e360 digest
Energy


17 Apr 2015: New Mapping Tool Could
Lower Cost of Finding Geothermal Energy

A new online mapping tool could help governments and investors evaluate the geothermal energy potential for locations around

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geothermal map

Geothermal mapping tool
the globe through satellite measurements, lowering the risks and costs involved in developing this clean energy source, its creators say. The tool uses gravity measurements from European Space Agency (ESA) satellites to look for certain characteristics unique to geothermal reservoirs, including areas with thin crusts, subduction zones, and young magmatic activity. This helps determine which locations are most likely to possess geothermal energy potential, narrowing the search — and cost — for prospectors. The project, which is a partnership between the ESA and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), will "help make a strong business case for geothermal development where none existed before,” said a director at IRENA.
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15 Apr 2015: Entries Invited for e360
Contest For Best Environmental Videos

The second annual Yale Environment 360 Video Contest is now accepting entries. The contest honors the best environmental videos. Entries must be videos that focus on an environmental issue or theme, have not been widely viewed online, and are a maximum of 15 minutes in length. Videos that are funded by an organization or company and are primarily about that organization or company are not eligible. The first-place winner will receive $2,000, two runners-up will each receive $500, and all winning entries will be posted on Yale Environment 360. The contest judges will be Yale Environment 360 editor Roger Cohn, New Yorker writer and e360 contributor Elizabeth Kolbert, and documentary filmmaker Thomas Lennon. The deadline for entries is June 15, 2015.
Read more.
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15 Apr 2015: Japan Emissions Hit Near-Record
High After Nuclear Power Plant Closings

Japan's carbon dioxide emissions reached their highest levels since 2007 last year, according to a government analysis of data
The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant

Wikimedia Commons
The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Japan.
for the year ending in March 2014. Greenhouse gas emissions had been on a downward trend as the country replaced coal and natural gas power stations with nuclear plants. However, all 48 of Japan's nuclear power reactors have been offline since September 2013 — the result of rigorous safety checks enacted after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Reuters reports. The country has increased natural gas and coal consumption to fill the void left by nuclear power, which had accounted for 26 percent of its electricity generation. Reports say the country is considering committing to a 20 percent decrease in CO2 emissions by 2030 as part of the upcoming Paris climate negotiations.
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13 Apr 2015: Public Transportation Spending
Varies With Income and Geography in the U.S.

Households in different regions of the United States spend similar amounts on transportation, but how those costs break down

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transportation spending trends

Transportation spending trends in the U.S.
between gasoline and public transportation varies widely, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the South, where the average household owns 2.1 vehicles, spending on gasoline is higher and public transportation spending is lower than in any other region. In contrast, households in the Northeast — which own an average of 1.6 vehicles per household — spend the least on gasoline and the most on public transportation of any region in the U.S. The spending breakdown also varies with income. Households in the highest income bracket spend more than $1,400 annually on public transportation — nearly three times the national average of $537 and eight times the $163 spent by lowest-income households.
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10 Apr 2015: Coal Power Plant Closings
To Spur Large CO2 Cut in U.S. in 2015

Thanks to the closing of a record number of coal-fired power plants, emissions from the U.S. power sector in 2015 are expected to fall 15 percent below 2005 levels, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The report said that seven percent of the U.S.’s coal-fired power capacity will be shut down this year, and that on the basis of emissions per-unit-of-power-generated, 2015 will be the cleanest year in more than 60 years. The loss of coal-fired power is being made up by cleaner natural gas-fired plants and by rapid growth of renewable energy, Bloomberg noted. U.S. solar power installations are expected to hit a record 9.1 gigawatts, led by California, and wind power installations should hit 8.7 gigawatts, led by Texas. “In 2015 we’ll take a giant, permanent step towards decarbonizing our entire fleet of power plants,” said analyst William Nelson.
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08 Apr 2015: Clay Shows Promise in
Capturing CO2 from Power Plants

Common clay can be just as effective as more advanced materials in capturing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, according to research by Norwegian and Slovak scientists. One particular type of clay mineral, known as smectite, was especially effective in absorbing CO2 emissions, the researchers said in the journal Scientific Reports. One possible use for clay would be to incorporate it into filters or scrubbers in smokestacks at power plants, the scientists said. They said their research into clay’s CO2-absorbing capabilities is preliminary and would not be available for commercial use anytime soon. But the scientists said clay offers many benefits compared to some other expensive and potentially toxic CO2-scrubbing materials.
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07 Apr 2015: Nationwide Vehicle Emissions
Database Could Help Cities Curb CO2

Researchers at Boston University have created a nationwide database for determining how much carbon dioxide

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on-road vehicle CO2 emissions

Nationwide CO2 emissions from vehicle travel
is produced by vehicle travel in U.S. cities and suburbs — an essential part of greenhouse gas reduction efforts, they say. Encompassing 33 years of data, the system provides kilometer-by-kilometer views of vehicle emission trends from roads across the country. Those emissions account for 28 percent of all fossil fuel CO2 emissions in the U.S., the researchers note. The data highlight the ongoing shift in the U.S. toward urban traffic and emissions. For example, cities have been responsible for 80 percent of the growth in vehicle CO2 emissions since 1980 and for 63 percent of total vehicle CO2 in 2012. Emission levels and trends can vary dramatically across different cities, however. Population density hasn't changed much in Salt Lake City since the 1980s, but the per-capita emissions have soared because the suburb and exurb populations are growing, the data indicate.
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06 Apr 2015: Millions of Acres of Grasslands
Cleared For Biofuel Crops, Study Finds

Biofuel crops expanded onto 7 million acres of new land in the U.S. over a recent four-year period, replacing millions of
soybeans for biofuel

Soybeans are a source of biodiesel fuel.
acres of grasslands, according to new research from the University of Wisconsin. Using high-resolution satellite imagery, the researchers calculated that converting grasslands to croplands for corn and soy biofuels could have emitted as much carbon dioxide as 34 coal-fired power plants operating for one year, or the equivalent of an additional 28 million cars on the road. Nearly 80 percent of cropland expansion replaced grasslands, which store large amounts of carbon in their soils, according to the report published in Environmental Research Letters. The study is the first comprehensive analysis of land-use change across the U.S. between 2008 and 2012, following the passage of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard.
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02 Apr 2015: Complexity of Ocean Heating and
Circulation Shown in Vibrant Simulation

This swirling, vibrant visualization of global water-surface temperatures from Los Alamos National Laboratory depicts

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metal criticality

Global ocean surface temperatures
the complexity of ocean circulation and heat absorption. Cool temperatures appear as blues and greens while warmer waters are red and yellow. A clear temperature divide exists between waters in the Northern Hemisphere and those in the Southern Hemisphere. Researchers say that oceans south of the equator have absorbed substantially more heat over the past decade. Vortices near the surface, which play key roles in ocean circulation, appear as swirls on this map.
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01 Apr 2015: Curbing Global Warming Aligns
With U.S. Christians' Beliefs, Survey Finds

A majority of American Christians think global warming is happening and that the government should support research and

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metal criticality

Majorities of U.S. Christians say global warming is real.
tax policies that promote renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency, according to a new report from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Among Catholics, 69 percent think global warming is happening, which is a higher percentage than Americans overall (63 percent). A majority of non-evangelical Protestants — 62 percent — also think global warming is occurring, as do 51 percent of evangelicals. The survey also found that majorities of Catholics, Protestants, and evangelicals say it is important to them personally to care for future generations, the natural environment, and the world’s poor. Of the three groups, evangelical Christians were the most likely to say that God expects people to be responsible stewards of nature.
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31 Mar 2015: Major Wildlife Impacts
Still Felt 5 Years After Gulf Oil Spill

Nearly five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico continue to die at unprecedented rates, endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are experiencing diminished nesting success, and many species of fish are suffering from abnormal development among some juveniles after exposure to oil. Those are the conclusions of a new study from the National Wildlife Federation, released three weeks before the fifth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon spill, which began on April 20, 2010. The study also said that populations of brown pelicans and laughing gulls have declined by 12 and 32 percent respectively, and that oil and dispersant compounds have been found in the eggs of white pelicans nesting in Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. The National Wildlife Federation said that the oil giant, BP, must be held fully accountable for the environmental damage and that fines and penalties should be used to restore habitats in the Gulf. Meanwhile, in advance of the spill’s fifth anniversary, BP is stepping up its public relations efforts to assure consumers that life is returning to normal in the Gulf.
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Interview: Why This Tea Partyer
Is Seeing Green on Solar Energy

Debbie Dooley’s conservative credentials are impeccable. She was one of the founding members of the Tea Party movement and
Debbie Dooley

Debbie Dooley
continues to sit on the board of the Tea Party Patriots. But on the issue of solar power, Dooley breaks the mold. To the consternation of some of her fellow conservatives, she has teamed up with the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations, first in Georgia and now in Florida, to form the Green Tea Coalition. The group is working to get an initiative on the Florida ballot that would allow individuals and businesses to sell power directly to consumers. In an interview with e360, Dooley explains why she supports solar energy campaigns and why she’s willing to go up against conservative organizations when it comes to this issue.
Read the interview.
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25 Mar 2015: Dutch Energy Company Heats
Homes With Custom-Built Computer Servers

A Dutch energy company is installing radiator-sized computer servers — which infamously generate large amounts of
Nerdalize radiator server

A radiator-sized computer server installed in a home.
waste heat as they churn out data — in residential homes to offset energy costs, company representatives said this week. In the trial program, Rotterdam-based Eneco has equipped a handful of houses with custom-built computer servers designed to heat rooms as the servers process data for a variety of corporate computing clients. Eneco and the company behind the radiator-servers, Nerdalize, expect each one to reduce a home's heating expenses by roughly $440 over the course of a year. Eneco will cover all computing-related energy costs, the company said, but they expect the program to reduce server maintenance costs by up to 55 percent through preventing complications that arise when servers overheat. In summer months, the server-radiators will redirect excess heat outside the home, its designers say.
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19 Mar 2015: Electric Vehicles Keep Cities
Cooler than Gas-Powered Cars, Study Says

Electric vehicles emit 20 percent less heat than gas-powered cars, which helps mitigate the urban heat island effect and
electric car

An electric car recharges its battery.
could lead to lower air conditioner use in major cities, according to research published in the journal Scientific Reports. Heat emanating from vehicles is an important contributor to the heat island effect — the difference between temperatures in heavily urbanized areas and cooler rural regions — and a shift toward electric vehicles could help, the researchers say. They used data from Beijing in the summer of 2012 to calculate that switching vehicles from gas to electricity could reduce the heat island effect by nearly 1 degree C. That would have saved Beijing 14.4 million kilowatt hours of electricity from air conditioning and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 11,779 tons per day, the study says.
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17 Mar 2015: California Could Install Ample
Solar Power Without Damaging Habitats

California could generate enough electricity from solar power to exceed the state's energy demand five times over, even if solar equipment were only to be installed on and near existing infrastructure, a report in Nature Climate Change says. The report shows it is possible to substantially boost California's solar energy production without converting natural habitat, harming the environment, or moving solar installations to remote areas far from consumers. Roughly eight percent California's land area has been developed by humans, the study says, and residential and commercial rooftops provide ample opportunity for generating electricity through small- and utility-scale solar power installations. Additional solar facilities could be constructed in undeveloped areas that are not ecologically sensitive, such as degraded lands, the report notes. "Integrating solar facilities into the urban and suburban environment causes the least amount of land-cover change and the lowest environmental impact," says lead researcher Rebecca R. Hernandez.
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10 Mar 2015: Solar and Wind on Track to
Dominate New U.S. Power Capacity in 2015

U.S. electric companies expect to install more than 20 gigawatts (GW) of utility-scale generating capacity this year and

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generating capacity additions

Power generating capacity set to come online in 2015.
60 percent of that will be wind and solar power, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration analysis. Energy companies plan to retire 16 GW of generating capacity this year, EIA numbers show, and 81 percent of that will be coal-fired power plants. The large number of coal plant retirements can be attributed to the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which are slated to go into effect this year. Many companies decided that shuttering coal generators would be more cost effective than retrofitting them to meet the new standards, the EIA said. Natural gas power plants — which, although they burn fossil fuels, emit significantly less carbon than coal-fired plants — will make up roughly 32 percent of the additional capacity.
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05 Mar 2015: Shifting to Electric Power
From Oil Not Always the Greener Choice

Transitioning from fossil fuels to electric-powered technology is widely believed to be an effective way to lower carbon emissions. However, as a new Nature Climate Change report explains, that calculus changes significantly if the electricity is produced by burning coal or oil. For electrification to lower emissions, a region must produce its electricity with less than 600 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per gigawatt hour (GWh), the report says. If a region's electricity production exceeds this 600-ton threshold — as it does in India, Australia, and China, for example — moving to electricity may increase carbon emissions and accelerate climate change. "You could speculate that incorporating electrified technologies such as high speed rail in China may not lower overall emissions," says Chris Kennedy, a University of Toronto engineer who authored the study. "It might even be more carbon friendly to fly."
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26 Feb 2015: Heat-Trapping Effects of
CO2 Measured in Nature for First Time

Scientists have long understood how carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere and contributes to global warming, but the phenomenon had not been directly documented at the earth's surface outside of a laboratory — until now. Writing in the journal Nature, researchers present 11 years of field data on carbon dioxide's capacity to absorb thermal radiation emitted from the surface of the earth. The results agree with theoretical predictions of the greenhouse effect associated with fossil fuel combustion, researchers say, and provide further confirmation that calculations used in climate models are on track when it comes to representing the impact of CO2 emissions. "We see, for the first time in the field, the amplification of the greenhouse effect because there's more CO2 in the atmosphere to absorb what the earth emits in response to incoming solar radiation," says Daniel Feldman, a scientist at Berkeley Lab and lead author of the study.
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20 Feb 2015: Wind Produced 10 Percent of
Texas Electricity in 2014, Grid Operator Says

More than 10 percent of the electricity used in Texas last year came from wind turbines, according to the Electric
wind plant locations in Texas

General locations of wind plants in Texas.
Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state's electric grid. Wind's share of the Texas electric mix grew from just over 6 percent in 2009 to 10.6 percent in 2014. During that period, wind power generation actually doubled — rising from 18.8 million megawatt-hours to 36.1 million — while total electricity generation in Texas also rose by 11 percent. The share of electricity generated by wind power in Texas is more than double the U.S. figure of 4.4 percent. The growth in wind generation in Texas is a result of new wind plants coming online and grid expansions that have allowed more wind power to flow through the system to consumers, the council said.
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09 Feb 2015: Norway Divests National Fund
From Coal Companies Over Climate Concerns

Norway has divested its sovereign wealth fund — the largest in the world and worth roughly $850 billion — from coal companies, marking the first time a nation has divested for reasons related to climate change. Over the past three years, the country has dropped investments in more than 100 companies involved in coal mining, tar sands development, cement production, and mountaintop removal coal mining, officials announced. In a report released last week, the fund's directors said that risks associated with carbon emissions, deforestation, and poor water management outweigh the benefits of continuing to invest in these companies. Critics point out that the fund, which has been built with earnings from Norway's profitable oil industry, still holds roughly $40 billion in fossil fuel investments. The country says it will decide on a case- by-case basis whether to divest from those holdings.
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05 Feb 2015: Ultra-Efficient Solar Cells
Can Be Adapted for Rooftops, Research Finds

Extremely efficient solar cells similar to those used in space may soon be ready for installation on residential rooftops, according to a report in Nature Communications. Concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) systems, which use lenses and curved mirrors to focus sunlight onto small solar cells, produce energy much more efficiently than conventional solar panels — 40-percent efficiency compared to less than 20 percent for standard silicon systems. But they are typically the size of billboards and have to be positioned very accurately to track the sun throughout the day. Now researchers have overcome these obstacles by developing a CPV system that uses miniaturized gallium-arsenide photovoltaic cells, 3D-printed plastic lens arrays, and a moveable focusing mechanism. The new system is small and light enough to fit on a residential rooftop and should be inexpensive to produce, researchers say.
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16 Jan 2015: Solar a Better Investment Than
Stocks in Most Large U.S. Cities, Study Says

For homeowners in 46 of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., investing in a residential solar power system would yield better returns than putting money in the

stock market, according to an analysis by the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center at North Carolina State University. For 21 million owners of single-family homes in the U.S., solar energy already costs less than current local utility rates, the report says, as long as the system can be purchased with low-cost financing of 5 percent interest over 25 years. Residents of New York City, Boston, and Albuquerque would likely see the largest benefits from investing in residential solar, the report says. The findings assume, however, that government incentives encouraging solar investments — such as tax exemptions and policies allowing homeowners to sell excess solar power to utility companies — will continue, which is highly dependent on federal, state, and local politics.
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14 Jan 2015: Offshore Wind More Profitable
Than Drilling on U.S. East Coast, Report Says

Offshore wind would produce twice the number of jobs and twice the amount of energy as offshore drilling

Offshore wind turbines in the Irish Sea
near the U.S. East Coast, according to a new report from the advocacy group Oceana. The report contends that recent claims by the oil and gas industry about the economic potential of offshore drilling in the region are exaggerated because many of those oil and gas reserves are not economically viable to drill. Plans to build the nation's first offshore wind farm off Cape Cod have repeatedly failed to move forward. But Oceana calculates that over the course of 20 years, offshore wind in the Atlantic could produce nearly twice as much energy as all of the economically recoverable oil and gas. Offshore wind installations also would likely create an additional 91,000 jobs — twice as many as offshore drilling would create, Oceana says.
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12 Jan 2015: Maasai Group Plans to Sell
Biogas Made From Slaughterhouse Waste

A group of Maasai farmers in southwestern Kenya has developed a profitable way to convert animal waste and

A Keeko Biogas cylinder prototype
blood from a local slaughterhouse into biogas that can power the facility as well as other local businesses, Reuters reports. The Keeko Biogas project plans to start bottling the fuel and selling cylinders of it in March, once safety testing has been completed, project leaders say. At roughly $8 per 6-kilogram cylinder, the biogas is about half the price of liquefied petroleum gas, and it can be up to 40 percent more energy efficient than propane or butane, says the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute, which is providing technical support for the project. The facility will be able to produce 100 to 300 cylinders of biogas per week, organizers say. The project will not only offset the costs of waste management for the slaughterhouse, it will also likely help prevent deforestation in the region. "We cut down a lot of trees for charcoal and we hope to reduce that,” the chairman of the slaughterhouse told Reuters.
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08 Jan 2015: Land Disturbances Darken Snow
And Increase Melt Rate, Researchers Say

Land disturbances, such as agricultural practices and development, may have a big impact on snow purity and

Sampling snowpack in Montana
melt rates, according to a large-scale survey of impurities in North American snow by researchers at the University of Washington. The researchers were particularly interested in the Bakken oil fields of northwest North Dakota. Before undertaking the study, they predicted that diesel emissions and air pollution associated with oil exploration would darken the snowpack, decreasing the amount of sunlight it reflects and increasing its melt rate. They found, however, that while these activities do add soot to the snow, the dirt they stir up adds an equal amount of impurities to the snowpack. Disturbances from clearing oil pads, new housing sites, agricultural activities, and extra truck traffic on unpaved roads add a significant amount of dirt to snowfields, they found.
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05 Jan 2015: U.S. Cities Are Significantly
Brighter than German Cities, Scientists Say

German cities emit several times less light per capita than similarly sized American cities, according to new research published in the journal Remote Sensing.

Berlin, Germany, at night
Moreover, the differences in light emission become more dramatic as city size increases: Light per capita increases with city size in the U.S. but decreases in Germany. Factors such as the type of lamps used and architectural elements like the width of the streets and the amount of trees are likely behind the differences, the researchers say. Energy-efficient LED street lighting is currently being installed in many cities worldwide, and the researchers expect this to change the nighttime environment in many ways — for example, by reducing the amount of light that shines upward. The study also found that, in major cities in developing countries, the brightest light sources were typically airports or harbors, whereas the brightest areas in large European cities are often stadiums and city centers.
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29 Dec 2014: The Arctic Is Absorbing
More and More Sunlight, NASA Images Show

The Arctic has been absorbing significantly more sunlight since the year 2000, according to NASA satellite data,

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Changes in absorption of sunlight in the Arctic
a trend that mirrors the steady decrease in Arctic sea ice during that same period. These maps show changes in the amount of solar radiation absorbed over the Arctic from 2000 to 2014, as well as changes in sea ice cover during the same period. As sea ice cover declines and more dark ocean is exposed to the sun's rays, that decreases the reflectivity, or albedo, of the ocean's surface, meaning more heat is absorbed. Shades of red depict areas absorbing more sunlight and areas with less ice cover. The Arctic's rate of absorption has increased by 5 percent every June, July, and August since 2000. No other region on the planet has shown significant changes in albedo during that time, researchers say.
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23 Dec 2014: Madrid Announces Largest
Energy-Efficient Street Lighting Project

The city of Madrid has announced plans to renew its entire street lighting system with 225,000 new energy-efficient

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Madrid announces energy efficient street lighting project

New energy-efficient street lighting in Madrid, Spain.
bulbs, the world’s largest street-lighting upgrade to date. The new lights, which will afford the city a 44-percent reduction in energy costs, will pay for themselves, according to Philips, the company supplying the new system. In addition to drawing less overall power, the bulbs’ intensity will be controlled from a central command panel, resulting in less wasted energy. Of the 225,000 new lights, 84,000 will be locally manufactured LEDs, and the city is taking measures to ensure the safe recycling of heavy metals found in the old lamps. Similar, though smaller, projects have been undertaken in Argentina, Sweden, and the Netherlands. 

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A Green Dilemma for the Holidays:
Better to Shop Online or In-Store?


Various studies in recent years have suggested that online shopping typically packs a lower carbon punch than shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. But new research suggests the story is more complicated than that. The key, according to a report in the Journal of Cleaner Production, is to minimize the number of miles driven per item — whether by the shopper, a local delivery van, or a FedEx truck.
Read more.
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17 Dec 2014: Obama Protects Alaska's
Bristol Bay From Oil and Gas Development

President Obama yesterday announced protections for Bristol Bay, Alaska, one

A grizzly bear catches a salmon in Bristol Bay.
of the most productive fishing grounds in the nation, from future oil and gas development. The president's action is expected to benefit commercial fishermen and Native Alaskans and boost conservation efforts in the region, which is roughly the size of Florida. Noting that Bristol Bay is the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery and the source of 40 percent of U.S. wild-caught seafood — a catch worth $2 billion annually — Obama vowed to ensure long-term safeguards for the bay. The region has been under protection intermittently since 1989, when the Exxon Valdez spill prompted a federal moratorium on offshore drilling. "It is a natural wonder, and it’s something that’s just too precious to be putting out to the highest bidder," Obama said in a video message. The federal government is still considering whether to allow development of what would be North America's largest open-pit mine in the bay's watershed.
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