But many utilities see residential solar power as an existential threat. In 2013, an industry trade group called the Edison Electric Institute warned that utilities face what company executives were quick to call “a death spiral.” As customers began to generate more of their own electricity from the solar panels on their roofs, utility revenues would begin to decline, and the remaining customers would have to pay more for the poles and wires that keep the grid alive. That would increase the incentive for the remaining customers to leave.
Since the death-spiral session, utilities around the country have sought to slow the growth of solar: by supporting laws and regulations that would reduce targets for renewable energy; by ending “net metering” laws that force utilities to pay solar customers retail prices for the surplus energy they put back on the grid; by imposing “connection fees” to make up for lost revenues. Much of the campaigning has been spurred by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council and funded by various groups linked to the Koch brothers and their fossil-fuel fortune. In 2008, when Solar City first expanded into Arizona, the state had just announced a target for renewable energy, and the utilities were offering generous rebates to customers who installed solar panels. At first, few homeowners took advantage of the offer—the up-front cost, which ran to twenty thousand dollars or more, was too high. It took the efforts of Solar City, and other competitors using the same no-cost leasing plan, to ignite the market.
“The utilities were always convinced that they could throttle down solar just by tuning down the rebate they were offering,” Rive said. “What caught them off guard was when costs came down to the point where we didn’t need their rebate for solar to make sense. Suddenly, they couldn’t control the outcome anymore. And suddenly you didn’t see any more solar billboards, and suddenly they started taking a hostile approach.”
Arizona coveted the thriving growth of Los Angeles but couldn’t keep California from hoarding water unless it had a way to take some for itself.
What Arizona wanted was a mega-canal—an artificial river that would pump one-tenth of the Colorado’s flow out of Lake Havasu, send it upward nearly the height of the Chrysler building and halfway across the state. The state’s business leaders didn’t just yearn for water. They envisioned their own thriving metropolises, kept cool in the scorching desert with air conditioning, lit bright and speckled with verdant golf courses and retirement villas. Such a vision would be possible only with lots of cheap power.
At first the Bureau of Reclamation proposed building two large hydropower-generating dams in the Grand Canyon, filling its majestic valleys to power Arizona’s canal. Environmentalists, though, ran newspaper ads comparing the plan to flooding the Sistine Chapel. The bureau needed an alternative.
Arizona, it turned out, had immense reserves of coal, most of it underlying the nation’s largest Indian reservation. A consortium of power companies had long been working toward what historians have called a “grand plan” to tap those coal reserves and generate the power to execute an expansive vision for Arizona and the rest of the West. In 1964, Time Magazine described the six-power-plant project as the world’s largest electricity complex, one that “would dwarf the TVA.”
The Navajo Generating Station promised to take the traditional coal plant and supersize it, employing state-of-the-art generators to produce 2,250 megawatts of power, more than all but a handful of the operating plants in the nation at the time.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation had never built a coal plant before, but it agreed to be the Navajo’s largest investor, taking a nearly 25 percent stake. The other investors included a number of Arizona utilities as well as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
It all seemed a godsend. The Navajo plant would power Arizona’s big canal, the Central Arizona Project. The Native American tribes would get jobs. One of the world’s largest coal companies would mine the coal on the reservation, and a national construction firm would benefit, too. And the Southwest would get an abundant supply of homegrown energy that could support its expanding cities and cool them. The plan would even save the Grand Canyon.
The energy storage density of batteries is the big limitation for aircraft, but a hybrid approach can be made to work in small aircraft. This one may be certified for general aviation use.
Siemens is providing two electric motors that each weigh less than 30 pounds but deliver 85 kw or 114 hp. The aircraft will use some 200 kg (440 pounds) of lithium ion batteries where the backseat would normally be, so it will be limited to two occupants. Dries says at typical cruise speeds of 110 to 120 knots, the airplane would have 10 hours of endurance, burning 6 to 7 liters (1.8 gallons) per hour. “Our first assumption, at the same speed, we have approximately 30 percent more efficiency; 30 percent less fuel at the same speed,” Dries said of the hybrid design.
“The main problem is always the batteries and not just the batteries by themselves, but also how to adjust the powerflow. If you have 200 lithium ion batteries, then a part of it is overheated or doesn’t work. You have to reduce the power from this part and still continue with the rest,” Dries said, adding that battery management and power control was the most challenging part of its first hybrid-drive project.
At the time, the widespread public impression was that scientists were still divided over whether humans were primarily responsible for the warming of the planet. But how sharp was the split, she wondered?
She decided to do something no climate scientist had thought to do: count the published scientific papers. Pulling 928 of them, she was startled to find that not one dissented from the basic findings that warming was underway and human activity was the main reason.
She published that finding in a short paper in the journal Science in 2004, and the reaction was electric. Advocates of climate action seized on it as proof of a level of scientific consensus that most of them had not fully perceived. Just as suddenly, Dr. Oreskes found herself under political attack.
Some of the voices criticizing her — scientists like Dr. Singer and groups like the George C. Marshall Institute in Washington — were barely known to her at the time, Dr. Oreskes said in an interview. Just who were they?
She's also on Chris Lydon's Radio Open Source this week on the reaction of the science community to the Pope's new encyclical.
Electric power is common in model airplanes and small drones - motors are now achieving amazing power to weight performance. That combined with composite construction and sort of good enough batteries now allow one hour manned flights.
Completely electric airliners will require significant advances in energy storage and are decades out, but there are many directions electric flight can and will take along the way.
Studies have shown that in most cases, no more than 20 per cent of oil spilled in the ocean can be recovered by mechanical means — those that do not involve the use of chemicals, which can be toxic to marine organisms. In situ burning and chemical dispersants, therefore, would have to be relied upon heavily in the event of a spill in the Arctic, experts say.
University of Manitoba scientist David Barber heads up a Canadian research group with expertise in the detection, impacts, and mitigation of oil in sea ice. He says there is very limited knowledge of how Arctic marine ecosystems will be affected by the presence, composition, and dispersion of oil, as well as chemicals used for cleanup, such as dispersants. “Development of technologies that would be able to help detect oil in ice, and cold-adapted bioremediation technologies, are in their infancy,” he points out.
Test installations will take place in two villages in the Jamshedpur area in northeastern India — one of which has no outside power source at all, and one of which is connected to the grid, but gets only intermittent access, averaging two to three hours of electricity a day.
Some people in these villages “have never interacted with this kind of technology before,” Inam says of the findings from their previous trips, where they met with village leaders and residents to discuss their needs. A few of the villages’ houses already have small, simple solar-power systems set up to power a few low-power LED lights and charge cellphones. These early solar installations, Inam explains, will now provide their owners with an opportunity to earn revenue by selling excess power to neighbors who lack any source of electricity.
Unlike typical solar installations in the area — where every lamp, fan, or charger is hard-wired to the system — the new MIT-designed systems will allow for flexibility in adding or removing lights or other devices; adding extra power sources, including more solar panels or other sources such as diesel generators; and adding connections for additional users over time.