Arizona Solar Summit group examines needs for solar cluster


December 15, 2011

Recently, the Supply Chain and Workforce Development group from Arizona Solar Summit visited three solar sites in Gila Bend, Ariz. Gila Bend is currently leading the way for solar development projects in Arizona.

The Supply Chain and Workforce Development group is one of four that formed after the Arizona Solar Summit, held at the University of Phoenix Stadium in August 2011. This group is dedicated to determining the supply chain and workforce needs of the overall solar industry in Arizona. The group consists of representatives from the solar industry, universities, and state and local governments and is led by Bud Annan of the Annan Group, and John Fowler and Glenn Hoetker, both professors in the W..P. Carey School of Business at ASU. Download Full Image

During the site visit, the group toured several different facilities: the Paloma Solar Plant, a 17-megawatt photovoltaic facility built by First Solar, and an 18-megawatt solar photovoltaic plant developed by the Solon Corporation, both owned by Arizona Public Service (APS). They also toured a 280-megawatt Solana Concentrated Solar Power Project from Abengoa.

“The purpose of the trip by the supply chain development group was to gain greater understanding of the planning, construction, and maintenance requirements involved in large renewable energy grid installations” said Bud Annan. “That understanding was enhanced not only by on site observations, but also by briefings from APS representatives, the project owners, and Gila Bend town officials. We learned that by focusing on the supply chain and workforce, we can build opportunities for Arizona businesses.”

Rick Buss, town manager of Gila Bend and member of the group, said, “As we all know Arizona is uniquely positioned to benefit the most in solar energy development. However, the mere fact that the sun is Arizona's greatest natural resource does not translate into an industry full of new jobs and prosperity. To fully realize the economic benefits of the solar industry, we must understand the makeup of the supply chain. By doing this, we will arrive at a comprehensive inventory, targeting the recruitment and retention of solar industry companies in Arizona.” 

The group used these solar site visits to identify actionable next steps directed toward developing the Arizona Solar Cluster. One key finding was that data attained during project construction and operation phases could play a vital role in developing actionable information for future innovation across the supply chain. Having a better understanding of the role of the supply chain in large cluster projects, the group will now turn its attentions toward implementing these next steps at the smaller level, focusing on defining the essential elements for a robust industry in Arizona, identifying core needs of players in the supply chain, and facilitating collaborations to meet those needs.

The 2011 Arizona Solar Summit brought together more than 120 people, from 70 different organizations, to advance the solar energy industry on a regional, state, and national scale. Unlike traditional conferences, the Summit was guided by audience participation, which led to more than 40 people volunteering to be a part of the working groups that came out of the Summit. Sponsors for the event were Arizona Cardinals, Salt River Project, and ASU LightWorks.  

Lauren Azar, special advisor to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy and keynote speaker at the last Summit, stressed, "Do not let this moment pass by Arizona."

The next Summit will take place, March 26-27. The conference will be hosted by the Program on Law and Sustainability and the Center for Law, Science, and Innovation at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in conjunction with ASU LightWorks, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, and ASU SkySong. The summit will report the progress of the four groups as well as put a spotlight on the critical legal and policy questions surrounding making Arizona the solar energy capitol of the nation.

For more information about the Summit or the working groups, visit solarsummit.wordpress.com.

Researchers assess effects of a world awash in nitrogen


December 15, 2011

Humans are having an effect on Earth’s ecosystems but it’s not just the depletion of resources and the warming of the planet we are causing. Now you can add an over-abundance of nitrogen as another “footprint” humans are leaving behind. The only question is how large of an impact will be felt.

In a Perspectives piece in the current issue of Science (Dec. 16, 2011), Arizona State University researcher James Elser outlines some recent findings on the increasing abundance of available nitrogen on Earth. In “A World Awash in Nitrogen,” Elser, a limnologist, comments on a new study showing that disruption to Earth’s nitrogen balance began at the dawn of the industrial era and was further amplified by the development of the Haber-Bosch process to produce nitrogen rich fertilizers. Download Full Image

Until that time nitrogen, an essential building block to life on Earth and a major but inert component of its atmosphere, had cycled at low but balanced levels over millennia. That balance ended around 1895.

“Humans have more than doubled the rate of nitrogen inputs into global ecosystems, relative to pre-industrial periods, and have changed the amounts of circulating phosphorus (like nitrogen, a key limiting ingredient for crops and other plants) by about 400 percent due to mining to produce fertilizers,” Elser said.

The result has been immediate and widespread, he added.

Commenting on a major new finding in Science by G.W. Holtgrieve and colleagues, Elser said that signs of the “new N” appeared in all regions of the Northern Hemisphere in a remarkably coherent manner beginning around 1895, in concert with when fossil fuel combustion and large scale biomass burning accelerated across the globe. Another significant increase came around 1970 coincident with massive increases in industrial nitrogen fixation for fertilizer production, just as the “Green Revolution” got started.

The effects of the high nitrogen inputs “were immediate, and no place in the Northern Hemisphere – not even the highest reaches of the Arctic – was safe,” Elser stated.

One effect from the increased nitrogen inputs can be seen in our inland water features like lakes, reservoirs and rivers.

“Nitrogen deposition to lakes leads to phytoplankton (at the base of food chain) with low content of the important nutrient phosphorus,” Elser said. “This is kind of like ‘junk food,’ for animals that eat the phytoplankton. Such effects are likely to ripple upward in the food chain.”    

“Overall, changes in nutrient regimes (due to human acceleration of the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles) cause various problems, but especially reduction in water quality, in water supplies and deterioration of coastal marine fisheries (‘dead zones’),” Elser added. “In the U.S., conservative estimates indicate that nutrient over-enrichment of inland waters results in about $2.7 billion of annual economic costs annually, due to negative impacts on recreational water usage, waterfront real estate values, the cost of recovery of threatened and endangered species and drinking water provisions.”

On a grander timeline the effects could be more telling of humans themselves, Elser said.

“Whether such signals are an ephemeral blip in the stratigraphic record or a sustained shift lasting millennia may, in due time, be seen as an indicator of humanity’s success, or failure, in achieving planetary sustainability,” he added.

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