Branson urges students to lobby leaders for clean energy

Cayman could be ‘carbon neutral’ in six years, says entrepreneur

Sir Richard Branson told Cayman Islands students they need to lobby their government to go green. He said the island could save money and be “carbon neutral” within six years if leaders committed to clean energy.

Sir Richard Branson

Speaking at a forum for students at Camana Bay on Friday, Sir Richard sounded a dire warning for the world’s coral reefs, saying it may already be too late to save marine ecosystems from the impact of global warming.

But he said more could be done to move toward clean energy and lessen the impact of carbon emissions on the environment.

And he said young people would need to lead the campaign for more environmentally friendly policies from their governments.

“If a group of you, just the people here, put placards above your head and went to the government, you’ve got a force to be reckoned with,” he said.

“The Cayman Islands could be carbon neutral in five or six years and save themselves a lot of money, but it needs absolute determination from the government to get you there.”

Sir Richard acknowledged it is difficult to get governments to think beyond the short term. But he said he is optimistic that international leaders would put the necessary policies in place to achieve total clean energy across the globe within the next 50 years.

The billionaire businessman, who owns his own Caribbean island powered completely from renewable sources, believes the energy revolution can start in the region.

He has launched a “10-island challenge,” starting in Aruba, to assist small islands in moving toward 100 percent renewable energy.

“It would be great if we could get the Cayman Islands to join and make it the 11-island challenge,” he said.

“I’ll be bending the arm of your prime minister [sic] later today to see if we can get him on board.”

Sir Richard believes the Caribbean can be a hot house of innovation in the clean energy sector, and he told the students there would be many opportunities for scientists and entrepreneurs to tackle the world’s problems.

“If we move forward to when you are 50 or 60, I hope the world will be powered completely by clean energy. It is definitely doable,” he added. More

 

Caribbean Energy Security Summit Commits to Energy Transition

Twenty-six countries, together with seven regional and international organizations, have released a joint statement in support of the transformation of the energy systems of Caribbean countries. The signatories of the statement, signed during the Caribbean Energy Security Summit, commit to pursuing comprehensive approaches to an energy transition toward “clean sustainable energy for all” and reforms that support the creation of favourable policy and regulatory environments for sustainable energy.

The Summit, which was co-hosted by the US Department of State, the Council of the Americas and the Atlantic Council, brought together finance and private sector leaders from the US and the Caribbean, and representatives of the international community. The event showcased the initiatives under the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative (CESI) in the areas of improved governance, access to finance and donor coordination, and featured discussions by partner countries on comprehensive energy diversification strategies.

During the event, the US Government announced enhanced support for technical assistance and capacity-building programs in the Caribbean, through the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) initiative, among others, with the aim of promoting a cleaner and more secure energy future in the region. Caribbean leaders agreed to pursue comprehensive energy diversification programs and facilitate the deployment of clean energy.

Furthermore, presentations and updates were provided by, inter alia: Caribbean leaders on energy sector goals; the World Bank on a proposed Caribbean Energy Investment Network for improved coordination and communication among partners; and the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) on a new focus on clean energy project development in the Caribbean, which includes US$43 million in financing for a 34 MW wind energy project in Jamaica.

Highlighting the role of the Organization of American States (OAS) in supporting the transition to sustainable energy in the Caribbean, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza said the past five years had seen an “unprecedented push” in the Caribbean toward the development of the region’s renewable energy sources, noting this was “doubly impressive” “in a time of low oil prices.”

The Summit, which took place on 26 January 2015, in Washington, DC, US, is part of CESI, launched by US Vice President Joseph Biden in June 2014. The regional and international organizations signing the statement were the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, the Caribbean Development Bank, the EU, the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the OAS and the World Bank.

The joint statement was also signed by the Governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Colombia, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, and the United States. More

Credit: SIDS Policy & Practice IISD

 

 

LA Imports Nearly 85 Percent of Its Water—Can It Change That by Gathering Rain?

The urban drainage-ways of Los Angeles can never quite look like wild creeks, but restoring some of their capacity to store, slow, and filter water fixes many problems at once.

Walk the glaring streets of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley on a sun-soaked afternoon in a drought year, the dry, brush-covered mountains rising behind you, and it can be easy to feel that you’re in arid country. “Beneath this building, beneath every street, there’s a desert,” said the fictional mayor in the Oscar-winning 1974 movie Chinatown. “Without water the dust will rise up and cover us as though we’d never existed!”

It’s an apocryphal idea. L.A. is not the Mojave but, climatically, more like Athens. Artesian springs, fed by rain in the mountains and hills, used to bubble up around Los Angeles, and farmers and Spanish missionaries grew fruit and olives in the Valley starting in the 18th and 19th centuries.

But the city has a history of treating its own raindrops and rivers as if they were more problematic than valuable. The L.A. River was prone to catastrophic floods in heavy rains, and, in the 20th century, engineers buried, straightened, and paved sections of the riverbed, flushing the water through concrete drainage channels to the Pacific Ocean. Then, to quench the thirst of its growing population, Los Angeles undertook a series of engineering feats that pumped water from the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, Northern California, and the Colorado River via hundreds of miles of pipes and reservoirs. Now the city typically imports more than 85 percent of its water from afar. And it’s as if the waters of Los Angeles disappeared from the consciousness of locals: Many Angelenos will tell you, mistakenly, that they live in a desert.

Now that story is changing again.

In the past decade and a half, a few local environmentalists have been collaborating with city and county officials to rewrite the plan for water here, driven by more and more urgent necessity. As winter temperatures rise in an era of climate change, the city’s distant water sources, fed by mountain snowmelt, are becoming less reliable. And drought years and battles over water allocation are adding to the difficulties. The State Water Project, which transfers water from the north to southern California, announced this year it would supply only five percent of the amount of water requested by agencies around the state (including the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supplies parts of Los Angeles), because of the drought. Court rulings to protect endangered species have limited the amount of water L.A. and other cities can take from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

There’s no easy way for L.A. to get more water from distant sources, but new research from UCLA suggests that rainfall in the Los Angeles region is likely to stay the same on average in decades ahead.

Urban drainage in L.A. can never look like wild creeks, but restoring some capacity to store, slow, and filter water fixes many problems.

The city will need to become more water self-reliant to survive the rest of this century, and capturing local rain looks much more desirable than in the past. “There’s been a refocus on the value of local stormwater as a resource, not as a nuisance,” says Kerjon Lee, public affairs manager for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

During the 1990s, in the flat landscape of Sun Valley, a San Fernando Valley neighborhood at the foot of the Verdugo Mountains, Los Angeles engineers and bureaucrats began re-imagining what one could do with raindrops.

Sun Valley never stopped acting as a tributary of the Los Angeles River, even as many of its lots filled, over the past several decades, with sand and gravel pits, auto body shops, junkyards, metals recycling plants, and miscellaneous blue-collar industries. Now two-thirds of the land here is covered with what engineers call an “impervious surface,” like concrete or asphalt, which water cannot penetrate. The more such surfaces there are in a neighborhood, the more rainwater tends to puddle up and flood. Heavy rain can make many of Sun Valley’s streets impassable. In one of the worst storms, about a decade ago, a sinkhole swallowed up part of a major street that used to be a riverbed, and a city engineer tumbled in and died.

Sun Valley is one of a few areas of L.A. not served by the massive drainage system that sends stormwater either to San Pedro or Santa Monica Bay. In the 1990s, the county planned to build a series of storm drains throughout the neighborhood—until a local environmentalist and gadfly named Andy Lipkis stepped in and asked them to reconsider.

Lipkis founded an organization called TreePeople in the mid-1970s, when he was just a teenager. The organization eventually made its headquarters on the site of an old fire station in Coldwater Canyon Park, on the high ridgeline along Mulholland Drive, named after the famous engineer who designed the first system to import water to the city on a large scale. There, among the breezy, fragrant slopes of oak and bay trees, you can see what Lipkis has been trying to tell locals his whole life: Much of Los Angeles is part forest and part river.

In 1998, Lipkis rigged a south L.A. house with water cisterns and rain gardens, gathered a group of local officials, and staged a deluge, aiming fire hoses at the roof. The group watched with amazement as the lot soaked up thousands of gallons of water.

He convinced them to consider what, at the time, was a more experimental and costly approach to managing water in Sun Valley, which overlies the San Fernando Valley Groundwater Basin, an aquifer that supplies about 13 percent of L.A.’s water. Lipkis argued that the county and city could begin to revive some of the features of a natural watershed. The urban drainage-ways of Los Angeles can never quite look like wild creeks, but restoring some of their capacity to store, slow, and filter water fixes many problems at once. When stormwater gushes across pavement, it picks up debris and contamination; when it soaks into soil and enters an aquifer, it is cleaner. Conventional storm drains would have only cost about $40 million, while TreePeople says its recommendations were nearly five times as expensive. But the organization’s own analysis suggested that the latter would return at least $300 million in benefits to the city.

“There’s been a refocus on the value of local stormwater as a resource, not as a nuisance.”

Water managers brought the options to stakeholders and residents in the mostly Latino, working-class neighborhood. They chose Lipkis’ approach. “The community didn’t want more concrete,” says Lee.

Alicia Gonzales moved to Sun Valley in 1985, as a nine-year-old, after her parents “fell in love with the house” on Elmer Avenue. Then she and her family watched as the rains poured through her yard, turning it from grass to mud. She remembers how the rain would form a torrent in the alley near her family’s house. “Trash and shopping carts would get stuck there,” she says.

She moved out as a young adult, then returned several years ago to help her father, who was struggling with severe diabetes and kidney disease and needed regular dialysis.

When the streets flooded, many kids in the neighborhood stayed home. Gonzales often wouldn’t drive her daughters to school on rainy days. “My car would get stuck,” she said.

Though Lipkis had sowed the ideas for a new way to manage water here, years passed before anyone found the funding and wherewithal to solve Elmer Avenue’s flooding problems. In 2004, L.A. County finalized a new stormwater plan for Sun Valley. Two years later, the county finished its first project. Under a baseball and soccer field in Sun Valley Park, a tree-lined oasis in the middle of an industrial district, engineers installed a retention tank that collects runoff from the surrounding streets. In 2007, the county Flood Control District spent nearly $4 million to build drains, catch basins, and a tiny corner park at an intersection that used to turn into a deep lagoon in heavy rain—and was a favorite location for news crews to shoot dramatic footage of local storms.

About eight years ago, employees of TreePeople appeared on Gonzales’ block. They said that her street was part of a watershed, and stormwater from the mountains was pouring into her backyard. (When Gonzales first met Andy Lipkis, she says he rhapsodized about her parents’ olive tree, nearly the only landscaping that had survived the flood damage.) An organization called the Council for Watershed Health had partnered with TreePeople to renovate her street.

“There’s been a refocus on the value of local stormwater as a resource, not as a nuisance.”

The Council for Watershed Health led the effort to pull apart the street and put in rain barrels, rain gardens, underground water tanks, and water-permeable walkways and driveways. Gonzales got one of a few special grants to replant her muddy yard, and volunteers showed up at her house to help with the landscaping. The alley became a pedestrian walkway that the project organizers dubbed The Paseo, a meandering sidewalk lined with native plants between concrete-block walls, painted with the words, “Water is the driving force of life.” In rainstorms now, the water runs through the landscaping, and kids walk the path to school. Neighbors water their drought-tolerant plants with rain barrels, but most of the rain soaks in under the street.

As small as these three projects were—a single city block, a corner park, and a soccer field—they have gotten the attention of the entire region: two Southern California regional water districts, several Los Angeles city and county agencies, the federal Bureau of Reclamation, and a number of state agencies got involved and provided funding for Elmer Avenue. These projects have become test cases for a much larger strategy to boost the water supply every time it rains across the entire region.

In Sun Valley, the county plans ultimately to capture nearly all of the rainwater that pours through the neighborhood. Next to Sun Valley Park, the city and county are planning to convert what is now a gravel pit and concrete plant into a 46-acre park that will collect in an average year about enough water to supply 4,000 Angelenos.

Their findings come at a crucial time. Crumbling infrastructure and a new court ruling are forcing the hands of local officials: A federal court has ordered the county to clean up the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers, currently fouled by the dirt, grime, and toxins that wash from streets into storm drains. Meanwhile, billions of dollars worth of city water infrastructure is falling apart and has to be replaced before it breaks down.

The city of Santa Monica has set a goal to use only local water by 2020.

The city needs to both clean up its stormwater problem and find more water to drink. TreePeople says it could do both at once and is working with the City of Los Angeles to rewrite its entire stormwater management plan by next year. The county has undertaken a study, in partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation, to predict how climate change will affect local hydrology and what it can do to better capture stormwater. Water districts throughout the region are following suit: The Water Replenishment District of Southern California, which manages groundwater for parts of the region, has set a goal to wean itself off imported water altogether by treating and recycling wastewater and collecting more stormwater. The Council for Watershed Health released a study in 2012 estimating that the district could capture 5.5 billion gallons of water per year through more projects like Elmer Avenue.

The city of Santa Monica has set a goal to use only local water by 2020. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power estimates that by 2035, it will import just over half of its water (down from 85 percent), meet 9 percent of its water needs by conserving more, and supply 28 percent by using local groundwater, capturing stormwater, and recycling water from sewage. Water recycling and stormwater projects aren’t cheap, but they’re typically less costly than building high-energy desalination plants that distill water from the ocean. A new desalination plant is going up in Carlsbad, south of Los Angeles. But if groups like TreePeople and the Council succeed, southern California may not need to build many more facilities like this.

“We’re looking at how we could shift the amount of water we currently squander.” says Edith de Guzman, a researcher at TreePeople. More

Madeline Ostrander wrote this article for Cities Are Now, the Winter 2015 issue of YES! Magazine. Ostrander is a contributing editor to YES! and a 2014 National Health Journalism Fellow. She lives in Seattle and writes about the environment and climate change.

 

 

Joining Forces to Combat Climate Change and Re-ignite the Global Economy

The world’s three biggest carbon emitters—the United States, China, and the European Union—have all announced emissions goals or limits in the past few months. That’s great news, but global fossil fuel demand continues to rise, and with it, so do climate change’s risks—to economy, to environment, to security, to human health, to people living in poverty in areas where climate change will have devastating impact.

The most recent IPCC report (AR5) found that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” “human influence on the climate system is clear,” and “limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

The 2014 report Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States detailed the serious economic harm we can expect from climate change if we continue on our current path. But the challenge before us is about more than averting the worst economic impacts of climate change. As highlighted in the recently released Better Growth, Better Climate report from The New Climate Economy, it’s also about finding enormous economic opportunity in clean energy solutions that both tackle global warming and unlock growth opportunities for all.

The transformation to a low-carbon future is arguably the greatest business opportunity of our time. Combating climate change through energy efficiency, renewable energy technologies, clean transportation, and smarter land use can reap rewards as great economically as environmentally.

Fortunately, an energy revolution is rising all around us—enabled by smart policies in mindful markets, and led by business for profit. Efficient energy use fuels more economic activity than oil, at far lower cost, while its potential gets ever bigger and cheaper. In each of the past three years, the world invested a quarter-trillion dollars—more than the market cap of the world’s coal industry—to add over 80 billion watts of renewable capacity (excluding big hydro dams). Generating capacity added last year was 37 percent renewable in the United States, 53 percent in the world, 68 percent in China, 72 perent in Europe. Last year, the world invested over $600 billion in efficiency, renewables, and cogeneration.

This growth is accelerating: solar power is scaling faster than cellphones. Last year alone, China added more solar capacity than the U.S. has added in 60 years. Electric vehicle sales are growing twice as fast as hybrid cars did at a comparable stage. Shrewd companies are realizing climate solutions’ enormous business opportunities—a prospect scarcely dimmed by cheaper oil, which makes only a few percent of the world’s electricity.

Global companies like IKEA, Google, Apple, Facebook, Salesforce, and Walmart have committed to 100 percent renewable power. Tesla’s stock is up an astounding 660 percent over the past two years and has half the market value of General Motors Corp. The NEX index, which tracks clean energy companies worldwide, grew by 50 percent over the past two years—far outperforming the general market—while equity raisings by quoted clean energy companies more than doubled. Many of the world’s top financial firms concur that the era of coal and of big power plants is drawing to a close; Germany’s biggest utility is divesting those assets to focus on efficiency and renewables.

Yet we need to create even bigger and faster change. Which is why we are delighted to announce that our two nonprofit organizations—Rocky Mountain Institute and the Carbon War Room—are joining forces. By uniting two of the world’s preeminent nonprofit practitioners of market-based energy and climate solutions, we will help turn the toughest long-term energy challenges into vast opportunities for entrepreneurs to create wealth and public benefit for all. More

 

Bahamas takes on renewable energy challenge – Missed Opportunity for Cayman?

The Bahamas has become the latest recruit to Richard Branson's green energy drive for Caribbean islands.

Branson's Carbon War Room NGO is aiming to help islands in the region transition from expensive fossil fuel imports to using their own renewable energy resources as part of its Ten Island Challenge programme.

This week the Bahamas joined the push, committing to developing 20MW of solar PV generation in the outer Family Islands, bringing energy efficiency and solar solutions to a local high school, and replacing streetlights across the nation with energy efficient LED lights.

Carbon War Room plans to support these goals by providing the country's government with a range of technical, project management, communications, and business advisory services.

The Bahamas joins the islands of Aruba, Grenada, San Andres and Providencia in Colombia, Saint Lucia, and Turks & Caicos in the challenge, which aims to generate how small states can decarbonise in a cost-effective manner.

“The Bahamas' entry into the Ten Island Challenge signals another step forward for the Caribbean region in the effort towards a clean energy future,” Branson said in a statement. “The progress made in The Bahamas will help inspire other islands to work towards accomplishing their renewable energy objectives.”

While the focus to date has been on Caribbean islands, earlier this year Peter Boyd, Carbon War Room's chief operating officer, told BusinessGreen the programme could expand into the Pacific and to isolated communities, military bases, or mines. “There are island energy economies even if the 'island' isn't surrounded by water,” he said at the time.

 

The 1.5 degrees global warming call from the Pacific, still possible

 

Amidst the recent release of scientific reports on climate change, the key message has been for urgent action to limit global warming, before time runs out.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their Synthesis Report on the 5th Assessment Report in October, the World Bank released the “Turn down the heat, confronting the new climate normal” report in November and the United Nations Environment Program released their “Bridging the 2014 Emission Gap Report” also in November.

According to the “Turn down the heat” report and an accompanying press release – climate change impacts such as extreme heat events may now be unavoidable because the Earth’s atmospheric system is locked into warming close to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by mid-century, and even very ambitious mitigation action taken today will not change this.

This does not mean, however, that long-term warming of 1.5°C is locked in, or that achievement of the 1.5°C warming limit, as called for by vulnerable countries like Pacific Islands, is no longer possible.

“What we see from the scientific literature is that it’s clear that we can indeed hold warming below 2 degrees in this century probably with the most aggressive mitigation emission reduction options. We can limit peak warming close to 1.5 degrees and slowly reduce that to below 1.5 degrees by 2100,” said Prof. Bill Hare of the Climate Analytics Group, Potsdam Institute.

“This is going to involve fairly major changes in policy settings now but this is what we are negotiating for, to have the emissions go down in the 2020’s and if we can do that fast enough then its technically and economically feasible to bring warming back to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century.”

“Those that are arguing it’s not possible are expressing a political judgment, not a scientific judgment.”

There will be climate change impacts experienced by several regions including the Pacific islands, before warming is reduced as limiting peak warming close to 1.5°C by mid century will still result in significant damage.

At the present levels of warming (about 0.8°C above preindustrial) the impacts of climate change are already being felt in many regions of the world. Continued damage is forecast to the coral reefs in the Pacific and other tropical oceans, there is the huge risk of damage to water supply resources in dry regions and substantial drops in crop yield in regions such as sub Saharan Africa.

“On top of that we’ll also be experiencing quite major increase in extreme heat events even for 1.5 degrees warming so whatever happens we’re going to have to go through some very severe changes,” explains Professor Hare.

Here in Lima, Peru at the 20th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP20), the Pacific islands are calling for a 1.5 degree limit to global warming by 2100. The next two weeks of climate negotiations continue the work being done by the Pacific islands as members of the Alliance of Small Islands States, lobbying for the 1.5 degree limit to global warming to be agreed upon in Paris next year.

The new climate treaty is to be agreed upon by the end of December in 2015 in Paris.

“Strengthening the long-term temperature goal to 1.5 degrees is of critical importance for us. Even at the current temperatures, our small low lying islands are being battered by king tides, salt water intrusion, coastal erosion, coral bleaching, ocean acidification, loss of species and habitats,” said Ms. Ana Tiraa, Head of the Cook Islands delegation at the UNFCCC COP 20.

“These will only be exacerbated at higher temperatures, with due respect to other parties, the Cook Islands calls for ambition levels that are high enough to keep temperature rise below 1.5 degrees. Temperature rises above 1.5 degrees cannot be an option for low lying small islands if we have a hope of surviving.”

According to Prof. Hare, at present there is confidence that with aggressive mitigation action warming can be held to below 2 degrees yet another decade of inaction will most likely lead to warming at 2 degrees or above. The message is clear that the time for action is now.

“It is still feasible to bring global warming to below 1.5 degrees by 2100 but whether or not the world politics and major economies will take enough action in the coming five to 20 years is in question. We are entitled to be skeptical given the inaction that has characterised the last decade as to whether that looks happening but it’s not a scientific judgment or statement, the option is well and truly open to bring warming back to below 1.5 degrees. More

 

 

 

 

World Resources Institute Publishes Renewable Energy Cost Comparison Factsheet

17 November 2014: The World Resources Institute (WRI) has launched a factsheet that enables better cost comparisons of electricity from renewables and fossil fuels by identifying key factors to consider, namely: type of user; supply options; and factors that impact additional costs and benefits, such as environmental risks or financial incentives.

The publication, titled ‘Understanding Renewable Energy Cost Parity,’ seeks to provide a simple, “go-to” resource for information on appropriate comparisons of renewable and “traditional” electricity supply options. The factsheet constitutes the first in a series of three publications that aim to support clarity and precision in cost analyses of renewable energy options made by decision makers in companies, residences, governments and advocacy organizations. In particular, the guide is intended for electricity buyers looking for financial savings, and electricity system planners, regulators and policy makers seeking economic and social benefits for end-users.

The publication argues that, in order for decision makers to know where and when renewable energy is the cheapest solution, they should establish: “with what should a renewable energy option be compared”; and “which factors need to be considered in determining cost parity.”

Among the publication’s key messages are that: for end-use consumers, on-site generation is cost-competitive when its average cost of energy is lower than or equal to the retail electricity price over the project’s lifetime; for large industrial and/or commercial consumers, power purchase agreements (PPAs) are cost-competitive when the price paid for generated electricity is lower than or equal to the retail electricity price over the project’s lifetime or contract; and, for utilities and other wholesale buyers, a renewable energy project is cost-competitive if its cost of energy and/or risk is lower than or equal to that of other technologies providing the same service during the same period of time.

The factsheet also argues for the need to take into account potential additional factors, including fluctuations in electricity prices, different time periods used in comparisons, assumptions and methodologies relating to levelized cost of energy (LCOE) calculations, technology-specific subsidies, possible PPAs, and costs of compliance with environmental regulations. [WRI Blog Post] [WRI Publication Webpage] [Publication: Understanding Renewable Energy Cost Parity] More

 

 

 

Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries

A recently discovered form of carbon graphite – the material in pencil lead – has turned out to have a completely unexpected property which could revolutionise the development of green energy and electric cars.

Researchers have discovered that graphene allows positively charged hydrogen atoms or protons to pass through it despite being completely impermeable to all other gases, including hydrogen itself.

The implications of the discovery are immense as it could dramatically increase the efficiency of fuel cells, which generate electricity directly from hydrogen, the scientists said.

The breakthrough raises the prospect of extracting hydrogen fuel from air and burning it as a carbon-free source of energy in a fuel cell to produce electricity and water with no damaging waste products.

“In the atmosphere there is a certain amount of hydrogen and this hydrogen will end up on the other side [of graphene] in a reservoir. Then you can use this hydrogen-collected reservoir to burn it in the same fuel cell and make electricity,” said Professor Sir Andrei Geim of Manchester Univeristy.

Ever since its discovery 10 years ago, graphene has astonished scientists. It is the thinnest known material, a million times thinner than human hair, yet more than 200 times stronger than steel, as well as being the world’s best conductor of electricity.

Until now, being permeable to protons was not considered a practical possibility, but an international team of scientists led by Sir Andre, who shares the 2010 Nobel Prize for his work on graphene, has shown that the one-atom thick crystal acts like a chemical filter. It allows the free passage of protons but forms an impenetrable barrier to other atoms and molecules.

“There have been three or four scientific papers before about the theoretical predictions for how easy or how hard it would be for a proton to go through graphene and these calculations give numbers that take billions and billions of years for a proton to go through this same membrane,” Sir Andrei said.

“It’s just so dense an electronic field it just doesn’t let anything through. But it’s a question of numbers, no more than that. This makes a difference between billions of years and a reasonable time for permeation. There is no magic,” he said.

The study, published in the journal Nature, shows that graphene and a similar single-atom material called boron nitride allowed the build-up of protons on one side of a membrane, yet prevented anything else from crossing over into a collecting chamber.

In their scientific paper, the researchers speculate that there could be many applications in the field of hydrogen fuel cells and in technology for collecting hydrogen gas from the atmosphere, which would open up a new source of clean energy.

“It’s really the very first paper on the subject so what we’re doing is really to introduce the material for other experts to think about it,” Sir Andrei said.

“It was difficult not to speculate. If you can pump protons from a hydrogen-containing gas into a chamber that doesn’t contain anything, you start thinking how you can exploit this?” he said.

“One of the possibilities we can imagine, however futuristic, which has to be emphasised because everything has been shown on a small scale, is applying a small electric current across the membrane and pushing hydrogen though the graphene or boron nitrite membrane,” he explained.

“Essentially you pump your fuel from the atmosphere and get electricity out of this fuel, in principle. Before this paper, this wouldn’t even be speculation; it would be science fiction. At least our paper provides a guidance and proof that this kind of device is possible and doesn’t contradict to any known laws of nature,” Sir Andre added.

Graphene: potential uses

Graphene is tough, about 200 times stronger than steel, yet incredibly light. It is considered the first two-dimensional material because it forms sheets of crystal that are just one atom thick.

It is also an excellent conductor of electricity, so is useful for anything involving electronics, such as bendable mobile phones and cameras, and wearable electrical devices attached to clothing.

Medical applications include its possible use as a material for delivering drugs to damaged sites within the body, which could open new avenues for treating patients with brain conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or cancer.

Graphene is also being developed as a new material for membranes involved in separating liquids. It could be used to purify water in the developing world or to create more efficient desalination plants.

Scientists also believe that graphene’s high strength and low weight can be harnessed in the making of new composite materials and polymers for the transport industry, making travel safer and more fuel efficient.

Now, it seems, graphene might also be used to generate new forms of generating clean electricity using hydrogen fuel cells, and even as a technology for harvesting hydrogen fuel from air. More

 

Cayman Renewable Energy Association Launches

Cayman Renewable Energy Association launched last week. In this segment we learn more about the group’s mission and what they see as the next step in implementing alternative energy in Cayman.

James E. Whittaker of GreenTech Group of Companies and Jim Knapp of Endless Energy talk to Vanessa Hansen of Cayman 27 about the premise of the organiization and why it’s important to have the association in Cayman.

Climate change and smart grid? There are more linkages than you think

When you think of climate change and energy, what springs to mind? Coal, fossil fuel, power plants, renewables, and efficiency are likely on your list, whether as contributors or mitigation options. But if demand response and smart grid are not on your list, it is incomplete.

Smart Grid

You are not alone. The EPA didn’t put them on its “list” when it put out its draft Clean Power Plan (111d) earlier this year. The fact is, however, that smart grid and things under its umbrella like DR, storage, etc. should be squarely on the table when climate-related plans are being made.

There are three questions regarding smart grid and climate change that are being asked these days. There is also one question that is not being asked but should be. They will all be part of the discussion at the upcoming National Summit on Smart Grid and Climate Change on December 2-3, but let’s take a quick look at them now.

The first two are:

  1. Can states use smart grid (and anything like DR, storage, etc that is under its umbrella) in their compliance plans under the EPA Clean Power Plan (111d)?
  2. If the answer to the first question is yes, will that give a boost to smart grid activity?

The third one is:

3. Which should happen first? Grid Hardening or Grid “Smartening”? Or should they be done together?

The first two questions fall into the category of climate mitigation and emissions reduction. Even before the EPA Plan came out, smart grid and DR were not seen as saving kWh, and therefore emissions. They were focused on kW reduction, and only for short amounts of time, usually on peak, right?

Well, that may have been true once, but that is not the case anymore. DR is no longer just about the peak. It has evolved into technology-based intelligent energy management. It has become dynamic efficiency, as opposed to traditional end-use efficiency. As such, it optimizes and reduces energy consumption and emissions. But even where DR is used solely as a peak management tool, studies show that there is little if any “bounce back” effect during the off-peak( i.e. not all of the usage that was reduced is replaced) and that on average there is a 4-5% overall reduction.

Let’s look at another smart grid option – Conservation Voltage Reduction (CVR). This option is essentially one where smart grid technology allows a utility to provide the same service to the customer while also lowering voltage, which in turn lowers usage and therefore emissions. CVR has been shown to generate around 1% savings, and customers don’t have to do anything.

Thankfully, with a little prodding by the SG and DR community, EPA has seen the light and now commonly speaks out to say that smart grid is definitely eligible for states to consider putting in their 111d compliance plans. EPA has clarified that the four specified “building blocks” in its plan were for purposes of determining goals. They are not prescriptive choices. States can put anything they want to in their plan, as long as they demonstrate that there will be reductions.

So that brings us to question 2 – what does that mean for smart grid? Well, if it is eligible to be used in a state plan, that should be good, right? Not necessarily. First, the people putting together the state plans need to not be hung up on the myth that there are no reductions from smart grid. EPA saying it is eligible only means it is on the shopping list for states. The key is getting them to select it, and that may take a focused education effort on the part of the smart grid and DR community. And it wouldn’t hurt if as part of that effort, states were reminded that they can’t plan to do large amounts of intermittent renewables on the system and not think about DR and smart grid – yet another reason to put them into a plan.

Finally, let’s examine question 3on climate adaptation. Whatever climate change scenario one subscribes to, few if any speak out against the need to prepare for change, whether it is sea level rise, storms, or rising temperatures. So is there a role for smart grid? At the National Summit on Smart Grid and Climate Change, an entire track has been devoted to that discussion.

When it comes to the electricity system, resiliency is the word one hears most. While definitions of that differ, two of the common attributes of a resilient system are flexibility and diversity. That means not putting all of your eggs into one power system, or one line. It means seeking strength through a distribution system that is really distributed – not just for delivery of power, but for generating it. That is where distributed energy resources (DER) and microgrids – both part of the smart grid diaspora – come into play. They help increase the resiliency of a system. Of course such a system needs management. But that is where the new smart grid technologies provide the ability to sense, monitor, communicate, and control.

The challenge in the question is this: some grid resiliency efforts in the wake of Superstorm Sandy and other similar events are focusing on grid hardening – not grid smartening. Now I agree that grid hardening sounds conceptually comforting. After all, raising the level of a substation so that storm waters will flow underneath it (a real example) is pretty straightforward and understandable. But where does that get us in the end? How has that modernized the grid? Don’t get me wrong, I believe that grid hardening should be pursued where it makes sense, but not at the total exclusion of grid smartening.

In an ideal world, states would be looking at a climate adaption plan at the same time they are putting together a climate mitigation plan. In that ideal world, smart grid would get bonus points for being something that can go into both plans. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and state agencies operate in silos. It may be up to the DR and smart grid communities to help them with their plans, and help them connect the dots that will make those plans better and create better opportunities for smart grid. More