Check Out This Amazing DIY Solar Scorcher

This is a pretty cool DIY project that uses concentrated solar energy channeled through a hacked television projector.

This is a great way to learn first hand about the power of concentrated solar energy. This thing gets up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, so that is quite a bit of energy when it’s focused upon a small area!

Interestingly enough, it is the same amount of energy compared to if it were spread out across the whole lens.

The difference is the surface area, similar to how the full weight of a person stepping on your foot with high heels will be much more painful than a regular pair of shoes.

I think I might be scouring Craigslist for old TVs to see if I can try this out for myself!

 

New Nanostructure Discovery Boosts Solar Cell Efficiency

Researchers from the Academy of Finland have discovered a new method of harnessing more of the suns radiation. They found that by coating the solar cells with nano-scale structures they could pretty much eliminate reflection losses entirely.

The nanostructured black silicon coating features very low reflectivity, meaning that a larger portion of the Sun’s radiation can be exploited. At Aalto University, a research team led by Assistant Professor Hele Savin is conducting studies on crystalline silicon solar cells, which are the main type of solar cells that are currently on the market.

“The advantages of silicon include the long-term stability, sufficiency, low cost and non-toxicity of the element, as well as the advanced production technology. Another benefit of these solar cells is their relatively high efficiency and technological compatibility with the manufacturing technologies currently used by the semiconductor industry,” Savin explains. The technology, however, still calls for development and improvement. – Read More…

It’s not quite ready to be implemented industry wide, and specifics about how much efficiency will be gained have yet to be announced, but this is surely an important breakthrough (one of many to come hopefully) in the solar power industry. The Department of Defense’s goal of increasing renewable energy sources to 25 percent of all energy consumed by the year 2025 is looking more promising with each and every new discovery.

New NASA Timelapse Shows 3 Years of Solar Activity in 3 Minutes

The amazing video below is a product of NASA’s latest endeavor at the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), and provides breathtaking and high quality data that will aide astronomers in better predicting solar activity such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections. Plus, it just looks really cool!

NASA SDO solar activity video

The SDO’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) captures a shot of the sun every 12 seconds in 10 different wavelengths. The images shown here are based on a wavelength of 171 Angstroms, which is in the extreme ultraviolet range and shows solar material at around 600,000 Kelvin. In this wavelength it is easy to see the sun’s 25-day rotation as well as how solar activity has increased over three years. – Read More 

Toxic Oil Spills Are Much More Common Than You May Think

The only oil spills that get any media coverage are the major ones that are pretty hard to ignore, or coverup. But did you know that just in the past 30 days, there have been 13 oil spills, amassing a total of 1,185,000 gallons of toxic oil? This is business as usual believe it or not – not just a fluke within the past month. It’s just an inevitable part of the oil industry and the practices they employ. Perhaps clean energy should start getting a bit more focus  than it’s currently getting!

This nifty infographic pretty much sums it up.

 

13 Oil Spills in 30 Days

1

Amazing Solar Powered Plane will Fly Around the World in 2015

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Very cool! Solar powered flight is becoming more and more of a reality. I’ll definitely keep my eye on this project.

This thing is light (only 2.3 metric tons), efficient, has about 7,200 solar cells on top of the wings, and I’d imagine it has an insane amount of battery storage to soak all of that sun up!

It will fly around the world, but not nonstop. It will take about 20 days of total flight, spread out across a few months – probably to do energy analysis and troubleshooting along the way.

Read More…

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Better Energy Management In 5 Simple Steps

People are becoming more conscious of the energy that is being used and are looking into ways in which carbon footprint can be reduced. Not only this but cutting back on wasted energy can cut energy bills by a great deal.

Here are some ways for better energy management in the home:

Servicing and Maintenance

Many people fail to get their boiler and central heating system checked on a regular basis but this simple task is cost effective and can reduce the energy it uses. Poorly maintained boilers are prone to faults and will therefore require more energy to function effectively, this can increase energy bills.

Turn Off Power

When we switch off the television, games console and desktop computer by the on/off button most appliance just go on standby which means that they are actually still on and are using up energy. When you go to bed at night be sure to walk around the home and turn everything off by the wall plug socked. If you want to be really energy conscious you can even go that extra bit further and pull the plug from the socket.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

We should be taking every step possible in order to reduce waste; this in turn will reduce landfill which will have a benefit on the environment. You can reuse most of the waste produced by turning it into a compost mound. Almost everything from cardboard, vegetable peelings and egg shells can be added to a compost bin for rich compost that you can use all over the garden.

Recycling is one of the easiest steps that you can take for better energy management because almost all household waste can be recycled. Different waste bins can be brought from local authorities and will enable you to segregate the waste that you produce.

Turn to Renewable Energy

Installing solar panels in your home can be an expensive venture but what many people fail to realise is that in the long run you will actually be saving money because it will cut your energy bills by a considerable amount. You can also utilise the suns energy to light up garden lights and security lights.

Use an Energy Monitor

An energy monitor will allow you to understand how much energy you are utilising in your home and what appliances use a lot of energy. It has three colour indicators, green – low, amber – medium and red – high. As you turn on different appliances in your home you will see the colour change indicating that you are using more energy. This will allow you to become more conscious of the energy that you are using in your home and by reducing it you will cut energy bills.

For more ways in which you or your business can benefit from better energy management visit www.slrconsulting.com

Myth and Reality: Getting the Facts Straight About Solar Energy

There are a couple of ideas about solar energy that are not entirely accurate, and have a lot to do with the fact that we are still knee deep in conventional energy production via fossil fuels and natural gas.

The primary issue at hand is how we shift our minds away from what we have become accustomed to, and therefore start offering our support, even if just philosophical, to the alternative of solar energy.

Myth #1: Solar Energy is Too Expensive

This is a tough one to dismiss because we live in a world of short term economic plans. When we think about solar energy, and going green in general, we have to change the way we look at economics. Going solar is a long term plan, with long term savings. However, the actual installation of a solar energy system on your home or business can be a high initial investment.

The best way around this is by heavily researching the different installation companies out there, and aggressively price comparing. I would even go so far as to get a representative out to your property for an estimate, and then negotiate the price of the job to get it lower.

The other option you can take is to install the solar energy system yourself. This takes some skill and know-how, and you may even need to take some solar energy courses at the local college. At that point it is a matter of buying the solar panels that work for your home and your budget, and possibly enlisting some friends to assist you with the installation. While this might be cheaper out of pocket, it could end up being costly in terms of your time.

Keep in mind, though, that the savings in the long term are going to more than counter your initial cost of installation. The sun has a shelf life of billions of years, and therefore we can legitimately accept it as a truly sustainable energy source. This stands in stark contrast to the limited availability of fossil fuels and natural gas.

Myth #2: Solar Panels Look Ugly

Many homeowners are concerned that solar panels will lower the aesthetic value of their home, and therefore affect the price should they need to sell. The reality, though, is that solar panels on your home actually make the house look more modern and efficient, thereby increasing its value. Since the initial cost and long term savings are already covered by having them on your home, potential buyers will most likely find the property more desirable than others.

The author is a green enthusiast, and writes about solar power at Neat Solar Energy.

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What is Biomass Energy and How Does it Work?

Biomass energy is organic matter that can be burned or decomposed to be used a source of energy. In a way, biomass energy is a form of solar energy since it receives its original energy from the sun by photosynthesis. This solar energy is stored in plants and is available for conversion into usable forms of energy.

Biomass energy comes in many forms. These include burning wood, converting waste into energy, collecting methane for biogas, and using energy crops for biofuels.

When most people hear the term “renewable energy” they usually think of solar panels or wind turbines, but biomass actually accounts for most of our renewable energy consumption in the US. Most of this is through wood burning and biofuels such as biodiesel and ethanol.

Biomass energy is renewable because we have a boundless capacity to grow plants, and in turn we will always produce biomass waste with those plants.

Collectively, biomass energy lessens our dependency on foreign oil, strengthens our economy both locally and nationally, reduces harmful greenhouse emissions, and will hopefully contribute to the phasing out of fossil fuels altogether someday.

Let’s go over each of the biomass energy sources.




Wood Burning

wood-burningThe most obvious and common source of biomass energy is wood.  Since the advent of fire thousands of years ago we’ve been using wood to keep us warm, cook food, and more recently, produce electricity.

In fact, wood was the main source of energy across the planet until fossil fuels took over in the mid-1800s.

Today, we still use wood for heating and cooking (especially in developing countries), but most of it is for industrial purposes.

Wood can be burned for electricity production by using the heat to create steam for spinning turbines. Some manufacturing plants even burn their own wood waste (paper, wood scrap, wood chips, sawdust, and bark) to contribute to power needs.

 

Waste-to-Energy Plants

Waste-to-Energy PlantGarbage and waste from landfills can be used as an energy source. About half of the waste in our landfills contains organic biomass matter that can be converted to energy. This content is sometimes called biogenic matter. All biogenic matter contains potential energy.

Paper, grass clipping, cardboard, wood, and food scraps are all good examples of biomass energy sources.

We create an incredible amount of waste. In fact, it’s estimated that an average American produces about 5 pounds of waste every single day. This all adds up quickly in our landfills if the waste isn’t properly managed.

There are a few things we can do with this waste. One option is to just simply burn it in solid waste incinerators and be left with compacted ash which takes up less space.

Granted, this is in indeed an effective means of reducing the quantity of waste, but what about all the organic matter that contains usable energy?

A better alternative is to put the waste to good use in a Waste-to-Energy Plant. These plants can make use of heat energy by burning waste to produce steam which spins turbines to generate electricity.

Currently, waste-to-energy plants provide about 15 million kilowatt-hours. This is enough electricity to power around 1.5 million homes.

Not only can we reduce waste in our landfills, but we can also use it for our own energy needs.

Waste-to-Energy plants still cost more than other standard electricity production methods, but as technology continues to improve this will not be as much of an issue. Also, one could argue the benefits of cleaning up our landfills makes it worthwhile, not to mention further reducing our need for fossil fuels.

 

Biogas Production

Biogas ProductionAnother source of energy that comes from landfills is biogas. Other sources of biogas include manure, sewage waste, industrial waste, and agricultural waste.

Biogas comes from microorganisms that digest (break down) organic waste which becomes a mixture of methane gas and carbon dioxide. This is called anaerobic digestion.

On farms and sewage treatment plants, manure and human waste is a good source of biogas. An anaerobic methane digester traps large amounts of waste with limited oxygen and high temperature to induce bacteria into breaking it down – or digesting it. Obviously, the inherent odor can become an issue if the digester is too close to a residential community.

Biogas contains a much lower percentage of methane than standard natural gas. To reach standards necessary for practical use, biogas has to be “upgraded”.

Depending on the use, methane levels are increased and carbon dioxide levels are decreased before it can be used. Certain things, like boilers, don’t require high quality biogas. On the other hand, when used as a fuel source biogas quality must reach a much higher standard.

Essentially, it is a renewable natural gas which can be substituted for the more common natural gas found deep within the earth. It can be used for any purpose that already uses natural gas such as heating, cooking, lighting, steam production, electrical production, and can even be used as an alternative fuel in natural gas vehicles.

 

Biofuel Production

Biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel can be used as clean fuel sources for vehicles of every sort.

They are usually blended with standard fuels as “green” supplement, but they can also be used on their own in specialized vehicles.

Biodiesel FuelBiodiesel Fuel

Biodiesel is made from organic materials such as animal fat, recycled grease, and vegetable oil. It’s renewable, nontoxic, biodegradable, clean, and safe.

Biodiesel is made by separating biomass into fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) and glycerin. The methyl esters are what make up the biodiesel. The glycerin is a byproduct that can be used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, soaps, and food additives.

Most of the biodiesel production source comes from businesses that already use animal fats or vegetable oils in their product.

An appealing aspect of biodiesel is that it’s compatible with most diesel engines. It can be blended with regular diesel in any amounts with no modifications needed to the engine.

Specific labels are used to indicate the ratio of biodiesel used. For example, B20 contains 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel. B100 contains 100% biodiesel.

B100 can be used with some newer engines (1994 and newer) although there are some drawbacks. The higher the amount of biodiesel, the more likely it is to freeze in colder temperatures since it has a higher freezing point than petroleum. The freezing point depends on the source product used.  For example, canola oil has a much lower freezing point than tallow (animal oil).

Nitrogen oxide emissions are higher in biodiesel, but many more harmful emissions are avoided. It can be harder on rubber engine components, and you can expect gas mileage to be about 8% lower. Only engines that use the highest quality biodiesel and are specifically equipped to handle these limitations should use B100.

B20 is the by far the most popular biodiesel mixture and can overcome most of the limitations of the B100. It can withstand cold weather, and is much easier on certain engine components.

Obviously, the higher the blend, the better it will be for the environment and public health. It’s also less combustible and safer if there is ever any kind of spill.

Ethanol Fuel

Ethanol FuelEthanol, also known as grain alcohol, is a liquid fuel made from energy crops such as corn and sugarcane. When these crops undergo yeast fermentation they release ethanol. It can then be used as a transportation fuel source for automobiles.

The very first automobiles ran on ethanol. In fact, Henry Ford even claimed it to be “the fuel of the future”. Eventually gasoline took over the market because of its superior fuel efficiency (ethanol is 34% less energy efficient than gasoline) and cheap production costs.

Most of the cars in the US are capable of running on a blend of ethanol, usually up to 10%. More than half of all gas stations now add ethanol. In some states, it’s even required by law to have ethanol added to gasoline. Recently, more flex-fuel cars are coming into the market. Flex-fuel cars are capable of running on E85 fuel (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline), gasoline by itself, or a combination of the two.

The most common crop used for ethanol production in the US is corn. In Brazil (the second largest ethanol producer), sugarcane is the crop of choice.

It doesn’t necessarily matter what the source crop is, the ethanol will always be the same and of the same quality. The main factors in determining which crop to use are availability and cost. Certain crops grow more readily in different parts of the world.

Much research is going into finding alternative sources of ethanol and ways to grow these crops faster and cheaper. The quality of the crops isn’t as much of a concern since they aren’t used for food.

Other ethanol crops include potatoes, sorghum, sawgrass, and barley. Also, certain cellulosic feedstock like wood, grass, newspaper, crop residues, and nonedible portions of plants can be used. These cellulosic crops are more difficult to produce ethanol from since they must first break down into simple sugars before they can be fermented.

There are many benefits of using ethanol fuel. It reduces our dependence on foreign oil (ethanol is produced domestically) and reduces harmful greenhouse gas emissions. It strengthens the agricultural industry, and creates renewable energy jobs.

Ethanol is biodegradable, so if there’s ever a large spill it will pose little threat to the environment or public health. Also, the price of ethanol is always decreasing because of technological improvements in production and greater consumer demand for cleaner fuels.

Biomass EnergyEthanol has the same chemical makeup as the alcohol that we drink, but don’t expect to get much performance from your six pack of bud light. Ethanol is a different type of alcohol with a much higher level of purity.

 

Environmental Impact of Biomass Energy

Environmental Impact of Biomass EnergyWhen biomass is burned, it releases the same amount of carbon dioxide as fossil fuels. So why is biomass considered to be a clean energy? It’s because of a natural process called the carbon cycle.

The carbon dioxide emissions from biomass can be offset whenever new plants are grown. Through photosynthesis, plants absorb roughly the same amount of CO2 as is given off through the burning of them. This results in a healthy and natural balance in CO2 levels in which net carbon emissions remain stable.

Technically, fossil fuels are derived from ancient organic biomass material, but they do not play a role in the carbon cycle. When fossil fuels are burned, nothing new is planted to make up for the carbon output. It’s because of this that they contribute to air pollution and global warming.

Biomass power plants produce much less harmful emissions than fossil fueled power plants. For example, coal gives off sulfur (the prime cause of acid rain and smog) and mercury (a harmful neurotoxin). They also produce much less NOx emissions (nitrogen oxide) which also contributes to poor air quality.

It’s important that energy crops are replanted and grown at the same rate as they are harvested for energy production. Not only is this important to preserve the balance of the carbon cycle, it also prevents crop and soil depletion for future sustainability.

Another concern is the displacement of trees, grasslands, forests, and savannas to make room for biomass crops. The destruction of these lands can lead to a chain reaction which impacts food production on many levels. Beneficial biomass resources will provide the needed crops for energy production without negatively impacting the environment or food sources. A delicate balance must be reached through careful analysis before any major biomass energy operation breaks ground.

 

What is Geothermal Energy and How Does it Work?

Geothermal energy is heat originating deep within the earth. It’s considered a form of renewable energy because the supply is virtually limitless. It’s sustainable, clean, environmentally friendly, and easy to harness.

There are two primary areas in which we can take advantage of geothermal energy.

1) Heating and cooling. Using the stable temperatures directly beneath the surface to heat in the winter or cool in the summer. This is the simplest, most used, and most readily available form of geothermal energy.

2) Producing electricity. Drilling deep into the Earth to bring extremely hot hydro-fluids to the surface and harnessed by turbines. Only large power plants with specialized equipment and an ideal location can effectively tap into this power source.

** Technically, the underground heat source is the sun, so in a roundabout way it’s actually solar energy. This differs from geothermal power production since the sun doesn’t have any effect two miles below the surface.




Geothermal Heat Pump

Natural Heating and Cooling

Geothermal Heat PumpGeothermal heating and cooling, or geo-exchange, is available to most people around the world regardless of location or climate. It’s a simple, cheap, and efficient method to heat and cool homes and commercial buildings.

Geo-exchange relies on the stable temperatures anywhere from about 6 feet to 20 feet underground. Temperatures underground always remains constant no matter how hot or cold it is at the surface. Depending on where you live, the temperature will usually be around 40-70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Relatively speaking, when it’s cold outside, the temperature underground will be warmer. When it’s hot outside, the temperature underground will be cooler.

So how can we use these constant underground temperatures to heat and cool our homes?

A geothermal heat pump (also known as a ground source heat pump) transfers temperatures to or from the ground to reach the desired climate.

Geothermal Power Production

Geothermal Power Plant - Geothermal EnergyA geothermal power plant can produce a steady supply of power with very little maintenance. Once setup, it is mostly self-sufficient.

Further, they leave little impact on the environmental, don’t require raw fuel, and have zero transportation costs.

Geothermal power plants harness the extreme heat from below the Earth’s surface. This heat comes from liquid heated by magma deep within the Earth. We reach this liquid by drilling deep into the earth (1 or 2 miles) and letting the natural pressure push it up to the surface.

The hydrothermal liquid needs to reach at least 300° F to produce enough steam for the turbine. The deeper the well, the hotter the temperature.

When the liquid reaches the surface as steam, it feeds into a turbine generator for electricity generation. Any remaining hot water is “flashed” (reducing pressure and forcing evaporation) to get more steam to feed into the turbine. This process fully utilizes all of the available geothermal resources.

A geothermal power plant can be an effective means of producing electricity under the right circumstances, but they can also have some critical drawbacks.

They must be located in strategic areas that allow for easy access to geothermal reservoirs. On top of that, there’s always the possibility of the well drying up. The tectonic plates can shift at any time and render a plant useless.

Also, the operation must be of considerable size to make it economical. Because of these factors, the number of suitable sites is limited. Even so, there is still plenty of room for growth in geothermal electricity production systems.

The United States is currently the largest producer of geothermal energy in the world, although it only accounts for about .4% of our total power production.

According to a recent geothermal resource assessment from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “nine western states together have the potential to provide over 20 percent of national electricity needs.”

Unfortunately, costs are still too high for geothermal energy businesses to compete with fossil fuels and other renewable energy alternatives for the time being.

2

What is Hydropower and How Does it Work?

Hydropower is the production of electricity from the kinetic energy of moving water such as rivers, streams, or oceans. The earth’s water cycle virtually provides us with an endless supply of water. This makes it an ideal source of renewable energy.

There are many ways to obtain power from water. The most common methods include large hydroelectric dams, pumped storage facilities, small scale hydro for homes & small communities, and also ocean power technologies to harness tidal and wave power.

Today, hydro power accounts for about 8% of the total power production in the United States, and about 40% of total renewable power production. That number has been declining in recent years since most of the best sites for hydropower plants have already been developed. However, there are still many possibilities for small scale hydropower projects as well as the emerging ocean power industry.




 

History

Water has been used as a means of harnessing energy for centuries. Waterwheels were used by the Greeks thousands of years ago to catch falling water and make a large wheel spin, which could then be used for processing grains, pumping water, etc. In the early 1800s factories began using the waterwheel as a means of powering machinery.

It wasn’t until the late 1800s, the Renaissance era of electricity, that methods for using the power of water to create electricity started being developed. In 1880, a chair factory in Michigan successfully developed a water turbine generator to power electric lamps. Shortly afterwards, the very first hydroelectric power plant was developed at Niagara Falls.

At first, hydroelectric power plants could only be used and distributed near water sources. It wasn’t until long-distance electricity transmission was invented that hydro power became a more widely available energy source.

Since these discoveries, the United States has been a leading pioneer in the hydropower industry. Large-scale hydroelectric projects such as the Hoover dam have been developed since the 1930s all the way up until the 1980s.

How Hydropower Works

Using moving water to produce power

There are many ways to harness the power of moving water, but regardless of which method is being used, most hydropower is generated by using this general process:

 

1. Water is directed into a water turbine.

2. The force of the water makes the turbine spin.

3. The turbine is connected to a generator.

4. The generator produces electricity.

 

Hydropower is considered a renewable energy source because it’s supply is constantly recycled and replenished through a process called the water cycle.

Here is an overview of how the water cycle works

1. Solar energy heats up the oceans water surface.

2. The water evaporates and rises into the air.

3. The vapor condenses into clouds and turns into rain.

4. Rain falls back to the surface.

5. Surface runoff makes its way into rivers and streams.

6. Rivers flow back into the ocean due to the force of gravity.

7. The cycle starts all over again.

 

River Hydropower Systems

Power generation systems used on rivers include hydroelectric dams (impoundment systems), pumped storage systems, and run-of-the-river systems.

Hydroelectric Dam

This is the most common type of hydropower system, which accounts for the majority of all renewable energy production in the US. Some examples of these are the Hoover Dam and the Grand Coulee Dam.

There are about 80,000 dams throughout the US, but only 2,000 of them have hydropower power plants capable of producing electricity. Most of them were built for irrigation and flood control purposes, but The U.S. Department of Energy currently has plans to implement hydropower into many of them and increase total power output by around 10%.

A hydroelectric dam is essentially a mechanical gateway that can control how often, how much, and how fast the water is allowed to passed through.

Water above the dam is collected and stored into a reservoir. When power is needed, fast moving water is released through a spillway gate, flows through an enclosed pipe called a penstock, and then passed into a water turbine & generator.

The amount of power that can be produced is dependent on how much head (height that the water falls from) and flow rate (how much water there is). Put simply, the higher the dam is and the larger the body of water, the more power you can generate.

Advantages

There are many advantages of using a hydroelectric dam. It can be used as an effective way to control floods and store water for communities. It’s also very cheap and the power output is flexible depending on how much power is needed.

There are also many recreational uses for the reservoir that a dam creates. This artificial lake provides opportunities for boating, camping, water sports, fishing, camping, hiking, etc.

Disadvantages

There are also some disadvantages. A dam can wreak havoc on a rivers natural ecosystem. Submerged land can displace many animals in the area (and humans) and can negatively affect their food & water supplies. It can also affect migrating fish, such as salmon, by halting their ability to swim upstream and reach their spawning grounds to reproduce.

Various types of fish ladders (aka fishway, fish pass, fish elevator) have been developed on some dams to help fish bypass the dam, with varying degrees of success and failure.

 

Pumped Storage Hydroelectricity

This system is similar to the hydroelectric dam, but with an extra water recycling element. A lower reservoir pumps water into an upper reservoir, which then releases the water through a turbine back into the lower reservoir so electricity can be generated.

Making this kind of system cost effective is a time-dependent operation. Water is pumped to the upper reservoir during off-peak hours when it is cheapest to run, then released into the turbines during peak hours to produce power that can be sold at higher prices.

New technologies are currently being developed which incorporate solar energy and wind energy to run power to the water pump, making it an even more cost effective operation.

Run-of-the-river Hydroelectricity

This type of hydropower uses a much smaller, less intrusive dam, and relies more upon the river’s natural flow to capture kinetic energy. A run-of-the-river system is considered much better for the environment since it does not require a land submerging reservoir.

Although this type of system is much better for the environment, it hasn’t proven to be very efficient in producing electricity. This is mainly due to the lack of water pressure and limited ability to store water, although some projects have incorporated small storage “pondage” stations to divert the water flow and store it for later use when demand is high.

The exception to this is when a run of the river system is built next to a natural waterfall, such as Niagara Falls. In this case, the potential power generation can be huge. Niagara Falls, by itself, is the largest producer of electricity in the state of New York.

Small-Scale Hydropower

Small-scale Hydro projects are usually used for a single home, community, or industrial plant. The power capacity is generally less than 30 megawatts (compare that to the Hoover dam, which has a capacity of 2,074 megawatts). This is pretty similar to the output expectations of solar and wind power systems, although overall the cost is much cheaper per kilowatt hour.

If you are lucky enough to live next to a flowing body of water, you can even set up your own micro hydro system to power your house. Setting it up can be tricky and maybe even costly, but once it’s installed, it can provide a constant supply of power for a very long time with very little maintenance required.

 

Ocean Power Technologies

About 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by oceans. They contain an enormous amount of energy. If you’ve ever tried to swim in the ocean when the waves are large and strong, you’ll understand just how powerful a force it can be.

Ocean power is considered to be a renewable energy source since it’s dependent on the Earth’s relationship to the moon, and will always provide energy (so long as the moon continues to grace us with its presence).

So how can we take advantage of this vast potential of untapped energy?

Ocean energy technology has come up against a few roadblocks in the past, and is still not very widely implemented. Currently, a lot of money is being spent on research and development. There are many experimental projects, but not many workable solutions yet. That being said, the technology is still in its infancy and is steadily improving.

The three primary categories of Ocean power technologies are tidal power systems, wave power systems, and ocean thermal energy conversion.

Tidal Power

The most common application uses a tidal barrage system to take advantage of the oceans natural tidal forces. The water level naturally rises and falls twice per day with the tide. Water is captured when the tide comes in, and fed through the turbine when the tide goes back out.

It’s very similar to a pumped storage dam (see above) but without the need for a pump. It’s a very predictable source of energy, more so than wind and solar energy.

Wave Power

Although not as consistent as tidal power, there is an enormous amount of energy available from the ocean’s waves.

The most promising method of generating power from waves is with oscillating water columns. These systems harness the force and motion of waves to create air pressure from trapped air. This compressed air is used to spin a turbine to produce electricity.

Other methods use floating mechanisms or tethered underwater tubes to pump turbines with the rising and falling of the waves.

Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC)

This process takes the differences in temperature between deep cool water and shallow warm water to operate a heat engine that generates electricity. The temperature difference generally needs to be at least 20°C (36°F) to be effective.

The warm water is boiled to create steam vapor which then expands and spins a turbine. Cold water is then used to condense the vapor back into a liquid to be reused again.

It is still in the experimental stages, but many experts are claiming that it can someday become competitive with standard available power sources.

Currently, ocean power plays a pretty small role in the world of renewable energies, but as research and development continues, it will become much more important for providing us with much needed clean energy in the future.

 

The Future of Hydroelectric Power

Although hydropower currently holds the most production out of all of the renewable energy sources, water power programs have been steadily declining throughout the years.

There are several reasons for this:

  • Increased concern about the environmental impact of dams.
  • Lack of new sites to build hydropower plants.
  • More promising and sustainable renewable options like solar & wind power.

With the exception of ocean power and small scale hydropower, you can probably expect to see hydropower production continue to decline and eventually be surpassed by other forms of renewable energy.