Author Archives: Nathaniel

Benefits of Trees

Trees are good for nature (of course, they are part of nature) and also for people (who, whether they realize it or not, depend on nature).

West Chester Urban Forester Mike Dunn is heading up a tree-planting program this fall. As a public education measure, our allies in the West Chester Tree Team will be helping by distributing a 2-page brochure of the International Society of Arboriculture, entitled “Benefits of Trees.” (Download it from the Borough site here.)

The brochure sets forth:

• Social Benefits: Trees in our communities make us feel at home, calm, personally connected to them (and nature)….

• Communal Benefits: privacy, views, glare reduction….

• Environmental Benefits: heat moderation, air quality improvement, runoff absorption, wildlife habitats, wind reduction, reduction of pollutants….

• Economic Benefits: increased property values, reduction of heating and cooling costs, less need for storm water control facilities….

• Trees Require an Investment: of course, maintenance is needed to acquire the benefits….

For educational info from ISA, see Trees Are Good. According to the site’s Tree Benefit Calculator, one large white oak tree in our area confers benefits of about $500 a year!

See also our post “Value and Savings from 800 street trees, West Chester Borough” here.

Woman at War (film); discussion and awards Fri. Nov. 13

Fourth Annual Environmental Film and Forum Series at WCU sponsored by the Office of Sustainability at West Chester University, the West Chester Green Team, and member groups of the Chester County Environment Alliance, in memory of Graham Hudgings.

Woman at War (non-documentary film: a woman fights, not just metaphorically, for the environment in Iceland). Sponsored by WC Green Team and WCU Office of Sustainability.

Register here. View the film anytime between Wednesday 11/11 and Friday 11/13 through the link provided to registered attendees. Then join us for a post-film panel discussion and awards ceremony for local women warriors on Friday 11/13 at 7pm via Zoom. The award winners are:

Dianne Herrin- Mayor of West Chester
Danielle Friel Otten- Representative of the PA House 155th district
Debbie Bookman- Chester County Prothonotary
Paige Vermeulen- Undergraduate student at WCUPA
Gabrielle Long- Graduate student at WCUPA
Maria Urrutia- Faculty at WCUPA
Keyana Cellucci- Owner of Velvet Hair Salon
Malena Martinez- Owner of Malena’s Vintage Boutique

Next in the series: December 11: Panel: What student activists can do

Don’t work on West Chester street trees without permission!

Under West Chester Borough’s recent tree ordinance, any work performed on a street tree in the right of way must have prior borough approval which involves filling out this form and emailing to Mike Dunn.

Please spread the word and make sure your neighbors are aware, and let us know if you see any damaging tree work being performed (as in this photo; fortunately the others in the row were saved by quick action). Fall is the time for pruning and cleaning up the tree canopy, so please spread the word.

Whenever you hire someone to do tree work, be sure they are properly licensed and insured. Otherwise there can be big trouble.

Wherever a tree is, it should not be “topped.” Topping is harmfully cutting off branches and leaving stubs that are not strong enough to support the new branches that would be needed to round out and nourish the tree. A topped tree ultimately is misshapen, needs more trimming, and even dies. Download more about why not to top trees here. Why hire an arborist for your tree work? Download here.

What is a street tree? It is usually between a sidewalk and a street, or where a sidewalk would be if there were one, but it really depends on land titles, and a street tree can be as much as 10 or 12 feet from the edge of the street. So in case of doubt check with West Chester Urban Forester Mike Dunn.

Guide to having a “Net Zero” house and other energy tips

A local company, Belmont Solar, has posted a very helpful guide, “Net Zero House: The Definitive Guide to Energy Savings,” to achieving Net Zero energy status, including good tips for any home and helpful links.

The guide shows homeowners how to reduce their carbon footprint and their monthly energy bills, and ideally not only to rely entirely on their own energy output but to receive payments from the utility company.

What is a Net Zero house? It is “so energy efficient that it produces as much renewable energy (on or off site) as it consumes, making it a self-sustainable structure that is carbon-neutral.”

In addition to using renewable energy, “Going Net Zero involves superior building construction, utilizing new technology, practicing energy saving tips, and thinking outside the box.”

A few other details:

• Yes, a 26% federal tax credit still exists.

• Energy savings and renewable systems increase home market value.

• Homes can sell their excess energy production to the utility company and/or store it in batteries (whose technology is advancing rapidly).

• Insulation is really important for any home!

• So easy to do: turn off electronic devices when not in use! Those eat up electricity supposedly for your convenience, so you don’t have to wait a few seconds. Those energy stealers include entertainment systems, cable boxes, video game systems, televisions, audio systems, routers, and phones.

• Heating efficiency: ductless mini splits, smart thermostats, energy-efficient appliances.

• Rainwater harvesting, composting, and recycling also save energy, whether your own or the community’s.

Check out the full article, or see any chapter:

Chapter 1: What is a Net Zero House?

Chapter 2: Why is a Net Zero House Important?

hapter 3: How Do I Get to a Net Zero House?

Chapter 4: Installing a Clean Energy Source For Your Net Zero House – Solar Panels

Chapter 5: Insulation for a Net Zero House

Chapter 6: Reducing Phantom Loads in Your Net Zero House

Chapter 7: Energy Saving Systems and Appliances for a Net Zero House

Chapter 8: Additional Energy Saving Tips and Practices for Your Net Zero House

4CP newsletter, September 2020: the Good and the Not-So-Good

To subscribe to the Chester County Citizens for Climate Protection (4CP) newsletter, email here.  We hope you find it informative. 

THE GOOD NEWS

Microsoft will be carbon negative by 2030 (see here)

“The scientific consensus is clear. The world confronts an urgent carbon problem. The carbon in our atmosphere has created a blanket of gas that traps heat and is changing the world’s climate. Already, the planet’s temperature has risen by 1 degree centigrade. If we don’t curb emissions, and temperatures continue to climb, science tells us that the results will be catastrophic.”

Microsoft is not just to reducing its emissions but going carbon negative, wiping out all the carbon the company and its suppliers have emitted since its founding in 1975. Microsoft has set a new bar for what is considered climate leadership.   

It is a big deal. The company is setting new standards, especially in the rigor and transparency it is applying to the effort, and it is deliberately attempting to bring other companies, both suppliers and competitors, along with it into a world of shared metrics and data. First, some background. 

A quick note on kinds of emissions

In the carbon world, the emissions of a company can be divided into three buckets:

  • Scope 1 emissions come directly from resources the business owns or controls, like furnaces or delivery vehicles.
  • Scope 2 emissions come from the power plants that generate the electricity the business uses.
  • Scope 3 emissions are indirect, “embedded” in the materials and services the business uses, representing the emissions of the full supply chain including products.  This is significant, because for most companies, including Microsoft, scope 3 emissions are substantially larger than scope 1 and 2 combined.

“At Microsoft, we expect to emit 16 million metric tons of carbon this year,” according to president Brad Smith. “Of this total, about 100,000 are scope 1 emissions and about 4 million are scope 2 emissions. The remaining 12 million tons all fall into scope 3. Given the wide range of scope 3 activities, this higher percentage of the total is probably typical for most organizations.”

Microsoft just announced it has completed the largest-ever test running data center servers on hydrogen fuel cells, which can be powered by zero-carbon hydrogen generated from renewable energy. Currently, data centers have diesel generators on site for long-term backup in case of an outage. Power Innovations built a 250-kilowatt fuel cell system to help Microsoft explore the potential of using a hydrogen fuel cells for backup power generation at data centers. In a proof of concept, the system powered a row of servers for 48 consecutive hours.…  With 160 data centers worldwide and multiple generators per data center, that adds up to a lot of diesel generators. The company has pledged to phase them all out by 2030. That’s why it is testing fuel cells as backup power.

In January, Microsoft made a startling announcement: Not only will it reduce its scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions by 55 %; it will continue beyond that and go carbon negative, drawing down more carbon than it emits, by 2030. By 2050, it will draw down enough carbon to account for all the company’s emissions since its founding in 1975.

The January announcement, which came from Smith, the company’s president, backed by CFO Amy Hood and CEO Satya Nadella, laid out a set of principles that would guide the company’s approach [every company should have the equivalent!]:

  1. Grounding in science and math
  2. Taking responsibility for our carbon footprint
  3. Investing for new carbon reduction and removal technology
  4. Empowering customers around the world
  5. Ensuring effective transparency
  6. Using our voice on carbon-related public policy issues
  7. Enlisting our employees

It is now moving to a model where it directly contracts with renewable projects through power purchase agreements (PPAs). it is aiming to hit net zero for its scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2025 — and will compensate for what it can’t directly reduce with negative emissions.

As for No. 3, the company announced it will establish an investment fund that will target early-stage clean energy technologies, aiming to spend $1 billion over the next four years. A billion dollars in VC money is nothing to sneeze at. Nor is the signal Microsoft has sent to other companies by committing to a goal it admits it does not yet have the technology to achieve. It says going carbon negative will require “negative emission technologies (NET) potentially including afforestation and reforestation, soil carbon sequestration, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), and direct air capture (DAC).”

Some of those technologies don’t exist at meaningful scale yet, and Microsoft is making a concerted effort to accelerate them. Especially if it can inspire other companies to make similar investments. Amazon announced a $2 billion climate fund in June — the spillover effects will help boost the entire sector.

Microsoft chief environmental officer Lucas Joppa published an update on Microsoft’s progress. First, Microsoft is joining with nine other large companies — A.P. Moller-Maersk, Danone, Mercedes-Benz, AG, Natura & Co, Nike, Starbucks, Unilever, and Wipro, along with the EDF (Environmental Defense Fund), in Transform to Net Zero, “a cross-sector initiative to accelerate the transition to a net zero global economy.”

“Someday, CO2 removal will be fully commoditized,” says Julio Friedmann, a carbon researcher at the Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, who has helped advise Microsoft on its RFP. “These actions help put us on that course.”

The same day Microsoft published its updates on progress, Apple announced that it would aim to be “carbon neutral across its entire business, manufacturing supply chain, and product life cycle by 2030,” an astonishing goal for a company that manufactures, ships, and disposes of so many devices. “Apple has said their suppliers will all run on renewable energy,” says Bartlett. “It set targets for them.”  Since 2014, Apple has purchased enough renewable energy to offset the usage of all its data centers.  (See here.)

The London-based BritishPetroleum said that it will transform itself by halting oil and gas exploration in new countries, slashing oil and gas production by 40 %, lowering carbon emissions by about a third, and boosting capital spending on low-carbon energy tenfold to $5 billion a year. “This makes the BP the first supermajor to spell out, in detail, what the energy transition will actually entail, in practical terms.” Investment in low-carbon initiatives is set to jump to more than $3 billion by 2025 and $5 billion by 2030, “en route to 50 gigawatts of renewable generation capacity by 2030 alongside scale-up of other clean tech businesses.” And it also will build on its retail gasoline station chain to offer recharging to electric vehicles along with convenience items such as food. 

Nicely reviewed in this short video.

BYD (Build Your Dreams), the world’s leading electric vehicle company with proven innovative technology for cars, buses, trucks, forklifts, and rail systems like SkyRail. BYD is dedicated to creating a truly zero-emission ecosystem offering technology for solar electricity generation, energy storage to save that electricity, and battery-electric vehicles powered by that clean energy. BYD has 220,000 employees across the globe, including nearly 1,000 in North America.  It has completed the delivery of 10 battery-electric K9S buses to Link Transit in Wenatchee, Washington. They will join 8 already in use. In 2018, Link Transit commissioned the nation’s first 200-kilowatt wireless charging system for a battery-electric transit bus from Chester County Momentum Dynamics. The system has been operational on a BYD K9S bus since then. See picture at end.

Malvern 4 min video Wireless charging for electric vehicles. Momentum Dynamics is the market leader. A modular platform technology capable of spanning across multiple vehicle types automatically and without a plug. Up to 450kW systems means faster charging and more miles per minute while charging at > 90% efficiency.

Killer Heat by Congressional District: New Map and Fact Sheets Show What’s at stake.   A new map tool from the Union of Concerned Scientists lets you explore how the frequency and severity of extreme heat are projected to change in your Congressional district in response to global warming. Through the tool, you can download district-specific fact sheets in English or Spanish that show the risks your district faces.  Explore the interactive map.

Rolling blackouts California: 

As we review the issue; lets remember that climate change is causing more heat and we will only  get hotter, resulting in more AC use for longer periods and more wildfires ..

Yes, moving to renewables has problems and we need lots more battery storage and to keep those nuclear plants running.  But burning more CH4  means an even hotter planet with more dead people; dead trees ; dead fish & extinct polar bears.

There were 3 articles in the Wall Street Journal on the rolling blackouts in California.  All three are linked below in order.

WSJ, 18 August 2020, page A18, “Millions in California Stand to Lose Power” = news article.

WSJ, 19 August 2020, page A17, “If You Like Lockdowns, You’ll Love the Carbon-Free Future” = op-ed designed to make renewables look bad.

And then the op-ed piece, WSJ, 20 August 2020, page A16, “California’s Green Blackouts“. This is an opinion piece not news reporting.

The California Independent System Operator’s (CAISO) update about the Saturday outage:

“FOLSOM, Calif. – The California Independent System Operator (ISO) declared a Stage 3 Electrical Emergency at 6:28 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 15, due to increased electricity demand, the unexpected loss of a 470-megawatt (MW) power plant, and loss of nearly 1,000 MW of wind power. The load was ordered back online 20 minutes later at 6:48 p.m., as wind resources increased.

“A Stage 3 Emergency is declared when demand begins to outpace available supply, and grid operators need to tap electricity reserves to balance the grid. Rotating power interruptions of about 470 MW were initiated across the state.”

Please note the first failure was a gas turbine power plant, and that the outages stopped as wind resources increased that evening.  The rolling blackouts covered the unexpected 470 MW capacity drop from the gas plant.

“In their letter, the regulators pointed to two factors that they think played a role: capacity shortfalls, as well as California’s heavy reliance on importing resources to meet its energy demand during late afternoons and early evenings in the summer. 

But one factor that they said did not cause the rotating outages is California’s broader transition to renewable energy, noting that their organizations understand the impacts of wind and solar on the grid and have taken steps to integrate the resources – although there’s clearly a need to do more.

So moving to renewables is not the root of the problems

– It’s capacity planning and management.

It’s rushing some shutdowns without fully modeling the entire grid.

It’s using infrastructure built in cooler times with lower populations in the desert Southwest.

 It’s depending on hydro during extensive drought and energy imports from states suffering the same heatwave and with larger populations than the past.

  • Note, too, that these were the first rolling blackouts during two decades of energy transition, and happened during an extraordinary regional heatwave — a precursor of things to come.

Remember too that the first issue on August 15 was the sudden drop of a gas power plant . Too often the opinion writers at WSJ and elsewhere point out that wind and solar requires backup capacity, somehow failing to add that so do all other generation sources on the grid — coal, gas, nuclear, hydro, whatever. 

More batteries will help with stabilizing power, and do it faster and more accurately than peaker plants and spinning reserves. Batteries (in cars or fixed-place) will also store daytime solar for use at evening peaks, and use nighttime wind more efficiently, too.

Thermal plants, whether fossil or nuclear, also get stressed in high temperatures (or hurricanes or ice storms) , precisely when needed most, and for coal and nuclear, cooling water is sometimes another cause of unscheduled emergency shutdowns the rest of the grid needs to make up for.

We have to replace our aging power infrastructure. California should keep the Diablo nuclear plant up during that transition, but should also look at improving transmission and hardening local infrastructure.  As EVs and their batteries become virtual power plants, they’ll be able to smooth demand spikes. As the new grid matures, they’d also be able to help local areas run in island mode if the larger transmission grid overloads. 

Higher temperatures and bigger populations will only make the stress on big AC lines increase. More HVDC interconnects will also improve the situation nationally, with the bonus that HVDC cables use the entire cable to carry power, so are less subject to heat stress compared to AC lines.  Sag is one cause of the fires and outages.

Hiding costs of damage from a product is not honest market capitalism, but unfortunately, it runs rampant here. We need to get away from that.  More fossil fuel use in California would make their problems worse, not better.  They should transition carefully, but not go in reverse.

THE NOT-SO-GOOD NEWS

Trump EPA Plows Ahead With ‘Mind-Bogglingly Stupid and Destructive’ Rollback of Methane Emissions Rules: The new EPA policies effectively free fossil companies “from the need to detect and repair methane leaks—even as new research shows that far more of the potent greenhouse gas is seeping into the atmosphere than previously known,” the New York Times says. “Over the past few years there has been an explosion of new research on this, and the literature has coalesced — 80% of papers show that methane from oil and gas leaks is two to three times higher than the EPA’s estimates,” — Robert Howarth,  at Cornell University.

“It’s crazy to roll back this rule,” warned Howarth, who last year published a study on North American gas production and methane emissions. “Twenty-five % of the human-caused warming over the past 20 years is due to methane. Methane is going up. We need it to go down.”

SOILS : We already know that the Permafrost (land frozen at least 2 years) is warming and the microbes are releasing CO2 & CH4.  This change is irreversible.  And could lead to overheating the planet even if we stop burning fossil fuelsNOW: Warming soils in the tropics could cause microbes to release carbon dioxide from storage. One scientist called the finding “another example of why we need to worry more.” 

-An experiment that heated soil underneath a tropical rainforest to mimic temperatures expected in the coming decades found that hotter soils released 55% more planet-warming carbon dioxide than did nearby unwarmed areas. If the results apply throughout the tropics, much of the carbon stored underground could be released as the planet heats up. By warming only the soil, the Barro Colorado Island experiment did not capture how plants would fare under warmer conditions, If plants were to photosynthesize more, for example, they could take up some of the carbon dioxide that soils release, making the overall impact on the climate less severe. Maybe... maybe not.

Greenland: Past point of no return or just close to the cliff? Nature Communications Earth and Environment: “Greenland’s glaciers have passed a tipping point of sorts, where the snowfall that replenishes the ice sheet each year cannot keep up with the ice that is flowing into the ocean from glaciers.” “We’ve been looking at these remote sensing observations to study how ice discharge and accumulation have varied,” said Michalea King, lead author of the study at Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center. “And what we’ve found is that the ice that’s discharging into the ocean is far surpassing the snow that’s accumulating on the surface of the ice sheet.” King and other researchers analyzed monthly satellite data from more than 200 large glaciers draining into the ocean around Greenland.

While Greenland ice loss is very concerning, other experts state the tipping point is not yet reached. Richard Alley (Penn state) provides context: “models show… sustained temperature above some threshold will cause  ice sheet to lose most of its mass, but warming to date… probably not enough.”  Modeling study looked in detail at the thresholds involved, suggested that the threshold for complete loss is somewhere between 1º and 3ºC above pre-industrial (best estimate was ~1.6ºC).  So Greenland is headed toward the cliff but not over yet.

The Trump Administration on Aug  17 finalized its plan to open up part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development, a move that overturns six decades of protections for the largest remaining stretch of wilderness in the United States. The decision sets the stage for what is expected to be a fierce legal battle over the fate of the refuge’s vast, remote coastal plain, which is believed to sit atop billions of barrels of oil but is also home to polar bears and migrating herds of caribou.  Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska: “Today, we are one step closer to securing a bright future for these Alaskans and their families.”

Interior Department downplayed the risks of climate change in its review. For example, the agency estimated that the refuge could produce as many as 10 billion barrels of oil over its lifetime, but argued that the effect on greenhouse gas emissions would be minimal, since most of that oil would simply displace oil being produced elsewhere in the country.

In comments submitted to the agency, the attorneys general from 15 states, including New York, called this displacement theory “completely unsupported” (NYTimes).

   

BYD is suppling Electric buses worldwide. These are in Spain.

Plastics Industry Uses the Pandemic to Boost Production

This article by bporter from Green America on July 13, 2020, shows how industry uses any excuse not to respect the environment and the public interest.

Locally, we see that if you order groceries delivered or for pickup, you are also consuming a huge number, over double thickness, of single-use plastic bags; and even if you shop in person, many stores will not let you bring in your own bags (your own clothes and shoes, fine, it seems).

And In West Chester we’ve seen that the state legislature has taken the opportunity to extend its “ban on the ban” of single-use plastic bags and straws.

“…there is a lack of substantive evidence to back up claims that daily items such as single-use plastic bags and food service ware are less likely to transmit the coronavirus. The industry has commonly cited older studies that only confirm bacteria can accumulate on unwashed bags (and that washing reusable bags destroys the bacteria).

“Recently, over 100 scientists from 18 countries affirmed that reusables are safe and don’t increase the chance of virus transmission. They state that single-use plastics are not inherently safer and cause additional public health concerns….”

Read the article at Green America