Oct 16, 2011

September Power News

I’m back today for the third installment of my “Power in the News” series. This month I am sticking with the format I used earlier, but I will try to trim things down even more. I have been investing more time on my projects recently so my posting frequency has decreased pretty significantly. Hence, I am posting on September’s power news in the middle of October.


The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has reported that global energy consumption will increase by 53% from 2008 to 2035. Contributions from renewable energy sources will continue to rise each year, and by 2035 renewables will be responsible for 15% of world’s power demand. Carbon emissions are also expected to rise from 30.2 billion metric tons in 2008 to 43.2 billion tons in 2035 due in large part to increasing industrialization in developing countries throughout Asia and Africa.

I will never understand the concept of projecting 30 years into the future. Life is too variable and most of the time these estimates don’t get anywhere near reality. I chose to include this story though because I think the study shows how our need for reliable energy sources is only going to get bigger. The EIA stated that we will still be largely dependent on fossil fuels by 2035, but I hope they are wrong. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I don’t have any grand delusions about the implementation of renewable resources, but, given their potential for energy production and the funds that are rolling into renewable research, I am almost positive that we will do better than 15 percent.

A 2009 article in The Sunday Times called out Google for emitting 7 grams of CO2 per internet search, and wrote that “Google is secretive about its energy consumption and carbon footprint”. Google responded this week by releasing its energy consumption numbers based on figures from the last few years. As it turns out, Google consumes about 2.3 billion kilowatt-hours of energy per year while generating carbon emissions 35 times fewer than the article originally stated. For perspective, 2.3 billion kWhs would power around 207,000 homes or 41 Empire State buildings for a year.

This is largely a non-story. Google has been one of the most active companies on the planet when it comes to investing in new energy resources. They have also been involved in CO2 reductions that offset their own production. From the numbers I have seen, The Sunday Times was way off base in their estimates and should’ve done their research ahead of time. Trying to drag a company as big as Google with their slogan of “Don’t be evil” through the mud doesn’t look like it will end well for the British periodical.

Korea just activated their new superconducting cable manufactured by American Superconductor (AMSC). With copper prices on the rise, new cables like these are becoming cost-effective options for utility companies because they can carry 10 times the amount of power compared to standard transmission lines. This new version replaces several current superconducting cables, making it the longest of its kind in the world.

I wanted to bring up this story because I believe it’s a step in the right direction for power distribution systems. Most grids around the world are woefully out of date, with the US being the prime example. We need to be smarter about power distribution across the globe. Without a smart and efficient way to distribute power, it will not matter how efficient we make the end use products. Like lighting, we rely far too heavily today on distribution technologies that were developed over a century ago. We are wasting power, wasting resources, and, given our efforts to upgrade, wasting time.

 Eleven wind farms in Britain were shut down following higher than average wind speeds as a result of Hurricane Katia in the middle of September. The National Grid actually paid the farms 2.6 million euros (title refers to the 1.2 million that went to just one farm) to shut down production for eight hours amid fears that the grid would be overloaded by excess electricity. For context, that is roughly 10 times what the farms would have received for actually selling electricity to the grid during that time period. The National grid made up the payments by tacking on additional charges to consumers electricity bills. Payments to cap electricity production are not uncommon and are increasing as more and more wind farms come online.

You can probably tell from the description why this wins September’s idiotic category. First, The National Grid isn’t prepared to handle excess electricity from wind farms yet they encourage more and more to come online. People are starting to question the long term sustainability of wind farms because of human incompetence. As if wind energy didn’t have enough problems getting over human complaints about bird fatalities, noise, and aesthetics, inept implementations are now adding fuel to the fire. On top of that, because of their own failure The National Grid is passing on their costs to consumers, which isn’t fair. Wind farms should be an amazing source of energy when the winds pick up, but instead they have become a hazard due to mismanagement. Granted, wind turbines need a cut in speed and have a max rated speed, but from what I can tell the turbines could’ve handled the wind speeds. The National Grid not only lost out on capturing the excess energy, but spent millions to prevent its generation and screwed over consumers in the process. Someone please regulate this thing.


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