Atchison County, Missouri has just dedicated the new Farmers City Wind Power Project, consisting of 73 turbines that produce 146 megawatts of clean power, enough for 33,000 homes. In stark contrast to the destruction caused by fossil fuel harvesting, the massive renewable energy project will coexist with farmland, which will continue to yield corn and soybeans.
Between the poverty and health impacts of mountaintop coal mining in Appalachia and the devastating effect of BP’s oil spill on businesses on the Gulf Coast, large numbers of Americans have sacrificed their well being to the risks involved in digging fossil fuels out of the earth. The Atchison wind project shows that large scale energy projects don’t have to be the enemy of the local economy, environment, and public health.
The wind farm was constructed by Iberdrola Renewables, and it occupies about 14,000 acres leased from 44 different landowners. However, the actual footprint of the project only takes up about 1% of that land. That’s a win-win for the landowners, who can continue farming while also getting income from the leases. Like conventional fossil fuel harvesting, the wind farm also pays taxes that support local roads and schools. Atchison County Commissioner Marlin Logan noted in a recent press release that the wind project has already provided an economic boost to the county, as well as a boost for civic pride in being the host of locally produced energy.
PG&E Corporation, the California utility holding company, has created a $100 million tax equity fund to finance residential solar installations by SunRun, a San Francisco startup that leases photovoltaic arrays to homeowners.
The fund managed by a PG&E subsidiary, Pacific Energy Capital II, is the largest single solar leasing pool to date, according to the company, and marks the growing interest of utilities in the renewable energy financing business.
“We’re in somewhat of a unique position in that roughly half of the nation’s rooftop solar installations are in our service territory,” Brian Steel, PG&E’s senior director of corporate strategy, said in an interview. “We’re at the proverbial ground zero of these new technologies and so perhaps more than any utility holding company in the country we have a strategic imperative to get ahead of the curve through having a propriety seat at the table with a partner like SunRun.”
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin are hot on the heels of a discovery that could more than double the efficiency of solar cells. The trick is to use tiny nanoscale crystals called quantum dots to capture more of the available energy in sunlight, including energy at the high end of the scale. The researchers estimate that the use of high energy sunlight could boost efficiency from its present rate of about 31% for conventional solar cells, up to a whopping 66%.
What this all means is the potential for solar energy to become cost-competitive with fossil fuels at an increasingly rapid pace. Paired with next-generation flywheels and other new energy storage technologies, intermittent sources such as solar and wind can provide an energy stream that is every bit as steady and reliable as oil, coal, or natural gas.
How long will the biochar produced by Preseco’s biomass reactor keep carbon out of the atmosphere?
Probably at least until the next ice age, according to technical manager Sampo Tukiainen. Unearthed cooking pits formerly used by roving bands of hunters in the region still contain the char generated by their cooking fires.
“Bugs cannot digest it so it stays in the ground,” Tukiainen said. “And putting this carbon back into the soil makes it more productive.”
Preseco’s system — a collection of boilers, valves, computers and pipes — sits in a open-air workshop in Lempaala, just north of Helsinki. At one end, a technician vacuums up wood chips with a giant shop vac. The chips then get treated, plunged into a furnace heated to 800 degrees Celsius, and then converted to whatever combination of byproducts someone might want: biochar, which can be sold as fertilizer or industrial grade renewable carbon for 250 Euros a ton; plant vinegar, a biopesticide; natural gas; heat for regional district heating systems; tar; or carbon credits.
In a report published in Science, a team of oceanographers, including MBL (Marine Biological Laboratory) Ecosystems Center director Hugh Ducklow, outline a polar ocean observation strategy they say will revolutionize scientists’ understanding of marine ecosystem response to climate change. The approach, which calls for the use of a suite of automated technologies that complement traditional data collection, could serve as a model for marine ecosystems worldwide and help form the foundation for a comprehensive polar ocean observation system.
The complexity of marine food webs and the “chronic under-sampling” of the world’s oceans present major constraints to predicting the future of and optimally managing and protecting marine resources. “We know more about Venus than we do about the Earth’s oceans,” says Ducklow. “We need an ocean observation system analogous to meteorological monitoring for weather forecasting, but it’s harder to do in the ocean.”
Governments moved closer Friday to curbing the use of chemicals commonly used as coolants in refrigerators, air conditioners, hair spray and other household items in what some say would be among their biggest climate decisions ever.
The obscure round of U.N. ozone treaty talks in Geneva, which few people are following, laid the groundwork this week for a possible decision in Uganda in November to halt the promotion of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are manmade chemicals not found naturally in the environment, and are considered greenhouse gases.
The U.S., Canada and Mexico gave the talks a boost by joining the small island nations of Micronesia and Mauritius in petitioning to amend the ozone treaty known as the 1987 Montreal Protocol to drastically cut production and use of HFCs.
By 2050, scientists predict HFCs could account for 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases.
Old coal-fired power plants in Europe must be closed by the end of 2023 if their owners are not prepared to fit equipment to filter out acidifying pollutants, European Union member countries agreed on Friday, two sources in the talks said.
All other power stations must start planning to cut out pollutants such as sulphur and nitrogen oxides that damage human health and soil and water quality.
But countries that are struggling to get the industry cleaned up can get a delay until June 30, 2020, under the informal deal on the Industrial Emissions Directive, the sources added.
European ambassadors in Brussels approved the deal, which was reached in informal talks with the European Parliament late on Wednesday. It must be formally approved by parliament in the coming weeks before becoming law, but the sources say that is almost certain.