Tag Archives: renewable energy

Lockville Dam vs Conventional Dams in Photos

These photos go in conjunction with the story Small Town, Small Powerhouse written about the Lockville Hydroelectric Plant and Dam in Moncure, North Carolina. There are photos showing the geographical location of the dam and historical photos of the dam itself as well as photos of larger, more conventional dams found in other parts of the country. These photos are put together for the difference in size and scale to be evident between these two very different kinds of dams.

Flowing Currents – River to Electric Pros and Cons of Installing Hydroelectric Power

Pros:

  • Hydroelectric is a renewable energy source that relies solely on water to generate power. It can decrease our reliance on coal and natural gas for power production. Coal and gas are non-renewable fossil fuels and produce many negative environmental consequences. Moving energy production away from coal and natural gas towards renewable energy sources such as hydroelectric would be a cleaner more pro environment alternative.
  • No pollution is associated with the production of electricity using hydroelectric. This is in direct opposition to coal which produces some of the worst pollution in the world. Coal generated smog has documented detrimental human health effects. Hydroelectric produces power using only water. It requires no contaminants to be used.
  • Hydroelectric is a very reliable energy source that can be used as base load production. Water flow is constant and reliable unlike sunlight and wind. Unlike other renewable energy giants solar and wind, it can be used to provide power at a constant rate at all times. “Base load production” is something coal and natural gas do well, but in an environmentally unfriendly way. Hydroelectric is an energy source that could replace coal and natural gas as a base load power producer.
  • Flexibility makes hydroelectric useful for baseload production of electricity as it can match base demand. It is a renewable energy source that can be ramped up and down to match demand. The amount of sun or wind cannot be turned up/down. Water flow can be adjusted to provide a lower amount of power if demand is low. It can be increased to match periods of higher demand.
  • Since water is the only hydroelectric fuel it is much safer than nuclear or fossil fuels. The only thing needed to provide power is the flow of water. No waste is associated with hydroelectric. Nuclear has radioactive waste that currently we do not have a way of getting rid of. Fossil fuels creates waste that pollutes the air harming our environment and our health. Water is a cleaner means of production.
  • Infrastructure for hydroelectric lasts for decades with little cost to maintain once built. Dams provide value added services such as flood control, irrigation, and recreation.

Cons:

  • The environmental impacts of hydroelectric are not inconsequential – especially for fish. Some negative impacts include: changes to the river bed due to construction, changes to water quality which affect fish and other species, changes to the physical flow path of the water, and prevention of migratory fish species from navigating upstream to spawn.
  • The initial investment and construction cost of building a hydroelectric plant can be enormous and prohibitive. Hydroelectric usually must operate several years to recoup cost and become profitable.
  • Droughts that change the amount of water available can be potential disasters. This is currently happening in Venezuela. Severe drought has caused large scale national power blackouts due to “the water level at the Guri hydroelectric dam, which provides 75% of Venezuela’s electricity, [being] at a record low”. (http://edition.cnn.com/2016/04/26/americas/venezuela-blackouts/index.html?sr=cnnifb)

 

Sources:

Interviews with Dr. Jordan Kern and Dr. Alisha Fernandez

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/04/26/americas/venezuela-blackouts/index.html?sr=cnnifb

http://energyinformative.org/hydroelectric-energy-pros-and-cons/

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.

Gone With The Wind: Renewables Replace Traditional Energy Jobs?

In 1975, Arizona congressman Morris K. Udall outlined a path for protecting the environment while saving the nation money in fuel costs: adopting renewable energies, particularly solar.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that being for the environment means you have to be against progress,” he said.

That was 41 years ago.

Now, solar power is one of the fastest growing sectors of renewable energy in the country. The U.S. hit a record high for installed residential solar panels last fall.

But naysayers oppose renewables solely on the basis of the job market.  They argue that with each retired coal plant comes a wave of displaced workers.  Questions remain about what renewable energy will mean for the job security and paychecks of average Americans.

A System Overhaul

Today, the energy industry is experiencing some of the most rapid change in its lifetime.  As renewable energy comes online, new energy producers are competing with traditional monopolistic utilities like Duke Energy.  Falling prices of new technology and have put renewables in a position for rapid expansion.

However, this threat to the old order has citizens worried about job security.

“The renewable business is a strange kind of beast in that all of the capital investment is made upfront and then there is very little in the way of operating costs,” said Wayne Harris, the director at the Elizabeth City, Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission.

Due to their less resource-intensive nature, renewable energy production facilities usually employ fewer workers than a traditional coal or gas fired power plant.

“If you think about the life cycle of a coal plant, it’s a dirty business. It’s pumping dangerous carbon into the atmosphere, but over the life of the plant, there are guys who are mining it, guys who are shipping it. There’s a huge supply chain involved over a 20-year period,” said Harris.  “Then with a wind farm, 300 men and women build it and then 10 people maintain it for the next 30 years.”

This assessment is confirmed by the North Carolina Clean Energy Census of 2011.  It found that, with the exception of smart grid and manufacturing sectors, the average firms operating in the clean energy sector employed fewer than 10 employees.

“Most of these technologies that save energy also eliminate jobs,” said Harris.

Maggie Clark, the director of government affairs from the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, made a similar argument regarding the temporality of renewable energy instillation jobs.

“Even though the construction job, just like any construction job, may not be a permanent job, its just another form of construction and there are other maintenance jobs that are full time,” said Clark.

Clark also expects that industries like solar power may be able to support more long-term construction jobs as the companies hire workers to update system components as technology improves.

And the jobs generated by the clean energy sector are different from traditional jobs like coal mining.

The Evolution of Energy Jobs

For conventional fuel sources, many jobs are concerned with location and extraction of fuel.  By contrast, clean energy jobs are much more technologically advanced and management-oriented, which appeals more to younger generation.  Jobs range from software designing, data interpreting and grid management to cyber security, and research and development of new products and equipment.

The jobs that are created in the clean energy sector typically pay well: $75,000-80,000 annually.  By contrast, coal miners in the US make a yearly average salary of $25,000-65,0000.

According to the North Carolina Clean Energy Census, 3,158 new clean energy jobs were added in 2015 for a total of 26,154.  Of these new jobs, half are involved in energy efficiency and retrofitting older buildings, followed closely by solar activities.  Some of the most numerous jobs in past years have been in areas such as research and development, manufacturing, and energy efficient design.

“Historically, energy efficiency has been the leading employment sector in the clean energy industry,” said Clark.  Energy efficiency can encompass jobs from the technical aspects of instillation to energy-conscious design.  “Jobs that you may not think of as clean energy sometimes fall into the energy efficiency category.”

Energy efficiency jobs made up 50% of the clean energy job market in 2015, an addition of 1,760 jobs since 2014.

Hidden Benefits

Unlike traditional energy production, renewable energy jobs help to generate revenue that stays in the local community, since the fuel for energy production is locally sourced.  This is particularly important to many rural areas of the US, like Roscoe Texas.  They have been able to use wind power as a tool to revitalize their community and local economy.

Harris added that renewable energy projects generate revenue – typically from property taxes levied – without putting pressure on local resources.

“The county gets $250,000 a year with almost no additional strain on its existing infrastructure—not a whole bunch of extra kids in school, no need for extra roads. They just collect the check,” he said.

This is good news for towns with already strained resources.  It provides incentives beyond just job creation for communities to invest in renewable energy growth.

 

 

Photos:  Left- The Baldwin Hills oil wells of Los Angeles, California.  Photo Credit The City Project.  Right- A wind farm in Iowa.  Photo credit Don Graham.