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The Wind in the Wicklow: Ireland’s quest for energy independence

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Ben Charig writes about a potentially revolutionary clean energy project that could help Ireland exploit its plentiful renewable resources and become the master of its own energy fate.

In times of financial difficulty for individuals, governments and corporations alike, investment in clean technology is viewed by many as an excellent opportunity to boost flagging economies while simultaneously reducing the environmental impact of our ever-growing need for technology.

In May this year, Blue & Green Tomorrow reported that employment in Ireland’s cleantech industry was expected to grow considerably in the coming months. Ernst & Young’s Cleantech Ireland report predicted the creation of up to 80,000 new jobs in the sector along with a GDP contribution of €3.9 billion – welcome news in any climate.

A more recent B&GT article told of investment that was being made in a wind energy co-operative in Northern Ireland. The scheme sought to support local consumers by providing clean, renewable energy that the consumers could manage themselves.

In addition to that, the project was intended to yield a return for the investors – the community – thus fostering a stronger local economy and acting as an incentive to other groups in Ireland to adopt similar strategies.

Ireland’s position at the eastern edge of the Atlantic Ocean gives it tremendous potential when it comes to wind energy. What can be done to exploit fully such a rich resource?

Financial website thisismoney.co.uk published an article earlier this month about Spirit of Ireland (SoI), a project exploring the possibility of harnessing Ireland’s wind energy.

Spirit of Ireland’s homepage suggests that “a breakthrough national project” such as the one it describes could go some of the way to realising the country’s wind assets, thereby reducing its dependence on fossil fuels and slashing carbon dioxide emissions – two goals that the Ernst & Young report indicated were extremely important for Ireland.

The SoI website acknowledges that wind, intermittent in strength and direction, is far from a reliable source of energy, but offers a daring and creative solution to the problem.

To make full use of high-speed winds at times when less electricity is needed (e.g., overnight), Spirit of Ireland proposes the construction of a series of strategically positioned reservoirs, all coupled to wind turbines and pumps.

At times of high demand, most of (if not all) the electricity generated by the turbines would be sent directly to the grid; at times of low demand, energy captured which is surplus to instantaneous requirement would be used to pump seawater uphill to fill the reservoirs. This would create a ‘battery’ of hydroelectric power to be drained when needed.

Even more impressively, the project suggests that with the appropriate infrastructure in place, Ireland could even export energy to the British mainland and beyond. This would constitute a surprising role-reversal for a country that has been spending sums of the order of €6 billion per annum on importing energy simply to meet its own energy demand.

Such an idea sounds glorious – perfect, even. Implementing it would see Ireland’s cleantech sector taking a huge step towards Ernst & Young’s forecast job creation and GDP contribution figures.

To dig the reservoirs, install the wind turbines, the pumps and the grid infrastructure, not to mention build all the other bits of ancillary equipment, would create thousands of jobs at the beginning of the project. On-going management and maintenance of the systems would keep many in work long after the initial assembly stage. And the result of all this would be carbon-free, sustainable energy for Ireland.

However, it is important to keep a sense of perspective. Spirit of Ireland’s description of the project and its scope paints a fantastically appealing picture – one in which Ireland produces not only enough energy to cater for its own requirements but also enough to contribute to other European countries’ needs.

Some would consider this a rather unrealistic take on what is physically achievable. A page on sustainability.ie, a site purportedly belonging to the Sustainability Institute of the Republic of Ireland, points out a number of practical issues with the project.

It pays particular attention to the volumes of reservoir water that would be required to be able to deliver something equivalent to Ireland’s current average energy demand (which lies around the 3,000 megawatt (MW) mark).

The page makes reference to Turlough Hill, a mountain in County Wicklow, site of what is currently Ireland’s only pumped-storage hydroelectricity facility. The Turlough Hill set-up has a maximum power output of 292MW.

Note the word maximum; the facility could not deliver that quantity of power for any sustained period. Thinking that Ireland could construct enough reservoir-based, wind turbine-pumped hydroelectric power stations to provide adequate electricity is, according to sustainability.ie, an untenable position.

Of course, scepticism like this is healthy – and indeed part of good science and sensible reasoning. The investment required to implement a system such as that described by SoI would be enormous. It also presupposes that we would succeed in scaling the technology to work at the required level.

No project coming anywhere close to this magnitude has ever been attempted before, let alone succeeded. And there are plenty of other renewable schemes that would deliver far more return on investment – in energetic as well as financial terms.

All the same, in energy delivery as in life, the healthiest way forward is to maintain a balance of all things. Putting money and resources into smaller versions of schemes like Spirit of Ireland will pave the way for technological advancement and more cunning tricks for reaping renewable energy rewards from the wind resources available. Early schemes might not raise vast sums of energy, but they will make their contributions, and save that little bit more oil, gas or coal.

In conclusion, Spirit of Ireland’s project – so appealing in concept – does not represent a complete, ready-to-go solution to Ireland’s renewable energy dearth. Nor could or should any one project. It is an idea: grand, ambitious, and flawed. Despite the obstacles, the idea has vision, and it has merit. Let’s see what comes of it.

Ben Charig is a 22-year-old student from Lincoln. Having graduated from the University of York in physics and maths, he intends to pursue a career as a patent attorney. His interests include running, hiking, cycling and singing.

Further reading:

Ireland expects cleantech job and GDP surge

Investment in Northern Irish wind co-op ‘exceeds expectations’

The Guide to Limitless Clean Energy

Editors Choice

2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage

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Natural Disaster Damage
Shutterstock / By Droidworker | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/droidworker

Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.

Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.

Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each

The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.

Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.

Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.

That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.

Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.

Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.

Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.

The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.

Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity

Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.

Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight

The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.

The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.

2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded

People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.

Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.

Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.

Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.

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Environment

How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018

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eco-responsible
Shutterstock / By KENG MERRY Paper Art | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/kengmerrymikeymelody

Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.

Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:

1. Energy – produce it, save it

If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.

It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.

While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.

energy efficient

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By My Life Graphic

Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!

2. Don’t be just another tourist

Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.

3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly

eco-friendly

Shutterstock / By Khakimullin Aleksandr

We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t  mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.

To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.

It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.

4. Know thy recycling

People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.

People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.

5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool

Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.

All in all

The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.

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