Monday, February 18, 2013

Video: One man’s homage to Tesla, and solar-powered driving

Bloch describes being “floored” upon first sighting the car in person in November of last year, and how the EV itself, along with Tesla’s promise of a network of free, solar-powered Superchargers – which, when unveiled last September, used SolarCity PV panels to add 150 miles of range to the 85kWh Model S in about half an hour – impressed him as representing the future of transportation. What didn’t impress him, however, was Telsa’s own video footage of the Model S in action. “Where was the cinematic flair, the story, the emotion? I knew I could do better.”Whatever electrical vehicle owners and enthusiasts may lack in numbers, they more than make up for in collective enthusiasm. Take Jordan Bloch, for example: a content creator and entrepreneur who describes his mission as “to tell stories of innovation and sustainability.” Bloch’s latest such story is a video (or an advertisement, really) is about Elon Musk’s latest offering – and Motor Trend’s 2013 Car of the Year – the Model S sedan.

His video, called Gallons of Light: A Tesla Road Trip, films a real-life Tesla-owning family making their first ever road trip in the Model S, using the Tesla/SolarCity Superchargers along the way. Has he done better job than Tesla in selling their own car? You be the judge…

Electricity emissions fall as coal sidelined by renewables

In its latest assessment of Australian electricity production and emissions, consulting group Pitt&Sherry said even production from highly polluting brown coal generators has fallen in the past 12 months. Part of this was due to floods at the Yallourn mine in June,Emissions from Australia’s National Electricity Market (NEM) have fallen to 10 year lows, as demand continues to ease and the amount of coal reduction falls because of the growth of renewable energy, which has reached its highest levels since the 1980s.

The report notes that a 500MW unit at the Wallerawang C power station near Lithgow in NSW has also been mothballed, for at least 12 months, as a result of the changing dynamics of the NEM. This adds to the near 3,000MW of coal-fired capacity put on hold in the past year.
The latest data (illustrated in the graph below) shows that gas, hydro and wind generators have all increased output, with the Tasmanian hydro system reaching its highest level since joining the NEM in 2005, taking total hydro electricity production to it highest levels since 2000-01.
Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 11.07.17 AM
Wind energy generation fell slightly in January from December, but Pitt&Sherry said the commissioning of the 420MW Macarthur wind farm in Victoria would push wind output to its highest levels in the next month or so.
Gas generation also reached its highest ever annualized levels in January. “These are precisely the changes in the electricity supply mix which the carbon price would be expected to induce,” the report said.
Total renewables (hydro plus wind) reached 12.1 per cent of NEM generation in the year to January 2013. This is the highest share of renewable supply in what is now the NEM since the 1980s, when total demand for electricity was less than 60 per cent of its current level.
“This fact highlights that the growing share of electricity supplied by low emission generators in the NEM, and the corresponding fall in average emissions intensity of total NEM generation to its lowest ever level, is due as much to the fall in demand for electricity from the NEM as to the increased output from low emission generators themselves,” the report said.
“Had demand kept growing at the rates seen up to the end of 2006, the shares of gas, hydro and wind generation would have been significantly lower, for the same total output, and the emissions intensity of NEM generation higher. “
The report notes that the biggest falls in demand have occurred in NSW and Victoria, with demand in SA and Tasmania virtually unchanged for more than four years.

Ex-IPCC head: Prepare for 5°C warmer world

The scientist, Sir Robert Watson, chaired the Panel from 1997 until 2002, when he was ousted after U.S. pressure for his removal.The world has missed the chance to keep greenhouse gas emissions below the level needed to prevent the temperature climbing above 2° Celsius, according to the British scientist who used to chair the IPCC, theIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Watson said there is a 50-50 chance of preventing global average temperatures rising more than 3°C above their level at the start of the industrial age, but a 5°C rise is possible. That would mean the Earth warming more than it has since the end of the last Ice Age.
Speaking at a symposium at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Watson said: “All the promises in the world, which we’re not likely to realize anyway, will not give us a world with only a 2°C rise. All the evidence, in my opinion, suggests we’re on our way to a 3°C to 5°C world.
“Some people are suggesting that we try to geo-engineer our way out of the problem, intervening in the climate system to moderate warming.
“I’m very, very nervous about that,” he said “It shows a level of arrogance that we know how to manage our environment. It certainly needs a lot of research.”
Watson concluded: “There are cost-effective and equitable solutions to address climate change, but political will and moral leadership is needed, and the changes in policies, practices and technologies required are substantial and not currently under way.”
Watson told the Climate News Network: “We’re going to have more people in the world and they’ll be wealthier, so energy demand is bound to rise.
“We look like having huge quantities of gas from shale. That can be a useful transitional tool: it emits half the carbon you get from coal. But it’s not a long-term solution, unless you can use it with carbon capture and storage, CCS. I’m optimistic that CCS can work, but it’s got to be shown to work, and what costs and energy penalties it will entail.

Friday, February 15, 2013

10 Principles for Making High-Density Cities Better

Posted February 14, 2013

Singapore (by: Joan Campderros, creative commons)

Getting the right city density – generally expressed in the US as people per square mile or homes per acre – to support sustainable and pleasant living is one of the trickiest problems we face as we address the future of our communities.  The typically low densities of suburban sprawl built in the last half of the 20th century, despite their popularity at the time with a considerable share of the market, have been shown by a voluminous body of research to produce unsustainable rates of driving, carbon emissions, pollution, stormwater runoff, and adverse health impacts. 
Yet the highest densities can bring their own set of problems, including noise, traffic and even pedestrian congestion (perhaps more a matter of pleasantry than environmental problems per se), local hotspots of runoff and air pollution, and loss of contact with nature, among others.  I’ve argued repeatedly that, if we want market preferences to continue trending in the direction of walkable sustainability, we must be more sensitive to these concerns.  Finding the right density and accompanying urban features for the right place is critical. 
To an extent, this is what the new urbanist transect is about.  I have my issues with the lower-density parts of the transect and with the extent of prescriptiveness in some of the zoning codes it has spawned, but frankly neither the environmental community nor smart growth advocates have even attempted to sort this out. 
  New York City (courtesy of Friends of Moynihan Station)   Seattle (by
I’m not sure it is fair for us to criticize the best of the answers that is out there so far without coming up with a better alternative.  Indeed, the bulk of our advocacy seems limited to “density + transit + mixed-use + bike lanes + making driving and parking less attractive”; more of each is always better; and the rest is someone else’s problem.
I don't see it that way.  In truth, we need more sophisticated and nuanced answers.  They may be elusive and often site-specific, but they are also critical to building a better world for our children, ourselves, and the planet.
Something to bear in mind in our search for those answers is that the same research showing low-density sprawl to be horrible for rates of driving, emissions, and runoff also shows diminishing returns in improving those rates after moderately high densities are reached.  And relatively high-density placescan still be unsustainable sprawl, depending on the context.  Myself, I tend to prefer incremental and moderate increases to density in the places that are not already sufficiently dense, and accompanying those increases with important mitigation of density’s local impacts

New Carbon Capture Catalyst Discovered

Guarav Bhaduri and Lidija Siller were
trying to understand how Nature turns CO2 gas into rock.  Their university, Newcastle U, became enthusiastic and published this:

The research their university is publicizing is a paper:  "Nickel nanoparticles catalyse reversible hydration of carbon dioxide for mineralization carbon capture and storage", published online by Catalysis Science & Technology Jan 17 2013 doi: 10.1039/C3CY20791A   
BBC News article quotes co-author Dr. Lidija Siller:  “You bubble CO2 through the water in which you have nickel nanoparticles and you are trapping much more carbon than you would normally – and then you can easily turn it into calcium carbonate..."
"...It seems too good to be true, but it works
The NU press release quotes Siller:  "the result was the complete removal of CO2″.  
Lead author, PhD student Gaurav Bhaduri, is quoted: “ [the nickel catalyst]  is very cheap, a thousand times cheaper than carbon anhydrase”  The two researchers have patented the process and are looking for investors.  
They compare their nickel to anhydrase because Nature uses anhydrase to mineralize carbon.  But humans trying to mimic nature with anhydrase, so far, have had problems creating the material cheaply enough, and they have needed to control pH.  Other ideas require too much energy.   
Siller and Bhaduri were trying to do better with anhydrase:  they were going to "mobilize" it using the large surface area of nanoparticles.  They chose nickel because it is magnetic, a property they knew would come in handy when it came time to recycle it from the process.  To fully understand what nickel and anhydrase could do if combined, they had to study what nickel nanoparticles do on their own.  
That's when they made this discovery.  

Thinning ice is turning arctic into an algae hotspot

by Lauren Morello

Shrinking, thinning Arctic sea ice appears to be accelerating the growth of algae in polar waters, a new study finds, a development that could alter the region’s ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
Scientists cruising central Arctic waters last summer aboard the research ship Polarstern were stunned to discover dense, shaggy deposits of the algae Melosira arctica clinging to the bottom of sea ice.
Though researchers all the way back to 19th-century Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen had noted colonies of Melosira hanging under the ice, they had always assumed the algae prospered in areas covered by thick “multi-year” ice that had survived several summer melt seasons.
That wasn’t the case last summer. The Polarstern crew found large clumps of the algae growing in areas covered by ice that was just 3 feet thick, not 10.
Stranger still, when the researchers sent high-powered cameras to the ocean floor — using a small, unmanned robot and other equipment — they found it blanketed with lush green clumps of algae.
“I was shocked when I sat there on board the ship and these images came up,” said the new study’s lead author, Antje Boetius, a biological oceanographer at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany. “I was really screaming. Even the captain came down to look at what was going on. The sailors said, ‘How is it possible that the sea floor is green?’ ”
The research, published Thursday in Science, adds to a small but growing body of evidence that suggests the ongoing decline of Arctic sea ice is changing life in polar waters.
A significant increase in the growth of oceanic plants like algae could pull more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and ultimately trap it in the deep ocean as larger organisms eat those plants, or they decay and sink to deep water.

Arctic death spiral: sea ice volume has collapsed

Back in September, Climate Progress reported that the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 probe appeared to support the key conclusion of the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) at the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center: Arctic sea ice volume has been collapsing much faster than sea ice area (or extent) because the ice has been getting thinner and thinner.The sharp drop in Arctic sea ice area has been matched by a harder-to-see, but equally sharp, drop in sea ice thickness. The combined result has been a collapse in total sea ice volume — to one fifthof its level in 1980.

Now the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the UK’s primary agency for funding and managing environmental sciences research, has made it official. In a Wednesday press release, they report:
Arctic sea ice volume has declined by 36 per cent in the autumn and 9 per cent in the winter between 2003 and 2012, a UK-led team of scientists has discovered….
The findings confirm the continuing decline in Arctic sea-ice volume simulated by the Pan-Arctic Ice-Ocean Modelling & Assimilation System (PIOMAS), which estimates the volume of Arctic sea ice and had been checked using earlier submarine, mooring, and satellite observations until 2008.
This should be the story of the day, week, month, year, and decade. As NERC notes, sea ice volume is “a much more accurate indicator of the changes taking place in the Arctic.”
Many experts now say that if recent volume trends continue we will see a “near ice-free Arctic in summer” within a decade. And that may well usher in a permanent change toward extreme, prolonged weather events “Such As Drought, Flooding, Cold Spells And Heat Waves.”
It will also accelerate global warming in the region, which in turn will likely accelerate both the disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet and the release of the vast amounts of carbon currently locked in the permafrost.
The findings were published online in Geophysical Research Letters (subs. req’d). In a U. of Washington news release, polar scientist and coauthor Axel Schweiger said:
Other people had argued that 75 to 80 percent ice volume loss was too aggressive. What this new paper shows is that our ice loss estimates may have been too conservative, and that the recent decline is possibly more rapid.

Researchers used new data from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite spanning 2010 to 2012, and data from NASA’s ICESat satellite from 2003 to 2008 to estimate the volume of sea ice in the Arctic.
They found that from 2003 to 2008, autumn volumes of ice averaged 11,900 km3. But from 2010 to 2012, the average volume had dropped to 7,600 km3 - a decline of 4,300 km3. The average ice volume in the winter from 2003 to 2008 was 16,300 km3, dropping to 14,800 km3 between 2010 and 2012 – a difference of 1,500 km3.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Ground zero in the energy-water nexus

By  | February 6, 2013, 3:00 AM PST

The oil and gas producing countries of the Middle East may be sitting pretty in fossil fuels, but they have an urgent problem with their water supply.
That was the focus of the International Water Summit held in conjunction with the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi three weeks ago, which I attended at the invitation and on the dime ofMasdar. The slogan of the conference was “Bringing the water-energy nexus to life,” a topic I last covered in August.
“The availability of potable water is one of the most pressing issues in the world, particularly in the Gulf region where water production is a costly and energy-intensive process,” explained Dr. Sultan al-Jaber, managing director and CEO of Masdar City.
The numbers (provided by ADWEC, aka Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Company) are frightening.
Abu Dhabi’s water demand has more than doubled over the past 10 years as tall gleaming glass buildings leapt out of the sand across the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Consumption is rising even faster than electricity demand, which is growing at an average annual growth rate of 9.5 percent.
All of the water in the emirate’s distribution system — the water used for human consumption — is produced by nine large desalination plants, to the tune of 634 million Imperial gallons a day in 2011. By 2016, just three years from now, demand is expected to increase another 45 percent, to 999 million Imperial gallons a day.
Abu Dhabi water demand forecast. Source: ADWEC
Virtually all desalination activities are currently powered by natural gas-fired cogeneration plants burning an average of 1.73 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of gas. About half of that power generation is used for desalination. Therefore, about 0.86 Bcf/d of gas went to water desalination in 2011, which likely rose to 1 Bcf/d in 2012 (data for 2012 is not yet available).
Nationally, the UAE imports more gas than it produces. As I detailed in my last column, the nation produced around 5 Bcf in 2010, but consumed 5.86 Bcf. In short, it imports almost exactly the same amount of gas as Abu Dhabi uses for water desalination. At current European gas import prices, that would be more than $12 million a day, or $4.4 billion a year, in sacrificed revenue.
Exactly where UAE gets its gas imports, or what it pays for them, is not public information, but it’s clearly a major expense. The emirate of Abu Dhabi has a slightly better gas balance, with a net surplus of 0.11 Bcf/d in 2010, according to the Statistics Centre of Abu Dhabi.

Water they thinking?

Desalination is the only way to produce more water in these arid countries. To put the word “arid” in perspective, Abu Dhabi receives an average of just 82 millimeters (mm) of rainfall per year — less than one-quarter the rainfall recorded in the state of Arizona.
Worse, the groundwater that provided around 80 percent of its water supply 10 years ago is drying up, and becoming increasingly saline. Water tables are dropping quickly, and according toa 2005 study, the paltry rainfall is only able to manage a 4 percent recharge rate to those aquifers.

Meet the tonic for a clean energy future: Molten salts

By  | January 30, 2013, 5:52 AM PST

Salting the highway. Molten salts can help produce hydrogen that would power cars such as this Mercedes Benz prototype.
So the world has an energy hangover from its centuries long binge on fossil fuels. Here’s the coming cure: molten salts.
These intriguing elixirs and their handy thermodynamic properties will soon stream and bathe their way into any number of power and industrial applications that will help the planet kick its addiction to hydrocarbons.
Want to produce hydrogen? Store solar energy? Remove CO2 from fossil fuels? Build a much safer and more effective nuclear reactor? Slash the carbon footprint of oil sand production?
Then try a molten salt.
As the name implies, these substances are salts that melt at a high temperature - hundreds of degrees C, depending on the particular salt. They’re stable, they’re good at absorbing heat, they don’t boil easily (convenient when you need a very hot liquid) and they flow like water.
Many of you will already know that molten salts could hold the key to turning solar electricity into a round-the-clock affair, rather than the intermittent “only when the sun shines” state that characterizes it today. A handful of “solar thermal” power plants - Gemasolar in Spain andCrescent Dunes in Nevada, for example - are or soon will start to warm up molten salts with special reflective mirrors in order to store heat that by night they can convert to steam and drive a generator.
Keeping the heat on. Mirrors reflect sunlight that warms molten salt in this Gemasolar plant in Spain. The salt releases heat to drive a turbine at night.
Regular readers of my blog will also know that alternative nuclear reactors that use molten salt fuel and coolants at high temperatures could trump today’s conventional reactors in many ways. They’d be safer, meltdown proof, would operate more efficiently, leave much less long-lived waste, and their waste would be less suitable for fashioning bombs. Use thorium instead of uranium in those reactors, as China is planning, and those advantages hold even truer.
Here’s another potential use, as I wrote recently on my blog for the Weinberg Foundation, a London-based non-profit group that advocates alternative forms of nuclear energy:
Molten salts can help extract hydrogen while at the same time removing CO2 from hydrocarbons like oil sands, according to Western Hydrogen Ltd., a Calgary-based company.
Deploying molten salt technology developed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, Western Hydrogen thinks it can pull hydrogen out of “carbonaceous” materials such as the bitumen in the oil sands common in Canada, as well as from other petroleum residue and petroleum coke.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Without climate action, future generations will be ‘fried’: IMF chief

by Sophie Vorrath

Another day, another icon of the global financial system becomes a climate hawk.
You may recall World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said of the climate crisis: “If there is no action soon, the future will become bleak.”
Turns out IMF managing director Christine Lagarde is also a climate hawk — and she’s the former conservative finance minister of France.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, she said, “the real wild card in the pack” of economic pivot points is “Increasing vulnerability from resource scarcity and climate change, with the potential for major social and economic disruption.” She called climate change “the greatest economic challenge of the 21st century.”

Sunday, February 3, 2013

China uses nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined

By  | January 29, 2013, 10:33 AM PST
Thick smog has enveloped parts of China for the second time this month, pushing levels of tiny particulate matter that can penetrate deep into the lungs more than 20 times higher than World Health Organization safety levels over a 24-hour period.
The carcinogenic haze has–as it did before–prompted the government to take temporary actions, such as ordering 103 heavily polluting factories in the Beijing area to shut down production,reported the Washington Post.
The smog has sparked an unprecedented call from Chinese citizens for the country to adopt a national clean air law. Real estate tycoon Pan Shiyi asked social media users on Sina Corp.’s Weibo microblogging platform to vote on whether China should take legislative action, reported the WSJ’s China Realtime Report blog. The response was abrupt and overwhelming. Nearly nearly 32,000 microbloggers in less than 10 hours of voting, said they agree with Pan’s call for a clean air law. Fewer than 250 said they were opposed and a little more than 120 said they weren’t sure, according to WSJ blog.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Energy Information Administration released a graphic and information about China’s coal use that points to the source of at least some of the country’s pollution problems. Coal consumption in China grew more than 9 percent in 2011, continuing an upward trend for the 12th straight year, according to the EIA data.

In 2040, when growth is a memory…

by Josh Dowse

George Monbiot doesn’t hold back, and says it well. With the gift season now past, we’re again throwing out the trinkets of vacuous imagination. I can’t do better than quote him. After first reminding us that 99 per cent of everything we buy is obsolescent landfill within 6 months, he gets into gear, like Tim Minchin by the fourteenth verse:
“Many of the products we buy, especially for Christmas, cannot become obsolescent. The term implies a loss of utility, but they had no utility in the first place. … a Darth Vader talking piggy bank; an ear-shaped iPhone case; an individual beer can chiller; an electronic wine breather … No one is expected to use them, or even look at them, after Christmas day. They are designed to elicit thanks, … and then be thrown away.
“The fatuity of the products is matched by the profundity of the impacts. Rare materials, complex electronics, the energy needed for manufacture and transport are extracted and refined and combined into compounds of utter pointlessness. … We are screwing the planet to make solar-powered bath thermometers and desktop crazy golfers … This is pathological consumption: a world-consuming epidemic of collective madness, rendered so normal by advertising and by the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us.”
Part of this effort is to fulfil our insatiable desire for economic growth, the same desire that drives advertising in kids’ shows, and casinos on foreshores. I’m not in the abstemious camp that says there should be no economic growth. Rather, economic growth should not come at the expense of irreplaceable social and environmental capital.
By that measure, according to the revered Hermann Daly, our economic growth has already peaked. “Economic growth has already ended in the sense that the growth that continues is now uneconomic; it costs more than it is worth at the margin and makes us poorer rather than richer.”