Guest blog by Earth Institute Staff
(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Last week, I wrote about my visit to the Shams-1 hybrid thermal solar-natural gas plant in Abu Dhabi. This 100MW plant, which combines concentrated solar power (CSP) with natural gas, is capable of generating power around the clock. The plant’s technical support manager, Abdulazoz Al Obaidli, said that it was unclear whether more plants like this one would be built, seeing as how new solar photovoltaic plants were challenging this technology on both price and efficiency. Improvements could also be realized with this approach, but it’s unclear, especially given the long lead times for building a plant like this, what the comparison will be down the road.
While CSP plants are basically steam plants with mirrors, photovoltaics are semi-conductors which have a tendency to follow something called Moore’s Law that has seen performance doubling and costs dropping at regular intervals like clockwork. And though we tend to think of PV in terms of small rooftop installations, there are, in fact 19 PV plants of 100MW or more, the largest being the Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obispo, CA, which weighs in at 550MW.
While the matter is far from settled, there are a number of other challenges facing CSP, sometimes called solar thermal plants, which use the heat of the sun to produce steam, unlike photovoltaics that convert sunlight directly in electricity. The CSP plants, given the thermal mass of fluids in the system, do produce more stable power and are thus better suited to baseline applications.
Guest blog by Network for Business Sustainability
(3BL Media and Just Means) - I’m a solopreneur and I want to belong. I want to belong to the B Corp movement where companies like Method, Etsy, WorkSquare, Suncommon and Green Mountain Power hang together. But what does it really take to join them? Does it make sense for me to spend the time working through a lengthy questionnaire, pay $500, form a Board of Advisers, organize an audit and track all of my impact?
(3BL Media/Justmeans) – In 2014, jobs in the U.S. economy grew by 1.3 percent over the previous year. This has been hailed as the strongest year for job growth since 2009. Interestingly, during the same period, jobs in the solar industry grew nearly 20 times that of the economy as a whole.
Guest Blog by Julie Urlaub, Taiga Company
Does social media make workers more productive? According to a study from McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), there is a great deal of potential value in using social media “to enhance communications, knowledge sharing, and collaboration within and across enterprises.”
(3BL Media/Justmeans) - In the year 1906, Ray Stannard Baker wrote the following passage about automobiles in the book The Boy’s Book of Inventions: Stories of the Wonders of Modern Science.
“The electric vehicle which has had its most successful development in this country has its well-defined advantages and disadvantages. It is simpler in construction and more easily managed than any other vehicle: one manufacturer calls it ‘fool proof.’ It is wholly without odor or vibrations and practically noiseless. It will make any permissible rate of speed and climb any ordinary hill. On the other hand, it is immensely heavy, owing to the use of storage batteries; it can run only a limited distance without recharging…”
He goes on to say, “Indeed, all the manufacturers of electric vehicles speak with the confidence of the day when the whole of the United States will be as thoroughly sprinkled with electric charging stations as it is today with bicycle road-houses.”
A hundred years ago we were at a crossroads similar to the one we find ourselves at today, with electric vehicles vying against gasoline-powered cars. Back then, the choice was made, influenced by a good deal of lobbying and maneuvering by the oil industry. The fact that gasoline powered cars were also cheaper and didn’t have the range issues of electrics also helped to tip the scales.
So, the question is, how much have things changed? Electric cars are still more expensive and still confront the range limitation challenge that seems to be inherent in trying to store adequate energy in electrical rather than chemical form.
What has changed is the realization that widespread usage of fossil fuels has put our planet and everything living on it at risk of a destabilized climate that threatens every aspect of our life-support system.
With so much of our day to day life built around a gas powered car that can be quickly and (of late) inexpensively filled up at any of the thousands of gas stations that cover the landscape, the challenge of switching over to a completely different energy is huge.
Yes, EV prices are coming down (see Chevy Bolt) and charging stations are popping up everywhere. According to DOE, there are currently 8,983 charging stations and 22,387 charging outlets in the US. Whether that’s as many as there were bicycle roadhouses back 1906 is not clear, but unless people are convinced that it’s enough to assuage their “range anxiety,” they will hesitate to buy an EV. Roughly 120,000 electric vehicles were sold in the US last year, bringing the total up to around 280,000.
There are a couple of other dimensions to this question. One is that, unlike gasoline, people do have access to electricity at home, which is where much of the vehicle charging, at least for local trips will take place. That’s why there needn’t necessarily be as many charging stations as there are gas stations. The other dimension is the fact that not all charging stations are created equal. What varies is the amount of time required for a charge, though what is true in all cases is the fact that it will take longer to charge your car with electrons than it did to fill it with gasoline.
Most people will come to recognize that it will be worth the wait in order to maintain a livable climate, but that doesn’t mean it will be an easy adjustment.
Is there another way to do this? In a word, yes. Some areas, like Denmark, for example, are experimenting with the idea of a charged battery as a service. This is how that works. Instead of owning the battery as part of your car, the battery is a shared resource. When your charge is getting low, you pull into a station, where they lift out your battery and replace it with a fully charged one. This doesn’t take any longer than filling up a gas tanks, but it’s a different ownership model that is more in line with the sharing economy. Not all EVs are configured for this but several Nissan models are designed to work with a robotic battery switching station designed by Shai Agassi of Better Place. That same approach, by the way, was used by New York taxi companies in the early 20th century when electric cabs made a brief appearance. The other option would be to go to hydrogen fuel cell, which is being vigorously pursued by Toyota.
(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Favorable trends in corporate sustainability are transforming the world and creating a significant impact on the companies’ top and bottom lines. Global challenges such as climate change, resource scarcity and demographic shifts are creating new opportunities and risks that businesses must address today to stay competitive tomorrow.
(3BL Media/Justmeans) – President Obama’s recent State of the Union address made an appeal to every CEO in America to hire veterans. The push was not without reason. As per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of unemployment for veterans in 2013 was over 6.5 percent, and the number shot up to more than nine percent for post-9/11 veterans.