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Photo: Sustainergy
Solar arrays can reduce a farm’s carbon footprint while allowing room for crops and livestock. In Japan, Sustainergy has designed “solar farms at large scale so that farmers could obtain additional stable income.” Above, cloud ear mushrooms.

When a company solves two important problems with one project, I probably shouldn’t call it killing two birds with one stone. Send me a better metaphor, please.

Adele Peters writes at Fast Company about the dual benefits of a Japanese project that provides not only solar power but also a cozy place to grow mushrooms.

“Small farms in Japan are struggling to survive. Rural populations are shrinking, and the average farmer is 67 years old. But two new farms will test a different business model to try to reinvigorate the sector: solar panels with mushrooms growing underneath them.

“The farms, at two locations in northeastern Japan, will produce a combined 4,000 kilowatts of solar power that will be sold to a local utility, while the mushroom farms will yield an annual 40 tons of cloud-ear mushrooms, a crop that is typically imported from China.

“ ‘The environment needs to be dark and humid for mushrooms to spawn,’ says Minami Kikuchi, who leads the ‘solar sharing’ project that combines agriculture and solar power at Sustainergy, a renewable energy startup. ‘We simply created the suitable environment for them by making use of vacant space under the solar panels.’ ”

As Kikuchi explained to Fast Company in an email, ” ‘We designed the project of combination with solar farms at large scale so that farmers could obtain additional stable income. Of course, this renewable energy technology is contributing to the sustainable development of Japan too.’

“Today, an estimated 10% of Japanese farmland is not in use, despite the fact that the majority of food is imported. Government tariffs have discouraged companies from converting farmland to solar power generation, but a partial change in regulations in 2013 meant that solar power was more viable – provided that it was constructed in combination with agriculture. …

“Sustainergy believes that similar farms could potentially grow other crops that need little light, such as potatoes. In the U.S., researchers at the University of Massachusetts are exploring the possibility of growing a much wider range of crops; a farm in South Deerfield has spent the last two years growing plants like kale, broccoli, and Swiss chard under rows of nine-foot-high solar panels. …

“Farmers also have another option: Grazing sheep or cattle on grass grown under solar panels. Sheep can take the place of lawnmowers, and as the grass sucks up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the farm can have a negative carbon footprint.”

More at Fast Company, here.

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Photo: Jason Margolis
Solar Holler founder Dan Conant, foreground, observes a solar roof installation in Lewisburg, West Virginia.

As warehouse and distribution jobs proliferate and meet a need for lower-skilled employment, I’m beginning to accept that companies like Amazon that destroy traditional industries have some redeeming social virtues. After all, times change.

Perhaps no American workers feel the changing times more deeply than do those in the coal industry. But displaced workers who are open to new opportunities seem to be emerging from the disruption OK.

Jason Margolis provided a coal-country report for Public Radio International’s excellent 50 States series.

“Tanner Lee Swiger graduated from high school in Wayne County, West Virginia this spring,” writes Margolis. “His father and grandfather both worked in West Virginia’s coal industry. But not Swiger, or any of his high school classmates.

“Nobody from his graduating class is working in coal, says Swiger. ‘[They’re] working in fast food or not working at all.’

“Not Swiger. He has a job installing rooftop solar panels. He says his family is delighted with it. …

“Swiger is working as an apprentice with Solar Holler, which was founded four years ago by 32-year-old Dan Conant. Conant doesn’t see solar energy and coal at odds with each other.

“ ‘The way I think about it, as a West Virginian, is that West Virginia has always been an energy state, and this is just the next step. It’s the next iteration,’ says Conant. …

“He left his job at the US Department of Energy to start Solar Holler, to try to help slow his state’s economic slide. By many metrics, West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the country. …

“ ‘We need to find new things,’ says Conant. ‘It’s not going to be the coal industry of the past.’ …

“Solar may be an energy of tomorrow, but … coal mining jobs in West Virginia typically pay more than twice the starting wages for solar. But those jobs are increasingly hard to find, and Solar Holler, and other solar installers, need workers now. …

“Solar Holler is partnering with a non-profit called the Coalfield Development Corporation. They own the building. Beyond solar jobs, Coalfield Development is teaching former coal workers skills like woodworking and farming.

‘Apprentices with Coalfield Development work 33 hours, spend six hours a week at a community college, and three hours engaged in ‘life-skills mentorship.’ Nearly 90 people have entered the program. ”

More at “50 States: America’s place in a shrinking world,” here, where you can listen to the story or read it.

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All Dutch electric trains are now powered by wind energy, the national railway company NS has said.

“Since 1 January, 100% of our trains are running on wind energy,” said NS spokesman, Ton Boon. …

“We in fact reached our goal a year earlier than planned,” said Boon, adding that an increase in the number of wind farms across the country and off the coast of the Netherlands had helped NS achieve its aim.

“[Dutch electricity company Eneco] and NS said on a joint website that around 600,000 passengers daily are ‘the first in the world’ to travel thanks to wind energy. NS operates about 5,500 train trips a day.

“One windmill running for an hour can power a train for 120 miles, the companies said. They hope to reduce the energy used per passenger by a further 35% by 2020 compared with 2005.” More at the Guardian, here.

Meanwhile in London, researchers are looking into solar-powered trains.

As Michael Holder said in BusinessGreen, part of the Guardian Environment Network, “Imperial College London has partnered with the climate change charity 10:10 to investigate the use of track-side solar panels to power trains. …

“The renewable traction power project will see university researchers look at connecting solar panels directly to the lines that provide power to trains, a move that would bypass the electricity grid in order to more efficiently manage power demand from trains.” More.

I wonder what sounds solar- and wind-powered trains make. Can we still say choo-choo-choo and whoo-oo-OO with our grandchildren? And who will update Thomas the Train?

Photo: Geography Photos/UIG via Getty Images
Intercity train arriving at Leiden Central railway station, Netherlands.

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As costs come down, solar and wind energy are being embraced in interesting places. Stereotypes about Texas and Big Oil will have to go.

Matthew Rozsa reports at Salon, “The notion that Texas might become a hub for renewable energy innovation isn’t that new. As Forbes noted earlier this month, Texas — which produces 37 percent of America’s crude oil and 28 percent of its natural gas — has more than 10,000 wind turbines, allowing it to produce more power from wind than the combined power produced by 25 other states from all energy sources.

“Similarly, The Wall Street Journal reported [in 2015] that Texas expects more than 10,000 megawatts of solar-generating capacity to be installed across the state by 2029, which is almost the size of all the operational solar farms in the United States today.”

Rozsa quotes Texans who were interviewed by Voice of America in October:

“ ‘A lot of wind companies have evolved to include solar and wind because solar has become so cheap. It is quite competitive with not only wind, but with fossil [fuel] generation,’ said Andy Bowman, chairman of Pioneer Green Energy.

“This point of view was echoed by Jennifer Ronk, a renewable energy expert at the Houston Advanced Research Center. ‘There is a lot of research being done, a lot of development being done,’ she argued. … ‘I think there is a mix of solutions that are going to be the optimal outcome.’ ”

I’m pretty sure that cost factors will ensure the continuation of renewable-energy research — if only at the state level.

Photo: Getty/Spencer Platt
Turbines at a wind farm in Colorado City, Texas, Jan. 21, 2016.

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Is it possible for a group of people to collaborate effectively enough to make their quaint English village carbon neutral?

Tatiana Schlossberg has an answer at the New York Times: “Ashton Hayes is different in an important way when it comes to one of the world’s most pressing issues: climate change. Hundreds of residents have banded together to cut greenhouse emissions — they use clotheslines instead of dryers, take fewer flights, install solar panels and glaze windows to better insulate their homes.

“The effort, reaching its 10th anniversary this year, has led to a 24 percent cut in emissions, according to surveys by a professor of environmental sustainability who lives here.

“But what makes Ashton Hayes unusual is its approach — the residents have done it themselves, without prodding from government. About 200 towns, cities and counties around the world — including Notteroy, Norway; Upper Saddle River, N.J.; and Changhua County, Taiwan — have reached out to learn how the villagers here did it.

“As climate science has become more accepted, and the effects of a warming planet are becoming increasingly clear, Ashton Hayes is a case study for the next phase of battling climate change: getting people to change their habits.

‘We just think everyone should try to clean up their patch,’ ” said Rosemary Dossett, a resident of the village. ‘And rather than going out and shouting about it, we just do it.’

Oh, ye-es! One and one and 50 make a million.

More here.

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Photo: Big Belly
Foot-pedal version of Big Belly for those who are squeamish about handles. (That would be me.)

Those Swedes! What will they think of next?

Are you familiar with the Big Belly solar-powered trash compactors sprouting up in public places? Well, in Uppsala, Sweden, the trash compactors have been taught to sing.

From a company post on Youtube: “Bigbelly International Partner, EWF, introduced an innovative and inspiring campaign to raise awareness of the Bigbelly Smart Waste & Recycling system in the metropolitan city of Uppsala, Sweden – home to one of the largest deployments in the world.

“The Uppsala ‘Waste Choir’ had their first performance during the Valborg celebrations on April 30th. Valborg is an annual holiday to welcome spring in Sweden. …

“The beautifully wrapped Bigbellys – each as a unique character and voice in the choir – stood together in front of 60,000+ visitors to the city and sang traditional Swedish songs in celebration of spring! …

“As noted in a press release regarding the campaign: ‘Citizens and visitors could for the first time listen to a garbage choir during the famous celebration of Walpurgis in the University City of Uppsala. The choir consists of 20 so called smart dust bins run by solar energy. Uppsala and Sweden are known for their many choirs.

“Maria Gardfjell (MP), chairman of the responsible municipal board had the honor of introducing the choir and informing the audience about other commitments to diminish littering.

“Fundamentally, it is an issue of changing attitudes and to encourage all of us to put our litter where it belongs, in a dust bin. … Since Uppsala introduced smart dust bins in 2013, the visible litter in the City Park and other main parks has decreased by 20 percent. The work environment for the sanitary workers has improved and the usage of plastic bags has decreased by 80 percent.”

Read the press release in full, here. And listen to the singing trash cans here:

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In environmental news, Lloyd Alter at Treehugger reports that an Irish county now requires new homes to meet the very high standard of energy efficiency called passive.

“In Ireland’s Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County, a near suburb of Dublin, it’s now the law. …

“The building codes there are pretty tight already. And it’s not completely a done deal; the national Minister of the Environment, of all people, may challenge it out of concern that it might raise the cost of housing. However the local Passive House Association says that it’s not necessarily true, and showed case studies demonstrating that in fact they could build passive houses ‘at or below conventional build costs.’

“Writing in Passive House Plus, Pat Barry of the Irish Green Building Council noted that really, it’s all about just trades having the skills and doing the job right. …

“As many as 20,000 houses could be built in the county, houses that cost almost nothing to heat, produce almost no CO2, and are comfy as can be day or night, sun or no sun.”

More here.

Photo: Kelvin Gillmor
Irish passive house built on a budget
. Hmmm. Does it burn wood?

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