A new report that evaluated the initiatives, approach, challenges and actions organizations are taking to improve their CSR performance found that CSR is no longer a “trade-off” but is now considered good for business.
Walzberg, J., Carpenter, A. & Heath, G.A. “Role of the social factors in success of solar photovoltaic reuse and recycle programmes.” Nature Energy 6, 913–924 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-021-00888-5 [open access]
Abstract: By 2050, the cumulative mass of end-of-life photovoltaic (PV) modules may reach 80 Mt globally. The impacts could be mitigated by module recycling, repair and reuse; however, previous studies of PV circularity omit the consideration of critical social factors. Here we used an agent-based model to integrate social aspects with techno-economic factors, which provides a more realistic assessment of the circularity potential for previously studied interventions that assesses additional interventions that cannot be analysed using techno-economic analysis alone. We also performed a global sensitivity analysis using a machine-learning metamodel. We show that to exclude social factors underestimates the effect of lower recycling prices on PV material circularity, which highlights the relevance of considering social factors in future studies. Interventions aimed at changing customer attitudes about used PV boost the reuse of modules, although used modules can only satisfy one-third of the US demand during 2020–2050, which suggests that reuse should be complemented by recycling.
Researchers at the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus said Tuesday they will embark on a multi-state effort to gain a better understanding of emergent contaminants in the nation’s water, with the backing of a new $850,000 federal grant.
The grant was announced this week by the National Sea Grant office, and will be split between Sea Grant programs in Connecticut, New Hampshire and North Carolina. The Connecticut Sea Grant program is based at Avery Point.
President Joe Biden has called for major clean energy investments as a way to curb climate change and generate jobs. On Sept. 8, 2021, the White House released a report produced by the U.S. Department of Energy that found that solar power could generate up to 45% of the U.S. electricity supply by 2050, compared to less than 4% today. We asked Joshua D. Rhodes, an energy technology and policy researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, what it would take to meet this target.
Why such a heavy focus on solar power? Doesn’t a low-carbon future require many types of clean energy?
The Energy Department’s Solar Futures Study lays out three future pathways for the U.S. grid: business as usual; decarbonization, meaning a massive shift to low-carbon and carbon-free energy sources; and decarbonization with economy-wide electrification of activities that are powered now by fossil fuels.
It concludes that the latter two scenarios would require approximately 1,050-1,570 gigawatts of solar power, which would meet about 44%-45% of expected electricity demand in 2050. For perspective, one gigawatt of generating capacity is equivalent to about 3.1 million solar panels or 364 large-scale wind turbines.
The rest would come mostly from a mix of other low- or zero-carbon sources, including wind, nuclear, hydropower, biopower, geothermal and combustion turbines run on zero-carbon synthetic fuels such as hydrogen. Energy storage capacity – systems such as large installations of high-capacity batteries – would also expand at roughly the same rate as solar.
One advantage solar power has over many other low-carbon technologies is that most of the U.S. has lots of sunshine. Wind, hydropower and geothermal resources aren’t so evenly distributed: There are large zones where these resources are poor or nonexistent.
Relying more heavily on region-specific technologies would mean developing them extremely densely where they are most abundant. It also would require building more high-voltage transmission lines to move that energy over long distances, which could increase costs and draw opposition from landowners.
Is generating 45% of U.S. electricity from solar power by 2050 feasible?
The Solar Futures Study estimates that producing 45% of the nation’s electricity from solar power by 2050 would require deploying about 1,600 gigawatts of solar generation. That’s a 1,450% increase from the 103 gigawatts that are installed in the U.S. today. For perspective, there are currently about 1,200 gigawatts of electricity generation capacity of all types on the U.S. power grid.
The report assumes that 10%-20% of this new solar capacity would be deployed on homes and businesses. The rest would be large utility-scale deployments, mostly solar panels, plus some large-scale solar thermal systems that use mirrors to reflect the sun to a central tower.
Natural gas, coal and oil provided almost 80% of primary energy input to the U.S. economy in 2020, including electric power generation. Replacing much of it with low-carbon sources would also require retooling most major U.S. energy companies.
Studies like this solar report also assume that a lot of supporting infrastructure that’s essential to fulfill their scenarios will be available. According to the Solar Futures Study, the U.S. would have to expand its electric transmission capacity by 60%-90% to support the levels of solar deployment that it envisions.
One potential solution is gaining traction: building transmission lines along existing rights of way next to highways and railroad lines, which avoids the need to secure agreement from numerous private landowners.
How would the current system have to change to support so much solar power?
Our power system currently gets about 59% of its electricity from coal and natural gas. These resources are generally, although not always, available on demand. This means that when utility customers demand more power for their lights or air conditioners, the companies can call on these types of plants to increase their output.
Moving to a grid dominated by renewables will require utilities and energy regulators to rethink the old way of matching supply and demand. I think the grid of the future will need much higher levels of transmission, energy storage and programs that encourage customers to shift the times when they use power to periods when it’s most abundant and affordable. It also will require much greater coordination between North America’s regional power grids, which aren’t well configured now for moving electricity seamlessly over long distances.
All of this is feasible and will be necessary if the U.S. opts to rely on a solar-heavy, decarbonized electricity grid to cost-effectively meet future demand.
The largest frozen food producer in Europe has set new emissions targets approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), which will see the company achieve a 25% reduction in absolute terms by 2025.
Katie Murphy is a plant biologist. She researches corn and tobacco plants at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri. She’s also the host of “Real Time Science,” a series of videos that she uploads to TikTok and Instagram. She shows kids examples of her experiments in the field and the lab, along with other tidbits about her life as a scientist — such as how to make a hair tie out of a disposable glove when you forget your hair tie at home. We interviewed Murphy about her work, what she loves about science and other fun things she likes to do.
In the summer of 2020, the murder of George Floyd sparked demonstrations across the U.S. in support of the countless minorities, specifically Black people, that have been subject to police brutality. For many people, these demonstrations shed light on systemic racism and institutional inequalities that are pervasive throughout the U.S. and around the world. People started actively seeking ways to be involved, show support, and/or make an impact in their communities. For a small team within the Sea Grant and Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (CERF), this included solidifying plans for a National Science Foundation (NSF) INCLUDES Planning Grant proposal that would “develop a national ecosystem that nurtures the growth, persistence, and success of students from historically underrepresented and marginalized groups.” The group named the project COME IN (Coastal, Ocean, and Marine Enterprise Inclusion and Network-building), and I was lucky enough to get involved with their team as a Sustainability Ambassador through the William & Mary Office of Sustainability this past spring.
A new report has been released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN’s authority on climate change – which revealed the latest research on how the Earth is changing and what those changes will mean for the future.
The report shows there’s been a dramatic increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and temperatures, stating that Earth is likely to reach the crucial 1.5℃ warming limit in the early 2030s. There are also dramatic changes in precipitation – water that’s released from clouds, such as rain, snow, or hail.
As an entomologist, I study insects and how climate change stressors – such as flooding and drought – affect what insects eat. I’m also a food security advocate.
The report’s projections caused me to reflect on the many direct and indirect impacts that a warmer and wetter world will have on insects, their natural enemies, plants and African food security.
Across the African continent, recent years brought out some of these extremes, showing what a serious issue this is.
For instance, in southern Africa, the 2016 outbreak of the fall armyworm has continued to spread because of increased rainfall and elevated temperatures – perfect conditions for them to breed and grow quickly. These conditions also supported the growth of over 70 host plants that are fed upon by the fall armyworm.
There’s also a major desert locust outbreak in eastern Africa which started in 2019. It spread due to unusually heavy rainfall that created the perfect environment for locusts to breed and increase in numbers and size. The rains also support the growth of vegetation to feed them.
Here I present a closer look at some of the report’s key findings and show how changes could affect insects and, indirectly, us.
Elevated carbon dioxide levels
Global levels of CO₂ are already high, and they’re expected to continue rising. While elevation in CO₂ does not directly impact insects, it can alter plants’ nutritional quality and chemistry. This will indirectly affect insect herbivores.
For instance, according to recent research, elevated CO₂ reduces the nutritional quality of plant tissues by reducing protein concentrations and certain amino acids in the leaves. To compensate, insect herbivores eat more.
Elevated CO₂ levels can also affect an insect’s development, driving down their numbers – as seen in this study of dung beetles.
The report says that global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO₂ and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.
Temperature regulates insects’ physiology and metabolism. An increase in temperature increases physiological activity and, therefore, metabolic rates. Insects must eat more to survive and it’s expected that insect herbivores will consume more and grow faster.
This will lead to increases in the population growth rate of certain insects. Because they grow fast they’ll reproduce more. Their numbers will multiply and this will ultimately lead to more crop damage.
Previous research projected that with every increase in one degree of global warming, losses of crops to insects will increase from 10% to 25%.
Drought and flooding
The changing climate is expected to change precipitation patterns – such as rainfall. The report anticipates increased and frequent drought and flooding incidences across the world. These environmental stressors will have an impact on plant productivity, plant chemistry, defences, nutritional quality, palatability, and digestibility.
Consequently, insects eat more plants and this can result in more crop damage.
On the other hand, increased precipitation can support fresh vegetation (food for insects) and can facilitate population buildup of insects. As seen with the desert locust, for example, prolonged rain allowed them to have food, multiply in numbers and spread. This was also the case for the fall armyworm; plentiful rains supported the growth of their host plants. When food for the insects is no longer a limiting factor, their populations continue to build up.
Reducing effectiveness of natural enemies
All insects have natural enemies or predators. For example, the maize stem borer – a significant insect pest of maize across Africa – has several natural enemies, such as Cotesia flavipes. These predators reduce the populations on insects and further reduce the need to use pesticides to control insect pests.
Predators can be affected by climate changes in many ways. For instance, they can be sensitive to increases in temperature and precipitation, ultimately reducing their numbers. Fewer natural enemies could result in more insect pests. One study, which modelled temperature changes on stem borers in East Africa, showed an increase in their numbers and a decrease in impact by natural enemies.
In addition, because of climate change, both crop distribution ranges and insects will shift. As they seek out conditions that suit them, insects move to new areas that lack their natural enemies. This will cause their populations to grow, resulting in more crop damage.
According to research, plants exposed to double stresses may become even more palatable to insects. This is because when two stressors (say drought and insect herbivory, flooding and insect herbivory, or elevated carbon dioxide and elevated heat) happen together, their impact on crops can be additive or synergistic. This would lead to increased crop damage and reduced crop yields.
What can be done?
Climate change will affect agricultural plants and the insects associated with them. These effects are complex, but it is certain pest pressures will increase. There is a need for more insect monitoring and forecasting and modelling so that we can develop adaptation strategies.
In addition, countries should continue to monitor, share information, and use historical data and modelling to predict and prepare for an uncertain future that is expected to have hungrier insect pests, with impacts on crop productivity and food security.