July 25, 2011

Environmental News

Mayor Bloomberg gives $50 million to fight coal and replace the dirtiest coal-fired power plants with clean energy. http://t.co/HsK0ps0

A new world record overnight minimum temperature of 107 degrees has been set - many more extreme weather records set http://t.co/2xhjl8b

Rush Limbaugh calls heat index a government conspiracy - perhaps the wind chill factor is also a conspiracy

Hillary Clinton, urged India to rapidly adopt inexpensive, clean-burning cookstoves said the stoves would significantly reduce the ill health effects from burning wood and other biomass and slash emissions of CO2 and other pollutants.
Cooking fires are blamed for causing 400,000 premature deaths in India each year, mostly of women, and of creating as much as one-quarter of India's emissions of "black carbon," which contributes to global warming and air pollution. http://bit.ly/osRNn1

Rooftop solar panels aren't just providing clean power; they are cooling your house, or your workplace, too, according to a team of researchers led by Jan Kleissl, a professor of environmental engineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. 
Using thermal imaging, researchers determined that during the day, a building's ceiling was 5 degrees Fahrenheit cooler under solar panels than under an exposed roof.

Japan's power crisis - beyond Fukushima

The earthquake on 11 March triggered the automatic shutdown of reactors at 11 of Japan's 54 nuclear reactors, with a total capacity of 9.7GW.
At the moment, only 18 nuclear reactors are producing power. The rest have either been shut down because of safety concerns or for routine maintenance.
In addition to the nuclear reactors, thermal power plants with a total capacity of 9.4 GW were also shut down following the natural disasters.

"Start Quote

For the time being, electricity companies will have to bridge the gap between supply and demand by increasing capacity in thermal power plants"
In total, Japan's power supply capacity in the affected area has been reduced by about 40%, which is almost equivalent to the national capacity of Switzerland or Austria.
In terms of its energy supply, Japan is isolated, having no interconnections with neighboring countries. The national transmission system is divided into two separate frequency areas - the 60 hertz (Hz) western system and the 50 Hz eastern system. Although the two areas are interconnected using three frequency converters, the total shared capacity is comparatively small (roughly 1 GW). Thus the east of Japan, which includes Tokyo and the tsunami-hit areas, has faced serious power shortages.
In the first weeks after the disaster, the government and electricity companies asked all electricity consumers to voluntarily reduce their energy usage. In addition, rolling blackouts were implemented to try to balance supply and demand.
Eurus Energy Japan Corp wind farms in Higashi-Dori on Japan's main island HonshuJapanese leaders want to boost the country's use of renewables
Electricity companies have taken many measures to restore power supply, including repairing damaged thermal capacity (fossil fuel power plants damaged by the earthquake and tsunami), bringing back thermal plants which were closed for inspections, and also thermal power plants that were previously decommissioned. Thanks to these actions, the supply-demand balance has improved and large-scale blackouts have been avoided.
However, the real challenge is in the summer months - the peak period of power demand in Japan, when temperatures in Tokyo routinely exceed 30C and air conditioning accounts for about 50% of total electricity consumption during peak hours.

Fukushima reactors stable

Just over four months after it was crippled by an earthquake-generated tsunami, Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has stabilized and workers are on track for achieving a cold shutdown within six months, government and utility officials say.

Officials made a positive prognosis after scaling several hurdles in decommissioning the facility, which was damaged on March 11 when a tsunami disabled the plant's cooling system. The flooding led to partial meltdowns of the reactors that released radioactivity in the atmosphere and prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands of nearby residents.

In recent weeks, engineers have established an improvised cooling system to circulate water to cool the damaged reactors. They have also set up a system to decontaminate radioactive water from the process. Nitrogen injections at the four damaged reactors are helping to prevent more explosions, officials said this week.

But officials from the Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the plant, warn that even if a cold shutdown – when the reactor cores no longer burn off coolant water – is reached by early 2012, the final cleanup could still take a decade or more. The plant will eventually be encased in concrete as a safety precaution.

"We still don't have a schedule for the work to decommission this plant, and that's planning that we have to do right now," Goshi Hosono, the minister handling the central government's response to the crisis, told reporters in Tokyo on Tuesday.

The latest update on the status at the plant comes as pressure continues for Prime Minister Naoto Kan to step down in light of his perceived poor handling of the crisis and lingering public health concerns.

In recent days, the Japanese press reported that more than 140 beef cattle suspected of being contaminated from ingesting straw laced with radioactive cesium were shipped from the Fukushima region to consumers nationwide. Officials have since suspended all shipments of beef cattle from the region.

Cautious government officials say it will take several more months to determine whether 80,000 evacuated residents will be able to return to their homes. The Fukushima Daiichi plant is located about 150 miles north of Tokyo.


From: Maxistentialism

July 19, 2011

NRC considers holistic overhaul of regulations

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's rules are a patchwork that needs to be reorganized and integrated into a new structure to improve safety, the agency's staff told the five members of the commission on Tuesday at a meeting.
The session was called to consider reforms after a tsunami caused the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan. But how speedily the commission will take up the recommendations is not clear.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2011, the nuclear industry agreed to bring in assorted extra equipment, including batteries and generators, to cope with circumstances beyond what the plants were designed for. Such preparations are among the reasons that the commission has suggested that American reactors are better protected than Fukushima was. But back then, because their focus was on a potential terrorist attack, much of that equipment was located in spots that were not protected against floods, staff officials said.
"The insight that we drew from that is that if you make these decisions in a more holistic way, and you are more cognizant of what kinds of protections you are trying to foster, perhaps you can do them in a more useful way,'' Gary Holahan, a member of the staff task force that reported to the commission, said on Tuesday.
Another likely area of restructuring is to review the distinction that the commission makes between "design basis" and "beyond design basis" accidents. In the 1960s and 1970s, when the commission and a predecessor agency, the Atomic Energy Commission, issued construction permits for the 104 commercial reactors now running, they established requirements for hardware and training based on the safety factors arising from the characteristics of each site, including its vulnerability to flood or earthquake. Those are known as design-basis accidents.
A variety of additional requirements involving potential problems that would be more severe but less likely (beyond design-basis accidents) have been added over the years.
Yet much more is known today about quake vulnerability, the potential for flooding and other safety factors than when many plants were designed. As a result, according to the task force's report, sometimes two adjacent reactors that were designed at different times will apply different assumptions about the biggest natural hazard they face.
One of the study's recommendations is that the reactors be periodically re-evaluated for hazards like floods and earthquakes.
There are a dozen recommendations in all. The commission's chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko, said the five commissioners should decide within 90 days(the same period it took to develop the recommendations) whether to accept or reject them, although actually acting on them would take far longer.
He put forth the 90-day goal as a challenge to his four fellow commissioners, unusual for the chairman of a multi-member commission.
Commissioner Kristine L. Svinicki said, "This should be our highest priority, to get this work done." But she also described the task force's report as just a first step.
No votes were taken at the meeting, but the commissioners might eventually vote to refer the recommendations to its staff for further study. The report was developed by a team of six staff members but was not reviewed by the rest of the staff.
The nuclear industry has already declared that some of the changes recommended should have to go through the standard rule-making procedure, which can take years.
The task force report, while calling for action, also made a point of stating that continued operation of existing reactors and activities like renewing old licenses and granting licenses for new construction pose no imminent safety threat. The commission hopes to issue two new licenses this fall, for the first time in decades.
And Commissioner William C. Ostendorff said, "I personally do not believe that our existing regulatory framework is broken."
Members of Congress are beginning to line up on each side of the question about whether the lessons of Fukushima require quick action. Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts and a longtime critic of nuclear safety regulation, said in a statement on Tuesday that "all too often, a majority of the N.R.C.'s commissioners seem to be operating under the impression that N.R.C. really stands for 'no regulations contemplated.'"
"I call on those commissioners to do their jobs and act immediately to implement all measure recommended by the Fukushima task force,'' he said.
But the leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said in astatement on Monday that they were "concerned that regular N.R.C. procedures for full and deliberate review may be circumvented, depriving the commission of the full information necessary to properly do its work.''
The task force was only a "small team," they noted in a letter.

Another BP Spill - this time in Alaska

Another spill: The pipeline leak is at BP's Lisburne field in Alaska. In 2006 up to 267,000 gallons were spilled in a similar leak at oil giant's Prudhoe Bay field (pictured)
Reuters reports:
BP said on Monday that a pipeline at its Lisburne field, ruptured during testing and spilled a mixture of methanol and oily water onto the tundra. 
The London-based company has a long history of oil spills at its Alaskan pipelines — accidents which have hurt its public image in the U.S., where around 40 percent of its assets are based.
That "history" includes the infamous 2006 Prudhoe Bay incident when 267,000 gallons (~6400 barrels) of oil and chemical leaked from unmonitored, corroded pipeline (pictured above).   The EPA reported:
    • From 1993 to 1995, Doyon Drilling employees illegally discharged waste oil and hazardous substances by injecting them down the outer rim, or annuli, of the oil wells. BPXA failed to report the illegal injections as soon as it learned of the conduct, in violation of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act. The  illegally injected wastes included paint thinner and toxic solvents containing lead and chemicals such as benzene, toluene and methylene chloride.

  • According to data compiled from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation spill database,1.3 million gallons of toxic substances were spilled between 1996 and 2000.
  • The November 29, 2010 Prudhoe Bay spill in which 46,000 gallons leaked.
BP has an equally disturbing track record in the Gulf of Mexico:
This Saturday's spill emphasizes once again that BP needs to take drastic measures to cleanup their operations and that an oil-laden economy cannot be our future.  – Tyce Herrman

More US clean jobs than fossil fuel jobs

The Christian Science Monitor just did a nice article on the Brookings Institution study, “Sizing the Clean Economy.” Report: More Americans have green jobs than oil or gas jobs.

Interestingly, if we keep growing clean energy jobs, it will have the added advantage of reducing our need for health care jobs. 

AAA rolls out quick charge trucks

AAA is rolling out North America’s first fleet of quick-charge trucks that will rescue dead electric vehicles and get them back on the road.
The move, announced today at the big Plug-In Conference & Exposition in Raleigh, North Carolina, should help alleviate “range anxiety,” the nagging fear of being stranded with a dead battery. AAA is the perfect vehicle — pardon the pun — for this because it is a big provider of roadside assistance. The company, which has more than 52 million members, wants to establish itself in a new niche as more automakers join Nissan in offeringmainstream mass-market EVs.
“As an EV advocate-turned EV salesman, I applaud the AAA for taking the lead offering this service to EV drivers,” said Paul Scott, a founder of the advocacy group Plug-In America. “Many people have asked me what would happen if they were to run out of juice on the freeway and now I have a very good answer: They get juiced up by AAA.”
Don’t expect a full charge if you get yourself stranded. You’ll get 15 minutes with the truck. AAA says it will be enough to get you to your garage or the nearest public charging station.

Your Food Choices

Eating a small cheeseburger for lunch is, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to driving an extra 10 miles.
By contrast, eating a serving of lentils would barely get your car out of the driveway, according to a new report released on Monday by the Environmental Working Group, a research organization.
The study, “A Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health,” highlights the effects of the nation’s meat addiction and offers a suite of user-friendly online tools to help consumers understand the many-faceted repercussions of their food choices.
In particular, the study calculates the “cradle to grave” effect on climate for 20 different types of protein, including meat, cheese, seafood, beans, nuts and lentils.
These calculations, based on data from the federal Department of Agriculture, factor in everything from the pesticides, fertilizers and water used to grow livestock feed to the emissions related to raising the animals and processing, transporting, cooking and disposing of the meat.

Lamb, beef and cheese were found to have the highest emissions, in part because they were related to digestive processes that constantly produce methane, require more energy-intensive feed and produce more manure.
Lentils, beans and nuts were at the other end of the emissions spectrum, responsible for just a fraction of the greenhouse gases. Comparing meat to meat, one kilogram of beef (2.2 pounds) is responsible for the release of nearly four times the emissions associated with one kilogram of chicken.
"The calculations reveal that if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, over a year, the effect on emissions would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road. "

July 17, 2011

Can you bottle sunshine?

These social entrepreneurs in Manila have done exactly that.

Another reactor shut down in Japan

A technical failure has forced the closure of another Japanese nuclear reactor at Ohi power station, 220 miles west of Tokyo.
A spokesman said pressure in a tank containing boric acid water had fallen on Friday night for unknown reasons, according to Reuters. The pressure has reportedly since returned to normal.
Operators at Japan's Kansai Electric Power Company said on Saturday that while no radiation leak had occurred, they would manually close the No. 1 reactor for checks at 9pm local time.

The BBC said that the Ohi closure will leave Japan with just 18 operational reactors out of 54.

Record Low Arctic Sea Ice

We're at a record low Arctic sea ice extent and volume:
The area of the Arctic ocean at least 15% covered in ice is … lower than the previous record low set in 2007 – according to satellite monitoring by the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado. In addition, new data from the University of Washington Polar Science Centre, shows that the thickness of Arctic ice this year is also the lowest on record. 
In the past 10 days, the Arctic ocean has been losing as much as 150,000 square kilometres of sea a day, said Mark Serreze, director of the NSIDC.
"The extent [of the ice cover] is going down, but it is also thinning. So a weather pattern that formerly would melt some ice, now gets rid of much more. There will be ups and downs, but we are on track to see an ice-free summer by 2030. It is an overall downward spiral."

Heat wave coming for most of the country

There is a 40% chance that the temperature will exceed 115 degrees F in Minneapolis on Monday! 

The stage is being set for a massive heat wave to develop into next week as a large area of high pressure is anticipated to circulate hot and humid air over much of the central and eastern U.S. Maximum heat index values of at least 100°F are likely across much of this area by the middle of next week, with heat index values in excess of 110°F possible over portions of these areas.

With a dangerous heat wave building from the southern Plains into the Upper Midwest through the middle of next week, it's important to recognize the symptoms of heat disorders — from sunburn to heat cramps to heat exhaustion to heat stroke — and know what to do. Please be sure to stay informed and help spread the message to your family, friends and neighbors — especially the elderly — who live in affected areas. 

July 16, 2011

Could an electric car earn you a 2nd income?

Nuvve Corp., based in El Cajon, Calif., is starting tests in Denmark with computerized electronic gear that aggregates the electrical output of parked electric cars, allowing them to act as one giant battery and to participate in wholesale electricity markets when power demand is high.

If the power transmission authority requests electricity from the cars, Nuvve gets a response from each plugged-in vehicle indicating its available capacity. Then Nuvve offers the vehicles' aggregate power for sale and distributes the revenue back to the car owners.

An electric vehicle owner could earn as much as $10,000 over the life of the car, depending on market price for electricity and the owner's commitment to make the battery available to sell power back to the grid, said Gregory Poilasne, Nuvve's CEO.

The same technology will allow you to plug your car in to your house - to provide power to your house - if you have a power outage in your neighborhood. 

Pretty cool! 


Electric car rental

How would you like to rent a car for 35 cents a minute? or $12.99 an hour? 

That's what car2go is charging to rent their electric cars in Austin, TX. 

Now San Diego has announced they will be launching North America's first large-scale all-electric car sharing fleet with itty-bitty EVs people can grab quickly, easily and spontaneously.

Daimler subsidiary car2go will roll out 300 Smart ForTwo Electric Drives by the end of the year. Subscribers will simply grab a car from designated spots around the city. That's a contrast to Zipcar, which requires users to pick up and return vehicles from the same location. The goal, says car2go, is to make car sharing easier, faster and more practical.

July 15, 2011

Japanese PM calls for nuclear free Japan

Prime minister Naoto Kan said on Wednesday that the Fukushima nuclear crisis had convinced him that Japan should aim at a society that does not depend on nuclear energy and eventually has no atomic plants.
"Given the enormity of the risks associated with nuclear power generation, I have realized nuclear technology is not something that can be managed by conventional safety measures alone," Kan told a news conference.
"I believe we should aim for a society that is not dependent on nuclear power generation."

In related news - Radioactive Japanese beef had been shipped across the country and most probably eaten.
Meat from the farm was found to be contaminated with up to six times the legal limit of caesium and the farmer has since admitted he fed the animals straw exposed to radioactive fallout.
Fukushima prefecture officials said the farmer had stated in a questionnaire that the cows had not been fed contaminated straw, but tests later showed the straw contained caesium at 56 times the legal limit, Kyodo News reported.
The case has stoked concerns about food safety, more than four months into the ongoing Fukushima nuclear crisis, after high readings have also been detected in some green vegetables, seafood and green tea.

5 Reasons to drop coal like a hot rock

1. Coal prices have be come quite volatile, while natural gas prices have been much more stable. 

2. The delivered price of coal rose three times faster than inflation over the past 5 years. 

3. States with the most dependencies on coal had the highest electric rate increases. 

4. US coal mining productivity has declined 20% over the past 10 years. 

5. Of course we need to drop coal as soon as possible to avert catastrophic climate change. 

Solar Prices Falling - Watch out below!

Solar silicon prices are falling. Prices were as high as $450 a kilogram as recently as mid-2008, but fell to $79 in March and $54 a kilogram in June!

Source: Clean Technica (http://s.tt/12POx)

July 11, 2011

Germany's Phase Out of Nuclear Power

by Arne Jungjohann, Heinrich Boell Foundation

Germany's plans to phase-out nuclear power seemed to catch many around the world by surprise and create a fair amount of skepticism. Some painted it as a "panicked overreaction" and even "environmental vandalism" to the nuclear meltdown in Japan.

One can argue that Germans are more risk-averse than other cultures. The accident of Chernobyl in 1986 resulted in a radioactive cloud over large parts of Europe for several weeks. It was a smart precaution to stay out of the rain and skip eating vegetables to avoid contamination. After experiencing this physical threat to personal health, Germans are more concerned about the risks of nuclear power than others might be.

The Fukushima accident not only confirmed this skepticism. It demonstrated the need for a new risk assessment: If a high-tech nation like Japan is not able to cope with a nuclear meltdown, why should Germany be? And why let a few corporations make all the profits when taxpayers are asked to pay billions for an accident in the end? With 80 million people and half the size of Texas, Germany is so densely populated that a nuclear disaster would turn into an economic catastrophe beyond imagination.

A decade ago, Germany started transitioning towards a low carbon economy. The share of renewable power has tripled. Wind farms, solar modules, biogas, and hydro power provide 18 percent of Germany's power supply. Today, renewables are a reliable and indispensable pillar of Germany's power supply that keep trains running and factories humming. The sector is fast growing and provides 370,000 good-paying jobs – much more than the 22,000 jobs in Germany's lignite coal industry. Many of these jobs are within traditional industries, such as steel workers, farmers and the ceramic and glass industries.

Critics argue that Germany will hurt its economy by raising energy costs, replacing nuclear power with imports from France, and building more coal plants, thus increasing carbon emissions. The facts do not bear this out.

First, Germany is able to supply its power needs on its own without nuclear. The country has been mostly a net exporter of power over the last decade. Depending on time of day and year, households and industry consume power from 40,000 to 80,000 Megawatts. Even if all 17 nuclear power stations were shut down at once, coal, gas, and renewables still provide a capacity of 81,000 Megawatts.

Power is imported not out of a lack of supply, but as an economic decision to shop where prices are lowest. Though Germany is often importing electricity from France during the spring and fall, the relationship is reciprocal: in summer and winter, France is importing power from Germany. When temperatures rise and the water levels drop, river-cooled nuclear reactors have to reduce output or be shut down.

Second, the nuclear phase-out does not jeopardize Germany's ambitious climate action efforts: reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2020 and by at least 80 percent by 2050. By rules of the EU carbon market, emissions from the energy sector are capped. Even if coal were to replace nuclear capacity, emissions will have to be reduced within the entire sector, either by shifting to natural gas or by replacing old coal plants with more efficient ones.
Third, a shift to a renewable energy powered economy comes with costs. However, this price tag is modest in comparison to the heavy burden that nuclear brings. Over the last 40 years, the German nuclear industry has been pampered with more than 200 billion Euros in subsidies.  In comparison, renewable energy technologies have been incentivized by about 4.8 billion Euros in 2010. By replacing fossil fuel imports and avoiding health costs, renewables already pay off today.

When the German Parliament passes the nuclear phase-out legislation in early July, it will be accompanied by seven other laws to accelerate investments in renewables and retrofitting of houses, to increase energy efficiency, to develop new storage technologies, and to improve the energy grid infrastructure. By 2020, Germany aims to supply its economy with at least 35 percent of renewable power, by mid-century with at least 80 percent.

Politics, too, played a role in the recent decision. Chancellor Angela Merkel used to be a strong proponent of nuclear. Her governing coalition has paid a high price for this. The Green Party has won one election after another. In the most recent state election, Merkel's Conservative Party came in third behind the Greens. Her reversal on nuclear policy after Fukushima was driven by the understanding that most Germans across the political spectrum favor a phase-out as soon as possible.

Germany's gradual nuclear phase out is neither unique – Japan, Switzerland and Italy are following suit – nor a hysterical overreaction. It is yet another cornerstone in a comprehensive, long term strategy of industrial modernization that turns the energy challenge into an economic opportunity. Saying "Auf Wiedersehen" to nuclear will accelerate the transition towards a low-carbon economy.

Arne Jungjohann, Director for the Environment Program of the Heinrich Böll Foundation