Category: Energy

First ever photograph of light as particle and a wave

Light as particle and wave
Click to enlargeEnergy-space photography of light confined on a nanowire

Light behaves both as a particle and as a wave. Since the days of Einstein, scientists have been trying to directly observe both of these aspects of light at the same time. Now, scientists at EPFL have succeeded in capturing the first-ever snapshot of this dual behavior.

Quantum mechanics tells us that light can behave simultaneously as a particle or a wave. However, there has never been an experiment able to capture both natures of light at the same time; the closest we have come is seeing either wave or particle, but always at different times. Taking a radically different experimental approach, EPFL scientists have now been able to take the first ever snapshot of light behaving both as a wave and as a particle. The breakthrough work is published in Nature Communications.

When UV light hits a metal surface, it causes an emission of electrons. Albert Einstein explained this “photoelectric” effect by proposing that light — thought to only be a wave — is also a stream of particles. Even though a variety of experiments have successfully observed both the particle- and wave-like behaviors of light, they have never been able to observe both at the same time.

RTFA for details of the experiment. Even if I understand quantum-nothing – though SmartAlix explains it to me at least once every year – I really love the photograph. :)

Electricity markets are rigged — consumers robbed!

For decades Wall Street financial engineers, teaming up with electric power producers, have gamed wholesale electricity auctions to earn bigger profits than either a regulated utility or a competitive market would yield. This month they made a major advance in their campaign to get rich by subtly draining your wallet. Yet every major news organization ignored this.

This latest development took place in New England, which already has America’s most expensive electricity. February’s electricity auction saw the annual cost to customers rise to $4 billion, up from about $3 billion in last year’s auction and less than $2 billion in the 2013 auction. That $4 billion figure would have been much higher but for a rule capping prices.

By the way, that $4 billion is not for the electricity, which costs extra. The $4 billion price tag is for capacity payments made to owners just for promising to run their power plants in 2018 and ’19.

If that sounds bizarre, it’s because it is. It is comparable to government taxing us to pay auto dealers to keep enough cars and trucks on their lots to satisfy expected future demand.

Half the states also have auctions that set the price of electricity for periods ranging from a year down to a few minutes. The other half still rely on traditional rate regulation, which has its own problems.

If there is abundant capacity to produce power at peak periods, such as hot summer afternoons, then prices will not rise much, if at all. But if there is barely enough power to meet demand, then prices rise significantly. And if capacity is just 1 percent less than demand, the wholesale price soars.

In these auctions every producer gets the top price even if most bid far less. These are known as clearing price auctions, in which the highest bidder sets the price for all suppliers…

Robert McCullough, an Oregon utility economist known for busting industry myths, says gaming of electricity markets is easy and lucrative, as long as regulators look the other way.

“With perfect competition, you always bid your marginal cost — as the economist Alfred Marshall was pointing more than a hundred years ago,” McCullough said. “However, when your market share is sufficiently high that you have the potential to set the market price, it is in your interest to raise your price above marginal cost, even though you will lose some of your market share” because one or more of your fleet of power plants will produce no electricity and thus not collect any money.

“This gets even better when you can buy someone else’s plant and shut it down,” McCullough added, because the reduced capacity means higher prices. Combined with the savings from not operating the shuttered plant, the result is much bigger profits.

Yes, these are the same schmucks who bankroll Republican agitprop about how free market capitalism guarantees our freedom. They leave out the part about buying politicians, buying off regulators with better-paying jobs as a reward when they’re through pimping the biz.

Then you get to double dippers like North Carolina’s governor Pat McCrory. He had a whole career working for Duke Energy. Left to become the gpvernor and, no doubt, will return to being officially on the payroll, once again, after he’s through directing that state’s legislative mediocrity into further kissing corporate butt.

Biobattery plant turns a wide range of biomass into energy, consumables

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Energy and Safety Technology have developed a “biobattery” in the form of a highly efficient biogas plant that can turn raw materials like straw, scrap wood and sludge into a variety of useful energy sources including electricity, purified gas and engine oil. The new plant design, currently being put to the test in a prototype plant in Germany, is said to be highly modular and economically viable even at the small scale.

The production of biogas  –  gas created by the breakdown of organic matter, by fermentation or through the action of anaerobic bacteria  –  is an interesting complement to other sources of renewable energy since it can not only generate electricity at little cost to the environment, but also create biofuel, fertilizer and engine oil. One issue, however, is that these plants only accept few organic substances as raw materials.

A new biogas plant developed at the Fraunhofer Institute could solve this problem by taking a number of materials that would normally have to be disposed of at great cost – like industrial biomass waste, sewage sludge, straw, scrap wood or manure – and process them with high efficiency into a more useful output, all through a highly modular, flexible design…

The end products can be used in various ways: the oil can be turned into fuel for ships or airplanes; the gases are used to produce electricity in a combined heat and power plant; and the biochar can be used as fertilizer.

Besides the flexibility that comes from accepting multiple raw materials and producing multiple outputs, another crucial advantage to the biobattery is that, according to the scientists’ financial analysis, even a small-scale plant requiring a small investment would be financially profitable. Because of the built-in modularity, the plant could then be gradually upgraded to process more materials with higher efficiency.

In their own way, the Fraunhoher Institute is as interesting a source for advancing life on this wee planet as the Max Planck Institute. Though not as dedicated to basic research as the latter, Fraunhofer turns out more practical science and engineering than most of their peers in the Western world.

This is one more example. RTFA for another few paragraphs of detail. Living as we do on a planet dominated by a species whose progress in economics and commerce is generally accompanied by an inordinate amount of waste – and wastefulness – Fraunhofer’s efforts are more than welcome.

Wyoming rakes in more than $4.4 Million from taxes on wind-power


Click to enlargeDave Showalter

More than $4.4 million was generated from taxes on wind production across Wyoming in the last fiscal year, according to the state Department of Revenue.

Albany, Carbon, Converse, Laramie, Natrona and Uinta counties share in $2.7 million with the state’s portion of the revenue at slightly more than $1.7 million…

This year’s taxes from wind-generated electricity are the tip of the iceberg to state and local coffers. When the Chokecherry Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project’s 1,000 wind turbines come online, they could eventually bring in more $10 million in revenues annually, from wind generation alone.

Coupled with property taxes and the sales and use tax, Chokecherry promises to be a financial boon to Carbon County, said Kara Choquette, communications director for the Power Company of Wyoming…

“This represents a very significant and positive financial impact for the county, all of the public entities that get a portion of the property taxes and all of the cities and towns that get a portion of the sales and use tax.” Choquette said. “Along with the generation tax, it’s in the hundreds and millions of dollars. That’s a pretty significant increase over what Wyoming is getting now from all of the wind turbines combined.”

We have much of the same potential plus more solar – especially in downstate New Mexico. Of course the state engineer’s office made the determination that we could be a net power exporting state in wind-generated electricity 20 years ago. Our beloved PNM took no notice.

Congrats to Wyoming for making this growing infrastructure part of a larger picture beyond public utility executives patting themselves on the back.

Of course, we’re all farting around – dawdling behind Colorado when it comes to doing something sensible like legalizing marijuana. A renewable resource that slows traffic, generates income for the state and jobs for the young at heart – and brings miles of smiles.

Portland to generate electricity as part of its water system


LucidPipe installation — a turbine visible inside the pipe

There’s a lot of water constantly moving through the municipal pipelines of most major cities. While the water itself is already destined for various uses, why not harness its flow to produce hydroelectric power? Well, that’s exactly what Lucid Energy’s LucidPipe Power System does, and Portland, Oregon has just become the latest city to adopt it.

LucidPipe simply replaces a stretch of existing gravity-fed conventional pipeline, that’s used for transporting potable water. As the water flows through, it spins four 42-inch (107-cm) turbines, each one of which is hooked up to a generator on the outside of the pipe. The presence of the turbines reportedly doesn’t slow the water’s flow rate significantly, so there’s virtually no impact on pipeline efficiency.

The 200-kW Portland system was privately financed by Harbourton Alternative Energy, and its installation was completed late last December. It’s now undergoing reliability and efficiency testing, which includes checking that its sensors and smart control system are working properly. It’s scheduled to begin full capacity power generation by March.

Once up and running, it’s expected to generate an average of 1,100 megawatt hours of energy per year, which is enough to power approximately 150 homes. Over the next 20 years, it should also generate about US$2 million in energy sales to Portland General Electric, which Harbourton plans on sharing with the City of Portland and the Portland Water Bureau in order to offset operational costs. At the end of that period, the Portland Water Bureau will have the right to purchase the system outright, along with all the energy it produces.

Something cities like Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, should consider. The rush of population growth and concurrent water system expansion took place right after World War 2. The mediocre piping installed now fails on a regular basis. Cripes, in Abq it’s weekly, even daily.

Of course, rebuilding infrastructure – especially with an eye on future requirements and additions – ain’t exactly part of being an American politician, nowadays.

Apple’s 25-year solar agreement will provide 130MW of clean energy


Apple’s new Campus 2 – under construction in Cupertino, California

Apple’s landmark solar power deal…is a long-term sustainable energy solution that should generate enough to power essentially all of the company’s California operations, including the upcoming “spaceship” Campus 2, by the end of 2016.

The green energy will be purchased from First Solar, Inc., through an $848 million agreement that will last for at least 25 years, making it the largest of its kind in the industry. First Solar will be providing electricity through its forthcoming 2,900-acre California Flats Solar Project in Monterey County…

In total, the solar plant will output 280 megawatts of electricity, 130 megawatts of which will be bought by Apple. The remaining 150-megawatt capacity will be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric under a separate long-term power purchase agreement…

Cook said…that Apple will buy enough electricity to power nearly 60,000 California homes. That’s enough to offset the electricity used by Apple’s upcoming Campus 2, as well as all 52 Apple retail stores in the Golden State, and its data center in Newark.

The Apple CEO also made it clear that climate change is a very serious issue for him and his company, which is why they are taking the lead on renewable and sustainable energy. Cook also noted to investors that the agreement makes sound financial sense as well, as the $848 million deal will result in “very significant savings” on the cost of energy.

So, the most valuable corporation in the world says it makes economic sense to move eletricity generation away from fossil fuel, away from coal and oil.

Congressional pimps and cowards, Republican conservatives and Blue Dog Democrats, bleat this isn’t possible.

Which side are you on?

Fiery oil train derailment in West Virginia – State of Emergency declared

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 9.27.48 PM
Click to access video

A train derailment Monday afternoon in West Virginia caused multiple explosions and a massive fire, and the CSX-owned train is leaking crude oil into the Kanawha River…

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency about 6 p.m. Eastern time.

Nearly three hours after that declaration, the fire was still burning, and 1,000 people had been evacuated, according to Lawrence Messina, the state’s public safety spokesman…

At least one home near the derailment in Fayette County caught fire and was destroyed, Messina said.

The derailment happened about 1:20 p.m. Eastern time as the 109-car train carrying Bakken crude oil was going from North Dakota to Yorktown, Va., Messina said. As many as 15 train cars were involved in the derailment and fire…

Crude oil from at least one of the rail cars is leaking into the Kanawha River, Messina said.

West Virginia American Water shut down its Montgomery treatment plant because the facility draws water from an area near the incident…

The plant will not be reopened until it is confirmed the water is safe, it said.

“Oil creates the illusion of a completely changed life, life without work, life for free. Oil is a resource that anaesthetises thought, blurs vision, corrupts.”

― Ryszard Kapuściński, Shah of Shahs

What might kill wind and solar power?

Stephen Chu at Sandia Labs

Questions to Stephen Chu, Nobel Prizewinner in Physics, former Secretary of Energy

During your time at the Department of Energy the deployment of renewable energy in the U.S. doubled. Is the fall in fossil-fuel prices killing the business case for renewables?

The decline in fossil-fuel prices does have some effect, but remember that 78 percent of the economies of the U.S. have state-mandated renewable portfolio standards. They require that a specified fraction of electricity must come from renewable energy. For example, in California the goal is 33 percent renewable energy by 2020.

Right now renewable electricity is roughly 13 percent of total electricity generated in the U.S. Half is hydropower and the other half is mostly wind energy, with some solar, biomass and geothermal. Renewable energy costs have come down significantly. Even if natural gas, which is the cheapest form of electricity generation today, stays at $4 per million Btus [British thermal units], wind without subsidy is almost as inexpensive.

Electrical generation in the sunnier parts of the U.S. is also approaching equality with a new natural gas power plant. The cost of wind and solar is anticipated to decline for at least a decade or two. Perhaps in a decade, renewables will be competitive with any new form of energy in many parts of the U.S.

What do you think is the biggest energy problem today?

It’s a combination of things. As renewable energy and electrical storage become less expensive, one has to design the grid system to take full advantage of lower-cost energy.

As renewable energy becomes an increasingly larger fraction of the total energy, the cost of standby electricity and storage becomes part of the cost of renewables. Sometimes the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine…

…We can’t really abandon fossil fuels before the first half of this century because they are needed for backup power. We need to invent a method to transform very inexpensive electricity into cost-competitive liquid hydrocarbon fuels that can be shipped by tanker and stored around the world. After that we can begin to wean ourselves from fossil and fission nuclear energy.

You’ve straddled politics and science. At times this doesn’t seem to work. What’s going wrong?

Sometimes you can have sets of well-informed people who will have different opinions on how to deal with X, Y or Z. That’s where politics should come in.

…It makes no sense to say, “Unless science can prove unequivocally that very bad things will happen, we can continue on our present course.”

Science cannot predict who will get lung cancer if they smoke. With a half a century of hindsight we now know that the risk is 25 times greater than for nonsmokers.

Prudent risk management does not use uncertainty as an excuse for inaction, and fire and health insurance make sense. We need leaders who are scientifically well-informed and willing act in the long-term best interests of their countries.

Whatever the sum of our nation’s ignorance plus stupidity, the fact remains over half of our political choice is in the hands of fools who reject science, realistic decision-making, anything other than short-term profits for the smallest ownership class of American capitalism. Even the Chamber of Commerce – a wholly-owned subsidiary of the fossil fuels industries – doesn’t advocate the range of self-destructive, cloud cuckoo-land policies propping up the Republican Party and their obedient little brothers among Blue Dog Democrats.

Science and economy-based analysis of markets and needs offers no lang-range threat to diversified alternative energy production. The opposite is true. What threatens all of our society is the politics of ignorance coupled with the politics of stupid.

Electric tuk-tuk from Terra Motors hopes to clean up in Southeast Asia

Auto rickshaws, also known as tuk-tuks, three-wheelers or by numerous other names, are a common sight on the streets of many Asian cities. An evolution of the traditional pulled or cycle rickshaw, the gasoline-powered vehicles, which are used as taxis, are a major source of pollution in many Asian cities. Japan’s Terra Motors hopes to capitalize on efforts to cut tuk-tuk pollution with its new electric three-wheeler aimed at emerging Southeast Asia markets.

Although they are generally powered by high polluting two-stroke engines, a number of governments in Southeast Asia are forcing changes in an effort to improve the air quality in major cities. Some are forcing a switch to CNG or LPG fuel, while others are banning two-stroke engines in favor of four-stroke engines. The Philippines government is embracing locally emission-free electric powered tuk-tuks, with plans to introduce some 100,000 such vehicles by 2016.

Terra Motors is aiming for a slice of this pie with its electric three-wheeler, alongside the wider goal of becoming the world’s biggest seller of electric tuk-tuks within the next two years. Likely strengthening the company’s bid, Terra Motors will produce the vehicles in the Philippines.

I want one.

Actually, the critter I want is designed to be an enclosed tandem for about the same price — $6300. Wouldn’t work as a cab; but, it would surely get me forth and back from town for a lot less than my old pickup truck.

Time-lapse video of volcanic explosion in Mexico

A mesmerizing time-lapse video shows a Mexican volcano’s explosive eruption — spewing ash high into the sky.

The Colima volcano exploded around 9:15 a.m. Wednesday and sent an ash column about 29,000 feet into the air.

More than five minutes of the vulcanian eruption, which ejects lava fragments and lots of volcanic ash, were condensed into 30 seconds for the clip…

Experts say Colima is one of Mexico’s most active volcanoes, with multiple eruptions in recent weeks alone.

Nicely done!