REPOST: Cities and towns choose renewables to save money

Cities and towns throughout the country and the world are adopting renewable energy systems to reduce energy costs, taking advantage of the dropping prices in renewable technology. Brittany Patterson and ClimateWire, writing for Scientific American discuss how this will affect the popularity of renewables.

Technological innovations have dropped the price of wind and solar in some markets to be not only competitive with traditional fossil fuel power generation, but sometimes less expensive.

Image Source: scientificamerican.com

Georgetown, Texas, is home to the oldest university in the Lone Star State and is affectionately called the “red poppy capital” of Texas. It will soon add another accolade to the mix: the state’s first city-owned utility to run on 100 percent renewable energy.

Last Wednesday, the city announced a 25-year contract with SunEdison to buy 150 megawatts of solar energy. In order to supply the power, SunEdison will build a solar farm in West Texas. The solar will complement a deal Georgetown signed last year with EFD Renewables for 144 MW of wind power from its West Texas wind farm through 2039.

Between the two sources, the city of about 50,000 people will have more than enough power even with projected population growth, said Keith Hutchinson, a spokesman for the city.

When it came down to it, Hutchinson said the price was right for renewable power.

“With renewables, you avoid the price volatility of fossil fuels,” he said. “We’ve certainly seen plenty of volatility in the price of natural gas and gasoline. This removes that uncertainty and locks in a long-term low cost.”

Georgetown is the latest city to join the renewables quest, which has been slowly growing across the country.

Technological innovations have dropped the price of wind and solar in some markets to be not only competitive with traditional fossil fuel power generation, but sometimes less expensive, said Malcolm Woolf, senior vice president of policy and government affairs for Advanced Energy Economy. In many other places, renewables are gaining ground quickly. Coupled with increased transmission infrastructure, favorable policies, subsidies, and renewable energy goals in states and cities, it’s becoming more common to see wind, solar, hydropower and biomass use.

By 2017, more than 13,000 MW of new wind energy capacity is expected to come online in the United States (ClimateWire, March 17). Solar grew 39 percent in 2014, according to the AEE 2015 Market Report.

As states consider cutting emissions 30 percent by 2030 under EPA’s Clean Power Plan, renewable energy is increasingly becoming part of the conversation, as well.

Cheap land, incentives helped fuel Texas boom
Texas in particular is experiencing both a wind and solar boom, called a “land rush” by some, in part because of the completion of 3,600 miles of new transmission lines that can bring renewable energy from West Texas where it is being generated to the metropolitan areas in East Texas where it is in demand.

The Competitive Renewable Energy Zone, or CREZ, is a $6.8 billion project, paid for by the electric ratepayers of Texas. The transmission project can accommodate 18,500 MW of generating capacity.

That move was championed by Republican leadership and the Texas Public Utility Commission and has opened the possibility for renewables as a substantial part of the energy portfolios for multiple cities, said Thomas Edgar, a professor of engineering and chairman of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Texas, Austin.

“The basic infrastructure investment from the state was created at a scale that has made renewable energy economic,” he said. “Currently, we’re riding the coattails of that forward-looking decision made six or seven years ago.”

Cheap land prices in West Texas are also helpful, as is a bounty of both wind and sunshine, Edgar said.

Texas is a wind leader in the United States, with 20 percent of the country’s total capacity of the resource generated in the state. It produces 12,800 MW of wind power, with wind capable of supplying over a quarter of the grid’s power.

Investments have boosted renewable prospects. Last May, Austin Energy announced it will partner with a California company to build a 150-MW solar farm in West Texas to help meet demand in San Antonio, for example. However, the Texas Legislature is debating ending the renewable energy program (EnergyWire, March 18).

Also making it possible for cities to consider renewable options more seriously is that engineers have had decades of experience adding renewables to the grid and implementing the technical fixes needed to make them better, said Mike Jacobs, senior energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Furthermore, advancements in technology have driven prices down.

“The technology has gone from the Model T Ford of 30 years ago to being Formula 1 race cars for wind,” Jacobs said. “In the case of solar, it went from being tremendously expensive to being cheap enough to compete with local utilities.”

Fighting public opinion and technical glitches
One of the challenges for cities that want to switch to renewable power is explaining to customers that when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, they’ll still be able to turn on their lights.

“We realize we have our work cut out for us in explaining what this means,” Hutchinson said.

Because Georgetown’s electricity grid is managed by a regional entity, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the city is well-positioned for 100 percent renewable electricity, Edgar said. The city calculates its demand for electricity and contracts for the amount of renewables it needs, and ERCOT makes sure supply and demand is taken care of.

If there is a surge in demand, ERCOT can send Georgetown electricity, including from coal- or gas-fired plants. But overall, Hutchinson stressed, the city is contracting for more than 100 percent of the energy the city will use in the form of renewable power.

It doesn’t really matter whether a city goes the 100 percent route with power purchase agreements or by investing in its own local renewable power sources, Woolf said. San Antonio’s city-owned municipality, CPS Energy, has plans for 400 MW of solar power farms, with more than 45 MW already installed.

“Either way, you’re getting the same electrons at the same price,” he said. “It depends on the city’s goals. If the goal is to power the city with clean renewable power, you can get by with whichever.”

Even though technology has brought the cost of renewable power down, there are still technical fixes that would make it challenging for larger cities than Georgetown to make the switch. Solar power comes in during the day, while wind blows strongly at night, typically. During peak times, or if demand surges, that can cause problems for the grid, which needs flexibility.

“This is why renewables are a good mix with natural gas production,” Woolf said. “You can turn those on and off easily. You can have towns that go 100 percent renewable, but you can’t yet have 100 percent renewable grids. You need some base-line generation.”

‘These cities are test cases’
Georgetown owns the utility that controls electricity distribution, but the city doesn’t have any generating capacity—it retired its last plant in 1945. Instead, it contracts for electricity. In 2012, the city’s contract with the Lower Colorado River Authority expired and the city began asking for proposals.

“SunEdison had the best price,” Hutchinson said. Because nearly all electricity customers are served by the city-owned utility, Georgetown has a fair amount of autonomy to choose renewable energy for its electricity for the entire town, he said.

But not all cities have that option. In the case of Windham, N.H., for instance, the city of about 12,000 recently choose a contract to power all of its city buildings on renewable energy.

The town selected an eight-month energy contract from Consolidated Edison Inc. that begins April 1. Mark Kovacs, chairman of the Windham Local Energy Committee, which is the entity that solicits bids and makes the suggestion to the Board of Selectmen—which ultimately approves power contracts — said the town went looking for at least 50 percent renewable energy and ultimately decided to pay a small premium for 100 percent renewable power.

“The Local Energy Committee pitched to them [the Board of Selectmen] that the additional cost is overcome by the benefits to society in general by going the green 100 percent route,” Kovacs said. “I think there’s a general feeling in town we would like to support renewable energy.”

Ultimately, Kovacs said, because the town does not have a municipal-owned utility—Windham is served by two electricity distribution companies—the best the city can do right now is to choose renewable energy for government buildings if the price is right.

Yet, if for price reasons the city decides to go back to “less green” power, that option is slowly incorporating more renewable energy as New Hampshire’s renewable portfolio standard is incrementally increasing.

Meanwhile, Tallahassee, Fla., is considering an agreement to add solar to its energy mix though a third-party concept deemed “community solar.” Tallahassee’s electric utility is city-owned, and it also owns three natural-gas-fired plants responsible for the city’s energy generation.

To add solar to the mix, the city wants to contract with a third party for a 20-year purchase power agreement. The third-party company currently being solicited by city officials would build a 100-acre, 10-MW solar farm near the North Florida community, as well as any transmission lines needed to connect the farm to the grid.

“We’ve been watching the market over the years, seen the prices go down,” said David Byrne, manager of electric system integrated planning for Tallahassee’s electric utility. “Given where the price is and given that we’re looking to achieve diversity in our fuel supply, we’ve seen the value of solar improving for us.”

The company would own and manage the farm, and the city would purchase the electricity. The idea was deemed the best way to add renewables to the city’s 99 percent natural-gas-powered generation because the city retains control of the relationship with its 116,000 utility customers.

A 30 percent tax credit for the development of solar power set to expire at the end of 2016 also is pushing the project forward. Project developers can take the credit, but city-owned utilities cannot.

“We want to minimize our risk in the project. Solar is something relativity new to us,” he said. “I think that having someone else that can be responsible for owning and maintaining the plant makes sense to us.”

Other cities have reached 100 percent renewable energy on a citywide basis by a mixture of local generation and power purchase agreements.

For one, Burlington, Vt.—a city of 42,000 residents and the largest town in the state—produces more power than it uses from biomass, wind, solar and hydropower. The city-owned utility has invested in and jointly runs some of the renewable energy facilities, such as the McNeil Generating Station, a biomass plant located near the city capable of producing more than 50 MW of power. The Burlington Electric Department is operator and 50 percent owner of the facility.

Jacobs, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, said when cities announce they’re choosing 100 percent renewable energy, it gets people’s attention. Plus, he said, if the world wants to get off fossil fuels, states and regions need to see that it can be done at a smaller scale.

“These cities are test cases,” he said. “It’s informative because we really have to have interim goals.”

Hutchinson said Georgetown hopes running on sunshine and wind, and having lots of it, will draw technology firms and maybe even big data centers. In addition, he said existing customers, such as a newly built Sheridan Hotel, have a bonus message to share with their customers: “When you come to Georgetown, you’re not burning fossil fuels when you turn on the lights.”

Janique Goff supports green innovations. Follow her Twitter for more updates on eco-friendly technology.

REPOST: Obscure Electrochemical Technology Could Make Residential Cogeneration Pay Off

‘The U.S. is increasingly burning cheap natural gas,’ but NanoConversion Technologies has something up its sleeve to make conversion more efficient. This article from Greentech Media has the details.

Image Source: greentechmedia.com

OK, name three types of electrochemical cells.

1.Batteries, of course.
2.Fuel cells, because reasons
3.And third (drumroll, please) is the thermally regenerative concentration cell.

It’s that third, more obscure species that startup NanoConversion Technologies is betting will make residential combined heat and power cheaper and more efficient.

The U.S. is increasingly burning cheap natural gas — but centralized power generation, transmission and distribution is wasteful. The CEO of NanoConversion Technologies, Mike Staskus, said that the conversion efficiency of a gas-fired power plant to a residential wall plug is about 33 percent, citing Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s “spaghetti chart.”

Image Source: greentechmedia.com

Staskus suggests that making electricity from gas, close to the user, is more efficient. It’s a similar centralized versus distributed energy debate happening with other forms of power production. And it’s the same argument made by Bloom Energy as the justification for that company’s widely used solid-oxide fuel cell technology. (Bloom has sold 150 megawatts of its distributed generation units, equivalent to 1 gigawatt of solar, according to the company.)

NanoConversion’s device, called the C-TEC, would live in the homeowner’s boiler or water heater and produce some of the home’s electricity as well as its hot water. There is the potential for dramatic reductions in waste and emissions, according to the startup.

A number of technologies have been tried in pursuit of viable residential CHP — whether it be fuel cells from troubled firm ClearEdge or now-defunct Ceramic Fuel Cells, Stirling engines from European firms and Dean Kamen, or internal combustion engines. The technologies must economically scale down to residential scale (~1 kilowatt), and that’s not always easy.
Weird science

Drive by any office park in Silicon Valley and it’s as likely as not that there are wild-eyed entrepreneurs doing dangerous things with weird materials in what is essentially a garage. NanoConversion has 12 engineers, many from SDL and JDSU, and bootstrapped its initial development from founders and friends before winning funding from Frank Marshall, a former VP of engineering at Cisco. As an investor at Big Basin Partners, Marshall was also an early funder of Covad and NetScreen.

The technology employed by this startup is the alkali-metal thermal-to-electric converter (AMTEC), invented by Ford in the 1960s. (NanoConversion actually purchased the remnants of the Ford technology and is using some of that vintage equipment today.)

The device takes 850°C heat as an input and produces direct current electrical power and thermal heating power at 200°C, at potentially high efficiencies of up to 30 percent, according to Staskus, and when using the heat, over 90 percent. Because it’s a closed system, the company claims that it is not subject to the fouling and reliability issues that can afflict fuel cells when contaminants in natural gas compromise the fuel-cell stack and “coke the anode.” Because it has no moving parts, it was targeted for 15-year deep space missions with plutonium as the heat source.

The device makes use of a thermodynamic cycle of expanding and condensing sodium; the work generated by the expansion of sodium vapor is converted into electric power. Staskus likened it to a fuel cell where the fuel is burned outside of the unit, calling it “a fuel cell that doesn’t die.”

This is how the company breaks down the device’s operation:

  • Input heat vaporizes sodium
  • Ion transport through BASE creates DC current
  • The heat sink condenses sodium and delivers thermal power
  • The electromagnetic pump returns sodium to the evaporator

Image Source: greentechmedia.com

BASE is the solid electrolyte material sodium beta-alumina. My tour of the NanoConversion garage included a primer on how the startup compacts alumina powder into a little ring which is then sintered using a Rube Goldberg microwave oven hack by the resourceful company. (High-tech startups have variously attempted to burn, smother or electrocute me in these types of demos, so I try to keep my distance.) The same beta-alumina material is also used in sodium-sulfur batteries.

We’ve covered the funding and development of semiconductor-based thermoelectric devices from companies such as Marlow and startups GMZ, Alphabet Energy, Phononic, and MTPV. These technologies have tended to have lower efficiencies than the AMTEC.

NanoConversion has a demonstration unit in the garage. Made of six cells, the device produces 3 watts at 2.5 volts and 1.2 amps, according to the company. The company also claims the device will last up to 15 years. As with other electrochemical devices, the small cell will be able scale akin to the way Tesla builds its battery packs with small 18650 form-factor lithium-ion batteries, in Staskus’ view.
Applications for the novel thermoelectric device

A successful distributed power solution will have the characteristics of a boiler or water heater, according to the CEO. He said that residential CHP with a reasonable payback time (less than five years) opens up a multi-billion-dollar market for the startup that would produce customer-specific cogeneration subsystems for boiler manufacturers such as Rheem, Bosch, GE, and Rinnai. Staskus claims that 13 million boilers will be purchased each year for new builds and as replacements in the EU, U.S. and Japan.

But before the company gets to that mass market, it’s going to need to prove out and scale its technology and manufacturing. Its initial target markets are off-grid — a bit more niche-y than residential power.

  • When power is needed for an off-grid system or device in an extremely remote location that can’t be regularly serviced, a solution provided today by firms like Global Thermoelectric is to burn propane (in a big tank) and heat a relatively low-efficiency semiconductor thermopile. This configuration is used to power telemetry at oil well sites and communications for rural communities, as well as a surprising range of other applications.
  • The technology could also be used to provide auxiliary power for diesel trucks at idle.
  • Another remote application is cathodic protection of pipelines. Any natural gas pipeline in alkaline soil will plate itself away in about a year, according to Staskus. The pipeline operators keep some current flowing through the metal, and that inhibits plating in the pipeline.
  • Flare gas energy recovery is another potential application.
  • Government hijinks could also be powered by the device; Staskus spoke of operations where those in power feel the need to bury something in the desert that needs “several watts for five years.”
  • The military is always looking for better remote power.

Staskus also suggests that residential solar with micro-CHP and battery storage will be the best residential energy solution when net metering eventually subsides, because on-site baseload power reduces the solar array and battery size and cost to reasonable levels.

The startup is looking to raise a $10 million round B to move the company from technology demonstration to product development.

Janique Goff has been involved in business development, marketing, and advertising, with emphasis on green technology. She is also an advocate of cleaner environment. Follow her on Twitter for more green technology updates.

REPOST: China vows to be open about environment as viral film is erased

China’s enviornment, as documented by celebrity journalist Chai Jing in her viral video ‘Under the Dome,’ is currently in peril as pollution and other environmental issues continue to plague many of its cities. The country’s industrial boom is now taking a toll on the natural environment.

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Pedestrians wear masks as smog descends on Beijing | Image source: telegraph.co.uk

China’s environment minister vowed to provide more information to the public about the toxic air they breathe on Saturday, less than 24 hours after Communist Party censors purged a viral film about smog from the internet.
Under the Dome, a documentary by celebrity journalist Chai Jing, took China by storm this week, stirring up heated debate about the state of the environment. In just a few days, the film – dubbed China’s answer to An Inconvenient Truth – was watched more than 200 million times.

Chen Jining, the environment minister, was among those who initially heaped praise on the project, comparing it to Silent Spring, a seminal 1962 book that is credited with starting the environmental movement in the United States.
However, less than a week after Under the Dome was released, it began mysteriously vanishing from Chinese websites on Friday afternoon after the Communist Party decided that public criticism had gone too far.

The video’s disappearance – sarcastically attributed by one academic to “gremlins” but in truth the result of a directive from propaganda chiefs in Beijing – placed China’s newly appointed environment minister in a fix.
He was scheduled to meet the media on Saturday afternoon, as part of a round of carefully choreographed “press conferences” held during the National People’s Congress, China’s annual rubber-stamp parliament. Questions about Under the Dome might have been expected.

Yet there was not a single mention of the film – or its fate – during the session. Organisers permitted 12 questions during the apparently scripted 70-minute event, but not one referred to biggest environmental story of the week.
China’s leaders offered some tough rhetoric on the environment this week, as more than 3,000 delegates joined the annual political summit. “We are going to punish, with an iron hand, any violators who destroy ecology or environment, with no exceptions,” said President Xi Jinping, the Communist Party chief, on Friday. He spoke as a thick smog descended over Beijing.

One day earlier, Li Keqiang, the prime minister, told the NPC’s opening session: “Environmental pollution is a blight on people’s quality of life and a trouble that weighs on their hearts. We must fight it with all our might.”
Chen Jining, the environment minister, repeated those promises on Saturday, admitting he felt “uneasy” about the state of his country’s skies. Asked if he had the power to defeat the smog, he said: “Can we do it? Yes we can – but it will be very difficult.”

Mr Chen, who studied at Imperial College London during the 1990s, claimed China was facing an “unprecedented conflict between development and environmental protection”. He said that “extra effort” was needed to solve the problem. “We will deal with today’s crisis to avoid a bigger crisis tomorrow,” he promised.

Chinese state media was quick to report those pledges, with Xinhua, the official news agency, publishing four stories about the minister’s press conference on its website. One of those articles heralded Mr Chen’s commitment to “enhance information transparency and guarantee the public’s rights to supervise the fight against air pollution”.

The Communist Party then decided to erase a film that sought to do just that. “The real pollution is bad governance,” one user of Weibo, China’s Twitter, commented on Friday night as censors purged Under the Dome from the internet. “If we cannot get rid of those bad people, the smog will always hang over us.”

Janique Goff is a major supporter of green initiatives. Find out more about the projects she is part of here.

REPOST: The next energy revolution won’t be in wind or solar. It will be in our brains.

Seeing the urgency of using fuel clearer now, leaders from the marine and naval corps are intending to bank on behavioral changes against wasteful habits to target energy requirement reduction. The Washington Post discusses how this could be made possible through this article:

Image Source: washingtonpost.com

In the arid lands of the Mojave Desert, Marine regimental commander Jim Caley traveled alongside a 24-mile stretch of road and saw trucks, tanks and armored tracked vehicles all idling in the heat — and wasting enormous amounts of expensive fuel.

Caley had already led forces in Iraq, and at the time was charged with seven battalions comprising 7,000 Marines. But this was a new and different challenge. Overseeing a major spring 2013 training exercise at the Marine Corps’ Twentynine Palms base in southern California, he was struck by how little he knew about how America’s war-fighting machine used energy.

“No targets prosecuted, no miles to the gallon, no combat benefit being delivered,” Caley, a Marine colonel, says of the scene. “At the time, I had no system to understand what was going on, and what was occurring, and how much further I could go on the same fuel.”

The Department of Defense is the single biggest user of energy in the U.S. — its energy bill in 2013 was $18.9 billion — and Caley now plays a central role in trying to ensure that just one of its branches, the Marine Corps, uses that power in the optimal way. The implications for the military are vast. For instance, the Marines alone have estimated that they could save $26 million per year through a 10 percent energy reduction at their installations and bases, to say nothing of Marine field operations, which used an estimated 1.5 million barrels of fuel in 2014.

But most striking is how these changes are coming about. As head of the Marines Corps’ five-year-old Expeditionary Energy Office, Caley is tapping into one of the hottest trends in academic energy research: looking to use psychology and the behavioral sciences to find ways of saving energy by changing people — their habits, routines, practices and preconceptions.

“The opportunities that we see on the behavioral side of the house are phenomenal,” Caley explained during a recent interview in his Pentagon office. “And they’re frankly less expensive than us trying to buy new equipment.”

Through behavioral changes alone — tweaking the ways that Marines drive their vehicles, power their outposts, handle their equipment — Caley thinks he can increase their overall battlefield range by as much as five days, a change that would provide immense tactical benefit by cutting down on refueling requirements (and the logistical hurdles and vulnerabilities associated with them). If he succeeds, the Marines would stand at the forefront of an energy revolution that may someday rival wind or solar in importance: one focused not on changing our technologies or devices, but on changing us. And its applications would touch every corner of our society, from how we behave in our homes to how we drive our cars.

For the rest of the article, click here.

Climate change is one issue that Janique Goff’s causes address. Follow this Twitter account to learn more about the other environmental initiatives that she supports.

REPOST: Biofuels Show Promise for Alternative Energy: Which Two Show Most Promise In The Race For Sustainable Energy?

The number of US-based companies that are working on alternative biofuel projects are growing. While their work on finding cheaper and greener energy solutions is promising, more needs to be done.DesignNTrend.com discusses the issue further in the article below:

Image Source: designntrend.com

The number of alternative energy biofuels in the works is clipping along at a frenetic pace. With a seemingly endless supply of interesting, if not surprising, sources serving as inspiration for that pace, researchers are making headway in their efforts to find cheaper and greener energy solutions.

Unfortunately, though many appear quite promising, few of them are anywhere near advancing on levels of traditional fossil-fuel use.
But things are moving forward. Presently there are some 28 U.S. states that can boast having advanced biofuel companies. The top five are California, Illinois, Colorado, Texas and Iowa. While encouraging, more needs to be done.

Contenders for Best Biofuels

From algae to methane, woody biomass, flowering plants, cellulose and even animal fat, we have choices. There are others as well besides the corn, canola oil, sugarcane and soy that usually make the news and are already in use to some extent.

Alas, few are without their drawbacks. The biggest problem with many of them is limited growing space or sustainability. The debate rages on concerning the wisdom of diverting land intended for agriculture for fuel and not food when hunger is a real consideration.

Without sustainability, biofuels lose their ground as viable alternatives to petroleum. The two that appear to have the most promise are algae and woody biomass, and for similar reasons.

Woody Biomass

This particular resource for biofuels is very similar to cellulose in that certain grasses or plant materials are ingredients, but not the only ingredients.

Woody biomass is made up of non-food feedstocks, agricultural waste, and Miscanthus, a type of grass indigenous to parts of Asia and Africa. All of these appear to have good prospects for sustainability.

California-based Cool Planet Energy has developed a biofuel using this woody biomass that claims to be chemically identical to gasoline with the added benefit of being carbon negative.

Besides this major plus, it costs just $1.50 a gallon with no government subsidy. By mid 2013 the company was happy to report it had already raised $30 million out of a goal of $100 million to fund the first commercial facility in connection to the project.

Their hope is to create small modular biorefineries that could produce up to 10-million gallons of fuel per year.

Algae

Algaculture, as it’s being called, is currently at the center of a lot of excitement in regards to meeting the world’s renewable energy needs. As opposed to other biofuels, algae have the unique ability to produce large quantities of biodiesel without the need for fertile land or watering.

Add to that its natural abundance and staggering growth rate, and it would seem you’ve got a real contender for heavy, long-term consumer demands.

At first glance this renewable energy source has no drawbacks, but some scientists are concerned about the very same thing that makes it so alluring: growth. It can quickly crowd itself out, which causes massive die offs due to lack of light and photosynthesis.

A promising solution may lie with Vertigro, an experimental system engineered by Glen Kertz at a facility near El Paso, TX.

For and Against Biofuels

Back in 2009 Norway’s Finance Minister proposed a ban on gas-powered cars in favor of those powered by alternative energy by 2015. This applied to new vehicles only, but it was still a bold move considering they were the 6th largest oil exporter in the world at the time.

Obviously, big oil has the most to lose. The players on that stage would doubtfully ever [willingly] vacate their thrones without a fight. Not only do we know how deep their pockets are but — at least in this country — we know who’s in them. Gradually, though, with the right biofuels, resistance is futile.

Janique Goff is a business development manager who supports biofuel projects and other sustainable development initiatives.Follow this blog for more articles on green technologies.

REPOST: Biotechnology to the Rescue

Developments in biotechnology have continually transformed medical practice and have changed lives. US News Health lists some of the most innovative and life-changing biotech products in the article below.

Wake Forest University's<br /><br /> regenerative medicine lab uses 3-D printing to produce a prototype of a<br /><br /> kidney.

Image Source: health.usnews.com

The life sciences industry is in the middle of a historic boom, churning out new medical weapons at an unprecedented pace. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration approved 39 “new molecular entities,” completely novel drugs to treat everything from cancer to tuberculosis to HIV. It topped that off by adding 27 more last year, and there are now more than 4,000 investigational medicines in the pipeline.

Medical device-makers are also in high gear; the 33 products approved in 2013 include replacement hips, new cardiac stents and prosthetic spinal discs. Here’s a sampling of the most innovative developments transforming medical practice and offering patients new hope:

Brain boosters

When the complex communication circuits go awry, the result is a range of neurological disorders, including epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and paralysis. Now researchers are figuring out how to manipulate neurological signals using tiny implants that, in essence, reset the brain. By targeting very precisely the region where seizures and tremors originate, for example, these minicomputers – sometimes in conjunction with drugs, sometimes on their own – can eliminate debilitating symptoms at their source.

Among the people already benefiting is Janie Norman, 43, of Marietta, Georgia, who was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 11. Norman was able to attend college, get married, and start a family, but she had such frequent seizures that she couldn’t get a driver’s license, go to the movies or grocery store on her own, or play a sport – all were too risky.

Then neurosurgeons at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta placed a tiny implant in her brain that detects the abnormal brain signals that usually precede seizures and responds by delivering short electrical pulses to stop the seizures before they start. Norman has been seizure-free ever since. “It’s a miracle,” she says. “I got my driver’s license. I can take my children to the park. It has really changed my life.”

The NeuroPace RNS System, as the device is called, was approved last year and has been adopted by more than 20 clinics specializing in epilepsy. It also features tiny programmable processors that store and transmit information about what exactly is happening in patients’ brains. By waving a wand over her head, Norman can download the information and transmit it to her doctor. The physicians can then use the information to adjust the device remotely.

An explosion of research that aims to “map” the brain’s function has doctors who treat neurologic disorders predicting a bright future. “The hope is that if we can restore some normal activity, then the natural ability of the brain to use those circuits will keep diseases from getting worse,” says Michael Kilgard, a professor at the University of Texas—Dallas whose research aims to normalize brain activity by sending electrical signals to it via electrodes attached to the vagus nerve in the neck.

Other scientists are developing implants that may someday restore movement in paralyzed patients by repairing damaged connections that instruct the muscles. The brain is great at “reorganizing itself,” Kilgard says. “We’re just guiding it in the right direction.”

Bionic body parts

Whether a patient is an amputee who needs a prosthetic limb or an aging person in need of a new knee or hip joint, the fundamental wish is the same: that the new part will work just as well as the old one did. The device industry is answering the call with myriad new technologies.

In May, the FDA approved the first prosthetic arm that will use special sensors and electrodes to pick up signals transmitted from nearby muscles and translate them to control multiple joints. That will allow users to perform complex tasks, such as grasping small items.

The DEKA Arm System, which goes by the Star Wars-inspired nickname “Luke,” also has sensors in its fingers that can detect how tightly the hand is grasping an object. It communicates that information to the patient through a device touching the skin that vibrates lightly in response to a delicate grip and more intensely as the grasp grows tighter. So a person can shake hands and sense how tight his or her grip is, says Justin Sanchez, program manager in the biological technologies office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which funded the arm system’s development.

Retired Chicago police detective John Duffy, who was injured in a cycling accident, wears a prosthetic that flexes in response to signals from his environment.

Prosthetic legs are becoming more lifelike, too. Retired Chicago police detective John Duffy, who lost his leg below the knee in a cycling accident, wears one of the new models that rely on hydraulic cylinders to flex the joints based on signals from a system of sensors and a microprocessor in the leg. As he walks, the sensors continually monitor environmental feedback and send signals to the microprocessor, which controls how much resistance the cylinders apply. The resistance varies according to how fast Duffy walks or whether he is on a flat surface, going up or down stairs, or heading uphill or downhill.

The ability to respond to information from the environment results in a near-natural walking pattern, says Steven Gnatz, medical director of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Loyola University Hospital in Maywood, Illinois.

Next up: Scientists are working on prosthetic limbs that convert brain signals – amputees’ thoughts about how they would like to move their prosthetic arms or legs – directly into movements.

Today’s smarter replacement joints are not quite as dramatic as bionic prosthetics, but with a rapidly aging population, the demand is certainly as strong. In response, the joint-replacement industry has been moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach and is offering artificial knees, in particular, designed according to gender, size and location in the left or right leg. (Hip joints are getting somewhat more customized, though the joint is less complicated, and the need is not as great.)

“The original knee replacements were not great fits,” says Steven Haas, chief of the knee service at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. “Now there are hundreds of combinations of sizes that allow us to more closely follow the natural anatomy.”

And with the help of magnetic resonance imaging, surgeons can offer even greater precision. They now obtain detailed pictures of a joint prior to surgery, then perform a dress rehearsal of sorts on a computer that helps ensure the best fit and allows adjustments in advance, “so when we do the implant, it will reproduce the natural motions of the knee,” Haas says. Surgeons also now have access to “smart” surgical instruments embedded with tiny computers that help align the joint.

Virus victories

Drugmakers have been mastering new techniques for battling viruses, in the process curing diseases that were once considered unconquerable, or inventing new vaccines to prevent them. “We’re starting to understand, on a fundamental level, how viruses enter cells, how they start the infectious cycle, and how they produce the genetic material to create progeny viruses,” says Richard Plemper, a professor at the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State University.

The latest breakthrough came last December with the arrival of the drug Sovaldi, the first in the new generation of medicines to take a different tack against hepatitis C. The disease, long considered intractable, affects an estimated 185 million people around the world. In clinical trials, Sovaldi wiped out hepatitis C in 90 percent of patients, often in as little as 12 weeks.

The key to the success of these new drugs is that they inhibit the ability of viruses to invade healthy cells and to hijack the cellular machinery they use to make endless copies of themselves. Sovaldi blocks enzymes produced by the virus that control part of the replication cycle; it’s a similar approach to the one behind most of the successful HIV treatments. When used in combination with other drugs, enzyme inhibitors can prevent drug resistance, a common problem with other antivirals.

Sovaldi is just one example of how science’s ability to outmaneuver viruses is producing new solutions. In April, researchers at the University of Maryland, collaborating with Novavax, announced that they had developed a vaccine to prevent infection by the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus, a new malady that had just broken out around the world. It works by preventing the virus from invading cells in the first place.

And scientists at Georgia State University, Emory University and the Paul-Ehrlich Institute in Germany say they have found a way to control measles outbreaks by disrupting the protein that replicates the viral genome. This approach could both cure the disease and prevent it from spreading to other people.

Gene therapies

The promise of gene therapy was always titillating: The technique offers the chance for patients with genetic diseases to replace disease-causing genes with healthy ones. But in 1999, an 18-year-old patient died when a virus-based mechanism used to transport a therapeutic gene into his body touched off a severe immune response. That single tragedy led to the demise of the field.

Now research into gene therapy is roaring back to life, thanks to a series of discoveries that have made the process of replacing faulty genes significantly safer. Scientists have perfected a number of gene-transport mechanisms, or “viral vectors,” that are benign because of improvements in the way they’re engineered and because they’re derived from viruses that aren’t infectious to people. In 2012, Amsterdam-based uniQure won approval in Europe for a product called Glybera marketed to treat an enzyme disorder that causes dangerous fatty acids to build up in the blood.

Although the therapy isn’t a cure, injecting sufferers with a corrected copy of the responsible gene has greatly reduced episodes of pancreatitis, a painful and dangerous consequence. And some patients who receive the therapy have been able to relax their restrictive diets.

Gene therapy is now being developed to treat a range of disorders, from hemophilia to Parkinson’s to a deadly neurological illness called Sanfilippo syndrome. Jerry Mendell, director of the Center for Gene Therapy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, has made headway developing treatments for muscular dystrophy, which occurs when a defective gene fails to make a protein vital to normal muscle functioning or the gene is missing. In one recent trial, 12 patients who received a treatment to correct the defective gene saw measurable improvement in their expected walking ability. “Is it a cure? No. But it’s a notable step forward,” Mendell says. “I really believe we will continue to see important advances in this field.”

Miniaturized medicine

Much of the quest to improve medical treatments has focused on making them smaller – much, much smaller – so they can travel through the body delivering therapies precisely where needed, or so they can gather intelligence on what’s going wrong in organs and tissues.

Nanotechnology is making a particularly strong impact in drug development, where biotech companies and university scientists are devising ways to pack powerful medications into microscopic particles that can zoom through the bloodstream to therapeutic targets without damaging healthy tissues. One of the biggest successes so far is Abraxane, a chemotherapy drug encased in nanosized protein-based packages that is widely used to treat breast, pancreatic and lung cancers.

One goal is to use nanotechnology to reach into the brain. This “secluded organ” is separated from the body by the blood-brain barrier, a series of ultranarrow capillaries that prohibit many drugs from passing through, says Alexander Kabanov, a professor and director of the Center for Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill. Kabanov’s group has developed nanosized spherical containers that can cross the barrier and that he believes may prove useful in treating neurologic disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and stroke.

Diagnostic devices, meanwhile, are simultaneously shrinking in size and growing more powerful. A prime example is PillCam, a camera encased in a vitamin-sized capsule that can take a series of high-quality pictures as it travels through the digestive system. Ever since the first PillCam hit the U.S. market in 2002, each new generation has improved with the invention of tiny imaging chips that now can take as many as 35 frames per second and transmit them wirelessly to a recording device the patient wears, says Greg Daevault, vice president of global market development for Dublin, Ireland-based Covidien, which makes PillCam.

The device is now used to diagnose diseases of the colon and bowel. Covidien is currently looking at adding nonimaging sensors to the PillCam that might allow it to detect, say, traces of blood or changes in acid levels that might indicate early signs of disease.

Man-made organs

What if rather than using medicine or genes – or an organ donor – to treat a failing heart or liver, your doctor could simply replace those parts with organs that are nearly identical to the originals, made from your own cells? That dream is not as far-fetched as you might think.

Much of the revolution in regenerative medicine is being driven by 3-D printing, the use of specialized machines that can create tissue and organlike structures from a patient’s cells. Among the body parts now streaming from 3-D printers are blood vessels, livers and skin to heal wounds. At the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, researchers are using 3-D printing and other techniques to engineer more than 30 different replacement tissues and organs, including bladders, kidneys and, most recently, vaginas made from the cells of girls suffering from a rare genetic condition that causes reproductive organs to be underdeveloped.

“Our preference is to [use] the patients’ own organ-specific cells because they’re less likely to get rejected,” says Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest center.

In New York, Jason Spector, associate professor of surgery at Weill Cornell Medical Center, and Lawrence Bonassar, associate chair of the biomedical engineering department at Cornell University, are now developing ears for patients who have been in accidents or who suffer from disfiguring diseases. “We use 3-D photography to capture a very high-fidelity picture of the [intact] ear, so we can make a perfect match,” Spector explains.

“That photograph is then digitized, and the data is used to create a mold. Then we can take cartilage cells from cow’s ears and inject them into the mold,” resulting in an ear that looks and bends just like the real thing. Spector’s team has also invented a way to print ears from 3-D photos, using a protein-based gel that hardens into an earlike structure. And they’re testing methods of using patients’ own cells to create the ears.

Although most of these technologies are still in clinical trials, some patients have reaped the rewards of the research. Luke Massella, 23, has spina bifida and, after his bladder failed at age 10, received a new one made in Atala’s former lab at Harvard. Massella is healthy today, and is working as a special-education paraprofessional for a middle school in Madison, Connecticut. “The bladder functions as my own,” he says. “I don’t even need yearly checkups.”

 
Janique Goff is a successful business development manager who supports start-up businesses in the biotechnology industry. Add this Google+ account to your circles to get the latest updates in biotechnology.

REPOST: Courts Are Systematically Rejecting Claims About Wind Turbine Syndrome

Wind farms have been gaining popularity as an alternative source of energy. And they have been proven so far successful in providing clean and safe energy as well as an additional income for towns that invest in the technology. Not everyone is happy about though. There have been around 50 claims so far citing “wind turbine syndrome” as a cause of different illnesses. The court rulings, however, are in favor of the windmills. John Upton of Greentechmedia.com discusses the issue further in details in the article below.

Image Source: greentechmedia.com

 

To wind farm opponents, wind turbine syndrome is a manifold malady triggered by acoustic pulses and other unfortunate side effects of large wind turbines. To wind farm developers, syndrome claims can mean stomach-churning marches into courtrooms and municipal hearings, where legal teams defend projects against allegations that they’re responsible for everything from headaches and sleeplessness to vertigo, blurred vision, and forgetfulness.

In these legal fights, the wind energy developers are winning. To the judges presiding over the cases, evidence that wind turbine syndrome exists has seemed as wispy as the cirrus clouds that can herald a stiffening breeze.

 

The Energy and Policy Institute, a clean energy advocacy group, reviewed rulings from 49 lawsuits and similar complaints filed in five Western countries. In a report published last week, the group says it could find just one case of a court siding with neighbors who claimed wind turbines had made them ill. That one ruling out of 49 is being appealed in Massachusetts.

“These claims about wind turbines causing health impacts are not being upheld, which means there isn’t sufficient evidence to prove that wind turbines cause any problems with human health,” said Gabe Elsner, the nonprofit’s executive director. “That’s a big deal, because claims about that are used across the globe by anti-wind advocates to try to slow the development of wind farms.”

 

The 49 legal rulings identified by the institute came out of environmental, utility, civil and higher courts since the late 1990s in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the U.K.

Elsner said the study began, in part, to provide wind developers’ attorneys with ideas and legal precedents to help them defend projects in court. “These claims about health impacts kept coming,” he said.

 

Of the eight American cases, the one instance where neighbors succeeded in hobbling wind turbine operations was in the Cape Cod town of Falmouth, Mass. A government board sided last year with neighbors, including a Vietnam War veteran recovering from PTSD, who said they were sickened by a pair of town-owned wind turbines. The turbines were installed in 2010 to power a wastewater treatment plant and to sell excess electricity onto the local utility’s grid.

 

Image Source: greentechmedia.com

 

The turbine blades are being locked down every night from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and all day on Sundays and some holidays, while the town appeals the ruling in superior court. “We borrowed money to pay for these things, and we need that money to pay the bonds,” Town Counsel Frank Duffy said.

 

The Energy and Policy Institute and others trace claims of far-reaching health problems associated with wind turbines to 2009, when an American pediatrician published a book that popularized the phrase “wind turbine syndrome.” But scientists who have examined the claimed links between wind turbines and health problems have almost universally rejected them.

 

“Of course wind turbines make noise, and we all know that noise can be annoying,” said Melissa Whitfield Aslund, a scientist at the Canadian consulting firm Intrinsik, whose clients include wind energy developers. “Once sited properly, where you have appropriate noise regulations in place, and where people aren’t being exposed to excessive amounts of noise, there’s no direct evidence of adverse effects on human health.”

 

Whitfield Aslund collaborated with six Intrinsik colleagues to review nearly 60 studies dealing with the health effects of wind turbines. The review, which was published in June in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, includes recommendations for protecting neighbors from the noise impacts of wind turbines, such as considering local conditions affecting how far sound travels when siting wind turbines — not just measuring the distances to the nearest home.

 

The report says the “nocebo” effect, in which a patient can be convinced that something benign is making them sick, could be responsible for many of the health complaints associated with wind turbines. So, too, the scientists wrote, could be the annoyance and worries that some people experience when unwanted turbines go up in their neighborhoods. Such emotions in general have been linked by medical researchers to symptoms that resemble those of wind turbine syndrome.

“There’s really nothing else about wind turbines that’s unique to wind turbines that would be expected to cause any adverse health impacts,” Whitfield Aslund said.

 

But try telling that to the 19 Lake Winds Energy Park neighbors in Michigan’s Mason County who are suing over what they say are reduced property values and pain and suffering. Headaches, ringing in the ears, dizziness, stress, “extreme fatigue,” nausea, and a “diminished ability to concentrate” are among the ailments they claim to be suffering from because of the constant gyrations of the 56 turbines. Their attorney, Craig Horn, who worked on a similar case in the past, is largely focused on complaints of sleeplessness and headaches.

 

“The further you get away from sleep disturbance and headaches, the more difficult it is to find sound science to back those up,” Horn said. “I’ve had now 40 individuals that I’ve represented, and their lives are markedly different than they were pre-wind farm. It’s not like they’re suffering from cancer or anything — they’re not going to die from it. It primarily can be tied back to sleep disturbance, and they have a greater incidence of headaches.”

Janique Goff enthusiastically supports the development of green technology. Go to this blog to learn more about the advocacies she supports.

REPOST: Courts Are Systematically Rejecting Claims About Wind Turbine Syndrome

Wind farms have been gaining popularity as an alternative source of energy. And they have been proven so far successful in providing clean and safe energy as well as an additional income for towns that invest in the technology. Not everyone is happy about though. There have been around 50 claims so far citing “wind turbine syndrome” as a cause of different illnesses. The court rulings, however, are in favor of the windmills. John Upton of Greentechmedia.com discusses the issue further in details in the article below.

Image Source: greentechmedia.com

 

To wind farm opponents, wind turbine syndrome is a manifold malady triggered by acoustic pulses and other unfortunate side effects of large wind turbines. To wind farm developers, syndrome claims can mean stomach-churning marches into courtrooms and municipal hearings, where legal teams defend projects against allegations that they’re responsible for everything from headaches and sleeplessness to vertigo, blurred vision, and forgetfulness.

In these legal fights, the wind energy developers are winning. To the judges presiding over the cases, evidence that wind turbine syndrome exists has seemed as wispy as the cirrus clouds that can herald a stiffening breeze.

 

The Energy and Policy Institute, a clean energy advocacy group, reviewed rulings from 49 lawsuits and similar complaints filed in five Western countries. In a report published last week, the group says it could find just one case of a court siding with neighbors who claimed wind turbines had made them ill. That one ruling out of 49 is being appealed in Massachusetts.

“These claims about wind turbines causing health impacts are not being upheld, which means there isn’t sufficient evidence to prove that wind turbines cause any problems with human health,” said Gabe Elsner, the nonprofit’s executive director. “That’s a big deal, because claims about that are used across the globe by anti-wind advocates to try to slow the development of wind farms.”

 

The 49 legal rulings identified by the institute came out of environmental, utility, civil and higher courts since the late 1990s in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the U.K.

Elsner said the study began, in part, to provide wind developers’ attorneys with ideas and legal precedents to help them defend projects in court. “These claims about health impacts kept coming,” he said.

 

Of the eight American cases, the one instance where neighbors succeeded in hobbling wind turbine operations was in the Cape Cod town of Falmouth, Mass. A government board sided last year with neighbors, including a Vietnam War veteran recovering from PTSD, who said they were sickened by a pair of town-owned wind turbines. The turbines were installed in 2010 to power a wastewater treatment plant and to sell excess electricity onto the local utility’s grid.

 

Image Source: greentechmedia.com

 

The turbine blades are being locked down every night from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and all day on Sundays and some holidays, while the town appeals the ruling in superior court. “We borrowed money to pay for these things, and we need that money to pay the bonds,” Town Counsel Frank Duffy said.

 

The Energy and Policy Institute and others trace claims of far-reaching health problems associated with wind turbines to 2009, when an American pediatrician published a book that popularized the phrase “wind turbine syndrome.” But scientists who have examined the claimed links between wind turbines and health problems have almost universally rejected them.

 

“Of course wind turbines make noise, and we all know that noise can be annoying,” said Melissa Whitfield Aslund, a scientist at the Canadian consulting firm Intrinsik, whose clients include wind energy developers. “Once sited properly, where you have appropriate noise regulations in place, and where people aren’t being exposed to excessive amounts of noise, there’s no direct evidence of adverse effects on human health.”

 

Whitfield Aslund collaborated with six Intrinsik colleagues to review nearly 60 studies dealing with the health effects of wind turbines. The review, which was published in June in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, includes recommendations for protecting neighbors from the noise impacts of wind turbines, such as considering local conditions affecting how far sound travels when siting wind turbines — not just measuring the distances to the nearest home.

 

The report says the “nocebo” effect, in which a patient can be convinced that something benign is making them sick, could be responsible for many of the health complaints associated with wind turbines. So, too, the scientists wrote, could be the annoyance and worries that some people experience when unwanted turbines go up in their neighborhoods. Such emotions in general have been linked by medical researchers to symptoms that resemble those of wind turbine syndrome.

“There’s really nothing else about wind turbines that’s unique to wind turbines that would be expected to cause any adverse health impacts,” Whitfield Aslund said.

 

But try telling that to the 19 Lake Winds Energy Park neighbors in Michigan’s Mason County who are suing over what they say are reduced property values and pain and suffering. Headaches, ringing in the ears, dizziness, stress, “extreme fatigue,” nausea, and a “diminished ability to concentrate” are among the ailments they claim to be suffering from because of the constant gyrations of the 56 turbines. Their attorney, Craig Horn, who worked on a similar case in the past, is largely focused on complaints of sleeplessness and headaches.

 

“The further you get away from sleep disturbance and headaches, the more difficult it is to find sound science to back those up,” Horn said. “I’ve had now 40 individuals that I’ve represented, and their lives are markedly different than they were pre-wind farm. It’s not like they’re suffering from cancer or anything — they’re not going to die from it. It primarily can be tied back to sleep disturbance, and they have a greater incidence of headaches.”

Janique Goff enthusiastically supports the development of green technology. Go to this blog to learn more about the advocacies she supports.

REPOST: UK green bank invests £460m in offshore windfarms

Investments in green technology are rising in a world facing the onslaught of anthropogenic climate change. James Murray of The Guardian reports on UK’s green bank’s investments in wind farms off the Yorkshire and Welsh coasts.

A view of Walney Offshore Windfarm, located 15km west of Cumbria in the Irish Sea. Image source: guardian.co.uk

The UK green investment bank (GIB) has made two of its biggest investments to date, ploughing over £460m into two of the country’s largest offshore wind projects.

The government-backed bank confirmed this morning that it is to take equity stakes in both the Westermost Rough offshore wind farm off the coast of Yorkshire and the Gwynt y Môr project off the coast of North Wales.

The company said it would invest £241m alongside Japan’s Marubeni Corporation as part of a £500m deal to purchase a 50% stake in the Westermost Rough offshore wind farm from developer DONG Energy. The project, which is expected to provide 210MW of capacity and generate over 800GWh of renewable energy a year, is in the early stages of construction.

It will become the first project in the UK to use Siemens next generation 6MW turbines that are expected to increase output and reduce the cost of offshore wind energy, compared to previous smaller turbines.

The GIB also announced that it has agreed to acquire a 10% stake in Gwynt y Môr from RWE Innogy in a deal worth £220m. The project is the largest currently under construction in Europe and is expected to boast 576MW of capacity when it comes online, providing an estimated 1,700GWh of power a year, enough to meet the electricity demand of a city the size of Bristol.

Shaun Kingsbury, chief executive of the GIB said the deal highlighted the crucial role the bank will play in driving investment in offshore wind projects.

“The UK has ambitious plans to build on its position as a world leader in offshore wind,” he said in a statement. “We have two roles to play in supporting those plans. Firstly, to directly invest to help developers recycle their capital into the next wave of new renewable energy projects. Secondly, to invest on fully commercial terms to create a demonstration effect which others will follow.”

He also highlighted the Westermost Rough wind farm as a particularly “critical project in the development of the UK’s offshore wind sector”. “For the first time we will see the commercial deployment of a 6MW wind turbine, almost double the size of the typical existing turbines,” he added. “This is an important step in reducing the costs of offshore wind construction and power generation.”

The deals were welcomed by business secretary Vince Cable, who hailed them as evidence of the “game-changing role” the GIB was playing in financing the transition to a green economy. “The bank has now invested well over £600m in five offshore wind farms and mobilised £1.3bn of total funding,” he said. “This industry has the potential to generate thousands of new skilled jobs and billions in business investment.

“Both the Westermost Rough and Gwynt y Môr projects will use Siemens turbines which demonstrates why their decision last week to build new manufacturing facilities in the UK was so important. Through our industrial strategy we are working in partnership with business to give companies the confidence to invest, securing high skilled manufacturing jobs and a stronger economy.”

Maf Smith, deputy chief executive of trade body RenewableUK, said the GIB’s first move into offshore wind farms still under development should be followed by further investment.

“It’s great to see the green investment bank moving in at an earlier stage of offshore wind development,” he said. “Offshore wind requires a lot of capital up front, so investment at an earlier stage helps industry manage risk which in turn will help deliver cost savings to this sector.

“Today’s news from the IPCC shows that we need to ensure low carbon investment is on track, and that the investment gap the Environmental Audit Committee recently warned about is filled. Helping companies to recycle funding is a great way to do that. Moving forward, we also hope the green investment bank will look at how it can help onshore wind developers to bring much needed investment into that sector.”

The announcements complete an eventful week for the offshore wind industry following SSE’s announcent it will scale back its own offshore wind projects and Siemens and Associated British Port confirmation of a £310m investment in a new wind turbine factory in Hull.

In related news, renewable energy developer RES has appealed against Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council’s decision to turn down its planning application for the proposed five-turbine Mynydd Marchywel onshore wind farm.

The council’s planning committee rejected RES’ plans at a meeting on 18 February, despite the head of planning recommending approval and there being no objections from statutory consultees. RES said the wind farm would generate enough electricity to power 10,000 homes and deliver a community benefits package of £57,500 per year – equal to around £1.4m over the lifetime of the wind farm.

Chris Jackson, RES project manager, said: “We believe that RES has very strong grounds for appeal. It will be interesting to see how the council defends their decision, because it owes its taxpayers an explanation for rejecting a renewable energy project that all the experts agree is well designed and would bring significant benefits to the local area.”

The appeal has been submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for England and Wales, and will be determined by an independent planning inspector. A date for the hearing has yet to be announced.

An environmental advocate, Janique Goff is a business development manager specializing in biotechnology startups. Visit this blog for more updates on biotechnology and environmental issues.

REPOST: Climate Change Threatens the Future of the Winter Olympics

The rise in global temperatures has a profound impact not just on the environment but also on humanity’s cultures. Scientists argue that the decreasing volume of mountain glaciers and snow fields could adversely affect human activities such as skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports.

A shirtless man watches two skiers at the Olympics on February 14, 2014. The warm temperatures in Sochi have created problems for some of the events.
Image Source: news.nationalgeographic.com

A couple of months before the Winter Olympics kicked off in Sochi, Russian organizers called upon shamans to pray for snow. During the snowy opening ceremonies, it seemed that their prayers had been answered, but the Winter Games haven’t seen a flake since (see photos).

Temperatures in the host city on the Black Sea haven’t dropped below 40°F (4°C) since the third day of competition and have topped 60°F (16°C) on at least three days. When competition wraps up, the 2014 games will likely surpass Vancouver 2010 as the warmest Winter Olympics ever.

While the head-scratching decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to host the games in a subtropical resort town is likely as responsible as global warming for the balmy conditions—temperatures this month in Sochi are close to average—a recent report suggests that climate change is poised to make the slushy, temperate traits of the Sochi games an ongoing challenge in siting and hosting future Winter Olympics.

In fact, by midcentury, past Olympic venues like Squaw Valley, California; Oslo, Norway; Chamonix, France; and—of course—Sochi, will be too warm to ever host the Winter Games again.

Warming and the Winter Games

Daniel Scott, the Canada Research Chair in Global Change and Tourism at the University of Waterloo, has been studying the relationship between sports, recreation, and the environment for a couple of decades. His research came to life back in 2010 when his nation hosted what were then the warmest Winter Olympics ever, in Vancouver.

Snow and straw bales are airlifted by helicopters to the site for skiing and snowboarding events at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics; 300 truckloads of snow were also brought in.
Image Source: news.nationalgeographic.com

“In Vancouver, El Niño came at the wrong time and they had to helicopter in snow,” said Scott. “That got us asking, Are places like this really suitable to hosting the games?”

Scott and his team first looked at all of the 19 past Winter Olympic host cities to see what impact weather had on them.

“Weather has always been an important part of the games,” said Scott. Over the decades, organizers “have developed all these weather risk management strategies.”

In 1968, the Austrian army famously carted snow up in backpacks to save the ski races in Innsbrook. In Sapporo, Japan, in 1972, the luge and bobsled tracks were refrigerated for the first time. Skiers first carved down artificial, man-made snow at the 1988 games in Calgary, Canada. In Vancouver, they used helicopters to drop some emergency snowpack. Russian Olympic planners buried half a million cubic meters of snow under refrigerated blankets for a whole year.

“But we’re seeing the limits of those weather risk management strategies being tested, in Vancouver and now in Sochi,” said Scott. “So now we look forward. What are the implications of projected climate change at the 19 former host cities?”

Using emissions projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and climate data from the World Meteorological Organization and various national weather agencies, Scott’s team forecast what the local climates could look like in the future.

“Right now, all of the past host cities were deemed climate reliable,” said Scott. “But by midcentury that number drops to about half, and by late century, under the warmer scenarios that number is down to as few as six.”

In other words, within the life-span of some of the younger Olympians competing this week, as few as one-third of the cities that have held the Winter Games would still be suitable to host the outdoor events.

To get these results, Scott’s team looked at dozens of climatic indicators, and focused on two that best reflected a region’s capability to host the outdoor events like alpine skiing, snowboarding, and nordic competitions. By examining the daily minimum average temperatures and the levels of snowpack—from both natural snowfall and man-made snow—Scott and his colleagues could reasonably assess the potential for good, safe ski slopes, halfpipes, and nordic tracks.

“When daily minimum temperatures remain above freezing, snow and ice surfaces do not have the chance to recover from greater daytime melt, creating soft and slow surfaces,” the report states.

As Scott put it: “Can you have enough snow for the events? And is it cold enough to have good conditions on that snow?”

Of all 19 past host cities, only Albertville, France; Calgary; Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy; St. Moritz, Switzerland; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Sapporo will be able to answer yes to those questions by 2080, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise as they now are.

Athletes Speak Out

Having endured two straight Olympics with warmer-than-ideal conditions, athletes are starting to worry publicly about the future of their respective sports.

During the first week of the Sochi games, 105 Olympians released a statement in partnership with the climate change advocacy group Protect Our Winters.

Andrew Newell, the American cross-country skier who penned the petition, wrote, “Snow conditions are becoming much more inconsistent, weather patterns more erratic, and what was once a topic for discussion is now reality and fact. Our climate is changing and we are losing our winters.”

Newell added, “This year alone, nearly half of the FIS cross country World Cup international competitions have taken place on artificial snow. Even last year in Sochi, several pre-Olympic skiing and snowboarding events had to be canceled because of poor conditions, something that has been a consistent problem both in Central Europe and Scandinavia.”

A graphic supplied by the University of Waterloo depicts the past and future climatic suitability of former Winter Olympics locations.
Image Source: news.nationalgeographic.com

Kyle Tress, a U.S. skeleton racer, considers climate change to be an existential threat to his sport and other outdoor Winter Games. Writing in an email from Sochi, Tress said, “I often think about the future of the sliding sports, and the possibility that rising global temperatures and the increasing cost of building and maintaining venues will result in their elimination from the Olympic and World Cup programme.

“It’s not just skeleton that’s in danger,” he added, going on to cite Scott’s study. “Rising temperatures could significantly reduce the number of candidate cities [that] can host the Games, putting the entire winter sport community in jeopardy. For many niche winter sports, the Olympics represent our only chance to step onto the stage and introduce ourselves to the world. We need to be aware of the possibility that this future is in danger.”

Through the petition and their public comments, athletes are calling for broad, transformative government commitments on climate change. But in the nearer term, they need the IOC to do a better job factoring climate—and climate change—into their host city selection process. The IOC claims, in a formal evaluation report of potential 2014 sites, that “increasing consideration will have to be given and comprehensive operations and contingency plans and adaptation strategies formulated by Bid Committees and Games organisers in regard to the effects of global warming.”

But the same document found that temperatures and average snow depths for Sochi were both “satisfactory,” a claim that most of the outdoor competitors over the past two weeks would scoff at

As the Olympians return home from Sochi next week, many will set their sights on Pyeongchang, South Korea, host of the 2018 games. And though he hasn’t examined it closely yet, Scott is “not sure that [conditions in] South Korea will be much better” than those in the past few Winter Games.

Janique Goff is an advocate of green technology and has represented scientists and engineers in launching their eco-friendly ideas. Subscribe to this blog to know more about her advocacy.