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Featured Articles

Flow of Cheap Hydroelectricity Slows in Parched West

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 2, 2015   View Article

As rivers and reservoirs shrink across the parched West, cheap sources of water-generated electricity are starting to dry up.

Historically low flows on the McKenzie River that snakes west of Oregon’s snow-starved Cascades, for example, forced the closure of a hydroelectric generation turbine at the Trail Bridge dam in early July. Two more hydropower facilities downstream of the dam are likely to meet a similar fate in the coming weeks.

Will Huge Batteries Save Us From Power Blackouts?

Publication: National Geographic   Date: April 29, 2015   View Article

Glacier, Washington, is the final stop for coffee and treats on the Mt. Baker Highway, which ends at a ski area holding the world record for most snowfall in a season. The small town in the woods might seem an unlikely spot for a $9.6 million warehouse to store excess energy, but it might prove the perfect testing ground.

The area’s winter storms routinely knock out power to Glacier, home to about 250 residents year-round and more than 1,000 on busy weekends. Come 2016, its outages should be less frequent thanks to a shipping container humming with lithium-ion batteries hooked up to a substation that will provide up to 18 hours of backup electricity.

The two-megawatt system will allow Puget Sound Energy to study broader applications for grid-scale energy storage such as using it to provide power during peak-hour demand and to maintain minute-by-minute grid balance.

Billions of Dollars of Real Estate at Risk to Wildfire, Experts Say

Publication: NBC News   Date: April 24, 2015   View Article

Seeking the beauty of nature, Americans just can’t stop building houses among trees that will, sooner or later, go up in flames.

“It is truly a when, not if,” Sean McVay, a homeowner in Evergreen, Colorado, said of the threat that a wildfire will tear through his wooded community in the Rocky Mountain foothills west of Denver. But that doesn’t mean he plans to move. McVay bought the house last year. Like most homeowners there, he’s an outdoor enthusiast.

“Being part of the wooded environment is a big draw,” he said.

McVay is not alone. More than 1.1 million properties in the western United States were identified as highly vulnerable to wildfire in a 2015 risk report from analytics firm CoreLogic. The cost to rebuild those homes would total $269 billion, according to the report, which was written to inform the insurance industry and, perhaps, sway policymakers to encourage fire-safe construction in areas susceptible to wildfires.

Top Spy Agencies Help Break Wildlife Trafficking Rings

Publication: NBC News   Date: April 21, 2015   View Article

Call them the spies who love elephants (or rhinos or tigers).

The top spy agencies in the U.S. are sharing intelligence and personnel to bust international wildlife trafficking rings, which rake in more than $20 billion a year in the trade of everything from elephant ivory and rhino horn to the bladders of a Mexican fish.

Without intelligence of the sort used to fight drug and sex traffickers, according to experts, some of the planet’s most iconic creatures face extinction.

“We didn’t have the same resources to fight this trade that other agencies had,” Edward Grace, the deputy chief of law enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said. “That is a gap we are filling in now.”

Many in U.S. Face Another Dry Year as World Water Day Arrives

Publication: NBC News   Date: March 22, 2015   View Article

It’s a thirsty nation.

From California to the Pacific Northwest to swaths of Texas and Oklahoma, farmers, ranchers and just about anybody with a lawn or a pool are bracing for what’s expected to be another dry year.

Historically low snowpack in the mountains along the West Coast has heightened concern about drought. Ski areas from California to Washington have cried uncle after months of trying to keep slopes open. And water resource managers are busy making plans to deal with low river flows. For many in the U.S., World Water Day on March 22 is that in name only.

Who Digs Solar and Wind Power? That’s Right: Miners

Publication: NBC News   Date: January 9, 2015   View Article

Mines from the Americas to Africa and Australia are slowly becoming unlikely hotspots for the production and use of green energy.

In some places, wind and solar farms resurface revenue from deserted mine lands. Elsewhere, mining companies are powering a portion of ongoing operations with renewable energy, which is now cost competitive with traditional fossil fuels and gives a green sheen to an industry often maligned by environmentalists.

To be sure, these are early days for these strange bedfellows. The reason for the coupling of mines and green energy varies from site to site and country to country, according to experts, but the trend is global and growing.

Hungry Planet: Can Big Data Help Feed 9 Billion Humans?

Publication: NBC News   Date: November 17, 2014   View Article

With a population set to hit 9 billion human beings by 2050, the world needs to grow more food —without cutting down forests and jungles, which are the climate’s huge lungs.

The solution, according to one soil management scientist, is Big Data.

Kenneth Cassman, an agronomist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, recently unveiled a new interactive mapping tool that shows in fine-grain detail where higher crop yields are possible on current arable land.

“By some estimates, 20 to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are associated with agriculture and of that a large portion is due to conversion of natural systems like rainforests or grassland savannahs to crop production, agriculture,” Cassman told NBC News at a conference in suburban Seattle.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach