Please Note: This project is not currently active. The content on this site is provided for reference and is not actively maintained.

Posts Tagged ‘renewable energy’

How Can Cars Run on Hydrogen?

by March 31, 2012

needs_rank As part of this answer, we’ll need to explain the role of batteries and/or fuel cells. The answer infographic will detail different ways that fruit trees are pollinated. If you would like to see a high-quality infographic developed for this question, please share it with your network using the sharing icons above—these actions will increase the question’s priority. Please look at the example answers here. Also, if you would value a high-quality answer being available on the Web, please consider a small donation ($0.99) to support our research team.

More »

How Do Greenhouse Gases Trap Heat in the Atmosphere?

by February 26, 2012

If you would like to see a high-quality infographic developed for this question, please share it with your network using the sharing icons above—these actions will increase the question’s priority. Please look at the example answers here. Also, if you would value a high-quality answer being available on the Web, please consider a small donation ($0.99) to support our research team.

More »

The Role of Storage with Variable Energy Sources Like Wind and Solar

by November 8, 2011

In a recent post, I asked What’s Going To Happen To Your Vehicle’s Lithium Battery At the End Of Its Life? One of the options discussed in the NY Times article about the fate of batteries that sparked my post was as a means for storing electricity generated by wind turbines. A couple of other recent articles about energy storage caught my eye—both related to wind energy.

Why might storage play a key role in a grid that has a lot of wind turbines?

In early October, Mark Ahlstrom, the CEO of WindLogics, gave an excellent presentation as part of Frontiers in the Environment series at the U of MN’s Institute on the Environment (view the video here). He explained how our variable demand for electricity over the course of a typical day is met by a range of generation sources, from base load to “peakers.” Base load is met by nuclear, coal, and hyrdo—depending on location. Base load plants are meant to run 24/7, and adjustments to their output need to be scheduled well in advance. On the other end of the spectrum are peakers, which are small electrical generators that can be turned on with little notice and do not need to run for a minimum period of, say, a day. The figure below is based on a slide from Ahlstrom’s slides.

ahlstrom-sys-load-combo

Ahlstrom went on to explain how things get interesting when a substantial amount of wind generators are added to the mix. In the figure below, the bright green line represents the reduced daily load that results by adding a number of wind turbines to this hypothetical typical energy demand. He goes on to explain how the rest of the electricity generators need to adapt to this new load curve, which can have more spikes and other challenges, such as a faster ramp-up in the early morning hours—challenges that the current energy system wasn’t set up to tackle.

ahlstrom-sys-load-combo-2

Here’s a good piece by the ClimateWire group that landed in the NY Times: Fickle Winds, Intermittent Sunshine Start to Stress U.S. Power System. It dives into detail about the policy challenges that blending intermittent energy sources with our traditional electrical generation system.

Back to storage. A recent piece in the NY Times described how Batteries at a Wind Farm Help Control Output. In the largest battery installation connected to the grid in the U.S., they’ll use over a million batteries to provide storage for a few minutes of generated electricity from a large wind farm in West Virginia. The idea is that this stored electricity can be fed into the grid to help smooth things out when output from the wind turbines drops off momentarily. It is not designed to even out longer periods when the wind is calm. Significant storage on the time scale of hours and possibly days would most likely require a solution such as pumping water uphill or compressing air when the wind blows, and then using this stored energy to run a generator when the wind is quiet (here’s a project underway to study pumped hydro in conjunction with wind farms in northern Minnesota). There may also be options to store electricity in electric vehicles integrated with a smart grid of the future.

Finally, another NY Times piece that gave me some pause had to do using water heaters and electrical space heaters to store excess electricity brought about in part from excessive winds in the Pacific Northwest. The idea is that automated, shorter-term storage of excess electricity in homes that already have electric hot water heaters and heat with electricity could bleed off excess electricity pouring into the grid during storms when wind generators are running at maximum output (note that the situation was further complicated because hydropower operators were unable to reduce output from their generators for fear of creating conditions that might kill fish).

At a gut level, this strikes me as a good way to avert disaster, but probably not a great strategy from an energy efficiency standpoint. My sense is that using electricity for water heating and space heating is not nearly as efficient as, say, natural gas. The standard reason for arguing this point is that the efficiency of traditional energy plants is much less than 50%, whereas a high-efficiency hot water tank can exceed 90%. However, maybe this standard reasoning needs to be updated in a situation where electricity comes from wind or solar. This is a topic that merits further consideration.

More »

What’s Going To Happen To Your Vehicle’s Lithium Battery At the End Of Its Life?

by September 12, 2011

Energy consumed in transportation has been the focus of a number of recent posts here, including one contemplating the use of smiley faces to help drivers understand the impact of their behavioral choices, and one exploring why the cost-benefit balance is tipped against the purchase of a hybrid car based on fuel savings alone. Another big issue to consider with either a hybrid or an all-electric vehicle is the battery, which necessarily needs to pack a lot of charge, both by being large and, increasingly, by using metals like lithium.

5029455937_5ff2964379_b

How a lithium-ion battery works: This illustration shows the inner workings of a lithium-ion battery. When delivering energy to a device, the lithium ion moves from the anode to the cathode. The ion moves in reverse when recharging. Compared to other rechargeable batteries, lithium-ion batteries can store more energy in smaller, lighter packages. This unsurpassed energy-to-weight ratio make them the battery of choice for consumer electronics like cell phones and laptops, but also a great fit for electrified vehicles. Illustration and text courtesy Argonne National Laboratory and was accessed on Flickr.

A recent post about the prevalence of rare earth metals highlighted how much there is to know about the components used to make current vehicles based on new technologies, like hybrid drive trains. Massive supplies of elements like lithium are going to be key to permit scale-up of hybrid and all-electric vehicles requiring lithium batteries. Supply can come from mining operations, as well as recycling. An article a few days ago in the NY Times Business section highlighted the reality that there is no consensus on how electric car batteries should be recycled or reused. (more…)

More »

Which Energy Questions To Answer?

by July 28, 2011

2540266946_df7114d8fa The memory of our frustration during our last car purchase, more than 10 years ago, is still strong. Fuel economy was central to our decision, and we ended up opting for a turbo diesel Volkswagon. Soon after our purchase, I certainly engaged in some second guessing. This was the older generation turbo diesel, which means the dirtier version. We were in Washington, D.C., so we had to carry with us the reality that we were contributing to lowering the air quality. A more nuanced issue—and one that I’ve not fully researched—is that fuel mileage for a diesel is not directly comparable to that of a gasoline powered car, especially if one is interested in their transportation carbon foot print. I’d forgotten about this for a while, but it is very relevant now that we at Dialogue Earth are working on a project proposal to supply information to support consumer decisions that are connected to energy use.

Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be exploring how people get their information about energy use when they’re pondering a purchase, be it a new car or a clothes dryer. Is there the proverbial “low hanging fruit” in terms of information that would be relatively easy to provide, but is not readily accessible currently? No doubt consumers will span the spectrum from knowing very little about energy to having a deep knowledge. What do consumers with different energy knowledge want to know?

Have you thought about your personal energy use recently? Did you seek out new information? If so, was it easy to find? What sources did you tap? If not, why?

More »

Phillips Looks To Brighten The Market For LEDs

by May 18, 2011

EnduraLED A21

EnduraLED A21

Philips is looking to change the game for LED lights, which have traditionally offered long term savings at a high initial cost (as much as $50 and up).  However, as far as brightness, LED bulbs just have not yet been able live up to their incandescent cousins (only being able to emit light equivalent to that of a 60-watt incandescent).

Phillips recently announced,as shared in this NYT post, that later this year, it will market a new LED lamp, the EnduraLED A21, that will retail for about $40 and emit equivalent light as a 75-watt incandescent.

Through new technologies in retail items, such as these light bulbs, it is important for people to know the information surrounding them, such as the initial cost of a new kind of technology and the potential for savings in both money and energy use—just the kind of information that Dialogue Earth aims to deliver.

I’d also like to note that there are programs that offer incentives to subsidize the cost associated with changing over to more efficient lighting, such as the Commercial Lighting Program, offered by Xcel energy through a joint effort with the Minnesota Center for Energy and Environment.

It is conceivable one day, that our Pulse tool will be able to be used for viewing public sentiment across important topics similar to the question of whether people are preferring traditional incandescent light bulbs, or if they like the idea of switching to LED lights and why.

More »

Oil Companies’ Profits to Increase Greatly This Year; People’s Energy-Related Questions to Follow Suit.

by May 5, 2011

The rapid increase in oil prices should equate to the oil industry having its best year since 2008, as reported by Chris Kahn for AP (via ABC). Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhilips are expected to report a combined $18.2 billion in first quarter earnings — a 40% increase from last year and just shy of the $20.2 billion that they earned in the first three months of 2008.

An increase in consumption, the constriction of supply (e.g., Libya’s reserve access is currently limited), and also a weaker US dollar are all speculated to contribute to an increase in oil prices.

While some stand to benefit from the rise in oil prices (shareholders), businesses and consumers will feel the hurt as gasoline prices inflate. Increases in gas prices tend to have ripple effects, increasing the prices of transportation and any good or service that is reliant on transportation — bread, toiletries, DVD players, air plane tickets, etc.

The broad societal effect of an increase in oil prices is precisely what makes this issue of interest to Dialogue Earth.  This will undoubtedly augment expressed sentiment related to energy across social media platforms, such as Twitter. (more…)

More »

What Do We Need To Know About Rare Earth Metals?

by May 5, 2011

1904166629_2fb0533991_m

Photo credit: Giles Douglas

The short answer is: lots. This recent piece on rare earth metals in the New York Times is eye opening. The fact that each Toyota Prius uses a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of neodymium—an element that I honestly had not known even existed—is worth understanding. This article highlights the challenges facing companies who have been planning to recycle rare earth metals from old electronics, as well as the reality that China controls the vast majority of the rare earth market.

For me, that there is a role of elements like neodymium in our energy system, underscores its complexity. Obviously, Marvin just nibbles away at the edges of that complexity in our recent video created by Robert Deutsch. This is exactly the type of issue that we plan to address in efforts like our planned Media Challenge focused on energy topics.

More »

US to Expand Seeding of Biomass, Yet Another Reason For Increasing Public Understanding

by May 2, 2011

In her most recent post (NYT), Elisabeth Rosenthal outlines recent efforts by the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy to provide seed funding to fledgling businesses in the biomass fuel industry.

Discussions of biofuels have been in the news a lot in recent years. In the U.S., that has primarily focused on creating ethanol from corn, or biodiesel from soybeans, although many companies are working on second-generation strategies for creating liquid fuels. While biomass is commonly used for heat (think firewood), Rosenthal’s post points out that large-scale use of chopped up plant material (biomass) to create electricity and heat is not widespread. Interestingly, Brazilian ethanol derived from sugarcane is often argued to have an attractive energy balance because the left over plant material is used to fuel the energy-hungry distillation process. (more…)

More »

What A Mouthful: Eating Through the U.S. Energy Mix In 60 Seconds

by April 26, 2011

uncle_sam_stopwatch

Energy sources in order from 12 o'clock as shown in Uncle Sam's Dinner video: natural gas, biomass, coal, nuclear, hydro, solar, wind, and oil.

A recent post by David Roberts on Grist.org demonstrated the value of explaining a rather simple concept about our energy system: the mix of our energy sources. In Robert’s post, he pulled out data from Black & Veatch’s Energy Market Perspective analysis on the energy sources for U.S. electricity generation, comparing the mix in 2011 to that projected for 2035.

This post made me want to take another look at the video, Uncle Sam’s Dinner, from our just-completed video contest. Specifically, I wanted to check how closely the creator, Henry Reich, had come to representing the various energy sources that make up the overall U.S. sector—not just for electricity generation. Comparing the pie chart below with the stop watch captured above, it is clear that the video is extremely accurate. See this post for the full background material on the U.S. energy sector provided to creators for this contest. (more…)

More »

A New Data Point for Homeowners Considering Installation of Solar Photovoltaic Panels

by April 25, 2011

4159616451_300e6a27df_m

Photo credit: http://www.solardave.com

As discussed by a number of media outlets, including the NY Times’ Green blog, a report just released by Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (link to download page here) provides one more data point for homeowners weighing the costs and benefits of installing solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on their home.

Making decisions about installing solar systems is very complex, and this type of information is sure to be helpful to the decision making of homeowners. As we tackle issues like solar energy as part of our forthcoming Media Challenge, we will work with a broad network of experts to distill information such as this study. We will then work with great storytellers to bring these points to life, like in our recently-released videos that discuss energy in general terms. (more…)

More »

What are the top 10 energy topics that the general public should understand?

by April 22, 2011

quora-pictureGetting a handle on the priority issues that should be included in Dialogue Earth’s upcoming Media Challenge is no small task, plus it needs to be done transparently and in an inclusive manner that ultimately builds trust.

Ten years ago there were fewer options for answering a tough question like this (refer to our History section for a description of the lengthy process used in an effort to identify 100 indicators to describe the condition and use of U.S. Ecosystems). Today, there are some powerful platforms that hold considerable promise for helping to expedite this process (see discussion in this recent post).

Today, we have launched an experiment using one of the prime Q&A platforms, Quora, to explore the viability of exploring answers to this question in an open and transparent manner. If you have an opinion, please jump over to Quora and make your voice heard. You can enter answers directly, and you can vote on answers provided by others. Here is the background material that I added to the question on Quora: (more…)

More »

Bringing Trustworthy Energy Information to the Table

by April 20, 2011

This opinion piece authored by Kent Cavender-Bares was published in the Pioneer Press on April 20, 2011.

‘We need all of our energy options on the table!’ So say those advocating for the removal of the legal barrier preventing new nuclear plants in Minnesota. I completely agree with the sentiment and would go a step further: We need to understand all of our energy options so we can make informed decisions about them.

Does this mean entering a cycle of unending study? No. Expert studies certainly have their important role. But they are not the weak link. Rather, what is missing is an adequate transfer of knowledge from the expert community to the rest of us regarding the multiple, unequal options available. We need translators to bring technical key points to life in a way that furthers our understanding while remaining faithful to the underlying science and technology.

The challenge in making that happen with complex, controversial topics such as nuclear energy is twofold.

First, it means traversing the gap between the language of those who understand a technology like nuclear energy and the rest of us. That is where great communicators come into the picture.

Second, it means separating trustworthy information from hyperbole. We need to be able to identify and then clearly communicate a knowledge base that is widely shared by experts drawn from across society — experts from corporations like GE and Xcel as well as academics and experts from various advocacy groups and government agencies. (more…)

More »

So, Why Energy?? — The Rationale Behind Choosing Energy For Our Media Challenge

by April 19, 2011

For our upcoming, yearlong Media Challenge, we at Dialogue Earth wanted to choose a topic that is both of importance to our collective future and that is consistently on people’s minds.

Energy was a topic that fit very well with these considerations.

Through its varying forms, energy is a topic that most people think about and must make important decisions about on a daily basis. Whether strategizing about what day of the week you should fill up your gas tank — and if you should fill up all the way, for that matter — or remembering to turn off your lights in an unoccupied room to save money on that monthly electric bill. (more…)

More »

The Energy Challenge Series – Our First Concept Phase

by March 15, 2011

dialogue-earth-energy-promo-imageThrough our trials, we have found that it is best while administering our video production contests through Tongal to start out with a concept phase.  By starting the contests in this way, it gives us more opportunity to give feedback and a little bit more quality control as opposed to just allowing the producer contestants to create videos based on their interpretations of our instructions.

Also by allowing for the concept phase, we can involve the best storywriters within the creative community, many of whom do not have the resources to produce videos.  This increases overall participation, seeds our project with great concepts, and plays towards the collaborative spirit of our crowdsourcing endeavor.

(more…)

More »