Farming Energy & Food Simultaneously

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Crops grow under solar panels at the Biosphere 2 Agrivoltaics Learning Lab operated by the University of Arizona, north of Tucson. Patrick Murphy/University of Arizona

When we think of farming, we know sunlight is important, but too much sun is not normally a good thing. For solar, no such thing as too much sunlight–the more the better. But counterintuitive though it may be, here is a story about overlapping advantages of sunlight for farming and solar energy production:

The Best Place for Harvesting Solar Energy Is Not Where I Expected It to Be

And the same land can produce loads of food and electricity simultaneously.

Even after a boom in recent years, solar energy delivers less than 2 percent of power generation to the US electrical grid. But if we’re going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the sun’s contribution is going to have to ramp up dramatically. Where to put all the solar panels? You might envision vast solar farms stretching across the sun-scorched barren lands of the Southwest. But according to two recent papers—one from Oregon and Utah researchers, another from a team centered at the University of Arizona—a much different kind of landscape makes the most sense for harvesting solar power: the land currently occupied by food farms.

That’s because the technology that drives solar power—photovoltaic (PV) panels made of silicon that convert light photons directly into electricity—works most efficiently under a specific set of conditions. Most important for this power, of course, is abundant sunlight, which is why deserts make tempting sites for solar energy production. But air temperature is important, too. Above the threshold of 78°F, the hotter it gets outside, the less efficient PV panels are at converting sunlight to electricity. And that’s why blazing-hot deserts pose some problems for solar panels. Continue reading

Floating Solar

When we think of Holland, we think of its engineering contributions to the world’s lower elevation places that have water management issues. Such as Kerala historically, and soon to be many more places due to climate change-related water levels rising. Here is a novel twist on using their expertise with water, for which we give thanks to the Guardian:

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 The islands will contain 73,500 panels. Photograph: Floating Solar

Dutch engineers build world’s biggest sun-seeking solar farm

The 15 floating solar islands will possess sunflower-like ability to turn to face the sun

Dutch engineers are building what will be the world’s largest archipelago of islands made up of sun-tracking solar panels.

Growing resistance to the construction of wind turbines or fields of solar panels on land has led the renewable energy industry to look for alternative options. Large islands of solar panels are under construction or already in place in reservoirs and lakes across the Netherlands, China, the UK and Japan. Continue reading

Renewables For Communities In Need

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EnterA 204-kilowatt community solar array being installed on the roof of the Shiloh Temple International Ministries in Minneapolis. COURTESY OF COOPERATIVE ENERGY FUTURESa caption

Thanks to Maria Gallucci and Yale e360 for this:

Energy Equity: Bringing Solar Power to Low-Income Communities

Millions of Americans lack access to solar energy because they cannot afford the steep upfront costs. Now, more than a dozen states are adopting “community solar” programs that are bringing solar power and lower energy bills to low-income households from New York to California.

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Workers receive job training while building a shared solar farm in Platteville, Colorado. COURTESY OF GRID ALTERNATIVES

Isbel “Izzy” Palans lives in a small cabin nestled among mountain peaks and towering trees in the Colorado Rockies. Her home is often shaded and, during the long winters, buried under heaps of snow. Her monthly utility bills show credits for solar electricity production, but no solar panels are affixed to her roof. Instead, the power comes from a solar array some 60 miles away in a nearby valley.

Last year, the panels nearly slashed her energy bill in half. “I’ve been thrilled,” said Palans, a 76-year-old retired waitress who relies partly on Social Security benefits to make ends meet.

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Solar contractor Brad Boston (center) and utility representatives meet with engineer Pranay Kohli to discuss a community solar project at DuPont Park Seventh Day Adventist Church in Washington, D.C. COURTESY OF GROUNDSWELL

Palans is a subscriber to a 145-kilowatt solar array project run by Holy Cross Energy, a rural utility cooperative. Built with state funding, the program provides solar credits to more than 40 low-income households in western Colorado that otherwise wouldn’t have the financial or technical means to access renewable energy. The venture is just one of a growing number of so-called “community solar” projects across the United States focused on delivering renewable energy — and the cost-savings it can provide — to low-income households, from California to Minnesota to Massachusetts. Continue reading

Keeping Track Of Renewables

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Despite the rapid decline in the cost of solar-energy technology and battery storage, Arizona gets only six per cent of its electricity from solar. Photograph by Joshua Lott / Bloomberg / Getty

Thanks to Carolyn Kormann, making her fifth appearance since early 2016 in our pages, including this recent item that I particularly favored, for the article below that helps us understand what is happening with renewable energy these days in the USA. It is easy to forget, amidst all the noise of a federal government working to deregulate and reduce environmental protection, that important work continues:

The Battle for Solar Energy in the Country’s Sunniest State

In late September, the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank that receives donations from fossil-fuel companies, published a blog post titled “California Billionaire’s Renewable Energy Initiative Makes Arizona Ballot.” The billionaire in question was Tom Steyer, whose year-long effort to pass Proposition 127, an amendment to Arizona’s constitution that would require power companies to generate fifty per cent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030, has faced aggressive opposition from the state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service, or A.P.S. The blog post lamented a failed lawsuit filed by Arizonans for Affordable Energy, a political-action committee funded by A.P.S.’s parent company, to keep Prop 127 off the ballot, and quoted several opponents who believed the measure, now up for a vote in November, would be a costly mistake. “Prop 127 would tie Arizona’s future to technologies that do not deliver baseload electricity,” Mark Finchem, a Republican state representative, said, “and are arguably worse for the environment as a whole than the dependable technologies we already have.” The photograph accompanying the post depicted a wind-turbine farm, and, in the foreground, a dead bald eagle.

Arizona is the sunniest state in the country, with more than three hundred bluebird days per year. It is also projected to endure an additional month of hundred-degree days in the coming decades owing to climate change. Yet, despite the rapid decline in the cost of solar-energy technology and battery storage—to the point that, as an A.P.S. director told me, it now frequently outbids fossil fuels, even natural gas—in 2017, Arizona generated only six per cent of its electricity from solar, according to the ballot initiative’s advocates. The state currently requires utilities to generate eight per cent of their power from sources like solar and wind, scaling up to fifteen per cent by 2025. Natural gas, the largest source of Arizona’s net electricity generation, is imported from out of state. “Our most abundant resource in Arizona is our sunshine,” D. J. Quinlan, a spokesman for Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, the Phoenix-based political-action committee that Steyer is funding, said. “We need a nationwide transition to renewables. One of the first places we should be doing it is where it’s most efficient and cost-effective, and that’s here.” 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

Sunny-Futured Mass Transit

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An illustration of a solar train in action. Photograph: Esther Griffin

Thanks to Alice Bell and the Guardian for a look into the latest on harnessing the sun to power more of our transportation needs:

In 10 years time trains could be solar powered

A technique has been devised that allows electricity to flow directly from solar panels to electrified train tracks to the trains themselves making solar powered trains more feasible than ever before 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

Chile Finds A Better Path To Renewable Energy

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The first geothermal energy plant in South America is in Cerro Pabellón, Chile, 14,760 feet above sea level, surrounded by volcanoes. Credit Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

Chile’s near catastrophe with hydroelectric energy, averted in part thanks to the efforts of friends in the Patagonia Sin Represas campaign, made us wonder whether Chile’s path to a greener future would be straight and narrow. Thanks to the New York Times and Ernesto Londoño we think we have strong evidence helping us with the answer:

Chile’s Energy Transformation Is Powered by Wind, Sun and Volcanoes

CERRO PABELLÓN, Chile — It looks and functions much like an oil drilling rig. As it happens, several of the men in thick blue overalls and white helmets who operate the hulking machine once made a living pumping crude.

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A worker inspecting solar panels in the Atacama Desert in Chile, one of the driest and sunniest places on Earth. The sun is so strong there that workers must wear protective suits and slather on thick layers of sunscreen. Credit Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

With the ability to power roughly 165,000 homes, the new plant is yet another step in Chile’s clean energy transformation. This nation’s rapidly expanding clean energy grid, which includes vast solar fields and wind farms, is one of the most ambitious in a region that is decisively moving beyond fossil fuels.

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Wind turbines in the Atacama Desert and other turbines along Chile’s 2,653-mile coast contribute to power to national grid. Credit Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

Latin America already has the world’s cleanest electricity, having long relied on dams to generate a large share of its energy needs, according to the World Bank.

But even beyond those big hydropower projects, investment in renewable energy in Latin America has increased 11-fold since 2004, nearly double the global rate, according to a 2016 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization. Chile, Mexico and Brazil are now among the top 10 renewable energy markets in the world.

Chile3So as Latin America embraces greener energy sources, government officials and industry executives in the region have expressed a sense of confusion, even bewilderment, with the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the climate changecommitments contained in the Paris Agreement, declare an end to the “war on coal” and take aim at American environmental regulations. Continue reading

Sunlight and Seaweed

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Thanks to the Conversation for highlighting the potential of this inspiring technology.

How farming giant seaweed can feed fish and fix the climate

Bren Smith, an ex-industrial trawler man, operates a farm in Long Island Sound, near New Haven, Connecticut. Fish are not the focus of his new enterprise, but rather kelp and high-value shellfish. The seaweed and mussels grow on floating ropes, from which hang baskets filled with scallops and oysters. The technology allows for the production of about 40 tonnes of kelp and a million bivalves per hectare per year. Continue reading

Preparing For August 21

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Solar eclipse of November 13, 2012 as seen from Australia. Photo © Romeo Durscher on NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Flickr through a Creative Commons license

Thanks to Cool Green Science for this set of instructions for North American viewing of the sun’s near-disappearance:

Where will you be on August 21, 2017 when the solar eclipse passes through North America?

Here’s a guide to viewing opportunities, including Nature Conservancy preserves where you can catch the spectacle in beautiful surroundings.

Solar eclipses can be viewed from the earth’s surface about two to four times a year, but they aren’t viewable from all parts of the earth’s surface and the path of totality (the places on Earth from which viewers can see the total eclipse) is only about 50 miles wide. Eclipse 2017 stands out because the path of totality cuts a wide swath through the United States and all of North America will have views of a partial eclipse.

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California Leading On Climate

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Dairy cows in Fresno County, Calif. Some of the reductions in a state proposal to reduce emissions would come from curbing emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from manure piles at dairy farms. Credit Scott Smith/Associated Press

We appreciate California’s heroic measures to take responsibility and show leadership where it can on climate change:

Over the past decade, California has passed a sweeping set of climate laws to test a contentious theory: that it’s possible to cut greenhouse gas emissions far beyond what any other state has done and still enjoy robust economic growth.

Now that theory faces its biggest test yet. Last August, the State Legislature set a goal of slashing emissions more than 40 percent below today’s levels by 2030, a far deeper cut than President Barack Obama proposed for the entire United States and deeper than most other countries have contemplated.

So how will California pull this off? Continue reading

The Sun Over Africa Is Powerful

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In eighteen months, entrepreneurs brought electricity to hundreds of thousands of people in places that the grid failed to reach. Illustration by Oliver Munday / Photographs courtesy Mathieu Young / Off-Grid Electric

The author has been featured in our pages mainly as an activist, but it is good to see he has returned to the New Yorker as a reporter, writer, and keen observer:

The Race to Solar-Power Africa

American startups are competing to bring electricity to communities that remain off the grid.

By Bill McKibben

The cacao-farming community of Daban, in Ghana, is seven degrees north of the equator, and it’s always hot. In May, I met with several elders there to talk about the electricity that had come to the town a few months earlier, when an American startup installed a solar microgrid nearby. Continue reading

Big USA Cities & Potential For Solar

980x.pngThanks to EcoWatch for this note about the Google site that helps residents of major cities in the USA think more clearly about solar as an option:

It just got a whole lot easier to decide whether or not to get solar panels for your roof. Google’s Project Sunroof site will help you locate your home, see how much sun it gets on average and what you could save if you purchased panels. Continue reading

Install Solar Power In Your Home

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Thanks to the Guardian for this series of videos:

Every day, the sun kickstarts mini power plants in about 942,000 homes around America. We are of course talking about solar energy – and in 2017, it’s never been cheaper to invest in it for your home. The Guardian looks at key tips for installing solar panels and why now is the time to switch

How to install solar panels at home

You Had Us At Non-Toxic

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Photo: Organic mega-flow battery in the Harvard SEAS lab. (Photo by Eliza Grinnell, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences)

Thanks to Anthropocene:

This non-toxic battery lasts a decade, could be renewable energy’s missing piece

by Prachi Patel

As more and more people install solar panels, the need to store solar power is growing. Batteries that store sun-generated electricity are key for houses to have power at night or when it’s cloudy. But today’s battery technologies are riddled with issues such as high cost, toxicity, and short life. Continue reading

Redeeming Schemes Punctuated With Question Marks

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An impression of the town square at the Babcock Ranch development in Florida. Photograph: Babcock Ranch

For every redemption story there seems to be at least one more redemption puzzle. Conundrums. This is one of those. We want to love the scheme for some of its nobler aspects, but then realize it is impossible to do so unconditionally. And finally, simply, impossible:

The solar-powered town: a dream for the environment – or a wildlife nightmare?

Babcock Ranch, the brainchild of ex-NFL player Syd Kitson, aims to be a model of sustainability but campaigners fear it will be tragic for endangered panther

Edward Helmore in New York

Florida real estate has a bad habit of reflecting the boom-and-bust cycles of the US economy but Babcock Ranch, a new development opening early next year and designed to be the world’s first solar-powered town, is hoping it can provide the Sunshine state with a model for sustainable living. Continue reading

Solar Road In Normandy Breaks New Ground

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A test phase will evaluate whether the solar panel road can provide enough energy to power street lighting. Photograph: Christophe Petit Tesson/EPA

When we think of Normandy, apples and oysters come to mind. Calvados, too. We are happy those traditions endure but even happier to see the roads there as a hotbed of environmental innovation:

World’s first solar panel road opens in Normandy village

Route in Tourouvre-au-Perche cost €5m to construct and will be used by about 2,000 motorists a day during two-year test period Continue reading

Bright Spot To Close Out 2016

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Thanks to Bloomberg for a surprising bit of good news about the prospects for solar energy going forward:

World Energy Hits a Turning Point: Solar That’s Cheaper Than Wind

Emerging markets are leapfrogging the developed world thanks to cheap panels.

by Tom Randall

A transformation is happening in global energy markets that’s worth noting as 2016 comes to an end: Solar power, for the first time, is becoming the cheapest form of new electricity.  Continue reading

Understanding The Solar-Carbon Threshold

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Image: Daniel Parks/Flickr

We are constantly playing catch up with the terminology, let alone the science, of environmental efficiency in all its forms and considerations. Anthropocene delivers the daily goods, in the form of a summary of an environmentally-oriented scientific study, that we constantly find useful:

Solar power will cross a carbon threshold by 2018

Alternative Energy Will Boom

hawaii-solar-570x562The title is either wishful thinking, or stating the obvious; we are not sure which. Thanks to our colleagues at Clean Technica for this:

Hawai’i Solar Power (In Depth)

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Glorious blue skies and endless sunshine. Warm, balmy breezes. Isn’t that how you envision Hawai’i? Like the slogan, “Everything’s better in Hawaii,” right?  Oops, one thing does dampen the impression of Hawai’i, though: its high cost of living, especially for energy. Continue reading