Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

Thermal power plants use a lot of water, but that’s slowly changing

November 13th, 2018
nuclear cooling towers

Enlarge / A view of the decommissioned Duke Energy Crystal River Nuclear Power Plant. (credit: Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images)

It may come as a surprise that as of 2015, most of the water taken out of US ground- and surface-water sources was withdrawn by the electricity sector. Irrigation is a close second, and public supply is a distant third.

In 2015, thermal power generation—anything that burns fuel to create gas or steam that pushes a turbine—used 133 billion gallons of water per day. That water is mostly for cooling the equipment, but some of it is also used for emissions reduction and other processes essential to operating a power plant.

Those gallons are mostly freshwater, but some near-coast power generators do use saline or brackish water to operate. Much of the water is returned to the ecosystem, but some of it is also lost in evaporation. The water that is returned can often be thermally polluted, that is, it's warmer than what's ideal for the local ecosystem.

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Posted in Energy, Policy, science, thermal power, water | Comments (0)

New year, same story: Cost of wind and solar fall below cost of coal and gas

November 12th, 2018
New year, same story: Cost of wind and solar fall below cost of coal and gas

Enlarge (credit: Germanborrillo)

It's that time of the year again: time for asset management company Lazard to release its annual Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) study. (We know, you've been waiting all year.) The numbers in the report offer economic insight into how energy choices were made in the previous year and how the energy landscape will likely change in the coming year.

The bottom line? The cost of coal-fired electricity per megawatt-hour hasn't budged a bit from 2017, while wind and solar costs per MWh are still falling. That spells bad news for an American coal revival, especially in places where the cost of building brand-new renewable installations is cheaper than the cost of operating existing coal and gas plants—a situation that Lazard says is happening with increasing frequency (PDF).

Lazard surveys energy buildouts that occurred in the previous year and divides the estimated cost of building and operating the plant, including fuel cost estimates, by the amount of energy a particular plant is expected to produce in its lifetime. This is useful because a nuclear power plant might cost billions to build, but it would have a vastly longer life and higher output than, say, a field of solar panels. By breaking costs down on a per-megawatt-hour basis, it becomes easier to compare sources of electricity.

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Posted in Biz & IT, Energy, lazard, levelized cost of energy, science | Comments (0)

Elon Musk on double-decker freeways, permitting, and building sewers

November 11th, 2018
boring machine segments

Segments of The Boring Company's boring machine, called Godot. (credit: The Boring Company)

Tesla, SpaceX, and Boring Company CEO Elon Musk is good at finding alternative markets for his products. He did this with the lithium-ion batteries he was building and sourcing for his Model S, X, and eventually Model 3 cars: by developing a line of stationary storage battery products, he tapped into another well of potential customers at little additional expense.

Similarly, Musk told mayors on Thursday that he wants The Boring Company to dig sewers, water transport, and electrical tunnels under cities, in addition to the transportation-focused tunnels he hopes to dig to house electric skate systems.

Musk mentioned this alternate use for his boring machines at the National League of Cities' City Summit, during a "fireside chat" with Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti. According to Forbes, Musk told the audience, "The Boring Company is also going to do tunneling for, like, water transport, sewage, electrical. We're not going to turn our noses up at sewage tunnels. We're happy to do that too."

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Posted in cars, electrical, Elon Musk, Energy, sewers, the boring company | Comments (0)

California’s cap-and-trade dollars are building a hydrogen fuel cell boat

November 8th, 2018
hydrogen fuel cell vehicle

Enlarge / A mock-up of what the Water-Go-Round may look like. (credit: Golden Gate Zero Emissions Marine)

All aboard: construction of a hydrogen fuel cell boat, with aims to be the first of its kind to run commercially, was announced on Thursday in San Francisco.

A startup called Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine (GGZEM) held a keel-laying ceremony on Thursday for its new, 70-foot hydrogen fuel cell ferry. The keel-laying ceremony marks the beginning of the construction of a vessel, and GGZEM expects that it will be completed by September 2019.

The boat, which will be called the Water-Go-Round, will likely be the first hydrogen fuel cell boat to run commercially, ferrying people around the San Francisco Bay. Generally, ferries tend to be diesel-powered, creating significant noise underwater, as well as greenhouse gas emissions and potential marine pollution from spills. By contrast, a hydrogen fuel cell boat would be quieter, and its only emissions while operating in the water would be more water.

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Posted in Biz & IT, boat, emissions, Energy, fuel cell, hydrogen, science | Comments (0)

States will vote on these energy and environment issues in midterm elections

November 4th, 2018
Voter voting

Enlarge / A voter casts his ballot in a polling station in Missoula, Montana. (credit: Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In the United States, mid-term elections are set to take place on Tuesday November 6. Although much of the limelight is on Congressional races and gubernatorial races, US citizens also have the chance to vote on some important initiatives, measures, and amendments that are specific to their state. These state rules can often have a more direct impact on the lives of Americans than their representatives in Congress do, but because proposals tend to be long and nuanced, they also can attract a lot less attention.

Energy and environment topics are among the most contentious of 2018's ballots, especially in western states where fossil fuel interests are facing a public that's increasingly concerned with climate change. Here's a look at seven proposed rules on US state ballots that could influence state economies and environments in serious ways.

Alaska, Ballot Measure 1

Salmon Habitat Protections and Permits Initiative

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Posted in Energy, environment, mining, oil, Policy, renewable, science | Comments (0)

Floating solar is more than panels on a platform—it’s hydroelectric’s symbiont

November 3rd, 2018
Two people working on a floating solar installation

Enlarge / A view of the new floating solar farm being grid connected on Godley Reservoir in Hyde, on February 10, 2016 in Manchester, England. (credit: Ashley Cooper / Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

A total of 1.1 gigawatts (GW) of solar have been installed around the world as of September, according to a new report by the World Bank (PDF). That's similar to the amount of traditional solar panel capacity that had been installed around the world in the year 2000, the report says. The World Bank expects that, like traditional solar 18 years ago, we're likely to see an explosion of floating solar over the next two decades.

That's because floating solar is not simply "solar panels on water." Solar panels prevent algae growth in dammed areas, and they inhibit evaporation from occurring in hotter climates. (According to Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, major lakes in the southwestern US like Lake Mead and Lake Powell can lose more than 800,000 acre-feet of water to evaporation per year, and the adorably-described "floatovoltaics" could prevent up to 90 percent of that evaporation.") Additionally, floating solar avoids taking up space on land that is priced at a premium. In Northern California, for example, a floating solar installation was added to a nearby reservoir because the land around it was better used for growing grapes.

Another benefit of floating solar is that ground doesn't have to be leveled before the plant is installed. Usually, fixed-tilt panels are attached to a floating platform that's moored to the bottom of the reservoir. Most systems send electricity through floating inverters, although in some smaller installations the inverters are situated on land.

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Posted in Biz & IT, Energy, science, solar | Comments (0)

Tesla’s profitable quarter didn’t translate for Panasonic

October 31st, 2018
A Tesla with Panasonic batteries

Enlarge / Visitors inspect a Tesla Co. Model X electric automobile, fitted with Panasonic batteries, on the Panasonic Corp. exhibition stand at the IFA Consumer electronics show in Berlin, Germany, on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. (credit: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In the third quarter of 2018, Panasonic lost $65 million in the branch of the business that makes battery cells to power Tesla's electric vehicles, according to The Wall Street Journal. The company said it had to add production and hire workers more quickly than expected as Tesla aggressively ramped up to producing 4,300 Model 3 vehicles a week.

In September, the head of Panasonic's Automotive Division said that the company was on track to complete three new production lines at Tesla's Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada, by the end of the year. That would bring the total number of battery-cell-producing lines at the Gigafactory up to 13.

The Model 3 ramp up that ate into Panasonic's bottom line didn't have the same effect on Tesla, which posted its first profitable quarter in several quarters last week. It shares soared.

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Posted in cars, Energy, Finance, gigafactory, panasonic, Tesla | Comments (0)

If weight isn’t an issue, nickel-hydrogen battery chemistry looks promising

October 31st, 2018
Cylinder containing nickel and hydrogen

A prototype Nickel-Hydrogen battery testing cell. (credit: Wei Chen, Yang Jin, Jie Zhao, Nian Liu, and Yi Cui )

Battery technology is extremely important for a world that uses more and more renewable energy. Renewable energy is variable—no electricity can be produced while the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing—so being able to store excess electricity that's made when those renewable sources are producing is key to putting more of it on the grid.

The problem is that very large batteries can be expensive. A lot of research has been devoted to making batteries lighter and smaller, given how focused we've been over the last several decades on consumer technology. But now researchers are relaxing size and weight constraints and trying to find battery chemistries that are cheap and are extremely long-lasting instead.

Researchers from Stanford and the Georgia Institute of Technology (GT) are suggesting a new configuration of a nickel-hydrogen battery that could be cheap enough for mass-adoption on the grid. Traditional nickel-hydrogen batteries can last for up to 30,000 cycles and are extremely reliable and durable, which makes them great for grid use. But they often rely on a platinum catalyst that can make them prohibitively expensive for large installations.

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Posted in battery, Energy, grid, grid storage, nickel-hydrogen, science | Comments (0)

New York officially sues Exxon Mobil for misleading investors on climate change

October 25th, 2018
Photo by Gary Gardiner/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Enlarge / Photo by Gary Gardiner/Bloomberg via Getty Images (credit: Getty Images)

The New York State Attorney General hit oil giant Exxon Mobil with a lawsuit on Wednesday, claiming that the company misled its investors about climate change and the risks that it would cause for their investment.

The lawsuit has been in the works for years. New York started investigating Exxon Mobil in November 2015, when it subpoenaed the company for financial records as well as internal documents and communications.

Wednesday's lawsuit (PDF) claims that the company told investors it was managing risks from existing and potential climate change regulations, while it allegedly wasn't. Failing to build political risk into its financial models would have made Exxon Mobil look more profitable, and consequently investing in the company might have seemed like a better bet to investors.

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Posted in climate change, Energy, Exxon Mobil, Policy, science | Comments (0)

Five solar roof shingles that aren’t from Tesla

October 24th, 2018
view of solar shingles and a beach

Enlarge (credit: CertainTeed)

In November 2016, Tesla CEO Elon Musk gathered a collection of investors, fans, and journalists at the Universal Studios backlot in Los Angeles, California, and revealed his vision of a "solar roof"—that is, tiles with solar cells integrated into them so that they look just like regular roofing tiles, except they produce power.

At the time, SolarCity and Tesla officials said that solar roof installation would begin in summer 2017. Initially, Tesla employees were the only customers, until Tesla reportedly started installing solar roofs for reservation holders in January. Eventually, that seemed to stall, too. Reports indicated that, as of May 31, only 12 solar roof systems had been installed, all in Northern California. In an August shareholder call, Musk said that solar roof installations were finally ramping up, with "several hundred" solar roofs being installed. The company later contacted Ars to clarify that this number included homes that were scheduled for installation, not homes that were actively having a solar roof installed.

Tesla has said that it's taking time to verify the safety of these solar roofs to make sure they'll work for decades rather than a dozen years. In the company's Q2 shareholder letter, Tesla wrote, "We are steadily ramping Solar Roof production in Buffalo and are also continuing to iterate on the product design and production process, learning from our early factory production and field installations. We have deployed Solar Roof on additional homes in Q2 and are gaining valuable feedback from each new installation." The letter added that Tesla plans to ramp up more toward the end of 2018, so if you're on the reservation list, you might get lucky soon.

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Posted in Energy, science, solar roof, solar tiles, Tesla | Comments (0)