Greenpeace campaign tells Apple to abandon coal

Last week, Greenpeace launched a new “Clean Our Cloud” campaign to urge Apple and other technology companies to source their energy from solar, wind, or other renewable resources instead of from coal, their current source. Protests last week spanned the globe from London to Hong Kong, with consumers and environmentalists worldwide joining forces to demand sustainable business practices.

Currently, Apple powers its iCloud storage system with coal-fueled energy – a common form of energy used to power technology companies and computer servers – that contributes to serious diseases and respiratory illnesses such as asthma and damages the environment by releasing toxic chemicals, including mercury and arsenic, into the atmosphere. Greenpeace is already working with Facebook to help Facebook power its server system through renewable energy, and hopes that a massive global campaign will inspire Apple to adopt the same practices. The iCloud stores users’ data and files, including photos and videos, on a cloud computing network; it launched in October 2011 and, last week, Apple revealed that 125 million users subscribe to the service, with more expected to join the network in the near future. As consumers rely more heavily on the Internet and cloud computing systems, data centers need more electricity to power more servers to accommodate the growing body of cloud users.

Apple is known for designing user-friendly products and catering to the needs and wants of its customers; perhaps, if enough Apple users show the company that they want clean energy, Apple will wean itself off of coal. Renewable energy technology, such as solar and wind energy, currently exists at the large scale needed to power data centers at major technology companies. Greenpeace reasoned that Apple is “the most cutting-edge company in the world and they don’t want their customers associating their brand with a 19th Century energy source that is poisoning the air and wrecking our climate” and that its employees “care about the world their children will inherit, just like we do,” factors that the organization hopes will inspire Apple to stop using coal energy. The coal industry, of course, is lobbying tech companies to continue using coal, but public attention and demand for clean energy could convince the tech industry to abandon coal.

In last week’s “Clean Our Cloud” protests, Greenpeace activists gathered at Apple stores in San Francisco, New York, and Europe and dressed up as window washers, pretending to clean the stores’ windows to encourage Apple to clean up its cloud system. Protesters brought biodegradable black balloons – symbolic of dirty coal energy – into the stores and changed the display computers’ homepages to www.cleanourcloud.com, the campaign’s Web site.

Greenpeace reports that, if the cloud system were a country, it would be the fifth-highest consumer of electricity worldwide, and that data centers can consume as much electricity as the amount used by 250,000 homes. With more users signing on to cloud computing services, the amount of electricity used by rapidly growing data centers is projected to triple by 2020. The environmental group is also targeting Amazon and Microsoft in its Clean Our Cloud campaign, encouraging them to follow the lead of companies like Google, Yahoo, and Facebook, who are already prioritizing renewable energy in their data centers.

In addition to buying renewable energy instead of coal, Greenpeace is asking Apple to “think different” and adopt an official company policy stating a preference for clean energy, make its energy figures transparent and available to the public, and encourage its suppliers to implement renewable energy policies.  Greenpeace has already gathered more than 160,000 signatures on its petition to Apple. Help them reach their goal of 200,000 signatures by signing the petition on cleanourcloud.com today!

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/aditza121/235315669

Why the FRAC Act is Important and How You Can Help

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is fracking?

Deep beneath the surface of the earth, some geologic formations, like tight sands and shales, may contain a lot of natural gas that can’t make it the surface.  Hydraulic fracturing is the method companies use to extract this gas, and it involves drilling about 8,000 feet into the surface to make cracks in the shale or other material and then flooding those cracks with fluid containing of almost 600 chemicals, including known carcinogens and chemicals that are supposed to be regulated by things like the Safe Drinking Water Act because of their threat to human health. “Fracking” is short for hydraulic fracturing.

If it’s supposed to be regulated, why isn’t it?

Because of a bill passed in 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is no longer allowed to regulate the chemicals in fracking fluid and the companies do not have to report what chemicals they use.  This is commonly referred to as the “Halliburton loophole.”

Is this bad?

Here is a website about the dangers of fracking.  Even though fracking is deeper than groundwater, leaks are fairly common, which can lead to the contamination of groundwater. A study by the EPA has linked fracking to ground water pollution and the EPA is working to reduce pollution from air emissions related to fracking.  A popular documentary on this subject is entitled Gasland; it shows people’s tap water catching on fire, animals losing hair, and people becoming sick, and claims that it is all due to fracking in the area.

Is there a solution?

The first step to a solution is helping the EPA force companies to disclose the chemicals that they use in their fracking fluids.  Right now, the companies can disclose the chemicals voluntarily at this public website.  The FRAC Act (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness to Chemical Act) is a bill proposed that will require companies to disclose the chemicals they use.  Right now, even if there were a medical emergency, the companies would not have to disclose the specific chemical agents to doctors treating affected people, but the FRAC Act would change that.  Here is the text of the FRAC Act as it was proposed.

How can I help?

Encourage your local politicians to back the FRAC Act. Here is a petition that can expedite that for you.  Here is a petition urging President Obama to enforce the rules drafted last year that were meant to help the EPA protect against pollution caused by fracking. If you are intrigued, you might want to take further action against fracking as a whole.  Here is a petition urging your local politicians to ban fracking.  Here is another website with more information on fracking.

 

Picture credit: nyc.gov/html/dep/images/features_widecolumn/dep_stories_p113_wide.jpg

New light bulb standards increase efficiency of incandescent bulbs

On January 1 of the New Year, new energy efficiency standards for light bulbs went into effect across the industry. Under the new standards, adopted by Congress in 2007 under the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), current incandescent light bulbs will be phased out and replaced with versions that are more energy efficient and last longer, with a minimum lifetime of 1,000 burning hours.

It is estimated that three billion light bulbs currently in use in the United States – three-quarters of the total number of bulbs in American households – are energy inefficient. Current incandescent bulbs waste 90 percent of the energy that they consume, a standard that is neither cost effective nor energy efficient.

The new law, sometimes incorrectly portrayed as a ban on incandescent light bulbs, will leave consumers with a choice between improved and more efficient incandescent bulbs, energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs), the latter two of which are already on the market. The new incandescent bulbs look identical to the current choices, but use 20 to 30 percent less energy, meaning that a bulb that previously burned 100 watts of energy will now produce the same amount of light, while only burning 72 watts or less.

Though shoppers won’t see a reduction in the variety of light bulbs on shelves, they will notice a difference in the packaging of the bulbs. New labeling will measure the bulbs’ brightness in terms of lumens (the amount of light produced) rather than in watts, and will inform buyers of how much money each bulb will contribute to their electric bill per year. Product packaging will also include information about brightness, light appearance (warm or cool), and the expected life of the bulb. To aid consumers in upgrading their inefficient bulbs, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has outlined a set of guidelines for choosing the right light bulb for your home.

Light bulbs consume about 10 percent of an average home’s energy, which may not seem significant, but the savings in your energy bill – along with the savings from not having to buy light bulbs as frequently, since energy efficient bulbs last longer – will add up over time. Some estimates place the cost of replacing 15 inefficient bulbs with their energy-saving counterparts at $50 per year. Though consumers will see a reduction in energy costs with the new incandescent bulbs, the bulbs will not save consumers as much money as CFL bulbs, which can save as much as $30 over the lifetime of a single bulb. The new incandescent bulbs will also not last as long as CFLs, but will last longer than current incandescent bulbs.

On a national scale, the new standards are projected to save $10 billion in annual electricity costs, equivalent to the cost of energy produced by 30 power plants. The reduction in energy consumption will also prevent 100 million tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere each year. 

This is the first phase of the new standards; the second phase, scheduled to begin in 2020, will require incandescent light bulbs to use 65 percent less energy than current incandescent bulbs, bringing even more efficient bulbs to the market. This year, the EISA standards will only phase out inefficient 100 watt bulbs; inefficient 75-, 60- and 40 watt bulbs are set to be phased out in 2013 and 2014. The new standards take effect a year earlier in California, which phased out inefficient 100 watt bulbs in January 2011 and is scheduled to replace inefficient 75 watt bulbs, which now must consume a maximum of 53 watts, this year.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/antonfomkin/3045744275

Federal judge blocks California emissions standards law

Last week, a federal judge issued a ruling that would block part of a major California law intended to set strict vehicle emissions standards.

The California law, agreed upon in 2006 by the California Air Resources Board, intends to set stringent standards for emissions from sources across the board, from oil to electricity. The law also intends to protect the state’s residents from poor air quality and to reduce the perpetual blanket of smog that covers much of Southern California, inciting an increase in the number of respiratory illnesses and asthma attacks in the region.

Now, however, the law is being challenged by a lawsuit that categorizes it as unfair. United States District Court Judge Lawrence O’Neill ruled that the statewide law discriminates against fuel from outside of the state, and that it violates federal regulations on interstate commerce. Under federal law, Congress is the sole regulator of interstate trade, and state representatives cannot limit interstate commerce without a strong reason. However, the Air Resources Board countered that the state has a federally-issued exception permitting it to regulate greenhouse gas emissions produced from vehicle fuel. The court also decided that the state of California did not effectively prove that instating the law and reducing vehicle emissions was the only way to prevent climate change.

Both the state of California and the plaintiffs will continue their legal fight on both sides of the issue. One of the plaintiffs, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (NPRA), issued a complaint that the new law would most likely raise gas prices for consumers and hurt companies such as the ones that the organization represents. However, the state’s Air Resources Board believes that the law is in place to protect Californians from the continuous price hikes at gas stations across the state, whose residents often pay a premium for gas.

Another plaintiff, a group of corn farmers from the Midwest, stated that the law gave fuels from out of state higher carbon emissions values than fuel produced in California. The corn growers argued that this was unfair and would hurt their business by limiting the trade of corn ethanol produced in the Midwest.

The law, whose goal is to reduce the state’s emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020, went into effect in 2010. The following year, fuel companies were supposed to adapt their products to produce fewer emissions. Known as the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, it obliges fuel suppliers to manufacture fuel that burns cleaner than current forms of gasoline or diesel. The Air Resources Board expects the law to cut California’s dependence on oil by 20 percent, and to decrease the state’s emissions by 10 percent.

A petition on ForceChange.com states, “[Judge O’Neill’s] decision implies that environmental reform should only trickle down from the national level. However, history may remind us that our national leaders– those who failed to sign the Kyoto Protocol– are often reluctant to tackle environmental issues, expecting instead, that change will occur at a statewide level. We must rise to the occasion and insist that our states approach the first stages of environmental reform.”

As the legal battle over this issue and between consumers and unclean energy companies continues, support is needed for the California Air Resources Board and its pro-environment allies. If upheld, the law would have a dramatic impact on emissions reductions, and Judge O’Neill has even voiced his support for the fight against climate change, calling California’s concerns about global warming “legitimate.” To express your support for instating the law and protecting Californians from dirty air and dirty energy, add your signature to the petition on ForceChange.com.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/scobleizer/5751060596/

New Oil and Gas Industry Regulations in the Pipeline

Overshadowed by the national debt debate, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced proposed regulations on the oil and gas industry, targeting air pollution emitted during the production of natural gas and oil. 

The rules are intended to reduce emissions of air pollutants in order to improve outdoor air quality, reduce the risk of cancer to humans from air toxic emissions and health effects from ozone exposure. 

The agency also championed the “climate co-benefit” accompanying the changes: a reduction in methane emissions valued at $1.6 billion in annual savings by 2015 from avoided damage to crops, coastal properties, and health impacts. 

In a public statement, the EPA stressed the economic viability of such measures, asserting that the new rules rely upon proven technologies, rather than developing ones, that will reduce emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 

The “suite of highly cost-effective regulations [will] reduce harmful air pollution from the oil and natural gas industry while allowing continued, responsible growth in U.S. oil and natural gas production.” 

The announcement was laden with fiscal reassurances, presumably to attract bipartisan support during economically turbulent times.  With the nation’s debt and future credit standing up in the air, further restrictions on domestic industry are expected to ignite more controversy between already polarized political camps. 

The EPA, however, stressed that the technologies employed to reduce harmful VOC emissions would actually result in net savings to the industry.  By capturing gas that currently escapes to the air during the drilling process, companies can profit from the sale of the saved product on the energy market. 

“The estimated revenues from selling the gas that currently goes to waste are significant – so much so that today’s proposed rule is anticipated to quickly result in a net savings of nearly $30 million annually, while significantly reducing pollution from this expanding industry.”

The oil and natural gas industry currently represents the largest domestic source of air toxics (such as benzene), VOCs and methane emissions. 

VOCs contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone (or smog), which has been linked to premature death, respiratory illnesses, and other health problems.  Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. 

If instituted, the regulations would cut VOC emissions by nearly 25% across the industry, further resulting in a 95% reduction in VOCs emitted from new and modified hydraulically fractured gas wells that are currently unregulated.  Methane emissions would be cut by three and a half million tons annually, and air toxics by 38,000 tons. 

Capturing these gases in order to reduce emissions entails containment of the “flowback” from hydraulically fractured gas wells. 

In the “fracking” process, water, chemicals, and sand are streamed into the at well at extremely high pressures to fracture the rock below and allow natural gas to escape.  Before the gas is pumped out of the well, the fracking chemicals and reservoir gases gush back to the surface in the stage of well completion known as “flowback”. 

Spewing from the ground in this mixture are methane, VOCs, and air toxics that can be – if more responsible practices are administered – isolated and saved to reduce air pollution emissions, and then sold. 

The new rules would apply to 25,000 new gas wells, storage tanks, and other equipment that presently are not subject to regulation.  The existing standards for VOC emissions were created in 1985 and address only leak detection and repair. 

The EPA is currently seeking public comment on more ways “to reduce the compliance burdens” on the industry. 

Photo credit: epa.gov/sciencematters/june2010/scinews_fracking.htm

Obama Administration, Automakers Agree to Raise Fuel Efficiency

A drawn-out debate over how efficient cars and light trucks in the US will be by model year 2025 may be coming to a close, as the Obama administration struck a deal Thursday with major automakers that satisfies both parties on most counts.  By 2025, vehicle fleets will be required to average 54.5 miles per gallon, saving consumers money on gasoline while reducing US oil dependence and protecting environmental health.

While the new standard isn’t as high as environmental groups had pushed for, it represents a major step toward more efficient, greener personal transportation in the US.  Under the new agreement, cars in 2025 are expected to emit roughly half as many greenhouse gases and consume 40% less fuel on average than the cars of today.

“This agreement on fuel standards represents the single most important step we’ve ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said President Obama in a statement from the White House.

This latest development on car efficiency standards builds on an earlier agreement reached between automakers and the Obama administration in the spring of 2009, which will raise fuel economy standards to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, up from a fleet-wide average of about 28.3 mpg today. 

During the last few months, administration officials have been finalizing a proposal to further raise average fuel economy between the years 2017 and 2025.  Environmental groups like the Sierra Club pushed for a 60 mpg standard, with unions and labor groups also supporting strong efficiency requirements.  Meanwhile the auto industry fought for weak standards, arguing a dramatic increase in efficiency would be hard to achieve.

Complicating matters further, officials from California warned the state might set its own, stricter standards if the national proposal was too weak.  This would have created a conundrum for auto makers, who essentially would have had to manufacture one set of cars for California, and another for the rest of the country.  Earlier measures taken by California and other states to ramp up fuel efficiency on their own helped pave the way for the 2009 agreement that raises fuel economy across the nation uniformly. 

“These standards will help spur economic growth, protect the environment, and strengthen our national security by reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, speaking about the new agreement. “Working together, we are setting the stage for a new generation of clean vehicles.”

In the years to come, as automakers are required to make more efficient cars and trucks, the prices consumers pay for vehicles are expected to increase at least slightly.  However at the same time Americans will of course pay less for gasoline at the pump.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the effect of the new rule will be to save car owners $8,000 per vehicle in fuel costs. 

A few more steps remain before the 54.5 mile per gallon standard becomes the rule for automakers.  Later this year the Obama administration will officially announce new vehicle efficiency standards to be codified into law, which are expected to mirror the terms agreed to with automakers this month.  If all goes according to plan, the rule will become enforceable sometime next year. 

“This is another important step toward saving money for drivers, breaking our dependence on imported oil and cleaning up the air we breathe,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in the White House statement. “American consumers are calling for cleaner cars that won’t pollute their air or break their budgets at the gas pump, and our innovative American automakers are responding with plans for some of the most fuel efficient vehicles in our history.”

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/elsie/4259133722/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Governor Chris Christie Pulls the Plug on Cap-and-Trade Program

Last Thursday Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, made yet another controversial decision; one that, not surprisingly, tickled many Republicans and irritated most Democrats.  After less than three years of participation, Christie announced that New Jersey would pull out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative by the end of the year.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a cap-and-trade program and is the first market based carbon dioxide emissions reduction program in the U.S.  The goal of the program, whose first auction of emissions allowances took place in September 2008, was to cut carbon dioxide emissions in the ten participating states by 10% by 2018.  Until last week, when New Jersey declared its intent to exit, member states were as follows: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.  

Cap and trade systems are a market-based policy mechanism designed to reduce various types of pollution.  Successful programs have been launched in the past to curb emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.  In a cap and trade system, an initial cap of the total emissions permissible by all participants must first be set.  Allowances (permits to emit a certain unit of the pollutant) are then auctioned off by the participants (the states, in this case) to businesses that emit that specific pollutant (power plants).  Businesses are able to either use less allowances than they have purchased, or continue to emit the pollutant at a level exceeding the allowances they have purchased.  Businesses are rewarded for using fewer allowances as any leftover allowances can be saved for later use or sold.  Firms that choose to pollute above the amount permitted must purchase additional allowances; hence further increasing their operating costs.  This creates an incentive for companies to be more energy efficient and to pollute less.  Periodically, the total number of allowances auctioned by the participants is lowered, until the overall reduction goal is met.  States are to use the proceeds garnered from the auctions to invest in improved energy efficiency and renewable energy development.

Chris Christie’s decision makes New Jersey the first state to withdraw from the agreement.  Though there has been some speculation of lawsuits and challenges to his decision to exit the initiative, most seem to agree that he does have the authority to remove New Jersey from the coalition.  Shortly after news broke regarding Christie’s decision, the remaining nine states in RGGI released a statement reaffirming their continued commitment to the program.

Christie, who last year denounced the science of global warming, has at least finally come around to believing that human activity is a leading factor in climate change.  He asserts this decision came about not because he is against protecting the environment, but rather because New Jersey has already lowered emissions of carbon dioxide and Christie believes the program to be ineffective.  

A press release written by the New Jersey State Department on the same day as Christie made his decision states that in 2008 the state lowered greenhouse gas emissions by 8%.  That means it has already met the goals outlined by the state’s own Global Warming Response Act.  And, according to Christie there are many reasons why the program is a purported failure.  He was quoted saying “RGGI does nothing more than tax electricity, tax our citizens, tax our businesses, with no discernible or measurable impact upon our environment.”  Yet he has also stated that the price that carbon allowances were auctioned off at has been too low to encourage companies to emit less carbon dioxide.

Christie asserts that he is still devoted to lowering emissions in his state, but no longer believes RGGI is the way to go about it.  He intends to move forward with plans to install solar panels on landfills and to disallow any new proposed coal plants.  However, critics report bowing out of RGGI was a bad move for the environment.  They state that just because the state’s power plants reduced emissions in one year by burning more natural gas and less coal does not guarantee future emission reductions.  If the economy picks up, so would the demand for energy.  If power plants are facing higher demands, the cap-and-trade system would encourage them to operate as efficiently as possible.  Also, the price of natural gas could always increase.  If burning coal suddenly becomes cheaper than burning natural gas and there is no cap-and-trade system in place to limit plants’ carbon dioxide emissions, plants will simply return to burning coal for energy and the amount of emissions will soar.

What remains to be seen is how democrats in the state of New Jersey will fight back, if other states will try to mirror New Jersey’s actions, and how Christie’s decision may impact the formation of other cap-and-trade systems developing elsewhere in the country.

Photo credit: state.nj.us/governor/news/photos/2010/eventphotos/20100917b/20100917FireFighters105.JPG

China To Improve Nuclear Standards

State media in China has reported that the government will improve safety standards and construction standards at all of its nuclear power plants.  

This happened nearly two months after the Fukushima incident in Japan that triggered an atomic crisis, after a tsunami and an earthquake damaged the reactors and cut power to the plants which led to dangerous overheating of the nuclear rods, and led to China ordering safety inspections on all of it nuclear plants and halting plans of new projects.  

“We have to raise our standards to deal with complicated situations, like what happened in Japan,” said Lin Hua, a nuclear safety official in the environmental protection ministry.

Officials are considering installing power generators inside the plants, as well as reconsidering the standards for flood control measures and construction of the walls of the reactor.   
Lin and the environmental protection ministry hope to finish evaluating and inspecting the nuclear plants by August, and to be able to provide and issue a safety plan following that.  

China currently owns and operates 13 nuclear reactors, and has plans to construct at least two dozen more, which is estimated at 40% of the reactors being built across the globe.  

As China’s economy and population continues to soar, energy demand is also rising.  Even after the Japanese atomic crisis, China insists that atomic energy is still a big part of their energy plan for the future.

Photo Credit: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4c/CANDU_at_Qinshan.jpg

Majority of World’s Energy Needs Could Be Met By Renewables

The majority of the world’s energy could be powered from renewable sources by mid-century if governments provide the necessary political and financial support, according to a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

The IPCC released their Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN) on May 9th, providing a comprehensive reference on clean and renewable energy options and related political and social considerations. The panel confirmed the undeniable potential of a renewable energy-based future, but only if policy-makers take certain considerable political steps.

The clean energy revolution proposed could only occur along with a revolution across society, technology, and legislation, the experts suggest.

Renewable energy such as wind and sun is so limitless, the IPCC reports, that it could provide 77 percent of the world’s energy needs by mid-century. Currently, renewable sources like bioenergy, solar, wind, and geothermal power supply only 13 percent of global energy demands.

But to achieve such a transition would necessitate as much as $5.1 trillion invested before 2020, and another $7.2 trillion between 2021 and 2030.

It’s up to policy-makers to decide whether pursuing the great transition is worth it. At stake, according to the panel, are human health and a warming planet. In a world of renewable energy infrastructure, the population would benefit from improved health and well-being, and the globe itself would benefit from decreased greenhouse gases.

It’s a relief to realize that the potential for clean energy options are out there, but the real battle is the logistics of changing existing energy policies.

Ramón Pichs Madruga, a member of the I.P.C.C., explains, “it is not the availability of the resource, but the public policies that will either expand or constrain renewable energy development over the coming decades,” as quoted by The New York Times.

The clean energy revolution would also pose a logistical challenge, as scientists would need to come up with a diversity of geographic sources for clean energy. They would also need to establish reliable technological systems to obtain the energy in efficient ways. Political difficulties would be significant. As Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the IPCC admits, a “substantial increase of renewables is technically and politically very challenging.”

But considering such policy changes is essential if we are to move into a greener future we utilize our environment sustainably. That is why the panel is urging policy-makers to review its information and consider the options and pathways seriously.

Edenhofer explained that the report is meant to provide a guide, rather than a mandate for governments. It will “provide policy-relevant information to the policy-makers without being policy-prescriptive,” he said. The report would reveal the “options they have- technologically, politically, and also socially.”

Over 120 experts examined existing science and policy information to produce the comprehensive 1,000-page publication. Within the document they examined 160 renewable energy scenarios.

Next they came up with an outline of the report entitled Summary for Policy makers. It will serve as a go-to guide for energy companies, international leaders, activists, and other government policy-makers and will shape the future of renewable energy policy and investment.

The IPCC first took center stage in the environmental world back in 2007, after reporting that human activity was partially responsible for warming the planet. It blamed habits such as burning fossil fuels and forest clearing for greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The panel then shared the Nobel Peace prize with Al Gore for its work.

The panel was rarely noticed prior to a few years ago. Now that it has come into the public eye, it has received varying feedback, from acclaim to criticism. Critics claimed its scientific work on climate change was slanted and sloppy, and was performed in favor of left-wing environmental policies. The scientists on the panel responded that such criticisms were unfounded and irrelevant. 

Nonetheless, the panel has received pressure to maintain a higher level of scientific standards. Its charter does not allow it to recommend how to cut climate risks, but it can lay out ideas for cutting emissions that governments may follow.

Currently the IPCC is working on its fifth assessment of climate trends, expectations, and policy considerations, to be released in 2014.

Photo Credit: state.gov

World’s Largest Solar Thermal Project Receives $2.1 Billion Federal Loan

The Solar Trust of America is to be the recipient of a $2.1 billion loan from the US government, given in support of the construction of what will become the largest solar thermal power plant in the world.

The funds will be used in the construction of the Blythe Solar Power Project, a joint venture between Solar Trust of America, itself a partnership between the German companies Solar Millennium AG and Ferrostaal AG, and Chevron Energy Solutions. 

Once completed, the plant will meet nearly ten percent of the Bush Administration’s Energy Policy Act of 2005 goal, which seeks to source at least ten gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2015.

The project represents the latest in a number of solar thermal power plants currently in construction by Solar Trust of America.

The conditional loan guarantee, offered by the Department of Energy, is part of an initiative to provide funding for innovative projects utilizing often “unproven” technologies, which may consequently have trouble generating revenue using traditional channels.

Located in southern California, eight miles to the west of the City of Blythe, the project will span approximately 7,030 acres in total, with the enclosed plants comprising 5,950 acres of that total.  Total construction costs are currently estimated at approximately six billion dollars.

Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), who represents the district containing the Blythe Solar Power project, echoed her support for both the US loan and the implications of the Blythe Solar Power Project.

“Solar Trust of America’s Blythe Solar Power Project is now one step closer to reality,” she stated.  “I look forward to continuing my work supporting projects in Riverside County that will harness our local energy resources and help reduce our nation’s dangerous dependence on unstable foreign oil.”

Utilizing solar parabolic trough technology, once completed the initial two units of the Blythe Solar Power project will produce an estimated 484 megawatts of energy. Overall, the project, consisting of four independent solar plants producing 250 megawatts of energy each, is expected to produce 1,000 megawatts of solar thermal energy.  The energy produced would be enough to power over 300,000 households annually.

Speaking on the project, John Laird, California Secretary for Natural Resources, stated,

“Solar Trust of America’s Blythe Solar Power Project will soon be the largest solar project in the world. It brings over a thousand jobs, billions of dollars in private investment to our state, and is further proof that California is leading the way in clean energy development. This clean, renewable energy will make our communities better places to live.”

The process of generating the energy incorporates both innovative and traditional technologies. As parabolic mirrors collect and refocus heat energy into receiver tubes, an oil “heat transfer fluid” (HTF) is filtered through the tubes, becoming hotter as it circulates. After reaching temperatures of up to 750°F, the HTF is circulated through heat exchangers, where it creates steam. In combining this steam with a traditional steam turbine engine, electricity is produced.

The project will also result in the creation of over 1,080 construction and plant operations jobs. Bill Perez, Executive Secretary of the Riverside and San Bernardino Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, spoke on the economic importance of the plant for the hard-hit construction industry. 

“At a time when job creation is sorely needed in Riverside County, this project and the economic boost it will provide will help us put tradesmen back to work and fuel local economic development,” he stated.

The Blythe Solar Power Project will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the area by as much as one million tons per year, the approximate equivalent of eliminating 300,000 cars from the road. Most of the water utilized in the process of generating energy will be recycled back into the system.

The facility will also use 90 percent less water than a traditional solar plant, due to the utilization of dry-cooling methods, such as large fans, in place of industry prevalent wet-cooling methods.

Photo Credit: energyalmanac.ca.gov/renewables/solar/pv.html