We used to dream big. Now we’re increasingly thinking short term.
The entire nation’s energy delivery system needs an overhaul.
At least he didn’t bring up the Green New Deal.
When post-truth politics meets energy policy.
Power failures have cast a spotlight on whether energy companies and regulators are doing enough to prepare for climate change and natural disasters.
The state’s massive blackouts are the result of a failure to insure against extreme weather.
Republicans are blaming renewable energy, when it’s the state’s powerful utilities that failed to prepare for the worst.
The state’s widespread electricity failure was largely caused by freezing natural gas pipelines. That didn’t stop advocates for fossil fuels from trying to shift blame.
The snowstorm covered a huge part of the country, including states unaccustomed to slick roads and a deep freeze.
This morning, as the jet stream brought frigid air south to the central United States, Texas residents found themselves facing rolling blackouts as statewide grid struggled to meet demand amidst a large shortfall in generating capacity. As the day wore on, many saw these blackouts extend for ever longer periods of the day, and grid authorities are expecting problems to extend into at least Tuesday. As of noon local time on Monday, the Southwest Power Pool, which serves areas to the north of Texas, also announced that demand was exceeding generating capacity.
The shortfalls appear to be widespread, affecting everything from wind turbines to nuclear plants. One source of trouble may be an increased competition for natural gas, which is commonly used for heating in the United States.
Coming up short
Texas is unusual in that almost the entire state is part of a single grid that lacks extensive integration with those of surrounding states. That grid is run by an organization called ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, a non-profit controlled by the state legislature.
Joe Biden and Tom Vilsack plan to take swift action on climate change proposals.
G.E.’s giant machine, which can light up a small town, is stoking a renewable-energy arms race.
After a year when climate-related disasters seemed to become the norm, the team will be monitoring a 2021 that is pivotal for the world.
New research details major infrastructure work — including immense construction projects — that would need to start right away to achieve Biden’s goal of zero emissions by 2050.
Exxon Mobil is struggling to find its footing as demand for oil and gas falls and world leaders and businesses pledge to fight climate change.
Wind and solar are better bets for investors and the planet.
Renewable energy developers have struggled to finish projects as the pandemic disrupts construction and global supply chains.
When demand exceeded supply in a recent heat wave, electricity stored at businesses and even homes was called into service. With proper management, batteries could have made up for an offline gas plant.
Something as simple as black paint could be the key to reducing the number of birds that are killed each year by wind turbines. According to a study conducted at a wind farm on the Norwegian archipelago of Smøla, changing the color of a single blade on a turbine from white to black resulted in a 70-percent drop in the number of bird deaths.
Wind power is surging right now, with more than 60GW of new generating capacity added worldwide in 2019. As long as you put the turbines in the right spot, wind power is reliably cheaper than burning fossil fuels. And most people would prefer to live next to a wind farm than any other kind of power plant—even solar.
Not everyone is a fan of wind turbines, however, because of their impact on local populations of flying fauna like birds and bats. Politicians with axes to grind against renewable energy say that we should continue to mine coal and extract oil because of the avian death toll, and US President Donald Trump has called wind turbines “bird graveyard[s].” Estimates from the US Fish and Wildlife Service calculated that approximately 300,000 birds were killed by wind turbines in 2015 (which is probably two orders of magnitude fewer than die as a result of colliding with electrical power lines each year), and bird deaths from turbines are trending down as the industry moves to larger turbine blades that move more slowly.
Some energy executives are pleased that the former vice president is not calling for a fracking ban and said they could work with him.
As coal declines and wind and solar energy rise, some are pushing to limit the use of natural gas, but utilities say they are not ready to do so.
The natural gas project would have crossed the Appalachian Trail. Dominion Energy, one of the pipeline’s two partners, also announced the sale of its gas transmission and storage assets.
Wind giants are trying to shrug off the effects of the pandemic.
The wind power industry sees an opportunity in allowing windmills to be pushed into deeper water.
For the first time, the United States is on track to produce more electricity from renewables than from coal this year, a climate milestone.
Google’s data centers run 24/7 and suck up a ton of energy — so it’s in both the company’s and the planet’s interest to make them do so as efficiently as possible. One new method has the facilities keeping an eye on the weather so they know when the best times are to switch to solar and wind energy.
The trouble with renewables is that they’re not consistent, like the output of a power plant. Of course it isn’t simply that when the wind dies down, wind energy is suddenly ten times as expensive or not available — but there are all kinds of exchanges and energy economies that fluctuate depending on what’s being put onto the grid and from where.
Google’s latest bid to make its data centers greener and more efficient is to predict those energy economies and schedule its endless data-crunching tasks around them.
It’s not that someone at Google looks up the actual weather for the next day and calculates how much solar energy will be contributed in a given region and when. Turns out there are people who can do that for you! In this case a firm called Tomorrow.
Weather patterns affect those energy economies, leading to times when the grid is mostly powered by carbon sources like coal, and other times when renewables are contributing their maximum.
What Google is doing is watching this schedule of carbon-heavy and renewable-heavy periods on the grid and shuffling things around on its end to take advantage of them. By stacking all its heavy compute tasks into time slots where the extra power they will draw is taken from mostly renewable energy sources, they can reduce their reliance on carbon-heavy power.
It only works if you have the kind of fluid and predictable digital work that Google has nurtured. When energy is expensive or dirty, the bare minimum of sending emails and serving YouTube videos is more than enough to keep its data centers busy. But when it’s cheap and green, compute-heavy tasks like training machine learning models or video transcoding can run wild.
This informed time-shifting is a smart and intuitive idea, though from Google’s post it’s not clear how effective it really is. Usually when the company announces some effort like this, it’s accompanied by estimates of how much energy is saved or efficiency gained. In the case of this time-shifting experiment, the company is uncharacteristically conservative:
“Results from our pilot suggest that by shifting compute jobs we can increase the amount of lower-carbon energy we consume.”
That’s a lot of hedging for something that sounds like a home run on paper. A full research paper is forthcoming, but I’ve asked Google for more information in the meantime; I’ll update this post if I hear back.
On Wednesday, the Global Wind Energy Council, an industry trade organization, released its review of the market in 2019. During the past year, wind power saw its second-largest amount of new installed capacity ever, with over 60GW going in. But the news going forward is a bit more uncertain, with the report predicting that after years of double-digit growth, the industry would see things tail off into steady-but-unspectacular territory. And that prediction was made before many key markets started dealing with the coronavirus.
A very good year
Wind power is now one of the cheapest options for generating electricity. In many areas of the globe, building and maintaining wind power is cheaper per unit of power than it is to fuel a previously constructed fossil fuel plant. While offshore wind remains more expensive, its prices have dropped dramatically over the last several years, and it is rapidly approaching price parity with fossil fuels.
But cost isn’t the only thing at issue. Renewables may require new transmission lines to feed their power to where people actually live, and managing wind’s intermittent nature may require grid upgrades once its percentage gets high enough. And due to the past successes of wind, a significant number of the best sites are now already in use in some regions. Given those issues, it can be difficult to justify shutting down power plants that may have decades of service left in their expected lifespan. This is especially true in fully industrialized countries, where total electricity use has been trending downward, largely due to gains in energy efficiency.