Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Category Archive: Energy

  1. Sorry, Tesla owners, but your electric car isn’t as green as you think it is

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    ….Important factors in determining carbon emissions include the weight of the vehicle, driving habits, and the source of the electricity that charges your car. Likewise, it can be a much greener choice to keep the perfectly functional car you have, rather than go out and buy a new one.

    “If you are a relatively low-mileage person, you should stick with your gas-powered car,” Mike Berners-Lee, a leading expert in measuring the amount of greenhouse gases released by the products we buy, told Salon. “When the time comes to buy a new car, you should buy a nice, small electric car, and you should still keep the mileage down. You should still try to find other forms of transport when you can, and you should share transportation as much as you can.

    One of the reasons why buying a new car is a problem is the vehicle’s so-called embodied carbon, meaning all of the energy that was used to build the car from scratch — including the extraction and processing of raw materials, and shipping parts and vehicles across oceans in filthy bunker-fuel burning cargo ships. Every time you roll off the dealer’s lot in a new set of wheels — electrified or not — your personal carbon footprint grows immensely….

    …However, Reichmuth is quick to point out that while an electric car is modestly more polluting to manufacture, it more than makes up for the difference over the life of the vehicle. A study Reichmuth co-authored and released in 2015 shows that by the time a mid-size electric car hits 135,000 miles, it will have produced half of the emissions of a comparable gasoline-powered sedan….


  2. Largest US off-shore wind farms approved in Maryland

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    Electricity generation could begin offshore at Ocean City by 2020; researchers studying impacts on wildlife

    By Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun  May 11, 2017

    Maryland waters could be home to some of the nation’s first — and by far its largest — offshore wind farms after the state Public Service Commission on Thursday approved ratepayer subsidies to support a pair of projects off the coast of Ocean City….The decision could dot the Ocean City horizon with wind turbines as soon as 2020 — and add $1 to monthly residential electricity bills once the windmills start spinning. …

    …“If built, these wind farms will be truly pioneering facilities, leading Maryland and the nation toward a 21st century economy that combats climate change and creates jobs in droves at the same time,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network….

    …The developers are required to build the turbines as far from shore as possible — up to 17 miles for the U.S. Wind farm and 24 miles for the Skipjack turbines. U.S. Wind officials have said that on a clear day, their turbines would appear to a person on the beach as about the size of a thumbnail at arms length…

    Researchers are still studying the potential impacts such projects could have on wildlife, tracking migration patterns of birds such as red-throated loons to see how much they intersect with potential wind farm sites. Jennifer Mihills, of the Mid-Atlantic office of the National Wildlife Federation, said she thinks the projects “can be sited, constructed and operated in a manner that is protective of our coastal and marine wildlife.”…

  3. We would need 1.7 Earths to make our consumption sustainable

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    We would need 1.7 Earths to make our consumption sustainable by Dennis Lu, Washington Post, May 4, 2017

    …The United States is one of the world’s biggest consumers, and U.S. policies can have global environmental effects. As of 2013, the world’s population would need 1.7 Earths to support its demands on renewable natural resources, according Global Footprint Network, a nonprofit organization that calculates human demands on the planet’s ecosystems.

    Global Footprint Network measures human consumption relative to what the planet can regenerate with a measure called the ecological footprint. The footprint takes into account how much in biological resources, such as fishing grounds and forest land, are necessary to fulfill the consumption of a country and absorb its waste. This includes imports and excludes exports. The smaller a country’s footprint is, the better.

    …Therefore, a country has an ecological deficit if its ecological footprint is greater than its biocapacity and ecological reserve if its biocapacity is greater….Though there are many solutions, the fastest way for a country to reduce its ecological footprint, according to Global Footprint Network, is to switch to greener energy sources. Even though the United States has been decreasing its ecological footprint, its consumption rate is still far from completely sustainable.

  4. New model for improving batteries that last longer and are much smaller

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    Stanford scientist’s new approach may accelerate design of high-power batteries April 6, 2017 Stanford News

    In work published this week in Applied Physics Letters, the researchers describe a mathematical model for designing new materials for storing electricity. The model could be a huge benefit to chemists and materials scientists, who traditionally rely on trial and error to create new materials for batteries and capacitors. Advancing new materials for energy storage is an important step toward reducing carbon emissions in the transportation and electricity sectors.

    The potential here is that you could build batteries that last much longer and make them much smaller,” said study co-author Daniel Tartakovsky, a professor in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. …

    ….One of the primary obstacles to transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables is the ability to store energy for later use, such as during hours when the sun is not shining in the case of solar power. Demand for cheap, efficient storage has increased as more companies turn to renewable energy sources, which offer significant public health benefits.

    Tartakovsky hopes the new materials developed through this model will improve supercapacitors, a type of next-generation energy storage that could replace rechargeable batteries in high-tech devices like cellphones and electric vehicles. Supercapacitors combine the best of what is currently available for energy storage – batteries, which hold a lot of energy but charge slowly, and capacitors, which charge quickly but hold little energy. The materials must be able to withstand both high power and high energy to avoid breaking, exploding or catching fire.

    “Current batteries and other storage devices are a major bottleneck for transition to clean energy,” ….

  5. California among 33 states that reduced CO2 while growing its economy

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    December 8 2016 KPCC Emily Guerin

    A new report from the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program has found that 33 states and Washington D.C. have managed to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions while simultaneously growing their economies….Lead author Devashree Saha said her findings challenge assertions that efforts to fight global warming will necessarily hurt the economy

    …Decoupled just means any time states have de-linked their economic growth, measured in terms of real GDP, from carbon emissions. Basically your carbon emissions are decreasing and your GDP is increasing…

    Natural gas prices have been low enough to prompt many power plant operators to make the switch from coal, which is twice as carbon intensive as natural gas.

    That’s happening in many parts of the country, and it has been a very important driver in the ability of several states to decouple their emissions from their economic growth.

    Our research surprisingly found that nuclear has been playing a very important role in the ability of states to decouple and decarbonize their economy.  States like Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, they have all managed double-digit economic growth and double-digit reduction in CO2 emissions. A lot of that has to do with the role played by nuclear in these states. Georgia sources more than a quarter of its electricity from nuclear, Tennessee almost a third….

  6. America’s rapidly growing wind industry now employs more than 100,000 people

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    April 19 2017  Samantha Page

    More than 100,000 Americans now work in the wind industry, which is adding jobs much more rapidly than the economy as a whole
    according to new data released Wednesday.

    “We are hiring at a nine times faster rate than the average industry in the country,” Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a trade group, said at a press conference for the release of the group’s Annual Market Report. Kiernan attributed the strong growth to wind’s increasing efficiency, decreasing costs, and reliability, but also to the extension of the production tax credit, a federal program that was extended at the end of 2015, offering what Kiernan called “clarity and certainty” to the wind market.

    Kiernan announced the findings in Minnesota, which has 20 factories for wind turbines and parts. Overall, the Midwest has driven a historic investment in wind energy: Kiernan noted that there has been $28 billion invested in wind in the upper Midwest, where 26 percent of the electricity comes from wind.

    The renewable energy sector as a whole is booming, with both wind and solar showing impressive gains over the past few years. From 2015 to 2016, solar nearly doubled the amount of capacity installed, and there are now more people working in renewable energy than in fossil fuels in nearly every state in the country….

  7. Coal decline due mostly to cheaper natural gas, less electricity demand and renewables

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    Environmental Rules Played Minor Role in Coal’s Decline

    Environmental and climate regulations that cut pollution from coal-fired power plants have played only a minor role in the decline of the coal industry, which has been hurt mainly by expanding use of natural gas and less demand for electricity, according to a Columbia University report published this week.

    U.S. coal use fell by about 30 percent between 2011 and 2016. The paper attributes about half of that decline to low natural gas prices, 26 percent to falling demand for electricity and 18 percent to growth in renewable energy such as wind and solar. Only 3.5 percent of the coal industry’s decline is due to environmental and climate regulations that took effect prior to 2016…

    …“The idea that environmental regulations are killing the coal industry is wrong on many levels,” Koomey said. “If the administration promotes natural gas and fracking, the consequent low gas prices will make it increasingly difficult for coal to compete.”

    Cheap natural gas, along with quickly-dropping prices of wind and solar power and a decline in global demand for coal, means that coal is being edged out of the market, he said. “Coal is not coming back, and the sooner we move on to cleaner electricity generation technologies, the better it will be for the U.S. and the world,” Koomey said.

    REPORT:  Trevor Houser et al Can Coal Make A Comeback? April 2017 Columbia University

  8. America’s First Offshore Wind Farm Spins to Life

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    By TATIANA SCHLOSSBERG NY Times December 14 2016 see full article here

    The Block Island Wind Farm, consisting of five turbines off Rhode Island, sets up the possibility for offshore wind projects elsewhere along the coast…

    …the Block Island Wind Farm is …made up of five turbines, which were built by a division of General Electric, and capable of powering about 17,000 homes — it is the first successful offshore wind development in the United States, and it sets up the possibility for offshore wind projects elsewhere along the coast.

    …Mr. Trump has expressed skepticism of wind power, saying in an interview with The New York Times that “the wind is a very deceiving thing.” And an email written by Thomas J. Pyle, who is running the Department of Energy transition for the president-elect, said that the Trump administration may be looking to get rid of all energy subsidies.

    Mr. Trump has also been accused of exaggerating the harmful effects of wind turbines on bird populations, which Mr. Pyle also addressed in the email, writing, “Unlike before, wind energy will rightfully face increasing scrutiny from the federal government.”

  9. Fossil Fuel Divestments Now Represent $5.2 Trillion

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    December 12th, 2016 By Brian Kahn Read full article here

    …A network of local governments, pension funds, faith organizations, philanthropies and wealthy individuals representing $5.2 trillion in assets have committed to — and in some cases already started — divesting from fossil fuel companies, according to a report released on Monday.

    That’s a huge sum of money for a movement that started just four years ago on U.S. college campuses and its growth is likely to continue as the world strives to reach its climate goals.

    “It’s pretty clear that the growth trajectory is enormous,” said Ellen Dorsey, the executive director of the Wallace Global Fund. In the past 15 months alone, the assets represented by the fossil fuel divestment movement have doubled.

    …Those divesting include Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, Germany-based financial services giant Allianz, and Amalgamated Bank, which in September became the first U.S bank to divest. Private businesses represent $4.6 trillion in assets being divested, nearly 90 percent of the overall total.

    Dorsey said that the Paris Agreement, which was finalized one year ago on Monday and went into effect last month, raises the stakes of divestment and also sends a message that more money will need to flow into clean energy if the world is to stay below the 2°C threshold. That’s led firms representing $1.2 trillion in assets in the report to move toward a divest-invest strategy of taking the money they’re pulling out fossil fuels and putting it into clean energy…