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Decarboni.se 5: California plan for 100% renewables, space-based solar - and is geoengineering a climate change 'quick fix'?


Is space-based 24-hour solar power in our future?  (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Academic paper outlines plan for California to run on 100% renewable energy by 2050
The US state of California is already no slouch in the climate change challenge-- with numerous large, state-wide renewable energy projects.  California's 204GWh Catalina solar plant for example, is already one of the top 10 solar plants in the world. A Stanford professor has created an ambitious plan for California to convert to 100% renewable energy for its electrical power needs by 2050.  The academic paper (PDF llink) published in the journal Energy calls for large-scale renewable energy projects across the state, using wind turbines, PV panels, marine energy, hydroelectric dams, and geothermal power stations.  It should be noted that the plan has a 1.1 trillion dollar price tag, but the author claims the investment would pay for itself in seven years through jobs, fuel savings and averted climate change impacts.
 
Greener method for making ammonia means big energy savings
Some sources claim that the process to synthesise ammonia (NH3) was the greatest discovery of the 20th century.  It's a substance so vital to agriculture as an ingredient in fertiliser that many of the 7 billion humans on Earth would not be alive today without it.   The current method for making ammonia, called the Haber-Bosch process is fairly energy intensive.  It requires high heat, high pressure and a source of hydrogen, usually obtained from natural gas.  A newly discovered process by researchers at the George Washington University may lead to the commercial production of ammonia at two-thirds the energy cost and without using hydrogen directly from natural gas.  The new discovery, though still in the testing stage, would use only water and air - and could be powered by solar panels.
 
Are space-based solar panels the future of solar energy?
Business Insider gives a nice overview on the concept of space-based solar energy.  The idea seems impossible at first glance, but may have a good shot of success if any government or company decides to try it out.  A space-based solar array would first concentrate the solar beams in a funnel-like lens and reflect the rays onto special PV panels that are able to absorb the highly concentrated sunlight.  The energy would then be converted into electricity and beamed as radio waves to a receiving station on Earth where antennae-like fields of receiving towers would capture the radio waves and convert them to electricity.  The article claims that one array could produce up to 5 gigawatts of power. (for comparison, 4 arrays could power New York City).  Although the investment would be large, these types of systems could pay for themselves in a short amount of time as they have a primary advantage of producing electricity 24-hours per day, rain or shine.
 
Carbon capture - scientists betting on CCS to trap CO2 from power plants
An informative article and accompanying video gives some insight into new CCS projects happening in Canada and the US.  The first, a CCS enabled coal power plant in Saskatchewan is aiming to capture 90% of its CO2 emissions from flue gas.  The project is operated by Canadian operator Saskpower and will be launched this autumn (Northern hemisphere).  The second project is a more complex (and more expensive) CCS enabled plant in Kemper County, Mississippi.  The project is scheduled to be operational next year but has had some cost overruns and delays.  For a good overview of how CCS works, be sure to watch the video at the top of the New York Times article.
 
Is Geo-engineering a fix for climate change?
We've covered Geoengineering before and it's a topic that generates some controversy due to the aggressive environmental actions it suggests.  This week, Australia's Radio National brings us a podcast covering the topic from both sides.  Canadian environmental scientist David Keith gives us an overview of how it works and claims that we have the technology to start combatting climate change now through geoengineering.  Have a watch of David's Ted Talk from a few years ago as a good complement to the  more recent podcast.

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