Archive | Energy

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All hail recycling, it will save the planet. Well, maybe not

Recycling is not a panacea, even as it makes one feel virtuous. However, the benefits are not nearly what most think they are. Some high quality trash like certain cardboard, paper, plastics, and aluminum cans are worth recycling. Everything else, not so much. Recycling is expensive. The falling price of oil (what plastics are derived from) is cutting demand for recyclables even more.

If all those bottles, cans, and plastics are washed before going in the recycle bin, then carbon benefits may be illusory. With lowered demand, a lot of trash, recycled or not, ends up in landfills outside of big cities where they aren’t running out of space and welcome the business.

Recycling doesn’t really work in small towns in rural areas. Parowan UT, population 3,000, made a concerted effort to implement recycling. The problem was, the recyclables had to be trucked long distances to recycling plants and it was simply too expensive.

Here’s some perspective: To offset the greenhouse impact of one passenger’s round-trip flight between New York and London, you’d have to recycle roughly 40,000 plastic bottles, assuming you fly coach. If you sit in business- or first-class, where each passenger takes up more space, it could be more like 100,000.

New York and other cities instruct people to rinse the bottles before putting them in the recycling bin, but the E.P.A.’s life-cycle calculation doesn’t take that water into account. That single omission can make a big difference, according to Chris Goodall, the author of “How to Live a Low-Carbon Life.” Mr. Goodall calculates that if you wash plastic in water that was heated by coal-derived electricity, then the net effect of your recycling could be more carbon in the atmosphere.

“It makes sense to recycle commercial cardboard and some paper, as well as selected metals and plastics,” he says. “But other materials rarely make sense, including food waste and other compostables. The zero-waste goal makes no sense at all — it’s very expensive with almost no real environmental benefits.

Posted in Energy


U.S. creeps towards offshore wind, could start soaring


The United States still has no offshore wind, mostly due to pointlessly complicated permitting regulations coupled with NIMBYs who think renewable energy is just a wonderful idea so long as they don’t have to look at it. However, the very first U.S. offshore wind, the Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island, is finally being built. Output will be a wee little 30 MW, enough for about 30,000 homes. By the end of this decade there might be 3.3 GW of offshore wind operational, says the government. That would be a huge improvement, even as some of the largest coal and natural gas plants produce that much power on their own. However, big potential is certainly there, especially off New Jersey and North Carolina.

According to the report [PDF], as of June 20, 2015, there were 21 US offshore wind projects in the project pipeline, representing 15,650 MW of offshore wind. Breaking that down, 13 projects totaling 5,939 MW have achieved site control or a more advanced phase of development, and approximately 3,305 MW are aiming for commercial operation by 2020.

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has issued 5,768 MW of offshore wind leases, with a total value of $14.5 million, as well as identifying wind energy areas in New Jersey and North Carolina totaling nearly 9,000 MW of additional potential capacity that has yet to be auctioned.

The UK has by far the most offshore wind of any nation, especially in Scotland. The West Coast waters get too deep too fast for turbines to be practical. The  East Coast, with its shallow waters, is ideal for offshore turbines. Let’s hope it happens.

Posted in Energy, Wind turbines


Hydroponic farm 100 feet under London in old bomb shelter


“The market for this is huge” says a London chef about Growing Underground, which now has a commercial subterranean hydroponic farm in London. Thus, fresh vegetables and greens get to restaurants in four hours. They specialize mostly in high end produce and greens for salads. Crowdfunding is supplying the money and they have a new campaign on Crowdcube, which ends in three days, and have raised £154,530 of their goal of £200,000, offering a 10% return.

From farm to fork in under four hours.

Our hydroponics system uses 70% less water than traditional open-field farming, and because all the nutrients are kept within the closed-loop system we run no risk of contributing to agricultural run-off. Food miles account for a huge amount of wasted energy in the industry. That’s why our produce will travel no further than the M25. Our leaves can be in your kitchen within 4 hours of being picked and packed. Initially we will be providing wholesale and local restaurants, and eventually the retail market. We are working towards carbon neutral certification.

Posted in Energy

Salt buildings in desert

Using desalination to create desert cities from salt


This is thinking way outside the box. Use solar-powered desalination to create fresh water to grow crops in deserts and use the leftover salt mixed with epoxy to create buildings. Thus, no brine is pumped back into the ocean and food could be produced in deserts. I’m sure the technical challenges here are daunting and I really hope this happens.

Geboers aims to create a closed-loop system that would produce zero waste. Unlike traditional desalination technology, where concentrated brine is often pumped back into the sea in concentrations that are unhealthy to marine ecosystems, the extracted salt could be reused as a sustainable building material. Because it has great compressive strength, but not so much tension, it would be most ideally used in domes and arches, which are common in vernacular desert architecture.

Salt, of course, does not react well when exposed to moisture, so Geboers seals the starchy salt bricks with an epoxy. Since this is a plastic-based material, the architect is currently researching bio-based plastics as a more ecological alternative. Water distilled as a byproduct of the solar desalination process would then be used to grow food in greenhouses – similar to the Sahara Forest Project that is successfully cultivating crops in Qatar.

Building With Seawater

Sahara Forest Project

Posted in Energy

Hawaii OTEC

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion plant goes live in Hawaii

Hawaii OTEC

Hawaii, a leader in renewable energy out of necessity, just opened their first Ocean Thermal Conversion Energy Power plant. It is a test plant that will power 120 homes. Much bigger plants are coming, with the potential to power 100,000 homes. OTEC power, unlike other forms of renewable energy is available 24/7. Essentially, it is solar power, and it relies on the sun warming the surface of the ocean.

OTEC builder Makai says large-scale OTEC power plants will be offshore, thus not competing for land, and twelve such plants would power all of Hawaii. Further, enough OTEC power exists worldwide to power 4X of the world’s electrical needs. Plus, environmental risks are very low.

OTEC is a process that produces electricity by using the temperature difference between the warm ocean surface waters of tropical areas and the much colder deep water below. The plant that Hawaii has just installed pumps water from the warm shoreline as well as from the cold deeper ocean through a heat exchanger. The resulting steam drives a turbine and produce electricity at an onshore power station.

Posted in Energy

Shower of the Future, changing filter

Shower recycles and heats water

Shower of the Future, changing filter

Shower of the Future, changing filter

An innovative new shower purifies and reuses water, reheating it in the process. Potential water and electricity savings potentially can be large, especially in big households. The technology is the same as used on spacecraft. Downside is it is expensive and requires a bathroom remodel if not installed as part of new home construction. Hopefully the price will drop, as this seems a good idea.

The Shower of the Future is based on the technology that is used on spacecraft, and works on a closed-loop water system. Because of this it only needs 1.3 gallons (5 liters) of water to function, which is about one tenth less than classic showers need. After the first use, the water is collected from the drain, filtered and purified, and fed back into the in-flow tank to be reused. Apart from the water savings, the shower is also capable of saving more than 80% in energy consumption

Posted in Energy, Water

Dogger Bank wind farm location

U.K. plans ginormous offshore wind farms

Dogger Bank wind farm location

When built, two 1.2 GW offshore wind farms jointly will be one of the largest in the world. Britain already has more offshore wind than the rest of the planet combined and now is building more. Meanwhile, the U.S. has labored mightily and finally built the first platform for an offshore wind turbine.

The U.K. authorized the Forewind consortium of four European utilities to build the joint-largest offshore wind project in the world.

The two 1.2-gigawatt wind farms, called Dogger Bank Teesside A&B, total almost four times the capacity of the largest operational project. They won development permission from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, according to a statement e-mailed Wednesday by the Planning Inspectorate.

If built, Dogger Bank Teesside A&B will include as many as 400 wind turbines, support hundreds of jobs in northern England and provide enough electricity for 1.8 million homes,

Posted in Energy, News

Dancers. Party

U.S. finally to get offshore wind energy. Woo-hoo!

Dancers. Party

The United States is at long last about to get offshore wind power. A single, solitary foundation has been built for a wind turbine off Rhode Island, part of a projected 30 MW wind farm,  a wee little thing to be sure. However grid-scale wind farms will be following quickly. After hundreds of millions in government funding, repeated assaults by rich NIMBYS (screw you Kennedy clan, and your phony environmentalism), and endless regulatory hurdles, we are finally getting offshore wind. Why did it have to take so long?

Deepwater Wind, God bless ’em, has three projects happening.

Block Island off Rhode Island looks like their deliberately small, proof-of-concept:

The first offshore wind farm in construction in the United States, the 30-megawatt, 5 turbine Block Island Wind Farm is scheduled to be online in 2016.

Deepwater ONE, also off Rhode Island, will be grid-scale:

Located in the best site for offshore wind in the United States, Deepwater ONE has over 1,000 MW of capacity. The wind is so strong and consistent in this site, that average annual capacity factors are expected to reach 50%, among the best in America. Deepwater ONE can be built in phases over time, supplying power to both southern New England and eastern Long Island. Located over the horizon, in the deep waters of Atlantic Ocean. The project will be barely visible from shore.

Eventually, this project would grow to 200 or more turbines generating 1 gigawatt of clean energy — for multiple power markets in the region.

Garden State, off New Jersey, will also be grid scale.

Located roughly 20 miles off the coast of Avalon, New Jersey, with nearly 200 turbines generating 1 gigawatt of clean offshore wind power.

Europe is way ahead of us on offshore wind.

Offshore wind energy is present in Europe, with close to 2,500 wind turbines already installed, according to the European Wind Energy Association. In 2014, 536 turbines were erected. Cumulatively, 74 wind farms in 11 European countries generate a total of 8,045.3 MW.

Hopefully the U.S. will have gigawatts of offshore wind energy soon too.

Posted in Energy

Salton Sea

Salton Sea geothermal plan now appears doomed

The Salton Sea, a large inland salt water lake in a baking Southern California desert is dying. Ambitious plans to build geothermal plants there would have revitalized the area and provided money to clean up the lake, which is a major bird migratory area.. However, a bill to fund geothermal there died in the legislature last fall. No new bills have been introduced. Proponents say they need $3.15 billion to stop the coming environmental disaster. It’s difficult to see where that money will come from.

A dry Salton Sea would also emit dangerous dust that could lead to increased incidents of cancer and asthma around the Sea and beyond. The SSRREI provides strategies for the mitigation of these emissions via the installation of wind barriers, the establishment of native plant species, and the use of soil binders and gravel to reduce dust formation. The dust mitigation plans are feasible because they are low maintenance, long lasting, and require little to no water from outside sources. If this plan is implemented, the Salton Sea will have a safe, healthy future. If this plan is not put into action, the dust from the Salton Sea will reduce air quality in the Inland Empire to historical lows and cause serious health issues

One big problem is that geothermal energy is expensive.

It’s no longer clear if there is much legislative support for an SB 1139-type approach mandating geothermal development. Officials with the state’s three giant investor-owned utilities have never been big fans of geothermal as a major source of state power. Energy experts say there’s a reason that there’s no billionaire enthusiast pushing geothermal, as T. Boone Pickens has done with wind power and several tycoons have done with solar power. It’s because a deep dig into the facts — by scientists as well as potential investors — shows it’s not an attractive option.

The Geysers in northern California is the biggest geothermal plant in the world. However it produces a minuscule amount of California’s electricity. The Salton Sea has the potential for geothermal power, but logistics and practicality are daunting.

Clearly, geothermal energy works well in select locations (geological hotspots). But it’s too puny to provide a significant share of our electricity, and direct thermal use requires substantial underground volumes/areas to mitigate depletion. All this on top of requirements to place lots of tubing infrastructure kilometers deep in the rock. Even dropping concerns about depletion, the practical/economic challenges do not favor extraction of geothermal heat on a large scale. So geothermal is not giving me that warm, fuzzy feeling I seek. It’s certainly not riding to the rescue of the imminent liquid fuels crunch.

A real problem here is that the Salton Sea is in a neglected area of California. The money flows elsewhere. However, without remediation, the lake will dry up, creating major health hazards.

Posted in Energy

Solar farm

Utility-scale solar is considerably cheaper than rooftop

Solar farm

Rooftop solar, especially when leased, is much more expensive than grid-scale solar, plus carbon savings are less. Economies of scale for big solar produce electricity cheaper and with less carbon. And unless a rooftop solar system has battery storage, it won’t help in a power outage.

The savings from utility-scale solar are considerable.

“Most of the environmental and social benefits provided by PV systems can be achieved at a much lower total cost at utility-scale than at residential-scale,” is how the study puts it.

“The biggest two takeaways were surprising,” Fox-Penner said. “The generation cost per solar MWh purchased is half as large for utility-scale solar as for rooftop solar. And per MW of solar installed, the carbon savings and the fuel savings from a MW of utility-scale PV are 50% larger.”

Utility-scale solar offers higher capacity factors and significant economies of scale, Crossborder concludes. But rooftop offers location at the point of end-use, reliability benefits (especially when paired with storage), societal and customer choice benefits, and lower cost to customers than green pricing programs.

The supposed resilience of rooftop solar doesn’t exist yet because they automatically shut off when there is an outage (to prevent power going back up the lines when repairs are happening.) Batteries will help. Even so, they generally won’t power a house at full power or for more than a few hours.

Rooftop solar offers the potential of greater resilience for the homeowner against outages, he said. It is only a potential advantage because most rooftop solar systems, as currently installed, automatically shut down when the grid goes out “to protect workers and to meet fire protection requirements.”

Rooftop solar still provides many benefits. However, big can almost always produce something cheaper than small.

Posted in Energy


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