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Posts Tagged ‘alternative energy’

Like the SUNY-ESF research to cool Downtown Syracuse with water from Lake Ontario, the project discussed in the local newspaper, excerpted below, is another promising step on the route to a sustainable energy future, led by my own college.

Syracuse, NY — Farmers in Oswego County beginning next week will be able to sign up to grow willows as part of a renewable energy fuel project.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing $4.3 million to be paid to Central and Northern New York farmers to grow willow to burn to make electricity. The project is a collaboration of the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry and the ReEnergy Co.

SUNY-ESF, which has been studying using willows as a renewable energy source since 1986, will offer an outreach program to educate local government officials, agricultural leaders, farmers and landowners about the opportunity to grow willow. ReEnergy operates plants that use biomass and waste residues to produce thermal and electric energy.

And, in another part of the article, Tim Volk describes the production and harvesting conditions for willow.

Volk said the willow will be grown on 3,500 acres of marginal farmland that is considered poor for other crops. He said willow grows well in wet soils and is pretty tolerant of adverse weather condition.

The first harvest of willow takes place four years after it is planted. It then is harvested again every three years, Volk said, adding it is an easy crop to grow and requires very little management.

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Justin Gillis, of the NY Times Green blog, is encouraging readers to watch the PBS 3-part documentary titled, EARTH: The Operators’ Manual, which is being broadcast by stations across the country this week. The part that caught my attention is where Gillis says that the series is not gloomy!

The host of the miniseries is Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at Penn State with a gift for talking about his field in terms that ordinary people can understand. The basic idea is to lay out the problem of climate change in the first episode and then talk about how to fix it in the others.

Several points distinguish this documentary series, created with financial support from the National Science Foundation, from others on the subject. For starters, it is not gloomy! While Dr. Alley certainly conveys the sobering facts about rising emissions of carbon dioxide and what it could mean for the planet, he does it with a light touch and from interesting locales rather than beating people over the head with portents of doom.

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Call them the 1%, the 2%, or even generously extend the designation to 20% as Andrew Ross does, people at the upper end of the income scale are the people who can afford to be green – IF green means hybrid vehicles, solar voltaics, and LEED-certified buildings (yes, there are some exceptions). In Ross’s new book, Bird on Fire: Lessons From the World’s Least Sustainable City, Phoenix is the context for an exploration of the relationship between income inequality and sustainability. Ross discussed this part of the book in a New York Times article this week titled The Darker Side of Green.  Ross cautions that a low-carbon lifestyle among the affluent will not be enough to slow climate change. The lessons that Ross uncovered in Phoenix are ones worth heeding, IMO.

Whereas uptown populations are increasingly sequestered in green showpiece zones, residents in low-lying areas who cannot afford the low-carbon lifestyle are struggling to breathe fresh air or are even trapped in cancer clusters. You can find this pattern in many American cities. The problem is that the carbon savings to be gotten out of this upscale demographic — which represents one in five American adults and is known as Lohas, an acronym for “lifestyles of health and sustainability” — can’t outweigh the commercial neglect of the other 80 percent. If we are to moderate climate change, the green wave has to lift all vessels.

Solar chargers and energy-efficient appliances are fine, but unless technological fixes take into account the needs of low-income residents, they will end up as lifestyle add-ons for the affluent.

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Charts of the Day – From the report, International Energy Outlook 2011  (IEO2011), released yesterday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Global energy use is projected to increase by 53% by 2035, with China and India accounting for half of the increase and with coal being the main source. Alternative energy is on the rise, everywhere, but its impact is fairly small in comparison with the projected increase in demand.

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Here’s an interesting synopsis of global initiatives by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon from a speech delivered to Sydney University on September 8th. How/to what extent the aspirations are fulfilled, of course, is key, but the aims are impressive. The Secretary General was seeking to counter the common belief that countries around the world are hamstrung in their attempts to mitigate climate change. He pointed to some good news, while also being clear about the long road ahead. The entire speech can be found here.

China has pledged to reduce its carbon intensity by up to 45 per cent in the next decade. It now produces half of the world’s wind and solar equipment and is growing its capacity rapidly. It has already surpassed the United States to lead the world in installed clean-energy capacity. The European Union has committed to cut emissions by at least 20 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020, regardless of what actions other countries take. The European Union’s commitment has not wavered, even in the face of tough economic times.

Mexico has launched a plan to reduce 51 million tons of carbon dioxide next year alone. That’s equal to four-and-a-half years of pollution from all the vehicles in Mexico City. Korea devoted 80 per cent of its stimulus programme to green growth, an investment that stands to deliver major economic, as well as environmental, benefits. India is also in the race, planning to increase investment in the clean energy sector by more than 350 per cent in this decade.

Japan is aiming to create 1.4 million new green jobs. Denmark is moving to be free of fossil fuels by 2050. Brazil committed to reducing its deforestation rate by 80 per cent by the year 2020 and is years ahead of schedule – even as it also continues to prove renewable energy can power a major economy.

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In a comment on this post, Svend Rumbold points out that the data about bird and bat mortality is probably based on impacts with conventional horizontal axis turbines and not the vertical axis models. Digging a little deeper into the sources for the Climatewire story, I find these things:

  • Bird and bat mortalities from wind turbines are becoming more significant problems globally because of the phenomenal increase in the wind energy industry – now growing more in developing countries than in industrialized ones. (See the Renewables 2011 Global Status Report, by REN21.)
  • Curiously, the 116-page REN21 report mentions vertical axis turbines only once, and it was in relation to ocean technology – suggesting to me that almost all of the growth in wind farms involves horizontal axis turbines.
  • The American Bird Conservancy is actively promoting bird- and bat-friendly wind projects, and the organization endorses a set of recommendations that was developed in 2007 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee.
  • The 2007 advisory guidelines are all about landscape planning and say virtually nothing about technology choice. The emphasis is on landscape-level analysis and site selection, detailed site studies, site construction best management practices, post-construction mortality studies, and other monitoring. It seems that there is some degree of confidence that better site selection can lead to fewer mortalities.
  • U.S. politics enters the equation: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued new draft guidelines in July – guidelines that the wind industry applauds and the American Bird Conservancy opposes because most of the wildlife protection language has been removed.
  • The bat research cited in Climatewire is this:  Baerwald, E.F., G.H. D’Amours, B.J. Klug, et al. 2008. Barotrauma is a significant cause of bat fatalities at wind turbines. Current Biology 18 (16): R695-R696. The same authors published a study in July of this year where they document their bat migration research based on bat mortality on wind farms in Alberta, Canada.

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When I was a graduate student, one of my favorite landscape planning books was Design For Human Ecosystems by John T. Lyle, and it is still a favorite. It was originally published in 1985, with a paperback edition published in 1999. A major premise of the book, and, indeed, of all landscape planning, is that careful analysis of landscape resources leads to land use planning and design solutions that achieve a balance between different, and often, competing interests. If that could just be the case more often than not! A reminder of how intractable some issues can be comes from the world of renewable energy.

We have heard for some time that wind turbines kill birds, and we keep hoping that a solution may be found to this problem, like the development of slower moving turbines. A report today from Umair Irfan of ClimateWire (subscription service from E&E Publishing) tells us that the problem has not been solved. While house cats and windows kill many urban bird species, turbines pose a unique threat to many more species of birds, including whooping cranes and raptors. Less reported, though, is the significant threat to bats. With white nose syndrome devastating the hybernating bat species, it is especially distressing to hear that wind turbines are killing migratory bat species.

“Many more bats than birds are killed by wind turbines, and they are killed in two ways: simply by being hit by the blades, and some are killed by pressure changes due to the sweep of the blades without even being hit,” said John Whitaker Jr., a professor of biology and director of the Center for North American Bat Research and Conservation at Indiana State University, in an email.

Because bats use sound to navigate and can detect moving objects, like insects, exceptionally well, many are better able than birds to avoid striking the blades. However, they can’t detect the invisible swath of low pressure left behind turning blades. Bats then fly into this area, and their internal airways rapidly expand, causing internal bleeding.

This phenomenon, known as barotrauma, accounts for more than half of all turbine-related fatalities in bats, according to a 2008 paper in the journal Current Biology.

Simply mapping landscape resources and locating the best areas for wind energy generation and the most significant migration areas, ala Lyle, McHarg, and others, will not lead to a solution to this problem. From a land use planning perspective, it is an issue of conflicting values. As wind energy proliferates around the globe, we have to hope that a technological solution can be found soon. That would seem to be the shortest path to resolving the dilemma.

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