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Posts Tagged ‘electricity’

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Photo: Blue Lake Rancheria
The Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid powers a number of buildings on the reservation and helped provide energy when California’s Pacific Gas and Electric shut off power during wildfires.

In the following story, disempowered people lacking reliable services not only took action to help themselves but were generous to more-privileged neighbors who suddenly learned what it’s like not to have services.

This is a story about two kinds of power.

Erik Neumann reports at National Public Radio (NPR), “California’s largest electric utility took the unprecedented step of shutting off power to millions of customers beginning last October. The decision was meant to prevent power equipment from sparking catastrophic wildfires.

“Now a renewable energy microgrid on a tiny California Native American reservation is proving to be one solution to this ongoing problem. The Blue Lake Rancheria is located just north of Eureka, Calif. On the 100-acre campus, just behind the casino and hotel, Jana Ganion opens a chain-link fence. …

“Inside, in an area half the size of a football field, are more than 1,500 solar panels, slanted toward the noonday sun. Ganion is the sustainability director with the Blue Lake Rancheria, which includes about 50 members.

[Ganion] helped build this solar microgrid as part of the tribe’s goal to develop climate-resilient infrastructure and to be ready for earthquakes and tsunamis. But then beginning in October, it became useful in a whole new way. …

“As one of the only gas stations in the county with power, the reservation provided diesel to United Indian Health Services to refrigerate their medications and to the Mad River Fish Hatchery to keep their fish alive. The local newspaper used a hotel conference room to put out the next day’s paper. Area residents stopped by to charge their cell phones.

“Ganion estimates that on that day more than 10,000 nearby residents came to the reservation for gas and supplies.

“County officials had been warned about the utility shutoffs, but they didn’t know they were happening until that day, says Ryan Derby, emergency services manager for Humboldt County, where Blue Lake Rancheria is located.

” ‘Our entire planning model for the last 18 months got thrown out the window,’ Derby says. … ‘Humboldt County prides itself on being resilient,’ Derby says, ‘But I think in light of these public safety power shutoffs we realized how dependent we really are on electricity.’

“The county focused on residents who relied on medical devices like respirators or oxygen tanks. At the Blue Lake Rancheria, Anita Huff was directing emergency services for people with critical medical needs.

” ‘We had eight people here who could not have lived without electricity,’ Huff says. ‘So, we saved eight lives.’ …

” ‘Microgrids are very complex. In some ways they’re kind of like snowflakes where no two of them are the same because it depends on where you are on the grid and what your facility is,’ says Dave Carter, the managing research engineer at the Schatz Energy Research Center and the lead technical engineer on the [Blue Lake] project.

“Microgrids keep the electricity flowing to customers even after disconnecting from the overall power grid. During an outage, the Blue Lake microgrid goes into ‘island mode’ and a large Tesla battery system stores extra power and balances the energy supply and demand.

“By comparison, Carter says, conventional solar arrays have to automatically shut down during outages for safety so they don’t electrocute powerline maintenance workers or people who could come in contact with a downed line.

“Microgrids do come at a price. The Blue Lake installation cost $6.3 million. Five million dollars came from a California Energy Commission grant, and the tribe helped raise the rest. …

“Carter’s lab at the Schatz Energy Research Center is looking for ways to lower the cost of microgrids. In spite of the upfront price, he says, communities should consider what it’s worth to stay in control during a natural disaster. …

“Jana Ganion, with the Blue Lake Rancheria, says with future electricity shutoffs, rural communities, and Native American reservations in particular, need to be especially resilient.

” ‘Many, many tribal nations are located at the end of the line in terms of the electricity grid,’ Ganion says. ‘They may have no power. They may have poor quality power. Microgrids are just a way to do an end-run around all of that.’ ”

More at NPR, here.

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In September, Victoria Lynden tweeted about Costa Rica’s clean electricity. Although hydroelectric and geothermal approaches sometimes have issues of their own and cars in Costa Rica still use gas, two months without using fossil fuels to generate electricity sounded pretty good to me.

Brad Plumer wrote at Vox, “Costa Rica is pulling off a feat most countries just daydream about: For two straight months, the Central American country hasn’t burned any fossil fuels to generate electricity. That’s right: 100 percent renewable power.

“This isn’t a blip, either. For 300 total days last year and 150 days so far [in 2016], Costa Rica’s electricity has come entirely from renewable sources, mostly hydropower and geothermal. Heavy rains have helped four big hydroelectric dams run above their usual capacity, letting the country turn off its diesel generators.

“Now, there’s a huge, huge caveat here: Costa Rica hasn’t eschewed all fossil fuels entirely. The country still has more than 1 million cars running on old-fashioned gasoline, which is why imported oil still supplies over half its total energy needs. The country also has cement plants that burn coal.

“What Costa Rica’s doing is nevertheless impressive — and a reflection of how serious the tiny Central American country is about going green. At the same time, a closer look at the story shows just how difficult it would be for other countries to pull off something similar.

“When many people think of ‘renewables,’ they tend to think of giant wind turbines or gleaming solar panels. But that’s not what Costa Rica is relying on. For years, roughly 80 percent of the nation’s electricity has come from a technology that’s more than a century old — hydroelectric dams …

“Another 12 percent or so of Costa Rica’s electricity comes from geothermal plants, which tap heat deep in the Earth’s crust and can also run around the clock. …

“So if Costa Rica can get 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, why couldn’t other countries do the same? Why can’t the United States, which is far richer?

“One obstacle here is that hydropower and geothermal are very location-specific — and only a few countries are lucky enough to have such rich resources. Iceland gets nearly 100 percent of its electricity from these two sources. Paraguay gets almost all of its electricity from the massive Itaipú Dam. Brazil gets more than 75 percent of its power from hydropower. But those are exceptions. For most countries, hydropower can only satisfy a portion of their power needs.” Read on.

Seems to me that when a country wants to be greener (whether for the environment or to save money or both), it has already taken the first step to finding solutions that work for its own geography.

Chart: Observatory of Renewable Energy in Latin America and the Caribbean

 

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Once again, Sweden is ahead of the curve, as it tests two versions of an electric road. The idea is to move away from fossil fuels and creative a more sustainable energy future.

Green Car Congress is a website that covered the story in June.

“Sweden inaugurated a test stretch of electric road on the E16 in Sandviken, thus becoming one of the first countries to conduct tests with electric power for heavy transports on public roads.

“The test stretch on the E16 is two kilometers long. The technology is similar to light rail, with contact lines 5.4 meters over the roadway. The truck has a pantograph on the roof that feeds 750 VDC to the truck’s hybrid electric system. The current conductor can connect automatically at speeds up to 90 km/h (56 mph). The test stretch is equipped with posts 60 meters apart that hold up the electric lines over one of the lanes.

“At a rest area, there is a transformer for low-voltage direct current of the same type as in the light rail network. Other traffic on the road will not be affected. …

“An electrified road is one in which the electricity supply for vehicle propulsion is continuously supplied in order to keep the vehicle moving and to avoid recharging requirements. …

“The technologies for electric roads have developed rapidly over the last few years, and are now mature enough that some of them can be tested. Last year, the Swedish Transport Administration, in consultation with Vinnova [Sweden’s innovation agency for sustainable growth] and the Swedish Energy Agency, decided to give support to two test facilities. The two systems differ as to how electric power is transferred to the heavy vehicles.

  • The test on the E16 in Sandviken is being carried out by Region Gävleborg, and involves a pantograph on the roof of the truck cab feeding the current down to a hybrid electric motor in the truck.
  • Outside Arlanda, the eRoadArlanda consortium company will test a technology that involves an electric rail in the roadway charging the vehicle during its trip. …

“The tests will continue up through 2018. They will provide knowledge of how electric roads work in practice, and whether the technology can be used in the future. The experiment is based on the Government’s goal of energy efficiency and a fossil fuel-free vehicle fleet by 2030, and will contribute to strengthening Sweden’s competitiveness.”

More here.

 Photo: Green Car Congress

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As I was driving home today, I heard a radio commentator say that the cost of solar has gone way down. John has solar now and can actually sell some of the energy produced back to the utility.

Nevertheless, the typical solar infrastructure is beyond the reach of many low-income people.

In Kenya, however, solar energy is being produced without the intermediary of the panels you may be picturing.

Derek Markham writes at TreeHugger, “Solar energy promises to be one of the backbones of our clean energy future, and its most well-known application is probably solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays, which can produce low-carbon electricity for homes and businesses alike. However, even as solar PV efficiencies rise, and costs drop, solar electricity is still out of reach for many people, as it requires a considerable up-front investment, as well as knowledgeable designers, manufacturers, and installers.

“In the developing world, small-scale solar, which can be used for lighting and charging mobile devices, is one of the solar technologies within reach of low-income residents, and while it can certainly fill some of the energy needs of people (such as a clean light source to replace kerosene, and to keep cell phones charged up), it’s only one piece of the energy puzzle.

“Another larger energy demand is for producing heat, whether it’s for cooking or water sterilization, which is often met by using electricity (at the risk of regular blackouts and high costs) or wood (which contributes to deforestation and indoor air pollution), but there is a viable and sustainable alternative solution in the form of solar thermal technology.

“Using the sun’s rays directly, without the need for expensive and complex components, is a perfect fit for quite a bit of the developing world’s energy needs, as well as being an appropriate technology even in First World countries. …

GoSol is demonstrating what is possible with several pilot projects, including a solar bakery and a peanut butter cooperative in Kenya, and is offering up plans for its solar concentrator at a very reasonable cost. …

“The GoSol Sol4 uses 4 square meters of mirrors to produce an estimated solar thermal output of 2 kW (said to be roughly equal to a standard gas stove) at a construction cost of between $350 and $500 USD (depending on whether recycled or new materials are used), and can pay for itself in the developing world within a year.” More here.

Simple and smart. Makes me think of Boy Scouts learning to start a fire with a magnifying glass that focuses the sun’s rays. GoSol sounds creative.

Photo: GoSol

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John is a great source for articles on cutting-edge technologies. He sent me this one Thursday about using plants to make electricity. The students in Spain who designed the technology are nothing if not ambitious. Their goal is to have the whole world covered in trees making electricity. You can watch their video, below, or bear with me as I channel Google Translate’s English rendition of a Spanish blog post.

, at Blog Think Big, says, “Thanks to Bioo system, created by the students of the Autonomous University of Barcelona and Ramón Llull University with the startup Arkyne Technologies, families could cover their basic electricity needs through 10 × 10 meters of vegetation panels. But how?

“The prototype initially created by the students of the UAB is a plant in a pot that lets you charge a mobile phone. According to the explanation for the 4YFN space last Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the system ‘generates power 3-40 watts per square meter from some vegetable panels and a biological battery that takes energy waste (matter organic) that plants need not despise.’ [Oops: that has to be Google. Shall we change it to ‘plants don’t need’?]

“Thus, the device is able to steadily produce electricity through a self-supply system. In addition, according to the engineers, the operation does not affect the plants and is economical.

“Students are betting on a ‘smart city’ concept that allows people using Bioo buy or sell electricity. The goal, in addition to developing these systems in homes, [is to extend them to] agriculture or green roofs of public buildings.”

Maybe you better watch the video. But there’s more here, if you read Spanish.

Video: Bioo Lite

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“In rural Uganda,” writes Madeline Bishop for Global Envision, “light streams from the Ssenyonjo family’s windows through the night. The children inside sleep soundly, free from worry of snakes and thieves. They are prepared for the morning’s classes after an evening of study. What’s more, their lungs are healthy – no one wakes with coughing fits or fevers.

“But for nearly one-fifth of the world’s population that does not yet have solar power like the Ssenyonjo family, this vision of clean energy is still a dream. Some 1.3 billion people live without access to electricity. …

“Many companies are now taking on the achievable goal of increasing access to clean energy across the globe.

“For their solar programs to be successful, these companies focus on tailored marketing strategies to make sure the products are affordable, accepted, and culturally appropriate for the people who could most benefit from them. …

“Some solar manufacturers and energy distributors are helping people skirt [up-front] costs through creative financing models. …

“Customers can finance their own solar systems for less than what they would otherwise be spending on kerosene. [African solar company] M-KOPA reports a savings of $750 per household over the course of four years and 125 hours of fume-free lighting each month.”

Read about the wide variety of approaches to this work in developing countries here, including why Barefoot College has a “training program for grandmothers, who are more likely to stay put and use their knowledge for the good of their communities. … They learn how to install, maintain, and repair the solar systems and, upon graduation, receive a monthly salary for their work.” Hear, Hear!

Photo: Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

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When I first read about the discovery of a snug getaway in a Toronto tunnel, I thought, of course, of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. You remember the black man who finally gave up hope of being treated like a regular human and, realizing he was already invisible to most people, established a hidden pied sous terre, lavishly draining off electric power to light his home underground.

The Toronto story turned out a bit different.

The NY Times had the first episode. “It was a baffling discovery,” Ian Austen wrote, “a hand-dug tunnel just over 33 feet long, tall enough for an adult to stand inside, fed with electricity, drained by a water pump and expertly reinforced with lumber and plywood. It started in dense woods near a tennis stadium — and it did not lead anywhere.

“After more than a month of investigation by the Toronto police, the identities and motives of whoever built the tunnel remain as mysterious as they were the day it was found. So … the police turned to the public for help. …

“The news of the tunnel prompted swift speculation on cable television that it might be part of a plan for a terrorist attack on the Pan American Games, which will be held in Canada this summer. The stadium, located on the York University campus, is scheduled to host tennis for the games. But [Deputy Chief Mark] Saunders said repeatedly … that there was no evidence to support that theory or to indicate that the tunnel was intended for anything illicit at all.

“ ‘There’s no criminal offense for digging a hole,’ he said. …

“Chief Saunders said that the tunnel was equipped with ‘a moisture-resistant lighting system’ and that, despite the bitter January weather, ‘it was very comfortable inside,’ with a temperature between 70 and 75 degrees. A 12-foot aluminum step ladder gave access to the tunnel, and a small pit near the entrance held a Honda generator and an air compressor. The pit was lined with thick foam, apparently meant to muffle the sound of the machinery.” More.

A US News & World Report follow-up story is here. Can you guess? It was nothing nefarious — just a comfy man cave that a couple buddies built to get away from it all.

Photo: USNews.com
Toronto’s Deputy Police Chief Mark Saunders explains evidence photos as he speaks to the media about solving the tunnel mystery.

 

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