Five Ways To Celebrate Earth Day

Wednesday 04 February 2015 at 7:47 pm

by Antonio Pasolini

earthEarth Day is upon us, the day when we take stock of our relationship to the planet. Recent news have not been very encouraging as the levels of GHG in the atmosphere has reached record levels. Still, we must not lose focus because this is the only Earth we have and everyday is Earth Day. Here are some ideas on how to make Earth Day a daily fact in your life.


a) Consume less – with finite resources, curbing our consumption is the golden rule to lessen our impact on the planet. Buy what is necessary and of high quality, even if it costs more. Buy second hand whenever possible.
b) Act locally – Sometimes it is easier to think about the carbon in the atmosphere and forget about our immediate environs. The Earth is what you are stepping on. In every community there are ecological issues that need to be dealt with and it’s up to local people to deal with them
c) Recycle – Recycling is a mantra that we need to repeat every day. Re-cycle, re-use, re-purpose things.
d) Save water – Water resources are dwindling and we need to decrease our consumption of it. Turn off the shower while you soap, turn off the tap while you brush your teeth, say goodbye to sprinklers and hoses. Consider a rainwater collector if you live in a house.
e) Go vegan – Animal agriculture is the biggest source of GHG emissions, besides polluting waterways, causing deforestation, conflicts with wildlife and driving soil erosion. A vegan diet is healthier, too, not to mention more ethical. The web is chock a-block with recipes and advice on how to go vegan.

Four Ways Winter Weather Is Causing Energy Supply Problems

Wednesday 04 February 2015 at 7:42 pm

Posted by Patrick J. Kiger

weatherA massive winter storm hit much of the U.S. Tuesday, dumping heavy snowfall along the East Coast and sending temperatures plunging from 15 to 30 degrees below normal from the Mid-Atlantic region to the upper Midwest. But in addition to causing school closings and disrupting highway traffic, frigid winter weather has far-reaching effects on energy production and distribution—from slowing oil and gas wells and refineries to briefly shutting down a nuclear power plant in the Midwest because of ice.

Here are some examples of how the cold can cause problems.

Natural Gas Demand—and Prices—Soar
Extremely cold temperatures drive up demand for natural gas for heating, increasing withdrawals from underground storage facilities and driving up prices. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that during the week ending January 10, more than 285 billion cubic feet of gas was withdrawn, the most on record. Platts, the energy information service, reported that spot natural gas prices in the Northeast surged to all-time highs on January 21.  EIA analyst Angelina LaRose said that suppliers typically withdraw from reserves during cold snaps, but that surge in demand during cold weather is bumping up against the limitations of natural gas pipeline capacity particularly in the Northeast. “The capacity going into New England is more than 85 percent utilized right now,” she said.

Propane Shortages Hit
Platts reported on January 21 that the price of propane surged to $2.45 per gallon, the highest on record and a surge of nearly 70 cents, as stocks of propane dipped to record lows for January.  In Ohio, shortages prompted Gov. John Kasich proclaimed a “state of energy emergency” and lifted restrictions on driving times and working hours for truck drivers delivering propane and heating oil.

Oil and Gas Production Slows
Freezing temperatures also make it more difficult to get oil and gas out of the ground. EIA reported that so-called “freeze-offs” occurred in parts of the Marcellus Shale play in northeastern Pennsylvania in early January. Refineries, too, can suffer interruptions because of cold weather: During the deep freeze of early January, refineries from Detroit to Memphis reported equipment problems caused by the low temperatures. The problems caused a spike in gasoline prices in the Midwest.

Nuclear Plants Get Iced In
At Nebraska’s Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant, below-freezing temperatures earlier this month caused an icy buildup on one of the six sluice gates that control the flow of Missouri River water, which is used to cool and condense steam from the plant’s turbines. When workers couldn’t close the gate, the Omaha Public Power District was forced to temporarily shut down the plant.  “We’re still in the middle of studying how exactly it happened,” said Power District spokesman Jeff Hanson. He said that the plant has barriers in place to protect the cooling system from river ice, but that officials are investigating the possibility that a leaking pipe over the sluice gate caused the ice buildup. In January 2010, one of the three reactors at the Salem nuclear power plant in New Jersey was forced to shut down briefly when ice got into its cooling system.

Lab Uses Lightning Bolt to Charge Smartphone

Friday 30 January 2015 at 9:28 pm

Posted by Christina Nunez

lightningSometimes our dependency on battery-charging devices seems ironic, considering the abundance of energy around us that is being generated every day by sources as mundane as the human hand, footsteps, and lightning, which strikes the Earth dozens of times per second. (See related photos: “Immense, Elusive Energy in the Forces of Nature.”)

A typical lightning bolt produces between 1,000 and 5,000 megajoules of energy, enough to power a car for about 180 to 910  miles (290 to 1,450 kilometers), and certainly enough to charge a cell phone, if you happen to be standing near a bolt and a transformer that can regulate the voltage. Scientists at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom recently succeeded in simulating just such a scenario, prompted by phone maker Nokia.

Reproducing the electrical conditions of lightning, researchers at the Tony Davies High Voltage Laboratory ran 200,000 volts through a transformer, charging a Nokia Lumia 925 phone within seconds. The experiment, while fun to watch and a nice plug for Nokia, might prompt one to wonder what the point is, as most of us have other concerns when when we are in very close proximity to lightning, such as avoiding electrocution. (See related photos: “Nature Yields New Ideas for Energy and Efficiency.”)

Nokia is careful to note that they “obviously aren’t recommending people try this experiment at home.” Instead, the company views the research as an avenue toward innovation in wireless charging.

“This discovery proves that the device can be charged with a current that passes through the air, and is a huge step towards understanding a natural power like lightning and harnessing its energy,” said the lab’s Neil Palmer in a release.

Indeed, other companies are actively researching the potential of wireless charging. WiTricity, a company based near Boston,  is working on a system that could conduct electricity from walls and carpets through the air, allowing devices to draw power without wires. The technology is also being tested on electric cars, which could charge when parked on pads that transmit power to coils in the vehicle. (See related story: “Wireless Power May Cut the Cord for Plug-In Devices, Including Cars.”)

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