Archive for the 'Student blog entries' Category

Jun 28 2016

Pioneering Changes in Renewable Energy

Published by under Student blog entries

A team of entrepreneur pilots from Switzerland, along with their team, are shedding light on the endless possibilities that are available with the use of solar energy. Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg are on a journey around the world aboard the Solar Impulse 2, a single-pilot airplane that runs completely off of solar power. The two are tag-teaming the journey, which is currently only half completed and it is already making history. Records that Solar Impulse 2 has broken at present include longest distance and duration for a solar-powered flight and longest nonstop flight of any kind (O’Connor 2016). The record breaking flight from Nagoya to Hawaii lasted 5 days and 5 nights and was completely without the use of any fuel (Solar Impulse 2015).

"Solar Impulse 2", a solar-powered plane piloted by Bertrand Piccard of Switzerland, flies over the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, California, U.S. April 23, 2016, before landing on Moffett Airfield following a 62-hour flight from Hawaii. Jean Revillard/Solar Impulse/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

“Solar Impulse 2”, a solar-powered plane piloted by Bertrand Piccard of Switzerland, flies over the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, California, U.S. April 23, 2016, before landing on Moffett Airfield following a 62-hour flight from Hawaii. Jean Revillard/Solar Impulse/Handout via REUTERS

There are 17,248 solar cells that power the Solar Impulse 2 and it weighs almost 200 times less than an average passenger plane (O’Connor 2016). The plane cruises, however, at one-seventh of the speed (O’Connor 2016). This seemingly drawback of the plane’s slow speed actually highlights a key goal for the team at Solar Impulse. They are not trying to innovate air travel by producing this solar plane. They are, however, aiming to spread the message that renewable energy is the key to saving Earth’s natural resources and improving our quality of life (Solar Impulse 2015).

The plane’s journey is making headlines across the globe, which is critical since combating climate change must be an international effort in order for it to be effective. The inventors of the plane are trying to show how readily available this sort of technology is and that the potential is just waiting to be tapped into. In a way, Solar Impulse 2 is acting as a model inviting innovators and explorers around the world to contribute to the field of renewable energy. Bertrand Piccard emphasized Solar Impulse’s goal by saying, “If an airplane has succeeded to fly day and night without fuel, then we can power our world on clean energy” (Solar Impulse 2015). He also has said, “The problem with our society is that, despite all the grand talk about sustainable development, we are a long way from making use of the clean technologies that are already available to us” (Solar Impulse 2015). Public awareness is one of the first steps in igniting this necessary change and Solar Impulse 2 is certainly pioneering the way.



O’Connor, Lydia. 2016. Plane Flies Across The Pacific Using Only Solar Power. April 25. Accessed 2016.

Solar Impulse . 2015. Solar Impulse: Our Story.

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Jun 25 2016

Longer Blades May Mean More Wind Energy

Commercialization of wind energy may not lie within an increased amount of wind turbines, but increasing the size of wind turbine blades. On average, commercial wind turbine blades have a length of around 35 m to 45 m (NWW). These turbines, while they have been shown to efficiently produce energy in areas with an aptitude for wind turbine placement, have to be placed in large areas in order to provide a large amount of energy. These farms have been shown to have interesting effects on the overall environment over an extended amount of time. Large farms, such as one Germany, have even been shown to effect the water cycle (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology). This has repercussions which can change the environment of the area downwind from the wind farm. Since this is in part what scientists are fighting against with global warming, it is an ecological catch twenty-two.


Photo Credit: Andy Hay

Further studies have led to a suggestion of a sort of mega-turbine. This turbine would have blades the length of fifty meters and produce around fifty megawatts of energy (DOE/Sandia Laboratories). Blades such as these would be manufactured using a different process which is more economically feasible. Getting wind energy down to the most inexpensive beginning investment would invite many big investors into or back into the field. Essentially, instead of twenty-five or so smaller turbines, there would be one huge turbine generating the same amount of energy.

Less overall area disturbed on the sea floor through less piles means less impacts on the benthic environments as well as less noise pollution over less of an area. However, larger blades may increase the instances of collision and strike of marine birds due to the increase in the area traveled by the blades. The avoidance problems which can be associated with migratory patterns and environmental impacts of construction and operation may stay the same or intensify. This trade off of more energy for problems we may or may not have presents and interesting conundrum.

In December 2015, New York relied on their wind power to supply an increased amount of energy when one of their major nuclear reactors shut down (Malik). This shows wind energy, even with the technology we have available currently, can be a useful main source of power. Wind energy is a field which can be continuously improved upon and more research should be done about reducing the negative impacts wind turbines can have on the environment.


Works Cited

DOE/Sandia National Laboratories. “Enormous blades could lead to more offshore energy in US.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 January 2016. <>. Accessed 24 June 2016.

“FAQ – Size.” National Wind Watch. National Wind Watch Inc., n.d. Web. 24 June 2016. <>.

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. “Offshore wind parks: Interactions and local climate.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 February 2016. <>. Accessed 24 June 2016.

Malik, Naureen. “Wind Rescues New York Power After Nuclear Plant Shutdown.” Bloomberg, 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 24 June 2016. <>.

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Jun 24 2016

Why is the United States Lagging Behind in Renewable Energy?

From May 7 to May 11, 2016, Portugal made history. The entire country was powered solely through a combination of “solar panels, wind turbines, biofuels, geothermal heat and hydroelectric power” (Bird). In other words, renewable energy alone kept the nation running for four days!

Portugal –

Portugal is not alone in their ambitious endeavors with renewable energy. Numerous countries around Europe have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollutants by setting and meeting “ever-better renewable energy goals” (Bird). These countries include but are not limited to: Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Denmark etc. Each of these nations have different goals of varying magnitudes, but they are definitely making the steps necessary for a transition over to green and renewable energy.

Unfortunately, the United States has been lagging behind its European counterparts in regards to renewable energy policies, implementation and technologies. Whereas many European nations extract 1/3 to ½ of their energy from renewable resources, the United States only gets around 12% of its energy as a form of renewable energy. As Professor E. Donald Elliot of Yale Law School states, the apathetic nature of the United States towards renewable energy lies “deep in our political structure and political culture, as well as our natural endowment of huge resources of fossil energy, including shale gas and unconventional oil.”

Due to the nature of our government here in the United States, it is nearly impossible to get the two major parties of our government to cooperate and get things done. With only two parties vying for power and because they seem inclined to disagree over everything, making the passing of every policy or plan a grueling, tedious and, sometimes, fruitless task. The issue of renewable energy is no exception with many Democrats being “highly skeptical that dispersed consumers can get enough information to make smarts decisions” and Republicans arguing that “energy choices should be left to the market”. (3 Elliot) For economic, environmental, and just pure survival reasons, the United States needs to step up its game and gain a foothold in the green energy industry before it is too late. The transition will happen regardless of American reluctance, as evidenced by Europe’s progress and China’s rapidly growing investment and implementation of multiple types of renewable energy within its’ borders (Ma). The graph below depicts the total capacity of wind power installed in China from 2001 until 2012.


Becoming a leader of the green energy revolution would allow the United States to gain a significant economic advantage in this evolving industry..

If the government cannot move, then it is up to the people. However, although a lot of the obstacles to implementing a renewable energy policy related to our political structure,  some of them, like America’s misconception of low and high gas prices, are ideologies entrenched within American society that are enforced by lack of education and knowledge of climate change. In order for our country to make a change and become more invested in renewable energy as well as the future, the general public must be informed and educated to avoid such misconceptions. This way, the two parties will hopefully be able to find common ground through the interests of the people and take the necessary steps in order to establish a future that generations to come will be glad to call home.



Bird, Susan. “Using Only Renewable Energy, Portugal Powered Its Entire Country for Four Days.” Care2, 21 June 2016. Web. 24 June 2016.
Elliott, Donald E., Dr. “Why the United States Does Not Have a Renewable Energy Policy.” Environmental Law Institute (2013): 1-7. Web. 24 June 2016.
Ma, Damien. “Re-balancing China’s Energy Strategy.” The Paulson      Institute, 2015. Web. 24 June 2016. <>.


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Jun 24 2016

Huffington Article

Published by under Student blog entries


(This is the link I am sharing).

I researched information about the class, and there was an article in the Huffington Post about the ocean’s energy. There has been a new study through Carnegie Wave Energy Limited that has made a device that can convert the ocean’s energy into power, and it does not disrupt the ecosystems or marine life. I think in this class, and when we visit the field site, the most interesting aspect to me is how the organisms that live in the oceans are affected by energy systems, and how the changing environment affects this wildlife population. To hear that this new device does not create damage in the ecosystem is good to hear, because that would make this technology extraneous and harmful. Buoys and pumps are under water as well, so the view of the ocean is not changed with this technology.

In a video that goes along with the article, a researcher on the project says that technology converts the swell in the ocean to generate electricity, and that this form of energy is a new player among other popular energy sources. The buoys that are submerged in the sea move with the current, which then is carried through pumps on the sea floor. Those pumps carry energy to offshore areas. Ocean powered energy is more productive than wind or solar energy, even though it has not been used much. Australia uses ocean energy through Carnegie, and it is useful since there is so much water around the land. There is a lot of information in this article, so I encourage people to read it to get more of an idea of the methods out there to transform the ocean’s energy into power.

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Jul 27 2015

100% Renewable Energy is Possible!

Vancouver city strives for 100% clean energy, including electricity, heating and cooling, and potentially hydroelectric transportation. Attaining 100% renewable energy is finally possible.   “We spent 10 years arguing over whether climate change was happening and then we spent another 10 years arguing over what we should do if it is happening; now we’re getting down to the who and when.”(Reimer)The chart below displays “the price of wind and solar power continues to plummet, and is now on par or cheaper than grid electricity in many areas of the world.” (Bloomberg) -1x-1

Vancouver voted to transition to 100% renewable energy in April and has since seen a 6% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions as well as a 20% increase in number of jobs. (Shahan) “The city also has 98% greenhouse gas–free electricity, and 31% renewable electricity.” (Reimer) The city is working to reach 100% renewable by encouraging walking as the major form of transportation, adding bike infrastructure and protected bike lanes, adding incentives for electric cars, green building codes, and utilizing waste heat for energy production.
Plans towards reaching 100% renewable energy is now trending across the states and it is only a matter of time before it will be accomplished. “The technology evolution that dropped the cost of solar modules by around 75% between 2009 and 2014 is now being followed by political and financial initiatives that are further driving down costs.” (Steiner) I believe the same pattern will follow with wind and wave energy technological breakthroughs in the near future.


Randall, Tom. “ Fossil Fuels Just Lost the Race Against Renewables
This is the beginning of the end.” Bloomberg. Web. 25 July, 2015.

Steiner, Adam. “The world is finally producing renewable energy at an industrial scale.” The Guardian. Web. 25 July, 2015.

Reimer Andrea. “100% Renewable Energy: The new normal?” Huffington Post. Web. July 25, 2015.

Shahan, Zachary. “Vancouver’s 100% Renewable Energy Goal (Renewable Cities Video)” Clean Technica. Web. 25 July, 2015.

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Jul 26 2015

Azura Technology Captures the Motion of the Ocean

Northwest Energy Innovations (NWEI) designed a 20kW wave energy converter, the Azura, which began producing electricity to the grid last month off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii. (Gahran)


The Azura’s innovative design captures energy from the waves vertical and horizontal motions with its 360 degree rotating buoy. (843 Digital) “As the first grid connected wave energy device in the U.S. that will be tested and validated by an independent party, this deployment marks a major milestone for our team and the marine renewable energy industry,” said NWEI Founder and CEO Steve Kopf. (NWEI) Solar and wind power have been the most successful renewable energy sources thus far. There are several reasons wave energy is last in line including lack of open-ocean research, fluctuating wave conditions, environmental concerns, and most importantly investment cost. Azura technology allows the device to partially submerge under waves and rotate in every direction making it less susceptible to damage in rough conditions. The device has already been tested and approved on small-scale, producing 20kW of electricity and is now being tested and improved with intentions of producing 1MW energy. (Gahran)

The initial cost of wave energy systems is very high and reliant on investors. “According to the Ocean Energy Council, recent experience in the U.K. (which is more advanced in wave power testing and deployment) is about 7.5 cents per kWh at best. The industry goal is to get this down to about 4.5 cents per kwh – comparable with the cost of wind power, although still much higher than the cost of fossil-fuel generation.” (Gahran) According to U.S. Energy Information Administration, Hawaii has the highest cost of electricity production at 34 cents per kWh. Continued technology advancements in the Azura wave energy system could drive down this expense as well as provide a streamline design for future wave energy conversion installments off the U.S. coasts.

Gahran, Amy, “Wave Energy Test Rolling Forward Hawaii,” EnergyBiz, July 26, 2015. Web. 26 July 2015.

NWEI, “Norwest Energy innovations Launches Wave Energy Device in Hawaii,” AzuraWave. Web. July 26, 2015.

843 Digital. “NWEI Animation,” Youtube. October 21, 2013. Web. July 26, 2015

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Jul 25 2015

Is Ethanol the Alternative?

Published by under Student blog entries

An article in Popular Mechanics titled “The Ethanol Fallacy: Op-Ed” brings into question the promise of reduced dependence on foreign oil through good old American grown corn. The author argues that this idea is just way too good to be true. I would say that his argument is relatively sound. He quotes a figure that says it takes about 1 gallon of fossil fuels to grow 1.3 gallons worth of ethanol fuel due to the high maintenance of corn and the high dependence the industry has on large machinery and chemicals. The author continues to make arguments about the economics and reliability of such a fuel source on a large scale. Ethanol can never supply the full demand of our vehicles. There is no argument about that. However, politicians continue to push it through to show their support for “green energy” and to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. They do this despite it being a poor investment.


There are many more reasons not to switch to a higher ethanol dependence. First of all, it is a waste of more than one valuable resource. The fields on which corn is grown are depleted with every planting. Yet to grow corn for ethanol we planted almost 93 million acres in 2009 alone. Besides the negative impact on fields and the poor economic impact, it also drives up the price of corn. Simple supply and demand dictates that if we are using 93 million acres of corn to convert to ethanol, then the price of corn for food use will also be higher. Corn is used in almost every processed food product we buy. Beyond this, the United States grows such a large amount of corn that we are able to export it. We are driving up the price of food for people outside of the United States as well. Arguably people that need it for a cheaper price than we do.


Our money and political power would be better spent on investing on energy sources that could ultimately lead to the true end of dependence on fossil fuels. The investment in ethanol has far too many costs. Solar, wind, and ocean energy projects are making huge strides that already warrant more investment than ethanol. Lets stop wasting our food resources on a short term solution to a long term problem.

Meigs, James. 2009. The Ethanol Fallacy: Op-Ed. Popular Mechanics. Web.




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Jul 25 2015

Renewable Energy, Politics, and Local Involvement: For real or shell game?

Published by under Student blog entries

In response to our discussion around the Cape Wind controversy this Thursday, the topic of local politics was brought up, for obvious reasons. The Cape Wind project controversy was fueled by much opposition in the form of wealth and political prowess, and shortly blew out of proportion from local politics to a national dilemma, even involving the Department of Interior in reference to native tribal lands and a potential disturbance of ancestral traditions. If this idea had been pioneered in the Baltimore harbor, like was suggested in the documentary, the controversy may well have never escalated that largely. However, the most interesting part of that discussion for me were the comparisons to the tidal energy project recently deployed in the Bay of Fundy nearby Lubec, Maine. One of the most mitigating factors for controversy in this project was the local involvement during testing and the Environmental Impact Assessment. This is a great way to smooth over potential speedbumps from the local community, but there is an interesting turn to the “local” involvement here. The Bay of Fundy is a prolific source of tidal energy, and it should be harnessed. However, there are large corporate stakes in the harnessing of this resource, which extend much beyond the “local” scene. If the name Locheed Martin sounds familiar, it’s because they are the largest private defense contractor for the United States government. They also have been granted access to one of four testing berths in the Bay, along with three other companies, all owned overseas (Blackwell). If this sounds fishy, it is. Local involvement is fairly slim when the means of production is still owned and reaped by conglomerates, especially when American resources can be used to power the Canadian grid. Renewable power should not be a territorial game, but local communities should be actively involved and see the boons of their labors.


Blackwell, R. (17 May 2015). “Bay of Fundy Tidal Power Soon to Be Harnessed.” The Globe and Mail. Accessed 24 July 2015. Retrieved from


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Jul 25 2015

New Technology Revolutionizing Old Habits: Biogas and Renewable Energy

Published by under Student blog entries

In this class we have mainly focused on the ability to conserve and harness energy from renewable sources that have previously been untapped (at least on a large scale). In most cases, this includes things like wind energy, salinity gradients, oceanic currents, etc., i.e. natural phenomena that we should then be able to extract energy from in a continuous, renewable manner. However, I recently came across a process that takes one of man’s most proliferate productions (waste) and uses new technology to harness and use its energy. Biogas is essentially the byproduct gas that occurs when organic material breaks down. This is very closely the process that has developed natural gas deposits in the Earth’s crust that we now harvest and use to create power or heat homes. However, this process also occurs in the densely packed landfills that are increasingly covering Earth. For years scientists have known about this gas, and for years they have developed ventilation systems that simply filter the byproduct into the atmosphere or even burn it off upon removal. This is highly wasteful, because this biogas can be easily converted and seamlessly used to replace natural gas. At the world’s largest landfill in Guatapara, Brasil, GE engines are now processing and converting this gas into electricity capable of powering up to 35,000 homes (GE).

One of the more interesting uses of this technology is how companies plan to make themselves a closed-loop energy system. In Dekalb County, Georgia, USA, the entire waste management fleet runs on renewable natural gas, which is being replaced by landfill natural gas generated from their own landfill. They can essentially power their entire operation from the trash that they collect (USDOE). This type of closed look, self sustaining energy platform has enormous potential, as does biogas in general. This proves that we do not always have to come up with grand new schemes to find renewable energy, but can employ new technologies into old routines to have an enormous impact.




General Electric. (2015). “Invention Factory: How Will We Power The Planet?” Video. Accessed July 22, 2015. Retrieved from

United States Department of Energy. (2013). “Dekalb County Turns Trash to Gas.” Accessed July 23, 2015. Retrieved from

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Jul 24 2015

Welcoming Wind Energy to NC

This past week, construction for North Carolina’s first commercial wind farm received approval from state officials. Spanning across 22,000 acres of rural farm land in Pasquotank and Perquimans County, it will be the largest and only terrestrial wind farm in  the Southeast after its completion (Dearen, 2015). The renewable energy project is the result of a partnership between Amazon and Iberdrola Renewables at Desert Wind. Iberdrola Renewables is the United States’ second largest generator of wind energy and a leader in turbine research and design. Iberdrola, which has held off on beginning the project’s construction, elected to proceed only with an agreement in place for Amazon to buy back a large percentage of the energy produced by the plant to power their large server centers (Murawski, 2015).

The Amazon Wind Farm East US will have a plate capacity of 208 mWh after the first phase of construction and could provide enough power for approximately 60,000 homes in northeastern North Carolina (Dearen, 2015). A second phase of construction is already being planned and will include the installation of an additional fifty turbines to the operation and boost capacity up to 300 mWh. The project’s construction spans across mostly agricultural scrub land that is not productive with low population density. Individuals who do see turbines installed on their property will receive a payout of $6,000 annually with that amount to increase each subsequent year (Murawski, 2015). Some residents across the scrub land have jokingly argued wind energy is possibly their best cash crop.

The area set to become the future site to the Amazon Wind Farm East was once deemed unviable for wind energy just a mere decade ago. Taller, bigger, and more efficient turbines are creating stronger viability for wind energy in the southeastern United States (Dearen, 2015). Stronger winds at higher elevations can be tapped by taller turbines. The average turbines height in the United States today is about 260 feet and with new technology researchers are predicting towers at tall as 460 feet (Dearen, 2015). Power will be produced by the turbines at wind speeds as low as 5m/s rather than 8m/s required by many wind farms in the Midwest. The increase in areas for potential wind energy operations come as coal ash and natural gas are being phased as traditional fuel thus making the need for alternative power sources necessary.


Dearen, Jeff. “Taller Towers, Bigger Turbines enable first big Wind Farm in Southeast.” Christian Science Monitor. July 12, 2015. Web. Accessed 21 July 2015. <>.

Murawski, John. “Amazon Backs North Carolina’s first Wind Farm.” News and Observer: Raleigh. July 13, 2014. Web. Accessed 21 July 2015. <>

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