Coal is making a comeback in the U.S., natural gas prices are rising, and Saudis are living like kings off an oil market that is simply heavenly.
Just last year, demand for coal had dropped deeper than a canary lowered down a mine shaft. Prices had been pushed down by the natural gas fracking boom. But The Washington Post reports that demand and prices for coal have rebounded:
According to the latest data from the Energy Information Administration, coal has been reclaiming some — though not all — of its market share in 2013. ...
As the solar sector explodes, some of the solar panels it produces are fizzling out.
The New York Times reports on the problem of faulty panels and says nobody knows how pervasive it is because nobody keeps track. Fingers are being pointed at corner cutting by manufacturing firms in China. From the Times article:
Worldwide, testing labs, developers, financiers and insurers are reporting [quality] problems and say the $77 billion solar industry is facing a quality crisis just as solar panels are on the verge of widespread adoption. ...
The quality concerns have emerged just after a surge in solar construction. In the United States, the Solar Energy Industries Association said that solar panel generating capacity exploded from 83 megawatts in 2003 to 7,266 megawatts in 2012, enough to power more than 1.2 million homes. Nearly half that capacity was installed in 2012 alone, meaning any significant problems may not become apparent for years.
Walmart doesn't just scrimp on employee wages. It also scrimps on employee training, and that led to its workers dumping returned pesticides, bleach, and other hazardous products into the trash or sewer systems.
On Tuesday, Walmart pled guilty to violations of federal environmental laws and agreed to pay $81.6 million in fines and penalties for improper hazardous waste disposal.
[U]ntil January 2006, Wal-Mart did not have a program in place and failed to train its employees on proper hazardous waste management and disposal practices at the store level. As a result, hazardous wastes were either discarded improperly at the store level -- including being put into municipal trash bins or, if a liquid, poured into the local sewer system -- or they were improperly transported without proper safety documentation to one of six product return centers located throughout the United States.
Apple, after getting hit with criticism for using dirty energy at its data centers, has been increasingly drawing on green power -- wind, solar, geothermal, and, now, former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
Apple CEO Tim Cook announced Tuesday that Jackson, who served as Barack Obama's top environmental official during his first term, will join the company as vice president for environmental initiatives.
Cook, who made the announcement at The Wall Street Journal’s D: All Things Digital D11 conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., said Jackson will be reporting directly to him and is “going to be coordinating a lot of this activity across the company.”
The U.S. electricity system is fun and fascinating! The beatings will continue until everyone agrees.
In my last two posts, I have argued that electrical utilities in the U.S. are not well-suited to contemporary circumstances. In the first, I explained that the "regulatory compact" governing utilities was designed for an era of rapid electrification; it discourages innovation and encourages perpetual expansion. In the second, I explained that utilities are structured to treat electricity as a commodity, produced in central power plants and delivered to consumers over long distances in a one-way transaction, with price and reliability of supply the sole concerns.
None of that is working anymore. Lots of forces are conspiring to put the current arrangement under stress, but the most important, in my mind, is a wave of innovation on the "distribution edge" of the grid. (I stole the term from an eLab report that I'll discuss in a later post.) The distribution edge includes the point where customers interface with the grid, typically a meter, and everything on the customer side of it, "behind the meter."
So what exactly do I mean by innovation on the distribution edge? This post will explore that a bit, to offer a sense of the kind of things coming down the pike, the stuff utilities will have to deal with in five to 10 years.
Despite some well-intentioned efforts to brew and sell organic beer, the overall reaction from both consumers and brewers has been pretty meh.
It was the "meh" that launched a load of comments, a few angry emails, and even a phone call to my editor. I had to wonder: Did I "meh" too quickly? I decided to investigate further to find out.
"Organic" beer: Now actually organic
Until January 2013, the major difference between organic and non-organic beer was the organic barley. Brewers weren’t required to use organic hops (an ingredient that makes up less than 5 percent of a typical brew) largely because they simply weren’t readily available. But in 2010, the National Organic Standards Board announced a change that would take effect three years later: The hops in organic beer would now need to be organic, too.
In comic books, radioactive disasters make stuff be massive. But in the real world, the Fukushima meltdown of 2011 is having the opposite effect on the worldwide nuclear power sector.
The sector is rapidly shrinking from the Hulk that it used to be, leading the U.S. government to announce on Friday that it is jumping out of the unprofitable uranium enrichment business.
The Energy Department is closing the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Western Kentucky at the end of the month. The plant opened in the 1950s to help the nation develop its nuclear arsenal, and in the 1960s it began enriching uranium for power plants. Federal officials say the refinery's operations, which were privatized in the 1990s, are no longer sustainable. From Lex 18 News:
Soft demand for enriched uranium, stemming partly from the disaster in Japan when a tsunami crippled a nuclear plant, coupled with steep production costs triggered the decision, USEC spokesman Jeremy Derryberry said. Production will be phased out in the next month.
"We've been telegraphing for a long time that the plant had a limited lifetime," Derryberry said. "That was only accelerated by what happened in Japan."
The collapse of an Interstate 5 bridge in Washington state Thursday night offered a wake-up call about the sorry state of disrepair in which we’ve left our country's auto-centric transportation system. But all the talk about aging bridges and infrastructure drowns out a few larger questions -- about how we plan to fund the massive road system we've built, and why, with existing roads crumbling, we keep dropping money on more.
The bridge that collapsed in Washington was built, like many major bridges in the U.S., during the rise of the interstate highway system, circa 1955. That means it had already exceeded by several years the 50-year lifespan typical of American bridges.
Ironically, the bridge in Washington, unlike nearly 70,000 bridges across the country, wasn’t rated “structurally deficient.” It had been inspected as recently as November 2012. But after a half a century, a bridge is likely to need major upgrades of some kind, and with the average bridge in this country now 43 years old, we’re looking at a huge roster of bridges due for repairs. According to the Federal Highway Administration, as of 2009, the backlog of deficient bridges required $70.9 billion to address -- and that number has likely increased since then.
So what are states doing to tackle the problem? They're funneling money to shiny new construction projects instead, natch.
Up close to the Canadian border, on the New York side of Lake Champlain, Pedal Power Engineering is building "dynapods" -- off-the-grid, pedal-powered machines that can power just about any gadget you might want to use around the house or farm. It can run a computer (via an electric generator), a grain mill, a water pump, a blade sharpener, a blender, or a log splitter.
Of course, you have to do the work of pedaling. PPE writes:
An average adult can pedal it to generate 100 watts of electricity, pump 5 gallons of water per minute, grind a variety of grains, operate an air compressor, a hydraulic pump, most any hand-cranked machine, and a variety of small shop tools.
Monsanto’s Bt corn was supposed to reduce pesticide use. The Environmental Protection Agency said as much when the corn, which is genetically modified to resist the crop-ravaging rootworm, debuted in 2003. Sure enough, as more farmers sowed their fields with Bt corn, fewer of them needed to spray pesticides to protect their crops. The share of U.S. corn acreage treated with insecticides fell from 25 percent in 2005 to 9 percent in 2010.
Syngenta, one of the world's largest pesticide makers, reported that sales of its major soil insecticide for corn, which is applied at planting time, more than doubled in 2012. Chief Financial Officer John Ramsay attributed the growth to "increased grower awareness" of rootworm resistance in the U.S. Insecticide sales in the first quarter climbed 5% to $480 million.