Sunny Nevada is killing the solar industry in the state with new net-metering rules

Promo image Solarcity

To drive out solar power companies out of sunny Nevada, you have to do something pretty bad. This is exactly what happened while most of us weren’t paying attention, enjoying the holidays (or stressing out, depending…). The Nevada Public Utility Commission (PUC) changed its rules surrounding net metering and increased fees charged to the owners of solar systems (who said the sun was free?):

"The base service charge is rising from $12.75 to $17.90 per month [a 40% increase] for southern Nevada solar customers and from $15.25 to $21.09 [a 38.2% increase] for northern Nevada customers. The changes also reduce the amount the utility pays to buy power back from rooftop solar panels, from 11 cents a kilowatt hour to 9 cents [an 18.2% decrease] in southern Nevada and from 12 cents to 10.5 cents [a 12.5% decrease] in the north. The service charge will rise and the reimbursement will drop every year until 2020." (source)

This might not seem like much until you do the math and realize that these changes would negate the savings on many solar customers’ utility bills. For example, if you are thinking about getting a solar system that would save you $40/month, you might not go solar if the new rules reduce net-metering returns and increase fees by more than $40/month. Some people might still do it just to have clean power, but a lot of people just won’t…

Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

This is a big enough deal for solar installers that SolarCity has already said that it would halt operations in Nevada because of it, and Vivint Solar, another large solar installer, is considering doing the same.

"This is a very difficult decision, but Gov. Sandoval and his PUC leave us no choice," Lyndon Rive, SolarCity’s chief executive, said in a statement. "The people of Nevada have consistently chosen solar, but yesterday their state government decided to end customer choice, damage the state’s economy and jeopardize thousands of jobs." (SolarCity says that it has created 2,000 jobs in the state since 2013.)

The accusation is that this new plan is designed to protect the existing power utility from the new solar entrants, which are growing rapidly and threaten profits.

Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

There is some hope, though. The regulators are meeting on Thursday this week to consider pausing the rate hike, which was supposed to take effect on January 1st, 2016.

Several entities requested the rates be postponed, including the Bureau of Consumer Protection within the Nevada Attorney General’s Office. Consumer advocate Eric Witkoski said existing customers weren’t properly warned that they would be subject to the new rates, instead of being "grandfathered" in to the more favorable ones.

He also raised concerns that the rate change could run afoul of the contracts clause in the U.S. Constitution, because the changes are dramatic enough that they could disrupt private contracts homeowners have with rooftop solar companies. (source)

Ideally, these changes would be scrapped and a more solar-friendly strategy would be devise in a more transparent way. Someday incentives for solar power will have to be removed, but this is too soon, and this isn’t the way to do it. The social and environmental benefits of our civilization transitioning to clean energy should be taken into account when taking these types of decisions. We can’t just change things around looking at short term impacts, especially after we spend decades giving direct and indirect help to the fossil fuel industry.

Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

Via LA Times, Las Vegas Sun

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From Halliburton to Walmart, these big corporations will make money off of climate change

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Climate change will have some pretty terrifying consequences. Experts have predicted everything from deadly heatwaves and devastating floods to falling crop production and even increased political instability and violence. But according to some of the world’s biggest companies, these future disasters could also present lucrative business opportunities.

In a remarkable series of documents submitted to a London-based nonprofit called CDP, big-name corporations describe global warming as a chance to sell more weapons systems to the military, more air conditioners to sweltering civilians, and more medications to people afflicted by tropical diseases. CDP, which stands for “Carbon Disclosure Project,” asks companies all over the world to disclose information about their greenhouse gas emissions and how the changing climate will impact their operations. Each year, thousands of companies send in responses. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most striking — and, in some cases, disturbing — scenarios laid out by those businesses.

It’s important to keep in mind that these companies aren’t rooting for catastrophic warming. In the same documents, they outline huge risks that climate change poses to humanity — and to their profits. Many of them have also taken significant steps to reduce their own carbon footprints. Still, the fact that corporations have spent so much time thinking about the business opportunities that could emerge as the world warms underscores just how colossal an effect climate change is going to have on our lives.

Defense and border surveillance

Checkpoint at Damascus’ edge.
Elizabeth Arrott / VOA News

Republicans have recently mocked President Barack Obama and Sen. Bernie Sanders for saying climate change poses a national security threat. But Democratic politicians aren’t the only ones making this connection. In 2014, the CNA Military Advisory Board, a group of retired U.S. generals and admirals, warned that the impacts of global warming “will serve as catalysts for instability and conflict.” Saab, a Swedish defense firm (and former parent company of the struggling automaker), agrees. In its CDP submission, the company cites the CNA report and adds that climate change could “induce changes in natural resources e.g. water, oil etc., which may result in conflicts within already unstable countries” as well as illegal deforestation, fishing, and drug smuggling. Saab sees these dangers as a business opportunity that will result in an “increased market for civil and military security solutions.” As an example, the company points to its Erieye Radar System, which “works in a dense hostile electronic warfare environment” and is “capable of identifying friends or foes.”

Raytheon, the Massachusetts-based defense contractor, warned in a 2012 CDP document that climate change might “cause humanitarian disasters, contribute to political violence, and undermine weak governments.” The company wrote that it expects to see “demand for its military products and services as security concerns may arise as results of droughts, floods, and storm events occur as a result of climate change.” Connecticut-based United Technologies Corporation cites arguments that a devastating drought contributed to instability in Syria. The company notes that helicopters made by its Sikorsky business (which has since been sold to Lockheed Martin) were “deployed during population dislocations and humanitarian crises,” and that last year it provided support to the U.S. military’s efforts to “mitigate population dislocations in Syria.” Cobham, a British corporation that manufacturers surveillance systems, stated in a 2013 CDP document that “changes to countries [sic] resources and habitability could increase the need for border surveillance due to population migration.”

Security from “social unrest”

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Shutterstock

Private security firms also see opportunities in climate change. G4S, a London-based corporation that operates around the globe, told CDP that extreme weather is a potential source of business. The company deployed hundreds of security officers to protect its clients following Hurricane Katrina, and it sent officers throughout the Northeast following Superstorm Sandy. G4S also sees financial opportunities in responding to humanitarian disasters such as droughts and famines in the developing world. The company currently provides security for refugee camps in Kenya that are home to hundreds of thousands of people, including many who have fled conflict and drought. G4S says the United Nations “has projected that we [the planet] will have 50 million environmental refugees.” (The United Nations appears to have backed off that particular prediction; according to its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “there are no robust global estimates of future displacement.”)

Securitas, a Stockholm-based firm that owns the fabled Pinkerton agency, also provided security in the aftermath of Katrina. That company says extreme weather linked to climate change will increase demand for its services “when properties … need to be protected from looting, burglary and social unrest.”

Monitoring, responding to, and rebuilding from extreme weather

Gina Jacobs / Shutterstock

According to Raytheon, the possible impacts of climate change — including hurricanes, tornadoes, severe storms, and rising seas — could present opportunities to sell the company’s “weather satellites services, radar and sensing technologies, disaster response, homeland security, and emergency response communications, as well as alternative energy technologies.” Cobham anticipates opportunities to supply cameras to monitor flash floods, “large antennas” for extreme weather conditions, and emergency communications systems for “areas where severe storms have destroyed communications infrastructure.” 3M, the Minnesota-based manufacturing company, says it sells a number of products that can be used to protect buildings during extreme weather and to rebuild after a storm.

Shipping lanes and travel

Shutterstock

One of the most striking climate developments in recent years has been the opening of Arctic shipping lanes that were once obstructed by sea ice year-round. Hanjin, a major South Korean shipping company, acknowledged in a 2014 CDP document that a new polar route would be a “tragic consequence” of climate change. But, the company added, Arctic melting would also have environmental and financial benefits: It would allow the shipping industry to “drastically reduce CO2 emissions and cut transit time by 1/3.”

Global warming could have some benefits for companies that specialize in transporting tourists, as well. According to Carnival, “change in mean temperatures could open up new routes and ports” for its cruise ships, while “change in precipitation [might] make some ports more attractive.”

Drilling for more oil

The Polar Pioneer, the rig that Shell leased for Arctic exploration.
Reuters / Jason Redmond

Energy companies have long viewed melting Arctic ice as an opportunity to extract once-inaccessible oil and gas. That hasn’t worked out well so far. In September, Royal Dutch Shell announced that it was ending its costly Arctic exploration project. But Chevron is still optimistic. “Should the current trend in global warming be sustained, both access to and the economics of Chevron’s offshore oil and gas production in the arctic could potentially improve,” states the California-based oil company in its CPD disclosure. “The greatest effects will be associated with an extension to the summer operating period which will tend initially to favor access to and the cost of exploration operations in many arctic basins.”

Protection from deadly heatwaves

A man pours water over himself while washing a horse to cool it down to ease the effect of a heatwave in Lebanon.
Reuters / Mohamed Azakir

In a report last year, a panel co-chaired by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson warned of risks posed by hotter temperatures:

By the middle of this century, the average American will likely see 27 to 50 days over 95 degrees F each year — two to more than three times the average annual number of 95 degrees F days we’ve seen over the past 30 years. By the end of this century, this number will likely reach 45 to 96 days over 95 degrees F each year on average.

That’s an opportunity for United Technologies, which — in addition to its defense products — makes air conditioning, refrigeration, and energy efficiency systems. “Annually, extreme heat events kill more Americans than any other environmentally related events, and an increase in extreme heart [sic] events as a result of climate change is forecast for many parts of the world,” the company states. “UTC believes changes in temperature extremes will result in a need for more energy efficient building and other infrastructure, especially chillers and cooling units … We anticipate this demand to be global, with strong increases in tropical and some temperate zones.” According to UTC, “air conditioner sales have increased more than 20 percent per decade in the developing world 1990 – 2010 in response to increasing temperatures and increasing wealth.” UTC believes these trends could lead to $5 billion in new demand over the next two decades. Halliburton sees related opportunities. The oilfield services company states that it could see increased revenue from the additional energy resources needed for “increase[d] cooling and/or heating.”

Combating crop failure and hunger

Dave Kosling / USDA

Experts have warned that rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns could reduce crop yields in vulnerable parts of the world, making it difficult to feed a growing population. Biotech companies are racing to develop products that will address this problem. Monsanto, for example, says its products could help farmers “meet increased food needs as available natural resources become more limited.” Bayer notes that its crop sciences division is using “chemical and modern plant breeding approaches” to address the agricultural damage expected to be caused by “an increased occurrence of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, heat, cold and storms.”

On the consumer side, the Campbell Soup Company identifies “increasing humanitarian demands” related to climate as a significant opportunity — one that will allow the company to “leverage its key assets to provide relief for such demands.” In addition to directly donating money and food to humanitarian causes, Campbell highlights a current program in which one of its brands donates one smoothie to a needy child for every four smoothies that it sells. According to the company, these types of promotions “can result in millions of dollars for the company.”

Fighting climate-related diseases

Mosquito nets are distributed in the Congo.
julien_harneis

Climate change poses a number of serious public health risks, and the pharmaceutical industry has certainly noticed. Walmart, for instance, believes that it could experience growing demand for prescription medications due to “increases in pollen exposure or climate-change induced medical conditions.” (The retail giant is careful to note that it primarily views climate change, which a spokesperson calls an “urgent and pressing challenge,” as a risk.)

Several drug companies believe that rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and worsening extreme weather could increase the spread of tropical diseases that are transmitted by mosquitoes, such as malaria and dengue fever. In its CDP document, Bayer cites one estimate that climate change could result in 40 million to 60 million additional people being exposed to these diseases. The company anticipates increased demand for its mosquito nets and other mosquito-control products, especially if malaria spreads to the developed world. GlaxoSmithKline also anticipates that climate change could affect demand for its anti-malarial products and notes that if the company’s “sales rose by 1 percent around £300m [about $446 million] would be added to our turnover.” A GSK spokesperson added, however, that the company is developing a malaria vaccine that it would offer to African children at a “not-for-profit price,” and that under some scenarios, climate change could actually reduce demand for the company’s products.

Novartis, which makes several malaria and dengue drugs, points out that it has provided millions of doses to African health officials at a not-for-profit price. But, the company notes, “businesses selling these drugs will become more profitable if the diseases spread to more developed and richer countries.” A number of experts doubt that will happen, at least in the case of malaria. They argue that factors such as economic development and public health infrastructure are far more significant than climate in controlling malaria. Asked for clarification, a Novartis spokesperson stated that higher temperatures and increased extreme weather from climate change could “lead to large floods, social crises and challenges, which may allow vector diseases to spread further.” Still, he added, Novartis agrees that malaria is unlikely to spread in the developed world.

Drug companies point to other health threats, as well. GSK warns that changing precipitation patterns and increased extreme weather events could “affect the spread of water-borne diseases” and respiratory and diarrheal illnesses, creating a need for “greater disease prevention and more patient treatments.” These problems could be especially serious in the poorest countries, according the GSK spokesperson. In its CDP submission, Merck says it is researching the negative impacts that higher temperatures could have on vaccines.

Ice cream!

Austronesian Expeditions

Rising temperatures don’t just drive demand for air-conditioning units and better vaccines. According Nestlé, they can also boost sales of “refreshing products such as ice creams and bottled water.” Nestlé notes that in 2014, Earth experienced its hottest summer on record (until 2015, anyway) and that a number of the company’s local brands performed well that year. So how much of an impact does heat have? “Increased demand for bottled water and ice creams as a result of temperature increase can result in additional sales of CHF 100 million per year,” says Nestlé. In case you aren’t familiar with the exchange rate for Swiss francs, that’s about $100 million.

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Reindeer populations are in decline (even in the North Pole)

Jennifer Viegas for Discovery News

Reindeer populations worldwide are decreasing, according to the authors of a new study who hope that measures will be taken soon to save the majestic and iconic winter holiday animals.

Strengthening reindeer populations would have far reaching effects, according to the study, published in the Journal for Nature Conservation. Ecosystems, local economies and even climate change are just some of the matters that could be impacted, and not just in the northernmost polar region.

SEE ALSO: Glowing Reindeer Antlers Deter Car Wrecks

"Reindeer occur in the northern part of the Arctic and subarctic region," lead author Xiuxiang Meng explained to Discovery News. "In northern Europe (such as in Finland, Sweden and Norway), Asia (Russia, Mongolia and China) and North America (Canada and Alaska), reindeer populations have been declining for many years."

Meng, a professor at Renmin University’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, and his colleagues further note that there are two subspecies of reindeer in the world: tundra reindeer and woodland reindeer. Some are wild or feral, while others are considered to be "semi-domesticated." The various types, also known as caribou, appear to be experiencing population decreases.

The researchers focused their study on reindeer in China, since the hoofed mammal’s population there has declined at least 28% since the 1970s. Meng and his team said that reindeer in China originated from Siberia about 2000 years ago, migrating with the Ewenki people, who have been called "the last hunting tribe of China."

SEE ALSO: Ice Age Drove Split Between Reindeer and Caribou

The Ewenki have never tamed or fully domesticated the reindeer, which feed on their own. People just provide basic herd management, such as provisioning the animals with salt. The Ewenki benefit from the reindeer’s meat, hides, antlers, milk and other things.

The researchers, however, believe that at least six factors are causing the reindeer population to decline. The first is inbreeding. Since reindeer populations here and in other locations are low, there is a greater risk for genetic deterioration. The second factor is poaching, often for the very same antlers that grab our attention on holiday cards.

The third are natural predators. As the scientists mention, "Bears, wolves and lynx are the three main predators of reindeer, and may kill as many as a third of reindeer calves each year."

Lack of herders and breeders, climate change, and changes to the tourism industry round out the list.

To attract more tourists, herders have been moving closer to where people tend to congregate, putting reindeer at risk

To attract more tourists, herders have been moving closer to where people tend to congregate, putting reindeer at risk from traffic, the aforementioned poaching and other problems.

Achyut Aryal, a researcher at Massey University, echoed the concerns. He told Discovery News that disease is yet another threat to reindeer populations worldwide.

Both he and Meng believe that the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List Data on reindeer needs to be updated. As it stands, reindeer are classified as being of "least concern," in terms of their conservation status. This is based on a 2008 assessment.

"The semi-domesticated [reindeer] population in China, Mongolia and Russia — and especially China — should be given enough concern by the IUCN Red List," Meng said. "Our survey showed that the reindeer in China comprise the southernmost reindeer population in the world, which is so important to the distribution and conservation of reindeer worldwide."

Meng and his team are working on yet another study to determine how reindeer herding first emerged in the world. They have data supporting that reindeer herding originated in forests located in Russia, Mongolia and China.

This article originally published at Discovery News here

Topics: conservation, reindeer, US & World, World

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World record for compact ‘tabletop’ particle accelerator

Enlarge
A 9 cm-long capillary discharge waveguide used in BELLA experiments to generate multi-GeV electron beams. The plasma plume has been made more prominent with the use of HDR photography. Credit: Roy Kaltschmidt

Using one of the most powerful lasers in the world, researchers have accelerated subatomic particles to the highest energies ever recorded from a compact accelerator.

The team, from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (Berkeley Lab), used a specialized petawatt laser and a charged-particle gas called plasma to get the particles up to speed. The setup is known as a laser-plasma accelerator, an emerging class of particle accelerators that physicists believe can shrink traditional, miles-long accelerators to machines that can fit on a table.

The researchers sped up the particles—electrons in this case—inside a nine-centimeter long tube of plasma. The speed corresponded to an energy of 4.25 giga-electron volts. The acceleration over such a short distance corresponds to an energy gradient 1000 times greater than traditional particle accelerators and marks a world record energy for laser-plasma accelerators.

"This result requires exquisite control over the laser and the plasma," says Dr. Wim Leemans, director of the Accelerator Technology and Applied Physics Division at Berkeley Lab and lead author on the paper. The results appear in the most recent issue of Physical Review Letters.

Traditional particle accelerators, like the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, which is 17 miles in circumference, speed up particles by modulating electric fields inside a metal cavity. It’s a technique that has a limit of about 100 mega-electron volts per meter before the metal breaks down.

A computer simulation of the plasma wakefield as it evolves over the length of the 9-cm long channel. Credit: Berkeley Lab

Laser-plasma accelerators take a completely different approach. In the case of this experiment, a pulse of laser light is injected into a short and thin straw-like tube that contains plasma. The laser creates a channel through the plasma as well as waves that trap free electrons and accelerate them to high energies. It’s similar to the way that a surfer gains speed when skimming down the face of a wave.

The record-breaking energies were achieved with the help of BELLA (Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator), one of the most powerful lasers in the world. BELLA, which produces a quadrillion watts of power (a petawatt), began operation just last year.

"It is an extraordinary achievement for Dr. Leemans and his team to produce this record-breaking result in their first operational campaign with BELLA," says Dr. James Symons, associate laboratory director for Physical Sciences at Berkeley Lab.

In addition to packing a high-powered punch, BELLA is renowned for its precision and control. "We’re forcing this laser beam into a 500 micron hole about 14 meters away, " Leemans says. "The BELLA laser beam has sufficiently high pointing stability to allow us to use it." Moreover, Leemans says, the laser pulse, which fires once a second, is stable to within a fraction of a percent. "With a lot of lasers, this never could have happened," he adds.

At such high energies, the researchers needed to see how various parameters would affect the outcome. So they used computer simulations at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) to test the setup before ever turning on a laser. "Small changes in the setup give you big perturbations," says Eric Esarey, senior science advisor for the Accelerator Technology and Applied Physics Division at Berkeley Lab, who leads the theory effort. "We’re homing in on the regions of operation and the best ways to control the accelerator."

In order to accelerate electrons to even higher energies—Leemans’ near-term goal is 10 giga-electron volts—the researchers will need to more precisely control the density of the plasma channel through which the laser light flows. In essence, the researchers need to create a tunnel for the light pulse that’s just the right shape to handle more-energetic electrons. Leemans says future work will demonstrate a new technique for plasma-channel shaping.

Explore further: A path toward more powerful tabletop accelerators

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Our E-Waste Problem Is Ridiculous, and Gadget Makers Aren’t Helping | WIRED

Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images

Chances are high that you’ll be getting or giving new electronics this holiday season: an iPhone upgrade for mom perhaps, or maybe a new Windows 8 ultrabook. Device upgrades have become increasingly frequent for many of us. Unfortunately, too many people give virtually no thought to what becomes of all these discarded gadgets.

And neither are most device manufacturers.

Some 41.5 million tons of electronic waste was generated in 2011, and that number is expected to rise to 93.5 million by 2016, according to the research firm MarketsandMarkets. Right now, 70 to 80 percent of all that old gadgetry goes straight to landfills.

Oh sure, many companies have green initiatives. Apple in particular has made notable, documented efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, powering a majority of its retail stores and data centers with renewable energy, developing more efficient packaging design, and designing products that use less power than their predecessors. But if your products are going to be tossed out in a year, none of that is particularly brag-worthy. That’s a tremendous amount of wasted resources.

In the past, computers were designed to be relatively easy to disassemble, like HP’s towers and older versions of the Mac Mini. You could swap out dead parts and batteries, add more memory if it got sluggish, even replace a motherboard. But in the mid-2000s, things started to change. Apple introduced the ultra-thin, ultra-light MacBook Air and the industry enthusiastically followed with heaping helpings of devices that, while slim, were very difficult to repair due to the construction compromises required to achieve that svelte profile. Smartphones and tablets followed with an even faster purchasing and chucking cycle.

As mobile gadgets exploded we became a culture that abandoned its gear regularly, on a massive scale. It’s an epic environmental and economic problem not simply because people aren’t properly recycling their old devices, but because many devices are all but impossible to recycle efficiently.

Electronics include a host of environmentally deleterious chemicals like mercury, cadmium, lead, phosphors, arsenic, and beryllium. When they end up in a landfill, these chemicals eventually seep into the ground and into our water supply. Thus, properly disposing of them through programs offered by device manufacturers like Asus, Samsung, or Apple, or retailers like Best Buy or Staples, are paramount.

But that’s only part of the equation. Manufacturers also play a vital role in the success (or failure) of this endeavor.

The Recycling Process

When you turn your device in to get recycled, a few things happen. First, it’s assessed. Does it have dents or scratches? A broken screen? Does it turn on? If it’s in good shape, the product is wiped of any remaining data and repackaged to be resold. This is generally done by hand.

“You can mechanize the cleaning, but the assessment, fixing, re-testing, and repackaging is still a very human and touch-related business,” said John Shegerian, the CEO of ERI. The company is among the world’s largest e-waste recyclers, with more than one billion pounds of of material recycled since 2005.

If a product’s not fit to resell or the manufacturer isn’t interested in selling refurbished gadgets, it is disassembled and shredded so things like steel, copper, and aluminum can be recycled. Glass is also melted down and recycled. When you send your device to a recycling outfit like ERI, nothing ends up in the landfill. But for such an effort to be worthwhile, two things must be considered: What’s the value of the raw materials that can be recovered from the device, and how much effort does it take to get them? If retrieving all that material costs more than it’s worth, it simply isn’t worth the effort because the recycler is operating at a loss.

Therefore, the easier it is to disassemble something, the more likely it is to be worth someone’s time to recycle it. And that’s where issues arise.

Recycling Challenges

“The big problem the electronics industry is facing as a whole is products are getting lighter and lighter,” iFixit’s Kyle Wiens said. “This is great for consumers but a nightmare for recyclers.” Smaller, lighter products can be tricky to take apart, and yield a lower volume of raw materials.

Safety is a big concern for the workers tasked with dismantling discarded gadgetry. iFixit, which tears down electronic devices and posts online repair manuals, often works with recyclers to ensure everything is safely and efficiently disassembled. Device manufacturers usually don’t do that.

Glue and adhesives are a common hurdle. Products like the iPad and Microsoft Surface achieve a slim form factor by using “a metric duckload of adhesive,” as Wiens once put it, particularly to keep the battery in place. All that glue must be removed before any recyclable material can be melted down. And battery recycling is risky endeavorin the best of circumstances—under the right conditions, a damaged battery can cause a fiery explosion. Tack onto that the need to painstakingly pry a battery from its glue-smeared lodging and you’ve got a delicate task indeed.

For items with a lot of glue, like a tablet display, Sims Recycling Solutions heats the glue, then uses suction cups to apply pressure across the glass so it can be removed without cracking.

Other things that can make a product more challenging to recycle include the number of screws (particularly non-standard screws), the inclusion of hazardous materials like mercury (which is declining, due to the rising popularity of LEDs instead of bulbs), large amounts of glass, and plastics. Waterproof and tightly sealed products also are more arduous to deal with.

Designing Recyclable Products

While no one we spoke with would say so outright, Apple products are among the most difficult to recycle. (Apple did not respond to repeated requests for comment.) The very things that make them the most marketable—multiple colors, thin profile, big glass displays, seamless cases—also make them difficult to disassemble. However Sims, the company Apple officially contracts with for recycling, suggested that Apple works with them to develop and provide tools workers can use, and is very engaged in helping them figure out the best way to recycle products at the end of their useful lives.

Not all device makers, and not all recycling facilities, get this same level of help though. Sometimes, between the time it takes to dismantle products and the injuries workers get in the process, lucrative contracts with specific manufacturers are barely worth the trouble.

As we rush headlong into a world in which we’re disposing of more and more gadgets each year, making them easily recyclable should be a growing priority of device makers. Just as display size, processor speed and energy efficiency are marketing points, so too should recyclability.

David Thompson, Panasonic’s head of environmental affairs, says the standardization of screws and plastic resin materials, not thermally setting screws in plastic, and minimizing the use of glue will boost recycling efforts, as will designing products for easier disassembly. Would consumers really decry, or even notice, these changes? Probably not. But such changes could require concessions to slim dimensions and light weight. And for manufacturers, increased standardization may mean fewer distinctions between competing products. Take a plastic smartphone housing: Currently there are hundreds of variations (soft touch, textures, and metallic colors, to name a few). Standardization could limit that very marketable variety.

Even so, some products are embracing such ideals. Dell won The Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries 2014 Design for Recycling award for the Latitude 10 and XPS 10 tablets and Latitude E7240 notebook. Aside making its products cheap and easy to recycle, Dell has used nearly 8 million pounds of recycled plastic in its desktop and display production. And it is not alone.

“Companies are getting better at making greener, more recyclable products. They’re asking to visit our facilities and learn from our pain points,” Shegerian said.

More manufacturers need to start doing this. An old smartphone or laptop can only be reused (“The truest form of recycling,” says Sims sales and marketing vice president Sean Magann) so many times. The pattern of gadget manufacturing, use, and disposal needs to become circular to ensure our environment doesn’t turn into a Wall-E-esque landscape of toxic landfills, and to ensure the continued availability of the stuff that’s needed to keep making all these gadgets. Because we aren’t going to stop buying things any time soon.

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A Two-Day Battle to Charge My Car Convinced Me We’re Not Ready for EVs | WIRED

A Nissan Leaf at a charging station. Gordon Chibroski/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

When I set up a weeklong test drive1 with an electric Nissan Leaf last month, I didn’t expect a 35-mile trip from San Francisco to Mountain View to lead to two of the most stressful days I’ve experienced this year. And I didn’t expect to walk away from the experience convinced that, although electric vehicles are great to drive and slowly overcoming their range shortcomings, the infrastructure needed for owners to keep them charged is woefully inadequate—even in EV-lovin’ San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where Teslas are as common as pigeons.

The problem is not a lack of places to plug in: There are at least 20,000 stations in the US, and that number is quickly growing. But they’re no help unless they’re both easy to find and available. In my case, they were neither.

Before I tell my tale, there’s a big caveat: I live in an apartment in San Francisco, and I don’t have anywhere to charge an electric vehicle overnight. Many EV advocates argue we will charge our cars like we charge our phones: At night while we sleep, during the day while we work, and any other time we don’t need to be moving. It’s a “grazing,” rather than “gorging,” mentality, and it makes a lot of sense.

With nowhere to plug in when I’m at home, I was stuck with using public charging stations during the day. And that’s where the trouble began.

Silicon Valley

The real-world range of a Nissan Leaf is roughly 80 miles (84, according to the sticker on the window). That’s on par with pretty much everything else except the way more expensive, road trip-ready Tesla Model S. I left San Francisco with about 50 miles left in the Leaf’s 24 kilowatt-hour pack, and knew when I arrived that I wouldn’t have enough have enough juice to make the 35-mile drive back.

Once I’d wrapped up my meeting and gotten back to the car, I used the Leaf’s navigation system to find the nearest charging station. I figured I’d hang out for half an hour or so before heading north. The Leaf, like many EVs, will direct you to the nearest charging station. That system isn’t nearly good enough: First off, it doesn’t tell you whether the station is occupied. That’s a real problem: Unlike a gas station, it doesn’t take three minutes for each car to fill up and move on. It takes at least 20 minutes, and that means if the plug you need is taken, you’re going to be waiting a while. And secondly, the nav system didn’t pick out publicly available chargers. The first destination? Some kind of (defunct?) BMW facility.

Which I don’t even realize once I get there, because it just looks like a driveway.

So I search the map again and head off to the next result. It’s a 5.3 mile drive. This worries me, because I’ve only got about 20 miles of range left.

And I find myself in a hospital complex. I wouldn’t mind sitting in a parking lot while the car charges since I don’t have a lot of options anyway, but I can’t find the promised charger after about 10 minutes of circling around.

So I leave, this time for a safer bet: a charging station at a shopping mall. There goes three miles.

Aha! I finally find a charging station that’s right where the map said it would be. But it’s not a ChargePoint, so I need to set up an account. This takes a while, punching my credit card info into the website using my phone, but I get it done. So I pull the charger to the front of the Leaf and plug it in. And…nothing. I unplug and enter my new login info again. I plug in. And…nothing. Now, the screen is giving me its equivalent of Apple’s spinning pinwheel of death. The cancel button doesn’t work, so I hit the emergency stop (the large, red, plunger-style button). Now it seems to be alerting some kind of authority figure, so I bail.

But I’m in luck, kind of, because at the other end of this garage is a station operated by ChargePoint, for which I have an account. But both spaces are occupied. At this point, I’m happy just to be near what seems to be a working setup. Also, I’m hungry. And as luck would have it, you can see the two spots from the mall’s McDonald’s. I park nearby, grab a double cheeseburger, dig in, and wait.

Google Maps Screenshot / WIRED

After 15 or 20 minutes, a woman shows up, unplugs her Nissan Leaf and pulls away. I’ve finished my burger, so I speed-walk to my Leaf and speed-drive through the garage to snag her spot. I plug in, and wait. I’ve got work to do, anyway. An hour later, I’ve got enough juice to get back to San Francisco, where I park, exhausted. A trip that would have taken an hour in a regular car—Bay Area traffic is a hassle, after all—took me almost three.

San Francisco

The battle began anew the next day. I’d forgotten that Nissan was sending someone to retrieve the car that day, and when the guy calls to say he’s a few minutes away, I realize he won’t have enough juice to get where he’s going. I tell him as much, and apologize. He offers to run an errand first, giving me an hour to charge the car. We figure that’s plenty of time, because he isn’t going far. Twenty miles, tops. Piece of cake—San Francisco has plenty of charging stations.

Plenty of stations, yes. Plenty of open spots, not so much.

ChargePoint.com/Screenshot

I drive through a handful of garages. I find several chargers in each, but they’re all occupied. I spend a full 18 minutes in one garage, driving up to the roof before learning the charging spots are in the basement. Despite my noting, loudly, that I didn’t park the car, the cashier makes me pay. There goes three bucks.

At this point, I’ve burned half an hour and decide to ditch this crowded neighborhood for somewhere less trafficked. I’m in a downtown business district after all, so it makes sense for EV drivers who work in the area to park in the morning and not leave until the evening.

And finally—this is the last finally, I promise—I pull into a garage and find an open charging spot. I plug in and the juice starts flowing.

By this point, I’m exhausted, sweaty, and behind on my work. And I’m a mile from my office.

Now, you could argue that because I don’t have access to a place to charge overnight, I just shouldn’t buy an electric car. You’d likely be right, but that’s a problem: There are a lot of people who live in cities and don’t have garage parking. Or they do, but their garage doesn’t have any charging stations. Or it does, but only two, and they’re always taken by other residents. Yes, there are public charging stations, but, unlike a gas station, where people fill and go, an EV charging spot may be occupied for hours. Yes, there are some EV owners who carry an extension cord and surreptitiously plug into 110 outlets (there are a surprising number of them accessible in the world), not everyone can, or wants to, mooch. So until the public infrastructure improves, people who can’t plug in overnight are in for a very serious headache.

There are ways to fix this. The first is obvious: Keep building charging stations. As the battery and charging technology advances, powering up should take less time, which will help. But in the meantime, we need a clear way to know a station’s available before heading over. A system where you can remotely reserve one for long enough to get there would be a good start.

As I stroll back to my office, the stress fades. And when I head back to pick up the now adequately-charged Leaf, I feel a wave of gratitude that I got it plugged in. Because on my way up the ramp, I stop to help some poor guy push his car into a space.

It’s an electric. And his battery’s dead.

1Post updated at 15:10 EST: We originally wrote “When I set up a loan for an electric Nissan Leaf.” We’ve changed this to clarify that we were borrowing the car itself, not money to buy it.

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