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[1THING] Blog: Archive for September, 2012

[ World Vegetarian Day is October 1st ]

World Vegetarian Day was established as an annual celebration to promote the joy, compassion and life-enhancing possibilities of vegetarianism. The day was originated by the North American Vegetarian Society in 1977 and endorsed by the International Vegetarian Union in 1978. October 1st is the official date, however if necessary, individuals may schedule their event on a nearby date instead.

Going vegetarian is one of the easiest ways to reduce your environmental impact. Livestock farming has a hugely detrimental effect on the natural world and it’s just not necessary. By swapping meat and fish for a plant-based diet you will:

Reduce your carbon footprintLivestock farming produces huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. One study estimated that the farming of animals caused more emissions (18%) than the world’s entire transport system (13.5%).

Save water It takes thousands more litres of water to produce a kilo of beef than to grow the same quantity of grains, vegetables or pulses. Manure, antibiotics and hormones all find their way from livestock farms into our water system, while fish farms release chemicals and parasites that threaten wildlife.

Save landLivestock production is responsible for 70% of Amazon deforestation.

Protect the oceansIndustrial fishing practices are destroying fragile eco-systems and wiping out whole populations of sea creatures.

A 2006 study, examining the impact of a typical week’s eating, showed that plant-based diets are better for the environment than those based on meat. An organic vegan diet had the smallest environmental impact, but the single most damaging foodstuff was beef. All non-vegetarian diets required significantly greater amounts of environmental resources, such as land and water.


[ Report: Summer’s Signs of Things to Come ]

Summer in Pennsylvania may tell us a lot about climate change and where we’re headed in the future, according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). Federation senior scientist Doug Inkley says the heat waves we experienced this past summer are just the tip of the iceberg.

“We now have a record low amount of ice in the arctic, we have a record amount of ice melt in Greenland. You put all three of these together and global warming is extremely apparent.”

Inkley says some scenarios we saw this summer, such as large fish kills, also lend insight into what wildlife face in the months to come.

“You have thousands of fish dying because the water is simply too warm for them. Wildlife throughout this coming winter will be stressed because the productivity of the natural foods they eat is way down because of the drought, and they could easily starve to death.”

Inkley says the issue of climate change is collective in nature; we all face the consequences and each of us can participate in the solution.

“It hurts us in our pocketbook, it hurts us in our food sources, it hurts us in our ability to endure the hot summers, and we need to do something about it – and we can, but we need to have the guts, as a nation, to step forward.”

Inkley says the same conditions are contributing to devastating wildfires, crop damage and an influx of destructive pests and the diseases some carry, like West Nile virus. NWF points out that the past 12 months are the hottest ever recorded in the U.S. In terms of financial impact, the report notes that the cost of battling wildfires, now about $3 billion a year, has tripled since the 1990s. The NWF report recommends Congress pass legislation that limits greenhouse gas emissions while spurring clean energy such as wind and solar power.

See the full report at www.nwf.org.


[ Wind Production Layoffs Looming in Pennsylvania ]

A standstill in Congress is taking the wind out of the wind turbine industry. The Production Tax Credit for wind and other renewable resources expires in a few months, unless it’s renewed.

The uncertainty is affecting local businesses like Windkits in Allentown. CEO Eric Schwartz says the credit brings in private money, and he points out that it’s not a handout, or a grant, since a track record has to be established before receiving the credit.

“There’s a significant amount of investment, private investment. You have to hire people, they have to make product, they have to install product, and you’re creating jobs, you’re creating work, in order to even get the tax credit.”

There is a bipartisan proposal in Congress to temporarily extend the credit. Those calling for it to expire cite budget concerns.

Dave Rosenberg, vice president for communications at wind turbine manufacturer Gamesa, says they’re laying off 165 people at their plants in Pennsylvania, because there’s no decision on the credit. He points out, though, that it isn’t too late to keep the PTC in place, and predicts it would save thousands of U.S. jobs.

“The cycle time for a wind project is 12 to 18 months, and by passing the PTC now and not waiting until the lame duck (Congress), we can still have a very positive impact on 2013 orders.”

Wind developers say the PTC is no different than tax credits offered to other industries, and has spurred growth and technology, and helped reduce the cost of wind energy.


[ National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day ]

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has scheduled another National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day which will take place on Saturday, September 29, 2012, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. This is a great opportunity for those who missed the previous events, or who have subsequently accumulated unwanted, unused prescription drugs, to safely dispose of those medications.

The American people have again responded overwhelmingly to the most recent DEA-led National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. On April 28th, citizens turned in a record-breaking 552,161 pounds (276 tons) of unwanted or expired medications for safe and proper disposal at the 5,659 take-back sites that were available in all 50 states and U.S. territories. When the results of the four Take-Back Days to date are combined, the DEA and its state, local, and tribal law-enforcement and community partners have removed over 1.5 million pounds (774 tons) of medication from circulation.

“We are pleased at the response of the American people once again, and we thank them for participating and contributing to the battle against prescription drug abuse,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart, who added that 4,268 agencies participated with DEA nationwide in Saturday’s event. “While a uniform system for prescription drug disposal is being finalized, we will continue to sponsor these important take-back opportunities as a service to our communities. Our take-back events highlight the problems related to prescription drug abuse and give our citizens an opportunity to contribute to the solution. These events are only made possible through the dedicated work and commitment of our state, federal, local, and tribal partners and DEA thanks each and every one of them for their efforts on behalf of the American people.”

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[ First Ocean Energy Delivered to the U.S. Grid ]

ORPC’s TidGen power system, shown in this rendering, has begun delivering power to the grid from Cobscook Bay, Maine. Credit: ORPC

The first grid-connected tidal power project in the United States project is now delivering electricity to the utility grid from an underwater power system in Cobscook Bay, Maine. Bangor Hydro Electric Company verified on September 13 that electricity generated by an underwater turbine generator is flowing to their power grid from Ocean Renewable Power Company’s (ORPC) Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project. The project is funded by a $10 million investment from the Energy Department, as well as the Maine Technology Institute and private investors.

The device, called a TidGen, is designed to operate in shallow tidal or deep river sites at depths of 50 to 100 feet , and has a peak output of 180 kilowatts. That amount is enough electricity to power 25 to 30 homes annually. In April, the Maine Public Utilities Commission approved a 20-year power purchase agreement for ORPC’s Maine Tidal Energy Project (which includes the Cobscook Bay Project) with three utilities: Central Maine Power, Bangor Hydro Electric, and Maine Public Service. Two additional TidGen devices will be installed at ORPC’s Cobscook Bay Project site in the fall of 2013, and together, the three-device power system will generate enough energy to power 75 to 100 homes. The devices connect directly to an onshore substation through a single underwater transmission line. See the ORPC press release Web page, the May 9 edition of EERE Network News, and the Energy Department Water Power Program website.


[ NBC’s ‘Revolution’: Imagining the Ultimate Blackout ]

The NBC drama Revolution, which premiered last week, is set in a world completely devoid of electrical power 15 years after a massive, mysterious blackout. People go back to traveling by horse and on foot; villages grow their own food; iPhones become useless relics.

Some critics have complained that the show is short on explanations and jumps too quickly to an inexplicable future where we still have not figured out how to get the power back on, skipping over the juicy blow-by-blow of what happens directly after huge masses of people lose all access to electricity. Revolution does offer a few tidbits from the unraveling in its first two episodes, though: planes fall out of the sky, cars lie abandoned on highways, people stranded in the cities perish, and people commit murder for food, among other grim scenes.

Take Our Poll

In the real world, we have gotten some unsettling previews of what might happen when the lights go out for a long period of time. This photo gallery of the world’s worst power outages offers a few examples of blackouts around the world caused by storms, human error and other factors. Even though most of those outages lasted just a few days or less, they still drive home the mass misery that occurs when millions are left stranded in the dark. Most prominently this year, more than 600 million people in India lost power for two days in July (see photos from the blackout and an analysis of the country’s power situation).  A month earlier in the U.S. Northeast, where transmission lines are particularly burdened, a powerful derecho system of thunderstorms knocked out electricity to more than 4 million.

Aside from inflicting huge costs and disruptions that range from inconvenient to life-threatening, blackouts force us to recognize the many ways we are dependent on reliable electricity from the grid, and contemplate even for just a few hours what life might be like for the 1.4 billion people worldwide who do not have it. Do you worry about the stability of the electricity grid in your country? How would you fare in a long-term blackout? Weigh in on the poll above and in the comments.


[ As Iraq’s Oil Boom Progresses, So Does Gas Flaring ]

Iraq’s oil production reached 3.2 million barrels per day (mbpd) this past August – nearly 1 mbpd more than it was a year ago. That growth is set to continue: Iraq, home to the world’s fourth largest proven petroleum reserves, plans to ramp up production to 10 mbpd in six years. Given that 95 percent of Iraq’s state revenue comes from oil, that industry is key to the nation’s post-war rebuilding.

However, the flip side of Iraq’s growing oil output has been a nearly uncontrolled burning of “associated gas,” which is raw natural gas released as a by-product of petroleum extraction. Natural gas is often found in oil wells, where it is either dissolved in crude oil or exists separately in a form of a cap on top of the oil.

Unless it can be captured and used for commercial purposes, associated gas is burned off upon reaching an oil well surface, or it can be directly vented into the atmosphere without burning. Because methane is a key component of associated gas, venting of gas deposits large volumes of methane into the atmosphere, while burning it releases carbon dioxide. Thus, gas flaring is a source of greenhouse emissions and also carries the cost of wasting a valuable energy resource and degrading air quality.

Iraq currently ranks among the world’s top five flaring countries, according to the World Bank. As the second largest producer of oil in OPEC, Iraq flared around 9 billion cubic meters of associated gas in 2011. According to some estimates, the southern oil fields of Rumaila, West Qurna and Zubair account for over 25 million cubic meters of gas per day.

The World Bank says that the gas flared in Iraq, which amounts to $5 million per day in lost energy, would be sufficient to cover all of the country’s electricity demand. Faced with electricity supplies available only a few hours a day and with shortages of clean cooking fuels, Iraq’s flaring of associated gas is a colossal waste of a precious resource. In fact, flared gas would be sufficient to cover all of Iraq’s electricity demand.

The practice of burning gas is a matter not only of energy use, but also of public health and the environment. Residents who live near oil fields have complained of asthma, irritated skin and other problems.  Aside from methane, flaring gas produces nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and other emissions that can affect vegetation and watershed.

The natural gas sector in Iraq lags behind its well-developed oil industry and, thus far, attempts to capture associated gas have been limited. Last year, Iraq’s Basrah Gas signed a landmark agreement with Royal Dutch Shell* and Mitsubishi to capture associated natural gas from southern oilfields and use it to fuel power stations and as feedstock for the petrochemical industry of this war-torn nation. The project aims to harness 2 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas by 2017.

This amount is just a small fraction of the gas flared in Iraq last year, however, and Iraq’s oil production stands to increase dramatically over the next two decades. With a glut of natural gas keeping prices down, Iraq has limited incentive to focus on the potential of capturing and exporting gas while its focus is on growing oil production. As Robert Lesnick of the World Bank has noted, “The savings from shifting from liquid fuels to gas for Iraq’s power generation is estimated at several billion dollars per year, but this benefit is less than one week’s increase in revenues from targeted incremental crude oil sales.”

According to the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction partnership, Iraq has made flare reduction a priority in its energy policy and has launched a gas pricing study. Already, potential customers are waiting: Turkey and Jordan have reportedly expressed interest in gas imports from Iraq. It remains to be seen whether these developments will be enough to significantly reduce the amount of wasted natural gas now pouring into Iraq’s air.

*Shell is sponsor of The Great Energy Challenge. National Geographic maintains autonomy over content.


[ Charting a Path to More Efficient Cars ]

No less an authority than the International Energy Agency says the world could cut the fuel used for road transport in half over the next 40 years. The question is whether anyone is willing to do the work needed to get there.

Fully one-fifth of all energy use worldwide is for transportation, and transportation is primarily about oil. In fact the IEA calculates almost all the projected growth in petroleum use in the world is going to come from transportation.

(Related Photos: “Cars That Fired Our Love-Hate Relationship With Fuel“)

The good news, according to a pair of new reports from the IEA, is that the technology needed to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles is already available and cost-effective. Most developed nations and China already have fuel efficiency standards in place as well. Under the Obama administration, the United States has raised fuel efficiency standards, but the new regulations have drawn fire from Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who has called them “extreme,” and from auto dealers who worry they will raise car prices and discourage potential buyers. Overall, the United States has been a laggard on fuel standards over the years, but in some specific areas, our standards are higher than anywhere else).

The bad news, however, is in the developing world. Most developing nations are lagging behind in fuel efficiency – and this is where energy use is going to explode in the next few decades. Since upgrading existing vehicles is nearly impossible, the IEA argues that governments should focus on changing efficiency in new vehicles. But the IEA says that means getting new government policies in place, ideally within the next five or ten years, including:

  • requiring vehicles to be labeled on their fuel economy and carbon emissions;
  • setting fuel economy and carbon emission standards;
  • and using tax incentives, vehicle taxes and fuel taxes to encourage efficiency.

Again, most industrialized nations, including the United States, already have these things in place (whether they could be done better is another story). Many developing nations can’t or don’t enforce the rules they do have.

But this brings us back to the fundamental question surrounding all energy policy: are societies willing to make choices, and accept the inevitable tradeoffs that come with them?

In the U.S., for example, we’ve been willing to do some things: raise efficiency standards and provide tax credits for electric vehicles, although these changes have been controversial, and there are many calls for their repeal. Beyond this,  any proposal to increase gas taxes, or raise the cost of driving, has proved to be a non-starter. The specific patterns of what’s politically acceptable and what’s not are going to be different from country to country. In nearly every case, as societies grow and become more fuel-hungry, there are going to be different deal-breakers.

(Related Photos: “Rare Look Inside Automakers’ Drive for 55 MPG“)

That’s because in nearly every case, on nearly every energy issue, there are going to be tradeoffs. Navigating those tradeoffs is the fundamental political challenge surrounding energy policy worldwide. And unless the world gets better at making those tradeoffs, we’re staying stuck in first gear.



[ PennDOT Commends Volunteers for Removing 6.7 Million Pounds of Litter in Cleanup Effort ]

PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch lauded the efforts of the more than 141,000 volunteers who cleaned 13,589 miles of roads, trails and shorelines in this year’s Great American Cleanup of Pennsylvania, which lasted from March 1 through May 31.

“The department is very thankful for the thousands of people who turned out this year to beautify Pennsylvania,” Schoch said. “Pennsylvania is fortunate to have so many people who want to keep this state beautiful and combat the actions of litter bugs out there.”

There were 4,421 reported cleanup events statewide. Volunteers in PennDOT’s Adopt-A-Highway program accounted for 3.6 million of the 6.7 million total pounds of trash collected during the cleanup. The 77,786 participating Adopt-A-Highway volunteers cleaned 10,961 of the total roadway miles.

According to Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, PennDOT’s partner in the cleanup effort, the effort has yielded 25.9 million pounds of collected litter and cleaned 44,030 miles of roadway with the help of 487,673 volunteers over the past three years.

PennDOT requires that Adopt-A-Highway volunteers complete four cleanups per year, and the groups were encouraged to join in the cleanup effort. The 7,000 groups in the Adopt-A-Highway program have two-year commitments and have adopted 16,110 roadway miles. In 2011, PennDOT spent more than $10.6 million for litter pickup with department staff.

PennDOT provides gloves, trash bags and safety vests for Adopt-A-Highway and Great American Cleanup of Pennsylvania groups. Supplies were also provided by Keep America Beautiful and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The Great American Cleanup of Pennsylvania is in partnership with PennDOT, DEP, Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, the Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association, the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association and the Pennsylvania Beverage Association.

For more information on the cleanup, visit www.gacofpa.org.


[ 2013 Hydrogen Student Design Contest to Develop Fueling Infrastructure Plan for Northeast U.S. ]

The 9th Annual Hydrogen Student Design Contest will challenge student teams to create a plan to implement a hydrogen infrastructure in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Building on the recently unveiled California Road Map for hydrogen fueling stations to support fuel cell electric vehicles, students are being asked to support the national roll-out of hydrogen vehicles by creating a plan for the Northeastern United States.

The Grand Prize winning team will receive an expenses-paid trip to present their winning entry to hundreds of industry professionals in a session at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo 2013, June 24–27 in Washington, D.C.

The contest, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), is aligned with DOE’s efforts to work with the public, academic and energy associations, to ensure that we are equipping our students and workforce with the skills and training they need to lead the clean energy economy.

Registration is open until October 1, 2012 for university students worldwide.