April 2009


This has been a huge issue for quite awhile now, with attention drawn to the numbers of fish in decline and the habitual overfishing for profit. I can remember a time here in my hometown when we could fish for whatever we wanted to, no quotas, no questions asked. But there were Trout and Redfish in the rivers and canals. Today, you are hard pressed to find either fish that is longer than a few inches. All the big guys are gone and all that’s left are their babies. It’s questionable how many of the newborns survive.

Now, this issue has spread out onto the world stage. The EU Ministers have now agreed to some changes in the fishing quotas, expanding the Cod quotas by 30% on the one hand and then limiting catches for other species with the other. The quotas have come about as a compromise between environmental groups and fishermen. The environmental groups are alarmed as they watch fish just disappear from the oceans, rivers and lakes. But fishermen are suffering a mighty struggle for survival with reduced catches, competitive markets and shrinking quotas.

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I know I’ve talked a lot about arctic melt on this blog but the information just keeps rushing in and I can’t ignore it. I guess just saying it’s a problem may be all that I should invest my time in but I am beginning to think I have to say it over and over again because there are so many people just ignoring this. Scientists are the source of this information, I didn’t get it from a novel. And new research is showing even more alarming information: they have found that some 10 cubic km of ice has already been lost from 1500 glaciers over the past nine years. Now, that’s what I call a fast melt.

So predictions have been revamped and they are now saying that the Swiss glaciers should be gone by the end of the century. That is Swiss glaciers. When we talk about the Swiss glaciers we are talking about a practical continent, a vast area of land. I mean, 1500 is a substantial sum of these peaks and 10 cubic kilometers is equal to about 6.2 square miles. Another study, based on a sample of only 30 of these glaciers indicates that these peaks are now losing a full meter of thickness every single year. A meter is equal to a little over 3 feet.

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I am pleased to report that our Government is actually considering the environmental impact of it’s actions for the first time in our history. The building of the U.S.-Mexico border fence impacts a huge array of environmental factors and must be mitigated so that it can do the job it was meant to do and not undermine the area. This area of the country is environmentally sensitive, home to many species, including some endangered and exists on a delicate environmental balance, as does the entire planet. In particular, seventeen of the 21 fence sections in the Valley will affect wildlife management areas or national wildlife refuges, 14 of them directly.

Environmentalists have already made claims that summer flooding appears to have been caused by the border fence in southwestern Arizona and shows that the structure was being built too quickly and without regard for the environment. As a result of many considerations,those concerned about the environmental consequences have been part of the loudest opposition to building 670 miles of pedestrian fence and vehicle barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. In response to these concerns, the Department of Homeland Security will allocate as much as $50 million to mitigate the environmental impact of the U.S.-Mexico border fence ordered by the Bush administration.

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The state of Ohio has approximately 6,000 schools. In a historic move earlier this year, the state introduced legislation whereby 25% of the these schools would be required to install rooftop solar panels. This is a concerted effort by the state legislature to reduce main grid electricity consumption and also to stimulate the state’s “green” economy by creating new jobs. The state currently only has around 50 schools with grid connect solar power systems installed.

Under this ambitious new plan, financiers would pay for and install the solar panels and then benefit from a 35% federal tax credit. As a win-win deal, the school districts would then use the money they would save on electricity to pay back the difference to these investors over a 30 year period. This makes the Ohio plan unique among other initiatives. It also makes is immediately doable and sustainable over the long haul. In Germany, for instance, investors are allowed to rent space on school roofs and other public buildings to install grid connecting solar power arrays. Germany has a generous gross feed in tariff program that makes such arrangements lucrative for both the schools and the investors.

In comparisons, the most generous initiative in the world seems to be in Australia under the governments’ NSSP (National Solar Schools Program). This is a program that allows grants up to $50,000.00 for just about every school in the country to install a grid connect solar power system. If campuses want to team up for grants, they can share in funding of up to $100,000.00 for this purpose. In Australia, as of January 2009, over 3800 schools have registered for NSSP.

I think it’s awesome that so many countries are thinking the same way and doing it so creatively. The idea of greening public buildings is an excellent one and is one of the best facets of President Obamas green power plan. In all, schools are excellent candidates for mini-solar farms because they enjoy exclusive roof space and the entire school is self-contained, like an office building. The schools not only benefit from reduced power costs by installing systems, but also demonstrate good environmental stewardship through decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and setting an excellent example to the wider community. Having a solar power system on campus also provides opportunities for a hands-on renewable energy educational experience for students. And what an excellent example for our learning institutions to set.

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In a generous move towards the forwarding of green energy initiatives, Wells Fargo and Co contributed a whopping $80,000 to GRID Alternatives. Grid Alternatives is a nonprofit that installs solar electricity systems for low income homeowners. The donation from Wells Fargo was earmarked for expansion of the Solar Affordable Housing Program and to build a model for this housing concept that can be replicated nationwide.

This is one of the most valuable contributions I have heard of thus far. This idea, GRID Alternatives, is a viable and tremendously useful solution for the financial outreach of solar energy. It is currently an expensive alternative to oil that most low income people would consider beyond their reach while these are exactly the people who need it most. Thus far, GRID Alternatives has installed over 200 solar electric systems in low income homes and this is currently generating over 3 million in clean renewable power. This effort alone reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 10,000 TONS a year.

“We’re committed to supporting clean, renewable energy and have invested in large-scale wind and solar projects nationwide,” said Barry Neal, director of Environmental Finance at Wells Fargo. “Our contribution to GRID Alternatives supports the deployment of solar electric systems to low-income families who can benefit the most from related cost savings in their electricity bills.”

In their efforts, GRID Alternatives hold down costs by training and leading teams of community volunteers in the job of installing these solar electric systems for low income homes. The organization launched its Solar Affordable Housing Program in 2004 and currently operates in communities in Northern and Southern California in partnership with local governments and nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity.

Wells Fargo integrates environmental responsibility into its business practices and operation. This year it launched a Solar Home Program to support the development of new solar homes in California. Learn more at Wells Fargo Environment.

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I have another cool method of generating energy. There are researchers who are trying to harvest energy from various sources that are now working with a power generator that works in slow moving currents where traditional turbines have not worked effectively. This means that tidal streams and slow moving rivers in the US could generate something like 140 BILLION killowatt-hours per year or about 3.5% of our entire electricity demand. This is all according to the EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute).

In the past, most efforts to tap energy from slow moving current have used underwater windmills that use the force of the lift to turn their blades. This is because we have usually tapped air for energy and use it support boats and other water devices. But when you watch the way fish use water to propel themselves, you realize that they create vortices in the water that allow them to push off and propel themselves forward. This is why they are currently referring to this application as fish as fuel. But it has nothing to do with using actual fish as a source of fuel. Nobody is grinding up fish and putting it in an engine somewhere.

When researchers realized that these natural vortices could be used to drive generators, a new concept for creating energy emerged. A group of researchers have now created a machine called the VIVACE (Vortex Induced Vibrations for Aquatic Clean Energy) and yes I know it sounds sort of funky and even kinda geeky. But the cylinders in this new machine oscillate up and down in actual moving water. This is a first. It is especially exciting because the device works naturally in the marine environment and is non invasive.

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