"June 21 news: White House Misses Solar Panel Deadline; Radioactive Tritium Leaks Found at 48 US Nuke Sites"
A round-up of climate and energy news. Please post other stories below.
Amid a surge of solar energy industry moves aimed at making installations faster, easier, and more affordable, one of the highest-profile rooftop projects is taking longer than hoped.
The Obama administration missed its planned spring 2011 date for putting solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and a heating system atop the White House—an effort meant to boost the profile of the renewable energy technology by bringing it back to the U.S. presidential residence for the first time in 25 years. (See last fall’s announcement at the Green Gov symposium hosted by our Planet Forward partners here.)
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which is managing the project, attributed the delay to the ordinary deliberate pace of the federal government procurement process. And as is typical once the competitive bid and selection process is under way, officials are tight-lipped about their progress, so no further details were immediately available on the reasons for the holdup.
“We’re working on it and hope to move forward as quickly as possible,” said DOE spokeswoman Jen Stutsman. The Energy Department last night blogged that it would “be sharing additional details on the timing of the project” once the procurement process is complete.
Underscoring the complexity of a solar system decision—at least for the U.S. federal government—the administration actually released a 104-page solar procurement guide for agency decision makers last fall at the same time it announced it would bring solar back to the White House roof. In addition to the factors that any homeowner has to weigh when considering solar—cost, shade trees, utility interconnection issues—the guide explores the realms that are either unique or uniquely complex for the federal government: historic building requirements, potential for triggering a required-by-law environmental impact analysis, and government “Buy American” goals and requirements.
‘You got pipes that have been buried underground for 30 or 40 years, and they’ve never been inspected,’ whistleblower says.
Radioactive tritium has leaked from three-quarters of U.S. commercial nuclear power sites, often into groundwater from corroded, buried piping, an Associated Press investigation shows.
The number and severity of the leaks has been escalating, even as federal regulators extend the licenses of more and more reactors across the nation.
Tritium, which is a radioactive form of hydrogen, has leaked from at least 48 of 65 sites, according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission records reviewed as part of the AP’s yearlong examination of safety issues at aging nuclear power plants.
Leaks from at least 37 of those facilities contained concentrations exceeding the federal drinking water standard — sometimes at hundreds of times the limit.
While most leaks have been found within plant boundaries, some have migrated offsite. But none is known to have reached public water supplies.
At three sites — two in Illinois and one in Minnesota — leaks have contaminated drinking wells of nearby homes, the records show, but not at levels violating the drinking water standard.
Indonesia’s freshly inked two-year forest moratorium was breached on its first day as a plantation company burned carbon-rich peatlands on Borneo island, an investigation by an environmental group said.
Indonesia revealed a long list of exemptions to its much-delayed two-year forest moratorium on logging that came into effect on May 20, in a concession to hard-lobbying plantation firms in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.
The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and its Indonesian partner Telapak said they had documented peat forest in Central Kalimantan province’s moratorium zone being burned by Malaysian plantation group Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (KLK) on May 20.
KLK officials were not immediately available for comment and company executives did not respond to queries emailed by Reuters.
The Forestry Ministry told Reuters it had not seen the environmental group’s report but forest and peatland burning was against the law and should be investigated.
There’s a revolution sweeping the Middle East that has nothing to do with street uprisings or Twitter protests. It’s a clean energy upheaval with international implications that could transform the Arab world from North Africa to the Persian Gulf.
Solar plants are cropping up in Jordan and Morocco. Wind farms are being built in Egypt and Tunisia. Eight Arab nations and the Palestinian territories have a renewable energy target, and at least five more are taking serious steps to promote the domestic use of clean energy. Some of the most surprising movement is happening in oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Perhaps taking a page from Masdar, the famous carbon-zero city in the United Arab Emirates, these countries are spending their petrodollars on a budding number of their own alternative energy projects.
Climate change, by all accounts, is not the primary driver for this. While rising global temperatures threaten to reduce the availability of scarce water and to raise food prices in the Middle East, analysts say that prospect is overshadowed by present realities of their main export: oil. Rising oil prices and growing energy demands mean depleting reserves. Thus, there is a new need to diversify.
Reinforcing industrial fishing nets with plastic rings could allow unmarketable or endangered fish to escape capture.
Here are two statistics that are interesting on their own but scary together: 40% of the world’s population relies on fish for food, but every year, 7 million tons of dead fish are tossed back into the ocean because they were too young (i.e., small) to be marketable, or simply because they weren’t the species the fishermen were after. These factoids come from a video promoting a product designed to solve these problems called SafetyNet. It’s an industrial fish-trawling net with a few redesigned elements to ameliorate the unsustainable fishing practices described above.
SafetyNet was designed by David Watson (currently a student in the Innovation Design Engineering joint course between the Royal College of Art and Imperial College, London) as an entry in Time To Care, a sustainability-in-design competition sponsored by Victorinox Swiss Army. The problem is simple: Huge industrial trawling nets scoop up all the wrong kinds of fish along with the “right” ones because their flawed design prevents the non-desirable species from escaping. The unwanted fish should be able to escape through the diamond-shaped holes in the netting, but dragging the net through the water pulls these holes closed. Watson’s solution: stud the netting with reinforcing rings, which prevent the holes from getting yanked shut.
The 150MW Moree PV Farm and 250MW solar thermal-gas hybrid plant from Areva show Australia moving to utility-scale solar power.
I asked a solar analyst colleague — call him Prasad — about the solar situation in Australia. Prasad had very little to say. It was a region that, up until now, could afford to be ignored. Even with the technological solar powerhouse of the University of New South Wales in the house.
That looks to be changing.
The grid-connected market in Australia grew more than 480 percent in 2010, from 73 megawatts to 379 megawatts, according to the Australian National PV Status Report (see chart below). This was driven by the continent’s Solar Homes and Communities program, solar credits, feed-in tariffs, PV price drops, and a favorable dollar exchange rate.
Most of the solar incentives have been targeted to small-scale residential systems, but that looks to be changing as well.
Judging, at least, by the two massive solar announcements from this week.