Bird deaths continue at a large solar plant nearing completion in the Mojave Desert, and biologists are unable to account for the whereabouts of 23 of the federally Threatened desert tortoises displaced by the project. That's according to a monthly report filed by project owner BrightSource Energy with the California Energy Commission (CEC).
According to the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System's Monthly Compliance Report for December 2013, project biologists reported 13 dead birds found on a portion of the nearly 4,000-acre project in December. That figure is about the same as November's tally of 11, and down significantly from the site's October death toll of 52 birds and six bats, suggesting that bird deaths at the site may spike during seasonal bird migration. Causes of death included collisions with mirrors and burn injuries from solar flux.
Meanwhile, the compliance document also reports that the whereabouts are unknown of 23 of the Threatened desert tortoises project biologists have been monitoring, including five sub-adult tortoises that have been missing from the project's tortoise holding pens for 18 months or more.
You may be able before long to charge your cell phone by carbo-loading it, if a Virginia Tech team's research pans out. According to a paper published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, a group of researchers have found a way to harness the energy in a simple, inexpensive carbohydrate to generate electrical power. The resulting "biobattery" can hold more juice per ounce than similarly sized lithium ion batteries, using only biodegradable compounds.
"Sugar is a perfect energy storage compound in nature," said Virginia Tech biological systems engineer Y.H. Percival Zhang, who led the study. "So it's only logical that we try to harness this natural power in an environmentally friendly way to produce a battery."
Zhang et al's work doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to top off your electronics by grabbing a sugar packet from the counter in your favorite cafe. The team's biobattery uses a different carbohydrate as its energy source: maltodextrin, a commonly used food additive.
Revealing that his fight against prostate cancer has taken a turn for the worse, California Public Utilities Commissioner Mark J. Ferron resigned Thursday from his seat on the CPUC. In the process, he made a remarkable statement about the future of energy in California in which he had some startling things to say about both California utilities and the state's legislators.
Appointed to the CPUC in 2011 by Governor Brown, Ferron said Wednesday he had hoped to complete his term as Commissioner, and had been considering the possibility of a second term. Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012, Ferron found last week that his cancer had survived a year of aggressive treatment. "We are now into strategies to drive my cancer into remission or to prolong a high quality of life for as long as possible until a cure can be found," Ferron wrote in his final Commissioner's Report Thursday. (We at ReWire wish Commissioner Ferron the very best of luck in contending with his cancer.)
But Ferron's final Commissioner's Report didn't just contain an update on his health. It also contained a remarkably frank assessment of the health of California's renewable energy and cleantech scene. The departing Commissioner's words echoed what many advocates of solar and other renewables have been saying for some years -- and Ferron may not have made California utilities happy as a result.
The push to make Los Angeles more energy independent is gaining steam, as a group of local, state, and federal elected officials called Friday for California's largest city to meet a fifth of its peak power needs with local solar within six years.
Congressman Adam Schiff, State Senators Kevin de León and Ted Lieu, Assemblymembers Bonnie Lowenthal, Jimmy Gomez and Mike Gatto, and L.A. City Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Mike Bonin have signed on to support a rooftop solar goal L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti adopted last year, when he said he'd push for building 1,200 megawatts of solar capacity on Los Angels' roofs and parking lots. That's a bit less than a fifth of the city's usual summer peak consumption, about 6,100-6,200 megawatts.
Now, with last week's announcement that the city's public utility will be hiring a new general manager at the end of the month, those officials and a broad spectrum of other solar advocates are pushing to take advantage of the opportunity to put the L.A. Department of Water and Power solidly behind Garcetti's goal.
"It's time for Los Angeles to take its place in the sun as a world leader on solar power, and it can only happen with strong leadership from Mayor Garcetti and the next general manager of LADWP," said Emily Kirkland of Environment California, a backer of Garcetti's initiative.
California's record-setting drought stands to do major harm to the state's ability to generate hydroelectric power, with a possible drop in output from just the state's ten largest hydro power plants potentially exceeding the loss of generating capacity from the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant.
According to realtime data provided by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), 10 of the state's 12 largest reservoirs are well below historic average water levels, with half of those reservoirs holding 55 percent or less of the average amount of water that managers generally expect in January.
Those reservoirs feed water through hydroelectric plants with a total generating capacity just above 2,500 megawatts. The longer the drought continues, the less likely it is the state will be able to count on that generating capacity, which could mean a loss of power greater than that from the closure of San Onofre.
Another day, another Gizmodo piece on renewable energy gadgets to debunk. Last week ReWire took a critical look at the gadgetry site's strange lauding of a car-top wind turbine that couldn't possibly work. This week, it's solar orbs: a form of concentrating solar involving glass ball lenses.
In a piece published Monday, Gizmodo writer Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan waxed lyrical over Rawlemon, a startup currently crowdfunding its concentrating photovoltaic design. Rawlemon uses a large ball lens to focus light on photovoltaic cells. Rawlemon's designer claims the lens can concentrate available light by up to 10,000 times, boosting the output of the small solar cells by a considerable amount.
Campbell-Dollaghan's take on the potential product is somewhat breathless. "Rawlemon," she writes, "by sheer force of numbers, has the power to outperform traditional solar panels by many thousands of times," even offering the possibility of generating power from moonlight. Sadly, a bit of simple math deflates her claim. While Rawlemon's technology may well offer some nifty advantages for specialized uses, the system is unlikely to be competitive with plain old solar panels anytime soon.