The last time the planet was such a greenhouse, our ancestors were climbing down from the trees—and sea level was tens of feet higher.
The last time the planet was such a greenhouse, our ancestors were climbing down from the trees—and sea level was tens of feet higher.
The last week before Shell Eco-marathon 2013 in Rotterdam starts has finally arrived. Since September 2012, we have been constantly working to achieve our goal. Long days and late nights are starting to become more frequent as the start of this year’s event draws closer.
Last week we were finally able to do our first tests. The day before our country’s old queen abdicated and Willem-Alexander was crowned king, we saw our creation drive for the first time again in quite some time. To see the new designs we have implemented in action for the first time was a great moment. Finally we got to see if everything we had come up with worked as well as we thought. The first tests went pretty well. Apart from some small problems, which can be expected at a first test drive, the Ecorunner performed great.
Now the last week before SEM 2013 has started, and the pressure really starts to build. Everyone realizes how crucial it is to improve those tiny things in order to get the best result on the track in Rotterdam. Problems that occur are tackled with more passion than ever before, and more work is put into the Ecorunner every day. This leads to a great feeling within the team, working together through night and day to achieve that one goal we all look forward to achieving: building the most fuel-efficient hydrogen prototype vehicle in the world and winning Shell Eco-marathon 2013.
Where some other teams are already trying to get their vehicles ready for a larger industrial level in the near future, the Eco-Runner Team Delft is looking to find and push the limits of what is technologically possible in energy-efficient mobility.
When working this close to the edge of what is possible, you can never be sure of your results. However, with the hard work and dedication we have put into our project over the past months, I am convinced that we can look forward to a great week in Rotterdam!
Nanotechnology could boost solar energy efficiency and cut costs. A slew of recent research is aimed at better capturing energy from the Earth’s biggest power source.
Smart meters are just one aspect of the new electric infrastructure generally known as the smart grid, but for consumers, they are the most visible. Utilities in California, Texas and other states have led the way on installing the meters, which can relay information about a household’s energy use back to the grid.
A new report, however, predicts that smart meter installations will drop more than 35 percent through 2014 in North America, due to the depletion of stimulus money granted by the first-term Obama administration. The research and consulting firm Navigant produced the report, “Smart Grid: 10 Trends to Watch in 2013 and Beyond,” with an eye toward the many vendors who hope to make a profit from ongoing industry moves to overhaul the nation’s aging electricity infrastructure. It paints a picture of a $500 billion effort that is moving forward, but in fits and starts.
“While technologies such as smart metering have been around for more than a decade, it is tough to claim that any aspect of the smart grid is a mature market,” the report’s authors write. It sees the smart meter market recovering slightly in 2015, “followed by basically flat shipments for several years.”
Worldwide, the smart meter market is expected to grow overall through 2020 after a dip in 2015, with Asia contributing most to the growth. “Massive smart meter rollouts in China will continue in the near term as the country endeavors to fulfill its goal of deploying some 300 million smart meters by mid-decade,” the report says.
Smart meters have met with small, but vociferous pockets of resistance from opponents who think they will relay more about a household’s energy use than the homeowner might care to disclose. (See related story: “Who’s Watching? Privacy Concerns Persist as Smart Meters Roll Out.“) Others fear radiation from the meters, even though such fears have not been justified by any major scientific study.
But for the majority of U.S. homes, smart meter installations have progressed without incident, and utilities say that the meters are helping them provide better service to customers. Indeed, many customers are the opposite of curious when it comes to learning what their smart meter does. That’s a problem for utilities, who want consumers to feel as invested in smart meters as they are. To help illuminate the benefits, many utilities are providing customers with an easy way to access their own smart meter data via the “Green Button Initiative”—but the technology is still pretty, well, green. (See related post: “The Green Button Initiative One Year Later: Got Energy Data?“)
Still, smart meters are an important factor in trend no. 3 on Navigant’s smart grid list. The “home energy management” (HEM) market will gain momentum in 2013, it says, crediting utility savings programs, new construction and consumer interest in cost-cutting technology, among other factors. (Examples of HEM products and services would be a smart thermostat such as Nest, or an app that helps you manage your energy information.)
Smart meters also figure in another prediction on Navigant’s list, one that should offer comfort to millions of consumers who have sat in the dark with melting foodstuffs in the freezer during an outage after a storm. Disaster recovery and service restoration will become more efficient in the coming years, the report says: “Disaster plans are being revised and improved, especially after recent catastrophic events have caused massive amounts of damage and widespread outages.” Meters help utilities pinpoint service outages, while other smart grid technologies, along with new work-force management tools, help limit damage and speed repairs. (See related story: “Can Hurricane Sandy Shed Light on Curbing Power Outages?”)
In 2009, Kecskemét College’s GAMF team in Hungary set out to develop an energy-efficient prototype vehicle. Our aim was to cover 1,000 kilometers consuming 1 liter of gasoline (equivalent to 2,352 mpg). That’s why the vehicle’s name is Megameter = 1,000 km. We took the Megameter III to Rotterdam for Shell Eco-marathon last year, and it covered 2,696 km/liter (6,341 mpg) during that international competition for fuel-efficiency.
This year, we built a new vehicle, Megameter IV, that could be amongst the most energy-efficient race cars in the world (see our website). To start, we completed the team and determined the main project lines: bodywork, engine, drive train, undercarriage, electronics; and managerial work to find sponsors and supporters, marketing, media etc.
Many problems can occur during the designing and constructing of a self-made vehicle, but at the same time, these problems give us challenges that stimulate us to think of innovative solutions.
Our team is supported by Kecskemét College’s GAMF (College of Mechanical Engineering and Automation) faculty with a students’ workshop where we can work on the desired vehicle concept. We have other supporters who undertake some of the manufacturing works. Our team has three enthusiastic teachers. They help if we have some problems.
It is important to know the direction humanity is headed in the field of vehicle development. We are curious about the designs and propulsions of futuristic cars, and we want to realize our concepts. That’s why we participate in Eco-marathon competitions.
We chose to compete in prototype gasoline category because gasoline is the most general fuel used in vehicles nowadays. We considered other categories also, but after analyzing the problem, we certainly knew that the internal combustion gasoline engine is the most energy-efficient and environmentally friendly engine in the near future. Why?
The main concern of the 21st century is the growth of CO2 emissions. Taking into account the whole process, a vehicle having a hydrogen fuel cell or battery emits more CO2 than a sophisticated gasoline engine. They might be more economical when running on the road, but the manufacturing of fuel cells or batteries and the production of their fuels take more energy and CO2 emission than that of the good old gasoline engines. And besides, well trained engineers can reduce gasoline consumption.
See video from our process below:
A natural gas pipeline from New Jersey to New York: sane or insane?
Bottleneck to the Northeast
It could be a marriage made in economic heaven. Standing on one side of the altar is the northeastern United States, hungry for more natural gas, a fuel whose prices in the region are projected to reach five-year highs this summer. On the other side stand energy companies with growing supplies of natural gas, in large part as a result of fracked shale gas [pdf], looking for a market.
So what’s the holdup? Transportation. In order to consummate this supply-and-demand betrothal, the energy companies have to be able to deliver; that is, get the product from its point of origin (in the Marcellus shale and elsewhere) to northeastern markets. And there just isn’t enough pipeline capacity to accomplish the union. (See here, here and here [pdf].)
Obvious Solution: Build
They say that where there’s love there’s a way. And in this case the way seems pretty obvious: Build more pipelines to deliver natural gas to the Northeast. And in fact that’s exactly what’s happening. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that “[o]ver half of U.S. natural gas pipeline projects in 2012 were in the Northeast. And more are planned in the coming years.” (See also here.)
And that’s where our story of pipeline controversy comes in.
The Spectre of Spectra
The pipeline in question, “a 20-mile expansion of the Company’s Texas Eastern Transmission and Algonquin Gas Transmission interstate pipeline systems,” would bring natural gas across the Hudson River from New Jersey to lower Manhattan, delivering the fuel to NYC and surrounding counties.
The company proposing the pipeline is Spectra Energy, a spin-off of Duke Energy that proclaims to be “committed to making sustainable choices.”
And indeed there is much to commend the planned pipeline. It will bring a relatively clean fossil fuel to the Northeast, a fuel that releases a lot less air toxics and less carbon dioxide per unit of energy than coal or oil (as long as there is relatively little leakage). And Spectra claims that the construction will have minimal environmental impacts:
And then there’s the jobs thing. In our economic climate, anything that creates new jobs is a sure political winner, and Spectra claims the project will produce more than 5,200 new jobs up through construction.
There are some powerful supporters of the project, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg among them. Part of that support probably arises from the fact that the mayor’s PlaNYC 2030 — his blueprint for greening the city — will require that the city have access to a lot more natural gas to lower carbon emissions and clean up air pollution from residential boilers that are currently using dirty heating oil to heat apartments and water.
And things are looking good for Spectra. In May 2012, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the project, and within two months construction had begun. By December, the construction of the pipeline underneath the Hudson River was completed [pdf]. The pipeline’s completion is anticipated in November 2013.
So What’s Not to Like About the Pipeline? How about Ka-boom?
But there are a lot of people who are very, very unhappy about the pipeline and are doing everything they can to stop it. Among the opponents are a host of environmental groups and Jerramiah Healy, the mayor of Jersey City, the New Jersey locale where the pipeline makes its way underneath the Hudson toward New York.
Why? For some environmentalists, the issue is the source of the natural gas being carried in the pipeline. A good deal of it will be natural gas borne of fracking (in which a mixture of sand, water and chemicals are injected at high pressures underground to break up the rock), and because of concerns about the environmental impact of that process (see here and here for example), they see the gas as being tainted.
Stop the pipeline, they reason, and make shale gas less profitable and thus less attractive to potential frackers.
But by far the most divisive and emotional issue centers around safety. The Spectra pipeline is roughly 30 inches in diameter, will operate under high pressure (200 to 1,200 pounds per square inch), and is expected to deliver some 800 million cubic feet of gas per day. When mishaps occur with high pressure pipelines, the consequences can be severe. Chances are, even if you’re not a newshound, you’re familiar with the 2010 explosion in San Bruno, California, an event that caused eight deaths and lots of destruction and is still being investigated two and a half years later. Other accidents have occurred in recent years in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan,and Ohio.*
Huge explosions in relatively rural areas are bad enough, but, opponents of the Spectra pipeline ask, what if such an explosion occurred in the high population centers of Jersey City or lower Manhattan?
The Sane Energy Project, whose mission is “to fight fossil fuel and nuclear infrastructure, and encourage renewable infrastructure,” has an answer. The group argues that “[t]he pipeline is a direct threat to the public health, safety, property values and economy of eastern New Jersey and New York City, especially to the residents, businesses, galleries, schools, religious and cultural institutions of downtown Manhattan, Staten Island, and Jersey City.” The group’s arguments continue:
“Should the pipeline or vault explode on the Manhattan side of the Hudson, the potential fire radius would encompass three historic districts, including: 10 irreplaceable Landmarked buildings; 10 schools or daycare centers; 8 playgrounds, including a large playground on the pier directly adjacent to the Sanitation Pier (the entry point of the pipeline); 13 churches or religious institutions; more than 28 art and cultural centers (including the Ground Zero Museum Workshop); the Hudson River Greenway, shoreline and West Side Highway; more than 38 restaurants; countless boutiques, hotels, businesses and residences.”
Is that alarmist or just plain sane? The way things are going, it looks like we’re going to find out.
* In terms of track record, it is the medium-sized distribution lines that have the most incidents and fatalities.
Solar Impulse, a solar-powered aircraft able to fly overnight, embarks on a cross-country trip-without a single drop of fuel.
Polyjoule is a French team composed of students from two schools: the Graduate School of Engineering at the University of Nantes and La Joliverie Technique High School. The Polyjoule team competes in the hydrogen category at Shell Eco-marathon Europe and the Educ Eco Challenge in France essentially.
There are three groups of students, each focusing on a different aspect of the car. La Joliverie High School is concentrating on the mechanical issues of the projects, and they are able to size every part of the car to get the perfect result. The Thermal and Energy Sciences students from Polytech Nantes have to develop and build the fuel cell that will produce the necessary energy to propel the vehicle. Finally, the Electrical Engineering students from Polytech Nantes have to improve the electronics that manage every part and every function of the car.
This collaboration among skill sets led the team to achieve a world record at Shell Eco-marathon in 2011 in Lausitz, Germany, reaching 5.136 kilometers with the energetic equivalent of one gasoline liter in the Hydrogen Prototype category.
In 2012, the team achieved a new world record, in the South of France at the Educ Eco Challenge, beating any category world record in the race and reaching 10.017 kilometers with the energetic equivalent of a gasoline liter, powered by an electrical battery.
That’s it for the story of Polyjoule, a team that has achieved two world records and contributed to the happiness of many students— but the 2012-2013 season is around the corner.
New Season, New Car, New Category
After seven years competing in Eco-marathon’s Prototype category, the whole team decided to compete in the Urban Concept category this year, still with hydrogen. This presented a new challenge for the students, assisted by their teachers, who are responsible of the continuity of the project. The idea was born three years ago, and the new vehicle named CityJoule was inaugurated in March 2013.
After many wins at Shell Eco-marathon and the Educ Eco Challenge in the Prototype category, the team wanted to be closer to today’s well-known cars. The Urban Concept category proposed by both challenges was a good way to take part to the wishes.
But the first step was wondering was to know what kind of car we wanted to build. Will it be a simple vehicle that will be able to compete at challenges at the end of the year, or will it be a perfect vehicle that will take longer, but be the most energetically efficient, the best on the tracks ?
We did not wait to get the answer. We want to win in the Urban Concept category, so we want to have the most perfect vehicle of the category, even if it will take years.
The team first decided to have many partnerships with French companies, especially next to the city of Nantes. Nothing is possible for a student association without partners.
The next step was to design the vehicle, helped by Daniel Pasquini, who designed the more aerodynamic car in 1963 for the race Les 24 Heures du Mans. He helped the team get the most aerodynamic car. The inspiration was based on a drop of water, and on Daniel’s experience.
The FMC company from Brittany built the car based on 3D software models with the help of the Engineering School Centrale Nantes and HES in Switzerland.
The whole car was built with carbon fiber to make it lighter. Every part has been conceived to be the lightest and the most drag-resistant, and the team never forgets about the aesthetic aspect!
After that, the team from Thermal and Energy Sciences has to think about the propulsion: one fuel cell? two? series arrangement? parallel? Many tests were done at Polytech Nantes this summer, and we decided to use two fuel cells, one for each rear wheel.
The rest of the work was a little bit hard for everyone: some had to put together all the car parts, others had to build fuel cells to have a stock for the challenges, and Electrical Engineering students had to work out electronic systems.
All was ready, the result is just.. awesome !
The aerodynamic coefficient of the vehicle is simply the lowest in the world, less than 0.1! It has been proved at the wind tunnel of CSTB, in Nantes.
Everything has been designed to be optimum, and to match with the rules of the challenges.
The car is able to stop his race in three meters with an initial speed of over 30km/h. The suspensions are just perfectly settled to be sure that every wheel is in contact with the floor, but with least amount of energy lost via the suspension system.
The shade of blue used is “Bleu France” (“French Blue”) used between 1960 and 1970 for French cars participating in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which were the most successful in terms of aerodynamics at the time.
This year the team will be participating in two challenges: Educ Eco Challenge in France from May 8 to 11 and Shell Eco-marathon in Rotterdam from May 15 to 19, both in the Hydrogen category. The goal is to show to every team that anything is possible with time, partners, and passion.
The whole team is at the starting block, spending nights and days to prepare the car and the people behind it.
Even if the final step of the project is to win one of the challenges, everyone can say that the majority of the work is done, because the car is built as we wanted.
Good luck for the team for the races, hope the best.
You will have some news from our team during the races.
When we published a story this week on a study that showed the negative consequences of environmental messaging on light bulbs, we suspected the subject would spark a lively debate—and our readers delivered.
The post garnered more than 2,500 Facebook “likes,” 582 tweets, 93 Google+ “+1s,” and more than 90 comments.
A few themes are worth highlighting:
“It’s Not the Labels. It’s the Light!”
A number of readers insisted it wasn’t the wording on the packaging, but the quality of the bulb that makes new lighting choices a turnoff. “As much as I absolutely love being conservative when it comes to my resource consumption because of the savings, I absolutely prefer standard light bulbs for one reason and one reason only . . . Lighting,” said commenter Robert Henry. “The lighting with high-efficiency/energy-saving bulbs is just WAY too intense for me. I always prefer natural light if I have a choice and Fluorescent and LED bulbs just don’t provide the diffused lighting that incandescent bulbs do. Needless to say, I haven’t used incandescent bulbs for 4 years regardless, but I miss them, despite the savings I get with the energy-efficient option.”
Our colleague, Brian Howard, one of the editors of National Geographic News, who has written a book on energy-efficient lighting, has offered some helpful advice for consumers who are concerned with CFL light quality: “This person should be using halogens, or “halogen hybrid” bulbs, which have the same warm light as incandescents but are more efficient,” Howard says. “It’s also true that the highest quality CFL and LED bulbs are getting very close to incandescents. Always buy Energy Star-certified CFLs, which must meet minimum performance standards for light output, startup time, and quality. If you want warmer light get warm light CFLs, not bright white. Also use shades that diffuse the light and soften it. Indirect lighting also helps with this a lot.” (Related Quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Efficient Lighting“)
Incandescent light bulbs, as designed by Thomas Edison, literally put out more heat than light, and some folks have come to rely on that feature. “It’s nice to have a few of the old style filament bulbs around to keep things in my unheated shed from freezing on those few really cold nights,” wrote aRocket Scientist.
It’s worth noting that this is an inefficient way to heat; this reader may want to try a space heater instead.
Meredith Heffernan added praise for the warm glow: “For me, they keep my headaches at bay—I am very sensitive to daylight, but less efficient yellow lights don’t bother me as much. If a law were passed saying we couldn’t use these any more, it would basically be because the government wants to be more eco-friendly at the expense of others, when really it is a moral choice from person-to-person.”
Other readers complained about how many of the efficient compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs are incompatible with dimmers (true), and how some have annoying time delays before they begin to burn at full strength. Jonathan Magnus notes the risk of broken bones from stumbling around in the dark while the light heats up: “A hospital trip will put a lot more carbon into the air than a single incandescent bulb.”
No doubt the light quality may be a reason that some people—no matter what their political persuasion—would prefer to avoid CFLs. But the remarkable finding of the study by Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business was that if CFL light quality really was the decisive factor, it must have rankled conservatives more than liberals because of the clear political divide in consumer behavior.
“We’re Not Mercurial. We Don’t Like Mercury!”
A number of readers said they rejected energy-efficient bulbs because of environmental concerns about the toxic metal, mercury, found in every CFL. “Just because something is labeled “Green” doesn’t mean [they’re] good for the environment and may actually be worse,” says Lets It right. CFLs “are filled with hazardous materials both for the humans and for environment. If an incandescent breaks use a broom and sweep it up. If a CFL’s breaks your better break out the hazardous material suit breather and all.”
In fact, while you won’t need a hazmat suit, the EPA has rather detailed instructions on how to properly handle a broken bulb and avoid unnecessary exposure—especially to infants, children, and pregnant women. It’s not possible to entirely rule out adverse health impacts from exposure to any amount of mercury. But most problems are caused by larger or chronic exposures. A typical CFL bulb contains 3 to 5 milligrams of mercury; the typical old-school mercury fever thermometer once found in nearly every U.S. household (and still stashed in some medicine cabinets) has 100 times more mercury—about 500 milligrams.
Just as with those old mercury thermometers, you can’t throw CFLs in the trash, which is an inconvenience. But here is the U.S. EPA list of the numerous locations where you can drop burnt-out CFL bulbs for recycling.
Keep in mind also that as long as electricity is being generated by coal power plants, those incandescent bulbs are releasing more mercury than CFLs, since the burning of coal produces mercury emissions that spread into air, soil, water, and the food chain. The EPA has estimated that due to its lower energy demand, using a 13-watt CFL prevents the release of 4.5 milligrams of mercury over its 8,000-hour lifespan.
“The Dollars Don’t Make Sense”
Some readers maintained that they steered clear of energy-efficient bulbs due to economics, not ideology. “With a cost of $20.00 each, it would take a while [to] get back the cost of that bulb in savings,” said Kobe Wild. “I’ll stick with fluorescent bulbs right now.”
Kobe’s analysis is correct for LED bulbs, but CFL bulbs generally are available for $5 per bulb. If you bought 10 CFLs to replace 60-watt incandescent bulbs, you would pay about $35 more in up-front costs, but if you used your bulbs about 1.9 hours per day (as one California study found was the average) over the course of a year, you’d save more than $37 on your utility bill, assuming the average U.S. electricity price of 11.9 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s payback in less than a year.
LED bulbs currently appear to be available on hardware store websites for about $15 each, so a similar ten-bulb replacement purchase would cost a consumer $135 up front for only slightly more savings per year: $41. The payback period is, indeed, “a while”: 3.3 years. But as recently as 2010, a California utility study showed LED payback period was six years, showing how rapidly the costs are plummeting. Price aside, it’s interesting that a number of readers indicated that they’d be more favorable to LEDs than to CFLs.
“So What About Those LEDs?”
“When Brian updates his story to concentrate on the (relatively) reasonably priced LED replacements with 2700K light, amazing life and no disposal problems, I hope his future headline notes that ‘conservatives’ are much more friendly to the environment and are therefore much better equipped to make decisions on green technology,” wrote Tom Mariner.
I asked study author Dena Gromet why LEDs weren’t included as an option. “We did not examine them simply because of the large price differential,” she replied, “as LEDs typically retail in the $20 range for one bulb as compared to much less expensive incandescents and CFLs.”
The economics of LED bulbs may have made a poor fit for the study, but they’ve improved enough to make the bulbs a more popular choice among consumers. The bulbs burn about 25 times as long as the old incandescents and three times as long as CFL bulbs, while using less energy to boot. That means LEDs save energy, save money, and even save hassle because they needn’t be changed as often. The bulbs don’t take time to “warm up,” they work with dimmer switches, and they feature more appealing light colors—some of which can be adjusted by user choice. LEDs also contain no mercury.
Based the rate at which technology is improving and the comments of liberal and conservative readers alike, there may indeed be a brighter future for energy-efficient lighting.
Over 450 geothermal power projects are being developed around the world today. According to the World Bank, nearly 40 countries have enough geothermal potential to meet a significant proportion of their electricity needs.
Which region of the world supports the largest collection of geothermal plants in operation?
A. El Tatio-La Torta, Chile
B. Nesjavellir, Iceland
C. Soultz-sous-Forêts, France
D. The Geysers, Northern California
The correct answer is D. The Geysers, Northern California