General Motors Joins the War on Coal

Coal is slowly being ousted by natural gas and renewable energies as an energy source. Even General Motors has joined the fight by eradicating the use of coal from its plants, which will allow the automobile company to prosper in a number of ways, including getting a head start on Obama’s fuel economy mandates. GM and Ford have already moved to aluminum bodies and parts for their vehicles; swapping coal for environmentally friendly energy sources is just another step forward for GM.

What does this mean? GM no longer burns coal in its facilities, instead opting for renewable energies. The company has switched coal out for solar panels, wind power, capture landfill gas (a renewable energy), and steam that has been converted from municipal waste. The technology that GM uses to burn coal, called boilers, are no longer needed and have since been shut down. According to Slate, “General Motors is already 87 percent of the way toward its goal of using 125 megawatts of renewable energy generating capacity by 2020.”

Yet, the corporation still relies on coal: it buys power from electrical facilities that burn coal; only 12 percent of GM’s energy sources are derived from renewables. But we can’t fault the car giant for making investments and efforts toward employing better environmental practices and energy mixes. GM’s small changes will result in bigger leaps to better our environment.

(From Slate)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

May 7, 2015

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“Sun Powers a Peruvian Energy Shift” – Wall Street Journal, 9 December 2014

Peru President Ollanta Humala has introduced a rural electrification program in his country that embraces renewable energy sources, namely solar power. In Peru’s Cajamarca state, 3,900 homes have been given solar panels, which have drastically bettered these Peruvians’ day-to-day lives. President Humala’s goal is to grant panels to two million people across the Andean highlands and Amazon rain forest by 2018. Additionally, using renewables, like solar power, will reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

But the program is a bold effort; Peru’s landscape can be quite challenging. The rain forest, for instance, has high humidity and heat, which would effect the panels’ performance. Overall, many of the places will be difficult to get to, due to thick jungle and mountainous terrain.

The panels consist of 100-watt systems, an amount that only powers a few lights, a cellphone charger, radio, and TV. That might not be enough for the rural families, who each pay $3.40 a month for the system. Another issue is distrust — many remote communities are suspicious of both foreigners and new technology.

The US might also have a stake in President Humala’s program: if the program is successful, there could be room for US renewable energy companies to invest in Peru. Peru is a great contender for the technology, due to the enormous amount of sunshine it receives and its open-minded government. According to the US Commerce Department, Peru’s renewable energy market could grow to $13 billion by 2020, which encompasses $1.6 billion in solar power.

(From Wall Street Journal)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 17, 2015

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“Climate change isn’t for the birds” – Politico, 8 September 2014

In addition to affecting food supplies and increasing the likelihood of natural disasters, climate change is drastically impacting wildlife, especially our birds.

Earlier this month, the National Audubon Society published a study, which concluded that half of North America’s bird species will be endangered, and could go extinct, at the century’s end, due to the effects of climate change.

The bald eagle and Baltimore oriole are at a huge risk for endangerment, and Louisiana, Utah, Vermont, Nevada, Idaho, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Washington DC’s state birds are as well. The Audubon’s report comes after a draft of the UN’s climate change report was disclosed, which cautioned about the effects of climate change on people and ecosystems.

President Obama and the EPA are doing everything they can to stop climate change in its tracks, including introducing the Climate Action Plan and the Clean Power Plan Proposal, which are aimed at curbing power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions. Of course, there is pushback from Republicans, conservatives, and coal states, like Colorado, Kentucky, and Michigan where politicians contend that new climate regulations will deplete jobs and increase consumer’s expenses on energy.

For the report, the Audubon studied species prevalent to the US and Canada. Of the 588 species the Audubon chose, the Audubon found that by 2080, 314 of them will be in danger of extremely diminished populations because they will be without over half of their livable geographic range. The lives of these birds are indelibly linked to their physical environment.

Moreover, renewable energy — wind and solar power — also has a lasting impact on birds. Many conservatives and conservationists are calling this, “Obama’s war on birds.”

According to a report published last year by the journal Biological Conservation, around 140,000 to 328,000 birds are killed yearly through contact with wind turbines. In 2013, the Interior Department granted 30-year permits to wind farms that allowed for accidentally killing or injuring bald and golden eagles. There have also been reports of a California-based solar power plant that causes birds to catch on fire while flying.

Conservatives are using the repercussions of renewable energy on birds as more political fodder against Obama and his climate policy. Perhaps this is rightfully so, as Obama hasn’t specifically incorporated flora, fauna, and their ecosystems into his climate policy. At the same time, however, if conservative policymakers — any policymakers, at that — are concerned about the birds, then they should make efforts to integrate climate change into conservation planning. It works both ways.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

September 10, 2014

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“How Renewable Energy Is Taking Over the Electric Grid” – The Motley Fool, 6 September 2014

Renewable energy might very well beat out coal, nuclear, and natural gas as our number one source of energy. This July, every new power generating plant that opened in the US sources renewable energy.

Renewable energy is seeing an upsurge because it’s the cheapest energy alternative. Natural gas is beating wind and solar power by only a small margin in this year’s installed capacity (MW). If residential and commercial rooftops using solar power — called distributed solar energy — were added to the equation, then the number of solar units installed would be equal to natural gas in 2014.

US Energy Information Administration

US Energy Information Administration

While the previous table tells us the source of electricity generation, we should note that wind and solar energy only make a small percentage of the energy we actually use in the US.

US Energy Information Administration

US Energy Information Administration

Renewable energy’s climb is slow, but the trend is showing that renewables will soon replace coal and nuclear power. Natural gas remains a favorable source because it is still low in cost and can retain renewables and other energy sources for future use.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) published further data that shows how the US’s electricity prices have grown over the year. While costs rose in New England and the Mid-Atlantic due to increased wholesale prices from electricity generators, costs decreased on the Pacific coast — California, Oregon, Washington — because these states have installed more solar energy in the last year.

Renewables are a superior energy source in comparison to fossil fuels. Not only can wind and solar energy become cheaper, but both also prevent more greenhouse gases from being released into our environment.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

September 8, 2014

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