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[1THING] Blog: Archive for August, 2013

[ As Coal Plants Shut Down, Uniedigso Faces a Power Crunch ]

The U.K. is shuttering its coal plants to meet emissions standards, but an absence of short-term replacement power could lead to a disconnect.


[ Fukushima Leak’s ‘Level 3’ Rating: What It Means ]

A leak of radioactive water at the Fukushima nuclear plant has been officially classified as a ‘serious incident.’


[ Friday mystery photo ]

Yosemite Wilderness encompasses nearly 95 percent (704,624 acres) of Yosemite National Park.



[ Shedding Light in the Night: How Solar Energy and Mobile Charging Improves Quality of Life in India ]

In this installment of Digital Diversity, Gwen Kidera – Project Associate at S3IDF (Small Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development Fund) – explains how their non-profit organisation provides underserved communities with Integrated Energy Centre carts (IECs) equipped with reliable solar powered lamps and mobile charging stations. Access to light and mobile technology improves the quality of life in these communities by allowing them to continue working after dark.

Digital-DiversityDigital Diversity is a series of blog posts from kiwanja.net featuring the many ways mobile phones and other appropriate technologies are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives. This article was curated by Gabrielle LePore, our Media and Research Assistant. You can follow Gabrielle on Twitter at @GabrielleLePore and kiwanja.net at @kiwanja

By Gwen Kidera

Solar lights switch on in the tents of nomadic North Indian residents as the sun sets over the Thanisandra slum in Bangalore, India. Men pick up their tools to carve drums, which serve as the community’s primary source of livelihood, and women crouch to cook supper as the smell of firewood permeates the thick night air.

Wahida, a resident in the camp, returns from the community-owned cart with a rented and freshly charged solar lamp. She hangs it in the centre of her tent above the heads of her six children and her husband who busily works on the ornate drum on his lap. She relaxes because the light allows her husband to work into the night carving drums that are sold to earn additional income, and her children keep safe from pests that would otherwise creep into the poorly lit area. Reliable and safe lighting was a luxury beyond the reach of most residents before the community-owned and operated Integrated Energy Centre (IEC) arrived.



Wahida stands in front of the IEC cart that provides solar powered lanterns and mobile charging facilities to 30 of the 80 households in the Thanisandra slum in India. Access could extend to over 60 households in the coming months. (Photo by SELCO Solar Pvt. Ltd.)


In March 2013, SELCO Solar Pvt. Ltd. (SELCO India), an organisation whose mission is to improve the quality of life in underdeveloped communities through sustainable methods, worked with S3IDF to establish a waterproof and durable solar-powered IEC cart to provide lamps and mobile charging to 30 of approximately 80 households in Thanisandra. The nomadic community, which has been moving as a unit across the country for generations, can take the cart with them wherever they go, ensuring many years of reliable lighting. Once they pay off the initial capital costs of the cart, they can own it and lend the lamps to community members without cost.

Before the IEC, families spent a large portion of their earnings on black market kerosene which posed health hazards such as increased risk of burns and the release of unhealthy fumes. Now, families spend less than US$2.50 a month for up to eight hours of solar light each evening. In addition to the cart, SELCO India and S3IDF are exploring ways to connect the community’s drum production to viable markets, thereby increasing residents’ incomes.



A nomadic family sit in their tent and prepare dinner by the light of a rented solar lantern. (Photo by SELCO Solar Pvt. Ltd.)


The centre in Thanisandra is just one of 18 IECs under development across the state of Karnataka. Each centre is created based on a needs assessment and tailored to meet the community’s specific circumstances. Although the centres vary in services and business models, at heart they are all solar-powered community centres that provide the underserved with resources to which they otherwise would not have.

IECs are built within communities which are off the grid and lack access to electricity. They not only provide much needed energy but they also have the ability to supply useful products, such as solar lanterns, small appliances and tools, mobile charging, larger productive-use technologies – grain mixers and grinders – community TVs, cooling/heating systems, as well as resources for education, health, awareness and livelihood training.

IECs offer educational services including audio-visual aids to books, and computers to DVD players, and other basic literacy programs. The IECs can also improve public health by providing solar charging points for ultrasound devices, vaccine boxes and refrigeration for medicines. Other resources include ticket booking and printing, Internet services for obtaining identity cards and sending bill payments, and access to agricultural and trade-related information. As if that weren’t enough, IECS also offer community members the opportunity to enroll in vocational training programs, including classes on computers, sewing and fruit drying.

The people who benefit from the IECs run them, and they are designed to be operationally sustainable with revenue generated by the IECs covering all maintenance and operating costs.


The community’s primary form of livelihood for generations is the production of intricately carved drums. All of the men are skilled in playing multiple instrument, which is an important marketing tool. (Photo by )

The community’s primary form of livelihood for generations is the production of intricately carved drums. All of the men are skilled in playing multiple instruments, which is an important marketing tool. (Photo by SELCO Solar Pvt. Ltd.)


The implementation of the IEC cart in Thanisandra improved the quality of life of the entire community. “Now we can easily make 20-30 more drums after dark, and I can even finish my quilting without letting my housework suffer”, Wahida explains. “It feels different since it’s the first time we have had the luxury to work like this.”

Wahida is hopeful for her future and that of her family and community. She would like to see an increase in demand for their drums, which could become a reality with SELCO India and S3IDF’s help.

When asked how the solar lights have changed her circumstances, she smiled and proudly stated, “With the light, even our tent starts looking like a palace, it makes us feel like our dreams can come true.”

gwen kideraGwen began exploring the field of social entrepreneurship in 2009 while in South Africa on a field study program through the Social Enterprise Institute at Northeastern University. She assisted in giving business development support to local entrepreneurs from the townships around Cape Town over the course of two trips. She went on to study microfinance in Belize and work with a group of students to determine the effectiveness of a microfinance institute’s training programs and causes of default among Haitian borrowers in the Dominican Republic. She spent a summer working for the Clinton Health Access Initiative, and in 2011 worked in Meru, Kenya for the Miriam Kanana Mubichi Foundation where she taught health and art classes, advised a women’s textile company, researched malnutrition at the local hospital, and arranged school feeding programs.

In 2013, Gwen became a Project Associate at the S3IDF, a nonprofit organisation based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Members of the organisation work to reduce poverty in developing countries by supporting small scale enterprises that meet basic infrastructure needs and providing opportunities for economic advancement. She is an avid traveler and enjoys documenting her trips and getting to know the local culture through photography and blogging.

This post originally appeared at Newswatch. Digital Diversity is produced by Ken Banks, innovator, mentor, anthropologist, National Geographic Emerging Explorer and Founder of kiwanja.net, FrontlineSMS and Means of Exchange. He shares exciting stories in Digital Diversity about how mobile phones and appropriate technologies are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives. You can follow him on Twitter @kiwanja


[ What we hope will be gained by Sec. Jewell’s visit to Alaska’s threatened lands ]

In Alaska, Jewell will visit with Native leaders, conservation groups. She’ll take trips to several of Alaska’s wild and threatened places. This includes an overnight camping trip in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an area we’re fighting to protect.



[ Battles Escalate Over Community Efforts to Ban Fracking ]

Many towns are at the forefront of controversy over fracking, touching off court battles with bans and moratoriums that sometimes conflict with state policy.


[ 100% Renewable Energy for Standard Power of America ]

Standard Power of America (SPA) has committed to purchasing enough renewable energy certificates (RECs) to account for all of the electricity it sells to its customers. SPA is partnering with Colorado-based Renewable Choice Energy to achieve its goal and has purchased twelve million kWh of RECs since April, 2013. SPA, an energy consulting company, offers its clients various green power products and services including RECs, carbon offsets, solar energy, and geothermal heating and cooling.


[ Fracking Waste Wells Linked to Ohio Earthquakes ]

Was lack of government regulation at fault?

It’s a common complaint these days: government regulations have gotten out of hand (see here and here), they’re stifling the American economy, “killing economic growth.” Generalities like those are hard to refute, or prove for that matter. So let’s take a look at specific regulations which were designed to protect the public from injection wells used to dispose of fracking wastes … but because they weren’t comprehensive, when it came to earthquakes, they were no better than, well, no regulation.

Youngstown Earthquakes

In 2011, from March to November, nine small earthquakes were reported in and around Youngstown, Ohio. That’s more than one earthquake per month. All were of 2.7 magnitude (Mw) or less. Given that prior to 2011, no earthquakes centered in the area had been recorded, something unusual seemed to be going on. Some speculated that maybe the proximity of the quakes to a deep injection well — a Class II well used to dispose of fracking waste water [pdf] (there are 144,000 [pdf] Class II wells in the United States) — might be the culprit. After all, all nine quakes had occurred within a one-mile radius of the well [pdf] and injection wells in Texas and Arkansas had been linked to similar bouts of seismicity. (There’s also that USGS study from last year that reported a significant uptick in the number of minor earthquakes in the United States in recent years.)

Only after a tenth event occurred in the area, on December 24, did the state take action. Less than a week after that magnitude 2.7 quake, Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources requested that injections cease at Northstar 1, the only operational disposal well in the area [pdf]. Within 24 hours of the shutdown, a 3.9 quake hit. (See related story: “Scientists Say Oil Industry Likely Caused Largest Oklahoma Earthquake.”)

With only one other quake larger than magnitude 2 occurring since Northstar 1’s shutdown — a magnitude 2.1 on January 13, 2012 — seismically, Youngstown has been as quiet as a dormouse since. Nevertheless, there were cautionary statements against jumping to conclusions before all the evidence was in.

“There has been no conclusive link established between our well and the earthquakes. Proximity alone does not prove causation. Making assumptions and judgments before all the necessary data is collected and reviewed is simply irresponsible and unfair.” —From D&L Energy, injection well operator

And James Zehringer, the director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, stated that

“our research doesn’t point to a clear and direct correlation to drilling at this site and seismic activity.”

Fair enough.

New Peer-Reviewed Paper Offers Evidence of Link

A paper by Won-Young Kim of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory appearing last month in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth has now provided that link in the form of a detailed seismicity study of the area. The results are pretty conclusive. (See related post: “Tracing Links Between Fracking and Earthquakes.”)

  • While a total of only 12 earthquakes were large enough to be recorded in real time between March 2011 and January 2013, Kim’s detailed analysis uncovered a total of 109 quakes (magnitude 0.4-3.9). Keep in mind that Youngstown is a location, Kim points out, “where there were no known earthquakes in the past.”
  • The period of earthquake activity tracked the operational life of the Northstar 1 well (the only one of five disposal wells drilled in the area that came online during this period). The quake activity:
    • Began 13 days after the start of injection of fracking wastes,
    • Dropped off when disposal activity lessened (e.g., during holidays), and
    • Decreased in strength before ceasing altogether about a month after the well operations ceased.

And, perhaps most important, the seismic activity beneath Northstar 1 can be tied to the existence of a previously unknown fault line. While being close to a fault isn’t the only condition that must be met for earthquakes to occur, it is the most important [pdf]. (See related story: “Fracking Wastewater Disposal Linked to Remotely Triggered Quakes.”)

So How Did This Happen?

For the most part this is a case, as best as I can tell, of “no harm, no foul.” All those tremors and shakes were no doubt alarming for the folks in and around Youngstown, but it appears that any resulting damage was minor, and there were no injuries let alone fatalities. We can all be thankful for that.

Still, the possibility exists that this could have been worse.

The good news is that, in the words of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources [pdf], “Future earthquakes [like the ones at Youngstown] can be avoided.”

So why weren’t they avoided in Youngstown then? Apparently because no one realized that a fault line ran beneath the site of the Northstar 1 injection well. Ironically, the data needed to make that determination was already available, collected by Battelle Memorial Institute during drilling of the well as part of a “piggyback” program [pdf] to map Ohio’s subsurface geology in areas where little data exists. However, because of a shortfall of funds, the data were never analyzed (until the quakes began). And, because providing the data was not required by either Ohio or federal regulations, the data were not provided to either Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources or the Environmental Protection Agency.

As NRDC’s Briana Mordick explains in this blog post, because of Northstar 1’s Class II status as an injection well, the EPA does not require its owners to include seismic activity in their selection of a site for those wells. States, however, may promulgate stricter regulations that do if they chose to. Suffice it to say, Ohio was not such a state.

Had Ohio required the sharing of such geophysical data collected during well development, the regulators might have nixed the well before any of this started, and sited it elsewhere. Taking a step to correct this oversight, Ohio changed its permitting process [pdf] for Class II deep injection wells with the aim of avoiding future problems with induced seismicity. As currently written, though, the changes have led to questions about whether the new rules are strong enough to make a difference. And of course whether they’re new and improved or just new, they pertain to Ohio and not the nation.

And that, my friends, is why we need government oversight and regulation where public welfare is at stake — to make sure that companies check off all the boxes, even the seismic ones.

Update 9/5/2013:
Headline was changed to make clear that deep injection wells used to dispose of fracking fluids — not fracking — have been linked to the earthquakes.


[ Renewable Energy Provided Nearly 50% of 2012 U.S. Added Capacity ]

Renewable energy sources in the U.S. accounted for nearly 50% of U.S. capacity added in 2012, according to a new report. Wind deployment added a record 13,124 megawatts (MW) of capacity, and solar added 3,313 MW of capacity, according to the latest edition of the Ernst & Young report on U.S. renewable energy attractiveness indices. The report highlights trends in U.S. renewable investment and ranks the states in terms of their attractiveness for clean technology investment. The indices…


[ Field notes from Montana’s Continental Divide Trail: A walk through history ]

For the past couple of months, we’ve brought you updates from Montana, where Wilderness Society interns Lily Clarke and Greta Hoffman are conducting collaborative research with the University of Montana on the effects of fire and restoration on forest ecosystems for ecologist Travis