New world record a tall order

How tall things are is a big deal to toddlers.

My daughters ask almost every day if we can put a new marker on our door-jam height ruler. When we play blocks, the towers ...

Tagged: wind turbines, germany, tall turbines

Expand Article

New world record a tall order

Cute toddler builds tall tower of blocks

In addition to some pretty great bragging rights (our tower is taller than yours!), the tall towers have energy benefits. The wind is generally stronger and more consistent higher in the sky. That means a tall tower can produce more energy than its shorter counterparts.

Key Points

  • Germany built the world’s tallest wind turbine.
  • The tall towers take advantage of stronger, more-consistent wind higher in the sky.
  • The towers also have water reservoirs to store electricity. 

How tall things are is a big deal to toddlers.

My daughters ask almost every day if we can put a new marker on our door-jam height ruler. When we play blocks, the towers are built to be beautiful, and, of course, tallest in the whole kingdom. And I’m frequently asked if someday “I’ll be taller than you.”

It seems even engineering professionals are in on the height intrigue.

A team in Germany recently built the world’s largest wind turbines. I’m sure my little ones would approve of its impressive 809-foot height from base to tip of the blade.

In addition to some pretty great bragging rights (our tower is taller than yours!), the tall towers have energy benefits. The wind is generally stronger and more consistent higher in the sky. That means a tall tower can produce more energy than its shorter counterparts.

The new towers are more than tall and beautiful. They’re smart too.

They’re part of a pilot project that aims to solve wind’s reliability challenge.

Since we need energy even when the wind isn’t blowing, wind farms usually require some sort of back-up power. And building extra power plants just to kick in when the wind dies down makes wind less affordable.

The technology in these towers could help solve that.

They have water tanks built into them. When the turbines are making more power than people need, some of that energy is used to pump water from a reservoir up into the tanks. Then, when the wind isn’t blowing, or there’s a larger than normal demand for energy, the water can be released back down into the reservoir. As the water pours downhill, it goes through its own turbine that spins and makes electricity.

Whether building with blocks in your living room — or state-of-the art wind turbines in Germany — it seems taller really is better.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

Did you like this article? Here are some other articles that include: wind turbines, germany, tall turbines

Time change got you down? This will perk you up. … Maybe.

This weekend marked the end of Daylight Saving Time. We now enter that period of the year when it gets dark at 4 p.m., and we start popping extra vitamin D.

Let’s be ...

Tagged: Daylight Saving Time, energy savings

Expand Article

Time change got you down? This will perk you up. … Maybe.

Small chalkboard says

Let’s be honest: This transition can kind of be a bummer. Bed times are thrown off for your kids, and your only chance of seeing the light of day is if you sneak outside over your lunch break.

Key Points

  • Most states recognized the end of Daylight Saving Time this weekend.
  • It’s the start of the dark season, but there is a bright side — like cozy evenings by the fire.
  • Time changes have a long history, and the jury is still out about if they save energy. 

This weekend marked the end of Daylight Saving Time. We now enter that period of the year when it gets dark at 4 p.m., and we start popping extra vitamin D.

Let’s be honest: This transition can kind of be a bummer. Bed times are thrown off for your kids, and your only chance of seeing the light of day is if you sneak outside over your lunch break.

But there’s a silver lining to the dreary early afternoon dusk. Here are a few things to help you out of your time-change funk:

  1. Mornings are brighter. It won’t be quite so dark when you get up, and at 6:30 it will feel like 7:30. Win!
  2. It’s easier to put the kids to bed. In the summer, it’s really hard to argue with a 5-year-old who won’t go to sleep because the sun is still brightly shining at 8 p.m. Not the case anymore. When it’s dark at 4 p.m., you can easily trick your kids into going to bed at 7 p.m. because it’s “soooooo late.”
  3. Dark evenings are cozy. Light a fire (after making sure you fireplace is running efficiently and safely, of course), make some hot tea and get out the board games. It can be nice to snuggle in on a long, cold evening.
  4. It saves energy. This whole spring forward/fall back thing helps us all use less electricity. Maybe. I’m pretty sure. Or maybe not. Here’s the history on that:
  • 1784 — Ben Franklin writes an essay that suggests adjusting the clocks in the spring could be a good way to save on candles.
  • 1895 — George Vernon Hudson unsuccessfully proposes an annual two-hour time shift to the Royal Society of New Zealand. His goal was to match daylight hours to the times when most people are awake, helping conserve energy.
  • 1905 — A British construction magnate named William Willett tries to convince the United Kingdom Parliament that citizens should adjust their clocks each spring and fall to allow more time for recreation in daylight hours. It, too, fails to get any traction.
  • 1916 — Germany and Austria implement a one-hour clock shift to help conserve electricity needed for the war effort.
  • 1918 — United States first observes Daylight Saving Time, also as a wartime effort to conserve electricity.
  • 1919 — United States repeals Daylight Saving Time as wartime efforts end.
  • 1942 — United States reinstitutes Daylight Saving Time during World War II. This time, several states decide to keep the adjusted hours after the war.
  • 1966 — Congress passes the Uniform Time Act, standardizing the time change as starting in April and ending in October.
  • 2005 — The Energy Policy Act of 2005 extends DST by two months. It now starts each year in March and ends in November.

Some studies have shown that there really isn’t any energy savings associated with DST. In fact, this report by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that in some regions, the extra hour of light in the evening can actually lead to increased electric consumption.

In 2008, the Department of Energy analyzed the theory that DST could save energy and concluded that it could save some electricity but might indirectly add to people’s overall energy consumption.

Overall, it looks like the jury is still out about DST’s energy savings.

Either way, it will help if we all focus on the bright side, even if it’s really, really dark out. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

Did you like this article? Here are some other articles that include: Daylight Saving Time, energy savings

Energy Tip

FOLLOW US ON INSTAGRAM

We’re sharing even more energy tips @KeepingEnergyAffordable. Stay informed about the latest issues, learn about new advances in technology, and understand how we're keeping energy affordable, one photo at a time.

Bring on the burritos: Food trucks just got even better

There’s something about food trucks.

Maybe it’s that it gets you outside to enjoy a meal.

Or maybe it’s the novelty of hunting down your favorite meal on ...

Tagged: food trucks, Energy Efficiency, Green Energy

Expand Article

Bring on the burritos: Food trucks just got even better

Customers stand outside the windows of a food truck.

A group of students recently collaborated with a chef to come up with a better food truck design. They named it the Synergy Truck. And we’ll forgive them for the name in light of the innovative solutions they brought to the food truck scene.

Key Points

  • Food trucks are fun and yummy but not very energy efficient.
  • A group of students designed a better food truck.
  • The truck generates energy from customers’ footsteps, has solar panels and wind turbines, and even generates light from the power of gravity. 

There’s something about food trucks.

Maybe it’s that it gets you outside to enjoy a meal.

Or maybe it’s the novelty of hunting down your favorite meal on wheels’ current location.

Or maybe it’s the fact that for some reason, having fried cheese layered around your taco seems like a perfectly reasonable option when it’s prepared by a hipster with a van.

Whatever the reason, there’s something fun about heading out for a good food truck meal.

But food trucks have a downside. Sometimes it’s hard to hear the birds chirping over the humming of diesel generators lined up behind the trucks. Transportable restaurants aren’t designed to be energy efficient.

Until now.

A group of students recently collaborated with a chef to come up with a better food truck design. They named it the Synergy Truck.

And we’ll forgive them for the name in light of the innovative solutions they brought to the food truck scene.

Here are a few of the Synergy Truck’s features:

Pavegen

A walkway along the length of the truck window, generating potential energy from consumers’ footsteps as they order their food.

GravityLight

Two GravityLights hanging to generate light from the power of gravity.

Insolar

Two Insolar umbrellas around the truck fitted with solar technology to enable phones and other USB devices to be charged, as well as solar panels on the roof of the truck to help power the kitchen appliances.

Capture Mobility

A Capture Mobility turbine on top of the truck to generate power from wind energy to help power the kitchen appliances.

Bio-bean

A grill unit using bio-bean’s carbon neutral Coffee Log briquettes to cook the food and bio-bean capture unit indicating the potential energy of the coffee waste collected.

MotionECO

A MotionECO capture unit indicating the potential energy of the waste cooking oil collected.

Check out this video for more details.

So when you need a reason to eat more fried-cheese-wrapped tacos, just remind yourself: Eating from food trucks tastes good and saves energy.

Green (salsa) never tasted so good.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

Did you like this article? Here are some other articles that include: food trucks, Energy Efficiency, Green Energy

Is this the best trick-or-treating town ever?

Your kids are probably starting to plan their Halloween costumes.

My daughters have opted to be princesses (shocking, I know).

One princess will be prim and proper.

The ...

Tagged: halloween, master planned community, sustainable energy

Expand Article

Is this the best trick-or-treating town ever?

Illustration of a couple handing out candy during Halloween.

Babcock Ranch is a new, master-planned community with the goal to be the most sustainable town in the United States.

Key Points

  • The key to successful trick-or-treating is choosing a neighborhood with the best steps-to-treats ratio.
  • One new town in Florida is entirely walkable, making it a great place to max out treat potential.
  • The town aims to be the most sustainable town in the country by using solar and natural gas power and providing options for residents to walk or use autonomous solar-powered shuttles to get around. 

Your kids are probably starting to plan their Halloween costumes.

My daughters have opted to be princesses (shocking, I know).

One princess will be prim and proper.

The other will probably use her crown as a weapon.

Both will melt my heart.

Our neighborhood is pretty great for trick-or-treating, complete with an annual kids’ parade to kick off the sugar high.

But one town in Florida really takes the candy corn.

Babcock Ranch is a new, master-planned community with the goal to be the most sustainable town in the United States.

To achieve that, the town uses solar power when the sun is shining and energy provided by a Florida Power & Light natural gas-fired power plant at night. City developers say this combination of energy will make the town the greenest in the country.

Come Halloween, the ghosts, goblins and princesses who eventually live there will appreciate that the entire town is walkable. In fact, it’s designed with walkers in mind, making it the best place to really max out a neighborhood’s treat potential.

City planners hope that one day, residents in this community won’t even own cars.

To get around in daily life, residents can walk, use a solar-powered driverless electric car or hop on an autonomous shuttle — the first network of its kind in the country. Eventually, the town’s fleet of autonomous solar-powered vehicles will include pods for up to two people or larger buses, and they’ll all be accessible from an app.

The town also hopes to be a place where new energy solutions can be tried out, like innovative ways to store energy. City planners believe things tested there can one day be replicated in other communities nationwide.

According to Fast Company, residents will starting moving into their new homes in Babcock Ranch at the end of this year.

As for this Halloween, if you see a 3-year-old princess with a wild look in her eye and a sharp sparkly crown in her hand, run.

Trust me.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

Did you like this article? Here are some other articles that include: halloween, master planned community, sustainable energy

This frightening fall reading list is powerfully spooky

I’m part of a very serious book club.

We never get together to just sip wine and eat snacks. It could practically be credit for a grad school literature class.

OK, ...

Tagged: books, energy grid

Expand Article

This frightening fall reading list is powerfully spooky

Young woman looks scared as she reads a book.

All of these books and others are good reminders of just how important it is to keep our grid safe and make me thankful that our utilities take that responsibility seriously.

Key Points

  • Fall is a great time to get back into reading.
  • Some of Amazon’s top rated books are post-apocalyptic fiction that related to energy.
  • The thought of a countrywide power outage is scary, but thankfully, our utilities work hard to keep us safe. 

I’m part of a very serious book club.

We never get together to just sip wine and eat snacks. It could practically be credit for a grad school literature class.

OK, so maybe we exchange the occasional funny story and pop open a little bit of wine. …

Fine, truth police, you got me.

We only sit and chat, and I didn’t even read the last book but only because we chose the book on precisely the same day I discovered the show “This is Us” exists, and I only have 30 minutes tops for entertainment each night after I get the kids to bed, and I might have an actual addiction to that show, but give a girl a break! You don’t know my life!

Anyhoo, we’re currently deciding what book to take on next (which we will all read, cover to cover, promise).

Which made me think about some of the great power-related books out there.

No really.

Think about how a huge blackout can be the perfect backdrop to a post-apocalyptic fantasy. I’m not above reading a little teen fiction.

Here are a few books to check out the next time you curl up in a warm blanket with fuzzy socks and definitely do not even think about things like if Kate’s singing career will take off, when and how Jack is going to leave the scene, if Kevin is going to really end up with Isabelle, and how the heck Rebecca and Miguel ever became a thing.

  • “Outage” by Ellisa Barr — Chaos reigns after an electromagnetic pulse attack destroys the country’s power grid and sends the United States back to the Dark Ages. The official summary on Amazon questions if the story’s teen protagonist can ever survive without a cell phone. To which teens everywhere said, no, no she definitely cannot. Also, no heat or clean water might also be issues, but mainly, cell phones.
  • “Once upon an apocalypse by Jeff Motes — The United States is attacked with an electro-magnetic pulse weapon. In the twinkle of an eye, America is sent back deep into the 19th century. A single mom, bank vice-president and contractor journey home amid the chaos. Readers are advised to keep tissues close to hand.
  • “Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins – You can’t talk about post-apocalyptic fiction without mentioning “The Hunger Games.” In “Mockingjay,” Katniss and other district citizens begin to rebel against the capitol and President Snow. District 5 breaks a dam that provides hydroelectricity to the entire capitol, leaving the city without any power and highlighting the need for redundancy in our power grid.

All of these books and others are good reminders of just how important it is to keep our grid safe and make me thankful that our utilities take that responsibility seriously.

They have teams working to keep trees from taking down lines, engineers who make sure we have backup power when we need it, and computer whizzes fighting off cyber-attacks.

All of this takes investment, but I, for one, sleep a little better at night knowing that some of my utility bill goes towards these efforts each month.

Watching an episode of “This Is Us” right before nodding off helps too.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

Did you like this article? Here are some other articles that include: books, energy grid

Load More

These dog houses are more energy efficient than yours

Meet Miles.

His wardrobe is better than mine (I cannot pull off a monogramed scarf).

He owns a canine Fitbit ...

Tagged: miles, solar, dog houses

Expand Article

These dog houses are more energy efficient than yours

West Highland White The

Groups were challenged to create dog houses that fit the dog’s size, personality and individual preferences. They also include sustainable features like rainwater collection, solar-powered lights, reclaimed materials and passive cooling.

Key Points

  • Miles is cool.
  • Way cooler than any of us.
  • His dog house will likely soon feature solar-powered water pumps to keep his dish fresh. 

Meet Miles.

His wardrobe is better than mine (I cannot pull off a monogramed scarf).

He owns a canine Fitbit and a doggy cooling mat for those hot summer days.

And now, thanks to a challenge from the U.S. Department of Energy, his house will soon likely be nicer — and more energy efficient — than mine.

You win, Miles. You win.

Miles, a 25-pound West Highland White Terrier, is going to flip when he sees the dog houses Denver-area architectural and engineering firms put together for the BARKitecture competition.

Groups were challenged to create dog houses that fit the dog’s size, personality and individual preferences. They also include sustainable features like rainwater collection, solar-powered lights, reclaimed materials and passive cooling. (One house has a solar chimney and underfloor heating system. Another has a solar-powered pump to circulate water to a drinking bowl.)

I can only assume that Miles prefers slightly chilled sparkling Perrier, but if he has to settle for flat water, he would want it fresh and circulated in on the hour.

Check out this slide show to see more canine creations.

These dog houses were inspired by the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon where college teams build energy efficient, solar-powered houses (for people, not dogs). The competition is taking place in Denver through Oct. 15 and is open to the public.

Miles will probably be escorted to Denver in his luxury dog car seat (yep, those exist too), wearing doggie sunglasses, and sipping a canine scotch on the rocks.

Because he’s Miles, and that’s how he rolls (and I’m a little jealous).


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

Did you like this article? Here are some other articles that include: miles, solar, dog houses

Your CrossFit friends will freak about what’s growing under solar panels

How can you tell if someone does CrossfFit?

Don’t worry; it will come up in nearly every conversation.

“Ready for the meeting?

“Yes, but I can ...

Tagged: crossfit, solar

Expand Article

Your CrossFit friends will freak about what’s growing under solar panels

Woman appears exhausted after CrossFit workout

Farmers are figuring out ways to grow crops under solar panels. And it just so happens that the produce that can thrive in the shaded area under the panels include CrossFitter favorites like mushrooms, broccoli, Swiss chard and potatoes.

Key Points

  • Solar panels are big and cover a lot of land.
  • Farmers are figuring out a way to use the land under solar panels.
  • Crops like mushrooms, potatoes and kale don’t need a lot of light and can grow under the panels.

How can you tell if someone does CrossfFit?

Don’t worry; it will come up in nearly every conversation.

“Ready for the meeting?

“Yes, but I can barely get out of my chair because my CrossFit WOD this morning was bananas.”

Or

“Want to go grab lunch?”

“Yes, but only if they have hamburgers with mushrooms for buns and organic kale salad. My friends and I at CrossFit — you know, the best and only workout anyone should do — only eat foods that our primal ancestors ate, and I can’t believe you’d even think of wrecking your digestive system with bread, and also I can do 55 pull ups in case you wanted to know, which of course you did because CrossFit is amazing. Did I mention that I love CrossFit?

You get the idea.

So just imagine how excited they’ll be when they hear about this.

Farmers are figuring out ways to grow crops under solar panels. And it just so happens that the produce that can thrive in the shaded area under the panels include CrossFitter favorites like mushrooms, broccoli, Swiss chard and potatoes.

Solar panels cover lots of ground. Using all that space under the panels could let farmers add panels to their farmland and make some extra cash by also selling electricity.

Some farmers in Japan are trying it out with mushrooms, and a farm in the U.S. is giving potatoes a try. The solar farm/veggie farm combo is being called “solar sharing.”

Now if they could just figure out a way to add some space for weights so you could also complete a CF WOD Rx’d for time and set a new PR, we could take solar sharing to a whole new level. We’ll call it CrossFit-solar-shrooming.

Don’t worry: Your CrossFit friends will let you know when one comes to a city near you. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

Did you like this article? Here are some other articles that include: crossfit, solar

No tricks: M&M’s a renewable energy treat

Last year, I had a major Halloween fail. “Those kids don’t need any more candy,” I said. “These festive pumpkin-shaped pretzels will be just as fun! The kids will love them!” ...

Tagged: mars, candy, wind energy

Expand Article

No tricks: M&M’s a renewable energy treat

Ghost made of chocolate-covered candies looks surprised

The best part is that Mars has been able to make progress on its renewable energy goals while keeping its energy affordable.

Key Points

  • Mars, Inc. is making a big commitment to renewable energy.
  • The company aims to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.
  • It already sources enough wind power to make all the M&M’s sold worldwide. 

Last year, I had a major Halloween fail. “Those kids don’t need any more candy,” I said. “These festive pumpkin-shaped pretzels will be just as fun! The kids will love them!” I said.

I. Was. Wrong.

As I passed a few out, I overheard a dad complaining about that “lame house” handing out pretzels.

So, I did what any good mom would do: I took my kids out trick or treating and left my husband to bear the backlash at home.

But this year will be different.

This year, I will pass out M&M’s.

Why?

Because Mars, Inc. sources enough wind power to make all the M&M’s sold worldwide.

Mars, Inc. just launched its Fans of Wind energy campaign with a goal to educate people about the value of renewable energy. The company already owns two wind farms and is committed to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.

The best part is that Mars has been able to make progress on its renewable energy goals while keeping its energy affordable.

Barry Parkin, Mars’ chief sustainability officer, said that the company is “doing this at cost parity or better than fossil fuel. … Any company can switch to renewables without penalty if you do it in a smart way.”

Making the switch to wind isn’t an easy one, even if it only takes a wind turbine spinning for one second to produce enough energy to manufacture eight packs of M&M’s (or so Fast Company says).

Wind has its challenges, like needing back up when wind conditions aren’t right for making energy. But the fact that Mars is figuring out ways to make it work in an affordable way is encouraging.

The campaign includes six ways for people like you and me to get involved:

1.Get informed. Learn about wind energy facts, trends and statistics. Check out the American Wind Energy Association for fact on wind power, costs and national and subnational analysis.

2.Find your footprint. Aspects of our everyday lives determine the amount of carbon dioxide emissions we are responsible for — our carbon footprint. There are several calculators available to help you find yours, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Carbon Calculator.

3.Be a smart energy user. Get tips for reducing your energy use and increasing energy efficiency, which helps the planet and your pocket by lowering your electricity bill. Check out the Department of Energy’s Energy Saver pageEPA Energy and Environment page and Energy Star program for starters.

4.Know your energy mix. Find out the power mix of your existing energy utility and the emissions produced by those sources with the EPA’s power profile report.

5.Buy green power. You can change your carbon footprint and support clean energy by purchasing electricity from renewable sources. There are many options — including installing solar panels, choosing renewable energy options from your energy service provider, purchasing renewable energy credits, or crowdfunding new, clean energy sources. You can start by calling your utility company or using the Green-e database to identify your clean energy options by ZIP code.

6.Get engaged. Learn about renewable energy standards in your state, and discuss your support with your local officials. You can volunteer with or donate to civil society organizations that support clean energy and climate action and support local community renewable projects in developing countries.

And here’s a bonus way: Pass on the pretzels and opt for the chocolate this Halloween. Believe me on this one. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

Did you like this article? Here are some other articles that include: mars, candy, wind energy

Robots could grow your future fuel

If researchers in California are right, in a few years, robotic submarines might be growing a green slime that is then processed into fuel.

No, this is not the storyline ...

Tagged: biofuel, kelp, alternative energy

Expand Article

Robots could grow your future fuel

Cartoon robot in flotation rings

Researchers believe that kelp could be an economic answer to biofuel. It doesn’t have some of the same challenges that corn has to make ethanol.

Key Points

  • Kelp could be a significant energy source in the future.
  • Researchers are working on a way to make more seaweed.
  • This seaweed would be made into a biocrude and used as gasoline or jet fuel. 

If researchers in California are right, in a few years, robotic submarines might be growing a green slime that is then processed into fuel.

No, this is not the storyline for an Amazon aliens-take-over-the-world-pilot episode.

Founders of Marine BioEnergy are starting a two-year study that tests a new way to grow kelp that could then be turned into biofuel.

The seaweed usually only grows along the coast. But for it to be a real player in bioenergy, we’d need a lot more of it.

The challenge is getting the weed the right combination of sunlight and nutrients it needs to thrive.

The sunlight is available in shallow water, and the nutrients are on the sea floor. To get seaweed to grow farther out in the ocean where there’s room to farm it in mass, a solution was needed to get it all the perks of the coastline out in the deep blue.

That’s where Marine BioEnergy comes in.

The startup is using robotic submarines to move a long line of seaweed up and down. Think of it like when your kids push every button on the elevator and just ride up and down without getting off. If kelp were a kid, it would be having the time of its life. This movement lets the weed get the best of both worlds.

But why the push to even make kelp an energy player?

Researchers believe that kelp could be an economic answer to biofuel. It doesn’t have some of the same challenges that corn has to make ethanol. Corn has lots of lignin or cellulose. This means it takes more steps to process it into a usable fuel. Kelp doesn’t have nearly as much lignin or cellulose, so once you have it, it would be easier — and cheaper — to turn into fuel.

The company is working with one of the Department of Energy’s national labs to figure out the most cost-effective way to make the kelp into a fuel.

Now, we just need to see if the weeds can grow.

And maybe grow so much that they take over the world and cover the entire earth in green slime.

I think I’ll pitch it to Amazon.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

Did you like this article? Here are some other articles that include: biofuel, kelp, alternative energy

Energy Tip

KEEP THE AIR CIRCULATING.

Install an attic ventilator. An attic ventilating system draws cool air up through the house and may provide as much comfort as an air conditioner at a much lower cost. Use the system to "pump in" cool air during summer evenings.

Did our electric grid earn a passing grade?

School is back in session, and no one is safe from the grading scale.

Not even our nation’s electric grid.

Some have called our grid one of the greatest inventions ...

Tagged: energy grid

Expand Article

Did our electric grid earn a passing grade?

Apple sits on a report card full of passing grades

Although the Department of Energy’s 187-page study didn’t assign the grid an actual grade, it’s safe to say that it would be passing.

Key Points

  • The Department of Energy just completed a study of the nation’s electric system.
  • It found that some things are going well and made some recommendations for improvements.
  • The energy industry is changing quickly, so this report aims to help policymakers, utilities and customers make good decisions. 

School is back in session, and no one is safe from the grading scale.

Not even our nation’s electric grid.

Some have called our grid one of the greatest inventions in history. Think of it as your class valedictorian who is a high achiever, can always be depended on to take on a new challenge, and even invites the new kids to the lunch table. The grid has welcomed newcomers like wind and solar, and thanks to recent investments, it’s doing a good job delivering energy to the people who need it.

Although the Department of Energy’s 187-page study didn’t assign the grid an actual grade, it’s safe to say that it would be passing.

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry asked for the study to see how the grid is holding up with all of the massive changes in the energy industry. Specifically, the report focuses on the changes made in the past 15 years in technology and energy resources.

The report examined something that’s top of mind as parts of our country are dealing with major natural disasters: the electric system’s resilience.

“Recent severe weather events have demonstrated the need to improve system resilience,” the report said. “The range of potential disruptive events is broad, and the system needs to be designed to handle high-impact, low-probability events. This makes it very challenging to develop cost-effective programs to improve resilience at the regional, state, or utility levels.”

In short, there’s still work to be done to make sure vital energy services are available during disasters.

The report also outlines natural gas’s rise to become the top power generation resource, how variable renewable energy is impacting the mix, and that energy efficiency seems to be working as electricity demand growth flattens.

The Department of Energy staff emphasized that energy storage will be important to support more renewable resources to balance energy supply and customer demand. It recommends that continued investment and development will be needed in the future to continue providing reliable energy that can support modern electric system operations.

So although our valedictorian has a lot to be proud of, she still has a lot of work to do. And based on her past, I’m confident she’ll rise to the occasion.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

Did you like this article? Here are some other articles that include: energy grid

Volkswagen’s comeback will be electric

Did you hear that Volkswagen is bringing the microbus back?

Only this time, it will be all electric with semi-self-driving capability.

And in a strange twist, ...

Tagged: Electric Vehicles, volkswagen, microbus

Expand Article

Volkswagen’s comeback will be electric

Volkswagen microbus toy being held on the beach

So even though the microbus won’t be released until 2022, I decided to find out how feasible it would really be to go electric.

Key Points

  • Volkswagen is bringing the microbus back.
  • This time it will be all electric.
  • Getting an electric vehicle can have some perks and challenges. 

Did you hear that Volkswagen is bringing the microbus back?

Only this time, it will be all electric with semi-self-driving capability.

And in a strange twist, it’s really appealing to surfer dudes and middle-aged moms.

When I saw the story, I immediately started to dream about my future life as a microbus owner. We’d haul bikes and skis around for endless outdoor adventures. My daughters would name it after a cartoon character like Blaze, and I’d yell “everybody load up. Blaze is ready for some speed!”

But then I realized that if it’s all electric, I wouldn’t even know how to plan a trip to make sure I had enough charge to make it across my mostly rural state.

So even though the microbus won’t be released until 2022, I decided to find out how feasible it would really be to go electric.

Here’s what I found out:

  1. On road trips, map out your next charge. The Department of Energy recommends using this link to find fueling stations. The good news? It’s a nice tool. The bad news? The charging stations offered are pretty slim along my usual road trip routes. Even with the microbus’s 270-mile range, I might be pushing it to make it to the next public charging station. But as electric vehicles grow in popularity, by 2022, hopefully there will be more charging station options.
  2. Be good to your battery. You can make your battery last a little longer by easing up on the use of things like the A/C, entertainment centers and other accessories. But because I’m driving a microbus, I don’t need an A/C because clearly I’m already very cool. 
  3. Enjoy the perks. Of course there will be the obvious perks of ultimate hipness (Is that a California surfer or a Midwestern mother of two wearing mom jeans? Hard to tell.). But there are other perks that come with owning an electric vehicle. Some states let you drive in the carpool lane, even if you’re all alone. Some stadiums and other major destinations give electric vehicles primo parking spots. An extra perk for the microbus is that the batteries and electric engine are under the floor of the bus, making the interior more spacious. That frees up space for surf boards or, say, five ballet costumes for one spring dance recital.
  4. Consider the costs. To see what you’ll save on your fuel costs by using an electric vehicle instead of a gas-powered one, check out this link that calculates your cost per eGallon,. According to the Department of Energy, the price of an eGallon tells consumers how much it costs to drive an EV the same distance you could go on a gallon of unleaded gasoline in a similar car.

I’ll have to dream about the Volkswagen microbus for a few more years. Until then, hang 10. … See? I’m getting cooler just thinking about owning it.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

Did you like this article? Here are some other articles that include: Electric Vehicles, volkswagen, microbus

Back to school means back to energy savings

I love back-to-school time.

I mean LOVE it.

Even as a kid, I would count down the days until school started again and then would lie in bed, wide awake, too excited ...

Tagged: back to school, save energy, school supplies

Expand Article

Back to school means back to energy savings

Preteen points to drawing of light bulb on a chalkboard

What I don’t remember is how much everything costs. All those glue sticks, back packs and markers can really add up. Thankfully, having the kids at school all day might lead to some energy savings at home to help offset some of those expenses.

Key Points

  • Back to school expenses can add up, but energy savings can help offset them.
  • After the kids are away at school all day, a few changes at home can save energy.
  • Opt for energy efficient tech, unplug unused devices and adjust the temp while kids are away.

I love back-to-school time.

I mean LOVE it.

Even as a kid, I would count down the days until school started again and then would lie in bed, wide awake, too excited to sleep the night before the first day.

And now that my kids are in school, I get to buy school supplies again and even go sit in a tiny desk for kindergarten orientation.

It’s just as much fun as I remember.

What I don’t remember is how much everything costs. All those glue sticks, back packs and markers can really add up.

Thankfully, having the kids at school all day might lead to some energy savings at home to help offset some of those expenses.

 Here are a few tips to help:

Opt for energy efficient tech

My kindergartener probably won’t need a computer this year to write her dissertation about how to do a perfect cartwheel. But older students might start to require extra hardware at home — like printers and computers. According to the Department of Energy, an Energy Star-approved monitor can save you as much 90 percent since this tends to be a device that’s on frequently. Check for the Energy Star label on all your electronics to save some energy and money.

Unplug

Even if all your electronic devices are considered energy efficient, they still use some energy even when not in use. Unplug things like video game consoles, iPods and laptops when no one is using them to avoid wasting energy. You could save 5-10 percent on your total household electricity bill.

Adjust the temp at home

Now that the kids are away during the day, you can raise your thermostat a bit when it’s warm outside and lower it a few degrees when it’s cooler out. You can save 4-8 percent on your cooling or heating with each degree you change it.

Now go ahead and get yourself a few new, freshly sharpened No. 2 pencil. You know you want to.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

Did you like this article? Here are some other articles that include: back to school, save energy, school supplies