California: A Perfect Example of Climate Change in Action

“We’re standing on dry grass. We should be standing on five feet of snow.”
California Governor Jerry Brown

Last week, the Governor of California Jerry Brown made the reality of climate change crystal clear. In the Sierra Nevada mountains, he and snow survey chief Frank Gehrke measured the depth of the snowpack. Only there was no snowpack to measure. As he so aptly put it: “We’re standing on dry grass. We should be standing on five feet of snow.”

Given the way global warming and climate change are devastating the Golden State—extreme drought in particular—Governor Brown demanded unprecedented action and gave it with an executive order for California’s first statewide mandatory restriction of water use in the state’s history. Voluntary restrictions in previous years failed to accomplish the goal making this drastic step necessary. Just the week before the governor signed a $1.1 billion emergency drought relief bill. Extreme times call for extreme measures. The goal with the mandatory restrictions is a 25 percent reduction in water usage from 2013 levels.

California’s recent drought is the worst they’ve ever recorded, and it’s the fourth consecutive year of drought for the state, a trend not seen in 120 years of accurate records. Continue reading

California's Drought Hampering Its Renewable Energy

“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.”
John Muir

California has always been a state that has done an admirable job of generating its own renewable energy with solar, wind and hydroelectricity all well represented. Sadly—and ironically—climate change is interfering with its ability to continue to do so. California has been contending with severe drought since 2011; it now affects the entire state and as a result is drying up all the reservoirs supplying hydroelectric dams. Less water means less pressure to spin turbines and generate electricity. No water means no pressure.

Hydro has traditionally generated about 20 percent of California’s electricity for the first half of each year over the last decade. This year, however, hydro only managed to generate half as much. The bad news of course is that fossil fuels have had to step in to help, so natural gas was up three percent during that same time period. In fact, given how long this drought has been going on, California has increased its use of natural gas by 16 percent over the past decade. Relatively speaking, other renewables have increased their contribution. Wind generated more than hydro for the first time ever earlier this year. Continue reading

Climate Change: Affecting the Old World and the New

“Bosnia is facing a horrible catastrophe. We are still not fully aware of actual dimensions of the catastrophe … we will have to take care of hundreds, thousands of people.”
—Bakir Izetbegovic, chairman of the Bosnian three-man presidency

So there’s no global warming, and there’s no climate change. At least that’s what some people say. And yet the planet’s weather becomes more extreme each year.

Here are this week’s examples: record amounts of rainfall in Bosnia and Serbia have caused the worst flooding in 120 years of recorded data, leaving at least 25 people dead and tens of thousands more without water or power.  It turns out that three months of rain fell in just three days last week affecting about a million people. Around 300 landslides have occurred secondarily as a result.

Neighboring Serbia is no better off. Putting it perspective, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said the following:

What happened to us happens not once in 100 years, but once in 1,000 years. Continue reading

Despite a Drought, California Just Got Greener

“When this project comes fully online, California will become home to the largest solar thermal electric project in the world, creating stable jobs in a rural community and helping us to meet our goal in curbing the effects of climate change with renewable electricity.”
— Robert Weisenmiller, chairman of the California Energy Commission

When people think of solar power, they usually think of photovoltaic panels. But there’s another kind out there: Concentrated Solar Thermal (CSM). CSM has been around for years, with a number found in sunny Spain. But a new one just opened up in the Mojave Desert northeast of Los Angeles. In fact, this one is the world’s largest CSM plant and has already started operating three of its generating units. Known as the Ivanpah solar energy project, it was developed by BrightSource Energy Co. and is operated by NRG Solar. Its goal is to generate 377 megawatts of power, enough to provide the electricity needs for about 140,000 homes.

Ivanpah has been a mammoth project: it cost $2.2 billion and took six years to build. In total there are 347,000 mirrors (known as heliostats) that reflect sunshine toward three 500-foot towers that contain boilers. Once reflected, sunshine heats water in those boilers, turning it into steam which in turn can rotate turbines and generate electricity in the process.

California’s goal is to obtain one third of all of its electricity from renewable sources by the year 2030. Obviously not every location on Earth can benefit from CSM but we’ll need to access our renewables where we can and transport them through a better energy grid than exists today. There’s a lot of wind and sun out there, more than enough to provide our planet with the vast majority of its energy needs. Ivanpah is one step in the right direction.

Electric School Buses: Progress in Action

“Electric cars are going to be very important for urban transportation.”
—Carlos Ghosn

Previously I’ve written about how I believe hybrid and electric cars will become the main vehicles we drive in just a matter of decades. And as long as the source of electricity we use to charge them doesn’t come from fossil fuels, this will be a good thing. Even Ferrari has made an electric car, after all!

So it should come as no surprise that an electric school bus is just around the corner. Next year will be the first time Americans will have the classic yellow and black school bus powered by an electric motor. Motiv Power Systems and Trans Tech Bus is the company that has developed it. The first ones will be used in the Kings Canyon Unified School District in California because they think it’s the right thing to do. Continue reading