Editor's Note: This is the last in a three-part series on the development of seawater desalination plants in California and other drought-prone regions, looking at the environmental and economic challenges involved.
When California regulators this month approved a facility on the state's central coast that would turn salty ocean water into drinking water, it was in the face of environmental concerns and warnings that the project's hefty price tag could drastically hike customers' water bills.
Editor's Note: This is the second in a three-part series on the development of seawater desalination plants in California and other drought-prone regions, looking at the environmental and economic challenges involved.
Water has been called the lifeblood of the American West. Nowhere is this more true than in California, where dwindling water resources and a swelling population are pushing water agencies, businesses and nonprofits to find new ways to slake the state's growing thirst. Some say the state only needs to look west to the Pacific Ocean for a partial solution to its problem.
About 20 seawater desalination plants are in various stages of planning and development along the coast.
"It's kind of like the Gold Rush," said Paul Choules, vice president for desalination and reuse for Veolia Water Solutions and Technologies, one of the world's biggest desalination companies, of the potential desalination market in California. "Unfortunately, there's no gold there yet."
Editor's Note: This is the first in a three-part series on the development of seawater desalination plants in California and other drought-prone regions, looking at the environmental and economic challenges involved.
When the tiny coastal town of Sand City, Calif., fired up its desalination plant earlier this year, it became the first city in the state to tap the Pacific Ocean to provide drinking water for its residents through a full-scale desalination plant.
And it won't likely be the last. About 20 proposed plants up and down the California coast are wending their way through lengthy approval and permitting processes, as municipalities and water districts look for ways to meet future water needs of a thirsty state.
A new online science project from British climate researchers is tapping into the power of crowdsourcing to enrich the historic climate record. In the next six months alone, Old Weather’s citizen scientists may process data that would take a single researcher 28 years to tackle.
Through OldWeather.org, which launched in late October, volunteers log weather observations from more than 200 World War I–era British naval ship logs. Scientists will use that data to paint a clearer picture of past weather and make predictions about the weather of the future—including potential impacts of climate change—and to test and refine climate models.
“We built models, but we want to know if they’re any good,” said Philip Brohan of the Met Office: Hadley Centre, one of the UK’s leading climate change research centers, and one of the climate scientists behind Old Weather. “We need big databases and long records.”
The latest skirmish in an ongoing struggle between Hawaii’s largest utility and the state’s solar industry was settled earlier this month when state energy regulators rejected a proposed moratorium on new solar intallations and instead greenlighted a program intended to accelerate small solar development.
The state’s Public Utilities Commission approved a feed-in tariff program that would allow renewable energy projects of up to 500 kilowatts to get paid for the power they feed back into the electrical grid.
The decision came despite requests from Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) to postpone the program over concerns that added distributed generation resources could destabilize the islands’ power grids.
Massive utility-scale solar projects under development in the deserts of California and the Southwest have been in the spotlight in recent months as they win slow approval from state and federal regulators. But a study released in September by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that smaller solar photovoltaic (PV) installations may collectively offer similar promise for increasing the amount of renewable power on the grid.
Traditionally, the reliability of small PV systems’ power output has been a concern for utilities, project developers and grid operators, since all it takes is a few clouds to disrupt the power flow of a small array. But the Berkeley Lab study suggests that when PV plant arrays are spread out over a geographic area, the variability in power output is largely eliminated.
This means that for utilities, the distributed generation of small PV arrays could mean increased efficiency, reduced costs and a quicker path to a cleaner energy portfolio.
Italy is in the midst of a solar surge, outpacing the United States and coming in second only to solar powerhouse Germany in the push to install new projects.
The Mediterranean country’s solar boom is likely to continue for the next several years, thanks to recently adopted changes to its feed-in tariff scheme and a new national authorization process for solar projects. In the meantime, the U.S. solar industry says implementing similar policies stateside could propel domestic solar growth, and federal, state and municipal lawmakers are pushing to get such rules on the books.
Government subsidies of nuclear power plans could hitch U.S taxpayers to a technology that suffers out-of-control costs while pushing aside renewable energy development, according to a study released last week by the Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment.
The study looks at the nuclear energy industry in France, where an aggressive nuclear program has resulted in three-quarters of the country’s power coming from nuclear sources. But it says that what has been hailed as a “nuclear miracle” in the European nation should serve as a cautionary tale of over-dependence on nuclear power.
"This analysis shows the greatest danger is not that the U.S. will import French technology, but that it will replicate the French model of nuclear socialism," said Mark Cooper, the report’s author and a senior research fellow for economic analysis at the Vermont Law School Institute. "Nuclear power will remain a ward of the state, as has been true throughout its history in France."
The report comes as U.S. utilities are developing what would be the first new domestic nuclear plants in three decades, and lawmakers consider extending federal loan guarantees to help pay for such projects.
Last August, when state energy regulators in California green-lighted the first large-scale solar thermal power plant in two decades, they kicked off what renewable energy backers said would be a solar boom, bringing jobs and revenue to the fiscally troubled state.
The California Energy Commission’s approval of the Beacon Solar Energy project wasn’t the only development milestone for big solar development this summer. Five other projects have reached the home stretch of approval by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
But while those projects and others have cleared regulatory hurdles, they’re also facing a major roadblock—the expiration at the end of this year of a federal program that would pick up the tab for almost one-third of each project's costs.
Now, urged on by national renewable energy advocates, a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers is pushing to extend the program for two years, a move they say would spark billions of dollars in investment and create thousands of jobs, but election season politics and a crowded legislative calendar make passage uncertain.
California lawmakers passed a bill late last month that its backers say offers the triple benefit of job creation, electrical grid stability and greenhouse gas reduction.
The bill, AB 2514, is designed to kick start a statewide process of grappling with energy storage, emerging technologies crucial to the expansion of renewable energy generation required by California law. Though the bill was watered down as it moved through the legislative process, energy storage developers are still expecting it to deliver the incentives and certainty they need to grow and flourish.
In its original version, the bill set specific energy storage procurement targets for utilities, as well as timelines. The amended version approved by state lawmakers did not say how much, if any, storage capacity utilities would be required to have. Instead, it would require the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to assess whether to require the state’s utilities to adopt energy storage systems.
If the agency determines that such storage systems are viable and cost-effective, it would then be tasked with setting targets and timelines for utilities to procure them.
Still, David Nemtzow, chief policy officer for Colorado-based energy storage company Ice Energy told SolveClimate News that the bill is “the most far reaching storage legislation so far in the U.S. It will change the way utilities think about storage.”