Climate scientists proven right! Unfortunately!

Predictions about the consequences of climate change are constantly met with accusations from climate change deniers. They throw out stuff such as:  “You guys just want to get government money; You just love being prophets of doom and gloom;” and, ” So what! We could use warmer temperatures around here.”

Who wants to be right?

Well, unfortunately one of the gloomier predictions for climate change is playing out right now in Siberia, and no climate scientists are jumping up and down in gleeful bliss because they are right. Nobody wants to be proved right with these predictions.

Heating faster

Meteorologist Eric Holthaus reports today in Pacific Standard magazine  that an anthrax outbreak in Siberia is caused by a bacteria released with the thawing of the permafrost. The scary thing is, although climate scientists predicted this event, the release happened much sooner than predicted because of the accelerated heating of the Arctic.

Scientists are now saying that because the surface heating of the Arctic is occurring so rapidly, massive thawing of the permafrost could release all sorts of disease-causing bacteria.

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Arctic Surface Temperature Courtesy: Pacific Standard

This is serious stuff. So what’s the lead story on the major news services this morning? The Olympics. and specifically focused on tonight’s opening ceremonies—”All the latest on the ‘sexiest’ opening ceremony in the history of the Games.”

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Ready for opening ceremonies Courtesy: Reuters

Definitely not sexy

Meanwhile, according to the CBC, Rio is suffering with people living in abject poverty, “its basic services plagued by polluted waters, open sewers and unmanageable traffic.

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Homeless child Rio Courtesy: Google

 

What’s it going to take for the human race to adequately address climate change? We can’t even address the more obvious problems like poverty and pollution that we currently face. We’ll spend money on circuses like the Olympics but not on real change.

Trust us, you’ll be better off

When Rio originally bid for the games, their emphasis was on all the real changes that could come for the poor in that city. Now, not only have they spent more money than the original problems required, but the money has not gone on improvements for the poor—it’s benefiting only the wealthy. The poor lose again.

The poor make a great excuse

So why do we humans have a problem dealing with reality? We say we can’t deal with climate change because it’s too abstract. Guess what—anthrax is not abstract. Additionally, one of the arguments against doing anything about climate change is that the cost will hurt the poor disproportionately. Somehow there’s a double standard here. We don’t seem to mind hurting the poor for something like the Olympics that only benefits a few, but when it comes to climate change, which will hurts us all, the critics suddenly develop a huge concern for the poor.

Technological breakthrough?

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Technology—only good when we know the owner?

Scientists have made a major breakthrough that could influence many aspects of renewables. Researchers from the University of California have developed a battery with a lifetime of more than 200,000 charging cyclces. Current batteries (no pun intended) usually fail after about 7,000 charging cycles.

Just the details

The breakthrough battery uses nanowire terminals, which have high conductivity and greater surface area. Nanowires have previously been used in batteries, but unfortunately the nanowire terminals crack with repeated charging. The researchers created a nanowire electrode with a manganese oxide shell and placed it in a Plexiglass-like gel electrolyte sheathing. The gel prevents cracking: they tested the gel through 200,000 charging cycles and it didn’t crack.

How does this help renewables?

Imagine the uses of this battery— electric vehicles with no battery replacements. This could also be a breakthrough for other forms of renewable energy. These batteries could make energy storage for intermittent renewable energy sources such as solar, much more practical.

Who knows if this discovery can become a practical solution? However, it makes me think that other discoveries are possible, and either this one or others could be a big breakthrough for renewables. I’ve talked about this before. Many people say that climate change is going to be solved by technology. In referring to technology, they often refer to climate engineering.

Can we trust technology to mitigate climate change?

Climate engineering brings a lot of concerns. One suggested method is to mange the amount of solar radiation—this idea is scary to say the least. First of all, the history of out management of many of the earth’s resources is terrible. Plus, if we start playing around with the amount of solar radiation reaching the earth, we could easily mess up the energy requirements for our food supply. Most of our resource management attempts have not ended well. Maybe our best technology to mitigate the effects of climate change is renewables. However, I think I’ll examine climate engineering in a future blog.

Why do we fear renewables?

Why would we consider a risky, possibly devastating approach such as climate engineering when we have trouble managing the “so-called” economic risk of switching to renewables? Even the most conservative step towards renewables receives considerable opposition. Is it because climate engineering doesn’t threaten fossil fuels, but renewables do? What is the process that translates threats to fossil fuels into distrust of renewables and attacks on them?

What do you call a massive solar energy spill?

Renewables, in addition to offering a chance to mitigate the effects of climate change, offer solutions to other critical problems of pollution and resource use. Renewables do not threaten the environment in the same way that fossil fuels do. Like the old joke,” Question: What do you call a massive, solar energy spill? Answer: A sunny day.”  We all know what happens with pipeline spills, and oil or gas well blowouts. Sunny they are not!

Has the time for renewables arrived in Canada?

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DeSmog this week reported that the new federal and provincial policies are making it possible for Canada to “massively increase the amount of energy the country gets from renewable sources,” according to Clean Energy Canada.

An exciting time

Dan Woynillowicz, policy director at Clean Energy Canada, pointed out that Canada is in a great position because 80 percent of all Canadian electricity comes from non-Green House gas emitting sources. Some is from nuclear power while 75 percent is from hydroelectricity. However, both of these sources do present their own problems. Because our electricity grid is relatively clean (in the U.S., fossil fuels produce nearly 70 percent of the electricity), we have a different challenge.

The Canadian challenge

According to Woynillowicz, we have sectors that are extremely based on fossil fuels and renewables make up practically nothing in their energy mix. These sectors include transportation and home heating (a big sector in Canada). So Canada’s challenge is to get the electricity production up to 100 percent renewables, and then use that electricity to help the other areas switch to renewables.

More good news

Other good news also predicts a shift in the Canadian energy balance:

  • Even with low oil prices, 2015 was Canada’s second best year for renewable energy investments
  • Our installed renewables energy capacity increased by four percent.
  • The federal government is providing a platform for the provinces and territories to talk about the energy challenges
  • In the U.S., solar prices have dropped 80 percent over the last six years with a 60 percent drop in wind prices at the same time.
Ouch! That’s expensive

While renewable prices continue to drop, the cost of massive hydroelectric projects such as site C tend to escalate. According to Desmog, eight of the last ten global hydro projects have exceeded their budgets. The budgets of nuclear plant refurbishments in Ontario are staggering: $12.8 billion for Darlington and $13 billion for Bruce.

According to the Clean Air Alliance, past cost overruns for nuclear projects in Ontario have been on average about 2  to 2.5 times the original estimates, which would boost Darlington to more than $24 billion.

The bad and the bad

I’ve already discussed in my last two blogs why the assumption that hydroelectric power is a renewable is iffy. Meanwhile, the rush job on Site C continues. DeSmog reports that B.C. Hydro lawyers have told Peace Valley farmers and outspoken critics of site C, Ken and Arlene Boon, to vacate their third-generation farm by the end of this year. The dam is not scheduled to flood their land before 2024. Interestingly, B.C. Hydro has decided to reroute the present highway right through their farm buildings and home. You’re free to draw your own conclusions from this.

What’s renewable?

Pardon the diversion, but I wanted to draw attention to a problem: We need a redefinition of what energy sources qualify as renewables. Certainly the land that is being flooded by the Site C dam will no longer be renewable nor can the farms that are on that land be replaced. On the other hand, geothermal has a minimal effect on land use and according to the Canadian Geothermal Association ( CanGEA) is available in sufficient potential to handle the future electrical needs of B.C.

Investigate. Who me?

Ironically, 31 years ago when the Site C dam was rejected for the first time, B.C. Hydro was instructed to investigate the potential of geothermal. Since then B.C. Hydro has carried out minimal and limited investigations on geothermal. How do they get away with it? They ignore a specific instruction and are rewarded with what they wanted anyway.

Fracking + Site C = Costly F**k*p

 

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River Summer, 5, looks at the sludge left by a landslide on Brenot Creek. He can no longer play in the creek after the landslide leaked toxic metals into the water. Courtesy Darcy Summer

Much has been made about using natural gas as a transition energy source between “dirty” sources such as coal and renewable energy. The suppliers of natural gas want you to forget these two features:

  • Although natural gas burns cleaner than most fossil fuels, it is still a fossil fuel and produces green house gases
  • One reason that natural gas is getting cheaper is due to its increased supply. The increased supply is mainly due to fracking and this brings its own set of problems that the industry would rather deny than confront.
Hushed up landslide

DESMOG Canada reports that a series of landslides has been followed by toxic heavy metals such as barium, cadmium, lithium, and lead flowing into the Peace River. These unexplained landslides began almost two years ago in August, 2014. These landslides have killed fish along several kilometres of Brenot and Lynx creeks near Hudson’s Hope, B.C. No one has been able to explain the cause of these landslides.

Fracking and earthquakes

Fracking operations in the area began around 2008 as near as I can discover. A dozen earthquakes (between magnitude 1.6 and 3.4) occurred about 8 km from the two creeks between July 2010 and March 2013. The last of these occurred on March 7, 2013. Incidentally, on March 29, 2016 the Globe and Mail reported a study, which confirmed the link between fracking and earthquakes in Western Canada.

The causes of the landslides have not been determined, but there are many suspicions that they are related to the fracking operations due to the fractures that are created in the underground rock formations.

Nothing can go wrong ………nothing can go wrong

By the time of the March 7 earthquake, Talisman Energy suspected that wastewater was leaking from one of their huge “retention ponds” that store waste water from fracking operations. This wastewater is highly contaminated although it’s difficult to know what the exact contaminant is because the drilling companies aren’t required to reveal the makeup of the water they use in fracking.

Water still runs downhill

An investigation, paid for by Talisman, determined that contaminated water was escaping from between the double liners that were used to prevent the pond’s contaminated water from polluting the surrounding ground and water. Later, Talisman discovered that another pond had also been leaking toxic wastewater. No direct connection to the pollution entering the two creeks has been found because of lack of information about the water movement underground. However, Matrix, the environmental engineering firm conducting the investigation, noted that, “the release of toxic metals into the environment was predictable.” Matrix went on to say that although the flow direction wasn’t documented, groundwater generally moves downhill. Guess where the creeks are.

We have no proof, but we know what happened

The Oil and Gas Commission’s hydrologist concluded the landslide was natural and that the contaminants were commonly found in the surrounding soils. Unfortunately, although the B.C. Ministry of Environment said they would file a report, they had no plans for further studies.

Now add Site C to the mix and stir

Another troubling side to this story is that this area is part of the land that will be flooded by the Site C project. Hydroelectric reservoirs have a history of inducing earthquakes and land slides. The Three Gorges Dam recorded more than 3,400 earthquakes between the time it started to fill in 2003 and the end of 2009. That number was 30 times greater than before the reservoir started filling.

Why doesn’t the B.C. government want answers?

This story deserves more study because of the questions it raises about both fracking and the Site C dam. Why is the BC government pushing full steam ahead to get to a point of no return before any studies can be completed?

C is for costly

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BC Hydro’s devastation of the forests at Site C courtesy of Ken & Arlene Boon

One reason that environmental groups protest the development of large fossil fuel projects such as pipelines is that huge amounts of resources are channelled into an industry that threatens our existence. Additionally, these same projects stop resources from going to the renewable energy projects that promise a future for us.

Politics can make strange badfellows

An example of this resource diversion happened last week, but it had a strange twist. Instead of the resources being diverted to a fossil fuel project, the culprit is a hydroelectric project, the Site C dam proposed for the Peace River in British Columbia. Strangely, hydropower is being identified as being anti-renewable energy. What?!

Dark shadows

According to the Globe and Mail’s, Wendy Stueck, two proposed B.C. wind farm proposals were halted because of the Site C dam. Apparently the reasons is that Site C means that B.C. hydro isn’t interested in getting power from these wind projects. “Site C is casting a terribly dark shadow over the renewable sector in B.C,” says Vancouver energy lawyer David Austin. “Site C absolutely pushes out otherwise good, major wind projects—there’s no demand for them.”

Hydropower is a badfellow?

So what happened with hydropower? I’ve always considered it to be renewable energy. With a bit of digging, I’ve discovered that, although hydropower is renewable, its greenness is questionable.

The problem starts with the dam. Engineers design a dam to stop the flow of water and that’s the problem. Here’s what happens when you stop the water flow:

  • The water is displaced and floods a huge area of land. The extent of the damage depends on what the current land use is, but the land’s ecosystem is always damaged.
  • The river’s ecosystem is also damaged. Fish have trouble going upstream for spawning and fish ladders have had minimal success. The dam affects wildlife in many other ways as well.
  • The reservoir concentrates pollution such as chemicals, fertilizer runoff, and trash.
  • The trapped water behind the dam stagnates and becomes oxygen depleted. Consequently, the decomposition of organic material becomes anaerobic and produces carbon dioxide and methane—green house gases. It’s not a large amount.
  • Droughts from lack of rain and glacier reduction are reducing the water level of reservoirs behind dams and decreasing the amount of potential hydropower. Lake Mead behind Hoover dam is a good example. The power capacity of the dam has dropped 25 percent since 2000.  In California, the available hydropower has fallen by 60 percent in four years.If this trend continues, hydropower may no longer be renewable. Climate scientists claim this could happen as climate change gains momentum.
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What’s lost is lost

Rush it before they can change it

Meanwhile, the B.C. government has rushed the Site C project to approval in spite of the potential social and environmental costs; additionally, many critics have questioned the need for the extra power from the dam. According to Desmog, Premier Christy Clark “has vowed to get it past the ‘point of no return’.” This rush is proceeding in spite of ongoing court cases against the project. Also in doing so, the government has ignored the objections of First Nations people.

C is for costly

Currently, the estimated cost of the project is $8.8 billion, the most expensive public project in B.C. ever. The estimate in November of 2014 was 7.9 billion. Many projects of this size have been completed at double the original estimate and with an increase of $0.9 billion in less than two years, this project could end up following that pattern.This cost overrun is entirely possible given the seven year construction phase.

So we have a costly project driven by proponents who have downplayed any alternatives driving out renewables. It’s just what we needed for our future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The amazing flight (or not) of the Solar Impulse 2

 

 

Hawaii, USA, March 27th 2016: Solar Impulse 2 undertakes a maintenance flight performed by the test pilot Markus Scherdel in Hawaii before the First Round-the-World Solar flights resumes late April 2016. Departed from Abu Dhabi on march 9th 2015, the Round-the-World Solar Flight will take 500 flight hours and cover 35’000 km. Swiss founders and pilots, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg hope to demonstrate how pioneering spirit, innovation and clean technologies can change the world. The duo will take turns flying Solar Impulse 2, changing at each stop and will fly over the Arabian Sea, to India, to Myanmar, to China, across the Pacific Ocean, to the United States, over the Atlantic Ocean to Southern Europe or Northern Africa before finishing the journey by returning to the initial departure point. Landings will be made every few days to switch pilots and organize public events for governments, schools and universities.

The epic journey of the Solar Impulse continued Saturday night with its landing in Silicon Valley after a 62-hour flight from Hawaii. Think of it! 3857 km over the Pacific Ocean with no fuel on board! One reaction on the CBC website was, “13 months to go half way around the world Ancient (sic) clipper ships were just as fast, with far greater load carrying capacity.” That reaction was not isolated How do you explain them? Jaded? Cynical? Vested interests? Professional trolls? Ignorance?

Is it the beginning or the end?

In 1903, the Wright brothers flew 852 feet in a 59 second flight. In 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. In 66 years, we went from a flight about the length of 4 clipper ships (end to end) to a space flight of 740,600 km to the moon and back. Since then, many experts agree that the growth of technological innovation has become exponential. Besides, the mission of this flight is to “inspire new technologies to make our world more energy efficient.” Over and over the critics of renewables purposely misrepresent the goals of renewable energy products.

Rich guys getting subsidies

Just mention government incentives for buying electric vehicles (ev) and you will be immediately bombarded by complaints about “rich guys being subsidized to buy expensive electric cars. Naturally, the surest trigger is the announcement of a subsidized electric luxury car. Most governments need to work on that one. However, critics draw attention to the incentive by distorting the purpose of the subsidy. Governments offer subsidies for electric cars to reduce the pollution and green house gases emissions of the internal combustion engine (ice).

Mission of the Solar Impact

Let’s get back to the Solar Impulse 2 and its mission. Imagine an airship, inspired by the zeppelins, but using helium instead of hydrogen for its lifting power. The forward motion could be provided by electric motors powered by solar energy. These airships could be used for the lower-cost delivery of goods and services that are not as time-dependent as aircraft cargo.

An airship of this type could be used to supply remote regions because it wouldn’t need landing strips and could operate at lower costs. A prototype, the Aeroscraft, has been built although the forward power is provided by fossil fuels; however, a solar-powered zeppelin has been built in France.

Uncertain future visions

Renewables can revolutionize the way that we think about and consume energy. And much more! Assuming that renewable energy is simply going to fit into our present technology and do exactly what we’ve always been doing is to ignore history. The 1960s weren’t just the 1950s plus television; the ‘60s were the 1950s plus all the societal changes for which television was probably the greatest influence.

The future visions of the 1950s included cars that could fly or turn into boats and other extensions of the ’50s mind set. Those visions didn’t include the electronic breakthroughs, which have produced the present, chip-based technology. What unknowns will renewables bring us that could bypass many of the handicaps we see now?

 

Killing the electric car Part 2

Recap

Previously on Who Killed the Electric Car, the electric car (ev) was killed by batteries, the U.S. Government, the California Government, auto manufacturers, GM, hype over the hydrogen fuel cell, and last, but definitely not least, the oil industry. The ev was not only killed: it was crushed and destroyed! The allegation, that stakes were driven through their batteries, is merely an unfounded rumour.

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Dead EVs

 

The old cast

  • Oil industry—Just like today, they feared a reduced demand for their product and used questionable tactics to eliminate alternatives.
  • Auto manufacturers—Sued the California government over its zero emissions vehicle (ZEV) legislation.
  • U.S. Government— Joined the auto manufacturers in their suit against California’s ZEV bill.
  • GM—Killed it to focus on more profitable vehicle lines such as trucks, Hummer, and SUVs.
  • Hydrogen Fuel cell—Hype about it was used to provide an alternative to the ev threat.
  • Batteries—Manufacturers were discouraged to release information about improved battery ranges.
  • California Government—Caved to pressure to reduce the ZEV legislation.

The sequel?

Just when the fossil fuel companies think they killed the ev—dead, it resurfaces

The sequel cast

The resurgence of the ev has triggered negative responses from several repeat players, some of whom have attempted to rebrand themselves.

Oil industry aka fossil fuel companies

One return to note is the oil industry, which is now more commonly referred to as the fossil fuel industry. This past February, the Huffington Post reported that the Koch Brothers are plotting a multimillion-dollar assault on evs. The article goes on to say that the Kochs are involved in setting up a new group that is expected to push a pro-petroleum transportation message. The article quotes an unnamed industry (petroleum) source who speculates that the group is worried about state and community subsidies for evs.

Other players

Other players arise to question aspects of the electric car, which include factors that they never seem to question unless the electric car is involved.

Clean electricity—not dirty cars

Critics of evs question the greenness of the ev if the source of the electricity is not green especially if it’s coal. They’re aiming at the wrong target—target the electricity source, not the ev and push for clean electricity. Also, even with coal as a part of the U.S. electrical grid, the ev’s emissions are still less, because of the superior efficiency of the electric motor (80 percent) energy conversion compared to that of the internal combustion engine (20 percent).

Furthermore, it’s much easier to introduce improved emissions controls on a few power plants than on thousands or perhaps millions of vehicles.

Clean mining and recycling —not dirty mining

Critics who have never breathed a word of objection to dirty mining process around the world are now slamming evs because the mining process for some of the battery components is dirty. So clean up the mining process—don’t kill the ev! The batteries can be recycled and more research can lead to more effective recycling. More research could yield cleaner storage.

If the objections from these other players are sincere, then I expect we can see increased pressure to get rid of coal-fired electrical generation and to clean up dirty mining practices around the world.

Can renewables save us from climate change?

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Not a Wind Turbine in sight!

No matter the source of renewable energy, there are always objections. Some are legitimate, but many seem questionable. I’ve noticed, when renewables are compared to the existing energy sources, people downplay the negatives of the current sources and build up those of the renewables. I’m sure much of this is our comfort with the familiar—the tested and the true even though we often test nothing and unquestioningly embrace “the true”. We humans have always been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the next century.

 And climate change in the 21st?

It seems different this time. We’re beginning to feel the effects of climate change, but we have the most powerful accesses to knowledge so why do we resist the next step? We’re eager to accept—in fact we can’t seem to wait for—the latest version of smart phone technology, but we’re content to use basic 19th century technologies for transportation and electricity!

 Can renewables be dangerous?

A stock answer to the threat of climate change is that, science and technology will save us. Within this answer, few consider that maybe—just maybe—science and technology will save us with renewables such as solar, geothermal, or wind power! The renewable technologies (results of science) seldom receive attention.

I just read an article, “The Environmentalist Case Against 100% Renewable Energy Plans“. The article warns against going 100% renewable because solar and wind even with storage can’t replace all of the fossil fuel supply. Then, with absolutely no mention of geothermal and with a questionable use of the term “monoculture” applied to renewable energy rather than ecology, the author pushes nuclear power. Maybe the author is right about nuclear, but I question his motives about not mentioning geothermal although it was included in a chart showing capacity factors for select fuels and technologies. The chart shows geothermal’s capacity factor to be second only to nuclear. But he doesn’t reference geothermal in his text—not once! What is his agenda?

Wind turbines—birds number-one enemy?

Here’s one example of how we selectively obsess on the so-called weaknesses of a renewable. Inevitably, any discussion about wind power will get around to the thousands of birds killed by wind turbines, usually from people that have never shown any previous interest in birds. No one seems to look at any updated information regarding bird deaths. Some of the earlier wind turbine placements contributed to stories of huge bird kills were mistakenly in migration paths, higher turbine towers place the blades above the birds’ flight paths, and the slower-moving blades give the birds a chance to evade them. A study from the University of Singapore found that wind turbines kill the least amount of birds compared to other methods of power generation. Wind turbines account for about 0.3 birds per GWh (about 7,000 for the U.S. in 2006) while nuclear plants kill 0.4 per GWh and fossil-fuelled power plants kill 5.2, which is more than 10 times the amount for wind turbines.

Other bird killers

Bird deaths due to some non-power producing facilities are even higher. The fatality total from collision with windows for the 10 states with the most wind power in 2006 was between 97 to 976 million. Pesticides kill 72 million, and cats, another 10 million. On top of that communication towers and power pylons kill millions. How much discussion is there about those hazards? As I said before, we underestimate the danger of things we are familiar with and demonize the unknown.

Rush to judgement

This is just one of the many objections to wind turbines. Others include health concerns mainly from people who seem oblivious tot the health hazards of burning fossil fuels, aesthetic concerns that don’t seem to apply to power pylons and cell phone towers, and concerns about land use for an industry that leaves 95 percent of the surrounding land for other compatible uses compared to blowing the tops off mountains for coal in Appalachia.

Can geothermal energy save us?

 

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Combined geothermal heat and power plant Sauerlach, Germany

I’ve examined three areas of concern for geothermal energy and here’s what I’ve concluded.

Earthquakes

Geothermal activity can induce small earthquakes, but this seismic activity has never caused any damage nor impeded any geothermal power project in the U.S. In fact, most of these seismic events were so weak that they couldn’t be detected without a seismometer. This was over a period of almost 100 years. The first power plant using geothermal power to produce electricity was developed in 1921, although the first large-scale plant wasn’t built until 1960.

Often geothermal energy is most accessible where the  risk of earthquake activity is higher to begin with. However, siting the plants further from fault lines can help. If a plant is located near heavily populated areas, constant monitoring along with good communication is absolutely necessary.

Gas emissions

A closed-loop power recovery system such as the binary process releases no gases into the atmosphere; therefore, emissions would be minimal. Even the open-loop plants have minimal emissions compared to other forms of electricity production. Scrubbers could be added to current open-loop systems to remove emissions such as mercury.

Effluent lagoons

There has been no known contamination of ground water from any geothermal sites in the U.S. and the new closed-loop processes result in minimal seepage. Also as far as fresh water usage is concerned, some water is used in replacing a small amount of steam loss. Fortunately, this injection process doesn’t require clean fresh water.

The verdict for geothermal—Yes!

Overall the balance sheet for geothermal is extremely favourable especially when compared to fossil fuel extraction and use. This becomes clearly evident when you realize that geothermal energy releases a minimal amount of green house gases (GHG).

The best thing about geothermal is that it has the same base load qualities as the fossil fuels. This quality doesn’t apply to any other renewable energy sources. According to Renewable Energy World.com, Geothermal energy is available 24 hours per day regardless of external conditions plus the output can be synchronized with the grid demands.

Current global status of geothermal energy

According to Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st century (REN21), in 2014 the global capacity was almost 12.8 GW. However, although 94 countries have been identified with geothermal resources, only 24 are producing geothermal electricity (Six percent of estimated global potential). Unfortunately, Canada is not one of the 24!

Why is geothermal only at six percent of its potential?

One of the main reasons is the cost of development. Drilling can contribute 34 to 40 percent of the cost: one well can cost between $1 million to $7 million. The International Finance Corporation funded a study to analyze the risks associated with geothermal drilling. The study found that on average the success rate for geothermal wells in the early stage has been around 50-60 percent.

There is good news for geothermal. In the past financial investment such as commercial debt have been unavailable in the early stage of geothermal development because of the high risk. Exploration can account for up to 15 percent of the capital cost of a geothermal project. Fortunately, according to Renewable Energy World, funds for the early development stages are beginning to increase, especially in the public sector.

Extra funding barrier in Canada

To make matters worse for geothermal development in Canada, a funding problem is created because of sloppiness with the term geothermal. The current federal renewable energy program doesn’t treat heat pump systems (geo-exchange) separately from the direct use of geothermal heat. The Accelerated Capital Cost Allowance (ACCA) technical class guide states that a geothermal heat system must have a heat pump. Consequently, a direct-use, geothermal system is ineligible because it doesn’t use a heat pump. This is ridiculous! Sloppy language eliminates the authentic, geothermal energy use while the geo-exchange qualifies! This bureaucratic obstruction is exactly why I stressed the need to use accurate terminology for heat pump systems!

 

 

Can effluent lagoons sink geothermal?

Before I discuss the third concern about geothermal, I want to draw your attention to two temperature milestones that were announced this week.

Ominous milestones!
  1. The Guardian announced that NASA stated the February 2016 increase in average, global surface temperature broke the previous record by an unbelievable margin of 0.21C. This  increase of average global temperature—1.35C—broke the previous record of 1.15C set in January 2016 (This January!).
  2. Treehugger revealed that NASA declared 2015 the hottest year since records began 136 years ago.
Relief from geothermal?
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Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Now back to geothermal and it’s promise to help in reducing carbon emissions to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Geothermal effluent

Another downside of geothermal that I’ve seen is one that (pardon the pun) surfaced in Iceland—effluent water lagoons. This is in Iceland, the paragon of all virtues that are geothermal! While lagoons may convey an image of tropical paradise, the reality is not pretty. Unfortunately, again at Hellisheiði, there have been side effects from geothermal energy production. Two effluent lagoons (not in the original plan) appeared. These lagoons resulted from wastewater that had leaked out onto the surface because of geothermal pumping.  This waste water can contain heavy concentrations of heavy metals plus other toxic elements.

And the Blue Lagoon?

On the other hand, one of the effluent lagoons has become a huge tourist magnet—The Blue Lagoon. At the Blue Lagoon, the biggest complain is that the silica in the water dry out your hair and make it brittle. People claim that the water from the Blue Lagoon is a natural treatment for psoriasis.

Solution to the problem

However, the effluent problem is easy to eliminate and its presence indicates that the developers are not exercising due diligence. As with any industry, regulation and enforcement is still necessary despite the push of many right-wingers to eliminate both of these. The solution to the lagoon problem is simply to reinject the geothermal water. The closed binary system eliminates this problem as does the GTherm process that I described last week.

Other Geothermal concerns

Here are some other concerns with Geothermal:

  • Fresh water usage—Although some geothermal plants use fresh water to replace the amount lost as water vapour, the amounts are relatively small. Geothermal fresh water use is rated at 0.02 m3 per MGh while the usage for natural gas facilities is 1.37 m3 per MGh (more that 60 times greater). A binary geothermal plant uses no fresh water.
  • Land subsidence—Subsidence can result from the removal o subsurface water in geothermal processes. When subsidence has happened, it has been confined to the area of the well and hasn’t occurred off-site. Reinjection of the geothermal water can eliminate subsidence.
  • Less flexibility for plant placement—The geothermal plant placement depends on the accessibility of geothermal resources. Therefore, many of the locations can be isolated. The same is true for hydroelectric projects and both may require long-distance transmission lines. Geothermal does not require huge amounts of land to be flooded so its environmental footprint is much less than hydroelectric power.