Patch-working the Grid

1

This Friday’s links highlight a few examples of global progress toward integrating cleaner energy into conventional energy grids.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The New York Times reports on the impressive bump from 17% to nearly 45% renewable-source energy in Portugal’s grid over the past five years. However, the gain in cleaner energy has come at a hefty premium for consumers- take a look at how the Portuguese are balancing it all.

Visit Australia’s Clean Energy Council website and have a look at the interactive map of all clean energy plants over 100kW in operation.

Denmark’s official website cites 12 large scale solar operations in the country that add up to 20% of annual energy demand and offer flexibility within the national grid.

Lastly, read a discussion of progress toward integration of wind energy into European energy grids on the European Wind Energy Association’s website.

– – –

Vampire and Phantom Loads

1

This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

– – –

We all know that we should switch off appliances and gadgets when they are not in use. But many appliances and gadgets continue to use a significant amount of power even when turned off – these gadgets are called vampire loads or phantom loads, using what’s called standby power.

According to the International Energy Agency, standby power accounts for 5-10% of residential electricity demand (in part because of the proliferation of gadgets such as iPods, netbooks, Wii systems, and Tivo, among many others).

Why do we have all these vampires?

One very common reason is power adaptors. Power adaptors (those little boxes that make up most of the charger or power cord for your gadgets) convert high-voltage alternating (AC) current from the socket into low-voltage direct current for your gadget. The Economist estimates that as of the end of 2009, there were about 5 billion power adaptors around the world. They don’t come with off switches and will continue to consume power while plugged in even if no device is being charged. Many folks in the energy-efficiency field call power adaptors wall warts because of their “ugliness” in terms of energy efficiency.

Vampire loads also occur because many gadgets have features that don’t turn off even if the device is not in use (like the clock on a microwave), and many devices have “instant on” functions that wait for remote control signals.

– – –

In his book “Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air”, David MacKay shows the results of an experiment he conducted to measure the electricity savings from turning off vampire loads.

Image credit: David MacKay

From the book (which is free and available online here), his description of the experiment (with British units):

I measured the electricity savings from switching off vampires during a week when I was away at work most of each day, so both days and nights were almost devoid of useful activity, except for the fridge. THe brief little blips of consumption are caused by the microwave, toaster, washing machine, or vacuum cleaner. On the Tuesday I switched off most of my vampires: two stereos, a DVD player, a cable modem, a wireless router, and an answering machine. The red line shows the trend of “nobody-at-home” consumption before, and the green line shows the “nobody-at-home” consumption after this change. Consumption fell by 45W, or 1.1 kWh per day.

– – –

What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

– – –

Visualizing the U.S. Power Grid

2

Source: NPR’s Power Hungry: Reinventing the U.S. Electric Grid series

National Public Radio produced an intriguing series in April and May of 2009 called “Power Hungry: Reinventing the U.S. Electric Grid“.  The series looked at the structural make-up of power conveyance in the U.S.-and the need for it to get ‘smarter’ about controlling and tracking consumption patterns- and, at the growing pains of the newer energy industries such as wind and solar, and how to get them online to more Americans.

But the real star of the show for us map fans is the great interactive map, pictured above. The map illustrates the three discrete “grids” that make up the U.S. power network: Western, Eastern and Texas. The map also includes existing and proposed lines,power source ratios for each state (coal, hydro, etc.) and the distribution of wind and solar plants. See the full interactive map here.

– – –

The Energy-Water Nexus

1

This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

– – –

We have been hearing with increasing frequency about “the energy-water nexus” in California as we face potential changes to our climate and our water supply. But what is it?

Basically, water and energy supplies are fundamentally linked together. Producing energy requires a huge volume of water (even for renewables). Treating and distributing water requires a consistent supply of energy. Therefore, serious challenges to the supply of one threatens the reliability of the other.

According to Sandia National Laboratory, producing electricity from just fossil fuels and nuclear energy requires 190 billion gallons of water each day, which accounts for 39% of all U.S. freshwater use. Each kWh generated from coal necessitates 25 gallons of water (source here). Also, since the energy needed to treat and distribute water can account for up to 80% of the water’s final cost, a reduction in the amount of available, inexpensive energy will have a direct impact on the cost and supply of water.

– – –

What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.