Saturday, March 8, 2014 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
Istanbul, the only city in the world that spans two continents, is a perfect setting for a close look at the energy and sustainability challenges of our increasingly urban planet.
With 14 million people, Istanbul is the largest city in Europe. But energy demand here and across Turkey is growing at a rate more typical of much of Asia—about 45 percent per year, says Volkan Ediger, energy systems engineering department head at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.
Ediger, who served as energy adviser to Turkey’s president under three successive administrations from 1998 to 2010, led the latest in a series of roundtable events convened by National Geographic as part of its Great Energy Challenge initiative, sponsored by Shell. (Read about our previous forums, Biofuels at a Crossroads, and The Arctic: Science of Change.) Some 25 academics and government officials, along with representatives of industry and nongovernmental organizations, gathered in Istanbul on Wednesday to discuss the challenges facing Turkey’s cities.The discussion shed light on the problems facing metropolitan areas around the world that are grappling with transportation congestion, the need for more secure and cleaner sources of energy supply, and that want to maintain a livable environment as their populations grow. (Related Quiz: What You Don’t Know About Cities and Energy.)
Turkey’s energy landscape is marked by three realities in addition to the rapid growth of demand, said Ediger. The nation is highly dependent upon foreign energy sources—especially natural gas imported from Russia; it is about 90 percent reliant on fossil fuels; and Turkey is not as energy efficient as other developed countries, he said.
Panelists emphasized the need for city planning that takes into account the suburbs. They called for greater realization that there is no single solution either for transportation or for secure energy supply. And they emphasized the need for government and stakeholders to work together cooperatively for solutions. Here’s a sampling of their ideas:
Mustafa Ilıcalı, director of the transportation department of engineering, Bahçeşehir University. Photograph by Onur Onat.
Mustafa Ilıcalı, director of the transportation department of engineering, Bahçeşehir University: “I think the biggest problem in many of the cities in Turkey is transportation, and . . . the main issue here is the problem of regional development. There is a very high level of migration into cities and of course there are increasing demands. I think transportation planning is not being done efficiently and [is] the biggest problem Turkey has had. All of these demands in İstanbul must be tackled in the framework of a transportation master plan.
“We have a ten-year development plan but can we really implement [this]? You know, there [are] the efforts on municipality side and efforts on the central government side. . . These efforts do not necessarily complement each other. This means that there is a need for effective governance and a coherent coordination. We really must concentrate on human resources, coordination. If we really can manage to be successful in this, I think we will gain more concrete results. And we have to be a part of the European Union so that we can reduce the development gap between our regions.”
Arzu Tekir, director of EMBARQ TURKEY, Sustainable Transportation Association. Photograph by Onur Onat.
Arzu Tekir, director of EMBARQ TURKEY, Sustainable Transportation Association: “Back in 2000, 64 percent of the Turkish population was living in cities, but it has gone up to 78 percent. I think rapid urbanization and the development of the [suburban] regions is an important problem and . . . transportation systems cannot keep up. We have to think about trans-oriented development. We have to create compact cities. We have the metro-bus systems and we have similar alternatives for sustainable systems. I think we have to try and ensure that cities grow within the framework of these transportation frameworks.”
Philippe Crist, administrator of the International Transport Forum, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Photograph by Onur Onat.
Philippe Crist, administrator of the International Transport Forum, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD): “There is no single transport mode that can absorb all of [the new] mobility—not cars, not public transport, not walking, even though walking accounts for almost half of our trips in cities like İstanbul. Not cycling, which accounts for almost nothing in many Turkish cities.
“The real challenge will be two things: managing hyper-dense cities . . . and very low density suburbs. How do you provide adequate access in transport services to those two very different areas?”
“The reason that you see, for example, the takeoff of the two-wheeled electric bicycles and scooters in China is because of the high fares for the metro system. And at the same time the restrictions given to petrol-driven two-wheelers as a way of driving people into the metro system. And people are very resilient. They also like individual mobility. All I’m saying is that the takeoff of electric mobility in the world hasn’t been in electric cars. It’s been more in a quasi-form of public transport which is sometimes shared electric vehicles, but they’re two-wheelers and are very light. I would assume or expect that in the major cities, in the major mega cities in the world, the solutions for public transport will be hybrid, just like the solutions for energy will also be hybrid.”
Selahattin Hakman, energy group president, Sabancı Holding.Photograph by Onur Onat.
Selahattin Hakman, energy group president, Sabancı Holding: “These huge urbanization efforts contribute to the very high electricity demand in Turkey. And this creates a huge challenge to supply the necessary electricity especially to the cities. There are many reactions instead of plans before actions. I think this is the highest challenge in Turkey, [the demand that] cities are creating in terms of energy and electricity usage.”
“I think the most important fuel not only for Turkey but globally is increasing the energy efficiency.”
Göktuğ Kara, manager, transport policy and infrastructure investments, delegation of the European Union to Turkey, European External Action Service: “The biggest issues that we’ll be facing as Turks in the upcoming decades will be urban sprawl—the cities are extending without any plan, just according to the mayor’s vision, so there is a huge loss of efficiency in terms of planning. Given the motorization rates, traffic congestion will be what the ordinary Turk will be complaining, and lastly accessibility of infrastructure, as the population will be relatively ageing.”
Fazıl Şenel, board member of Turkey’s Energy Market Regulatory Authority: “I personally think that the biggest problem is protecting the environment. In other words, we have one single world, we have one single planet and we’ll live on this planet. So if we’re going to generate energy, we must ensure that we use environment-friendly energy. We need to ensure that we consume energy in an environment-friendly way.
“In addition, Turkey generates less than one percent of the carbon dioxide around the world. And we know that the majority of the carbon dioxide comes from the [United States] and the Western world. Of course, you have to think about India, as well as China. So I think that the main solution lies on this fact. I’m not denying Turkey’s role. Of course Turkey needs to improve itself, but I think that countries that have a large share in carbon-dioxide generation need to set an example to others.”
Hayri Baraçlı, general manager, İETT (Istanbul Electricity, Tramway, and Tunnel).Photograph by Onur Onat.
Hayri Baraçlı, general manager, İETT (Istanbul Electricity, Tramway, and Tunnel): “İstanbul of course is a unique city. . . As we discuss these problems, of course, we’re not just looking at the issues that relate to İstanbul. We have to see urban issues as a whole. And, as a general perspective, we have to also think about environment, energy —I think this is being part of the urban culture. Of course, our cities are combined cities—there is industry, there is tourism, there [are] residential units. It may be worthwhile to try and move these functions to different cities. And also in İstanbul of course, transportation and life —they go hand in hand, so we have to think about all of the different means of transportation. We are now trying our best to integrate these but we have to continue to work.”
Isabel Gomez Cagigas, country general manager, IBM Turkey: “We have to rethink and redesign the city. It’s a must. . . Technology exists. Smart grid, management of energy efficiency, management of demand. All of these have been invented. The world is moving very very fast. We will see new things that will come up, but everything is again on us to do it and work together.”
Ahmet Erdem, Shell Turkey country chairman.Photograph by Onur Onat.
Ahmet Erdem, Shell Turkey country chairman, “From the energy perspective, of course we discussed . . . denser cities being more efficient, but at the end we face a challenge there in order to supply the energy to meet the demand. That is very much relevant to keep our cities sustainable and also for the sake of the quality of life of the people who choose to live there. . . We need to look for new sources of energy, but there is one thing clear: With this kind of demand, there is no single or two, three sources. It has to be a well-balanced mix of everything that will also guarantee uninterrupted supply of energy.”
Mustafa Serdar Ataseven, chairman of the Turkish Wind Energy Association: “You have to ensure supply security. That’s very important. Secondly, you have to find ways of responding to this demand at the low-cost level. And also you have to concentrate on environmental friendly solutions.
I think Turkey actually . . . is in a position to optimize it. You know, we have been using coal and imported coal and we are talking about, of course, and oil are the mail resources for Turkey’s energy. Turkey has substantial renewable energy potential and it’s not really using this at the very high level.
“When you make use of this renewable resource, first of all, this is an independent energy resource, which is very important. And secondly, politically speaking, you will be independent. Plus, you will have a sustainable and semi-low-cost energy resource. And other countries must also find a way of developing their renewable sources because sustainability is key here.
Refik Erzan, professor, department of economics, Boğaziçi University. Photograph by Onur Onat.
Refik Erzan, professor, department of economics, Boğaziçi University: “We have to reduce the commuting distance in the cities. We have been so far doing just the opposite. We have a phenomenon called ‘servis.’ We are giving free transport to people back and forth the bridges and everywhere. So people are traveling tens of miles every day. Now the contrary should be done. That has contributed very much to people commuting tremendous distances. We have to give some tax incentives and other kinds of subsidies and whatever so that people live closer to where they work and go to school. That also implies on planning, city planning.”
Dick Benschop, president director, Shell Netherlands, vice president, gas market development: “The world is in two races at the same time. We are in a race for development and against poverty—this is one race. And we are in a race against climate change and for the environment. We can’t exclude one of those races. We have to run them both. We have to run them at the same time and we have to run them successfully. You can see that of course in fast growing countries like Turkey you see that happening in cities as well, where all of those issues come together, both the challenges and the opportunities.
“Something which we are looking at . . . is the potential of decentralized power generation. If you think about the vitality of cities—that can be through renewable, various forms of distributed renewable energy like solar energy, or thermal have been mentioned, it can also be through the use of natural gas also increasing efficiency through combined heat and power generation. You will receive a high efficiency result there. There is not one solution. We need a broad set of solutions. The headline I use for it—it’s a combination of clean and green solutions.”
Konca Çalkıvik, executive director, Business Council for Sustainable Development – Turkey. Photograph by Onur Onat.
Konca Çalkıvik, executive director, Business Council for Sustainable Development—Turkey: “The most critical problem is the lack of long-term planning. And it was said before, but we mustn’t expect long-term planning from the government. I think [nongovernmental organizations] have a great role to play, but we have to find a way of bringing NGOs and the government bodies together so that they can develop some initiatives together. I think this can only be done through collaboration, through cooperation. Otherwise, I think we shouldn’t just sit back and wait for the government to pass some laws and try and resolve these issues.”
Friday, March 7, 2014 | By The Wilderness Society | No Comments
Replete with hoodoos and spectacular rock shapes, visitors may feel they have somehow traveled to a new planet. Round boulders layered with sandstone look like strange eggs.
Friday, March 7, 2014 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
Wind power last year continued its climb toward becoming a significant U.S. energy source, contributing 4.1 percent of the electricity generated in the country, up from 3.4 percent in 2012, according to figures released by the industry Wednesday.
That share still may sound puny, but consider that in 2000, wind was at a barely perceptible 0.1 percent, and it wasn’t until 2008 that it edged over the 1 percent mark. So it’s been on a steep growth trajectory lately, and in some states, wind is now a major producer: More than a quarter of South Dakota’s and Iowa’s electrical generation came from wind in 2013, and nine states – including Minnesota, Colorado and Oregon – were over 12 percent.
This government data, highlighted by the American Wind Energy Association, comes as yet another battle unfolds over federal support for wind energy projects. That debate has become the industry and Washington’s version of Groundhog Day, reappearing time after time, but now wind power comes armed with considerable evidence that it can be much more than a niche player.
Late last month, the Texas municipal utility Austin Energy completed a deal for up to 300 megawatts of power at a price that runs $26 to $36 per megawatt-hour—“lower than the $32/MWh average cost for all power in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in 2013,” the utility said.
Elizabeth Salerno, AWEA’s vice president for industry data and analysis, pointed to that deal and a raft of others like it in Oklahoma, Nebraska, and elsewhere as evidence that wind was following through on a promise the industry has long made: that with a little bit of help, it would eventually deliver clean, cost-competitive electricity.
Wind has become so attractively priced, Salerno said, that whereas developers used to have to bang on utility company doors in search of customers, now “utilities are coming after wind energy projects.”
How will all of this new wind energy affect the grid? Recent studies—from the National Renewable Energy Lab looking at the West, and from the grid operator PJM looking at the East [PDF]—suggest that wind’s cost savings and clean energy benefits might be realized on a much bigger scale without as many of the grid integration issues and expenses that had been feared.
And the scaling up continues: AWEA in January said some 12,000 MW of generating capacity was under construction as of the end of 2013, more than ever.
For some, all this means that the industry ought to be able to make it without its key federal subsidy, the production tax credit (PTC), now worth 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour of energy produced. The credit expired at the end of last year, but turbines already operating or even under construction by then will be able to take advantage of the PTC for their first ten years of service. Nobody questions that those cheap new power purchase agreements come partly as a result of the tax credit.
“Wind power has been steadily increasing over the past 10 years,” Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said during a Congressional hearing last fall. “When does wind power take off on its own?” Picking up on that theme, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) recently offered a tax reform plan that would shrink the payment to wind farms now receiving the PTC, and leave new projects on their own. (Notably, too, Camp’s plan would end the oil and gas industry’s tax breaks and preferred accounting rules, Reuters reported.)
The wind industry in late 2012 signaled a willingness to discuss drawing down the PTC, in exchange for longer-term certainty for the credit’s existence, and it supported a tax reform plan last year from Max Baucus, the former Senate Finance chairman, to revamp the PTC and then end it once the country’s electricity sector hit an emissions intensity reduction target.
But these ideas, as well as Camp’s proposal, and President Obama’s new budget (which seeks to make the PTC permanent), are pretty much moot right now, given the slender chance of major tax reform this year. Instead, the wind fight is again about a limited, retroactive extension. And on that, AWEA is not ready to let go.
Wind’s chief competitor for new generation capacity in the past several years has been historically cheap natural gas, and Salerno said that even with wind’s recent success, the PTC remains vital to ensuring that the wind industry can continue to compete against fossil fuels. The PTC comes with costs – about $6 billion over the next 10 years for a one-year extension – but with utilities locking in low electricity prices for a couple of decades, it might also buy the country an energy price hedge.
“When we build new power assets, we’re making a commitment for 20, 30, 40 years,” Salerno said. “We want to make sure we’re making a good set of commitments and not over-relying on a source [natural gas] that could have price changes.”
Friday, March 7, 2014 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
Late Monday night, the Parks Commission in the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut voted to approve the placement of a solar-panel array atop an old, disused landfill.
The project, which will consist of approximately 9,000 solar panels and a small fuel-cell facility, is expected to bring the city $7 million over 20 years in lease payments from UIL Holdings — the parent company of United Illuminating, Southern Connecticut Gas, and several other power companies.
According to UIL spokesman Michael West Jr., the project will have a capacity of 2.2 megawatts from solar and 2.8 megawatts from fuel cells, enough to power 3,000 households annually, under best-case conditions.
Sounds like a no-brainer, right?
Except the project spills over from the landfill into the adjacent Seaside Park, an area developed under former mayor P.T. Barnum and today listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Association for Olmsted Parks , a group dedicated to preserving the works of the landscape architect who designed the park, even wrote a letter (see here, page 1 and page 2) to Bridgeport mayor Bill Finch asking him to reconsider the plan.
“This is not an argument against renewable energy,” said Rick Torres, a city council member (R-130) and business owner in the city’s Black Rock neighborhood. “This is about taking land that was dedicated as park land and industrializing it.”
Torres believes the solar project should be sited elsewhere in the city. “It does not belong in a park. It belongs on any of the countless, countless unused or massively underutilized land owned by the city.”
According to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection(DEEP), Bridgeport has 17 brownfield sites totaling more than 185 acres. This doesn’t include any number of non-polluted but abandoned lots and buildings in Bridgeport, a phenomenon so ubiquitous that Connecticut Yankee Seth MacFarlane once used it to zing the city on Family Guy.The landfill is not listed in the DEEP’s brownfield inventory. According to the city Parks Department, the landfill was used for municipal trash and ash from burned garbage, and according to the EPA, it was closed in the 1980s.
Although a Parks Department spokesman said hiking on the landfill is not allowed, there are no fences beyond a knee-high retaining wall that segregate the mound from the rest of the park. An unpaved access road runs along the crest of the landfill which, judging by the footprints in the snow, is used by deer as much as humans. The summit overlooks Black Rock Harbor on one side and the beaches and playgrounds of Seaside Park on the other. The candy-striped stack of PSEG’s Bridgeport Harbor Station, a coal-fired power plant with a capacity of 395 megawatts that has been operating since the late 1960s, can be seen about a mile-and-a-half to the northeast.
“Reprobate mayors in the past have misused it,” said Torres about the park. “They located a landfill there because it was easy.”
West said the site “would be secured” and not open to the public. As such, it doesn’t need to be remediated for public use. Now that the Parks Commission has approved leasing the land, the conditions of the lease — including what, if any, cleanup should be done, who will pay for what, and even how much the city will be paid — must be set by the City Council. Not only does this mean the $7 million number isn’t set in stone, but critics worry if the lease terms are not strictly defined, then taxpayers could be on the hook if placement of the array disturbs the contents underneath.
Onté Johnson, a Bridgeport resident and environmentalist with the Sierra Club, sees the solar project as an opportunity to transition away from the coal-burning generation of Bridgeport Harbor Station and make an unusable site usable.
“It will be the largest solar array in New England,” said Johnson. “It opens the door for future business, for future development.”
The project is part of Mayor Bill Finch’s BGreen 2020 initiative to refashion Bridgeport into a green city, with 20 percent of its energy deriving from renewables by 2020.
“We applaud the mayor on this,” said Johnson. “In an area that has no human activity and on land that has nothing on it, we are going to generate revenue. It’s going to create green jobs.”
When pressed for numbers on how many jobs the array would create once installation was complete, Johnson said, “Temporary jobs are better than nothing.”
And when asked if reaction against the plan boils down to NIMBYistic objections about solar panels and fences ruining the view, Johnson concedes a point to his opponents.
“I do think [the concern is] valid,” he said. “I don’t want to see a coal plant as well. The way I counter that argument is that we’re complaining about solar panels when we have a relic coal plant that is marring our shoreline.”
Beautifying the shoreline is something both sides would probably agree on. Torres said he supports cleaning up the landfill and reintegrating it with the rest of Seaside Park, nodding toward Norwalk’s Oyster Shell Park down the coast as a success story.
It’s now up to the City Council of the metropolis nicknamed “The Park City” and Connecticut regulatory agencies whether the plan will move forward.
Thursday, March 6, 2014 | By The Wilderness Society | No Comments
Colorado’s Grand Junction Book Cliffs showcase geological wonders that date back to the Age of Dinosaurs. Grand plateaus, mesas and buttes formed from Cretaceous sandstone loom above vast canyons lush with sagebrush and dotted juniper trees.
Thursday, March 6, 2014 | By The Wilderness Society | No Comments
On the heels of recent congressional approval of the first wilderness bill in five years, local leaders from southwest Colorado today commended a congressional committee for considering legislation that woul
Thursday, March 6, 2014 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
Thanks to a record year in 2013, the solar industry installed more photovoltaic power over a period of 18 months than it did in the preceding 30 years. It’s a startling fact, and it captures the flavor of a report published on Wednesday by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research that details the industry’s recent revved-up performance.
Last year the industry saw a 41 percent increase over 2012 in solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, a surge that brought total U.S. PV capacity to 12.1 gigawatts, drawn from some 445,000 individual systems. In all, solar accounted for 29 percent of new U.S. electrical generation capacity in 2013, ranking second behind natural gas.
In a conference call, industry leaders said the pace of new installations in 2013 demonstrated that solar power has gone from being “an expensive science project,” as Recurrent Energy Chief Executive and SEIA Board Chairman Arno Harris put it, to a formidable, mainstream player in the U.S. energy economy.
That’s undeniably the case in California, which accounted for a whopping 55 percent of the nation’s total new solar in 2013, as well as in the other top tier states like perennial power Arizona (9 percent), fast-rising North Carolina (7 percent), and the new East Coast entry on the leaderboard, Massachusetts (5 percent).
But despite the glowing growth, it’s not all sunny skies for solar. First, solar needs to continue to grow at a very fast clip in order to be a significant electricity contributor. In 2012, solar accounted for an estimated 12,775 gigawatt-hours of electrical generation in the United States —enough to power nearly 1.2 million average American homes, but still a mere 0.3 percent of the nation’s total power generation, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory [PDF]. The strong growth in 2013 will bump up that figure, but only to around one-half of one percent of total generation. The SEIA/GTM Research report said another 6 gigawatts of new capacity was on its way this year, and with that, solar might finally crack 1 percent of U.S. electrical generation.
Meanwhile, even as solar costs continue to fall—and average residential system price slid nearly 9 percent from 2012 to 2013—policy support is still needed to drive growth, and two key incentives are on shaky ground.
Last year, utilities were largely unsuccessful in their efforts to roll back net metering policies that reward solar system owners generously when they produce more power than they use, but the solar industry knows that will be a perennial fight.
Farther down the timeline but perhaps more ominous is the scheduled expiration of the federal investment tax credit (ITC) that solar enjoys. Implemented in 2006, the ITC can be worth as much as 30 percent of the cost of a project, large or small, and it’s due to expire at the end of 2016. The Obama administration’s 2015 fiscal year budget would replace the investment tax credit with a production tax credit at the end of 2016, meaning that a solar project would benefit only after it is built and producing power. The production tax credit “simply can’t address the upfront costs of fuel-free solar projects,” said the SEIA in a statement, “and we believe the Administration’s sudden, 180-degree shift in tax policy could have devastating consequences on the future development of solar energy in America.”
While still pushing for an extension, the SEIA is hoping at least to get a change in the law that would make systems under construction by the end of 2016 eligible for the tax credit. That would effectively extend the deadline for a year or two for big, long-term projects, and, the industry hopes, help replenish a pipeline of projects that began to shrink in the fourth quarter.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014 | By The Wilderness Society | No Comments
The study, a version of which is released by the National Park Service each year, quantified the value of visitors drawn by parks at nearly $26.8 billion in economic activity and more than 2
Wednesday, March 5, 2014 | By The Wilderness Society | No Comments
Editor’s Note: Sally’s blog is part of a four-part series in which our staff explore some of the desert treasures we’re working to preserve and protect from potential energy and other development.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014 | By The Wilderness Society | No Comments
“We welcome the confirmation of Mike Connor as Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior. Careful stewardship of publicly owned lands and wild areas is essential to clean water, clean air and to the nation’s $646 billion outdoor recreation economy. We look forwar