Alternative Energy, Energy

Could Wind Power Be The True Answer To The Energy Crisis?

With the growing fear of fossil fuel depletion and that fossil fuels are destroying our planet, many people have been trying to determine a easy, safe alternative that can be as reliable as fossil fuels. Fossil fuels not only destroy our environment when burnt, but also can lead to pollution when extracting them. Specifically, offshore drilling for oil is a practice that has already shown can lead to catastrophic leaks into our oceans. What many people do not think about that can also be harvested offshore with no risk to our environment is wind power.

We have all heard about the wonders of creating renewable energy from wind. The idea of wind power is pretty amazing and it is a resource that will never run out. The one major draw back of wind power is that you can only generate power when you have wind. So this technology can only be utilized in places that are in fact very windy. This is the major set back of this technology that has kept it from being a major source of power for our country.

With many of the oil crisis’ that have occurred in our country, a push towards renewable energy has occurred from our government. Many market-based incentives, such as business and residential tax credits, created a market for non-utility-produced electric power through the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) in 1978. There were also many acts passed that supported the further expansion and use of wind energy, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Like I said earlier, the use of offshore wind power could help reduce our use of oil and other fossil fuels. On the Atlantic Coast alone, offshore wind has the potential to produce almost 30 percent more electricity than offshore oil and gas resources combined. The only problem with the offshore wind power is that it can be intermittent and unpredictable. Scientists at MIT may have found a solution for this problem called Ocean Renewable Energy Storage system or ORES. This system is essentially an underwater pumped hydraulic system. The key point of this system is the placement of concrete spheres on the seafloor under the wind turbines. These spheres can act as both an anchor and a storage device for the energy generated. Whenever the turbines produce more power than is needed at the time, the power is diverted to a pump which pumps seawater from the sphere. When the power is needed later, water is then allowed to flow back into the sphere through a turbine attached to a generator, and the electricity generated can be sent back to shore. One thousand of these spheres could replace a conventional on-shore coal or nuclear power plant.

What are your views on wind power? Do you think that it would be advantageous to utilize wind farms in the Atlantic Ocean? Have you ever heard of ORES? What do you think the disadvantages of these ORES systems or wind power overall? If not for wind, do you think that the technology for the ORES system would be advantageous to use with other forms of renewables?

Alternative Energy, Energy

Energy in the current?

Over the past few years, there has been a major push towards transitioning to a renewable energy source that can keep this country going. The main renewable ideas that have been highly publicized include solar, wind and minimally biofuels, but there are still multiple options that are still available.

One of these new innovative and renewable energy resources being investigated is within the currents of the ocean. We already know that the globe is covered with 70% of water, and there has already been research into using water for mills and other hydroelectricity technologies, but this is vastly different. This technique is Hydrokinetic Energy, and is just as it sounds; it harnesses the kinetic energy from the water. Deep in the ocean, as well as within other water sources, there is a natural flow, or current, moving the water. That current is constantly flowing, and although it is affected by many different variables, the currents are relatively consistent and flow in one direction. This new kind of energy source being studied could be very renewable and reliable, as we have water sources all around the globe that can reach almost everyone. It was estimated by the BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) that harnessing only 1/1000th of the energy available within the currents would supply 35% of Florida’s electrical needs.


Major Ocean Surface Currents (Source: NOAA)

One of the first techniques that has been researched to harness this energy is using a turbine system; placing these turbines deep in the ocean and letting the current do the work. These turbines require 5 knots of energy, or 5 mph of current, to get the blades moving in order to start the energy creation. As with all renewable resources, there are controversies. One of the main problems that has risen with these turbines is possible biological build-up as well as the potential to change to the marine ecosystems by creating a disturbance within natural lifecycles within the ocean.


Water turbines (Source Institute of Marine Affairs)

Ocean current has also been studied by the University of Michigan, but in a different way. They have created a “device that acts like a fish that turns the potentially destructive vibrations in water into clean, renewable energy.” What is so innovative about their design, named VIVACE (vortex induced vibrations for aquatic clean energy), is that it can create water in flowing water moving slower that two knots or two miles per hour, whereas the turbines already investigated need five to six knots. This is very ground breaking, as this device can be placed in oceans as well as rivers and other smaller water sources since it needs only a low speed of moving water.


VIVACE device (Source: University of Michigan; photo by Omar Jamil)

Although this device does not actually look like a fish, the horizontal cylinders placed in the current will “cause alternating vortices” which will “push and pull the passive cylinder up and down on its springs, creating mechanical energy. Then, the machine converts the mechanical energy into electricity.” Michael Bernitsas, a professor at the University of Michigan, stated that “if we could harness 0.1 percent of the energy in the ocean, we could support the energy needs of 15 billion people.”

Since 2004, ORPC (Ocean Renewable Power Company) has been involved in this newer source option by developing technology that uses “ocean and river currents to produce clean, predictable electricity to power our homes and businesses while protecting our environment.” The company includes local communities, universities, environmental agencies, fishing industry groups, and other major stakeholders in their work during each project. A major project this company has created was ORPC’s Maine Tidal Energy Project.  Starting in 2006, this project has brought in more than $21 million into the state’s economy and has created or helped retain more than 100 jobs in 13 Maine counties. This company has worked on projects in other places including Nova Scotia, Florida, and Alaska.

Have you heard about this potential source before? What do you think about Hydrokinetic energy versus hydroelectricity? Do you think this is something that could, after more research, become a potential energy source we will rely on?

Alternative Energy, Energy

Green Crude


The global oil supply has been a topic of heated debate in recent years. On one hand, there is the concern that oil reserves are being depleted and we will be without a heavily relied on resource in the near future. On the other hand, there is the notion that we must continue to seek additional oil reserves and to refine every last drop from current ones. According to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy, the global oil supply has increased since 2010. This statistics doesn’t amount to much, though, because “at today’s consumption rates, the world has proved reserves sufficient to meet current production for 54 years for oil.” (BP) The underlying issue of a dependency on a nonrenewable resource still remains. George W. Bush summed it up perfectly when he said, “America is addicted to oil.” The solution to this addiction isn’t to exhaust our efforts and bank accounts until we can deplete the last reserve, but rather to curb our dependency from a nonrenewable source to one that is more renewable and sustainable.

Sapphire Energy essentially mimics those natural processes that produced crude oil millions of years ago. This mimicry can occur in four different methods.At Sapphire Energy, numerous open algae ponds line the facility grounds. Algae absorb sunlight and carbon dioxide and through high temperatures and high pressures, oil is extracted. The chemical composition of algal oil is so similar to crude oil that it does not render existing infrastructure obsolete.

      Green Crude

Sapphire Energy is most recognized by the supportive role they played in Josh Tickell’s effort to educate the public about greener fuels. Josh Tickell is a proponent of alternative fuels, particularly in the transportation sector. He was first known for his nonprofit educational program, the Veggie Van Organization, as well as for his 2008 Sundance Film Festival award-winning documentary, Fuel (2008).


In his film, Tickell travelled across the globe in his van that ran off of fryer oil. He is more recently known for his modified Toyota Prius known as Algaeus. Algaeus is a hybrid that runs off of electricity and algal biofuel from Sapphire Energy. The vehicle made it from coast to coast on 25 gallons of algal biofuel, averaging about 52 mpg. Tickell’s modified Prius challenged the largest concern of alternative fuel based vehicles, short range anxiety.


There have been numerous analyses performed on the efficiency and feasibility of algal biofuel production. According to a study published in Bioresource Technology journal, carbon dioxide emissions from algae fuel were capable of being 50-70% lower than emissions from oil. As is often the case with renewable or alternative energies, there is no practicality involved. The United States Department of Energy determined that only 30,000 square kilometers, or an area about half of the state of South Carolina, would be required to replace petroleum in the United States. This seems like a substantial amount of land; however, a study conducted at the Pacific Northwest National Lab concluded that algal production could be implemented in 14% of the United States, or an area the size of Texas and New Mexico.

There are current policies in place that already acknowledge algae. Two said policies are the Department of Energy’s Biomass Program in 2010 and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP).

Algal biofuels are a seemingly appropriate alternative to our current fuel resources, so it doesn’t make sense as to why they haven’t been widely accepted. A few concerns that still remain revolve around cost and need for further research. Should we also be concerned about relying on particular strands of algae? Is it possible that these strands could eventually evolve and render the costly operation invalid? More importantly, will algal biofuels ever take off? Will these groundbreaking technologies and breakthroughs disappear like the EV did? Is it fair that the government is funding and supplementing algae programs and farmers? Should algae production be included in any other federal policies, such as the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act?

Alternative Energy, Energy

Electricity- Can we do it without coal, when can we do it, and what do we do in the meantime?

I believe that carbon pollution is a problem, and I believe we are running out of time. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration for August 2013 was 395.15 ppm.  Atmospheric CO2 was 392.41 ppm in August 2012 and 390.19 ppm in August 2011.  These results are not surprising, it is common knowledge that atmospheric CO2 levels are and have been rising.  The big question that many have is, “Is that normal or are we causing that?” Those who do not believe in global warming can see by the global average temperature increases (here) that it is happening. What is not entirely understood is the cause and timeframe. Is it occurring over thousands of years or since the industrial revolution? Playing it safe, the likely answer is since the industrial revolution. If the data and research are accurate and atmospheric CO2 elevations are anthropogenic, then harsh realities for us and generations to follow may be approaching quickly.

There are many consequences and threats from elevated atmospheric CO2 levels that we hear about. Many of these threats have strong supporting evidence. Warming that causes ice cap melting results in sea level rise. This same warming results in ocean water density increase which contributes to more sea level rise. Sea level rise causes many problems, just to name a few: flooded cities, salt water intrusion to fresh water aquifers, and disruption of ocean currents which are crucial components to marine life, the climate, and fisheries that many countries depend on for food and income (not to say there aren’t a whole different set of environmental problems with the fishing industry). Increased atmospheric CO2 will also lead to a decrease in ocean pH (ocean acidification). This ocean acidification can result in destruction in coral reefs and ultimately extreme harm to the vast biodiversity found within coral reefs (not to mention the tourism aspect of the coral reefs which local economies depend on). Another issue with the ocean acidification is the disruption of the breakdown of ocean deposits that contain calcium ions necessary for ocean waters to absorb atmospheric CO2. In short, there are a lot of detrimental consequences to elevated atmospheric CO2.

With the aforementioned details on elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations, this blog post will primarily discuss carbon dioxide emissions associated with the power generation industry. The image below is of Plant Bowen, one of the largest coal-fired power plants in North America with a capacity of over 3000 Megawatts (MW). It is a coal-fired power plant located near Cartersville, GA. According to the Energy Information Administration the U.S. burns approximately 50,000,000 tons of coal for electricity generation each year in these kinds of facilities.  Plants like Bowen consume 1-3 train loads of coal a day; these train loads are 1-2 miles long with 10-15 thousand tons of coal on each. I have included this image to point out a few details that are typically misunderstood by the general public. The shorter (approximately 400 feet tall) parabolic-shaped towers are the cooling towers; the vapor rising from these towers is water. Most of the vapor sent to the cooling towers is condensed; what is seen rising from the towers is the fraction that does not condense. The shorter two stacks (the wet stacks) that have vapor leaving the chimneys are the only stacks being used. The vapor leaving these stacks is mostly carbon dioxide and water vapor; it is what remains from flue gas after the environmental controls  such as electrostatic precipitators and scrubbers have done their part. The two taller stacks (the dry stacks- approximately 1000 feet tall) are no longer used. Not all coal-fired power plants are like this. Some do not have the shorter wet-stacks and do not scrub sulfur oxides out of flue gas. Plant Bowen has been doing this since 2007. With the addition of these environmental controls, Plant Bowen and other plants with this technology are able to remove over approximately 95% of sulfur oxides from flu gas. This is just one example of a drastic improvement associated with coal-fired power generation. It is not an example given to try to show that this is a ‘clean’ plant or an argument for the advocacy for coal. It is an example meant to show that improvements…substantial improvements…are possible.

Plant Bowen Pic

According to the Energy Information Administration, the electric power sector emitted 2,039 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2012. This is about 39% of the total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions related to energy. Of this 39%, coal fired power plants generated 1,514 million metric tons, or 74% of the carbon dioxide.

Many of these figures only concern the United States. What about the entire world? There is much concern with the possibility of the United States implementing laws and regulations on carbon emissions. People worry, for good reason, that we could jeopardize our national security and the health of our economy while global carbon pollution continues.

Perhaps other less-regulated countries would follow suit to carbon pollution control. If the United States were to work towards carbon capture and sequestration and find a way to make it economically feasible, maybe other countries (with push from international governmental agencies) would also be inclined to move towards reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology could be a way to help coal-fired power generation be a viable option in a diverse power generation portfolio. Even if coal is on its way out, carbon capture and storage may be able to help slow the increase in atmospheric CO2 in the meantime. Perhaps research and developments in CCS technology in the electricity generation industry could lead to efforts in the manufacturing and transportation industry which are other significant carbon dioxide emitting industries.  Look here.

What are we supposed to do in the meantime before renewables, nuclear, and natural gas can completely take over? What if hydraulic fracturing proves to be unsafe and is banned? What if nuclear powered electricity generation is shut down because of public and governmental concern? What will happen if coal is removed from the puzzle before renewables have enough time to be developed into a solution that can generate all of the world’s electricity? According to the International Energy Agency and the Institute for Energy Research , in 2012 only 12% of electricity generated in the U.S. came from renewable resources. Data showing electricity generation quantities from different sources can be found in Table 945 here .  With population increase, cost of technology, available methods, and the sluggish decision making in the United States, how quickly can renewable energy cover that separation?

Final Thoughts and Questions
There is no doubt that coal is dirty. It’s dirtier than natural gas, but natural gas extraction methods are controversial. Depending on who you ask, coal-fired electricity generation is better or worse than nuclear power generation. Renewable energy sources on a large scale will likely require vast amounts of land area and rare materials. Those are negative aspects of renewables, but they certainly could prove to be much less negative than current generation methods.

What can we do to bridge the gap between electricity generation sources now and a time where electricity is generated primarily by renewable sources? Will/should that time include nuclear power generation? Do you think that carbon capture and sequestration should be aggressively pursued and implemented on a national and/or international scale?

Alternative Energy, Transportation

Cutting Carbon Emissions from Transportation – An Integrated Approach

Did you know the transportation sector comprises 28% of our energy consumption in the Unites States? With 93% of this consumption fueled by petroleum? See here. In addition, the transportation sector produces the largest carbon emissions based upon energy consumption by sector. A paper was recently published on how the carbon emissions from transportation could be lowered by 71% by 2050 and they took an integrated approach. The approach uses a combination of biofuel and electricity. Individually, biofuels are limited by issues such as land availability and electric cars can be limited by market adoption rates and issues such as range anxiety. But each of them make sense in different locations for various reasons: some areas are more conducive for biofuel production and some areas have already developed infrastructure for electric cars. The complimentary combination of the two can provide a large benefit (71% reduction) in a fairly short time frame (2050).

The Department of Energy continues to invest a significant amount of money in biofuel development and research into biofuel development continues to be very active, including at the University of Georgia.

UGA Bioconversion Center

The US government is specifically challenging themselves, the public, and car makers through a program called EV Everywhere, one of the Clean Energy Grand Challenges. Announced by President Obama in March 2012, the initiative focuses on the U.S. becoming the first nation in the world to produce plug-in electric vehicles that are as affordable for the average American family as today’s gasoline-powered vehicles within the next 10 years. and according to a recent article, there have been increases in EV sales, although I would not say Tesla cars are affordable for the average family. But the Nissan Leaf certainly can be. Both federal and state incentives exist for the purchase of an EV and Nissan helps you find them.

While some consumers are still anxious about “range anxiety” (will I run out of charge before I get to my destination?), some car makers try to solve that with backup gasoline engines like the Chevy Volt and new BMW electric cars. And some  car shares (like this one in San Diego, photo below) use electric cars giving consumers an opportunity to try one out in the “real world” before they decide to make a purchase.

Electric Car Share in San Diego.
Photo: Jenna Jambeck


There are currently 12,344 alternative fueling stations in the USA. Have you been to an alternative fueling station? If so, how was it? Do you have any concerns with alternative fuels in vehicles or vehicles that run off of alternative fuels?

Electric fueling station for car share. San Diego, CA
Photo: Jenna Jambeck