Energy

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.

New Carbon Rules: Here’s How States Could Be Forced to Cut Emissions

Publication: NBC News   Date: June 2, 2014   View Article

In a bid to stave off the dire effects of global warming on human health and the environment, the White House on Monday unveiled a new plan to slash carbon emissions from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2030.

“That’s like cancelling out annual carbon pollution from two-thirds of all cars and trucks in America,” Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said in announcing the new rules.

Arctic Ship Traffic and Oil Spill Worries Rise as Ice Recedes

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 25, 2014   View Article

Ships packed with frozen mackerel and herring will sail in convoy behind a Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker from Norway to Asia this summer along the Northern Sea Route through the Arctic Ocean — a trial run as companies rush to capitalize on the world’s hunger for fish and to extract minerals from the top of the world.

Dozens of ships now transit the Arctic each year amid decreasing summer ice — in 2013,71 vessels plied the Northern Sea Route, including the first container ship. In another first, a bulk carrier transited coal through the famed Northwest Passage on a voyage from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to Finland. And that traffic is only likelier to get busier.

Hundreds more ships “go up to the Arctic and perform some activity and then they come out,” Lawson Brigham, a professor of geography and Arctic policy at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, explained to NBC News. Most of these ships transport equipment to mines and other industrial sites and leave with commodities such as oil, gas, copper, nickel, and iron ore.

Fracking Tie to Earthquakes Raises Question of Liability

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 13, 2014   View Article

Earthquakes like the one that woke residents from their beds on March 10 in Poland Township, Ohio, might become a more frequent occurrence in areas where fracking is becoming big business. Scientists are reporting mounting evidence that tremors can be tied to the much-debated drilling technique and related activities. What’s not clear is who might be held responsible for the quakes.

Fracking refers to the method the petroleum industry uses to break apart chunks of shale rock deep within the earth to free trapped oil and gas. Geologists in Ohio established a “probable connection” between fracking and the magnitude 3.0 quake on March 10. In Oklahoma, geologists report a spike in earthquakes associated with injecting into deep underground wells the wastewater generated during fracking operations.

The heightened awareness of seismic activity associated with fracking and wastewater injection raises the question of who is responsible should an earthquake occur that causes damage to people or their property.

Pacific Northwest’s Salish Sea Eyed as Fossil Fuel Gateway

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: May 9, 2014   View Article

Trains loaded with crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation rumble past the outfield bleachers of the Seattle Mariners’ baseball stadium several times a week. From there, the trains head north, their cargo destined for multiple refineries in Washington State.

The traffic is new: Just three years ago, no oil trains were coming to Washington. Bakken crude is filling a void created by dwindling shipments from aging oil fields on Alaska’s North Slope, and the petroleum industry wants to bring in more. But the push to build more rail and shipping capacity in the Pacific Northwest is spurring debate over how that oil flow will affect the region—and where it should ultimately go.

Fish-Friendly Dams? Scientists Race to Reduce Turbine Trauma

Publication: NBC News   Date: April 14, 2014   View Article

A hydroelectric dam building boom in the Pacific Northwest in the past century drove dozens of salmon runs to extinction and has cost taxpayers billions of dollars to try to save the fish that remain. Today, scientists from the region are hard at work to prevent a repeat of history at a time when countries around the world race to wring more energy from rivers to fuel a power hungry and warming planet.

“We’ve made some pretty good progress here in the Pacific Northwest on determining criteria that can help keep fish safe,” Richard Brown, a senior research scientist at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., told NBC News.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach