Our Verdicts

Below, you’ll find a running list that summarizes our verdicts. Click on the titles to read the full posts.

Guest Post: Corn Ethanol

Clouds and cornGuest Verdict: After weighing the benefits and drawbacks of corn-based ethanol as a biofuel, it appears to be coming up a bit short. The strain that corn ethanol production places on our agricultural system compared to the relatively small impact it has on fossil fuel use is difficult to justify from an environmental standpoint. Corn-based ethanol may never be a fully sustainable biofuel, but our experience with it provides valuable guidance for developing advanced biofuels that can lead to a more sustainable solution.

Changing Perspectives on Climate Change

Chart1The Verdict: Some realities about GHG emissions are inescapable. A range of technologies and policies offers serious potential to reduce our overall emissions, and we need to consider them all. But we’ll only reap their full benefits if we can avoid entrenchment by recognizing that different vantage points offer varied yet valid insights into the complex challenge of addressing climate change. Taking care not to be limited by the narrowness of a single perspective will ensure we have a fighting chance at achieving meaningful change.

Secretary of Energy Chu’s Tenure

Image courtesy of: Sailom/freedigitalphotos.net.The Verdict: Secretary Chu oversaw a changing role for the Department of Energy. During his tenure, several key programs have had excellent results while others have floundered. The reality is that the outcomes of many long-term investments initiated on his watch will not be clear for several years, or even decades. He was responsible for unprecedented investment in clean energy, however, and shaped the Department’s image as the government’s best-funded effort to address climate change. Without DOE’s support over the past four years, clean energy in the US would certainly not be where it is today.

Concentrated Solar Power

Of the four types of CSP systems, the solar power tower is by far the most dramatic. Source: Solarpower.com.

The Verdict: The future of renewable energy will rely not on a single, “perfect” technology but rather on a set of proven, cost-effective systems that take advantage of the differences in regional resources. CSP is one such system. Its ability to generate large amounts of renewable electricity and the potential to do so long after dark bode well for the industry and for the planet.

Climate Engineering

IcebergThe Verdict: Climate engineering is an appealing concept that may be technically feasible. Folded into the promises of short-term benefits and time-buying crisis aversion, however, is a concerning set of profound and poorly understood risks. Climate change is an urgent challenge that requires us to think big and pursue our best ideas. While climate engineering is certainly a big idea, it risks more than it offers in an honest pursuit of a more sustainable future.

High-Speed Rail

Chinese High-Speed Train. Source: Treehugger.com.The Verdict: High-speed rail is not our answer for eliminating GHG emissions from the transportation sector. Done properly, however, it can significantly offset environmental impacts from passenger cars and air travel. Having a serious discussion about how best to develop high-speed rail is important, but proponents and opponents will both need to stick to the facts.

Organic Dry Cleaners

Source: classiccleaners.netThe Verdict: An entire world exists behind the drop-it-and-forget-it banner of revolving hangers. Cleaner, safer alternatives to perc are a reality – but the “green” or “organic” labels at many cleaners do little to ensure they’re really being used. Wet cleaning and the patented Green Earth Cleaning seem to be the best options for cleaning your clothes and avoiding cancer simultaneously. The only way to know what you’re getting is to ask what method a specific cleaners uses – the good news is that if your first stop isn’t satisfactory, there is sure to be a cleaners near by that is.

Photovoltaics

The International Space Station. Source: PBS-NOVAThe Verdict: PV is a promising technology that stands to play an increasingly prominent role as we move toward greater reliance on renewable energy. With prices coming down and efficiency improving every year, PV is becoming more attractive to homeowners, investors and utilities. This renewable energy option has been growing at breakneck speed and all signs point to even faster growth ahead. While it may never power the world, PV can certainly be a significant contributor to our energy future.

Clean Coal

ID-10043521The Verdict: The main technology relied on by clean coal, Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS), is plagued by risk and uncertainty, and only deals with a portion of the impacts that make current coal use dirty. Although the effectiveness of burying the emissions from coal combustion is still debatable, evidence of coal’s effects on water, air and human health is rock solid. Even if CCS were a proven technology, the concept of clean coal would remain a fantasy.

Clean Tech and the “Fiscal Cliff”

sequestration-breakdownThe Verdict: Going over the fiscal cliff would have severe impacts across the board. Just like our economy, the growth of many clean tech industries is fragile and a blow of this magnitude could leave them reeling for years (not to mention the delays in critical research and development). Failure to avoid the cliff is unnecessary and inexcusable – and, unfortunately, quite possible.

Hydropower – Large Dams

Hoover_Dam_AerialThe Verdict: Hydropower provides enormous amounts of electricity by taking advantage of a renewable resource. Although the environmental impacts of these facilities are significant, so is the potential for growth in ways that can avoid many of these issues. Where the damage has already been done, we can take advantage of opportunities to harness more energy. Where pristine rivers and aquatic ecosystems remain, we have the technology to consider alternatives to the concrete giants of our past.

Clean Tech and the 2012 Election Results

AWEA-wind-capacity-graphThe Verdict: In a number of ways, the President can have an impact on renewable energy and other “clean” technologies. The Production Tax Credit and DOE’s loan guarantee program in particular have played a central role in innovation and development in recent years. While some things can’t happen without Congress, both campaigns were clear about which direction their candidates would go on the initiatives the President does control. For clean tech, Tuesday’s outcome was a victory.

Hydraulic Fracturing (“Fracking”)

shale gas mapThe Verdict: Regardless of how you feel about natural gas as an energy source, hydraulic fracturing has serious risks, some of which have already been observed. Although the process may have the potential to provide access to otherwise unobtainable gas resources without compromising water quality, evidence suggests that we haven’t reached that point. Without more stringent regulations, it’s unclear whether the industry will even acknowledge shortcomings and move towards safer practices.

Wind Turbine BladesOverview of Wind Energy

The Verdict: Wind resources abound in the United States, and we have the means to harness a substantial amount cost-effectively. This technology is already being deployed on a large scale, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t play an even larger role in our energy profile going forward. As long as we take relevant concerns seriously, a commitment to aggressively pursue wind energy will prove to be a real winner.

Solar PV at angleOverview of Solar Energy

The Verdict: No single technology or energy source will be able to meet our energy needs in every circumstance. The range of solar technologies available, however, offers a number of ways to harness the sun, each with its own specific set of strengths and weaknesses. There is no silver bullet here, but by focusing on regional needs and resource availability, solar energy can play a prominent role in our energy future.

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