Energy and Global Warming News for November 1: Sunshine State first to get high-speed rail; Swiss solar plane breaks multiple records; England’s wettest autumn since records began in 1697

Florida will build nation’s first high-speed rail corridor

As the Obama Administration pushes for high-speed rail networks across the country, Germany’s Siemens has secured a place for its Valero ICE trains in the Sunshine State.

Earlier this month, Siemens presented its vision of U.S. high-speed rail to the people of Florida with the “Future of Florida High-Speed Rail Tour,” a traveling exhibit featuring a full-sized model of the Velaro high-speed train.

Apparently, the strategy worked, as Florida recently announced that it would make transportation history as the first state to build a high-speed rail corridor, with trains connecting Tampa to Orlando and then to Miami in a second phase.

“We want to give Floridians a taste of what a true high-speed rail train looks and feels like,” added Oliver Hauck, president of Siemens Mobility in the U.S. “Siemens Velaro trains are successfully running on some of the fastest and most important routes in the world today.”

Swiss solar plane confirmed as multiple record-breaker

Aeronautical authorities on Friday confirmed world records for a Swiss solar-powered aircraft that flew around the clock in July, including those for the longest and highest flight by such an aircraft.

Solar Impulse was credited with the longest flight in the category of solar powered aeroplanes, by staying aloft for 26 hours, 10 minutes and 19 seconds, the International Aeronautical Federation (FAI) said.

It also set an altitude record by flying at 9,235 metres (30,298 feet), and a record for the biggest height gain (8,744 metres) during the pioneering flight.

“The FAI congratulates (pilot) Andr© Borschberg and the whole team involved in Solar Impulse on these splendid achievements.”

The experimental single-seater with solar panels cast across a wingspan matching that of a large airliner flew in 14 hours of sunshine to power, also allowing it to charge up its batteries and fly on through darkness.

Majority of Americans support increased funding for clean energy research

In an era of concern about federal spending and deficits, a large majority of Americans (even among Republicans) support federal investment in energy research and development, finds a recent Pew survey.

“There is broad public support for a variety of other proposals to address the nation’s energy situation. About eight-in-ten (79%) favor requiring better fuel efficiency for cars, trucks and SUVs, and 74% support increasing federal funding for research on wind, solar and hydrogen technology.”

While the poll finds an overall decline in Republican support since 2008, a majority of Republicans still support these policies, with 64% of Republicans favoring increasing federal funding for alternative energy technology, down from 85% in 2008, and 79% supporting better fuel efficiency for automobiles, down 13 points from two years ago.

Meanwhile, Democrat support has steadily increased in the past few years, with 84% in favor of increased federal investment in clean energy technologies and 89% endorsing higher fuel efficiency standards.

California unveils final plan for cap-and-trade scheme

California unveiled the final draft proposals for its planned emissions cap-and-trade programme late last week, prompting a mixed reception from business leaders.

While some Californians see the regulations as a positive spur for green jobs, others have criticised the policy as being too ambitious given the current economic challenges faced by the state.

The Californian scheme largely mirrors the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) and as such will be initially restricted to large emitters of greenhouse gases. Participants in the scheme will receive tradable emissions allowances and those exceeding their emissions caps will be required to purchase additional allowances. The caps have been set in line with the state’s 2006 AB 32 law, which requires California to return to 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

As with the EU ETS, the initial impact of the scheme will be minimised as regulators have chosen to give away between 97 per cent and 98 percent of the necessary allowances to polluters for free when the program starts in 2012. Environmental groups had hoped that firms would be forced to buy all the allowances they need at auction, providing a further financial incentive for them to cut emissions, but officials have moved to limit the costs associated with the scheme.

For example, oil drilling, cement and some other selected industries will be granted 100 per cent of permits through to 2020 for free, although more efficient firms are set to receive more free allowances.

England’s wettest autumn since records began

Ten years ago England was drenched by prolonged downpours that led to the three months ending 30 November being the wettest autumn since records began in 1697. There was a respite until February, and then the rains returned. Southern counties were particularly affected; some places had three times as much rain as average. Substantial flooding followed in Kent and Sussex.

One result of this extraordinarily prolonged wet period, which broke records both for intensity and volume of rain, was that the aquifers which supply southern England’s rivers and drinking water overflowed. Springs that had long disappeared, some built over by unwise developers, flowed freely and caused delight or despair depending on where they suddenly came to life. The Thames became much longer when its traditional source, a spring just south-west of Cirencester, produced a vigorous stream after being dry for years. Other forgotten springs upstream joined the flow.

By 2005, after a prolonged dry period, those springs had dried up. Rainfall had been so low for two winters that 12 million people in the south endured water restrictions, mostly hosepipe bans. Unusual short-term extremes do nothing to alter the climate change prediction that the UK will have wetter winters, but they do make planning for water needs difficult. Hydrologists say that to top up the aquifers for 2011, southern England could do with prolonged rainfall between now and Christmas.

$57 Million available for new green processes

Last month, the Department of Energy announced $57 million in awards to 33 small businesses dealing in the world of clean energy production in order to “accelerate commercialization of clean energy techniques, increase American competitiveness and create jobs.” The money is intended to help businesses who already have proven new technologies to bring up production in order to allow these businesses to hire new people and move further within their industry.

While many people carp about the government going out of its way to hurt small business owners through its policies, the DoE’s money is going, 100%, to small businesses working with larger ones, with universities, and with laboratories. The DoE is awarding money in amounts between $500,000 and $3 million, helping them to continue expanding in the face of a brutal job market and difficult economy.

Some of the organizations cited as recipients include Renewable Algal Energy, LLC, in Kingsport, Tennessee, which develops technology to transform algae into biodiesel and took the largest award at $3 million. Universal Display Corporation of Ewing, New Jersey, received $2 million to continue development of organic LED-based lighting products (such as bulbs and fixtures), moving a step further from the fluorescent bulbs now popular in much of the world.

Bacteria can build better roads for our peak oil years

Local jurisdictions in Red state America, increasingly unable to agree to taxes to jointly afford repaving at peak oil prices are simply letting roads decline – in the same way as after the fall of the Roman Empire, in the dark ages there, many roads in Europe returned to mud tracks.

But an innovative new oil-free way of surfacing roads could be on the way to save us from peak oil. This “sandstone” road surface is built by bacteria just using sand, so it’s cheaper. The idea from Thomas Kosbau + Andrew Wetzler is the winning entry in the Korean green design iida awards, announced by designboom.

The idea is to use an abundant resource – sand – and to mix the sand with a solution containing the microbe Bacillus Pasteurii, which cements the sand into a biologically engineered hardened sandstone. Then the sand-and-microbe solution is sprayed onto a layer of sand underneath and hardens the whole thing into a tough road surface made of bio-sandstone.

Currently roads are built of asphalt – a toxic material made of crude oil, that creates heat islands and is subject to peak oil. The advantages of replacing asphalt are both financial and environmental.

It takes 320 barrels of oil to build one kilometer of asphalt roadway.
Made from crude oil, asphalt had a price rise of 222% between 2003 and 2008, which is symptomatic of peak oil and likely to keep happening as we use up the remainder of a finite resource.

Vietnam and Japan to mine rare earths together

HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam has chosen to partner Japan in mining rare earth minerals and building a nuclear power plant in the Southeast Asian country, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Sunday, as Tokyo seeks to reduce its dependence on China.

Japan, the world’s third-biggest nuclear power generator, is also eyeing fast-growing markets to develop nuclear plants as electricity demand in the country is likely to stay flat or rise slightly due to its aging society and industries going abroad.

“Prime Minister (Nguyen Tan) Dung told me this (rare earths) decision was a political and strategic one,” Kan told reporters after meeting Dung.

China gave repeated assurances at an Asia-Pacific summit in Hanoi that ended on Saturday that it would remain a “reliable supplier” of the high-tech ores used in lasers, superconductors, computers and other electronics.

Nevertheless, Japan and other countries, including the United States, say they want to diversify their sources of supplies.

Last week, Japan and India decided to seek cooperation in developing, recycling and finding substitutes for rare earths and rare metals.

32 companies charging the Super Grid now

In this article, we cover the major fields of super-grid opportunity and the companies, large and small, playing in them. It’s not an exhaustive list, but rather a guide to the companies we believe are currently best positioned to charge up the super grid.

Power generation

One of the biggest challenges for the super grid is integrating sources of renewable energy like wind and solar power. The current electricity grid is most efficient when the power is being consumed at the same time that it is generated and when supply and demand are steady. With renewables, supply peaks unevenly since energy is not generated at a constant rate or at all times of the day.

Many small local sources of energy like homeowners selling back energy to the grid may also become available. A connected collection of these sources is called a microgrid and can be managed like a virtual power station.

The market for software to integrate renewables and microgrids with existing power generation seems to be at an early stage. Gridpointdelivers a suite of smart grid applications that aggregate and manage distributed sources of load, generation and storage including integration of renewables and electric vehicles. Homer Energy provides modeling software to analyze and optimize power grids that incorporate high penetrations of renewable energy sources. Balance Energy produces microgrid and renewable generation solutions which integrate and aggregate distributed generation and storage resources.

13 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for November 1: Sunshine State first to get high-speed rail; Swiss solar plane breaks multiple records; England’s wettest autumn since records began in 1697

  1. Colorado Bob says:

    The pause in the flooding in Vietnam is over –
    6.5 to 21 inches fell over the last three days.

    The National Steering Committee on Flood and Storm Control reported 165 to 545 millimeters of rain fell over the last three days of October in the country’s southern central provinces.

    Heavy rains continued Monday, and floodwaters were still rising. Some streets in the coastal tourist city of Nha Trang were under 1 metre of water, and a number of hotels have closed.,dead-latest-vietnam-floods.html

  2. Colorado Bob says:

    Indonesia volcano shoots new blast; 21 more rumble

    Indonesia has several volcanos smoldering at any given time, but another government volcanologist Gede Swantika said there are normally only five to 10 on the third-highest alert level, indicating an increase in seismic activity and visible changes in the crater, and none at the second-highest, signifying an eruption is possible within two weeks. He said monitors noticed more volcanos were exhibiting seismic activity starting Sept. 2.

    “We can say this is quite extraordinary, about 20 at the same time,” Swantika said. “We have to keep an eye on those mountains. … But I cannot say or predict which will erupt. What we can do is monitor patterns.”

    Geologist Brent McInnes said as he hadn’t seen the raw data but would find such a rash of volcanic activity significant.

    “If it’s true that there are over 20 volcanos demonstrating increased levels of seismic activity, then that is something we should pay attention to,” said McInnes, a professor at Australia’s Curtin University who has done extensive volcanic research in Indonesia.

    He said such an increase could indicate “maybe there is a major plate restructuring going on, and that would be significant.”

  3. Leif says:

    Colorado Bob, @ 1: Could it be that some of these extraordinary low pressures exhibited by these mega storms could be having some “suck” effect on the subterranean balance? I am just brainstorming here but it is a fact that the “Frankenstorm” of last winter raised the NW tides two feet above predicted levels. That is a lot of ocean. Perhaps in conjunction with a full or new moon???

  4. dhogaza says:

    I’ve been on earlier versions of the Siemens trains in Germany (ICE) and Spain (AVE), and they’re very, very nice. Once people experience this kind of technology running wild as designed, rather than the earlier technology running largely crippled on the Acela service (which is popular enough despite running slow), I think the floodgates will begin on open here.

    It’s a sweet ride …

  5. Bill W says:

    It took me a bit of digging to allay my fear that the “ICE” in “Velaro ICE” stood for Internal Combustion Engine. Nope, it’s Inter-City Express. Phew!

  6. “Environmental groups had hoped that firms would be forced to buy all the allowances they need at auction, providing a further financial incentive for them to cut emissions”

    Would all auction provide more financial incentive than free permits? With all auction, a utility building a solar energy project might save $10 million in payments to the government. With free permits, building the same solar plant would earn $10 million dollars by letting it sell its free permits to someone else.

    The incentive is the same. The question is who gets the incentive money, industry or government? In general, I would rather see it go to government, but with the economy as weak as it is now, I think it is a good idea to go easy on industry.

  7. Carbon price must rise to $175 per tonne (now approx $20) to halve emissions by 2050, IEA chief Tanaka Says

  8. Jan-Sep 2010; only 1,634 MW wind energy installed in USA, 72% down vs same period 2009. Far behind EU and China now:

  9. USGS finds out Petroleum Reserve Alaska contains 0.9, not 10.6 billion barrels (cf. 20 bln total proven reserves USA):

  10. SanDiegoAmigo says:

    With sea level rise estimated at levels which will flood Miami and other Florida coastal cities by 2100 or sooner, does it really make sense to build a high-speed rail line to those destinations? It is like the projection that low-income housing proposed in the SF area is located in an area which will likely be underwater. Is this a good idea?

  11. David B. Benson says:

    Hear no sea rise.
    Speak no sea rise.
    See no sea rise.

  12. Gord says:

    To the expand on point in #3 above.

    With the ice mass loss in Greenland, there must be a change in the gravitational force the ice has on the rest of the planet and the water around the island.

    Is there any evidence that the water levels around the island are dropping because of a reduction in gravitational force? Kinda like the water is less bunched up around the island’s mass.

    Would / could the change in force from the ice loss have any effects upon the slip of plates?

    As well, is there any evidence (correlation ?) that large inundations of water on the surface have a delayed effect on slippage in earthquake prone areas? Water is a huge lubricant. It would take some time to penetrate to depths so the effects would be offset in time.

  13. Prokaryotes says:

    While oil-soaked birds get much attention, Gulf rigs remain bright, often fatal beacons