Beam it down! Solar farms in space!

London, United Kingdom by NASA via Flickr CC

Euronews is reporting that giant solar farms orbiting the planet may someday power Europe. The European Space Agency (ESA) unveiled a plan to harvest the sun’s energy in space and beam it back down to Earth.

It’s an idea that has been around for a while, and the subject of science fiction stories, but now it is closer to science fact. The technology is still in the preliminary testing phase, but the goal is the construction of a 2-kilometer (1.2 mile) long solar space farm, generating as much energy as a nuclear power plant, according to Hannah Brown with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). The farm would orbit about 36,000 kilometers above the Earth.

“[Such a project] would ensure that Europe becomes a key player– and potentially leader – in the international race towards scalable clean energy solutions for mitigating climate change,” the ESA said in a statement.

Solar power is a great source of clean energy, but it’s held back by some limitations. For example, solar panels can only harness power in the daytime, and even then, much of the sunlight is absorbed by the atmosphere on its journey to the ground. But in space, the sun’s beams are around ten times as intense as they are on Earth.

The ESA has partnered with Airbus to develop ‘wireless power transmission’ to capture this 24-hour source of electricity and beam it down to us. The technology is based on the transmission used by TV and communication satellites every day, Airbus engineer Nicolas Schneider explained: “We are not very far from a 4G antenna, except that what we want is not to radiate in all directions, we want to be very precise like a laser, in fact. It’s a wave that can be directed to this receiving antenna which will then transform this wave into electricity.”

The problem is one of scale. The satellite would be massive, and so difficult to launch and build. But doable.

With mega-billionaires so interested in playing around in space, maybe they should spend a few billion for this and become energy czars.

Let’s do this!

Port Offers Solar Power Project Funding

RMS Queen Mary/Long Beach, CA by Jason Mrchina via Flikr CC

The Port of Long Beach is accepting “concept paper” proposals for solar power generation projects that qualify for funding under the port’s Community Grants Program.

The Community Grants Program encompasses more than $46 million to fund projects that help those in the community who are most vulnerable to port-related impacts and to reduce greenhouse gases. These projects include expanding asthma services, controlling stormwater runoff through the building of permeable parking lots, and creating open space buffers between port operations and communities, to name a few. Combined with a previous program started in 2009, the Port of Long Beach has set aside more than $65 million, making it the largest voluntary port mitigation initiative in the country. To date, $36.5 million has been committed.

Projects that receive grants will serve people most sensitive to port impacts, including seniors, pregnant women, children, and those with asthma or chronic illnesses. Public and private agencies are eligible to apply, however, home improvements are not eligible. To view the program’s relevant Facilities Improvements guidelines and the pre-solicitation workshop, go to www.polb.com/grantopportunities.

Applicants are required to describe proposed projects at a high leve, the port says,l and program staff will determine project and applicant eligibility. Concept papers must be submitted online and are due by 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 23.

The Port of Long Beach is a gateway for the trans-Pacific trade. With 175 shipping lines connecting Long Beach to 217 seaports, the Long Beach handles $200 billion in trade annually, supporting more than 575,000 Southern California jobs.

The grant program contact is Jennifer Williams, Environmental Specialist Associate, at (562) 283-7133, grants@polb.com

Dealing with air pollution controls

Pollution by Tony Webster via Flickr CC

A new eHandbook from Environment+Energy Leader, sponsored by Anguil Environmental Systems, outlines current trends in air pollution controls and what should be considered when choosing emission control technologies.

That is of course if energy companies insist on emitting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) rather than converting their plants to renewable energy sourcing. But oh well, the climate crisis must continue, and fewer pollutants might have to do.

The handbook notes that in trying to understand how best to mitigate VOCs and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), industrial companies can find “compliance downright baffling.”

“Significant shifts in the industrial landscape and in the economy at large, along with constant regulatory changes, contribute to the confusion.

 “There are many factors impacting the clean air technology industry, including regulation, public policy, and considerations such as environmental justice,” says Clare Schulzki, executive director of the Institute of Clean Air Companies (ICAC), quoted in the ebook. The landscape is changing. EPA, for example, continues to update and release new air emissions rules including regulations requiring additional controls on certain equipment and processes that emit Ethylene Oxide (EtO) to reduce risk to surrounding communities and protect public health from this known carcinogen.

EPA is also developing new methane emission rules that will tighten standards for new and existing equipment primarily in the oil, gas, and mining sectors.

The eBook identifies five pollution control trends:

Trend #1. The carbon footprint of air pollution controls starts to matter. ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) considerations are driving companies away from gas-fired emission combustion systems to fume abatement technologies that utilize electrically heated sources. For example, one technology, oxidation, converts pollutants into water vapor, carbon dioxide, and thermal energy. When designed properly these systems can have fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a gas-fired burner.

Trend #2. Concentrator systems gain in popularity. Emission concentrators are specialized systems that process large quantities of polluted air with low pollutant concentrations. This allows companies to use smaller oxidizers in self-sustaining modes. Apparently, this approach is more efficient and cost-effective.

Trend #3. Industries such as battery manufacturing, semiconductors, and renewable natural gas are soaring. For many companies in these industries, this means more factories, increased output and/or new processes.

Trend #4. Supply chain disruptions affect every industry. “If you’re contending with the inability to receive the materials you need in order to manufacture your products, you’re not alone. Nearly every industry is facing similar challenges – including your pollution control technology provider.” This means there might be longer than expected wait times for those smaller oxidizers and other neat technologies. So, plan way ahead.

Trend #5. US industry adheres to US standards even in emerging markets. Manufacturing is increasing in emerging markets. “Large companies are building more plants in Southeast Asia, for example. And many large corporations are committed to adhering to US standards regardless of local regulations.”

The handbook also lists “considerations” for companies to address when choosing emission control technologies, such as the compounds that comprise a company’s emissions, meeting regulatory requirements, sorting capital costs vs. operating costs, and sources of funding.

So again, the basic message is to plan way ahead and keep abreast of new pollution control technologies.

And don’t forget the long-term value inherent in renewable energy technologies. Just saying.

Catch the wind

Wind Turbine by Rachel Schowalter, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center via Flickr

Climate change is deadly serious; but it strikes me the word change is too soft a term because the change occurring is not anything like changing your clothes or your diet or your drapes. Rather it’s a climate crisis.

Climate crisis is a better way to think about what is happening to the planet, and after four years of dreadful neglect, denial and inaction from the previous administration, the Biden administration is taking the crisis seriously. And it is taking action.

The White House last week unveiled a goal to expand the nation’s nascent offshore wind energy industry in the coming decade by opening new areas to development, accelerating permits, and boosting public financing for projects.

Then there is Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which includes $85 billion for mass-transit systems, another $80 billion for Amtrak to expand service and make needed repairs, and $100 billion to upgrade the nation’s electrical grid. The infrastructure plan also would allocate $174 billion to spur the transition to electric vehicles, $35 billion for research in emissions-reducing and climate-resilience technologies, and $10 billion to create a New Deal-style Civilian Climate Corps.

The plan will lead to “transformational progress in our effort to tackle climate change,” Biden said, speaking at a carpenters’ training facility outside Pittsburgh.

A Reuters report provided more detail on the offshore wind power plan: “The blueprint for offshore wind power generation comes after the Biden administration’s suspension of new oil and gas leasing auctions on federal lands and waters, widely seen as a first step to fulfilling the president’s campaign promise of a permanent ban on new federal drilling to counter global warming.

The United States, with just two small offshore wind facilities, has lagged European nations in developing the renewable energy technology.

“We’re ready to rock and roll,” National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said at a virtual press conference to announce the administration’s moves.

According to the report, the plan sets a target to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030, which the administration said would be enough to power 10 million homes and cut 78 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

One of the first steps will be to open a new offshore wind energy development zone in the New York Bight, an area off the densely populated coast between Long Island, New York and New Jersey, with a lease auction there later this year.

The industry will employ 44,000 workers directly by 2030 and support 33,000 additional support jobs. Many of those jobs will be created at new factories that will produce the blades, towers and other components for massive offshore wind turbines and at shipyards where the specialized ships needed to install them will be constructed. The administration predicted the nation would see port upgrade investments related to offshore wind of more than $500 million.

The administration said it will also aim to speed up project permits, including environmental reviews, and provide $3 billion in public financing for offshore wind projects through the Department of Energy.

The United States’ two small offshore wind farms include the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island and a two-turbine pilot project off the coast of Virginia. There are more than 20 GW of proposed projects in various stages of development.

Europe, by contrast, has more than 20 GW of capacity already and plans to expand that more than ten-fold by 2050. Many of the companies developing U.S. projects are European, including Norway’s Equinor, Denmark’s Orsted, and a joint venture between Avangrid, the U.S. arm of Spain’s Iberdrola, and Denmark’s Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.

So, it is a world climate crisis.

Further reading:

Biden’s Jobs Plan Is Also a Climate Plan. Will It Make a Difference?

To See How Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Will Address Climate Change, Look at the Details

IMO publishes short list of actions for quick carbon footprint reduction in shipping