Energy and Global Warming News for May 27: Greenland’s uplift is evidence of rapid ice loss; Nation’s largest concentrated PV project opens; Western U.S. grid can handle more renewables

Greenland’s Uplift: Evidence Of Rapid Ice Loss

Scientists at the University of Miami say Greenland’s ice is melting so quickly that the land underneath is rising at an accelerated pace.

According to the study, some coastal areas are going up by nearly one inch per year and if current trends continue, that number could accelerate to as much as two inches per year by 2025, explains Tim Dixon, professor of geophysics at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) and principal investigator of the study.

“It’s been known for several years that climate change is contributing to the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet,” Dixon says. “What’s surprising, and a bit worrisome, is that the ice is melting so fast that we can actually see the land uplift in response,” he says. “Even more surprising, the rise seems to be accelerating, implying that melting is accelerating.”

The research was published in Nature Geoscience. The idea behind the study is that if Greenland is losing its ice cover, the resulting loss of weight causes the rocky surface beneath to rise. The same process is affecting the islands of Iceland and Svalbard, which also have ice caps, explains Shimon Wdowinski, research associate professor in the University of Miami RSMAS, and co-author of the study.

“During ice ages and in times of ice accumulation, the ice suppresses the land,” Wdowinski says. “When the ice melts, the land rebounds upwards,” he says. “Our study is consistent with a number of global warming indicators, confirming that ice melt and sea level rise are real and becoming significant.”

Using specialized global positioning system (GPS) receivers stationed on the rocky shores of Greenland, the scientists looked at data from 1995 onward. The raw GPS data were analyzed for high accuracy position information, as well as the vertical velocity and acceleration of each GPS site.

The measurements are restricted to places where rock is exposed, limiting the study to coastal areas. However, previous data indicate that ice in Greenland’s interior is in approximate balance: yearly losses from ice melting and flowing toward the coast are balanced by new snow accumulation, which gradually turns to ice. Most ice loss occurs at the warmer coast, by melting and iceberg calving and where the GPS data are most sensitive to changes. In western Greenland, the uplift seems to have started in the late 1990’s.

Melting of Greenland’s ice contributes to global sea level rise. If the acceleration of uplift and the implied acceleration of melting continue, Greenland could soon become the largest contributor to global sea level rise, explains Yan Jiang, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Miami RSMAS and co-author of the study.

“Greenland’s ice melt is very important because it has a big impact on global sea level rise,” Jiang says. “We hope that our work reaches the general public and that this information is considered by policy makers.”

Nation’s largest fair-weather CPV project opens in Calif.

A solar technology that leads the pack in hot, sunny climates scored a victory this week with the official launch of a concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) system in Victorville, Calif., that officials claim is North America’s largest facility of its type.

The project brings 1 megawatt of electric capacity online at Victor Valley College, a small school near Los Angeles, and consists of 122 arrays made by Mountain View, Calif.-based SolFocus Inc.

The installation, dubbed a “micro-generating facility,” is connected to the local electric grid and will produce about 30 percent of the electricity used by the college in a year, officials said.

“In addition to providing energy cost savings and a new revenue stream, these 122 arrays will provide the ideal testing ground for our students to build green careers that support the nation’s new energy economy,” said Victor Valley College President Christopher O’Hearn at a launch event. School officials plan to develop curricula on system installation, operations and maintenance around the facility.

The school did not disclose the system’s cost or expected payback time, but they said it uses one-thousandth as much of the expensive solar photovoltaic material as is in traditional cells. The cost of CPV is typically raised by other elements of the systems, such as moving parts that track the sun across the sky, however.

CPV technology is similar to the photovoltaics found on many rooftops but is far more efficient thanks to reflective optical elements that concentrate sunlight onto high-power solar cells. SolFocus claims its cells are more than twice as efficient as traditional silicon solar cells.

The technology works especially well in very sunny regions since, unlike some other photovoltaics, it does not produce energy well with the diffuse light available on cloudy days. It is also more effective than other photovoltaics when temperatures are high, according to the CPV Consortium, a global industry group.

The technology is often confused with concentrating solar power, or CSP, that group said. CSP is also used for large-scale installations but uses the sun’s heat rather than converting it directly to electricity. CSP installations concentrate the sun’s rays onto collectors that heat up a medium, often molten salt, which is then used to produce steam that turns a turbine.

Western U.S. Grid Can Handle More Renewables

More than a third of the electricity in the western United States could come from wind and solar power without installing significant amounts of backup power. And most of this expansion of renewable energy could be done without installing new interstate transmission lines, according to a new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO. But the study says increasing the amount of renewables on the grid will require smart planning and cooperation between utilities.

The NREL findings provide a strong counterargument to the idea that the existing power grid is insufficient to handle increasing amounts of renewable power. As California and other states require utilities to use renewable sources for significant fractions of their electricity, some experts have warned that measures to account for the variability of wind and solar power could be costly. At the extreme, they speculated, every megawatt of wind installed could require a megawatt of readily available conventional power in case the wind stopped blowing. But the NREL findings, like other recent studies, suggest that the costs could be minimal, especially in the West.

“It’s a lot lower than what people thought it was going to be,” says Daniel Brooks, project manager for power delivery and utilization at the Electric Power Research Institute. Even if wind farms had to pay for the necessary grid upgrades and backup power themselves, they could still sell electricity at competitive rates, he says.

NREL considered a scenario in which 30 percent of the total electricity produced in a year in western states comes from wind turbines and 5 percent comes from solar power–mostly from solar thermal plants that generate power by concentrating sunlight to produce high temperatures and steam. The researchers assumed the solar thermal plants would have some form of heat storage, although not all planned plants do. The study used detailed data about wind speeds, solar irradiance, and the operation of the electrical grid. GE Energy researchers commissioned by NREL then used the data to simulate the impact of various scenarios for wind and solar power use.

The researchers found that one way to keep the number of new backup power plants to a minimum is to expand the geographical area that renewable energy is gathered from, says Debra Lew, the NREL project manager in charge of the study. If utilities can call on wind farms and solar power from several states, rather than just from the local area, a drop in wind in one area is likely to be offset by an increase in wind elsewhere, and solar panels shaded by clouds in one area will be offset by others in sunny areas.

That makes it far less necessary to have conventional power plants standing by to make up for drops in power. The NREL study estimated that drawing only on local resources would increase variability on the grid by a factor of 50. That’s “a huge increase,” Lew says, too big for a local utility to balance using backup power and other resources. If you aggregate resources over several states, the increase is less than a factor of two.

Nissan Says Electric Car Is Sold Out for This Year

Nissan’s chief executive, Carlos Ghosn, said Tuesday that the company had already received 19,000 orders in the United States and Japan for the electric car that it would start selling at year-end.

More than six months before the car, the Nissan Leaf, arrives at dealerships, the preorders mean that the car is sold out for this year and that the company might stop taking reservations, Mr. Ghosn said during a visit to the Detroit Economic Club.

“The preorders are such that we are very comfortable with what we have undertaken,” Mr. Ghosn said after the speech. “The more we advance into it, the more comfortable we are with it.”

Nissan plans to break ground Wednesday in Smyrna, Tenn., for a plant to build batteries for the Leaf and eventually other models, part of its goal to sell at least 500,000 electric cars worldwide starting in 2013. The first Leafs will be made in Japan, with assembly in Tennessee planned to start in 2012.

Mr. Ghosn’s enthusiasm for electric vehicles contrasts with some recent studies and with comments from other automakers, including Honda, suggesting that pure electric vehicles have little short-term potential.

General Motors is scheduled to begin selling a battery-powered plug-in car, the Chevrolet Volt, later this year, but the Volt also has a small gasoline engine so that drivers can go beyond the battery’s expected range of 40 miles a charge.

Mr. Ghosn said he did not want the Leaf, whose expected range is 100 miles on a full charge, to have a range-extending engine, a feature that G.M. has said would assuage drivers’ worries about being stranded with a dead battery with no fast or easy way to recharge.

“We wanted to do a zero-emission vehicle,” Mr. Ghosn said. “I don’t want gasoline in the car, period.”

Nissan has given the Leaf a starting price of $32,780, minus a $7,500 federal tax credit. The Volt, whose price has not been disclosed, is expected to sell for close to $40,000 before the tax credit.

Among the other electric vehicles planned for sale in the United States within several years are a battery-powered version of Ford’s compact car, the Focus, and the Tesla Model S sedan, which will be built in California as part of a new partnership with Toyota announced last week.

The preorders for the Leaf include 13,000 in the United States, where dealers take a $99 deposit, and 6,000 in Japan.

Mr. Ghosn said sales in the United States would be concentrated in areas where there was sufficient means to support electric vehicles, like cities in California and other states that are installing charging stations.

Obama Says U.S. Can’t Lag Behind on Energy Technology

President Barack Obama said the “heartbreaking” oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which has fouled wetlands and closed fishing grounds, underscores the need for the U.S. to rapidly develop alternative energy sources.

The Earth can’t sustain continued dependence on fossil fuels and the U.S. is in a race with other nations to find renewable sources to power cars and companies, the president said after touring the Solyndra Inc. solar-panel manufacturing plant in Fremont, California.

“Even as we are dealing with this immediate crisis,” he said of the BP Plc spill, the U.S. is in competition with countries including Germany and China to develop advanced energy technology.

“Nobody is playing for second place,” Obama said.

He vowed to keep pressing Congress to pass energy legislation that would spur alternative energy development and lessen consumption of oil, most of which the U.S. imports.

Obama was in Fremont to highlight the efforts his administration already is undertaking to both revive economic growth and encourage new energy technology.

Solyndra received $535 million in loan guarantees under last year’s economic stimulus. According to the company, construction of the new solar panel plant will create as many as 3,000 jobs and lead to as many as 1,000 full-time jobs.

Leak as Backdrop

The leaking BP well, which the London-based company was attempting to plug today, served as the backdrop for his remarks.

Obama said he spoke earlier today with Energy Secretary Steven Chu about BP’s work to seal the well, which is about 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) underwater, and cut off the gushing oil.

“If it’s successful, and there’s no guarantees, it should greatly reduce or eliminate the flow of oil,” Obama said. “If it’s not, there are other approaches that may be viable.”

Obama is set to get a report tomorrow from his interior secretary, Ken Salazar, about the cause of the April 20 explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that resulted in the leak. He’s scheduled to visit the gulf coast May 28.

“Our dependence on foreign oil endangers our security and our economy,” Obama said. “The spill in the gulf, which is just heartbreaking, only underscores the necessity of seeking alternative fuel sources.”

Natural gas takes breeze from wind energy’s sails

The good news for your energy bill may be bad news for Iowa’s wind energy.

Thanks to a drilling boom in new fields extending from Texas to New York, natural gas has become as an environmentally friendly competitor to wind. Big new discoveries in shale deposits have brought down the price of natural gas by 60 percent from two years ago.

Michael O’Sullivan of NextEra Energy, Iowa’s second-largest producer of wind power, told the
American Wind Energy Association meeting in Dallas this week: “Our product is too expensive relative to other options. Our competitive advantage has largely evaporated.”

The sudden rise of natural gas is credited with throwing wind energy into another of its periodic slowdowns. Iowa, with 2,300 megawatts of wind electricity generation, trails only Texas among the 50 states in wind capacity.

Iowa is seeing the herky-jerky path of wind. The state has gained about 2,300 jobs making towers, turbines, blades and gearboxes at plants in Cedar Rapids, Fort Madison, Newton and West Branch.

TPI Composites recently announced a 237-worker layoff at its Newton blade plant, but at the same time asked the state for assistance to build a blade plant at Sioux City that would employ up to 500 workers, if it is built. Clipper Windpower in Cedar Rapids laid off workers a year ago, but now has stabilized its employment at about 320 workers.

The news for Iowa in the natural gas boom isn’t all bad. At least homeowners are less likely to face
budget-busting winter heating bills if the price of natural gas stays around $4 per thousand cubic feet, down from more than $10 two years ago.

Report: NC solar power could yield 28,000 jobs

An environmental group says North Carolina could generate at least 28,000 jobs in the solar energy field if it shifts electricity production more from traditional sources to solar energy in the next 20 years.

The research arm of Environment North Carolina released a report on Wednesday and held a news conference outside the Legislative Building. The report based findings on raising the percentage of power that comes from solar sources to 14 percent of the state’s electricity consumption by 2030. Current law requires less than 1 percent of electric power to originate from the sun by 2018.

Report co-author Elizabeth Ouzts said lawmakers could help the state encourage solar power by approving a tax break to those who build plants for renewable energy manufacturing.

18 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for May 27: Greenland’s uplift is evidence of rapid ice loss; Nation’s largest concentrated PV project opens; Western U.S. grid can handle more renewables

  1. mike roddy says:

    Regarding gas prices, I saw this in 1978. I was production manager for Alten Solar in Mountain View, run by geeks from Stanford, and a precursor to today’s solar startups.

    Don’t underestimate the oil and gas companies. They helped cancel the state tax credits, and then manipulated gas prices way down, killing our market by 1979. Cheney et al did the same thing in the Rockies, getting waivers for gas drilling water pollution and all kinds of permits on federal land. They must have seen wind and solar coming, and wanted to bust them out in the larval stage. This has the effect of freezing financing in the future, and jerking around infrastructure and personnel costs. China will fill the void in development and manufacturing, but people like Cheney don’t care about either our future or the American worker.

    Gas is not a “clean” alternative. Half of the CO2 of coal is still a huge amount, obviously.

  2. Leif says:

    So the rocky shores around Greenland are rising. That implies that the ocean bottom around the perimeter must also be rising thus adding yet another positive component to the sea level above the effects of the melting ice. How large of perimeter area is affected? I cannot believe that component has been calculated into the picture because of the numerous factors involved. It must be significant however.

  3. Bob Wallace says:

    Last Hummer rolls off the assembly line…

  4. “So the rocky shores around Greenland are rising. That implies that the ocean bottom around the perimeter must also be rising…”

    Great point – haven’t seen that figured in yet.

  5. prokaryote says:

    Government Lowballing ‘Social Cost of Carbon’ in Regulations, Economists Charge

    Boats pulled from oil cleanup after crews get sick

  6. Sasparilla says:

    More grim news from Greenland…ugh

    Regarding the natural gas prices and where they are at (and where they are headed).

    The current price doesn’t actually cover the cost of most traditional natural gas exploration/wells, let alone the more expensive Shale (fracking process) for natural gas. The shale gas well economics are a bit like the tar sand economics up in Canada, to be profitable the natural gas has to be at a significantly higher price than is required for a traditional well to be profitable.

    I.E. the current low natural gas prices are unsustainable over the medium to long term as the prices do not support continued investment and bringing new natural gas wells online (traditional or shale based). Shale based wells currently represent about 8% of US capacity if memory serves.

    So expect these prices to increase over time with Wind seeing its advantage starting to come back as that happens.

    There are several investment players that are expecting (and financially betting) that natural gas prices will firm back up by the end of the summer (be interesting to see if that happens).

  7. prokaryote says:

    Tornadoes Wreak Havoc in Eastern Germany

    Almost Every House in Town Lost A Roof

    In the town of Walda-Kleinthiemig, which has a population of around 650, almost 80 percent of houses lost their roofs and fallen trees caused damage and delay.

    Gerd Saalfrank, a Potsdam-based meteorologist for the German Weather Service (DWD), explained that the storms in Brandenburg were caused when two weather fronts met. An unstable layer of air coming in from the North Sea met warmer air from inland. In some areas between 30 and 40 liters of rain fell per square meter, he noted.

    By Monday evening, the storm front had weakened and was moving away toward Poland and the Czech Republic, where emergency services have been dealing with floods that could also endanger parts of Germany. Other regions in eastern and northern Germany also saw bad weather over the weekend,1518,696596,00.html

  8. fj2 says:

    Regarding “Nation’s largest fair-weather CPV project opens in Calif.”

    Perhaps, taking this technology to the logical conclusion, what may be worth evaluation — and, may have been done already — would be the potential of hybrid systems employing both concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) with concentrating solar power (CSP) providing the cooling power for high-temperature superconductors to achieve much higher efficiencies than the 100 percent increase that SolFocus claims above traditional solar cells.

    This could greatly reduce resistive and noise losses typical of photovoltaics at room temperature.

    Further, the physics may favorably change dramatically in low-temperature environments, as it seems to tend to “macroscopic quantum effects” — as in the form of superconductors and super fluids — which may be of even greater benefit toward achieving very high near-100-percent efficiencies.

  9. paulm says:

    I want a Leaf now…Period!

    Some cheer on a bad week…

    Mock The Week, News Reel, United Nations.

  10. Regarding Greenland’s isostatic rebound…
    I like to refer to these nifty calculations on the weight of ice – it is really just high school level math:

    Just how much does one of these ice sheets weigh?
    1 cubic foot of water weighs 62.4 lbs./ft3
    Ice (@ .9 specific gravity) = 56.16 lbs./ft3
    1 square mile (5280’ X 5280’) = 2.8 X 107 ft2
    (2.8 X 107 ft2) X 56.16 lbs./ft2 = 1.57 X 109 lbs./mi2
    Canadian Shield sheet (4000 mi2 X 4000 mi2) = 1.6 X 107 mi2
    (1.57 X 109 lbs./mi2) X (1.6 X 107 mi2) = 2.5 X 1016 lbs./vertical foot
    Assume 10,000’ thick (2.5 X 1016 lbs.) X (1 X 104) = 2.5 X 1020 lbs. or 250,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds! (Assume ice sheet was 10,000’ thick = 561,600 lbs./ft2) or 281 tons of ice per square foot (3900 lbs./in2)!
    And this is assuming that the entire sheet is composed of ice. If we assume that 30% of it is rock material, at an average specific gravity of 3.0, we can essentially double the total weight of the sheet.

  11. Russell says:

    Ignoring geophysics is as bad as denying it.

    Post-glacial seabed rebound may be shifting water into the ocean as the shallow Baltic and Hudson’s Bay continue their recovery from the retreat of mile-thick ice, but the deep seabed off greenland has never felt the isostatic force of the ice floating above it-a glass sawn in two tends to be more than half empty,

    It is disingenuous to tout accelerating coastal rebound without mentioning that isostasy. The land surface underlying the central Greenland icecap was once far above sea level, but the weight of the ice has has forced it down into a concavity the size of Texas that bottoms out a kilometer below sea level.

    Antropocene radiative forcing has its limits, and emptying a bowl created by two million years of crustal depression in a single interglacial remains a very tall order.

    Instead of accelerating downhill to calve into bergs on the coast , the bulk of Greenland’s Dead Sea of abyssal ice is caught in the second deepest graben on earth- the crust beneath parts of the Antarctic ice is depressed deeper still.

  12. Leif says:

    When thinking of squeeze and bulge, things get confusing fast. Did the weight of the ice and resulting depression just raise the sea bed surrounding the ice already thus when the underlying land rises the surrounding sea bottom falls giving us a welcome negative overall effect or has time allowed that pressure to be distributed around the globe effectively becoming background noise giving gravity the control.

  13. Leif says:

    “It is disingenuous to tout accelerating coastal rebound without mentioning that isostasy. The land surface underlying the central Greenland icecap was once far above sea level, but the weight of the ice has has forced it down into a concavity the size of Texas that bottoms out a kilometer below sea level.” Russel, #12.

    We are currently measuring bed rock rebounding on the coast at an inch per year. Surely that rise does not stop at the waters edge. I agree that the deep sea has not had the weight of the ice but it has had the weight of the water and should be fairly stable. There is still remains a significant amount of continental shelf surrounding the ice cap that could be rising as well. Perhaps even the size of Texas raising an inch per year. As mentioned above it all gets confusing fast but we know something is happening in a big way.

  14. paulm says:

    Looks like we could be entering a new world state earthquake and volcanic activity is definitely picking up….

    Big volcanic eruptions in Guatemala, Ecuador

  15. Russell says:


    The inch a year rste of ride being measured reflects the loss of hundreds of meters or more of ice over the eon since the last ice age . Whatever is “happening in a big way on a decadal time scale is is considerable measure a product of past orbital forcing . in terms of orographic climate fedback, nterglacilal like the present one aren’t over until the rebound has returned the higher elevations to their pre-glacial altitudes.

    Whatever climate does, that will take millennia-

  16. prokaryote says:

    Noting that the summer this year was severe, with heatwave conditions prevailing over many parts of the northwest and central India, the IMD said preliminary analysis of data indicated that mean monthly temperatures of March and April for the region were the highest in the last 100 years.

  17. prokaryote says:

    Hundreds die in Indian heatwave

    Death toll expected to rise as India faces record temperatures of up to 122F in hottest summer on record