• Harnessing distributed energy devices to balance the power grid

    The electric grid has to balance power supply and demand nearly in real-time, requiring power plants to be adjusted on a second-by-second basis. This instantaneous balance is made significantly more complex by renewable energy such as wind and solar, which add more uncertainty and variability. A new research project is proposing a unique solution to this growing problem: employing the millions of distributed energy resources that already exist, such as solar panels on rooftops and heating and cooling systems in buildings.

  • Making the power grid more resilient, flexible

    “The biggest and most complex machine ever built by humankind” – this is how one researcher describes the U.S. power grid. A research team has been charged with the formidable task of transforming that big and complex machine from the inside out. Inverters convert DC (direct current) electricity to AC (alternating current) electricity, the kind that forms the basis of today’s power grid. To integrate more inverter-based distributed generation into the grid, the researchers are developing a dynamic distribution system (DDS) that supplements centralized power plants, instead of replacing them.

  • Idaho to become U.S. geothermal research hot spot

    For all the talk about energy shortages, the fact is the Earth is giant ball of energy that has been producing heat ever since the solar system was formed billions of years ago. The temperature at the core — 6,000 degrees Celsius — is roughly the same as the surface of the sun. All that heat radiates outward through the Earth’s mantle and crust. Less than 1 percent of the electricity in the United States comes from geothermal sources, and energy specialists believe that geothermal power should make a much greater contribution to U.S. electricity. A new consortium plans to pump water into the rock about 8,000 to 12,000 feet deep, fracture the rock and capture heat, then bring heated, pressurized water back to the surface to generate energy.

  • “Hydricity”: Using solar energy to produce power round-the-clock

    Researchers are proposing a new “hydricity” concept aimed at creating a sustainable economy by not only generating electricity with solar energy, but also producing and storing hydrogen from superheated water for round-the-clock power production.

  • Stormwater, graywater offer alternative water sources

    In the face of drought and major water shortages, the United States is increasingly turning to alternative water sources like stormwater and graywater, but guidelines and research on their risk to public health and the environment are needed to support decisions for safe use, says a new report. Graywater and stormwater could significantly supplement traditional potable water supplies using existing technology to capture and treat the waters, but there is currently limited information on the costs, benefits, risks, and regulation of such projects.

  • Fracking-induced earthquakes increase in magnitude over time

    A study by geophysicists shows that earthquakes resulting from fracking-related wastewater injection follow several indicative patterns that are starkly different from natural causes. One of the study’s main conclusions is that the likelihood of large-magnitude manmade, or “induced,” earthquakes in areas where fracking activity takes place, increases over time, independent of the previous seismicity rate. The study’s findings could have implications for both the oil and natural gas industry and for government regulators. Under current practices, extraction activities typically shut down in an area if a high-magnitude earthquake occurs. But according to the researchers, a better approach might be to limit production before a large quake occurs.

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  • Climate change rapidly warming world’s lakes, threatening freshwater supplies

    Climate change is rapidly warming lakes around the world, threatening freshwater supplies and ecosystems, according to a study spanning six continents. The study is the largest of its kind and the first to use a combination of satellite temperature data and long-term ground measurements. A total of 235 lakes, representing more than half of the world’s freshwater supply, were monitored for at least twenty-five years. The study found that lakes are warming an average of 0.61 degrees Fahrenheit (0.34 degrees Celsius) each decade. This is greater than the warming rate of either the ocean or the atmosphere, and it can have profound effects, the scientists say.

  • U.S. officials barred from reviewing social media postings of visa applicants

    Officials from DHS and the Department of State, as a general policy, do not check social media postings of applicants out of civil liberties concerns. With this policy in place, the department’s officials who handled Tashfeen Malik’s application could not have seen her pro-ISIS postings and note her growing radicalization. Officials from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) pressed for a change in DHS policy in light of the fact that social media  is increasingly used by followers of jihadist groups to declare their allegiance, but the disclosures by Edward Snowden about NSA surveillance programs was behind the reluctance of DHS high officials to change the policy for fears such a change would further damage the administration’s standing with civil rights groups and European allies.

  • Protecting the U.S. electrical grid from cyberattack

    Across the United States, 3,200 separate organizations own and operate electrical infrastructure. The widely dispersed nature of the nation’s electrical grid and associated control systems has a number of advantages, but since the late 1990s, cost pressures have driven the integration of conventional information technologies into these independent industrial control systems, resulting in a grid which is increasingly vulnerable to cyberattack, either through direct connection to the Internet or via direct interfaces to utility IT systems. DARPA is soliciting proposal for creating automated systems to restore power within seven days or less after a cyberattack on the grid.

  • Scientists develop new way to find age of drinking water

    It can take days for water to travel from a filtration plant to your tap and the length of time the journey takes could affect water quality. Disinfectants from water treatment, like chlorine, prevent the growth of harmful microbes, but they can break down over time, creating toxic byproducts in the process. Minimizing the water’s travel time in pipes reduces both processes, but measuring that time is difficult. Scientists have developed a new method of finding the age of water at any point in a distribution system using something that is already naturally in water: residual radioactive atoms from nuclear fallout of the 1950s and early 1960s.

  • Nature influences water in the Colorado River basin more than humans do

    Researchers have found that the water supply of the Colorado River basin, one of the most important sources for water in the southwestern United States, is influenced more by wet-dry periods than by human use, which has been fairly stable during the past few decades. The team found that water storage decreased by 50 to 100 cubic kilometers (enough water to fill Lake Mead as much as three times) during droughts that occur about every decade. The big difference between recent and previous droughts is that there have been few wet years since 2000 to replenish the water. In contrast, multiple wet years followed drought years in the 1980s and 1990s.

  • Contacting ETs: Should we announce our location to an alien force?

    While politicians quibble over how to deal with illegal immigration, an ominous group of foreigners goes unaddressed: space aliens. Should humans try to contact creatures from other galaxies? Do we really want that force awakened? For scientists, these are not esoteric questions. The fate of the planet may be at stake. Scientists warn that we should think long and hard about whether we should risk announcing our location to potentially real-life equivalents of Klingons or Stormtroopers. As physicist Stephen Hawking warned in 2010, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.”

  • With Diablo Canyon’s future unclear, California’s nuclear age may come to an end

    California’s nuclear power age may be coming to an end, as the company which owns the last operating nuclear power plant in the state said it would seek to extend the aging plant’s operational license. The Diablo Canyon plant faces daunting safety, business, and environmental challenges. Thirty years ago it was seen as key to California’s energy future, but worries about earthquakes, concerns about the environment, and cost-attractive energy alternative make Diablo Canyon’s future bleak.

  • Climate change impacts may appear in some areas sooner than expected

    Some impacts of global climate change will appear much sooner than others — with only moderate increases in global temperature. While rising sea levels may one day threaten the commuter tunnels and subway lines of New York City, it will have effects much sooner in other parts of the world – for example, the Marshall Islands and Bangladesh. In countries exposed to the destructive effects of climate change sooner rather than later, there will be little incentives to do something about climate change because the damage has already been done. Thus, once significant portions of the Marshall Islands or Bangladesh are destroyed by rising seas, the rate of damage will reach “saturation” — an inflection point beyond which further temperature increases have little additional effect. Once the Marshall Islands are large sections of Bangladesh are uninhabitable, there is not more damage that can be done there, and the governments of these countries will not have an incentive to participate in global climate efforts because they will not have anything more to lose.

  • Global freshwater loss due to dams, irrigation much larger than previously thought

    Dams and irrigation, by increasing evapotranspiration, raise the global human consumption of freshwater to a much higher level than previously thought. This effect increases the loss of freshwater to the atmosphere and thereby reduces the water available for humans, societies and ecosystems on land.