Natural Gas is Not Clean Energy

July.03.2012

natural gas tracking is not clean energyThe production of coal energy is coming to an end with the last Ontario plant scheduled for closure in 2014. Now Canadians are looking to other sources of fuel for electricity production to make up the base and demand loads necessary to guarantee an uninterrupted supply to homes and industry. With nuclear energy proving too expensive and potentially dangerous, many countries are turning to natural gas as a viable alternative. Now some environmentalists are questioning claims that natural gas is a clean, green source of energy.

“The large GHG footprint of shale gas undercuts the logic of its use as a bridging fuel over the coming decades, if the goal is to reduce global warming,” says Professor Robert Howarth, Cornell University. The objection to natural gas is twofold: there are substantial carbon emissions during energy production and the process of fracking (which is used when mining natural gas) contributes just as much to global warming as coal-fired plants do.

Energy Production

Natural gas originally won its green-energy status because its carbon emissions are about half those of coal-fired energy plants. Natural gas is a non-renewable resource that is extracted, cleaned and then burned in turbines and boilers to create steam, power turbines and produce electricity. Plants powered by gas do output reduced nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide emissions when compared to coal-burning plants. However, methane released when gas is not completely burned, as well as during the production of natural gas negate the positive aspect gas plants enjoy.

Fracking

natural gas tracking is not clean energyFracking is the process of extracting natural gas that is trapped deep beneath shale beds. Long wells are drilled to the gas reserves (usually about 1km or deeper). A mixture of chemicals, water and sand is then pumped into the ground to force the gas up through fissures in the shale where it is collected. We are not entirely sure what impact fracking has on the environment as the cocktail of chemicals used in the process has been deemed a ‘trade secret’. We are, however, able to measure the emissions from plants that produce natural gas. A February 2012 study discovered that the production, transportation and burning of natural gas caused the release of considerable amounts of methane into the atmosphere.

Fracking has also been linked to water pollution, earthquakes and the destruction of pristine environments. New studies show that the chemical cocktail used in fracking will leach into groundwater aquifers sooner than expected. France and Bulgaria have banned fracking in reaction to environmental concerns, but the practice is still enjoying unprecedented growth in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, China and other countries. In the US, shale gas accounts for about a quarter of the nation’s gas production. 70% of gas wells in Canada utilize fracking in the extraction processes.

Gas Leaks

The EPA sets the average leakage of gas production plants at 3.3% and that number increases to 9.7% where fracking is employed to extract gas. Natural gas consists of 85% methane and is a whopping 105 times worse for global warming than other greenhouse gas emissions. Methane on its own is 25 times better at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. When methane reacts with aerosols in the atmosphere, this global warming effect is compounded.

The idea that natural gas may provide a panacea to our energy needs is being challenged. This has not had a discernible impact on the growth of gas plants according to Sheamus MacLean of Economic Performance Architects. Cheap gas prices have led to the adoption of this form of energy production over renewable energy sources like wind or solar. Reliance on natural gas energy may prove to be a leap from the frying pan into the fire due to the global warming and environmental impacts of gas extraction and energy production.

Google Goes Green

October.24.2011

Google supports green energy initiatives

Google goes greenGoogle is the most successful search engine in the brief history of the Internet. So iconic has Google become that it can be used as a verb (I Googled myself), a national pastime (I Googled myself) and a way for people to connect (I Googled you.) ‘Google’ has even made it into the illustrious Oxford English Dictionary where it has achieved official recognition as a verb. The overwhelming success of Google must surely come as a surprise to its creators who could never have foreseen the behemoth that Google would grow up to be. Affectionately known as the ‘Google guys’, Larry Page and Sergey Brin are going to great lengths to use their new-found super powers for good.

They started by replacing the company’s official motto which was “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” with the more memorable “Don’t be evil”. “Don’t be evil” is a motto that they seem to be living up to as the core members of the group realise their promises of using their powers for good. I know what you are thinking, big corporations only window dress their charitable contributions, while secretly harbouring desires for world domination. Google seems to be the genuine exception. Not convinced? Go ahead… Google it!

Mojave Desert Solar Plant

Google goes greenThe Mojave Desert will be the site of Google’s latest contribution to renewable energy development; the Ivanpah solar farm. This $168 million solar farm will have a capacity of 392 MW once completed in 2013. The production of CO₂-free energy will be the equivalent of taking 90 000 cars off the road during the solar farm’s expected 25 year lifespan. 173, 000 Heliostat mirrors will be set up in the desert and will focus the sun’s energy on 450 feet tall ‘power towers’ which convert water to steam.

Solar States

Moving closer to home, Google announced recently a $280 million partnership with solar installers Solar City. The money will go to cover the capital outlay of solar systems. Residents across the States can rent the systems from Solar City, thereby alleviating the expense of setting up their own solar arrays. Solar City is responsible for the installation and maintenance of the solar system during the lease period. Residents can lease the solar systems and still save on their utility bills, without the necessity for a large capital outlay. This initiative brings Google’s investment in solar energy to date to an impressive $680 million – not so evil now, are they?

Winds of Change

Google goes greenA 350-mile stretch of the United States’ Atlantic coastline is about to be transformed into the first offshore wind farm to supply almost 2 million American homes with clean energy. Situated 10 to 15 miles off the coast, the development is an initiative of the Atlantic Wind Corporation. The project’s total cost of $5 billion got off to a good start with Google investing 37.5% so that the company can begin installation.

Google.org

This not-for-profit was created with over a billion dollars of Google shares. The organization has to date funded the development of electric cars, supported research to develop renewable sources of energy that are cheaper than coal and donated $100 million to schemes that alleviate poverty and create awareness for climate control. They support a number of third world initiatives that hope to develop education and essential services and stimulate growth for small and medium businesses.

Why Solar is Good for Ontario

August.26.2011

Why Solar is Good for OntarioThe solar industry has helped Ontario stay afloat during the financial slump. Private investment in the industry is expected to reach $12.9 billion by 2018. The success of this burgeoning industry is largely due to the province’s FIT and microFIT schemes. These schemes give incentives to home and business owners as well as farmers who set up solar arrays on their properties and sell the energy generated to the province at preferential rates.

A recent study showed that the solar industry had invested $2 billion in the province in 2011 alone, creating an estimated 8,200 jobs. A number which will increase to 11,400 in 2012 with 25 jobs created for every megawatt of energy installed by 2018, the solar industry is proving to be a real boon to the province.

Although many home and business owners are committed to switching to renewable sources of energy for the benefit to the environment, the FIT and microFIT incentives do make solar affordable to many who would not otherwise be able to install such a system. The ecoENERGY program provides rebates for the home owners who use solar technologies. These rebates are part of the government’s long-term energy plan which aims to reduce consumption by 14%.

Why Solar is Good for OntarioThe growing need for electricity will require the province to create new facilities and refurbish many of the old ones. By 2030, 70% of our electricity will be generated by new or refurbished nuclear facilities. The cost to the tax payer will be profound. Two nuclear reactors are already planned for the Darlington plant while 10 are being refurbished at Darling and Bruce power stations. The costs of these refurbishments will double hydro bills in the province by the time the project is complete.
Fall 2011 will see a review of the FIT and microFIT systems with an adjustment to tariffs issued to electricity producers. With an election looming in October, some political figure are blaming escalating hydro bills on the microFIT and FIT tariffs, threatening the future of these incentives and, as a result, the solar industry in the province. A study by ClearSky Advisors Inc shows that the cost of the FIT programs to residents of the province is expected to rise to 70c for a typical household bill by 2018. This amount is negligible when compared to the forecast of bills doubling thanks to refurbishments during the same time. The cost of installation and maintenance of solar systems is borne by the home or business owner making it one of the cheapest sources of electricity for consumers.

Why Solar is Good for OntarioSolar energy becomes cheaper as technology advances and demand grows. The Ontario Power Authority also enforces a 60% local content law which stimulates growth of the solar design and manufacture. A recent breakthrough by the University of Alberta team (based on research from the University of Toronto) has lead to the viability of spray on solar technologies. Without the market interest in these technologies, Canada will not be able to be a market leader in the field.

The study shows the tremendously positive influence that the solar industry has had on the Ontario economy. The FIT programs have contributed to the growth of the solar industry in the province. Although revisions and adjustments of FIT tariffs is the natural progression of such projects, the programs themselves are well worth the investment. If you would like to take control of where your energy comes from, contact your local MP and voice your opinion. You should also investigate installing a solar system of your own. Use energy you can be proud of.

The Power Of The Sun

May.14.2011

Solar energy is good for the environment and your well-being

The Power Of The SunMuch maligned in recent years for causing skin cancer, sunshine is back in fashion. Natural light affords us considerable savings on energy and provides for our general well being. The elevation of mood that occurs when you wake up to a sunny day, or when the sun shines after a rainy day is your body’s way of saying what’s best for you.

A sunrise a day….

Not getting enough sunlight can increase your chances of getting cancer by up to 70%. Insufficient supplies of vitamin D (which is produced when skin is exposed to ultraviolet light from the sun) negatively affects your bone density and immune system. This leads to a plethora of diseases:

    The Power Of The Sun

  • Adrenal malfunctions and autoimmune disorders including multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Colon cancers, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
  • An in allergies
  • Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
  • Infertility and PMS
  • Type one and two diabetes
  • Learning and behavioral disorders
  • Heart disease and obesity
  • Cavities, osteoporosis and psoriasis

It’s natural

Lack of natural light affects your circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are endogenous cycles that all living things follow throughout the course of a day. Natural light is the trigger for various biochemical, physiological and behavioral processes. The presence of natural light directly affects circadian rhythms and therefore general well-being by disrupting sleep patterns. A lack of sleep leads to a decrease in performance and alertness and symptoms resembling jetlag.

The Power Of The SunSeveral studies, dating back to the 1940’s espouse the need for natural lighting in the classroom. Most recently, studies by Hathaway (1994), Taylor and Gouisie (1980) and Hawkins and Lilley (1992) showed a significant increase in concentration, an improvement in mental
attitude and vision and an increase in levels of comfort and happiness when students were taught in classes that were naturally lit. Students who work in artificially or poorly lit classrooms suffer increased hyperactivity. Natural light (at least 20% of the wall space should be devoted to windows) fosters increased student achievement. Perhaps the most significant study in this regard is one conducted by the Heschong Mahone group in 1999. The study was conducted in more than 2000 classrooms across three school districts and it showed that students in the best lit classrooms scored 20% higher on math tests and 26% higher on reading tests than students in artificially lit classrooms.

Thermal Dynamic

In addition to the health benefits that natural lighting offers, it can also offer warmth. Utilization of passive solar thermal massing is an increasingly important aspect in Net Zero Energy Buildings The Power Of The Sun(NZEBs). NZEBs produce all the energy they consume through a combination of insulation, passive solar heating and renewable energy technologies. This reduces greenhouse gases and increases the quality of our environment. Although renewable sources of energy (like solar photovoltaic cells) are utilized, thermal masses inside the home and insulation of the walls, doors and windows must improve the energy efficiently of the home by 60 to 75% over standard guidelines in order to be dubbed an NZEB. Thermal masses work by absorbing natural sunlight during the day, storing the heat energy, and radiating it back into the house at night when ambient temperatures are lower. The effectiveness of the mass material depends on what it is made of. Thermal mass elements should be relatively heavy, good at conducting heat and dark or textured. The orientation of the building, to maximize the absorption of light, is critical in the effectiveness of passive solar technology. If the house is correctly oriented and the envelope provides appropriate insulation, thermal massing can reduce heating costs by up to 85%.

Solar power has already proven its effectiveness as a renewable source of energy, but it also contributes significantly to our health, happiness and environmental well-being.

Self Empowerment

April.25.2011

Solar power gains strength as moratoriums on nuclear power stations are passed across Europe

self empowermentFukushima: as the smoke continues to billow from reactors at the crippled nuclear power plant, many nations across the world are reconsidering their nuclear options. The disastrous fallout at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant has resulted in the contamination of land, sea and air and the release of 11, 500 tons of radioactive water into the ocean. Italy stands alone as the only Group of Eight nation that has no nuclear power. In 2008, the Italian government signed a deal to build nuclear reactors which would be operational by 2020; Fukushima changed that.

self empowermentThe contamination levels in all areas, aside from the 20km no-entry zone surrounding the Fukushima plant, are said to be at levels below limits set for surface radiation. However, nuclear specialist Helen Caldicott claims that the epic nuclear fallout at Fukushima will cause a major medical catastrophe. External radiation, says Caldicott, may be below recommended levels and is harmless to humans and animals. However, when this radiation is internalized through inhalation, skin absorption or ingestion, the consequences are dire. Radioactive elements are absorbed by animals and plants and passed through the food chain to humans. This radiation is insidious; causing mutation in cells until the carrier contracts leukemia after five years, or cancer a decade after initial exposure. Too remote are these consequences to join the dots back to the original radiation. The EPA states that up to 25% of people exposed to the Fukushima radiation will develop cancer.

self empowermentReports like this one have prompted the Italian government to impose a year-long moratorium on nuclear development. The picturesque Italian town of Montalto di Castro is home to the shell of an old nuclear power station. The power station was abandoned after the Chernobyl nuclear incident prompted a similar moratorium in 1987. The skeletal remains of the power plant act as a reminder to the residents of the possibility of a nuclear future. The current moratorium has not appeased residents of Montalto. Deciding to take fate into their own hands, they have approved plans for one of Europe’s largest photovoltaic farms in the hopes that providing renewable sources of energy will put the kibosh on government nuclear ambitions. Solar technology has improved dramatically over recent months, surpassing nuclear as the cheapest way to produce energy.

Italians are not alone in their aversion to all things nuclear. Germany’s Chancellor Merkel, a former proponent of nuclear power, announced a three month moratorium on nuclear development and ordered the temporary closure of the seven oldest nuclear plants in order self empowermentfor security checks to be carried out. The plants are scheduled to be phased out in favour or renewable energy sources by 2030. Switzerland followed suit by suspending plans to build three new nuclear power stations.

The remaining European countries have been reticent to join the fray, agreeing only to test 143 nuclear plants to ensure safety. Europe has, of late, relied heavily on nuclear power to end its dependence on fossil fuels and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. However, as popular opinions sour, anti-nuclear protests are springing up and putting pressure on their governments to seek other means of powering Europe.

Comments 2