Energy resources

  • Renewables 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.

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

    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.

  • Living 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.

  • A first: UAV inspects energy pipeline route in rural Virginia

    The first Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech test flight using a fixed-wing unmanned aircraft to inspect an energy pipeline route — with a piloted chase plane following behind to ensure safety beyond the ground observers’ sight line — was completed last week. The flight was a step toward making aerial inspections of energy pipelines safer and more economical, researchers say. The flight lasted about ninety minutes and covered about eleven miles over a Colonial Pipeline Company right of way near Fork Union in rural Virginia.

  • view counter
  • Solar 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.

  • Derailments, ruptures of new crude-oil tank cars raise safety concerns

    Following a series of crude-oil train derailments in 2013 and early 2014, the Transportation Department proposed new rules for tank cars carrying crude. The rules suggest three main options for tank cars: railroads would use the improved CPC-1232 tank cars, develop stronger cars, or retrofit existing cars. Critics of the rail industry’s growing volume of crude-oil shipments note that four recent oil train derailments relied on CPC-1232 cars, therefore improvements to crude by rail shipments must extend beyond new tank cars.

  • view counter
  • “Pee-power” to light refugee camps in disaster zones

    A toilet, conveniently situated near the Student Union Bar at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), is proving pee can generate electricity. The prototype urinal is the result of a partnership between researchers at UWE Bristol and Oxfam. It is hoped the pee-power technology will light cubicles in refugee camps, which are often dark and dangerous places particularly for women. Students and staff are being asked to use the urinal to donate pee to fuel microbial fuel cell (MFC) stacks that generate electricity to power indoor lighting.

  • Distributed future: Local electricity could meet half of U.K. power needs by 2050

    Research conducted by nine leading U.K. universities has found that up to 50 percent of electricity demand in the United Kingdom could be met by distributed and low carbon sources by 2050. The research assesses the technological feasibility of a move from the current traditional business models of the Big Six energy providers to a model where greater ownership is met by the civic energy sector. It also goes further by questioning what types of governance, ownership and control a distributed future would need.

  • Electric fields increase oil flow in the Keystone pipeline

    Traditionally, pipeline oil is heated over several miles in order to reduce the oil’s thickness (which is also known as viscosity), but this requires a large amount of energy and counter-productively increases turbulence within the flow. Researchers propose a more efficient way of improving flow rates by applying an electric field to the oil. The idea is to electrically align particles within the crude oil, which reduces viscosity and turbulence. The researchers have shown that a strong electric field applied to a section of the Keystone pipeline can smooth oil flow and yield significant pump energy savings.

  • Cost of derailments of oil-carrying trains over the next two decades: $4.5 billion

    A 2014 CSX derailment led to roughly 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil spilling in and around the James River, West Virginia. Another CSX train derailed last week in the West Virginia town of Mount Carbon. The explosion that followed forced about 1,000 people to evacuate from their homes. The United States will likely experience more oil train derailments as long as Bakken crude oil is transported via rail from the Northern Plains’ Bakken region to U.S. refineries. Oil train accidents often lead to pipeline advocates pushing for more pipelines, but data from PHMSA shows that while oil trains have more frequent accidents, pipelines accidents cause much larger spills.

  • Coping with fracking-induced earthquakes

    A new study provides a case for increasing transparency and data collection to enable strategies for mitigating the effects of human-induced earthquakes caused by wastewater injection associated with oil and gas production in the United States. The study suggests that it is possible to reduce the hazard of induced seismicity through management of injection activities.

  • Calls for improving safety of oil-carrying trains grow in wake of this week’s accidents

    Oil trains transporting crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Canada to refineries in the Northeast have suffered several derailments in the past few years. The U.S.Department of Transportation(DOT) has since urged rail companies to adopt new train cars which could better survive derailments, and to retrofit current cars by 2017. Still, railway safety advocates say companies need to do more to ensure the safety of their tracks and cars. Two separate oil train accidents this week support their concerns.

  • New gear technology makes wave energy more attractive

    Wave energy has been held back in part because of the cost of electricity generation. The amount of steel and concrete needed in order to produce each MWh has simply been too great to make it into a profitable business. In addition, the power of waves presents a problem with reliability, and because waves vary greatly in height and timing, it is difficult to create a conversion system that functions across the full wave spectrum. Swedish researchers have developed a new wave energy system which generates five times more energy per ton of device, at one third of the cost, when compared to competing state-of-the art technologies. Energy output is three to four times higher than traditional wave power systems.

  • Benefits, costs of hydraulic fracturing

    Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have had a transformative, positive effect on the U.S. economy, producing societal gains that likely outweigh negative impacts to the environment and human health from an economic perspective, according to a new paper. Innovations in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in the past decade have fueled a boom in the production of natural gas, as well as oil, from geological formations including deep shales in which hydrocarbon production was previously unprofitable.

  • Improving security monitoring of energy industry networked control systems

    There are a number of useful products on the market for monitoring enterprise networks for possible security events, but they tend to be imperfect fits for the unusual requirements of control system networks. A network monitoring solution that is tailored to the needs of control systems would reduce security blind spots. The National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE) is seeking collaborators on an effort to help energy companies improve the security of the networked technologies they rely upon to control the generation, transmission and distribution of power.