Tuesday, November 14, 2017

France Implements Policy to Tackle Food Waste

Globally, among industrialized countries, food waste is a serious problem. Food waste is defined as any food substance, liquid or solid, cooked or uncooked, that is thrown away or discarded. The Food Waste Alliance (FWA) estimates that over 60 million tons of food waste in the US was generated in 2010. 40 million of that total ended up in landfills. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates 30-40% of the food supply is never consumed. 

Food waste is the single largest component going to landfills making it the third largest producer of methane gas. The food waste problem is not only an environmental problem but it’s also an economic problem. Wholesome, edible food that could be consumed by families suffering from food insecurity is going to landfills. Soil, water, and labor used to harvest, process and transport nutritious food is being re-directed from benefitting our society to creating environmental biohazards.

While the USDA and numerous consumer and environmental groups within the US have highlighted the problem in this country, France has chosen to implement policy through laws to handle food waste. In 2016, France banned supermarkets from throwing away unsold food. Stores over 4,305 square feet had until July 2016 to sign agreements with charities, or face fines of up to €75,000. 

While France’s law provides a means of assisting charities feeding the needy, the food waste problem is more nuanced than mandating supermarkets donate their unsold food items. Yard waste, animal biosolids, and food processing byproducts from animals and vegetables are also included in the food waste category. These byproducts are not easily reused and turned into edible food consumable to humans or animals. There are technological solutions currently available to turn non-consumable food waste into fertilizer products.

Both countries acknowledge there is a significant problem with food waste but France is the only one to implement policy to begin tackling the problem. One could argue that their prescriptive approach is limited and overly simplistic, but at least from a governmental approach, this is a good first step. 

When you visit the USDA site on Food Waste, they readily acknowledge the problem. They discuss the economic and environmental loss due to food waste and yet there is no legislative mandate to directly solve the problem. As part of its mission, USDA launched a food loss and waste reduction goal of 50% by 2030. In 2013, USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) joined together to launch the U.S. Food Waste Challenge to bring together charitable organizations and work with them to assess and disseminate information about best practices to reduce, recover, and recycle food loss and waste.

While the USDA mission is laudable, it is voluntary and there is no specific public policy to work with food suppliers, supermarkets, restaurants or food banks to specifically redirect consumable food to those who need it most. Also, there’s no public policy addressing non-consumable food products, despite the technology, available in either country. France gets a C+ for beginning to tackle the food waste problem. They lack policy initiatives to deal with other components in the food production cycle. 

The US eeks out a passing grade of D because they have acknowledged there is a problem at the federal level. There’s considerable room for improvement if the USDA and EPA can enact some legislation and/or incentives which would encourage all key components in the food production cycle to participate in reduce, recover, and recycle food loss and waste prevention measures. 

France’s new law is a “feel good” approach that on its face seems like a no-brainer. Considering the political climate in this country it's doubtful that even a no-brainer approach like France’s would ever be able to become law in this country.

For more information on France’s progressive policies regarding food waste and France’s actions on using otherwise wasted food for good purposes:


By Bunnee Shelton for Green City Times. I'm an environmental enthusiast; Social Justice Advocate for the vulnerable – who are often People of Color, specifically Women of Color. @BunneeShelton (Twitter)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Environmental consciousness in Albuquerque

I’m not sure how most people become environmentally conscious but my evolution as an environmental enthusiast was forged from several factors. My introduction to environmental consciousness started shortly after moving to Albuquerque, NM in the mid-90’s.

Living in the High Desert with scarce rainfall tends to focus one’s attention on environmental issues very quickly. No appreciable rainfall occurred from December until June of the following year. 6 months of NO rain. Having lived most of my life on the East Coast, I had experienced many grey, wet days. 

Some years it seemed like wet, inclement weather occurred for weeks on end. New Mexico was a shock to the system. Florida may be called the Sunshine state but I doubt they experience as many days (approximately 300) of sunshine in the desert Southwest. Many a weekend on the East Coast is ruined when rainy weather appears. 

Just the opposite occurs in sunny New Mexico. I still remember how giddy everyone got after that first rainfall that signalled the start of monsoon season. Yes, there is a monsoon season. It’s nothing like what happens in parts of Asia but you have to live there and experience it to understand why it is an appropriate term.
Albuquerque averages just under 10” of rain annually and about 10” of snow annually.

The dearth of rainfall obviously comes with a host of issues. The number one issue involves the replenishment of local aquifers which supply drinking water for local inhabitants. I won’t get into the tortuous history of water skirmishes but let’s just say, it’s an issue that every New Mexican (whether you have long-standing roots to the area or are a newcomer) is constantly aware of both consciously and unconsciously. 

While Mother Nature is stingy with rainfall in New Mexico, she is very generous with solar and wind capacity. People there, starting with Indigenous folks, have always used passive solar to heat their homes and wind to pump water for both human and animal consumption. The landscape is dotted with many different applications of solar and wind power. 

One of the myths I was led to believe about living in the Southwest was that the dry air provided relief from allergies and respiratory illnesses. 

Starting in the late 19th century, tuberculosis patients were often sent to NM and AZ for “cures” to relieve them of their illness or symptoms. 

I suppose the dry, hot air once was thought to be a cure-all but as immigrants are prone to do in new lands, they brought non-native plants and trees which grow abundantly today. I had a five-month honeymoon from allergy symptoms until the growing season kicked in fully. Not only did my allergies resume but they came back with a vengeance. Eventually, my allergies got so bad that I developed asthma (allergy of the lungs) and a sensitivity to a number of environmental allergens (both natural and man-made). I could no longer use strong chemical cleaners with noxious odors. I developed rashes and hives to personal care products with lots of chemicals and perfumes. 

At one point, a doctor I visited informed me that my reactions were indications of an auto-immune disorder. I refused to accept the diagnosis and started experimenting with natural and organic personal care products. After some fits and starts, I found natural or organic personal care and household cleaning products that were non-irritating but also efficacious.

After my own personal odyssey into “green” products and the birth of my daughter in 2002, I became committed to living more environmentally conscious. In 2004, we began the process of building a custom home.

I studied water capture; use of gray water for natural irrigation; using sustainable products and non-VOC paints, thinners, flooring, etc. I even studied for a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. 

Eventually, in 2009, my sister and I started an environmentally conscious lifestyle company that focused on selling sustainable and recyclable products for the home. Due to the proliferation of green products being sold in more traditional stores, we shuttered the business and online store in late 2014. While my dream to expand our all eco products company to brick and mortar locations never came to fruition, I am still committed to living a sustainable lifestyle. 

Environmental issues (i.e. DAPL, Flint, MI water crisis, etc.) that affect disaffected and marginalized groups, in particular, are dearest to my heart. I will be writing on a myriad of environmental topics that I hope will offer a different perspective and creative solutions for change in an increasingly difficult political environment.

By Bunnee Shelton for Green City Times. I'm an environmental enthusiast; Social Justice Advocate for the vulnerable – who are often People of Color, specifically Women of Color. @BunneeShelton (Twitter)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Advantages of Distributed Solar Power, Large-Scale Solar Photovoltaics, and Solar Thermal

As the generation of electricity via fossil fuels becomes less reliable and more expensive, many countries are exploring renewable energy options to guarantee their supply. Solar power generation in its various forms is a very attractive prospect, particularly in areas that enjoy long hours of sunshine. However, it can be difficult to decide which form is the most suitable. To that end, here are some of the benefits of Distributed Solar Power, Large-Scale Solar Photovoltaics, and Solar Thermal.

Distributed Solar Power

While photovoltaics and thermal describe the method of converting sunlight into other types of energy, distributed solar power refers to the location of that process; in this case, as close to the point of consumption as possible.
Its advantages are, firstly, that it avoids the energy loss traditionally experienced in the transmission and distribution of electricity, as these steps are no longer necessary. This also saves money. Any heat created during generation can be utilised to decrease wastage.
The decentralization of production allows for fluctuations in demand, especially where storage systems are in place. It provides individual households and business flexibility and independence from the main grid, potentially avoiding blackouts and other problems.
Although there is an initial cost, it pays for itself over time in the savings made from decreased reliance on a power company.

Large-Scale Solar Photovoltaics

Photovoltaics, or solar panels, are a common choice for solar power. This is due to their increasing efficiency and reducing installation cost – given the economy of scale, large-scale solar photovoltaics - also known as solar farms -  are approximately half the cost of residential solar. Innovations in technology, and large-scale production in countries such as China, means that it is more cost-effective than ever, with prices of the energy produced nearing that of the wholesale prices charged by fossil fuel power plants.
Solar farms produce jobs in a variety of areas, from maintenance to operations, and they can be placed on land that is unsuitable for most development. This land, which includes closed landfills, is often close to towns and cities, cutting down on transmission infrastructure and its cost.

Solar Thermal

Solar thermal can refer to a wide range of applications of heating, and even cooling. When just considering energy generation, the most efficient method is Concentrated Solar Power (CSP). CSP plants are smaller – they use less land and have a lower environmental impact and expense. The heat storage is also more efficient, storing more energy per unit of fluid, which allows for production of electricity outside of hours of direct sunlight, therefore creating a more reliable system that can generate power 24 hours a day.
Finally, solar thermal plants can re-purpose existing equipment already made in large-scale industry, such as turbines, which lowers the cost of installation.

Each form of solar power has its advantages, whether it is cost, flexibility, or efficiency. When selecting one, the best choice is the one that gains the desired outcome.

Large-Scale Nuclear Power vs. Modular Nuclear Power

Nuclear power is definitely one of the most controversial methods of producing energy and although it has great green credentials there are many reservations from the public as a whole. So what can be done to improve the image of an energy that could severely slow the rate at which greenhouse gasses are being produced?

Large scale nuclear reactors have historically been the most popular form of nuclear energy as it had been funded on a massive scale. Being able to produce enough energy to outweigh the more conventional forms of energy production has been the major stumbling block other than public image. In more recent years there has also been issues of holds ups in plans to big large scale nuclear plants that are difficult to fund and a failure to keep to timescales increases costs of undertaking such big plans.

Experts now believe that using much smaller, modular power plants is a viable option in replacement for the expensive large scale reactors. Modular reactors are already used on nuclear submarines and in countries such as India and Pakistan so the technology surrounding these plants is already at a very high standard but it is a recent idea that they might be considered economically viable.

Small power reactors are plants that produce less than 300 megawatts which compared with large scale reactors that are able to produce over 1.6 gigawatts. In order to make it worthwhile you have to build a lot more modular plants to produce the same amount of energy as a large scale one so why is this becoming the preferred method of nuclear power plant building? The answers are simple.

There have been many problems with nuclear power and most issues that have arisen have been assigned to the scale of the reactors. This indication implies that smaller reactors are safer and therefore could improve the overall image of nuclear power. While image isn’t everything in the world of energy suppliers it would make it much easier for nuclear power plants to get planning permission if there was less opposition.

Clearly image isn’t the only important factor with nuclear power plants. Modular power plants are much smaller than the pictures most of us think of when imagining a nuclear power plants. They can be completed much easier and faster and run a lot less risk of overrunning in terms of timescale. This is important as it reduces costs but also means the plant can be producing energy much sooner while they proceed onto the next plant.

It is possible to build these much smaller plants in a factory and should the demand for these types of power plants be high enough it would significantly reduce costs. Comparing modular power plants to larger scale plants indicates there is a clear decision to be made about the future and that is to transfer over to modular power plants.

A Close Look at San Diego’s HERO Program: A Step Towards Home Energy Renovation

The importance of green energy for use in homes and businesses is becoming more and more widespread, with individuals, families, and whole communities making the proactive effort to renovate their energy systems in order to pursue a more cost-efficient and energy-efficient method. San Diego is a west coast city that is leading the way in providing solar opportunities for homeowners. With the implementation of San Diego’s HERO (Home Energy Renovation Opportunity) program, homeowners throughout the San Diego and Southern California area are making changes in order to have the opportunity to rely on solar energy as their main energy source in the coming months and years.

Having said that, it might come as no surprise that solar energy systems are expensive to implement, thus potentially preventing homeowners from pursuing this more efficient clean energy system. It’s for this reason that many areas across the nation have introduced the concept of Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE. 

In San Diego, the PACE concept takes the form of the HERO program, or Home Energy Renovation Opportunity. HERO and similar programs have the potential to cover 100 percent of the cost of solar energy system implementation, from the solar panels and green windows, to artificial turf and water saving upgrades. This financial assistance makes access to clean energy and a renovated energy akin society that much more feasible.

This clean energy upgrade financing is a low-interest option that is repaid through property taxes. With a simple application process and options for even those with unfavorable credit scores, the HERO program provides homeowners dedicated to making the transition to clean energy with manageable rates and fees. 

Since 2011, a clean energy focused organization called Renovate America utilized this HERO program to fund $1.2 billion in home improvements on approximately 55,000 homes. Starting in Riverside, California, this program was implemented in order to allow homeowners to bring their clean energy desires to reality. In Riverside County alone, approximately 18,700 homes have utilized the program in order to make clean energy modifications to their homes. Since expanding to San Diego County two years ago, the same program has provided financial assistance across nearly 8,000 local projects. 

In San Diego county alone, the benefits of access to the HERO program through Renovate America is obvious when taking a closer look at the statistics involved. Thus far for San Diego county, this program has facilitated a substantial increase in jobs, provided millions of dollars in funding for sustainable options, conserved nearly 1,000 million kilowatts of energy, and saved more than 700 million gallons of water.

These benefits go hand in hand with what the HERO program is doing for homeowners as well. The amount saved on energy bills and reduction in their personal carbon footprint are other advantages to consider when making the decision to apply for this clean energy financing. 

Overall, though, when taking a look at the positive reception from homeowners and the effectiveness of the program, it is easy to see that individuals are ready and willing to take advantage of a program such as this in order to go above and beyond to make a change for the better. Moving in the right direction in regards to clean energy changes is made that much more possible with the help of the HERO program and others like it. 

More info. on the HREO program:



Marine and Hydrokinetic Power

Hydrokinetic technologies have come to the forefront of renewable energy in recent years as the power of waves are a relatively untapped source. Water is a staggering 832 times denser than air and makes the potential power of hydrokinetic energy an opportunity that we cannot ignore for the future of our environment.

Hydrokinetic power uses the kinetic power of waves, tides and currents to create electricity. The development of technologies used in harnessing this power is still being worked on however pilot schemes are being put into place to further the development. It is difficult to get to a point where full use of the technologies is conceivable however with increasing funding going towards renewables the possibilities are growing daily with this relatively new technology.

The most simple and powerful way of harnessing marine hydrokinetic power is by using both near and off-shore waves. By extracting only 15% of the potential kinetic power from waves in the USA it would exceed the amount of electricity currently generated by hydroelectric dams. This is an immense possibility considering there amount of water that covers the entire planet.

Not only are the kinetic powers of waves harnessable but experts believe there is a lot of promise held in ocean tides. As the tides change they produce a phenomenon known as a tidal stream which is a powerful current. Not only is this current powerful enough to produce high amounts of energy but it is highly predictable which means it is easier to predict the surges in electricity and when support would be needed.

While the effects of hydrokinetic technologies on climate change are easy to define as there are no dangerous greenhouse emissions further research is necessary to see the wider implications of using this technology. Many renewable resources have been able to work in means of protecting the environment from harm. Before it is possible to give the green light to use new and untested technology there needs to be assurances that there wont be any kinds of danger to marine biodiversity.

It is also exceedingly expensive getting new renewable energies into use as there are so many complications along the line. Without the funding from governments and dedication from researchers and scientists there is no knowing how long it could take to get to a stage where we are able to use hydrokinetic technologies to harness electricity. Fortunately it is becoming a more pressing matter not only in the eyes of those working on the technology but also on a wider scale. The general public is becoming much more softened to the idea of using renewable energy and are much more conscious of the impact of electricity on the environment. Image can make or break a company and the time is certainly coming that there will be a shift in power towards renewables and a cleaner power sector which marine hydrokinetic energy is certainly a part of.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Trump is basically ignoring main sources of middle class employment in the energy sector

Coal provides middle-class Americans with less than 100,000 jobs. Wind/ solar/ renewable energy provides these same Americans with well over 500,000 jobs. So, of course, Trump, the Trump administration, and republicans in Congress will focus on increasing incentives for, and eliminating regulations for...the coal industry.

It is exactly this kind of backwards thinking that has government eliminating regulations around the fossil fuel industry's habit of polluting the environment, as well as dismantling laws forbidding the fossil fuel industry from developing in national parks and the arctic. This is a result of climate change denial, apathy concerning the environment, and the tremendous, ugly greed of Trump and his goons in the White House and republicans in Congress. But these governmental policies are also a reflection of the republican voter-at-large who put these people in government.

It is time for both our government and the people that vote these climate change denying, willfully ignorant people into government positions, to open their eyes, and see facts for what they are: facts. The future of employment in the energy sector is obviously renewable energy, not fossil fuels. This article in Mother Jones sums it up perfectly:

Wind [and solar] farms—and the new jobs that come with them—have swept across the Midwest, where coal and traditional manufacturing gigs have vanished. (Despite what President Donald Trump will tell you, coal jobs started to disappear back in the 1980s, when the steel industry began to sink and utilities stopped building new coal-fired power plants.)
In the "wind belt" between Texas and North Dakota, the price of wind energy is finally equal to and in some cases cheaper than that of fossil fuels. Thanks to investments in transmission lines, better computer controls, and more efficient turbines, the cost to US consumers fell two-thirds in just six years, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
Still, not all windy states have a turbine-friendly climate. In Wyoming, for example, coal-loving legislators passed a tax on wind energy in 2010 and are also considering penalizing utilities for including renewables in their portfolios.
The next few years will see a showdown between "rural Republicans who really want to get the economic boost [wind & solar, other renewables] offers to their district, versus Republican ideologues who don't like renewables because they like fossil fuels"—and whose campaign contributions depend on protecting them.
So farmers—and voters —will have to fight for wind [and other renewables] which, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency,  offer the greatest potential for growth in US renewable power generation. In his energy plan, Trump speaks of reviving the country's "hurting" coal industry and argues that sound energy policy begins with the recognition that we have vast untapped domestic energy reserves right here in America.
We do—and those reserves could lead to hundreds of thousands of jobs in the coming years, and very few carbon emissions. And if Trump weren't so fixated on the sputtering coal industry, he might actually see them. (Article by Maddie Oatman)

Maddie Oatman is a story editor at Mother Jones. Read more of her stories here, or catch her on MoJo's food politics podcast Bite.