Friday, July 29, 2016

How Can the U.S. Protect Its Grid?

Perhaps there is no more important question we can ask.  Power is the heartbeat of our global system.  Like our own hearts that keep us alive, it is vulnerable to shut down any time.  Then what?

This article from Bloomberg gives some positive grades for grids in the US.  We agree.  Too often we take for granted the excellent work done by our energy experts.  We can't push so hard, so fast to change the infrastructure we have in place in our quest to permanently change the energy mix.  Our evolution of reshaping the grid must bring cleaner power and more resilience.  

Note, as with all levels of sustainability, the high level of collaboration within the industry.

As if there job is not hard enough, now those same experts must be anti-terrorist strategist as well.  We like seeing a lot more local power and micro-grids coming on line.  We love the addition of renewables and large storage capacity.  Add elements of digital smarts and our system starts to meet the needs of today and tomorrow.  Our heartbeat should be strong and long-lasting.

The operator at the Prykarpattyaoblenergo control center in Western Ukraine couldn’t believe his eyes. On a quiet afternoon in December 2015, two days before Christmas, the cursor on his computer monitor began moving on its own accord, dutifully clicking on boxes to take dozens of substations offline, one by one. When he scrambled to log on to the control panel, his password had been changed.
The utility had been hacked, and more than 230,000 Ukrainians were left in the dark. The bad guys’ way in? A spear phishing attack to get the users at the power plant to steal valid credentials and use them to gain remote access to control systems.
If a similar attack hit the U.S., which boasts the most advanced electrical grid in the world, are the power industry’s defenses strong enough?
The answer may not be so simple. Three hundred million people rely on the U.S. electrical grid, a massive interconnected system that could be thrown into havoc by a major incident at any of the country’s 55,000 transmission substations. As Siemens USA President and CEO Eric Spiegel noted in remarks at a recent event in Washington, D.C., as more of the nation’s critical infrastructure is digitalized to create new efficiencies and business models, its reliance on software and the Internet of Things “provides more points of entry for people who want to harm us.”
“The Future of the Grid: Spotlight on Cybersecurity,” sponsored by Siemens, brought together leaders from the public and private sectors to discuss this topic, and revealed an energy industry that is up for the challenge.
“We have to look at the full range of threats, from the lone actor to the well-developed state threat, and everything in between,” says Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy. “If we’re prepared to meet the most extreme threat, like a coordinated state attack that would be multifaceted, then we’re prepared to meet everything that is less extreme.”
There is reason for optimism in the comments of General Michael Hayden, former Director of the CIA and current Co-Chair of the Electric Grid Cybersecurity Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
“The grid is more resilient than we give it credit for,” Hayden says, “and the power industry has done an awful lot of work to make it so.”
Still, in an increasingly networked society where bad actors only need to be successful once to upend the grid, the entire industry must be willing to work together.
“We have the strongest grid in the world—no other country has the coordination that we do—but we always feel we can do better,” adds Sherwood-Randall. “It does require investment, but we have an opportunity when we invest to ensure that it is resilient, smart and efficient, and it will also make us more capable in resisting attacks. It has multiple benefits for the American people and the world.”
Collaborating to connect the dots
In Ukraine, signs of an imminent attack began appearing nine months before the event, but no one was able to put those puzzle pieces together. That type of situation is less of a concern in the U.S., where organizations like the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC) and Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center (E-ISAC) ensure that industry and government leaders maintain a constant dialogue.
“That is the power here—the sharing that we can do to stay what we like to call ‘left of boom,’” says Marcus H. Sachs, Chief Security Officer at the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC). “Boom is when the bad event happens. You don’t ever want to be right of boom. Left of boom is a happy place.”
Willingness to collaborate is crucial. “The more deliberate we get with our information sharing, the better off we’ll be,” says Zeeshan Sheikh, Chief Information Officer at Entergy, the Louisiana-based utility. “Whether it’s a small company, a large company or the government, our preparation gets better each time we share information amongst different organizations.”
This is perhaps best exemplified by GridEx, a sector-wide grid security exercise periodically conducted by NERC that takes stock of the electricity sector’s ability to stand up to coordinated cybersecurity threats. More than 4,400 participants from 364 North American organizations took part in GridEx III last November, with the common goal of strengthening crisis-response functions.
Such simulations help make staying left of boom much more realistic. “Those exercises are really helping us identify what a cyber event even looks like,” attests Dennis P. Gilbert Jr., Director of Information and Cyber Security at Exelon, the largest regulated utility in the country. “We want someone out at a substation or a plant to become a little bit paranoid and take a second to think about, Is this a malfunction or could this be a breach?
“That type of training is key,” adds Sheikh, who works closely with the FBI, DHS and DOE. “We actually have a live attack that we can study, analyze, recreate, replay and make sure that we’re not vulnerable. Now our operators can go back, look at our systems and make sure we’re protected.”
Through the sharing of information, Suzanne Spaulding, Under Secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, sees the sector creating a “system of systems” of near-real-time alerts that can identify the most common cyber threats, and using data analytics to stop new threats that have yet to be encountered before.
“We really want to incentivize indicator sharing so that we have as much data in one place as possible,” Spaulding explains. “If something is recognized as malicious activity, those threat indicators are immediately sent out to all nodes of this system of systems. The idea here is that the adversary might be able to get away with it once, but then everybody has been alerted. That is hugely powerful, and an important next step.”
In addition to encouraging companies to implement machine-to-machine sharing, Spaulding and the NPPD are doing the legwork to connect the government with the private sector. “I meet at least three times a year with about 40 CEOs,” she says. “One of the things they intuitively understand is that this requires a holistic perspective. This is not just an IT network problem or issue. You’ve got to bring your folks who understand physical structure, and have them be a part of the cybersecurity conversation.”
By doing so, disaster response doesn’t begin with what Exelon’s Gilbert describes as the major players hastily “exchanging business cards on the tarmac in the middle of the incident,” but instead with everyone automatically understanding their roles and responsibilities.
Even Congress borrowed a page from this collaboration book when it recently authorized the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, and a House panel voted in June to turn Spaulding’s NPPD into the new Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection Agency, which would take on an operational authority with (or via) the TSA.
To further indicate how seriously the federal government takes the threat, the DOE operates 17 national labs that assess cyber threats, and a number of CEOs in the electricity sector have been cleared to receive highly classified information. “We bring them in to talk as we see threats emerging,” explains Sherwood-Randall. “We can say, ‘Look, this is evolving, and you need to meet this.’ Our utility partners begin to take action to strengthen against those threats.”
No utility left behind
Obviously, being warned of an impending threat is a crucial first step, but not every utility has the resources to combat one. “I have 1,400 members, and all of them are electric utilities,” says Sue Kelly, CEO of the American Public Power Association. “Frankly, a lot of my members are too small to have these cybersecurity activities on staff. We’re going to have to go outside to get it.”
The Department of Energy is ready to help, announcing on the morning of “The Future of the Grid” event that it would provide up to $15 million in new funding to help APPA members strengthen their operations. And in the private sector, Siemens’ recent opening of its Cyber Security Operation Center for industrial customers in Ohio—joining a similar CSOC in Europe—shows its commitment to this fight.
The center is a key part of Siemens’ broader portfolio of industrial control systems (ICS)—cybersecurity offerings that build on the company’s experience. The company offers cybersecurity services, products and solutions to help industrial customers take an individualized, holistic approach to protecting their assets, and comply with regulatory requirements.
“At Siemens, cybersecurity is a strong part of our vision for digitalization and how we’ll help lead a transition to a digital world, and we saw that our customers needed more real-time response capability to detect and respond to threats,” explains Spiegel. “Some companies have monitoring capability, but to set up a center to do it for others, as part of a service offering really demonstrates that we’re taking this seriously. “
Siemens builds products with integrated security, but this is only part of the solution, Spiegel says. “No matter how secure products and systems are, hackers will try to break into them,” he explains. “The question is: How will you respond? The industry must be agile enough to address threats right away. Our view is that the entire industry—both utilities and vendors like Siemens—need to come together now as a unified force.”

Thursday, July 28, 2016

LEED Platinum Core, Torre Reforma, in Mexico City, is a Locus of Innovation

One of the new shows joining our network is "Designing the Sustainable Future" with host Ken Filarski.  Ken is well knows to our audience as he helped me co-host a global town meeting titled the same that introduced the series.  We can't wait to hear Ken and his guest each month.

Here's one of the stories he will cover.  Good to see design changing worldwide.  Our vision of "beautiful" now includes efficiency, clean energy and smart tech.  Beauty, as we all know, starts on the inside.

An instant architectural icon, a three-sided high-rise offers a new model for concrete construction in earthquake zones 

With its distinctive triangular volume and soaring concrete walls, Torre Reforma makes an eye-catching addition to the skyline of Mexico City. To achieve this impact, Arup worked with L. Benjamin Romano Arquitects (LBRA) to ensure that the 57-story mixed-use building was not only striking in appearance, but safe in its performance -- a particular concern in the seismically active location.

"Arup has been indispensable in helping to transform my architectural vision into an efficient and buildable structure," said Benjamin Romano, principal of LBRA. "They have provided innovative solutions to the complex seismic issues in Mexico City and have been instrumental in helping the bidding contractors understand that Torre Reforma is not more complex than standard vertical construction; it just applies traditional construction methods, that contractors are already familiar with, in a new and different way."

Tabitha Tavolaro, associate principal at Arup and project manager for Torre Reforma, said, "Building tall structures in Mexico City often means working in constrained conditions. Challenges can include small or irregular sites, coordinating diverse teams, and, of course, seismic hazards. In this project, we partnered with LBRA to create robust solutions that bring value to the client as well as the community."

Arup's innovations at Torre Reforma include:

An Aesthetic Structure. Romano's design boldly departs from the norm not only in form, but in its merging of materials with structure. Arup devised pre-tensioned double-V hangers that brace the glazed façade and simultaneously create a signature visual identity for the building.

Because the architecture is so closely aligned with its material expression, the finish of the concrete is critical. Several design mixes were evaluated; the final choice flowed well and created a surface that's free of honeycombing or flaws. The concrete was poured in increments of 70 cm, highlighting the subtle variations in color that occur naturally across multiple concrete pours.

The Core in the Corner. In conventional skyscrapers, vertical circulation is typically located in the central core of the building. At Torre Reforma, the elevators and egress stairways are contained in the apex of the triangle. This, paired with the long-span pyramidal floor trusses that allow plumbing, electrical, and mechanical systems to be concealed within the structure, results in maximum ceiling heights and a column-free interior, facilitating unobstructed, dramatic views over adjacent Chapultepec Park and the city from every level.

Designed for Stability. Set in an area with a long history of significant seismic activity, skyscraper construction in Mexico City poses complicated engineering challenges. Because Torre Reforma is triangular in plan, the building has an inherent tendency to twist when subjected to lateral loads and wind, not to mention earthquake forces. Arup applied a comprehensive time-history analysis to establish the performance of the structure under extreme seismic conditions and engineered a solution that is both locally appropriate and consistent with international best-practice designs for tall buildings. Torre Reforma will be able to withstand the full range of earthquake activity projected for a period of 2,500 years.

Green Goals. In addition to its structural innovations, the building offers extensive sustainability features. Pre-certified as a LEED Platinum Core and Shell project, Torre Reforma has multiple water conservation systems, including rainwater collection and grey-and black-water recycling plants. A combination of automated and passive ventilation work moderates interior temperatures throughout the structure. The tower's two concrete walls also contribute to the energy efficiency of the building: unlike glass curtain walls, they reduce the cooling load by protecting the interior from direct sun without impacting the aesthetic views in the tenant spaces.

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CLINTON and Sustainability

Last week, we reviewed the RNC and their presidential candidate, Donald Trump, to see where he stood when it comes to sustainability and the environment. This week, it's the Democrats' turn as they hold their convention in Philadelphia.

Similar to what RNN did with Donald Trump last week, this week we are sharing quotes and coverage of Hillary Clinton, and her statements  and actions on the renewable energy policies, including the Production Tax Credit for wind energy. RNN in no way endorses or supports any candidates and provides this information so our readers can better asses the stances each candidate takes.

Send us your comments.  We will post a sustainable minute update on our 24/7 network amplifying on this post.

Hillary Clinton

Sec. Clinton: Trump Has “No Credible Plan” To Rebuild Infrastructure; “I’d Rather Spend Our Money On … Modernizing Our Energy Grid.” In a June 2016 speech in Columbus, Ohio, Sec. Clinton said of Donald Trump, “He has no credible plan for rebuilding our infrastructure, apart from the wall that he wants to build. Personally I’d rather spend our money on rebuilding our schools or modernizing our energy grid.” [Hillary Clinton, 6/21/16]

Sec. Clinton Unveiled Plans For Parks, Lands And Water, Including Renewable Energy Production On Federal Lands And Creating New Parks And Monuments. According to an article in E&E News, “A Hillary Clinton administration would increase tenfold renewable energy production from federal lands and waters; replace and expand the Land and Water Conservation Fund to address dilapidated infrastructure in national parks; and open up millions more acres for hunting, fishing and recreation. The front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president made those promises and more in a sweeping policy platform she unveiled today. Clinton's plan for conserving parks, lands and water also calls for increased federal investments in water conservation; reforming wildfire budgeting; providing incentives for farmers and ranchers to conserve habitat for at-risk wildlife; and ensuring new parks and monuments celebrate women, communities of color, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.” [E&E News, 6/1/16]

Sec. Clinton: I Want The U.S. To Be The “Clean Energy Superpower” Of The 21st Century. During an April 2016 MSNBC town hall, Sec. Clinton said, “We are … going to look at how we use clean renewable energy to create more jobs because we have to deal with that. And somebody is going to be the 21st century clean energy superpower. It's either going to be China, Germany or us. I want it to be us because there will be a lot of jobs, again, that have to be done right here in America.” [MSNBC, 4/25/16]

Sec. Clinton: Due To “Extraordinary Threats” Posed By Climate Change, My Record Is One Of Trying To End Oil Subsidies, Because We Need To Transition From Fossil Fuels To Clean Energy. During an April 14, 2016 Democratic primary debate in Brooklyn, NY, Sec. Clinton said, “We need to talk about this issue and we should talk about it in terms of the extraordinary threats that climate change pose to our country and our world. And that's why for the last many years, both in the Senate and as secretary of State, it's been a big part of my commitment to see what could be done. But there has never been any doubt that when I was a senator, I tried -- I joined with others to try to get rid of the subsidies for big oil. And I have proposed that again, because that's what I think needs to be done as we transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.” [Washington Post, 4/14/16]

Sec. Clinton: For “Economic And Environmental And Strategic Reasons,” U.S. Helped Countries That Were “Heavily Dependent On Coal And Oil” Use Natural Gas As A Bridge To Clean Energy; “We Want To Cross The Bridge As Quickly As Possible.” During an April 14, 2016 Democratic primary debate in Brooklyn, NY, Sec. Clinton said, “I don't think I've changed my view on what we need to do to go from where we are, where the world is heavily dependent on coal and  oil, but principally coal, to where we need to be, which is clean renewable energy, and one of the bridge fuels is natural gas. And so for both economic and environmental and strategic reasons, it was American policy to try to help countries get out from under the constant use of coal, building coal plants all the time, also to get out from under, especially if they were in Europe, the pressure from Russia, which has been incredibly intense. So we did say natural gas is a bridge. We want to cross that bridge as quickly as possible, because in order to deal with climate change, we have got to move as rapidly as we can. That's why I've set big goals. I want to see us deploy a half a billion more solar panels by the end of my first term and enough clean energy to provide electricity to every home in America within 10 years. So I have big, bold goals, but I know in order to get from where we are, where the world is still burning way too much coal, where the world is still too intimidated by countries and providers like Russia, we have got to make a very firm but decisive move in the direction of clean energy.” [Washington Post, 4/14/16]

Sec. Clinton Applauded The Obama Administration For Reversing Its Decision To Permit Drilling Off The Southeastern Atlantic Coast, Adding, “Time To Do The Next Right Thing And Protect The Arctic, Too.” On march 14, 2016, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration was “expected to withdraw its plan to permit oil and gas drilling off the southeast Atlantic coast … In January 2015, Mr. Obama drew the wrath of environmentalists and high praise from the oil industry and Southeastern governors after the Interior Department put forth a proposal that would have opened much of the southeastern Atlantic coast to offshore drilling for the first time. The proposal came after governors, state legislators and senators from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia all expressed support for the drilling. Lawmakers in the state capitals saw new drilling as creating jobs and bolstering state revenue.” Reacting to the news, Sec. Clinton tweeted, “Relieved Atlantic drilling is now off the table. Time to do the next right thing and protect the Arctic, too.” [@HillaryClinton Twitter, 3/15/16; New York Times, 3/14/16]

Sec. Clinton: “We Are Going To Move From Fossil Fuels To Clean Energy … In A Quick, But Thoughtful Way”; Banning Extraction On Public Lands Is A “Done Deal.” On February 4, 2016, Sec. Clinton had the following exchange with an audience member at a campaign event:

AUDIENCE MEMBER: With so much of the environmental community opposing fracking, how do you expect to win over young people’s vote if you still support fracking?

SEC. CLINTON: I have said repeatedly that we are going to move from fossil fuels to clean energy. We’re going to have to do it in a quick, but thoughtful way … What the government does have the authority to do is to impose
very strict regulations on the chemicals being used; closing the Halliburton loophole; on the methane release. There’s a lot we can do…

AUDIENCE MEMBER: But that doesn’t stop the CO2 from going into the atmosphere when we burn it.

SEC. CLINTON: We will get there, but I don’t want to mislead you and say I can ban it…

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Perhaps banning extraction on public lands?

SEC. CLINTON: Yeah, that’s a done deal.
[350 Action YouTube Channel, 2/4/16]

Sec. Clinton: I Want 500 Million Solar Panels, As Well As Enough Clean Energy To Power Every Home, In The Next Four Years. During the February 4, 2016 Democratic primary debate, Sec. Clinton said, “I think we've talked a lot tonight
about what we're against … I'm for a lot of things. I don't want to just stop bad things from happening, I want to start good things happening. I believe if I’m so fortunate to get the nomination I will begin to work immediately on putting together an agenda and begin to talk with members of congress and others about how we can push forward. I want to have half a billion more solar panels deployed in the first four years. I want to have enough clean energy to power every home in the next four years.” [Washington Post, 2/4/16]

Sec. Clinton, On Big Oil: “I Want To Take Away All Their Subsidies.” On February 3, 2016, CNN reporter Dan Merica  tweeted, “HRC asked about taking oil money: ‘They must have put it in the wrong envelope. I want to take away all their subsidies.’” [@DanMericaCNN Twitter, 2/3/16]

Sec. Clinton: Repairing “Faulty Water Control Infrastructure” Can Help “Deliver Affordable Reliable Electricity While Reducing Carbon Pollution.” On November 30, 2015, Sec. Clinton unveiled her infrastructure plan. The plan, in part, read, “Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the stark dangers posed by faulty water control infrastructure. And these public safety concerns are only intensified by the increasing threat of severe weather due to climate change. We need to substantially increase funding to inspect these structures, bring them into good repair, and remove them where appropriate. Our existing dams can also be a significant source of new clean energy generation, and Clinton will support efforts to increase dams’ capacity to deliver affordable and reliable electricity while reducing carbon pollution.” (Hillary Clinton Campaign Website, 11/30/15]

Sec. Clinton: A Clean Energy Future Means “Helping To Bring Solar And Energy Efficiency Technologies To More LowIncome Communities.” On November 9, 2015, Sec. Clinton received an endorsement from the League of Conservation Voters. During her remarks, she said, “I want to make sure every American shares in the benefits of a clean energy future. That means helping to bring solar and energy efficiency technologies to more low-income communities. I think this is something we don’t talk about enough … An African-American child is still 500 percent more likely to die of asthma than a white child, because they often live near power plants and other polluters, and they, unfortunately, often bear the consequences.” [PSB Satellite YouTube Channel, 11/9/15]

Sec. Clinton: Transitioning From Fossil Fuels To A Clean Energy Economy Can Create “Millions Of Good New Jobs And Businesses,” And Help Curb The Effects Of Climate Change. On November 5, 2015, Sec. Clinton appeared on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live. During the interview, she had the following exchange with the show’s host, Jimmy Kimmel: KIMMEL: I find it interesting that the vast majority of the [Republican] candidates, and people who are Republicans, believe that man-made climate change is a myth, or some sort of conspiracy designed to hurt our economy. Do you think that most people genuinely believe that, or are they towing the party line? SEC. CLINTON: “I think it’s both, Jimmy. I think some people do believe it. When you hear them say, as they often, do, “I’m not a scientist,” my response that that is, “Go talk to one, and maybe you could get some information that would enlighten you or educate you about the problems that climate change is confronting us with,” because it IS an existential crisis. I think some [candidates] are doing it because they have strong supporters, people who are maybe from the fossil fuel industry, for example, and they don’t want to cross them. So, they adopt that position, and whether they really believe it, or it’s just political opportunism, I can’t tell. But, the fact is, it’s hurting our country, and what I don’t understand is, there are huge economic opportunities here. If we were the clean energy superpower of the 21st century, we would create millions of new good jobs and businesses, and we would transition away from fossil fuels, and help the climate at the same time. [ABC, 11/5/15]

Sec. Clinton: My Energy Plan Invests In Clean Energy, R&D, And Will Create Jobs And Grow The Economy. During the October 13, 2015 Democratic primary debate, Sec. Clinton said, “I traveled across our country over the last months listening and learning, and I’ve put forward specific plans about how we're going to create more good paying jobs by investing in infrastructure and clean energy, by making it possible once again to invest in science and research and taking the opportunity posed by climate change to grow our economy.” [CNN Debate, 10/13/15]

Sec. Clinton: “Modernizing North American Energy Infrastructure” Meant Ensuring That The Federal Government Did Its Part To Make Clean And Affordable Energy “More Efficient And Effective.” In September 2015, Sec. Clinton released an energy plan for “modernizing North American energy infrastructure.” One of the plan’s pillars aimed to “unlock new investment sources.” Specifically, Sec. Clinton would “ensure the federal government is a partner in getting clean and
affordable energy to market by making the infrastructure review and permitting process more efficient and effective.” [Hillary Clinton, 9/23/15]

Sec. Clinton: “Modernizing North American Energy Infrastructure” Meant Focusing On “Coordinated Targets For Clean Energy And Cutting Carbon Pollution.” In September 2015, Sec. Clinton released an energy plan for “modernizing North American energy infrastructure.” One of the plan’s pillars aimed to “forge a North American climate compact.” Specifically, Sec. Clinton would “drive greater ambition in the global fight against climate change through coordinated targets for clean energy and cutting carbon pollution, internationally recognized reporting mechanisms, and a binding review process.” [Hillary Clinton, 9/23/15]

Sec. Clinton In 2015: “We Need To Continue The Production Tax Credits, We Need To Be Investing In … Wind.” During a July 2015 campaign stop in Iowa, Sec. Clinton said, “Iowa is making a transition but the rest of the country is not. And we need to change the tax incentives, we need to continue the production tax credits, we need to be investing in solar and wind and advanced biofuels, and yes, energy efficiency and there are millions of jobs if we do that right.” [KTVO, 7/7/15]

Sec. Clinton In 2007: “I Will Make The Production Tax Credit For Wind … Permanent.” In a November 2007 speech on energy and climate change in Iowa, Sec. Clinton said, “I will strongly support a renewable portfolio standard, with 25% of electricity coming from wind, solar, and other renewable sources by 2025. … As President, to help us reach 25% by 2025, I will make the production tax credit for wind and solar permanent. No more guessing what you're going to get as you move forward with your production.” [Council on Foreign Relations, 11/5/07]
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Scientists turn CO2 to stone in just two years: a solution for global warming?

Here's another look at carbon capture and storage.  We believe the R & D going into this technology will pay off.  We believe carbon capture will be part of our environmental remediation and will find a profit center as well.

Are we there yet?  No.  But partnerships like this one combing a geothermal site with experimenting with carbon storage will push us rapidly ahead.

Scientists turn CO2 to stone in just two years: a solution for global warming?

Researchers at the world's largest geothermal power plant have found a way to store carbon dioxide underground and turn it to rock.

Nature can turn carbon dioxide into rock, but it takes thousands upon thousands of years. Scientists in Iceland may have just figured out how to do it in less than two.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) holds enormous potential to slow climate change, taking carbon dioxide gas out of the atmosphere and storing it underground – in theory, anyway.

But efforts to turn theory into reality have faced huge technical challenges, not least concerns that the liquid carbon dioxide being pumped down into the Earth might leak back out.

In a radical new approach, described Thursday in the journal Science, scientists mix carbon dioxide with water and then inject the slurry into basaltic rock, where it solidifies into veins.

In essence, the researchers managed to turn carbon dioxide into stone – and quickly.

“The biggest surprise of the whole project was that the reaction between carbon dioxide and basaltic rock was really, really fast,” lead author Juerg Matter, an associate professor in geoengineering at the University of Southampton, England, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a telephone interview. “Over two years, 95 percent to 98 percent was mineralized.”

To put this in perspective, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in a 2005 report predicted that it would take between 100 to 1,000 years for this mineral carbonation to take place. Even at that rate, it acknowledged that CCS, which it described as “an immature technology,” holds significant appeal due to the “permanence of storage of CO2 in a stable solid form.”

“This is a great step forward in proving the practicality of the process,” says Robert Zierenberg, a geology professor at the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in the research, in a phone interview with the Monitor. “People knew it would work but didn’t know the timescale – whether it would be rapid enough to be useful.

“You need a large-scale project to prove that, and that’s exactly what they’ve done.”

It began at the biennial State of the Planet Conference held at Columbia University in New York, when Dr. Matter was still a professor at that institution. The event brings together world leaders, CEOs, scientists, and other influential thinkers to consider the planet's most urgent challenges.

One of the attendees was the president of Iceland. Matter had already started working with the idea of storing carbon dioxide in basaltic rock, which the island nation is built of. The two got to talking, and the project was born.

The formal collaboration began in 2007, when various universities partnered with the Hellisheidi power plant, the world’s largest geothermal energy installation.

Partnering with a geothermal energy plant means the deep boreholes, which are expensive to drill, are already in place. In addition, the power plant provides a source of carbon dioxide, pumping out 40,000 tons a year.

While this may seem something of a paradox, as geothermal is a "clean" energy, these emissions are only five percent of what an equivalent coal-fired plant would produce. And even this is at the high end for geothermal plants, many of which produce no emissions.

So, the scientists had the infrastructure, the carbon dioxide, and an enormous quantity of basalt.

In a 2012-2013 pilot project, christened Carbfix, they disposed of 250 tons of carbon dioxide, mixed with water and the other pollutant emitted by Hellisheidi, hydrogen sulfide. They sunk the cocktail 400 to 800 meters (a quarter mile to half a mile) below ground, where it began reacting with the minerals in the basalt and solidifying. Two years later, it had almost entirely turned to stone.

They immediately scaled up the project. In 2015, the energy company sequestered 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide, and they are on track to double that this year. Their eventual goal is to capture and sequester all their emissions in the same way.

“This is one of the most exciting aspects of the work for me: to have a partnership with industry,” says coauthor Martin Stute, an environmental science professor at Columbia University, in a phone interview with the Monitor. “They’ve actually upscaled this and are using it.”
Could this, then, be an answer to global warming?

We asked Jason Veysey, a senior scientist with the Stockholm Environment Institute who was not involved with this research. He notes that, of the IPCC's hundreds of climate models, almost all that illustrate pathways to a brighter future talk of CCS.

“This paper opens up a new reservoir for CCS which is potentially enormous,” says Mr. Veysey. “It represents the tip of the iceberg.”

A note of caution

Sequestering carbon dioxide in basalt may not be a silver bullet, as questions remain about how widely the technique can be applied.

Chief among the concerns is the amount of water required: about 25 tons for every ton of carbon dioxide turned to stone. As many fossil fuel-heavy areas also suffer water scarcity, notes Veysey, this could be problematic.

One solution could be the use of seawater, though salt water's efficacy remains untested, says Columbia's Dr. Stute.
The other major limitation is the availability of basalt. Only about 10 percent of continental rock is composed of this porous stone, though it accounts for almost all the seafloor. If seawater does prove to be effective, then coastal power plants could prove ideal hosts for the technique.
The final hurdle is cost.

“With our method, storage cost is about $17 per ton of carbon dioxide,” says Matter, “which is a little bit higher than traditional carbon dioxide injection – about $5 to $10.”
But, as the professor points out, because this pioneering method turns the carbon dioxide to stone, storing it in a permanent fashion, it eliminates costs associated with monitoring for leakage.
Additionally, he says, storage costs are dwarfed by the pricetag for the “capture” phase, which can cost up to $150 per ton of carbon dioxide.

This is also a nascent technology, so costs could fall as the methods are refined.
Nevertheless, as Matter says, the most popular disposal site for emissions remains free to power companies: the atmosphere.

As long as companies don't bear the direct costs for pollution, he worries, profit-seeking industries may not be willing to invest in CCS.

Hellisheidi's commitment to the new technology reflects Icelanders' willingness "to invest in the future," says UC Davis's Dr. Zierenberg, "and not just take a short-term approach to making profits."

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How cities are using the green economy to solve Europe’s employment crisis

This is a great story one we've been been telling for awhile.  The green economy is booming.  Cities are happy recipients of the many gains around building a brighter future.  Europe clearly needs the boast.

Now, how will this part of the financial picture be altered by Brexit?  England is already feeling the effects of electing to leave the EU.  Will their decision kill this part of Europe's success?  If so it will not leave many jobs around.

How cities are using the green economy to solve Europe’s employment crisis

Green Week opens today with a focus on greener cities: how can we make our cities more sustainable and liveable, asks Anna Lisa Boni.

Anna Lisa Boni is the secretary-general of EUROCITIES, the network of major European cities.

Europe is in the midst of an employment crisis. Many, and especially the most vulnerable people in our societies, are finding it extremely difficult to find jobs. The green sector, meanwhile, is among Europe’s most promising in terms of economic development. It has continued to grow despite the financial crisis and is expected to generate 20 million new jobs by 2020.

In February this year, mayors of major European cities met European Commissioners Marianne Thyssen and Elżbieta Bieńkowska to discuss the crucial role cities play in addressing the employment crisis. They called for better partnerships between the EU institutions, member states and cities to deliver policies that work for people on the ground. Reiterating the messages of the EUROCITIES Declaration on Work, they emphasised the potential of integrated service delivery and tools such as public procurement to build more inclusive labour markets.

The job creation potential of the green economy brings with it opportunities to reduce poverty. Yet the importance of connecting vulnerable groups to skills in growing economies, including the green sector, is often overlooked. Examples from our cities demonstrate that well-designed local authority programmes that support people in gaining green skills increase the chances of finding work even for those furthest away from the labour market.

Cities achieve this through a variety of means. Successful programmes provide tailored, individual support to meet the specific needs, capacities and interests of each participant. Since city administrations have intimate knowledge of local companies and market demands, they ensure that the training provided is linked to employment opportunities in the local economy. Glasgow’s ‘Green Wardens’ scheme is a traineeship programme within the city council providing long-term unemployed people with an opportunity to gain work experience on various greening and sustainability projects. Since the green economy is continuously growing in the area, the scheme gives people a chance to take advantage of these new opportunities.

In addition to training, vulnerable people need a chance to gain real work experience to enable them to compete in the mainstream labour market. For this, cities create programmes with work placements and some use public procurement to create employment opportunities for disadvantaged people. In Rennes Metropole public procurement was used to set up a ‘back to work’ programme for people who face barriers to employment within a company that is responsible for the collection and recycling of city waste, and carries out a range of other awareness-raising and recycling improvement activities that make the city greener. We welcome the fact that the new EU directives on procurement provide a good framework for promoting social responsibility through public contracts.

Cities are strategically placed to promote partnerships between various private and non-profit organisations. This ensures that the right knowledge and expertise is brought to the table, increasing the effectiveness of programmes. For instance, Antwerp’s EcoHouse works with a social economy association to organise work experience placements and training for people with low qualifications and the long-term unemployed. They perform energy audits and energy saving advice services for low income households. To reach those households, EcoHouse works with welfare, housing, education, migrant and community organisations across the city.

Cities see the green economy as an opportunity to tackle some of Europe’s major societal and environmental challenges. Green jobs are not easily outsourced and as such tend to stay local.

Investing in skills for this growing sector is important to avoid future shortfalls. Providing vulnerable people with skills for jobs in the growing green economy is a sustainable route out of poverty and can eventually lead to the creation of inclusive labour markets, but as shown above, unlocking this potential needs well-designed public intervention.

With the European Commission set to launch its New Skills Agenda for Europe, we believe strong involvement from European cities is crucial for the success of this major initiative aimed at promoting skills development, supporting vocational training and higher education, and maximising the potential of digital jobs.

It is fitting that today also marks the launch of the Pact of Amsterdam, establishing an urban agenda for the EU. We hope this new framework will enable greater involvement of cities in EU policy making and better coordination of policies with an urban dimension.

A partnership on jobs and skills in the local economy would enable the EU institutions, member states and cities to work together to deliver results faster for those that need them most. We will be discussing how this partnership could take shape together with the EU institutions, social partners and stakeholders at an event in Rotterdam on 21 September: ‘Skilling up for jobs and cities: making the most of the urban agenda for the EU’.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Plan for Turning Down Manufactured Ocean Sounds

Orcas near southeast Alaska, including a breaching calf. Credit Flip Nicklin/Minden Pictures

The ocean is loud: Ship propellers, sonar, oil and gas drilling and other industrial work make sounds, even if, like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, no one can hear it.
But marine animals can, and all that noise has been shown to interfere with their behavior, since many of them, from whales to invertebrates, use sound for all kinds of activities, including to communicate, to find food or each other, to avoid predators and to migrate.

Various tools for exploring potential oil and gas deposits — a seismic air gun and an echo sounder — making noise underwater. John Hildebrand, Scripps Institution of Oceanography.And while the ocean was never a quiet place — full of natural rumblings, clickings and chatterings — the problem has grown worse over the last 100 years or so, and significantly increased over the last 50 years in some places, much of it from commercial shipping, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.So the agency, which manages and protects marine life in United States waters, released on Wednesday a draft for a strategy to reduce the effects of ocean noise, and invited public comment.

At this point, the oceanic administration’s road map includes more research on the cumulative effects of noise on ocean animals, and outreach to other governmental, military, environmental and industry groups. The administration, the Navy and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management have commissioned the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a review of the cumulative effects of sound on marine mammals, and the administration has already started to reduce its own impact by using quieter research vessels.
While the agency has been collecting information on ocean noise and its effects on certain species for several years, the full range on marine animals is not completely understood, though the symptoms are often striking.

Sea mammals, in particular, have evolved to take advantage of how well and far sound can travel under water, and to compensate for poor visibility in the dark deep. Whales and dolphins have extraordinary hearing and the ability to communicate in widely varying voices.

But sound produced by human activity can get in the way. In the waters off Massachusetts, oceanic scientists have observed that many whales no longer seem to register the sounds of ships, said Richard Merrick, the chief scientist for the oceanic administration’s fisheries service. They don’t necessarily associate the sounds of ships with danger, he said, so they don’t always move out of the way.

Greeting calls among North Atlantic right whales, an endangered species off the East Coast, with a declining population now at about 500, according to Michael Jasny of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Christopher Clark, Cornell Bioacoustics Research Program
Elsewhere, other species of whales, he said, “just shut up” when ships pass by, in part because many species communicate using sounds in the same range of frequency as the noise produced by ship engines.

And some studies have demonstrated that cod and haddock populations in the Atlantic, both of which are considered or are becoming overfished, can hear and also avoid low-frequency sounds, though it’s not clear what the effects might be on their behavior, said Jason Gedamke, an acoustics expert with the oceanic administration and a lead author of the road map. Cod, in particular, also make lots of noise when they spawn, but the implications of human sound on that behavior isn’t fully known, either, Dr. Gedamke said.The sound of a sonar system on the U.S.S. Shoup, a Navy destroyer traveling through the Haro Strait between Washington and Canada. Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research.

Michael Jasny, the director of the marine mammal protection project for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the plan marked a big change in how the oceanic administration sees ocean noise: as a problem that needs to be addressed more broadly instead of case by case.
Mr. Jasny added that he was disappointed that the announcement lacked a concrete plan or a schedule for being carried out.

But unlike other ocean pollutants, this problem can be solved, he said: “Once you stop making noise, it goes away.”