The City of Houston recently announced an expansion in renewable energy. The city agreed to purchase an additional 20 megawatts of solar power. Today, we examine solar energy with Dr. Gavin Dillingham, program director for clean energy policy at the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), and Bill Swann, TXRX Labs.
"I think the last year gave us a pretty good insight into the next decade. There's going to be significantly more flooding, summers that last longer, more vector-borne diseases," said Gavin Dillingham.
"I don't think the world is going to shut off all major power plants everywhere and run everything on solar. That's not where we are going long-term. I think there is a mix of solutions that are going to the optimal outcome," said HARC's Jennifer Ronk.
A HARC analysis of federal wetland data for the Houston Chronicle shows how development is impacting wetlands and flood risk in the Houston region. Since 1996 over 54,000 acres of wetlands have been lost and since 2001, developed lands have increased by 25%.
HARC Vice President Lisa Gonzalez is featured on Houston Matters. The episode highlights her recent remarks at a Water, Water Everywhere Summer Salon Series panel hosted by the Center for Houston’s Future. She offers insights on the state of Houston’s water supply.
"If we let it go, we can end up with problems like we see in other parts of the city", said Lisa Gonzalez on cleanup plans for improving water quality in the watershed of San Jacinto River's west fork.
HARC researchers discuss changes to impervious coverage, loss of natural areas, and flooding. "You need to keep water in some of these systems and out of the bayou in the first place.” HARC’s Bill Bass
“The transmission project is a great opportunity for clean energy development and the modernization of the grid. However, to make even greater progress, we must focus on the demand-side through energy efficiency.” – HARC’s Gavin Dillingham
“It turned out when we superimposed a graphics based on the existing pipeline database over our findings, oh, we see these huge spikes right on top of the pipeline system,” said Jay Olaguer on the findings in three Houston communities.
"People have this idea that every time they turn on the faucet, water ought to come out of the tap, and they have an idea that that will happen the rest of their life," says Jim Lester, HARC's President and Chief Executive Officer.
"The little amount of downtime we’ve had, for this being a pilot project and how well it’s functioned, it’s been first-class all the way through.” said Rich Haut on the success on the completion of a unique gas-capture technology in the Bakken.
HARC's Carolyn LaFleur, Research Associate, Energy Production, speaks on working toward bringing two new projects to the Bakken. “We’re prepared to mobilize whenever they can work it out,” LaFleur said. “It’s a very nice synergy with the need to use flare gas, stranded gas, particularly in the Bakken where it’s such an issue.”
HARC's Jim Lester discusses the newly launched collaboration with HTC. “Our partnership with HTC North gives HARC a significant opportunity to advance real solutions to sustainability problems," said Jim Lester.
Researchers have handed out a report card on the health of Galveston bay, suggesting the water needs some improvement. The bay received a “C” rating. The Galveston bay foundation and the Houston Advanced Research Center says pollution is a big problem. Other areas evaluated included wildlife habitats and health risks to humans.
The oil-spill settlement will be utilized to restore underwater seagrass and to acquire acres of Clear Creek to serve as a buffer to help reduce the amount of pollution entering Galveston Bay. According the recent report card issued by Galveston Bay Foundation and HARC, action is needed to prevent more assault on the bay.
In its first Galveston Bay Report Card, HARC and the Galveston Bay Foundation gave the bay a “C” grade, indicating it is “adequate for now” but conditions will deteriorate without further action. “The overall grade of a C for Galveston Bay is not the end, but just the beginning,” HARC Vice President Lisa Gonzalez said in a news release.
HARC's Jim Lester and Erin Kinney discuss the release of the Galveston Bay Report Card. "It's not dire, it's not a lost cause, but if we want to keep this going in the right direction we need to take action," said Erin Kinney.
HARC's mobile air quality lab is part of a month long study to gather real-time data on air pollution in Manchester, which is one of Houston's oldest neighborhoods. "This is literally a CAT scan" of the air, Olaguer said. "It will lead to more transparency."
HARC's Jay Olaguer, program director of air quality science, said that the state’s stationary monitors are at a disadvantage because they can’t move around. “You’d have to be very lucky with a single stationary monitor to catch a plume,” Olaguer said.
“The use of this state-of-the-art gaming software and graphics application is intended to familiarize users with the best practices associated with hydraulic fracturing, as well as increase the public’s understanding of these operations,” Rich Haut said.
“When people dig into the matter a lot deeper than they have, they will find that oil and gas activities do have a significant impact on ozone attainment,” said Jay Olaguer on the impact of natural gas extraction in the Barnett Shale.
Three years ago this week, crews capped and sealed two pits of paper mill sludge that had long poisoned the San Jacinto River..."The cap has gone a long way to reduce short-term risk," states Jennifer Ronk.
“It's like death by a thousand cuts, especially when you combine the oil spills with all of the other stressors to the bay,” says Lisa Gonzalez on impact of the oil spill into Galveston Bay on March 22, 2014.
The heavy oil spilled into Galveston Bay causes concern for the nation's great natural nurseries. HARC's analysis reveals that oil spills are typically small, averaging about 100 gallons per incident. The latest spill is the largest in the Ship Channel since a facility leaked 70,000 gallons of bunker fuel in 2000.
A barge that spilled 168,000 gallons (635,000 liters) of oil Saturday into Galveston Bay is threatening a refuge that's crucial habitat for thousands of birds, experts say. National Georgraphic looks to HARC's Galveston Bay Oil Spill Environmental Overview Mapping Application for critical information on the spill.
"If you're not measuring, you're just guessing," says Alex Cuclis, a chemical engineer who worked at a refinery for 15 years and now studies air pollution at the independent Houston Advanced Research Center.
The Houston area produces about a quarter of the nation's gasoline, and about a third of the plastics that are in our cars, cupboards and just about everywhere else. So it is no surprise that this heavily industrial area has a problem with air pollution. But in the past decade, Houston's air has improved dramatically.
Despite the many advantages of storing water underground, water utilities typically don't understand that the technology is tested and ready to use, according to HARC President Jim Lester. "It just makes so much more sense" than surface reservoirs, he says.
Storing water in manmade reservoirs underground – a technology increasingly being explored in drought-conscious Texas – can avoid eminent domain issues and dam-safety concerns that complicate surface-reservoir plans, HARC president Jim Lester says.
Through another HARC and City of Houston partnership, a new sustainable transportation alternative is made available for Houston residents. HARC’s role was to secure funding and manage the implementation of the new bike sharing program.
The Houston Advanced Research Center continues to tackle important environmental issues outlined by its founder, George Mitchell, more than 30 years ago. HARC is looking to develop technologies that reduce the impact of oil and gas exploration, reduce emissions from diesel engines, and improve air quality in the Houston and Dallas regions.
Harris County Commissioners Court approved $1 million dollars in federal funding to CT scan the community's air. "This gives us opportunities to address environmental justice in a way we never have before," says Jay Olaguer, director of air quality research at the Houston Advanced Research Center.
Integral to the cadre of scientists and engineers concerned about undercounts is Alex Cuclis, an air pollution researcher with the Houston Advanced Research Center. He's also determined to broaden the use of advanced instruments to measure rather than estimate emissions.
Texas A&M’s partner in the EFD program, the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), is working to get an international cooperative agreement in place to promote all forms of low-impact drilling technology throughout South America.
David Hitchcock, member of The Woodlands GREEN and director of sustainable transportation programs at the Houston Advanced Research Center, was equally pleased. "We often have more to recycle than would fit in the smaller containers, as do several of our neighbors. Hitchcock added that the lids on the new carts will keep the contents from getting wet or from attracting wildlife.
Developed decades ago, hydraulic fracturing involves the process of breaking up heavy oil- and gas-bearing shale formations by pumping millions of gallons of chemically tainted water through vertical and lateral wells at intense pressure. Only in recent years has the practice become cost effective for industry, as advances in technology have been matched by rising energy prices.
The arrival of Hurricane Alex heralds another glaring reminder of Texas' susceptibility to widespread and prolonged power outages. Gone are the days when we safely assumed the lights would magically turn back on within a few hours after every storm.