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.

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.

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.”

EPA to maintain fuel economy standards


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The fuel economy standards require all new fleets of light trucks and cars to average 54.5 miles per gallon. (Robert Couse-Baker/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 1, 2016

Despite objection from automakers, the Obama administration decided on Wednesday to maintain fuel economy requirements for light trucks and cars.

Following a technical analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it was concluded that vehicle manufacturers are able to continue meeting emissions standards and fuel economy requirements for model years 2022-2025. The standards require that new fleets of light trucks and cars average 54.5 miles per gallon, with a reduction to 50.8 miles per gallon should buying habits change. In a statement Wednesday, the EPA said that the requirements help to save drivers billions of dollars at the pump, double new-car gas mileage and drastically reduce carbon emissions. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said,

“Although EPA’s technical analysis indicates that the standards could be strengthened for model years 2022-2025, proposing to leave the current standards in place provides greater certainty to the auto industry for product planning and engineering. This will enable long-term planning in the auto industry, while also benefiting consumers and the environment.”

Dan Becker is the director of the Safe Climate campaign environmental group. He said, “Numerous studies demonstrate that automakers have ample, affordable technology to achieve the program’s cost-effective goals.” Becker also said that the EPA plans to make the decision final before president-elect Trump is inaugurated in January.

The EPA is accepting public comment on the decision through December 30th, 2016. Comments can be submitted at www.regulations.gov to Docket EPA-HQ-OAR-2015-0827.

Human activity, El Niño contribute to record-setting CO2 levels


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Former CGRER graduate outreach assistant, Nick Fetty, interviews Dubuque mayor Roy Buol at the COP21 conference in Paris last December. (KC McGinnis/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | October 25, 2016

With carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reaching 400 parts per million (ppm), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently announced that a new era of “climate change reality” has begun.

Earth’s atmosphere contained 400 molecules of CO2 for every one million molecules for the first time in globally recorded history in 2015, and 2016 is likely to be the first year where global averages exceed this threshold.

Even though human outputs of CO2 remained steady from 2014 through 2015, a particularly strong El Niño in 2015 caused a dramatic increase in greenhouse gas levels. El Niño is a weather phenomenon characterized by especially warm temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean that have far-reaching weather effects. In 2015, the phenomenon caused drought in tropical regions around the globe, which negatively affected the amount of gases that forests, vegetation, and oceans were able to absorb.

While El Niño heightened the spike of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere last year, human activities like agriculture and industry caused 37 percent of the warming effect due to methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide increase from 1990 through 2015. Petteri Taalas, WMO secretary-general, said, “The El Niño event has disappeared. Climate change has not.” Scientists at the longest-running greenhouse gas monitoring station in the world in Hawaii say that CO2 levels will not drop below 400 ppm for several generations. Carbon dioxide is responsible for around two-thirds of the warming effect that long-lived greenhouse gases have on the atmosphere.

WMO released this report just before the next round of climate talks associated with the Paris Agreement, a climate change mitigation plan signed by 200 nations last December. Participating countries committed to limiting temperature increases to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Taalas said, “The year 2015 ushered in a new era of optimism and climate action with the Paris climate change agreement. But it will also make history as marking a new era of climate change reality with record high greenhouse gas concentrations.”

The 200 nations will meet in Morocco next month to forge a path forward.

Media receptive to 2016 Iowa Climate Statement


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This year’s climate statement emphasized the many benefits of climate-smart agriculture. (Carl Wycoff/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 7, 2016

The 2016 Iowa Climate Statement was released on Wednesday with the endorsement of 187 scientists from institutions across the state and local media took notice.

A conference call was held on the morning of October 5th to announce the document’s release and to take questions from interested parties. Iowa Climate Statement 2016: The Multiple Benefits of Climate-Smart Agriculture explains why sustainable farming practices such as reduced tillage, buffer zones, and cover crops are necessary and how they can benefit farmers.

Agriculture makes up about 27 percent of Iowa’s greenhouse gas emissions. The wider implementation of practices like those outlined in the document would not only reduce emissions but store additional carbon in healthier soils, scientists say. The statement asks policymakers to further incentivize farmers to participate in conservation practices. Kamyar Enshayan, director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa, said, “You can’t just say, ‘Do it when you want to or whenever you can.’ Policymakers need to provide incentives for beneficial action.”

The release marks the sixth annual Iowa Climate Statement, a complete record of previous climate statements can be found here.

Additional press coverage of the 2016 Iowa Climate Statement is available below:

National Drive Electric Week events planned for three Iowa locations


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The engine compartment of an all-electric Toyota Rav 4. (Jeff Youngstrom/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 13, 2016

National Drive Electric Week is hosting its fifth annual celebration and outreach effort this week at locations across the United States.

The week-long celebration is presented by Plug In America, the Sierra Club, and the Electric Auto Association. National Drive Electric Week is hosting 232 events during the week of September 10th through the 18th. At each event, electric vehicles provided by local owners and car dealerships will be available for public observation, test-drives, and rides.

The popularity of electric vehicles in Iowa is on the rise. According to the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, approximately 1,000 electric vehicles are already in use in the state, and that number has the potential to reach 100,000 by 2040. David Darrow of Grimes, Iowa will display his Tesla Model S P85D at the Drive Electric DSM Car Show. He said, “For daily driving, it’s just unbeatable. It just makes other cars feel kind of clumsy and rough. When you take out the delay of sucking air and fuel, and you take out the delay of a shifting transmission, it’s amazing the difference driving an electric car.”

Electric vehicles help to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil and produce zero tailpipe emissions, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. While electric vehicles can have a much larger price tag initially, the cost can be offset by fuel cost savings, a federal tax credit, and state incentive programs. Also, as production volume goes up, prices are likely to go down.

National Drive Electric Week will host three events in Iowa this week:

Drive Electric DSM Car Show
When: Wednesday, Sept. 14 from 11:30 a.m-1:30 p.m.
Where: Western Gateway area of downtown Des Moines,
between Locust St. and Grand Ave.

Drive Electric Week Event West Des Moines
When: Thursday, Sept. 15 from 4:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.
Where: Valley Junction Farmer’s Market
304 5th Street, West Des Moines, Iowa 50265

Drive Electric Week Event Cedar Rapids
When: Saturday, Sept. 17 from 8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Where: NewBo City Market
1100 3rd Street SE
Cedar Rapids, IA 52401