What is energy?

Energy helps us to do things. It gives us light. It warms our bodies and heats our homes. It bakes a cake and keeps our milk cold. It runs our TVs and our cars. It makes us grow and move and think. ENERGY IS THE ABILITY TO DO WORK. 

Energy gives us light. Light is a type of energy we use all the time. We use it so that we can see when it is dark. We get most of our light from the sun. That’s why we stay awake during the day. It saves money. Sunlight is free. At night, we must make our own light. Usually, we use electricity to make light. Flashlights use electricity too. This electricity comes from batteries.  

Energy makes things grow. All living things need energy to grow. Plants use light from the sun to grow. They store the energy from the sun in their roots and leaves. Animals can’t store light energy like plants. Animals, including people, eat plants, and use the energy stored in the plants to grow. They store the energy from plants in their muscles. 

Energy gives us heat. We use energy to make heat. The food we eat keeps our bodies warm. Sometimes, when we run or work really hard, we get hot. In the winter, our jackets and blankets hold in our body heat. We use the energy stored in plants and other things to make heat. We burn wood and natural gas to cook food and warm our houses. Factories burn fuel to make the products they sell. Some types of power plants burn coal to make electricity. 

Energy makes things move. It takes energy to make things move. Cars run on the energy stored in gasoline. Many toys run on the energy stored in batteries. Sailboats are pushed by the energy in the wind. After a long day, do you ever feel too tired to move? You’ve run out of energy! You need to eat some food to refuel. 

Energy runs machines. It takes energy to run our TVs, computers and video games-energy in the form of electricity. We use electricity many times every day. It gives us light and heat, it makes things move, and it runs our toys and microwaves. Try to imagine what your life would be like without electricity. We make electricity by burning coal, oil, gas, and even trash. We make it from the energy that holds atoms together. We make it with energy from the sun, the wind, and falling water. Sometimes, we use heat from inside the earth to make electricity. 

Energy doesn’t disappear. There is the same amount of today as there was when the world began. When we use energy, we do not use it up. We change it into another type of energy. When we burn wood, we change its energy into heat. When we drive a car, we change the energy in gasoline into heat and motion. There will always be the same amount of energy in the world. But more and more of it will be changed into heat. Most of that heat will go into the air. It will still be there, but it will be hard to use. 


News: New Energy Outlook 2018 Shows Coal as Biggest Loser

By 2050, renewable energy is set to provide close to 50% of the world’s energy costs. A new report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance takes a long-term look at the world’s energy production; according to the report, major gains in renewable energy production will come as a result of massive strides in battery technology. Currently, power storage is one of the largest obstacles to the widespread adoption of renewable energy sources like solar and wind. According to the report, wind and solar are set to surge on the back of significant reductions in cost.

Cheaper batteries will enable electricity to be stored and discharged to meet shifts in demand and supply. The report suggests that the average cost of developing a solar photovoltaic plant is expected to drop by 71% in the next 30 years, and the cost of installing a utility-scale wind power plant is expected to drop 58% over the same period.

Unsurprisingly, coal is expected to be the biggest loser in the battle for energy dominance. The report predicts coal to provide just 11% of the world’s power needs by 2050. This number is down from today’s 38%. Despite claims made by U.S. President Donald Trump, close to 40% of US coal plants have been shut down or are marked for closure. To further illustrate, a report from the investment bank Lazard showed that the cost of producing a megawatt-hour of electricity fell to around $50 for solar power in 2017. The same amount of energy costs $102 for coal.

In the first quarter of 2018, solar accounted for 55% of all U.S. electricity added—more than any other type of electricity. Additionally, the price of lithium-ion batteries (the battery used in most electric vehicles) has fallen nearly 80% since 2010. Falling prices for batteries of all types will push the United States’ shift into renewable energy dependence.

The report closes with the expectation that $11.5 trillion will be invested in the renewable energy market between 2018 and 2050. $8.4 trillion is expected to go into wind and solar, while a further $1.5 trillion is expected to fund carbon-neutral power sources like nuclear and hydro.


News: U.S. Imposes Additional 25% Tariff on Chinese Solar Cells

Last week, the United States imposed an additional 25% tariff on imported Chinese solar cells and modules. This marks a steady increase in America’s trade war with another dominating international power. This 25% tariff was created in addition to a 30% tariff the President of the United States imposed on all imported solar cells in modules in January of 2018.

 

Solar cells and modules were included in an extensive list provided to the Chinese government. The United States will also be imposing tariffs on a variety of lubricated oils, resins, silicones, and plastics. The list also includes iron and/or steel in bridge sections, lattice masts, columns, pillars, posts, beams, and girders. For the full list, see the following PDF.

 

The implications of these tariffs are massive. It is unclear how these tariffs will affect the U.S. solar industry; according to the Energy Trade Action Coalition, Chinese products only constituted around 11% of solar cells and modules imported into the United States. Malaysian products constituted a third (31%) whereas Korea had around 21%. The new tariff will likely be much less impactful than January’s 30% tariff, which has already cost the industry around $.25 billion in cancelled projects and lost jobs.

 

Several solar manufacturers have announced new, U.S.-based factories, taking advantage of opportunistic expansions and working on ways to circumvent the import tariff. China’s JinkoSolar announced in April that it would open a U.S. manufacturing facility in Jacksonville, Florida; U.S.-based First Solar announced it would open a new manufacturing plant in Perrysburg, Ohio.

 

Regardless of the tariffs’ impact on the United States solar industry, the increase marks a dangerous addition to the ongoing trade war between the United States and other major world powers.

 

 


News: Ireland Aims to Reduce Carbon Footprint of Bus Shelters by 88%

Three organizations—JCDecaux, ESB, and Solar AdTek—have recently completed an innovative collaboration to enhance 1,800 bus shelters across Ireland. ESB funded the project in a partnership arrangement with JCDecaux. The latter has a contract for the advertising rights and maintenance of National Transit Authority bus shelters in Dublin and around the country. JDCecaux committed to lower energy consumption worldwide, and this reduction in emissions delivers on that promise.

In addition to cutting the carbon footprint, this initiative has greatly improved the quality of the bus shelters. All fluorescent light bulbs have been removed and replaced with better-quality roof lighting and ad panel LED systems. This technology was provided by Dublin technology company Solar AdTek. The shelters also utilize smart technology which works to regulate the flow of electrical current. This ensures shelter lights are only in use between the hours of dusk and dawn, further reducing energy consumption.

This project is not insignificant. This is the first national co-funded roll-out to be completed between JCDecaux and NTA with ESB. It resulted in the development of Solar and lighting systems used specifically for the outdoor advertising market. The upgrades both increase passenger comfort and significantly reduce energy levels required to provide the service itself. This is just one step in the process of Ireland’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

 


News: Renewable Energy is Essential for the Caribbean

Caribbean countries are on high alert for power failures. Puerto Rico’s inconsistent grid, which was severely damaged during the 2017 hurricane season, continues to lose power—some island residents have yet to regain power in the seven months since Hurricane Maria. This phenomenon is part of a larger problem: electric grids across the region are dated, ailing, and overburdened. Powerful passing storms can leave thousands without power for months on end. The solution? Localized, renewable energy sources.

Caribbean nations rely heavily on oil and diesel imports. Governments are attempting to integrate renewable energy sources (wind and solar) into their existing grids, but the task is more urgent now than ever before. In transforming energy grids into utilizing new, greener sources of power, electric grids will become more resilient to weather extremes; they will be decentralized and pull from an array of power sources. With strategically-planned renewable energy, there is always a back-up.

Unfortunately, climate change will likely complicate the Caribbean’s transition into renewable energy. Caribbean islands are the most vulnerable when it comes to rising water levels, changing weather patterns, and other effects of global warming. The region has already experienced these extremes; research suggest that northern Caribbean countries, such as Cuba, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, have become rainier over the past three decades. The uptick in severe weather is costly, as it both damages existing systems and puts these countries further in debt.

Additionally, with increasing weather extremes, green energy systems will, in turn, become vulnerable. For example: modern wind turbines can be torn apart in 165mph winds. Changing regional temperatures will dramatically alter the availability of hydro and solar power. Climate change makes it nearly impossible to predict future weather scenarios, so building a system to anticipate a changing climate is difficult.

The Caribbean, however, is doing what it can to shift toward renewable energy sources. Jamaica is aiming to install automated weather stations to collect data, which can be used to build better electric systems. Urban wastewater hydropower plants are being developed for use on Caribbean islands. The future of the islands is uncertain but changing technologies may eventually help these countries navigate their way through climate change.


News: Regional Grids Help Distribute Energy

The debate between regional and localized energy grids is as old as renewable energy sourcing. Proponents of the latter argue that moving to a regional grid will harm prospects for greater development of distributed energy resources; in relying on a regional power source, communities are less likely to develop their own means of capturing renewable energy. If the regional source fails, many argue that communities will turn to fossil fuels. However, a recent analysis and study shows that these concerns are unfounded. Green Tech Media reports that a regional grid operator is most beneficial for renewable energy development.

First, implementing a regional grid operator allows for easier management of the generator’s variable output. In coordinating energy generation, the utility may be shared by more customers. In blending a variety of renewable sources, there will be a more constant source of energy. A regional model also allows for diversification; rather than relying solely on solar power, a region can draw from wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, and other types of renewable energy sources. If solar panels don’t produce enough energy (this is a strong possibility, as solar energy can be unpredictable), the region can fall back on alternative sources.

Second, a regional grid operator can better plan energy transmission. A regional system operator may optimize power dispatch across the entire network, which will work to reduce the congestion currently caused by contractual rights and charges. In having one cohesive system, the grid operator and power supplier can work together and eliminate unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles. This widespread energy will also benefit electric vehicle users, as they will be able to utilize a low-cost charge anywhere within the region.

Finally, a regional grid with a coordinated market will be cleaner. Current research identifies solar and wind generation as the lowest-cost power plants to operate. The power generated in plants around the region can be used to power locations without access to the land necessary to create generators. More renewable energy will get developed, less will be turned off due to local imbalances, and customers will enjoy cleaner and cheaper power regardless of their location within the region.


Renewable Energy Review: Wind

What is it? Wind can be considered a form of solar energy; the uneven heating and cooling of the atmosphere causes wind. Wind power is the use of air flow through wind turbines to power generators for electric power. This is an excellent alternative to fossil fuel, and it is plentiful, renewable, widely distributed, clean, and produces no greenhouse gas emissions during operation. Wind power also consumes no water and uses little land. It is inexpensive, causes little disruption to the land it uses, and can be collected both on- and offshore. Additionally, it has a low life carbon footprint—builders can expect to breakeven on carbon output (work back the energy it took to create the wind turbines) in around eight months.

How is it sourced? Wind flow is captured by wind turbines, which convert the energy into electricity. Wind farms consisted of many individual wind turbines, which are often connected to the electric power transmission network. When the wind blows, the turbine’s motion catalyzes generator power.

How is it used? Wind power is used to generate electricity for a variety of situations. Additionally, the power generated by a wind farm is not restricted by location.

Are there any downsides? Wind power is variable—it is consistent from year to year but may have significant variation over shorter lengths of time. This means that it is often used in conjunction with other electric power sources; it is necessary in order to provide a reliable supply. Wind farms can also harm or kill birds and bats, and the turbines may be loud for those living close to them.

 


Renewable Energy Review: Geothermal

What is it? Geothermal energy is derived from the heat of the Earth itself. It can be sourced close to the Earth’s surface, eliminating the need for excessive and destructive digging. However, the heat source itself is derived from deep within the Earth’s core—around 4,000 miles down. At this part of the planet, temperatures may reach over 9,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat emanates from the core to the surrounding rock. Humans have utilized geothermal energy for millennia—it is the cause of hot springs, and ancient Romans harnessed its power for space heating.

 

How is it sourced? Geothermal power plants harness these heat sources to generate electricity. There are three types of power stations—dry steam, flash steam, and binary cycle power stations.

 

How is it used? Geothermal energy can be part of a commercial utility energy solution on both large and small scales. This may include everything from heating office buildings and manufacturing plants to growing greenhouse plants. It can also be used to heat water at fish farms and aid in several industrial processes, such as pasteurizing milk.

 

Are there any downsides? Geothermal energy, though sustainable, can cause some minor environmental issues. In the most extreme cases, geothermal power plants can cause small earthquakes. Moreover, there are very heavy costs associated with building and developing geothermal power plants, and the energy availability is highly location-specific. This type of power is only sustainable if the reservoirs are properly managed.

 


Renewable Energy Review: Bioenergy

What is it? Bioenergy is a type of renewable energy derived from biomass to create heat and electricity. It is also used to produce liquid fuels used for transportation, such as ethanol and biodiesel. Bioenergy creates “biofuels,” such as ethanol and biodiesel. Biomass is defined as any organic material which has stored sunlight in the form of chemical energy—this can include everything from wood, wood waste, and straw to manure and other byproducts of various agricultural products.

 

How is it sourced? Bioenergy is sourced in a variety of ways. Users can directly burn the biomass or capture the methane gas produced by natural decomposition of organic material.

 

How is it used? Bioenergy can be used in vehicles (ethanol and biodiesel) and in farm operations, working to convert waste from livestock into electricity. This is done using a small, modular system. Additionally, manufacturing facilities can be equipped to burn biomass directly, allowing for the recycling and reuse of material (for example, paper mills can use wood waste to produce electricity and steam for heating). If equipped, towns can also tap the methane gas created by the anaerobic digestion of organic waste in landfills.

 

Are there any downsides? Bioenergy generates the same amount of carbon emissions as fossil fuels. However, the plants grown as biomass remove a roughly equal amount of CO2 from the atmosphere, helping to keep the environmental impact relatively neutral. However, organizations such as Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council have critiqued the use of bioenergy for the harmful impact it may have on forests and the climate (as a result of the CO2 emissions).


Renewable Energy Review: Hydroelectric

What is it? Hydroelectricity is produced from hydropower, which is derived from the energy of falling or fast-moving water. It is produced in 150 countries and, in 2015, produced nearly 17% of the world’s total electricity. It also produced around 70% of all renewable electricity. Hydroelectricity’s low cost makes it a competitive source of renewable electricity; the power plants consume no water, and the project produces no direct waste and has a considerably lower output level of greenhouse gasses than fossil fuel energy plants..

 

How is it sourced? The most popular form of harnessing hydroelectric power is by capturing the kinetic energy of flowing rivers. This is done through the utilization of a series of dams, which are constructed to store water in a reservoir. When released the water flows through turbines, producing electricity. The water is cycled between lower and upper reservoirs to control electricity generation. Hydroelectric power can also be harnessed through “run-of-river hydropower.” In this method, a portion of a river is funneled through a channel, thus eliminating the need for a dam.

 

How is it used? Though the use of hydroelectric power is dependent on geographic location, it is used to supply electricity in a variety of situations—from farm and ranch operations to individual buildings and towns.

 

Are there any downsides? There are some minor environmental consequences associated with the use of hydropower. Interventions in waterways, such as damming and changing flow, can impact the habitat of thousands of species. Additionally, building the plants themselves is an expensive project, and widespread droughts are likely to exponentially increase the cost of hydroelectric power.