Clean disruption? Stanford group plans for 100% green-energy future

Posted on Mar 3, 2016

Clean disruption? Stanford group plans for 100% green-energy future

An environmental research team from the prestigious Stanford University in California has calculated exactly how Canada can move away from fossil fuels, transitioning to a totally clean-energy future through existing technologies.

But the assertion that this transition is just over a decade away is the source of hot debate.

The Solutions Project has evaluated the wind, water and solar (WWS) potential for all 50 U.S. states and 139 countries around the world, including Canada, providing data on the costs and benefits for each nation.

The goal of the group — which is backed by Hollywood heavyweights Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio — is to ultimately move the world toward 100-per-cent renewable energy use.

After measuring Canada’s clean-energy resources, the Stanford team says Canada can reach this goal through the following breakdown:

  • 58 per cent wind.
  • 22 per cent solar.
  • 16 per cent hydro.
  • Two per cent wave.
  • Two per cent geothermal.

“That would power Canada for all purposes,” says Mark Jacobson, a co-founder of the Solutions Project and a civil and environmental engineering professor at Stanford University, in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Mark Jacobson of Stanford University

Mark Jacobson is a civil and environmental engineering professor at Stanford University and a manager with The Solutions Project. He has drafted roadmaps for 139 nations, outlining how they could move toward 100-per-cent clean energy. (CBC News)

“I feel we know it’s technically and economically possible to transition the energy infrastructure, which is built primarily on fossil fuels and nuclear power, to entirely clean, reliable and safe renewable energy,” he says.

“In all sectors — electricity, transportation, heating and cooling, agriculture, forestry and fishing — we can transition all those sectors to clean, renewable energy at reasonable cost and make it reliable and make it secure for generations to come.”

Eliminating fossil fuels

While Jacobson and the Solutions Project believe that 80 per cent of all energy will be renewable by 2030, there are some, like Stanford business professor Tony Seba, who say this could happen even faster.

Seba, whose advice has been sought in boardrooms from Tokyo to Paris, is confident that solar and wind are key to sweeping away the industrial age of transportation and energy — and fast. He suggests we can reach that magic number of 100 per cent within 15 years.

“The solar-installed capacity has doubled every two years since the year 2000. Doubled every two years,” he says. “If you keep doubling that capacity, all you need is seven more doublings in order for solar to be 100 per cent of the world’s energy supply.”

Seba — also author of Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation — points to the demise of Kodak in 2012 to illustrate what he sees as an impending market disruption in the energy sector.

In the blink of an eye, Kodak, the world’s top film-photography company, was forced into bankruptcy by advances in digital photography and photo-sharing.

Tony Seba of Clean Disruption

Tony Seba, right, author of Clean Disruption, speaks with managers at a Nissan electric car factory in Japan. He ambitiously predicts the world could transition to a 100-per-cent clean-energy mix by 2030. (CBC News)

Seba cites bankruptcies in in the coal industry as the “start of the end” for the non-renewable energy sector. According to Bloomberg Business, five major U.S. coal companies have filed for bankruptcy over the last two years.

What’s more, the low cost of oil has not slowed investment in clean energy: $367 billion US was invested in green energy in 2015, the Solutions Project says, compared to $253 billion US for fossil fuels.

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Some cities are leading the way in reducing the amount of trash they send to landfills. Here’s how they’re doing it.

Posted on Mar 3, 2016

Some cities are leading the way in reducing the amount of trash they send to landfills. Here’s how they’re doing it.

After years of burning or burying their waste, some cities are getting serious about garbage.

Across the country, a handful of municipalities are radically reducing the amount of refuse they send to landfills, with the eventual goal of reaching “zero waste.” Seattle recycles or composts more than half of what its residents toss out. San Francisco diverts 77% of its waste from landfills. Even sprawling Los Angeles recycles or composts about two-thirds of its garbage.

Those numbers stand in stark contrast to the rest of the U.S., where the Environmental Protection Agency estimates only about a third of waste is recycled or composted. The cities are getting the job done largely by having citizens and businesses sort trash more carefully, to recycle as much as possible.

Officials in these cities think they can go further. “It’s good; doesn’t mean we stop there,” says Tim Croll, solid-waste director for Seattle Public Utilities. “We know the word ‘low-hanging fruit’ is overused, but there is still more stuff to be gotten out of that waste stream.”

Less Than Zero?

The prime benefits in adopting zero waste are environmental; many cities that have enacted zero-waste plans say they have taken up the task in the name of sustainability.

And supporters argue that reducing waste doesn’t necessarily mean increasing costs. For cities with limited landfill space—and the higher fees that come with it—most zero-waste activities cost less than normal garbage disposal, says Gary Liss, a zero-waste consultant who has helped about 20 cities form plans to reduce waste.

One caveat: “Zero waste” doesn’t necessarily mean “no waste.” Most cities use a definition from Zero Waste International Alliance, an environmental group, which says that diverting 90% of waste from landfills without the use of incinerators is “successful in achieving zero waste, or darn close.”

Why don’t cities shoot for 100% diversion? “We’re not crazy,” says Neil Seldman, president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that promotes sustainable communities. The closer cities get to that goal, the harder it is to go further, largely because there are so many products out there that just can’t be recycled—and people continue to buy them.

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