As our society continues to “go green”, we continue to invest in the natural resource of the sun to produce our energy. While small businesses, corporations, and homeowners alike have incorporated solar power into their lives, many still may not know exactly how we’re able to extract energy from the sun. Here’s a simple breakdown:
While the use of air conditioners is increasing throughout the world, it’s growing exponentially in China. Here, our air conditioning installation company shares this interesting Quartz article by Zoe Schlanger that explains just how large that growth is and what could happen if it continues:
While we’re working to increase renewable energy as a country, the future of renewable energy also varies by state. Some (like West Virginia and New Mexico) are just beginning to produce solar, wind, or hydro power while others (like Idaho and Maine) are already running entirely on them.
Many homeowners use electricity as their primary source of power, however, there are some who turn to natural gas. Whether this choice is due to a preference or an availability, there are both pros and cons to using natural gas. Recently, our HVAC installation experts came across an article by Paulo Santos that discusses the rise of natural gas and the effect renewables could have on it. We thought we’d share:
“Commonly, I’d say most of us expect U.S. natural gas (UNG) to see increased usage over time. Coal is on its deathbed, nuclear power is seeing blowback since the Fukushima disaster, and U.S. natural gas seems perennially cheap. Adding these things together seems to indicate that, over time, we’ll see increased natural gas usage. This might/should push natural gas prices upward. To this, I would add that the development of LNG export facilities, like those built by Cheniere Energy (LNG), provide potential for increased natural gas demand.
Well, this all sounds good, but I am about to describe a risk that’s not as often considered. It’s a risk that looms pretty large, and whose materialization has already been seen elsewhere.
What Is This Risk?
The risk has a name: renewables. Renewable sources of energy, which are most often used to produce electricity, include things such as solar generation or wind generation. Why are renewables a risk? Let me explain:
Approximately 38.3% of the natural gas consumed in the U.S. is used to produce electricity. Residential plus commercial users consume ~30.1% of the natural gas, and their consumption has been rather stable over time. Industrial users consume ~31.5% of the natural gas, and while their usage has been growing recently due to cheap natural gas, it can be said to be stable over a longer time frame. As a result, demand for electricity generation has been responsible for all natural gas consumption growth in the U.S.
Now, it is this demand for electricity generation which is at risk. The risk comes from the fact that renewables (ex-hydroelectric) are growing quickly, and have gone from 7.1% of all power generation in 2014 to 9.5% in 2017 (ttm). This happened in the context of stable electricity generation. Electricity generation in the U.S. in 2017 (ttm) is lower than it was back in 2011.
Renewables (ex-hydroelectric) are often what’s called “must run.” That is, if solar or wind is generating power, the grid must take it. Someone else has to shut down. On the other hand, natural gas generation is most often both the “marginal producer” (the last to come in when prices are higher, the first to go out if they drop) and a flexible producer (one with the ability to ramp up and down quickly). As a result, added generation of the kind renewables offer mostly tends to displace natural gas generation. Therein lies the risk.
Compensating for this effect are, at times, political factors, such as a drive toward shutting down coal by subjecting it to more stringent emission rules. However, with the Trump administration this political drive isn’t there, and won’t be there for several years. The result, of course, is that as renewables grow through time, natural gas is, again, the prime victim. Also, in case you think this is fantasy, there is an actual precedent as the exact same thing happened in Europe.
Renewables’ development is further along in Europe compared to the U.S. But it should tend to catch up. As a result, the dynamics above might well be in out full force as we speak. Indeed, natural gas demand (ttm) for power generation has been heading down for a year or so already. There’s obviously the possibility that this was simply due to weather. Still, the inexorable growth in renewables generation is a fact, so even if it wasn’t structural this past year, it can turn structural at any time.
The growth in renewable power generation poses a direct threat to natural gas volumes and prices. As a result, this threat can impact natural gas E&P companies. This is because of the loss of volumes and pricing. It can also impact pipelines, which supply natural gas to the market. This is because of the loss of volumes and the increased risk from possible E&P failures.
This isn’t a merely theoretical threat. We’ve already seen its impact in Europe, where natural gas volumes fell a lot. Ultimately, pricing also fell a lot, and indeed has fallen below the cost of landed U.S. LNG. Right now, Europe is stabilizing on account of political action leading to the closure of nuclear and coal power plants. However, such political action does not seem likely right now in the U.S.”
Powering the Country
Today’s nuclear energy facilities produce 64 percent of America’s clean, carbon-free electricity and there are several around the U.S. that are notable for producing the largest amount. Here, our electrical experts explore the power behind the top nuclear (and one hydroelectric) power plants:
Palo Verde Nuclear Station
Power generated in 2015: 32,525,595 mWhs
Located in Tonopath, Arizona about 45 miles west of Phoenix, this nuclear power station is the largest power plant in the U.S. by net generation. Its average electric power of 3.3 gigawatts can power the homes of around four million people and it’s actually the only large nuclear power plant in the world that’s not located near a large body of water.
Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant
Power generated in 2015: 27,669,694 mWhs
located on the Tennessee River near Decatur and Athens, Alabama, the Browns Ferry Nuclear Station was built in 1966 and is named for a ferry that operated at the same site until the middle of the 1900s. Its three boiling-water reactors were the first in the world to produce more than 1,000 megawatts (or 1 billion watts) of power and it’s currently the second-largest power producer in the U.S.
Oconee Nuclear Station
Power generated in 2015: 21,939,740 mWhs
This nuclear power station sits on Lake Keowee near Seneca, South Carolina and has produced more than 500 million megawatt-hours of electricity. Operated by Duke Energy, the Oconee Nuclear Station is the first nuclear station in the U.S. to have achieved this level of energy production and unlike many other stations, it relies on a hydroelectric station instead of a diesel generator for backup power.
West County Energy Center
Power generated in 2015: 20,428,360 mWhs
One of the newest power plants in the country, the West County Energy Center was built in 2009 and reached build completion in 2011. Located in Palm Beach County, Florida, this natural gas power plant is one of the cleanest of its kind in the U.S. In addition, the plant uses reclaimed water as its primary water source.
Braidwood Nuclear Station
Power generated in 2015: 19,740,011 mWhs
Head to Will County in northeastern Illinois and you’ll find the Braidwood Nuclear Station. Serving Chicago and its surrounding areas, this power plant is the largest nuclear plant in the state and is owned by Exelon. Built in 1988, the plant sits on 4,457 acres and when both power units are put together, they can power the homes of more than two million people.
Byron Nuclear Generating Station
Power generated in 2015: 19,478,139 mWhs
Also in Illinois and also owned by Exelon, the Byron Nuclear Generating Station is located in Ogle County about two miles east of the Rock River. This power plant has two powerful units that produce a comparable amount of energy to the Braidwood Nuclear Station and its twin cooling towers rise nearly 500 feet into the air.
South Texas Project Nuclear Station
Power generated in 2015: 19,400,553 mWhs
Sitting on a 12,200-acre site on the Colorado River, the South Texas Project Nuclear Station is located about 90 miles southwest of Houston in Matagorda County. Beginning operation in 1988, the plant features two reactors that produce enough electricity to power around two million Texas homes. In addition, this plant is actually considered one of the safest places to work.
Limerick Nuclear Generating Station
Power generated in 2015: 18,904,377 mWhs
Sitting next to the Schuylkill River in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania is the Limerick Nuclear Generating Station. Also owned by Exelon, this power plant is built on a 600-acre site and its two reactor units began power the area in 1984 and 1989. Back in May 2006, president George W. Bush actually toured the facility and discussed the role of nuclear power.
Grand Coulee Hydroelectric Station
Power generated in 2015: 18,838,602 mWhs
The Grand Coulee Hydroelectric Station is the only power plant on this list that was built for hydroelectric power. Finished in 1942 in Washington, the facility features three powerhouses that actually make it the largest power station in the U.S. by nameplate capacity. When it comes to yearly production, it comes in behind other major plants because of the fluctuation of the Columbia River’s power.
A Look into the Future
From energy storage to vehicles to electricity production and more, the future of energy is ever-growing and ever-changing to become more efficient, more reliable, and more environmentally friendly for people around the world. Here, our HVAC experts share four innovations that could transform the energy world in the next few decades:
If you haven’t heard of fuel cell technology yet, it has become a pretty big innovation in the vehicle industry. Instead of relying on gasoline and an internal combustion engine, fuel cell cars rely on the combination of hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, which then powers the car. This type of technology releases only heat and water emissions instead of greenhouse gasses, making them a viable environmental option for the future.
The electricity grids that were developed in the early 1900s were simple, one-way interactions: utility companies set a price for their electricity and consumers pay it on a monthly basis. With today’s smart grids, however, consumers are able to communicate their electrical demands to utility companies and improve the grid’s efficiency. In addition, traditional electric utility companies can partner with renewable technologies like wind and solar to increase environmental friendliness.
Relying on lithium oxidation to create electricity, the idea of the lithium-air battery is nothing new. While it was suggested back in the 1970s as a way to power electric and hybrid vehicles, it wasn’t until the late 90s that the technology started to form. Today, scientists believe lithium-air batteries could have a promising impact on the vehicles, electronic devices, and more. While the technology is still too unstable to fully develop, more and more breakthroughs are occurring to make these batteries part of the future of energy.
Like wind turbines, tidal turbines use the power of a natural force to produce energy. These structures are shaped like pinwheels and are placed underwater to harvest the movement of the ocean which in turn, creates electricity. Because tidal turbines are a little more complicated than wind turbines or solar panels, they haven’t become as popular. However, they have significant potential. In fact, a recent tidal turbine installation off the coast of Scotland has a power generation capacity of two megawatts.
At Oliver, our heating and air conditioning service company is always scouring the internet for news about heating, air conditioning, plumbing, and more. Recently, we came across an article by The Washington Post about the addition of 700 million air conditioners around the world this year, and we found it pretty interesting. We thought we’d share:
“As summer temperatures finally settle in, many in the United States take it for granted that they can dial down the thermostat: Americans use 5 percent of all of their electricity cooling homes and buildings. In many other countries, however — including countries in much hotter climates — air conditioning is still a relative rarity. But as these countries boom in wealth and population, and extend electricity to more people even as the climate warms, the projections are clear: They are going to install mind-boggling amounts of air conditioning, not just for comfort but as a health necessity.
That’s already happened in some places. In just 15 years, urban areas of China went from just a few percentage points of air conditioning penetration to exceeding 100 percent — ‘i.e. more than one room air conditioner (AC) per urban household,’ according to a recent report on the global AC boom by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. And air conditioner sales are now increasing in India, Indonesia and Brazil by between 10 and 15 percent per year, the research noted. India, a nation of 1.25 billion people, had just 5 percent air conditioning penetration in the year 2011.
A study last year similarly found ‘a close relationship between household income and air conditioner adoption, with ownership increasing 2.7 percentage points per $1,000 of annual household income.’ For Mexico in particular, it therefore projected a stupendous growth of air conditioning over the 21st century, from 13 percent of homes having it to 71 to 81 percent of homes.
‘We expect that the demand for cooling as economies improve, particularly in hot climates, is going to be an incredible driver of electricity requirements,’ U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in an interview.
In most ways, of course, this is a very good thing: Protecting people from intense heat — a town in India this month saw temperatures exceed 123 degrees Fahrenheit — is essential for their health and well-being. It’s just that it’s going to come with a huge energy demand, and potentially huge carbon emissions to boot.
Overall, the Berkeley report projects that the world is poised to install 700 million air conditioners by 2030, and 1.6 billion of them by 2050. In terms of electricity use and greenhouse gas emissions, that’s like adding several new countries to the world.
To try to address this problem, Moniz’s department is participating in the Advanced Cooling Challenge, which is to be launched Thursday in San Francisco at the 7th Clean Energy Ministerial, a global meeting of national energy policy leaders. The goal will be to find creative solutions to lessen the energy and climate impact of an unstoppable trend toward more global air conditioning — by making air conditioners much more energy efficient, and also less dependent on HFCs or hydrofluorocarbons as refrigerants, because these substances themselves act as an extremely powerful greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.
‘A 25 to 30 percent improvement in efficiency, which we certainly think is technologically possibly, can have an enormous difference in terms of, especially, peak demand for electricity going forward,’ Moniz said.
That’s partly a function of making already efficient technologies more widely available. The Berkeley Laboratory report found, for instance, that some mini-split air conditioners available today in Korea are already 50 percent more energy efficient than the standard model on the market.
The biggest country for air conditioning growth, and associated greenhouse gas emissions, is projected to be India, said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, which focuses on short-term, high impact fixes to the climate problem. The country experiences not only extremely hot temperatures, but has relatively little air conditioning installed so far — indeed, in coming years India hopes to first bring electricity itself to several-hundred-million people.
‘If they can focus on the efficient machines, they can save a tremendous amount of power,’ Zaelke said.
Zaelke and Moniz said that the real impact for the planetary greenhouse will be if the world can combine a restriction on emissions of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, the global treaty originally adopted in 1987 to address ozone depleting substances like CFCs, with greater air conditioner efficiency overall. The Protocol ‘has never failed to do its job once it has gotten its assignment,’ Zaelke said.
The Berkeley Laboratory study found that if the world can shift toward 30 percent more efficient air conditioners, and phase out HFCs at the same time, that could effectively offset the construction of as many as 1,550 peak power plants.
It further found that in terms of emissions avoided, this approach would have an even bigger impact than huge renewable energy projects – saving eight times as many emissions as China’s Three Gorges dam, and two times as many as India’s solar initiative. By the year 2050 for the globe as a whole, meanwhile, the total avoided carbon dioxide equivalent emissions could amount to some 4 billion tons annually — more than any single country other than China and the United States currently emit — with 1 billion tons of emissions avoided in India alone.
Cumulatively, by 2050, the report finds that the world could avoid 98 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions. That figure is not only massive, but would represent fully 10 percent of the roughly 1,000 billion tons of CO2 that we could still emit from the year 2011 forward, according to scientists, and still have betting odds of keeping the planet’s warming below the international target of 2 degrees Celsius.
The HFC shift seems set to play out under the Montreal Protocol. The question then becomes, how do you shift the global air conditioner market to favor far greater efficiency? According to Moniz, the world needs both research and development, but also businesses that sell or purchase large volumes of air conditioning — say, hotels — to commit to only carrying highly efficient models. And then, the whole global market could shift.
If all this happens, he said, ‘that family in pick-your-favorite-non-temperate-zone country, that family is going to see its best opportunity in these newer, super efficient, non-HFC kinds of cooling technologies. … So that’s the idea.'”
Since its first appearance in the 1960s, solar technology has been steadily becoming more and more prominent. Not only have we improved solar cells, energy storage, and solar applications, but we’ve also made the renewable energy source more affordable for people throughout the country.
One company dedicated to making affordable solar power happen is Solar City, an energy provider based in San Mateo, California. Recently, it announced its plans to mass-produce the world’s most efficient (and affordable) solar panel.
The project comes as a result of Solar City’s acquisition of Silevo, a solar manufacturing startup. Silevo creates a highly efficient solar panel using a technology called Triex, and with Solar City as the manufacturing element, the project could see great success. To get things going, Solar City is currently building a solar panel manufacturing plant outside of Buffalo, New York that is said to triple the size of the largest solar plant in the U.S.
Solar City’s chairman, Elon Musk (who happens to also be the CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX), has funded the project since its conception in June, which aims to lower global warming effects and make solar energy more affordable. Typically, solar panels can cost anywhere from $5 to $11 per watt, however, these anticipated new panels aim to cost $2.50 per watt by 2017.
The cost of solar energy is already falling, but more affordable solar panels will help drive it down even more. In fact, according to a report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, solar is predicted to be cheaper than traditional grid power by as early as 2017 and as late as 2040. The overall cost and availability, however, will also depend on federal subsidies in the future. For now, though, the future is looking bright.
We all know that the ocean is constantly moving, which means it was only a matter of time before someone decided to harness the ocean’s energy and turn it into power. That power, which is usually electricity, is called tidal power, and it could be a pretty big key to the future of our energy world.
While wind energy and solar energy can produce a large amount of electricity, they can’t always be regulated; the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. The ocean’s tides, however, are predictable, which means their energy is easier to control than the energy from of wind or the sun. This makes tidal energy something that can constantly be captured, both day and night.
Ways to Produce Tidal Power
There are several ways to harness the ocean’s energy and turn it into electricity. One example is underwater turbines (similar to wind turbines). These turbines are powered by the flow of the tide when it comes in and when it goes out. When the ocean moves, it spins the turbines and the turbine movement produces electricity.
Another example is a tidal barrage, which is similar to a dam and takes advantage of the various heights of the ocean at different stages of the tide. When the tide comes in, ocean water is channeled into a large basin behind a dam. When the tide goes back out, the water is released through the dam and its kinetic movement is used to power turbines in the dam. These turbines then produce electricity.
Tidal lagoons, which are a fairly new concept, are another way to harness tidal energy. These lagoons work like tidal barrages, however, they would be able to produce power both when the tide comes in and when the tide goes out. They can also be built offshore or connected to land, which usually means there can be more of them than barrages.
Tidal power isn’t exactly new – in fact, it dates back to around 900 A.D. when ocean power was used to grind grains. Fast forward to 1966, and the first modern tidal barrage was built in St. Malo, France. This barrage was the world’s largest tidal power plant for 45 years until the Sihwa Lake Tidal Power Station was built. Today, the Sihwa Lake station produces 5.5 billion kWh of electricity annually.
Tidal power has several advantages – it requires no fuel, and therefore produces zero emissions. It’s also highly efficient, predictable, and reliable. Plus, the Earth is made up of about 70% water, which means it’s abundant, and once a power system is installed, it boasts low operating costs.
By now, you’ve heard about renewable energy sources like solar power, hydropower, and wind power. These are all pretty self-explanatory – solar power comes from the sun, hydropower comes from moving water, and wind power comes from wind. But what about geothermal power? How do we get power from the ground?
The Earth’s Heat
Underneath the Earth’s crust, there are naturally radioactive materials that produce molten rock called magma. This magma keeps the Earth continuously warm, with the hottest spots occurring along tectonic plates (many of them in the western part of the U.S.). Geothermal energy can be used on a large scale, such as a geothermal power plant, or a small scale, such as a home pump system. While the U.S.’s hot spots are the best spots for power plants, there’s a constant warmth in the ground all over the country that’s perfect for smaller geothermal projects (like those for homes).
Around 80% of our country’s geothermal power plants are located in California because of the state’s abundant hot spots. These power plants can turn this heat into power using three different methods: dry steam, flash steam, and the binary cycle.
In the dry steam method, a turbine is drilled into the Earth’s rock layers and draws up the steam that naturally occurs underground. The steam is then pumped through a generator to create electricity. In the flash steam method, the turbine drilled into the rock layers draws up the hot water under the ground. The hot water is then pumped into a pressurizer and creates steam to produce electricity.
In the binary cycle, which is different from the steam methods, the Earth’s hot water is only used to heat another liquid that can produce steam at a lower temperature than water. That steam is then used to produce electricity and the water is never extracted.
Because warmth can be found anywhere from 10 feet below the ground to a couple hundred feet below the ground, home systems don’t need giant turbines to harness the Earth’s energy. Instead, a heat pump and a loop system is incorporated into the ground. Inside the loop system is water that constantly circulates. The water is heated via the ground warmth and is then carried to the heat pump, where it’s turned into warm air and distributed throughout your home as heat. During the summer, the process reverses and the heat pump produces cool air instead.
A Green Solution
Geothermal heating and cooling systems are an environmentally friendly solution for nearly anyone. They use little electricity and produce no greenhouse gasses, which can lower your carbon footprint. If you’re interested in using the Earth to power your home, give us a call and we’ll set up a geothermal heating and cooling installation as soon as possible.