Tag Archives: California

Innovation in the Ocean

Climate change has cast a pall over the fate of our vast oceans. Failing fisheries, rising oceans, destroyed coral reefs and salinity change point towards a dim oceanic future. Innovations battling climate change however are using the ocean in hopes of halting some of these consequences.

Below is a list of innovations in oceans helping to reverse climate change or improve ocean ecosystems.

 

  1. The PowerBuoy 
A PowerBuoy floats in the ocean. Photograph by ThinkDefense.
A PowerBuoy floats in the ocean. Photograph by ThinkDefense.

The PowerBuoy is a renewable energy invention that harnesses the ocean’s energy.

The PowerBuoy runs off of marine hydrokinetic energy or MHK. MHK is a type of energy produced by harnessing the energy form the movement of waves, currents and tides.

In addition to producing renewable energy, the PowerBuoy is also environmentally friendly. The water device has no known detrimental effects on surrounding ocean environments.

A PowerBuoy is currently installed off the coast of New Jersey and provides offshore activities with safe, reliable electricity. The PowerBuoy’s current most applicable use is providing electricity to offshore power markets.

The PowerBuoy is built off of a scalable model, and can be installed in any convenient ocean location.

Renewable ocean energy is also an advantageous source of energy because 13% of the world’s urban population lives near coastlines.

Inventions that harness the energy of the ocean could help transform the sources of energy worldwide. Finding more sources of renewable energy can help stabilize the generation uncertainty of solar and wind power.

 

  1. Offshore Wind
Offshore wind turbines spin off the coast of Denmark. Photograph by Eskinder Debebe for the United Nations.
Offshore wind turbines spin off the coast of Denmark. Photograph by Eskinder Debebe for the United Nations.

The ocean serves as an excellent source for reliable, steady wind. While onshore wind in the United States is heavily popular, offshore wind around the globe is becoming increasingly feasible.

Offshore wind turbines can be installed in the ocean and use the steady, strong ocean wind to generate electricity. The spinning turbines generate energy, which is then transmitted to onshore locations.

Offshore wind in Europe is particularly popular. In the year 2014, as much as 3000 MW of offshore wind power was connected to the grid. The majority of the added offshore wind power was provided by Germany.

Since then, Germany has only continued to increase its reliability on offshore wind by installing more and more offshore wind turbines.

The US has one offshore wind structure, despite the country’s massive wind potential. Offshore wind has faced a lot of opposition partly due to aesthetics.

David Rogers is a state director at Environment North Carolina, an environmental advocacy organization. Rogers explains why North Carolina and the U.S. lack offshore wind projects.

“I think their are a couple of reasons why it feels like offshore wind is moving more slowly than we would like. The first thing to keep in mind is that it’s a relatively new technology, especially in the U.S., where to date we have no offshore wind capacity anywhere,” Rogers says. “The other factor currently is the cost associated with offshore wind. Because it’s a new technology, we haven’t built the economies of scale that other energy sources have developed to help lower costs.”

Offshore wind does face many drawbacks including political opposition, high cost of installment, scale and natural disaster threat.

Offshore wind nonetheless has proven extremely feasible and reliable in EU energy markets.

 

  1. Coral Reef Oil Rigs
Fish swim around coral structures in Pohnpei. Photograph by David Burdick for the NOAA Photo Library.
Fish swim around coral structures in Pohnpei. Photograph by David Burdick for the NOAA Photo Library.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing ocean inventions, or should we say recycling projects, has been coral reef oil rigs.

Scientists have found new uses for abandoned oil rigs – turn them into coral reefs. Since climate change has been devastating coral reefs worldwide, scientists are looking towards artificial reefs to save coral reef habitats. Abandoned oil rigs are one such artificial reef.

The makeshift coral reefs have proven successful. One such abandoned oil rig off the coast of California is thriving with marine life.

Some groups disapprove of converting rigs to reefs, however. Due to the large amount of oil spills from some California oil rigs, many want them permanently and completely removed. A spokeswoman from the Environmental Defense Center argues that oil companies should have to pay for the removal of defective rigs.

Brian Naess, who serves as a lecturer for the University of North Carolina’s Coral Reef Ecology and Management class, explains why he is in favor of artificial reefs.

“I do support artificial reefs, so long as they do not pose a contamination threat or pose a navigational hazard. There is literature about the dangers of using structures composed of metals, as they will eventually rust and fall apart.” Naess says. “But, I think if it’s done well, an artificial reef will act as a place for fish to congregate, a surface for coral and sponges to attach to, and, potentially, as a place for dive operators to visit.”

Many rigs are being converted due to the large amount of marine life they have been seen to harbor. With coral reef habitats being destroyed worldwide, either rigs or other artificial structures may have to take the place of true coral reefs.

Opinion: The faces of solar

Is solar really just for the rich?

As the popularity of rooftop solar circulates through states like California, it can be hard to resist the idea that renewable energy is just for the most educated and wealthy American people. In North Carolina, it is a rarity at all to see rooftop solar, let alone on the rooftops of those who are financially struggling.

Over my spring break in Los Angeles, CA, I have confronted the fact that solar can seriously benefit lower-income families, not just the rich. 

What if there was a way that we could lower the bills of low-income families significantly through volunteerism?

This is what 301(c)3 non-profit GRID Alternatives, a subsidiary of Solarcorp under Americorp, is doing by providing solar panels for low income families across the US at no cost to the homeowner.

How do I know? I installed the panels myself with the help of GRID’s amazing team and 11 other UNC students.

California operates under a feed-in tariff, where an individual can earn payment for the energy produced by their solar panels at a higher rate for a set period of time. In 2008, GRID was chosen as  the statewide program manager for its $162 million Single-family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) incentive program.

The SASH program is the first in the country to provide significant rebates for solar energy for low income housing, directing 10 percent of California Solar Initiative funds to be set aside for programs assisting low-income households in accessing solar technology.

What this means is in California, solar has to be inclusive, and the government funds projects that work towards this goal. That’s where GRID comes in.

There are some requirements to get no-cost solar: you must live in a state determined low-income neighborhood, be within a certain income bracket, own and live in the home, and have a nice, sturdy roof. Once all those boxes are checked, you are then on the list for getting solar panels that can reduce your monthly electricity bill by over 50 percent. In many cases, an electricity bill reduction can mean a world of difference.

The people who benefit from GRID go beyond just the people that receive solar. The solar industry is a booming one in California that creates many jobs that require experience and training. I think all of us have gotten rejected from a job for not having enough experience. But how are you supposed to get experience without a job?

GRID is also working to close this chicken-and-egg situation through volunteerism. GRID installs all of its solar panels using volunteers, including veterans, who can then use this experience to apply for jobs in the for-profit solar industry.

In North Carolina, the 35 percent tax credit for investment in renewables died at the end of 2015. This tax credit led to a boom in solar investments in the state, and continued investments in solar could have led to job opportunities across the rural-urban divide. Without this tax credit, renewables in North Carolina faces serious trouble as the incentive to invest no longer exists.

Not only have renewables struggled in North Carolina, but individuals as well. Electricity bills in North Carolina are 9.35 percent higher than the national average and low-income families often have to choose between electricity and food in the winter months because of high oil prices. And while solar may not be the perfect option year-round, the savings that these families can earn could literally save their lives.

So who are the faces of solar? As for me, they are Maria Gonzales, the woman who will save $300 off her energy bill every month due to the solar GRID installed on her roof over UNC’s spring break. They are the faces of the men and women I worked side by side with who started as volunteers and are now paid members of GRID’s training force.

Will we stand behind the myth of solar only being for the wealthy, or will we take leaps towards energy equality? Will we take advantage of the opportunities that solar presents, not only for people who have solar themselves but the jobs it creates?

North Carolina: it’s your move.

Natural Gas Leaks Across the US

Natural Gas Leaks Across the U.S.

What is a Natural Gas Leak?

A natural gas leak occurs when natural gas escapes from a natural gas storage facility. Methane, the main component of natural gas, spews out of these facilities into the atmosphere1. Methane is not only dangerous to the environment but also to living organisms2.

Natural gas is stored in facilities around the country to provide us with energy. Natural gas is quickly becoming an extremely prominent source of energy in the US. Natural Gas can also escpae into the atmosphere through natural sources9.

 

Why Are Natural Gas Leaks So Dangerous?

Methane can cause short-term health effects to humans, including, dizziness, headaches and vomiting3. Although no long-term effects have been observed, the short-term effects can be severe. Residents in areas of a gas leak often must be displaced1.

Methane has also been rumored to affect domestic animals, causing nosebleeds and shortness of breath. Residents in areas with gas leaks have observed animals falling ill and even dying4. However, little scientifically is known on what effect methane has on domestic animals.

The main concern of methane is the long-term effect this gas has on the environment. Methane, a greenhouse gas, is an extremely significant contributor to climate change5. Scientists estimate that methane warms the earth at 84 times the rate of carbon dioxide6.

 

Where in the U.S. Are These Leaks Happening?

The most recent Natural Gas leak has occurred in Porter Ranch, California7. The leak, caused by Southern California Gas Company, has been occurring since October 23rd 8. The California governor has declared a state of emergency, and 2,200 households have been displaced9.

The October 23rd leak is the largest natural gas leak in California’s history10. Stopping the leak has proved to be tricky, and could take up to four months6. The leak is coming from a mile and a half underground, making it a tough fix8.

However, California residents aren’t the only ones who will feel the effects. The leak’s impact on global warming is comparable to driving 4.5 million cars a day5. Environmental scientists communicate that this leak will affect everyone across the globe as temperatures rise.

Without a solution, 110,000 pounds of methane will continue to leak into the atmosphere hourly9. The leak negates California’s ambitious pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions in coming years6. Estimates predict this leak has the same environmental effect as do six coal-fired plants daily5.

These leaks aren’t limited to California or even the United States. Leaks are prevalent all across the globe, some leaks more serious than others. A leak in Venezuela spewed 10 times the amount of methane as the California leak1.

To slow climate change, natural gas leaks around the world must be reduced.

 

  1. “Shocking study shows how much methane leaked globally”, January 18, 2016, The Weather Network
  2. “California Natural Gas Leak is Just One of Thousands Across the Country” January 18, 2016, PBS Newshour
  3. “California Governor Declares Emergency Over Porter Ranch Gas Leak” January 7, 2016, CNN
  4. “Natural Gas Leak Near Los Angeles May Be Sickening To Animals” January 18, San Jose Mercury News
  5. “This is How Much the California Gas Leak is Hurting The Planet”, January 14, 2016, Time Magazine
  6. “Dangerous Methane Leak Requires Emergency Measures”, January 7, 2016, Scientific American
  7. “Huge California Gas Leak Will Come to an End In February, Utility Says” January 19, 2016, Huffington Post
  8. “Stopping Natural Gas Leak Near Los Angeles is a Complex Fix” January 9, 2016, The ABC News
  9. “Thousands Sickened, Toxic Gas Leak Containment Plans Delayed” January 17, 2016, The Weather Network
  10. “California Residents Vent Frustrations over State’s Biggest Gas Leak” January 16, 2016, Yahoo News