Energy and Global Warming News for September 28: Water use in Southwest heads for a Day of Reckoning; East coast’s offshore wind could power half of its demand; Future Volvo car bodies are also the battery

Water use in Southwest heads for a Day of Reckoning

LAKE MEAD NATIONAL RECREATION AREA, Nev. “” A once-unthinkable day is looming on the Colorado River.

Barring a sudden end to the Southwest’s 11-year drought, the distribution of the river’s dwindling bounty is likely to be reordered as early as next year because the flow of water cannot keep pace with the region’s demands.

For the first time, federal estimates issued in August indicate that Lake Mead, the heart of the lower Colorado basin’s water system “” irrigating lettuce, onions and wheat in reclaimed corners of the Sonoran Desert, and lawns and golf courses from Las Vegas to Los Angeles “” could drop below a crucial demarcation line of 1,075 feet.

If it does, that will set in motion a temporary distribution plan approved in 2007 by the seven states with claims to the river and by the federal Bureau of Reclamation, and water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada would be reduced.

This could mean more dry lawns, shorter showers and fallow fields in those states, although conservation efforts might help them adjust to the cutbacks. California, which has first call on the Colorado River flows in the lower basin, would not be affected.

But the operating plan also lays out a proposal to prevent Lake Mead from dropping below the trigger point. It allows water managers to send 40 percent more water than usual downstream to Lake Mead from Lake Powell in Utah, the river’s other big reservoir, which now contains about 50 percent more water than Lake Mead.

Huge wind energy potential off Eastern U.S. – study

BOSTON, Sept 28 (Reuters) – The densely populated U.S. East Coast could meet close to half its current electric demand by relying on offshore wind turbines, a study by an ocean conservation group found.

North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey and Virginia offer the most potential for easily captured wind energy, according to the Oceana study, which estimates that the 13 coastal states could together generate 127 gigawatts of power.

That represents the potential for far more wind power than the United States currently generates. At the end of 2009, the nation’s land-based turbines were capable of producing some 35,000 megawatts of power — enough to meet the needs of 28 million typical American homes.

Investment in new wind turbines has surged in recent years, boosting sales at turbine makers including General Electric Co, Vestas Wind Systems A/S and Siemens AG.

However, all the U.S. wind farms built so far are on land. Advocates of offshore wind installations, led by backers of the Cape Wind facility proposed off the Cape Cod beach area in Massachusetts, have been working for almost a decade to try to win approval to build offshore turbines.

Opponents of Cape Wind argue that it could harm fisheries as well as sully views in a region dependent on tourism.

Future Volvos could have bodies made from batteries

Car manufacturer Volvo has teamed up with the Imperial College in London in an attempt to solve one of the biggest problems currently facing electric cars: the size and weight of their batteries. Though it’s still a ways off, one potential solution could see future Volvos with batteries actual built into the body panels.

The new technology consists of a composite blend of carbon fibres and polymer resin, which is able to both store and charge energy. And according to Volvo it can do this faster than the current generation of electric car batteries. The material is also very flexible so that it can be molded into a variety of shapes, but strong enough that it can actually be used to serve as the vehicle’s body. According to Volvo, replacing steel panels with the new material could reduce vehicle weight by up to 15 percent.

“Our role is to contribute expertise on how this technology can be integrated in the future and to input ideas about the advantages and disadvantages in terms of cost and user-friendliness,” Per-Ivar Sellergren, development engineer at the Volvo Cars Materials Centre, said. The project will begin experimenting by turning a spare wheel recess into a composite battery. “This is a relatively large structure that is easy to replace. Not sufficiently large to power the entire car, but enough to switch the engine off and on when the car is at a standstill, for instance at traffic lights.”

Research is expected to continue for the next three years and is also being funded in part by the European Union.

Japan to drill for controversial “Fire Ice”

In a bid to shore up its precarious energy security, Japan is to start commercial test drilling for controversial frozen methane gas along its coast next year.

The gas is methane hydrate, a sherbet-like substance consisting of methane trapped in water ice””sometimes called “fire ice” or MH””that is locked deep underwater or under permafrost by the cold and under pressure 23 times that of normal atmosphere.

A consortium led by the Japanese government and the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (Jogmec) will be sinking several wells off the southeastern coast of Japan to assess the commercial viability of extracting gas from frozen methane deep beneath local waters. Surveys suggest Japan has enough methane hydrate for 100 years at the current rate of usage.

Lying hundreds of meters below the sea and deeper still below sediments, fire ice is exceedingly difficult to extract. Japan is claiming successful tests using a method that gently depressurizes the frozen gas.

Tokyo plans to start commercial output of methane hydrates by 2018. At present, Japan imports nearly all its gas””about 58.6 million tons of liquified gas annually””and is heavily dependent on oil imports. In a desperate attempt to secure more oil, for example, Japan recently did a deal with the United Arab Emirates. In exchange for using Japan as a base for Asian oil trading, Japan now has priority to purchase rights to up to 4 million barrels of immediately accessible crude.

At a school in Bali students to learn how to consume without pollution or waste

Touring the campus of the Green School, an international organisation at Sibang Kaja on the island of Bali in Indonesia, you might think you were exploring a castaway’s hideout. Set in an earthly paradise the buildings are made of bamboo, bricks or dried mud, pebbles mark the edge of paths, furniture is made of carved timber and sails from boats take the place of windows in some of the classrooms. We also spotted terraced paddy fields, beehives, buffalo in enclosures fenced with manioc branches, and vegetable patches growing tomatoes, cucumbers, sugar palms and cocoa.

In this environmentally friendly academy, visitors are greeted with a glass of fresh water, drawn straight from the well. “We do not want to be dependent on anything,” says John Hardy, a Canadian who worked as a jeweller before founding this ground-breaking school in 2008. “We drink our own water, serve our own produce at the cafeteria, generate our own electricity and build accommodation compliant with sustainable development guidelines,” he says.

In a setting worthy of Robinson Crusoe, 120 pupils aged three to 14 are being taught the basic principles of environmental awareness. On top of a conventional curriculum, accredited by Cambridge University, most of the lessons address issues related to conservation. The children soon find out about organic agriculture, recycling and green transport.

“We want to raise a generation of responsible citizens, capable of acting sustainably for our planet. We teach them to base consumption on fair trade, to save energy, to till the earth and reap its benefits without pollution or wastage,” Hardy adds.

Protesters shut down Australian coal port

NEWCASTLE, Australia — The world’s largest coal terminal in Australia was inoperable for several hours Sunday because of an “emergency intervention” by environmental activists.

The protesters claimed that the massive amount of coal exported is a main cause of global warming in Australia.

Several of the protesters, who broke into the facility about 5 a.m., suspended themselves from coal-loaders, effectively shutting down Newcastle Coal Terminal, north of Sydney.

The coal-loaders, which normally continue non-stop, were operational by about 2:30 p.m. Sunday, The Newcastle Herald reports. Police arrested 45 members of protest organizer Rising Tide Newcastle.

“We are exporting global warming to the world. Here in Newcastle, already the world’s biggest coal port, multinational mining corporations are planning to triple exports over the next decade. It’s a similar story at all coal ports in the country,” said Annika Dean, spokeswoman for Rising Tide Newcastle.

Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of coal.

For U.S. wildlife, a climate change blueprint

New efforts to measure what warming temperatures are doing to forests, streams and animals at a regional level are at the core of a strategic plan by the Fish and Wildlife Service to respond to the effects of climate change.

The Service said Monday that it had created a scientific team charged with identifying animals that are particularly vulnerable to climate change “” not only obviously susceptible cold-weather species like polar bears and walruses, but also animals less visibly at risk like the wolverine, for example.

The service said it would also be working with eight new climate stations run by the United States Geological Survey that will take detailed measurements of how local ecologies are changing as global temperatures rise. The new centers, three of which are already active, will measure things like changes in snow pack, soil moisture and stream temperatures “” seemingly small details that can mean life and death to some creatures.

In addition, the Fish and Wildlife Service said it was working with partners to establish the first generation of landscape conservation cooperatives, 21 in all. The idea behind the cooperatives, which are to include land managers for other federal and state agencies, is to prepare resource managers so they can be better equipped to deal with changing conditions on the landscape.

Scotland to get 100 pct green energy by 2025

LONDON, Sept 28 (Reuters) – Scotland should produce enough renewable electricity to meet all its power demand by 2025, First Minister Alex Salmond said on Tuesday.

“Scotland has unrivalled green energy resources and our new national target to generate 80 percent of electricity needs from renewables by 2020 will be exceeded by delivering current plans for wind, wave and tidal generation,” Salmond said.

“I’m confident that by 2025 we will produce at least 100 percent of our electricity needs from renewables alone, and together with other sources it will enable us to become a net exporter of clean, green energy,” he said a statement ahead of a renewable energy investment conference.

Last week, Scotland raised its 2020 renewable electricity target from 50 to 80 percent of total demand, much of which is expected to be met by offshore wind despite costs soaring over the last few years.

Philadelphia Navy yard reborn as $122 million energy innovation hub

The Philadelphia Navy Yard, once home mainly to mothballed ships and notorious for asbestos contamination, has undergone a gradual transformation in the last ten years since the site was cleaned up and new businesses moved in. Now things are really starting to heat up. The U.S. Department of Energy will put up $122 million for a new “Energy Innovation Hub” to be located at the Navy Yard, featuring a partnership between United Technologies and Pennsylvania State University.

The Philadelphia Navy Yard and New Green Jobs

At its peak during World War II, the Philadelphia Navy Yard had a workforce of 40,000, but things trickled down to a crawl after the war and the last Navy ship was built there in 1970. The site was cleaned up in the 1990″²s and by 2000 the first of about 80 new businesses started to move in.  The current workforce is about 7,500, and that seems due to shoot up with additional clean energy investments. Aside from new green jobs generated by the Energy Hub, the Navy Yard has just been tapped to host the largest urban solar energy installation in the U.S.

A Miniature City to Test-Run New Clean Technologies

The new Energy Hub is one of three such facilities being developed by the Department of Energy. Its full name is the Energy-Efficient Building Systems Design Hub, and the Navy Yard was selected as an ideal location because it includes more than 200 buildings that are powered by an independent electric microgrid. This “virtual municipality” will become a real-life testing ground for  new energy saving technologies as well as greenhouse gas reduction related to building systems, presumably in United Technologies’s areas of expertise which include heating and air conditioning systems as well as elevators and escalators, along with various aerospace products.

17 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for September 28: Water use in Southwest heads for a Day of Reckoning; East coast’s offshore wind could power half of its demand; Future Volvo car bodies are also the battery

  1. glen says:

    There is another paper out on the Colorado River:

    This paper focuses on changes in dust and soot in mountain snow, instead of changes in temperature and precipitation. The principal author has an older paper out:

    The gist of his second paper is that the average radiative forcing from present day dust concentrations for March/April/May in snow is around 25-50 W/m*2 for the Upper Colorado River Basin. Compared to the global average of ~2 W/m*2 for GHGs.

  2. paulm says:

    Hey, skeptics have gone real quite recently. Whats up?

  3. Chris Winter says:

    NPR’s “Living on Earth” ran a story on the 75th anniversary of Hoover Dam on Saturday. (The anniversary is 30 September.)

    Some statistics from the story:

    Lake Mead loses 20 percent of its water to evaporation every year. In a single weekend, enough water is lost to serve 17,000 homes for a year.

  4. Prokaryotes says:

    Mexico governor says hundreds hit by landslide
    A landslide in the mountains of the southwestern Mexican state of Oaxaca may have killed, injured or buried 500 to 600 people, Oaxaca Governor Ulises Ruiz told local network

  5. Prokaryotes says:

    Japanese drilling for “fire & ice” is a big disappointment, same goes for china …

    China looks to ‘combustible ice’ as a fuel source

  6. Nancy says:

    Re: Offshore wind project in Nantucket Sound, Mass. gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker (R) is quoted, “I don’t think the project is a good idea, and I will use whatever means I have to continue my opposition to it.”

    In the Boston Globe yesterday, the UNH Survey Center released new poll results saying 69% of Mass residents approve of the Nantucket Sound wind project.

  7. Andy says:

    Two things. First a really useful web page with lots of real time data on western reservoirs, river flows, snow pack and precipitation can be found here. You have to dig around, but all the good stuff is here including graphs.

    Lake Mead could be in way more trouble than this article would lead one to believe. Its basin has not been in a drought, usually defined as an area receiving less than two-thirds of its normal precipitation, for several years now. The Colorado River watershed has been receiving 80% or so of its normal precipitation on an annual basis, but with growing demand, this isn’t enough. The official drought website shows the lower Colorado River suffering a hydrologic drought; i.e. the reservoirs are low.

    If a severely dry year hits the region, Lake Mead will be functionally gone. Take a look at the drop in the truly dry water-year of 2002 when it suffered a 3 billion acre-feet storage loss. A similar loss today would put water levels dangerously close to even the new water intake for Las Vegas.

    Also check out Lake Powell water levels. Its not as though there is an over abundance of water there either. The water kings may well have to drain Lake Powell to save Lake Mead; forgoing the evaporation loss from Lake Powell by lowering it substantially as a last ditch, burn the furniture to keep warm effort.

    Second, the original Landscape Conservation Cooperatives idea was first touted by biologists as a means to conserve a large enough piece of each of the U.S. landscape (ecosystem) to preserve their plants and animals into the foreseeable future. At first the thought was to do this largely on federal lands with conservation incentives for private landowners to allow a large enough piece to be knitted together. The program has now received some funds, but with the original idea too big and difficult to work in this era of conservation = bad, the BLM, the program lead doesn’t know what to do with the money. The USFWS is trying to do something useful with the funds. Good for them, but it’s a very sad situation.

  8. Harrier says:

    Good on Scotland! That’s what I’m talking about! More countries, more organizations need to aim for the stars with their renewable energy goals. We have the technology and the industrial capacity to completely replace fossil fuels as power sources right now. All that is lacking is political will.

  9. paulm says:

    I am willing to bet that there will be a nuclear incident within the next 5-10yrs which will totally kill any prospects of nuclear as a solution to CC.

    This is just an unbelievable decision on the UK. They cant have done there risk assessment properly….What about cost of build and disposal never mind safety and health? And their timing is off.

    “We have decided in Britain to build a new generation of nuclear power stations.”

    “I really see no alternative to that except excessive dependence on oil and gas, and imported liquefied natural gas,” Hague said.

    “So after quite a long gap in which we haven’t built any nuclear power plants, we are opening the door to doing so again. They have to justify themselves economically,” and will mainly be built on the sites of existing reactors, Hague said. He didn’t say how many would be built.

    Most of Britain’s existing nuclear power stations are due to be retired over the next 15 years. Nuclear power generates about a fifth of Britain’s energy needs.

  10. David B. Benson says:

    paulm @10 — Reactor safety, measured by accidents reportable to the NRC, continues to steadily improve in the USA. Contrast that with estimated deaths due to coal fume pollution, natgas pipeline and storage tank explosions, fly ash slurry ponds breaking, …

  11. GFW says:

    Yeah, I’m all for the development of “next-gen” closed-fuel-cycle reactors … but they should have to compete against greener sources of power on a level playing field of subsidies. I suspect that will mean that solar, wind, etc. will trounce the nukes, but let’s let the market tell us.

    Now if only we could put an appropriate price on carbon(*) the market would tell us some really interesting things, and replace it as a source of power remarkably quickly.

    (*) “Ok, so if BAU is x tonnes of carbon between 1980 and 2050, and if that much carbon locks in a probable sea level rise of y by 2100, and the cost of all current and planned infrastructure and other land use that would be displaced by that sea level rise is z … then z is in the tens of trillions at least, possibly hundreds and z/x is the minimum appropriate price.” Realistically one should also figure in rain-based flooding, and heat-based productivity declines.

  12. Dan B says:

    Harrier @8;

    All that’s lacking is a groundswell of people in coal and oil country with a vision of tossing out their dirty industries and becoming center of clean green energy!

    At this point politicians have reams of data but scant poetics to motivate people to embrace the 21st Century. As long as people believe they’ll lose their security (source of income) and have no robust vision of the future they’ll be easily panicked into “NO” by the status quo.

    We need personal stories from the Scots about the upside, and a few of the downsides, of the path their embracing.

  13. Omega Centauri says:

    GFW @12, I’m fine with the different forms of noncarbon energy competing on a level playing field on their merits. Different sources have different qualities and costs, and most likely an optimal solution will include a mix of solutions with complementary qualities. Generally wind is cheaper per Kwhr than nuclear and solar, but nuclear has a much higher capacity factor, i.e. we can rely on it for minimum baseload power. So even if nuclear power is considerably more costly per KWhour having some available when it is dark and windless increases its value. What the optimal mix is will depend upon details, such as cost, reliability, variability of renewables, the correlation of the variabilities of the renewable sources, how much demand management exists in the system etc. It is hard for me to imagine the best system would have nuclear at zero percent.

  14. Doug Bostrom says:

    At the end of 2009, the nation’s land-based turbines were capable of producing some 35,000 megawatts of power — enough to meet the needs of 28 million typical American homes.

    That’s 35 reasonably sized coal generation plants.

    Letting aside the future, a remarkable statistic in itself. Tickles me to think of all the times people raise their eyebrows at “hair brained schemes” only to be shown wildly wrong.

  15. catman306 says:

    Hedging your bets, which is called ‘diversification’ in you stock market portfolio or bio-diversification in ecology, means betting a small amount on each possible scheme and thereby knowing that there will be winners and losers across the board.

    I think that energy production should also be diversified using every possible means of generating electricity. So don’t fret if they build a nuclear power facility every now and then. But I hope using methane hydrates is a very small project and that no new coal plants are built. I would hope that more structures are built to be electrified off the electric grid using small scale wind, geothermal, and solar plants. The idea that we all need to be on the grid is propaganda left over from the Rural Electrification days of the 30s that resulted from Tesla’s AC electricity winning out over Edison’s DC power during the earliest days of electric power. AC power allowed the generator to be many miles from the user (our electric grid). DC power would have insured very local electric generation which would reduced the scale of generators to something that would be easily managed at the local level and that would have insured efficiency to reduce costs.

    We need a carbon tax paid wherever and whenever fossil fuel is extracted.

  16. Joe Earth says:

    So there is enough methane hydrate for 100 years – and then what happens? Sound familiar?