Talking about all things energy, from clean tech, to biofuels, and policy.

Buy an Electric Car, Keep Your Food from Spoiling

Fans of electric automobiles love the fact that they’re quiet, zippy and take far less maintenance than gasoline-powered cars (no oil changes, no ignition system, no radiator fluid…). In principle, electrics are also more climate-friendly — although until coal-fired power plants start capturing and storing CO2 to keep it out of the air, the climate advantage is still just a principle in lots of places.

But now, GE has come up with another plus—albeit a small one — for electric vehicles: they can power up your house during a blackout, like the one that disrupted the Northeast during last fall’s unprecedented Snowtober storm, or during the winds and rain from Hurricane Irene a few weeks earlier.

GE introduced the concept behind this new idea a few days ago at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress in Detroit. It didn’t introduce any new technology, though, because the technology (or some of it, anyway), already exists. All you do, explains GE CEO Jeff Immelt in a video shot at the conference, is connect your Wattstation EV Charger (you have one of those, right?) to your Nucleus Home Energy Management System (check) to the Smart Grid (we’re still working on that), and voila! Thanks to your electric vehicle’s battery, which is strong enough to push a ton of metal down the road at high speed, your lights will stay on even as climate change makes some types of extreme weather events more common and more severe — along, presumably, with blackouts. 

“No...

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Rising Temps in Northwest May Impact Hydro, California

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Spring is just around the corner, but here on the West Coast it’s hard to believe winter was ever here. In Washington, Oregon, and particularly California, far less snow and rain has fallen this winter than usual and it has many people worried about water supplies further into spring and summer.

Low reservoir levels at the Lower Granite Lock and Dam, Washington State. Credit: BPA.

Currently, river levels are forecast to be well below average throughout Northern California this spring and summer. Among other things, that doesn’t bode well for hydropower. On the other hand, rivers should be running closer to normal in Washington and Oregon this year, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. It’s a small blessing for Californians, who rely on their northern neighbors for electricity each summer.

But in the coming decades, warmer temperatures could hamstring hydropower production in the Pacific Northwest, forcing California to look elsewhere for an electricity boost. 

The Pacific Northwest largely powers itself with dams on several major rivers. In fact, 70 percent of the electricity generated in Washington State comes via hydropower. In the summer, when local demands for electricity are at their lowest  — after all, it’s rarely hot enough to need air conditioning — Washington, Oregon, and even British Columbia, produce more hydropower than they can use, so they sell it to nearby California, where the need for electricity is much higher. 

Within the next several decades, however, “the ability to tran...

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Feds Approve First Nuclear Reactors Since 1970s

By a vote of 4 to 1, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the construction of the first new nuclear reactors to be built in the United States since 1978. The reactors would be built at the Vogtle power plant near Waynesboro, Ga., which is a nuclear power plant operated by the Southern Company. 

As The Hill's E-2 Wire blog noted, the lone dissenting vote was cast by NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko. The nuclear industry has faced numerous obstacles, most recently the backlash following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, in its efforts to build new nuclear plants in the U.S., and the Commission has issued recommendations on how to better protect U.S. reactors from earthquakes and floods.

The Southern Company's Vogtle power plant, where the two new reactors are slated to be built. Credit: Southern Company.

The country currently operates 104 nuclear reactors, but all were approved at least three decades ago.

“This is a historic day,” said Marvin Fertel, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s trade group in a statement. “Today’s licensing action sounds a clarion call to the world that the United States recognizes the importance of expanding nuclear energy as a key component of a low-carbon energy future that is central to job creation, diversity of electricity supply and energy security.”

Andrew Restuccia, writing for The Hill, noted the project still needs to overcome public opposition to nuclear power that may result in a lawsuit against the project, and congressional opposition to a hefty $8.3 billion federal conditional loan guarantee for r...

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Exploring the New EPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions Database

Yesterday I told you about an informative new U.S. EPA greenhouse gas emissions database detailing the nation's larger sources of greenhouse gas emissions. In total, the database contains information on facilities that account for about 80 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. It excludes the agricultural sector and transportation.

Screenshot of the EPA emissions database.

My colleague Alyson Kenward sliced and diced the database, and came away with some interesting facts. According to her:

  • If you live in Atlanta, you're within an hour's drive (without traffic) of the two largest emitters in the country. Both are coal-fired power plants within 75 miles of the city.
     
  • Emitters in Texas, including power plants, refineries and chemical companies, produce nearly 400 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year, which is more than double any other state. (Before you go messing with Texas, it should be noted that Texas is also the nation's largest producer of wind energy).
     
  • On a per capita basis, Texas isn't the worst offender. Wyoming is. In Texas, the big emitters account for about 15 tons of CO2 for every person in the state. The power plants in Wyoming are producing over 100 tons of CO2 for every person living in the state — almost twice as much as the next state on this list, North Dakota. Wyoming gets more than 90 percent of its electricity from coal power, and it is also a major producer of coal burned in other states or shipped overseas. 
     
  • In Califor...

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Track Greenhouse Gas Emissions Where You Live

The U.S. EPA unveiled a new point-and-click database showing greenhouse gas emissions from the country's largest polluters. The tool is pretty slick, allowing you to quickly locate the largest emitters in the country — a coal-fired power plant in Georgia takes the prize for the biggest single emitter in the U.S. — or drill down to see the emissions from power plants in your home state.

The database contains 2010 data from 6,700 of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emitters in the country, which is defined as those generating 25,000 metric tons or more of carbon dioxide equivalent. The data captures about 80 percent of total U.S. emissions in 2010, the EPA reported.

Screenshot of the EPA emissions database.

Congress required the EPA to gather the data, and it represents a step toward regulating the emissions from the nation's largest stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions (agriculture and transportation emissions are not included).

In addition to serving as the foundation for regulations, the EPA hopes energy companies and the public use the data to improve their decision making. 

According to an EPA news release, the data show that:

  • Power plants were the largest stationary sources of direct emissions with 2,324 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (mmtCO2e), followed by petroleum refineries.
  • Carbon dioxide accounted for the largest share of direct GHG emissions with 95 percent, followed by methane with 4 percent, and nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases acc...

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