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

Two Wheels Good, The People’s Nag

The historian Jill Lepore has only been linked to twice before in our posts. Not more, because her topical variety is constantly beyond the scope of topics we focus on.

But her most recent essay is on topic for us. Bicycles might have been the invention that kept us part way out of the climate crisis, but then came the car.

She uses the publication of the book to the right as a launch pad for an excellent history of the bicycle, combined with personal history:

Bicycles Have Evolved. Have We?

From the velocipede to the ten-speed, biking innovations brought riders freedom. But in a world built for cars, life behind handlebars is both charmed and dangerous.

My first bicycle was not, in fact, a bicycle. I rode it in 1968, when I was two years old and as tubby as a bear cub. It had four wheels, not two, and no pedals: strictly speaking, it was a scooter. But Playskool called it a Tyke Bike, so I say it qualifies, and aside from the matte-black, aluminum-alloy number that I’ve got now, which is called (by the manufacturer dead seriously, and by me aspirationally) the Bad Boy, the Tyke Bike may be the swankiest bicycle I’ve ever ridden. Continue reading

Adaptation Was Better Than Doing Nothing, But Nowhere Near Good Enough

Katharine Hayhoe warns that if we continue emitting greenhouse gases no adaptation will be possible. Photograph: Courtesy of Dr Katharine Hayhoe

We have been promoting adaptation for about as long as we have been posting here.  Fiona Harvey the Guardian’s Environment correspondent, interviews a scientist who will not soft peddle how far gone we are from those options:

We cannot adapt our way out of climate crisis, warns leading scientist

Katharine Hayhoe says the world is heading for dangers people have not seen in 10,000 years of civilisation

The world cannot adapt its way out of the climate crisis, and counting on adaptation to limit damage is no substitute for urgently cutting greenhouse gases, a leading climate scientist has warned. Continue reading

Critical Mass On Greener Steel

Getty

Greening the production of steel has been the topic of exactly one previous post, which linked to an article by Matthew Hutson from last September that made passing reference to the company featured in the article below. Maybe we are getting closer to critical mass:

Roughly a tenth of global carbon emissions comes from the steel industry. Doing something about that is easier said than done.

In the city of Woburn, Massachusetts, a suburb just north of Boston, a cadre of engineers and scientists in white coats inspected an orderly stack of brick-size, gunmetal-gray steel ingots on a desk inside a neon-illuminated lab space.

What they were looking at was a batch of steel created using an innovative manufacturing method, one that Boston Metal, a company that spun out a decade ago from MIT, hopes will dramatically reshape the way the alloy has been made for centuries. 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

Personal Approaches To Carbon Footprint Reduction

Recycle to save the planet? Photograph: Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd/Getty Images

A public service request for your input, from the Guardian:

What is the single most effective thing I could do to reduce my carbon footprint?

The long-running series in which readers answer other readers’ questions on subjects ranging from trivial flights of fancy to profound scientific and philosophical concepts

What is the single most effective thing I could do to reduce my carbon footprint? Without dying, preferably. Andrew Hufnagel, Caithness

Post your answers (and new questions) below or send them to nq@theguardian.com. A selection will be published on Sunday.

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

Plant-based Diet Enhanced By The Sea

Seaweed ecologist Dr Sophie Steinhagen inspects the crop at the seafarm in the Koster archipelago in Sweden.

Three months into a beef-free diet, with no temptation to lapse, I am aware that other animal protein is so far a saving grace. When I switch entirely to alternative creatures such as crickets, and to plants including seaweed, I will know the transformation is complete.

Seaweed farming in Sweden could be a vital component of the shift away from eating meat for protein.

Meanwhile, thanks to the Guardian for Richard Orange’s reporting from Malmö on Sea-farmed supercrop: how seaweed could transform the way we live.

From high-protein food to plastics and fuel, Swedish scientists are attempting to tap the marine plant’s huge potential

Steinhagen inspects the tanks in her “seaweed kindergarten”.

You can just see the buoys of the seafarm,” Dr Sophie Steinhagen yells over the high whine of the boat as it approaches the small islands of Sweden’s Koster archipelago. The engine drops to a sputter, and Steinhagen heaves up a rope to reveal the harvest hanging beneath: strand after strand of sea lettuce, translucent and emerald green. 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

Jumpstarting System Change

So many things to change, so little time. If you are looking for a way to jumpstart a change to the system, consider these six lifestyle adjustments (thanks to the Guardian for the feature story on Jump):

From using smartphones for longer to ending car ownership, research shows ‘less stuff and more joy’ is the way forward

Founder of the Jump campaign Tom Bailey. Photograph: Andy Hall/The Observer

Research shows that people in wealthier, high-consuming countries can help avert climate breakdown by making six relatively straightforward lifestyle changes, creating a society of “less stuff and more joy”.

Experts say if enacted these “shifts” would account for a quarter of the required emissions reductions needed to keep the global heating down to 1.5C and increase pressure on government and the private sector to make the necessary far-reaching systemic change. Continue reading

Palm Oil Potential

An oil palm plantation encroaches on a rainforest in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. NANANG SUJANA / CIFOR

Palm oil’s problems, and potential solutions have been catalogued in these pages many times. In this recent story by James Dinneen, writing again for Yale Environment 360, a new potential solution is explored:

Can Synthetic Palm Oil Help Save the World’s Tropical Forests?

Christopher Chuck, a chemical engineer at the University of Bath, is working to produce yeast able to generate more oil from cheaper feedstocks. UNIVERSITY OF BATH

Numerous startups are creating synthetic palm oil in the lab, hoping to slow the loss of tropical forests to oil palm cultivation. But palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil, and producing a synthetic version on a large scale remains a daunting challenge.

Tom Jeffries and Tom Kelleher met at Rutgers University in the 1970s while studying industrially useful microbes. Jeffries went on to run a yeast genomics program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Kelleher spent decades in the biomedical industry, working with biologics like insulin, which are produced by genetically modified microbes in giant, fermenting vats. 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

Schoonschip’s Floating Homes

Schoonschip, a floating home development in Amsterdam. ISABEL NABUURS

Shira Rubin, writing in Yale e360, offers a view of Holland’s innovative housing approach to a future where the increase in waterscape can become an advantage. And she illustrates how this might be of use in other parts of the world facing the same challenges from rising seas:

Embracing a Wetter Future, the Dutch Turn to Floating Homes

Faced with worsening floods and a shortage of housing, the Netherlands is seeing growing interest in floating homes. These floating communities are inspiring more ambitious Dutch-led projects in flood-prone nations as far-flung as French Polynesia and the Maldives.

When a heavy storm hit in October, residents of the floating community of Schoonschip in Amsterdam had little doubt they could ride it out. They tied up their bikes and outdoor benches, checked in with neighbors to ensure everyone had enough food and water, and hunkered down as their neighborhood slid up and down its steel foundational pillars, rising along with the water and descending to its original position after the rain subsided. Continue reading

Natural Fiber Welding

From left to right, SEM image of raw cotton and Natural Fiber Welding’s CLARUS® cotton. COURTESY OF NATURAL FIBER WELDING

We look forward to hearing more as they progress:

This Company Has a Way to Replace Plastic in Clothing

Natural Fiber Welding uses an innovative process to treat cotton and make it behave more like synthetic fibers.

LUKE HAVERHALS WANTS to change how yoga pants are made. Most performance fabrics used in athletic clothing, like Spandex, are made from synthetic fibers—plastic, essentially. Those plastics are problematic for humans and the environment. Haverhals’ company, Natural Fiber Welding, offers an alternative to synthetic fabrics. Continue reading

AgEc Revolution In Puerto Rico

Francisco Diaz Ramos, 44, Marissa Reyes, 32, and Jan Paul, 29, run the Güakiá Colectivo Agroecólogico, an 11 acre farm in Dorado, Puerto Rico. Photograph: Angel Valentin/The Guardian

When we look at these young farmers and the work they are doing we see a greener future.

A farmer prepares the land at the El Josco Bravo argoecology farm in the Toa Alta mountains. Photograph: Nina Lakhani/The Guardian

Thanks to Nina Lakhani and The Guardian for this story:

‘An act of rebellion’: the young farmers revolutionizing Puerto Rico’s agriculture

The island imports 85% of its food but these three farms are part of the agroecology movement that seeks food sovereignty and climate solutions

A hydroponics greenhouse at Frutos del Guacabo is used to grow a range of herbs and greens quickly and without soil. Photograph: Nina Lakhani/The Guardian

Puerto Rico was once a thriving agricultural hub thanks to its tropical climate, rich biodiversity, and sustainable farming traditions.

Today, less than 2% of the workforce is employed in agriculture and tens of thousands of acres of arable land sit idle. Meanwhile 85% of the food eaten in Puerto Rico is imported, grocery prices are among the highest in the US and last year two in five people experienced food insecurity. “Unemployment is brutal, prices are brutal, migration from the island is brutal,” said Denise Santos, who runs Puerto Rico’s food bank. Continue reading

Orca, Climeworks & The Philosopher’s Stone

We started noticing Climeworks three years ago and have posted about Orca a couple times since then. But the video above is worth the longer look, and our thanks to Yale Climate Connections for pointing to it in their story Iceland facility sucks carbon dioxide from air, turns it into rock:

(Image credit: Climeworks video)

The technology will need a lot of scaling up to make a difference to the climate.

In Iceland, a new facility called Orca is pulling carbon dioxide out of the air so it can be stored underground. Continue reading

Planetary Health Diet

What we should eat for the sake of our individual and communal futures is one of the topics most posted on this platform.  Gayathri Vaidyanathan’s article below adds to the most macro of perspectives on these topics. It takes a moment to process the information in the graphic above, but this article from the journal Nature makes it clear:

What humanity should eat to stay healthy and save the planet

What we eat needs to be nutritious and sustainable. Researchers are trying to figure out what that looks like around the world.

Illustration by Paweł Jońca

A clutch of fishing villages dot the coast near Kilifi, north of Mombasa in Kenya. The waters are home to parrot fish, octopus and other edible species. But despite living on the shores, the children in the villages rarely eat seafood. Their staple meal is ugali, maize (corn) flour mixed with water, and most of their nutrition comes from plants. 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

Solar Canopy + Bellwether Roaster = Interesting Option

As we consider new canopy options, a switch to electric roasting of Organikos coffee also seems clearly worthy of consideration. I just found out about this company, and its sustainability report from last year puts it high on my list of roasters to consider:

Letter from Bellwether

We would be remiss to start our Sustainability Report without acknowledging what a crazy year 2020 was. A global pandemic forced many of our customers, like other businesses across the world, to close their doors. Continue reading