Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Wind Power's Big Bet:  Turbines Taller than Skyscrapers

Giant wind turbines (Credit: Dong energy, UK; Nextwind Inc.) Click to Enlarge.
Wind farm operators are betting on a new generation of colossal turbines, which will dwarf many skyscrapers, as they seek to remain profitable after European countries phase out subsidies that have defined the green industry since the 1990s.

The world's three leading offshore wind operators - DONG Energy, EnBW, and Vattenfall - all told Reuters they were looking to these megaturbines to help adapt to the upcoming reality with dwindling government handouts.

According to interviews with turbine makers and engineers, at least one manufacturer - Siemens Gamesa - will have built a prototype megaturbine by next year and the first farms could be up and running in the first half of the next decade.

These massive machines will each stand 300 meters tall – almost as high as London's Shard, western Europe's tallest building - with 200-metre rotor spans that will stretch the length of two football fields.

The wind power sector is at a critical juncture as the subsidies that have cradled it since its inception in the early 1990s, and underpinned its business model, disappear as politicians enact a long-planned push to make the industry more commercially viable and able to compete with other energy sources.

Read more at Wind Power's Big Bet:  Turbines Taller than Skyscrapers

Rising Seas Could Result in 2 Billion Refugees by 2100

Street under flood waters, Bangkok, Thailand. (Credit: © Tee11 / Fotolia) Click to Enlarge.
In the year 2100, 2 billion people -- about one-fifth of the world's population -- could become climate change refugees due to rising ocean levels.  Those who once lived on coastlines will face displacement and resettlement bottlenecks as they seek habitable places inland, according to Cornell University research.

"We're going to have more people on less land and sooner that we think," said lead author Charles Geisler, professor emeritus of development sociology at Cornell.  "The future rise in global mean sea level probably won't be gradual.  Yet few policy makers are taking stock of the significant barriers to entry that coastal climate refugees, like other refugees, will encounter when they migrate to higher ground."

Earth's escalating population is expected to top 9 billion people by 2050 and climb to 11 billion people by 2100, according to a United Nations report.  Feeding that population will require more arable land even as swelling oceans consume fertile coastal zones and river deltas, driving people to seek new places to dwell.

By 2060, about 1.4 billion people could be climate change refugees, according to the paper. Geisler extrapolated that number to 2 billion by 2100.

"The colliding forces of human fertility, submerging coastal zones, residential retreat, and impediments to inland resettlement is a huge problem.  We offer preliminary estimates of the lands unlikely to support new waves of climate refugees due to the residues of war, exhausted natural resources, declining net primary productivity, desertification, urban sprawl, land concentration, 'paving the planet' with roads and greenhouse gas storage zones offsetting permafrost melt," Geisler said.

The paper describes tangible solutions and proactive adaptations in places like Florida and China, which coordinate coastal and interior land-use policies in anticipation of weather-induced population shifts.

Florida has the second-longest coastline in the United States, and its state and local officials have planned for a coastal exodus, Geisler said, in the state's Comprehensive Planning Act.

Read more at Rising Seas Could Result in 2 Billion Refugees by 2100

Fires Rise in Arctic as 'Lightning Follows the Warming'

Climate change is driving lightning and wildfires farther north, according to new research. (Credit: Government of Alberta) Click to Enlarge.
Climate change is driving up the number of forest fires ignited by lightning, and it's pushing them farther north, to the edges of the Arctic tundra, researchers say.

Lightning-caused fires have risen 2 to 5 percent a year for the last four decades, according to a paper published yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change.  And as thunderstorms intensify and become more frequent, fires are increasingly occurring in the boreal forests, and even on the permafrost tundra.  Warmer temperatures encourage more thunderstorms, which in turn bring more lightning and greater fire risk.

The changes are part of a complex climate feedback loop that is only now becoming more clear to scientists, said Sander Veraverbeke of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the study's lead author.  A feedback loop is a series of interrelated phenomena that is worsened by climate change and continues to build upon itself with additional consequences.  In the north, fires release more carbon dioxide and methane from the permafrost, he said.

"You have more fires; they creep farther north; they burn in these soils which have a lot of C02 and methane that can be exposed directly at the moment of the fire and then decades after," Veraverbeke said.  "That contributes again to global warming; you have again more fire."

Scientists studied a spike in fires caused by lightning strikes in the Canadian Northwest Territories in 2014 and in Alaska in 2015.  Because there is so little human activity in both of those regions, researchers traced the fires in remote areas to lightning strikes.

Scientists have previously connected climate change to an increase in lightning.  For every degree Celsius of warming, lightning strikes are estimated to increase 12 percent, according to research published in the journal Science in 2014.  Based on projected warming, that could mean a 50 percent increase by the end of the century.  There are currently about 20 million lightning strikes over the continental United States, and about half of all wildfires are now traced to lightning strikes.

Researchers have connected increased drought conditions and increased extreme weather to more wildfires, but most of the earlier studies have focused on the lower United States.  The research published yesterday is the first to document the feedback loop of forest fires and lightning strikes in the Arctic.

Read more at Fires Rise in Arctic as 'Lightning Follows the Warming'

U.S. Mayors Back 100% Renewable Energy, Vow to Fill Climate Leadership Void

The U.S. Conference of Mayors Also Voted to Support Quick Electrification of Vehicles and Urged Congress to Back the Clean Power Plan and Paris Climate Agreement.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (right) and Michael Bloomberg address the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Bloomberg announced a $200 million grant program to support city initiatives in areas including climate change. (Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
As the nation's mayors closed their annual meeting on Monday in Miami Beach, they sent a clear signal that cities are looking for action on climate change and are eager to fill a policy gap created by the Trump administration.

The United States Conference of Mayors, which includes both Republican an Democratic mayors from cities across the nation, adopted a series of resolutions that are far more assertive than federal climate policy, including a pledge supporting cities' adoption of 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

"We are showing the world that cities and mayors can and will lead the transition away from fossil fuels to 100 percent clean, renewable energy," said Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Steve Benjamin, a co-sponsor of the resolution, in a statement.

Cities have been pushing for stronger action on climate change for years, but the efforts have taken on new urgency since President Donald Trump took office in January.  After Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, more than 200 cities joined with nearly a dozen states and hundreds of businesses to announce that they would remain committed to the goals of the agreement.

The resolutions passed Monday include ones that:
  • Urge Congress and the Trump administration to support the Paris Agreement and the Obama administration's stalled Clean Power Plan, which would cut carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector and which Trump has been working to repeal.
  • Call for a quick electrification of the nation's transportation sector.
  • Ask Trump and Congress to "develop a comprehensive risk management program to address future flood risks from sea level rise."
  • Support greater investment from all levels of government in wind energy.
  • Encourage Congress to reauthorize and fully fund the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, a defunct federal program that sent money to local governments.
A main theme of the annual meeting of the conference, which represents the mayors of 1,408 American cities, was that local government can take a larger role in shaping American policy on a range of issues, supplanting the federal government.

Read more at U.S. Mayors Back 100% Renewable Energy, Vow to Fill Climate Leadership Void

Obscure 2011 Law Creates Hurdle for Undermanned Trump Team

The Trump administration, eager to shred Obama-era priorities such as combating climate change, still has to comply with a 2011 law requiring it to weave its agenda into government operations. (Credit: Sean Hayford Oleary/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt may doubt the urgency of addressing climate change, but a key planning document on his agency's website proclaims otherwise.

"Climate change poses risks to human health, the environment, cultural resources, the economy and quality of life," says EPA's 2014-2018 strategic plan, which touts Obama administration initiatives like the Clean Power Plan that Pruitt wants to unplug.

A similar mismatch is on display at the Energy Department, whose long-term strategy — adorned with a photo of former Secretary Ernest Moniz — pledges to support "international efforts to achieve significant global greenhouse gas emission reductions" even as President Trump vows to pull out of the Paris Agreement.

And the Interior Department's plan sets a goal to "understand, communicate and respond to the diversity of impacts associated with climate change across the various landscapes of the United States."

Five months after Trump was sworn in, the disconnect testifies to the flip side of the White House's eagerness to shred President Obama's record on environmental and energy policy: a still-to-be-fulfilled legal requirement to come up with a detailed agenda of its own.

Under a 2011 law, the administration is supposed to update long-term strategies for EPA and other agencies by early next year.  The task, which could force Trump appointees to flesh out their vision for government, promises to be daunting.

While lawmakers wanted to give incoming presidents a chance to set their own priorities, "I'm not sure this dramatic a change was anticipated," said Robert Shea, who oversaw efforts to sharpen government performance during George W. Bush's administration and is now a principal at consulting firm Grant Thornton LLP, which works with agencies on meeting the law's requirements.

Under Obama, for example, cutting greenhouse gas emissions wasn't just a job for EPA, it was a governmentwide priority that summoned federal agencies to boost reliance on renewable electricity sources to 20 percent of consumption by 2020.  By contrast, Trump's DOE secretary, Rick Perry, has suggested that wind and solar power could be a threat to national security.

Read more at Obscure 2011 Law Creates Hurdle for Undermanned Trump Team

Air Pollution Casts Shadow over Solar Energy Production

Hardest-hit areas are big solar investors: China, India, Arabian peninsula

Duke Engineering Professor Michael Bergin (Left) Stands with Indian Institute of Technology-Gandhinagar Colleague Chinmay Ghoroi (Right) Next to that University's Extremely Dusty Solar Panel Array (Credit: Michael Bergin, Duke University) Click to Enlarge.
Global solar energy production is taking a major hit due to air pollution and dust.

According to a new study, airborne particles and their accumulation on solar cells are cutting energy output by more than 25 percent in certain parts of the world.  The regions hardest hit are also those investing the most in solar energy installations:  China, India and the Arabian Peninsula.

The study appears online June 23 in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

"My colleagues in India were showing off some of their rooftop solar installations, and I was blown away by how dirty the panels were," said Michael Bergin, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University and lead author of the study.  "I thought the dirt had to affect their efficiencies, but there weren't any studies out there estimating the losses. So we put together a comprehensive model to do just that."

With colleagues at the Indian Institute of Technology-Gandhinagar and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Bergin measured the decrease in solar energy gathered by the IITGN's solar panels as they became dirtier over time.  The data showed a 50-percent jump in efficiency each time the panels were cleaned after being left alone for several weeks.

The researchers also sampled the grime to analyze its composition, revealing that 92 percent was dust while the remaining fraction was composed of carbon and ion pollutants from human activity.  While this may sound like a small amount, light is blocked more efficiently by smaller man-made particles than by natural dust.  As a result, the human contributions to energy loss are much greater than those from dust, making the two sources roughly equal antagonists in this case.

"The manmade particles are also small and sticky, making them much more difficult to clean off," said Bergin.  "You might think you could just clean the solar panels more often, but the more you clean them, the higher your risk of damaging them."

Having previously analyzed pollutants discoloring India's Taj Mahal, Bergin already had a good idea of how these different particles react to sunlight.  Using his earlier work as a base, he created an equation that accurately estimates the amount of sunlight blocked by different compositions of solar panel dust and pollution buildup.

But grimy buildup on solar panels isn't the only thing blocking sunlight--the ambient particles in the air also have a screening effect.

Read more at Air Pollution Casts Shadow over Solar Energy Production