If the weather report says it's supposed to be sunny and breezy tomorrow, do you trust that forecast enough to plan a picnic or hike?
But what if instead of a soggy lunch or wet boots, the efficiency and reliability of the region's electricity grid was at risk?
Those are the stakes that grid operators face around the clock as they incorporate wind power into the system.
Wind is a variable energy source, which means, unlike coal or gas plants, grid operators never know precisely how much power wind farms will generate at a given time. They depend on weather forecasts to estimate how much power turbines will produce in the hours and days ahead.
Those forecasts are critical for getting the most value—economic and environmental—out of wind energy. A grid operator needs to trust a forecast before it will shut down or reduce generation at more expensive and polluting fossil fuel plants.
"If grid operators have more confidence in our weather forecasts, they'll be able to avoid burning excessive fossil fuels," says Melinda Marquis, a renewable energy program manager with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
That's why NOAA recently partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy on a study called the Wind Forecast Improvement Project, which will attempt to measure the economic value of improved forecasting to the energy industry.
Green groups sued the U.S. government on Wednesday to stop the clearing of grasslands and other work on a pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands crude to Texas, opposed by environmentalists for the petroleum's high greenhouse gas emissions.
The Center for Biological Diversity, the Western Nebraska Resources Council and Friends of the Earth sued the U.S. State Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stop work they called "illegal construction" on the 1,700 mile pipeline.
Backers of the $7 billion TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline say it will provide jobs and reduce U.S. dependence on oil from countries that are unfriendly to Washington.
Environmentalists oppose the line, however, because crude produced from oil sands releases large volumes of gases blamed for warming the planet and because it would cross the Ogallala Aquifer, a massive source of water in the heartland of the country. There have been several small leaks on an existing Keystone pipeline in recent months and environmentalists say a larger leak could damage the aquifer.
The suit, the first of many legal and regulatory hurdles the pipeline could face, was filed in the U.S. District Court in Nebraska. The complaint can be seen here: link.reuters.com/gad34s.
CALGARY, Alberta—Canada's energy regulator said on Wednesday it is looking into a complaint that TransCanada Corp's permit to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline within its own borders has expired, adding the prospect of more delays to a project environmentalists hope to block.
The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, which opposes the $7 billion oil pipeline to Texas from Alberta, contends TransCanada had not begun construction of the project by March 11, 2011, as spelled out in the permit the National Energy Board granted in March 2010.
Start-up of Keystone XL has been delayed by about a year by an extended review by the U.S. State Department amid a growing political debate in the United States on the pipeline's merits. The State Department is not expected to release its decision until the end of 2011.
The NEB has requested that TransCanada respond by October 14. The union—the largest for Canadian energy workers—will then have until October 21 to react.
"Essentially the board is looking at it, asking for comments from TransCanada and CEP. Once they have that in front of them they will look at it and decide the next steps," board spokeswoman Tara O'Donovan said.
The CEP contends the pipeline, which would ship up to 700,000 barrels of oil sands-derived crude to Texas from Alberta, will prevent the creation of jobs that would come with building oil sands processing facilities within Canada.
It is also critical of the impact of tar sands development on the environment and aboriginal communities, its president, Dave Coles, said.
Minnesota wind developer Dan Juhl has seen the scenario before.
The wind production tax credit—seen as a key incentive to bringing new wind energy projects online—nears its expiration date, expires without legislative action and then comes barreling back, reviving the industry after a period of stagnation.
It's a sequence of events that has played out three times in the last decade, most recently in 2003, and is unfolding again today. The current tax credit, which provides developers with 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity produced from utility-scale wind turbines, is set to expire at the end of 2012.
Industry officials have called for a long-term extension, but so far no action has been taken. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recently said he was "not confident" it would pass given the mood in Washington, and wind energy proponents said they would not hazard to guess at its fate.
You would think that Juhl, the chairman and chief executive at Juhl Wind Inc., would be carefully tracking the issue. His company is behind four of the 15 new wind energy projects expected to come online before 2012, and has longer-term ambitions.
But Juhl said he no longer relies on the whims of Congress when thinking about the future. The need for alternative energy, he said, is simply too strong to be tempered by tax policy, he said. And besides, the tax credit has always returned.
The financial crisis and fading government support for climate action have seriously eroded global plans to capture and store carbon, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned last week.
Sequestration—the depositing of greenhouse gases underground rather than into the atmosphere—was supposed to account for a fifth of the world's emissions reductions under the agency's roadmap for keeping global temperature rise within 2 degrees Celsius (4 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century.
But delegates including the U.S. energy secretary, Steven Chu, heard at a meeting, held in Beijing, that the global temperature is on course to rise by 3.5 degrees Celsius, due to poor progress both on carbon capture and storage, and on acceptance of a carbon price and other carbon-cutting efforts.
IEA deputy executive director, Richard Jones, told the meeting, hosted by the Washington-based Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, that this would wreak havoc on human well-being. He added that time was running out to avoid this scenario because of slow progress on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).
"Every year that passes makes it more difficult," Jones said. "With current policies, CCS will have a hard time [being] deployed ... There is less of a global push for climate action, and tighter government finances."
HOUSTON, Texas—Fracking, the latest craze in the quest to produce oil and gas, has been blamed for environmental problems ranging from flammable tap water to minor earthquakes. Now a new risk is emerging: sand mining.
To squeeze hydrocarbons out of shale through hydraulic fracturing of the rock—the process known as fracking—producers need to pump an enormous amount of sand and other materials into the ground.
Obtaining the sand for this requires removing the top layer of earth over a sandstone deposit and using heavy equipment and large amounts of water to produce the fine grains.
According to some environmentalists and residents of affected areas, sand mining poses a threat to air and water quality.
Facing a shortage of the sand needed in fracking, oil and gas producer EOG Resources Inc got into this mining business to secure scare supplies and bring down costs.
But the company is facing big opposition to an operation planned in North Texas.
More Americans than last year believe the world is warming and the change is likely influenced by the Republican presidential debates, a Reuters/Ipsos poll said on Thursday.
The percentage of Americans who believe the Earth has been warming rose to 83 percent from 75 percent last year in the poll conducted Sept 8-12.
Republican presidential candidates, aside from Jon Huntsman, have mostly blasted the idea that emissions from burning fossil fuels and other human actions are warming the planet.
The current front-runner, Texas Governor Rick Perry, has accused scientists of manipulating climate data while Michele Bachmann has said climate change is a hoax.
As Americans watch Republicans debate the issue, they are forced to mull over what they think about global warming, said Jon Krosnick, a political science professor at Stanford University.
And what they think is also influenced by reports this year that global temperatures in 2010 were tied with 2005 to be the warmest year since the 1880s.
"That is exactly the kind of situation that will provoke the public to think about the issue in a way that they haven't before," Krosnick said about news reports on the Republicans denying climate change science.
The Environmental Protection Agency will miss an end-of-month target for proposing greenhouse gas regulations for power plants, the head of the EPA said on Wednesday.
The administration of President Barack Obama is under pressure from business to cut environmental regulation that critics say is hurting the economy, and last week Obama backtracked on smog plans.
The EPA is working on plans to limit greenhouse gases from power plants and oil refineries, and it had been targeting releasing some utility-focused proposals on September 30.
"Greenhouse gases for power plants is first on the docket," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said on the sidelines of an event in San Francisco. "Although we are not going to make the date at the end of the month, we are still working and will be shortly announcing a new schedule."
Japan will join the race to develop floating wind turbines to use in deepwater off its tsunami-stricken northern Pacific coast as it rethinks energy sources after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
It aims to outpace the leaders in the sector in Europe, trade ministry official Masanori Sato said on Tuesday.
"In order to take lead in offshore wind power, we want domestic studies and developments to take place and manufacturers to boost capabilities," said Sato.
"From the viewpoint of supporting reconstruction and promoting wind power, we believe it is good to pursue research and development for offshore wind farms," he said.
In the next five years, Japan plans to spend 10 to 20 billion yen ($130 to $260 million) to install six or more floating turbines off the northeast coast. It will work with firms including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Fuji Heavy Industries, Sato said.
Globally, Norway leads the way on floating turbines with a 2009 pilot project while other countries including Britain and Portugal have studied the technology.
Japan is compiling a third emergency budget likely to be more than 10 trillion yen ($130 billion) to rebuild its northeastern coast after the earthquake and tsunami hit in March, leaving 20,000 dead or missing and triggering the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Last month its parliament enacted a bill to promote investment in renewables.
Relying more on natural gas than on coal would not significantly slow down the effects of climate change, even though direct carbon dioxide emissions would be less, a new study has found.
Burning coal emits far more climate-warming carbon dioxide than natural gas does, but it also releases lots of sulfates and other particles that block incoming sunlight and help cool the Earth, according to a study to be published in the peer-reviewed journal Climate Change Letters in October.
Using more natural gas for fuel could also produce leaks of methane, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, study author Tom Wigley said in a statement.
"Relying more on natural gas would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, but it would do little to help solve the climate problem," said Wigley, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Adelaide in Australia.
"It would be many decades before it would slow down global warming at all, and even then it would just be making a difference around the edges," he said.
A global, partial shift from coal to natural gas would speed up global warming slightly through at least 2050, even with no methane leaks from natural gas operations. If there were substantial methane leaks, the acceleration of climate change would continue through as late as 2140, according to Wigley's computer simulations.