America’s “Roadmap” for 100% Renewable Energy by 2050

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by Jesse Crabtree

In his new study posted in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Energy & Environmental Science, Stanford professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Mark Jacobson, presents a plan for a 100% renewable energy-powered America by 2050. And what’s more, Jacobson believes this course of action to be not only economically feasible, but economically beneficial. Jacobson’s paper, which lays out specific roadmaps for how each state can work to achieve this goal, can be boiled down to three main ideas: exclusively build wind, solar, and hydro power plants after 2020; implement modest energy efficiency increases; and electrify everything. Although these three points are all required under Jacobson’s plan, this article discusses its most critical and ambitious goal; a complete shift to electric power. Continue reading

The Immense Risk Climate Change Poses to Electricity Supply

by Caroline Chmiel

US and European electricity supply is increasingly defenseless to climate changes. 91% and 78% of the total electricity in the US and Europe, respectively, is produced by thermoelectric power plants, which are nuclear and fossil-fueled. These plants and the processes to get electricity rely on the availability and temperature of water resources for cooling. The changing climate directly affects temperature and water resources, so the heavy reliance on these factors in electricity is at high risk. Freshwater withdrawals for cooling coal, gas and nuclear-fuelled power plants are highest in North America. Next highest worldwide is Europe. Continue reading

Balancing the Energy Triangle

by Brina Jablonski

Frank Umbach (2012), uses an ‘energy triangle’ to illustrate the importance of energy supply security and its’ three main goals: environmental/climate sustainability, energy supply security, and economic competitiveness. Countries struggle in balancing the three areas and often lean towards one at the cost of misbalancing the other two. Continue reading

The Cost of Solar Power to Electric Companies

by Alex Elder

Solar panels have long been touted as a simple source of renewable energy. The have even become widely available to average energy consumers; a homeowner can simply attach solar panels to their roof and gain access to solar power energy. Utilization of solar panels has increased greatly over the past several years, with one rooftop solar system being installed every four minutes in 2013 (Than 2013). However, despite the availability of solar panels and their ease of use, some people have raised concerns about their impact on the energy market. Continue reading

Bloomberg Philanthropies Building Greener Cities

by Jessie Capper

Although many know Michael Bloomberg as the past Mayor of New York City, holding the position for three consecutive terms from 2001-2004, his company Bloomberg Philanthropies demonstrates that he is much more than an active politician in the U.S. government. Bloomberg Philanthropies primary mission is to help the largest number of people live the best, and healthiest lives possible. Through harnessing his entrepreneurial spirit, discovering viable solutions, using data to assess financial reasonability, advocacy, and partnerships with other organizations (both private and public), Bloomberg Philanthropies work to address a multitude of issues facing our world—starting within cities (Bloomberg Philanthropies). Most interesting is Bloomberg Philanthropies’ most recent partnership with the Heising-Simons family to begin a Clean Energy Initiative, supporting city initiatives to develop a cleaner, more sustainable energy system within local power grids (Green Tech Media). Due to the out-of-date, harmful practices of our current cities, I see this partnership as a promising start towards achieving Bloomberg Philanthropies’ goal, and making clean energy the “norm.”  Continue reading

How to Reduce California’s Greenhouse Gases by 80%

by Emil Morhardt

According to the latest runs of a complex computer energy model (CA-TIMES) coming out of the University of California at Davis (Yang et al. 2015), the energy scene across California may be quite different by 2050. The model is not designed to predict what will happen, but instead to examine the economic and policy implications of just about every possible major perturbation of energy generation and use in the state to get us to the current policy goal of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels. What results is a series of least-cost scenarios to get to various policy-driven energy endpoints. The bottom line is that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced enough to meet the 80% goal at low to moderate costs, but not without major investments in wind and solar power generation, production of synthetic fuels directly from biomass using the Fischer–Tropsch synfuel pyrolysis process (more about that in upcoming posts), and hydrogen production and distribution infrastructure to power fuel cells. Continue reading

Reducing CO2 Emissions on the Electric Grid through a Carbon Disincentive Policy

by Stephanie Oehler

While energy production is widely acknowledged as a significant contributor to climate change, there is a discrepancy in opinion about what the most effective solution is to cut back on emissions. The most commonly addressed method of bringing about a smart grid is through new technologies that have the potential to improve distribution efficiency, encourage demand side management behaviors, and reduce the emissions associated with the production process. Policy change, however, is another route that has the potential to be more efficient in reducing emissions in the short term as technological developments are in progress. Li et al. (2013) examined the potential of several types of policy initiatives to modify electricity operator behavior in order to reduce CO2 emissions while continuing to meet energy demand. Basing their assumptions on the energy profile of Michigan, the authors created three models to represent different policy approaches: the first served as a baseline and represented the present energy cost and load distribution, the second imposed demand-side financial penalties for CO2 emissions, and the third created a carbon disincentive that produced a new pricing scheme for energy sources in terms of emissions. Continue reading

Trackside Flywheel Energy Storage in Light Rail Systems

by Emil Morhardt

Light rail systems, like hybrid electric vehicles, use their electric engines to generate electricity when they are slowing down, a process called regenerative braking. In hybrid electric vehicles, the energy usually gets stored in lithium-ion batteries, which work well because they are comparatively light weight and not overly bulky. If neither of these were constraints, then flywheels or supercapacitors would be a better choice because they can deliver power faster and they take much longer to wear out. Of the two, flywheels are lighter, less bulky, cost less, and have longer lives according to a study by the UK Rail and Safety Standards board (Kadim 2009). If they are installed alongside the tracks rather than on the trains, weight and bulk are not very important but cost and lifetimes still favor flywheels. Continue reading

Off the Grid, Batteries Not Included

PV to H to Fuel cell

by Emil Morhardt

If there’s a need for electricity, but there aren’t any power lines nearby, the approach of choice today, in sunny climes, is photovoltaic (PV) panels connected to batteries. But the total amount of electricity that can be stored is then dependent on the number batteries, and if a relatively large amount of storage is needed, this could be prohibitively expensive, heavy, and not very portable. With the advent of hydrogen fuel cells small enough to fit into an automobile and operational at low temperatures, perhaps a fully self-contained electrical generation system could be based on PV panels electrolyzing water to make hydrogen gas, which could then be stored in low-pressure tanks in amounts as large as needed. That’s what Cabezas et al. (2014) decided to experiment with. Continue reading

Life Cycle Inventory of Electricity Cogeneration from Bagasse in the South African Sugar Industry

by Monkgogi Bonolo Otohogile

South Africa’s sugar industry is worth over $1.11 billion and South Africa is consistently ranked as one of the top 15 sugar producing countries in the world. The sugar manufacturing process also produces thousands of tonnes of a biomass called bagasse that is being underutilized. Mashoko et al. (2013) investigated the potential for the cogeneration of steam and electricity using bagasse in South Africa’s sugar industry. The authors’ developed life cycle inventories for bagasse electricity production, which they used to evaluate the environmental impacts of cogeneration. Using data supplied by various affiliated organizations and studies, Mashoko and colleagues determined the greenhouse gases, energy ratio, non-renewable energy input, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide of a functional unit of 1 GWh of bagasse-derived electricity produced in the South African sugar industry and compared it to coal-derived electricity and bagasse-derived electricity in Mauritius. The authors found that bagasse-derived electricity performed better than coal-derived electricity in every category outlined above. Mashoko et al. argued that by increasing their boiler pressure, the sugar industry could produce cleaner electricity during the sugar life cycle by following in the footsteps of Mauritius. Bagasse-derived electricity could mitigate South Africa’s massive carbon dioxide emissions while also making the sugar industry self-sufficient and contributing to the grid. Continue reading