Guest blog by Mr. R. U. Cirius: Here are some interesting and somewhat offbeat energy stories that haven’t gotten much media attention during the first three months of the year.
California wind turbines contribute to unprecedented wildflower outbreak
This year California has experienced what many are calling a “superbloom” of wildflowers that hasn’t been seen in decades (Fig. 1). While most attribute this to heavy winter rainfall following several years of drought, Dr. Marko Ramius from the National Wind Energy Laboratory (NWEL) has identified another contributor to the phenomenon – California’s ubiquitous wind turbines. Dr. Ramius has released his surprising findings that show the role of what he calls the “turbulence boundary interface”. This is the boundary of the turbulent mass of air downstream of the turbine’s rotor that generally hovers just off the ground. He has found that this boundary traps moisture close to the earth, which then enhances and prolongs the period of flower bloom. He is currently in discussion with major turbine manufacturers to incorporate blade tip misters into their designs that could provide moisture during drought periods and hopefully make such superblooms a more common occurrence.
The nuclear power industry in the United States has had a history of wild swings from optimism to pessimism to fatalism. After the first wave of over 100 nuclear reactors that were planned in the 1960’s and 1970’s was completed, there has been a span of 2 decades without a new reactor being built. Then, starting in the early 2000’s, a new feeling of optimism arose as the nuclear industry, electric utilities, the US government, and even some environmental organizations realized that nuclear power could be the solution to the world’s global warming problem. And with the high cost of fossil fuel (at a time before fracking technology drove natural gas prices to historic lows), most in the industry believed that new nuclear plants could be built quickly and be cost competitive with other new power sources. These plants would incorporate new technology and advanced safety features, would be governed under new streamlined government regulations to avoid costly design changes mid-construction, would apply lessons learned during construction of the earlier plants, and would have access to competitive financing with federal loan guarantees. This was considered the beginning of the “nuclear renaissance”. Between 2007 and 2009, 13 companies applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for construction and operating licenses to build 31 new nuclear power reactors in the US. Today, plans for virtually all of those reactors have been cancelled, and nuclear power generation reached a peak in 2010 and has since been declining (Figure 1).
Guest blog by S. A. Shelley The concept of “peak oil”, i.e., the time when production of oil hits its maximum and then declines, has been postulated for decades, but, as time passes, industry experts push the peak oil date further and further into the future. However, the events of the past 2 years since the collapse of the price of oil raise an interesting question: “Did we experience peak oil in 2015, and nobody noticed?” As someone who’s had a career in the oil and gas industry and who observes and tries to understand both the successes and failures of that industry, I postulate that we might have passed such a crucial point in history. Continue reading Did the World Hit “Peak Oil” in 2015 and Nobody Noticed?→
Over the past several months there’s been interesting activity related to a number of key issues that we’ve been following at OWOE. We’d like to share activity related to two of those issues in this blog.
Islands represent unique challenges for supply of energy. By nature they tend to be distant from conventional, large scale energy sources, and they tend to lack natural resources necessary to produce power locally, which is particularly true for small islands. A case in point is Puerto Rico. This month my wife and I traveled to Puerto Rico for the first time for a much-needed vacation. Dealing with, or even thinking about, energy was one of the furthest things in our mind. However, two days into our stay, energy became the most important aspect of our vacation. Continue reading A real world case for renewables – Puerto Rico→
To the typical American consumer, the recent collapse in the price of oil is viewed as a good thing on several levels: 1) it means more money is available from income to spend on other fixed or discretionary expenses and 2) it means the evil oil companies are hurting. The downsides are rarely considered or understood. For example: 1) some of the highest paying professions in the US are in the oil industry and employees are being laid off by the tens of thousands, 2) economies in cities like Houston, and entire states like North Dakota, that are highly dependent on the oil industry are in a tailspin, leading to foreclosures, business failures, and reduced public spending, 3) oil companies that took on too much debt during the oil boom are declaring bankruptcy and defaulting on their debts, which has contributed to the recent stock market slide, and 4) one of the goals of the Saudi Arabian orchestrated price collapse, that of destroying the US shale oil industry and maintaining Saudi market share has been successful. Continue reading The Human Side of the Oil Price Collapse→
December has been another big month for the environment with the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (also referred to as the Paris Climate Talks and COP21) ending in a broad, world-wide agreement to reduce greenhouse gasses in an attempt to combat global warming. The agreement confirmed the target of keeping the rise in temperature from the pre-industrial world to below 2°C, which scientists believe is necessary to prevent a global catastrophe. The agreement even establishes for the first time, that the world should be aiming for a rise of only 1.5°C to protect island states, which are the most threatened by the rise in sea levels. The Paris agreement requires all countries to review their contributions every five years from 2020; they will not be able to lower their targets and are encouraged to raise them. In addition, countries will aim to achieve carbon neutrality in the second half of the century. See CPO21 for more information. Continue reading Paris Climate Change Agreement and More→
On October 21st the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) issued its Plan for Action on Climate Change. This document was the culmination of a year of discussions within the MIT community on the risks of climate change and the role that MIT should play as a leader on climate sciences and energy innovation. MIT’s position is that overwhelming evidence shows that the world is warmer than it was in the pre-industrial age, and that present-day climate change is due to human activity, in particular the emission of greenhouse gasses. MIT supports the 2C Challenge which aims to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and sees the need for a world-wide, aggressive but pragmatic transition plan to achieve a zero-carbon energy system. Continue reading MIT Plan for Action on Climate Change→
Most of the energy news recently has been focused on renewables, particularly solar and wind, which makes it particularly interesting when a different energy source makes the headlines. This article regarding the MOX (Mixed Oxide) fuel fabrication plant, currently under construction in South Carolina, addresses a relatively obscure offshoot of the topic of nuclear power, that of fuel reprocessing. What makes it triply interesting is that it has geopolitical ramifications with regard to a 2000 treaty between the US and Russia to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium and also illustrates how incredibly complicated and expensive it is to do anything with the word “nuclear” in it. Continue reading Senate approves MOX funding, but future remains cloudy→
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