• EnergyStoring renewable energy underground for a reliable, affordable national grid

    A common criticism of a total transition to renewable energy — wind, water, and solar power — is that the U.S. electrical grid cannot affordably store enough standby electricity to keep the system stable. Researchers propose an underground solution to that problem. The researchers use data from single-state calculations of the number of wind, water, and solar generators potentially needed in each state to show that these installations can theoretically result in a reliable, affordable national grid when the generators are combined with inexpensive storage and “demand response” — a program in which utilities give customers incentives to control times of peak demand.

  • Infrastructure protectionImprove cybersecurity in energy delivery

    Cyber networks support many important functions within energy delivery systems, from sending data between a smart meter and utility to controlling oil or gas flow in a pipeline. However, they are vulnerable to disturbances. According to the ICS-CERT Monitor, a publication of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, a third of the 245 reported cyber incidents in industrial control systems that happened in 2014 occurred in the energy sector. The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) initiative awards $28.1million to a consortium of eleven universities and research organizations, with the goal of improving computer/communication networks for energy delivery systems like power grids and pipelines.

  • EnergyCost of coal greater than it seems

    The cost of coal use is greater than it seems and policies geared toward subsidizing its use must be reformed quickly, before countries invest in coal-fired plants, a new study says. Governments around the world heavily subsidize fossil fuels, and in 2013 pretax subsidies amounted to about $550 billion worldwide. These substantial subsidies not only drain funds that could be used for other purposes, such as sanitation and poverty reduction, but discourage investments in low-carbon alternatives.

  • EnergyWhere does solar energy stand, where does it need to go to fulfill its potential?

    Most experts agree that to have a shot at curbing the worst impacts of climate change, we need to extricate our society from fossil fuels and ramp up our use of renewable energy. The sun’s energy is unlimited, free and clean, and the amount that hits Earth in one hour is equal to the amount of energy used in one year by the entire planet. Yet, although installed global photovoltaic capacity increased almost nine-fold and the price of solar panels dropped by two-thirds between 2008 and 2013, only 1 percent of U.S. and global electricity generation come from solar energy. Where does solar energy stand today, and where does it need to go in order for us to make the transition to renewable energy?

  • EnergySouth Australia needs to look beyond wind for its clean energy

    South Australia cannot complete its move to clean energy through a continued focus on wind energy. This is the conclusion of the most comprehensive review to date of renewable energy in the state, conducted by researchers in the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute. The success of wind power (27 percent of the state’s energy and 3-4 percent nationally) is a credit to SA’s proactive approach and should continue, the review says. However, that success has relied on the reliability of the national grid. There remains no answer to the inherent limitations of wind because of the mismatch between supply variability and demand.

  • Food securityBiofuel policies affect food prices

    U.S. biofuel mandates require a percentage of gasoline consumed in the U.S. to contain ethanol. Since ethanol prices are dependent on crude oil and gas prices, oil and food prices have become increasingly intertwined. As the prices of gasoline and crude oil rise, prices of world grains and oilseeds markets follow. Researchers found that 80 percent of price increases of grain since 2007-8 are due to biofuel policies, thereby having a huge impact on value-added agricultural producers and food consumers worldwide.

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  • Food securityA model for bioenergy feedstock/vegetable double-cropping systems

    Much attention has been given to dedicated, perennial bioenergy crops to meet the revised Renewable Fuel Standard mandating production of thirty-six billion gallons of biofuel by the year 2022. Even so, concern remains over the impending need to convert as much as thirty million acres of U.S. crop land, which would include food crops, to land for perennial energy crops in order to meet that demand. Researchers realize that biomass feedstocks will need to come from many different sources, including crop residues, forest residues, and municipal waste. The use of double-cropping systems — a winter annual biomass crop is grown then harvested in the spring, followed by a summer annual crop — has been suggested as an additional option.

  • EnergyMIT Energy Initiative releases report on the future of solar energy

    By Melissa Abraham

    Solar energy holds the best potential for meeting humanity’s future long-term energy needs while cutting greenhouse gas emissions — but to realize this potential will require increased emphasis on developing lower-cost technologies and more effective deployment policy, says a comprehensive new study released earlier this week by the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI). The report highlights the enormous potential of this energy and discusses pathways toward affordable solar energy.

  • InfrastructureU.S. must invest in energy infrastructure to upgrade outdates systems

    Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is calling for a renewed focus on U.S. energy infrastructure, saying new and improved oil pipeline projects are just a portion of a long list of work needed to modernize the country’s outdated system for transporting oil, natural gas, and electricity.In the government’s first Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), an almost 500-page analysis released last week, Moniz calls for building new pipelines, repairing old ones, and insulating electric grids and transformers from storms and terrorist attacks.”It is the right time, maybe it’s a little after the right time, for us to make these kind of investments in energy infrastructure,” he said.

  • EnergySafety procedures have not kept up with new, deeper offshore oil drilling operations

    Just five years after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, which leaked roughly 134 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, federal agencies have approved even deeper series of next-generation wells, which critics cite as too new to be properly regulated. Concerned scientists and industry officials are arguing that the recently allowed wells have not yet developed proper corresponding safety procedures to prevent a disaster similar, or worse, than the one which befell the Macondo well.

  • EarthquakesCombination of gas field fluid injection and removal likely cause of 2013-14 Texas quake

    Seismologists found that high volumes of wastewater injection combined with saltwater (brine) extraction from natural gas wells is the most likely cause of earthquakes occurring near Azle, Texas, from late 2013 through spring 2014. SMU seismologists have been studying earthquakes in North Texas since 2008, when the first series of felt tremors hit near DFW International Airport between 30 October 2008 and 16 May 2009. Next came a series of quakes in Cleburne between June 2009 and June 2010, and this third series in the Azle-Reno area northwest of Fort Worth occurred between November 2013 and January 2014. The SMU team also is studying an ongoing series of earthquakes in the Irving-Dallas area that began in April 2014.

  • EnergyRenewables win, coal loses as shift in electricity generation lead to net job growth in energy

    In the four years following the 2008 recession, the coal industry lost more than 49,000 jobs, while the natural gas, solar, and wind industries together created nearly four times that amount, according to a new study. A county-by-county geographical analysis of the losses and gains shows that few new jobs were added in regions hardest hit by coal’s decline, particularly counties in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky.

  • GridWhy rooftop solar is disruptive to utilities – and the grid

    By Seth Blumsack

    Electric utilities have a unique role in society and the economy, one that is rooted in a set of arrangements with state regulators that goes back nearly a century. In exchange for being granted a geographic monopoly on the distribution of electric power, the utility is responsible for ensuring that its transmission and distribution systems operate reliably. In other words, it is the utility’s responsibility to ensure that blackouts occur infrequently and with short duration. Power-generating panels, called solar photovoltaics (PV), represent the fastest-growing source of electric power in the United States – but the proliferation of roof-top PVs poses a problem for the business model of electric utilities, a problem similar to that telephone companies have been facing: The rise of “cord cutters” — people with a cell phone but no land-line — places land-line phone companies in a quandary. They must continue to maintain their network infrastructure with fewer customers to pay for it. Roof-top solar technology will eventually force a conversation about the fundamental role of the electric utility and who should have ultimate responsibility for providing reliable electricity, if anyone. Going off the grid has a certain appeal to an increasing segment of the population, but it is far from clear that such a distributed system can deliver the same level of reliability at such a low cost.

  • HazmatLiving near railroad tracks? Prepare for crude-oil-train accidents, spills

    The Minnesota Department of Transportation(MnDOT) reports that 326,170 Minnesotans live within a half mile of railroad tracks used by trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region. An area covering a half mile on each side of the tracks, public safety officials say, is the area from which residents are likely to be evacuated in the event of an oil train incident or explosion. The department urges all residents living near an oil train track to be prepared for a train accident.

  • EnergySolar could meet California power needs three to five times over

    In the face of global climate change, increasing the use of renewable energy resources is one of the most urgent challenges facing the world. Further development of one resource, solar energy, is complicated by the need to find space for solar power-generating equipment without significantly altering the surrounding environment. New study found that the amount of energy that could be generated from solar equipment constructed on and around existing infrastructure in California would exceed the state’s demand by up to five times.