Looking for Some Additions to Your Energy Playlist?

There are a number of excellent podcasts available online for those who are interested in the energy sector.  If you are looking for some additions to your playlist for the commute this week, here are some shows and episodes that I would recommend:

  1. The Energy Gang by Greentech Media

This podcast focuses on all things energy – with emphasis on current events in the Untied States – and is consistently at the top of my weekly playlist. In their recent episode titled “Diversifying Cleantech: How Environmental Justice Is Influencing the Energy Transition (released January 14, 2016) the gang’s Stephen Lacey, Katherine Hamilton, and Jigar Shah discusses how environmental justice is focusing on “ensuring that the transition to clean energy is fair, inclusive and economically beneficial” with their guest Jacqueline Patterson of the NAACP.  They go on to discuss an analysis of Vinod Khosla’s venture investments in biofuels, batteries, solar and materials. In the final part of this podcast, the gang discusses the natural-gas leak outside Los Angeles that has forced thousands of people from their homes.

Also recommended:

  1. Planet Money by National Public Radio (NPR)

This podcast is also consistently on my playlist. The focus isn’t solely on energy – but the topic comes up quite frequently (and the non-energy stories are fascinating as well). In Episode 681: The Oil Kingdom (released February 3, 2016), the Planet Money team discusses the impacts of cheap oil on Saudi Arabia. For years, Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth has given this country free healthcare, free education, and a life “free” from taxes.But, as the price of oil has plummeted, Saudi Arabia is being forced to adapt – leading to reductions in the energy subsidies that have fuelled the country’s more recent develop. What does this mean for the Saudi Arabia’s development moving forward?

Also recommended:

  1. Freakonomics Radio

While this podcast is probably the least energy-centric of those on this list, a few of their podcasts have really caught my eye over the past year. In “How Efficient is Energy Efficiency?” (released February 5, 2015), Freakonomics Radio explores the prominence of energy efficiency in our energy policy proposals – quite an interesting discussion for those who spent time looking atMcKinsey’s greenhouse gas abatement cost curves. This episode focuses on an analysis by Arik Levinson – an environmental economist at Georgetown who worked at the Council of Economic Advisors under President Obama – with discussions on:

  • Why energy-efficiency mandates “have become the centerpiece of U.S. climate policy” and why that might not be a good thing.
  • What the rebound effect is and why this leads some economists to believe that efficiency isn’t all its cracked up to be.
  • How the California building codes may (not) have saved us as much energy as we thought they would.

To round out the discussion, the hosts also introduce criticism of Levinson’s methodology and analysis by Hal Harvey, the CEO of a clean energy form called Energy Innovation.

Also recommended:

4.  Scientific American’s 60-Second Earth

This podcast focuses on all things science – with quick bursts (hence the title) of information about the latest scientific discoveries and news. A number of these stories (in particular by David Biello) focus on the energy sector.  For example – you can learn about the underground environments full of oil-eating microbes (here), discussions about raising the gas tax in the face of cheap oil (here), and the COP 21 climate talks in Paris late last year (here).

All of these podcasts are free for download at the links provided.

Happy listening!


This article was originally published on February 22, 2016 on Scientific American’s Plugged In

Texas Sets Wind Energy Record (Again)


(c) CL Photography. Used with permission.

On Thursday night at 9:20pm, Texas wind was responsible for generating 14,023 Megawatts (MW) of power. This value was a new record, surpassing the previous peak of 13,883 MW of wind power that was seen on December 20, 2015.

Perhaps even more exciting is that fact that – at multiple points throughout the evening – the Texas wind supplied more than 45% of the Texas grid’s power needs.  At 11:08pm, a record 45.14% record for “wind penetration” (in other words, the percentage of total power being supplied by wind) was set.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 5_28_05 PM

Photo Credit: ERCOT “Wind Integration Report: 02/18/2016″

While wind power production peaked in the evening on February 18, the Texas wind supplied in the neighborhood of 40% of electricity demand in the Texas grid throughout the day. What’s more, ERCOT’s grid operators were able to manage this high wind power generation without any blackouts or brownouts.

Photo Credit: ERCOT “Wind Integration Report: 02/18/2016"

Photo Credit: ERCOT “Wind Integration Report: 02/18/2016″

At the end of the weekend, wind power was still supplying a significant percentage of total electricity needs in the state – though it not nearly as much as on Thursday evening. All told, the wind peaked at 8,563 MW on Sunday with a maximum wind penetration of 27.15%.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 5_36_24 PM

Photo Credit: ERCOT “Wind Integration Report: 02/21/2016″

To read more on how Texas has become a wind energy leader, see:

1. Texas Sets New All-Time Wind Energy Record – Robert Fares’s article from January here on Plugged In, which focused on the previous wind energy record for the state (from December 20).

2. Longhorns, Long Wires, and Big Ideas in Green Energy: a post that I wrote in 2010 for Discover Magazine’s The Intersection on Texas’s growing role as a renewable energy leader.

This post was originally published on February 23, 2016 on Scientific American’s Plugged In

U.S. Car Manufacturers Surpass Emmissions Standards for 3rd Year in a Row


By Jensbn-commonswiki (Public Domain)

Car manufacturers in the United States have surpassed greenhouse gas emission standards for the 3rd year in a row, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Fleet-wide fuel economy has also increased by 26% over the past decade to a record high of 24.3 miles per gallon (mpg).

In their reports “The Greenhouse Gas Manufacturer Performance Report” and “Light-Duty Automotive Technology, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 through 2015”, the EPA concluded that auto manufacturers exceeded federal emission standards by 13 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per mile driven for cars and light trucks (2014 model year) – the equivalent of a 1.4 mpg improvement in fuel economy.


On an individual company level, all major U.S. auto manufacturers – except for Kia and Mercedes – outperformed their standards for the 2014 model year. Of note here is that Volkswagon was not included in this analysis because of the on-going investigation (to read more about VW and #DieselGate, see Tali Trigg’s series here, here, here, and hereon Plugged In).


The additional savings have been supported by faster adoption rates for fuel-efficient technologies than had been anticipated, says the EPA.  According to Christopher Grundler, the EPA’s Director of the Office of Air Quality and Transportation:

“It’s clear that our [greenhouse gas emission] standards are working, spurring technology and innovation, and we are on track to achieve significant greenhouse gas reductions.”

However, the EPA cautions that, while fuel economy is on the rise, so is the market share for trucks, which get fewer miles to the gallon than cars. All told, truck fuel economy reached a record 20.4 mpg in 2014, which was a 0.6 mpg increase from the previous model year. But, this savings was offset by a 5% increase in truck market share in the same period.

The EPA goes on to say that these greenhouse gas emission standards for cars and light trucks have already prevented 60 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from being released into the atmosphere.

This article was originally published on February 16, 2016 on Scientific American’s Plugged In.

2015 Was a Record-Setting Year for Wind, Part 2: % Generation

News Oresund (CC 2.0)

Demark set a new record for electricity generation for wind in 2015, generating the equivalent of 42% of the country’s annual electricity demand using wind power. The previous record for annual wind generation as a percentage of total demand was 39% in 2014 (also set by Denmark).

According to analysts, this record was made possible by a quite windy year compared to 2014. It was also set in spite of two major offshore wind farms – Anholt and Horns Rev 2 – being offline for extended periods of time (1 and 2 months, respectively) due to cable faults. Without these faults, analysts estimate that Denmark would have generated 43.5% of its electricity using wind power.


Over the past decade, wind power generation as a percentage of total demand in Denmark has more than doubled. Furthermore, thanks grid interconnections with neighbouring countries, Denmark has been able to export significant amounts of power. For example, according toofficial statistics, on the 26th of July, Denmark’s wind turbines produced 138.7% of the countries total electricity consumption between 6-7 AM, with the excess power being exported to its neighbors.


The article was originally published on February 4, 2016 on Scientific American’s Plugged In.

2015 Was a Record-Setting Year for Wind, Part 1: New Capacity

Wind farm in Xinjiang, China by taylorandayumi (CC2.0)

It was a record year for wind power, with 62 Gigawatts of new generating capacity being installed around the globe in 2015. While the vast majority (93%) of this new wind capacity was onshore, according to newly released data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) over 4 GW of offshore wind was also installed – more than in any previous year.

For onshore wind, China was responsible for half (29 GW) of all new installations with the United States following in a distant second with 8.6 GW (14.8%). Overall, the Asia Pacific region swamped the Americas and Europe for total new installations and exceeded analyst predictions. According to Amy Grace, head of Wind Insight for BNEF, “while it’s not atypical for China to lead in new energy installs, 29GW far exceeded our estimates.”

Germany and the UK were responsible for most (88%) of new offshore wind capacity growth. All told, Germany installed 2.6 GW of new offshore wind while the UK installed 1 GW in 2015.

H/T Jen MacDonald and David Hostert, BNEF

This article was originally published on February 2, 2016 on Scientific American’s Plugged In. 

Data show that Germany’s grid is one of the world’s most reliable

As the share of renewables in Germany’s electricity mix approaches 30%, the country’s power grid appears to be going strong.

According to data released by the Bundesnetzagentur (Germany’s grid regulator), the country’s power grid remained one of the world’s most reliable in 2013. In fact, total unplanned outage time was down from 21.53 minutes in 2006 to 15.32 minutes in 2013. Overall, these outage levels put Germany in the top five most reliable grids in Europe.

Furthermore, outages were down slightly from the 15.91 minute average in 2012. This level was one-sixth of the estimated 93 minutes of unplanned outages experienced in North America in 2012.

These reliability data appear to contradict claims that high levels of variable renewables in the electricity grid have led to a “destabilization” of the German power grid. However, Germany is still paying nearly the highest electricity rates found in Europe at 38 cents per kilowatt-hour ($0.38/kWh). By comparison, Germany’s rates are 63% higher than the United Kingdom.

In the United States, residential customers pay just under $0.13/kWh on average with wide variations between states. In Washington residential electricity rates sat at just under $0.09/kWh while Hawaii residents paid $0.37/kWh.

Photo Credit: Picture of transmission lines and pole by Ken Lund and used under this Creative Commons License.

This post was originally published on September 16, 2015 on Scientific American’s Plugged In.

Energy efficient buildings – beware possible health risks

Energy efficient buildings – beware possible health risks

Melissa C. Lott, UCL

The primary goal of home energy efficiency initiatives might be to reduce total energy consumption, but these projects could have a negative impact on public health if we do not take care.

Global climate change has been called the biggest global public health threat of the 21st century – and energy efficiency is a key tool in our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emission levels.

Efficiency projects allow us to more effectively manage growing energy consumption without sacrificing services that we value. In the cost-optimised 2°C scenario set out by the International Energy Agency (the temperature rise that we have to stick within if we’re to mitigate climate change), end-use efficiency improvements will be responsible for 38% of the global emissions reductions between now and 2050.

Without these emissions decreases, the World Health Organisation expects 250,000 additional deaths to occur each year, caused by climate-related malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress around the globe.

Given these numbers, it seems logical to push forward with blanketing energy efficiency investments. However, there is evidence to show that we must take care in how we implement projects.

In a 2014 article published in the British Medical Journal, James Milner and his co-authors outlined how some home energy efficiency improvements could cost lives by increasing indoor radon exposure and the risk of developing lung cancer.

According to the authors, energy efficiency projects could lead to an estimated 56.6% increase in average indoor radon concentrations. They calculate that the corresponding increase in radon exposure could lead to 278 premature deaths (the equivalent of 4,700 life years lost) each year in the UK.

After smoking, radon exposure is the most important risk factor in developing lung cancer. This colourless gas, which occurs naturally from the indirect decay product of uranium or thorium, can be found in indoor air. It produces a radioactive dust that is trapped in our airways. This radiation then causes lung damage and increases the chance that we will develop lung cancer. Each year, an estimated 1,400 cases of lung cancer in the UK are primarily due to radon exposure, and about 21,000 in the US.

The increased radon concentrations in the Milner study stem from the fact that many energy efficiency improvements alter the way that buildings exchange indoor and outdoor air. These alterations are often aimed at reducing energy losses due to leaky windows or drafts around unsealed doors. In turn, these buildings can be more effectively heated and cooled, leading to observable public health improvements and decreases in total energy use.

However, they can increase some health risks. According to Milner and co-authors, while an individual project can be “good for energy efficiency, indoor temperatures in winter and protection against outdoor pollutants, it has the potential to increase concentrations of pollutants arising from sources inside or underneath the home.”

A 2013 study suggested similar risks in retrofitted buildings from mould growth and “sick building syndrome”, where occupants appear to experience health issues from occupancy in a building. By trapping humidity inside the building, energy efficiency retrofits could unintentionally lead to dangerous mould growth. In turn, people in these buildings would be more prone to chronic fatigue, irritated lungs, and watery eyes.

Using fans and other equipment to carefully control the indoor air quality could reduce or eliminate the negative co-impacts documented in these studies. Of course, the use of these technologies would offset some of the energy savings. But, they could also prevent an array of illnesses, which could stymie future energy efficiency proposals.

Energy efficiency projects can help to reduce total energy consumption. They are a key part of mitigating the impacts of global climate change. But we must be aware of any potential negative co-impacts on human health and take care to reduce their effect.

The Conversation

Melissa C. Lott is PhD Student: energy, environmental and public health trade-offs of energy system technology transitions, focusing on air pollution at UCL.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Will Solar Float to the Rescue in Japan?

Land-constraints and a massive nuclear shutdown have intensified the debate over where to put new electricity generation capacity in Japan. Solar has risen to the forefront, as its panels take to the water.

In the fall, the Kyocera, Century Tokyo Leasing, and Ciel et Terre announced their plans to build two floating solar power stations in the Hyogo prefecture in Western Japan. These two solar islands will include an estimated 60 MW of floating solar capacity and will help to fill the gaps left after the 2011 meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima nuclear power plant.

These solar projects will follow a similar 70 MW facility that came online in 2013. Also launched by Kyocera, the Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant in Southern Japan, this USD 44 million facility consists of 290,000 solar panels spread over 314 acres – approximately the equival

ent of 27 baseball stadiums. The electricity that is generated at this facility sells to Kyushu Electric Power Co., the local electric utility company under a national feed-in-tariff program.

Prior to 2011, almost one-third of Japan’s electricity was supplied by nuclear power, with plans to raise this value to 40%. But, in the wake of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant meltdowns, the country took a big step back from nuclear. Today, there are no operating nuclear power plants in the country, though two reactors could be restarted in the near future.

Photo Credit: Photo of Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant by Kyocera.

U.S. petroleum exports rise while East Coast continues to import

Petroleum product exports are on track for another banner year, with total exports climbing to a 3.7 million barrels per day (bbpd) average for 2014 from just under 3.5 million bbpd in 2013. However, on the East Coast, imports for some fuels increased by almost 50% in the first half of 2014.

According to a report published on Thursday by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), U.S. exports of refined petroleum products are primarily from the Gulf Coast, with this region accounting for 72% of recent growth. Over half of the total U.S. crude oil refining capacity is located in the Gulf Coast region, primarily in Texas and Louisiana.

However, despite increases in Gulf Coast production, the East Coast still imports both gasoline and distillates (in other words, diesel and fuel oil for space heating). And, while a significant amount of these imports come from the Gulf Coast via pipelines, barges, and tankers, pipeline capacity and other shipping constraints limit how much can be transferred between U.S. regions.

From January through June 2014, gasoline imports to the North East averaged 536,000 bbpd, which was 15% less than in the same period in 2013. Distillate imports for the same periods increased from 145,000 bbpd (2013) to 217,000 bbpd (2014). This increase has been attributed to cold weather over the winter, which increased fuel oil demand.

Overall, the U.S. remains a net importer of crude oil and refined petroleum products. But, data from the EIA show that reliance on oil from other countries has been declining over the past 8 years, from its peak in August 2006.

But, despite this declining trend for the nation, not all regions are experiencing this overall trend.

Photo Friday: Electric Utilities for the Household

This Westinghouse advertisement was published in The Literary Digest on November 30, 1918. The text reads as follows:



Fuel and Labor

Many are the steps that electrical appliances save, and many the tasks they lighten.

More important, however, under present day conditions are the saving of feel and the releasing of labor which electricity is everywhere making possible.

It helps the housewife to do her own washing and ironing – and saves coal that would wastefully blaze away in the kitchen range.

It turns coal into heat for cooking with higher efficiency than is possible by any other method.

It helps the business girl and the woman factory worker, to get a quick easy breakfast, and start on time to work.

It provides a satisfactory answer to the perplexing question of how to keep house with less help, or perhaps none at all.

So you see that there is a every reason to keep electrical appliances now in use in good condition, and to be sure that such new ones as are sold, go to those who have the greatest need of them.



East Pittsburgh, Pa.

Helping the business woman and factory worker. Hosts of busy women have to hurry mornings to reach their work on time. The Electrical Appliances they use aid greatly by cooking their breakfasts while they get ready for work.

Photo Credit: WW1 Literary Digest via Creative Commons.

This article was originally posted on June 27, 2014 on Scientific American’s Plugged In.