Tesla introduces subtle solar roof option for homeowners


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Tesla’s solar roof in slate glass. (Tesla)
Jenna Ladd | May 23, 2017

The solar energy market experienced a 97 percent growth in 2016. In total, the U.S. has more than 42 gigawatts of solar energy capacity; that’s enough to power 8.3 million homes.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is working to win over some U.S. homeowners who may be hesitant to install solar panels because of their bulky appearance. The company is introducing solar cell roof tiles to the market this summer that look just like conventional roofing options. The tiles are made of tempered glass, allowing the sun’s rays to reach solar cells tucked away within them. With four styles available: textured, smooth, tuscan and slate, the tiles are made to please the style-conscious homeowner.

As with many of Tesla’s products, the tiles will be cost-prohibitive for many when they first hit the market. The company estimates they will cost about $22 per square foot if a mixture of solar cell tiles and regular tiles are used and $42 dollars per square foot if only solar cell tiles are used. The company’s website reminds prospective buyers of the 30 percent Solar Investment Tax Credit, which allows consumers to deduct 30 percent of the total cost of installing solar panels from their federal income taxes.

The glass tiles come with a lifetime warranty and can allegedly handle hailstones traveling at 100 miles per hour with ease. Tesla compared this to conventional roof tiles, which shattered under the same conditions. Each tile’s solar cell is guaranteed to last 30 years.

The company started taking preorders in early May. It will begin installing roofs in California this June and complete installations throughout the country in the months that follow.

New Trump executive orders will take aim at protected public lands, offshore drilling bans


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National park sites without active wells, but where drilling could take place in the future. (National Parks Conservation Association)
Jake Slobe | April 26, 2017

After moving last month against Barack Obama’s efforts to limit fossil fuel exploration and combat climate change, President Trump will complete his effort to overturn environmental policy this week by signing two executive orders to expand offshore drilling and roll back conservation of public lands.

Today, Trump will sign an executive order directing his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, to review national monuments designated by previous presidents under the Antiquities Act of 1906, aiming to roll back the borders of protected lands and open them to drilling, mining, and logging.

President Trump is then expected to follow up on Friday with another executive order that will aim to open up protected waters in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans to offshore drilling. If signed, the order would eliminate the Obama administration’s plan that would have put those waters off limits to drilling through 2022. Friday’s order is also expected to call for the lifting of a permanent ban on drilling in an area including many of those same waters — a measure Obama issued in December 2016 in a last-ditch effort to protect his environmental legacy.

These moves, according to the Trump administration, will begin to fulfill a central campaign promise to unleash a wave of new oil and gas drilling and create thousands of jobs in energy.

The reality is much more complicated say experts in the law, policy, and economics of energy. Legal experts say it will still be a heavy lift for the Trump administration to change the current laws. The orders are unlikely to lead to job creation in the near future or significant new energy development.

Iowa leads midwest in clean energy momentum


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The recently released top ten list ranks states not only by current performance but also potential for clean energy development in the future. (Union of Concerned Scientists)
Jenna Ladd | April 21, 2017

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently published its list of top ten states demonstrating “clean energy momentum,” and Iowa led the Midwest.

States were ranked using twelve metrics that fit into three general categories: technical progress; direct, visible effects on our daily lives; and policies to build momentum for the future. Their publication pointed out that despite recent federal rollbacks of Obama-era climate policy, great strides have been made in renewable energy development. They note that wind farms nationwide produce enough electricity to power 20 million U.S. households. Additionally, they write, enough solar electric panels were added in 2016 to power another two million houses.

The usual suspects led the pack with California at the top of the list. The Golden State is among the top performing states in eight of the metrics and is in the number one position for electric vehicle adoption. Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Oregon, Maine, Washington, New York and Iowa complete the top ten list. Iowa is the first midwestern state to appear on the list, followed by Minnesota.

Wind energy has played a fundamental role in Iowa’ development as a clean energy leader. The Hawkeye state was the first to generate more than 30 percent of its energy from wind. Iowa has already seen $11.8 billion in wind project investment alongside the creation of 8,000 new jobs. Moving forward, Iowa is expected to generate 40 percent of its energy from wind by 2020.

“While the federal government can play important roles in making efficiency, renewable energy, and vehicle electrification a national priority, states can be a consistent, powerful, positive force as well,” the report read.

More information about the rankings and the full report can be found here.

U.S. energy flow chart reveals the good and the bad


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(Lawerence Livermore National Laboratory)
Jenna Ladd | April 18, 2017

Each year since 2010, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has released an energy flow chart that illustrates sources of U.S. energy, what it’s used for and how much of it goes to waste.

The 2016 energy flow chart quantifies energy use in British Thermal Unit “quads,” which is shorthand for quadrillion or one thousand trillion. A British Thermal Unit (BTU) is equal to the amount of energy required to raise one pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit. Americans used 97.3 quads of energy in 2016, which is about 0.1 quadrillion BTU more than last year.

The gray box on the upper right-hand corner of the graphic depicts just how much of that energy was wasted this year: 66.4 quadrillion BTU or 69 percent of all energy produced. It is important to remember that per the second law of thermodynamics, when raw materials are converted into energy, some energy is always lost to heat. In other words, no reaction is 100 percent efficient.

Since the 1970’s, wasted energy has surged in the United States due to a rapid increase in personal electricity consumption and private vehicular transportation, which are both extremely inefficient. Roughly 75 of the energy generated for private transportation and two-thirds of energy required for electricity goes to waste.

This year’s energy flow chart was not all bad news. Coal use fell by nine percent nationwide. That supply was replaced by rapid growth in wind, solar and natural gas energy production. Wind and solar energy did particularly well, with wind energy up 19 percent and solar energy up 38 percent.

Fossil fuel consumption for transportation rose by 2 percent this year, but residential, commercial and industrial energy use all decreased slightly. In all, the U.S. is slowly moving away from fuels that emit greenhouse gases. Total carbon dioxide emissions fell by 4.9 percent in 2016. It is uncertain, however, whether this trend will continue under the Trump administration.

Integrating art and science: Climate Narrative Project explores new ways to communicate environmental issues


Jeff Biggers introduces the Fellows that took part in the Spring 2015 Climate Narrative Project. (Photo by Bethany Nelson)
Jake Slobe | April 12, 2017

In this episode of EnvIowa, we talk with Jeff Biggers, writer in residence at the University of Iowa and Natalie Himmel, an English and International Studies Major at the University of Iowa about the Climate Narrative Project.

The Climate Narrative Project, launched in 2014, is a special media arts initiative through the UI Office of Sustainability designed to train a new generation of climate storytellers. The project reaches across many academic disciplines using theatre, film, creative writing, spoken word poetry, yoga, and dance to grapple with how stories can change the way we view climate and spur action.

Over the past three years, Climate Narrative fellows have produced a wide variety of art projects including short films, theatrical monologs, and creative writing pieces. The projects center around localized themes related to climate change. Past themes have included the role of water and the Iowa River, soil carbon sequestration and prairie restoration, local food and regenerative agriculture, and climate migration.

This semester the project will focus on exploring ways in which we can live in regenerative cities in an age of climate change.

Since its inception, the Climate Narrative Project has brought in a wide range of undergraduates and grad students from many Colleges and departments including the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, College of Education, College of Engineering, College of Public Health, Tippie College of Business and Graduate College.

The Climate Narrative Project serves as a partner for the Yale Climate Connections nationally syndicated public radio program. In 2014, Yale featured the Climate Narrative Project: Climate As Local Narrative.

To learn more about the fellows and see the Climate Narrative Project outlines, discussions, and an archived research from previous projects visit https://sustainability.uiowa.edu/initiatives/climate-narrative-project/.

EnvIowa is available on iTunes and Soundcloud and a complete archive of previous episodes can be found here.

 

Wind energy continues generating economic growth in Iowa


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Jenna Ladd | April 4, 2017

The state of Iowa is projected to source 40 percent of its energy from wind by the year 2020 according to a recent report.

Navigant Consulting released an analysis last week predicting wind-related economic development in the state. According to the report, wind power is expected to provide 17,000 additional jobs and $9 billion in economic activity over the next three years. The Hawkeye state has already benefited from $11.8 billion in project investment and more than 8,000 wind-related job placements.

Kathy Law is a real estate lawyer for wind developers and comes from a long line of Iowa farmers. In an interview with Yale’s Climate Connections, she said, “I think for the most part it’s helpful just that I’m a farmer that can talk the language with the farmers.” Law pointed out that wind can provide a steady income flow for landowners. She added, “It’s a product just like our corn and soybeans. Why not harness it and benefit from it?”

Wind development in Iowa also generates tax dollars for the state. Over the next four years, wind-related projects are expected to yield $370 million in property, income and sales tax. This money, which flows into counties, helps to pay educators, pave roads and provide rural medical care.

Nationwide, wind energy provides 5.5 percent of all electricity used. In Iowa, wind provides 36 percent of electricity used. In terms of wind-energy employment, Iowa is second only to Texas and is expected to continue leading the way in renewable energy through 2020.

Tom Kiernan is CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. He said, “Wind does not provide just well-paying jobs either, many Iowans also know wind farms are the new ‘drought-resistant cash crop’ in Iowa, paying up to $20 million a year to Iowa farmers.”

Scientists construct massive fake sun to develop new renewable energy source


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“Synlight,” the world’s largest artificial sun, was created by scientists to develop new ways to create hydrogen fuel. (Bruno Amaru/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 24, 2017

Scientists in Germany have constructed the world’s largest artificial sun in order research how to produce a developing renewable energy source.

Hydrogen is regarded as the renewable fuel of the future, mostly because it does not produce greenhouse gas emissions when burned. However, the gas isn’t found alone in the nature so scientists must split the molecules that make up water (H2O) in order to harness its power. Separating H20 molecules requires a great deal of energy; the German scientists hope to learn how to get that energy from sunlight.

The artificial sun, called “Synlight,” is comprised of 149 high-powered film projector spotlights and is able to generate 350 kilowatts. Bernard Hoffschmidt is research director at the German Aerospace Center, Synlight’s home. Hoffschmidt told the Guardian, “If you went in the room when it was switched on, you’d burn directly.”

The researchers will point all of the artificial sun’s energy at a single 8 by 8 inch spot where it will emit 10,000 times the amount of light that reaches Earth naturally from the sun. Using these strong rays, the scientists will be able to experiment with new ways of creating hydrogen fuel using energy from the sun.

In the short term, Synlight uses an incredible amount of energy: four hours of operation is equivalent to how much electricity a family of four would use in a year. Long term, the researchers anticipate it could help them learn how to use naturally occurring sunlight to produce hydrogen fuel without the use of any fossil fuels.

Hoffschmidt said, “We’d need billions of tons of hydrogen if we wanted to drive airplanes and cars on CO2-free fuel. Climate change is speeding up so we need to speed up innovation.”