Last week was a busy and eventful one for the solar energy industry as market participants from across the U.S., and around the world, gathered in Anaheim, Calif. for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot Grand Challenge Summit 2014. Among the highlights of the four-day summit: The DOE announced funding for six new concentrating solar power-thermochemical energy storage (TCES) R&D projects and launched SunShot Catalyst, a $1 million crowdsourcing contest that the Energy Department believes can accelerate the pace of solar energy innovation and cost reductions.
The SunShot Grand Challenge Summit 2014′s event calendar was chock full of Obama administration and industry heavyweights and thought leaders, including ARPA-E‘s Dr. Cheryl Martin, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Dan Arvizu, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Cristin Dorgelo.
Commenting on President Barack Obama’s SunShot Initiative, the White House Domestic Policy Council’s Ali Zaidi stated, “If moonshot was a race away from our planet, SunShot, in a way, is a race to save our planet.”
Whether it’s climate change, biodiversity loss, the degradation of water and land, or social, economic and political inequality, taking action to conserve tropical forests is hailed as one of the most effective ways to address multiple ills. Real progress in overcoming divisions and actually stopping tropical deforestation while enhancing the well-being and livelihoods of local residents has been hard to come by, however.
Encouragingly, new partnerships and collaboration between traditionally antagonistic groups–environmental NGOs, big business and, at times, national governments–are building new pathways for sustainable development.
On May 21, for example, the Brazilian government, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and partners announced the launch “of a $215 million fund to ensure the long-term protection of the world’s largest network of protected areas–150 million acres (two Californias’ worth) of Brazilian Amazon rain forest.”
In the world of automobile and transportation equipment manufacturing, corporations don’t get much bigger than Volkswagen Group (VW). With 12 brands and 106 manufacturing facilities in 27 countries around the world employing more than 570,000 people (some 40,000 engineers alone), VW produced a record-high 9.73 million vehicles in 2013 (a 12.8 percent share of the global passenger-car market), €197 billion (~$268.5 billion) in revenue and an after-tax profit of €9.3 billion (~$12.68 billion). In Western Europe, nearly one-in-four new cars (24.8 percent) is a VW brand.
It’s fair to say that no other automobile and transportation manufacturer has gone as far as VW in adopting and instilling social and environmental, as well as economic, sustainability at the core of its organizational values and priorities. Once again ranking No. 1 on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index in 2013, VW was the first automobile manufacturer to commit to reducing the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions intensity of its European new vehicle fleet to 95 grams per kilometer (5.36 oz/mi). Last year, the group was able to “drive” its average vehicle emissions intensity below 130 g/km for the first time.
More broadly, VW on May 16 released its third annual group sustainability report. Organized along three principal facets of sustainability–economy, people and environment–it shows that when it comes to enhancing the sustainability of its business, VW is looking well beyond improving the quality, performance and fuel efficiency of its conventional, fossil-fuel vehicle fleet. The company is a member of the United Nations Global Compact and Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative; its 2013 sustainability report shows that the group is well on its way toward achieving the key 25 percent-by-2018 improvements set out in its “Think Blue” strategic sustainability plan.
Concentrating solar power (CSP) technology is on the cusp of changes that are likely to drive the pace of deployments to new heights. Already able to produce utility-scale amounts of renewable electricity cost-effectively, scientists and engineers have been focusing on developing new, more efficient and cheaper thermal energy storage systems and integrating them into CSP plants. That goal now appears within reach.
Spanish sustainable energy multinational Abengoa commissioned the first CSP facility with a grid-scale, molten-salts energy storage system in the U.S. last October. The company upped the ante last week, announcing that Chile’s environmental regulator had approved the planned 110-megawatt (MW) Cerro Dominador, a project which, if successfully completed, will be the first utility-scale CSP facility capable of supplying electricity to the grid 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Looking to keep the advances coming and momentum going, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on May 21 announced it will provide $10 million in research-and-development (R&D) funding for six new CSP projects. Each of these projects aim to develop cheaper and more efficient thermochemical energy storage systems that could boost the performance and lower the costs of utility-scale CSP further.
The northern Gulf of Mexico has long served as an illustration of the dangers and economic costs associated with marine hypoxia. Also called “dead zones,” marine hypoxia is a shortage of oxygen in ocean waters due to terrestrial run-off of nitrogen, phosphorous and pollutants from cities, farms, oil refineries and industrial plants. Not limited to the Gulf of Mexico, marine “dead zones” have been identified around the world–suffocating marine life, snuffing out ecosystems and biodiversity, and ruining once-thriving fisheries and communities.
Looking to restore the northern Gulf of Mexico-Mississippi River Basin to something approaching its former glory, the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force yesterday announced a groundbreaking partnership made up of land grant universities, federal agencies and other stakeholder organizations across the 12-state basin.
Last week, Spanish sustainable energy multinational Abengoa gained environmental approval in Chile to build what is expected to be the world’s first utility-scale concentrating solar power plant (CSP) capable of supplying electricity to the grid 24/7. Following up on this success, the company announced yesterday that it has completed construction of the world’s largest single-axis solar photovoltaic (PV) power plant in California.
Built for project owner Silver Ridge Power, one of the largest PV plant operators in the world, the 206-megawatt (MW) Mount Signal Solar PV facility in the southeastern California city of Calexico spans 801 hectares (~1,980 acres). More than 3 million PV modules have been installed on-site, each rotating on a north-south axis as they track the sun’s path–enabling Mount Signal Solar to supply clean, renewable electricity to 72,000 in households in the San Diego area.
Harnessing solar energy rather than burning fossil fuels to produce electricity, Mount Signal Solar will prevent some 356,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from entering the atmosphere each year, Abengoa explains in a press release.
Having means and opportunity are requisites for law enforcement personnel investigating crimes. But they’re also essential for individuals, groups and organizations looking to develop innovative, commercial solutions that can improve the well-being and quality of people’s lives, as well as enhance ecological sustainability.
Established in 2006, the Cleantech Open “was founded on the premise that entrepreneurial innovation is the answer to the world’s most pressing environmental challenges, and the key to economic growth for all nations.” Having grown into “the world’s largest clean tech accelerator,” the Palo Alto, Calif.-based nonprofit today announced a partnership with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) – the principal financing mechanism for several keystone U.N. environmental and sustainable development agreements – to launch clean tech startup accelerators in six countries.
Working together, Cleantech Open, UNIDO and the GEF intend to launch international clean tech accelerators in Armenia, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Africa and Turkey. Their mission, Cleantech Open explains in a news release, “is to find, fund and foster small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that can tackle the most urgent energy, environmental and economic challenges in those countries.”
Even if you’re not an avid gamer yourself, you’ve probably noticed: Americans, younger Americans in particular, love video games. And as the market for video games has expanded – the industry has been grossing more revenue than the U.S. movie industry since 2007 – so has the video-graphic and data processing power of video game consoles, which original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) now see as their ticket to the heart of the rapidly emerging digital home.
Digitally rendering the hyper-realism and supporting all the real-time activity of today’s video games requires lots of electricity, but video game consoles are using lots of electricity even when they aren’t being used. According to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released May 16, the latest-generation video game consoles are on a pace to cost American consumers $1 billion in electricity bills this year. Moreover, 40 percent of that, $400 million, will be sucked up when the games are in stand-by mode and not being used.
That amount of electricity, according to NRDC, is “enough to power all the homes in the nation’s fourth-largest city of Houston.”
From consumers through processors, distributors and fishing fleets, actors and agents spanning the entire seafood industry value chain have a long-term vested interest in making sustainable use of the ocean’s bounty. Taking up that challenge and responsibility, sustainable seafood initiatives are on the rise, and they are beginning to show positive results.
The number of seafood products that earned Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification rose five-fold in four years and increased by 21 percent through September 2013, according to data MSC presented at its Global Commercial Network meeting during the Seafood Expo Global 2014 in Brussels.
MSC membership is broadening and deepening. The 221 certified fisheries in the MSC program and another 106 that are under assessment represent 10.5 percent of the worldwide total, according to the sustainable seafood certification pioneer. Furthermore, the MSC program is extending into new seafood markets and segments, such as sustainably sourced fish oil supplements.
Spanish sustainable energy multinational Abengoa on May 9 announced that the Chilean Environmental Service’s Evaluation and Review Committee unanimously approved its concentrating solar power (CSP) and energy storage project. The project is planned for the country’s northern Atacama Desert region, which has the highest levels of solar radiation in the world, and will produce 110 megawatts of energy.
Dubbed Cerro Dominador, Abengoa’s CSP project is “groundbreaking” in more ways than one. In addition to being the largest CSP facility announced in South America to date, it will be “the first to serve as a baseload power plant” — supplying electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week — thanks to a molten-salts energy storage system capable of storing the equivalent of some 18 hours worth of electricity production, Abengoa explains in a press release.
Coming amid ongoing technological advances, the integration of grid-scale energy storage capacity in CSP (also known as solar thermal power) plants is being touted as a potential “game-changer” for the technology despite concerns and controversy regarding its environmental impacts.
Nearly 80 percent of U.S. electricity demand comes from cities and towns in coastal U.S. states. Announcing the latest in a series of initiatives aimed at spurring development of a “world-class” U.S. offshore wind energy industry capable of helping meet that demand in a clean, renewable and sustainable fashion, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on May 7 said it will provide up to $47 million each over the next four years to “three pioneering offshore wind demonstration projects.”
A total of 12 direct-drive wind turbines with an overall 67 megawatts (MW) of rated power generation capacity are to be deployed across the Fishermen’s Energy, Principle Power and Dominion Virginia Power offshore wind demonstration projects off the coasts of Atlantic City, N.J.; Coos Bay, Ore.; and Virginia Beach, Va., respectively, according to a DOE news release.
All three projects entail making use of direct-drive wind turbines and innovative, “homegrown” solutions to offshore wind farm design, engineering and construction that could pave the way to developing cheap, plentiful supplies of renewable power for cities and communities along the U.S. East and West coasts.
Growth in energy generation capacity has gone hand in hand with economic development over the course of human history. Recently, on the liability side of the ledger, so too have carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and the natural resource depletion and degradation that have come along with fossil-fuel dependence.
Replacing coal, oil and natural gas with clean, renewable energy sources offers societies across the world an opportunity to decouple socioeconomic development and growth from fossil fuel use and forge new sustainable development pathways.
Spanning a vast area of growing populations and high geographic, biological, cultural, political and economic diversity, renewable energy markets across the Latin America & Caribbean (LAC) region are growing fast as governments, businesses and local communities come to recognize and place greater value on the social and environmental, as well as economic, benefits and advantages solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and other forms of clean, renewable energy have to offer.
Aiming to spur investment in and the deployment of renewable energy technology and generation capacity across the Americas, the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) is strengthening public-private partnerships through its international programs and Power Generation and Infrastructure Initiative. In support of this effort, ACORE recently released a 10-page white paper entitled, “Renewable Energy in Latin America and the Caribbean.”
Providing the U.S. government and public with its most thorough and comprehensive “status report on climate change science and impacts” to date, the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee (NCADAC) on May 6 released the final version of the Third National Climate Assessment report (NCA-3).
“From the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans … and in the observed and measured changes in location and behavior of species and the functioning of ecosystems,” evidence that our climate is warming — and the resulting impacts across U.S. society and geography — abound today, according to NCA-3. “Taken together, this evidence tells an unambiguous story: The planet is warming, and over the last half century, this warming has been driven primarily by human activity.” The main culprit, report authors add, is our burning of fossil fuels.
Moreover, meticulous observations of some key climate indicators, such as sea-level rise and arctic sea ice melt, are changing faster than the best climate models envisioned. Realization of the worst future climate scenarios can still avoided, but much greater reductions in carbon and greenhouse gas emissions will have to be achieved at a much faster rate than is taking place at present, NCA-3 authors conclude.
It may be taken as an encouraging sign of the times the number of multinational corporations now taking sustainability seriously. We’re not talking about companies simply paying lip-service or “greenwashing,” but rather instilling an ethic and values of social and environmental sustainability from the core of their businesses outward to include suppliers, distribution and sales partners, customers and those outside of, but affected by, their investments and activities.
Resource-, energy- and capital-intensive, auto manufacturing has been an engine of economic growth and a core aspect of industrial and economic development worldwide over the course of the fossil fuel-era. Times change, and businesses, as well as ways of doing business, change with them, however. Today, multinational auto manufacturers such as Fiat-Chrysler are digging deeper and making comprehensive efforts to embed social and environmental, as well as economic, sustainability into their strategic business plans and day-to-day operations.
Some 300,000 people worldwide were involved in Fiat-Chrysler’s short- and long-term sustainability strategies and realizing comprehensive sustainability targets, objectives and reporting. In its “2013 Sustainability Report: Economic, Environmental and Social Responsibility,” the multinational automaker lays out its short- and long-term strategy underlying those goals, reviews what’s been achieved to date, and outlines how it plans to realize the sustainability goals it has set out to 2020.
The reach and aggregation power of the Internet might enable the American public en masse to accomplish what many U.S. politicians have struggled to do for decades – go toe-to-toe with powerful lobbies and inspire campaign finance reform.
At least so believes famed political activist and Harvard ethics and law professor Lawrence Lessig and other co-founders of MayOne.US. The KickStarter fundraising campaign aims to ignite fundamental U.S. campaign finance reform by crowdfunding an initial $1 million to create a super PAC (short for political action committee) to rival those created by public figures, big corporate donors, powerful lobbyist and special interest groups.
Though taking the same legal organizational form, the MayDay Citizens’ Super PAC could be seen as the antipode of most of the super PACs we now know. While the latter aim to rake in large donations from large corporations and the wealthiest Americans supportive of their political agenda, the MayDay Citizens’ super PAC aims to raise a critical mass of money in small increments from Americans who see U.S. democracy and capitalism being undermined by the ongoing accumulation of wealth, political influence and power in the hands of a super-rich elite.