Aug 3, 2009 | 8
When temperatures rose into the triple digits in the Pacific Northwest last week, breaking local heat records, electricity use also skyrocketed. Most grids can handle such events, but there was a problem in this case, Reuters reported. Just as A-C demand went up, winds slowed to nearly a halt. The calm air wasn’t turning turbines, a growing component of the region’s suite of energy sources.
Electricity operators are learning more about how fluctuating winds complicate energy distribution in a region that is becoming more dependent on wind power. For instance, over the course of just one hour this June, energy generated from wind farms on the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge jumped 1,000 megawatts—or “enough to power some 680,000 homes,” reported the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. To balance out the rise, operators had to quickly divert water around hydroelectric dams—the region’s primary power source—to keep the system from overloading. When the winds calmed again, operators could let the water flow back through. (A secondary issue arises here: whereas holding water behind dams creates more potential energy for use after winds die, it is harmful for fish trying to make their way down river.)
Jun 10, 2009 | 11
New research shows that the very wind that many hope will turn alt-energy turbines may actually be dying. The reason, ironically: climate change, say the authors of a study that will be published this summer in Journal of Geophysical Research.
Both average and peak U.S. gusts have been on the decline for at least 30 years, particularly in the East and Midwest, reports the Associated Press, and fewer days—than in the past—have any breeze at all, according to lead study author, Sara Pryor, a professor of atmospheric science at Indiana University.
Winds are still blowing across the West at a good clip, but according to the readings (taken from wind-measuring stations), the Midwest has seen a 10 percent decrease over the past 10 years. "The stations bordering the Great Lakes do seem to have experienced the greatest changes," Pryor told the AP, explaining that with more water and less ice on the lakes (thanks to warming), winds move more slowly across the surface.
Apr 17, 2009 | 1
The breezes of good fortune have been blowing through the wind power business according to the American Wind Energy Association's (AWEA) annual report, released this week.
Despite a slowing economy and a precipitous drop in oil prices last year, the industry reports a 70 percent jump in jobs (to 85,000 employees) between the end of 2007 and the end of last year as well as a doubling of demand for small wind turbines (those that can power up to 100 kilowatts – the size used for homes and small buildings).
A total of 8,545 megawatts of wind power came on line last year, but the estimates for this year are decidedly more modest (due in part to tougher credit) at 5,000 new megawatts.
The industry organization still expects to report fairly robust numbers for the first quarter of 2009, says Kathy Belyeu, AWEA's manager of industry information. But, she cautions that the numbers might be misleading because many of the projects were simply held over from 2008.
Apr 7, 2009 | 1
Antarctica’s newly inaugurated Princess Elisabeth Station is the white continent's first research facility that doesn't emit any greenhouse gases, according to the Belgium-based International Polar Foundation that designed and constructed it. The research center, open to scientists from around the globe, is located about 120 miles (200 kilometers) from the coast in Eastern Antarctica, due directly south of Africa’s southern tip. The station will draw power from wind turbines (eight for now, and nine next year) and solar panel arrays rather than from the diesel generators that power most other stations.
Mar 24, 2009 | 1
Jane Lubchenco, the newly confirmed director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), says she wants to create a national climate service that would predict the effects of global warming on communities, similarly to how the National Weather Service sends out info about the weather.
In reports in today's New York Times and Nature News, Lubchenco, 61, says she hopes to establish the service to help elected officials and businesses make decisions that may be affected by climate change, such as the location of wind farms, buildings and roads. Such a service would be run in conjunction with another department, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) or NASA, Lubchenco told the Times.
Mar 3, 2009 | 6
Actor Kiefer Sutherland is fighting imaginary terrorists the green way. Producers of 24, the FOX drama that chronicles Sutherland's Agent Jack Bauer as he races to capture crooks over a nail-biting 24-hour period, are buying carbon offsets to compensate for the global warming emissions they're releasing with every car crash and explosion.
Carbon offsets are credits that carbon dioxide (CO2) emitters (whether individuals, companies or utilities) buy toward clean-energy programs to make up for their own greenhouse-gas emissions. FOX Chairman Rupert Murdoch has said he wants to make his network carbon neutral by next year, and as part of that, producers on 24 have purchased credits toward Indian wind-power plants that they say make up for 1,291 tons of carbon-dioxide, a little more than half a season's worth of emissions, the New York Times reports. FOX also hired consultants to measure how much CO2 the production is emitting, and is using 20 percent biodiesel fuel (made from plant stock or animal fat) in trucks and motion sensors that switch off the lights in unoccupied rooms, according to the newspaper.
Feb 4, 2009 | 3
It was a banner year for wind-energy in 2008, with the U.S. installing enough wind turbines to power two million homes and surpassing Germany to become the country with the most capability of generating power from wind. But can the U.S. remain in the lead in the midst of the recession?
A report released Monday by two wind-power advocacy organizations—the Brussels-based Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) and Washington, D.C.'s American Wind Energy Association (AWEA)—showed that the U.S. doubled its capacity to create wind power last year. Meanwhile, a clean-energy analyst at investment bank Jeffries & Co., Michael McNamara, told Reuters that the U.S. will become the world's top solar producer this year. (Update [Feb. 6]: McNamara tells us today that the statement attributed to him wasn't quite right. "The U.S. will likely be the biggest producer of solar power in the future," he said.) More than 1,000 megawatts in solar power capacity were installed in the U.S. last year, says Monique Hanis, a spokesperson for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
Dec 18, 2008
Environmentalists are worried that President-elect Barack Obama’s pick for Interior secretary is too cozy with oil and mining interests and isn’t committed enough to conservation.
Obama yesterday named first-term Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, a Democrat, to head up the department, which regulates U.S. natural and cultural resources.
"I will do all I can to help reduce America's dependence on foreign oil,” Salazar said yesterday at a Chicago press conference where Obama introduced him as his pick. Salazar added that he hoped to “take the moon-shot on energy independence” as Obama develops a combination of green and traditional sources of energy, including wind, coal and natural gas, according to the New York Times.
Oct 21, 2008
The crux of the global warming crisis is how to reduce energy-related carbon dioxide emissions while keeping the lights on. A new In-Depth Report by ScientificAmerican.com takes a look at future technologies that might help.
One option is to build wind farms off shore, where stronger breezes can generate more energy than sites on or near shore and turbines won't block residents' ocean views. Leasing the outer continental shelf to offshore wind farms could generate nearly 1,000 gigawatts — slightly more than the country's current electrical capacity, according to a piece by Emily Waltz.
Another possibility is geothermal power, electricity generated by the Earth's own heat. Iceland, where nearly 90 percent of homes are heated with geothermal power and residents would pay an estimated five times more if they used traditional fossil fuels, is at the leading edge of the technology, exporting its expertise to Nevada, Germany and China.
Aug 28, 2008 | 10
The U.S. electric grid is so old and outdated it can't handle the influx of wind power and other intermittent renewable resources. Integrating such sources requires adapting a system that is finely tuned to balance the amount of electricity being used with the amount of electricity being generated with fickle winds.
But there is an even more pressing problem, according to this article in the New York Times: the grid isn't big enough. The wind tends to blow strongest in places, such as North and South Dakota, that are far from where people live and use electricity. And no one wants to spend the millions of dollars it would take to put in a new transmission line (not to mention the legal headache of getting all those rights of way).
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