Morning Ed: The Planet {2016.10.19.W}

Jon Ware wants a worldwide explosion in green infrastructure.

Our coal ash recycling efforts appear to be going well!

The Manhattan Institute says that to go completely renewable, we’d need the landmasses of Texas and West Virginia.

Desalination is almost certain to be the answer to droughts and water shortages eventually, but Justin Fox reports that we’re a long ways away.

In Washington state, meanwhile, there may be a compromise.

A look at what the relationship between fracking and earthquakes is and isn’t.

Josiah Neeley wants to know why conservatives are so fond of geo-engineering as a potential remediation for global warming.


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44 thoughts on “Morning Ed: The Planet {2016.10.19.W}

      • But besides temperature increase (BIG “besides”) power plant cooling water carries no other pollutant and can be returned to the environment without any other treatment.

        Not that temperature increase is nothing, but if there’s a use that returns the water to its original place and state, power plant cooling is probably the closest to it.

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          • In theory yes, in practice it’s almost impossible, or too expensive, to cool the cooling water to the original temperature. Environmental regulations require (normally) to bring the water to within 3 C (6 F) of the recipients body of water’s temperature. Cooling towers are normally used for that purpose (the cooling pond would work too, to a degree)

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            • I’m not clear here. If you use water to cool a thermal electric plant, there are applicable regulations to RELEASING THAT WATER BACK into the watershed.

              Why can’t you have a cooling tower to cool the water down to a level where it can then be recycled to back to the thermal electric plant as a cooling agent again? How do the regs above apply? I’m sure there are some physics related to the water and cooling but I’m not seeing the rest of the problem.

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                • If you are just using water, it’s too slow. Cooling towers work less by heat leaving water (eta: in a sense that the water stays, just the heat transfers) than by evaporation.

                  But if it’s a closed system… Do you have ‘just water’ in the radiator of your car?

                  ETA2: We open cycle water for plant cooling because it’s hella cheap compared to a closed system of sufficient size to vent the heat.

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                • @morat20

                  You can have a fully closed circuit for cooling water, except that it’s not fully closed.

                  Cooling towers work by losing a certain percentage of water in every cycle as water vapor in order to cool the rest, and you need additional water to make up the lost water. You do this in dry places. It’s not truly closed, but you can reuse a portion of the water over and over again.

                  In places were water is abundant (lakes, rivers, the sea) you use the water directly, and then release it again. You can have cooling stages, getting progressively cooler water to cool off warmer water, until the water reaches the 3C limit.

                  But you always need something cooler than what you want to cool off for the heat to transfer.

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        • As usual, I end up apologizing for my western US biases. Given the broadly semi-arid climate and peculiar water laws, the “besides” are bigger. For those and other reasons, evaporative cooling is more common. Eg, the Palo Verde nuke station in Arizona is the only large nuke in the world not on a sizeable river, lake or ocean. They use second- and third-hand sanitary sewage water for cooling (evaporating on the order of 20 billion gallons of such per year). There are several fairly large western power plants (>300 MW) in areas where water is so scarce/expensive that they use air cooling, despite the significant loss of efficiency that entails.

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    • Desal. can be needed even for industrial water. The SAWPA brine line is a neat Southern California project I was tangentially involved with. See here. Desal would also be needed for a lot of ag water runoff. Just look up the Salton Sea, for example.

      And Orange County’s Groundwater Recharge Project, which is treating just sewage, uses desal.

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  1. Your own micro dose may be off, since I don’t think that’s what you meant for the first link.

    “2. Wastewater disposal causes most induced earthquakes, not fracking” um, technically correct (the best kind of correct), but still all part of the same head to tail process. That’s like saying don’t worry, falling off a ladder doesn’t hurt you – it’s the sudden stop at the end that does.

    Um Mr. Neely, I’m sympathetic with your point of view (which I find for about 1/2 of Federalist articles – the other half are “oh, boy”. But you know externalities and collective action problems are a thing that need to be solved somehow? (he does sort of concede this in the very last paragraph)

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  2. For coal ash recycling, the percentage thing may be misleading — coal use, so coal ash production, is down significantly in the last few years. Just recycling the same absolute amount would result in an increase in the percentage. Reduce coal use far enough and we’ll have to go back to mining/manufacturing the stuff that coal ash currently gets used for (eg, Portland cement).

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        • But why was less recycled? Is it because we’ve hit limits on our ability to recycle it? For example, we’ve had reversals in recycling in other areas like used tires because we’ve exhausted a lot of the opportunities that existed (such as in playground/track pavement) and other regulations have prevented it (fuel source), that means the long-term trend is that landfilling bans will need to be lifted.

          I suspect the issue with coal ash is partly due to poor economic recovery from the Great Recession and export of high-sulfur coal to China and other places.

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          • But why was less recycled?

            I’m not an expert — I have a systems analyst’s superficial understanding of the processes (and hopefully enough sense to get inputs from real experts if someone tasks me with making real recommendations).

            We may well have reached limits on the places to recycle the stuff economically. If the source of synthetic gypsum near the drywall factory shuts down (or is converted to natural gas), it may make more sense to use locally-mined natural gypsum than to haul synthetic from across the country. Ditto for fly ash versus Portland cement made from limestone. Some bottom ash has too much heavy metal content to be used without treatment. Some companies are more aggressive about recycling because they operate where landfill disposal is expensive. Time, place, relative costs. As with most interesting systems questions, it’s complicated :^)

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  3. Why do conservatives like the idea of geo-engineering? This isn’t a tough question. It is the same reason why some people prefer liposuction surgery over improving their diet and exercise habits. On the one hand we can slow climate change by making sacrifices to our life styles. On the other hand, we can keep on burning those sweet, sweet hydrocarbons and then throw a bunch of money at the resulting problems. While conservatives claim to hate throwing money at problems, at least when the government is involved, this is not in fact true. The military-industrial complex is granted an exemption. So simply imagine Lockheed bidding on the contract for pumping aerosols into the upper atmosphere, and it all makes perfect sense.

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    • Because its morning and I’m in a good mood, I will make a faint hearted attempt to be fair to conservatives.

      The same cultural nostalgia that gives people warm and fuzzies by seeing Ozzie and Harriet images of America contains powerful faith in the beneficial power of technology and mastery over nature.

      I’m thinking of all those old issues of Popular Mechanics and Popular Science where they would feature images of the future with stuff like moving mountains by atomic blasts or cities under glass domes or some such.

      Or the New Frontier optimism of Roddenberry where entire planets could be manipulated by Scotty and the boys down in the engine room.

      Yeah, I’m teasing, but within conservatism lies some of the same desire for human improvement and flourishing that powers the most utopian liberalism.

      In fact, the Kennedy/ space race era was probably the zenith of that sort of thinking, before it curdled in the jungles of Vietnam when the public realized that Scotty and the boys weren’t incinerating alien invaders with napalm, but little girls and boys.

      And honestly, even liberalism of 2016 needs to heed that cautionary tale.

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    • “Why do conservatives like the idea of geo-engineering? This isn’t a tough question. ”

      Ah-heh.

      Why do liberals like the idea of abortion rights? This isn’t a tough question. It allows them to continue their thoughtless promiscuity without having to worry about the consequences. On the one hand we can slow population growth and improve family wealth-holding by making sacrifices to our life styles. On the other hand, we can keep on getting that sweet, sweet lovin’ and then throw a bunch of medical procedures at the resulting problems. While liberals claim to hate killing people just because they’re inconvenient, at least when abortion is involved this is not in fact true.

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    • This actually corresponds with my own reasoning, sort of. Which is to say, I am attracted to the notion because I believe the potential relative painlessness of it makes it politically feasible if we get the technology. The most likely alternative isn’t to Leave It In the Ground (because we aren’t), and/or convince everybody they need to move into sustainable communities and use public transportation (they won’t), but simply preparing for the inevitable worst and hoping it’s not as bad as current predictions.

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