Friday, March 27, 2009

Middlebury College Becoming Carbon Neutral


With a target to achieve carbon neutral operations by 2016, Middlebury College in Vermont has taken a major first step in that direction with the completion of a $12 million dollar biomass boiler and plant. Bill McKibben, whose organization is playing a major role in calling for a fair global climate treaty, participated in the opening ceremonies and gave a lecture on the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions/

At optimal capacity, which the plant is expected to reach over the next month, the facility will consume about three tons of wood chips an hour and meet about half the campus’s heating, cooling and hot-water needs. The other half will still be supplied by boilers that burn No. 6 fuel oil, but the overall campus use of such oil will be cut in half, from 2 million gallons a year to 1 million. As a result, the college’s carbon dioxide emissions will be reduced about 40 percent, or 12,500 metric tons a year.

Middlebury College is working to develop its own supply and wood chips on its surrounding property and also investigating the potential of geothermal energy for further reducing carbon emissions. More details are available in this article, orginally published in the Burlington Free Press.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Peak Everything

An economy designed around the cornucopia principle of unlimited growth--as most are in the world--doesn't fare well when the fundamental, non-renewable sources of energy start running out. A nice, concise summation of the problem in this video by Richard Heinberg.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Primed for the Denver Auto Show: the LH4


Many of the more interesting hybrid vehicle designs are coming not from the established automotive giants (whose stature seems to be shrinking daily), but from innovative smaller firms. Lightning Motors has come up with a design that combines an efficient diesel engine with a 150-horsepower Rexroth hydraulic hybrid system to produce a sleek machine, which will be unveiled at the Denver Auto Show, capable of achieving 100 miles per gallon. The associated article in, 100-MPG Hybrid Evokes the Classic '63 Corvette, by Ben Mack explains how a technology originally targeted for delivery trucks adapts quite well for automobiles.

Hydraulic hybrids use a diesel engine to drive a hydraulic pump, which charges an accumulator - essentially a high-pressure tank. The accumulator, in turn, drives smaller pump motors that send power to the axle or power the wheels directly. Such systems have been around since the 1980s but limited to delivery trucks - UPS plans to roll out the first of seven sometime this year - because the accumulators are bulky and tough to fit within the confines of a passenger car. Lightning Hybrids isn't saying how it will address this problem but insists it is "working night and day" on it.

The Lightning Hybrids look like strong contenders for the Automotive X-Prize competition. First-place winners will walk away with ten million dollars.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Students Protest Coal on Capitol Hill

The dirtiest energy source around still has the potential to derail efforts to combat global warming. A massive student protest on 3 MAR 09, as captured by the Real News, brought the issue directly to their legislators.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Beyond the Stimulus: A Global Green Deal


With indications that global warming is accelerating faster than many earlier computer models predicted, you would think that this information would spur a concerted global effort to reverse the trend. But so far the response of most governments around the world has been fairly tepid and the levels of greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise in those countries most responsible for the problem.

In a recent article for The Nation, A Global Green Deal, Mark Hertsgaard makes a case for a massive program of green investment to lift people out of poverty, stimulate the worldwide economy, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Hertsgaard believes the Obama's stimulus package is a good start, but more most be done to contend with the problem.

The stimulus package is a good start. It contains $71 billion in direct green spending and $20 billion in green tax incentives, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress. The World Resources Institute has calculated that every $1 billion in green spending generates approximately 30,000 jobs, so the green portions of the stimulus package should create about 2 million jobs, many in the construction sector, which has been hit especially hard. Retrofitting buildings, installing solar panels and constructing wind farms require skilled and semiskilled labor and create decent-paying jobs that cannot be outsourced. Investing in climate-friendly development in poor countries, where money buys more, should yield even more jobs and economic uplift--no small consideration, given the recent warning from the US director of national intelligence, retired Adm. Dennis Blair, that the economic downturn could become the gravest threat to international stability if it triggers a return to the "violent extremism" of the 1930s.

But even more will have to be done, at home and abroad, if we are to slash emissions quickly enough to preserve a livable planet. President Obama has promised to reduce US emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. This sounds impressive compared with the Bush/Cheney years, but precisely because of Bush-era foot-dragging, the United States and the rest of the world need to achieve larger and faster emissions reductions than previously assumed. We have "a very short window of time," Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said in January at a Worldwatch Institute conference. If we want to avoid such scenarios as twenty feet of sea-level rise, which would put most of the world's big cities under water, the rise in global temperatures must be limited to 2.0 to 2.4 Celsius above preindustrial levels. That means global emissions must peak by 2015 and then fall rapidly for decades, said Pachauri. In this context, he added, Obama's goal "falls short of the response needed by world leaders" in preparation for the negotiations in Copenhagen in December to produce a successor to the Kyoto treaty. Instead, Pachauri urged Obama to embrace the European Union's target: reducing emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, which the EU says it will achieve by increasing energy efficiency and renewable energy by 20 percent.

The article then charts a course for a more effective approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including techniques through which energy efficiency alone can produce substantial reductions in emissions while producing strong economic development.

The data and the incentives make it clear that there is no time left for dawdling. Fortunately, the actions that have the best chance to mitigate climate disruption are actions that also have the potential to revive a stagnant worldwide economy.