Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Man Lights House with Toyota Prius

An enterprising New Jersey man used his Toyota Prius as a generator to run his home’s lights, laptops, and a television because he lost power due to the recent Sandy outages. For one week he used an inverter and some extension cords to produce power for his home while only using 75% of one tank of gas.

At one point, as you probably know, millions of homes were without power in New York and New Jersey.

There are instructions online explaining how to use a Prius as a generator. WikiHow has a six-step process, including a tip about proper ventilation, because car exhaust can be deadly if it accumulates in a space where people or animals are breathing.

The New Jersey man is not the only person to have used a Prius to power devices in his home. Last year, a man in Massachusetts did as well. “When it looked like we were going to be without power for awhile, I dug out an inverter (which takes 12v DC and creates 120v AC from it) and  wired it into our Prius… These inverters are available for about $100 many places online,” the man said. He only used five gallons of gas to power his home appliances for three days.

Many backup generators use two-cycle engines, which are known to create large amounts of air pollution, though they certainly are much cheaper than a Prius. Some electric vehicle owners also have solar panels on their homes and generate all or a portion of their own power.
The 2012 Prius has been rated at 536 miles per tank.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

New Chemical Process Produces Biofuel Strong Enough to Power Jets

Thanks to scientists harnessing the power of chemistry, you may one day soon fly in a plane fueled by plants. An article published in the journal Nature last week describes a new technique developed by researchers at UC Berkeley that can create biofuels powerful enough to be used as jet fuel. Created using bacterial fermentation and chemical catalysis, the amped up biofuel is ten times more powerful, and it can serve as a viable power source for large industrial vehicles and airplanes.

The researchers have created a two-step process that drastically increases the potency of biofuels. First, plant sugars are broken down through fermentation using the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum,
producing acetone ethanol. Then, the resulting product is run through chemical catalysis in order to increase the amount of carbon in each molecule.

This new process ratchets up the amount of carbon present in normal ethanol by ten times, making it as powerful as diesel and jet fuel made from petrochemicals. The next challenge for the researchers is to find a way to duplicate their new methods on an industrial scale.

View the original article here

Monday, November 12, 2012

Natural Gas – Is It Stunting Innovative Thinking?

Let’s admit it, infrastructure is a boring word.   There’s nothing sexy about it.  It implies disruptions to our lives as we deal with delays and detours for construction and repair projects.  Yet it is absolutely necessary, and infrastructure is what needs to be upgraded in our water, gas, and electric grids.

My previous articles discussed investments that are ongoing or needed in the electrical grid to modernize generation, transmission, distribution, and consumption.  However, the same issues exist for gas and water too.  In some aspects, the needs are even more striking.  But how we build our infrastructure and what we build for our infrastructure also says a great deal about how innovative is our thinking.  And unfortunately, right now that thinking is “like for like”, and merely replicates existing energy models with known weaknesses in reliability and resiliency instead of building infrastructure based on new models.

Natural gas is seen by some in the energy business as a panacea to all energy concerns.  It’s domestic.  It’s cleaner than coal.  However, it requires significant infrastructure investments.  No matter how much innovation you put into the extraction technologies for fossil fuels (which by the way had HUGE federal government assistance), the supply chains still require buildouts of pipelines to transport it to refineries and on to points of consumption.  We simply don’t have sufficient pipeline capacity to transport it to all the places that want it in the USA.  It’s an infrastructure play that has a number of challenges.

The natural gas that is extracted must be processed, just like oil must be refined, or electricity must be generated.  These industrial operations expend lots of energy in processing gas into what is considered pure gas for end use consumption.  The transport of processed natural gas in pipelines requires more energy to compress it and move it in pipelines, and compressor stations, like electricity substations, are placed along major transmission corridors to boost pressure.  This map shows the interstate natural gas pipelines that transmit highly compressed natural gas.  Pipelines have physical constraints – there is only so much space available for gas, and they require electricity to compress the gas in the pipelines.  Therefore, when there is a significant electricity outage in a region, it can also impact the transmission and distribution of natural gas.
According to the US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety

Administration records, there are over 2 million miles of distribution pipeline.  As we saw in San Bruno, California two years ago, failure to properly monitor and maintain distribution pipelines has consequences.  Smart Grid technologies including the colorfully named PIGS (Pipeline Insertable Gauges) that can monitor and transmit measurements within pipes can help reduce the odds of similar mechanical, technical, and human failures.

But with natural gas, we are once again relying on a model of centralized production, large-scale transport, and wide-scale distribution.  It has all the weaknesses of today’s electrical grid.  Acts of nature and human causes can cause disruptions.  And because natural gas is a conveniently transportable fuel, that also means it is a very exportable fuel.  Sine we won’t see any federal or state laws that require that natural gas produced in the USA must be consumed in the USA – it will go to the highest bidder – on or offshore.  While gas is inexpensive now, it hasn’t always been, and if history is our guide, there’s no guarantee that it won’t be in the future.

So at the cusp of grid modernization, we are placing much of our energy future in a source that we hope will remain cheap and be readily available at any point it is needed, which requires committed investments in new infrastructure and enhancements to existing infrastructure.  It is an energy source that also generates concerns about potential environmental degradation and seismic destabilization.  And somehow, this all looks better than clean domestic renewables that require a different infrastructure investment, but avoid those troubling questions about price fluctuations, exportability, and environmental impacts.  Yes, we have too much “like for like” thinking about infrastructure going on when we need truly revolutionary thinking.

View the original article here

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Voltaic DIY Solar Charger Kits: Off-Grid Power Your Way

Voltaic Systems makes some of the highest quality solar charging accessories on the market today. We’ve featured many of their gadgets in the past, from solar charging backpacks to iPad cases. Now they’ve launched a new line of products aimed at the DIY enthusiast: a selection of solar charging kits which allow users to design their own portable power systems.

One size fits all is so 1990's. Today’s consumers, even the conscious kind, want customization. The market has responded, giving us the ability to have everything, from cars to hamburgers, “our way”. While it may seem a little self-absorbed, there is some wisdom in building customization into today’s product designs. When people can customize, there’s less waste, and we come away more confident that our unique needs will be met. Voltaic’s newest products are designed to make it easier for people to create their own solar chargers based on their own power, cost and form factor requirements.

The new solar charging kits build on the path forged by Voltaic’s Fuse, a 10 W solar panel that comes with a strap system so it can be attached to any type of backpack. Especially convenient if you love your current backpack and don’t want to shell out $200+ for one with the panels already embedded.

Each DIY solar charging kit includes waterproof solar panels, connectors, and a universal battery. Kits range in size from 2 Watts of solar power for basic smartphone and small device charging, to 16 Watts for laptop, tablet and digital camera charging. Single panel kits can be connected directly to a Voltaic battery for power storage. Those looking for more juice can build multi-panel kits need to use a circuit box (below) which includes two inputs for solar panels, an output for an LED wire (optional) and two power output cables.

“We’ve discovered that one size doesn’t fit all. Our customers charge hundreds of different devices in wildly different conditions all over the world.” said Shayne McQuade, CEO of Voltaic Systems. “We created these solar charger kits so our customers can build solar systems tailored to their specific power, weight cost, and form factor requirements.” Small kits start at $25.

Saturday, November 10, 2012



Top 10 States, 10 States Needing Most Improvement, Most-Improved States Highlighted: AK, AZ, CA, CT, KS, LA, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NY, NC, ND, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, VT, WA, WV, WY

Category: Investment, Renewable Energy

View the original article here

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Air Force Wind Turbines at Radar Station Convert Nay-Sayers to Cheerleaders

Here’s a crazy lede from a press release about Air Force wind turbines that came out earlier this week: “Change is blowing into Cape Cod Air Force Station as the 6th Space Warning Squadron receives two new wind turbines.” Crazy, because just a couple of years ago the U.S. Department of Defense expressed serious national security concerns about radar interference from wind farms, and now here they are plunking down a couple of wind turbines right in the middle of a radar station. However, before the alarm bells go off, take a look at what’s changed over the past couple of years.

First off, let’s note that the full lede in that press release goes like this:
“Change is blowing into Cape Cod Air Force Station as the 6th Space Warning Squadron receives two new wind turbines here saving an estimated $1 million in annual energy costs.”

The two turbines are expected to slash electricity costs at the station in half and pay for themselves in about twelve years. After that, they will provide the station with free electricity for up to 13 years, assuming they reach their 20-25 lifespan.

The press release is a bit vague on the details but apparently the station currently receives electricity from an oil-fired power plant. From that benchmark the Air Force expects that the two turbines combined will cut carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide emissions by 2,000 metric tons per year.

So, what’s changed? In this instance, perhaps nothing. There are different kinds of radar systems for different purposes. This one is for “space situational awareness” and for tracking sea-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as satellites, and it’s possible that wind turbines don’t make a difference for that kind of system.

In general, though, wind turbines are recognized as a threat to radar operations, and by the mid-2000's it became obvious that the growing wind industry in the U.S. was on a collision course with military radar systems. In response, the Department of Homeland Security commissioned a study on radar interference from wind turbines that was released in 2008.

The study noted that the conventional solution was location-based, meaning simply that wind turbines could not be located anywhere near a radar station.

That’s a rather primitive approach to solving a high-tech problem, and sure enough the study recommended exploring technological rather than geographical solutions.

Fast-forward just three years and you’ll see that one is at hand, at least in the UK. Within the past year, the UK’s Ministry of Defence has worked out a big deal with wind farm developers that has “unlocked” 4 gigawatts (GW) worth of blocked wind farms.

Something must be up in the U.S., too, because just last August the Department of Defense signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of the Interior to explore the potential for wind power and other forms of alternative energy on millions of acres of land at western military bases.

Meanwhile, a U.S. company called Aveillant has come up with a new radar system for air traffic control at airports that it calls a Holographic Radar, which uses 3-D imagery to distinguish between airplane wings and turbine blades.

In any case, if radar systems can be redesigned to coexist with wind turbines, perhaps a technological solution will soon be at hand to ensure that wind turbines can coexist more safely with birds, too.