Low-lying Kiribati buys a refuge on the high ground
The low-lying Pacific island nation of Kiribati has purchased a refuge from rising sea levels about 1,200 miles away on the Fijian island of Vanua Levu. The 8-square-mile tract, bought from the Church of England for nearly $9 million, will be used for agriculture and fish-farming at first, but will provide an escape of last resort for Kiribati’s 110,000 inhabitants when global warming drowns their country. Half a world away, a plan for parkland buffers around the southern tip of Manhattan to protect against Hurricane-Sandy-style storm surges drew criticism from a geophysicist who argues the city should plan instead for submersible infrastructure complete with watertight subways and Venice-style canals.
Not too cheap to meter, but still disruptive to business-as-usual
The burgeoning supply of rooftop solar power in Queensland, Australia, drove the price of electricity to zero and below last week — a phenomenon never before seen in the daytime. With electric loads low on sunny austral winter days and solar output high, more power was available to utilities than they could absorb, eroding the profitability of fossil generation. Meanwhile, advances in micro-grids are helping large users such as a U.S. Navy base and offshore oil platforms to obtain more of their power from renewables with or without the larger grid, adding pressure on utilities to rethink their business model.
As solar grows, it takes root in unlikely places
North Carolina ranked third in the United States for solar installations last year, with solar farms dedicated to supplying demand from local tech centers and Washington, DC universities. The solar surge generated so much economic steam that it undermined a Republican move to repeal green energy standards — a phenomenon that may play out nationwide, as jobs in the solar industry now out-number coal-miners. In Georgia, solar firms report heightened interest because of fear that the proposed limit on carbon emissions from power generation will raise electricity prices — possibly doing for renewables what fear of gun laws has done for ammunition sales.
Adding hydrogen to gas mains: a way to use excess green power
When wind and solar generators are producing more power than the grid can handle, the excess can be used to generate hydrogen gas — a system that is already being tested at two sites in Germany, according to The Guardian. The hydrogen, produced by splitting water through electrolysis, can be added to the natural gas distribution system at proportions of up to 10 percent without having to adjust appliances or the gas mains. Making hydrogen avoids the need to make “curtailment payments” to renewable energy farms for power that they can deliver but that can’t be used by the utility.
Compost may boost carbon storage in grassland soils
Research in northern California suggests that compost applied to grassland not only helps soils store more carbon, but also improves forage for cattle and increases resilience to drought. Berkeley researchers found that soils enriched with half an inch of compost made from urban organic waste sequestered 40 percent more carbon per acre than control plots. An added benefit: if the waste had gone to the landfill instead, it would have emitted climate-warming methane. In the Pacific Northwest, federal scientists found that extra care is needed to distinguish scraps of plant matter in topsoil from carbon that is actually bound to soil particles and stored for the long term.
Renewable energy set to skyrocket globally, study says
Renewables will attract about two-thirds of the $7.7 trillion in new investment in power generation between now and 2030, according to new projections from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and shrinking fossil-fueled electricity to less than half the total. It’s a shift they foresee being driven by economics, with renewables fully cost-competitive by 2020, says the report. But the Austrian think tank IIASA found it’ll take more investment in renewables — $1.2 trillion per year, compared with $200 billion currently — to keep global warming below 2 degrees C. Much of the increase could be funded, IIASA said, by reallocating the $500 billion spent annually on fossil-fuel subsidies.
Zero net energy house exceeds goals … but at what cost?
A net-zero-energy demonstration house built by a federal agency in Maryland has exceeded its goals, generating more energy than it consumed even though its solar panels were covered with snow or ice for more than a month of the past year, the National Institute of Standards and Technology announced last week. The computer-driven energy use, crafted to simulate a family of two working parents and two kids, would have saved the household $4,400 a year compared to a house built to standard codes. Next step: bringing the price down below the $162,000 in extra costs for the efficiency improvements and energy technologies.
Rules against deforestation hard to enforce in the Amazon
Rules against deforestation are difficult to enforce in remote regions of the Brazilian Amazon, according to an Inside Climate News report. Migrants came to the region starting in the 1970s and began ranching, mining, and logging with government encouragement; they are unaccustomed to the new regulations the federal environmental agency now demands. Although armed federal agents have begun to use sophisticated satellite imagery to track the illegal logging, it’s hard to identify and link the perpetrators conclusively to the crime.