Will Huge Batteries Save Us From Power Blackouts?

Publication: National Geographic   Date: April 29, 2015   View Article

Glacier, Washington, is the final stop for coffee and treats on the Mt. Baker Highway, which ends at a ski area holding the world record for most snowfall in a season. The small town in the woods might seem an unlikely spot for a $9.6 million warehouse to store excess energy, but it might prove the perfect testing ground.

The area’s winter storms routinely knock out power to Glacier, home to about 250 residents year-round and more than 1,000 on busy weekends. Come 2016, its outages should be less frequent thanks to a shipping container humming with lithium-ion batteries hooked up to a substation that will provide up to 18 hours of backup electricity.

The two-megawatt system will allow Puget Sound Energy to study broader applications for grid-scale energy storage such as using it to provide power during peak-hour demand and to maintain minute-by-minute grid balance.

New Technologies, Contracts Bolster Growing Energy Storage Business

Publication: NBC News   Date: January 25, 2015   View Article

Promising technological advances and a host of lucrative new contracts and incentives are encouraging signs to alternative energy watchers who say that the market for storing wind and solar-generated electricity could become a multibillion-dollar industry in the next decade.

Electric engineers have long argued that affordable and reliable energy storage is an essential component of an electric power grid that is supplied by an ever-growing share of renewable energy. That’s because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow exactly when utilities need it to.

But the cost of energy storage, until recently, remained too high to serve as a practical option. Instead, utilities largely relied on so-called “peaker plants” that they can ramp up within a few minutes to meet demand when, for example, air conditioners are cranked up on a steamy summer day.

Who Digs Solar and Wind Power? That’s Right: Miners

Publication: NBC News   Date: January 9, 2015   View Article

Mines from the Americas to Africa and Australia are slowly becoming unlikely hotspots for the production and use of green energy.

In some places, wind and solar farms resurface revenue from deserted mine lands. Elsewhere, mining companies are powering a portion of ongoing operations with renewable energy, which is now cost competitive with traditional fossil fuels and gives a green sheen to an industry often maligned by environmentalists.

To be sure, these are early days for these strange bedfellows. The reason for the coupling of mines and green energy varies from site to site and country to country, according to experts, but the trend is global and growing.

Richard Branson Joins Forces With Amory Lovins in Climate Fight

Publication: NBC News   Date: December 16, 2013   View Article

Sir Richard Branson’s climate change-fighting foundation is aligning forces with one of the world’s most heady alternative energy think tanks to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy, the two organizations said Tuesday. First up: Helping Caribbean island nations shift away from dependence on diesel fuel.

“Together we can go further, faster,” Branson, the entrepreneur who founded Virgin Atlantic Airways, said in a statement announcing the alliance between his Carbon War Room and Amory Lovins’ Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing market-based solutions to drive global energy use away from fossil fuels.

Executives from both organizations tapped to lead the alliance described it as a marriage between an agile and young entrepreneurial organization full of make-it-happen passion with one that is steeped in analytical rigor, insight and thought leadership.

Burned Birds Become New Environmental Victim of the Energy Quest

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 20, 2014   View Article

Birds singed in midair by a solar thermal power plant in the Mojave Desert — known as “streamers” for the smoke plume they emit — viscerally highlight the reality that the quest for energy almost always causes some form of environmental harm, even through technologies considered green and clean.

The same power plant that’s creating streamers was nearly derailed due to concerns about its potential impact on habitat for rare desert tortoise, for example. Wind power projects routinely kill birds and ruffle residents within their eyesight with concerns about visual blight. Geothermal energy projects have rattled nerves over elevated earthquake risks. Hydroelectric dams drove salmon runs to extinction.

“There are sacrifices that every technology has and the question is how visible those are,” Nathan Lee, a graduate student and researcher with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative who is developing a course on the ethics of energy policy with his adviser Lucas Stanczyk, told NBC News. “In the case of the birds getting singed by giant towers, it’s pretty visible and understandably it is therefore probably more upsetting than the quieter ways in which energy technologies cause a lot of harm.”

Big Batteries Are Starting to Boost the Electric Grid

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 5, 2014   View Article

Long hailed as a game changer that will allow unlimited amounts of wind and solar energy onto the electric power grid, big rechargeable batteries are beginning to move out of research labs and find a home amid the real-world tangle of smokestacks, turbines and power lines. Today, the reality falls short of the hype about fossil-fuel-free electricity — but experts say that future could be in store.

For the foreseeable future, electric utilities will rely on coal, gas and nuclear power plants to provide a steady base of power, according to Paul Denholm, a senior analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. But batteries can help balance the flow of electricity as demand ramps up and down throughout the day.

“That is where the hot applications are right now for energy storage,” he told NBC News.

Home Solar Panels Make Gains in America, Even in Rainy Seattle

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 4, 2014   View Article

Going solar is expensive, but a confluence of plummeting equipment prices, rising utility bills, new financing schemes and a raft of federal, state, and local incentives are encouraging homeowners across America to take the plunge and put photovoltaic panels on their roofs, even in rainy Seattle.

In 2013, 792 megawatts of solar capacity was installed on homes. That figure is expected to increase 61 percent in 2014 and another 53 percent in 2015, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a Washington-based trade group. A megawatt of solar capacity is typically enough to power 200 average U.S. homes, though the number varies depending on factors such as available sunlight and panel orientation.

On a recent drizzly July morning here, homeowner Brian Palmer gestured out the window to the falling rain. There, workers in slickers from a local solar energy company prepared to put photovoltaic panels on his roof, one of the hundreds of such installations that occur daily across the country.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach