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Smart Grid

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How the smart grid of the future will prevent power outages for millions

Right now there are millions of people without power thanks to the wind and heavy rainfall that accompanied hurricane Irene, and I'm one of them. It sucks. Having to call the utility company just to let them know that they've failed me once again is a symptom of our antediluvian electricity distribution system.  Commonwealth Edison of Northern Illinois thinks so, too. Recently, they explained to the Daily Herald how a smart grid would have prevented outages for hundreds of thousands of their customers in the wake of recent July storms. If Smart Grid technology had been in place, here’s how …

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Russia to build $100 billion rail tunnel connecting Alaska and Siberia

Ever since Tsar Nicholas II, Russians have dreamed of connecting Siberia to North America via a rail tunnel. Now, apparently, the Kremlin has green-lighted the connection, which would be the world's longest, and twice as long as the England-to-France "Chunnel." Not only would the tunnel allow easy passage of freight from Europe to North America, it could also provide a conduit for electricity, allowing a continent-spanning smart grid. The project's enormous price tag will no doubt be a barrier, but that hasn't stopped engineers from projecting that the connection could carry up to 3 percent of the world's freight and …

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If the ‘smart grid’ gets too smart it will destroy itself, says study

If our utility company gives us too much information about the price of electricity -- a cornerstone of the "smart grid" -- we'll probably use that information to crash the grid and cause massive blackouts, says a new study from MIT.  Giving electricity customers up-to-the-minute information about the price of electricity is supposed to allow the smart grid to integrate renewable power sources even as it saves consumers money. The problem is that another cornerstone of the smart grid -- appliances that save us money by only turning on when electricity crosses a certain price threshold -- could easily cause …

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Critical List: Melting Arctic ice pollutes; wind farm could kill bald eagles

Melting Arctic ice is releasing banned chemicals like DDT, which were trapped there back when they were legal. Post-tornado clean-up in Joplin, Mo. is going slowly. Can water heaters store energy captured by wind turbines and solar panels? A startup called GridMobility thinks so. We all know that wind turbines can kill birds, but what if there's a high risk that those birds could be bald eagles? Then you've got a problem. First of all, you could get in big trouble with the feds if an eagle falls prey to your turbine, but second of all the symbolism is terrible. …

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Critical List: Financial assistance for cooling costs down; Atlanta's trees are dying

Stuck in a heat wave? Can't afford A/C? Too bad: Groups that dole out government assistance for cooling have had their funding cut and have turned away up to 80 percent of applicants. Today's the first anniversary of the climate bill's death. Atlanta loves trees! It charges $1,000 to chop one down. But drought, storms, invasive species, and natural causes get to kill trees for free, and they’re are all contributing to a large-scale die-off. A federal agency created new rules for constructing interstate power lines. The rules should help wind and solar power get to markets. Anyone whose flight …

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Dudefest no more? Women are infiltrating cleantech

Check out our list of the top 12 women in cleantech.Clean energy is one of the most dynamic sectors in the world -- hot start-ups, technological whizbangery, cutthroat competition, billions in venture-capital investments, a race against the climate clock.  But there's one aspect of the clean-energy field that's just as sclerotic as the world of fossil fuels: patriarchy. Men invented, engineered, invested in, and presided over the technologies and companies that made oil, coal, and natural gas the dominant fuels of our time. And now men are running the show at most of the firms pushing renewables, efficiency, clean cars, …

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Flow batteries store electricity in giant tanks of goop

Even if we do manage to set up a shiny futuristic renewable smart grid made of glitter and staffed by zebra unicorns, there are still going to be times when it poops out. Maybe the wind isn’t blowing; maybe a mean old cloud got in the way. And when that happens, there aren't enough boat batteries in the world to store all the electricity we're going to need to keep everything running. That's why utilities are investing in giant batteries -- and the giantest of them all are called "flow batteries." Composed of large tanks of liquid electrolyte, they're easy …

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The small-c conservatism of U.S. power companies

Photo: Gerry BaldingLast week I put up a piece on "what the U.S. power industry thinks about the future of the U.S. power industry," reposting results from a survey of U.S. power utility managers and executives. Just in case you're not inclined to read through hundreds of words of survey results and charts (what's wrong with you?!), I thought I'd pull out a few take-home lessons. The main lesson -- the meta-lesson, if you will -- is that the U.S. power sector remains, on average, extremely conservative. I don't mean ideologically conservative, but small-c conservative: biased in favor of the …

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Obama administration to put $250 million toward smart grid

As exciting as alternative energy is, all the wind turbines in the world are not going to replace dirty energy unless the power they generate can get to consumers. That requires a better, smarter power grid than the U.S. has now. The Obama administration has been reasonably supportive of that goal, packing $4.5 billion for improving the grid into the stimulus bill back in 2009. And this morning, John Holdren, the White House's top science and technology advisor, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, along with a few other high level officials, are trotting out a new report [PDF] on how …

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Great places: dense, wired, and sustainable

This is part three in a series on "great places." Read parts one, two, four, and five. Part of what makes great places great is ecological sustainability. So what's the best way to reduce our per-capita resource footprint? Typically you hear one of two stories. One is about technology: making gadgets, appliances, vehicles, and factories leaner and more efficient. The other is about conservation, i.e., consciously choosing to use less stuff. Neither of those stories captures the biggest opportunity and the best strategy for reducing consumption and waste, which is, quite simply, density. Density is the sine qua non of …