Tag Archives: plant

The world’s most intense natural color – Pollia Condensata

Pollia condensata produces its blue color at the nanoscale level and is more intense than anything ever studied. From the Smithsonian Magazine:

When they examined P. condensata on a cellular level, they realized that the fruit produces its characteristic color through structural coloration, a radically different phenomenon that is well-documented in the animal kingdom but virtually unknown in plants. They determined that the fruit’s tissue is more intensely colored than any previously studied biological tissue—reflecting 30 percent of light making it more intense than even the renowned color of a Morpho butterfly’s wings.

Most plants produce a pigment which coats the plant but is not a part of its cells. When the plants die they no longer produce the pigment and fade in color. Not the amazing blue of P. Condensata.

 

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Future of clean energy in California – part renewable, part natural gas, and lots of changes

Living in California means power plants on the beach. It’s a fact of life driving up and down the coast. When you enter Los Angeles driving north there is a line of smokestacks so dense that some refer to it as “the apocalyptic city of the future.” Then as you enter San Diego driving south you pass along the “Betty Boop monument,” two giant domes with a small cap on top, which are the two nuclear generators of San Onofre.

They are all facing an uncertain future as California state law requires 33% renewable energy by 2020. Plus, an “upgrade law” which establishes higher standards for air pollution and environmental impact. That second law is the most far-reaching, and somewhat sneaky, because it directly attacks the existing power plants.

It forces all the existing plants to pay for expensive upgrades or be decommissioned, and many will be decommissioned.

As that happens you can see the future of energy in California start to take shape. 1 out of every 3 plants will be shut down and replaced by renewable energy. Another one-third will be upgraded, and the final third will be a mix. For Southern California that could mean nuclear energy, but it is more likely to be several lower-emission natural gas plants.

There is also a hope that renewable energy can take on up to half of the energy needs by 2020, but only time will tell.

To hit this point home, my local power plant, just a few miles away, is facing the decommission or upgrade dilemma. According to the owners, AES, the plant is a critical supplier in an ideal location so it won’t be shut down. The plant, a natural gas user, will be upgraded.

The plan they have put forward involves a much more modern set-up, including: replacing the industrial smokestack profile with an office building look, using air cooling instead of water (a big win for local ocean groups), much more efficient and powerful generators, quick start capabilities (from 12 hours to 10 minutes), and a reduced emission output.

For locals, like me, this is a partial win. We get rid of the ugly smokestacks and get cleaner energy, but still have a local plant giving off emissions and using fossil fuel.

The Orange County Register did a feature on what this change means for the community and the state – H.B. to lose landmark stacks for cleaner energy project

So, that image of driving along the California coast may soon change. Maybe those industrial smokestacks will turn into windmills, parks, or knowing how the state works, new million dollar homes.

 

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Our carbon sinks are absorbing twice as much carbon dioxide as they used to

The term ‘carbon sink’ is becoming more common as we all gain the scientific education needed to deal with climate change and global warming.

According to Wikipedia, carbon sinks can be both natural and artificial. Both involve the process of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which is called carbon sequestration.

The main natural carbon sinks are the oceans and plants, and with our planet covered in so much water, the oceans are the biggest sinks on Earth. The main artificial ones are landfills and the various carbon capture projects.

In those countries that follow the Kyoto Protocol, the use of artificial carbon sinks can serve as a way to offset other carbon use.

Of course, as we are pumping more carbon into the atmosphere our natural carbon sinks are ingesting more carbon dioxide:

Nature has her own way of dealing with excess carbon dioxide. When human activities spew CO2 into the atmosphere, plants absorb more of it than usual, leading to profuse growth. The ocean, too, swallows more than it otherwise would. Many scientists fret that these so-called carbon sinks risk getting clogged up. Some even suggest that this has already started happening. - The Economist

Some even estimate that the amount of CO2 absorbed by the oceans and plants has doubled. Nobody knows what this means, maybe it can continue and alleviate some of our carbon problems, or there could be a backlash effect.

For more on this, check out The Economist article, That Sinking Feeling.

 

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Update on San Onofre Nuclear Plant – backup emergency generators also flawed

NRC OVERSIGHT HAS FAILED AT SAN ONOFRE

This letter was sent to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko, with a copy to The Orange County Register:

Dear Chairman,

We were stunned to learn recently that for nearly three decades, the San Onofre nuclear reactors have been operating with inherently flawed backup emergency diesel generators, flaws that could have caused these generators to shut down as a result of a major earthquake. According to documents submitted to the NRC on May 14 of this year by Southern California Edison, the operator of the San Onofre plant, the effect of a major seismic event on the high-frequency sensors that would trigger the shutdown of the backup generators had not been analyzed. Upon discovering this issue, the sensors were immediately turned off, indicating significant safety concerns.

Allowing the San Onofre nuclear reactors, located directly next to major fault lines, to operate with such a fundamental safety issue unexamined for three decades is a dramatic failure on the part of the commission. The loss of both offsite and onsite power, or station blackout, is the very condition that led to the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima Daiichi (Japan). As you are aware, the seismic vulnerability of nuclear reactors has become an even more urgent issue in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. We are well aware of your particular concerns in this area. Tuesday’s news underscores the need for immediate and urgent action.

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The last man in Fukushima – emptiness, evacuated cities, men in radiation suits

Today marks the anniversary of the devastating earthquake that hit Japan. One survivor shares his tale.

Only Naoto Matsumura remains inside the exclusion zone, without electricity and running water and braving the loneliness and the constant threat of exposure to elevated levels of radiation to feed a menagerie of animals.

Edison delays investigation of San Onofre nuclear leak – local newspapers stop covering completely

March 2, 2012 – Southern California Edison (SCE) continues to perform extensive testing and inspections of the steam generators at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

“Nuclear safety is our top priority,” said Pete Dietrich, SCE senior vice president and chief nuclear officer. “Everything we do — from normal plant operations and routine refueling…”

Edison PR

I don’t want to be controversial, but this is starting to sound like a delay tactic. The leaking nuclear steam turbine was taken offline over two months ago with an investigation to follow. The initial word was that a report would be issued “the following week.”

After that deadline passed a few newspapers reported the delay. Then, Barbara Boxer, California’s Senator, issued a concerned letter and so did the local city council.

Still no results from the investigation.

Even the local newspapers, with readers in the fallout zone, have stopped reporting on it. The issue seems to be sliding into the rear view mirror, and perhaps that’s the way Edison wants it.

The leak has become much more serious than initially reported. Our local journalists (at the LA Times, OC Register, and San Diego UT) did us a disservice by simply reporting what Edison told them: the leak was tiny, no safety issues were posed, and Edison is doing everything right.

A line they still stick to (when they do cover it).

My own investigations turned up something different. First, the report to the NRC said that the first unit leaked up to 82 gallons/day of radioactive steam. Second, the sister unit had upwards of 1,000 pipes showing radiation damage. Third, there was another incident back in November with an ammonia leak.

Yeah, nothing to worry about here, Edison has it all under control. Two reactors turned off, one leaking, radiation damage, and ammonia problems.

It doesn’t help that Edison is purposely ambiguous in their statements. The only significant piece of information in the latest press release (linked above) is that some of the 1,000 pipes have been “plugged”. Which begs the question, were they leaking?

I understand these things are complicated but the longer the issue drags on the worse it seems to get. Edison isn’t becoming any more honest in their dealings with the public. The newspapers are continuing their anti-journalistic approach.

I have to wonder if the approach is to delay, wait until any public interest dies down, and then handle it their own way.

Stay tuned and remember that the nuclear industry has a very poor track record and may have no regulatory control.

AES power plant in Huntington Beach

If you drive down PCH in Huntington Beach you will pass the only power plant in Orange County. Located at Newland and PCH, across the street from the beach.

The natural gas plant is owned by AES a leading global power company with 132 plants in 32 countries with $17 billion in revenue. It is currently listed at #150 on the Fortune 500 (pdf).

In California, it operates 2 other natural gas plants in Los Alamitos and Redondo Beach. As well as 5 wind stations. Although, the largest section of its portfolio are coal powered plants located elsewhere in the USA.

The plant in Huntington Beach was purchased from Southern California Edison in 1998 and has been in operation since 1958. It uses conventional GM steam turbines among others.

In 2001, the company petitioned to upgrade and then turn on gas burners 3 and 4 (additional source), which would bring the capacity up to 904 MW. They were successful and, in 2002, the city valued the plant at $325 million.

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Huntington Beach Goes Solar

Huntington Beach is leading the nation in many green areas, including clean energy. In just a few weeks, the city government’s largest buildings, City Hall and Central Library, will have full solar installations in the parking lot.

This project is the result of several years of energy savings for the city, including a review of the energy costs for the city government, broken down below:

HB City Government Electricity 2008-09

  • Street Lights – $2.0 million
  • City Hall – $564K
  • Water Pumping – $519K
  • Central Library – $398K
  • Traffic Lights – $90k
  • Other – $836K
  • Total – $4.5 million

** Source: HB Energy Action Plan (pdf)

As you can see the street lights in the city are, by far, the most expensive. After that comes City Hall and Central Library, which combined cost the city nearly 1$ million/year.

In response the city used Obama’s stimulus money to fund a solar feasibility project. The results showed a positive return for the city and they put out a contract:

“SunEdison was selected as the winning bidder for the solar project…(and the city) entered into a 20-year, 2.3 Megawatt Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) contract, with SunEdison providing, owning, and operating the equipment. The city purchases the solar power at a flat rate from SunEdison.”

“According to the terms of this agreement the city is not liable for any capital costs or maintenance. Additionally, the city benefits from shaded parking.”

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Are cars causing Global Warming?

I often hear folks complain about cars and the pollution they cause. This seemed a little off so I did some investigating.

Out of all the ways to go green, including reducing energy use, buying green products, and driving less…

 

Which one is the best for the environment?

 

The EPA keeps a tally of these things on their Climate Change page and in an Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions (pdf).

The results are astounding. Cars account for only 17% of all emissions. While 80% comes from home use, business, and food.

 

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2009 US Greenhouse Gas Emissions

  • Business — 35.6%
  • Electricity — 33%
  • Personal vehicles — 17.8%
  • Agriculture — 7%
  • Residential — 5%
  • US territories — 1%

* Business = factories, business vehicles, office buildings
** Residential = gas heating
*** Includes CO2 and all other gasses 

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To put it another way. If you buy a recycled product or reduce your energy use, that has 2x greater impact than driving less does.

This means things like hang drying your clothes, buying recycled toilet paper, reusing floss, and turning off the A/C, are much more important than biking to work.

I know, I know, this just doesn’t seem right.

The numbers don’t lie…so next time you get in the car think, instead, about how you can reduce your energy use or buy a sustainably created product.

 

More on the Numbers

 

If you think about driving, most of the recommendations are for health concerns instead of pollution problems. Things like biking to work and reducing traffic congestion. Or, it is about geopolitics and our reliance on other countries for oil.

The thing is, most of the car industry is green and even innovative. There are smog checks, 40 mpg cars, engine filters galore, a huge used car industries (i.e. reuse), and awesome junkyards (recycle).

From the top, where the rich subsidize the innovations like electric cars. To the bottom, where the middle and poor buy used to save money. The entire industry appears to have itself aligned in an environmental way.

Compare that to the energy industry and green product market where that alignment isn’t quite there yet. Buying a used car saves money and helps the entire industry, and it is considered cool/smart. Whereas, buying recycled or hang drying your clothes makes you kind of extreme, and not all locations offer products.

Not to mention the incentives are tiny. The pennies and dimes I save in electricity use make me to question the extra effort. The only thing that keeps me going is “think of the kids”, lol.

This may be a good place for smart government. A good example would be the car industry, where those who drive a lot or purchase low MPG cars pay much more at the pump. They also pay more taxes and if you look at how much tax is loaded into each gallon, it’s a lot.

Perhaps there could be an extra tax on those who use more electricity. Make those who own big houses or a million appliances pay more. Use that money to fund clean energy projects.

I’m seeing this happen in a few regions but not at the scale where it needs to be. I say tax the hell out of wasters and over-users otherwise it makes all my reductions inconsequential.

Plus, it sure would be nice to get rid of these coal and gas power plants…

 

Which one would you rather have in your backyard?

 

Ginormous nuclear haul from California to Utah

Today the largest truck ever to travel in California transports a nuclear steam generator weighing 750,000 pounds to Utah. The 50 foot long turbine is classified as nuclear waste and is travelling on a truck with 192 tires to a nuclear waste dump in Utah.

The story of the journey is fascinating. A large police escort follows it the whole way. The truck can only travel 15 mph and is so long it can barely turn relying on six robotic pivot points every time. It has one powerful deisel pulling it and two trucks pushing it.

I’m inclined to try to find this truck and bear witness to the behemot (pic), but it’s travelling at night and hoping to avoid the public.

I just love it, there are so many different action adventures movies waiting to be written about it.

To learn more read the OC Register article: Giant nuclear parts: stealth ride to Utah.

The journey starts here in Orange County at my local nuclear power plant in San Onofre, where four new generators were recently installed. The plant is capable of producing 2,200 megawatts and powereing 1.6 million homes.

I’m quite certain that we get our power from a nuclear source which raises some concern for me. Not only do we live in earthquake territory with a nuclear reactor not that far away, but we also sit in a tsunami zone. I definitely need to do some research to see ow safe we are and what to do in the event of emergency.