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Comparison of Life Cycle Assessment Course Content in the U.S.

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Syllabi from 16 Life Cycle Assessment courses across 14 U.S. universities were examined for content, structure, and opportunity for coordinated efforts into the future.

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Date Created
2018-05-14

Vulnerability Assessment of Southwest Infrastructure to Increased Heat Using a Life Cycle Approach

Description

As average temperatures and occurrences of extreme heat events increase in the Southwest, the water infrastructure that was designed to operate under historical temperature ranges may become increasingly vulnerable to component and operational failures. For each major component along the

As average temperatures and occurrences of extreme heat events increase in the Southwest, the water infrastructure that was designed to operate under historical temperature ranges may become increasingly vulnerable to component and operational failures. For each major component along the life cycle of water in an urban water infrastructural system, potential failure events and their semi-quantitative probabilities of occurrence were estimated from interview responses of water industry professionals. These failure events were used to populate event trees to determine the potential pathways to cascading failures in the system. The probabilities of the cascading failure scenarios under future conditions were then calculated and compared to the probabilities of scenarios under current conditions to assess the increased vulnerability of the system. We find that extreme heat events can increase the vulnerability of water systems significantly and that there are ways for water infrastructure managers to proactively mitigate these vulnerabilities before problems occur.

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Forecasting Changes in Urban Heat Island in the US Southwest

Description

Recent developments in computational software and public accessibility of gridded climatological data have enabled researchers to study Urban Heat Island (UHI) effects more systematically and at a higher spatial resolution. Previous studies have analyzed UHI and identified significant contributors at

Recent developments in computational software and public accessibility of gridded climatological data have enabled researchers to study Urban Heat Island (UHI) effects more systematically and at a higher spatial resolution. Previous studies have analyzed UHI and identified significant contributors at the regional level for cities, within the topology of urban canyons, and for different construction materials.

In UHIs, air is heated by the convective energy transfer from land surface materials and anthropogenic activities. Convection is dependent upon the temperature of the surface, temperature of the air, wind speed, and relative humidity. At the same time, air temperature is also influenced by greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere. Climatologists project a 1-5°C increase in near-surface air temperature over the next several decades, and 1-4°C specifically for Los Angeles and Maricopa during summertime due to GHG effects. With higher ambient air temperatures, we seek to understand how convection will change in cities and to what ends.

In this paper we develop a spatially explicit methodology for quantifying UHI by estimating the daily convection thermal energy transfer from land to air using publicly-available gridded climatological data, and we estimate how much additional energy will be retained due to lack of convective cooling in scenarios of higher ambient air temperature.

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Methodology for Estimating Electricity Generation Vulnerability to Climate Change Using a Physically-based Modelling System

Description

In recent years, concerns have grown over the risks posed by climate change on the U.S. electricity grid. The availability of water resources is integral to the production of electric power, and droughts are expected to become more frequent, severe,

In recent years, concerns have grown over the risks posed by climate change on the U.S. electricity grid. The availability of water resources is integral to the production of electric power, and droughts are expected to become more frequent, severe, and longer-lasting over the course of the twenty-first century. The American Southwest, in particular, is expected to experience large deficits in streamflow. Studies on the Colorado River anticipate streamflow declines of 20-45% by 2050. Other climactic shifts—such as higher water and air temperatures—may also adversely affect power generation. As extreme weather becomes more common, better methods are needed to assess the impact of climate change on power generation. This study uses a physically-based modeling system to assess the vulnerability of power infrastructure in the Southwestern United States at a policy-relevant scale.

Thermoelectric power—which satisfies a majority of U.S. electricity demand—is vulnerable to drought. Thermoelectric power represents the backbone of the U.S. power sector, accounting for roughly 91% of generation. Thermoelectric power also accounts for roughly 39% of all water withdrawals in the U.S.—roughly equivalent to the amount of water used for agriculture. Water use in power plants is primarily dictated by the needs of the cooling system. During the power generation process, thermoelectric power plants build up waste heat, which must be discharged in order for the generation process to continue. Traditionally, water is used for this purpose, because it is safe, plentiful, and can absorb a large amount of heat. However, when water availability is constrained, power generation may also be adversely affected. Thermoelectric power plants are particularly susceptible to changes in streamflow and water temperature. These vulnerabilities are exacerbated by environmental regulations, which govern both the amount of water withdrawn, and the temperatures of the water discharged. In 2003, extreme drought and heat impaired the generating capacity of more than 30 European nuclear power plants, which were unable to comply with environmental regulations governing discharge temperatures. Similarly, many large base-load thermoelectric facilities in the Southeastern United States were threatened by a prolonged drought in 2007 and 2008. During this period, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) reduced generation at several facilities, and one major facility was shut down entirely. To meet demand, the TVA was forced to purchase electricity from the grid, causing electricity prices to rise.

Although thermoelectric power plants currently produce most of the electric power consumed in the United States, other sources of power are also vulnerable to changes in climate. Renewables are largely dependent on natural resources like rain, wind, and sunlight. As the quantity and distribution of these resources begins to change, renewable generation is also likely to be affected. Hydroelectric dams represent the largest source of renewable energy currently in use throughout the United States. Under drought conditions, when streamflow attenuates and reservoir levels drop, hydroelectric plants are unable to operate at normal capacity. In 2001, severe drought in California and the Pacific Northwest restricted hydroelectric power generation, causing a steep increase in electricity prices. Although blackouts and brownouts were largely avoided, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council estimated a regional economic impact of roughly $2.5 to $6 billion. In addition to hydroelectric power, it has also been theorized that solar energy resources may also be susceptible to predicted increases in surface temperature and atmospheric albedo. One study predicts that solar facilities in the Southwestern U.S. may suffer losses of 2-5%.

The aim of this study is to estimate the extent to which climate change may impact power generation in the Southwestern United States. This analysis will focus on the Western Interconnection, which comprises the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, New Mexico and Texas. First, climactic and hydrologic parameters relevant to power generation are identified for five types of generation technologies. A series of functional relationships are developed such that impacts to power generation can be estimated directly from changes in certain meteorological and hydrological parameters. Next, climate forcings from the CMIP3 multi-model ensemble are used as inputs to a physically-based modeling system (consisting of a hydrological model, an offline routing model, and a one-dimensional stream temperature model). The modeling system is used to estimate changes in climactic and hydrologic parameters relevant to electricity generation for various generation technologies. Climactic and hydrologic parameters are then combined with the functional relationships developed in the first step to estimate impacts to power generation over the twenty-first century.

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Future Electricity Supply Vulnerability and Climate Change: A Case Study of Maricopa and Los Angeles Counties

Description

Climatic changes have the potential to impact electricity generation in the U.S. Southwest and methods are needed for estimating how cities will be impacted. This study builds an electricity vulnerability risk index for two Southwest cities (Phoenix and Los Angeles)

Climatic changes have the potential to impact electricity generation in the U.S. Southwest and methods are needed for estimating how cities will be impacted. This study builds an electricity vulnerability risk index for two Southwest cities (Phoenix and Los Angeles) based on climate-related changes in electricity generation capacity. Planning reserve margins (PRM) are used to estimate the potential for blackouts and brownouts under future climate scenarios. Reductions in PRM occur in both cities in 2016 with the most significant reductions occurring in regions relying more heavily on hydropower.

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Assessing Future Extreme Heat Events at Intra-Urban Scales: A Comparative Study of Phoenix and Los Angeles

Description

Already the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States, extreme heat events (EHEs) are expected to occur with greater frequency, duration and intensity over the next century. However, not all populations are affected equally. Risk factors for heat

Already the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States, extreme heat events (EHEs) are expected to occur with greater frequency, duration and intensity over the next century. However, not all populations are affected equally. Risk factors for heat mortality—including age, race, income level, and infrastructure characteristics—often vary by geospatial location. While traditional epidemiological studies sometimes account for social risk factors, they rarely account for intra-urban variability in meteorological characteristics, or for the interaction between social and meteorological risks.

This study aims to develop estimates of EHEs at an intra-urban scale for two major metropolitan areas in the Southwest: Maricopa County (Arizona) and Los Angeles County (California). EHEs are identified at a 1/8-degree (12 km) spatial resolution using an algorithm that detects prolonged periods of abnormally high temperatures. Downscaled temperature projections from three general circulation models (GCMs) are analyzed under three relative concentration pathway (RCP) scenarios. Over the next century, EHEs are found to increase by 340-1800% in Maricopa County, and by 150-840% in Los Angeles County. Frequency of future EHEs is primarily driven by greenhouse gas concentrations, with the greatest number of EHEs occurring under the RCP 8.5 scenario. Intra-urban variation in EHEs is also found to be significant. Within Maricopa County, “high risk” regions exhibit 4.5 times the number of EHE days compared to “low risk” regions; within Los Angeles County, this ratio is 15 to 1.

The project website can be accessed here

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Created

Date Created
2014-06-12

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Frameworks for Assessing the Vulnerability of U.S. Rail Systems to Extreme Heat and Flooding

Description

Recent climatic trends show more flooding and extreme heat events and in the future transportation infrastructure may be susceptible to more frequent and intense environmental perturbations. Our transportation systems have largely been designed to withstand historical weather events, for example,

Recent climatic trends show more flooding and extreme heat events and in the future transportation infrastructure may be susceptible to more frequent and intense environmental perturbations. Our transportation systems have largely been designed to withstand historical weather events, for example, floods that occur at an intensity that is experienced once every 100 years, and there is evidence that these events are expected become more frequent. There are increasing efforts to better understand the impacts of climate change on transportation infrastructure. An abundance of new research is emerging to study various aspects of climate change on transportation systems. Much of this research is focused on roadway networks and reliable automobile travel. We explore how flooding and extreme heat might impact passenger rail systems in the Northeast and Southwest U.S.

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Policy Brief: Developing Safer Alternatives to Conventional Plastics and Supporting the Use of Reusable Products Can Reduce Harm to Health and the Environment

Description

Researchers at ASU have identified opportunities to reduce risk to human health and the environment by changing the composition and disposal practices of polymers. Although plastics have benefited society in innumerable ways, the resulting omnipresence of plastics in society has

Researchers at ASU have identified opportunities to reduce risk to human health and the environment by changing the composition and disposal practices of polymers. Although plastics have benefited society in innumerable ways, the resulting omnipresence of plastics in society has led to concerns about the hazards of constant, low-level exposure and the search for options for sustainable disposal.

The team used examples from public health and medicine-sectors that have particularly benefited from polymer applications, to highlight the benefits of using plastics in certain applications and to pinpoint opportunities for reducing risks from all plastics’ uses. These include phasing out polymers that contain components associated with negative health effects, diminishing the need to dispose of large quantities of plastic through reduction and reuse, and promoting and developing less harmful alternatives to conventional plastics.

For additional discussion please see the publication Plastics and Environmental Health: the Road Ahead available online here.

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Metropolitan-Scale Building Infrastructure Environmental Life Cycle Assessment: Los Angeles’ Embedded Impacts

Description

Building energy assessment often focuses on the use of electricity and natural gas during the use phase of a structure while ignoring the energy investments necessary to construct the facility. This research develops a methodology for quantifying the “embedded” energy

Building energy assessment often focuses on the use of electricity and natural gas during the use phase of a structure while ignoring the energy investments necessary to construct the facility. This research develops a methodology for quantifying the “embedded” energy and greenhouse gases (GHG) in the building infrastructure of an entire metropolitan region. “Embedded” energy and GHGs refer to the energy necessary to manufacture materials and construct the infrastructure. Using these methods, a case study is developed for Los Angeles County.

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Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of San Francisco Bay Area Muni Light Rail and Rapid Transit with Wholesale and Renewable Electricity

Description

Results are available here

The environmental life cycle assessment of electric rail public transit modes requires an assessment of electricity generation mixes. The provision of electricity to a region does not usually adhere to geopolitical boundaries. Electricity is

Results are available here

The environmental life cycle assessment of electric rail public transit modes requires an assessment of electricity generation mixes. The provision of electricity to a region does not usually adhere to geopolitical boundaries. Electricity is governed based on lowest cost marginal dispatch and reliability principles. Additionally, there are times when a public transit agency may purchase wholesale electricity from a particular service provider. Such is the case with electric rail modes in the San Francisco Bay Area.

An environmental life cycle assessment of San Francisco Bay Area public transit systems was developed by Chester and Horvath (2009) and includes vehicle manufacturing/maintenance, infrastructure construction/operation/maintenance, energy production, and supply chains, in addition to vehicle propulsion. For electric rail modes, vehicle propulsion was based on an average electricity mix for the region. Since 2009, new electricity contract information and renewable electricity goals have been established. As such, updated life cycle results should be produced.

Using recent wholesale electricity mix and renewable electricity goal data from the transit agencies, updated electricity precombustion, generation, transmission, and distribution environmental impacts of vehicle propulsion are estimated. In summary, SFMTA Muni light rail is currently purchasing 100% hydro electricity from the Hetch Hetchy region of California and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system is purchasing 22% natural gas, 9% coal, 2% nuclear, 66% hydro, and 1% other renewables from the Pacific Northwest . Furthermore, the BART system has set a goal of 20% renewables by 2016. Using the GREET1 2012 electricity pathway, a life cycle assessment of wholesale and renewable electricity generation for these systems is calculated.

Chester and Horvath (2009)

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