Archive for the 'Student blog entries' Category

Jul 26 2018

Response: Is Banning Plastic Straws a Viable Solution?

An interesting point is brought up by Bobby in the original post regarding the plastic straw debate. Yes, they end up in our oceans and are harmful to marine organisms but they are also necessary for the aid of those living with disabilities. Alternatives to plastic can still be hazardous to those who need straws, can be lower in quality, and are generally more pricey. The straw ban may even have economical issues- bubble tea shops in San Francisco rely on the use of straws to consume their product and are scrambling to find solutions for their stores if the straw ban gets enacted (Kauffman, 2018). So maybe a plastic straw ban is a little extreme, at least until we find a suitable replacement.

Image from: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/22/mcdonalds-paper-over-plastic-straw-better-for-earth-to-not-use-one.html

The major issue is that we don’t have a sustainable replacement, at least not now. Most biodegradable straws are made from polylactic acid (PLA), a material that can only be broken down under high heat (Kauffman, 2018). This means that the straws need to be sent to an industrial compost facility in order to be degraded. Many towns do not have these composting abilities, much less the ocean. These straws would continue to remain a threat if they entered the oceans. There are other materials available to create bio-degradable straws but they are less developed and more costly.

Image from: https://nypost.com/2018/03/23/great-pacific-garbage-patch-is-now-twice-the-size-of-texas/

However, I believe that plastic straws might not even be the most detrimental source of ocean pollution. A team of scientists analyzed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to understand what plastics it is composed of and found that fishing gear made up the majority of this trash. Fishing gear in particular has a detrimental effect on marine organisms because it is designed to trap them, preventing escape and increasing their chances of injury or death.About 46 percent of this garbage were fishing nets alone (Parker, 2018). This didn’t even account for other fishing gear, ropes, traps, and crates which also made up a significant portion. Another 20 percent of the trash pile consisted of debris from the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan (Parker, 2018). However, this only represents ocean surface pollution and even more plastic is predicted to be within it’s depths.

The straw ban generates a lot of issues for many businesses and folks living with disabilities and it may not even reduce a significant amount of ocean plastic pollution. While I fully agree that we should opt out of straws when we are able, this is also a difficult practice to monitor. As of now, the best solution would be to provide straws on request instead of enacting a full ban. This is quite a disappointing issue but hopefully a technological breakthrough will help solve this problem.

 

Sources

Kauffman, Jonathan. “Trouble for Bubble Tea Shops as San Francisco Bans Plastic Straws.” San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, 23 July 2018, www.sfchronicle.com/restaurants/article/Trouble-for-bubble-tea-shops-as-San-Francisco-13096110.php

Parker, Laura. “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Isn’t What You Think It Is.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 22 Mar. 2018, news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/03/great-pacific-garbage-patch-plastics-environment/

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Jul 16 2018

BARD Offshore I Wind Farm: A Case Study

Photo Credit: https://www.windpoweroffshore.com/article/1297004/bard-1-transmission-problems-continue

Overview:

Germany has always been a leader in renewable energy technology. Due to this dedication, they were able to institute what is now the 9th largest offshore wind farm by nameplate capacity, BARD Offshore I. BARD Offshore I is an offshore wind farm developed by Bard Engineering GmbH in the German North Sea which consists of 80 turbines, each with a nameplate capacity of 5 MW. This leads to an overall installed capacity of 400 MW (BARD Offshore 1 Offshore Wind Farm). The site spans an area of 59 km2 about 101 km from the shore, with the turbines placed on grounded tripiles in water that is approximately 40 meters deep (BARD Offshore 1 Offshore Wind Farm).

Cost:

The project is stated by 4C Offshore to have a cost of 2.9 billion Euros, which is an extrapolated estimate for capital expenditure based on UniCredit’s Summary Note from January of 2012. UniCredit and the European Investment Bank were the two players who were able to finance the endeavor and kickstart the project and, as of March 2018, there are rumors that Ocean Breeze Energy GmbH & Co. is attempting to sell the wind farm for 1 billion Euros. Due to such a heavy initial investment, Hirtenstein notes that after an unexpected restructuring early in the sites history, the asset was transferred to the Italian bank due to financial inadequacies. The farm has been operational since it’s completion in 2013, meaning that 16 years still remain on the original power purchase agreement made with the German government, which could provide the stable cash flows associated with contracted electricity sales (Hirtenstein, 2018). Although many projects are adequately planned financially, it appears as though there is a trend amongst advancing renewable energy technology in particular of project or even business failure due to a lack of funds. Even in a country like Germany, a renewable energy leader, unplanned expenses can easily derail a project.

Energy Impact:

Photo Credit: http://www.newgeography.com/content/00462-euroburbia-a-personal-view

In terms of the effects of the offshore wind farm on the community, BARD Offshore I is able to power 283,302 houses annually (BARD Offshore 1 Offshore Wind Farm). Note that this statistic may not translate directly across the world as the homes powered annually is directly correlated with the annual consumption per capita, which differs across nations. Additionally, 4C Offshore stated that the farm led to reductions of 572,554 tons of carbon dioxide and 13,315 tons of sulfur dioxide. It would be safe to assume that these statistics are similarly based upon the specific metrics in Germany. Although these statistics are not expected to be exact, it is important to keep in mind that consumer behavior may change as a result of outside influences such as a change in the source of electricity. Such influences may lead an individual to become aware of the importance of renewable energy and energy conservation and thus make the conscious decision to decrease their energy usage.

Environmental Impact:

In terms of environmental conditions, the turbines at BARD Offshore I have many of the same effects as any other wind farm. The construction stage of the project lasted for more than 2 years, leading to decent exposure to marine organisms (BARD Offshore 1 Offshore Wind Farm). As opposed to the classic monopile configuration, each turbine now calls for three steel beams to be pile driven into the ocean floor, increasing overall surface area affected. This stage of the offshore wind project would constitute the largest concern in terms of underwater noise as the pilings would have to be embedded into the sea floor. This process was expected to produce more than the ambient noise level of 105 dB anywhere within a 20 km radius. Based on the environmental impact assessment conducted by Arcadis, the decommissioning phase would present almost identical impacts as the construction phase but at considerably lower intensity.

Once operational, the issue of underwater noise would still exist but to a lesser extent, with variations in marine organism reactions that is not possible to project with accuracy (Environmental Impact Assessment – Offshore North Sea Power Wind Farm, 2011). Collision casualties from bats or sea birds would, similar to any onshore wind farm, be an issue worth exploring, especially given the massive amount of surface area consumed by BARD Offshore I. Even without direct strikes, an offshore wind farm can affect both fish or bird migration patterns and the cumulative impacts between multiple wind farms can expose a synergistic relationship (Vaissiere et al., 2014). Vaissiere et al. inquires about the environmental impact assessment at its core due to the fact that despite impacts on marine organisms, biodiversity offsets haven’t yet taken hold. If carbon offsets are able to compensate for the weaknesses of fossil fuel energy generation, then EIAs should exercise the power to mitigate and make up for the shortcomings of offshore wind energy.

 

References

“BARD Offshore 1 Offshore Wind Farm.” 4C Offshore Ltd, 4C Offshore, www.4coffshore.com/windfarms/bard-offshore-1-germany-de23.html.

“Environmental Impact Assessment – Offshore North Sea Power Wind Farm.” Arcadis, 6 May 2011, www.ekf.dk/da/om-ekf/CSR-i-EKF/Documents/10296_MER%20Norther_finaal%2006052011_EN%20_FINAL.pdf.

Hirtenstein, Anna. “UniCredit Is Said to Plan $1.2 Billion Sale of German Wind Farm.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 8 Mar. 2018, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-08/unicredit-is-said-plan-1-2-billion-sale-of-german-wind-farm.

Vaissiere, Anne-Charlotte, et al. “Biodiversity offsets for offshore wind farm projects: The current situation in Europe.” Marine Policy, Elsevier Ltd, 19 Mar. 2014, https://doi.org/10.1016/J.MARPOL.2014.03.023

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Jul 16 2018

Blyth Offshore Demonstrator Array 2: A Case Study

Overview:

Image result for blyth offshore demonstrator array 2

Pictured: Proposed arrays for Blyth Offshore Demonstrator Arrays 2 (operational), 3 &4 (proposed). (Credit: EDF Energy)

While the original, 2 turbine, 4 MW offshore wind installation off the coast of Blyth, UK has been scheduled for incomplete decommissioning as of January, 2017 (4C Offshore, 2018) due to mechanical and cable failures, the Blyth Offshore Demonstrator Project – Array 2, a 41.5 MW installation is officially operational as of June, 2018 (4C Offshore, 2018). The Blyth Offshore Demonstrator is owned by EDF Energies Nouvelles, a subsidiary of EDF Group, and is being constructed by EDF Energy Renewables, a 50:50 joint venture between EDF Energies Nouvelles and the UK company, EDF Energy. The installation consists of 5 MHI Vestas V164 8.0 MW turbines. These incorporate a power mode uprating to 8.3MW – the largest currently available (EDF, 2017). The installation is located 6.4 kilometers off the Blyth, UK shore. The water depth at the installation site is 29-42 meters. The cost of the project was about 145 million pounds or 192 million USD, approximately 36% of which was spent in the UK. The 5 turbine system produces enough energy for 34,000 homes and save approximately 58,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. The project incorporates a host of innovations in the foundation process and the use of a 66 kV cable, the details of which will be discussed later.

History and Recent Developments:

Following approval and lease acquisition from The Crown Estate by EDF Energy Renewables in 2015, permitting, consent acquisition, site investigation, procurement, and seabed preparation, all five turbine foundations were fully installed as of August 18th, 2017 (4C Offshore, 2018). Following turbine and cable installation over the course of September through November the installation was producing power as of November 20th, 2017 (4C Offshore, 2018). A minor issue with a section of the cable array prompted the replacement of that section of cable on December 7th, 2017. The installation was fully commissioned on January 9th, 2018 and the Blyth wind farm was inaugurated by EDF Energy Renewables at the opening ceremony on June 22nd, 2018. The Blyth Offshore Demonstrator Project – Array 2 is expected to be decommissioned at the end of its 22-25-year design life in accordance with the terms of its Crown Estate lease (4C Offshore, 2018).

Innovative “Float and Submerge” Technique:

Image result for blyth offshore demonstrator array 2

(Credit: BAM Nuttall, 2017)

As aforementioned, this project was the first to utilize a new foundation installation technique. This process, a gravity based foundation (GBF) design method, involves floating the foundations into position at sea and submerging them onto the seabed to provide the support structures that act as the foundations for the installation of the turbine towers. (EDF, 2017) It is the first time this method has been used for offshore wind turbine installation, having previously been used for offshore oil and gas extraction. Current methods of offshore wind deployment consist of the monopile method, in which a monopile is sunk 30-60 feet into the seabed, the gravity foundation method which utilizes a large concrete or steel base, and the tripod method, in which the piles are driven, again, deep into the seabed (Whitlock, 2017). The float and submerge method has the advantage of enabling the gravity base foundations to be towed out to sea by tugboats, rather than utilizing more expensive heavy-lift crane vessels.  The design also reduces the need to use expensive marine equipment for the installation on the sea bed itself does not utilize a pile driving technique which has been proven a major source of auditory pollution in the nearshore and offshore marine environments (Peng et al., 2015).

Cable Innovation: From 33kV to 66 kV:

The project is also the first of its kind to utilize a new kind of export cable technology. From the Developers Brochure: “Blyth Offshore Demonstrator will be the first offshore wind project to use 66kV rated inter array and export cables to connect the turbines to the new onshore substation on part of the site of the former Blyth power station” (2017). In, “The Use of 66kV technology for Offshore Wind Demonstration sites”, Neumann et al. (2014) addressed the feasibility of developing a system implementing 66kV at the Blyth Offshore Demonstration site, citing several potential benefits. These include “the potential to reduce the amount of submarine cabling required, reduced losses in the connection at 66kV versus 33kV, and the potential to eliminate offshore substations in some cases.”

While intra-array 66 kV cable systems were not approved at the time this paper was written, their analysis of these benefits of the 66kV system is supported by other studies from organizations such as the Carbon Trust’s Offshore Wind Accelerator (OWA) which also showed that in addition to the benefits discussed by Neumann et al., 66kV systems “increase the power density through the cables and hence result in more cost effective cable systems” and that transmitting power back to shore at this higher voltage is also “a more efficient and cost effective option”. (Ferguson et al., 2012).

Video: 66kV cable being simultaneously laid and buried. (Credit: Boskalis Subsea cables & Flexibles, 2018)

Environmental Impact Assessment and Monitoring:

As with any offshore wind installation, rigorous environmental impact assessments were conducted before and during commission of the project. According to the EDF Energy, “The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) carried out by the former project owner NAREC included extensive site studies on marine ecology, birdlife, landscapes and seascape, commercial fishing and other environmental matters” (2017). According to Natural Power, a consulting firm hired by EDF Energy to conduct environmental impact surveys, “Natural Power has undertaken benthic and fish monitoring to update baseline knowledge of the environment before construction.” The firm also notes in the 2017 case study of the project, that “since consent was awarded, a Marine Conservation Zone has been designated (in part) for benthic habitats and this area includes the near shore section of the export cable route.”

Furthermore, in 2015, EDF Energy Renewables commissioned Newcastle University to “install C-pod devices at the site to monitor the vocalizations of some marine mammal groups” (EDF, 2017). These devices informed developers of what mammals are doing in the area and also provided information on the relative occurrence and distribution of porpoises and dolphins for monitoring. The devices remained at the site until 2018 (EDF, 2017). While sufficient, some recent studies suggest further monitoring could be useful in the determination of chronic environmental impacts on marine mammal populations specifically (Mann and Teilmann, 2013).

Investment:

The project is a 50:50 joint venture funded by both EDF Energies Nouvelles and EDF Energy (4C Offshore, 2018). The developers pledged approximately 36 percent of the construction cost were to be spent in the UK and a Blyth Offshore Demonstrator Community Fund was established to support local groups and charitable activities in the area. The project also played a role in testing and proving new and emerging offshore installation methods and technologies, encouraging investment in the sector (EDF, 2017).

Bibliography:

  1. Ferguson, et al. “Benefits in moving the inter-array voltage from 33 kV to 66 kV AC for large offshore wind farms” EWEA 2012
  2. P. Neumann, M. J. Mulroy and C. Ebden, “The use of 66kV technology for offshore wind demonstration sites,” 3rd Renewable Power Generation Conference (RPG 2014), Naples, 2014, pp. 1-6.
  3. EDF Energy Renewables. (2017). Blyth Offshore Demonstrator Wind Farm [Brochure]. London.
  4. Events on Blyth Offshore Demonstrator Project – Array 2. (n.d.). Retrieved July 16, 2018, from https://www.4coffshore.com/windfarms/project-dates-for-blyth-offshore-demonstrator-project—array-2-uk70.html
  5. Mann, J.; Teilmann, J. (2013). Environmental Impact of Wind Energy. Environmental Research Letters, 8, 1-4
  6. Natural, P. (2017). Natural Power – Blyth Offshore Demonstrator Project Case Study(Rep.). Natural Power.
  7. Peng, C., Zhao, X., & Liu, G. (2015). Noise in the Sea and Its Impacts on Marine Organisms. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12(10), 12304–12323.
  8. Whitlock, R. (2017, July 13). Wind – New ?Float and Submerge? method utilised on UK offshore wind farm. Retrieved from https://www.renewableenergymagazine.com/wind/new-a-float-and-submergea–method-20170713/

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Jul 16 2018

A Case Study: Kamisu Nearshore Wind Farm

Japan has long relied on fossil fuels and nuclear power as their primary energy sources but have recently been moving more towards renewables. Japan has a significant amount of marine renewable energy potential considering their location as an island in the Pacific Ocean. The Kamisu wind farm was the first Japanese offshore wind farm and it paved the way for other offshore wind projects.

The Kamisu nearshore wind farm is located roughly 50 meters off the southernmost edge of the city of Kamisu, Japan in the Kashima-Nada Sea. It consists of seven turbines, each producing 2 MW, to total an energy capacity of 14 MW (4C Offshore, 2010). A second wind farm made of 8 wind turbines was built up in the same area only three years later due to the success of the first set of turbines. The same model of turbines was used, allowing for an additional 16 MW to be produced at the Kamisu wind farm (4C Offshore, 2013).

Copyright Wind Power Ibaraki

The local government chose a private, regional renewable energy company called Wind Power Ibaraki Ltd. to develop and maintain operation of the wind farm (JWPA, 2017). No information was found on the preliminary decisions regarding the project or finances, since many of the documents are in Japanese. However, according to METI estimates, development of a project of this size in 2013 would cost nearly 16 billion Japanese yen, with significant funding coming from the government (Carbon Trust, 2014).

An EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) Law was established in Japan in 1999 but did not cover wind energy projects until 2011 (Carbon Trust, 2014). The first phase of the Kamisu wind farm became operational in 2010 and the second phase was already in motion, therefore the Kamisu wind farm was not required to undergo an EIA.

Image from: https://www.bizbilla.com/seaports-harbours/japan/port-of-kashima.html

The major environmental impacts of offshore wind are generally noise pollution and EMFs (electro-magnetic fields) that may disturb marine organism behavior. Due to the close proximity to land, the impact of EMFs on marine life is reduced as compared to marine energy projects located further away. The Kashima port is also located nearby, with shipping vessels contributing to noise pollution. This fact may potentially cover up the operational noise of the wind turbines or just increase the overall noise pollution in the sea. No studies have been done to investigate this.

The turbines use a monopole foundation driven into the seabed to keep them steady, which is especially necessary since Japan is prone to tsunamis. The turbines are in four meter deep water, slightly shallower than most offshore wind turbines. They have 60 meter tall towers, with 40 meter blades, totaling a 100 meter height- a pretty standard turbine size (4C Offshore, 2010, 2013). Wind speeds in the located area are about 7 meters per second, suitable for 0-10 MW turbines (JWPA, 2017). No documentation was found on the installation process for this project.

© Takeshi Ishihara
Image from:
https://www.u-tokyo.ac.jp/focus/en/features/f_00027.html

The first seven turbines became operational in 2010, and the wind farm was extended in 2013. The project provides electricity to about 21,000 homes annually and has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by almost 43,000 tons each year (4C Offshore, 2010, 2013). While these numbers represent only a tiny fraction of Japan’s population and the world’s carbon emissions, it is still inspiring to see this progress.

The wind farm survived the 2011 tsunami that led to the Fukushima nuclear power accident. No damage was found on the turbines but they were forced to stop generating power due to issues connecting to the grid. They became fully operational again in 3 days (JFS, 2011). After this incident, the Japanese public’s trust of nuclear power became shaky and the government has reduced its use of this energy source. Hopefully, this will motivate the public to push for renewable energy projects.

The government has invested in many new offshore wind projects since the incident and in 2012, proposed construction of a larger wind farm offshore of Kamisu. This wind farm would consist of twenty 5 MW turbines, that would produce a total of 100 MW (JFS, 2012). No recent news has been reported, suggesting that the project is still undergoing assessment and licensing but wind power companies have already been chosen to develop the project and investors have agreed to take part (ORIX, 2015). This is an exciting advancement in the field of renewable energy that provides hope for cleaner and safer energy sources.

 

Bibliography

“Kamisu Nearshore Wind Farm – Phase 1 Offshore Wind Farm.” 4C Offshore Ltd, 4C Offshore Ltd, July 2010, www.4coffshore.com/windfarms/kamisu-nearshore-wind-farm—phase-1-japan-jp05.html.

“Kamisu Nearshore Wind Farm – Phase 2 Offshore Wind Farm.” 4C Offshore Ltd, 4C Offshore Ltd, Mar. 2013, www.4coffshore.com/windfarms/kamisu-nearshore-wind-farm—phase-2-japan-jp17.html.

“Offshore Wind Power Development in Japan.” Japan Wind Power Association. 2017. http://jwpa.jp/pdf/20170307_OffshoreWindPower_inJapan_forGWEC.pdf

“Major Japanese Wind Power Project Offshore from Port of Kashima Announced. JFS Japan for Sustainability.” JFS – Japan for Sustainability, Japan for Sustainability, Dec. 2012, www.japanfs.org/en/news/archives/news_id032418.html.

Appraisal of the Offshore Wind Industry in Japan . Carbon Trust, British Embassy Tokyo, 2014, www.carbontrust.com/media/566323/ctc834-detailed-appraisal-of-the-offshore-wind-industry-in-japan.pdf.

“Offshore Wind Farm Withstands Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. JFS Japan for Sustainability.” JFS – Japan for Sustainability, JFS – Japan for Sustainability, July 2011, www.japanfs.org/en/news/archives/news_id031055.html.

“ORIX Participates in the Development of Kashima Port Large-Scale Offshore Wind Farm.” ORIX | News Releases | 2015 | ORIX Participates in the Development of Kashima Port Large-Scale Offshore Wind Farm, ORIX, 2015, www.orix.co.jp/grp/en/news/2015/150528_ORIXE.html.

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Jul 02 2018

Promise in the Belize Barrier Reef

Published by under Student blog entries

Last Christmas I was falling over the side of a small boat off the coast of San Pedro, Belize. San Pedro is an island so small, its inhabitants don’t even own cars. Instead, everyone putters around in supped up golf carts, conducting their business. For most of them, that business is eco-tourism. The eastern coast of the island is dotted with dive centers, water sports shops, tour guides, etc. During my time there I dove 12 times. It was the most beautiful, bio diverse place I have ever seen, and I never wanted to leave. But after my 10 day stay I got in the island hopper and looked down at the black and blue reef, wondering if it would still be there when I came back.

Its been 7 months since I left the Ambergries Caye and I’ve really missed it. Luckily, I think it will still be there for me in the future because last week UNESCO announced the reef’s removal from the World Heritage Sites in Danger List. According to the organization, “the Committee considered that safeguarding measures taken by the country, notably the introduction of a moratorium on oil exploration in the entire maritime zone of Belize and the strengthening of forestry regulations allowing for better protection of mangroves, warranted the removal of the site from the World Heritage List in Danger”.

The site had been added on to the In Danger list in 1996 due to the threat of irreversible damage from coastal construction and oil exploration when seismic testing for oil was permitted just 6 miles from the site. Public outcry from Belizeans, half of whom rely on the reef for their livelihood, followed. This is because the reef represents a major contribution to the local economy. Eco-tourism, recreational scuba diving and snorkeling, recreational and commercial fishing, and civilian boat transportation all rely on the coral reef ecosystem and account for over 40 percent of the income on San Pedro.

Local efforts were supported by a coalition that included WWF, Oceana, and the Belize Tourism Industry Association. Over the last 18 months, Belize’s government has put in place protections to secure the Belize Barrier Reef from immediate threats, this according to the World Wildlife Foundation. These include a landmark moratorium on oil exploration that was adopted in December 2017, which made Belize one of only three countries in the world with such legislation (WWF, 2018).

Belize has shown that it is possible to reverse nature loss and create a sustainable future.” – Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF-International

However, despite all the promise in Belize, I can help but report on what I saw there and what I know to be true about climate change, and add a dash of reality to the discussion. During my dives in the reef I saw some of the most beautiful fish, corals, sharks, an landscapes. But, I also saw white, dead coral everywhere. The temperature of our oceans are undeniably increasing, and with the increases come the death of coral, no matter how oil-free the ecosystem is. So while I’d love to pretend that the Belize Barrier Reef is totally safe and healthy, I cant ignore the larger, global picture. If the rising of sea surface temperatures is not mitigated this reef will return to its spot on UNESCO’s Sites in Danger list. We can’t lets milestones like these lull us into a false sense of security that prevents us from reaching new ones.

If anyone is curious, is some pictures form my trip this winter:

– – Owen Ruth

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Jul 02 2018

Response: Tesla’s New Master Plan and the Future of Electric Cars

Published by under Student blog entries

Will’s blog post has become a really interesting point of comparison after almost 2 years have passed. Looking back at what Musk’s most recent plan was back in 2016, I’m pleased to see many of the points coming to fruition now. First of all, Musk has been heavily investing in solar roof technology and development on the self-driving capabilities of Tesla cars has been a strong focus both for the company and for national news outlets (Etherington 2017). The second point in his second Master Plan, expanding the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments, has recently been announced. Tesla will not only continue the production of SUVs and sedans but will also begin producing electric pickup trucks, vans, and commercial semi-trucks while also bringing back a new and improved roadster (Etherington 2017).

While the Model 3 had a couple hiccups in reaching the consumer on the expected timeline, the efforts put forth by Tesla are not going unnoticed (Korosec 2017). Now with an affordable option on the electric car market, especially from a luxury and expert brand name, consumers options are increasing and so is general interest in electric vehicles. This interest is not limited to the consumer side of the equation. Just as predicted in Will’s blog post, large car companies have begun to invest more money in research and development surrounding electric vehicles. With an electric semi-truck in the making, a significant proportion of driving miles in the United States can now be made without insane emissions, but it’s not that simple (Korosec 2017).

One aspect I believe is important to analyze when looking at electric vehicles is whether or not their time has really come. Currently I don’t see many charging stations while driving down the road, which would deter me from making a purchase. More importantly, looking at the concept of an electric car from a holistic mindset, the upfront cost can be incredibly high (depending on make and model), with uncertainty in where gas prices may go. The investment may not pay off for many years if gas prices unexpectedly drop, but in the same sense the investment may pay off early if gas prices rise. Similarly, there is a general green connotation with electric cars in that their use is less damaging to the environment due to decreased emissions. Although this may be true while you’re driving down the road, when an electric car is charging it requires energy. The overall emissions from an electric car should thus include the emissions from the respective process used to generate the electricity that charged the car. As of right now, much of the electricity generation happens from coal power plants, which have significant emissions. Although advances have clearly been made in the past 2 years, there are still areas of improvement, some of which are contingent upon large scale energy resource changes.

 

References:

Etherington, Darrell. “Tesla to Reveal a Pickup Truck within Two Years, and Final Model 3 Design in July.” TechCrunch, TechCrunch, 17 Apr. 2017, techcrunch.com/2017/04/13/tesla-to-reveal-a-pickup-truck-within-two-years-and-final-model-3-design-in-july/.

Korosec, Kirsten. “Elon Musk Reveals Tesla Truck With a Model 3 Heart.” Fortune, Fortune, 17 Nov. 2017, fortune.com/2017/11/16/tesla-semi-truck-model-3-unveiling/.

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Jul 02 2018

Is Banning Plastic Straws a Viable Solution?

Published by under Student blog entries

BYMANDESIGNS VIA GETTY IMAGES

You probably have a friend that judged you for getting a plastic straw at a restaurant or blatantly told you not to get one. But why? If you’re not aware of the environmental effects from discarded plastic straws, the article: Why are plastic straws so bad for the environment?, would be a great precursor to understanding the background of the management decisions outlined in this blog post.

So far in 2018, three states have contemplated adding legislation regarding the use of plastic straws, but there is strong resistance. As of right now, this legislation is pending in both California and New York, and has already been shut down in Hawaii (Powell 2018). It makes sense that the states fighting against single use plastic straws are coastal states due to the dramatic impact they can have on marine environments. One alternative to an outright ban that some cities have used is to provide plastic straws only to customers who request one rather than giving them out to everyone as a default.

Before reading into this topic, I had always tried my best to avoid using plastic straws as much as possible. I figured that restaurants might save money while avoiding any negative backlash from the community from having legislation disallowing single use plastic straws, as it isn’t their decision. I now realize that I hadn’t considered the full lifecycle assessment of the product and that users may have reasons other than consumer convenience.

List of Current Progress in US Cities: The Pew Charitable Trusts

At its core, a solution to plastic straws is seen by some in the field of marine contamination as low-hanging fruit due to the unnecessary nature of a straw, at least for most consumers. However, there are those consumers who would be adversely affected by a ban on plastic straws, even if paper straws were instituted as a replacement: those living with disabilities. One opponent to the ban suffers from cerebral palsy and would thus be unable to drink independently without the assistance a straw provides (Powell 2018). In this way, the argument surrounding plastic straws centers around whether disability rights take precedence over environmental legislation. Although alternatives are available, paper straws have been noted to get soggy and become a choking hazard, and reusable or compostable straws are more expensive. This price aspect is important to note due to the fact that statistically, people with disabilities are more likely to be below the federal poverty level.

The possibility for opt-in proposals, however, still remains a possibility. Fast food chains and companies like McDonald’s use millions of straws daily, but stockholders of McDonald’s rejected a proposal to focus on efforts to find alternatives to plastic straws. The company claims that this is due to the fact that it is already invested in research for alternatives, likely due to the plastic straw ban in the UK leading them to invest in paper straws as a replacement (Stateline 2018). The problem arises that opt-in programs in many cities don’t affect takeout-only restaurants and only apply to sit-down restaurants.

Gaining buy-in for government regulation limiting the acceptable behaviors of individuals is never an easy task. In many situations, the convenience of a straw can make an experience such as drinking a Frappuccino with whipped cream that much more enjoyable and less messy. Therefore, the solution offered by a government ban may not be the right answer, although this is a sign that both consumer and government officials are aware of the problems posed by plastic straws, and the larger broad problem of marine plastic contamination.

 

References

 Powell, Robyn. “Opinion | I Need Plastic Straws To Drink. I Also Want To Save The Environment.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 13 June 2018, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-powell-straw-ban_us_5b1e76ade4b0bbb7a0df9303.

Stateline. “She Sells Soda By The Seashore – But Maybe Not With A Plastic Straw.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 29 June 2018, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/she-sells-soda-by-the-seashore-but-maybe-not-with_us_5b3636e5e4b0121d528acb53.

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Jul 25 2016

Response: What’s the deal with the Clean Power Plan?

This is a neat article, Holly, and it’s funny because there’s a lot of overlap between this and the one I just wrote about the RNC’s recently released environmental platform. After reading up some more on this debate, it amazes me how so much of the power and control in this country’s judicial system is achieved through lawsuits and stalling.

 

A new point that I’d like to bring into consideration is the fact that out of the 24 states suing, the ones at the forefront of this case are also the ones that produce the highest amounts of coal, and CO2, in the country. The case is called “State of West Virginia, et al. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, et al.,” after all, and West Virginia is the nation’s 2nd largest coal producer, accounting for 11%. The main power—pun intended—behind this suit comes from those who are litigating as petitioners. Those petitioning against it are almost all hiding behind the guise of trade associations that they are members of. What happens is, the power companies become members of various trade associations that lobby on their behalf, and their membership does not have to be made public. So when those associations petition the courts, their funding comes from the countless power companies privately associated with them.

It’s a legal swamp that’s being plunged into—the case is the consolidation of 38 separate cases—and some that belong to trade associations, such as Dominion Energy, have actually voiced support for the CPP. Although Dominion is one of the large producers of fossil fuels, it also seems to be gearing for a shift toward renewable alternatives. They were, after all, the ones who provided the majority of the funding for Jennette’s Pier’s wind turbine project. While their renewable initiatives are likely rooted in self-interest, it is a promising sign when large power companies start to move toward the bandwagon of cleaner alternatives. The day that companies realize that coal is more of a financial risk than investment and renewable energy is an advantageous side to be on, is the day that we will start a global transition to clean energy.

Because of how we are set up democratically, our courts allow (ideally) for everyone to be heard equally. The problem with this is that groups with access to exorbitant resources manage to overpower and stifle those they don’t agree with, thus trampling on their right to be heard, but all 100% legally. Hopefully, when the court hears oral arguments starting September 27th, 2016, the voices of reason will be heard just as clearly as the voices behind pollution.

 

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Jul 25 2016

Response: Tesla’s New Master Plan and the Future of Electric Cars

Published by under Student blog entries

 

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(Source: Bob Rhodes, 2014, Flickr)

As Will outlined in his blog post Tesla’s New Master Plan and the Future of Electric Cars, Elon Musk has been successful in implementing his four step plan to further the electric car industry. Musk’s plan may be brilliant, and the benefits could even reach further than most anticipated. Of course, there are some social and practical challenges that must be overcome before everyone is cruising in their own electric cars.

The expansion of electric vehicles has the obvious benefit of decreasing the air pollution that come from exhaust pipes. Some argue that everyone driving electric cars isn’t the saving grace if much of the electricity is being generated from fossil fuels. Though this must be taken into consideration when considering Tesla’s success, it is important to note that the burning of fossil fuels in a car is far less efficient than doing so at utility scales.

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Move over gas stations — make way for charging stations. (Source: Robert Wertheimer, 2008, Flickr)

Tesla’s electric cars will be most effective when used in conjunction with other sustainable technologies. For example, an electric car could be used as an energy-storing device for a home fitted with renewable technologies like solar or geothermal. The electric car could harness the excess energy created by residential installations or reduce demand during peak-demand by charging at night.

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Electric vehicles can be utilized as energy storage. (Source: Ching Leemun, 2012, Flickr)

This reality may be several years away, but progressive legislation could speed up the process. Places like California are already paving the way to sustainable growth and development. The states cap and trade system has pushed energy providers to invest in cleaner technologies. Though funding may be running out, the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program helped put thousands of new electric cars on the road. Businesses have economic incentives to build charging stations with the tax credit that California provides.

The list of policies that favor green technology is extensive, but many states are still stuck in the climate change debate. If President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is able to move forward, perhaps electric vehicles could be a jumping off point for many state carbon reduction plans.

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Jul 25 2016

Tesla’s New Master Plan and the Future of Electric Cars

Published by under Student blog entries

In 2006, Elon Musk released his first Master Plan for  Tesla Motors, Inc. while he was still just on the board of directors. At this time, the Roadster had yet to be released and the idea of financing an electric car company was considered laughable in the industry. He laid out a four step plan that was based around providing an inexpensive electric car through the sale of expensive ones that will gradually drive the price down to one that everyday Americans can afford. Once the Roadster was released, it became a novelty item for those that could afford it, a unique car for the rich to collect.

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Courtesy of Tesla

And then the Model S dropped, resembling a mix between KIT from Night Rider and the StarShip Enterprise while also not completely breaking the bank. No longer were electric cars those ugly boxes driven by your hippy neighbor, instead its a luxury car that causes onlookers to drool in envy. In 2015, the Model S became the #1 best selling plug-in car, selling over 50,000 cars around the world.

10 years later, Musk releases his second Master Plan which highlights a new direction for the company. Now that Tesla can provide a relatively cheap electric car, with the soon to be released Model 3, the focus can be placed on improving this technology to the point where it would be dumb not to drive on of these cars. The new plan, as he puts it, is:

  1. Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage
  2. Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments
  3. Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning
  4. Enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it

These ideas are not just important for the next wave of Tesla cars, they’re going to make advances in other fields. The work and innovation required to build the kind of solar panels that Musk wants on his cars will lead to more efficient solar panels and better battery storage systems. The self-driving car will be a major breakthrough and represent one of the first implementations of A.I. in a system that will define the future of automotive transport.

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Courtesy of Tesla

The large car companies have been scrambling to find something to topple the giant that is Tesla from the electric throne, with exciting results. The new GM Bolt intends to be released at $30,000, $5,000 cheaper than the Model 3 with the same 200 mile range. This new Master Plan, and the one before it, outline an ambitious strategy that has sparked intense competition as a result. This kind of competition can only be good for the consumer, driving down the price of electric cars while also putting a focus on energy technologies.

Much like Elon Musk’s other investments into SpaceX and the Hyperloop, the success of Tesla is not measured in dollars. Musk decided that because we “must get off fossil fuels anyway and that virtually all scientists agree that dramatically increasing atmospheric and oceanic carbon levels is insane, the faster we achieve sustainability, the better” (Musk, 2016) and invested his own money to drive a much needed industry forward. When we are all driving automated electric cars within the next ten years, we will have Elon Musk to thank.

References

Musk, E., 2016, Master Plan, Part Deux, Tesla Motors, https://www.tesla.com/blog/master-plan-part-deux

 

 

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