Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Governor Inslee's bold move puts Washington on track for meaningful climate action

Mt. Baker
by Climate Solutions on July 28, 2015
A joint statement from Climate Solutions, Washington Environmental Council, and Washington Conservation
Today Governor Inslee announced bold action to address global warming, directing his administration to use its full authority under the Clean Air Act to enforce existing limits on carbon pollution.
“This is a big step forward for climate action in Washington,” said Becky Kelley, President of Washington Environmental Council. “As our state experiences the heat, drought, and fires that climate change causes, Governor Inslee is acting to protect our state. He is standing up for people across the state and enforcing the laws that have been on our books since 2008.”
Our organizations successfully advocated for limits on climate pollution adopted by the Legislature in 2008.  Now, the Governor will put the force of law behind the conclusions of science using his legal authority to enforce these limits.
This summer, our region has seen global warming impacts in a way we never have before. Children and elders are suffering the effects of asthma and heat-related illness. Forest fires, massive in number and in scale, rage across the region. Salmon and other fish are dying off as water temperatures rise in our rivers and snowpack disappears. Increasing ocean acidification threatens our fisheries and shellfish industry. These urgent dangers made today’s action by the Governor necessary.
A cap on carbon emissions is a good foundation for climate action—and marks a serious commitment to do the whole job.  At the same time we must address equity for Washington communities disproportionately harmed by climate pollution. We must ensure a just transition for workers in fossil fuel industries to a clean energy economy. As we cut carbon pollution, we must also stimulate investment in clean energy industry and sustainable jobs.
“The announcement by Governor Inslee is a critical step in making sure that Washington State enforces the laws on the books to reduce climate pollution,” said Gregg Small, Executive Director of Climate Solutions. “But there are limits to what the Governor can do with his existing authority. We are committed to working with a broad coalition, the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, that includes business, labor, communities of color, public health, faith and environmental groups, to make sure that we take every step, including this one, to make sure that Washington has an equitable climate policy that cuts carbon pollution and grows good, family-wage jobs in areas like renewable energy and energy efficiency that are the critical solutions to the problem.”
While pleased by today’s announcement, we are concerned that Governor Inslee postponed action on a clean fuels standard—a policy solution which would clean our air, protect the health of Washingtonians, and promote investment in regional industry and jobs. The powerful fossil fuel industry forced a false choice between clean fuels and funding for essential transportation projects—we need both, and we will continue to fight for both.
“The Governor’s step today is a meaningful response to Washingtonians’ unmistakable calls for action on climate,” said Shannon Murphy, President, Washington Conservation Voters. “Now we stand ready to work with many others to build on this foundation towards a shared and sustainable prosperity.”
As founding partners of the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, Climate Solutions, Washington Conservation Voters, and Washington Environmental Council are committed to working for climate action that is effective, equitable, and ensures a just transition to a clean energy future.
Climate Solutions is a Northwest-based clean energy economy nonprofit.  We have pioneered the vision and cultivated the political leadership in the Northwest for the proposition that clean energy and broadly shared economic prosperity can go hand-in-hand.  For over 15 years, we have led successful initiatives to deliver climate and clean energy policies, models, and partnerships that accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy. 
Washington Environmental Council drives positive change to address our state’s most critical environmental challenges. For more than 45 years, we’ve been pivotal to enacting our most important environmental protections. www.wecprotects.org.
Washington Conservation Voters is the statewide political voice for the environment. We work to elect environmentally responsible candidates to state and local offices. Working with our allies in the community, we advocate for strong environmental policies and hold our elected officials accountable both during and after the legislative session. Through our political work we are strengthening laws that safeguard the health of our communities, preserve the beauty of our state and protect our economic future.  www.wcvoters.org
- See more at: http://climatesolutions.org/article/1438127539-governors-bold-move-puts-washington-track-meaningful-climate-action/#sthash.W0r9mOgD.dpuf

Independent expert confirms that the "impossible" EM Drive actually works

It's the propulsion system that just won't quit.
28 JUL  2015
Over the past year, there's been a whole lot of excitement about the electromagnetic propulsion drive, or EM Drive - a scientifically impossible engine that's defied pretty much everyone's expectations by continuing to stand up to experimental scrutiny.The drive is so exciting because it produces huge amounts of propulsion that could theoretically blast us to Mars in just 70 days, without the need for heavy and expensive rocket fuel. Instead, it's apparently propelled forward by microwaves bouncing back and forth inside an enclosed chamber, and this is what makes the drive so powerful, and at the same time so controversial.
As efficient as this type of propulsion may sound, it defies one of the fundamental concepts of physics - the conservation of momentum, which states that for something to be propelled forward, some kind of propellant needs to be pushed out in the opposite direction.For that reason, the drive was widely laughed at and ignored when it was invented by English researcher Roger Shawyer in the early 2000s. But a few years later, a team of Chinese scientists decided to build their own version, and to everyone's surprise, it actually worked. Then an American inventor did the same, and convinced NASA's Eagleworks Laboratories, headed up by Harold 'Sonny' White, to test it.The real excitement began when those Eagleworks researchers admitted back in March that, despite more than a year of trying to poke holes in the EM Drive, it just kept on working - even inside a vacuum. This debunked some of their most common theories about what might be causing the anomaly.Now Martin Tajmar, a professor and chair for Space Systems at Dresden University of Technology in Germany, has played around with his own EM Drive, and has once again shown that it produces thrust - albeit for reasons he can't explain.Tajmar presented his results at the 2015 American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics' Propulsion and Energy Forum and Exposition in Florida on 27 July, and you can read his paper here. He has a long history of experimentally testing (and debunking) breakthrough propulsion systems, so his results are a pretty big deal for those looking for outside verification of the EM Drive.To top it off, his system produced a similar amount of thrust as was originally predicted by Shawyer, which is several thousand times greater than a standard photon rocket.  "Our test campaign cannot confirm or refute the claims of the EM Drive but intends to independently assess possible side-effects in the measurements [sic] methods used so far," Tajmar and graduate student Georg Fiedler write in their conference abstract. "Nevertheless, we do observe thrust close to the actual predictions after eliminating many possible error sources that should warrant further investigation into the phenomena."So where does all of this leave us with the EM Drive? While it's fun to speculate about just how revolutionary it could be for humanity, what we really need now are results published in a peer-reviewed journal - which is something that Shawyer claims he is just a few months away from doing, as David Hambling reports for Wired. But even then, until we can figure out exactly how the EM Drive works, it's unlikely that the idea is going to be taken seriously by the scientific community. For now, all scientists can do is keep testing the system in a range of different environments and try to work out what's causing this "impossible" thrust.It might turn out that we need to rewrite some of our laws of physics in order to explain how the drive works. But if that opens up the possibility of human travel throughout the Solar System - and, more importantly, beyond - then it's a sacrifice we're definitely willing to make. Bring on the next set of tests.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Coca-Cola, Google, Walmart, others make climate commitments

If we are going to change the way America uses energy it is going to take the leadership of these large corporations to demand and facilitate the change. NOW! Solar is proud to be a part of this amazing time in history. --- Eugene Wilkie

VIA http://www.washingtonexaminer.com

By Zack Colman 7/27/15 8:12 AM
 This fall, the Obama administration will release a second round of pledges, with a goal of mobilizing many more companies to join the American Business Act on Climate Pledge," the White House said.
Some of the world's biggest companies ranging from Coca-Cola to Walmart announced pledges to combat climate change Monday as part of the Obama administration's efforts to generate momentum for a global climate deal.
The 13 American companies making new commitments are Alcoa, Apple, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Cargill, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo, UPS and Walmart. Together they generated $1.3 trillion in revenue in 2014 and have a combined market capitalization of $2.5 trillion.
"Today's announcements are only the beginning. This fall, the Obama administration will release a second round of pledges, with a goal of mobilizing many more companies to join the American Business Act on Climate Pledge," the White House said.
The announcement is part of a broader effort to secure a pact at United Nations-hosted negotiations in Paris beginning in late November that would govern greenhouse gas emissions reductions beyond 2020. Countries such a deal would help prevent a 2 degree Celsius global temperature rise by 2100, though experts contend the gap between political will and how much countries would need to slash emissions make reaching that goal unlikely.
"Our engagement with these companies today is around their commitment to supporting a strong outcome in Paris," White House adviser Brian Deese told reporters in a conference call. "This is about demonstrating the American business community's support for a strong outcome and demonstrating U.S. leadership."
The move comes as the Obama administration's signature climate regulation — limits to carbon emissions from power plants — nears finalization. The White House is expected to lean on big businesses to make the case for supporting the rule in the face of GOP and industry criticism that the regulation would raise energy costs and stunt the economy.
GOP attacks on whatever deal emerges from Paris also have been getting louder lately. The White House has hinted it believes it can use existing treaties and a non-binding emissions pledge to avoid having to send the deal through the Senate for ratification, but Senate Republicans will try to force President Obama to submit the accord through the upper chamber.
Deese wouldn't say whether the White House had encouraged the companies to lobby recalcitrant Republicans to support either the Paris process or the power plant rule.
Obama, as part of the U.N. climate process, said the United States would cut overall emissions at least 26 percent by 2025. But Republicans have questioned how his administration plans to achieve that mark, noting that existing and planned regulations leave the U.S. about 34 percent short, according to an analysis by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that GOP lawmakers have increasingly cited.
Business commitments are likely part of that plan.
All told, the companies said they'd invest at least $140 billion in low-carbon technology and more than 1,600 megawatts of renewable energy on top of company-specific goals to halve greenhouse gas emissions and curb water use, the White House said. More commitments are expected at an October State Department event.
Coca-Cola said it would slash emissions by one-quarter by 2020. General Motors said it would reduce carbon and energy intensity one-fifth by 2020, compared with 2010 levels. UPS said it would cut emissions 20 percent by 2020, compared with 2007 levels.
Google said it hoped to power all its operations with renewable energy and that it would triple its purchases of renewable power by 2025. Microsoft said it would run all its data centers, offices, labs and manufacturing facilities on renewable power.
Investors also made commitments. Bank of America said it would increase its environmental business lending, investing, capital-raising, advising and financing to $125 billion by 2025, up from $50 billion. Goldman Sachs said would aim to power all its operations with renewable energy by 2020.
And Berkshire Hathaway said it would invest another $15 billion in clean energy to build on the $15 billion it already spent on the stuff through 2014. The company also said it would add 552 megawatts of new wind generation in Iowa through electric utility MidAmerican Energy Company and that it would shutter three-fourths of its coal-fired power in Nevada.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Have You Heard Of Solar Desalination? If Not, You Will Soon.

 JUL 23, 2015 8:00AM
The parabolic solar panels at WaterFX's demonstration solar desalination plant in California's Panoche Water and Drainage District.
Solar power turns the sun’s energy into electricity. Desalination removes unwanted minerals from saltwater so it can be used for drinking or agriculture.
These two technologies have typically been employed separately in the effort to live more sustainably and limit dependence on finite resources. Now in California, a company has found a way to merge the two with the aim of providing long-term relief to farmers suffering the impacts of the state’s devastating four-year drought. The implications are far-reaching, as agriculture accounts for 80 percent of water use in California and roughly 70 percent of water use globally. In California alone, there is an estimated one million acre-feet of irrigation drainage that could be treated and reused if solar desalination catches on.
“Conserving or recycling even a small share of this water can make a big difference,” Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project and a Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society, told ThinkProgress.
WaterFX, a San Francisco-based water producer for agricultural and commercial users, recently announced that its California subsidiary, HydroRevolution, plans to build the state’s first commercial solar desalination plant. To be located in the agriculture-intensive Central Valley, the plant will ultimately generate up to 5,000 acre-feet, or 1.6 billion gallons, of clean water per year — enough water for 10,000 homes or 2,000 acres of cropland. It will be built on 35 acres of land currently used to grow salt-tolerant crops, and will recycle unusable irrigation water from a 7,000-acre drainage area into a new and much-needed source of freshwater for nearby water districts by removing unwanted mineral and salts.
Using something called Aqua4 technology, the desalination process creates zero excess discharge and produces only freshwater and solid salt as co-products. This differs from traditional desalination where up to half the discharge ends up as brine back in the ocean.
This is not the only way solar desalination differs from traditional reverse osmosis desalination projects, where sea water is the main input. There are currently several of these large-scale projects in use or under construction along the California coastline. Conventional desalination plants force salt and other minerals through a membrane; they are energy-intensive and can also harm marine life and disturb coastal ecosystems. The solar desalination plants developed by WaterFX use solar thermal energy to avoid the use of fossil fuel-powered electricity.
“The energy intensity of conventional reverse osmosis plants has dropped considerably over the last two decades, but they still have a relatively high energy price tag compared to other water supply and demand management strategies,” said Postel. “I see no elegance in a technology aimed at ensuring there’s enough drinking water during droughts if it employs a process that will hasten climate change, which in turn will worsen droughts.”
Postel said WaterFX’s technology has several advantages, including “not contributing to climate change,” cleaning up local salty, toxic irrigation drainage, and being more cost-effective. She said while she hasn’t done an independent cost comparison, she’s read that solar desalination produces clean water at rough one-fourth the cost of conventional desalination.
“Lastly, it’s super exciting to me because it opens up the possibility of farmers and irrigation districts leasing some water back to the environment,” said Postel. “It could be a win-win for farmers and the environment” if they could lease some water “to safeguard habitats for fish and wildlife.”
The Aqua4 technology at WaterFX's demonstration solar desalination plant in California's Panoche Water and Drainage District.
The Aqua4 technology at WaterFX’s demonstration solar desalination plant in California’s Panoche Water and Drainage District.
The solar desalination technology is also “modular and movable,” Ivy Wisner with the WaterFX communications team told ThinkProgress.
“The equipment is delivered in modules and mounted on skids so installation is easy and equipment can be moved depending on water treatment needs,” she said.
According to WaterFX, the HydroRevolution system is the most efficient of its type available. It uses heat generated from parabolic solar panels to evaporate clean water out of the original source water. The condensate is then recovered as pure water at over 90 percent efficiency. When the sun isn’t shining, thermal heat storage used to hold excess heat allows the process to continue.
“WaterFX hopes this project is merely the first step in revolutionizing the way California uses water,” said Wisner.
WaterFX Co-founder and Chairman Aaron Mandell, who studied groundwater engineering, told ThinkProgress that in order to confront climate change, any solution to the water crisis must be long-term.
“Droughts come and go, but the water problem in California is driven by climate change,” he said. “While lack of rain is temporary, elevated temperatures due to a warming climate is permanent and as a result will have a long-lasting impact on the amount of available water.”
WaterFX’s mission is to expand the availability and reliability of freshwater generation — very few places need this more than right now than California’s dried-out Central Valley. In some places in the Central Valley, groundwater tables have dropped 50 feet or more in just a few years, and many shallower wells have run dry.
While the HydroRevolution plant is currently in pre-production and seeking investors, WaterFX installed a demonstration plant in the Panoche Water and Drainage District in the Central Valley,where the federal Bureau of Reclamation has cut back water deliveries from dams and canals by up to 80 percent. Central Valley water districts are also under pressure to limit polluted irrigation runoff from their fields into the San Joaquin River. The solar desalination plants could also provide a fix to this issue.
“The technology is being piloted in the perfect place for it,” said Postel. “The drainage water from irrigation in this western side of the San Joaquin River in the Central Valley has an unusually high load of salts, selenium, and other contaminants.”
As the Central Valley publication Ag Alert recently reported, the plant “will help the district clean up salts, selenium, boron and other minerals in tile-drain water coming from irrigated fields and reach its goal of zero agricultural water being discharged into the San Joaquin River by 2019, which is required by an agreement with federal agencies.”
Part of HydroRevolution’s innovative approach to the solar desalination project is to pursue a crowdsourcing effort, or capital-raising campaign, that will be available to California residents only. It is still in the preparatory stages.
Postel considers WaterFX’s approach one way of confronting the bigger challenge of repairing the overall water cycle.
“Our approach to water management has been very disruptive of the natural water cycle and all the benefits that cycle provides,” she said.
Other avenues that can aid in this process include better storm water management, green infrastructure that helps rainwater infiltrate back into the earth, and wastewater recycling and reuse.
“We still have a long way to go with water conservation and efficiency improvements,” she said. “Both indoors and outdoors.”

Monday, July 20, 2015

Why SunEdison is buying Vivint Solar for $2.2 billion

Clean power giant SunEdison continues its expansion plans, snapping up a large player in the growing market for rooftop solar panels.

Clean energy company SunEdison announced on Monday morning that it plans to acquire Vivint Solar, one of the largest U.S. companies that installs solar panels on home rooftops. SunEdison plans to pay $2.2 billion in the deal in a combination of cash and shares of SunEdison common stock and convertible notes.
The news sent Vivint Solar’s stock up over 40% in morning trading. Vivint Solar went public in late 2014 on the New York Stock Exchange and has financed and installed over 40,000 solar panel systems as of the end of March 2015.
SunEdison’s subsidiary TerraForm Power is acquiring the actual solar projects of Vivint Solar, both the ones already built and future projects in development. TerraForm Power is a yieldco, which is a publicly-traded company that bundles together the assets of clean energy projects based around the long term and predictable revenue generated by the reoccurring energy payments.
The deal is the latest move by SunEdison to aggressively expand across the clean energy industry and it highlights the quickly growing market for rooftop solar panel systems. In recent months, SunEdison acquired wind energy projects in India, and also First Wind, one of the largest wind energy developers in the U.S.
The news also shows how as the market for home solar panels grows, it will face increased consolidation. Bigger companies, with larger war chests, will more effectively battle for the valuable rooftops that can cost effectively go solar.

A SolarCity Installation As Earnings Figures Are Released
A SolarCity Corp. employee carries a solar panel during an installation at a home in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. SolarCity Corp., the largest U.S solar-power provider by market value, is expected to announce quarterly earnings figures after the close of U.S. financial markets on May 7. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesPhotograph by Patrick T. Fallon — Bloomberg via Getty Images

In the early 2000’s, SunEdison, led by entrepreneur Jigar Shah, was the pioneer of the business model that offers residential customers little or no money down on rooftops solar panel systems. The model generates money by charging customers a monthly energy bill like a utility does. Before this method became popular, customers had to mostly pay up front for solar panels, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars.
A decade later, many solar companies are using this model, including Vivint Solar, SolarCity, Clean Power Finance and Sunrun. SolarCity is the largest solar financier and installer in the U.S.

With the announcement of the news, SunEdison  SUNE 1.24%  also said that it’s raising its 2016 annual guidance of 2,800 to 3,000 megawatts of clean energy projects under development, to 4,200 to 4,500 megawatts under development. That’s a 50% increase.
The acquisition requires approval by Vivint Solar stockholders and will face reporting requirements. The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Faraday Futures: Startup Promises Long-Range Electric Car In 2017

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Army scientists build smaller, tougher, cheaper solar cells

blogger-avatarby  | @terrortola 

VIA http://www.engadget.com
Solar cells are seen at the Ukishima Sol

Army researchers at the Redstone Arsenal have announced a significant breakthrough in solar energy production. They've created a photovoltaic solar panel that is smaller, more robust and less expensive to build and operate than any other panel currently available. Virtually every solar panel currently in existence relies on a pure silicon construction, however the band gap (the wavelength of light that it can actually be absorbed and converted into electricity) of single crystal silicon is exceedingly narrow compared to the full spectrum shining down from the Sun. Not only does this mean that conventional panels are missing out on potential power, the ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths actively damage the panels by causing them to heat, warp and crack.
The Army's panel, on the other hand, sandwiches super thin layers of metals like silver and gold between the semiconductor layers. With these added layers, the panels offer a wider band gap for energy generation and can be tuned to reflect the harmful rays as well. What's more, the Army's panels generate the same amount of energy regardless of the angle that sunlight is hitting it. That means they don't have to be affixed to expensive and motorized Sun-tracking stands.
The technology is still in its very early stages, explained Wayne Davenport, Optical Sciences Function Chief of the Weapons Development and Integration Directorate, in a statement. "As with many basic research projects, the near-term benefits are sometimes yet undefined but are clearly worth the investment," Davenport continued. "The Army's research laboratories at AMRDEC continue a legacy of high quality research projects and I expect to see many more of these type projects transition to the Warfighter in the future."
[Image Credit: AFP/Getty Images]