I have good news and bad news.


When people think of Yellowstone, it’s usually in relation to the national park, a massive 8,983 square kilometer (3,468.4 square mile) area comprising mountains, rivers, and forests. Less commonly considered is the Yellowstone Caldera, a supervolcano whose eruption could be devastating for our planet.

Thankfully, such an explosion is highly unlikely, and now, NASA has come up with a way to not only ensure that the volcano remains inactive, but also use it to provide the surrounding area with electricity.
Following their release of a story on supervolcanoes, the BBC was contacted by a few NASA members who wanted to share details on a previously unreleased plan to deal with Yellowstone. Even NASA admits their incredibly ambitious plan is risky, but the potential benefits resulting from its success can’t be completely ignored.

First, they would drill into the volcano from the lower sides, outside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. Coming from this direction would prevent the intense heat from making its way to the top of the chamber, where it would cause further problems.
Once drilling is complete, water would be pumped into and back out of the supervolcano at high pressures, with the exiting water heated to a temperature of around 350 degrees Celsius (662 degrees Fahrenheit). The water going in would slowly cool the volcano, while the hot water coming out of it could be used to generate electricity.

Yellowstone currently leaks around 6GW in heat,” Brian Wilcox, a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), explained to the BBC. “Through drilling in this way, it could be used to create a geothermal plant, which generates electric power at extremely competitive prices of around $0.10/kWh.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Alternative title: White people in peril from Climate Change.
With Iowa and Nebraska still digging out, shit getting real.

Canadian Underwriters:

MONTREAL – Quebec public security officials called for the immediate evacuation of an area along the Rouge River west of Montreal on Thursday because of the risk a hydro dam could fail.
Simon Racicot, director of production and maintenance with Hydro-Quebec, told reporters the dam at Chute Bell was built to withstand what he called a millennial flood.
“That means a flood that happens every 1,000 years,” he said. Hydro workers discovered earlier in the day the millennial level of water had been reached.
“We are confident that the structure is solid,” Racicot said. “But the protocols force us to warn people of the danger. We are entering into an unknown zone right now – completely unknown.”

The largely rural section of river affected is in Quebec’s Lower Laurentians region, about 140 kilometres west of Montreal, stretching about 18 kilometres south to the Ottawa River.
Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault told reporters Thursday evening the province’s hydro utility is confident the dam can hold back its current water reservoir and is structurally sound.
“But we are expecting more rain over the coming hours and days, so the water levels of the Rouge River can rise,” she said in Montreal.

Toronto Globe and Mail:

A dry spell earlier this week offered hope that water levels in Eastern Ontario and western Quebec might stabilize below the record-breaking disaster of 2017. Those hopes were dashed on Friday as heavy rains fell with up to 50 mm forecast through Saturday, adding to already high water levels and melting snow.
Parts of the St. Lawrence River and Ottawa River were projected to reach 2017 levels early Saturday morning. The Ottawa River could hit 50 centimetres above the 2017 levels that damaged 5,371 homes and forced 4,000 people to seek high ground. The water is not expected to crest before Monday or Tuesday.
A group of local leaders from 10 small bedroom communities just west of Montreal pleaded for help from the province on Friday afternoon, saying the slow-moving flood of the past 10 days is about to turn into a larger-scale disaster. “In coming days, we alone will have to evacuate 1,000 people. This is enormous,” said Patrick Bousez, head of the Vaudreuil-Soulange regional council. “We need help.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Since they’re evolving, maybe they’ll take another look at evolution.

I’ve been working hard to help hard-pressed farmers develop more income with wind and solar energy on their land. Farmers are in worse shape today than since the crash of 2008, and climate change is not helping.

New Republic:

I’m wearing out. Again.

The first time was around Christmas. For several weeks, I just couldn’t write my weekly column for the newspaper. Eventually I published an explanation, and pointed out to readers that I had just exceeded my capacity to deal with things. I had worn myself out, and misjudged what I could handle.
Gradually I recouped. And I’ve been doing pretty well up until maybe in the last week or so. Because things have just mounted on to the point that it’s become harder. So I need to pay attention to what I preach, and that is to manage my own compassion fatigue.
I serve as a counselor for farmers and ranchers. I’m probably on the phone or on email anywhere from 15 to 25 hours a week, seven days a week, trying to respond to requests for help from all around the country.I only take on the most difficult and unresolvable problems that you could ever see among farm people, where depression has not been successfully treated by any kind of medication or psychiatric help. I try to figure out what to do about them, because—well, I don’t know how else to say this, except that I have a lot of experience doing this. It gets me going.

But the two calls I got today—those just wore me out emotionally.

The first came from a lady whose lover—and I say lover, because both he and she are divorced—is a large farmer. And he’s been told by creditors that he has to negotiate the sale or disposal of some of his farm assets, or they’ll shut him down. He said, I will not go to mediation or court, I’ll kill myself before I have to do that. I will lose. I can’t do this. So she called me in desperation. And we conferred several times to figure out what she can do. 

Jeff Berardelli’s story on this spring’s catastrophic midwest flooding starts at 2:58 below.

Read the rest of this entry »


Mozambique is still reeling from Cyclone Idai, which struck the country hard last month, claiming over 1,000 lives across the region. Now a new cyclone is on the horizon, threatening to stretch already thin resources even thinner.
Cyclone Kenneth is chugging from the Pacific toward Mozambique. Currently the equivalent of a tropical storm with sustained winds of about 52 mph, the cyclone is expected to strengthen in the coming days. Cyclone Kenneth is forecast to strafe the island nation of Comoros before plowing into Mozambique’s northern coast on Thursday or early Friday.

The island archipelago of Comoros could actually bear the worst impacts of Kenneth, wind-wise. The storm is expected to top out at 103 mph—the equivalent of a Category 2 storm—early on Thursday as it hits Comoros’ main island. That would make it the first hurricane-force storm in recorded history to make landfall in Comoros, according to data kept by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 
The 3,000-foot escarpments on the northern end of the island could help weaken Kenneth a bit before the storm strike Mozambique later that day as a strong Category 1 with winds of up to 92 mph. That means Kenneth won’t pack as punch as Idai, which made landfall as a borderline Category 3 storm a little over a month ago. Idai also made a direct hit on Beira, a city of of more than half a million people that bore the brunt of its storm surge and then was cutoff from help for weeks by an inland lake from the storm’s rainfall.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sara Nelson is the International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO.

Sara Nelson in Vox:

“Pretty much everyone on the plane threw up” is not a sentence most travelers want to hear.
But that’s a direct quote from the pilots’ report after United Express Flight 3833 operated by Air Wisconsin hit extreme turbulence on approach to Washington, DC, in 2018.
Extreme turbulence is on the rise around the world. It isn’t just nauseating or scary — it’s dangerous.
In June 2017, nine passengers and a crew member were hospitalized after extreme turbulence rocked their United Airlines flight from Panama City to Houston.
A few weeks ago, a Delta Connection flight operated by Compass Airlines from Orange County, California, to Seattle hit turbulence so sudden and fierce, the flight attendant serving drinks — and the 300-pound drink cart — was slammed against the ceiling of the plane. The flight attendant’s arm was broken and three passengers were hospitalized.
In my 23 years as a flight attendant and president of our union representing 50,000 others, I know firsthand the threat climate change poses to our safety and our jobs. But flight attendants and airline workers have been told by some pundits that the Green New Deal, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey’s environmental proposal, will ground all air travel. 
That’s absurd. It’s not the solutions to climate change that kills jobs. Climate change itself is the job killer.

Read the rest of this entry »

Applied Energy:


– Nuclear power plants are subject to different operational constraints than other power plants.

– We provide a mathematical representation of these distinct constraints on nuclear flexibility.

– Benefits of nuclear flexibility are significant in a power system with high shares of renewables.

– Benefits include lower power system operating costs and increased revenue for nuclear plants.

Nuclear power plants are commonly operated in a “baseload” mode at maximum rated capacity whenever online. However, nuclear power plants are technically capable of flexible operation, including changing power output over time (ramping or load following) and providing frequency regulation and operating reserves. At the same time, flexibility is becoming more valuable as many regions transition to low-carbon power systems with higher shares of variable renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power. We present a novel mixed integer linear programming formulation to more accurately represent the distinct technical operating constraints of nuclear power stations, including impacts of xenon transients in the reactor core and changing core reactivity over the fuel irradiation cycle. This novel representation of nuclear flexibility is integrated into a unit commitment and economic dispatch model for the power system. In a case study using representative utility data from the Southwest United States, we investigate the potential impacts of flexible nuclear operations in a power system with significant solar and wind energy penetration. We find that flexible nuclear operation lowers power system operating costs, increases reactor owner revenues, and substantially reduces curtailment of renewables.


But as the headline says, there’s hope for the 98 US reactors in operation today. When the various countries of the world were selecting their preferred technology for nuclear generation, the US swung to light-water pressurized water reactors (PWRs). They were deeply familiar with them as they were the same technology used on nuclear powered submarines and aircraft carriers, something the USA had which most other countries didn’t.
And PWRs can be used to follow load. It’s a much slower response rate than peaker gas or using SCADA controls to curtail or spin up wind and solar, but it’s viable. They can drop or increase generation by 25% per hour, although when production is dropped they have to remain at the lower level for typically hours to allow xenon to dissipate before they can be increased again.
But unlike France, reactors are treated by grid operators as fixed, baseload generation, either on or off. There’s some limited seasonal load following related to hydro’s spring peak, but that’s about it. Part of that is purely economic. Load following with a nuclear reactor reduces the total GWh that are generated annually, and the only contracts they have are for committed baseload. If they were operated to follow load, they would lose money. Instead, renewables end up being curtailed when surplus baseload generation occurs. This is a somewhat reasonable approach, but it comes with an interesting wrinkle. Gas and coal reserve power is maintained for the nuclear plant and burn fossil fuels while wind and solar are curtailed.
So we have a technology that could load follow but isn’t allowed to by regulatory and contractual structures without economic penalty, and as a result lower-carbon forms of generation are curtailed while more gas and coal are burned. That’s an odd systemic choice in 2019.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sticky social question for the transition to green energy is the displacement, not only of workers like coal miners, but of existing generators, which are often major employers, and perhaps as importantly, big sources for local tax revenues in hard pressed communities.
German effort at repurposing coal plants as energy storage units could hold promise.
Add this idea to what I posted on last week, the updating of coal and other mine sites to pumped storage energy facilities – means there could be attractive opportunities to get reluctant electorates to buy into a Green New Deal type program.


The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt or DLR) is investigating whether Germany’s coal plants could be reused as energy storage assets.  
The research body, which has a track record in concentrated solar power (CSP) development, is planning a pilot that will involve ripping out the boiler from an old coal plant and replacing it with a molten salt thermal storage tank that will be heated using excess renewable energy.
If the concept works, then advocates say it could help safeguard coal generation jobs while giving Germany tens of gigawatts of storage capacity for renewable energy load-shifting on the German grid. 

Furthermore, a single pilot could be enough to prove the commercial viability of the concept, since the technology, described as a Carnot battery, is based on commercially available industrial components and standard engineering practices. 

Dr. Michael Geyer, senior adviser at DLR’s Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics in Almeria, Spain, said the center is preparing a commercial-scale pilot in association with an unnamed German utility. A feasibility study for the pilot had already been awarded, he confirmed.
Geyer explained that engineering proposals would take 12 to 18 months and construction could take another year and a half, meaning the pilot plant could be up and running within three years. The pilot is being financed as a public-private initiative, he said.   

According to its website, DLR has been researching Carnot batteries since 2014. Experience with molten salt storage in CSP plants, meanwhile, stretches back almost a decade.

This is significantly longer than the operational track record of grid-scale lithium-ion battery plants, Geyer noted. Thermal storage tanks are relatively low-tech, low-risk engineering concepts, he said, requiring only a steel tank, concrete base and the salt itself.
The principal engineering task is to fit the tank into a coal plant, he said. These plants were not designed to house molten salt storage containers, he admitted, and a Carnot battery built from scratch would likely not resemble a coal plant. 
But in Germany utilities are interested in the concept as a way of extending the lifespan of coal generation assets that have now been given a final cutoff date of 2038. Geyer said 7 gigawatts of coal generation were due to close down by 2023, rising to 23 gigawatts by 2030.
Most if not all of this capacity could potentially be turned into Carnot batteries, he said. “This is a commonsense application to make use of existing infrastructure,” he said.

Read the rest of this entry »