Saturday, June 29, 2013

Obama's Climate & Energy Policy

President Obama spoke recently about Energy and bringing our sources and practices into a more sustainable era, saying “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.” 

His three-part plan involves cutting carbon pollution, preparing states and cities for the impacts of climate change, and “lead[ing] the world in a coordinated assault on a changing climate.”  As part of this plan he calls for an increase in funding for more development in renewable energy, increasing our reliance on greener/cleaner energy sources and increasing efficiency (i.e. reducing energy waste). In addition the President spoke of establishing limits for the amount of CO2 power plants can release (FINALLY a carbon cap! Though he, wisely, didn’t use that term) and mentioned that the EPA would be setting new pollution standards. “We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free,” said President Obama. “That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop.”

President Obama also mentioned energy initiatives taken on independently by many individual states with 3 dozen having already set energy efficiency or renewable energy targets stating further that it was “time for Washington to catch up with the rest of the country.”  The Keystone pipeline, of course, was also mentioned—briefly—with the President stating that “The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”

As expected, House Speaker John Boehner had several things to say, all of which we are familiar with & none of it necessarily being true (it’ll destroy jobs, raise energy bills for the poorest and threaten our energy security etc.) President Obama responded to Bonehead’s remarks with a history lesson of sorts, reminding us all that we do not need to choose between the economy and a healthy environment, they can both grow and improve together.  The banning of CFCs didn’t destroy the refrigeration/air conditioning industries; The Clean Air Act & setting higher fuel efficiency standards didn’t kill the automobile industry (that was something else.), and that by doing those things we eventually figured out not only more eco-friendly ways to achieve our goals, but BETTER ways to do so!!  If environmental initiatives are so bad for business, why have over 500 companies (their shareholders, customers and CEOs) called for a Climate Declaration and for our government to take appropriate actions?

The President urged us all to take action and "speak up for the facts… Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices." 

You can watch the entire speech here:
 Obama's Energy & Climate Policy Speech (June 25 2013) 

You can also read more on this at:  The Daily BeastEnergy Agenda, 10 Key points to Obama's Energy Speech, & Obama's Energy Track Record

Making Steps to Cleaner, Greener Energy!

I myself am particularly energy conscious. While it is pushing 90 degrees here in the mitten I am sitting in a 75 degree, somewhat darkened apartment. The binds being draw block out much of the sizzling sunlight and while that keeps my home cooler it keeps it a bit darker--though not so dark that I cannot read the titles on my bookshelves across the room. My AC is NOT on, only a single fan--for circulation. We forget that it is not necessarily the temperature of the air around us but usually the humidity and stagnation of that air that makes us so hot and uncomfortable. And while I'm a huge proponent of utilizing the wind & open windows, there are days (sometimes months) where this just isn't practical.  So the blinds are closed, but no lights are on (like I said it's not THAT dark), because honestly if you can read without hurting your eyes you don't need a light on... and you certainly don't need every one in the house on!  Many (like my mother) seem to have this deep-rooted belief that we can and should only operate in full, sometimes blinding light. Which is of course absurd, and there are MANY reasons why doing so is bad for us.  But that's not the point of this post... these are personal ways one can reduce the amount of energy one uses, but what about the far reaching trends in energy production--are they doing as much as we are? Making ANY effort or advances?

And here are just a few:

A IBM Research group is developing a High Concentration PhotoVoltaic Thermal (HCPVT) system. that will both generate considerably more electrical power and be more resistant to damage via overheating. In addition to converting 80% of the radiation collected & producing 25kW of electricity, it includes a water cooling system that is used to keep the dish cool enough to operate optimally, and the water in this cooling system can be filtered for drinking water or simply reused. There have been no announcements regarding mass production but IBM acknowledges that this system would have a production cost 3x LOWER than similar systems!  And there’s the added bonus of safe drinking water for potentially remote yet solar-friendly locations!

The US Launched its first floating wind turbine off the coast of Maine this month, and while it will primarily be used to study efficiency, collection & viability of larger scale off-shore wind-farms this ONE turbine generates enough power to be linked into the grid!  Offshore wind has been developed in many areas of Europe but the US, despite having far more potential for large scale wind energy production, has done close to nothing in making this a priority or reality. Hopefully this turbine, the VolturnUS, will make it painfully clear that this is not only a legitimate and viable option, but ‘right’ option (as opposed to developing so-called ‘clean’ coal or any other such destructive and dirty forms of energy).

Qatar’s Sahara Forest Project is paving the way for sustainable system feedbacks by using the waste products of on scheme to power another. By focusing on abundant local resources (seawater, sand and sunlight) the project aims to produce food, fresh water & clean energy.  How?  Seawater from the Persian Gulf is pumped in and used to maintain proper temperature & humidity levels in the greenhouses & also to grow the algae used for biofuel production with any residual seawater being used in a process that produces animal feed. Some seawater is also transformed into drinking water via solar-powered desalination!  While this project is incredibly promising it is also quite costly, however it will provide valuable lessons that will shape the way that many inhospitable areas can cope and develop sustainably in the wake of Climate Change… possibly, hopefully, for the better.

Research into low- cost lithium sulfur batteries are now moving towards developments that could offer 4x the energy storage of lithium-ion batteries (YAY!!).  Sulfur based batteries are safer as they are more stable than lithium ion batteries and thus less prone to accidental fires…. in addition sulfur is WIDELY abundant as it is a waste product of many industrial practices--which also means it is CHEAP!! More energy, (that's safer & easier to produce) AND it's cheap!? SCORE! This is fantastic, especially since few are willing to part with their mp3 players, cameras, Remote controls and, more importantly, your cell phones!

IN OTHER ECO-NEWS: Apple has recently hired Lisa Jackson (Former EPA Chief) to be its new Vice President for Environmental Initiatives. Time will tell if her edition will lead the way in technological companies greening their companies and practices or if it is simple a PR move.

*For those of you particularly into environmentally savvy technological advances, trends and research I suggest going to EcoGeek where you can find these stories and MANY more.