Big players in the fossil fuel industry met in Cape Town recently to promote their vision of African prosperity riding on a gusher of hydrocarbons. But African climate campaigners took to the streets and social media to reject a ploy to use the continent’s development and energy crises as a pretext for accelerating oil and gas extraction. In the courts, New Jersey became the latest U.S. state to sue the fossil fuel industry over climate change, alleging it held knowledge for decades about the risks of global warming, but covered them up for profit.
New research shows that climate-related anxiety is common, especially among young people, all over the world. While we have promoted the common wisdom that the best antidote is to get involved, that’s easier said than done in many places.
Many Massachusetts communities are trying to support electricity suppliers who provide clean energy to the grid, but the state’s Department of Public Utilities has fallen far behind its counterparts in neighboring states. Its long backlogs are preventing municipalities from choosing lower-emissions suppliers for their electricity and hurting ratepayers as energy prices spike. This ties into a broader regional effort to modernizing the grid, which invloves adding renewable energy generation and storage while coordinating the retirement of fossil generators – all while making sure power is always available through periods of extreme heat and cold.
One way to relieve a constrained energy supplys is to use less of it, and there’s a lot of room for improved efficiency in buildings. With that in mind, Nick Falkoff is using his position as general manager of a construction company to train others in the industry in passive house construction. The several-week course is designed to make high-efficiency construction more available and affordable by expanding the pool of workers with the necessary skills.
Another solution is to deploy more energy storage, and exciting new technologies are getting very close to market. While lithium-ion technology has long been the gold standard for the short-duration battery storage system, the lithium supply chain is limited and strained. That leaves space for alternatives like Canadian company Salient Energy. Its new zinc-ion battery relies on materials that are abundant in the US, and the chemistry avoids lithium’s fire problem.
Long-duration battery storage is having a moment too. Form Energy is getting closer to commercializing multiday capacity with its iron-air battery. If Form’s battery works like it’s supposed to, it will store renewable energy so cheaply that an emissions-free power plant could deliver energy around the clock for days on end.
The siting impacts of renewable energy resources are always on our radar. A Massive amount of offshore wind energy is about to be tapped along the Atlantic coast, and the best way to move all those electrons from turbines to your toaster is being worked out now. And down on the farm, agrivoltaics offers the potential to mix solar generation with various forms of agriculture, but growing crops under PV arrays can be tricky. A new study by the National Renewable Energy laboratory (NREL) clarifies some of the benefits while also raising more questions for further research.
We have a good news/ bad news story about a new affordable electric vehiclecle covered in small solar panels to reduce the frequency of plugging in. That was the good news part. The bad news is it won’t be coming to the United States because it’s a car – not a crossover SUV – and Americans just don’t buy enough of those to justify the effort. So for now, Europe will keep the cool stuff while we lumber around in our behemoths. But here’s a consolation prize… check out the story about SpinLaunch – an aerospace startup that’s building a giant gizmo to literally fling satellites into space. Be sure to watch the videos!
Watching out for false solutions covering for business as usual, a coalition of environmental and social justice organizations filed a petition with state regulators to halt a hydrogen project by Oregon’s largest gas utility. Apart from posing health, safety, and environmental dangers to residents already living with polluting industries, the hydrogen project is also viewed by critics as a costly exercise in greenwashing that offers little climate benefit and is calculated to slow down momentum towards building electrification.
A carbon capture project proposed for a central Louisiana power plant is also on our false-solutions radar. It’s dubbed “Project Diamond Vault” by its owner, Louisiana utility Cleco. The project is revealing some of the economic and environmental trade-offs associated with all carbon capture and storage projects: The process is so energy-hungry, it would either reduce net energy production by 30%, or produce the same amount of energy for customers by increasing total water consumption by 55%. There are no good choices.
There’s A social reckoning underway that threatens to make business harder for oil companies. Big Oil is becoming stigmatized as awareness grows that its environmentally-friendly messaging doesn’t match its actions. According to a survey, most millennials say they would avoid working in an industry with a negative image, with oil and gas topping the list as the most unappealing. This poses a hiring challenge for oil companies as much of their current workforce nears retirement.
We’ll close with a story that shows how plastic bag bans can help revive traditional sustainable industries. Jute, a coarse fiber used to make fabrics like burlap, has been cultivated for centuries in the warm and humid climate of the Ganges Delta. Now, as much of the world pivots to biodegradable alternatives to synthetic materials like plastics, Indian jute is making its way around the planet.
For even more environmental news, info, and events, check out the latest newsletter from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT)!
— The NFGiM Team
PROTESTS AND ACTIONS
Activists Say Fossil Fuel Interests Have Declared ‘War on Africa’s Sustainable Future’
“We reject the fossil fuel industry’s drive to expand in Africa when African people are suffering from the climate impacts of the industry,” said one campaigner at a protest outside the Africa Energy Week conference in Cape Town.
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
October 18, 2022
As the fossil fuel industry gathered in Cape Town for Tuesday’s start of Africa Energy Week, African climate campaigners took to the streets and social media to reject a ploy to use the continent’s development and energy crises as a pretext for accelerating oil and gas extraction.
Activists with Extinction Rebellion Cape Town rallied Tuesday outside one of the conference’s venues to demand investment in renewable energy and a transition from a carbon-based economy.
“We reject the fossil fuel industry’s drive to expand in Africa when African people are suffering from the climate impacts of the industry,” Extinction Rebellion Cape Town spokesperson Judy Scott-Goldman told IOL.
Courtney Morgan, a South African campaigner with the African Climate Reality Project, said in a statement that “the Africa Energy Week program is a systematic plan by the fossil fuel industry for the massive scaling up of oil and gas in Africa.”
“It’s a declaration of war on Africa’s sustainable future and the global climate crisis,” she added. “This is not the Africa we want.”
It is the Africa that the fossil fuel industry—which is pivoting to the continent as much of the West ditches Russian energy—wants. Kicking off Africa Energy Week with a welcome speech, African Energy Chamber executive chairman N.J. Ayuk waxed bullish on the future of fossil fuels.
[…] In a bid to push fossil fuels, some African climate ministers have tried to exploit Africans’ wariness of Western powers—including some of their former colonizers—dictating a so-called European model of energy transition.
However, African climate campaigners vehemently reject this view.
“Collusion by European and African energy elites to continue colonizing the continent with dirty energy infrastructure will saddle Africa with dangerous projects that it doesn’t need, entrench the energy apartheid facing millions of Africans, and risk tipping Africa and the world into catastrophic climate disruption,” argued Dean Bhekumuzi Bhebhe, campaigns lead for Power Shift Africa.
Landry Ninteretse, regional director at 350Africa.org, said that “the push for investment in fossil fuels is likely to perpetuate the triple injustices of energy, social, and environmental crises hundreds of millions of Africans are confronted with.”
“Such plans will not only lock the continent into reliance on climate-wrecking energy sources but also delay the much-needed transition to renewable energy,” the Burundian continued.
“It is imperative that officials at Africa Energy Week revise their message,” Ninteretse added, “and prioritize sustainable, inclusive, and diversified energy plans that directly benefit Africans and protect their basic rights, livelihoods, environment, and future.”
» Read article
New Jersey Joins Other States in Suing Fossil Fuel Industry, Claiming Links to Climate Change
ExxonMobil calls the lawsuit a waste of taxpayers’ money that won’t help curb global warming.
By Jon Hurdle, Inside Climate News
October 18, 2022
New Jersey became the latest U.S. state to sue the fossil fuel industry over climate change, alleging it knew for decades that emissions from its products contributed to global warming, but lied to protect its profits and deter efforts to curb greenhouse gases.
State Attorney General Matthew Platkin announced a suit on Tuesday against five major oil companies and their trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, saying the industry failed to warn the public that its products were dangerous, and sought instead to sow public doubts that fossil fuel emissions were linked to climate change.
“They went to great lengths to hide the truth and mislead the people of New Jersey and the world,” Platkin said, in launching the suit against ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP and the API. “These companies put their profits ahead of our safety.”
The suit, filed in New Jersey Superior Court, seeks an injunction ordering the companies to “stop deceiving” New Jersey consumers about the destructive environmental impacts of fossil fuels. It is also asking the court to impose unspecified monetary penalties for the loss of natural resources such as coastal wetlands that are shrinking as seas rise in response to the changing climate.
Casey Norton, a spokesperson for ExxonMobil, said the suit will do nothing to combat climate change.
“Legal proceedings like this waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risk of climate change,” Norton said in a statement. “ExxonMobil will continue to invest in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while meeting society’s growing demand for energy.”
Shell and the American Petroleum Institute did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The action follows around 20 similar suits by states, cities and counties around the United States, seeking compensation from the fossil fuel industry for damages such as sea-level rise, bigger storms, wildfires and flooding, all attributable to climate change.
The earlier plaintiffs include nearby Delaware, a low-lying coastal state which in 2020 sued 31 fossil fuel companies, claiming their products have contributed to sea-level rise that is forecast to inundate large areas of the state in coming decades.
» Read article
» More about protests and actions
Study: Climate anxiety is spreading all over the planet
The broadest look yet shows it’s not just a Western worry.
By Kate Yoder, Grist
October 17, 2022
If you’re feeling anxious about climate change, the common wisdom goes, there’s an antidote: Take action. Maybe you can alleviate your worries by doing something positive, like going to a protest, becoming an advocate for mass transit, or trying to get an environmental champion elected.
New research reveals that these anxieties are not just Western concerns — they’re common among young people on nearly every continent — but that the ability to do something about them depends on where you live. “The question is whether you have the opportunity or not to engage in those behaviors,” said Charles Ogunbode, a psychologist at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.
The study, recently published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, takes the broadest look yet at climate anxiety around the globe. Ogunbode and researchers all over the world surveyed more than 10,000 university students in 32 countries, asking how climate change made them feel. They found that it was hurting people’s mental health virtually everywhere, from Brazil to Uganda, Portugal to the Philippines.
Almost half of the young people surveyed said they were “very” or “extremely” worried about climate change. Nearly a quarter felt “terrified,” and even more felt either “very” or “extremely” anxious. Previous research has suggested that climate anxiety is widespread: Last year, a survey in 11 countries around the world found that 45 percent of teens and young adults said that climate anxiety was affecting their daily lives and ability to function.
“Climate anxiety” has become a catch-all for how worries about our overheating planet affect people’s mental health. Experts say that feeling grief, fear, and anxiety is a logical response to the catastrophic situation. But some researchers have argued that the phrase “climate anxiety” is ambiguous — a buzzword, not a clinical diagnosis — and that it tends to resonate more with white and wealthy people than those experiencing the most severe effects of climate disasters.
While the study didn’t look at how people respond to the phrase itself, the results show that it’s not just those in wealthier countries like the United States who are wrestling with tough emotions as a result of climate change. Ogunbode thinks developing countries should play a bigger part in the conversation, since the link between emotions and mental health is “just as strong” as it is in rich countries.
» Read article
» More about climate
How the DPU is preventing communities from lowering utility bills — and carbon emissions
By Sabrina Shankman, Boston Globe
October 16, 2022
After a series of powerful nor’easters pounded its shores and flooded its streets in recent years, the oceanfront town of Scituate decided it needed to do everything in its power to push back against the planet-warming forces driving such destructive weather. Near the top of its list: greening its electricity supply to move away from fossil fuels.
Fortunately, there was a state-sanctioned program that does just that — and can even slash residents’ electricity bills in the bargain. Grass-roots leaders scrambled to earn support across the community, completed the application, and in February 2020 sent it off for approval by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities.
And that’s where it sat. For two and a half years.
It turned out that 31 other communities were in the same boat, waiting at least a year and a half for the state regulator to review and approve their new or updated plans to choose their own supplier instead of the local utility and buy electricity in bulk. This despite the program, known as municipal aggregation, being in place since 1997, with nearly 160 Massachusetts communities already using it.
Meanwhile, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, which have similar programs, make it a point to process applications within 60 days.
Now, with the major utilities implementing significant rate hikes, many communities that are still in limbo with the DPU will probably be stuck with electric rates three times higher than if they had received earlier approvals, according to clean-energy advocates.
“It’s just very frustrating,” Lisa Bertola, the chair of Scituate Community Choice Electricity, said of the delays. “It seems like an unreasonable amount of time.”
Frustrated officials from Scituate, Cohasset, Uxbridge, and Westwood, which had all filed with the DPU in February 2020, sent a scathing letter to the agency on Sept. 30, noting a back-and-forth process that took as long as 930 days. They said 790 of those days were spent waiting for the DPU to respond to them, according to their compilation.
» Read article
Thunberg Backs German Nuclear Plants as Russia’s War Raises Risk
By The Energy Mix
October 16, 2022
Fridays for Future founder Greta Thunberg has come out in favour of Germany extending the life of its controversial nuclear plants, just days after a news analysis traced the decades-long history of nuclear facilities threatened by war or terrorism.
“It’s a very bad idea to focus on coal when this is already in place,” Thunberg told TV station ARD last week. “If we have them already running, I feel like it’s a mistake to close [nuclear plants] down.”
Germany “is in the midst of debating how to postpone its nuclear exit scheduled for the end of this year, in a reaction to the energy crisis and a looming shortage of gas,” Clean Energy Wire explains. “Only three nuclear plants remain in operation and under current law will be decommissioned in December. The country has already agreed to put decommissioned coal power plants back on the grid to secure energy supply in the short term.”
Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck announced in early September that the country would keep two of its three remaining nuclear plants on standby through the winter before decommissioning them in April. That was after a power grid stress test “found that keeping the two nuclear plants in the south of the country operational could help avoid grid bottlenecks in extreme situations during the upcoming winter,” Clean Energy Wire wrote at the time. “The plants would only be reactivated to produce electricity if other instruments are not sufficient to avert a supply crisis” in the country’s industrialized southern region.
But now, one of the three parties in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s governing coalition, the pro-business Free Democrats, wants all three plants kept open until the energy shortages brought on by Russia’s war in Ukraine have ended. Already, Clean Energy Wire writes, “Thunberg’s remarks [have drawn] support from nuclear advocates not usually associated with strong climate action.”
» Read article
» More about clean energy
Nick Falkoff is constructing climate change solutions
The general manager of construction company Auburndale Builders is expanding what it means to be a climate activist.
By Janelle Nanos, Boston Globe
October 20, 2022
Nick Falkoff believes that climate activists can come in many forms. As the general manager of Auburndale Builders, he’s helping construct a path forward for tradespeople to learn the skills they’ll need to build the homes of tomorrow.
Most people don’t realize the role that construction plays in climate change. But by some estimates, buildings account for 40 percent of all energy related carbon emissions globally, when factoring in the carbon released in the creation of buildings and the lighting, heating, and cooling of them once they’re completed. That’s why Falkoff is among the region’s leaders in pushing for high performance techniques in homebuilding, and why he’s creating educational opportunities for people to learn how construct buildings in ways that are better for the planet.
“The construction industry is one of the most energy intensive industries in the world, and we generate huge amounts of waste, and so the more I understand about the industry the more it makes me aware of all the actions we’re taking,” Falkoff said. “It’s a balancing act of trying to figure out how to balance making a living and providing good work for people, but also trying to limit that damage.”
He was fortunate when a client seeking a state-of-the-art home helped pay for his training in passive house construction, which involves installing significantly more insulation to walls and buildings, high performance windows and doors, high efficiency all-electric mechanical systems, and creating an airtight envelope and a balanced ventilation system to bring in filtered fresh air to buildings. But after learning the tricks of the trade, he wanted to extend that education to others. Now he’s created a course for local tradespeople to learn how to learn passive house techniques. People in construction learn by doing, he reasoned, let’s give them a chance to see it firsthand.
This fall, he opened up the company’s barn in Newton to construction workers that want to learn these new skills, offering a training course over several weeks in passive house construction. The course is designed in a way “that’s accessible and interactive and tactile,” he said. “That’s the way carpenters already know how to do their work.”
The ultimate goal, he says, is to make high-efficiency construction more available and affordable, and for that there needs to be far more people able to do the work. “To bring down overall cost we need more people in the trades,” he said. “Right now it’s very small niche of people who know how to do high-performance and it’s limiting access.”
» Read article
Heat pumps can be standalone solutions even in cold climates
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) showed, through a pilot incentive program, that whole-home heat pumps are a feasible solution for heating when switching from gas. Project costs, however, were found to be higher than expected.
By Emiliano Bellini, PV Magazine
September 17, 2021
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) has implemented a pilot program for residential heat pumps, between May 2019 and June 2021, to ascertain if these systems are able to meet 100% of a household’s heating needs in cold climates.
Through the Whole-Home Heat Pump pilot program, the research center offered existing homes that switched from gas, or new and rebuilt homes with no fossil fuel appliances, a flat incentive of $2,500 per home to install a whole-home system, which it claims eliminates the need to maintain fossil fuel pipes or tanks and a second heating system.
The pilot program also provided higher incentives for lower-income customers and, at its final stage, included other efficiency or electrification measures as part of the heat pump project. Overall, funds were awarded to 68 whole-home heat pump projects, of which 31 were new construction projects and 137 retrofit projects, with a total of 39 installers participating in the pilot.
“The primary lesson learned is that whole-home heat pumps are a feasible solution, not only for new construction but also for retrofitting existing buildings, including older homes,” the MassCEC said. “We surveyed pilot customers six months after project completion and 95% of respondents were somewhat, or fully satisfied with the level of comfort for heating, while all were somewhat, or fully satisfied with the level of comfort for cooling.”
The institute’s experts, however, found that heat pump project costs were higher than expected, at $18,400 per system, with projects being less expensive in new homes than in retrofits, which they explained by the smaller loads of new constructions and the smaller size of the required heat pumps.
» Read article
» More about the pilot program
» More about energy efficiency
New Zinc Energy Storage System Beats Supply Chain Blues
Zinc-based energy storage systems could soon join chicken, pots, and cars in the list of must-haves for US households.
By Tina Casey, CleanTechnica
October 19, 2022
Lithium-ion technology has long been the gold standard for a rechargeable energy storage system, but the lithium supply chain is not up to snuff here in the US and elsewhere around the world. That leaves room for alternative systems to edge into the market. The latest development on that score comes from the Canadian company Salient Energy, which is offering a new zinc-ion battery that relies on abundant materials in the US.
Salient sailed onto the CleanTechnica radar last spring, when it announced a partnership with the US building contractor Horton World Solutions. CleanTechnica’s Steve Hanley took note:
“Salient Energy says its zinc-ion batteries are the solution to all those issues. They use no lithium, no cobalt, and no nickel. The zinc and manganese are obtained from North American sources. Furthermore, the risk of fire is eliminated. The manufacturing process emits 66% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the process that makes lithium-ion batteries. And oh, yeah, they cost less as well. What’s not to like?”
That’s all well and good, but the devil could be in the details. For example, a rechargeable energy storage system would be not likeable if it eliminated fire risks but took days to recharge, or lost capacity after only a few dozen charging cycles.
Apparently, Salient has that all figured out. The company pledges the same “power, footprint, and service life as lithium-ion based systems.”
» Read article
Form Energy wins $450M to rust iron for multiday energy storage
The long-duration storage startup is on a fundraising tear as it validates its iron-air battery technology and scouts locations for a U.S. factory.
By Julian Spector, Canary Media
October 4, 2022
Form Energy’s effort to commercialize multiday clean energy storage got a major boost from a $450 million fundraise Tuesday.
The Series E round, which brought in a staggering sum for an unconventional grid-storage hardware startup, will carry Form out of its current precommercial state. The company, which produces iron-air batteries, will double its staff headcount from its current level of 326 as it plows through the validation and testing required to sell a warrantied product. Simultaneously, Form is finalizing the location for its first commercial factory, which will begin manufacturing batteries in the U.S. within two years, CEO and co-founder Mateo Jaramillo told Canary Media.
“We expect to be generating meaningful revenue in 2025,” said Jaramillo, who led Tesla’s energy-storage business before leaving in 2016 to tackle the challenge of multiday energy storage.
The business proposition at Form is essentially to rebut the tired critique of renewable energy — that the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. If Form’s battery works like it’s supposed to, it will store renewable energy so cheaply that a power plant can deliver emissions-free energy around the clock for days on end. That could create a viable alternative to fossil-fueled plants for ensuring a 24/7 supply of reliable electricity as the grid decarbonizes.
Lithium-ion batteries are used for nearly all new grid-storage installations today, but they cannot cost-effectively store energy for more than a few hours. Long-duration energy storage that can deliver power for days represents a fundamentally new type of product.
» Read article
» More about energy storage
MODERNIZING THE GRID
No more excuses: New England’s power grid operator needs to bring renewables online
But if history is any guide, we shouldn’t hold our breath for ISO-New England to take climate change seriously.
By Bradley Campbell, Boston Globe | Opinion
October 17, 2022
Bradley Campbell is president and CEO of the Conservation Law Foundation.
Over the summer, ISO-New England, the independent system operator for the six-state electrical power grid, reached out to regional utilities and fuel suppliers to determine the risks to the power supply for the coming winter. This comprehensive audit of energy supply, according to ISO-New England, comes at the request of the states themselves, and could determine “whether we plan to stay the course with the current market structures or take an updated proposal through the process.”
What the six New England states have requested of ISO-New England is the inclusion of more wind and solar power in the energy mix that fuels the grid.
But if history is any guide, we shouldn’t hold our breath for ISO-New England to take climate change seriously and make changes during this review process that would lead to more solar- and wind-generated energy in our electricity mix.
Beginning in 2005, ISO-New England has issued regular media alerts that grimly predict New England will have outages of heat and power. It warns it may have to shut the electricity off in controlled, rolling blackouts. But that has not occurred.
This strategy has helped ISO-New England throw roadblocks in the way of what we need most: more clean energy. ISO-New England recently postponed by two years the removal of a long-standing rule that prevents clean energy from competing in the New England energy market, a move that was a last-minute about-face for ISO-New England.
As for why ISO-New England is dragging its feet on bringing renewable energy like wind and solar onto the power grid, the organization claims it’s because this energy infrastructure would be too complicated and expensive to build. Unfortunately, the costs of not making these changes will be much higher for the environment and New England’s economy. Rising tides and heat, and situations like the ones we face today where global forces skyrocket the costs of fossil fuels, are already taking a toll. Meanwhile, wind and solar combined account for only 7 percent of the New England energy mix while gas makes up 53 percent and nuclear energy 27 percent.
There’s an irony to all this. While New Englanders have not experienced controlled blackouts because of a lack of fossil fuels, we are experiencing more climate-related events — heat waves, flooding, and strong winds.
Officials at ISO-New England have complained in recent months about demands from across the region that they stop crying wolf, stop postponing rule changes that would lead to more renewable energy, and make fighting climate change a core part of its mission. But ISO-New England’s role — obscure as it is to most of us when we turn on the lights or charge the car — is crucial in the fight to cut pollution and avoid climate catastrophe.
New Englanders need what ISO-New England controls — a grid reliably producing increased electricity, for cars and trucks, for heating homes and businesses, and for public transportation. But that grid needs to transition more rapidly to renewable power sources.
» Read article
» More about modernizing the grid
SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES
As offshore wind plans grow, so does the need for transmission
By Miriam Wasser, WBUR
October 18, 2022
Offshore wind has a problem: electrical transmission.
Wind developers can fairly easily run high voltage cables from their offshore projects to land, but once that power comes ashore it encounters an electrical grid that wasn’t set up to handle it.
East coast states could rebuild the onshore power grid to accommodate this power, or they could put the bulk of their effort into building an “ocean grid” — something experts say may be cheaper, faster and better for the environment.
The current approach
Lawrence Mott stands by a tall metal fence surrounding the electrical substation at Brayton Point in Somerset. Mott works for the offshore wind developer Mayflower Wind, and his specialty is the transmission system, the substations and high voltage power lines that move electricity long distances.
The humming equipment behind him, which once served as the link between New England’s largest coal-fired power plant and the grid, is about to get a new green life, he says.
It will all begin 30 miles offshore, where someday in the not-too-distant future, strong winds will spin the project’s turbines to generate electricity. Each turbine will send the power it generates to a nearby offshore platform, and from there, the electricity gets sent to shore through big cables buried six feet beneath the ocean floor.
Those cables will resurface at a beach near Brayton Point, and the electricity will eventually make its way to the substation.
“And from there, it goes into the public’s grid system,” Mott says, gesturing to the big overhead power lines in the distance. “Then the electrons are out and spreading the green energy around.”
To date, all offshore wind projects in the U.S. use this design, running the equivalent of a high-voltage extension cord from wind farms to open substation near the coast. Experts say this so-called “project-by-project” approach is fine for now, but very soon, there will be two big problems.
First, we are going to run out of places like Brayton Point to plug into — in fact, almost all of the most desirable locations have already been claimed along the southern New England, New York and New Jersey coastlines.
And second, it will require really costly upgrades to the onshore transmission system.
Solar panels and crops can coexist, but more study needed on how and where
With mixed and sometimes puzzling results, researchers need more time and resources to figure out how to maximize agrivoltaics’ potential.
By Kari Lydersen, Energy News Network
October 17, 2022
A recent analysis reveals the daunting number of variables that need to be considered when attempting to pair agricultural production and solar generation.
Federal researchers know that solar panels and crops can coexist and provide mutual benefits in certain scenarios. A recent study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) confirms this but also shows that such co-location can lead to crop or financial losses, including from complications like mold-causing dew accumulation and soil damage from construction equipment.
Advocates who see the concept as a potential solution to land-use constraints are now pushing for more funding and collaboration with farmers to test and document outcomes in as many different settings as possible. The hope is that they can prove benefits in enough scenarios to help the solution scale beyond the handful of small farms that have currently implemented it.
“We know we can grow food under solar projects,” said the NREL paper’s lead author, Jordan Macknick. “What remains to be seen is if we can scale up agrivoltaics in a way that meaningfully improves local food production and farmers’ bottom lines while also aligning with the realities of solar development costs, timelines, and practices.”
NREL defines agrivoltaics as the “sharing of sunlight between the two energy conversion systems: photovoltaics and photosynthesis,” and notes that “the solar and agricultural activities [must] have an influence on each other.”
Agrivoltaics includes planting pollinator habitat in and around solar panels, and allowing animals to graze around panels. But the sector with the most variables to study is arguably the growing of crops under and between solar panels.
» Read article
» Read the NREL study
» More about siting impacts of renewables
A solar-powered electric car comes to Boston
A German company is showing off a prototype of its $25,000 vehicle, which is outfitted with solar panels.
By Hiawatha Bray, Boston Globe
October 17, 2022
Drivers often try to park their cars in the shade. But that’s the last thing you’d want to do with a new vehicle from Germany called Sion.
Munich-based Sono Motors showed off a prototype of the vehicle at Boston’s High Street Place on Friday, the second stop on a tour of five US cities. With its dull black exterior and bare-bones passenger cabin, the Sion would never be mistaken for a Tesla. Then again, it’s priced at only $25,000, much cheaper than most electric vehicles. And it’s also one of several electric cars that use solar panels to help with recharging the battery.
Dozens of photovoltaic cells are embedded in the Sion’s roof, hood, doors, and fenders. The cells deliver enough energy per day for about 10 miles of driving, far below the Sion’s maximum range of 190 miles. But Sono cofounder Laurin Hahn said that Sion owners won’t have to plug in their cars as frequently as other electric vehicles. “It just reduces your hassle to recharge every day, and that’s convenience,” said Hahn.
They’ll also save money. Hahn estimated that a Sion owner would get enough energy from the solar panels to drive 5,000 free miles per year.
The arrays of solar cells are clearly visible on the Sion prototype, giving the car a rumpled, unfinished look, but Hahn said the imperfections will be corrected before the car goes into production in the second half of 2023. Hahn said the company already has 20,000 pre-orders from customers in Europe who have pre-paid 2,000 Euros — about $1,970 — to reserve their cars. In addition, businesses that want to electrify their vehicle fleets have ordered 22,000 Sions. The vehicles will be assembled by Valmet Automotive, a Finnish firm that also builds cars for Mercedes-Benz.
» Read article
Launches: SpinLaunch plans a slingshot to space!
By Dave Adalian, EarthSky
October 9, 2022
Late last month (September 2022), a plucky group of aerospace engineers and techs using an oversized centrifuge successfully tested their idea to throw a demo payload – including a NASA test package – high into the sky, at high speeds. The payload went up (and was later recovered) from the Jornada del Muerto desert in the U.S. state of New Mexico. SpinLaunch says its goal is to provide affordable and rapid cargo launches to space. And to that end the team has constructed an enormous centrifuge – inside a disk-shaped vacuum chamber – which the company says will eventually be able to fling an unpowered vehicle up into Earth-orbit.
The launcher stands more than 50 meters (165 feet) high, slightly taller than the 46-meter (151-foot) Statue of Liberty. Basically, it’s the world’s biggest slingshot. And it’s located at Spaceport America, which is situated on 18,000 acres adjacent to the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico.
The company has now used the machine to launch payloads at speeds up to 4,700 mph (7,500 kph). That’s not fast enough to get into Earth-orbit yet. For that, you need speeds of 17,500 mph (28,000 km/hr). But the company says it is working toward developing an orbital version.
Another caveat. SpinLaunch’s A-33 Suborbital Mass Accelerator produced up to 10,000 gravities (Gs) during its September 2022 test launch. And it will need to provide still-greater gravities while achieving the speeds necessary to get to space. It’s clear the system will never be suitable for human passengers. Humans can only withstand about 10 Gs.
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» Watch launch videos here and here.
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Gas Utility Proposes Costly Hydrogen Project, Raising Environmental Justice Concerns
NW Natural aims to blend hydrogen with methane gas and pipe it to homes in the name of climate action. But community groups blasted the proposal as greenwashing that imposes safety and environmental risks on a working class community.
By Nick Cunningham, DeSmog Blog
October 17, 2022
A coalition of environmental and social justice organizations have filed a petition with state regulators to halt a hydrogen project by Oregon’s largest gas utility, alleging that the project poses health, safety, and environmental dangers to residents already living with polluting industries. The hydrogen project is also viewed by critics as a costly exercise in greenwashing that offers little climate benefit and is calculated to slow down momentum towards building electrification.
NW Natural, a gas utility that serves roughly 2.5 million customers in Oregon and Washington, has proposed building a hydrogen pilot project in the city of Eugene. The company aims to use renewable energy and water to create hydrogen, and then blend it into NW Natural’s gas supply. The utility will send that blend through its existing gas infrastructure into customers’ homes, with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The blend would use 5 to 10 percent hydrogen, with the remainder made up of conventional methane gas.
When burned, hydrogen does not emit carbon dioxide,* and NW Natural says that the pilot project will help it work towards complying with Oregon’s Climate Protection Program, which requires gas utilities to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2035 (NW Natural is suing to block the program). The utility also says that its pilot project in Eugene will help it scale up hydrogen blending statewide in the years ahead.
Hydrogen comes from various sources. This method of deriving it from water using renewable energy — known as “green hydrogen” — is the most climate-friendly way to make the fuel, but also requires significant amounts of renewable energy.
But a coalition of groups — Beyond Toxics, NAACP Eugene-Springfield, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, 350 Eugene, and Sierra Club — filed a petition to intervene, asking the Public Utilities Commission to reject the project.
They cite a long list of problems with hydrogen blending, starting with the fact that it is an extremely expensive way to try to cut greenhouse gas emissions. As the Oregon Capital Chronicle reported, the $10 million project will only eliminate 200 metric tons of carbon dioxide, or 0.003 percent of NW Natural’s annual emissions.
“The costs of producing the hydrogen are far greater than the costs of electrifying homes and powering them with emissions-free solar and wind energy,” the Oregon Capital Chronicle said, adding that each ton of emissions reduced by using hydrogen for residential use would be three times more expensive than sucking carbon directly from the atmosphere, which is itself an extremely expensive form of reducing carbon emissions.
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» More about gas utilities
CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE
Louisiana project highlights unknowns of carbon capture
Louisiana utility Cleco wants to capture a power plant’s carbon emissions, but it would require huge amounts of water, raising supply concerns.
By Sara Sneath/Floodlight, in Energy News Network
October 17, 2022
A carbon capture project proposed for a central Louisiana power plant has been dubbed “Project Diamond Vault” by its owner, Louisiana utility Cleco. The utility says the project will have “precious value” to the company, customers and state.
Yet less than six months after announcing the project to capture carbon from the plant’s emissions and store them underground near the plant, Cleco revealed in a recent filing to its state regulator the $900 million carbon capture retrofit could reduce electricity produced for its customers by the plant by about 30%.
Cleco maintains it hasn’t committed to this path. But, if instead, it decides to produce additional power necessary to run the carbon capture process, it could increase the plant’s water use by about 55%, according to studies of similar power plants.
The Louisiana project is not an outlier.
Operating enough carbon capture to keep climate change in check would double humanity’s water use, according to University of California, Berkeley researchers. No matter what method of carbon capture — on a power plant or capturing carbon directly from the air — more power and more water will be needed.
The Cleco proposal provides an object lesson in how one solution can exacerbate another problem.
“These technologies to mitigate climate change have unintended environmental impacts, like water use and water scarcity,” said Lorenzo Rosa, a principal investigator at Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford. Carbon capture and sequestration increases water withdrawals at power plants between 25% to 200%, according to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that cites Rosa’s work.
It’s a lesson that likely will reverberate around the world as the same IPCC report states carbon capture could help to reduce the fossil fuel pollution that is heating the planet’s climate and causing more extreme weather.
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» More about CCS
FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY
Starved of new talent: Young people are steering clear of oil jobs
Who wants to work for the brands that brought you climate change?
By Kate Yoder, Grist
October 18, 2022
In late May, António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, stood in blue graduation robes in front of a podium at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. Looking out at the thousand-plus graduating seniors, Guterres told them that the world was facing a climate catastrophe — and it was up to them to stop it.
“As graduates, you hold the cards. Your talent is in demand from multinational companies and big financial institutions,” Guterres said in the commencement address. “But you will have plenty of opportunities to choose from, thanks to the excellence of your graduation. So my message to you is simple. Don’t work for climate wreckers. Use your talents to drive us towards a renewable future.”
If they hadn’t heard the advice from Guterres, they might have gotten the idea that digging up ancient oil deposits was not a promising career path from somewhere else. The billionaire Bill Gates recently predicted that oil companies “will be worth very little” in 30 years; CNBC’s loudest finance personality, Jim Cramer of Mad Money, has declared he’s “done” with fossil fuel stocks.
It’s part of a larger social reckoning that threatens to make business harder for oil companies. Big Oil is becoming stigmatized as awareness grows that its environmentally-friendly messaging, full of beautiful landscapes and far-off promises to erase (some) of its emissions, doesn’t match its actions. Well over half of millennials say they would avoid working in an industry with a negative image, according to a survey in 2020, with oil and gas topping the list as the most unappealing. With floods, fires, and smoke growing noticeably worse, young people have plenty of reasons to avoid working for the brands that brought you climate change.
This poses a hiring challenge for oil companies, with much of their current workforce getting closer to retirement. For years now, consulting firms have been warning the industry that it faces a “talent” gap and surveying young people to figure out how they might be convinced to take the open positions.
Meanwhile, solar and wind power are booming and luring young people who want a job that fits with their values. In 2021, according to the business group E2, 3.2 million Americans worked in clean energy industries like renewables, electric vehicles, and energy efficiency — 3.5 times the number that worked in fossil fuels. And this is likely just the beginning: Congress recently passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which is expected to cause an explosion of climate-related jobs.
“I do feel that there’s this big pincer movement coming for the fossil fuel industry — you know, they’re going to be pinched in lots of different directions,” said Caroline Dennett, a safety consultant who publicly quit working for Shell earlier this year because the company was expanding oil and gas extraction projects. “And that’s exactly what we need.”
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That Reusable Trader Joe’s Bag? It’s Rescuing an Indian Industry.
India’s deep-rooted jute industry has struggled for decades, undercut by cheaper synthetics. Now its bags are a sought-after biodegradable alternative.
By Sameer Yasir, New York Times
October 10, 2022
NADIA, India — When shoppers in places like America take a woven reusable bag to the store, they aren’t just saving the planet. They are reviving a storied industry thousands of miles away in India.
Jute, a coarse fiber used to make fabrics like burlap, has been cultivated for centuries in the warm and humid climate of the Ganges Delta. Some of India’s jute factories have been in operation for more than a century, and today the country is the world’s largest producer.
But in recent decades, the industry has struggled as less expensive synthetic substitutes have flooded the market. Farmers turned to other crops, cheap labor moved elsewhere and mills deteriorated from lack of investment.
Now, though, what had been jute’s weakness is its potential strength. As much of the world seeks biodegradable alternatives to synthetic materials like plastics, Indian jute is making its way around the planet, from supermarkets in the United States to fashion houses in France to wine producers in Italy.
“Natural is fashion now,” said Raghavendra Gupta, a top official at the Indian Jute Mills Association, a trade body in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, which is home to 70 of the country’s 93 jute mills. “There is nothing more eco-friendly than jute.”
[…] On a recent morning, hundreds of workers, heads down, stitched bags made of jute and cotton inside the Ballyfabs factory in the Howrah district of the eastern state of West Bengal. The company exports jute bags to over 50 countries on five continents. Its customers include Trader Joe’s and E.Leclerc, a French supermarket chain.
Mr. Agarwala said that after his company had invested in updated machinery and robotic printing, a worker who once made 100 bags a day could now make 500 to meet demand. After an expansion in May, the company now has the capacity to produce 75 million bags per year.
Ballyfabs’s efforts are part of a modernization push by the industry and the Indian government. In recent years, the government has created several programs to help farmers improve production and companies purchase more modern machinery.
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