Amazon patents drones wirelessly charging your electric car while driving — Who? Wha?

Click to enlargeReuters/Brendan McDermid

As countries around the world are putting more electric vehicles on the road, they’re also struggling to power those engines. For now, countries are focusing on adding charging stations, but in the future there may be a more mobile option available to drivers: flying drones that come to you.

In early October, the US Patent and Trademark Office granted Amazon the patent for developing a drone that can connect to transfer electricity to a car in motion. Amazon filed the application in 2014, the patent document showed…

How cool is that?

In a nutshell, when the vehicle is low on battery, it will contact a central server, which communicates with the car to figure out the amount of energy needed for its intended destination before sending out an unmanned flying machine with some form of battery to service the car. Several authentication steps would be required to prevent malicious use, according to the filing. The new patent might go well with an earlier Amazon application that envisions recharging stations on top of public street lights for flying drones to use themselves.

So, if you’ve been wandering around the countryside in your full-electric AWD Ford Watanabe checking out new fishing spots – and weren’t paying attention to your car’s charged level – the car will do it for you. A new level of Amazon Prime service may be required. And sounds useful to me. If I was still living my life on the road.

Solar = 6¢ per kilowatt-hour, beating Obama’s goal by 3 years

Formerly the largest piggery in Massachusetts

❝ The Department of Energy has announced that utility-grade solar panels have hit cost targets set for 2020, three years ahead of schedule. Those targets reflect around $1 per watt and 6¢ per kilowatt-hour in Kansas City, the department’s mid-range yardstick for solar panel cost per unit of energy produced (New York is considered the high-cost end, and Phoenix, Arizona, which has much more sunlight than most other major cities in the country, reflects the low-cost end).

Those prices don’t include an Investment Tax Credit which makes solar panels even cheaper. The Energy Department said that the cost per watt was assessed in terms of total installed system costs for developers. That means the number is based on “the sales price paid to the installer; therefore, it includes profit in the cost of the hardware,”…

❝ The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a DOE-funded lab that assesses solar panel cost, wrote that, compared to the first quarter in 2016, the first quarter in 2017 saw a 29-percent decline in installed cost for utility-scale solar, which was attributed to lower photovoltaic module and inverter prices, better panel efficiency, and reduced labor costs. Despite the plummeting costs for utility-scale solar, costs for commercial and residential solar panels have not fallen quite as quickly — just 15 percent and 6 percent, respectively…

❝ Now that utility-grade solar panels have crossed the finish line almost three years early, the DOE says that it’s setting a new goal line for 2030…Through the DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, the federal department says it will start funding early stage projects focusing on “grid reliability, resilience, and storage.”

Too bad – for the moment – we’re saddled with an administration, White House, Congress and all – wholly committed to pimping for fossil fuel extraction and energy industries. Hopefully, the American electorate will learn to skip over idjits who prefer pimps to progress and elect some useful folks in 2018 and 2020.

Lessons from Germany’s Transition from Coal to Renewables

❝ Seventy-seven-year-old Heinz Spahn—whose blue eyes are both twinkling and stern — vividly recalls his younger days. The Zollverein coal mine, where he worked in the area of Essen, Germany, was so clogged with coal dust, he remembers, that people would stir up a black cloud whenever they moved. “It was no pony farm,” he says — using the sardonic German phrase to describe the harsh conditions: The roar of machines was at a constant 110 decibels, and the men were nicknamed waschbar, or “raccoons,” for the black smudges that permanently adorned their faces.

Today, the scene at Zollverein is very different. Inside the coal washery where Spahn once worked—the largest building in the Zollverein mining complex — the air is clean, and its up to 8,000 miners have been replaced by one-and-a-half million tourists annually. The whole complex is now a UNESCO world heritage site: Spahn, who worked here as a fusion welder until the mine shut down on December 23, 1986, is employed as a guide to teach tourists about its history. “I know this building in and out. I know every screw,” he says fondly.

Zollverein is a symbol of Germany’s transition away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy — a program called the Energiewende that aims to have 80 percent of the country’s energy generated from renewables by 2050. That program has transformed Germany into a global poster child for green energy. But what does the transition mean for residents of Essen and the rest of the Ruhr region — the former industrial coal belt—whose lives and livelihoods have been dramatically altered by the reduced demand for coal? The answer to that could hold some useful lessons for those undergoing similar transitions elsewhere…

The trade unions are stronger in Germany than in the United States. Progressive politicians are often voted into office – locally and nationally – in Germany. There has been legitimate, strong pressure exerted upon government and corporations alike in Germany. RTFA and see what a difference that has made in the transition away from the most polluting energy sources.

139 countries could be 100% powered by wind, water, and solar energy by 2050

❝ The latest roadmap to a 100% renewable energy future from Stanford’s Mark Z. Jacobson and 26 colleagues is the most specific global vision yet, outlining infrastructure changes that 139 countries can make to be entirely powered by wind, water, and sunlight by 2050 after electrification of all energy sectors.

Such a transition could mean less worldwide energy consumption due to the efficiency of clean, renewable electricity; a net increase of over 24 million long-term jobs; an annual decrease in 4-7 million air pollution deaths per year; stabilization of energy prices; and annual savings of over $20 trillion in health and climate costs…

❝ The challenge…is one of the greatest of our time. The roadmaps developed by Jacobson’s group provide one possible endpoint. For each of the 139 nations, they assess the raw renewable energy resources available to each country, the number of wind, water, and solar energy generators needed to be 80% renewable by 2030 and 100% by 2050, how much land and rooftop area these power sources would require (only around 1% of total available, with most of this open space between wind turbines that can be used for multiple purposes), and how this approach would reduce energy demand and cost compared with a business-as-usual scenario…

❝ …Jacobson says that the overall cost to society (the energy, health, and climate cost) of the proposed system is one-fourth of that of the current fossil fuel system. In terms of upfront costs, most of these would be needed in any case to replace existing energy, and the rest is an investment that far more than pays itself off over time by nearly eliminating health and climate costs.

RTFA for a clear exposition. There’s a link available to the original paper published in JOULE. Much heavier reading. A necessity for real scientific analysis and review.

Distant galaxy sends out 15 high-energy radio bursts

❝ Breakthrough Listen, an initiative to find signs of intelligent life in the universe, has detected 15 brief but powerful radio pulses emanating from a mysterious and repeating source – FRB 121102 – far across the universe.

Fast radio bursts are brief, bright pulses of radio emission from distant but largely unknown sources, and FRB 121102 is the only one known to repeat: more than 150 high-energy bursts have been observed coming from the object, which was identified last year as a dwarf galaxy about 3 billion light years from Earth.

❝ Possible explanations for the repeating bursts range from outbursts from rotating neutron stars with extremely strong magnetic fields – so-called magnetars – to a more speculative idea: They are directed energy sources, powerful laser bursts used by extraterrestrial civilizations to power spacecraft, akin to Breakthrough Starshot’s plan to use powerful laser pulses to propel nano-spacecraft to our solar system’s nearest star, Proxima Centauri…

❝ Regardless of FRB 121102’s ultimate source, when the recently detected pulses left their host galaxy, our solar system was less than 2 billion years old, noted Steve Croft, a Breakthrough Listen astronomer at UC Berkeley. Life on Earth consisted only of single-celled organisms; it would be another billion years before even the simplest multi-cellular life began to evolve.

The dominant life-form on Earth still is pretty simple-minded. When we get round to relying uniformly and consistently on scientific fact and evidence-driven conclusions, we may finally creep beyond Jack and the Beanstalk mythology and ritual.

U.S. Military Marches Toward Energy Independence

Hill AFBOfficial White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

The U.S. is at a transformative moment in electricity. And the military is helping us move toward a new era of independence.

❝ The U.S. electrical grid was ranked by the National Academy of Engineering as the greatest achievement of the 20th century, and it was this vast infrastructure that helped to power our economy, enhance our communities and light up our lives. But the centralized power grid is not perfect, and it faces an array of risks from natural disasters to human and cyber attacks.

As electricity becomes more and more critical in our lives, wide-ranging blackouts won’t just be a personal annoyance — they could cripple our economy. A diversified energy portfolio that includes renewable generation creates a more resilient grid. A recent draft of a report from the Department of Energy also concluded that wind and solar energy create a more reliable grid.

❝ The added security provided by renewables is why everyone — from the military to Fortune 100 companies — is finding ways to use clean reliable distributed power systems to support their operations.

RTFA to learn how this understanding makes sense. Moving forward.

The bottom line on the Energy Department’s grid study

❝ The Energy Department published its long-delayed but much-anticipated report on whether the U.S. electric grid can handle the retirement of aging coal-fired and nuclear power plants.

The big questions the grid study sought to answer were these: What is driving the closures of those power plants? And what should be done about it?

❝ The report’s answer to that first question is notable in that it’s already widely known: The No. 1 reason coal and nuclear power plants are closing is that they are being priced out of the electricity market by an abundance of cheap natural gas pumped from hydraulic fracturing projects that have come online over the past decade.

“The biggest contributor to coal and nuclear plant retirements has been the advantaged economics of natural gas-fired generation,” the study states…

That is the result of a low commodity price for natural gas. Short-term thinking at best. Globally, the economics of scale continue to move the advantages of solar and wind-powered electricity.

❝ The study’s policy recommendations include various measures that would likely have the effect of boosting coal and nuclear power. They include requests that:

the Environmental Protection Agency ease permitting requirements for new investments at coal-fired plants

the Nuclear Regulatory Commission do the same with regard to safety requirements

and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission compensate grid participants that help keep power reliable.

What happens now? The follow-through, if any, on these policy recommendations will largely happen outside the Energy Department…

The Republican Party and the Fake President are incapable of pushing through uneconomic plans supporting failing methodology. Certainly not in a timely fashion. I’d rather see pressure put on Democrats and independents, conservative and liberal, to move this nation forward in step with modern science towards energy independence from fossil fuels. Though I’ve been an advocate for nuclear power for decades, the sum of costs for that endeavor has increased well beyond anything based on solar or wind energy. Reasonable economics moved my decision to end support for that alternative years ago.

What sensible folks need to do is fight for the range of reforms, simple and complex, needed to restore democratic, science-based progress to our energy grid. The United States is barely in a position to provide leadership on this question to anyone. The next couple of years will be critical to retaining a voice in the process of revising global power output. That will happen with or without participation by the United States.

Support for little minds in a political movement led by bigotry and ignorance will leave this nation with a mediocre economy and a second-class future.

Fake president claims environmental regulation kills jobs — California proves he’s wrong [as usual]

❝ The California economy is thriving, according to a new report released Monday — and that’s despite the state instituting relatively restrictive environmental rules.

According to the assessment, after the passage of California’s trademark — and controversial — 2006 cap-and-trade law, statewide per capita emissions fell by 12 percent. For every fossil fuel job in the state, California has 8.5 in solar and wind energy…Most notably, the report finds the state’s per-capita GDP grew by almost double the national average since cap-and-trade passed. In fact, the state is now the most energy-productive economy in the world — meaning it uses the least amount of energy to gain each dollar of GDP…

❝ The research, published by the public policy nonprofit Next 10, suggests California is emerging as the sixth largest economy in the world while becoming cleaner and greener. That fact sits in direct opposition to the principle now undergirding policy in Washington: that unbridled industry is a key ingredient to U.S. prosperity…

“The narrative that strict environmental policies that impact large parts of the economy are always bad is simply not the case,” says economist Adam Fowler, the report’s lead author. “These policies have pushed innovation, and innovation is always good in a capitalist system.”…

❝ “Being a leader environmentally is something the state has done for half a century, and the state continues to prosper,” says Charles Kolstad, a Stanford University economist who was not involved in the new report.

Trump has brought the coal industry about 800 verifiable new jobs nationwide while alternative and renewable energy projects offer jobs in the thousands, tens of thousands. Trump’s lies are meaningless in the face of real economic growth. The fools who believe those lies are stuck with the results – and diminishing returns on their ignorance.

Milestone: – Companies abandoning Alberta oilsands exploration leases

❝ In another sign the bloom is off the boom for the oilsands, the industry has returned almost one million hectares of northern Alberta exploration leases to the province over the past two years — abandoning an area far bigger than P.E.I.

The total area covered by oilsands leases remained constant at about nine million hectares between 2011 and 2014. But it fell to 8.5 million hectares in 2015 and 8.1 million in 2016, following the crash in world oil prices from over US$100 to under $60 per barrel in 2014.

Most of the returned acreage either represents expired or surrendered leases, according to Alberta Energy, which provided the statistics at the request of The Canadian Press.

❝ Observers were surprised by the size of the lease returns which they attributed to industry cost-cutting and disinterest in spending to develop new prospects when there’s no money to build projects already on the books.

“It costs money to maintain these lands,” said Brad Hayes, president of Petrel Robertson Consulting in Calgary. “You can’t convince shareholders to continue to put that money out if there’s no prospect for success.”

Maybe he should follow the ExxonMobil model and go to work for the Canadian government as Foreign Minister.

The Electric Vehicle Takeover

Click to enlarge

❝ Do you want the big thing or the new thing?…More importantly: Do you want to invest in the big thing or the new thing?

It’s a question that haunts any industry vulnerable to disruption, which is pretty much all of them these days.

❝ Take the automotive business. Bloomberg New Energy Finance just released its latest long-term outlook for electric vehicles. It posits, startlingly, that sales of all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles will overtake those using internal combustion engines within roughly two decades…

The late 2030s may sound like a long way away. But they aren’t when put in the context of an automotive industry that’s only been around for a century or so.

❝ Looked at differently, BNEF’s projection suggests electric vehicles account for all the growth in global vehicle sales within a decade from now…

Based on BNEF’s projections, global sales of vehicles will rise by 1.67 million in the year 2026. But sales of electric vehicles are forecast to rise by 2.06 million, while the number of vehicles using internal combustion engines will fall slightly, by around 400,000. To be clear, absolute sales of electric vehicles in that year are expected to be just over 10 million, versus almost 87 million for their traditional counterparts…

❝ And while it is tough for incumbents to pivot to a new business, it is not impossible…it was critical for Facebook that, even as it was launching its IPO in 2012, it was also overhauling its business to focus on smartphones rather than its desktop PC product — despite the latter accounting for 89 percent of the company’s advertising revenue that year…

Facebook’s desktop product dominated its advertising revenue in 2012 — but all the growth potential was in smartphones.

More examples dot the financial map. VW planning on investing $10 billion into electric vehicle manufacture – mostly in the United States for global distribution. The Brits announced, today, legislation to end registration of diesel or gasoline-powered motor vehicles in the UK by 2040.

Those drops of water appearing under your front door look like the beginning of a flood to me.