Alison Canyon natural gas facility could reopen despite unresolved issues over leak

January 18, 2017 by  
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In a troubling decision , California state regulators could allow the Aliso Canyon natural gas site near Los Angeles to reopen, despite the fact that the cause of 2015’s massive gas leak has never been determined. In October, a pressurized gas well blew out and released a massive plume of natural gas for five months before it was sealed permanently with cement, forcing thousands of nearby residents to evacuate their homes. It’s unclear exactly when the site will reopen, and there are still two public hearings in February before regulators make a final decision. So far, only 34 of the remaining 114 wells on the site have been tested for safety. While those particular wells have passed pressure tests, there are indications that some may have below-ground leaks. The extent of them, however, is unknown. Even more disturbing is the fact that the Santa Susana Fault runs through the gas field, yet seismic testing has yet been completed verifying the safety of the facility in the event of an earthquake . Geologists tapped by the state in December 2016 warned regulators that a significant earthquake is likely to hit the area sometime in the next 50 years. Related: Damage report reveals LA methane leak is one of the worst disasters in US history Despite this, there is some good news: the state is requiring Southern California Gas Co. to take new safety precautions that weren’t in place before the leak. For one thing, the utility is required to monitor wells for leaks now. Regulators are capping the production of the field – while it has a capacity of 83 billion cubic feet, it’s only going to be allowed to operate at 29 billion cubic feet going forward, with surface pressures nearly 20 percent less than what the gas company has requested. While reopening the facility still poses risks, it seems the state is doing what it can to reduce them in the future. Via Los Angeles Times Images via SoCalGas

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California storms could herald the end of punishing historic drought

January 13, 2017 by  
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Californians may finally receive some relief from the drought they’ve grappled with for five brutal years. Recent storms drenching the state with rain and snow could enable at least Northern California to leave the drought in the past. National Weather Service specialist Tom Fisher said Southern California is seeing the highest rainfall “in at least five years,” while Northern California experiences their highest rainfall “in at least 10 years.” The United States Drought Monitor said Northern California has at last escaped the drought, but Southern California is still grappling with dry conditions. About 30 percent of that region is still experiencing extreme or exceptional drought. Other officials warned it may be too early to claim a full victory over the drought, as California weather conditions can change. Los Angeles Department of Water Resources spokesperson Ted Thomas said the state sometimes begins with a wet winter, only to see dry conditions prevail later on in the season. According to the US Drought Monitor, over 26 million people are estimated to live in areas still dealing with drought. Related: 713 trillion gallons of water discovered under drought-stricken California The extreme conditions have inspired California farmers to come up with creative ways to store water . Terranova Ranch general manager Don Cameron flooded the ranch’s vineyards during the winter, allowing all that water to seep underground to replenish aquifers. As it rarely rains during California summers, and during the drought farmers couldn’t obtain the water they needed from surface reservoirs, they often had to pump water out of the earth to water their crops. But as the drought persisted, wells dried up, and aquifers were depleted. Cameron’s idea worked – the water sank into the ground and didn’t harm the crops on the way down. Other farmers are working with University of California, Davis groundwater hydrologist Helen Dahlke to apply the innovative yet simple method of water management as storms dump water on the state. Cameron told NPR, “This is going to be the future for California. If we don’t store the water during flood periods, we’re not going to make it through the droughts.” Via Phys.org and NPR Images via James Daisa on Flickr and Bob Dass on Flickr

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Tesla to power Gigafactory with world’s largest solar rooftop installation

January 11, 2017 by  
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Just last week Tesla announced battery production had started at their Nevada Gigafactory , but didn’t mention one thrilling detail in their January 4 announcement : the Gigafactory could be powered by the world’s largest solar rooftop installation. An investor handout revealed a 70-megawatt (MW) solar array along with ground solar panels could enable the massive factory to operate entirely on clean energy . The 70 MW solar array would be around seven times larger than any rooftop arrays currently installed, according to Tesla’s exciting handout released by Electrek and confirmed as genuine by The Verge. The rooftop array currently boasting the title of world’s largest is a 11.5 MW installation in India. The United States’ biggest rooftop array is a 10 MW array atop a California Whirlpool distribution center. Related: Tesla just kicked off battery production at its massive Nevada Gigafactory SolarCity will likely manufacture the solar panels, according to The Verge, as Tesla acquired the solar energy company in November. Powerpacks will store any excess energy generated by the vast solar installation. Tesla said in the handout the “all-electric” factory will be able to run with greater efficiency and will produce zero carbon emissions. Heating and water use at the Gigafactory will also be sustainable. In the handout, Tesla said a large part of heating for the building would come from waste heat obtained from production processes. Also, “Gigafactory’s closed-loop water supply system uses six different treatment systems to efficiently re-circulate about 1.5 million liters (that’s around 400,000 gallons) of water, representing an 80 percent reduction in fresh water usage compared with standard processes.” Tesla even said they’re building a recycling facility at the Gigafactory that will be able to “safely reprocess” battery cells, packs, and modules to obtain metal usable in new cells. It appears Elon Musk’s revolutionary company is once again raising the bar for corporate sustainability. Via The Verge and Electrek Images via h080 on Flickr and Tesla

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Tesla to power Gigafactory with world’s largest solar rooftop installation

Faraday Future’s FF91 smashes speed record of Tesla Model S in ludicrous mode

January 4, 2017 by  
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Faraday Future made a bold claim Tuesday when the California-based automotive startup unveiled its 1,050-horsepower FF91, which they say will be the world’s fastest electric car . The production model was featured in a video at CES in Las Vegas, where it can be seen besting a Tesla Model S . Since its inception in 2014, Faraday Future has chased Tesla’s shadow—consistently promising to release a better electric car with a better battery—and the company has even started building a $1 billion factory near Las Vegas. While Faraday Future is already taking pre-orders for the supposedly lightning fast FF91 model, the company can’t pay for production without hefty support from investors, which have yet to be found. Does Faraday really have a future? While Faraday Future is an American company, it is backed in large part by Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting. Since 2014, the company has been teasing the automotive world with promises of bigger, better, faster electric cars, and the unveiling of the FF91, which Faraday calls “the first of the species”, marks the first time we’ve seen an actual car to back up the wild ambition, as the previous teasers have all been mere concepts. Faraday Future’s FF91 can reportedly accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in 2.39 seconds, shaving precious time off the record 2.5 seconds for a Tesla Model S P100D with “Ludicrous Mode” engaged . Related: Faraday Future breaks ground on $1B electric car factory outside Las Vegas In addition to its speed, the FF91 (that’s FF “nine-one,” the company clarifies in its press release) also boasts a longer range than any other commercially available electric car , with an estimated 378 miles of travel on a single charge of its 130 kWh battery. Faraday Future also claims to have achieved the fastest charging time with a home battery charger capable of juicing from 50 percent to full charge in under 4.5 hours. Faraday says deliveries of its super fast FF91 will begin in 2018, but there are a lot of “ifs” involved. The company is still working hard to raise capital for production of the FF91 (which is strikingly similar to where Faraday was a year ago at this time, with a different concept car) but they are already taking reservations toward purchases (much like Tesla) at $5,000 (which is refundable). There’s no word on what the FF91’s final price tag will look like, and Faraday Future’s reputation for big ideas without the actual technology to back them up may prevent the speedy electric car from ever hitting the road. Via Bloomberg Images via Faraday Future

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Did Uber flub its chance to expand self-driving ride-hailing service to San Francisco?

December 28, 2016 by  
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A few weeks ago, Uber quietly expanded its self-driving ride-hailing service to its hometown of San Francisco. The launch marked a triumphant leap forward just three short months after the company initially began offering riders in Pittsburgh the option of hailing a self-driving car. Unfortunately, the California Department of Motor Vehicles swiftly shut down the San Francisco operation by revoking the registrations on Uber’s 16 self-driving vehicles, citing the company’s failure to obtain the proper permits. That decision prompted Uber to announce it would look for another city to roll out its self-driving pilot program, but many questions remain about whether they will ever be able to pull it off in their home state.

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California bans Ubers self-driving cars, but Arizona welcomes them

December 28, 2016 by  
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Only a week after Uber launched its fleet of self-driving cars in San Francisco, the state of California has already shut the experiment down. Just hours after Uber launched the service, the state’s Department of Motor vehicles was threatening legal action for not properly licensing the cars as test vehicles. After Uber refused to apply for the permits necessary, the state simply revoked the registration of the cars. The major issue that caused talks to break down was, ironically, whether Uber’s cars are actually self-driving. While they’re marketed as autonomous, the company believes they shouldn’t be subject to the same regulations as other businesses for their test vehicles, claiming the cars must be monitored by a human driver at all times because they’re not as sophisticated as models from Tesla or Google. The state, however, disagreed. Related: California hits the brakes on Uber’s self-driving cars after one runs a red light Uber, for its part, remains defiant, reportedly seeking a new test market where it could redeploy the cars. The company may not have to look far: Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is already welcoming the vehicles in his state. While there’s no word on exactly when the self-driving cars would debut within the state, Uber has confirmed it has shipped cars to Arizona and will be expanding its self-driving pilot program in the near future. While California is taking a cautious approach to self-driving technology, Ducey claims the special permits are a form of “over-regulation.” It’s unclear exactly what, if any, restrictions Arizona will place on the cars. While that may be a welcoming market for ridesharing services, other drivers may not be terribly happy with this relatively new technology side-by-side with their vehicles on the road. Via Newsmax Images via Mark Warner and Wikimedia Commons

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California bans Ubers self-driving cars, but Arizona welcomes them

Lead pipes in Flint, Michigan are finally being replaced

December 12, 2016 by  
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Months after the Flint , Michigan water crisis emerged, residents still can’t obtain clean drinking water straight from their taps. That may be set to change as the Senate just passed a bill providing $170 million to replace lead -contaminated pipes in the beleaguered city. But the victory could come at the cost of environmental harm in California . Policymakers inserted a rider, or addition, to the bill allowing more Bay-Delta estuary water to irrigate farms, which some environmentalists fear could harm estuary wildlife . Many Flint residents have been waiting for safe, clean water since 2014. With federal government money, the city is expected to replace 29,000 service lines. Although 96 percent of samples from high-risk Flint houses met federal standards for lead, according to state officials speaking this month, the crisis has not yet been fully resolved. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said people will only be confident in the water when old lead infrastructure is replaced. The new government money could enable the city to at last put any fears to rest. Related: 6 Michigan state workers charged with misconduct over the Flint Water Crisis But not everyone is pleased with the Senate legislation. The bill providing relief to Flint includes an addition allowing more Bay-Delta water to irrigate drought-afflicted farms. According to The Guardian, the bill could make way for new desalination projects and dams. As she spoke against the bill, California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer said, “You’re destroying the Endangered Species Act,” but California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who wrote the bill with California Republican congressman Kevin McCarthy, said the legislation was the best they could do after working for three years. The organization Defenders of Wildlife issued a statement saying the rider hurt wildlife like Delta smelt and salmon. Scott Slesinger, Natural Resources Defense Council legislative director, also condemned the bill. He said in a statement , “Federal funding to help begin fixing the pipes at the heart of the Flint water crisis is shamefully overdue. This is a start, but far more is needed to fix Flint and ensure safe drinking water to communities across America. We should not have to trade delinquent Congressional action in Michigan for the erosion of endangered species protection and a threat to fishing jobs in California, but that is the result of the partisan games at play in this bill.” Via The Guardian Images via Wikimedia Commons and Mitch Barrie on Flickr

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Lead pipes in Flint, Michigan are finally being replaced

The Long Drop is an odorless composting toilet built with waste materials

December 12, 2016 by  
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This eye-catching composting toilet called The Long Drop was built entirely from scavenged and waste materials. Invisible Studio Architects designed and built the project to serve their own studio in the UK, with the aim of reducing costs and mitigating any impact on the local drainage system. The toilet features a system that eliminates foul odors thanks to a long drop from the main structure to the chamber. An exhaust fan draws air into the chamber. The chamber for solids can be easily swapped, leaving a full one to compost , while the empty one is in use. Related: Nature Loo’s Composting Toilet Puts More Distance Between You and Your (Icky) Poo Box The studio designed the project with minimal drawings, and built it with help from friends and neighbors using locally-sourced wood ; they embraced the building’s rough edges and “mistakes” as a healthy sign of improvisation. + Invisible Studio Architects

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The Long Drop is an odorless composting toilet built with waste materials

Apple’s new solar-powered spaceship office is nearly complete

December 12, 2016 by  
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One of the world’s most anticipated buildings is nearly complete – new drone footage shows that Apple’s $5 billion solar-powered “spaceship” office is on track to meet its 2016 completion goal. According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Campus 2 will be the “ greenest building on the planet .” A new drone video taken by aerial videographer Matthew Roberts earlier this month shows Apple putting the finishing touches on its shiny new campus. https://youtu.be/Qh_9_1FX0Yk The new video shows remarkable progress has been made on Apple’s circular building as well as the Research and Development facility, which looks to be very close to completion. The drone footage, along with recent photos featured on the French blog MacGeneration show that only one crane is currently on site. The rooftops – including the “tantau roof” on the security kiosk – are all in place and solar panels are being installed. The “construction foam” is almost entirely covered with soil for the landscaping efforts that will be needed for the massive 2.8-million-square-foot development. Related: Tim Cook Says Apple’s New Spaceship Campus Will be the “Greenest Building on the Planet” Once complete, the Apple Campus 2 will house over 13,000 employees. The spectacular (and expensive ) four-story donut-shaped building is expected to meet net-zero energy standards by generating 100 percent of its power from renewable energy sources – including 700,000 square feet of rooftop solar panels. The building is slated for completion by the end of 2016, with a move-in date scheduled for 2017. + Foster and Partners + Apple Via Arch Daily Images via YouTube/ Matthew Roberts and MacGeneration

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Apple’s new solar-powered spaceship office is nearly complete

SolarWindow unveils ultra-thin solar film for curved glass surfaces

December 12, 2016 by  
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In a revolutionary move for the solar power industry, Solar Window Technologies recently announced a new flexible solar panel coating for curved glass surfaces that is as thin as a business card and flexible enough to bend without breaking or cracking. The company says that, when applied to a 50-storey building, the coatings can achieve a one-year financial payback by creating 50-times more power than conventional solar. To put it that claim into perspective, the average solar system take about five to 11 years for a full payback. SolarWindow is currently a leading developer of transparent solar coatings for glass windows in tall towers and skyscrapers. With this new product, the first-ever electricity-generating flexible glass, the transparent SolarWindow coatings allow solar power to easily be integrated into a variety of non-flat surfaces, including applications in the automotive, aircraft and military industries. “Flexible glass could play a big role in window, canopy, smart building, and other building and transportation products. We believe that flexible glass can serve an even more valuable purpose by generating electricity using SolarWindow coatings,” said President and CEO, John A. Conklin. SolarWindow’s coatings are transparent, ultra-light weight and generate electricity when applied in layers thinner than a human hair. Related: Check out the world’s first lights powered by micro-sphere solar cells If the technology for their new product is the same as their original product for skyscraper windows , the coatings will be made of mainly organic components, including carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen; with the key part being the active layer that generates electricity through the absorption of light, and transparent conductors that extract electricity. The company estimates the market for their new product at about $25 billion. Now that it’s completed tests to show its coatings perform under real-life conditions, it’s well on its way toward accessing that money and keeping more carbon out of the atmosphere. + SolarWindow Technologies Images via SolarWindow

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