Energy Storage in the United States

The United States generates over 4 billion (4,000,000,000) megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity every year. As it stands currently, less than 0.0001% of that energy can be stored which means that the energy that is produced, must immediately be consumed. With renewable energy sources playing an ever-increasing role in the generation fleet, the generation landscape is changing and threatens to upend the status quo that keeps the grid functioning as it currently does.

Of course, this isn’t a doom and gloom scenario and renewable energy sources form a welcome addition to an increasingly diverse fleet of electricity generation sources. Energy storage’s necessity will, however, continue to grow as we incorporate these technologies into the grid.

When thinking energy storage, we mustn’t solely think of batteries. Of the energy storage capacity in the US, over 90% is available as pumped storage. One of the oldest forms of energy storage, pumped storage hydroelectricity has been around for many decades. Battery storage, too, plays an important role in energy storage, however, its applications have so-far been limited to smaller-scale systems designed for very local and direct needs, whereas pumped storage hydroelectricity is more adapt to large-scale utility generation requirements.

Lithium is quickly becoming the hottest commodity for energy storage as it is extensively used in battery technology. Development continues, and alternate battery technologies are being explored, however, lithium-ion batteries are the most popular large-scale battery storage technology being deployed in the US. With the cost of lithium coming down, it would seem that this technology is what holds the future. Smaller-scale flexible energy storage solutions can be widely deployed, allowing for utilization of the smart grid networks being developed across the country.

Energy storage is on the rise and is certainly a space to be watched.


Why do gas prices go up in summer?

Now that we’ve paid tribute on Memorial Day, summer has once again (unofficially) arrived and so have higher prices at the pump. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not only because we tend to drive more in the summer (did I hear you say road trip?), but also due to other factors that we pay more to fill up during the summer months than we do in the winter.

Increased demand is most certainly a factor, but not as much as you might think. The gasoline we pump into our vehicles is different in the summer than it is in the winter. Back in the mid 1990s, to curb the number of smog days and reduce overall pollution in major cities, the Environmental Protection Agency started the Reformulated Gasoline (RFG) Program established through the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.

The RFG program means that the fuel we use in the summer is less polluting than in the winter. For consumers it can be a double whammy though; not only is the fuel more expensive at the pump; summer fuel is less efficient, and we end up burning through it quicker than we use winter fuels, meaning we fill up more often too.

The transition to summer fuels usually takes place around April in time for the start of the summer season. To make the new fuel, refineries must briefly shut down production while they amend their processes. This production shortfall also has an effect on the prices of gasoline, even though we go through the same process every year.

With so much volatility in the price of oil and availability of refining capacity, it can be costly and difficult for refineries to balance their maintenance needs and make the transitions necessary to comply with the regulations, which has an impact on the fuel prices.

It’s not every year that we feel a sharp effect of rising fuel costs due to this switch, as other factors most certainly play into this market. But if you’ve ever caught yourself wondering why that summer road trip is more expensive, this might be your answer.

Renewable Energy and Energy Storage

The smart grid has gained a lot of column inches in the last decade as the panacea for all problems with the current grid system. The grid’s high carbon footprint; and its inability to integrate a high percentage of intermittent renewable energy capacity from wind and solar, and distributed, small scale energy generators, such as rooftop solar PV plants and small-scale wind turbines; are all but a few of the problems faced in modern grid systems.

The grid needs a constant, steady supply of electricity to avoid surges and black-outs with large penetration to connect large amounts of intermittent renewable energy capacity to the grid. Smart or not, storage capacity needs to be integrated into the grid infrastructure.

Legacy grid systems are being adapted to the new realities of rooftop solar and electric vehicles; while newly built grids are adapting to the fundamental shift of decentralized energy production. The NRG Expert Smart Grid Report and accompanying database provide insights into these markets and present some of the technologies that are helping utilities and governments plan and adapt for the future grid systems.

Storage options used are likely to be a combination of different storage technologies. They either store the electricity generated as chemical energy, potential energy (mechanical) or heat energy, in the case of water heaters. The main storage technologies are batteries, both static and mobile in the form of electric vehicles; fly wheels; hydropower; compressed air storage; hydrogen storage and flow cells. Most of these storage technologies are still in their infancy and have many disadvantages and limitations that need to be overcome. Hydropower is the mature and of the rest, compressed air is the closest to commercialisation as the technology operates reliably on a small scale and is low cost.

Everything You Need to Know About Turning Algae into Energy

You’ve heard of solar power and wind power. You might have even heard of geothermal power and tidal power. But, have you ever heard of algae power? You can be forgiven if the answer to this question is no, but now is the time to brush up on the facts surrounding this new kind of renewable energy. Scientists are always looking for new ways to use the earth’s natural resources in a sustainable and clean manner. Algae energy is one of the latest experiments energy experts have been conducting and so far the results look positive.

Let’s start with the very basics of algae energy. Algae refers to a number of different organisms, in all shapes and sizes, from microscopic cyanobacteria to giant kelp. In order to transform algae into energy, it has to be harvested and processed in the same way as other biofuel crops. The key difference is that algae could be ten times more productive than these other crops. Once harvested, algae can be readily processed into the raw material to make fuels for cars, trucks, trains, and planes.

Humans have been extracting energy from the planet’s resources for decades. But, algae is very different to other resources that have been harnessed so far. While fossil fuels take millions of years to turn into oil and provide us with energy, biofuel crops are ready within a few days. Algae absorbs sunlight and grows across the tops of ponds and lakes. We can then extract algae oil from the plant, which can be converted into biodiesel. This is then used to fuel vehicles, which emit carbon dioxide emission. These emissions are sucked up by the algae, along with sunlight, and the whole process starts again.

If algae is so great, you might be wondering why we don’t use algae energy to power everything in our lives already. The answer is simple. Algae energy is simply not very efficient. Conventional oil releases 100 units of energy for every one unit spent. Biofuels, including energy from algae, currently only produce 1.06 units for every unit spent. This makes the energy source barely efficient and therefore hard to pitch to potential investors.

Another inhibiting factor that has stopped biofuels becoming widespread is the extortionate cost of using them. At $33 per gallon, there few people willing to fork out that much for power, no matter how eco-friendly they might be. And, with the price of solar and wind power dropping every day, algae energy is going to have to fight hard to compete with other renewable sources.

There is pressure on scientists at the moment to continue developing new and improved renewable energy sources. Algae energy and biofuels in general are expensive and less efficient than traditional energy sources. But, this doesn’t mean experts should stop trying. The planet is in need of creative and innovative solutions to its climate change and energy crises and biofuels could be one of the keys to saving the planet. If biofuels can become a mainstream source of energy, we might just be able to bring back our planet from the brink of irreparable damage.


What Do Energy Ratings Mean?

There is a lot of jargon in the world of energy. Some of it is easy to get your head around, while other bits seem utterly indecipherable. One area that causes confusion for individuals is that of energy performance certificates, otherwise known as EPCs. In this article we are going to explain what EPC labels mean and what factors are taken into consideration when assigning an energy rating to a property. By the end of this article you’ll be fully versed in EPCs and ready to share your knowledge with the rest of the world.

What Is an EPC Rating?

Let’s start with the very basics. What does an EPC tell us and why is it important? Briefly, EPC ratings tell a would-be buyer or renter how energy efficient a house or flat is. This is important because a house that has good energy efficiency will have lower energy bills and a lower impact on the environment. An EPC assessor will assess a property and look at the amount of energy used per square meter and the level of carbon emissions released by the house. After a brief survey, the assessor will assign the house a rating from A to G, A being the most efficient and G being the least.

Once a house has an EPC rating, it is valid for ten years. If you look at a property that has one older than this, you should alert them to the fact and request a new one. Similarly, you will not be able to sell or rent your property without an up-to-date EPC. This is one reason why an EPC is important. Another is that when buyers and renters are deciding between several different properties, the EPC rating can be a deal breaker. Everyone would rather have a highly efficient property over one that is not very efficient. Of course, if you are selling your property and are not satisfied with your rating, there are things you can do to improve it before you list your house on the market.

Understanding the Different Sections of an EPC

The first section on the EPC is the estimated costs of running the house. This is divided into heating, lighting, and hot water. This does not take appliances into account and you should bear in mind that energy costs are forever fluctuating. This next section contains the letter grade of the property. Most houses in the UK are graded D, but this may change in the next decade or so as people find more innovative ways to make their homes energy efficient.

Next, is a section detailing actions you can take to improve energy efficiency, such as installing solar panels. This is more suitable for buyers than renters as it could involve a costly one-off construction or installation. The following sections contain a breakdown of the house’s energy features and its heating demand.

In the final sections you will find whether the house has the benefit of any low or zero emission energy sources; recommendations for how to improve your house’s EPC rating; and, finally, the environmental impact of your building. The impact is determined by how much carbon dioxide is produced by your home.

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Everything You Need to Know About Tight Oil

If you do not already work in the energy sector or have some sort of educational background in the field, you can be forgiven for not knowing what tight oil is. In fact, you might not have ever even heard of it. But, tight oil plays an important role in our energy mix, so it is good to have at least a basic understanding of what it is, how it works, and where it comes from.

What is Tight Oil?

Let’s start with the very basics. Tight oil is a form of crude oil that has been trapped within tight rock formations. These rocks have very low permeability and porosity, meaning it is virtually impossible for the oil to seep into or through the rocks. Thus, the oil is held in these tight spaces and cannot move. Tight oil is a fossil fuel, meaning there is a finite supply of the resource. We are plowing through the world’s oil reserves at an unprecedented rate, so the question of how to move away from a dependency on tight oil is hot on everyone’s lips.

How Do We Get to It?

Due to the tight geological constraints surrounding tight oil, this resource is difficult to access. Advanced drilling techniques have been developed in order to tap into the world’s tight oil supply. These techniques include horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking. It is thanks to the discovery of fracking that the United States has become one of the world’s largest producers of petroleum.

While fracking has seriously boosted the USA’s oil economy, it is a highly controversial extraction method. There are more jobs available in the energy industry and the US has a greater energy security than ever before, which will come in handy in the event of an energy crisis.

However, environmentalists lament the negative effects it has on the planet. Each well requires around 11 million liters of water and side effects of the process include contamination of the surrounding air, ground, and water. Furthermore, each well can only drain a small area, so more wells are needed when fracking for tight oil.

Challenges of Tight Oil

Of course, tight oil has its challenges and disadvantages. Aside from the environmental concerns raised by its extraction, there are also issues surrounding its transportation. There is a lack of pipeline infrastructure for tight oil and without this in place, it is a challenge to get the tight oil from the wells to the refineries, where it can then be turned into gasoline and diesel. There are also difficulties associated with the refining process as tight oil comes in varying compositions and contains a number of impurities that need to be extricated.

Moving Forward

The world is on the road to being 100% dependent on renewable energy, but there is still a long way to go. Slowly, but surely, the energy industry will need to adapt to this plan and ease off of oil production, but it will only do so when we stop using so much oil. Tight oil is not eco-friendly, nor is it a sustainable energy source. As clean fuel alternatives are explored, tight oil will become less and less and relevant.

Everything You Need to Know About Solar Power

Did you know that in one hour the sun sends down enough energy through its rays to satisfy the global energy demand for a whole year? That’s a pretty impressive statistic for an energy source that is tragically underused.

It is highly likely that you have heard of solar power – you might even have seen solar panels on the tops of schools, offices and houses. Solar power is one of the world’s most popular forms of renewable energy, not least because the costs associated with generating solar power have plummeted over the past decade or so.

But, do you know the more intricate details of solar power and how it works? If you’re curious to know how this sustainable, green energy source functions read on.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

Let’s start with the basics: how do solar panels work? To put it simply, solar panels convert sunlight into electricity. The panels contain photovoltaic cells and when sunlight hits these cells the electrons are separated from their atoms and flow through the cell. This generates electricity. Most domestic solar panels can convert around 20% of the sunlight they absorb into electricity, while commercial equipment can convert as much as 40%. However, rapid advancement in this area means that these percentages should rise in the near future.

How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?

Initial costs for solar panels are high and this is the main reason why they are not more widespread among households. Start-up costs can be up to £6000 for one household. It can take between seven and 20 years for the panels to pay for themselves by way of energy bill savings, but you will also be doing your bit to save the environment, which is, arguably, priceless. What’s more, once the panels are installed they do no require any further expenditure.

What Else Do You Need to Think about With Solar Panels?

Solar panels are really low maintenance. Most come with a guarantee of 25 years of more and the only thing you need to do regularly is make sure they are clean as they will not absorb as much sunlight if they are dirty. Of course, solar panels are more valuable to those that live in sunny countries. While solar panels can still work on a cloudy day, you want a clear, sunny day for maximum efficiency. The panels should be tilted at a 30 degree angle to the sky and should be away from anything that might cause them to be in the shade, such as trees or other houses.

What If I Generate Too Much Energy?

You may end up generating more power than your house needs. You have two options for dealing with excess energy. You can use an energy storage device to store solar energy for when supply is low, such as during the night and during the winter months. Alternatively, you can sell your excess energy to the grid.

Are There Any Disadvantages to Solar Power?

The disadvantages of solar power are few and far between. There are some that argue that the transportation and installation of solar panels causes unnecessary pollution. Furthermore, some panels contain hazardous materials. However, once installed, the panels release no emissions and cause very little pollution. The main problems with solar panels right now are the initial cost and the fact that they are wholly weather dependent – something we cannot control.

Nevertheless, the future of solar looks bright and scientists are constantly working on ways to increase efficiency whilst bringing down prices.