Business & Innovation
22 Mar 2013:
Expansion of Chinese City Poses
Environmental and Safety Risks, Critics Say
An ambitious plan to expand the western Chinese city of Lanzhou into a regional industrial hub is raising concerns over what critics call lax government oversight of the environmental and safety impacts, including worries that it will siphon huge amounts of water from an already parched region
and devastate nearby mountains. Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province, is a city of 3.6 million and a gateway to Tibet and the Xinjiang region. It is known as one of the most polluted cities in China, and now the government is working to expand the city’s footprint by at least 70 percent, according to Caixin Online
. That expansion involves the flattening of mountaintops, and the additional 1 million people and increased industrial activity will draw water from the already polluted and over-stressed Yellow River. Opponents of the plan say buildings will also be constructed on loose soil that will be vulnerable to collapse. “It was a rash decision to begin construction on the new city before receiving environmental approvals or seeking opinions from the Lanzhou public,” said Zhao Zhong, a local activist.
21 Mar 2013:
U.S.-Spain Energy Companies
Plan World’s Largest Solar Towers
A U.S.-based company that will soon finish construction of one of the world’s largest solar thermal power plants in the Mojave Desert, is now looking to build an even larger plant
in Southern California. BrightSource
Click to enlarge
The Ivanpah solar plant in the Mojave Desert
Energy, which is expected to begin producing up to 370 megawatts of electricity per day from its Mojave plant beginning this summer, last week announced plans to build, in partnership with Spain-based Abengoa Solar, a 500-megawatt plant in Riverside, California
. Like the Mojave project, the new solar array will utilize thousands of mirrors that reflect sunlight onto central towers to produce steam. While the company's first project, the so-called Ivanpah plant, will use three towers to generate 130 megawatts each, the new $2.6 billion project involves construction of two 750-foot towers capable of producing 250 megawatts each, which combined would provide enough electricity to power 200,000 households and prevent 17 million tons of carbon emissions during the life of the plant, BrightSource says.
20 Mar 2013:
High-Speed Trains Provide
Environmental, Social Benefits, Study Says
Bullet trains fuel real-estate booms, improve quality of life, reduce air pollution and traffic congestion, and provide a “safety valve” for crowded cities, especially in the developing world, according to a study by Chinese and U.S. economists. The study was based on China’s rapidly expanding high-speed rail network, but the researchers said the benefits experienced there would be similar for California’s proposed high-speed rail system
. Bullet train systems connecting China’s largest cities to nearby smaller cities have made these “second tier” cities more attractive for workers and alleviated traffic congestion and pollution in megacities, according to the study, carried out by economists at Tsinghua University and the University of California, Los Angeles. The study found that the trains created a new category of exurbs within 60 to 470 miles of urban centers such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, helping keep people from moving to already crowded megacities. The study was published in the online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
19 Mar 2013:
New Carbon Storage Method
Reduces Earthquake Risk, Study Says
A team of researchers says it has demonstrated a method of underground carbon storage that reduces the risk of triggering earthquakes
, a safety concern cited by some scientists about the emerging field of carbon capture and sequestration. While often cited as a potentially key option in reducing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, earlier studies
have suggested that the use of carbon sequestration technologies in some rock formations can result in leaks that ultimately cause minor tremors. But in a new study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters
, Yale University researchers say that storing carbon in a common type of volcanic rock, known as reactive mafic rock, offers a far safer alternative. According to their findings, injecting carbon into the mafic rock causes a chemical reaction that generates carbon minerals, creating a so-called “mineral-trapping” phenomenon that reduces fluid pressure and distributes the stress load, which in turn minimizes seismic risks.
15 Mar 2013:
Obama Unveils New Actions
To Combat Climate Change in Second Term
Making good on his promise to fight climate change more aggressively in his second term, President Obama is unveiling two major initiatives to reduce the U.S.’s reliance on fossil fuels, including a new $2 billion Energy Security Trust to fund the next generation of green vehicles, as well as new reviews of federal projects to assess their climate impacts. During an appearance at Argonne National Laboratory, Obama unveiled details of the proposed energy trust, which would shift $2 billion in royalties from oil and gas operations on federal lands
into research into vehicles powered by renewable energy sources. An administration official said the policy will keep the U.S. at the forefront of the emerging green technology sector and will help the nation wean itself off fossil fuels. Obama is also expected to expand a Nixon-era law to require federal agencies to assess the climate effects of large projects
, including pipelines and highways.
14 Mar 2013:
U.S. Grants Will Promote
Small-Scale, Modular Nuclear Reactors
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) this week announced a new series of cost-sharing grants to promote the development of small-scale, factory-made nuclear reactors
, an emerging energy source that Obama administration officials say could help replace the coal-fired plants expected to cease operations in the coming decades. The administration, which has allocated $452 million for the program, hopes to spur the production and licensing of as many as 50 so-called modular reactors annually by 2040, said Rebecca Smith-Kevern, director of light water reactor technology at the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. DOE officials say these modular reactors, which would be about one-third the size of typical nuclear power plants, also include scalable designs that will provide safety and economic benefits
. “We have a vision of having a whole fleet of [modular reactors] produced in factories,” Smith-Kavern said at a conference. “We envision the U.S. government to be the first users.” Citing a 2011 paper
, she said plants could cost $3 billion to $5 billion apiece.
13 Mar 2013:
New Desalination Process
Slashes Costs of Producing Fresh Water
Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s largest military contractors, has developed a process that company officials say significantly reduces the amount of energy needed to desalinate water
, an innovation that could help communities worldwide tackle the growing threat of water scarcity. According to the company, the new process uses ultra-thin carbon membranes with holes large enough to allow water to pass through, but small enough to block the salt molecules in seawater, Reuters reports. Because the membranes have holes as thin as a single atom, the process would require far less energy than existing desalination technologies, which rely on reverse osmosis, the company says. “It’s 500 times thinner than the best filter on the market today and a thousand times stronger,” said John Stetson, a Lockheed Martin engineer. “The energy that’s required and the pressure that’s required to filter salt is approximately 100 times less.” A 2011 study
found that desalination technology could be the cheapest approach to meeting the planet’s growing water needs.
Interview: An Advocate for
Environmental Justice at EPA
Matthew Tejada brings on-the-ground experience to his new job as director of the Office of Environmental Justice at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Tejada, 33, took over his EPA post
this month after leading Air Alliance Houston, where he helped organize communities along the Texas Gulf Coast to fight air pollution from chemical plants, oil refineries, and the shipping industry. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Tejada explains how he sees his role at the EPA as an advocate for environmental justice, a concept that first emerged in the 1980s and focuses on the pollution burdens often placed on poor and minority neighborhoods. Tejada tells e360
why he thinks his work as a community advocate will help in his new job, why it is important for environmental organizations to build coalitions with grassroots groups, and how he sees “similarities across environmental justice communities, whether they’re in Puerto Rico or in Kansas.” Read the interview
12 Mar 2013:
Mass Scale of Renewables Shift
Is Evident in Blueprint for New York State
A new study concludes that it would be technically and economically feasible for New York State to meet all of its energy needs from renewable sources
by 2030, but
researchers say the transition would involve building wind, solar, and other alternative energy sources on a mass scale. Writing in the journal Energy Policy
, a team of researchers said that to wean itself from fossil fuels for electricity production and transportation, the state would need to build more than 4,000 onshore wind turbines, 12,700 offshore turbines, 828 photovoltaic plants, 5 million rooftop solar systems, and 2,600 one-megawatt tidal turbines. If implemented, New York would meet 40 percent of its energy needs with wind power and 38 percent from solar, the study said. While this dramatic conversion would require initial capital expenses, the study predicts that the long-term health benefits and new jobs would more than make up for those costs. The transition would also reduce end-use power demand by 37 percent, prevent 4,000 premature deaths annually, and save $33 billion in health costs each year, the researchers said.
07 Mar 2013:
Shale Gas Boom Drives
Surge in Propane-Fueled Vehicles
The U.S. satellite TV provider DISH Network Corporation has announced it will introduce 200 propane-fueled vans
to its fleet in 2013, another sign that propane, like natural gas, is offering an increasingly cost-effective transportation fuel alternative to gasoline and diesel. While there are already more than 13 million propane-fueled vehicles worldwide, propane historically has been considered a niche fuel because of high production costs. But driven by the surge in domestic shale oil and gas production, the wholesale cost of propane is now only about 85 cents per gallon — about half of 2011 costs. And while the vehicles cost about 10 percent more than diesel-fueled trucks, propane-fueled trucks ultimately can save $50,000 in fuel costs over the life of a vehicle, according to Reuters. In addition, DISH officials say their new propane-fueled vans will reduce the fleet’s overall emissions of carbon dioxide by 12.5 million pounds
over the lifetime of the vehicles. According to Pike Research, sales of natural gas-fueled vehicles are projected to increase 10 percent annually
through 2019 while propane-fueled vehicles are expected to climb 8 percent per year.
27 Feb 2013:
Oxfam Ranks Food Giants on
Sourcing and Environmental Policies
The group Oxfam has published an online scorecard assessing the agricultural sourcing of the world’s biggest food and beverage companies, rating them on factors that include water resource management, climate
awareness, and transparency. Using publicly available information, the “Behind the Brands
” campaign rates the 10 companies with the largest overall revenues — including Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, Mars, and General Mills — on their awareness and responsiveness to these issues and supply chain management. According to Oxfam's analysis, Europe-based companies Nestlé and Unilever earned the highest scores overall, receiving good marks for water management and workers’ rights. Seven of the 10 companies received the lowest possible score for land management
. Associated British Foods, Kellogg’s, and General Mills received the lowest overall scores. Oxfam says the scoreboard will be updated regularly.
26 Feb 2013:
Major U.S. Utility Will Close
Three Coal-Burning Plants in Midwest
One of the U.S.’s largest electric utilities has agreed to close three coal-fired power plants
in the Midwest, the latest sign of how the U.S.'s electricity supply is shifting away from coal to natural gas and renewable energy. American Electric Power (AEP) will shut down the three plants in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky by 2015 — retiring a total of 2,011 megawatts of coal-burning capacity — and replace some of the power generation with wind and solar investments in Indiana and Michigan. According to the agreement, which settles a lawsuit originally filed in 1999 over the environmental costs of pollution that drifts east from the plants, the Ohio-based company will also spend $5 billion to install pollution-control technologies at its aging coal-burning plants in the eastern U.S. and cut its annual sulfur dioxide emissions from 828,000 tons to 174,000 tons within 12 years. With the latest shut-downs, utilities have now closed or announced the closing of 142 coal-burning plants since 2010.
21 Feb 2013:
Chinese Air Pollution Triggers
Steep Rise in Nitrogen Deposition
A spike in Chinese air pollution over the last three decades has caused a 60 percent increase in the levels of nitrogen pollutants that ultimately end up back on the nation’s land and in its water
, a new study has found. In an analysis of 270 monitoring sites across the country, researchers found that the annual deposition of nitrogen, as measured in precipitation, had increased from 13.2 kilograms per hectare in 1980 to about 21.1 kilograms per hectare in 2010. Scientists say so-called nitrogen deposition occurs when nitrogen in the atmosphere is washed back to the planet’s surface by rain and snow in the form of pollutants such as nitrates and ammonium. Elevated nitrogen levels can trigger harmful ecological effects,
from soil acidification to feeding algae blooms. According to the study, published in Nature
, leaves of herbaceous and woody plants absorbed 33 percent more nitrogen in 2010 than in 1980, while rice, wheat, and maize crops on unfertilized fields had a 16 percent increase. The spike in pollution levels has been driven by an increase in industrial emissions, agricultural uses, and transportation.
19 Feb 2013:
New Global Standard Aims
To Reduce Water Waste by Businesses
The UK-based Carbon Trust has introduced what it calls the first global standard on water management and reduction
in hopes of encouraging more sustainable water use by businesses. The new standard, created by members of the group along with four early-adopting companies, including Coca-Cola Enterprises, will require businesses to show that they are measuring their water use and reducing consumption on a year-to-year basis, Carbon Trust executive Tom Delay told BBC News
. “We look at the various water supply methods: mains, surface water abstraction, groundwater, and rainwater collection,” he said. The Carbon Trust, which already helps business and governments reduce energy use and carbon emissions, decided to expand into water issues since freshwater scarcity is closely linked with climate change. According to a 2009 report
, global freshwater demand will outpace currently available supplies by 40 percent by 2030. In a survey of 475 companies in the U.S., UK, China, and Brazil, the Carbon Trust found that just one out of seven businesses have set targets for water reduction and report their performances publicly.
12 Feb 2013:
Norwegian Retrofit Seeks
To Create ‘Energy-Positive’ Office Buildings
Two office buildings in Norway are being retrofitted so they will generate more power than they use
when the project is completed next year. The three- and four-story buildings, in the town of Sandvika, near Oslo, will generate geothermal and solar energy on site, making the buildings “energy positive,” according to the project's backers. The retrofit will use a heat-retaining black façade, top-quality insulation to reduce energy use by up to 90 percent, and an interior design that will allow air to circulate without fans. “We believe this is the first time in the world that a normal office block is being renovated to such strict standards,” Svein Brandtzaeg, chief executive of Norsk Hydro, one of the project’s partners, told Reuters. According to the UN Environment Programme, the building industry has the greatest potential of any economic sector for large cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
07 Feb 2013:
Wind Energy Now Cheaper
Than Fossil Fuel Power Plants in Australia
Unsubsidized wind power is now cheaper than electricity produced from new coal- and natural gas-fired power stations
in Australia, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The study said that electricity can be supplied from a new wind farm at a cost of 80 Australian dollars per megawatt hour, compared to 143 Australian dollars from a new coal plant and 116 Australian dollars from a new natural gas plant. Even without a recently imposed carbon price, wind energy is 14 percent cheaper than new coal power and 18 percent cheaper than new natural gas, the study said. The analysis said that Australia’s largest banks are unlikely to finance new coal plants because of concern over emissions-intensive investments and that natural gas has become expensive as Australia exports more liquid natural gas. By 2020, the report said, large-scale solar arrays will also be cheaper than coal or gas when carbon taxes are figured in. “The perception that fossil fuels are cheap and renewables are expensive is now out of date,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
05 Feb 2013:
Sea Urchins Offer a Clue
To New Way to Capture Carbon Dioxide
British researchers have discovered that sea urchins use nickel particles on their exoskeletons to effectively capture CO2 and turn it into a solid form, an intriguing finding that could offer an inexpensive way to capture and store carbon
from fossil fuel-fired power plants. Scientists from Newcastle University were studying how marine organisms absorb CO2 to make shells and skeletons when they discovered that sea urchin larvae have a high concentration of nickel on their exoskeletons, which helps them absorb CO2. When the researchers added nickel nanoparticles to CO2-saturated water, they discovered that the nickel completely removed CO2 and turned it into calcium carbonate
, a chalk-like mineral. Current efforts to capture and store carbon dioxide from power plants involve either pumping it underground or using an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase to convert it to calcium carbonate. But both methods are expensive, and the Newcastle researchers say that using nickel to capture and store CO2 bubbled through water could be a thousand times cheaper than employing carbonic anhydrase. “It seems too good to be true, but it works,” said Lidija Siller, a physicist at Newcastle. The research was published in Catalysis Science & Technology.
01 Feb 2013:
U.S. Carbon Emissions
Fall To The Lowest Level Since 1994
The continuing expansion of renewable energy technologies, advances in energy efficiency, and the rapid shift from coal to natural gas for generating electricity combined to bring down U.S. carbon dioxide emissions last year to their lowest levels since 1994
, according to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The report said that CO2 emissions fell 13 percent in the last five years alone, which means that the U.S. is now more than halfway toward reaching President Obama’s goal of cutting emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The Bloomberg report said that while the shift from burning coal to natural gas is a significant factor in the U.S.’s continued emissions reductions, the adoption of renewable energy technologies is also playing an important role. The report said the cumulative installed solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass-based energy sources in the U.S. reached 86 gigawatts last year,
compared with 43 gigawatts in 2008. Another growing source of emissions cuts is adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles, with 488,000 people in the U.S. purchasing these energy-efficient cars last year.
31 Jan 2013:
Massive UK Wind Turbines
Are a Sign of ‘Super-sizing’ of Wind Power
Two of the world’s largest wind turbines, with blades 60 meters (196 feet) long, have been installed off the Yorkshire coast, a sign of a growing trend toward producing colossal wind turbines to boost generating capacity.
The 6-megawatt turbines, manufactured by Siemens, are so large that they had to be installed using a specially built ship
, Siemens said. The pair of turbines is being erected on an experimental basis to gauge how they perform, but the operator of the offshore wind farm, the Denmark-based DONG energy group, has plans to install dozens more so that production will reach 210 megawatts at the site, located about five miles offshore. DONG says it intends to eventually install 300 of the massive turbines by 2017 at various offshore locations in the U.K., including some in deeper waters. Energy analysts say the 60-meter Siemens turbines reflect growing interest among wind energy companies to deploy ever-larger turbines, with plans in the works to manufacture turbines 100 meters long.
30 Jan 2013:
Satellite Analysis Shows
Gulf Oil Spills Typically Underestimated
An analysis of satellite images has revealed that small oil spills that have become common in the Gulf of Mexico are often much larger than reported
, U.S. scientists say. Using technology that calculates the size of oil slicks based on differences in the texture of water surface, as captured in publicly available satellite photos, a team of oceanographers at Florida State University (FSU) estimated that known human-caused spills in the Gulf were typically about 13 times larger than reported to the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Response Center. The spills are typically the result of minor drilling mishaps or fuel discharges from ships. “There is very consistent underreporting of the magnitude of [oil] releases,” Ian MacDonald, a FSU scientist and team leader, told Nature
. While these relatively minor oil spills may not cause significant environmental damage, the cumulative damage is not known since officials are unaware of the true extent of the spills, said John Amos, president of SkyTruth, a nonprofit organization that participated in the study.
25 Jan 2013:
German Plant to Produce
Methane Using Surplus Green Energy
Audi is building a plant in Germany that will use surplus power produced from renewable sources, such as wind energy generated when demand is low, to produce methane from water and carbon dioxide
. The plant, which will use technology developed by Stuttgart-based SolarFuel, reportedly will produce enough methane to run 1,500 of the new natural-gas vehicles Audi is planning to start selling this year. To produce the methane, the company will utilize a combination of technologies: electrolysis, in which water is split into its hydrogen and oxygen components, and methanation, in which the hydrogen is combined with carbon from carbon dioxide to produce methane. While the combined process would normally be considered impractical because of inefficiencies, the availability of excess energy from renewable sources in Germany, which has increased from 150 gigawatt-hours per year to 1,000 in two years, makes the process economically feasible, according to a report in MIT’s Technology Review
. “That’s electricity that we could use for nothing,” said SolarFuel’s Stephan Rieke.
24 Jan 2013:
Solid Electrolyte Could Lead
To Larger, Safer Lithium Ion Batteries
U.S. researchers have developed a high-performance, solid electrolyte for use in energy-dense lithium ion batteries that they say is safer than existing liquid electrolytes and could lead to batteries that are five to 10 times more powerful than existing batteries
. While lithium-ion batteries typically utilize liquid electrolytes to conduct the lithium ions between the positively charged cathode and the negatively charged anode, the liquid materials pose flammability risks — especially as engineers attempt to make more powerful lightweight batteries. Utilizing a chemical process known as nanostructuring, scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) say they were able to create a nanoporous solid electrolyte that conducts ions 1,000 times faster than in its natural bulk form, enabling more energy-dense batteries. According to the researchers, this innovation could allow engineers to develop pure lithium anodes, which could yield batteries that are far more powerful than those using carbon-based anodes.
15 Jan 2013:
Key Offshore Transmission Line
To Be Built For U.S. East Coast Wind Power
A group of prominent U.S. investors, including Google, is expected to announce today that it is moving forward with construction on the first leg of an ambitious $5 billion undersea transmission line
that will connect
Atlantic Wind Connection
New Jersey Energy Link
future offshore wind farms along the mid-Atlantic coast, a project they say will avert the regulatory hurdles required in connecting each individual wind farm to land-based electricity lines. The first segment of the project, which will occur in three phases, includes construction of a 189-mile transmission cable along the New Jersey coast. Coordinators of the project, known as the Atlantic Wind Connection, say the cable would deliver more than 3,400 megawatts of electric capacity
from future offshore wind projects to three locations in New Jersey. Construction is expected to begin in 2016, according to the sponsors. The project intends to eventually link offshore wind farms with electricity grids from Virginia to New York.
11 Jan 2013:
California Solar Rebate
Program Reaches 1-Gigawatt Milestone
California homeowners and businesses, taking advantage of a state rebate program that encourages the installation of solar panels, are now generating 1 gigawatt — or 1,000 megawatts — of electricity, roughly the equivalent of a nuclear power plant, state regulators say. Launched in 2007, the $2.4 billion California Solar Initiative
has offered rebates as high as $2.50 per watt to businesses and homeowners who installed solar panels, with a target of generating 1,940 megawatts by the end of 2016. According to state data, the program so far has encouraged the installation of 1,066 megawatts, more solar capacity than any other state and more than most countries. While the state incentive has fallen by as much 92 percent since the program was introduced, the number of applications continues to increase as the price of solar power installations falls, the San Francisco Chronicle reports
. When the program started six years ago, residential solar systems cost about $9.76 per watt; they now cost about $6.19 per watt.
10 Jan 2013:
Up to 50 Percent of Food
Is Wasted Worldwide, Report Says
As much as half of the food produced globally is wasted
each year as a result of inefficient agricultural practices, inadequate storage facilities and transportation systems, and wasteful consumer habits, a new report says. While the world community produces about 4 billion metric tons of food annually, roughly 1.2 to 2 billion metric tons of that food — or 30 to 50 percent — is never consumed, according to the UK-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers
. The causes of waste vary from region to region, the report says. In developing nations, much of the waste occurs at the local level as a result of inefficient harvesting, lack of transportation, and poor infrastructure and storage. In richer nations, the waste is often triggered by customer and retail behavior. For example, as much as 30 percent of UK vegetables are never harvested because their appearance doesn’t meet consumer standards. “This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands,” the report says.
08 Jan 2013:
Using Fireflies As a Model,
Scientists Boost Efficiency of LED Lights
Drawing inspiration from the structure of a firefly, scientists say they have improved the efficiency of a light-emitting diode (LED) by 55 percent
. While studying the insects, the researchers noticed that
LED inspired by fireflies
a pattern of sharp, jagged scales on the fireflies’ bodies enhanced the amount of light emitted by the fireflies’ lantern, an abdominal organ that creates the flashes of light to attract mates. After mimicking that structure in the production of a LED design, the researchers found that the amount of light extracted was significantly increased. Light-emitting diodes are made from semi-conductors and represent a major advance in lighting efficiency over traditional incandescent bulbs and compact fluorescent bulbs. “The most important aspect of this work is that it shows how much we can learn by carefully observing nature,” said Annick Bay, a Ph. D. student at the University of Namur in Belgium and one of the authors of a paper published in the journal Optics Express
04 Jan 2013:
Starbucks Targets Reduction
In Paper Waste with $1 Reusable Cups
Starbucks, the world’s largest chain of coffee shops, this week started selling $1 reusable plastic cups
at its stores
A reusable plastic cup
in the U.S. and Canada, an initiative the company hopes will drastically reduce the amount of paper waste that ends up in landfills. The company, which has more than 11,000 stores in the U.S., tested the reusable cups at 600 stores in the Pacific Northwest in October, and within a month found that the use of reusable cups increased 26 percent compared with a year earlier. While Starbucks says nearly 2 percent of drinks sold in 2011 were served in personal tumblers brought in by customers
— a 55-percent increase in three years — the company is now targeting 5 percent use of reusable cups by 2015. Five years ago, the company had set a goal of serving 25 percent of its coffee drinks in reusable cups. Starbucks uses about 4 billion disposable cups
02 Jan 2013:
U.S. Wind Tax Credit
Extended in ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Compromise
The last-minute tax deal brokered by U.S. lawmakers to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff” included a one-year extension of the wind energy tax credit, a subsidy that industry officials say is critical for the growth of the wind energy sector. The bill, which now awaits President Obama’s signature, preserves the 2.2-cents-per-kilowatt-hour credit for all wind energy projects that begin construction in 2013
, allowing projects that are not completed until 2014 to qualify, as well. While the wind energy sector achieved record growth in 2012 — accounting for 44 percent of all new electricity generating capacity in the U.S.
— industry leaders say the possible expiration of the tax credit forced some turbine manufacturers to idle factories and lay off workers during the latter half of 2012. The lack of a long-term federal policy has created “a ‘boom-bust’ cycle” in the wind energy sector
for more than a decade, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a trade organization.
31 Dec 2012:
Network of Smartphone-Based
Sensors Track Air Pollution Levels
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have developed a network of smartphone-based air pollution monitors
that allow individuals to track
pollution levels in real time and feed a central database of air quality trends citywide throughout the day. The so-called CitySense devices are equipped with sensors that measure ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide, and a digital app that illustrates the color-coded results based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality ratings. During a four-week test, in which the phones were distributed to 30 volunteers, the system showed hotspots of elevated pollution that shifted over the course of the day. Ultimately, the developers hope to deploy hundreds of devices in order to generate a public database on air quality levels. “We want more data and better data, which we can provide to the public,” said William Griswold, a computer science professor at UC San Diego. “We are making the invisible visible.”
27 Dec 2012:
Group Collecting DNA Codes
Of Endangered Species Gets Google Boost
The Consortium for the Barcode of Life
(CBOL), a global initiative assembling the “DNA barcodes
” of the world’s endangered species, received $3 million from Google this month to create an online database organizers hope will emerge as a critical tool in the enforcement of international wildlife protection laws. Since it was formed in 2004, the consortium’s 200 participating organizations have collected genetic information for more than 100,000 species. With tens of thousands of species currently in danger of extinction, project organizers hope the database will provide a quick and inexpensive way to identify species, including many that are regularly smuggled through airports. In some cases, law enforcement officials would be able to send a small tissue sample to a laboratory for identification rather than requiring an expert to identify the species.