Are you ready for saliva-activated electricity?

You know that feeling you get right before you bite into a cupcake? As you smell the sweet vanilla and gaze at the fluffy frosting, you might even drool a little before it hits your ...

Tagged: saliva, alternative energy, LED, microwatt, Bingham University, SUNY

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Are you ready for saliva-activated electricity?

Sisters eyeing up cupcakes

Researchers created a battery that is activated by a single drop of saliva. It uses microbial fuel cells to convert the movement made during oxidation into electrical energy.

Key Points

  • Your saliva can do more than help digest cupcakes.
  • It could help make energy.
  • Researchers created a bacteria-powered battery. 

You know that feeling you get right before you bite into a cupcake? As you smell the sweet vanilla and gaze at the fluffy frosting, you might even drool a little before it hits your lips. Well, it turns out all that saliva is good for more than just digesting baked goods. It can help make energy.

Researchers at Binghamton University and State University of New York, created a battery that is activated by a single drop of saliva. It uses microbial fuel cells to convert the movement made during oxidation into electrical energy. The battery is paper-based, so it's cheap to produce and very portable.

It doesn’t make very much energy – only a few microwatts per square centimeter - but it’s enough to light an LED. The researchers believe that when power from the grid isn’t available, it could be a good back-up power source for things like water quality monitors. It could also be used for point-of-care diagnostic biosensors.

Your saliva can’t exactly replace coal, natural gas or solar energy, but in our book, all advances in electricity generation are a win. The Binghamton team is working on ways to improve the battery’s power performance and if successful, you could be putting your saliva to good use soon. In the meantime, I think I’ll get ready by having another cupcake. Or two ...

To learn more, check out the full research paper in the journal Advanced Material Technologies

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Faux forests full of power potential

The term “energy plant” might have an entirely new meaning if researchers from Iowa State University are successful.

Literal energy plants — plastic trees with stalks ...

Tagged: alternative energy, faux forest, wind energy

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Faux forests full of power potential

Four plastic trees

Literal energy plants — plastic trees with stalks made to harvest wind energy — could make a faux forest full of power potential.

Key Points

  • Researchers are working on a way to harvest small gusts of wind with a faux forest.
  • Plastic trees would use leaves and stalks to capture energy.
  • The process is proving difficult, but a new, more efficient material may be the breakthrough they need to make it work. 

The term “energy plant” might have an entirely new meaning if researchers from Iowa State University are successful.

Literal energy plants — plastic trees with stalks made to harvest wind energy — could make a faux forest full of power potential.

Molecular biologist Eric Henderson first had the idea when watching small gusts of wind whip through trees. All those random gusts could be captured to make electricity. Henderson and his team are using a method called piezoelectrics, a process that shifts electrons within a crystal to generate electricity.

Unfortunately, the idea has proven difficult to implement.

For the piezoelectric method to work, the leaf stalks need to move at high frequency at regular intervals. Gusts of wind are, well, gusty — coming and going without notice. Another challenge is what Henderson described to Smithsonian Magazine as “parasitic capacitance.” This is energy wasted during the process, leaving little left to actually charge a battery.

But the team isn’t giving up hope.

They’re working on a new material that could be 100,000 times more efficient than other crystals available.

According to Smithsonian, the material mimics a protein found in the human ear to amplify sound. The researchers couldn’t share any details yet, but they hope this material brings them one step closer to a solution.

I like the ring of that. 


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.

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Now you can store summer and warm hugs (OK, not really)

Our favorite Disney snowman (Olaf from “Frozen,” in case you don’t keep up with all things Disney animation, which you should) is going to love some new technology that lets ...

Tagged: storing energy, snowman, alternative energy

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Now you can store summer and warm hugs (OK, not really)

Summer snowman made of sand

So far, the technology only exists in a lab, but the researchers hope to commercialize it soon. That will make one happy snowman — and possibly some cheaper energy bills.

Key Points

  • Some Swiss researchers figured out a way to store summer’s heat for winter.
  • It includes a simple process that uses lye and water to release heat.
  • The new technology makes the process safe, more efficient and ready for use in heating systems. 

Our favorite Disney snowman (Olaf from “Frozen,” in case you don’t keep up with all things Disney animation, which you should) is going to love some new technology that lets you store summer.

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research figured out a way to store summer’s heat to warm your home during the cold winter months.

According to Popular Mechanics, the technology is pretty simple.

You start with sodium hydroxide, which is more commonly known as lye. When exposed to water, lye releases a lot of heat. If it’s then exposed to sunlight, the water is evaporated and the whole process is reset.

Figuring out how to use this heat source in a safe and effective way has proven to be a little more complicated, but the Swiss believe they’ve figured it out.

They developed new technology to minimize the heat lost through process and make it safe to contain the chemicals in your home for long periods of time. They also figured out a way to make the heat work in traditional heating systems. 

So far, the technology only exists in a lab, but the researchers hope to commercialize it soon. That will make one happy snowman — and possibly some cheaper energy bills.

Now if they can just figure out a way to store warm hugs, we can all be as happy as Olaf.


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.

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Human wastewater can do watt?

Wastewater treatment isn’t a sexy business. It creates lots of sludge.

Getting rid of that sludge can be expensive.

But a pilot system by Metro VanCouver might ...

Tagged: wastewater, alternative energy, sludge, hydrothermal process

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Human wastewater can do watt?

Wastewater gushes out of pipes

But a pilot system by Metro VanCouver might make that sludge an asset, converting human sewage into oil and natural gas.

Key Points

  • A pilot project in Canada is exploring if wastewater can be used for energy.
  • Sludge would be turned into oil and natural gas.
  • If successful, it could defray the costs of waste disposal and create an abundant, affordable source of energy. 

Wastewater treatment isn’t a sexy business. It creates lots of sludge.

Getting rid of that sludge can be expensive.

But a pilot system by Metro VanCouver might make that sludge an asset, converting human sewage into oil and natural gas.

The oil and natural gas would not only meet an energy need, it would also defray the costs of waste disposal — a win-win for keeping energy, and other utilities, affordable.

The sludge would be turned into oil and natural gas through hydrothermal processing. It uses high temperatures to transform the sludge’s organic compounds into useful material.

The groups behind the pilot project like that sludge is abundant and cheap. Other attempts have been made to use a similar process to turn algae in to energy, but that requires growing and harvesting a crop.

The biggest question for this project is if the process creates more energy than is required to make it. After that’s answered, and the concept is proven to work beyond the laboratory, the system could be a new source of reliable and affordable energy.

Read more about the project at NPR’s Nova Next special. You’ll never think of wastewater the same. 


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.

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Dude! This wave could someday power your home!

Surfers may have to share the waves soon thanks to a new national wave energy testing facility that the Department of Energy is funding.

The DOE awarded up to $40 million ...

Tagged: wave energy, alternative energy

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Dude! This wave could someday power your home!

Surfer riding a wave

The center’s goal is to figure out how the U.S. can use the waves on its coasts to generate electricity.

Key Points

  • The DOE awarded up to $40 million to make a national wave energy testing facility.
  • The facility will be in Oregon and will study innovations in wave energy technology.
  • Studies estimate that America could have enough wave resources to generate 900-1,230 terawatt hours of electricity.  

Surfers may have to share the waves soon thanks to a new national wave energy testing facility that the Department of Energy is funding.

The DOE awarded up to $40 million to build the Pacific Marine Energy Center South Energy Test Site. Really rolls off the ol’ tongue, yeah?

Construction is expected to be completed by 2020.

The center’s goal is to figure out how the U.S. can use the waves on its coasts to generate electricity. Researchers will be able to test full-scale wave energy conversion device concepts in the facility’s four grid-connected berths.

The potential for wind energy is gig-antic — or in this case — tera-gantic (#dadjokes).

According to the DOE, recent studies estimate that America's technically recoverable wave energy resource ranges between approximately 900–1,230 terawatt hours per year, distributed across the coast of Alaska, the West Coast, the East Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

For context, approximately 90,000 homes can be powered by 1 terawatt per year.

This means that even if only a few percent of the potential is recovered, wave energy could power millions of homes as the technology progresses.

There aren’t any definitive predictions yet on how affordable wave energy will be on a commercial scale.

But if the researchers are nearly as good at engineering energy solutions as they are at coming up with awesome center names, it’s sure to be a bargain.


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.

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Google is even greener than you thought

Quick – what was the last thing you Googled?

  • Mozart in the Jungle season 3 release date
  • Singing Ariel costume (don’t ask)
  • How to remove ...

Tagged: Google, alternative energy, Wind, solar

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Google is even greener than you thought

Google face

Last year, Google set a goal to triple its clean energy purchases by 2025. And it seems that the hard work is paying off. Last week, Google announced that in 2017, it will get all its energy from wind farms and solar panels.

Key Points

  • Google will get all its energy from wind and solar by 2017.
  • That includes all the energy its data centers and offices use.
  • The company purchases renewable energy to offset its fossil fuel use. 

Quick – what was the last thing you Googled?

  • Mozart in the Jungle season 3 release date
  • Singing Ariel costume (don’t ask)
  • How to remove chocolate stains from furniture

Whatever your search is, our collective Googling uses a lot of energy. Google is the largest corporate buyer of clean energy and has a renewable energy capacity of 2 gigawatts.

Last year, Google set a goal to triple its clean energy purchases by 2025.

And it seems that the hard work is paying off.

Last week, Google announced that in 2017, it will get all its energy from wind farms and solar panels.

Recent deals are helping it achieve that goal including partnering with Duke Energy on a solar project in North Carolina. The company is also adding 842 megawatts of renewable energy to its mix by investing in a Swedish wind farm and a solar plant in Chile.

Google sees these investments as a way to set a good example for other companies and help new renewable energy plants. Landing a customer like Google can give a new wind or solar farm the financial security it needs to succeed and be in business to sell even more energy to other companies.

The investment will hopefully help the company’s bottom line too. “For our part, these contracts not only help minimize the environmental impact of our services — they also make good business sense by ensuring good prices,” Google said.

While this is great news for Google, what does it mean for us? Other than knowing that the data centers needed to store all my junk Gmail (I’m looking at you Old Navy 40 percent off the whole store notifications), it might also help renewable energy costs come down.

In an interview with the New York times, Jonathan Koomey, a lecturer in the school of earth, energy and environmental sciences at Stanford, broke the cost benefits down to economies of scale and innovation.“Every time you double production, you reduce the cost of solar by about 20 percent. Wind goes down 10 to 12 percent,” he said.

Of course, I want to check my Gmail and Google things like, say, “what is Ina Garten’s husband’s profession” any time I want, even when the sun isn’t shining and wind isn’t blowing. So critics are quick to point out that Google does still rely on good ol’ coal and natural gas for many of its operations, even if this energy use is offset by purchases of renewable energy.

Either way, good job Google. I like that you’re trying. 


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.

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If solar power had a prom, this would be its prom queen

“Wow, I just love your solar charging station. It’s so beautiful.”

Not a comment you’ve probably heard before.

But a new company is working to change ...

Tagged: solar, alternative energy, pretty energy

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If solar power had a prom, this would be its prom queen

Solar flowers

In addition to its aesthetic appeal and functionality, the product can serve as a resilience center during power outages since it doesn’t rely on the power grid.

Key Points

  • If solar power had a prom, Totem Energy would be prom queen.
  • The company’s new solar power device looks like a flower.
  • It could be a new tool for cities to move away from distributed energy. 

“Wow, I just love your solar charging station. It’s so beautiful.”

Not a comment you’ve probably heard before.

But a new company is working to change that with its flower-shaped device that harvests and stores solar power, serves as a Wi-Fi and 4G communications tower, and is a street light and electric vehicle charging station.

Basically, it’s pretty and smart too.

The company behind this prom queen of the solar industry is Totem Power. CEO and founder Brian Lakamp wants to bring solar into the spot light. “Right now, all of this infrastructure is relegated to the back of the building — you know, to non-glorious places like next to the dumpster,” Lakamp told Fast CoExist. “By really rethinking what the product is and putting a true design mentality to it you can create something that fundamentally changes the equation for people.”

In addition to its aesthetic appeal and functionality, the product can serve as a resilience center during power outages since it doesn’t rely on the power grid. Or when power is abundant, it can feed excess electrons back to nearby buildings.

The company hopes this will be another tool for cities to use to be less dependent on power transported into cities. Instead, several small stations like these can help supply energy right where it’s generated.

No word yet on if this local energy will be more affordable than the kind that is delivered by transmission lines, but we’ll know more when it goes on the market in 2017. 


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.

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Space: Solar energy’s final frontier?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a place where the sun always shines? A magical location where clouds never block the sun’s rays and the sun never sets?

Turns out, ...

Tagged: solar, space, alternative energy

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Space: Solar energy’s final frontier?

Solar in space

Scientists are figuring out a way to bring solar panels straight to the source: the sun.

Key Points

  • Scientists are close to making space-based solar energy a reality.
  • The technology and engineering is ready to go.
  • If successful, it could create affordable and dependable solar energy. 

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a place where the sun always shines? A magical location where clouds never block the sun’s rays and the sun never sets?

Turns out, such a spot exists.

Just look up.

Scientists are figuring out a way to bring solar panels straight to the source: the sun.

Here’s how the smart people at the Smithsonian describe the process:

“There are dozens upon dozens of ideas for how to build a space-based solar collection system, but the basic gist goes something like this: launch and robotically assemble several hundred or thousand identically sized modules in geosynchronous orbit. One part comprises mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto solar panels that convert the energy into electricity. Converters turn that electricity into low-intensity microwaves that are beamed to large, circular receivers on the ground. Those antennae re-convert the microwaves back into electricity, which can be fed into the existing grid.”

Here’s a quick run-down of what researchers see as the pros and cons of space-based solar energy.

The good:

  • The technology already exists. Researchers have been looking into this idea since the 1970s. The engineering and technology is ready to go.
  • It’s expensive but not crazy expensive. Estimates are that it would cost about $4 billion to $5 billion to build a space-based solar system. Yeah, that’s a whole lot of money. But, by comparison, China is currently spending $28 billion on its Three Gorges Dam, and the Watts Bar nuclear plant in Tennessee cost $4.7 billion.
  • It would produce affordable electricity. Based on current designs, the electricity produced by the project would cost consumers about 3 centers per kilowatt. That’s as affordable, or even cheaper, than electricity from currently available sources.
  • It won’t make a death ray. The power coming back to earth from space would be spread across a large area. Project leaders insist that no one will get burned up or die.

The bad:

  • There might be a wavelength traffic jam. We all use safe wavelengths every day to use our cell phones, radios and satellite transmission. It’s crowded, and some worry that there might not be room for solar microwaves to get through.

 For more on space-based solar energy, read this great article by Michelle Z. Donahue.


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.

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Hey, Frosty, will you cool my house this summer?

Frosty the Snowman was a jolly and happy soul. So I bet he’d be happy to stick around for the summer and help cool off our homes and businesses.

Researchers from the ...

Tagged: alternative energy, Frosty

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Hey, Frosty, will you cool my house this summer?

Frosties feeling frosty

It’s already being done on a small scale in Japan and Sweden. Snow from the winter is stored, and then in the warmer months, it’s pumped into a network of pipes, similar to hot water systems used for heat.

Key Points

  • A new study looked into using stored snow to cool buildings in the summer.
  • It’s already being done in Japan and Sweden.
  • The chilled meltwater goes through a series of pipes, similar to hot water systems used for heat. 

Frosty the Snowman was a jolly and happy soul. So I bet he’d be happy to stick around for the summer and help cool off our homes and businesses.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia recently studied if using chilled meltwater to cool buildings was a viable option for Canada.

It’s already being done on a small scale in Japan and Sweden. Snow from the winter is stored, and then in the warmer months, it’s pumped into a network of pipes, similar to hot water systems used for heat.

The researchers pointed out many positive aspects of using chilled meltwater. It’s quiet, unlike our noisy traditional AC units. It’s reliable. And, it doesn’t require any refrigeration units.

Unfortunately, even with these pros, the researchers concluded that storing huge amounts of snow for summer cooling doesn’t make much sense. They studied several snow storage options including inside and outside on, in and under the ground. They also looked at higher tech options like watertight storage and high-density storage where the snow is compacted for storage.

The researchers found that most of the methods required too much space and harmful or expensive materials.

Sorry, Frosty, I guess you can’t stay for summer. But we hope you’ll come back again some day. 


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.

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Election got you down? Read this

It’s been a tough campaign this presidential election. No matter who you voted for, chances are you need a little dose of optimism this week.

Meet Maanasa Mendu. At just ...

Tagged: alternative energy, energy technology, smart kids

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Election got you down? Read this

Maanasa Mendu

Small leaves connected to a trunk move with the wind and rain and harvest power from that motion. Flexible solar cells on the leaves also capture energy from the sun. And it costs about $5 to make.

Key Points

  • Smart kids remind us to be optimistic about the future.
  • One 13-year-old just invented a device that generates electricity from wind, rain and sun.
  • It only costs $5 to make. 

It’s been a tough campaign this presidential election. No matter who you voted for, chances are you need a little dose of optimism this week.

Meet Maanasa Mendu. At just 13-years-old, she invented a device that makes energy out of the wind, rain and sun.  

It’s called HARVEST, and it was inspired by the shape of a tree. Small leaves connected to a trunk move with the wind and rain and harvest power from that motion. Flexible solar cells on the leaves also capture energy from the sun.

And it costs about $5 to make.

Mendu first thought of the idea on a trip to India to visit her grandparents when she noticed how often they were left in the dark when the grid was overloaded. She then, entered her HARVEST idea in the 2016 Young Scientist Challenge, a competition for grades 5-8. She was paired with a mentor at 3M who helped her refine her concept and build a prototype.

Her hard work paid off. Mendu won the challenge and the $25,000 that comes with the recognition.

The best part?

Her device actually works.

She’s successfully charged her phone and powered a 15-watt LED bulb with it. She hopes to commercialize the product and already has ideas for future inventions to help solve the world’s challenges.

Thanks for reminding us that the future is bright, Maanasa, and good luck with your next invention.


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.

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Tesla makes solar pretty

Solar panels are bulky and probably won’t win you many curb appeal points. But don’t worry; Elon Musk is on it.

He unveiled Tesla’s ...

Tagged: Tesla, solar, alternative energy

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Tesla makes solar pretty

Tesla solar roof

There are still a lot of questions about the new solar roof. Who would I call if I wanted it installed? And the big question remains pretty murky: Will a solar roof be affordable?

Key Points

  • Tesla unveiled its new solar roof last week.
  • It’s made of textured glass and gives solar panels more curb appeal.
  • It’s unknown how affordable it will be. 

Solar panels are bulky and probably won’t win you many curb appeal points. But don’t worry; Elon Musk is on it.

He unveiled Tesla’s new solar roof last week. And it’s pretty. It looks like a regular roof, only it’s actually textured glass layered over solar panels. According to Tesla’s website, there are four styles to choose from including Tuscan, slate, textured and smooth. Sure, not as many options as the book of shingles your roofer has, but there’s likely one that would fit the style of your home.

The textured glass allows the light to pass through and onto a standard solar cell. If all goes according to plan for Tesla, the company will acquire SolarCity after a shareholder vote on Nov. 17, and together they will produce the solar cells and glass components.

There are still a lot of questions about the new solar roof. Who would I call if I wanted it installed? My roofer? My electrician? Or maybe my utility? And the big question remains pretty murky: Will a solar roof be affordable?

Tesla says yes. Its website touts that it will be “lower cost than a traditional roof when combined with projected utility bill savings.”

But there are a lot of variables to consider. I’m sure I paid much less to replace the roof on my house with asphalt shingles last year than someone who chose something like a Spanish clay roof. Plus, electric rates in my area are generally pretty low, so it might take a little longer for me to recover any additional expenses than someone who lives in an area with higher rates.

I’m excited to learn more about Tesla’s solar roof and appreciate them looking into ways to make renewable energy more appealing. Time will tell if this latest take on rooftop solar will be a viable — and affordable — option. 


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.

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The wheels on this bus go round and round … and round — on a single electric charge

The driver on the bus says “move on back, move on back, move on back.” But soon he might not have to yell it quite so loudly thanks to a new electric bus that can hold a charge ...

Tagged: electric bus, alternative energy, clean technology

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The wheels on this bus go round and round … and round — on a single electric charge

Proterra electric bus

The new electric bus by Proterra can go at least 350 miles on a single charge. That makes it possible for these hard-working vehicles to do a whole day’s work without having to take a break to charge back up.

Key Points

  • New technology is making electric public transportation more feasible.
  • A new electric bus can go at least 350 miles on a single charge.
  • The electric buses cost more to purchase but less to run per mile than diesel buses. 

The driver on the bus says “move on back, move on back, move on back.” But soon he might not have to yell it quite so loudly thanks to a new electric bus that can hold a charge long enough to make it through an entire day’s routes.

A new electric bus design is a breakthrough that might make electric public transportation more feasible for a community near you. The new electric bus by Proterra can go at least 350 miles on a single charge. That makes it possible for these hard-working vehicles to do a whole day’s work without having to take a break to charge back up.

The company achieved the 350-mile milestone by completely redesigning the bus from the wheels up. It has a light carbon fiber frame, a battery pack about the size of a twin bed mattress and features regenerative breaking that helps the bus stay charged throughout its busy day.

Of course, there’s a catch. These buses cost about 50 percent more than their diesel counterparts, averaging $800,000 a pop. But Proterra has some solutions for city budgets. One is to finance the difference in cost between a diesel model and an electric one.

The other is a bit more innovative. The company will sell a city the bus at the cost without the battery and then lease the battery to the city. That lease is then categorized as the fuel cost for the bus and levels the playing field a bit.

There’s also the long-term savings to consider. According to Smithsonian Magazine, it costs only 19 cents per mile to run an electric bus versus 84 cents per mile to run a diesel bus.

The company behind these buses is optimistic about the future of the electric bus industry. “The cost of batteries continues to drop,” said Matt Horton, senior vice president of sales at Proterra. “The technology is getting better and better. I really think that in 10 years, the game will be over for fossil fuels in public transit.”

And yes, the mothers on the bus will still say “shh, shh, shh.” 


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.

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Hurricanes could blow away old wind turbine designs

It’s hurricane season. If you live on the coast, it’s time to prepare for emergencies and evacuations. ...

Tagged: alternative energy, hurricanes, wind energy

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Hurricanes could blow away old wind turbine designs

hurricane from space

A new design option is being tested in Japan. It resembles an egg beater, with vertical blades that could possibly handle hurricane-force winds.

Key Points

  • Hurricanes make a lot of wind energy.
  • Unfortunately, traditional wind turbines can’t handle that kind of wind.
  • New designs might make it possible to someday capture energy from hurricanes. 

It’s hurricane season. If you live on the coast, it’s time to prepare for emergencies and evacuations. If you’re a Midwesterner, be prepared to see Al Roker yelling into a microphone and nearly falling over from the strong winds. Either way, you’ll probably want to stock up on snacks.

Hurricanes are powerful storms. According to a recent article on www.Smithsonian.org, a single storm can release 600 terawatts of energy. As the article’s author Michelle Donahue put it, that’s a gold mine of clean energy.

Donahue outlines a few ways we could someday capture some of this energy. As you’d probably guess, it’s not easy. One approach might be to make mobile wind farms to deploy in the path of storms as they develop. However, this approach hasn’t gotten much traction because hurricanes tend to change track quickly, making it hard to predict where to put the equipment.

Instead, researchers are working on ways to make permanent wind systems, that if by chance have to endure a hurricane, would be able to capitalize on those gusts. Traditional wind blades and turbines shut down in high winds to prevent damage. Those long blades just can’t withstand the kind of high winds a hurricane or other major storms bring.

A new design option is being tested in Japan. It resembles an egg beater, with vertical blades that could possibly handle hurricane-force winds. One prototype is currently installed, but no word yet on if it will work as planned. Another design from researchers in Florida looks like a long, horizontal screw that turns with the wind.

The beauty of this design is that these turbines actually reduce the wind effect on buildings. Installing one on your home or business would not only help the structure make it through a storm in one piece but also harness enough energy to keep the lights on even if power lines are compromised.

Unfortunately, neither of these designs is ready for prime time during this hurricane season. But here’s to hoping new technologies like this will be ready for storms in the future. I bet Al would love to do a feature on 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.

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Meet the Jan Brady of wind energy

“Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!”

Poor Jan. It’s not easy being the middle sister. Marsha was glamorous and smart. Cindy was cute, with those curls and all. And Jan? Well, ...

Tagged: alternative energy, tidal energy

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Meet the Jan Brady of wind energy

tidal energy

And then there’s tidal energy. It has a lot of things going for it. ... Of course, this middle sister has her issues too.

Key Points

  • The world’s first large-scale tidal energy project will be installed this month in Scotland.
  • If the four-turbine project goes well, more than 100 more turbines might be installed.
  • Tidal energy is predictable and low-profile but might be expensive and disrupt marine life.

“Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!”

Poor Jan. It’s not easy being the middle sister. Marsha was glamorous and smart. Cindy was cute, with those curls and all. And Jan? Well, she had a hard time finding her groove. Good thing she had George, George Glass to comfort her.

If tidal energy were a Brady sister, it would be Jan. Its big sister, traditional wind energy, has made a name for itself worldwide. And its little sister, wave energy, hasn’t achieved a lot, but all those cute bobbing buoys soaking up the surf get a lot of attention.

And then there’s tidal energy. It has a lot of things going for it. It’s predictable, so you know you’ll always get energy from it when the tide goes up and the tide goes down. It’s not too showy. Hiding under the water, you’d hardly even know it was there.

Of course, this middle sister has her issues too. Developers are worried that the underground blades might hurt marine life. And the ocean can be rough on equipment, so frequently replacing parts could make it an expensive source of energy.

The first large-scale tidal energy project will be installed in Scotland this month. Energy company MeyGen is installing four turbines. If they do well, the company plans to install more than 100 more.

Good luck, middle sister. And if it makes you feel any better, Marsha never became a teen model.

Learn more about the tidal energy project here.


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.

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Unlikely source of energy: Night cheese

Night cheese (noun): The tradition of eating cheese late at night. Also known as “working on the night cheese.”

Used in a sentence: “I was working on the ...

Tagged: night cheese, alternative energy, UK

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Unlikely source of energy: Night cheese

mmm ... night cheese ...

Night cheese, and actually, cheese in general, could soon power your home. It’s already happening in the United Kingdom in Cumbria.

Key Points

  • Are you working on your night cheese?
  • Cheese can make you happy — and make energy.
  • A plant in the UK will make gas from cheese production leftovers. 

Night cheese (noun): The tradition of eating cheese late at night. Also known as “working on the night cheese.”

Used in a sentence: “I was working on the night cheese pretty hard last night.”

Working on the night cheese will soon mean more than enjoying some dairy in your Snuggy and binge watching “The Good Wife” (as if anything in the whole world could be better than that).

Night cheese, and actually, cheese in general, could soon power your home. It’s already happening in the United Kingdom in Cumbria. Thanks to some hefty government subsidies, an energy plant will start producing gas from cheddar manufacturing waste in May.

Here’s how it will work:

  • Step 1 — Whey and other leftover residues from cheese production are mixed in with water that was used to clean cheese equipment.
  • Step 2 — It sits in a giant tank for 50 days. Bacteria feeds on it and produces biogas.
  • Step 3 — About 60 percent of that gas will be used in a small power plant to power the process to make more cheese. The rest of it will be processed to go into the natural gas system and people can use it to make grilled cheese on their stoves. Like the circle of life, only much more delicious.

Pass the curds.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full-time gig, she earned an M.A.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.

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Unlikely source of power: Energy has never looked so delicious

One of the solutions to keep energy affordable might be right under our noses. On that big piece of pizza you’re shoving in your mouth, to be exact.

Researchers have ...

Tagged: alternative energy, tomato, South Dakota School of Mines and technology, alternative fuel

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Unlikely source of power: Energy has never looked so delicious

Pizza

There are lots of rotten tomatoes in the world. Some of them just don’t make the cut to go to the grocery store.

Key Points

  • Tomatoes. They can make electricity.
  • They are a chemically ideal fuel source.
  • Technology like this might make it to your kitchen someday, converting your everyday waste into energy. 

One of the solutions to keep energy affordable might be right under our noses. On that big piece of pizza you’re shoving in your mouth, to be exact.

Researchers have figured out a way to turn tomatoes in to electricity. There are lots of rotten tomatoes in the world. Some of them just don’t make the cut to go to the grocery store. Other tomato waste is the byproduct of making sauces and ketchup. And it all sits in a landfill with no purpose. Until now.

Dr. Venkataramana Gadhamshetty with the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology talks about in this video.

Solutions like this could help offset some of our energy costs by turning something that would otherwise go to waste in to something useful. Gadhamshetty hopes that someday a device like this could convert household waste into electricity. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A.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.

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The Fresh Prince of Philanthropists?

Now, this is a story all about how the world got flipped-turned upside down.

Or, at least the world of philanthropy.

A new non-profit is working to connect philanthropists, ...

Tagged: Quint Energy, energy storage, alternative energy

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The Fresh Prince of Philanthropists?

The Fresh Prince

The Will and Jada Smith Foundation recently invested in a startup working on a way to store energy.

Key Points

  • Foundations are starting to give funds to “mission-driven tech startups.”
  • These startups are hoping to find solutions to our energy challenges.
  • Will Smith’s foundation is setting an example for how to do it. 

Now, this is a story all about how the world got flipped-turned upside down.

Or, at least the world of philanthropy.

A new non-profit is working to connect philanthropists, entrepreneurs and startups. This is a new way to fund ideas that could change the world.

Philanthropies usually give to causes, not to business start-ups. But now, more foundations are starting to give to “mission-driven tech startups.” This helps fill the void left by a dried up venture capital pool.

The Will and Jada Smith Foundation recently invested in Quidnet Energy. Quidnet is a startup working on a way to store energy. Here’s how Fortune describes the process:

“The startup is using pressurized water injected into ground wells as a way to store energy. Pressurizing water and pumping it into underground wells requires energy, and when the water is later expelled or used in a high-pressure water cleaning system, that stored energy can be accessed. If it works, Quidnet’s technology could be used as energy storage for the power grid, in the same way that Tesla plans to sell its batteries to utilities and industrial building owners.”

Will and Jada Smith hope that other foundations follow their example and consider giving funds to technologies that result in new alternative energy technologies.

And that could be good for us, the ratepayers. If companies like Quidnet come up with new solutions to our energy challenges, we could reap the benefits on our bills.

Thanks for your investment, Will Smith. Smell ya later. 



Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A.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.

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More than a cup of sugar: Borrowing energy from our neighbors

My daughter June and I love to make cookies together. And thankfully, even if I’m unprepared for an afternoon of baking and don’t want to load everyone into car seats and brave ...

Tagged: Co.Exist, alternative energy, Grid, peer-to-peer, Uber

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More than a cup of sugar: Borrowing energy from our neighbors

Bowl of sugar

Soon, I might be hitting my friends up for some solar power.

Key Points

  • The electric grid hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years.
  • Some day we might be able to buy energy from our neighbors.
  • This would be a major shift from the centralized system we have now. 

My daughter June and I love to make cookies together. And thankfully, even if I’m unprepared for an afternoon of baking and don’t want to load everyone into car seats and brave the grocery store, I can beg my friend across the cul-de-sac for a cup of sugar.

But soon, I might be hitting my friends up for some solar power as well.

Co.Exist recently released its annual collection of world-changing ideas. At the top of the list was a new way to get electricity.

The grid hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years. A big power plant generates electricity, those electrons travel great distances along power lines and then eventually get delivered to your home. For the most part, utilities are responsible for the whole process.

But as rooftop solar panels and personal wind turbines become more affordable, that model could soon change.

Co.Exist writer Ben Schiller offers a couple ideas on what that change might look like. He imagines a sort of Uber for utilities. Instead of buying power from utilities, we’d have an open market. Install a rooftop solar panel and sell the energy you don’t need to your friends. This peer-to-peer energy market could completely shake things up, creating a whole new market for energy outside of the utility services we’re used to.

The change couldn’t happen overnight. A system would need to be created to trade and purchase energy on a more individualized basis. Infrastructure would need to change. And realistically, buying energy from a neighbor would need to prove more affordable than getting it the old fashioned way.

See the full World Changing Ideas of 2015 list here. In the meantime, I’ll stick to relying on my neighbors for sugar and chocolate chips. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A.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.

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Three weird ways you’d never believe we could make energy

Coal, natural gas, wind, solar, hydro.  These are the Rolling Stones, Beatles and Celine Dions of the energy world – they’re good, but we’ve heard it all before.  ...

Tagged: alternative energy

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Three weird ways you’d never believe we could make energy

Senior woman lifting weights

Turkey is considering using the shells to power an eco-city in the southern part of the country near the Syrian border.

Key Points

  • Pistachio shells could soon heat an entire city.
  • Our decomposing garbage can make electricity.
  • Your next workout could keep the lights on. 

Coal, natural gas, wind, solar, hydro.  These are the Rolling Stones, Beatles and Celine Dions of the energy world – they’re good, but we’ve heard it all before.  This week, let’s check out some up and comers in energy generation.

Here are three weird ways to make energy we bet you’ve never heard of.

  1. Pistachio shells – Delicious? Yes. Steven Colbert-approved as a patriotic snack choice? Absolutely. Able to possibly power an entire city?  Surprisingly, yes.  Turkey is considering using the shells to power an eco-city in the southern part of the country near the Syrian border. It may sound strange at first, but the biogas that’s released when the shells break down gives off a lot of heat. Enough heat to provide about 60 percent of the city’s heating needs.
  2. Dirty diapers A few landfills are starting to make electricity from garbage.  In the Philippines’ capital city, Manila, 12 million residents create between 6,000 and 8,000 tons of garbage a day. And judging from what’s in my garbage every day, I’m guessing that includes a lot of dirty diapers. When garbage decomposes, it creates methane gas. This gas is being piped to generators that make electricity. 
  3. Jillian Michaels – Well, maybe not her individually, but we could soon use our workouts as an energy source. Your treadmill, bike, or other exercise equipment of choice could change all that movement into electricity.  A few gyms in Germany, China and the U.S. are already giving it a try, using the electricity their members produce to keep the lights on. 

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