in Sucking Carbon Out of the Sky

The world’s biggest tech companies are getting serious about carbon removal, the still-nascent technology wherein humanity can pull heat-trapping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Yesterday, an alliance of prominent Silicon Valley companies—including Google, Meta, Shopify, and the payment company Stripe—announced that it is purchasing $925 million in carbon removal over the next eight years. In a world awash in overhyped corporate climate commitments, this is actually a big deal. Continue reading

Crypto, Pigs & Possibilities

Wind turbines next to Argo Blockchain’s new facility in Dickens County, Texas. The site would be fueled mostly by wind and solar energy. Carter Johnston for The New York Times

First thought upon seeing the headline of the story below: when pigs fly. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary. If you read to the end of the story, published in the New York Times (click through to read it in full there), you will understand that some at the cutting edge of crypto want to change the name of what they do to “validators” from the less environmentally-friendly sounding “miners.” So, second thought: lipstick on pigs. But, at least they are acknowledging the complaint. Plus, the author of this story has a remarkable track record of reporting on issues we care about. So let’s read their latest claims with an open mind:

Bitcoin Miners Want to Recast Themselves as Eco-Friendly

Facing intense criticism, the crypto mining industry is trying to change the view that its energy-guzzling computers are harmful to the climate.

Texas has become a hot spot for crypto mining, attracting more than two dozen companies, partly because of an unusual incentive structure with its power grid. Carter Johnston for The New York Times

Along a dirt-covered road deep in Texas farm country, the cryptocurrency company Argo Blockchain is building a power plant for the internet age: a crypto “mining” site stocked with computers that generate new Bitcoins. Continue reading

Airborne Wind Energy

An airborne wind turbine at the SkySails Power’s pilot site in Klixbüll, Germany. AXEL HEIMKEN / PICTURE ALLIANCE VIA GETTY IMAGES

Wind energy, as we have pictured it, was in a race between fixed and floating models. We did not know about the airborne model. Nicola Jones, writing in Yale e360, gives a clear picture of why it faltered and how it is recovering:

After a Shaky Start, Airborne Wind Energy Is Slowly Taking Off

This long-exposure nighttime photograph shows the figure-eight flight pattern of Kitepower’s airborne wind system. KITEPOWER

Numerous companies are developing technologies, such as large kites, that can harvest wind energy up to a half-mile above ground. While still in its nascent stages, airborne wind power could potentially be used in remote locations or flying from barges far offshore.

Look up over the white sand beaches of Mauritius and you may see a gigantic sail, much like the kind used by paragliders or kite surfers but the size of a three-bedroom apartment, looping figure-eights overhead. Continue reading

Nuclear Fusion’s Heat Feat

The interior of the JET, where an experiment generated 59 megajoules of heat, beating the 1997 record of 21.7 megajoules. Photograph: UKAEA

We have no expertise in this specific energy-related subject, but we know that new sources of energy are an important potential contributor to the reduction of global warming. So, we read this news about a new heat record from nuclear fusion as a qualified source of hope:

Nuclear fusion heat record a ‘huge step’ in quest for new energy source

Oxfordshire scientists’ feat raises hopes of using reactions that power sun for low-carbon energy

The prospect of harnessing the power of the stars has moved a step closer to reality after scientists set a new record for the amount of energy released in a sustained fusion reaction. Continue reading

Turbines Replacing Rigs In Scotland’s Waters

The Aberdeen Bay Wind Farm, an offshore wind demonstration facility off the coast of Aberdeenshire, in the North Sea, Scotland. ZANASZANAS VIA WIKIPEDIA

When big oil companies dismantle rigs and switch to building new turbines, it has the ring of something good. Our thanks to Yale E360 for this news brief:

North Sea Fossil Fuel Companies Plan to Invest More in Wind than Oil Drilling

Having won rights to develop wind farms off the coast of Scotland, Shell, Total, and BP are set to invest more in wind power than in oil and gas drilling in the North Sea in the years ahead, the latest evidence of oil majors changing tack on renewables to better navigate the energy transition. Continue reading

Extraction, Adaptation & Opportunity

The former coal miner Gary Webb, right, with his cousins Darrell Davis and Ernie Dials, in Lovely, Ky. Mr. Webb supports the planned solar farm. “It’s good for climate change,” he said. “Anything that helps is good.” Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

The photograph above speaks to the humanity of coal mining culture in a time when the world is trying to wind down its use of coal. It is not fair, in so many ways, that miners seem to have so few options; but a way forward will be found. The billboard in the photo below may suggest otherwise, but opportunities for those miners are not likely to include coal.  Thanks to Cara Buckley for this vivid portrait of a place historically focused on extraction, its people who are in need of a better future, and the tensions that come with making that better future happen:

Coming Soon to This Coal County: Solar, in a Big Way

In Martin County, Ky., where coal production has flatlined, entrepreneurs are promising that a new solar farm atop a shuttered mine will bring green energy jobs.

A billboard advertising mining jobs in Inez, Ky. By last count, the county had just 26 miners left. Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

MARTIN COUNTY, Ky. — For a mountain that’s had its top blown off, the old Martiki coal mine is looking especially winsome these days. With its vast stretches of emerald grass dotted with hay bales and ringed with blue-tinged peaks, and the wild horses and cattle that roam there, it looks less like a shuttered strip mine and more like an ad for organic milk.

The mountain is poised for another transformation. Hundreds of acres are set to be blanketed with solar panels in the coming year, installed by locals, many of them former miners. Continue reading

Spain Harnesses The Power In The Air

View of a wind farm in the province of Burgos.

While we were paying attention to many other things over the last decade, Spain transformed into a wind power house. How did we miss it with all the attention we paid to renewable energy? Thanks to El Pais for this news:

Wind power becomes Spain’s leading energy source for 2021

Renewable sources already cover almost half of the country’s consumption needs – so far this year, they have contributed almost 47% of the total compared to less than 30% a decade ago

Even if the wind stops blowing in the next three weeks, wind power will end the year as the leading source of electricity in Spain. Continue reading

More Solar Canopy Initiatives

A solar-covered parking lot at the plant of Anhui Quanchai Engine Co., Ltd. in Chuzhou, China. IMAGINECHINA VIA AP IMAGES

Using solar panels to create shade for coffee trees requires thought about the tradeoffs between the non-shade benefits trees otherwise provide: (nitrogen-fixing in the case of poro trees, plus bird habitat and other biodiversity benefits) and the non-shade benefits that solar panels provide (renewable energy). Solar panels on parking lots and other roofs, on the other hand, seems the definition of a no-brainer. Our thanks to Richard Conniff and Yale e360, as always:

Why Putting Solar Canopies on Parking Lots Is a Smart Green Move

Solar farms are proliferating on undeveloped land, often harming ecosystems. But placing solar canopies on large parking lots offers a host of advantages — making use of land that is already cleared, producing electricity close to those who need it, and even shading cars.

A solar parking facility at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, with an output of 8 megawatts of electricity.

Fly into Orlando, Florida, and you may notice a 22-acre solar power array in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head in a field just west of Disney World. Nearby, Disney also has a 270-acre solar farm of conventional design on former orchard and forest land. Park your car in any of Disney’s 32,000 parking spaces, on the other hand, and you won’t see a canopy overhead generating solar power (or providing shade) — not even if you snag one of the preferred spaces for which visitors pay up to $50 a day. Continue reading

A New Canopy Concept

This year, the garden produced more than 8,000 pounds of produce, while the panels above generate enough power for 300 local homes. Kirk Siegler/NPR

When the poro and other trees we planted in the last two years mature, they will provide shade for a thousand or so coffee saplings. High elevation arabica coffee likes shade, and birds like the habitat. Those trees are growing fast, but it will be decades until their full shade potential is reached. As I read “This Colorado ‘solar garden’ is literally a farm under solar panels” I can picture an interesting complement to the shade poro provides:

When Byron Kominek returned home after the Peace Corps and later working as a diplomat in Africa, his family’s 24-acre farm near Boulder, Colo., was struggling to turn a profit.

“Our farm has mainly been hay producing for fifty years,” Kominek said, on a recent chilly morning, the sun illuminating a dusting of snow on the foothills to his West. “This is a big change on one of our three pastures.”

That big change is certainly an eye opener: 3,200 solar panels mounted on posts eight feet high above what used to be an alfalfa field on this patch of rolling farmland at the doorstep of the Rocky Mountains. Continue reading

Big Hydro’s Climate Change

Lake Oroville, the reservoir behind the Oroville Dam in California, at a near-record low level on September 1. Because of drought, the dam has not operated since August 5. GEORGE ROSE / GETTY IMAGES

Jacques Leslie, a Yale e360 regular and Los Angeles Times op-ed contributor, is a leading authority on dams, so his opinion here is worth noting:

As Warming and Drought Increase, A New Case for Ending Big Dams

The argument against major hydropower projects — ravaged ecosystems and large-scale displacement of people — is well known. But dam critics now say that climate change, bringing dried-up reservoirs and increased methane releases, should spell the end of big hydropower.

As the hydroelectric dam industry tries to reposition itself as a climate change solution, more and more evidence shows that climate change actually undermines the case for hydro dams. Continue reading

Global North, Global South & Responsibilities

Photo: Hannah Whitaker; Prop Styling: Marina Bevilacqua.

David Wallace-Wells has done it again. Devastated me with considerations I should have had on my own, but had not. And he makes it so vivid that once you see his point you cannot stop seeing it. Having lived in the Global South for a majority of my adult years, but having been born into and lived in the Global North for the first half of my life, this story resonates with me in ways I cannot quite describe. But the quote from Proverbs in yesterday’s post seems even more intensely relevant:

Climate Reparations

A trillion tons of carbon hangs in the air, put there by the world’s rich, an existential threat to its poor. Can we remove it?

I. What Is Owed

Brazil, 2019. Photo: Cristina de Middel/Magnum Photos

The math is as simple as the moral claim. We know how much carbon has been emitted and by which countries, which means we know who is most responsible and who will suffer most and that they are not the same. We know that the burden imposed on the world’s poorest by its richest is gruesome, that it is growing, and that it represents a climate apartheid demanding reparation — or should know it. We know we can remove some of that carbon from the atmosphere and undo at least some of the damage. We know the cost of doing so using tools we have today. And we know that unless we use them, the problem will never go away. Continue reading

Greek Islands & Cleaner Energy

The island of Naxos is now linked to the Greek mainland via an underwater electrical cable. Eirini Vourloumis

Writing from Costa Rica, which currently generates nearly all of its electricity from renewable sources, but thinking of Greece, which is moving in that direction, my thanks to Liz Alderman and Eirini Vourloumis for the excellent reporting and photography about that journey:

Greece Is Getting Rewired for the Future

As climate change bears down, Greece is upending its sources of energy and trying to reshape its economic destiny.

Two wind turbines on a hill outside the main town of Naxos. Eirini Vourloumis

NAXOS, Greece — On the windswept western tip of one of Greece’s largest islands, an unassuming stone building above the Aegean Sea has become an unlikely outpost in this country’s fight against climate change. Continue reading

Electrify Now

SAMAN SARHENG/YALE E360

For those of us who can make the switch sooner rather than later, it is looking more and more like common sense:

From Homes to Cars, It’s Now Time to Electrify Everything

The key to shifting away from fossil fuels is for consumers to begin replacing their home appliances, heating systems, and cars with electric versions powered by clean electricity. The challenges are daunting, but the politics will change when the economic benefits are widely felt.

An all-electric house. REWIRING AMERICA

For too long, the climate solutions conversation has been dominated by the supply-side view of the energy system: What will replace coal plants? Will natural gas be a bridge fuel? Can hydrogen power industry? These are all important questions, but, crucially, they miss half the equation. We must bring the demand side of our energy system to the heart of our climate debate. Continue reading