The Scottish Islands Where Electricity Is Being Made From the Ocean’s Tides

Courtesy Orbital Marine Power
Courtesy Orbital Marine Power

The cutting edge of renewable energy may be in a place you least expect it—a rugged archipelago off the northern coast of mainland Scotland.

Home to about 22,000 people, the Orkney Islands are a stunning landscape known for having charming villages, ancient Neolithic structures, sheer cliffs, and churning seas. A collection of about 70 islands roughly 10 miles from the mainland, Orkney straddles the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and, as a result, is home to incredibly strong tides, making it a prime place to harness energy from the sea.

This shouldn’t be surprising—the Orkney Islands have been at the forefront of renewable energy for years. The world’s first grid-connected wind turbine was tested in Orkney in 1951. For more than 15 years, the islands were home to the world’s largest wind turbine. In 2014, the islands produced 104 percent of their needed power through renewable energy sources. And today, they are home to the European Marine Energy Centre, or EMEC, a facility that tests the viability of tide-based energy technologies.

Since its inception more than a decade ago, EMEC has helped install at least 30 different prototypes in Orkney’s waters, from a submerged Archimedes Screw to an underwater kite. According to the Orkney Renewable Energy Forum, there are “more grid-connected ocean energy devices tested in Orkney than at any other single site in the world.”

Most recently, a new prototype has been making a huge splash. This year it was announced that a newly installed tidal energy turbine called the SR2000—which resembles a yellow submarine bobbing on the current—generated an eye-popping three gigawatt-hours of electricity. “[T]hat’s more power generated in 12 months from this single turbine than the entire wave and tidal energy sector has done in Scotland in the 12 years preceding the launch of this turbine,” says Andrew Scott, CEO of Scotrenewables Tidal Power (now Orbital Marine Power), according to the BBC. As the network explains, the single device “can typically generate 7 percent of Orkney’s electricity, but at points has been able to power more than a quarter of the area’s homes.”

And it can do more than create energy from the motion of the ocean—it’s capable of helping produce hydrogen fuel, too. Earlier this year, electricity created by the SR2000 was fed into an electrolyzer and used to split water molecules into their component parts of oxygen and hydrogen. Plans are to use this hydrogen in fuel cells, which can become a supplemental power source for ferries docking in Orkney.

While all of the Orkney generators feed their electricity into the UK’s grid, there are hopes to introduce the technology to other parts of Great Britain's waters—the UK government estimates that wave and tidal energy have the potential to supply 20 percent of the country’s electricity needs.

An Underpass for Turtles in Wisconsin Is Saving Dozens of the Little Guys’ Lives

Anthony Cedrone/iStock via Getty Images
Anthony Cedrone/iStock via Getty Images

Why did the turtle cross the road? Because an underground tunnel made it safe to do so.

In 2016, the Wisconsin Departments of Transportation and Natural Resources partnered with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to construct a tunnel beneath Highway 66, hoping to cut down on high turtle mortality rates, reports Robert Mentzer for Wisconsin Public Radio.

The tunnel, with Jordan Pond on one side and wetlands on the other, was a noble venture, but the turtles had no way of knowing it was a crossing point rather than a dark and potentially dangerous hole. So Pete Zani, herpetologist and associate professor of biology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, installed aluminum flashing outside of each opening, which would reflect the sky and let turtles know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Zani also installed grates above the tunnel to make it less shadowy, and a small cul-de-sac in a nearby piece of the fencing to encourage turtles who had missed the tunnel to turn around.

Zani and his team found that in the first year after construction, 85 percent fewer turtles were killed on the road, and no baby turtles were among the casualties. In the last few years combined, only 40 turtles died, compared to 66 deaths in 2015 alone.

That’s great news for local turtles, of course, and it’s great news for local humans, too. The intersection in question is always busy with truckers, commuters, and families en route to Jordan Pond, and turtle crossing can exacerbate traffic congestion and increase the chance of accidents.

Not all turtles have caught on, however, and it looks like some might never get the memo. Zani found that about 30 percent of snapping turtles and 20 percent of painted turtles make it through the tunnel, and those numbers have been consistent each year since construction. “They either get it or they don’t,” Zani told Wisconsin Public Radio.

Other animals are getting it, too. As part of the experiment, Zani set up a turtle-wrangling program in which students monitored trail cameras for turtle activity outside the underpass. In photos captured by the cameras, they noticed that rodents, mink, skunks, raccoons, and even house cats were traveling by turtle tunnel.

[h/t Wisconsin Public Radio]

Canned Aquafina Water May Be Coming to a Store Near You

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Like boxed cereal and egg cartons, bottled water is one of the most pervasive and familiar examples of consumer packaging around. But PepsiCo, which produces the LIFEWTR and Aquafina water brands, is looking to change that. The company recently announced a new strategy that would reduce its use of plastics and ultimately wean consumers off bottles entirely, turning them on to sipping water from aluminum cans instead.

According to The Takeout, Pepsi says it plans to change how its water is packaged in significant ways begining in 2020. The LIFEWTR brand will use plastic bottles, but the company plans to source those containers from 100 percent rPET, or recycled polyethylene terephthalate. Its bubly sparkling water line, meanwhile, will be sold in cans, rather than in both bottles and cans, as it currently is. So will Aquafina, one of the leading bottled water brands, though it will initially be offered in cans only at food service establishments while the company tests retail preferences. If all goes well, retail consumers will eventually be able to buy Aquafina in cans, too.

Such alterations would make for sweeping changes to the bottled water business, which has exploded in recent years. In 2016, the average American drank 39.3 gallons of packaged water per capita, edging out soda’s 38.5 gallons.

The move to cans stems in large part from consumer habits. Over half of all beer and soda cans are recycled compared to just 31.2 percent of plastic bottles.

PepsiCo expects the changes will result in saving more than 8800 tons of virgin plastic and 12,125 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. The company is looking to make all of its packaging recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable by 2025.

[h/t The Takeout]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER