Better Sensors in Buildings to Decrease Energy Consumption

by Niti Nagar

Buildings account for about 40 percent of the total energy consumption in the United States. Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) predict advanced sensors and control have the potential to reduce the energy consumption by 20–30 percent. To develop low-cost wireless sensors, ORNL researchers are experimenting with additive roll-to-roll manufacturing techniques. Roll-to-roll is a technology still is development that allows electronics components like circuits, sensors, antennae, and photovoltaic cells and batteries to be printed on flexible plastic. Continue reading

Portland Plans to Generate Electricity through Water Pipes

by Niti Nagar

Lucid Energy has created the LucidPipe Power System which harnesses the water flow in municipal pipelines to produce hydroelectric power. The LucidPipe is installed in a section of an existing gravity-fed conventional pipeline that is designated for transporting potable water. The water flows through four 42-inch turbines, each connected to a generator outside the pipe. In Portland, the 200kW system was privately funded by Harbourton Alternative Energy. Although the power system was installed in December, it is currently undergoing reliability and efficiency testing. So far, it has been reported that the presence of the turbines does not slow the water flow rate significantly, so there is no change on pipeline efficiency. The system was set to begin generating power at full capacity by March 2015.

Once running, the system is expected to generate approximately 1,100 megawatt hours of energy per year. This is equivalent to the amount of energy needed to power about 150 homes. It is projected that over the next 20 years, the system should generate about $2 million in energy sales to Portland General Electric. Harbourton Alternative Energy will get a share of these sales and it plans on sharing the money with the City of Portland and the Portland Water Bureau in order to offset operational costs. At the end of the 20 year period, the Portland Water Bureau will have the option to purchase the system, along with all the energy it produces.

Currently, this system is the only one of its kind in Portland. However if shown to be successful, more may follow. In Riverside, California a previously-installed energy system has been providing power since 2012. Since then many smaller, but similar, systems have become available, many of which can be installed within households. The Pluvia generates electricity from the flow of rainwater off of rooftops, while the H20 Power radio uses electricity generated by the flow of shower water.

Coxworth, Ben. “Portland to generate electricity within its own water pipes.” GizMag, 17 February 2015. <;.


Fishing Boat Transformed to Harness Energy from Ocean’s Waves

by Niti Nagar

It might be possible to harness the movement associated with the ocean’s natural waves using docked fishing vessels. Researchers are demonstrating this simple idea is feasible using a demonstration vessel currently docked offshore in Western Norway.

Transforming a vessel into a wave power plant requires installing four large chambers, in the vessel’s bow, each equipped with an air-powered turbine. As the waves strike the vessel, the water levels in the chambers rise leading to an increase in air pressure, which consequently drives the four turbines. The chambers respond to different wave heights, allowing greater wave heights to contribute more air pressure. Each turbine is capable of produced 50kW. Using mathematical models and simulations, the researchers expect the plant to produce 320,000 kW per year. Continue reading

Study Shows Flawed Experiments used to Support Policies for “Low-Carbon” Biofuels

by Niti Nagar

According to John DeCicco, researcher at University of Michigan’s Energy Institute, nearly all of the studies used to promote biofuels as climate-friendly alternatives to petroleum fuels are flawed and need to be redone. After reviewing more than 100 papers published over the span of more than two decades, DeCicco claims erroneous methodology has led to the false assumption that biofuels will limit emissions of carbon dioxide. Existing studies fail to correctly account for the carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere when corn, soybeans and sugarcane are grown to make biofuels said DeCicco. He explains, “Almost all of the fields used to produce biofuels were already being used to produce crops for food, so there is no significant increase in the amount of carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere. Therefore, there’s no climate benefit.” Continue reading

Solar Plant Development Impeded by Tax Credit Reductions

by Niti Nagar

Solana, a solar thermal power plant in the Arizona desert has been functioning for more than a year now. Developed by the Spanish energy and technology company Abengoa, it has succeeded in producing energy when the sun is not shining, allowing solar production to continue at full capacity long after 6 o’clock at night. According to Brad Albert, the general manager for resource management at Arizona Public Service, this feature adds a lot of value because the customer demand for electricity is so high after the sun goes down. The Solana uses parabolic mirrors that direct sunlight on pipes that carry the heat to tanks of salt. The heat is contained for up to six hours until the plant converts it to make electricity via steam. Continue reading

National Ignition Facility One Step Closer to Fusion Power

by Niti Nagar

Nuclear fusion seems to answer many concerns that we face with finding new sources of energy. Energy from fusion harnesses the powers of the Sun and provides an unlimited and cheap source of energy, while being pollution-free. Capturing the powers of the heavens has been fantasized in the past as mere science fiction, however this fiction may become a reality. Although development is still in its infant stages, a new breakthrough by lead author Omar Hurricane, from the National Ignition Facility at the federally-funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, published an article in Nature that announced researchers saw a net gain in energy following a fusion reaction. The reported results show almost 2 times more energy coming out of the reaction than what went into it. What does it take to run a reaction of this sort? One hundred and ninety-two of the world’s most powerful lasers aimed at a 1 centimeter gold cylinder called a hohlarum. It is a small capsule that contains an extremely cold mixture of hydrogen isotopes. As the laser heats the capsule, the hydrogen is heated and subsequently compressed to 1/35 of its original size. Co-author Debbie Callahan described it as “compressing a basketball down to the size of a pea.” If the compression is high and uniform enough, nuclear fusion will take place and in the nanoseconds that follows the capsule implosion, neutron energy is released. Continue reading