The main barrier holding back the building of waste-to-energy (WTE) plants in the United States is a misunderstanding of facts among the general population. Mention burning garbage to generate energy and the reaction is usually negative because people envision stinking, billowing black smoke and ash falling on their heads – unenlightened heads. They are thinking of old fashioned, dirty incineration where burning only serves to reduce mass with no energy harvest.
Incineration has come a long way. Today, municipal waste combustion units (MWC) are in compliance with the Clean Air Act for Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT). A United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) memorandum issued in 2007 actually called MWC-MACT performance “outstanding.”
Disposal of waste by burning dates back to man’s first use of fire, but it was not until 1975 that burning solid waste to generate energy became commercially viable in the United States. That’s when the first commercial plant opened. It still operates in Saugus, Massachusetts.
Over the intervening 35 years, the industry has advanced its technology considerably and developed pollution controls that make it one of the cleanest forms of energy generation. We asked Paul Gilman, chief sustainability officer at Covanta Energy about pollution: “We produce electricity with fewer emissions than coal and oil, and most of our plants emit less than natural gas facilities. In some plants we tie natural gas.” ...read more
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Solar saves water supplies and wallets
There is a serious global shortage of potable water. Not just in equatorial countries where populations are rising, but in the arid southwestern United States. Even in rain-rich areas, water tables are dropping due to increased consumption, and what remains is being contaminated by salts from water conditioning, chemicals from fertilizers, industrial effluences and landfills.
Of a world population of roughly 6.1 billion, the World Health Organization estimates that more than one billion people lack access to potable water – five million die each year from diseases caused by water shortages, poor drinking water, inadequate sanitation and dirty living conditions.
“Water is going to become more and more of a crisis in the United States, partially because water infrastructure is degrading quickly. Water treatment facilities and pipes are badly neglected, and it’s only going to get worse in my lifetime. Businesses and technologies that address this problem are only going to do well in the next 25 years,” said Tom Rooney, CEO of SPG Solar. SPG is a solar integration company that has built over 1,500 solar systems in 8 western states, many serving water supply and wastewater interests.
Solar energy and recycling are both green industries, but are growing more compatible and synergistic with each passing year. The many vexing problems of water conservation, treatment, purification, desalination and pumping are finding new and intriguing solar powered solutions.
SPG, for example, accidentally discovered an unexpected water conservation benefit of a solar electric installation in California that is drawing delegations from as far away as Australia and Israel to study the phenomena. It’s called “floatovoltaics.” ...read more