News reports are saying that the world's largest concentrating solar facility went online in California's desert at the beginning of the month. But figures from the state's grid operator suggest that solar thermal power production in California actually cratered for most of the month.
According to a piece by reporter David Danelski on the website of the Riverside Press-Enterprise, the 370-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System near the Mojave National Preserve went online at the beginning of January, starting to feed solar thermal power to California's grid.
Agency documents cited by Danelski do indeed reflect a startup date of December 30, 2013 for the project. But figures from the California Independent System Operator (CaISO), which operates the power grid for most of California, suggest that rather than having an immediate boost in energy entering the state's grid, production by California's concentrating solar thermal power plants actually fell nearly to nothing for most of the month.
This is well outside California, but it may well have ramifications in the Golden State: A lawsuit threatened by a pair of bird conservation groups has halted a wind power development the federal government had planned along the Lake Erie shore in Ohio.
The project, on the Camp Perry Air National Guard Station just east of Toledo, had already been reduced in size due to pressure from bird protection groups. The military base occupies a stretch of lakeshore that's been identified as one of the most crucial bird migration corridors in the northeast, if not North America.
But the Air National Guard's downsized plan still included a 600-kilowatt wind turbine on the base. That, according to wildlife activists and state and federal agencies, posed an unacceptable risk to migrating birds including the federally Endangered Kirtland's warbler. The national group American Bird Conservancy (ABC), and the Ohio-based Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) threatened to sue to block the project January 8: the Air National Guard yanked the project in response on Tuesday.
As California anxiously awaits the rains that we hope will blunt the worst drought in the state's recorded history, people are again looking to a water source that's been discussed for decades: the Pacific Ocean. But turning seawater into something we can drink and irrigate crops with takes a lot of energy.
Unsurprisingly, some are suggesting that we turn to free energy from the sun to desalinate seawater. It makes sense on the face of it: all the naturally occurring freshwater on the planet has been desalinated by solar energy, as water vapor evaporates from the ocean and falls as salt-free rain.
With the drought declaration driving attention to California's water woes, people are asking whether we can use renewable energy to de-salt seawater on purpose. And we probably can, but there's a pesky problem that few seem to be discussing.
The pundit chatter over the next few days will likely center on other topics President Obama covered in his 2014 State of The Union Address. Raising the minimum wage, moving on from the controversy over the Affordable Care Act, and foreign policy issues like Iran and military strategy are already dominating the conversation.
But there were a couple of notable mentions of energy policy in the the President's speech that actually represent a departure of sorts from past policies, at least if you read between the lines.
And just as notable, in the energy realm, were the things that went unmentioned.
In another blow to so-called "range anxiety" keeping electric cars from entering the mainstream, a pair of Tesla drivers have made the first-ever transcontinental drive using only the luxury electric car's supercharger stations to "refuel."
The pair, John Glenney and his daughter Jill Glenney, left New York City in their Tesla Model S on January 20, arriving in Los Angeles on Sunday -- a six-day trip. The pair's route was a bit less direct than it could have been, as they had to follow the network of Tesla Supercharging stations now in operation -- which meant their NYC-L.A. trip took them through Rapid City, South Dakota and Gallup, New Mexico.
With about 40 minutes at each charging station to fill their batteries to 80 percent, which would give the Model S a bit more than 200 miles' worth of juice in ideal conditions, that's a rather leisurely trip, but that will change as Tesla adds more Supercharger stations. The company plans to expand coverage of the I-70 corridor this year, with nationwide coverage slated for 2015.
Imagine inheriting a huge chunk of money, spending it carelessly for a while, then suddenly realizing you need to change your ways and live off the interest alone. Replacing fossil fuels with biofuels is pretty much the same deal. Nature has stored away millions of years' worth of biomass in coal and oil deposits, and we've gotten used to consuming a lot more of that stored energy each year than the earth can replenish.
When we consider a shift to biofuels we run up against that basic problem pretty hard: we can only squeeze just so much energy for fuel out of our global ecosystem's annual productivity, and we've gotten used to using a lot more than that.
But a new study published this week suggests that a bit of genetic tinkering can help a microorganism boost its ability to turn organic matter into usable fuel, which might make it a bit easier to run our vehicles on fuel that doesn't spend down our fossil fuel inheritance.