June 2011 Newsletter

Good News vs. Bad News:

First the Bad (just to get it out of the way)

Climate change scientists warn of 7°F global temperature rise

A team of experts says such an increase would cause severe droughts and see millions of migrants seeking refuge.  Think Famines!  [From a special January 2011 issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Four degrees C and beyond: the potential for a global temperature increase of four degrees and its implications,” lays out this 4°C (7°F) world.]


Also: Two economists, Wolfram Schlenker of Columbia University and Michael J. Roberts of North Carolina State University, have pioneered ways to compare crop yields and natural temperature variability at a fine scale. Their work shows that when crops are subjected to long term average temperatures above a certain threshold — about 84 degrees for corn and 86 degrees for soybeans — yields fall sharply.


This line of research suggests that in the type of climate predicted for the United States by the end of the century, with more scorching days in the growing season, yields of today’s crop varieties could fall by 30 percent or more.


A few weeks ago, David B. Lobell of Stanford University published a paper with Dr. Schlenker suggesting that temperature increases in France, Russia, China and other countries are suppressing crop yields, adding to the pressures on the food system.

“I think there’s been under-recognition of just how sensitive crops are to heat, and how fast heat exposure is increasing,” Dr. Lobell said.


Some Comments:  Many fantasize that all we have to do is move agriculture northward: a ridiculous self delusion.  The soil mantle in northern temperate areas (roughly coinciding with the northern arboreal forests Northern MN, UP, Northern MI, to Maine, is about 1/4 inch thick and low in humus and high in acid.  IT won’t save us.

Solution: China & India & Russia & USA must stop burning Coal!

Oh NO!  A $1.9 billion, 600-megawatt plant under construction in Arkansas will burn 2.5 million tons of coal a year; carried by rail car 1,300 miles from Wyoming to Arkansas.  Wyoming supplies more than 40 percent of the coal for the US.  (This plant should be Required to sequester its CO2 or not be built)


Weeds From Hell in a Greenhouse World Flora & Fauna, States of Change, United StatesBy Michael D. Lemonick

Beekeepers love yellow starthistle. “It makes fantastic honey,” says Jeffrey Dukes, an ecologist at Purdue University. “But for ranchers, it’s a real problem.” That’s an understatement.  A 2007 study pegged the plant’s economic damage in Idaho alone at more than $12 million annually.

All of that being the case, a new study published by Dukes and several colleagues in the journal Ecological Applications is not exactly cause for celebration. The short version: if you think it’s bad now, just wait. Increasing greenhouse gases — specifically, carbon dioxide, or CO2 — will aggravate problems related to yellow starthistle.   Carbon dioxide acts as sort of fertilizer, making yellow starthistle grow like… well, it’s already a weed, so perhaps a “super-weed” is the right term.


Dukes and his colleagues found this out on the grounds of Stanford University’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.   Since 1997, the Jasper Ridge Global Change Experiment has been artificially subjecting small plots of grassland to the climate conditions scientists are projecting for later this century — higher temperatures, changes in precipitation, increased soil deposits of nitrogen compounds from air pollution, and higher concentrations of CO2 due to continued burning of oil and coal for energy.

“The take home message,” he says, “is that there are a bunch of species that are going to benefit in the future, and there’s reason to believe that in many cases they’re the species we don’t like.    PS: Poison ivy benefits immensely from increased CO2; it’s more competitive, and it produces worse toxins.”

Solar energy output is outpacing PA mandate – By Andrew Maykuth, Inquirer Staff Writer

While the sun beat down last week on a $187,000 rooftop solar system on his Chester County barn, Edward Frankel watched his electrical output add up.  For every 1,000 kilowatt-hours the system produces, Frankel earns one Solar Renewable Energy Credit – an SREC, the coin of the realm in green energy.


Last year, Frankel was more enthusiastic about SRECs, when utilities paid him more than $300 for each credit. Now a cloud is gathering over his cash flow. The SREC price has crashed to under $100.


“I think you’d be nuts to build a system in Pennsylvania today,” said Frankel, 73. He canceled plans to install a second solar system on his veterinary practice, the Honey Brook Animal Hospital.

But about 71 megawatts of solar capacity is now in place in Pennsylvania, while a 2004 law requiring utilities to buy a steadily increasing portion of renewable power envisions a demand of only 42 megawatts. The result: SREC prices are falling faster than anticipated.

The solar industry says the market may remain oversupplied for several years unless the legislature steps in. It is lobbying Harrisburg to accelerate the annual increases for solar-power mandates for the next three years.    But conventional power producers and big industrial electrical customers, who have defeated efforts the last two years to increase renewable mandates, are likely to resist the latest effort to boost solar markets.


Good News:

Fuel-cell maker Bloom Energy to hire 900 in DE

California-based Bloom Energy says it plans to hire 350 construction workers this year and 900 permanent workers by 2012, for a new factory at the former Chrysler auto factory in Newark, Delaware, which will produce Bloom Box-brand “fuel cells” to make electricity from natural gas.

Bloom has already built 150 of the 100-kilowatt units at its plants near Sunnyvale, Calif., and installed them at locations operated by Wal-Mart, Federal Express, Safeway, and other big companies in California, and plans to deliver 300 more this year.  It takes two to three units to power a Wal-Mart.

First Fuel Cell to Power Residential Building in NY

The Octagon, a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design® (LEED) Silver 500-unit apartment community on Roosevelt Island, made green history by becoming the first residential building in the State of New York to be powered and heated by a 400 kilowatt (kW) fuel cell from UTC Power.

Fly Wheel Spins:      Beacon Power has installed a 20-megawatt energy fly wheel storage system in Stephentown, N.Y on the grid, which the company says is the largest in the world.   The storage system takes the place of natural gas plants, which grid operators ramp up and down to create an even match between electricity supply and demand.


Gemasolar solar plant in Seville, Spain, 2,650 large mirrors concentrate sunlight to generate 19.9 megawatts

Saudi Arabia to Become the Saudi Arabia of Solar Electricity: (why not the USA?)

“Saudi Arabia plans to generate solar electricity equaling the amount of its energy from crude exports, Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi said.” Wait, what?

That sounds like a ridiculous quantity of solar electricity.  Saudi Arabia exports about 2.7 billion barrels of oil per year, each containing the equivalent of 1,700 Kilowatt hours of electricity for a total of 4.59 × 1012 kWh per year, or the equal of about one quarter or the world’s annual electricity demand.

Okay, so obviously solar electricity equal to the energy in all of Saudi Arabia’s crude exports is far more than the Saudis could ever use.

Why would the world’s largest oil producer wish to so quickly become the world’s largest solar electricity exporter?  I’m sure the Saudi leaders, looking around their country, had a conversation that started with, “so, apart from our rapidly depleting oil reserves, what natural resource do we have that could be exploited on an equally massive scale?” The Saudis realize the only answer is sunlight.

Closer to Home:

Solar Trust of America breaks ground on the Blythe Solar Power Project, expected to be the largest solar thermal power facility in the world.    The Blythe, Calif.-based project will have 1,000 MW of generating capacity, or enough to power more than 300,000 homes a year, making it the first solar facility to compare in scale to the largest coal and nuclear power plants.

Small Nuclear Reactors Get a Customer

One of the biggest obstacles to constructing nuclear power plants is that they tend to be extremely large and expensive. Now one utility is taking steps toward constructing a plant that uses small modular reactors that can be built faster and more cheaply than conventional ones.


This week the Tennessee Valley Authority signed a letter of intent with nuclear-reactor maker Babcock & Wilcox to work together to build up to six small reactors near Clinch River, Tennessee. If the plan goes ahead, these could be the first small modular commercial nuclear power plants.

Net Zero Commercial Building

South Korea is showing off what it says is the world’s first totally eco-friendly business building; a structure that emits zero carbon and uses only renewable energy, Reuters reports.    See 2 min Video: http://www.environmentalleader.com/2011/06/13/zero-carbon-office-building-unveiled


A link between climate change and Joplin tornadoes? Never.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhCY-3XnqS0&feature=player_embedded

Finally:  We did Not make these Up !

Australia’s chief scientist Ian Chubb says the ”science is in on climate change” and that too much public air time has been given to unproven and untested climate change skepticism.   ”Unfortunately we seem to be living in a world where sport, celebrity and the 24-hour news cycle, or more accurately, a 24-hour commentary cycle sprinkled with news, seem to dominate relentlessly.     …..”Does it really matter who wins Master Chef?


See cartoon below—send us your ideas or links.

One of the most effective things we can do is to call our Elected representatives: . You don’t need to know the bill name or be an expert ; – just say  your opinion.   You can be sure the Flat earth people call frequently.     A staff member will answer the phone. It’s their job to take calls from constituents, so don’t be shy. To make the most impact, make it personal. EG:  “I am concerned about climate change;    Please follow the Science.  We need to take action!”

Senator Robert Casey: (202) 224-6324

Senator Pat Toomey: (202) 224-4254

These calls really have an impact !


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