Writings

For Storing Electricity, Utilities Are Turning to Pumped Hydro

Publication: Yale Environment 360   Date: November 24, 2015   View Article

In the past decade, wind energy production has soared in Spain, rising from 6 percent of the country’s electricity generation in 2004 to about 20 percent today. While that is certainly good news for boosters of clean energy, the surge in renewables has come with the challenge of ensuring that electric power is available when customers want it, not just when the wind blows.

To help accommodate the increased supply of wind, Spain’s utilities have turned not to high-tech, 21st-century batteries, but rather to a time-tested 19th-century technology — pumped storage hydroelectricity. Pumped storage facilities are typically equipped with pumps and generators that move water between upper and lower reservoirs. A basic setup uses excess electricity — generated, say, from wind turbines during a blustery night — to pump water from a lower reservoir, such as behind a dam, to a reservoir at a higher elevation. Then, when the wind ceases to blow or electricity demand spikes, the water from on high is released to spin hydroelectric turbines.

Software traces cultural trends

Publication: NBC News   Date: December 16, 2010   View Article

Want to be famous? Don’t pursue a career in the sciences. That’s one of the key findings from a new study that tasked computers to pick out cultural trends from about 4 percent of all the words ever printed in books.

Flow of Cheap Hydroelectricity Slows in Parched West

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 2, 2015   View Article

As rivers and reservoirs shrink across the parched West, cheap sources of water-generated electricity are starting to dry up.

Historically low flows on the McKenzie River that snakes west of Oregon’s snow-starved Cascades, for example, forced the closure of a hydroelectric generation turbine at the Trail Bridge dam in early July. Two more hydropower facilities downstream of the dam are likely to meet a similar fate in the coming weeks.

Ban Bottled Water? Industry Scrutinized in Parched California

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 11, 2015   View Article

Thirsty? Drink tap water.

That’s the message being pushed in parched California, where companies such as Swiss food giant Nestle are bottling for profit water that they pipe from public lands, pump from the desert, and draw from municipal water supplies as citizens are asked to curtail their own water consumption.

“In a historic drought like we are having, it just seems like a really, really poor use of a scarce resource,” said Eddie Kurtz, the executive director of the California-based Courage Campaign which is petitioning the California Water Resources Control Board to immediately shut down Nestlé’s water bottling plants.

The campaign, he said, “is a gateway, an opportunity for us to engage people” in a broader dialogue about water management in California.

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.

Can the Chesapeake Bay (and its Signature Blue Crabs) Recover?

Publication: NBC News   Date: April 26, 2015   View Article

Blue crab season in the Chesapeake Bay is just around the corner. To fill his coffers between now and then, third-generation Virginia waterman J.C. Hudgins is fishing for menhaden, a type of fish used for bait. What he’s seen in recent days comes as good news: clear water to a depth of eight feet.

“Ten years past, you couldn’t do that,” he said. “And so you know the water quality has improved considerably.”

The Chesapeake Bay is a 200-mile long estuary that runs from Havre de Grace, Maryland, to Norfolk, Virginia and is fed with waters streaming in from a 64,000-square-mile watershed that includes portions of six states and the District of Columbia.

Until recently, the bay was choked with nutrients and sediment spilling in from the 17 million people that call the watershed home.

Billions of Dollars of Real Estate at Risk to Wildfire, Experts Say

Publication: NBC News   Date: April 24, 2015   View Article

Seeking the beauty of nature, Americans just can’t stop building houses among trees that will, sooner or later, go up in flames.

“It is truly a when, not if,” Sean McVay, a homeowner in Evergreen, Colorado, said of the threat that a wildfire will tear through his wooded community in the Rocky Mountain foothills west of Denver. But that doesn’t mean he plans to move. McVay bought the house last year. Like most homeowners there, he’s an outdoor enthusiast.

“Being part of the wooded environment is a big draw,” he said.

McVay is not alone. More than 1.1 million properties in the western United States were identified as highly vulnerable to wildfire in a 2015 risk report from analytics firm CoreLogic. The cost to rebuild those homes would total $269 billion, according to the report, which was written to inform the insurance industry and, perhaps, sway policymakers to encourage fire-safe construction in areas susceptible to wildfires.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach