Technology

RECENT POSTS

Carbon Storage Could Be Shaky Proposition

Underground storage of CO2 could trigger earthquakes

Some say storing carbon underground as a way to curb greenhouse gas emissions is risky. The container has to last essentially forever, and what if an earthquake rips through the seal? But new research is showing that pumping CO2 underground could itself trigger earthquakes. Continue reading

New Google Tool Helps Monitor World’s Forests

Map of Mexico created with Google Earth Engine, by scientist Matthew Hansen and CONAFOR. Google says this is the finest-scale forest cover map produced of Mexico to date.

This week in Cancun, in a jungle-themed conference room with green lighting and an audio track of rain forest sounds, Google launched a new technology platform designed to help scientists — and ultimately developing countries — monitor deforestation. Google Earth Engine combines LandSat satellite imagery from the last 25 years (much of which was not previously available online) with analytical tools provided by scientists, which will allow users to make fine-scale maps.

Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institute at Stanford is one of Google’s partners in the project. His lab provided some of the algorithms built into the Earth Engine that will allow users to analyze the satellite data online.

“There have been two major bottlenecks in helping people to map and keep track of deforestation and degradation: getting access to the satellite data and making it user-friendly,” said Asner. Continue reading

Geoengineering Report: Could Work, Go Slowly

Photo: Gretchen Weber

More research is essential to determine whether or not geoengineering is a viable approach for addressing climate change, according to the final report from a spring geoengineering conference at Asilomar.

Today’s report, stemming from a week-long conference of scientists in March, states that:

“Without an aggressive pursuit of a multi-faceted global response strategy to limit and and then reverse climate change, the environmental consequences will be severe, with concomitant social costs that are likely to lead to widespread suffering in the most affected regions.”

The types of technologies discussed at the conference included intervention strategies that attempt to remove carbon from the atmosphere such as ocean fertilization, as well as those that attempt to mitigate the effects of climate change by blocking sunlight to reduce warming, such as spraying sulfur aerosols into the atmosphere or increasing the reflectivity of clouds with sea water. The Asilomar report suggests that:

“If research demonstrates that such approaches could be effectively and responsibly deployed, they could contribute a bridging strategy that would have the potential to moderate climate change and at least some of its impacts until sharp cuts in emissions return atmospheric composition and climate change to much lower levels.”

Of course, that’s a big “if.” Continue reading

Climate News Roundup

Geoengineering: Use it or Lose it?

Just as delegates from 193 nations agreed to a voluntary moratorium on geoengineering research last week at the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan, the US House Science and Technology Committee issued a report outlining how federal geoengineering research could be pursued in the United States. The international agreement to ban the research does not apply to the US, which has not ratified the CBD. (More from The Washington Post and Climate Central.) Continue reading

Prop 23: No’s Rally, Pros Retreat?

In what might signal a final push by Silicon Valley, an environmentally-oriented investor group today released a manifesto from 66 “leading investors” opposed to California’s Proposition 23. The group is said to manage more than $400 billion in assets.

In a conference call with reporters, venture capitalist Alan Salzman called clean technology the “next industrial revolution,” and that “California is at the epicenter.” To prove his point, Salzman pointed to $9 billion invested in “clean-tech” since 2006, in California alone, and he called Prop 23 “antithetical” to the transition that global industry is now undergoing, claiming that 20% of total venture capital funding is flowing to clean-tech, of late. Continue reading

Offshore Wind’s Google Boost

Google makes a billion-dollar bet on offshore wind–but not on this coast.

When Google announced that it was taking a nearly 40% stake in a $5 billion underwater transmission line to serve offshore wind farms that haven’t been built, nobody even seemed to flinch. Such is the effect of having the Google imprimatur on renewable energy projects.

The Nysted wind farm, off the coast of Denmark. The US presently has no offshore wind generation.

According to reports, the cable would run for 350 miles, about 20 miles off the Atlantic coast, connecting yet-to-be-built wind energy turbines to the mainland and to each other. It would not connect the only offshore wind farm to so far win approval from the federal Department of the Interior, the long-contested Cape Wind project off Massachusetts. Continue reading

CPUC says Smart Meters are Accurate

Today the California Public Utilities Commission announced the results of an independent evaluation of PG&E’s Smart Meter program.  The audit, conducted by The Structure Group, found that the meters — and the associated billing — are accurate. However, it did fault PG&E’s customer service practices for exacerbating the problem of Smart Meter-related complaints about high bills.  The New York Times Green blog has more on the audit. Continue reading

Climate News Roundup

A few items in the climate news that caught our eyes this week…

1. CEC approves 250-megawatt solar thermal project in Kern County
The California Energy Commission approved the Beacon Solar Energy project on Wednesday. It’s the first time in 20 years that state energy regulators have approved construction on a solar thermal farm, the Los Angeles Times reports.

2. Geoengineering won’t curb sea-level rise, study finds
A new report from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that geoengineering strategies to combat global warming by blocking the sun’s radiation would not have much of an impact on rising sea levels, unless the efforts are extremely aggressive. (Read more at Nature.com)

3. Earth’s plant growth fell due to climate change, says NASA
After 20 years of increasing growth under warming temperatures, the Earth’s vegetation   saw a slight decrease over the last decade, according to a new NASA analysis.  Scientists reported they were surprised to find that the negative effects of regional droughts outweighed the positive influence of a longer growing season.

4. Another hurdle cleared for the world’s largest solar farm
Federal regulators are one step closer to approving plans for the 1,000 megawatt plant proposed by Oakland-based company Solar Millennium LLC.  The project would be located across more than 7,000 acres in Riverside County. (Read more at The New York Times.)

Clean Energy from Below

UPDATED with interactive map

Hear my radio feature on geothermal energy and the rest of a five-part collaboration on renewable energy between NPR and KQED, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

It may be a distant second to California now, but Nevada is making a run to become the nation’s largest producer of geothermal energy.

A conventional geothermal power plant at The Geysers complex in Lake County. (Photo: Craig Miller)

California still produces an estimated 80% of the nation’s geothermal power (used to produce electricity*), with more than 40 plants online. But according to a summary from the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) this summer:

“Nevada could become the leading geothermal energy producer in the coming years if growth and production trends continue on their current trajectories. Nevada’s 86 planned or developing geothermal power plants have the potential add up to 3,686.4 Megawatts of geothermal power to Nevada’s energy portfolio, power for 2.6 million homes – enough to meet the electricity needs of 100% of the homes in the Las Vegas metropolitan area.”

GEA describes 14 Nevada projects as being “in latter stages of development.” Meanwhile, says the group’s executive director, Karl Gawell, development in California is slowing down. “Everything’s relative,” Gawell told me in a phone interview. “Projects are moving forward in California, they just take longer.” Continue reading

Nichols: No Solo Cap-and-Trade

Cap-and-Trade is a lonely business these days. But according to the state’s top regulator in charge of implementing it, California won’t go it alone.

Air Board Chair Mary Nichols, flanked by Google Green Energy Czar Bill Weihl (left) and PG&E Sr. VP Tom Bottorff, at a panel sponsored by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Mary Nichols, who chairs the state’s Air Resources Board, made the remark in a Silicon Valley panel discussion today. The ostensible topic of the event was renewable energy but it turned into a pep rally against Proposition 23, the statewide ballot measure designed to halt California’s comprehensive climate law, AB 32. Nichols was joined on the panel by executives from Google, PG&E and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, all of whom voiced strong opposition to Prop 23.

When asked about the cap-and-trade provisions of AB 32, Nichols said: “We won’t launch this program without partners to trade with. It doesn’t make sense for an economy even as big as California, to try to do this all by ourselves.” The comment came days after congressional leaders threw in the towel for the summer, on a federal bill to address climate change and energy security. “To get the kind of leverage that you really need to make this program succeed, the US has got to step in,” said Nichols.

California is part of a nascent regional trading pact known as the Western Climate Initiative. But among the seven US states and four Canadian provinces signed on to the WCI, only California, New Mexico and Quebec are prepared to move forward with a working carbon trading market. Others still lack enabling legislation, and Arizona has overtly pulled out of the carbon trading plan, raising the question of how many “partners” California will have, even with WCI in the mix.

“I don’t expect to be faced with this dilemma,” Nichols told me after today’s event, “but if the worst were to happen and none of these states were able to move forward with their own programs, I think we would think long and hard about whether we would actually start enforcing the program, unless and until we were really confident that our  state had the ability to do it in a way that would not put us at a competitive disadvantage.”

Proponents of Prop 23 contend that full implementation of AB 32 will give other states and nations a competitive edge over California, resulting in “leakage” of jobs and businesses to regions with fewer regulations.

The panel, entitled “Electric Bills and Oil Spills: Will California Continue To Be a Clean Energy Leader?” was held on the Google corporate campus in Mountain View.