Falling demand for electricity has utilities burning the midnight oil

 

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Public and investor-owned utilities alike are facing a dilemma: Americans are using less energy. Increasing efficiency and the shift to a service-oriented economy have combined to reduce electricity consumption on a per capita basis for several years running.

It’s a trend that’s weighing on utility companies, and their bottom lines.

Eight U.S. utilities had debt in excess of $2 billion, according to recent financial statements, led by The Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) $20.3 billion. So far this year, the credit ratings of four utilities with significant debt were downgraded to a negative outlook by the major rating agencies.

As a result, publicly owned and publicly traded utilities alike are looking for new sources of revenue.

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First fully rechargeable carbon dioxide battery is seven times more efficient than lithium ion

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 Lithium-carbon dioxide batteries are attractive energy storage systems because they have a specific energy density that is more than seven times greater than commonly used lithium-ion batteries. Until now, however, scientists have not been able to develop a fully rechargeable prototype, despite their potential to store more energy.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are the first to show that lithium-carbon dioxide batteries can be designed to operate in a fully rechargeable manner, and they have successfully tested a lithium-carbon dioxide battery prototype running up to 500 consecutive cycles of charge/recharge processes.

Their findings are published in the journal Advanced Materials.

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This “Anti-solar panel” could generate power from the darkness

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A new poll confirms that the majority of constituents in the United States are still opposed to president Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, as well as his overall views on climate change. According to reporting by Time Magazine, “while the administration has rolled back regulations to cut emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from power and industrial plants and pushed for more coal use, wide shares of Americans say they want just the opposite, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.”

Meanwhile, the scientific community continues to release studies showing that the need to address the threat posed by global warming is greater than ever and growing more dire all the time. At the end of last year, the premiere global authority on the state of global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released a report showing that compiled data and research indicates that in order to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial averages this century, we will have to cut global carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and down to zero by the middle of the century.

This is going to be extraordinarily difficult to do with just renewable resources. As Vox reports, explaining the tension between whether going 100 percent renewable is really an option, “at the heart of the debate is the simple fact that the two biggest sources of renewable energy — wind and solar power — are ‘variable.’ They come and go with the weather and time of day. They are not ‘dispatchable,’ which means they cannot be turned on and off, or up and down, according to the grid’s needs. They don’t adjust to the grid; the grid adjusts to them.

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Scientists have figured out a way to turn heat into electricity using magnets!

 

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Researchers all across the world are looking for ways to harness heat that otherwise would’ve been lost. They’ve put together ingenious solutions to trap atmospheric warmth and turn it into power when the Sun goes down and solar energy cannot be harnessed. However now, scientists have figured out a method to convert heat into electricity using magnet particles.

A research conducted by an international team of scientists from Ohio State University, North Carolina State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences taps into the efficiency of paramagnons to explain how heat can be captured and turned into an electricity.

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Home energy storage capacity breaks records in U.S.

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Additions of new residential energy storage capacity in the United States reached a record high in the second quarter of the year, exceeding 30 MW, a new report by Wood Mackenzie says. The market for energy storage in the country is growing fast, the authors note, driven by customer interest and government incentives.

In May this year, IHS Markit forecast grid-connected energy storage capacity would jump twofold by the end of 2019, from 376 MW last to 712 MW. There may be a good chance of such an increase taking place: total new storage additions during the first half of the year were over 200 MW, with 148.8 MW deployed during the first quarter and 79.5 MW deployed during the second quarter.

According to Wood Mac, the reason for the slowdown in total storage capacity additions was due to a sizeable fall in front-of-the-meter storage additions. These, however, would pick up in the second half of the year, the consultancy said, with the pipeline for new FTM storage projects soaring 66 percent from a year earlier.

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Thermoelectric generator harvests renewable energy from the cold of space

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The thermoelectric generator uses a black aluminum disk to radiate heat into the atmosphere, and a polystyrene enclosure to keep the air inside warm.Aaswath Raman

 As effective as solar panels are, one of their major downsides is that they only produce power during the day, so excess energy needs to be stored for use overnight. But now, engineers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have developed a prototype device that works almost the opposite way, harvesting energy from the cold night sky to passively power an LED.

The device works on the thermoelectric principle, where an electric current is created through the temperature difference between two surfaces. This idea could ultimately end up making for thermoelectric exhaust pipes that help charge a vehicle’s battery, camp cooking gear that tops up phones, and clothes that use body heat to power wearable electronics.

In this case, the thermoelectric device also made use of another odd phenomenon called radiative cooling. This process is often seen in surfaces that face the sky – at night, they can become colder than the surrounding air because they radiate heat straight into space, since the atmosphere doesn’t block infrared energy. Past experiments with radiative cooling have shown promise as a way to cool buildings without needing to use energy.

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Graphene sponge helps lithium sulphur batteries reach new potential

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An illustration of the Chalmers design for a lithium sulfur battery. The highly porous quality of the graphene aerogel allows for high enough soaking of sulfur to make the catholyte concept worthwhile. Credit: Yen Strandqvist/Chalmers University of Technology

To meet the demands of an electric future, new battery technologies will be essential. One option is lithium sulphur batteries, which offer a theoretical energy density more than five times that of lithium ion batteries. Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, recently unveiled a promising breakthrough for this type of battery, using a catholyte with the help of a graphene sponge.

The researchers’ novel idea is a porous, sponge-like aerogel made of reduced graphene oxide that acts as a free-standing electrode in the battery cell and allows for better and higher utilisation of sulphur.

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An electromagnetic health crisis

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If living beings have always been exposed to natural electromagnetic fields, and their bodies produce electric currents as well, why is there a growing concern about the human-made electromagnetic fields?

Exposure to the electromagnetic field is not a new phenomenon for living beings. While living beings have always been exposed to natural electromagnetic fields, the growing sources, applications, and impact of human-made electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) on humans and the environment are creating more questions than answers.

This is extraordinarily complex to evaluate when all living beings are technically electromagnetic, and every thought and emotion is a measurable frequency as well. Moreover, even in the absence of external electric fields, there is a presence of tiny electrical currents in living beings due to the numerous chemical reactions that occur as part of the healthy living bodily functions. According to a WHO report, the heart is electrically active and nerves relay signals by transmitting electrical impulses. Furthermore, since all human body systems are regulated by EMF signals, it is essential to evaluate not only how the biologically active human-made electric and magnetic fields impact humans, but also how it impacts all living beings at the cellular level.

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Is Thorium the fuel of the future to revitalize nuclear?

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Nuclear energy produces carbon-free electricity, and the United States has used nuclear energy for decades to generate baseline power.

Nuclear energy, however, carries a dreaded stigma. After disasters such as Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukishima, the public is acutely aware of the potential, though misguided, dangers of nuclear energy. The cost of nuclear generation is on the rise–a stark contrast to the decreasing costs of alternative energy forms such as solar and wind, which have gained an immense amount of popularity recently.

This trend could continue until market forces make nuclear technology obsolete. Into this dynamic comes a resurgence in nuclear technology: liquid fluoride thorium reactors, or LFTRs (“lifters”). A LFTR is a type of molten salt reactor, significantly safer than a typical nuclear reactor. LFTRs use a combination of thorium (a common element widely found in the earth) and fluoride salts to power a reactor.

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Scientists extract hydrogen gas from oil and bitumen, giving potential pollution-free energy

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Scientists have developed a large-scale economical method to extract hydrogen (H2) from oil sands (natural bitumen) and oil fields. This can be used to power hydrogen-powered vehicles, which are already marketed in some countries, as well as to generate electricity; hydrogen is regarded as an efficient transport fuel, similar to petrol and diesel, but with no pollution problems. The process can extract hydrogen from existing oil sands reservoirs, with huge existing supplies found in Canada and Venezuela. Interestingly, this process can be applied to mainstream oil fields, causing them to produce hydrogen instead of oil.

Hydrogen powered vehicles, including cars, buses, and trains, have been in development for many years. These vehicles have been acknowledged to be efficient, but the high price of extracting the Hydrogen from oil reserves has meant that the technology has not been economically viable. Now a group of Canadian engineers have developed a cheap method of extracting H2 from oil sands. They are presenting this work at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference in Barcelona.

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Fossil fuel drilling could be contributing to climate change by heating Earth from within

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Fossil fuel drilling could be contributing to climate change by heating Earth from within

Almost all scientists agree that burning fossil fuels is contributing to climate change. But agreement is less clear cut on how exactly it’s influencing rising global temperatures.

The world is now 1°C warmer than it was in pre-industrial times. Is this solely down to emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2? Meteorologist Hubert Lamb, regarded as the father of modern climatology, argued that CO2 levels alone couldn’t account for all of the global warming that’s been observed.

His attention turned instead to the role of thermal emissions. Burning fossil fuels doesn’t just produce greenhouse gases, it also generates a lot of heat, which leaks out to the atmosphere. Nuclear tests and volcanic eruptions are some examples of other large heat sources.

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Building from thin air & the carbon revolution

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Imagine making fuel, plastics, and concrete out of “thin air.” That’s the promise of Direct Air Capture (DAC), a technology that fundamentally disrupts our contemporary oil economy.

 Mimicking what already occurs in nature, DAC essentially involves industrial photosynthesis, harnessing the power of the sun to draw carbon directly out of the atmosphere.

This captured carbon can then be turned into numerous consumer goods, spanning fuels, plastics, aggregates and concrete (as I write this blog, I’m even wearing shoes 3D-printed from carbon).

A vital component of every life form on Earth, carbon stands at the core of our manufacturing, energy, transportation, among the world’s highest-valued industries.

And in the coming 10 years, sourcing carbon out of the air will become more cost-effective than carbon sourced from the ground (oil).

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