First reading of the day was this essay by a historian linked to once and referred to one time previously. And next up, the conscience of our generation compounds the idea, or rather pounds the idea home about who is writing the first draft of what will become our history, by defining reality as we see it today. I have listened to conversations with Daniel Yergin twice recently, and acknowledge being sucked into his expert definition of how to understand the fossil fuel world. I appreciate McKibben’s cold water on my face:
A search for the climate high ground
“Realism” is the high ground in politics—a high ground from which to rain down artillery fire on new ideas.
To wit, this week the New York Times profiled Canadian energy analyst Vaclav Smil, who—alongside others like Daniel Yergin—has long insisted that the transformation from fossil fuels to hydrocarbons must take a long time. Smil is a good writer and a smart historian; he’s documented the many-decades-long transitions from, say, wood to coal, and coal to oil as dominant energy sources. Continue reading
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:
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
The Enviva plant in Northampton county, North Carolina. Photograph: SELC
Questions about biomass are not new, but increasingly urgent as a social justice issue as well as an ecological one:
Many scientists and environmental campaigners question the industry’s claims to offer a clean, renewable energy source that the planet desperately needs
Thick dust has been filling the air and settling on homes in Debra David’s neighborhood of Hamlet, North Carolina, ever since a wood pellet plant started operating nearby in 2019. Continue reading
The world’s first floating wind farm 15 miles offshore of Aberdeenshire, in Scotland. The 30 megawatt installation can power approximately 20,000 households Photograph: Xinhua/Alamy
Wind, of all the alternative energy sources we pay attention to, requires vast areas for generation. So water has become the go-to place to place the turbines. It looks like the new race is whether to have the turbines fixed or floating:
Technology could help power a clean energy transition if it can overcome hurdles of cost, design and opposition from fishing
In the stormy waters of the North Sea, 15 miles off the coast of Aberdeenshire, in Scotland, five floating offshore wind turbines stretch 574 feet (175 metres) above the water. The world’s first floating windfarm, a 30 megawatt facility run by the Norwegian company Equinor, has only been in operation since 2017 but has already broken UK records for energy output. Continue reading
A coal-fired power plant in China’s Jiangsu province. XU CONGJUN – IMAGINECHINA
What is the real intent on addressing climate change, we must wonder:
China is building large numbers of coal-fired power plants to drive its post-pandemic economy. The government has promised a CO2 emissions peak by 2030, but the new coal binge jeopardizes both China’s decarbonization plans and global efforts to tackle climate change.
China’s National People’s Congress meetings, which ended earlier this month, were shrouded in both a real and figurative haze about how strong its climate ambitions really are and how quickly the country can wean itself from its main source of energy — coal. Continue reading
Switching to LEDs has been estimated to save consumers up to £112 a year. Photograph: imageBroker/Rex/Shutterstock
Arthur Neslen at the Guardian shares the news, in Europe to ban halogen lightbulbs, that we have been waiting to hear for years:
Jon Sigfusson, the chef at Fridheimar, a restaurant in Reykholt, Iceland, picking herbs for cooking lamb. Credit Bara Kristinsdottir for The New York Times
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.
Mr. Sigfusson, left, and Kjartan Olafsson, a restaurant critic and fish exporter, putting food into the communal geothermal oven. Credit Bara Kristinsdottir for The New York Times
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
Free parking and charging stations for electric cars in Oslo. Norway offers generous incentives that make the vehicles cheaper to buy, and other benefits once they are on the road. Credit Thomas Haugersveen for The New York Times
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 for this summary of a counterintuitive finding:
Selling “light,” not light bulbs, is one way that companies producing long-lasting L.E.D. bulbs hope to stay in business, even after “socket saturation” sets in.
PHOTOGRAPH BY TONY CENICOLA / THE NEW YORK TIMES / REDUX
In a business world of planned obsolesce and consumer world “throw away behavior”, it’s enlightening to see how companies are handling “doing good by doing well” for the both the environment and the consumer’s pockbook.
A natural gas well in Hamilton, Pennsylvania. Source: triplepundit.com
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.
All photos from: Boston University Bostonia
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.”
Image source: The Guardian
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.
Unregulated coal mining is polluting rivers in Meghalaya, India (Flickr/ECSP via climatechangenews.com)
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.
Source: New York Times
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).
Source: The Guardian
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
Architectures of metal/CO2 electrochemical cells as capture systems. (A) Secondary metal/CO2 electrochemical cell where CO2 is concentrated by recharging. (B) Primary metal/CO2 electrochemical cell where captured CO2 is concentrated or converted to Cn (n ≥ 2) valuable products. Image and caption from Science Advances, W.I. Al Sadat and L.A. Archer
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.
Hoover Dam, photo © US Bureau of Reclamation
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.