Hydrogen-powered short-distance passenger flights could soon be coming to California — paving the way to a future of clean-energy air travel.
Seattle-based aviation company ZeroAvia is set to start air tests of the Dornier 228, a 19-seat passenger plane the company has converted to run on a hydrogen-fueled powertrain, according to car-and-truck trade journal AutoEvolution.
Last year, ZeroAvia proved the propulsion system — which it calls HyperTruck — could work on the ground when the company used the technology to propel a 15-ton military truck.
ZeroAvia hopes to reach a 500-mile range for its regional aircraft, according to Bloomberg. But the company has bigger plans if it manages to get Federal Aviation Administration approval: A 40-80 seat hydrogen-powered airliner by 2026, according to AutoEvolution.
Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.
Today we’ll look at California’s new push to develop an offshore wind industry. Then we’ll explore a practical set of steps that the federal government could take to address carbon pollution from mining cryptocurrencies.
California unveils ambitious offshore wind targets
California’s energy regulator has unveiled an ambitious set of offshore wind targets as part of a broader statewide push to make electricity 100 percent renewable by 2045.
If all goes to plan: Approximately 3 gigawatts of offshore wind should be powering the state’s grid by 2030 — enough to power about 3 million average homes in the state, the California Energy Commission determined.
That’s just the beginning: An additional 7-12 gigawatts should be available by 2045, which would boost the state’s total offshore wind capacity to about 10-15 gigawatts, according to a draft report published on Friday.
The report also acknowledged:
- California has upwards of21.8 gigawatts of technically feasible offshore wind capacity
- There may be sufficient technological developments to boost production to
20 gigawatts between 2045-50.
Moving toward a renewable California: Local and national environment groups applauded the targets as critical to securing a California completely powered by renewable energy sources.
“The powerful winds off the Pacific coast are one of California’s largest untapped sources of renewable energy,” Laura Deehan, state director of Environment California Research & Policy Center, said in a statement.
The announcement of these targets, she continued, means “that now we are really sailing towards a brighter, 100-percent renewable future.”
Where would the wind energy come from? The initial 3 gigawatts planned for 2030 would likely come from one of two places, the report found.
- The first option is a full build-out of the Morro Bay Wind Energy Area — a
399-square mile zone off California’s central coast, identified last year by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).
- The second option is a combination of a partial build-out of Morro Bay and the Humboldt Wind Energy Area, located off the North Coast, according to the report.
California’s North Coast is considered the region between San Francisco and the Oregon border.
North is windier, Center is more strategic: While the North Coast’s wind resources are among “the best in the world with high renewable energy potential,” that area is isolated from the state’s grid and would require new transmission infrastructure, the report authors noted.
Transmission along the Central Coast, meanwhile, is already robust and located near large electric load centers, according to the report. The Central Coast also provides opportunities to repurpose aging infrastructure, such as the 2.2-gigawatt Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, the authors added.
MEETING BIDEN’S WIND GOALS
In March 2021, President Biden announced a goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity nationwide by 2030, while creating a pathway toward 110 gigawatts by 2050, the authors noted.
Two months later, the administration reached an agreement with California to advance specific wind energy development projects off the state’s northern and central coasts, as The Hill reported.
At the time, the Interior Department said that initial areas of development could bring up to 4.6 gigawatts of energy to the grid and that the federal government aimed to begin selling wind energy leases in mid-2022. In California, the Energy Commission claims that 1 gigawatt can power about a million homes.
Harnessing the winds out West: So far, BOEM has conducted competitive lease sales solely on the East Coast, while the agency has designated three areas off the coast of California for possible wind energy projects, according to the report:
- Humboldt on the North Coast
- Morro Bay and Diablo Canyon off the Central Coast
Market urgency: Prior to the publication of the draft report on Friday, a coalition of environmental groups — called Offshore Wind Now — sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) stressing the urgency of advancing the offshore wind sector.
By setting an ambitious goal, they argued, the state will “send a strong signal to the market and to the federal government that California needs and is preparing for offshore wind.”
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Green groups urge more regulation of Bitcoin miners
Bitcoin is one of the few elements of the digital economy that isn’t becoming more efficient or dropping its carbon footprint, according to a coalition of environmental groups.
But the Environmental Working Group, Greenpeace and Earthjustice are pressing the Biden administration to change that by bringing cryptocurrency mining under the same sorts of regulatory controls that have been proposed for the automotive and electric industries.
What they want: For federal agencies to use existing powers to subject producers of Bitcoin to “stringent environmental review.”
This would mean setting national energy efficiency standards for digital currencies and taking other steps to keep Bitcoin mining from propping up polluting industries or driving up electricity or critical mineral prices.
Specific calls to action from federal agencies: In a letter responding to the Biden administration’s call for information on the carbon footprint of Bitcoin, the environmental organizations are demanding several actions:
- The Environmental Protection Agency must hold Bitcoin miners to strict air, water and noise pollution requirements.
- The Office of Management of the Budget must create a national registry of industrial-scale proof-of-work mining operations — similar to a step recently required by the state of Texas’s energy regulator, according to Bloomberg.
- The Department of Energy must set energy efficiency standards for Bitcoin mining that would strengthen over time — and prevent miners from migrating to areas of low-cost or subsidized public power and driving up prices.
- Financial regulators at the Securities Exchange Commission and Federal Trade Commission must require Bitcoin miners to disclose their carbon footprint and where their energy comes from.
What’s the matter with Bitcoin? Unlike producers of most other cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin miners must use a deliberately inefficient, high-energy protocol called “proof of work” to create new “tokens,” or units of currency, according to Bitcoin trading site Coinbase.
Under this system, banks of computers must solve complex math problems that grow ever-more-difficult as the number of Bitcoins in circulation rise — an enormous use of electricity that is largely powered through fossil fuel energy, according to a January report from the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
JOINING A GROWING CLAMOR FOR REGULATION
Because of its use of the proof-of-work standard — as opposed to the far less energy-intensive “proof of stake” — a single Bitcoin transaction adds about 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, or about the same as a flight from New York to Denver, the committee report found.
The 2020 global footprint of mining Bitcoin and Ethereum — another cryptocurrency that is still using proof-of-work despite an announced intent to change — was equivalent to the tailpipe emissions from 15 million cars, the committee found.
Ten thousand credit card swipes: A single Bitcoin transaction may use as much electricity as 10,000 Visa credit card transactions, according to Statista.
Similar concerns have caused the New York state legislature to consider a bill that would ban all new proof-of-work facilities in the state for two years, CNBC reported.
That bill is through the State Assembly and now with the New York State Senate.
Miners cry foul: If that passes and Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signs it, “New York will be left behind, losing to other states at best, and at worst, other more progressive nations,” Amanda Fabiano of Bitcoin-mining company Galaxy Digital told CNBC.
“New York is setting a bad precedent that other states could follow,” Fabiano added.
But how many jobs are at stake? Not many. That’s because most operations are basically server farms staffed by a handful of techs, as Colin Read, the former mayor of mining-hub Plattsburgh, N.Y., told the MIT Technology Review last month.
“I’m pro–economic development,” Read said. “But the biggest mine operation has fewer jobs than a new McDonald’s.”
CLIMATE CENTER STAGE IN WEST VIRGINIA PRIMARY
Tuesday’s House GOP primary for West Virginia’s 2nd District features a face-off between Trump-backed Rep. Alex Mooney and Conservative Climate Caucus member Rep. David McKinley.
McKinley has taken a more moderate position on energy compared to other Republicans — pushing for potential clean-energy and climate solutions like hydrogen and carbon capture.
Mooney takes a more traditional view on fossil fuels and energy, and has attacked McKinley for voting for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which contained billions in climate, environment and clean energy spending, according to the White House.
West Virginians go to the polls Tuesday, making McKinley the first of several Conservative Climate Caucus members to face tough primaries — an issue that will help determine what Republican politics around energy and sustainability politics will look like in the next Congress.
A city-sized new lake in Antarctica, global shipping threatens the world’s largest fish and wealthy Americans seek refuge in “golden visas.”
Newly identified lake could hold secret to Antarctic ice sheet: study
- Scientists have discovered a city-size lake underneath the world’s largest ice sheet in East Antarctica that could help answer questions about what Antarctica was like before it froze and how climate change impacted its history, the researchers stated.
Shipping industry may threaten endangered whale shark, biologists find
Rich Americans are eyeing the lifeboats
- The wealthiest Americans are buying up ever-more “golden passports” to foreign countries like Portugal — price tag: $200,000 — in an attempt to insulate themselves from risks like climate change, Yahoo reported.
Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you tomorrow.