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Floating Solar Farms Crop Up in California
By Corey Binns
In Sonoma, California, the most important renewable resource will always be grapes. Sonoma's vineyards, framed by picturesque rolling green hills, produce some of the best wines on the planet; tourists flock to the region to sample the latest pinots and admire the scenery. "People like the rolling, grassy hills," said local resident Dale Roberts. But as principal engineer at the Sonoma County Water Agency, Roberts is focused on another homegrown renewable: clean energy. So behind the scenes in Sonoma, he's been busy "juicing" the landscape in a way that's quite different from the neighboring vintners' activities.
To be specific, Roberts and his colleagues have begun to launch floating solar panels on six of the agency's ponds, which hold recycled water saved for irrigation during drought years. When all panels are up and running, by the end of 2018, the project is expected to generate 13 megawatts―or 23,000 megawatt-hours of energy in a year, enough to power 3,500 homes in the area.
A similar project has begun on San Diego's 200-acre Olivenhain Reservoir. There, 24,000 solar panels will cover a sliver of the reservoir's surface and make 144,000 megawatt-hours of power annually, enough to run 21,500 homes. These floating solar fields operate more efficiently than those in the Mojave Desert at Ivanpah—the world's biggest solar-thermal power plant, which was nearly shut down last year because of poor performance. The water on which they float can easily clean them. They run cooler. What's more, they are often located near power transmission lines.
The panels sit atop floating plastic, and in addition to their contributions to the power grid, they offer some benefits to the ponds they cover. For one, they slow down water evaporation into the atmosphere—a particular boon to drought-prone California. Even more important, said Troy Helming of Pristine Sun, the solar company installing panels in Sonoma, they reduce the growth of algae, which can clog up filters and pumps at water treatment facilities and spoil water quality. (The panels limit the amount of direct sunlight striking the water, slowing the algae's photosynthesis).
That said, what's good for a water treatment plant isn't necessarily right for natural waterways. Vignesh Gowrishankar, who researches clean energy technologies for the Natural Resources Defense Council, sees a bright future for floating solar farms at man-made sites, such as lakes that are formed in mining quarries and irrigation reservoirs similar to those in Sonoma. But he cautions that vibrant lakes and ecologically sensitive waterways should be off-limits to this burgeoning industry.
Even with that caveat, a surprising amount of water is suitable for solar. In California alone, more than 20 gigawatts of floating solar could be added to otherwise unused bodies of water, according to an analysis by Pristine Sun. That figure excludes recreational areas and the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. "We're not suggesting putting it on Lake Tahoe," said Roberts.
But if done properly, panels on water could power 20 to 30 percent of the state's total energy needs, by Helming's estimates. "It's a huge amount of potential," he said, particularly in California, which has passed some of the most ambitious climate policies in the world.
Outside the Golden State, floating solar has surfaced on a campus pond at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, and another installation bedecks a reservoir on the outskirts of London, where it powers one of the city's key water treatment plants. China recently announced the largest array to date, a farm made of 160,000 panels on a lake in Anhui province that rose after the collapse of a coal mine. And in Japan, where land is especially scarce, the Kyocera Corporation has already built three floating solar farms, with plans to develop more, including a 13.7-megawatt plant on the Yamakura Dam reservoir in Chiba prefecture, scheduled to launch in early 2018. Its 51,000 panels will generate enough electricity to power almost 5,000 local households and offset about 8,170 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. That's equal to saving 19,000 barrels of oil per year.
Kyocera has taken precautions to ensure its equipment will not become an environmental concern, said Hina Morioka, a company spokesperson. "That is one reason why we have chosen floating platforms that are 100 percent recyclable and made of high-density polyethylene that can withstand ultraviolet rays and corrosion."
Although Gowrishankar cites limited aquatic space and the potential for weather damage as hindrances to how far floating solar can take us, it is an important addition, particularly at the community level, he said. He envisions solar panels on rooftops of homes surrounding a lake that is also covered in panels. Harnessed together, electricity from such an array could run a community solar plant that feeds a small group of homes.
As the world faces new urgency to amp up climate action in the face of President Trump's abandonment of the Paris agreement, initiatives like these represent increasingly crucial components in the shift away from fossil fuels. "The consensus and the expert analysis is that we should be slashing our greenhouse emissions by four-fifths between now and 2050," Gowrishankar said, and we have many hundreds of gigawatts of renewable energy to build to make up the difference.
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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.
Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.
Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.
SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.
It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.
Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.
In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.
The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).
"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.
The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.
"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
Ivory Coast's rainforests have been decimated by cocoa production and what is left is put in peril by a new law that will remove legal protections for thousands of square miles of forests, according to The Guardian.
By Karin Kirk
Greenland had quite the summer. It rose from peaceful obscurity to global headliner as ice melted so swiftly and massively that many were left grasping for adjectives. Then, Greenland's profile was further boosted, albeit not to its delight, when President Trump expressed interest in buying it, only to be summarily dismissed by the Danish prime minister.
During that time I happened to be in East Greenland, both as an observer of the stark effects of climate change and as a witness to local dialogue about presidential real estate aspirations, polar bear migrations and Greenland's sudden emergence as a trending topic.
Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market. Cirou Frederic / PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections / Getty Images
Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market, according to new research from the advocacy organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), which bills itself as an alliance of scientists, nonprofit organizations and donors trying to reduce exposures to neurotoxic chemicals during the first three years of development.
By Kerstin Palme
Creepy-crawlies are among the oldest life forms on this planet. Before dinosaurs ever walked the earth, insects were certainly already there. Some estimates date their origins to 400 million years ago. They're also extremely successful. Of the 7 to 8 million species documented on Earth, around three quarters are likely bugs.
But several insect species could disappear for good in the next few decades and that would have serious consequences for humans.
Volvo introduced its first-ever all-electric vehicle this week, kicking off an ambitious plan to slash emissions and phase out solely gas-powered vehicles starting this year.
The report, released Wednesday, found that almost every European who lives in a city is exposed to unhealthy air, Reuters reported.