Costa Rica achieved 99% renewable energy this year

costa rica

While it may often seem like we have a long way to go when it comes to global renewable energy generation, there are a few countries that are already closing in on being fully powered by renewables that give us hope that one day soon all countries will be able to boast the same results.

Costa Rica has shown the world what is possible this year by achieving 99 percent renewable energy generation. Michael wrote back in April that the country had not used any fossil fuels for electricity so far at that point in the year and, in fact, the Costa Rican Electricity Institute said in a statement that 285 days this year were fossil fuel-free.

Costa Rica is lucky to have a wealth of renewable energy sources to choose from. The bulk of its power generation comes from hydropower thanks to a large river system and heavy tropical rainfalls. The rest is made up of a mix of geothermal energy, which the country is also rich in, wind, biomass and solar power.

The institute said that even though 2015 was a very dry year, Costa Rica was still ahead of its renewable energy targets and goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2021. The country doesn’t just want to hit 100 percent renewable energy, but it also wants to clean up energy consumption in general like moving the transportation sector away from fossil fuels and becoming less dependent on hydropower by adding more geothermal energy plants and harnessing energy from other sources.

The citizens of the country have benefited from the cost of energy actually falling by 12% this year and the institute expects it to keep falling in the future.

The U.S. still has a long way to go before it will reach the same milestones, but renewable energy plants make up most of the new energy sources being added to the grid. It’s a larger country with a larger population, but we can still be inspired by Costa Rica and do our part to make sure renewable energy grows and prospers in the U.S.

Source: Costa Rica achieved 99% renewable energy this year

Costa Rica achieved 99% renewable energy this year

NASA to Fight Forest Fires from Space


Satellite sensors will catch forest fires before they spread.

When forest fires begin in remote regions, they can go undetected for lengthy periods of time, which lets them spread before emergency services even know they’re occurring. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, along with San Francisco-based start-up Quadra Pi R2E, are working on a new global network of sensors on satellites, called FireSat, that could uncover forest fires much more quickly and effectively than current technologies.

At present, satellites can detect forest fires twice a day and transmit large images to Earth. The goal of the project is to send much lower-resolution images about once a minute and include their exact latitude and longitude.

Robert Staehle, lead designer of FireSat at JPL says “While many wildfires are reported by 9-1-1 calls soon after ignition, some are not, and delays in detection can lead to rapid escalation of a fire, and dramatic growth of the cost of suppression. The system we envision will work day and night for fires anywhere in the world.”

FireSat will consist of over 200 thermal infrared imaging sensors aboard satellites that will be able to detect fires within 15 minutes from the time they start, as long as they are 30 – 50 feet wide. Within three minutes of this detection, FireSat will notify emergency responders who can decide on the best approach from the ground.

If detecting forest fires isn’t enough to convince you of these sensors’ value, they will also be able to detect explosions, oil spills and other dangerous high-heat events around the world.

NASA has turned to an unlikely source of funding for this project: Kickstarter. According to their page, the campaign was developed “to present the FireSat opportunity to the general public to determine whether enough grass-roots interest exists to advance the project.” Their goal is to raise $280,000 of the necessary $30 million from the public. They hope to have the system in space and fully operational by June 2018.

NASA to Fight Forest Fires from Space

Scientists have found a (partial) explanation for the ‘blood rain’ in Spain

Rain showers can sometimes take a bizarre turn: in very rare cases, animals such as fish and frogs have been known to fall from the sky alongside water droplets, and around the world, people have experienced what’s known as blood rain, where the water has a peculiar red tinge.

Reports of blood rain have been recorded for centuries – back before humans knew any better, it was believed the sky was actually spitting out blood. Nowadays, we have the technology to analyse the composition of blood rain so we no longer have to jump to any crazy conclusions, but scientists are only just figuring out how and why it occurs. And now a new study has put forward an explanation for a recent incident in Zamora, a city in northwestern Spain.

The people of Zamora and several nearby villages noticed blood rain falling from the sky late last year: was it chemical pollution? Was it some kind of deliberate sabotage? Was it a sign from God? A concerned resident sent a sample of collected rainwater to scientists at Spain’s University of Salamanca to see if they could come up with any answers. And now the results are in.

The researchers say a freshwater green microalgae called Haematococcus pluvialis is to blame – this microalgae is capable of producing a red carotene pigment called astaxanthin when in a state of stress, perhaps caused by getting caught up in a rain-cloud.

That matches up with previous studies of blood rain, one of which found the microalgae  to be the cause of an incident in Kerala in India– different kinds of microalgae, but the same root cause.

AstaxanthinAstaxanthin in H. pluvialis. Credit: Frank Fox/Wikimedia

What’s less clear is how these microalgae spores are travelling. H. pluvialis is not native to Zamora or any of the neighbouring regions, and before the Kerala incident, T. annulata was thought to only exist in Austria – a long way from India. So now the researchers have to figure out exactly how these mysterious microorganisms are making their way across the globe.

Hitching a ride on global wind currents would be a good bet, but so far researchers have been unable to find any concrete proof of this. The researchers identified a prevailing current that could’ve carried the microalgae out from North America to Spain, but have yet to pinpoint the exact source. Their work has been published in the Spanish Royal Society of Natural History Journal.

In the meantime, there’s no cause for panic if you’re caught in a blood rain shower: H. pluvialis is non-toxic and is often used as a food source for salmon and trout to give them a more pinkish hue. Indeed, motorcycle company Yamaha recently used the microalgae to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from its factories.

blood prainsBlood rain puddle from Zamora. Credit: Joaquín Pérez

Source: Scientists have found a (partial) explanation for the ‘blood rain’ in Spain

Scientists have found a (partial) explanation for the ‘blood rain’ in Spain




A map of temperature anomalies during October. Red shows the biggest deviation from the standard (temperatures recorded between 1951 and 1980).

If you’ve been wondering why your coats stayed in the closet and your heater remained off for the first part of fall, wonder no more. This October was the warmest on record. Ever.

Last month beat out all the other Octobers to get the title of hottest Octobersince record-keeping began in the late 1800’s. It was also the highest deviation from ‘normal’ global temperatures. Those temperatures were recorded between 1951 and 1980, and are averaged to get a general baseline. The data comes from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which looks at temperature changes over long periods of time (decades as opposed to days).

If it sounds like a familiar story, that’s because it is. Last winter was one of the warmest on record, even with all the snow. 2014 and 2012 were also record-breaking years, and with the addition of October to its already hot lineup, 2015 is likely to surpass both.

Extreme heat is now 4 times more likely than it was before the industrial revolution, and that shows no signs of stopping.



First map of Earth’s hidden groundwater reserves shows we’re using them too quickly

Modern-groundwater-map-printx_1024.jpgAn international team of hydrologists has come up with the best estimate yet for Earth’s total supply of groundwater, saying that nearly 23 million cubic kilometers of groundwater is contained in hidden reserves under the surface of the planet. And while that might sound like a lot, it’s not enough to sustain us if we keep consuming it as fast as we are right now.

The study suggests that less than 6 percent of groundwater in the upper 2 kilometers of the Earth’s landmass is renewable within a human lifetime. That statistic is concerning, not only because the uppermost water is what we can access for drinking, but also because the lengthy renewal cycle is slower than our consumption habits.

“This has never been known before,” said lead researcher Tom Gleeson of the University of Victoria in Canada. “We already know that water levels in lots of aquifers are dropping. We’re using our groundwater resources too fast – faster than they’re being renewed.”

To come up with their global groundwater map, the researchers compiled multiple data-sets, including data from almost a million watersheds and more than 40,000 groundwater models. Of the nearly 23 million cubic kilometers of total groundwater on the planet, approximately 0.35 million cubic kilometers is younger than 50 years old.

The distinction between young and old groundwater is important. Young (or modern) groundwater lies closer to the surface and is more likely to be drinkable. In comparison, older groundwater – which can date as far back as millions of years – lies deeper in Earth’s landmass, and may contain arsenic or uranium. It’s often stagnant and saltier than seawater, and as such, is only usually suitable for agricultural or industrial purposes.

Young groundwater’s proximity to the surface means it’s easier for us to access it and also easier to renew with fresh rainwater – but it’s also more readily exposed to human contamination and more vulnerable to environmental risks like climate change.

The researchers’ map reveals that most of Earth’s groundwater reserves are stored in tropical and mountain regions, including the Amazon Basin, the Congo, Indonesia, and in North and Central America. Arid regions, as one might presume to be the case, don’t have as much water underground.

“Intuitively, we expect drier areas to have less modern groundwater and more humid areas to have more, but before this study, all we had was intuition,“ said one of the team, Kevin Befus, who is now with the United States Geological Survey. ”Now, we have a quantitative estimate that we compared to geochemical observations.”

The researchers hope their findings, published in Nature Geoscience, will help water managers, policy developers, and scientists to better manage Earth’s remaining groundwater in more sustainable ways. In the meantime, Gleeson will be leading a new study, designed to track depletion rates on a global scale.

“Since we now know how much groundwater is being depleted and how much there is, we will be able to estimate how long until we run out,” he said.

Source: First map of Earth’s hidden groundwater reserves shows we’re using them too quickly

First map of Earth’s hidden groundwater reserves shows we’re using them too quickly

Here’s how 139 countries could run on 100% wind, solar, and hydro power by 2050

The world could be powered almost entirely by clean, renewable energy sources in the space of a few decades, and two engineers in the US say they’ve have figured out exactly how it can be done.

Blueprints for 139 countries around the world, including the US, Japan, and Australia, break down exactly how many wind turbines, solar farms, hydroelectric dams, and other facilities are required to cover each nation’s personal, business, industry, agriculture, and transport power needs, and how much it would cost. They’ll be presented to leaders of 195 nations at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in Paris, starting on November 30, where a binding and universal agreement on climate will be set.

The people there are just not aware of what’s possible,” one of the researchers, Mark Jacobson, a civil and environmental engineer at Stanford University, told Mark Fischetti at Scientific American. Jacobson has been granted two opportunities to speak at the conference, which will run from November 30 to December 11, and plans to get on-on-one time with as many world leaders as possible during that time with his colleague, engineer Mark Delucchi from the University of California, Davis.

The purpose of the blueprints is to show that 100 percent renewable energy isn’t just a green pipe dream – it’s technically and economically feasible. And it won’t only save countries a significant amount of cash – Jacobson and Delucchi have figured out how many jobs it could create and lives it could save, and it’s a whole lot.

As Fischetti reports for Scientific American, if all 139 countries followed their plans for permanently ditching fossil fuels, it would open up 24 million construction jobs and 26.5 million operational jobs, each with a 35-year lifespan, which more than covers the 28.4 million jobs that would be lost in collapsed fossil fuel industries.

The change would also lead to considerably cleaner air, which the engineers have estimated will prevent the 3.3 to 4.6 million premature deaths that occur every year due to atmospheric pollution. Right now, these deaths cost around 3 percent of the global GDP to mitigate.

And that’s not the only saving that a fossil fuel-free world can bring. Wind is now the cheapest source of electricity in the US, costing around half as much as natural gas – and that’s unsubsidised. And the cost of solar is not far behind.

As Ramez Naam reports over at Energy Post, if the technology continues to grow in efficiency at the current rate, by the time solar capacity triples to 600GW – predicted by around 2020 or 2021 – the unsubsidised price for solar power will be roughly 4.5 cents per kWh in places that get a lot of sunlight, such as the the US southwest, the Middle East, and Australia. For moderately sunny places, such as India and China, this price will hit 6.5 cent per kWh.

Not bad, when you consider coal-fired electricity can cost anywhere from 6.6 to 15.1 cents per kWh and it’s 6 to 8 cents for natural gas. And that’s not including all the associated health costs mentioned above.

“People who are trying to prevent this change would argue that it’s too expensive, or there’s just not enough power, or they try to say that it’s unreliable, that it will take too much land area or resources,” Jacobson told Adele Peters at Fast Company. “What this shows is that all these claims are mythical.”

The timeline states that countries could stop building new natural gas, coal, and nuclear plants, by 2020 and all gas-fired home appliances would be shifted to electric. Over the next five years, governments and industry leaders could work on getting large ships, trains, and buses off fossil fuels to run on electric power instead, followed by all cars and trucks over the next five years. By 2050, everything that currently guzzles fossil fuels could feasibly be switched over to renewable power sources.

Of course, not everyone is convinced, says Fischetti, reporting that the plans “have been heralded as transformational, and criticised as starry eyed or even nutty”, but the beauty of what Jacobson and Delucchi have put together is that everything is there for you to read through and analyse yourself, so you can make up your own mind.

Source: Here’s how 139 countries could run on 100% wind, solar, and hydro power by 2050

Here’s how 139 countries could run on 100% wind, solar, and hydro power by 2050