Stanford study shows how to power California with wind, water and sun


A Stanford study outlines how power from facilities such as the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California’s Mojave Desert can be part of the state’s renewable energy future. (Courtesy of BrightSource Energy)

New Stanford research outlines the path to a possible future for California in which renewable energy creates a healthier environment, generates jobs and stabilizes energy prices.

Imagine a smog-free Los Angeles, where electric cars ply silent freeways, solar panels blanket rooftops and power plants run on heat from beneath the earth, from howling winds and from the blazing desert sun.

A new Stanford study finds that it is technically and economically feasible to convert California’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one powered by clean, renewable energy. Published in Energy, the plan shows the way to a sustainable, inexpensive and reliable energy supply in California that could create tens of thousands of jobs and save billions of dollars in pollution-related health costs.

“If implemented, this plan will eliminate air pollution mortality and global warming emissions from California, stabilize prices and create jobs – there is little downside,” said Mark Z. Jacobson, the study’s lead author and a Stanford professor of civil and environmental engineering. He is also the director of Stanford’s Atmosphere/Energy Program and a senior fellow with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy.

Jacobson’s study outlines a plan to fulfill all of the Golden State’s transportation, electric power, industry, and heating and cooling energy needs with renewable energy by 2050. It calculates the number of new devices and jobs created, land and ocean areas required, and policies needed for infrastructure changes. It also provides new estimates of air pollution mortality and morbidity impacts and costs based on multiple years of air quality data. The plan is analogous to one that Jacobson and other researchers developed for New York state.

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A newly launched satellite will reveal even more about the planet’s workings than originally planned

via BBC

Monitoring Earth: Gaia’s breath

THE ten-and-a-half minutes it took a Delta 2 rocket to lift OCO-2 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to a parking orbit 190km above Earth on July 2nd would have been too long for most people (even Tibetans—see article) to hold their breath. But you could not have blamed the team of scientists and engineers that built the satellite for wanting to. Five years ago they watched as the original OCO—the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, designed to map the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide around the world and its change over time—lifted off from the same place, only to end up sunk in the sea off Antarctica after the rocket carrying it failed.

Thanks to money made available by America’s fiscal stimulus, OCO is a rare example of a lost mission that got a second chance. A near-identical version—a carbon copy, you might say—was rushed into production. After a second atmospheric-research satellite was lost because of another problem with the make of rocket that had served OCO so poorly, though, the replacement had to wait for a few years while a more reliable alternative was procured.

That delay produced not just a safer launch, but also a better satellite. In 2013 the devices (called reaction wheels) used to point Kepler, a space telescope, at its target stars started to fail—devices on which OCO-2, too, would rely. They have been modified. And OCO-2 has also become even more scientifically promising in the interim—not because of better instruments, but because of a new appreciation of what the old instruments can do.

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An Israeli Company Has Created Water Out of Thin Air

Image Credit: Water-Gen

Can you create water out of thin air?

An Israeli company is doing just that and is providing its technology to militaries in seven nations including the U.S., Israel and an un-named Arab nation.

Water-Gen, the only water tech company included on Fast Company’s list of “The World’s Most Innovative Companies 2014” has a lot to teach California, which is going through one of the driest winters in modern history.

This is exactly what California Gov. Jerry Brown thought as well and that’s why he recently signed a cooperative research and development agreement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in fields such as water conservation technology. Brown said he hoped Israeli water technology could help California deal with its record-breaking drought.

Originally designed to hydrate troops in severe combat situations, Water-Gen created a water generating unit that turns air moisture into drinking water. That’s right: It creates water out of thin air. The solar or electric-powered water generator, which can sit on the ground or in vehicles such as tanks, produces between 10 and 20 gallons of fresh, cold, drinking water per day.

For California, Water-Gen’s water-generating technology has great potential to serve those located in the state’s Central Valley, a large, dry and rural area.

Basically, an air filtering unit faces the outside, extracting humidity from the air. The filter works like an air dehumidifier or air conditioner: It sucks in air moisture and removes toxins.

Then, this clean air enters GENius™, their unique heat exchanging system. GENius™ produces liquid water from the humidity. This liquid water collects at the bottom of the unit and then fills up water tanks. Finally, it flows to a tap located within the vehicle.

In addition to the water generator, Water-Gen has created technologies that produce drinkable water from various sources, including air conditioning units’ wasted drops. Spring, a newer product, is a portable water purifier that can clean any water source, no matter how toxic.

Although Spring was first designed to address military challenges, it can also be used in first responder situations. In fact, when the Israel Defense Forces sent a team to help after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, they used Spring to aid troops and typhoon victims.

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Breakthrough in drought tolerant crop research

“It’s like a switch we can turn on and off to modulate how plants cope with water stress.”

A three-year drought has farmers and food companies seeking new strategies in securing a stable food supply. The work of a southern California plant scientist could offer one solution in developing drought tolerant crops.

Long lab hours paid off at the University of California, Riverside. Plant science research conducted here may one day change the food industry. A plant cell biologist at UC Riverside has made a major breakthrough in the development of drought resistant crops.

Sean Cutler explained, “It’s like a switch we can turn on and off to modulate how plants cope with water stress.”

Cutler used a thermal imaging camera to read leaf temperature on a tomato plant. He said, “When we treat the plants with the chemical ABA or the synthetic chemicals that we discovered it causes them to stop losing water and as a result their leaf temperature will rise.”

ABA is short for abscicic acid. The camera tells him if the plant is making ABA or reacting to its presence. A single leaf has thousands of pores which open and close. “When water levels go down they close their pores to keep water in.”

Cutler discovered a new compound he has named quinabactin. It sets off a molecular response to protect stressed plants. He said, “This was the big breakthrough because now we have a synthetic chemical that allows us to do what ABA does.”

Quinabactin basically puts plants in standby mode so they conserve water. The synthetic compound mimics ABA. “This was the needle in the haystack from screening through 65,000 compounds.”

Cutler said it would be too expensive and ineffective to produce the natural hormone on a large scale. “We spray the plants with this compound and look to see what happens to their ability to withstand drought and to survive after drought.”

Cutler’s team began its research with the Arabidopsis plant – one commonly used in many plant labs. “But when we tested it on soybean we could see it was quite potent on soybean.”

The compound’s also being tested on other crops like corn, rice, wheat and tomatoes.

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Water-Cleaning Technology Could Help Farmers

The Central Valley of California, with the San Joaquin Valley in the southern sub-region, and the Sacramento Valley in the northern sub-region. Credit: 2004 Matthew Trump (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It could offer some relief to the West’s long-running water wars.

The giant solar receiver installed on a wheat field here in California’s agricultural heartland slowly rotates to track the sun and capture its energy. The 377-foot array, however, does not generate electricity but instead creates heat used to desalinate water.

It is part of a project developed by a San Francisco area start-up called WaterFX that is tapping an abundant, if contaminated, resource in this parched region: the billions of gallons of water that lie just below the surface.

Financed by the Panoche Water District with state funds, the $1 million solar thermal desalinization plant is removing impurities from drainage water at half the cost of traditional desalinization, according to Aaron Mandell, a founder of WaterFX.

If the technology proves commercially viable — a larger plant is to be built this year — it could offer some relief to the West’s long-running water wars.

WaterFX faces a daunting and urgent task. The water is tainted with toxic levels of salt, selenium and other heavy metals that wash down from the nearby Panoche foothills, and is so polluted that it must be constantly drained to keep it from poisoning crops.

And with California facing a record-breaking drought, the spigot has gone dry for farmers that depend on long-term contracts with the federal government’s Central Valley Project to deliver cheap water from the north. Irrigation costs are expected to double or triple as growers are forced to buy water on the spot market.

“Food prices are going to go up, absolutely,” said Dennis Falaschi, manager of the Panoche Water District, as he drove his pickup truck past bone-dry fields of almond trees and grapevines on an unseasonably warm day recently.

WaterFX’s project exploits two things the Central Valley possesses in abundance — fallow land and sunshine — to cut desalinization costs.

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