WFAE’s Charlotte Talks examines Fracking in NC

When I lived in Charlotte one of my favorite programs to listen to during my commute was WFAE’s Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins and so I am looking forward to listening to a two part discussion on fracking in North Carolina that aired on September 3rd and 8th, 2014.

Fracking in NC| Sept 3rd program with featured guests:

  • Christopher Hardin, P.E. – Senior Project Director, CH2M HILL
  • Franklin H. Yoho – Senior Vice President – Chief Commercial Officer, Piedmont Natural Gas
  • Dr. Andy Bobyarchick – Associate Professor of Earth Sciences, Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at UNC Charlotte

Fracking Part 2| Sept 8th program with featured guests:

  • James Womack – Commissioner for the Mining & Energy Commission
  • Dr. Andy Bobyarchick – Associate Professor of Earth Sciences, Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at UNC Charlotte
  • Cassie Gavin – Director of Government Affairs with Sierra Club’s NC Chapter

You can listen to each segment online and find links to related content from WFAE.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan & NC

On Monday June 2nd, the EPA proposed its Clean Power Plan that is intended to cut U.S. carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent (compared with 2005 emissions) by 2030.  The reductions in carbon pollution that will need to be implemented will be different for each state given that each state utilizes a different fuel mix for electricity generation and may already be incorporating low-carbon technologies at existing power plants. According to the EPA, “states can choose the right mix of generation using diverse fuels, energy efficiency and demand-side management to meet the goals and their own needs.” You can view the June 2nd press release here.

As a teacher, this proposed rule provides a great opportunity for your students to examine the current energy sources used to generate electricity in NC and then to critically assess the various strategies that could be used to reduce carbon pollution by the electricity sector in NC.   Janet McCabe, head of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, in her post titled Understanding State Goals Under the Clean Power Plan on the EPA Connect Blog, summarized the four measures the  EPA identified that are “technically sound,  affordable, and that result in significant reductions in carbon intensity. They are:
1) improving efficiency at existing coal-fired power plants,
2) increasing utilization of existing natural gas fired power plants,
3) expanding the use of wind, solar, or other low- or zero-emitting alternatives, and
4) increasing energy efficiency in homes and businesses.”

According to data from the US Energy Information Agency (EIA), in 2012 NC ranked 15th nationally in terms of its contribution of carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector.

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan interactive map tool enables users to click on a state to learn more about EPA’s carbon reduction goals for that state and to learn about the fossil fuel fired power plants covered by the proposed plan.  The EPA has proposed that North Carolina  lower its carbon pollution to 992 lb/MWh in 2030. North Carolina’s 2012 emission rate was 1,646 pounds/megawatt hours (lb/MWh) so this represents a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030.

You can read more about what this plan means for NC by reading the June 2, 2014 News and Observer article, EPA calls on NC power plants to reduce emission rates 40% by 2030. According to the article, which referenced Jonas Monast, director of the climate and energy program at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and adjunct professor at the UNC School of Law, federal projections show North Carolina is already on track to see an 18 percent drop in carbon emissions by 2020, compared with 2005.

Fact sheets and details about the proposed rule are available here.

This graphic from the New York Times may also be useful in instruction.

Energy, Water and Land: National Climate Assessment

The National Climate Assessment “provides an in-depth look at climate change impacts on the U.S. It details the multitude of ways climate change is already affecting and will increasingly affect the lives of Americans.”  Chapter 10 of the report is devoted to exploring the connections between energy, water and land as understanding these connections “can improve our capacity to predict, prepare for, and mitigate climate change.”

The report is organized around three key messages:
1. Energy, water, and land systems interact in many ways. Climate change affects the individual sectors and their interactions; the combination of these factors affects climate change vulnerability as well as adaptation and mitigation options for different regions of the country.
2. The dependence of energy systems on land and water supplies will influence the development of these systems and options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as their climate change vulnerability.
3. Jointly considering risks, vulnerabilities, and opportunities associated with energy, water, and land use is challenging, but can improve the identification and evaluation of options for reducing climate change impacts.

Each chapter of the report includes interactive graphics as well as figures and graphics that can be downloaded for use in the classroom.  Check out the interactive version of Figure 10.4 that shows the energy production by source, amount of water withdrawn by key sectors and land cover type for each region of the US along with projected climate change impacts. This figure provides an at-a-glance view of water, energy and land use that can be used by students as they consider how projected climate impacts might influence each of these sectors in their region.

The report also includes examples of energy, water and land connections by exploring the following technologies and the corresponding energy-water-land tradeoffs in more depth:

  • shale gas and hydraulic fracturing
  • solar power generation
  • biofuels
  • carbon capture and storage

So the next time you ask students to critically evaluate the various energy sources used by society, encourage them to also consider the role of water and land in the mining and acquisition of energy sources, the generation of electricity, and the manufacture and delivery of transportation fuels.



Examining coal ash ponds near you

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in collaboration with numerous environmental and community non-profit organizations from across the southeast has produced a “one stop shop” for all things coal ash. The site includes a user-friendly, interactive map tool to locate power plants with coal ash storage facilities (ponds or landfills) and then inform the user about the owner of the power plant, and, for each ash storage facility, the year it was built, whether it is active or inactive, its EPA dam hazard rating, and any additional concerns  (e.g., unlined pond, poor condition of dam, evidence of contamination).  

Data on each power plant’s coal ash storage facilities is compiled from data made available by the Energy Information Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, utility providers and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. In addition, all data is available as Google Earth KMZ or GIS shapefile.

ccw_map__Cape Fear Power Station

Credit: SELCNC

What I like about this tool from a teaching perspective is that the information for each power plant can be downloaded as a pdf for easy review by students and incorporation into instruction.  An aerial map is available for each power plant that shows the power plant, ash pond and landfill boundaries and proximity to local waterways.

There are numerous other resources available on this website.  You can learn about the state of coal ash in NC by clicking here.  In addition, there is a news page dedicated to the 2014 Dan River coal ash spill which includes links to news articles, pictures, press releases, videos.


“Algae”, biofuels and carbon capture

Photo credit: NREL

I was excited to see cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) featured in a recent energy-related article in the News and Observer.  Asheville entrepreneur aims to harness cyanobacteria’s photosynthetic prowess details the work of Phytonix, an Asheville-based company that has  engineered cyanobacteria to use carbon dioxide and sunlight to produce n-butanol instead of sugar! According to the article, “current methods of producing butanol use petroleum as a feedstock and emit carbon dioxide in the process. Because the Phytonix approach uses carbon dioxide as a feedstock, it removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

Thus, in addition to producing biofuels, these microscopic photosynthetic organisms also serve to capture carbon from the atmosphere or other concentrated source. The scientist behind Phytonix, Bruce Dannenberg, is said to envision his “facilities being located near sources of carbon dioxide, such as ethanol refineries, oil and gas production plants, cement factories or breweries.” And power companies like Duke Energy are also turning to photosynthesis  and exploring technologies to capture CO2 from the flue gas of coal-fired power plants. 

There is an algae-based system for CO2 capture at Duke Energy’s East Bend Power Plant (a coal-fired power plant) located in Kentucky along the Ohio River. This project is a collaboration between the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research and the University of Kentucky Department of Biosystems and Agriculture Engineering.  According to Duke Energy, “while the primary focus of the project is to demonstrate how to use algae to reduce CO2 emissions produced by coal-fired power plants, the project also focuses upon studying the production of biofuels and other bioproducts from the algae to demonstrate the economic feasibility of using algae to capture CO2.”  

A two part video about algae CO2 capture and this Duke Energy project was produced by the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research and Reveal: University of Kentucky Research Media:

Algae CO2 Capture Part 1: How it Works (5 minutes)

Algae CO2 Capture Part 2: Imagining the Future (5 minutes)

A Photo Gallery is also available.

Here is some additional reading related to Duke Energy’s East Bend Power Plant photobioreactor:

CO2 recycling using microalgae for the production of fuels, March 2014
This article from the journal Applied Petrochemical Research describes the demonstration project at Duke Energy’s East Bend Power Plant.

Duke, UK use algae to eat CO2 and make new stuff, Nov 8, 2013
This article is not available in full but this link includes access to a 1 minute video titled “Algae Eat Emissions at East Bend Power Plant.”

CAER Scientists, Duke Energy Demonstrate Algae-Based Carbon-Capture System, Nov 2013
This article is from University of Kentucky News.

Ky. power station to implement algae carbon capture project, Dec 2011
This article is from Biodiesel Magazine.






The Solutions Project: 100% clean, renewable energy for each state?

What kind of energy portfolio would your students come up with if you challenged them to design a strategy for NC to be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2050?  They might have fun researching the opportunities and challenges to such a future and comparing their answers!

I recently learned about The Solutions Project upon reading a blog post by UNC graduate student Justin Baumann and was intrigued to see what the renewable energy portfolio could look like for NC if it “transition[ed] to 100% wind, water, and solar (WWS) for all purposes (electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, industry).”  The project’s designers include Mark Jacobson, an engineer from Stanford, and others who are motivated to “use the powerful combination of science + business + culture to accelerate the transition to 100% clean, renewable energy.”

NC Plan

Their projected energy mix for NC in 2050 includes almost 40% of the state’s energy demand being met by solar energy, mostly via solar photovoltaic plants, greater than 50% coming from wind energy, mostly offshore wind, and the rest (<10%) coming from hydroelectric, geothermal, wave and tidal energy. In addition to showing the projected renewable energy portfolio for each state, the infographic for each state also reveals projections for jobs created, avoided health costs and deaths from air pollution, among others.

The data underlying these plans is available as is a suite of related resources from Mark Jacobson, including a PPT titled Powering Countries, States, and the World With Wind, Water, and Sunlight that he presented at the February 2014 AAAS annual meeting and even a 10 minute video of Dr. Jacobson as a guest of David Letterman!

You may also be interested in reading, or having your students read, a 2009 Scientific American article (pdf) titled A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030 that was co-authored by  Dr. Jacobson.

If you decide to have your students explore what a WWS future would like for NC – or perhaps you already do this – I’d love to hear about it!





NC Scientists Study Offshore Wind Energy Potential

This article by Jared Brumbaugh appears with the permission of Public Radio East. To view the original article and/or listen to the 5 minute broadcast click here.

Coastal scientists are hoping to deploy two buoys in April to explore wind energy potential off the coast of North Carolina.

Credit UNC Institute of Marine Sciences

It was the winds of coastal North Carolina that propelled Orville and Wilbur Wright to first in flight more than 110 years ago.  Soon, scientists will launch a one year study to determine if those same coastal winds can be used to power homes and businesses.  The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will deploy two – 3,000 lb. buoys to collect information on water and atmospheric conditions in the Atlantic.   Professor of Marine Sciences Harvey Seim says they’ll use the information to help identify viable lease block locations for offshore wind farms.

 “The intent here is to take a closer look at what the offshore wind energy resource is like and to carefully document its structure to help where and where not to consider deployment of offshore wind turbines.”

In 2008, the North Carolina State Legislature requested that a study be conducted to look at the viability of offshore wind energy in our state.

“The University played a big role in putting together a report for the state at that time over the next year.  And we found that there was reason to be encouraged that offshore wind energy might be feasible off of North Carolina.”

Seim says there has been a series of follow up projects conducted since the study, the most recent will be the placement of the two buoys 20 miles off the coast.  Below the surface of the water is a large, donut shaped flotation collar about 6 to 7 feet in diameter.  The visible section consists of a 12 foot super structure equipped with high-tech meteorological instruments.

Credit UNC Institute of Marine Sciences

“On the super structure are a number of sensors to measure properties of the atmosphere, the main one being the wind speed and direction.  We have a couple of anemometers, redundant, so we can make sure we’re getting the right measurements.  Air temperature, air humidity, air pressure, rainfall, things that tell us about how cloudy it is.  And in addition, a camera that will take a snap shot of the sea surface conditions every hour.”

Just below the water and at a depth of 50 feet, special instruments will record the ocean’s temperature and salinity.  The two buoys will be anchored to the seafloor about 80 miles apart.  One will be located north of Cape Hatteras and the other off Ocracoke Island.  Semin says the buoys will be placed in areas where there’s a lack of data indicating a favorable spot for wind energy development.

“The intent is to try to fill in the holes in the historical database in sites that look like they should be promising based on other data, but we’ve never taken measurements in those particular locations.”

Semin says the areas where they are conducting their research will be in non-conflict areas, which are places that don’t disrupt military, fishing, and ecological activities.  The purpose of the research project will focus mainly on collecting information about wind speed and direction.  Seim says they’ll study how the proximity of the Gulf Stream to the continental shelf creates a seemingly favorable environment for wind energy facilities.

“This is the Gulf Streams closest approach to the continent anywhere along the eastern sea board except for Florida. And when it comes close to the land, it essentially serves as an energy source and helps pump up the wind fields, we know that’s what happens during the wintertime and spinning up strong storms right off of our coast.”

Credit UNC Institute of Marine Sciences

The buoys are equipped with satellite communications, which will transmit data back to shore every hour.  According to Seim, the data will be available to the public, as well as local and commercial mariners, divers, weathermen, and scientists.  He says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be the primary receiver of the data, and will help distribute the information globally.

“The data from the buoys will flow into the National Weather Service’s model systems and help with forecasting, we’ll also be hosting our own website to present the data to people as well.”

The original buoys were purchased nearly a decade ago.  After an extensive 100,000 dollar retrofit, the pair of buoys were deployed off the coast in 2011.  But before the research could be completed, the buoys were severely damaged either intentionally or by accident.  Over 200-thousand dollars in repairs have been made, and the buoys are set to be deployed next month. Semin is hoping to alert mariners to be on the lookout for the buoys and any suspicious activity.

“The buoys are marked with their identification numbers from NOAA, these NDBC numbers, and they have a website on them that’s fairly easy to access that you could just go in there and let us know if you think there’s something that’s not looking right. We’d also like to ask that people don’t tie off to the buoys.  They’re big and robust, but the instruments themselves are fairly delicate so if you try to throw a line on them, you might damage some of the equipment.”

Credit UNC Institute of Marine Sciences

The Monitor National Marine Sanctuary vessel was set to deploy the buoys earlier this month, but a critical component failure will keep it in harbor until next week.  When the buoys are deployed, they will spend a year in the Atlantic collecting data.  Seim is hoping the project will receive more funding and can be extended so they’re able to document atmospheric and ocean conditions over a longer period of time.  You can see pictures of the research buoys at our website,  I’m Jared Brumbaugh.

For more information: – Original UNC offshore wind energy feasibility study  – the full feasibility study generated by UNC for the state legislature – National Data Buoy Center –  the federal government site where the buoy data will be available to the public in a tabular format, along with many other observing platforms around the country  –  the website maintained by Seim’s group at UNC that makes the buoy observations available in a graphical format.


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