I’ve been sitting on this for a week or two binge watching Fringe instead of blogging like I’m supposed to. Fringe is excellent, by the way. While the science is nothing short of abysmal, the characters and plot arcs are so good, I didn’t care.
Anyway… the News.
I assume that everyone has seen the news that the West Antarctic ice sheet is doomed. Two reports from two weeks ago state that this is inevitable now. There’s been too much melt and no chance of stopping a complete collapse. Of course, the collapse will take about 200 years to complete, but it will raise sea levels, world-wide, by 3 meters.
What you might not have heard is that Greenland may actually be worse. Nature Geoscience (and if anyone wants to get me a subscription to Nature, that would be awesome) published this story. Basically, know one really knows what Greenland looks like under all that ice. Using satellite data, the researchers suggest that the glaciers of Greenland are larger than previously thought and more vulnerable to thawing and thinning than previously thought.
We report the widespread presence of well-eroded, deep bed troughs along the ice sheet periphery, generally grounded below sea level, coincident in location and spatial extent with fast flow features (>100 m/yr) and extending over considerable distances inland (100 km). Most of the bed depressions are not apparent in the existing ice thickness records because radar sounders fail to detect bottom echoes on most of these glaciers.
More bad news, in the category of shooting one’s self in the foot. The US House insists that the military to ignore climate change in their planning processes.
None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to implement the U.S. Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation’s Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order 12866.
While the US military considers climate change as a serious threat to national security, they wouldn’t be allowed to do anything about it. Like equipping soldiers with portable solar stations to recharge batteries and purify water.
Addressing the issue of military installation security, CCS Advisory Board member Brigadier General Gerald Galloway, United States Army (ret) stated: “Thirty military installations in the US have already been identified as facing problems from climate change and sea level rise that could impact both their training utility and their ability to serve as launch platforms for our forces. Others, overseas, face similar challenges. The time to begin work on adapting the bases and their neighboring communities to deal with future conditions is now. Doing it later, when runways are flooded, roads are underwater, and training curtailed is too late and far more costly.” from Climate and Security
On the other hand, business is as aware of the potential dangers as the military and they are taking more direct action. In something of what could be a very interesting case, Farmers Insurance is suing various governments in the Chicago area for not adequately preparing for climate change caused weather changes, specifically massive downpours that apparently overwhelmed the sewers and storm drains.
Insurance companies are well aware that they will face the brunt of things like sea-level rise. I know of at least one community that it is impossible to get home owners insurance for. After being destroyed (and I mean that literally) twice in 5 years due to hurricanes, that particular community was told by multiple insurance agencies that they will not insure them. It’s not “too risky”, it’s guaranteed. That particular community is literally less than 10 meters from the ocean and much of the town is slightly below sea level.
Texas, is also getting a new solar plant in a 150 Megawatt installation in West Texas. The largest solar farm in the US was planned for Pflugerville (no, I spelled it correctly, don’t ask), but it was only a 60MW system and the project has apparently stalled with no updates since mid last year.
In other news, a different form of renewable energy may be coming. Geothermal has always been a very useful system for generating electricty. Much of Iceland is run on geothermal (25% of electricity and 90% of home heating). But Iceland is a prime location, sitting on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which has a thin crust and ready access to hot magma.
I mean this literally, Iceland has one of the two drill holes in the world that hit magma. But you don’t have to have ready access to pure magma. A relatively new design for geothermal power plants and more research to come means that lower temperatures could potentially drive steam turbines. This pilot plant in Nevada runs from a low temperature of 260 degrees Fahrenheit. While this is a pilot plant, it generates 1.7 Megawatts and delivers power to Los Angeles.
The US Geological Survey suggests that the US has the potential for 100 to 500 gigawatts of geothermal capacity.
Wind power isn’t out yet, of course. IEEE Spectrum reports that the highest ever wind turbine will begin producing power in Alaska. The wind turbine isn’t fixed on a giant pole, but floats in the air, much higher than any ground mounted system could reach. This device is intended to get high up where the wind blows constantly and quickly.
Even so, this isn’t a huge producer of electricity. It’s intended for smaller, off-grid applications, like small villages in the Alaskan wilderness or small military installations (although it would be pretty obvious where the installation was with a giant wind turbine floating high above it). But the company building this is also using it as a platform for cell phones and other equipment. Sounds neat.
On Sunday, May 11th, 2014, Germany set a record. By midday, 75% of the nations electrical needs were met by purely renewable methods (primarily wind and solar). Those tools helped to generate so much electricity that bulk prices went negative for a time.
I wish I could remember where I read the clown who commented that Germany is moving away from renewables. Anyway, Germany aims to power the country almost entirely by renewables by 2050. Sounds to me like a few more good years of production and they could have that well ahead of schedule.
What’s really interesting is how they are doing it. I fear that US businesses and utilities will totally reject this system, but it seems to work. What happened is the FIT surcharge. It pays renewable energy producers a set amount for electricity. The FIT is paid for by the utility customers (meaning households), which have seen a rise of electricity prices of 7% or so. But businesses are largely seeing a large price drop (18% or more).
Here’s the trick though, the average consumer/homeowner can take advantage of the rules by installing grid-tie solar systems. Suddenly, they are producing electricity instead of consuming it. In Germany, more than half the renewable is owned by citizens, cooperatives, and communities, while that is less than 2% in the US.
I would love this model and many of the planned neighborhoods in modern suburbs would be ideal for these kinds of projects. My own neighborhood has a school, parks, pool, and four massive retaining ponds (that are dry 99% of the time) which would make ideal locations for solar panels (as well as most of the homes). And the way the wind blows here, I’d give my left nut for a 2-3 MW wind turbine.
Finally, because it’s awesome: