Using solar energy in the dark is closer than you think


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In May, when Tesla Motors announced its new battery product to vast media buzz, the talk was all about people putting batteries in their solar-powered homes, and thereby becoming that much less reliant on the grid.

But there was always another and perhaps even bigger side of the story — the idea that very large scale batteries or battery packs could help out the grid itself by storing large amounts of solar energy for use in the evening or at night. The ultimate effect might be to displace electricity generated from coal or natural gas, and convert an inherently “intermittent” renewable energy source — solar — into a more constant one.

So is it happening? The answer seems to be yes — 2015 has seen several key announced, completed, or experimental grid-scale projects pairing batteries and solar photovoltaic panels….

Indeed, SolarCity — which is chaired by Tesla CEO Elon Musk — has just announced plans to bring precisely this combo to Hawaii, a state that continues to lead the way when it comes to the adoption of solar and batteries, thanks to its towering electricity costs, which are the highest in the nation.

SolarCity and the Kauaʻi Island Utility Cooperative jointly announced last week that they’ve entered into a solar power purchase agreement in which SolarCity will provide 20 years of power from a 52-megawatt-hour battery installation that will be able to send as many as 13 megawatts of electricity to the island’s grid. The battery will draw power from an accompanying solar array.

The biggest news is when the energy would be supplied: the evening. “What makes this exciting is basically that it’s dispatchable solar that will be available at night,” says Peter Rive, the chief technology officer of SolarCity. The system is slated to be running by the end of 2016, said Rive, and will likely use Tesla batteries for the energy storage component.

Once that happens, solar energy will be no longer confined to simply being used when the sun is shining, at least on Kaua’i. Rather, thanks to storage, its use will be shifted to other hours of the day — removing one reason that power plants have often been powered by various types of fossil fuels (on Kaua’i, diesel), which of course can burn at any hour…

There are other examples, similar approaches – not quite the same. To me that is extraneous. What counts is that folks are working at one more avenue to make solar power generation practical.

Walking one small step at a time towards freedom from fossil fuel.

EPA may be way underestimating landfill emissions


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Landfills may be emitting more methane than previously reported because the Environmental Protection Agency may be drastically underestimating how much garbage is being deposited in landfills across the US, according to a new Yale University study.

Banana peels, coffee grounds, plastic bottles and other detritus tossed in the garbage usually ends up in a landfill and emits methane as it decomposes.

Methane is a greenhouse gas up to 35 times as potent as carbon dioxide as a driver of climate change over the span of a century, and landfills are the United States’ third largest source of methane emissions, according to the EPA. The Obama administration is focusing on cutting methane emissions as part of its Climate Action Plan.

The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, examined more than 1,200 solid waste landfills, including those that are open and those that are closed and no longer accepting waste.

Using previously unavailable data from individual landfills, the study found that in 2012, about 262 million metric tonnes of waste were deposited in landfills across the country, more than double the 122 million tonnes estimated by the EPA. The agency may be underestimating the amount of waste landing in landfills because small waste disposal facilities are not required to report how much refuse they accept.

What great reasons do our politicians offer for blocking requirements to report? Anyone?

The study also found that open landfills emit 91% of all landfill methane emissions, while closed landfills are 17% more efficient than open landfills at capturing methane so it does not escape into the atmosphere…

The study’s primary goal was to learn more about the efficiency of methane capture systems at landfills, which are more effective after a landfill stops accepting new waste…

…Atmospheric physicist Raymond Pierrehumbert, who is among the scientists who believe cutting methane should be less of a priority than cutting carbon dioxide to tackle climate change, said the study is useful in evaluating methane capture systems at landfills. But it primarily underscores that landfill gas should be used more widely as an energy source and that people should throw less in the trash, especially organic matter…

Conclusions across the board are consistent with good sense waste management. Produce less waste. Recycle and reuse where and when possible. Utilize methane produced by landfills to generate electricity or power useful machinery.

The range of solutions from the scientific side of the equation are already well known. Only Know-Nothing political barbarians dispute either the need for research or the goals.

Wildfire reconnaissance drone flies test flight over Paradise fire

The National Park Service announced on its Facebook page on Friday than an unmanned aircraft system, otherwise known as a drone, took a test flight over the Paradise fire at Olympic National Park to gather infrared data…

Here’s the park’s statement from the Facebook page:

For the past week an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) was utilized on the Paradise Fire. The system was demonstrating possible applications in wildland fire management and suppression. UAS’s can supplement manned aircraft, especially at times of reduced visibility due to smoky conditions and at night when manned firefighting aircraft may be limited in flying.

The primary goal of the UAS on the Paradise Fire was to gather infrared information. This information assisted fire officials in pinpointing the fires perimeter and identifying areas of intense heat. The extremely large old growth trees in the area of the Paradise Fire create a thick canopy that makes mapping the perimeter and observing hotspots from the air very difficult without infrared capabilities.

This was an operational demonstration provided by Insitu, Inc. with no direct cost to the government. The demonstration was one of a series of ongoing missions to further UAS use on wildland fire in national parks and is part of an interagency strategy for UAS integration into wildland fire support. The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) allowed the use of their land for the aircraft launch and recovery site. The purpose of the demonstration was to show the capabilities and effectiveness of unmanned aircraft technology on wildland fires. The ultimate goal for UAS use on wildland fire is to supply incident management teams (IMT) with real-time data products, and information regarding fire size and growth, fire behavior, fuels, and areas of heat concentration. Additional applications, such as search and rescue and animal surveys, may be explored…

The ScanEagle UAS that was flown on the Paradise Fire weighed approximately 50 lbs with a wingspan of 10.2 feet. The UAS was only operated within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) temporary flight restriction (TFR) area. The TFR has been lifted.

Sensible, productive use. I hope our politicians can differentiate between this sort of test/work and go-pro joy rides by ego-smitten basement dwellers who hope to be the next YouTube hit.

In a few more days, I hope the data and analysis from a similar weeklong test in Idaho is released.

Conservative climate-change deniers say the Pope is a Pagan

A leading group of climate change skeptics is concerned that paganism is creeping into the Catholic Church. That was the message delivered by Gene Koprowski, director of marketing at the Chicago-based Heartland Institute…

Just in case you wondered where the Koch Bros spend their buck$ outside the official Republican Party

The pope, who is visiting the United States this week, has called on policymakers to take action to control climate change and has criticized the excesses of free market capitalism. According to Koprowski, when Heartland staffers first began reading news stories about the pope speaking out on climate, they were “shocked that the pope was buying into this left-wing political craze that is global warming.” So in April, Heartland sent a delegation of climate skeptics to Rome to offer a “prebuttal” to a Vatican climate summit in an attempt to change the pope’s mind.

“When the Vatican leapt into the controversy on climate science, we were initially under the impression that His Holiness was a victim of bad advice from bad advisers,” Koprowski said Thursday. “There were people from the UN who were population control advocates. There were people from other left-wing groups who were advising the pontiff.”

But Koprowski said that after the pope released his landmark encyclical calling for action on climate change, he began to suspect that “something more may be afoot.”…Koprowski concluded: “I would say, contrary to some of the criticism, that this is not communism that has entered the church. It’s, rather, paganism.”

Pope Francis is accustomed to being red-baited. It’s a tactic common not only to rightwing nutballs; but, considered a useful tool by everyone from the CIA to Blue Dog Democrats.

The declaration of paganism is funnier. Folks may not know this; but, this is a common tool of confrontation in Eastern Europe. Used for years by the Catholic Church as part of agitprop – twinning paganism and any form of socialism. It’s especially rife in nations like Ukraine where there actually is a tradition of paganism in confrontation with the Catholic Church and Christianity.

If it’s crap – you can always count on it coming around again.