Scotland to Harness the Power of the Tides

“Time and tide wait for no man.”
Geoffrey Chaucer

When renewable energy is discussed, most people think about solar panels and wind turbines. Maybe geothermal even comes to mind. But most people don’t think about the energy that can be harnessed from our oceans. As the tug of the moon’s gravity leads to the ebb and flow of tides all over the world, there’s a lot of kinetic energy to be had. All you need is something to harness it, and that something is a tidal array.

Every nation with significant coastline should think about building tidal arrays to access tidal energy. It turns out that Scotland is building the world’s largest tidal array in the Pentland Firth, located in northern Scotland. It’s expected to generate enough electricity to power 175,000 homes. Construction will begin later this year. The first phase will install four 1.5-megawatt turbines that will begin generating electricity in 2016, but that’s just the beginning. The long-term plan is to install up to a total of 269 turbines on the seafloor.

The U.K. Energy Secretary Ed Davey had this to day about the project: Continue reading

Renewable Energy Makes Economic Sense For Short-Term Pollution Benefits Alone

It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.
—Dan Quayle

The long-term benefits of moving away from fossil fuels include mitigating global warming and climate change and that means less extreme weather, less sea level rise, less spread of disease, etc… The list of benefits goes on and on and if you want more detail, just review any of my posts over the last two and half years. Many argue that the costs of leaving fossil fuels behind outweigh the benefits, and for many it’s hard to appreciate benefits when they’re so far in the future. Sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing when those benefits seem too intangible. Just think about smoking cessation.

So rather than focussing on those long-term benefits, let’s instead only look at the short-term benefits of switching to renewable energy for the moment, and the relative costs associated. Less fossil fuels mean less air pollution, less asthma and less cardiovascular disease and those are well-established facts. But how significant are the health benefits of cleaner air compared to the costs associated with reducing our emissions? Thank goodness we have a study to help answer that question. Continue reading

It's "Clear" That Solar Energy is Getting Better!

Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) have created a new type of solar concentrator that generates solar energy by being placed on windows. The difference this time is that you can still actually see through the window! It can be used on the windows of buildings or automobiles, on cell phones, or in fact anything that has a clear surface.

Solar cells have been around for a while, but they’ve not been great. They often added colour to the window, and their efficiencies have traditionally been rather poor. In this case, the researchers use small organic molecules which absorb specific nonvisible wavelengths from sunlight rather than the visible portion of the spectrum.

According to Richard Lunt of MSU’s College of Engineering:

We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared. Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye. It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way. It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there. Continue reading

Taro Island: The First Provincial Capital to Relocate Thanks to Climate Change

“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.”
H. G. Wells

It was only a matter of time. It was bound to happen eventually, although perhaps nobody thought it would be this soon. Climate change isn’t going away any time soon and that leaves adaptation as the only short-term strategy available for any group suffering its consequences.

Case in point: a township on Taro Island (a provincial capital in the Solomon Islands) is planning to relocate itself. According to Reuters, it’s the first time a provincial capital in the Pacific Islands will have moved its entire population, in this case a group of up to one thousand people.

Taro is located east of Papua New Guinea and northeast of Australia. It’s a mere two metres above sea level. Given the latest projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with sea level rise of up to one metre (although many expect that’s underestimated) by the end of the 21st century, it’s the most pragmatic move Taro’s citizens can consider. Given the increasing risk of storm surges, tsunamis and floods, they made the decision to build a completely new town on higher ground at a larger nearby island which will be able to accommodate about 5,000 inhabitants in total. Taro’s citizens will move there in stages but it’s easy to imagine that other climate change refugees in the south Pacific may want to reserve spots as well. Continue reading