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The Autopsy Is in: Natural Gas Killed Coal

By Courtney St. John

In case anyone doubts the death of coal, experts just issued the autopsy.

A new report from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University looks at exactly what's causing coal's demise. It finds that cheap natural gas is responsible for roughly half the decline in U.S. coal consumption. Falling demand for electricity and cheap wind and solar account for most of the rest. Adding insult to mortal injury, falling demand for coal from China put a dent in U.S. exports.

Environmental regulations—a frequent scapegoat of coal companies—did accelerate coal plant retirements, but the effect was small. Overall, the report finds that President Trump's efforts to roll back environmental protections will do little for coal country.

Employment across the coal sector has declined. Today, coal employs just 160,000 workers nationwide while the solar industry employs some 375,000. Even in the heart of Appalachia, businesses are turning away from coal.

This week, Charleston, West Virginia-based utility Appalachian Power said that it won't be building any new coal plants and will instead look at building out solar and wind to bring companies like Amazon and Google to West Virginia—companies that want to source their power from renewables. And in an ironic twist, the Kentucky Coal Museum is going solar to save money on power.

While there is little that the president or lawmakers can do to rescue the coal industry, they can throw a lifeline to coal workers. Congress has until the end of the week to ensure that more than 22,000 retired miners continue to have access to federally funded healthcare. Coal companies that declared bankruptcy in recent years were relieved from contributing to the fund.

Coal is on its deathbed. And while Washington can't revive the industry, it can revive Appalachia.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

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The Smoky Hills Wind Farm in Kansas. Photo credit: Drenaline

Will Wind in Kansas Leave Coal in the Dust?

By Molly Taft

When President Trump signed his executive order targeting Obama-era climate policies in March, he made sure to get the optics right. "You're going back to work," he promised the coal miners surrounding him. "We will produce American coal to power American industry."

But for all the show during the signing, power utilities don't seem to have gotten Trump's message. Last week, a Reuters survey of utilities in states that sued to block the Clean Power Plan found that, despite Trump's executive order, most remained committed to their long-term plans to shift away from coal. Coal-fired power plants, the largest customer for the American coal industry, will continue their slow decline, spurred by the rise of cheap natural gas and renewable energy.

Then, last month, coal got a break in Kansas, where the state Supreme Court ruled against Earthjustice and the Sierra Club, granting a permit to the Sunflower Electric Power Corporation to build an expansion to its coal-fired power plant in Holcomb. The expansion would be the first coal-fired plant built in the state since the original Holcomb plant came online in 1983, according to the Sierra Club.

If the White House is right—if onerous environmental regulations are dragging down the coal industry—the ruling in the Holcomb case should have been cause for celebration. But the utility has kept quiet on its plans for the plant. In a statement following the court's decision, Sunflower said it would "continue to assess the project relative to other resources," such as wind and natural gas. A spokesperson for the company reiterated that position via email, saying, "With all project decisions, Sunflower factors in the myriad influences in the electric industry."

When asked if regulatory changes would impact plans for the plant, a Sunflower spokesperson would only confirm that the company "has always followed state and federal regulations and will continue to do so."

Dorothy Barnett of the Climate + Energy Project, a renewable-energy advocacy group not involved with the lawsuit, noted Sunflower's silence on the Holcomb expansion in recent appearances before the state legislature.

"I almost feel like I bet they'd wished that they would lose," she said. "They would have been able to say, 'Oh, we did our best, blame the Sierra Club.' In reality, I'd be surprised if Sunflower customers would be willing or able to construct that plant."

If Sunflower decides to proceed with construction, the new Holcomb plant would join an exclusive club. Only four other coal plants are proposed or under construction in the U.S., according to SourceWatch, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy. Two of these projects have faced major setbacks in recent months and the other two have stalled. Meanwhile, 251 U.S. coal plants have been retired since 2010.

Ironically, if constructed, the Holcomb expansion will owe its existence to renewable energy. At the time the plant was initially proposed, clean-power advocates were pushing for a renewable-energy mandate in the legislature. The state struck a deal: Sunflower could build its coal plant if the company and state utilities supported the legislature's new mandate, which would require utilities to source 20 percent of their power from renewables by 2020.

The deal was a shot of adrenaline for renewables in Kansas—especially the wind industry. Today, Kansas generates 30 percent of its electricity from wind, more than any state except Iowa. "Even the companies who were so supportive and wanted to build [the Holcomb] plant themselves have invested in wind energy in the state," Barnett said in an interview with Climate Nexus.

Wind power is thriving in the Great Plains states. AWEA

In 2015, the Kansas legislature did away with the mandate. But utilities had already surpassed the original targets and have continued to purchase more and more wind power since. Barnett said that the mandate pushed utilities toward wind, "but it was the economics that helped them decide to continue. It was the cost of wind that made them do that."

The Holcomb expansion, meanwhile, became bogged down in legal battles. After languishing in legal limbo for a decade, the project emerged onto a landscape where wind is cheaper than coal.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

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Solar panels in Shanghai. Photo credit: Shutterstock

5 Ways China Is Becoming the Global Leader on Climate Change

By Bridgette Burkholder

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt called the Paris agreement a "bad deal." He claimed China has made no significant efforts to curb carbon pollution, while the U.S. has sacrificed jobs to meet the terms of the pact.

The facts don't support Pruitt's claim. While President Trump is working hard to dismantle U.S. climate policy, Chinese President Xi Jinping is assuming the mantle of global climate leadership and pushing for the rapid expansion of clean energy.

The same day that Trump called for a rollback of federal limits on carbon pollution, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang reaffirmed China's commitment to the Paris agreement, saying "as a responsible, large, developing country, China's resolve, aims and policy moves in dealing with climate change will not change."

Xi is in Florida this week to meet with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate. It's unlikely the two will talk about climate change, but China has made clear that it's not backing down from its plans to tackle the carbon crisis.

Here are five facts about China's progress on climate and energy:

1. China's solar capacity grew by 82 percent last year.

Though the country is often associated with coal, China is the world's largest solar producer, nearly doubling its solar capacity last year alone.

As the world's largest energy consumer, China aims to have 110 GW of solar and 210 GW of wind installed by 2020. That's more than double the solar and wind capacity currently installed in the U.S. China could meet its solar target as early as next year, according to Greenpeace.

2. China's coal consumption has dropped three years in a row.

Despite growing demand for energy, China has been shifting steadily away from coal. In January, the Chinese government canceled the construction of more than 100 coal-fired power plants, in an effort to reduce air pollution and slow climate change.

In a 2016 commentary in Nature Geoscience, researchers said that China's coal use has already peaked. British climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern, a co-author of the commentary, told The Guardian this represented "a very important event in the history of the climate and economy of the world."

Thanks in part to falling coal consumption, China's carbon emissions have stayed flat—or declined—for the past three years. China has pledged to peak emissions by 2030.

3. China plans to invest at least $360 billion in renewable power generation by 2020.

China leads the world in renewable energy investment and recently announced it would put some $360 billion towards renewables by 2020. According to China's National Energy Administration, half of all new electricity generation by 2020 will come from wind, hydro, solar and nuclear power.

The New York Times reported that the "investment commitment made by the Chinese, combined with Mr. Trump's moves, means jobs that would have been created in the United States may instead go to Chinese workers."

4. Renewable energy jobs are booming in China.

Renewable energy already employs 3.5 million people in China, compared with less than a million in the U.S. China expects new investments will create 13 million more jobs in the sector by 2020, according to China's National Energy Administration.

5. China aims to have five million electric vehicles on the road by 2020.

To put that figure in perspective, there were only one million in the world in 2015. China is becoming a major market for electric vehicles. Last year, nearly 50 percent of all new electric cars were sold in China. The country has ambitious targets for the rollout of zero-carbon cars. One point of interest: Over the next five years, Beijing will replace all 70,000 of the city's gas and diesel-fueled taxis with electric vehicles.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

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Renewable Energy

From Steel City to Sun City: Colorado Town Turns to Clean Energy

By Laura A. Shepard

Working-class homeowners in Pueblo, Colorado have struggled to keep up with their sky-high electric bills. Locals said rampant shutoffs have plunged entire city blocks into darkness and sent power-starved families to motels and homeless shelters. Senior citizens have given up television and unscrewed refrigerator lights in an attempt to save money. And local businesses have grappled with electric bills as high as their rents.

Frustrated by bloated power bills and frequent shutoffs, citizens of Pueblo have lobbied the city council to abandon natural gas and switch to more affordable renewable energy.

By organizing concerned citizens and packing town halls, Pueblo's Energy Future managed to push the city council to pass a resolution committing to generate 100 percent of the city's power from renewables by 2035. Based on the cost of electricity from utility-scale wind farms in the region, ratepayers could save money by switching to clean energy.

"When people lose their electricity, they lose their houses," said Anne Stattelman, director of Posada, an organization providing housing to homeless families in Pueblo County. Pueblo is one of Colorado's poorest cities but has one of the highest electricity rates in the state, she said.

Power costs are higher in Pueblo than elsewhere in Colorado. Pueblo's Energy Future

It's often taken for granted, but nearly every facet of modern life depends on electricity. When the power goes off, refrigerators full of food go to waste. Children cannot take hot showers or do their homework. Parents have to choose between dinner, medicine or keeping the lights on.

Stattelman recalled one woman, who, after losing power, came to a shelter with a child in need of 24-hour care. The local utility, Black Hills Energy, charged a $400 reconnection fee.

Black Hills acquired the region's previous utility company in 2008 and received authorization for a new $72 million gas-fired power plant. The company raised rates to cover the costs and installed smart meters in low-income neighborhoods, a move that makes it easier to shut off power remotely. In 2015, the utility disconnected more than 6,000 households in Pueblo, a city of roughly 43,000 households.

"Most people that live here, have lived here for a while and they see how the rate hike has affected them," said Rebecca Vigil, the community coordinator for Pueblo's Energy Future, an organization dedicated to advancing clean energy in Pueblo.

"I've seen how this has affected my city," Vigil said. "For the past six to eight years, there's been a definite blight."

National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners

Now, citizens are urging the city to exit its agreement with Black Hills Energy in 2020. They want to form a municipal electric utility, putting the city in charge of power generation. A municipal utility can purchase electricity on the open market or generate its own. Pueblo would not be required to purchase the natural gas plant from Black Hills Energy.

"We want the community to come together and feel comfortable saying what they want and expect from their utility," Vigil said. "They want a secure, clean, affordable and just energy future for Pueblo."

Because the price of natural gas fluctuates, ratepayers may see their bills grow larger when fuel costs spike. Wind and solar promise stable costs.

"Renewables are consistent. They don't have the same volatility, so people can plan," said Stattelman, who wants the city to move to renewable power, both to lower bills and create jobs.

Pueblo, known to locals as the "Pittsburgh of the West," has lost thousands of steel jobs in recent decades. Now Vestas, one of the largest wind turbine manufacturers in the country, operates a plant in Pueblo that employs 600 people. Rooftop solar installations could add even more jobs while taking advantage the region's consistently sunny weather—Colorado enjoys more sunshine than all but a few states.

"We don't want to be known as steel city," Stattelman said, "We want to be sun city."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

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New Technology Uses Food Waste to Make Tires

By Marlene Cimons

Some day you may discover tomato peels and eggshells where the rubber meets the road.

The environment—not to mention your tires—will be better for it.

Researchers at Ohio State University have discovered that food waste, specifically tomato peels and eggshells, makes excellent filler for rubber tires, with tests showing they exceed industrial standards for performance. Filler is combined with rubber to make the rubber composite used in tires. Food waste could partially replace carbon black, the petroleum-based filler long used in tire manufacturing, which has become increasingly hard to come by.

This approach to manufacturing more environmentally-friendly materials complements ongoing efforts to develop sources of clean fuel. Using tomato peels and egg shells as tire filler could help reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil, keep food waste out of landfills and make the production of rubber items—especially tires—more sustainable, according to Katrina Cornish, who holds an endowed chair in biomaterials at Ohio State University.

"If we hit a real shortfall in carbon black, we'll have to use something else," Cornish said. "You could use some nice eggshells. Many companies would like to have a green position and this is a good way to do that."

Pixabay

Food accounts for around one-fifth of the waste sent to landfills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Finding ways to keep food waste out of landfills not only saves space, but also helps in the fight against climate change. Bacteria turn food and yard trimmings found in landfills into methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

When properly processed, food waste can be used to generate energy, enrich the soil as a fertilizer or serve as a food source for animals. Now, it also could prove valuable in tire manufacturing.

Cornish has long been interested in developing new sources of rubber, as well as ways to enhance rubber products. So, when she came to Ohio State in 2010, she looked to food waste as a potential tire filler.

"I wrote to every food processor in the state and said: 'if you've got waste, we'd like to look at it,'" she said. "We received 35 different types of waste: batter drippings, sauerkraut juice, milk dust powder, among them—and eggshells and tomato peels. I'd always wanted to look at tomato peels because I spent a lot of time in California and would see all those produce trucks loaded with tomatoes and knew they had to have thick, tough skins so the ones on top didn't squash the ones on the bottom."

Initially, Cornish had doubts as to how well eggshells would work. Eggshells are composed largely of calcium carbonate, which is used as an extender, rather than a reinforcer. The latter is more useful as tire filler. But Cornish discovered to her delight that her doubts were misplaced. Eggshells have a porous architecture that provides a larger surface area for contact with the rubber and proved to be reinforcing.

"We were very excited," she said. "It added considerably more value than expected." They also found that tomato peels are very stable at high temperatures and can generate material that performs well.

"Fillers generally make rubber stronger, but they also make it less flexible," said Cindy Barrera, a postdoctoral researcher in Cornish's lab. "We found that replacing carbon black with ground eggshells and tomato peels caused synergistic effects, for instance, enabling strong rubber to retain flexibility."

It also turned the rubber reddish brown—depending on the amount of eggshell or tomato in it—rather than the black appearance that results from using carbon black. About 30 percent of a typical automobile tire is made of carbon black, the cost of which varies with petroleum prices. American companies most often purchase carbon black from foreign sources, according to Cornish.

"The tire industry is growing very quickly and we don't just need more natural rubber. We need more filler too," Cornish said. "The number of tires being produced worldwide is going up all the time, so countries are using all the carbon black they can make. There's no longer a surplus…"

Particles of tomato peels and eggshells used by to make rubber composite. Katrina Cornish

Cornish and her colleagues' research on potential tire fillers has appeared in the Journal of Polymers and the Environment and elsewhere.

The U.S. produces around 80 billion eggs annually, according to the United Egg Producers. Cornish said that commercial food factories crack open half of them, then pay to send the remains to a landfill, where the mineral-loaded shells do not break down. "Nothing much happens to them in a landfill, since there are no calcium-eating animals," she said. "They are mostly rock."

The U.S. grows around 15 million tons of the ever-popular tomato, according to the Department of Agriculture. Most of that is canned or in processed products. When food companies make tomato sauce, for example, they peel and discard the skin, which is difficult to digest, she said.

Cornish is concerned about deforestation that results from planting new rubber trees and she has been researching rubber alternatives, including the rubber dandelion. While they are unmistakably dandelions, they are not the same as what many homeowners regard as annoying lawn and garden intruders.

Cornish explained that their leaves are thicker and bluer and the flowers are smaller. Most importantly, its taproot yields a milky fluid with natural rubber particles in it.

The rubber dandelion can be used to make tires. Biobased World

"The rubber dandelion comes from northwest China, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, but it can grow in snowy areas of Ohio," she said. "But it is not very sturdy, so we are trying to make it stronger and higher yielding." If successful, "it could grow as an annual crop and it could create many processing jobs," she added.

Meanwhile, Ohio State has licensed Cornish's technology for turning food waste into tire filler to her company, EnergyEne, for further development. Cornish stresses, however, that no one will start collecting "the eggshells from your breakfast," she said. "Kitchen waste is not going to go this way. So keep on with your compost piles. In fact, maybe you can use them to grow rubber dandelions."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

A rendering of Babcock Ranch. Photo credit: Babcock Ranch

America's Most Sustainable Town

By Marlene Cimons

It was love at first sight for Richard and Robin Kinley. But it took a sunset to seal the deal.

The Kinleys, both 59 and living in Atlanta, visited southwest Florida in January to look at Babcock Ranch, a planned community that could become the most sustainable town in America.

When finished, Babcock Ranch, located about 20 minutes from Fort Myers, will be powered almost entirely by the sun, turning to natural gas on cloudy days. Homes will be energy-efficient, many of them constructed with insulated panels designed to handle any type of Florida weather.

The town will be walkable and bikeable, with 50 miles of nature trails. Residents will be able to plant crops in community gardens. Houses will be set near sidewalks so neighbors can more easily interact with one another. To encourage homeowners to drive electric vehicles, the town will install numerous charging stations. Its public vehicle fleet will be electric and driverless.

Richard and Robin Kinley. Babcock Ranch

The Kinleys found all of this irresistible. Returning to their hotel room after their tour, Kinley suggested to his wife: "Let's go back tonight and look at the sunset. We sat on the grass near this little lake, on the lot we were interested in and watched the sun go down. Everything just fell into place. We loved it."

The Kinleys were the first to buy a home at Babcock, where construction is now just getting underway. They expect to move into their one-story ranch style house in time for the fall and winter holidays.

"If I sat down and wanted to design a community from scratch, this would be it," said Kinley. "I love having a front porch where I can talk to my neighbors and a downtown area within a five-minute walk."

This is exactly what Babcock Ranch's developer, Syd Kitson, CEO of Kitson & Partners, had in mind when he conceived of the idea of creating a town that aims "to go back to the way we used to live when we were younger, where you know your neighbors and has the things you remember when you were growing up," he said. "We are dead set on proving that development and preservation can work hand-in-hand."

Babcock Ranch

He traces his connection to nature to his childhood. "When I was very young, my parents didn't allow us to stay inside," Kitson said. "We went camping, deep into the woods for weeks at a time and I developed a deep love of the land. I appreciate what it means. I think people intuitively understand that you feel better when you are in the woods or on top of a mountain. I really believe you will live longer and have a better life."

On July 31, 2006, Kitson's company completed its purchase of 91,000 acres along Florida's southwest coast and that same day sold 73,000 acres back to the state and to Lee County in what has been described as the largest single land preservation agreement in Florida's history. The agreement kept the vast majority of the land untouched, allowing ranching operations to continue and leaving Kitson with nearly 18,000 acres—an area about the size of Manhattan—for development.

The Babcock Ranch plan calls for 19,500 homes, schools, shops, green spaces, lakes and nature trails. Eventually, they plan to add condos and apartments. Someday, as many as 50,000 people will live there.

Kitson says that, to achieve his goal of having, as he describes it, the first solar town in America, he found an ally in Florida Power & Light. The utility company built a new solar power plant in Charlotte County, whose 343,000 solar panels will supply power to Babcock Ranch.

In the evenings or on sunless days, the town will be powered by natural gas "until we get that solar storage puzzle solved," Kitson said. Finding ways to store solar power "is very important and we want to be a living laboratory to implement that into Babcock," he said.

Mitch Pavao-Zuckerman, assistant professor of environmental science and technology at the University of Maryland's college of agriculture and natural resources—who is not involved with Babcock Ranch—calls the creation of a nearly all-solar town "a great opportunity to learn more about the feasibility of these kinds of developments."

"It could allow for testing how efficient these kinds of decentralized systems are in real settings and also how they respond to variability in weather—and solar production—and potential risks to the network," he added. "They've put a good deal of consideration into the physical and aesthetic design of the community and elements of environmental sustainability."

For starters, the homes will strive to be energy efficient. Brian Bishop, president of New Panel Homes, which manufactures—and will supply—the structural insulated panels for one of the home builders at Babcock Ranch, said the houses from his building kits all will meet standards established by the Florida Green Building Coalition, which administers green certifications throughout the state.

This 75 MW solar array will supply power to Babcock Ranch. Babcock Ranch

Bishop predicts that the energy cost for each house will run no more than about $90 a month. Because these homes must be air tight to be energy efficient, his team also ensures the air quality. "Our customers want a green, healthy, nontoxic home with a tiny electric bill, that is disaster safe," Bishop said. "This isn't just some quirky thing for yuppies. Everybody benefits."

Not everyone, however, is happy with the Babcock Ranch project. The South Florida Wildlands Association, a nonprofit that works to protect wildlife in the state, argues that the town will prevent the endangered Florida panther from expanding its current breeding grounds. Only about 100 of these panthers remain in the wild.

"This is one of the worst locations they could have chosen to build the city of the future," said Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the association. "It will preclude the panthers from using that area."

U.S. National Park Service

But Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, points out that panthers have never used the Babcock area for breeding. "There were no established panthers on the land," he said. "The land is a good distance from where the panthers currently live and breed and [there's] no reason to think they will someday cross the [Caloosahatchee] river—[the northern boundary of their current active habitat]—and migrate there."

Still, Kitson & Partners, working with the state, set aside 17,000 acres in the preserved area for panther habitat, if they should ever try to migrate there. The animals, however, still would have to find a way to cross the river, as the only routes there are bridges with vehicle traffic.

For his part, Kitson hopes his future town "will be a model for the rest of the country, maybe even the world," he said. "The greatest thing we can do is create a model that works economically and where people want to live."

The Kinleys are believers. Kinley hopes his company will approve a transfer. If not, he may retire. "That's the worst case scenario and that's not a bad worst case scenario," he said. He laughed. "After we signed the papers and they told us we were the first ones, I joked and said you should name the lake behind our house after us."

To be sure, he was just kidding. But they liked the idea, so that's what they did.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

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The women of Homeward Bound. Photo credit: Anne Christianson

These 76 Women Scientists Are Changing the World

By Molly Taft

Heidi Steltzer's job, as she put it, is "hiking where no one else will go." As a mountain and polar ecologist studying rare plants, she's accustomed to traveling to breathtaking Arctic vistas to chase flora along mountain ridges.

But watching glaciers calve on her first trip to Antarctica last December was a one-of-a-kind experience for the scientist. "You kind of want to see it," she said. "Even though you know it's not a good thing, you kind of want to be there."

As she watched the great icebergs float by the boat in Neko Harbor, another member of Seltzer's trip waved her arm at the scene, as if summoning a force to shave the glaciers surrounding them.

"Can you imagine if any one of us had that kind of power to see ice calve when you wanted to see it?" laughed Seltzer. "But at the same time, we knew, collectively—we do have that power. You can't say these specific glaciers are definitively calving because of human action. But these events continuing to happen is consistent in that system and consistent with what we know about human activity and climate change."

Heidi Steltzer.Anne Christianson

Seltzer's colleagues were more knowledgeable than your average gaggle of tourists. The travelers on her trip were all scientists and several of them focus specifically on climate change. What's more, her 75 companions on the three-week trip were all women, bound together on the largest-ever, all-female expedition to Antarctica. The trip was the focal point of a year-long leadership development program called Homeward Bound, which aims to groom 1,000 women with science backgrounds over the next 10 years to influence public policy and dialogue.

While women made up more than 50 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2016, they represented only 24 percent of workers in STEM—science, technology, engineering and math. Representation in public policy is even worse: Women hold less than 23 percent of parliamentary positions worldwide and less than 20 percent of Congress is female. The founder of Homeward Bound told Reuters that inspiration came from the trip from hearing two scientists joke that a beard was a requirement to land an Antarctic research leadership role.

The women of Homeward Bound. Anne Christianson

The problem of female leadership in STEM isn't a new one. When Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University and a leading U.S. climate voice, was a second-year undergraduate physics student, the head of the department called her into his office to ask how the program could help encourage her career as a female physicist.

"My mentors in science from day one have all been male," she recalled. "I've learned a lot from them and I've been incredibly encouraged and supported by them. But at the same time, there have been differences between us."

Katharine Hayhoe.Katharine Hayhoe

Lifestyle and family changes, Hayhoe emphasized, provide a particular sticking point between the genders in STEM. "As I got older, I started to realize how big the gap was between colleagues who basically had a spouse who managed everything full time," she said. "They could just, at the drop of the hat, leap on an airplane and be off to a meeting, versus a mother who, before you do anything, you've got to do all the laundry, freeze the meals, figure out who is picking the kids up from schools. At this point, if someone asks me to do something at the drop of the hat, the answer is no—and this still happens to me today."

Steltzer echoed similar experiences. "At one point in time, women were present in equal measures to myself at a peer level," she said. "But now that I'm in my early 40s, an associate professor, in many environments I'm in there are fewer women. There are ways we can do better."

The polar plunge at Neko Bay.Sarah Brough

She pointed out that the perception of "good old boys' clubs" in male-dominated fields may just be men connecting with each other over shared experiences. Getting a group of female scientists together can create a collaborative, experience-based atmosphere that can be difficult for women to find at home. "Homeward Bound created for us women a space and a place where we feel connected to one another."

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California Generates Enough Solar Power to Meet Half Its Energy Needs

By Jeremy Deaton

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) took a shot at Sec. of Energy Rick Perry, former Republican governor of Texas. Remarking on Perry's view of Texas as an energy powerhouse, Brown said, "We've got more sun than you've got oil."

Recent data shows California coming through. The state briefly generated enough solar power to meet nearly half of the state's electricity needs, according to data from the largest grid operator in the state, California ISO.

Around midday on March 3, demand reached around 29 Gigawatts (GW), while solar was providing nearly 14 GW of generation—some 9 GW from utility-scale arrays and another 5 GW or so from rooftops and parking lot canopies around the state.

California's renewable energy output, midday on March 3.California ISO

Renewables are having a big moment. Solar is getting cheaper and cheaper, spurring Californians to set up photovoltaic panels on homes, businesses and empty lots across the state.

"It's remarkable that over a third of the solar power generated in California comes from smaller rooftop systems, meaning hundreds of thousands of homeowners are reaping the economic value generated from harnessing the sun rather than the state's big utility companies," said Amit Ronen, director of the GW Solar Institute.

To be fair, the numbers from California ISO are a little squishy. First, California ISO may be the biggest grid operator in California, but it is not the only grid operator. Its numbers do not account for power demand or solar generation in Los Angeles or Sacramento, for instance.

Second, there is no real-time data on California's rooftop solar generation. We know that California has about 5 GW of installed rooftop solar capacity, meaning that if every rooftop solar panel in the state pointed directly at the sun on a cloudless day, they would generate more than 5 GW. Under real-life conditions, they generate slightly less.

But while these numbers are a rough approximation, they illustrate the incredible growth of renewable energy. They also highlight the central challenge of integrating solar into the power grid.

California's net power demand, midday on March 3. California ISO

See the dotted blue line in the graph above? That represents estimated demand. The saddleback-shaped dip in the line is the handiwork of rooftop solar panels, which generate power locally, suppressing demand. After the sun sets, around 6 p.m., demand shoots up again.

But solar power isn't just coming from rooftops. It's also being generated by large-scale arrays operated by utilities. Subtract the electricity generated by utility-scale renewable energy and you get the net power demand, represented by the green line. The green line shows how much energy conventional power plants need to generate to keep the lights on in California. That enormous dip and the subsequent spike, form what energy geeks call the duck curve.

The duck curve, as illustrated by changes in changes net power demand in California. CAISO

Every year, California generates more and more power from solar, exacerbating that midday dip in net power demand. This is problematic, because it's expensive to ramp up power generation from coal- and gas-fired power plants at dusk. Fortunately, there are ways to flatten the duck curve: building out transmission lines to carry solar energy over state lines would broaden the demand; installing grid-enabled appliances that shift demand to the middle of the day; or deploying battery storage, like the Tesla Powerwall, that can store excess generation during the day and discharge it in the evening.

"We still need to make significant investments in energy storage technologies that will allow us to bank solar energy when it's being made so that it can be used whenever we need it, even at night," Ronen said.

The state is aiming to generate 50 percent of its power from renewables by 2030. As part of that effort, legislators are looking for ways to better integrate solar energy into the power grid—to drive down costs, improve performance and flatten ducks, wherever they may quack. So, in September, California passed four bills to expand the use of energy storage.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once described the states as laboratories of democracy. They are also laboratories for energy innovation. As the federal government lurches backwards on renewable energy and climate, California and other progressive states are pushing ahead, providing a model for the rest of country.

Should Texas, for example, want to take advantage of its abundant sunshine, California can show the Lone Star state how to do it.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

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