Monthly Archives: September 2008

Science Wednesday: Better Together: Wind and Solar Power in California

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Matthias Fripp is a doctoral student in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley. His work is funded by an EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Graduate Research Fellowship.

Before I started my studies, I thought that graduate students were free to study any topic they liked. That’s true in principle, but in practice we need to find funding for our research. Fortunately, I was granted an EPA STAR fellowship in 2006, allowing me to pursue a question I consider particularly important: how much wind and solar power should we use in the electricity system in upcoming decades?

Over the last couple of years, I’ve gathered data on the amount of power that could be produced every hour at potential wind farm sites and solar power facilities all over California. I’ve also collected information on existing power plants and transmission lines, and forecasted the cost of building new wind, solar or conventional power plants or transmission lines in the future.

Next, I built a computer model that determines which combination of new and existing power plants and transmission lines will give the least expensive electricity between 2010 and 2025, while also ensuring that the state has enough power every hour. I also use this model to see how much our power bills might change if we work seriously on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

wind farm turbines on hillThe results of this research are exciting. I found that wind and solar power are available at complementary times in California, so we can use them together to make a more reliable (and cheaper) power system than we could if we just used wind or solar alone. I also found that even if we didn’t care about greenhouse gas emissions, we should still plan to use a lot of wind power, because it is beginning to be less expensive than power from natural gas plants. Finally, I found that there is no sharp limit to the amount of renewable power we could use in California: power bills rise slowly as we build more and more renewables, but emissions could be reduced substantially with little or no extra cost.

The EPA STAR fellowship has made a huge difference, freeing me to focus all my efforts on this work, and providing the resources to do it right.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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In the Dog Days of Summer

About the author: Rob Lawrence joined EPA in 1990 and is Senior Policy Advisor on Energy Issues in the Dallas, TX regional office. As an economist, he works to insure that both supply and demand components are addressed as the Region develops its Clean Energy and Climate Change Strategy.

two brown dogs standing near poolAlthough we haven’t hit the record number of consecutive days over 100 degrees this Summer (69 days in 1980), we have experienced over 2 dozen days between 100 and 108 in Dallas. And while most of the human population has the option of going indoors, we need to think of our pets that remain outside after we go to work or to school. Here is a photo of our vizslas (Nebo on the left and Jena on the right) that inspired today’s blog entry.

The most important step is to check out the yard or kennel area that your dog will be staying in. There are general areas of concern: Is there adequate shade to give protection from the sun? If there isn’t a tree providing a canopy, you could stretch a tarp across a corner of the kennel or build a lean-to shelter. Is there plenty of fresh water available? Providing a bucket of clean, fresh water in a shaded area is necessary. A child’s plastic wading pool could be a great spot for your pet to dive in and cool off. Is there good ventilation in the area? I’ve been known to run a small electric fan in the peak of the day if there is not a good breeze in the area. [Note: make sure that the fan and power cord are safely away from your dog’s reach.]

And if you are like me, taking your pets for an outing to the home improvement store and pet supply store on Saturdays is a highlight of their week. Just make sure that you do not leave your dog locked in a sealed vehicle when you run an errand. You would be amazed how quickly the temperature rises inside the car or truck and you are putting your pet’s life in danger. Remember – in some areas, including here in north Texas, it is against the law to put your pet at risk.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Get It Done

still shot of EPA home page header

About the author: Jeffrey Levy joined EPA in 1993 to help protect the ozone layer. He is now the National Web Content Manager.

Today, we launched a new design for our Web site’s home page and a bunch of pages that support it. (This is where I was going to thank everyone who contributed, but I ran out of space.) I’m pretty excited about it, but why should you care?

The #1 reason is that it’s easier to do whatever it is you wanted to do. We know your idea of fun isn’t cruising EPA’s Web site. So how have we learned what you want? We looked at our search logs, conducted focus groups, and did surveys. And we talked about what each of our many audiences would want to do on our site.

Now, we haven’t yet converted the entire site. That’s because we’re working to clean up the rest of the site (which is more than 500,000 pages), getting rid of old stuff, rewriting material that looks like it was pulled from a legal textbook, etc. As that gets done, we’ll see about using the new design.

Enough theory. Here are some things I think are especially cool, most of which we’ve never done before:

I hope you enjoy the new look; it’s just one of many projects we’ve got in the works, like creating a site for mobile phones and exploring social media like YouTube. And let us know how we can use the Web even better to help you get things done, either in a comment here or using the form on our sneak preview page.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Question of the Week: How have you prepared for emergencies?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Hurricanes, spring floods, and other incidents can all wreak havoc with our daily lives. Here at EPA, we’re ready to respond in an official way. For individual people, preparing can range from keeping extra food and water to making evacuation plans. Either way, it pays to think ahead. In fact, September is National Preparedness Month.

How have you prepared for emergencies?

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En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

Huracanes, inundaciones y otros incidentes pueden arruinar nuestras vidas cotidianas. Aquí en EPA, estamos listos para responder de manera oficial. Para los individuos, los preparativos pueden comprender el almacenar alimentos y agua adicionales, así como hacer planes de evacuación. De cualquier manera, es bueno anticipar las cosas. De hecho, septiembre es el Mes Nacional de Preparación.

¿Cómo se ha preparado para las emergencias?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Recovery From Gustav Continues

About the author: Mary Kemp is currently the Homeland Security Coordinator in the Dallas, TX regional office. Mary started at EPA in 1985 and has worked in the asbestos, Superfund, and air programs. She’s keeping us updated on how her office is responding to Hurricane Gustav.

Because of the limited damage from Hurricane Gustav, I have been doing less and less associated with the storm over the last couple of days. EPA has staff deployed to Louisiana to assist in public information, drinking water and wastewater assessments, and technical assistance. This work is on-going as well as reconnaissance work. So far, minimal support has been needed from EPA.

Gustav is fading . . . The next storms (Hanna, Ike, and Josephine) are coming. Hanna looks to hit the east coast sometime this weekend. We’re not sure where Ike will go. As long as we are needed, we will continue to help the states recover.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Making Meetings Green – Zero Waste Meetings

About the author: Viccy Salazar joined EPA in 1995. She works in our Seattle office on waste reduction, resource conservation and stewardship issues.

I work for the government. One of the things that this means is that I spend a lot of time in meetings. Since I, or someone on my team, is often planning the meetings, my team decided to see what we could do to ensure that the meetings we host don’t use unnecessary resources.

The first thing we did was look on EPA’s website for green meetings. We clicked on the link for meeting planners and go directed to a list of 10 easy things to do – well, it didn’t seem easy to us but we were committed so we moved ahead. As a team, we decided that we wanted to 1) be as zero waste as possible, 2) minimize the amount people had to travel by providing options, and 3) track our result and savings.

We thought zero waste would be the easy one. We called up our local organic caterer and asked if they did zero waste. By zero waste we meant – no packaging, durable serving platters, plates, silverware, and cups, they would compost the food waste and any other non-durable items, and finally, they would carry away and wash everything. Simple, right? Well, not really. They said they did organic but not zero waste. We worked with them and finally got ‘almost’ zero waste. It required some work and the vendor had not done it before. One thing we learned was that it was important to be very specific with your food vendor and conference facility about what you want. Getting recycling at the event seemed easier but we still had to educate the meeting attendees to actually recycle!

We don’t always order out. Sometimes, we go and buy the food for meetings ourselves. When doing that, we learned some lessons like: buy from the bakery and take in your own platters. Almost all of the packaging provided by the shops is either plastic or has a plastic window in it – not zero waste. Provide drinks by making it up in a pitcher, serving drinks in cans (very recyclable) or making coffee/tea. Most other drink types had lids that needed to be disposed of. Fruits and vegetables work great – just be sure to carry in your own bags so you don’t end up with plastic bag waste.

The upshot of our lessons for providing food at meetings is:

  1. be clear about what you want, ask for it – we want it to become part of their service package,
  2. communicate to the meeting attendees what you are doing, they like it, and
  3. do the best you can – you can’t always get everything you want.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Follow-Up: Do You Pay Attention to Where Your Food Comes From?

About the author: Dominic Bridgers was a summer intern in the Office of Public Affairs.

To be honest, I really don’t pay attention to where my food comes from. I usually eat whatever is in front of me.

I collected data from the July 14th Question of the Week: “Do you pay attention to where your food comes from?” Almost all of the commenters said they do pay attention to where their food comes from, and a handful of the bloggers are like me and just eat what is on their plate. The primary reason as to why people pay attention is health concerns. Something I found interesting was that everyone tends to buy their food from their local markets instead of purchasing foods from different countries.

Thanks for your time in responding to “Do you pay attention to where your food comes from?”

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Uninvited Guest

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

Last Saturday, as I was watching the 11:00 p.m. news, the weather anchor gave an advisory of Sahara dust in the area. Too late I thought, since I have an asthmatic three year old. Most of us who suffer with asthma can feel the effects before satellites detect this Saharan cloud. Following the weather advisory, I had him stay inside the house all Sunday as a preventive measure. As feared, Monday morning came and he was wheezing with a full blown asthma attack.

Satellite view of dust cloud over Atlantic OceanEvery summer, particles of dust from the Sahara Desert travel halfway around the globe and settle in the Caribbean area around Puerto Rico. This dust impacts not only our air quality, but the climate. This cloud, full of minerals and fungi, alters the quality of air and impacts not only respiratory health, but ecosystems as well. Some studies trace the loss of coral reefs in the Caribbean to this phenomenon. It’s incredible that these small particles from the Sahara Desert in Africa can cause so many adverse impacts to the environment and health an ocean away.

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), in July 2000 alone, nearly eight million tons of dust from Africa reached Puerto Rico. That’s the equivalent of eight million pickup trucks (each pickup truck weighs one ton. Satellite imagery tracks this gigantic cloud that arrives from Africa every year, peaking between May and August in our area. Most of the population relies on the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board air quality information. Also the National Weather Service, issues warnings whenever the uninvited guest drops by our beautiful Caribbean island.

I was counting my blessings all summer long since it had been five months since my son’s last attack. A combination of factors had been successful in helping us manage his asthma over the past months. First the medications, second, I had been very vigilant about indoor asthma triggers and third, during the summer, since he was at home, I made him stay indoors every time the air quality index rose to alert levels. Nevertheless, here I was back to square one with our yearly uninvited visitor: Sahara dust.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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El Visitante No Invitado

Sobre la autor: Brenda Reyes Tomassini se unió a la EPA en el 2002. Labora como especialista de relaciones públicas en la oficina de EPA en San Juan, Puerto Rico donde también maneja asuntos comunitarios para la División de Protección Ambiental del Caribe.

El sábado pasado, mientras veía el noticiario de las 11:00 p.m. el reportero ancla del tiempo anunció un alerta de polvo del Desierto del Sahara en el área. Muy tarde, pensé, ya que mi hijo de tres años es asmático y al igual que otras personas asmáticas y alérgicas puede sentir los efectos antes que los satélites puedan detectar esta nube de polvo. Ese día nos había acompañado a realizar encargos e inclusive había jugado afuera. Al día siguiente del aviso, hice que mi hijo se mantuviera dentro de la casa como medida preventiva. Sin embargo y tal como temiera, el lunes ya tenía un ataque de asma.

Satellite view of dust cloud over Atlantic OceanTodos los veranos las partículas de polvo del Desierto del Sahara viajan alrededor del mundo y se asientan en el área del Caribe, especialmente en Puerto Rico. Este polvo no solo afecta nuestra calidad de aire, pero también el clima. La nube, lleva de minerales y hongos, altera la calidad del aire e impacta severamente a aquellos con condiciones respiratorias, pero también afecta los ecosistemas. Inclusive algunos estudios asocian la pérdida de corales en el Caribe a este fenómeno. Es increíble que partículas tan pequeñas sean responsables de tanto impactos adversos al medioambiente, las personas y a los ecosistemas que se encuentran a un océano de por medio.

De acuerdo a la Administración Nacional Aeronáutica y Espacial (NASA, por sus siglas en inglés), en el mes de julio del año 2000 llegaron a Puerto Rico 8 millones de toneladas de polvo del Desierto del Sahara. Eso es el equivalente a 8 millones de camionetas! ( cada camioneta pesa una tonelada). Aunque las imágenes de satélite vigilan esta nube gigante que llega a nuestro vecindario caribeño entre los meses de mayo y agosto, la gran mayoría de la ciudadanía depende del informe de caldidad de aire de la Junta de Calidad Ambiental de Puerto Rico. Este a su vez es el que utilizan los noticiarios junto a los avisos que emite el Servicio Nacional de Meteorología (NWS, por sus siglas en inglés) para alertar a la población.

Ante este panorama, siempre tomo mis precauciones especiales durante el verano con mis niños para que no se vean afectados con alergias o asma. Hacía cinco meses que a mi hijo menor no le daba un ataque de asma. Una combinación de factores que incluyen medicamentos, controlar los detonantes y el mantenerlo dentro de la casa cuando los informes de calidad de aire indicaban un nivel insalubre, habían resultado exitosos para manejar su condición. Pero cierto visitante no invitado, el polvo del Desierto del Sahara, se encargó que todos mis esfuerzos se hicieran sal y agua en menos de 48 horas.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Update: Assessments Continue with Gustav

About the author: Mary Kemp is currently the Homeland Security Coordinator in the Dallas, TX regional office. Mary started at EPA in 1985 and has worked in the asbestos, Superfund, and air programs. She’s keeping us updated on how her office is responding to Hurricane Gustav.

Our first reconnaissance flights from yesterday showed no emergencies at facilities and limited damage. Our water experts will be assisting the state with assessments of drinking water and waste water infrastructure in the hurricane impacted area. They are also sharing and distributing information along the way. Our Public Information Officer is located at the Joint Field Office in Baton Rouge. He is coordinating information sharing and distribution of information too. We are continuing to work with the state. I’m on hold waiting to see if there will be an activation of the general Response Support Corps.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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