Renewables In Our Midst

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When it opens in 2020, Facebook’s new data center in Odense, Denmark will channel its waste heat to warm nearly 7,000 homes. FACEBOOK

Thanks to Nicola Jones and colleagues at Yale Environment 360 for this:

Waste Heat: Innovators Turn to an Overlooked Renewable Resource

Nearly three-quarters of all the energy produced by humanity is squandered as waste heat. Now, large businesses, high-tech operations such as data centers, and governments are exploring innovative technologies to capture and reuse this vast renewable energy source.

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Heat radiates from the Grangemouth Oil Refinery in Scotland. About 70 percent of all the energy produced globally gets discarded as waste heat. CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/GETTY IMAGES

When you think of Facebook and “hot air,” a stream of pointless online chatter might be what comes to mind. But the company will soon be putting its literal hot air — the waste heat pumped out by one of its data centers — to good environmental use. That center, in Odense, Denmark, plans to channel its waste heat to warm nearly 7,000 homes when it opens in 2020.

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Data centers, such as Google’s facility in Dalles, Oregon, generate huge amounts of waste heat. GOOGLE

Waste heat is everywhere. Every time an engine runs, a machine clunks away, or any work is done by anything, heat is generated. That’s a law of thermodynamics. More often than not, that heat gets thrown away, dribbling out into the atmosphere. The scale of this invisible garbage is huge: About 70 percent of all the energy produced by humanity gets chucked as waste heat. Continue reading

Water, Power & Discontent

Early last year an article in the Guardian reminded me of work I had done in Montenegro in an earlier decade. The work was among the most impactful in my life, both professionally and personally, but the reminder was more a warning than a celebration. Something similar just happened with work I carried out in the region Rachel Dixon, a travel writer for the Guardian, brought to my attention with the film above, mentioned in this article:

Adventure in Albania: kayaking in one of Europe’s final frontiers

With wild rivers, mountains and Unesco sites aplenty, Albania is emerging as an exciting Mediterranean destination – but its wilderness could be devastated by huge dam-building projects

5188‘Go, go, go!” The white-water rafting guide shouted orders from the back of the boat and our five-strong crew paddled hard to stay on course. We were tackling a stretch of the Vjosa, a 270km river that begins in Greece (where it is called the Aoös) and flows through Albania and into the Adriatic just north of the city of Vlora. I was on a recce trip for a new southern Albanian break with Much Better Adventures, which specialises in long weekends to wild places in Europe and North Africa. But this trip was not just a fun adventure – rather just part of a campaign to save the river, which is under threat from proposed dams. A documentary film, Blue Heart, out this month, will highlight the fight to protect Europe’s last wild rivers, with help from ecotourism…

The film, and the article, have to do with the power of water. And the power of humans in deciding what to do with water. Not all reminders can be pleasant. This one is bittersweet. One sweet part is the call to action.

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Step 1: Register your interest in hosting a screening

We are aiming to host hundreds of screenings of Blue Heart globally in 2018 to raise awareness of the plight of the people affected in the Balkan region. If you are interested in hosting a screening, please complete the form below and a member of our team will get back to you ASAP.  Please note the film is 40 mins long and we recommend that you allow at least 20 mins for a post screening discussion. Continue reading

Turbines, Bigger & Better

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Prototype wind turbines whirl at a testing site in Osterild, near the northern end of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula. By Rasmus Degnbol

Thanks to the New York Times for this reminder that, in spite of what headlines often lead us to believe, progress is out there on as many fronts as we care to look to:

How Windmills as Wide as Jumbo Jets
Are Making Clean Energy Mainstream

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Blades for wind turbines lie outside a factory, waiting to be transported to wind farms.By Rasmus Degnbol

OSTERILD, Denmark — At the northern end of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula, the wind blows so hard that rows of trees grow in one direction, like gnarled flags.

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Technicians reach the roof of these enormous wind turbines either via an internal elevator or, if the turbine is installed offshore, by helicopters that lower them into the fenced-off area.By Rasmus Degnbol

The relentless weather over this long strip of farmland, bogs and mud flats — and the real-world laboratory it provides — has given the country a leading role in transforming wind power into a viable source of clean energy.

After energy prices spiked during the 1973 oil crisis, entrepreneurs began building small turbines to sell here. “It started out as an interest in providing power for my parents’ farm,” said Henrik Stiesdal, who designed and built early prototypes with a blacksmith partner. Continue reading

Carbon Footprint Self-Analysis

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Thanks to Livia Albeck-Ripka and the New York Times for this

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

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What Is a Carbon Footprint?

Climate change can be overwhelming. The science is complex, and when it comes to future impacts, there are still a lot of unknowns. While real solutions will require action on a global scale, there are choices you can make in your day-to-day life to lessen your personal impact on the environment. This guide will walk you through some of them.

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DRIVE LESS

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from the production, use and end-of-life of a product or service. It includes carbon dioxide — the gas most commonly emitted by humans — and others, including methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases, which trap gas in the atmosphere, causing global warming. Usually, the bulk of an individual’s carbon footprint will come from transportation, housing and food.

You can start the process by calculating your carbon footprint here. You will need to know the following: Continue reading

Government Conference Looking For Solutions To Big Puzzles

Happy to hear that there are still such efforts (conferences such as the one described below) underway and that they are inclined to the audacious. Thanks to Brad Plumer, at the New York Times, for this report:

Kelp Farms and Mammoth Windmills Are Just Two of the Government’s Long-Shot Energy Bets

Thousands of entrepreneurs gathered near Washington this week for an annual government conference. On the agenda: unusual solutions to major clean-energy problems.

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A kelp forest off Mexico’s Pacific coast. A project presented this week at an energy research conference proposes using tiny robots to farm seaweed for use in biofuels. Credit Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild, via Getty Images

Off the coast of California, the idea is that someday tiny robot submarines will drag kelp deep into the ocean at night, to soak up nutrients, then bring the plants back to the surface during the day, to bask in the sunlight.

The goal of this offbeat project? To see if it’s possible to farm vast quantities of seaweed in the open ocean for a new type of carbon-neutral biofuel that might one day power trucks and airplanes. Unlike the corn- and soy-based biofuels used today, kelp-based fuels would not require valuable cropland. Continue reading

Keeping It In The Ground?

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“Keep it in the ground” activists protesting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline on February 17, 2018 near Belle Rose, Louisiana. Travis Lux/WWNO

Under the current circumstances in the USA (you know what we mean) it is not straightforward to consider optimism obvious. But stranger things have happened. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for reminding us that when times get tough, the tough tough it out on behalf of us all:

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Activist Cherri Foytlin vows to physically block construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana.
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The United States oil business is booming and the country could soon be the largest crude oil producer in the world. Despite this record-breaking production, climate change activists campaigning to move away from fossil fuels say they are making progress.

Here’s the idea underpinning the ‘keep it in the ground‘ movement: to address climate change, activists say known reserves of fossil fuels will have to be left untouched instead of burned. In the meantime, they want countries to transition to renewable forms of energy such as solar and wind. Continue reading

Environmental Impact From Microwave Ovens

totalenvironmentThree scientists at the University of Manchester have shared their findings in a journal whose title we had not been aware of, but are glad to know is looking out for us all:

1-s2.0-S0048969717X00259-cov150hScience of the Total Environment is an international journal for publication of original research on the total environment, which includes the atmospherehydrospherebiospherelithosphere, and anthroposphere.

Since most readers of our pages likely use this type of oven on a daily basis, it seems worthy of a moment to read their findings as abstracted below:

Environmental assessment of microwaves and the effect of European energy efficiency and waste management legislation

Authored by Alejandro Gallego-Schmid, Joan Manuel F.Mendoza & Adisa Azapagic

130 M microwaves in the EU consume 9.4 TWh of electricity annually.

First LCA for microwaves to estimate the environmental effects of EU regulation

Standby Regulation will reduce impacts by 4–9% by 2020; WEEE Directive by ~ 0.3%.

Decarbonisation of electricity will reduce most impacts by 6–24% by 2020.

Eco-design regulation for microwaves should be developed to reduce resource use.

More than 130 million microwaves are affected by European Union (EU) legislation which is aimed at reducing the consumption of electricity in the standby mode (‘Standby Regulation’) and at more sustainable management of end-of-life electrical and electronic waste (‘WEEE Directive’). Continue reading

Divesting Scales With Leadership

Screen Shot 2018-01-12 at 5.25.34 AMThanks to the Guardian for giving Bill McKibben the space to put the New York City decision in perspective:

Over the years, the capital of the fight against climate change has been Kyoto, or Paris – that’s where the symbolic political agreements to try and curb the earth’s greenhouse gas emissions have been negotiated and signed. But now, New York City vaulted to leadership in the battle.

On Wednesday, its leaders, at a press conference in a neighborhood damaged over five years ago by Hurricane Sandy, announced that the city was divesting its massive pension fund from fossil fuels, and added for good measure that they were suing the five biggest oil companies for damages. Our planet’s most important city was now at war with its richest industry. And overnight, the battle to save the planet shifted from largely political to largely financial. Continue reading

Vote Early, Vote Often

Voting open for crowdsourced climate change innovations

MIT Climate CoLab allows the public to vote for promising crowdsourced ideas on how to tackle climate change.

Annalyn Bachmann | MIT Climate CoLab

MIT-CCl-02_0.jpgThis is better than democracy, and as important as any citizen science initiative we know of, so we hope you will contribute:

MIT Climate CoLab has opened a public voting period to select the top innovative ideas on how to tackle climate change. A project of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, Climate CoLab is an online platform where over 90,000 community members from around the world work together to develop and select proposals to help solve this massive, complex issue. Continue reading

New Vehicle Technology Makes Good Business Sense

Free parking and charging stations for electric cars in Oslo. Norway offers generous incentives that make the vehicles cheaper to buy, and other benefits once they are on the road. Credit Thomas Haugersveen for The New York Times

Norway’s public policy that puts environmentalism front and center stands in stark contrast to the obvious deconstruction of protections in this country.

In Norway, Electric and Hybrid Cars Outsell Conventional Models

Sales of electric and hybrid cars in Norway outpaced those running on fossil fuels last year, cementing the country’s position as a global leader in the push to restrict vehicle emissions.

Norway, a major oil exporter, would seem an unlikely champion of newer, cleaner-running vehicles. But the country offers generous incentives that make electric cars cheaper to buy, and provides additional benefits once the vehicles are on the road.

Countries around the world have ramped up their promotion of hybrid and electric cars. As China tries to improve air quality and dominate new vehicle technology, the government there wants one in five cars sold to run on alternative fuels by 2025France and Britain plan to end the sale of gasoline- and diesel-powered cars by 2040.

Norway is ahead of the rest of the world. Continue reading

Poo-Power Innovations

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Biomethane is an age-old concept in much of what is frequently called the “developing world”, so it’s difficult to overstate the irony of “1st world” adoption. That said, it’s heartening to read of more projects aimed at maximizing poo’s full potential.

From stools to fuels: the street lamp that runs on dog do

A long winding road climbs into a gathering dusk, coming to an abrupt dead end in front of a house. Here, a solitary flickering flame casts out a warm glow, illuminating the nearby ridge line of the Malvern Hills.

Below the light sits a mysterious green contraption resembling a cross between a giant washing machine and a weather station. This is the UK’s first dog poo-powered street lamp, and it is generating light in more ways than one.

The idea seems simple enough: dog walkers deposit the product of a hearty walk into a hatch and turn a handle. The contents are then broken down by microorganisms in the anaerobic digester, producing methane to fuel the light, and fertiliser…

…Humans have used animal dung as fuel since the neolithic period, and have known how to get flammable gas from decaying organic matter since the 17th century. Small-scale anaerobic digesters are commonplace in many developing countries, while larger plants producing heat and electricity from animal manure and human sewage have long been used in the west.

Yet the energy in most excrement still goes to waste.  Continue reading

Trees, Carbon-Neutral Energy, & Ambiguous Definitions

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Thanks to Fred Pearce over at Yale Environment360 for this puzzler:

Carbon Loophole: Why Is Wood Burning Counted as Green Energy?

A loophole in carbon-accounting rules is spurring a boom in burning wood pellets in European power plants. The result has been a surge in logging, particularly in the U.S. South, and new doubts about whether Europe can meet its commitments under the Paris accord. Continue reading

Battery Story, 2017

Tesla grid storage South AustraliaBattery technology is the thing. It seems to be a holy grail that environmentalists and technologists can agree on for helping us, humans who want a habitable planet for generations to come, mitigate climate change. And occasionally it is at the core of short term fixes. Once the dust has settled on 2017, and we are looking back on stories that were on the positive side of long term impact on the planet, this story will probably get more attention. For now it seems like a footnote at the end of the year to note that this Tesla scheme actually seemed to work:

Tesla Grid Storage Battery Reacts Insanely Fast To Coal Power Outage

Last spring, Elon Musk made a daring bet. He claimed he could build and install the world’s largest grid storage battery in South Australia within 100 days of the date a contract was signed or the system would be free. The contract was signed on September 29. Installation was completed by the third week of November. On December 2, the giant 129 MWh system was activated. Continue reading

An Interesting Alternative To Ayn Rand’s Prescription For The Future

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The Estonian government is so eager to take on big problems that many ambitious techies leave the private sector to join it.Illustration by Eiko Ojala

This is about people with an idea pursuing it with confidence in the ability of government to achieve something that its people want. Not everyone, everywhere, would want this to be sure. But it is a vote in favor of pursuing the common good together. It is worth the read, on a cold winter’s night (or wherever you may be) for a glimpse of the future for those in small, flexible places:

Estonia, the Digital Republic

Its government is virtual, borderless, blockchained, and secure. Has this tiny post-Soviet nation found the way of the future?

Up the Estonian coast, a five-lane highway bends with the path of the sea, then breaks inland, leaving cars to follow a thin road toward the houses at the water’s edge. There is a gated community here, but it is not the usual kind. The gate is low—a picket fence—as if to prevent the dunes from riding up into the street. The entrance is blocked by a railroad-crossing arm, not so much to keep out strangers as to make sure they come with intent. Beyond the gate, there is a schoolhouse, and a few homes line a narrow drive. From Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, you arrive dazed: trees trace the highway, and the cars go fast, as if to get in front of something that no one can see. Continue reading

Will Divestment Be The Best News Of 2017?

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Time and again, the petroleum industry has used its political might to stymie global action on climate change. Now cities and states have become the new battleground. Photograph by Robert Nickelsberg / Getty

Some things we lose slowly, which seems better than losing them quicker; other things we gain too slowly:

The Movement to Divest from Fossil Fuels Gains Momentum

Tuesday should have been a day of unmitigated joy for America’s oil and gas executives. The new G.O.P. tax bill treats their companies with great tenderness, reducing even further their federal tax burden.

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Part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known as the 10-02 area, serves as the summer breeding ground for two hundred thousand caribou. Photograph by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty

And the bill gave them something else they’ve sought for decades: permission to go a-drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But, around four in the afternoon, something utterly unexpected began to happen. A news release went out from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, saying that New York was going to divest its vast pension-fund investments in fossil fuels. The state, Cuomo said, would be “ceasing all new investments in entities with significant fossil-fuel-related activities,” and he would set up a committee with Thomas DiNapoli, the state comptroller, to figure out how to “decarbonize” the existing portfolio. Continue reading

Victory Favoring Earth, We Hope

Lisa Friedman appears twice on today’s landing page of the newspaper she works for, once as co-host on a video, below, about Alaska; and again as host of an equally important story in the form of an interview, also captured on this video titled Jerry Brown on How to Fix Global Warming.

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How can policymakers fight climate change in the face of political headwinds? Gov. Jerry Brown of California addresses that question at ClimateTECH, a conference from The New York Times, in a conversation with Thomas L. Friedman. By THE NEW YORK TIMES on Publish DateNovember 29, 2017. Photo by Friedemann Vogel/European Pressphoto Agency.  Watch in Times Video »

Biogenics In The 21st Century

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A wood stove burns with pellet fuel. Photo © U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr through a CC BY 2.0 license

Thanks to Cool Green Science for this reminder about the use of wood and related biomass as fuel throughout human history, and its implications for today’s climate change challenges:

As long as the Clean Power Plan is still in place, electric utilities are looking for ways to clean up their carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere and prevent global changes in climate. Some utilities are switching to natural gas, which emits lower amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) per unit of energy generated. However, natural gas is not without its own problems.

Humans used firewood for thousands of years, during a period with little change in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. So some utilities are looking toward the burning of wood, also known as biomass or biogenic energy, to generate power. This is an interesting “throw back” to an earlier time when firewood was used widely for heat, light, and early industrial processes. But, there is a reason why we switched to coal, which has greater energy content per unit weight.

It is natural to think that burning firewood would have a minor effect on atmospheric CO2. Continue reading

Environmental Leadership Born Of Cold-Eyed Pragmatism

Dale Ross, the mayor of Georgetown, Texas, says the decision to source all the town’s energy from renewable resources was based in cold-eyed pragmatism. Photograph: Katie Hayes Luke for the Guardian

This is what America’s eco city of the future looks like

Georgetown mayor Dale Ross is ‘a good little Republican’ – but ever since his city weaned itself off fossil fuels, he has become a hero to environmentalists Continue reading

Britain’s Windfalls

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Thanks to the Guardian for this update on the current state of the art of wind power, and it is good to see Britain in the lead:

Wild is the wind: the resource that could power the world

Wind isn’t just mysterious, destructive and exhilarating – capturing just 2% of it would solve the planet’s energy needs at a stroke. And as the windiest country in Europe, Britain is at the forefront of this green revolution Continue reading

The Business Sense of Doing Good

The Google logo is spelled out in heliostats (mirrors that track the sun and reflect the sunlight onto a central receiving point) during a tour of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert near the California-Nevada border February 13, 2014. The project, a partnership of NRG, BrightSource, Google and Bechtel, is the world’s largest solar thermal facility and uses 347,000 sun-facing mirrors to produce 392 Megawatts of electricity, enough energy to power more than 140,000 homes. Photograph: Steve Marcus/Reuters

The often maligned Calvin Coolidge quote the “Business of America is Business” takes on a positive note when we consider that in the current political climate many corporations are stepping up where the federal administration falls short.

American companies are still investing in renewable energy

After the November elections, many of us in the climate and energy fields were rightfully fearful. What would happen to international agreements to cut greenhouse gases? What would happen to funding for climate research? What would happen to the green energy revolution?

In most instances, Trump is worse than we could have imagined. But in one special area, the president may not matter. That is in the growth of corporate purchasing of renewable energy. It turns out there are factors that even he cannot stop that make choosing renewable energy an easy decision for many companies.

New evidence about the unstoppable renewable energy wave recently came out in a report that was released by Apex Clean Energy and the GreenBiz Group. These groups surveyed corporations to determine their future plans on renewable energy installation and adoption. They wanted to know whether these plans had changed in the past few years and what motivated their decisions to implement renewable energy strategies. The outcome of this survey is available here for people who want to read the entire document.

The groups surveyed 153 major corporations (both public and private), whose combined revenue was in excess of $250 million. Among these companies, 84% are “actively pursuing or considering purchasing renewable energy over the next 5-10 years.” Surprisingly, they found that 43% of the corporations intend to be more aggressive in their pursuit of renewable energy in the next two years. 87% of those actively pursuing renewable energy purchases stated that the election had no impact on their decision.

In fact, 11% were more inclined to purchase renewable energy. Continue reading