Arthur Neslen at the Guardian shares the news, in Europe to ban halogen lightbulbs, that we have been waiting to hear for years:
Thanks to Peter Kaminsky, who helps answer the question Why Cook Over an Icelandic Geyser? and does so with gusto:
REYKHOLT, Iceland — Standing in the mud of the Myvatn geyser field in northern Iceland, Kolla Ivarsdottir lifted the lid of her makeshift bread oven. It had been fashioned from the drum of an old washing machine and buried in the geothermally heated earth. All around us mudpots burbled and columns of steam shot skyward, powered by the heat of nascent volcanoes.
Ms. Ivarsdottir, a mother of three who sells her bread in a local crafts market, reached into the oven and retrieved a milk carton full of just-baked lava bread, a sweet, dense rye bread that has been made in the hot earth here for centuries. She cut the still-hot loaf into thick slices. It is best eaten, she said, “completely covered by a slab of cold butter as thick as your hand, and a slice of smoked salmon, just as thick.” We settled for bread and butter — still a supernal combination. Continue reading
Norway’s public policy that puts environmentalism front and center stands in stark contrast to the obvious deconstruction of protections in this country.
Sales of electric and hybrid cars in Norway outpaced those running on fossil fuels last year, cementing the country’s position as a global leader in the push to restrict vehicle emissions.
Norway, a major oil exporter, would seem an unlikely champion of newer, cleaner-running vehicles. But the country offers generous incentives that make electric cars cheaper to buy, and provides additional benefits once the vehicles are on the road.
Countries around the world have ramped up their promotion of hybrid and electric cars. As China tries to improve air quality and dominate new vehicle technology, the government there wants one in five cars sold to run on alternative fuels by 2025. France and Britain plan to end the sale of gasoline- and diesel-powered cars by 2040.
Norway is ahead of the rest of the world. Continue reading
Thanks to Anthropocene:
Thanks to Anthropocene for this summary of a counterintuitive finding:
Last spring the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) predicted that natural gas would generate more power in 2016 than coal, and now that natural gas has taken that lead, it is under close scrutiny as a “cleaner” alternative to coal. From the EIA’s latest Short-Term Energy Outlook, natural gas also beat out coal for carbon dioxide emissions from power generation.
“Energy-associated carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from natural gas are expected to surpass those from coal for the first time since 1972. Even though natural gas is less carbon-intensive than coal, increases in natural gas consumption and decreases in coal consumption in the past decade have resulted in natural gas-related CO2 emissions surpassing those from coal.”
And the agency isn’t talking in fractions of a percentage point, either. EIA puts the emissions figure for natural gas at 10 percent greater than coal for 2016.
It seems obvious that investing in renewable solar energy saves money for those who install photovoltaic (PV) systems for their homes. However, what might not be so obvious is that PV systems also reduce electricity prices for all those with no solar panels, as professor Robert Kaufmann from Boston University discovered. His research revealed that the approximately 40,000 households and community groups with solar panels in Massachusetts reduce electricity prices for all of the three million electricity ratepayers in the state, including those with no solar panels.
“Until now, people have focused on how much was being saved by those who owned PV,” says Kaufmann. “What this analysis quantified was that it actually generates savings for everybody.”
A new light display is illuminating Europe – one that is more energy efficient. As of today, no new retail orders will be possible for directional halogen bulbs in EU countries and therefore the last halogens left in stores will not be replaced with new stock. Halogen bulbs can waste up to 10 times more energy that LEDs and the first targets of the halogen bulb ban, which will go into full effect in 2018, are GU10 spotlights and PAR30 floodlights.
Which? magazine last month advised its readers to switch to LEDs, which can cut lighting electricity bills by up to 90%, according to the cool products efficiency campaign.
“With bulb purchase costs included, British homes on the average tariff will pay £126 per socket over a 10-year period for halogen lights, compared to £16 for LEDs,” said Jack Hunter, a coolproducts spokesman.
We’ve covered a couple examples of alternative energy in India, but in general there’s a long way to go towards providing electricity to even most of the population, which generally suffers power outages. Now, the country has a surplus for the first time, but at what cost? Indian energy is still mostly in coal, and six of the country’s cities are in the top ten worst-polluted in the world. Tali Trigg writes for his blog Plugged In on Scientific American:
Like Germany, India has struggled to achieve power selling parity between its southern and northern regions, but is finally starting to see prices close-to-equal across the country. While India’s achievement is remarkable from one point-of-view, the fact remains that 300 million Indians still do not benefit as they have no access to electricity and most of the added capacity is from highly-polluting coal power causing grievous air quality.
More than 90 percent of American homes have air-conditioners, which accounts for approximately 6 percent of all the country’s residential energy use and translates to about 100 million tons of carbon dioxide released every year. To save on energy consumption, one can turn off the AC units while not present in the room or increase the thermostat to a higher temperature so that the AC will not turn on as often. However, another aspect of air-conditioners that is not frequently talked about is the actual chemical compounds in AC systems that are responsible for keeping a room cool on a hot summer day. The compounds are called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and it’s a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.
HFCs represent a small portion of total greenhouse gas emissions, but they trap thousands of times as much heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
Good news: If your air-conditioner is working properly, it won’t release HFCs into the atmosphere. Some HFCs are released during the manufacturing process, if your air-conditioner or refrigerator has a leak, or when you throw a unit away, possibly causing some molecules to escape, especially if it’s disposed of improperly (Here’s some guidance on proper disposal).
Some positive news for all sustainable development worldwide (so yes, please continue your individual efforts to reduce your energy consumption and mitigate your carbon footprint, because they are paying off):
The amount of coal, oil, gas and renewable energy used by the global economy is falling quickly, a clear sign that economic growth is having less of an impact on climate change than in the past, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The measure of the amount of energy that is used per unit of gross domestic product is known as energy intensity, and it’s an important indicator in the progress countries are making in tackling climate change. Globally, energy intensity has fallen 30 percent since 1990 and about 2 percent between 2014 and 2015.
Increasing levels of CO₂ are the principle cause of the alarming climate changes that we have observed in the past several decades, so why not use the same chemical compound that is causing all our woes to generate fuel, or electricity, as we saw here a few days ago? The scientific community is well aware of the common and “conventional” renewable energies, so researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have engineered a solar cell that converts atmospheric carbon dioxide directly into usable hydrocarbon fuel, using only the sunlight for energy. This new invention removes the necessity of batteries and solves two crucial problems: Continue reading
Several of our contributors have a Cornell background, and this new technology that can convert carbon dioxide to electricity through a simple series of chemical reactions is the product of a couple researchers at the School of Chemistry and Biomolecular Engineers. Prachi Patel reports for Conservation Magazine:
A new technology offers a one-two punch against carbon pollution. Researchers have made an aluminum-based battery cell that captures carbon dioxide and simultaneously generates a large amount of electricity. That means a way to mitigate carbon emissions while meeting increasing demand for energy.
Although we’ve heard of dams causing environmental and community problems before, we’ve also seen how they can be beneficial to society, and it’s clear that they’re a double-edged sword. Most recently on the topic, we learned that with proper planning and design, hydropower can be less of an enemy to conservation. Now, research highlighted in Conservation Magazine displays the possibility of helping native river-reliant insect populations by adjusting how dams “hydropeak,” or change river flow to compensate for electricity demand. Sarah DeWeerdt reports:
Scientists know that hydropower dams often decrease the abundance and diversity of aquatic insects downstream. But until now it wasn’t clear why—after all, dams cause a range of environmental stressors such as alterations in water flow, temperature, and sedimentation.
A massive new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey lays much of the blame on hydropeaking, the practice of varying river flows below a dam depending on electricity demand. Because of hydropeaking, the amount of water released from a dam can vary by as much as ten-fold throughout the day, creating an artificial intertidal zone that propagates for hundreds of kilometers downstream.
Lots of energy is wasted by buildings that don’t have appropriate insulation or efficient HVAC systems. We’ve shared stories on lower-impact construction, like this recent piece on passive homes, and Conservation Magazine now has an article on a new way to decide on the city scale what buildings to retrofit – replace old types of windows, switch out light bulbs, etc. – based on research in Massachusetts. Prachi Patel reports:
In 2015, buildings of all types accounted for 40 percent of all energy consumption in the U.S. and 20 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions. Retrofitting old, energy-inefficient structures with efficiency features will be key for reducing their large carbon footprint. Many cities and states offer substantial incentives to home and commercial building owners who make such upgrades.
But instead of offering incentives willy-nilly, cities could use a smarter way to get the biggest energy impact, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology say. Some buildings are bigger energy-hogs than others. MIT professor of civil and environmental engineering Marta González and her colleagues have come up with a streamlined way to identify the culprits with the biggest room for improvements. Their simple model, published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, could help city planners identify buildings where retrofits will have the biggest effect on a city’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.
Businesses are finally seeing the sense of clean energy, which we try to share about as much as possible when it comes to savings and renewables or alternative sources. Heather Clancy at GreenBiz reports on the use and investment of clean energy by several big US businesses, like GM with landfill gas, Intel with solar panels, and Google with renewable energy contracts:
Despite uncertainty surrounding the future of the Clean Power Plan and contractual nuances that make even the smallest project feel unnecessarily complex, big businesses seem more committed to renewable energy than ever.
“This time it’s not about fashion, it’s about real economics, about real business opportunity,” said economist Mark Kenber, CEO of the Climate Group, during a keynote interview at last week’s GreenBiz 16 conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Dams are barriers built across rivers and streams to confine and regulate water flow for irrigation and hydroelectricity. However, in recent years, the social, economic, and environmental impacts of these constructions have become a pressing concern. While dams are integral to agricultural irrigation, and can help control floods, the construction causes mass displacement, increases risks of earthquakes and landslides. Along the Mekong in China, the people need clean electricity but also the fish and rice that and undammed river provides.
Ban Pak Ing may be a vision of the future for many Mekong villages. Five more dams are under construction in China. Downstream, in Laos and Cambodia, 11 major dams—the first on the main stem of the lower Mekong—are either proposed or already being built. By disrupting fish migration and spawning, the new dams are expected to threaten the food supply of an estimated 60 million people—most of whom live in villages much like Ban Pak Ing. The electric power generated by the lower Mekong dams is destined largely for booming urban centers in Thailand and Vietnam. Kraisak Choonhavan, a Thai activist and former senator, calls the lower Mekong dams “a disaster of epic proportions.”
Dams, although greener in some senses than coal factories in terms of their electric output, almost always have other serious environmental repercussions in the form of habitat destruction and river flow interruptions that adversely affect fish species. Hydropower from giant dams on rivers has been described as a brute force technology, and the construction of new dams can create public outcry as well as political issues in water distribution. The publication of new research, in part by The Nature Conservancy, shows how hydroelectric projects, often so destructive, can be less harmful if planned thoroughly beforehand to take the whole river basin and water system into account, rather than just a small tract of river. Jeff Opperman reports for TNC in a blog article that describes the elements of concentration, confrontation, and collaboration involved in pairing new hydropower with river conservation:
That’s what makes rivers so valuable — both for fish and for energy.
A river is the concentrated water of a whole region as rain and snow across an entire basin becomes runoff, is funneled into cataracts, creeks and canyons, and collected into the narrow ribbon of a river channel (narrow in a relative sense — even a river channel several kilometers wide is incredibly narrow compared to its basin which may be hundreds of thousands of square kilometers in area).
Energy-efficient and eco-friendly homes have been the subject of posts here in the past. Virginia Carabelli shared her first-hand experience with straw bale construction, and we’ve seen stories about earthships made from recycled material and houses covered in solar panels. Now we’re learning about a whole category of houses that can be certified as “passive” to a standard popularized in Germany. These buildings are like a thermos: extremely well insulated so that heating and cooling costs can be minimized to the point where the house is projected to use up to 90% less energy than the average house. Habitat for Humanity, in collaboration with other organizations for funding and discounts on domestic electronics, is building several houses in the DC area for a low-income neighborhood: Wendy Koch reports for National Geographic:
Built partly by volunteers, these low-budget Habitat for Humanity homes—now nearing completion—don’t look like anything special. They have basic brick facades like others in their gentrifying Ivy City neighborhood.
They stand out in other ways: 12-inch-thick exterior walls and triple-pane, imported-from-Ireland windows offer more than double the insulation required of new homes. In lieu of a furnace, tiny, wall-mounted Mitsubishi units provide heating and cooling. (See related blog post: “Laying the Foundation for Sustainable Housing in D.C.“)