I have noticed a meme circulating the internet over the past 2 weeks – fear of landfill contamination by an increase in the use of CFL bulbs. While there is trace amounts of mercury in CFL bulbs, and I do believe that there needs to be more public education from places that sell the bulbs to avoid them ending up in the garbage – I would like to note that the possible reduction in mercury emissions from coal fired power plants outweighs the amount used to produce the bulb, over the bulbs lifetime.
This fact sheet (warning PDF also found at wikipedia) on the subject notes that there is approximately 4.0mg of mercury in a CFL bulb, and the emissions from a coal fired plant to produce the energy to run the bulb over it’s lifetime is an additional 2.4mg of mercury. Contrast that with 10.0mg of emissions for a conventional incandescent bulbs over the same 5 year lifespan of the CFL bulb. The incandescent is still producing more gaseous mercury contamination than the CFL. Also, the mercury contained in the CFL bulb remains in a form that can be recycled.
If you haven’t noticed, there’s a bit of a renaissance happening in the nuclear power plant industry. A decade ago, no one — not even government officials — mentioned the technology. Now, with the Bush Administration in power the last six years, environmental concerns over coal burning plants, and an influx of investment, the topic is back and hotter than ever.
This week, MSNBC.com has a fascinating five-part article, called Power Play, on the return of nuclear energy into the social consciousness. Of course, it’s not like it ever truly went anywhere. After all, 20% of the energy flowing through the U.S. comes from nuclear energy. What is interesting, however, is how the industry — once considered unsafe and expensive — has turned around their image and now has as many as 31 new nuclear reactors on the drawing board for U.S. soil.
The article chronicles the money, the technology, and the criticism of the industry. Obviously, for the all the wonderful emission-free electricity generated by nuclear power, there’s tons of radioactive waste (close to 47,000 metric tons!) and the threat (although lessened in modern plants) of a disaster on scale with Chernobyl. There are plans to bury that waste at the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada, but such fixes are more than 10 years away and may never happen at all. So, we have all this waste to still contend with.
Imagine if to go wireless, mobile phones companies made you purchase a kit to install your own tower for $8k, and then shipped you a box of minuscule widgets and a soldering gun that you have to somehow assemble into a Razor. I’m pretty sure the market density of cell phones would be about as weak as that of PV, because that is the marketing strategy that Solar Energy is currently operating under.
Now imagine you could sign a contract, and have clean, green solar energy installed at your home by professionals and pay a nominal monthly fee based on your usage with no initial outlay. Tempted? The Citizenre Corporation is counting on it. What they are offering is the chance for average Americans to have the privilege of a Solar Array on their roof. According to their website it will be as simple as having one of their technicians do a site assessment, the signing of a 1,5,or 25 year forward rental agreement (FRA) and a safety deposit of $500 (reasonable for $25k in equipment!). At the signing of the agreement you will lock in your current cost per KwH and pay Citizenre that amount for any watts their equipment sends into your home thru an interconnected inverter. For anyone who is remotely Eco Aware this is Earth Shattering. But that elation is followed immediately by “where’s the catch?”. Talk to a REnU rep and they answer simply “there is none!”. Hmmm.
This is something Dr. Evil would have planned: “Give me one MILLION dollars, or else I will unleash the worst pollution on Earth–the crap frozen in Siberia.” There’s a reason I’m not involved in writing scripts for Hollywood–but nevertheless, this is pretty disturbing. From the article, “Ancient roots and bones locked in long-frozen soil in Siberia are starting to thaw, and have the potential to unleash billions of tons of carbon and accelerate global warming, scientists said on Thursday.” Supposedly, this vast carbon resevoir (one of the few oil companies are loathe to pursue) is loaded with 75 times more carbon than all that is released into the atmosphere each year through the burning of fossil furls. Covering nearly 400,000 square miles, Siberia has about 500 billion tons of carbon to hand out. “You have anthropogenic (human-generated) carbon that’s making things a little bit warmer, and that causes the permafrost to warm up and carbon is then released from the permafrost,” he said. “It goes into the atmosphere and makes things warmer yet again, so then more permafrost thaws.” So, for those of you that believe nature is causing global warming–hey there may be some actual truth to that. However, whereas thawing permafrost may be the bullet, you can bet sure as hell that we’re the ones pulling the trigger.