The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is the Department of Energy's green tech incubation lab, so perhaps it's no surprise that the research agency is attempting to lead America to greener pastures by example. The NREL just put the finishing touches on its new Research Support Facility (RSF) in Golden, Colo., -- the largest zero-energy office building in the nation -- hoping other developers will follow its lead.
It's one of those ideas that just sounds wrong: a barge-like floating nuclear plant in the middle of the ocean. But despite its somewhat unconventional approach, a Russian firm we first reported on in 2006 is forging ahead with plans to have the first model ready to begin service in 2012.
Steven Chu, the new U.S. secretary of energy, is a Nobel-winning physicist and an unabashed advocate of fighting climate change. But can he negotiate the political realities of transforming the energy economy?
By Kevin ConleyPosted 06.29.2009 at 1:42 pm 41 Comments
For years, Steven Chu argued that leadership on climate change should be wrested from the politicians and turned over to the scientists. But on Capitol Hill this April, on Earth Day, as Chu testified on the scientific merits of the most ambitious climate-change bill ever to come out of Washington, you might have wondered whether he regretted getting his wish.
The American electric grid is an engineering marvel, arguably the single largest and most complex machine in the world. It's also 40 years old and so rickety that power interruptions and blackouts cost the economy some $150 billion a year. The idea of building a connected "smart" grid that can route power intelligently is beyond daunting, no matter how much stimulus money gets thrown at it. But if we want to cut carbon, we have no choice. Today's grid simply cannot handle a large-scale rollout of the clean-energy sources outlined in this series.
Last October, Iceland's economy tanked. Its bailout? A two-mile geothermal well drilled into a volcano that could generate an endless supply of clean energy. Or, as Icelanders will calmly explain, it could all blow up in their faces
By Christopher MimsPosted 06.19.2009 at 12:20 pm 7 Comments
The Kuwait of the North
Engineers at the Tyr drilling rig in Krafla's snow-covered caldera hope to use a supercritical-water source two miles underground to produce 10 times as much geothermal electricity as a normal well
Courtesy Sveinbjorn Holmgeirsson/Landsvirkjun Power
It's spring in Iceland, and three feet of snow covers the ground. The sky is gray and the temperature hovers just below freezing, yet Gudmundur Omar Fridleifsson is wearing only a windbreaker. Icelanders say they can spot the tourists because they wear too many clothes, but Fridleifsson seems particularly impervious. He's out here every few days to check on the Tyr geothermal drilling rig, the largest in Iceland. The rig's engines are barely audible over the cold wind, and the sole sign of activity is the slow dance of a crane as it grabs another 30-foot segment of steel pipe, attaches it to the top of the drill shaft, and slides it into the well.
This December, when representatives from 170 countries meet at the United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen to replace the expiring Kyoto climate treaty, the smart money predicts unprecedented collaboration. American political change coupled with spiking carbon dioxide levels could inspire a communal project on a scale not seen since World War II. A consensus, backed by science, is emerging among the international community that by 2050 we need to reduce emissions of C02, methane and other greenhouse gases to approximately 80 percent lower than they were in 1990.
It will mean a wholesale reinvention of the global energy economy; anything less could result in catastrophe. Here's how we'll get there.
The Big Picture: Geologically active countries like Iceland can more than meet their needs with the energy that vents from the Earth, but other countries would benefit from expanding clean geothermal power as quickly as possible.
Where We Are Now: 10 GW
What We Need by 2050: 700 GW
The Big Picture: It's nearly impossible to imagine making meaningful carbon dioxide reductions without designing safer, cleaner reactors and rolling them out immediately — because no one wants to build more of the reactors we have today.
Where We Are Now: 372 GW
What We Need by 2050: 700 GW
Tech to Watch: Next-generation Nuclear
By Hillary RosnerPosted 06.11.2009 at 6:26 am 3 Comments
The Big Picture: Wind power is all about location — getting turbines where the breeze blows steady and strong. One of the best places for that is far out at sea. And because one of the biggest obstacles to expanding wind power is overcoming the objections of residents who don't want wind farms blocking their views, deepwater wind, which is invisible from shore, has dual appeal.