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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By Alexandra Rowles
Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.
However, it can also be concentrated into an essential oil that's loaded with antioxidants and powerful compounds that have proven health benefits.
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By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a list of 431 products that are effective at killing viruses when they are on surfaces. Now, a good year for Lysol manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser just got better when the EPA said that two Lysol products are among the products that can kill the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
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For all its posturing on climate change, the Democratic Party has long been weak on the actual policies we need to save us from extinction. President Barack Obama promised his presidency would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow," and then embraced natural gas, a major driver of global temperature rise, as a "bridge fuel." Climate legislation passed in the House in 2009 would have allowed industries to buy credits to pollute, a practice known to concentrate toxic air in black and brown neighborhoods while doing little to cut emissions.
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Bayer's $10 billion settlement to put an end to roughly 125,000 lawsuits against its popular weed killer Roundup, which contains glyphosate, hit a snag this week when a federal judge in San Francisco expressed skepticism over what rights future plaintiffs would have, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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