Biomass & Social Justice

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:

Biomass is promoted as a carbon neutral fuel. But is burning wood a step in the wrong direction?

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 New Race In Wind Energy, Between Fixed And Floating Turbines

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:

Floating wind turbines could open up vast ocean tracts for renewable power

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

Power Plants Signal Intent

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:

Despite Pledges to Cut Emissions, China Goes on a Coal Spree

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

Off Halogen, On With LED

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:

After nearly 60 years of lighting homes halogens will be replaced with more energy efficient LEDs

After nearly 60 years of brightening our homes and streets, halogen lightbulbs will finally be banned across Europe on 1 September.

The lights will dim gradually for halogen. Remaining stocks may still be sold, and capsules, linear and low voltage incandescents used in oven lights will be exempted. But a continent-wide switchover to light-emitting diodes (LEDs) is underway that will slash emissions and energy bills, according to industry, campaigners and experts.

LEDs consume five times less energy than halogen bulbs and their phase-out will prevent more than 15m tonnes of carbon emissions a year, an amount equal to Portugal’s annual electricity usage. Continue reading

Geothermal Cooking, Just Because

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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.

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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

New Vehicle Technology Makes Good Business Sense

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.

In Norway, Electric and Hybrid Cars Outsell Conventional Models

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 2025France 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

Clean Energy, Nordic Style

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Hunderfossen Dam, Norway via Sigurd Rage/Flickr

Thanks to Anthropocene:

Nordic countries offer important lessons for clean-energy transition

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Urban Shape & Ecoefficiency

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Thanks to Anthropocene for this summary of a counterintuitive finding:

To save energy on heating and cooling, look at the shape of cities, not just their buildings

A Question of Light

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

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.

TRYING TO SOLVE THE L.E.D. QUANDARY

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Measuring Natural Gas Emissions

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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.

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Solar Energy Benefits for All

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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.”

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Lights Out for Halogens in Europe

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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.

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First-ever Electricity Surplus in India

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.

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Reducing Air-Conditioner Use

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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).

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Keep Up Your Sustainable Efforts

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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.

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Cool Chemistry

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Source eurekalert.org

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

Cornell Research on Capturing Carbon to Generate Electricity

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.

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Hydropeaking Dams = Fewer Insects

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.

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Speedier Retrofitting of City Buildings

Image by Shutterstock.com via Conservationmagazine.org

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.

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Newer Clean Energy Use by Big Companies

At peak production, Intel’s new solar carport can carry half of the campus’ electricity demand. Photo by Intel via GreenBiz

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.

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