Friday, June 19, 2015

Maryland's energy mix

We mentioned briefly in class what energy predominates in our region, but here it is, straight from Baltimore Gas & Electric:

Interesting that all of the pollutants are "100%" of the regional average: no more, no less. I wanted a little more information there, so I clicked over to the EPA's database, summarized here. Unfortunately the information there is from 2010, meaning that the mix at that time was probably more coal and less natural gas, but compared to that these numbers are actually pretty good. 

The above table says that in our area, we produce 0.90 lbs of NOx per megawatt-hour generated, and the US average in 2010 was 1.12, so that's good. (The regional average at that time, which I think is labeled SRVC on the chart, was 0.8, though.) SO2 in 2014 was 2.23, and in 2010 the US average was 2.64, so again, better than average. (Again, though, the SRVC average was 2.04, so we're worse by comparison with that.) The US average for CO2 was 1232 compared to this 1108, so again we're better than the 2010 national average.

In the short term, more natural gas is going to make this look better; in the long run, of course, renewables are the way to go. I need to learn more about some of those listed here, particularly Black Liquor. No idea what that is- anyone volunteers to investigate? Could be a worthy way to spend a hot afternoon! :)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Fracking ok?

The EPA has found that fracking doesn't pose a consistent threat to groundwater or to drinking water supplies. If it's not done well, flaws in the setup can definitely lead to problems, but if the hole is built properly and if produced water is treated safely, it should not pose a threat.

Sure, there is risk, as with most other sources of energy, but if we accept the risk then we have access to a lot of cheap power that is less carbon-intensive than coal. Another analysis of the report, on, notes that both pro- and anti-fracking camps have found information in the report that they can use.

On the other hand, one of the few sources of energy with even less risk recently got a big boost in Africa. Music icon Akon is promoting solar energy with significant financial backing, and he hopes to reach hundreds of millions of people. That would sure be great! We'll see how it goes....

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Cost and politics of changing power sources

I hadn't heard much about Germany's plan to go non-nuclear, so I'm thankful from this update by Max Auffhammer, a professor in my old department. The last I'd heard was that it was getting really expensive to get energy from other sources, and that's surely still the case. However, it has not dissuaded the rich Germans from staying the course, and in fact they have now set themselves the goal of divesting themselves from coal as well, which in my estimation is a more laudable goal. Their heavy investments in solar photovoltaics and other renewable sources have improved technology and driven prices down, though they are still not cheap.

Still, renewables were an impressive 23% of the German power supply in 2013 vs a little less than 10% in the US. Also, "renewables" includes everything from hydropower to biofuels: if we zero in on solar, for instance, we see that solar photovoltaics represent 4.5% of total German consumption, while they are 0.1% of total US consumption. Ironically, this is not because Germany is more suitable for solar power: the opposite is true. Source

Not just a tip of the cap, but a deep bow to Germany for taking on the expense of making this transition. The world will be better for it!