Category Archives: Energy

Rooftop solar about to slap your utility silly?

According to a recent piece in Computerworld, your utility company’s biggest fear is rooftop solar panels.

OK, it might not be, but it should.

“Rooftop solar panel installations could cut utility profits by 15% or more over the next eight years,” Computerworld says, quoting a federally funded report.

I’m not too sure about US prices and profits, but if this was the UK, that would leave utilities floundering with meagre profit margins of 60 to 70 percent….

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Japan draws up plans for solar power stations in space

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To fans of science fiction, the idea of having solar power stations in space sending down energy to Earth is far from new.

News is, however, the fact that Japan have drawn up plans for exactly such a power station.

The idea, which is still just an idea, goes as follows:

Take an island, fill it witl billions of tiny rectifying antennas able of converting microwave energy into DC electricity. Run a cable from the island, where no-one is going to want to live, because of the radiation, to the mainland. Now take a handfull (or two) of solar collectors, shoot them into space and have them set up in a geosynchronous orbit and beam down microwaves onto the island from 36 000 km above Earth.

Sounds great, and as long as the whole thing worked according to plan. If the solar collectors missed their target, or someone decided to tinker with the whole setup, things could be very, very different.

Imagine a giant microwave oven, and then stuff the population of Tokyo into it…..

Fracking explosion and fire = Free Pizza

pizza boomm

The citizens of Dunkard Township, Pennsylvania, were recently treated to free pizza and soft drinks by the Oil & Gas giant Chevron. Sounds nice, but then again – Chevron had good reason for giving out free food and drinks.

The reason was that one of Chevron’s nearby shale gas fracking wells had exploded and then burnt for four days straight.

Obviously, this came as a bit of a chock to locals.

“Then the house just sort of shook and there was a big loud bang,” one told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Another told the same paper that the ‘loud bang’ had sounded like

“[…]a jet engine going 5 feet above your house.”

Of course, Chevron felt the locals’ pain. And what better way of saying sorry for blowing up large parts of the countryside than to offer some free food and drinks?

“The pizza was “a token of appreciation for their patience during this time,” Kent Robertson, a public affairs officer for Chevron, tells Newsweek, “and our commitment to the community goes far beyond this and our outreach is ongoing,” Newsweek recently reported.

All in all it’s hard to say that Chevron seem exactly empathetic in this case. On the other hand, it is nice to know that if they blow up your town centre, they are at least likely to upgrade from pizza and a soft drink to a steak and a beer….then all you need, is to find out where the explosion sent your cutlery. And your dining room table.

Climate scientists speak out in favour of nuclear energy

Some of the world’s most prominent scientists have written an open letter calling for the development of nuclear energy.

James Hansen, Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emanuel and Tom Wigley wrote:

“As climate and energy scientists concerned with global climate change, we are writing to urge you to advocate the development and deployment of safer nuclear energy systems. We appreciate your organization’s concern about global warming, and your advocacy of renewable energy. But continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity’s ability to avoid dangerous climate change.”

In an email interview with rediff.com, Hansen further explained:

“We should compare alternatives for the future. The air pollution from fossil fuels kills far more people than the worst nuclear technology of the past, the most weakly regulated nuclear technology,” he said.

Now for someone who for a long time has been a supporter of nuclear energy, this makes a lot of sense. However, it’s going to have a lot of people up in arms….luckily the arms won’t be nuclear….

How much energy would it take to completely wipe you out?

Science Fiction is cool! Just think of things like ray guns…or the phasers from Star Trek. I’ve personally spent way too much time wondering about questions like: ‘how would phasers actually work?’, usually followed by questions like ‘how often would you get the setting on it wrong and end up vaporizing someone instead of just stunning them?’.

Good thing we have science – and scientists, because they are the sort of people who will sit down and find answers for questions like this.

Let’s start with the concept of vaporizing. If we take a pedantic view, then this involves splitting every single atom in your body down into its most base components. This is not an easy thing to do. Actually, it takes “460 kilojoules of energy to break just one mole of oxygen-hydrogen bonds—around the same energy that a 2,000-pound car going 70 miles per hour”.

So, getting out the mother of all abacuses, scientists worked out that it would take a whopping three gigajoules of energy to completely vaporize you. To put it into context, that’s the amount of energy you need to melt 5,000 pounds (roughly 2.2 tonnes) of steel.

Who do we have thank for this information? Well, it’s actually the undergraduate students on the Natural Sciences/Interdisciplinary Science degree programmes at the University of Leicester.

Fracking: opportunity or danger? Or cute cartoon?

Hydrofrackturing rock formations to extract gas – or fracking, as it’s commonly known – has generated more than a fair share of debate in recent years.

Supporters call it the key to solving our energy needs while moving towards more green energy, while opponents call it the worst idea since the Romans put lead in their aqueducts.

And water is often at the heart of the debate between the two sides, with opponents saying that fracking causes pollution of drinking water and also causes earthquakes. Supporters, on the other hand, say that this isn’t the case and point to the fact that gas extracted through fracking has lowered the use of coal in some countries, meaning that it’s helping reduce the amounts of CO2 humans pump into the atmosphere.

Right or wrong, this is a complex issue. Good thing we have cartoons.

OK, that’s a dig (bad pun, sorry), but this illustration of the pros and cons actually does a pretty good job of explaining the whole thing:

Obama’s plan on the environment – not great, but has infographic

President Obama has revealed his plan to reduce American CO2 emissions and generally improve the state of the environment.

Left and right have already had a swing at it, and if you’re into the environment as a sorta nice place to hang out, you’ll probably be a bit disappointed at its limited scope and level of ambition.

But hey, it comes with an infographic:

climate_change_report_62513_final_0

Google buys flying windmills

Google have announced that they have bought Makani Power, a company know for its ‘flying windmills’.

Instead of building a tower and sticking some blades and an electricity generator on the top of it, Makani’s version of a windmill is a flying robot wing, with propellers that can act as both a means of propulsion at lift-off and power the generators once it reaches the desired height. The whole thing is tethered to the ground, meaning that the company does away with a lot of the construction costs usually associated with building a windmill.

“This formalizes a long and productive relationship between our two companies, and will provide Makani with the resources to accelerate our work to make wind energy cost competitive with fossil fuels,” Makani said in a statement on its website.

It might still be difficult to understand what exactly the whole thing is about, so here’s a video of the wing in action:

German brewers united against fracking for gas

Mmmhmhhm, beer, mwarhghgh
Mmmhmhhm, beer, mwarhghgh

Photo by: barockschloss

German brewers are warning the country’s government that the controversial fracking for shale gas could ruin the industry.

Basically, the brewers are concerned that fracking, which involves pumping a mix of water, sand and chemicals into sediments deep underground, might cause impurities in some of the water sources the industry relies on.

Although it’s still very uncertain if fracking could impact the brewers in any way near what they’re fearing and at the same time impossible because of the brewing process, it could be kinda funny seeing an Oktoberfest where people in lederhosen were lighting their beers and burps on fire. Or is that just me?

Tesla pays back $451 million – nine years ahead of time

The electric car maker Tesla has said thank you very much for the loan to the US Government and repaid the entire $451.8 million loan – nine years ahead of the payment plan.

“Following this payment, Tesla will be the only American car company to have fully repaid the government,” Tesla said in a press release.

How’s that for rubbing the other car makers’ noses in it?

The news is likely to send Tesla’s stocks rising still higher, after the company has seen their market price double in the last 12 months.