Taking a step toward carbon neutrality, Google has purchased a large share of the 200,000 to 300,000 metric tons of carbon offsets that will be created through landfill waste-to-energy operations in Berkeley, South Carolina. The Berkeley Green Power Project, a joint venture with the Berkeley County Water & Sanitation, Blue Source and Santee Cooper, will capture and flare landfill gas to produce about 3 MW of electricity—enough to power 15,000 homes in the Southeast. The carbon offsets created by the project equal the emissions from electricity used by approximately 30,000 to 45,0000 US households annually.
This partnership is the most recent in a string of Google’s research and investment in renewable energy sources. In April, the company invested $38.8 million in two North Dakota wind farms developed by NextEra Energy Resources.
The University of Buffalo has commissioned landscape architect Walter Hood to design a 5,000-panel solar array to be sited on 6.5 acres of its campus and to function as a signature piece of land art. The Oakland, CA-based Hood won out over proposals by Vito Acconci and Diana Balmori with his proposal for a fragmented grid, meant to recall DNA, supported on posts and suspended over low-maintenance grasses, crab-apple shrubs, ornamental lindens, trees and an existing creek, all of which will be publicly accessible. University officials were keen on commissioning a design for the array that would transcend the banality of most large-scale solar installations.
The project will be funded by a grant from the New York State Power Authority and will feed into the university’s grid, supplying on-campus housing with enough electricity for approximately 700 students.
Piggybacking on last week’s front-page story on comparative waste management strategies in Denmark and the US, the New York Times runs an op-ed by former Department of Sanitation (DSNY) Commissioner Norman Steisel and former DSNY director of policy planning Benjamin Miller on the need for a new set of policy actions and built facilities to manage New York City’s waste more sustainably, locally and cheaply.
As New York City’s garbage decomposes, it releases some 1.2 million metric tons a year of carbon dioxide and its equivalents — primarily methane — into the atmosphere. On top of that, the fuel it takes to haul 11,000 tons of waste hundreds of miles six days a week releases an additional 55,000 tons of greenhouse gas per year…. Since New York began exporting its garbage, the Sanitation Department’s budget has more than doubled, to $1.3 billion in the current fiscal year from less than $600 million in 1997. And in the past seven years, the costs of the city’s landfill contracts have gone up more than $90 million, enough to pay 1,000 full-time firefighters, nurses or teachers.
The writers make a series of broad proposals, primary among which is the establishment of New York City-based waste-to-energy plants. The European examples are certainly impressive. Regardless of the City’s ultimate direction/redirection on waste management, we’re glad to see discussion on the real costs and benefits of different strategies entering public debate more these days.
The New York Times runs a very informative piece on the success and prevalence of waste-to-energy plants in Denmark, where they constitute the mainstream of garbage disposal and produce a substantial amount of the energy supply. Denmark hosts 29 of these facilities, which burn non-recyclable garbage to produce heat and electricity while filtering and capturing pollutants like dioxin and mercury rather than emitting them. Denmark has ten more plants on the way. There are about 400 across Europe.
The Times goes to some lengths—and produces a valuable information graphic—drawing comparisons between Denmark and the US, where there are 87 garbage-burning power plants, almost all of which were built at least 15 years ago. (There are none currently in construction, though there might be some on the horizon.) Reticence to invest in or build waste-to-energy plants in the US, according to an EPA official, is attributed to a host of factors: the relative abundance of exploitable property for landfills (the European Union restricts the creation of new landfill sites), fear of undercutting recycling and waste reduction programs and negative public perception. This despite federal research advocating for waste-to-energy as the most environmentally friendly waste management solution for non-recyclables.
NIMBYism is, of course, always a factor; many people do not want a garbage-burning plant in their backyard. The story notes that Danes have generally embraced the facilities, which are sited in neighborhoods of a range of income brackets and provide lower-cost energy to those neighborhoods. The Danish facilities mostly look like power plants, but given the baseline rigor of Scandinavian design, that’s still quite handsome (see image above). The Times also posts a sidebar on some European waste-to-energy plants that have grander architectural ambitions, presumably to appease lingering aesthetic concerns of local residents.
Engineers at Solar Roadways, a renewable energy start-up based in Idaho, have completed a prototype for a multi-layered, energy-generating road surface. The company says that when installed, Solar Roadway would generate and store energy through photovoltaic (PV) cells, each cell capable of managing it’s own electricity generation, storage and distribution. The energy could be used to heat the road during a snowstorm, control lighting and displays via LED lighting, or help distribute additional signals such as phone and internet through a base plate layer featuring microprocessors. A translucent, high-strength surface layer would protect the electronics from the traffic and weather above.
There are lots of inevitable questions to follow up on the concept: sustainability aside, how cheap would PV panels and LED lights have to be to make this a cost-effective replacement for petroleum-based asphalt? With each cell being an individual unit, how would maintenance and replacement work? The ambition and optimism of Solar Roadways is impressive (see their list of benefits, proposals for use in military applications and global communications), though implementation seems a little hazy at this stage. Still, it’s great that people are reflecting creatively on the sustainability of roads.
It might come as some surprise to learn that Texas, that oil industry stronghold, is the leader in wind power generation in the US. Existing facilities there are capable of generating over 9,410MW of energy from the wind, almost two and a half times that of the state with the next highest capacity, Iowa (3,870 MW).
Of course, capacity isn’t always equal to actual energy generated. On Friday, March 5th, wind turbines in Texas broke a new record, generating 6,772MW, or 19% of the state’s total energy generated that day–and while this is a very impressive number, it falls well short of capacity. The state is still trying to find efficient ways to transmit energy to the grid–some days, wind turbines must be shut down as transmission wires can’t carry all the energy being produced. The state has approved a plan for a $5 billion expansion and improvement of the grid over the next several years.
Renewable energy forecasting firm 3TIER provides among its services “prospecting tools” for renewable energy, indicating where the placement of wind and solar energy production sites make the most sense based on available resources of wind and sunlight.
There are, of course, a number of other factors that affect ultimate decisions about siting: while renewable energy is generally perceived positively, the logistics and costs of operating facilities have remained daunting even for big energy providers like National Grid. Technological advances continue to be made which promise to lower barriers related to cost and wildlife safety, but for now, these are common concerns. Local politics also play in, as does technical feasibility–we are learning all of this first-hand as we investigate the possibility of installing large-scale wind or solar resources at the Freshkills Park site. 3TIER’s prospecting tools don’t offer insight on these issues, but they are a good way to start conversation.
The University of British Columbia is currently in construction of what it claims will be the “greenest building in North America”: its new $37 million Center for Interactive Research on Sustainability. Making use of fuel cells, solar panels, solar hot water heaters, ground source heat pumps and biomass co-generation, the building will be a net energy producer and serve as a living laboratory for all of these technologies. Its water system will operate without municipal plumbing or sewage connections, collecting and using only rainwater and stormwater for its water supply. The research facility has been designed by Busby Perkins + Will. Construction is expected to be complete in 2011.
Quinnipiac University in Connecticut is completing installation of a 32,000 kWh wind farm on their York Hill campus. The project is considered to be a first on an American college campus, and the energy generated by these 25 vertical-axis micro-turbines, which vary in height from 35 to 45 feet, will power half of the external lights on the 250-acre campus. This is a relatively small-scale project, but it seems like a harbinger for future renewable energy projects in campus and large-parcel planning and design.
The wind farm is the centerpiece of a larger sustainable design strategy prepared by Centerbrook Architects and Planners and works toward the larger goal of generating 20% of the campus’ total power through renewable resources. Other components of the strategy include solar photovoltaic panel installation on a residence hall, cogeneration micro-turbines, buildings constructed with recycled and renewable materials and a sustainable stormwater management plan.
(via Jetson Green)
New Yorkers can now buy Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) online through Green Power NYC, a website run by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Alliance for Clean Energy New York (ACENY). At a price of 1-to-2.5 cents per kWh, consumers can purchase wind energy or a mix of wind and hydroelectric energy through the site–though currently, it only offers choice between two providers: Community Energy (ConEdison Solutions) and Sterling Planet. These are fairly limited choices but are intended as a first step in a larger consumer-end clean energy agenda. Purchase is offered to individuals as well as to small businesses using less than 10,000 kWh per month.