Electricity

Renewables provide half of UK’s electricity for the first time

Favourable weather conditions during a spell one day last week helped the UK’s renewable energy sector set a new record for sustainable power production

Renewable sources of energy briefly met 50.7 per cent of the UK’s electricity needs, reported the National Grid – the organisation responsible for power supply management around the UK – at lunchtime on Wednesday.

Clear skies and strong winds had created ideal weather conditions for solar and wind energy production. Backed up by other renewable sources including wood pellet burning and hydropower, renewable output reached a record 19.3GW at midday, enough…

The Biggest, Strangest ‘Batteries’

What if you need a battery? A really big one — big enough to run a city?

It’s a question that inventors have been tackling for decades. No one wants the fridge, or the hospital, going on the blink when demand surges or the power plant needs repairs.

It turns out to be a surprisingly tricky question to answer. Today, with the rise of green energy sources like solar and wind, the need for industrial-scale energy storage is becoming ever more vital to make sure there’s power even after the sun sets or the breeze dies down.

It’s usually (but not always) still too impractical to string together enough traditional batteries — those powered by chemical reactions, like the ones in smoke alarms and Teslas — to do the job. Instead, with remarkable ingenuity, technicians have relied on a host of physical forces and states such as temperature, friction, gravity and inertia to keep energy locked up for later release.

That’s why in Wales a power company engineered a special lake on a mountaintop. And in Germany a utility pumps underground caverns full of compressed air. Here’s how those and other systems — all in use today — work.

Back in the 1970s, a German utility wanted to build a flexible storage plant that could respond to sudden peaks in electricity demand, since its conventional plants — mainly coal — weren’t designed to dial up or down quickly.

It didn’t have the hilly terrain needed for a hydroelectric plant, which can start operating much more quickly when demand surges. But here’s what it did have: ancient, underground salt deposits.

Borrowing a technique commonly used to store natural gas and oil deep underground, it piped water into the salt beds to dissolve the salt and create two caverns roughly a half-mile below the grassy fields in Huntorf. The plant, which opened in 1978, uses electricity from the grid, when it’s cheap because demand is low, to compress and store air in the salt caves.

Then, when electricity demand surges, a motor pushes the air to the surface and into a combustion system, where it burns natural gas that spins a turbine to produce electricity. Compressing the air allows it to deliver more oxygen to the turbines, making them more efficient.

A similar plant opened in 1991 in McIntosh, Ala. Several energy companies, mainly in the United States and Europe, are exploring mining their salt deposits for storage as well.

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Out in the desert of Tonopah, Nev., about 200 miles northwest of Las Vegas, an enormous spiral of mirrors surrounds a concrete tower roughly 55 stories tall. Topped with a 100-foot heat exchanger formed of tubes, it’s not a relic of some mystical pagan rite, but the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Facility.

It is the world’s first utility-scale concentrating solar power plant that uses extremely hot salt to extend the use of solar energy way past sundown.

Rather than using solar panels to produce electricity, the plant has more than 10,300 billboard-size mirrors that focus the sun’s heat on the heat exchanger, melting the salt into millions of gallons of 1,050-degree liquid that is stored until electricity is needed. The salt, which can stay liquid at higher temperatures than some other fluids like water, then flows through a steam-generating…

Regardless of Trump, US businesses are speeding toward a low-carbon world

While Trump’s administration grapples with its position on climate change, it’s worth stepping back to see the wider picture in the US, believes Lance Pierce, North America president of the CDP. In fact – he writes from New York – it is business that is really taking action on climate

It is vital for the US to lead on the Paris Agreement on climate change. This is, of course, the global commitment made in 2015 enabling the world to tackle rising CO2 emissions and prevent a catastrophic further two degrees warming of the planet. Global warming doesn’t just increase temperatures, it threatens food security, clean water, and people’s health. Some 145 countries, including the UK and the US, have sealed the deal. It is this agreement that is currently being scrutinised by the US government. Will President Trump pull out?

We need to accelerate our joint actions as people, organisations and nations to have maximum impact, and the Paris Agreement represents a meaningful shift towards a low carbon economy. That is, it provides a clear path to guide our emissions reductions together with the rest of the world.

Everyone is quickly learning that cutting carbon pays

Our country’s power is not all in the capital in Washington. In fact, it is spread right across our vast nation, spanning boardrooms, city and state borders. Governments are not working alone: companies, investors, citizens, cities, states and regions are thankfully awake to the urgent need for tackling climate change and are the major force behind the move to a low carbon world. This will continue regardless of the US federal government’s position, a crucial point to remember.

Climate change is an urgent concern and our investors at the CDP, formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project, want to know how companies are dealing with environmental risk and working to build a green and fair economy. We see investors buying into those…

10 Ways Anyone Can Go Solar and Save on Energy

The more electricity you use, the more you pay for it. And in a world that is becoming increasingly dependent upon tech devices, something’s gotta give. Luckily, there’s a way to save money on those bills and help the environment, all at the same time. You just need to capture those intense rays of sunshine and use them for free energy. There are many ways you can harvest energy from the sun. Some methods are free and have been in use for thousands of years. Others require an investment in technology, but in some cases you can even make money by capturing free energy from the sun and selling it!

1. Solar panels

A few years ago, it would have been unusual to spot a house with solar panels on the roof, but now solar panels seem to be popping up in neighborhoods all over. If you have a south-facing roof (or west-facing) and get lots of sunny days in your area, installing solar panels to generate electricity can be a smart investment. The cost of solar panels has dropped in recent years, and with major players such as Tesla starting to produce solar panels, further price drops and improvements in capability may lie ahead. If your solar panels generate more electricity than you use, in many states you can sell this extra energy to the utility company and make money through net metering programs.

Cost: Thousands of dollars up front, depending on square footage installed.

Potential savings: About a thousand dollars per year, depending on your location.

DIY? No, solar panels typically require professional installation.

2. Passive solar heating

This method of harvesting energy from the sun is not new and does not require any special technology. My house has a solarium with south-facing windows to allow sunlight to flood in during winter months. The solarium walls capture the warmth and radiate it back into the house, providing free heating. Any south-facing windows you have in your house will work to provide heating benefits in winter. Open curtains on your south-facing windows on winter days to let light and heat in. Close curtains at night during winter and when the sun is shining in during the summer.

Cost: Free if you have south-facing windows.

Potential savings: Hundreds of dollars per year.

DIY? No, look for south-facing windows when choosing or building a house.

3. Solar water heater

Heating water requires a lot of energy, so why not capture some of that free energy from the sun instead of running up your electric or gas bill? A solar water heater circulates water through an insulated collector using a water tank that is painted black to maximize heat collection. This hot water can be used directly or can be fed into a traditional water heater to save energy.